You’re getting a 2007 fantasy football preview for three reasons:
1. Because my East Coast draft already happened and I have the No. 1 pick in my West Coast draft next week … which means I’m getting LaDainian Tomlinson … which means I can give away all my sleepers, favorite picks and stay-aways and still finish third or higher with LDT on my team. It’s good to be the king.
2. Because we need a dissenting opinion to combat the side effects of MBFO (Matt Berry Fantasy Overload). Just know that Berry and I made a wager last season on Steven Jackson’s 2006 production — I was pro-Jackson, he was anti-Jackson — and I cruised to an easy victory and won dinner off him. Sure, it will end up being an overcooked cheeseburger at the Ruby Tuesday’s in Bristol, but that doesn’t change the fact the scoreboard reads, “Simmons 1, Berry 0.” If you want to trust Berry for your fantasy tips this year, good luck with your sixth-place finish. If you want the proven fantasy football guru of ESPN.com who has been churning out winners for the past six years, keep reading.
3. Because it’s going to be more entertaining than hearing me bitch about J.D. Drew and the 2007 Red Sox for 2,000 words.
Without further ado, here’s my Top-50 list heading into the weekend using the tier system:
TIER ONE: THE SURE THINGS
1. LaDainian Tomlinson
Probably the single-best argument for scrapping the draft format and going to the auction format. On the other hand, it’s fun to have LDT for an entire season while your buddies constantly bitch about the fact you have him; there’s really nothing else like it in the male bonding stratosphere. I mean, your friends wouldn’t begrudge you for making a lot of money, or having a great car or girlfriend, or buying a huge house. … If anything, they’d be happy for you. But when you have Tomlinson on your team? They openly hate, envy and disparage you the entire time. Somebody needs to bring this up during his Hall of Fame enshrinement in 10 years.
DON’T MISS …
Before you head to the theaters for Rob Zombie’s “Halloween” remake this weekend, dip into the archives for Bill Simmons’ mock “SportsCentury” episode about the great Michael Myers.
2. Steven Jackson
Although 2007 could be the year when a running back gets pulled down from behind by his dreads and blows out his ACL, MCL, PCL, XFL and ACLPA. We’re overdue. He’s one of the prime candidates.
3. Shaun Alexander
Comeback year. You can feel it in the air.
4. Joseph Addai
One of the fundamental mistakes of fantasy football is that people would value Addai over Alexander because it’s more fun to take Addai. After all, he’s the up-and-comer, the potential breakout guy, the guy with the higher ceiling. Well, why not go with the guy who’s healthy and who has done it before? With your first-round pick, you should approach it like you’d bet your life on the pick. Would you bet your life on Addai doing better than Alexander this season? I sure wouldn’t.
5. Frank Gore
Dropped him two spots because of the broken right hand. I think he’s on pace to break or tear every bone and ligament in his body.
6. Larry Johnson
Forget the fact he put 110,000 miles on his odometer in 2006 and 2007. After watching a month of “Hard Knocks” episodes, what scared you more — the Brodie Croyle/Damon Huard combo at QB, or Herm Edwards being Herm Edwards? Did anyone else watch Herm and think, “Wow, I’m glad we finally know what it would have been like if Cameron Diaz’s dad in “There’s Something About Mary” became an NFL coach”? His “I did a terrible job preparing the team this week … I DID A TERRIBLE JOB!” speech in Episode 4 rivaled some of Denny Green’s finest work.
TIER TWO: THE NON-REACHES
7. Peyton Manning
My logic: The gap between Manning and the sixth-best QB in the league is much more significant than the gap between Westbrook/Parker and whatever RB you’d get in the second round. If you don’t take Manning here, you’re not getting him on the way back, and you’re not taking Palmer in the top half of the second round, and you might not get Brady/Brees/McNabb in Round 3. Why risk pinning your fantasy hopes on the likes of Jon Kitna?
8. Brian Westbrook
Replaces Tiki Barber in the old “Reuben Sandwich” analogy that I’ve been making for years. When you had Tiki on your team, it was like ordering a Reuben at lunch — for some reason, there’s a hesitation as you’re making the order, but when you’re eating it, you’re thinking, “Man, why don’t I order the Reuben more often?” and your friends are all looking over and wishing they had ordered it. Now, Westbrook is like that. You never hear someone say, “Man, I wish I didn’t pick Bryant Westbrook.” Er, Brian Westbrook.
