It's time again for Christmas in July. Every year around this time millions of people begin to breakdown the NFL players by position. They are getting prepared for their fantasy draft. Fantasy Football has become a part of football season as much as... well, football I guess. You can always take solace in saving a Sunday after your favorite NFL team loses by pulling out a victory in your fantasy football league over that co-worker that ran their mouth all week about how he has inside information and that there is no way his team can lose.
The popularity of fantasy football brings a new type of fan to NFL Sundays. These fans are the people who could care less about the outcome of the game on the field; they are only worried about the outcome on their computer screen. The NFL endorses having these fans aboard because ratings are ratings, regardless of the type of fan watching.
Fantasy Football has also made fans more knowledgeable about football. You can thank the waiver wire and roster spots on your team for this. The average fan has much more football knowledge today than they did 5 years ago. They have to week in and week out go and find their 3rd string wide receiver when they have a bye week or find a starting quarterback that can put up decent numbers when they lose their starter due to injury. Due to the knowledge of the football fans in 2010, I have to not only come out with fantasy rankings based on past performance, but also look into my crystal ball at what the year ahead of us may have in store. You can usually guess most people's fantasy rankings because all you have to do is look at last year's top 5 fantasy players. They don't take into account free agents, rookies, offensive lineman that were traded, coaches leaving, new offensive scheme, aging, etc.
Preseason, here is who I project the top 5 fantasy quarterbacks to be and I will also throw in few sleepers. Feel free to critique......
5) Tony Romo - 2009 Stats - 4,483 yds - 26 TDs - 9 Ints
Romo will give you consistent stats. The problem with Romo is that in big situations he needs other people around him because he can't shoulder the load by himself. The good news is he has plenty of people around him. The Dallas Cowboys have a 3 headed monster in the backfield. Tashard Choice is a power plus speed back who can run between the tackles and bounce it outside for a big run. Felix Jones is your homerun hitter and a threat to take it the distance at any time. Marion Barber is just a beast. They are putting Barber in a situation to revert back to his prime, where he would do the red zone running and Julius Jones would run between the twenties. This takes a lot of pressure off of Romo.
What else helps Tony sleep at night are the names of Austin, Bryant, Williams, Crayton, Witten, and Bennett. Defenses have to be able to stop the run and the pass but not only that, they have to be deep enough at corner to dedicate a man to Miles Austin, Dez Bryant, and Roy Williams. Even if the team they are facing has a great nickleback to go with two great starters, you still have to find a linebacker or safety to shadow Jason Witten and Martellus Bennett. Only one ‘D' comes to mind that would be able to dedicate a solid defender to all those weapons and that's the Jets. How many other teams have a Darrelle Revis, Antonio Cromartie, and Kyle Wilson to play against that offense though? The main concern for Romo is the left tackle position. Big Flo, Flozell Adams is gone and they are trying to plug that hole with Doug Free or Alex Barron. If either one of these men can do half as well as Adams, then it should be a great season for Tony. I expect him to have a solid season and really come into his own. The talent around him will help him get over the pressure of the postseason.
4) Matt Schaub - 2009 Stats - 4,770 yds - 29 TDs - 15 Ints
Schaub had the 6th best passing season in NFL history last year. He led the NFL in passing yards and still he manages to fly under the radar. Matt did this without any type of running game and his Pro Bowl tight end missing for the majority of the season. The Houston Texans drafted Ben Tate to go along with Arian Foster who came along late last season. Tate is a powerful running back but don't think that makes him slow. You factor in Steve Slaton dropping off last season's extra weight and getting back to his rookie playing weight, and you have a possible 3 headed monster just south of Dallas as well. Gary Kubiak is known for running misdirection with his quarterbacks and really loves the play action pass. Look for Schaub to run this to perfection this year. You should see them open up this offense with a lot of fakes to the running backs and deep passes down the sideline to Andre Johnson. Schaub not only has Johnson to throw the ball to but also Jacoby Jones is making stride to surpass Kevin Walters on the teams depth chart as the number 2 wide receiver.
The Texans also drafted a stellar college tight end, Dorin Dickerson and plan on moving him to wide receiver. He's more of a project right now, but could develop into a decent possession receiver. Houston drafted Trindon Holliday, one of the fastest people in the NFL to mostly return kicks, but I wouldn't be surprised to see him come out in some packages that take advantage of his speed. Owen Daniels is back healthy and looking to prove he hasn't lost anything since the injury last season. They also have Joel Dreessen and James Casey lined up behind Daniels that both filled in nicely in Daniels absence. The O-line is mostly still intact, except for the key departure of Chester Pitts, who had been with the franchise their whole existence. This shouldn't be an issue because Kasey Studdard filled in for Pitts while he was out with an injury last season and the team didn't miss a beat. I believe Schaub will have another stellar year and even though they will have a running game this year and won't have to pass as much, he should still put of great statistics due in part of the play action's effectiveness.
