If you want to win in fantasy football you have to combine safe picks with a healthy dose of risky picks. With risk comes reward.
Fantasy players who decided to wait on running backs and selected a slew of risky rookies last year probably won their league.
A player who managed to snag LaDainian Tomlinson and laughed maniacally when Tom Brady fell to them in the second round were not nearly as successful as the player who picked Steve Slaton and Kurt Warner in the middle and ends of the draft.
Coming into last season, Brady and Tomlinson were about as safe a pick as you could get. Then Brady suffered a season-ending injury and Tomlinson, while good, wasn’t as good as his cost to fantasy football players.
Now, that said, let’s not throw all safe players out the window. A little while back I said that owners should pick someone who’s safe in the first round. Safety is a relative term, because we can poke holes in every player in the top 20. But some have fewer issues than others and those are the players I’m going to discuss right now.
But I’m also going to throw in one player per position who is seemingly safe, but could easily bust due to one or more issues, not because I have to, but because the Chinstrap Ninjas are all about value:
QB Drew Brees
This one’s a no-brainer. He shouldn’t be able to match last year’s performance. But why not? He’s got a potentially healthy Marques Colston back, and the slew of non-descript receivers that led him to his near-record breaking performance return, too.
Why I didn’t pick Peyton Manning: That offense wasn’t completely right last year. The run-blocking was terrible. Then, in the Colts’ first preseason game this year, Manning was sacked five times in just a couple series. I predict bad things in Indy in 2009.
RB1 Clinton Portis
Yes, I agree that he’s had a heavy workload for a 28-year-old running back, but like LaDainian Tomlinson, I can’t pick against him until he completely underproduces for his draft slot/value.
Why I didn’t pick Maurice Jones-Drew: Experts have predicted workload overload for Adrian Peterson and Michael Turner and Jay Cutler could cut into Matt Forte, but Jones-Drew has been left off several fantasy chopping blocks. He’s never had to carry a full load. Isn’t that enough of a question mark?
RB2 Ronnie Brown
Facts: Brown’s entering his second full season after knee surgery, he’s the No. 1 RB, the team is going in the right direction to need to run the ball more, he’s excellent at catching the ball out of the backfield. (Runner up: Pierre Thomas)
Why I didn’t pick Kevin Smith: Smith seems safe because the carries are all his, but he runs for a bad team. He’ll earn many catches, but won’t run out the clock enough to be a top pick. He also had about 5,000 carries in college, so there is a workload risk.
WR1 Calvin Johnson
The thumb injury he’s battling is a little nerve-wracking, but the numbers he put up last year with crud throwing him the ball should indicate that the QB doesn’t matter. Johnson will get open, he will go up and get errant throws, he will catch TDs.
Why I didn’t pick Larry Fitzgerald: Man, Fitzgerald is one of my favorite pros – I’ve had him in one keeper league since the end of his rookie season – but there are questions in 2009. His quarterback is 38, and the backup is squishy. There are also two other receivers on that team who had 1,000 yards receiving last year. If teams get smart, and most are pretty smart, they’ll double-cover Fitzgerald every play in 2009.
WR2 Greg Jennings
Lots of upside with Jennings, and that offense is built to put up some massive passing yards. Other than a complete collapse in Green Bay, I can’t think of any reason why Jennings won’t be a stud in 2009.
Why I didn’t pick Randy Moss: Brady’s back, and Moss was outstanding even in his absence last year. But will Brady be up to throwing 500 times again? Even if he does, I think we’ve seen Moss’s ceiling. We don’t yet know what Jennings or Johnson are capable of, but Moss’s been in the league since 1998 (Don’t forget, he’s been in the league longer and is about the same age as “aging” WRs like Torry Holt and Donald Driver.)
TE Jason Witten
Is there any doubt that he’s the top TE in the league? No injury worries and he gets quite a few looks from his quarterback. If anything, his 96-catch, 1,145-yard, 7-TD season from 2007 seems like it could be a low estimate now that TO has skipped town.
Why I didn’t pick Tony Gonzelez: As much as I think Turner might struggle, that team’s built for the run, coach Mike Smith likes to run, and they’ll continue to run. He’s still an elite player, but he won’t be the focal point of the passing game in Atlanta and he’s 33-years old. His numbers could also decline considerably.
You want kickers and defenses? You haven’t been reading enough of Chinstrap Ninjas. Check out jzak’s post on why you should punt kicker rankings. I posted something about how unpredictable real NFL defenses are. I didn’t go into detail, but you could figure that fantasy scoring is just as unpredictable.
So, am I cracked? No way Jennings is a safer pick than Moss? Please tell us all about it in the comments. And while you’re at it, what player(s) do you deem safe in 2009?