THE FIRST ANNUAL SPORTS GUY HANDICAPPING CHALLENGE
Starting this season, ESPN.com expanded its Pigskin Pick’em game and allowed an unlimited number of people in a group. In other words, let’s say I wanted to start a gigantic NFL Picks Pool in which any reader could pick every NFL game against the spread and compete against me, the Sports Gal and various ESPN and ESPN.com personalities and other readers, and let’s say the winner received a dopey prize to be named later.
Would you welcome to the chance to potentially kick my prognasticating ass? Well, here’s your chance: If you have an ESPN username, click here and follow the instructions.
9. Willie Parker
Scares me only because of the fumbles. Fumbles eventually kill a running back’s confidence, turn the fans against him and cause his coaches to say things like, “Maybe I’ll start Najeh Davenport this week …”
10. Willis McGahee
Baltimore’s upgrade from Jamal Lewis to McGahee was like going from coach to first class on one of those two-floor jumbo jets like the one they used on “Snakes on a Plane.” By Week 6, I see him sitting at 600-plus yards and eight TDs and taking shots at J.P. Losman. Too bad we can’t wager on this.
(Note: Speaking or predictions, if “Snakes” doesn’t have one of the most magical runs in cable history, I’ll be shocked. So much to love, including Sam Jackson showing off a Barry Bonds-sized noggin, Juliana Marguiles with an “I never should have left ‘ER’ ” look on her face, Tim Riggins from “Friday Night Lights” joining the Mile High Club, Kenan Thompson successfully landing the plane because of his experience landing planes in video games and, yes, snakes eating people on a plane. I’ve watched this movie three times in 10 days, and I might go for No. 4 tonight.)
11. Reggie Bush
First, he’s not doing worse than he did in 2006 (1,300 rushing/receiving yards, eight TDs). Second, he should be better — it’s a logical evolution for a second-year back. Third, there’s an outside chance he could have a monster season. And fourth, out of the next 10 guys on the list, he’s the one who’d leave you kicking yourself if he DID have a monster year and you passed on him. So just take him here.
12. Cedric Benson
Getting 350-400 carries on a great defensive team with a potential midair plane collision playing QB. (Note: I’m tired of the phrase “train wreck,” we need to start mixing it up.) Shouldn’t this translate into 1,300-1,500 yards, 10-12 TDs and an eventual inclusion in the “Curse of 370” Club next summer? Or am I overthinking this?
13. Marvin Harrison
He’s the best receiver. He’s always the best receiver. Just take him. Nobody has ever said the words, “I wish I hadn’t taken Marvin Harrison.” Well, unless you’re in a playoff fantasy league.
TIER THREE: THE SLIGHT HESITATION GUYS
14. Marshawn Lynch
If we’ve learned anything about fantasy football over the years, it’s this: Every season, without fail, one rookie RB puts up a ton of fantasy points. Since Lynch is the obvious candidate this year, I’m overvaluing him and sticking him here. And if the aforementioned Rookie RB Du’ Jour turns out to be Adrian Peterson, so be it.
15. Travis Henry
A little scary because of the fumbling problem and Mike Shanahan’s abject hatred for fantasy owners … and that’s before we get to last weekend’s remarkable “nine kids by nine different women” revelation. Remember when we were all blown away when it was reported that Shawn Kemp had seven kids by six different women? If Kemp was like Roger Bannister breaking the four-minute mile, then Henry just brought the sports fertility record down to the 3:35 range. You have to admire the way he’s spreading his seed around. According to the guys at Football Outsiders, Henry has the highest kids-per-partners rate (100.0) since they started keeping track of the stat in 1993.
16. Maurice Jones-Drew
Take it from a proud MoJo owner in 2006 — you can’t go wrong. You really can’t. Every time they cut into a game to say, “Let’s go to Jacksonville,” you’ll move to the edge of your seat thinking MoJo just broke a 76-yard screen pass. I think he’s a little undervalued this year, actually.
17. Carson Palmer
Everybody now: one … two … three …
“IT TAKES TWO YEARS TO FULLY RECOVER FROM A TORN ACL!”
