I'm only four columns in to my Yahoo! Sports fantasy career, but I already have enough compelling reader feedback to warrant a mailbag. In addition to general fantasy football questions, I've received follow-up questions to my pieces on the Yahoo! Experts League draft and my one-man mock draft.
Let's take a look:
Q: Can you list your top 10 fantasy receivers?
A: Would be happy to, Marc.
1. Randy Moss, Minnesota – Physical freak has career averages of 1,400 yards and 13 TDs.
2. Marvin Harrison, Indianapolis – Peyton Manning-to-Harrison is a lesson in chemistry.
3. Torry Holt, St. Louis – Last season's 1,700 yards and 12 TDs cannot be ignored.
4. Hines Ward, Pittsburgh – Never takes a down off. Has 94-plus catches in each of past three seasons.
5. Derrick Mason, Tennessee – Steve McNair-to-Mason is only a slightly poorer version of Manning-to-Harrison.
6. Santana Moss, New York Jets – Despite size, was one of the league's top red-zone targets.
7. Laveranues Coles, Washington – Joe Gibbs' system is ideal for a burner like Coles.
8. Terrell Owens, Philadelphia – No denying his skills, but Andy Reid's system could hold Owens down.
9. Eric Moulds, Buffalo – It's an even-numbered year. If you follow Moulds, you know that's a good thing.
10. Anquan Boldin, Arizona – Dennis Green's teams are always a passing juggernaut. No soph slump here.
– Alan, Reading, Pa.
A: Davis has the better upside. He is running without competition in Houston, and he proved himself to be an elusive runner and sure-handed receiver during his rookie campaign last season. I came away impressed every time I watched him.
As far as his durability, I think people look at his size and assume he can't handle a full workload. Hogwash, I say. Davis averaged 20-plus carries in his final 10 games of '03. And his size – 5-foot-9, 216 pounds – is almost exactly the same as Priest Holmes and Travis Henry, who have managed to hold up very well. In fact, you can throw in Tiki Barber, LaDainian Tomlinson, Thomas Jones, Brian Westbrook and even Rudi Johnson as backs in the same size ballpark as Davis.
More and more, teams have turned to smaller backs to carry the load. Given Davis' toughness, I don't expect him to breakdown.
Johnson put up some monster numbers last season filling in for Corey Dillon, but his efforts failed to earn him a contract extension. Instead, Cincinnati went out and used a first-round draft pick on Michigan product Chris Perry. Johnson will run as the starter, but Perry is going to be a very active backup. And come this time next season, Johnson may be looking elsewhere for employment.
Q: Last year I based most of my draft strategy on strength of schedule. I won my league, but what do you think of this strategy?
– Simon, Lemoore, Calif.
A: The problem with that strategy is that parity is rampant in the NFL these days. You can't assume that, say, an 11-win team from the previous season is going to be a playoff team come the following season. I've always felt that good players find a way to get their numbers. Last season, New Orleans had what was calculated as the NFL's most difficult schedule. Yet in fantasy, the team was still able to produce a top-10 quarterback (Aaron Brooks), top-10 running back (Deuce McAllister), top-15 wide receiver (Joe Horn) and top-five tight end (Boo Williams).
This season, Miami is slated to play the most difficult schedule. But I'm not avoiding Miami players for that reason. Nope, I'm hands-off on Dolphins for another reason entirely – the retirement of Ricky Williams. Likewise, I'm not going gangbusters on Dallas players, despite the team having the NFL's easiest schedule. With Vinny Testaverde at quarterback and a past-his-prime Eddie George at running back, Cowboys are to be discounted because they'll have a very conservative offense lacking in game-breaking talent.
In general, I would only use strength of schedule as a way to break up a tie between two players that you have rated fairly close together. If, for instance, you can't decide between Laveranues Coles and Eric Moulds at receiver, certainly the fact that Washington will play the 13th-easiest schedule while Buffalo plays the 27th-easiest schedule tips the scale in Coles' direction.
Q: Wow, these "expert" mock drafts always make me laugh. Chad Johnson taken as the No. 10 receiver behind guys like Hines Ward. What gives?
– Ryan, Lake Geneva, Wisc.