3) Peyton Manning - 2009 Stats - 4,500 yds - 33 TDs - 16 Ints
Peyton Manning is a living legend. You always have to have him in the top 3. Even if he doesn't have the same weapons around him, he will make what is a round him a weapon. I'm not a Indianapolis Colts fan, so it drives me absolutely nuts to watch him at the line of scrimmage just toying with the defense. He knows what they are going do before they even audible to do it. I don't know whether to tell you he has great wide receivers in Austin Collie and Pierre Garcon or to tell you that he made those guys look like great receivers. I can tell you one thing without question and that's Reggie Wayne is a great receiver. Peyton throws him perfect passes but Wayne can catch anything. I've seen him turn all the way around, catch the ball with 1 hand, and tap both feet down, with a cornerback all over him.
You can't talk about Peyton without mentioning Dallas Clark. Clark is one of the best tight ends in the game. He creates mismatches for defenses, just ask Brian Cushing. Manning has to do it all on his own basically. Joseph Addai is always injured and Donald Brown isn't overly impressive to me. Teams will continue to give the Colts running backs the opportunity and stack up against the pass. In the end, Peyton won't always be able to win by himself but he will always find the open man. Colts have a middle of the pack offensive line but only spent a 4th round pick on a guard. This isn't much of a concern for Peyton because he gets rid of the ball quick, so quick that he was only sacked 10 times last year. If the Colts would have spent a 1st or 2nd round pick on a high caliber offensive lineman, it would have helped in the running game. If Peyton could get a running game like he had when Edgerrin James was in the backfield and match that with his superior passing attack, they would be unstoppable.
2) Aaron Rodgers - 2009 Stats - 4,434 yds - 30 TDs - 7 Ints
Aaron Rodgers had the worst offensive line last year. Some people would say Ben Roethlisberger had the worst line but if you look at the games, it was Big Ben holding onto the ball to long that caused a lot of his 50 sacks. Rodgers 50 sacks were legit. He had a Swiss cheese line in front of him. Even though he had the worst protection he only threw 7 picks, that's less than any of the other 5 names on this list. Not all the people who play with Aaron are bad. The Green Bay Packers have perhaps the best group of wide receivers in the NFL. They have Greg Jennings, Donald Driver, Jordy Nelson, and James Jones. Rodgers also has one of the best young tight ends, Jermichael Finley to throw to. Pair Finley with fellow tight ends Donald Lee and Spencer Havner and you have the deepest talent of pass catchers in the NFL. A lot of people like Ryan Grant coming out of the backfield for Green Bay but I would like to see the rookie James Starks get some carries as a change of pace back. This should keep Grant fresh for the whole year. Usually, Ryan has a drop off in the second half of the season.
Good news for Rodgers as the Packers used a first round pick on Bryan Bulaga and added some more offensive line help with Marshall Newhouse later in the draft. It was hard for me to not list Rodgers as number 1 on this list. I think there will be some bumps in the road early with the rookie Starks and the young offensive lineman. Everything else will keep clicking. Rodgers will have a MVP type year.
1) Drew Brees - 2009 Stats - 4,388 - 34 TDs - 11 Ints
Super Bowl Champ, savior of New Orleans, and team leader. These are some of the many virtues that show why Brees is built for the long term. Brees was always told that he didn't have the right height to play quarterback in the NFL. He had an injury that made the San Deigo Chargers kick him to the curb and he ended up with the New Orleans Saints, where players are supposed to try and just finish their careers; He didn't get the memo. Brees picked himself up and the city around him. As he screams, "this is New Orleans" you realize that passion he's screaming with is to say that not only did you count this city out, you counted me out, and all of my teammates in this huddle with me.
Drew Brees plays with the weight of New Orleans on his back with every pass. He threw over 500 passes last year and was the only quarterback who had over a 70% completion percentage. Brees also has a ton of weapons around him, in the likes of Marques Colston, Devery Henderson, Robert Meachem, Lance Moore, and Adrian Arrington. He's got some big targets to hit in tight ends Jeremy Shockey and David Thomas. The Saints also drafted a fast tight end out of Miami named Jimmy Graham, who showed great hands during his ACC days. Brees has a knack of spreading the ball around with one of his favorite targets to hit being Reggie Bush. Bush is technically a running back, along with Pierre Thomas and Lynell Hamilton, he does most of his damage catching wheel routes out of the backfield and screens. Brees has a quick release and a solid offensive line which kept him from only getting sacked 20 times. They did add some more o-line help to protect Brees in the draft. The Saints picked up Charles Brown and Matt Tennant. It's hard to envision a way that Drew wouldn't have another highly successful passing season, based on the way he spreads the ball around and they got back most of their key pieces on offense.
