Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
Since Draft Day is quickly approaching (I have two next week and two the first week of September), it's time to get down to it and analyze the top players at each position.
We'll start with running backs and then proceed through wide receivers, quarterbacks, tight ends, kickers and defensive/special teams over the next few days.
I put up my rankings about a month ago, but now it's time to fine tune the list with information learned at camps and in exhibition games (Note: I only watch preseason football for injuries - there is nothing to be learned from watching a quarterback throw against fourth-string defensive backs who likely will be cut before September 8th.).
As much as I wrote an entire piece extolling reasons why Minnesota's Adrian Peterson should not be the first pick in the draft, he more than likely is going to be the No.1 pick in your draft.
1) Adrian Peterson, Minnesota - Despite the fact he doesn't catch passes, gets nagging injuries and his yards-per-carry fell from 5.6 to 4.8 last year, he's the most dangerous combination of speed and power in the league. He's still just a "pup" at age 24 and only Eric Dickerson got off to a better start after his first two seasons in the NFL.
2) Michael Turner, Atlanta - Obvious you have to beware of the "Curse of 370" but at 27-years-old he hasn't been beaten down yet. All those "easy" years of backing up LaDainian Tomlinson mean he's only carried the ball 604 times in the last five seasons.
3) Maurice Jones-Drew, Jacksonville - The concern here is not whether he can carry a team, it's whether he can do it for a complete 16-game schedule. He's never carried the ball for more than 200 in a season and he'll have to be around 300 rushes and 80 receptions to warrant a top-three selection.
4) Matt Forte, Chicago - With Forte's ability to both run and catch the ball, he should continue to produce. Whether he can match last year's 1,715 combined yards and 12 TDs is questionable, but he should be close. Having Jay Cutler's arm at quarterback can only help to open up bigger holes and will more than make up for possibly running the ball less this year.
5) Clinton Portis, Washington - Despite 1,705 combined rushing and receiving yards, Portis is getting very little respect. His RapidDraft ADP of 14.1 is proof of that. He has the easiest schedule to run against in 2009 with the scheduled opposition giving up a league-high 124 yards-per-game last season. If you remember back to the first half of last year, Portis was the No.1 running back with 944 yards and seven TDs in the first eight games.
6) LaDainian Tomlinson, San Diego - Through all his injuries last year, Tomlinson still posted 1,536 yards and 12 scores. The question is whether turning 30-years-old in June and having lugged the ball 2,658 times over the past eight seasons (not including playoffs) has taken it's toll. Was last year the beginning of a fall from stardom or just a one-year aberration? I think the latter, although 2,300+ yards and 31 TDs as in 2006 will never happen again. He's still a great running back, but be sure to "handcuff" a Darren Sproles selection (RapidDraft ADP 67.2) later in the draft.
7) Brian Westbrook, Philadelphia - Westbrook is a top-five talent, but injuries have taken their toll. He's yet to get on the field in practice or exhibition game because of offseason surgery. Add in an offensive line that has yet to practice together and the drafting of LeSean McCoy out of Pittsburgh and you have the makings of a disappointing season for any fantasy owner who drafts him in the first round. And yet if you bypass Westbrook and he stays healthy you'll kick yourself all season long.
8) Brandon Jacobs, New York Giants - Running behind a great offensive line, a healthy Jacobs could post exciting numbers. Unfortunately, he's played in just 11 and 13 games the past two seasons. He'll share the backfield with Ahmad Bradshaw, but 1,300 yards and 15 touchdowns are within reach. He drops a little further in PPR leagues with just 40 receptions over the past three seasons (six in 2008).
9) Steve Slaton, Houston - Slaton was a huge surprise in 2008, going from backup to star after combining for 1,659 yards and 10 scores. He's a little undersized to be a 300+ carry-a-season guy, but who else is there to share carries with? He's not going to be cheap, it'll take a late first on early second-round pick to get him, but I like the Texans' offense with Matt Schaub, Andre Johnson, Kevin Walter, Owen Daniels along with Slaton.
10) Steven Jackson, St. Louis - Jackson won me at least one fantasy league back in 2006 when he posted 2,334 combined yards and 16 scores. This is not the same running back or the same Rams offense. Without Torry Holt, Isaac Bruce and an aging Marc Bulger, this is a below average offense. A defensive coordinator only has to defend against Jackson and that makes for tough yards.
