Welcome to the first Wide Write fantasy football column of 2010! Since the end of last season, we’ve been studying all things NFL around the clock in order to bring you the best advice possible. In case you’re new around here, we still love Baltimore’s Ray Rice (but so does everyone else). We’re intrigued by Jay Cutler’s potential in the new Bears’ offense, even though he made us look stupid by throwing 17 interceptions every time we recommended him as a spot starter last season. And we still can’t stand Brett Favre.
We’ll be here every Thursday until the end of your fantasy season, with season preview-type stuff this week and next, followed by Start ‘Em/Sit ‘Em/Pick ‘Em Up recommendations beginning September 9.
Moving on … maybe the headline for this article is a little strong. The “bargain” players below are all guys we think will play above their draft positions, but the “busts” won’t exactly be failures. They just won’t be worthy of their current average draft positions (ADP) according to the always-helpful Mock Draft Central. If you disagree with any of the selections, or want to offer some of your own, please post a comment at the bottom of the page.
Bernard Berrian, WR, Vikings – This recommendation will have a short shelf life, as Berrian is moving up fantasy draft boards quickly after Tuesday’s news that teammate/Pro Bowler Sidney Rice is expected to miss half the season due to hip surgery. Berrian’s ADP is 52 among wideouts, and 193 overall. That’s too low with Percy Harvin a constant threat to miss games due to migraine issues. Berrian is a good bet to lead the Vikings in receiving yards this season, and that makes him worthy of being your team’s third wide receiver (or WR3 if we’re abbreviating).
Jerome Harrison, RB, Browns – You might remember Harrison as the guy who made his bid for fantasy immortality by racking up 561 yards and five touchdowns over the final three games of 2009. He was a hero to his owners across the land, who will tell tales of his fantasy exploits for years to come. Can you imagine agonizing over whether to start a guy in your league semifinals, and then watching him explode for 286 yards and three touchdowns after doing so? That’s what Harrison did for a lot of fantasy owners, and they’ll love him forever.
The Browns drafted RB Montario Hardesty out of Tennessee, and that pushed a lot of people off the Harrison bandwagon during the offseason. However, Hardesty has had trouble staying on the field during training camp due to a knee injury, and the Browns’ coaching staff has been talking about Harrison as the lead back. Add that to the probability that the team will continue to run a lot – they ranked sixth in the NFL with 498 rushing attempts in 2009, while new QBs Jake Delhomme and Seneca Wallace don’t exactly remind anyone of Otto Graham – and Harrison’s ADP should be higher than 28th among runners. Grab him with a fifth-round pick in your 12-team draft, and you should be happy.
Kyle Orton, QB, Broncos – Yes, we know that stud WR Brandon Marshall left Denver for the Dolphins. However, Orton was tied for sixth in the NFL in passing attempts last season, while ranking 13th in yards per game (237.6) and T-15 in touchdowns (21). None of that makes Orton a fantasy star, or even a regular starter. But it does make him likely to outperform his current status as the 25th quarterback on average fantasy draft boards, even with a questionable crop of wide receivers. You could do worse with your QB2 spot.
P.S. Some people are dropping Orton in their rankings due to the presence of Brady Quinn and Tim Tebow. Since those guys aren’t very good, we won’t be doing the same.
Wes Welker, WR, Patriots – Welker’s inclusion here is contingent on how well he recovers from his offseason knee surgery, but early news and his appearance in the Pats’ second preseason game are cause for optimism. Welker can be a monster in points-per-reception (PPR) leagues, as he’s averaged 115 receptions and 1,229 yards over the last three seasons. He’s going 27th among wideouts right now in standard leagues, and 20th in PPR leagues. He’ll be a steal in either format if healthy.
Steve Slaton, RB, Texans – Last year at this time, everyone loved Slaton, who was commonly being drafted as an RB1. Then he developed a bad case of the fumbles, got benched and missed the final five games of the season due to a neck injury. Slaton has deservedly lost value in the eyes of fantasy owners, but it says here that his descent has been too steep. Arian Foster appears to be the lead back in Houston, but Slaton can help in PPR leagues as a third-down back, and his big-play ability makes him a nice bet to outplay his current status as the No. 40 RB in standard fantasy drafts. As Mike Tyson might say, Slaton is too talented and too fast to just fade into Bolivian.