I know some of you are going to have some complaints on key names missing out of the top 5. So, let's go ahead and address them.
Tom Brady hasn't been as dominant since the cheating scandal that no one seems to mention anymore. I guess it's a little harder to play quarterback if you don't know what the defense is doing ahead of time. Don't get me wrong, Brady still had a solid performance in 2009 but it was even as good as what Matt Cassel did with the same team in 2008. He has also seemed to be more distant from the team this year and the Patriots as a whole don't have that same team first guard up any more. Randy Moss and Wes Welker are both aging and the Pats don't have a top notch running game to fall back on if Brady struggles.
Brett Favre had the season of his life last year. I hope that he can prove me wrong and do it all over again, because he is what's right with the game. I report on what I believe will actually happen though. Favre had everything go exactly his way until the very last game. He is a very passionate player and he feeds off of big moments. I honestly believe that if Greg Lewis lands out of bounds, Favre gets sacked, or if the pass sails incomplete, the whole season would go a different way based on that one game. He will have some highlights and put up some huge numbers thanks to Sidney Rice, Percy Harvin, Adrian Peterson, and Visanthe Shiancoe. He will also throw more than 7 interceptions this year as well. His final touchdown to interception stats will probably be somewhere closer to 27 TDs and 14 Ints.
Philip Rivers likes to drop the passes off to the tight end and running backs and have them make players miss for big gains. After he baits in the defense with all the underneath stuff, he will then chunk the ball down field to one of his 6'5 wide receivers and have them pluck the ball out of the air. Rivers is one of the most overrated passers in the game. It's all short passes to the backs and long passes to his receivers that have a 5 to 6 in height advantage. San Diego will have an off year this year. They are putting too much faith in a rookie running back, Ryan Matthews.
I wanted to also throw out a couple names of players that will have a breakout fantasy year and one that's more of rejuvenation.
Kevin Kolb will fill in beautifully for McNabb. This is a young offense that will be good for years to come. Get use to hearing this name. He has young targets in Desean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, and Brent Celek. Behind him he has a young running back in Lesean McCoy. Kolb is extremely accurate and has been groomed by McNabb and Coach Andy Reid to take over for the last few years. They'll be growing pains early but this is a keeper for the next 7 to 10 years.
Matt Stafford has a rocket arm just like Jay Cutler told everyone about. Stafford is more mature then Cutler and more patient. Stafford also has Calvin Johnson, the most underrated receiver in the NFL. They're building something special in Detroit and Matt is the key piece. Rarely does a rookie get the respect of his teammates as Matt did when he went back into the game last year with an injury in his shoulder. His teammates will run through a wall for him. He also has some of the best pass catching tight ends in, Brandon Pettigrew and Tony Scheffler. To pair with Calvin Johnson, he also has Bryant Johnson and Nate Burleson. It was all on him last year, they had no running game. They looked to fix that with the addition of Jahvid Best. Stafford won't have a top 5 season this year but he's going open some eyes.
Back from the dead, we have Carson Palmer. Be on the lookout for Palmer to carve up NFL defenses with Ochocinco, T.O., Antonio Bryant, Matt Jones, Jordan Shipley, Andre Caldwell, Dezmon Briscoe, and Jermaine Gresham. That's just the receivers and tight end. They have Cedric Benson and Bernard Scott back in the backfield. We all remember how dangerous Palmer was before his injury and losing Housh your daddy. Keep an eye on him. If the top 5 names are gone when it's time for you to draft, I would take Palmer before Brady, Favre, and Rivers.
Enjoy your fantasy football season and keep an eye out for the Top 5 Wide Receivers rankings coming out soon. - Jayson Braddock
Jayson appears on Sports Radio 790 AM in Houston, TX once a week as the football insider on the Dylan Gwinn show. He's a graduate of the Sports Management World Wide Football GM & Scouting Course and has been mentored by former NFL player / executive John Wooten and Sporting News.com NFL Draft Expert Russ Lande. His work is mostly appreciated by die-hard fans interested in every little detail about their team and not just watered down mainstream talk.
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