1. The Blotter Boys
Three wideouts who have bathed in hot water this offseason are now flashpoints for 2008 drafts: Steve Smith, Brandon Marshall, and Marvin Harrison. Smith was drafted as an early-third round pick before his recent two game suspension. It's too early to know how that news plus trade rumors will change his ADP, but it doesn't change Rotoworld's ranking much. Smith fell out of the top tier of wideouts, but he's still ranked as a third-round value ahead of players like Torry Holt and Anquan Boldin. Two fantasy starts from a reserve wideout + Steve Smith still equals elite production. Don't let him slip too far.
Brandon Marshall escaped a worst-case scenario when the NFL Network announced he will be suspended only two games if he undergoes counseling. Recent estimates were as high as 4-8 games. Marshall has also been slipping in drafts, but you aren't going to find a more talented player after the first three rounds.
Marvin Harrison's legal troubles plus his knee injuries caused his stock to plummet in mid-summer drafts, but most of those concerns are fading away. He has practiced well at training camp and we haven't heard a peep about his gun troubles in months. While he's 36, Harrison scored at least ten times for eight straight seasons before last year. I'd bet a fourth or fifth round pick he can score eight this year.
Even Chad Johnson continues to fall deep into the third round because of all the hot air he blew this summer. Many fantasy owners are afraid to gamble on players with "character" problems, but these guys won't change your locker room. We'll take talent and a little anxiety at the right price any day.
2. The Brady Effect
Owners must decide how high they are willing to take a quarterback, specifically the one that threw 50 touchdown passes last season. Early numbers suggest most owners are comfortable grabbing Brady after the top five running backs. Rotoworld has Brady slightly lower because of his previous career stats (season high was 28 touchdowns), and the depth at quarterback.
Your league scoring system makes a huge difference with Brady. He makes a lot more sense in the top five if you get six points per passing touchdown.
The addendum to the Brady Effect is the Moss Effect. Like Brady, Moss was taken in the fourth round a year ago. Now he will be taken earlier than any receiver in years. Owners must decide if he's worth more than a first-round running back. We have Moss ranked higher than Brady.
3. The Second Round Dilemma
2007 was a huge year in the NFL for passing games and it is reflected early in drafts. Peyton Manning and Tony Romo join Tom Brady as quarterbacks taken in the top two rounds. Manning is usually by himself.
Ten wide receivers are getting taken in the top-30 picks. Only eight were last season. Owners must decide in the second and third round whether to grab surer bets at quarterback and wide receiver or pick up a risky running back before they run out.
Rotoworld likes taking a receiver early far more than a quarterback. We give nine receivers a second round grade, with only Willis McGahee breaking up our "run" of tightly bunched WR1s in the second round. Maurice Jones-Drew and Larry Johnson sneak into the end of our second round. Every draft is different, but it's a good year to go RB-WR-WR at the top of drafts depending on who falls to you. We see quarterbacks like Tony Romo, Drew Brees, and Carson Palmer as picks after the first three rounds.
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4. Mid-Round Starting Running Backs
The rise of the passing game and the proliferation of running back committees are pushing starting running backs further down the draft board. Thomas Jones and LenDale White aren't sexy picks, but they are decent bets to hit 300 touches. They aren't going in the top-50 picks.
Matt Forte, Selvin Young, Jonathan Stewart, Julius Jones, Rudi Johnson, and Justin Fargas are likely starting running backs that are falling. There will be quality RB2s and RB3s available in the middle rounds who get touches. That isn't usually the case. We'd take them over likely committee partners such as Willie Parker in the top-30 picks. This is a great year to get two receivers early.
5. The Big Three Tight Ends
As a group, tight ends reached new levels of dominance in 2007. Six topped 125 fantasy points for the first time ever. They weren't just good for their position; they produced like WR2s.
That dominance is showing up in 2008 drafts, although not as dramatically as I imagined. Drafters are taking Antonio Gates, Jason Witten, and Kellen Winslow in the top-50 picks, but the starting point (pick 42) isn't that high. Three more are taken between picks 60-69.
Rotoworld agrees with conventional wisdom that the big three at tight end are heads, shoulders, and hands above the rest. It makes sense: the tight ends should go at the back of the quality WR2s. Since position scarcity devalues tight end somewhat, we'd take Santonio Holmes over Witten. We'd rather have one of the big three in round four than anyone else in round six. The gap is large.
6. Great late tight end value
While the big three are tempting, the unprecedented depth at tight end is making later-round values enticing. Vernon Davis, Todd Heap, and Jeremy Shockey are relatively safe every-week plays that often fall out of the first eight rounds! Owen Daniels, Heath Miller, and Tony Scheffler are rising stars that cost even less. Basically we are going early or late with tight end picks this year, not in the middle. With twelve quality starting options at tight end, there is no need to rush.
A fundamental mistake new fantasy players make is failing to understand position scarcity. Each fantasy team only needs one tight end, and there are plenty to go around.
7. Weak class of QB2s
Running back isn't the only position with great uncertainty this year. There are more quarterback battles than usual, and that creates a shaky QB2 class. Matt Leinart has potential in Arizona, but he may not hold off Kurt Warner. Jake Delhomme is a popular bounce back candidate, but no one knows how he'll respond from elbow surgery.
Philip Rivers, Jeff Garcia, Jon Kitna, and Alex Smith are other veterans facing injury or job-related questions. We don't know who will start for the Jets, Ravens, Bears, Falcons, and Dolphins. Throw in untested starters like Trent Edwards, Brodie Croyle, Tarvaris Jackson, and JaMarcus Russell and there is a shortage of passable QB2s.
We see a large drop-off after our 16th-ranked quarterback. That could be Aaron Rodgers or Marc Bulger, depending on how the Brett Favre situation plays out. Either way, grabbing two quarterbacks in the top-16, especially if you skip one of the top five, will serve owners well. This increases the value of players like David Garrard, Vince Young, and Matt Schaub. It's worth reaching for the QB2 you want.
8. Busts: The Year After
Owners are showing a willingness to take out last year's trash. Many of last year's biggest busts are being taken at expensive prices. This includes Larry Johnson, Deuce McAllister, Rudi Johnson, Hines Ward, Lee Evans, Marvin Harrison, Javon Walker, Marc Bulger, and Ahman Green,
Owners must decide how big a rebound they expect on a case-by-case basis. (Our projections will tell you what we think.) For the most part, we don't think these players will rebound as much as the rest of Fantasy Nation. Harrison and Evans are the biggest exceptions.
9. No Rookie Wideouts
31 NFL teams passed on taking a wide receiver in the first round, and fantasy leaguers don't want them in the first 14 rounds. James Hardy is going as the first rookie receiver off the board, at pick 149, but he's not even guaranteed to start on a poor passing attack. Devin Thomas and Malcolm Kelly are hurt in Washington. Perhaps a rookie wideout will emerge later in the season, but they aren't worth wasting a pick on.