A: Ryan, the joke could very well be on you. If you noticed above, I actually don't have Johnson as one of the top 10 fantasy receivers. Don't get me wrong, though. I certainly think Johnson is a terrific talent. On the right team, in the right situation, he has top-five ability. He's already proved that by finishing with top-three fantasy receiver numbers last season. But as the saying goes, past performance does not guarantee future returns – especially if your team is planning to start a second-year quarterback who has yet to throw a pass in the NFL.
With Carson Palmer behind center, expect growing pains. Cincy certainly has those expectations, which is one reason they've loaded up their running game, adding Perry in the draft to go with Johnson. The Bengals finished 16th in the league in pass attempts last season. This year, they aren't likely to finish in the top 20. And quarterback Jon Kitna completed more than 62 percent of his passes in '03. We can't expect Palmer to be that accurate in his first go-round.
The best that Johnson can hope for is that his team struggles out of the gate and Kitna is moved back into a starter's role before the season gets away from the Bengals. Then we can expect Johnson to be a top-10 producer once again.
A: Generally, you want to avoid the running back-by-committee situation. But Atlanta is one job-share that still has value in fantasy leagues. Dunn and Duckett are great complements, much like Dunn and Mike Alstott were in Tampa Bay. While Duckett handles the goal-line chores, Dunn gets all the receiving work out of the backfield, Dunn had the sixth-most receiving yards among running backs in '03. And, as far as the general carry load, that will likely be split fairly evenly between the two. I suspect that Dunn will be the more valuable fantasy back, but not by much. And that said, neither should be relied upon as more than a No. 3 fantasy back. But as a third option, you could do a lot worse than either of these guys.
Q: Just looked at your self-mock draft article. I don't see how you could say that the team that drafted three Denver running backs will get a "reward that should prove worth the effort." Spending three mid-round picks on what is a single possible No. 1 RB puts this team in a huge hole. I say possible No. 1 back because Garrison Hearst, at his age, is not likely to put up No. 1 RB numbers, and the other two RBs are unproven. In drafts, you can hardly afford to mess up one mid-round pick. Here, it's a guarantee you've messed up two mid-round picks! If you have a different analysis, I definitely would like to hear it.
– Matt, Cambridge, Mass.
A: Matt, fair question. Let me ask you this. Going in to a draft, would you give up your fourth-, fifth- and sixth-round picks for, say, Deuce McAllister? I probably would. And I know plenty of others who would. There is a very small number of surefire No. 1 backs out there. Whereas typically you'd be fishing for wide receivers, maybe a quarterback or a backup running back with picks 4-6, here I'm stating that you get a No. 1 back on a McAllister level, albeit wrapped into three selections.
I see the receiver pool this year as deep and undefined. There is a wide range of wideouts who'll fall outside the sixth round that could easily perform at a fourth- to sixth-round level.
And quarterback is also very deep. You could easily get by with a Tom Brady-type past the sixth round, or you could almost certainly score big with a late-round surprise like Byron Leftwich, Josh McCown, Mark Brunell or Joey Harrington, to name a few. I'd rather have my running back situation locked down tight and make my gambles at the other positions.
The key to owning all Denver backs is you get a monopoly on what is the Boardwalk/Park Place of fantasy real estate. As I stated in my other articles, head coach Mike Shanahan has been in Denver nine years. In that time, his teams have never finished worse than 12th in rushing yards, and have seven top-five finishes in that category.
At the time of my mock draft, the Denver situation was more unclear than it is at present. A month ago, Quentin Griffin, Tatum Bell and Garrison Hearst were considered very close in value. Now that Bell has fractured his finger and Griffin has spent the early part of training camp running with the first team, it seems a little unnecessary to go back-to-back-to-back with all three that early in the draft. Drafting Griffin in that 4-6 range and picking up the others later makes more sense, but that wasn't the case at the time of my mock draft.
My point is, whoever lines up at running back for Denver in a given week is going to be a good bet for 100 yards and all the gravy that winds up going with that. There are reports that from a week-to-week basis, a different back could be featured, including Mike Anderson. So even if Griffin is currently No. 1 on the depth chart, it's written in pencil, not pen. If you are going for the Denver land grab, you just need to make sure you get all the parts that could factor into that, no matter when you get them.
- Laveranues Coles