Larry Fitzgerald, WR, Cardinals – Huh? But Fitz is either the best or second-best receiver in the NFL! True, but another guy like that used to be Carolina’s Steve Smith, but when Delhomme started going downhill at quarterback, it didn’t help Smith’s fantasy numbers after awhile.
Fitzgerald is still great, but anyone taking him early in the second round of a fantasy draft (his current ADP is 14) is crazy. Quarterback Matt Leinart has looked terrible in the preseason, and his competition is the equally shaky Derek Anderson, who couldn’t even start full-time for the Browns in 2009. With WR Anquan Boldin off to Baltimore, there’s nobody else left for opposing defenses to worry about in the Cardinals’ passing game. Fitzgerald will see more double teams than ever, and Kurt Warner is no longer around to deliver the ball into a decreasing amount of open spaces. Stay away.
Jamaal Charles, RB, Chiefs – We like Charles. Really, really like him, and think he’s capable of being one of fantasy’s top backs after watching him rack up 1,126 yards from scrimmage and eight touchdowns in the second half of 2009. Unfortunately, there’s the pesky little matter of Thomas Jones, who was picked up by the Chiefs after rushing for 1,402 yards and 14 touchdowns for the Jets last season. Do we think Charles will have a strong year, and probably outperform the 32-year-old Jones? Yes. But do we also think Jones’ presence should make us really scared of picking Charles in the second round of a 12-team fantasy draft, and among the top 15 backs overall? You betcha. Let someone else take that risk.
Brett Favre, QB, Vikings – Favre heads into battle with an unreliable Harvin, half a season of Rice (at best), and the following stat lines over the last five seasons:
Year Yards TD INT
2009 4,202 33 7
2008 3,472 22 22
2007 4,155 28 15
2006 3,885 18 18
2005 3,881 20 29
Favre is being drafted 10th among quarterbacks, with an ADP of 77 overall. At age 40, with those numbers above that can charitably be described as “inconsistent.” No, thank you.
Shonn Greene, RB, Jets – The Jets ran the ball 82 more times than the second-highest team in the NFL last season, so you’d think their top running back would be a fantasy gold mine. We like Greene as a runner, but there are some red flags:
1. He has LaDainian Tomlinson around this season to vulture touchdowns and play on third down. Tomlinson is declining, but he’s there.
2. Someone we know is an Iowa Hawkeyes football fanatic. We mentioned to him last year that we were surprised by Greene’s literally non-existent receiving numbers, and he cited former boxing champion Roberto Duran’s nickname: Manos de piedra. That translates to “hands of stone.” If you’re in a PPR league, Greene won’t bring many receptions to the table.
3. The Jets’ penchant for running all the time in 2009 also made them the team with the fewest passing attempts in the NFL. Don’t you think they’ll loosen the reins on second-year QB Mark Sanchez? Just a little?
Greene is the 11th running back on fantasy draft boards, with an overall ADP of 17, and that’s a little too rich for our blood. His ADP is 26 in PPR leagues, which makes things better. But unless you think Greene is going to run for 1,400 yards, even that’s risky.
DeSean Jackson, WR, Eagles – Jackson is an electrifying player with game-breaking speed, and he’s being drafted as the No. 10 wide receiver in both standard and PPR leagues. Want to know where he was ranked among NFL wideouts in targets last season? Twentieth.
Jackson got big yards thanks to a lot of big plays, and he did miss a game due to injury, but it’s hard to make a guy your fantasy WR1 when so many guys get the ball more than he does.
Jackson also has to contend with emerging and talented teammates like WR Jeremy Maclin, TE Brent Celek, WR Jason Avant and RB LeSean McCoy. While Jackson can put up some strong numbers, he might not get quite enough looks to be a fantasy lead dog.
See you back here next week.
John Halpin writes his “Wide Write” fantasy football column every week during the NFL season for FOXNews.com. He also writes fantasy columns and early-morning blogs four days a week at FOXSports.com/fantasy. You can receive more fantasy news and contact John by following him on Twitter (@jhalpin37), or e-mailing him at firstname.lastname@example.org.