Decade Debate: Greatest Fantasy Players

In the world of fantasy football, a decade is a long time. It’s rare for a player to achieve fantasy stardom for five straight years, much less ten. As part of our Decade Debate series, here is a list of the top players of the ’00s, by position, under a high performance scoring system. The criteria is simple — we’re looking for sustained excellence.

QB: Peyton Manning, Colts

Let’s see, from 2000 to 2008, Manning has averaged 4,195 passing yards, 31.2 touchdowns, and only 13.6 interceptions. He is the model of consistency, never missing a start and finishing in the top 6 each and every season. In 2009, he’s on pace for another 4,967 yards and 35 TD. At just 33 years of age, the durable Manning has a shot at being the top fantasy QB of the ’10s as well.

Honorable Mention: Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Brett Favre, Donovan McNabb, Daunte Culpepper

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Fantasy Quick-Hitters: LT/Sproles, Pierre/Bell & Gonzalez’s knee

LaDainian Tomlinson limping after win in Oakland. LT2 was replaced for much of the second half by Darren Sproles, who played well in his place. Tomlinson was determined to have a bounce back season, but he’s off to a rough start. Even if his ankle is better heading into Week 2, the Chargers are going to utilize Sproles heavily to keep Tomlinson fresh. This is bad news for LT2 owners.

HC Sean Payton: Bell and P. Thomas are “competing for touches in a course of a game.” Bell’s big day against the Lions has earned him more playing time, much to the chagrin of Thomas owners who drafted him in the third or fourth round expecting RB1/RB2 production. Expect a committee going forward.

A. Gonzalez’s knee injury not year-ending. However, he has multiple sprained ligaments so he may be out a while. Austin Collie, Pierre Garcon and Dallas Clark will pick up the slack, though the Colts will look to add a veteran (but not Marvin Harrison) if Gonzalez’s knee injury will keep him out a month or more.

Ranking the top 5 fantasy RBs

We’ll be spending much of our fantasy football preview (coming soon!) highlighting the players who represent good value this year. But while finding a few diamonds in the rough can make or break a fantasy team, it is just as important to pick the right diamond in the first round. Fantasy championships aren’t won in the first round, but they can be lost.

To that end, I’m going to discuss the five RBs that I believe are head and shoulders above the rest. The first three players are as solid as the day is long, and while the last two aren’t quite as dependable, their upside trumps the question marks surrounding their short-term prospects.

Any ADP data you see is from Antsports, and it assumes a 12-team league with their high performance scoring system, which includes six points per rush TD and one point per reception.

1. Maurice Jones-Drew, Jaguars (1.02)
Sharing time with Fred Taylor for much of his career, MJD has still averaged 1313 total yards, 49 receptions and 12.6 TD over his first three seasons. Even though Taylor seemed to step aside in 2008, he still had 143 carries, which ate into MJD’s touches. The Jacksonville offensive line is finally healthy, and along with new additions Eugene Monroe and Eben Britton, the Jags should get much better play up front. With Taylor gone and an easier schedule, all signs point to a career year for Maurice Jones-Drew.
Projected stats: 230 carries, 1035 rushing yards, 12 rush TD; 55 rec, 495 rec yards, 2 rec TD…291 fantasy points

2. Matt Forte, Bears (1.03)
As a rookie, Forte was the top fantasy back in 2008. Kevin Jones has been looking good, and the Bears seem to want to take some of the workload off of their young buck. So I’m predicting a drop in carries and receptions, but not a huge drop. He is one of the league’s best pass-catching backs and with limited options in the passing game, Jay Cutler will have to look Forte’s way early and often. Moreover, the Bears’ O-line looks to be improved with the addition of Orlando Pace, who needs to stay healthy for Forte to drastically improve his pedestrian ypc (3.9).
Projected stats: 269 carries, 1103 rushing yards, 8 rush TD; 57 rec, 433 rec yards, 3 rec TD…277 fantasy points

3. Adrian Peterson, Bears (1.01)
It looks like Brett Favre isn’t going to be under center for the Vikings, so the offense will again be extremely dependent on Peterson’s ability to run the football. Even though he faced a host of eight-man fronts last season, he still averaged 4.8 yards per carry, in no small part because Minny has one of the best offensive lines in football. AP is a threat in the passing game, but the Vikings don’t make much of an effort to get him the ball in space. One downside – he led the league in fumbles (9) in 2008.
Projected stats: 340 carries, 1632 rushing yards, 11 rush TD; 20 rec, 160 rec yards, 1 rec TD…271 fantasy points

4. LaDainian Tomlinson, Chargers (1.06)
LT2 didn’t turn in the kind of season that we were all expecting, but he still had a solid year, finishing as 2008’s RB10. (Had he scored one more TD, he would have been RB6.) He fought through groin and toe injuries, but looks completely healthy now and head coach Norv Turner expects him to challenge for the rushing title. Tomlinson is on the wrong side of 30, and has carried the ball 2657 times in his career. But he’s always been special, so there’s a good chance he can buck the odds and squeeze another top 5 season (or two) out of those old bones.
Projected stats: 260 carries, 1092 rushing yards, 11 rush TD; 45 rec, 338 rec yards, 2 rec TD…266 fantasy points

5. Steven Jackson, Rams (1.05)
Even though he missed (or was limited) in five games in 2008, Jackson still finished the season as RB19 and was one of only five backs – Forte, DeAngelo Williams, Brian Westbrook and Reggie Bush being the other four – to average at least 19 fantasy points per game. Clearly, he’s a top 5 back when healthy, but can he stay healthy? He has missed eight games over the last two seasons, so it’s a legitimate concern. Still, his upside is too good to pass up at 1.05.
Projected stats: 280 carries, 1148 rushing yards, 9 rush TD; 45 rec, 383 rec yards, 2 rec TD…264 fantasy points

You may be wondering where Michael Turner’s name is, but as the Falcons open up the playbook more and more for Matt Ryan (along with the addition of Tony Gonzalez), I don’t think Turner will approach 370 carries again this season. Besides, he’s not involved enough in the Falcons’ passing game to warrant a spot on this list, at least in a PPR league.

Of course, I always reserve the right to change my mind (or my projections), but as it stands today, this is the order in which I would go if I were drafting in a high performance PPR league. In the meantime, be sure to follow “FantasyTips” on Twitter, where we’ll be publishing even more fantasy content as the season gets closer.

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