11) Frank Gore, San Francisco - Gore will get you yardage, but he just hasn't gotten into the endzone often enough to be a top-10 back. That will continue in 2009 with the addition of Glen Coffee to the 49ers' backfield corps. Gore has disappointed fantasy owners two consecutive seasons after a great 2006 (combined rushing/receiving of 2,180 yards).
12) DeAngelo Williams - The 2008 TSN Fantasy Football Player of the Year is still in a shared backfield situation with Jonathan Stewart. Everything went right for Williams last year (1,636 combined yards, 20 TDs), but I don't believe he can post those numbers again. Because of injuries, Stewart only rushed the ball 184 times last year and I expect that number to rise while Williams' total (273 carries) will fall correspondingly. The Panthers face the third toughest schedule to run against in 2009.
13) Chris Johnson, Tennessee - Last year I was all over the Tennessee running back having seen his speed and elusiveness at East Carolina. He was a great value for the ninth-round pick (ADP 101.92). Unfortunately, he's going in the first round this year (RapidDraft ADP 10.7) and as high as fourth in leagues which give bonuses for long touchdowns and PPR leagues. He scored only 10 touchdowns because of the TD-grabbing LenDale White, who scored 15 times, 12 inside the three yard line. The schedule is harder this time around, facing the seventh-toughest rushing defense "Strength of Schedule."
14) Ryan Grant, Green Bay - After a "monster" second half in 2007, Grant was drafted very high last season (ADP 21.8). He didn't perform up to expectations, particularly in the first half of the season. Through the first 10 weeks of 2008, Grant cracked 100 yards just once and scored only two touchdowns. With his current RapidDraft ADP of 33.4, and defenses respecting Aaron Rodgers throwing ability, Grant could rebound with a good season.
15) Marion Barber, Dallas - Barber was everybody's "darling" in 2008, what with Julius Jones heading off to Seattle. But Barber fell flat, posting just 885 yards and seven touchdowns on the ground. He was downright ugly at fantasy playoff time, missing Week 14 and rushing for a total of two yards in Week 15 and Week 16. Felix Jones is back from injury and warrants about 10-12 touches per game which will limit Barber, although he should still be good enough to be worthy of a second round selection.
16) Ronnie Brown, Miami - Browns' numbers look good from the outside (1,170 combined yards, 10 TDs), however, looking deeper reveals he had two good weeks and 14 mediocre-to-bad weeks. In Week 3 he and the Dolphins surprised the New England Patriots with the "Wildcat" offense and he posted 113 yards and four scores and in Week 5 he rushed for 125 yards and a score. In the remaining 14 weeks, he cracked 100 yards just once and scored five times total.
17) Kevin Smith, Detroit - After a slow start. Smith was a solid fantasy running back over the second half of 2008. He carried the ball 20-or-more times in six of the last eight games and cracked the 100-yard bonus twice. He'll get plenty of work in 2009, although behind the Lions weak offensive line that could be a painful experience. With a rookie quarterback, getting the running game going is vital, so he'll be a useful fantasy player this season.
18) Pierre Thomas, New Orleans - If Reggie Bush were out of the picture, Thomas would be threatening the top-10, but Bush is still an option, at least for now. He gets hurt every year and as soon as it happens this year, those who have drafted Thomas will have a great value. For some unknown reason Bush's RapidDraft ADP is 25.6 while Thomas' is 35.9. Don't be fooled, Thomas is the better fantasy player.
19) Willie Parker, Pittsburgh - Pittsburgh loves to run the ball and Parker has been the beneficiary rushing for more than 1,200 yards in three of the past four season. He'll get the chance to run again in 2009, though injured first- round draft pick Rashad Mendenhall is back. As long as Parker stays healthy, he'll get his 1,200 yards.
20) Thomas Jones, New York Jets - Jones had a great 2008 with 1,519 combined yards and 15 TDs (fifth among running backs with 251 fantasy points). Despite arguments with management over his contract, Jones has reported and behind the Jets' strong offensive line should be able to crack 1,000 yards again. Whether he can match last year is another question. The team drafted another running back, Shonn Greene out of Iowa, and the future Jets starter might take carries away from Jones, enough that I dropped him to No.20 in my rankings.