By Paul Mittermeier
As the NFL preseason begins, football fans across the country have already begun the process of deciding who to draft in their fantasy football leagues. Most will congregate on that last weekend of August to select the players they feel will bring home the league championship and earn them bragging rights over friends and colleagues.
Keep your fantasy eye on Daunte Culpepper, Derrick Mason, Carson Palmer and of course, LaDainian Tomlinson. ((c) NFL/Getty Images)
The best-prepared fantasy players usually have the upper hand come draft time and throughout the year. One of the most important things to do to make your team consistent week in and week out is to keep track of bye weeks. The prepared player not only checks to make sure his backups don't have the same bye weeks, but also checks the match-ups on those weeks as well. There is nothing worse in fantasy football than watching your stud running back sit out the bye week and then realizing that your backup is facing the Buccaneers, Ravens or Steelers.
During the draft, make sure to have the master NFL schedule so that when you are on the clock you can easily see which teams have byes and what the match-ups are for the week.
Now, on to the greatest debate of the preseason. Who should go No. 1? Three running backs are at the tops of everybody's list. Seattle's Shaun Alexander, Kansas City's Larry Johnson and San Diego's LaDainian Tomlinson are this season's triumvirate of power. However, all three have lingering question marks coming into this season. Alexander and the Seahawks lost left guard Steve Hutchinson to the Minnesota Vikings, Johnson will have to try to duplicate last year's performance without all-world left tackle Willie Roaf and Tomlinson will line up behind rookie quarterback Philip Rivers after Drew Brees took the money and headed to the Big Easy. Regardless, Tomlinson has the edge. His ability to make opponents miss and to catch the ball out of the backfield gives him a slight advantage over Alexander and Johnson.
Another key to fantasy success is finding the sleeper running back in the third or fourth round that is ready for a breakout year. Last year I picked up the Giants' Tiki Barber in the fourth round. 1,860 yards and 11 touchdowns later, the decision had clearly paid off. Unfortunately, there's no way he will be available that late in any league's draft this time around. Some running backs that could be available and primed for such a season include Julius Jones (Dallas), Kevin Jones (Detroit), DeShaun Foster (Carolina) and Chester Taylor (Minnesota).
There are several quarterbacks coming off of serious injuries that are considered risky picks. The two offering the greatest risk versus reward are Carson Palmer (Cincinnati) and Daunte Culpepper (Miami). Both studs have great stats and are coming back from season-ending knee injuries, but either could turn out to be the biggest steal in the draft.
This year there are a handful of Ravens who may be worth fantasy consideration. The Ravens' defense will bounce back this season, but don't be that guy who takes those players in the first round.
Also be wary of Jamal Lewis and Steve McNair, who are unlikely to put up huge numbers. However, a couple of Ravens that McNair will be throwing to should get some serious consideration in the higher rounds. Derrick Mason is an intriguing fantasy option. McNair and Mason still have the chemistry they built in Tennessee, which could turn out to be an asset, especially in the red zone. Todd Heap should put up some big numbers, too. Last season, Heap set career highs in receptions and touchdowns while playing at about 70 percent. This year the all-pro tight end is healthy and it hasn't taken McNair long to find No. 86 on third down in training camp. Heap could catch 100 passes this year.
Another guy to think about at the end of your draft is Daniel Wilcox. Wilcox could be the Ravens' version of Frank Wycheck. He has good hands and given the right match-up could get you some valuable points when your top tight end has a bye week.
Issue 1.16: August 10, 2006