Remember when we were instructed to draft running backs with our first two, and in some cases, our first four, fantasy football picks? Yeah, that was so 1999. Heck, that was so 2004 or 2005 when LT and Shaun Alexander were dominating the gridiron. But a funny thing has happened. Running backs by committee are not only keeping legs fresh, they are wreaking havoc on fantasy rosters. Also, a recent trend toward pass-happy offenses is making quarterbacks and receivers more valuable. Last season, QBs were dominating — here is how the Top 10 QBs finished fantasy-wise in 2008 (your league may have scored differently than mine) and what you can expect from them in 2009:
1. Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints—Brees fell 15 yards short of Dan Marino’s single season passing yards record, finishing with 5069 yards, along with 34 touchdowns and 17 interceptions. Is he going to match that? There’s no reason to believe he won’t.
2. Philip Rivers, San Diego Chargers—I had LT last year and one of the reasons his stats suffered was because this guy kept throwing the damn ball. Rivers threw for 4009 yards with 34 TDs and just 11 picks. This year, will they go back to more of a run-first offense? Probably not — not with LT a year older.
3. Kurt Warner, Arizona Cardinals—Ah, the Fountain of Youth is a beautiful thing. Warner drank from it often, and of course when you have guys named Boldin and Fitzgerald to throw to, it can make you look good and feel ten years younger. Still, who expected 4582 yards and 30 touchdowns with 14 picks and a trip to the Super Bowl? Not me. This year, Warner may not have Boldin, who just keeps whining about his contract, but don’t think the QB’s numbers will suffer all that much.
4. Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers—Brett who? You certainly won’t hear anyone blaming the Packers’ 6-10 season on Rodgers. It was in fact their defense that failed them, because Rodgers passed for 4038 yards with 28 TDs and 13 interceptions. And just for kicks, Favre’s numbers with the Jets were 3472 yards, but 22 TDs and league leading 22 picks. Going into 2009, Rodgers’ stock has to be even higher.
5. Jay Cutler, Denver Broncos—On what planet does 4526 yards and 25 touchdown passes get you run out of town? In Denver, where new coach Josh McDaniel screwed up and tried to trade for Matt Cassel. Oops. Cutler is now in Chicago, so that means his fantasy stock automatically drops a few notches.
6. Peyton Manning, Indianapolis Colts—The Colts got off to a horrible start and in fact didn’t win the division for the first time in years. But Manning finished strong, with 4002 yards, 27 TDs and just 12 picks. Marvin Harrison is no longer catching his passes, but that doesn’t mean Manning doesn’t have weapons.
7. Donovan McNabb, Philadelphia Eagles—It was a roller coaster season in 2008, but the Eagles came within about a quarter of reaching the Super Bowl. Somehow McNabb held it together (what, they have ties in the NFL?) and wound up having a great season, passing for 3916 yards with 23 TD passes and 11 picks. He only had 147 rushing yards and 2 rushing scores, but that’s what Philly has Brian Westbrook for. McNabb is getting long in the tooth, but he’s smarter and as accurate as ever.
8. Tony Romo, Dallas Cowboys—Okay, so there may be trouble in paradise and there is no T.O. anymore, but Romo is still a very good fantasy QB. His 3448 yards and 26 TDs were a bit off his 2007 pace (4211, 36 TDs), but part of that is because he missed a few games with a thumb injury.
9. Matt Cassel, New England Patriots—With zero pro experience and almost zero college experience, who would have thought Matt Cassel could come in for Tom Brady and have the season he did? Okay, so he is no Brady, but Brady is in a class of his own anyway. Cassel’s 3490 yards with 21 TD passes and just 10 interceptions were good enough to land him the starting job in Kansas City. How that will affect his fantasy stats remains to be seen, but don’t expect too much of a drop-off on an improved Chiefs’ team.
10. Chad Pennington, Miami Dolphins—You know Chad is still gloating after being pushed out of New York by Brett Favre, and then leading his Dolphins to the division title. Pennington is always risky as a fantasy QB because of injuries and inconsistency, but 3653 yards and 19 TDs is not shabby, nor was his microscopic total of 7 picks. If he stays healthy, Chad should have another good season.
The other name you’ll have to consider in 2009 is Brady. He missed the final 15 ¾ of the season after getting knocked out of the opener against Kansas City, but early reports are that Brady is looking and feeling great and will be at full strength in 2009. Randy Moss is salivating, and so will fantasy owners, though they will do so skeptically.
Are you ready for some football? I know I am and feel great just talking about it!
(Next week: Wide Receivers)