I love late lunches in empty restaurants, snarky girls in glasses, every Alexander Payne movie and hitting a 7-iron whenever possible. Fantasy football? Come say hello to a few of my other favorite things:
Philip Rivers(notes) – He's a first-tier fantasy QB that you can get at a second-tier price. The targets hardly matter with Rivers – he'd be a Pro Bowler throwing to lawn chairs – but I'd love to see what a full season of Vincent Jackson(notes) might do to his bottom line. And while you're at it, go get Jackson too.
Tony Romo(notes) – If everyone stays healthy, wow, look at all the weapons he has at his disposal. Find me any team that has a more talented big three downfield than Miles Austin(notes), Jason Witten(notes) and Dez Bryant(notes). We haven't seen Romo's best season yet, and I love the affordable price tag thus far in August.
Sam Bradford(notes) – Here's a dynamite long-shot pick for the tail end of your draft. The offense line has been beefed up, the receivers have been improved, and Josh McDaniels is one of the brightest offensive minds in the game. Bradford might not come out of the gates smoking – it will take some time for all of these moving parts to blend in – but he could be the surprise player of the second half. He never lost his poise as a rookie, and now he has a legitimate supporting cast.
Ray Rice(notes) – One of the easiest calls of the season. He can run inside and out, he's a superb pass-catching back, and now he's got the goal-line work. If Rice is allowed to score the cheap ones from inside the 5-yard line for the balance of the year, he might finish as fantasy's top-scoring back. The backdrop in Baltimore plays to Rice's benefit: fairly conservative offense, winning team, strong defense.
Fred Jackson(notes) – The Bills couldn't block anyone last year but it didn't hold the resourceful Jackson back too much; he still made 4.2 yards a carry and scored seven touchdowns. It's a shame Jackson was buried behind Marshawn Lynch(notes) for so many years; No. 22 was always the more talented player. Jackson's also more versatile than sophomore C.J. Spiller(notes).
Mario Manningham(notes) – It's never been about talent with Super Mario, more a matter of trust and consistency. Manningham finally got on the same page with Eli Manning(notes) last year (to the tune of 15.7 yards a pop and nine scores) and the impressed Giants hardly made an attempt to retain Steve Smith. If you can land Manningham as your third fantasy wideout, you've done very well.
Santonio Holmes(notes) – He was on pace for a career season in his New York debut, but it was neatly shielded by the four games he missed at the top of the year (suspension). Imagine what Holmes is capable of now that he has some experience with the Jets and QB Mark Sanchez(notes). New York won't be an aerial circus, of course, but Holmes can run every route in the tree and I feel a growth season coming in his Age 27 campaign. This is one rare case where I'll chase after some mid-round upside, jumping the room by a round or so.
Mike Thomas(notes) – He doesn't have the raw physical skills to be a dominant player, but he's coming off a handy 66-820 season and he's the only proven wideout on the roster. The setup is too easy here; Thomas will be a PPR steal in many leagues. And if the Jaguars wind up being a bad club, as I expect, that just means more garbage-time stats for our make-believe teams.
Jimmy Graham(notes) – This is almost like cheating, since Graham is essentially America's Sleeper these days. You can't stop hearing about him. But given that I ranked him highest in the last version of the Yahoo! staff ranks, I'll pull the trigger and include Graham on my Adoration List. He was a scoring machine down the stretch last year, and the carcass of Jeremy Shockey(notes) has been removed from the equation. Drew Brees(notes) and Sean Payton will find a way to utilize this physical freak. Graham might be slightly overpriced in industry leagues, but expect a nice price in public groups.
San Diego Chargers defense – Two simple rules for picking your fantasy defense: go for a winning team and follow the sacks. The Lightning Bolts quietly had 47 takedowns last year and I'm picking them to run away with the AFC West, and that setup makes them a perfect target for the last or second-to-last round. Please don't get cute and pick any defense before that, it's a sucker strategy all the way.