THE ANNUAL PARAGRAPH OF PLAYERS I DON’T LIKE
Willie Parker; Rudi Johnson; Laurence Maroney; Terrell Owens; Clinton Portis; Randy Moss; Eli Manning; Chad Pennington; anyone involved with Baltimore, Chicago, Cleveland, Jacksonville, Kansas City, Miami, Minnesota or Tampa passing games; Julius Jones; Jay Cutler; Tatum Bell; Jamal Lewis; Kevin Curtis; any tight end other than Gates; any kicker in a round other than the last round.
18. Rudi Johnson
One of those picks with which you’re not happy even as it’s happening, and then Kenny Watson starts stealing carries from him and you’re telling your friends, “I knew I shouldn’t have taken Rudi Johnson!” as they patiently wait for you to finish whining so they can complain about their team next. And yeah, I know this is 8-10 spots lower than he’s going everywhere else. I don’t care. Buyer beware.
19. Laurence Maroney
Trust me on this one: he won’t get as many carries as everyone thinks. Kevin Faulk is the third-down back, and they might use Maroney and Sammy Morris almost as a Starter 1A/Starter 1B thing to keep Maroney fresh for December and January. (Remember, he died down the stretch last season, partly because of a bum shoulder and partly because he just ran out of gas.) And if that’s not enough, they love going play-action near the goal line and throwing to linebackers and third-string tight ends. Just promise me you won’t take Maroney before the second half of the second round. Don’t do it.
20. Edge James
Comeback year alert! Comeback year alert! Please read Michael Silver’s recent Edge column for further details. Although I might just be high on the Edge because he drinks Patron.
TIER FOUR: STEADY ADDITIONS
21. Tom Brady
For the first time, Brady is blessed with an above-average receiving crew that includes his best slot guy since Troy Brown in 2001 (Wes Welker), two home-run threats (Donte Stallworth and Randy Moss), a pass-catching tight end (the slightly overrated Ben Watson) and some serious depth if anyone gets hurt. Only one person could sidetrack a career season for Brady: Bridget Moynahan, his enterprising ex-girlfriend who gave birth to his baby after spending the past nine months clotheslining US Weekly photographers to take her picture while she held her belly. I was hoping she’d name her baby, “Son of New England Patriots’ Star Quarterback Tom Brady Moynihan.”
22. Donovan McNabb
I like him. Can’t explain it. I think it’s because he gave up on the Gus Williams Memorial Afro and finally shaved his head.
23. Drew Brees
The last reliable QB pick. Right after the Brady/McNabb/Brees group goes, that’s when everyone looks at their list and says, “Oh, s—, I better get a QB!” And that’s the chain of events that leads someone to say the words, “I’m taking Jon Kitna.”
24. Larry Fitzgerald
I like everyone on that ‘Zona offense — they finally have a real coaching staff. Yeah, I want to crown Ken Whisenhunt and his staff! I want to crown their asses! OK? All right? That new coaching staff is what I thought they were gonna be! OK? All right?
25a. T.J. Houshmanzadeh
25b. Chad Johnson
It’s unclear why everyone ranks Johnson over Housh when Housh had better stats last season, and Housh’s efficiency as a receiver (number of catches versus number of times they threw to him) was one of the highest in football. So why do people take Johnson over Housh? Because nobody wants to say Housh’s name. If his name sounded as cool as “Torry Holt” or “Reggie Wayne,” he’d crack everyone’s top 30.
27. Reggie Wayne
He’s always one Harrison groin pull away from being the No. 1 receiver in football for a few weeks.
28. Steve Smith
Free falls into the late-20s because of the ongoing QB problems in Carolina. Has there ever been a recipe for a 6-10 season quite like a Jake Delhomme/David Carr QB battle? And what are the odds Smith sucker punches one of them before November?
29. Torry Holt
Top-five sentences you never want to hear from your No. 1 fantasy receiver: “In time, I’m going to be exonerated of these charges.” … “I’m never using cocaine again.” … “I did not knowingly take steroids, I thought I was taking a vitamin supplement.” … “My knee isn’t totally recovered from the surgery, I’m at like 75-80 percent right now, but it’s feeling better every day.” … and (fill in any Terrell Owens quote since 2004). And, yes, Holt made the knee comment this week. Gulp.
30. Javon Walker
After what happened in the offseason, it’s safe to say Mr. Walker will be sufficiently inspired this season.
TIER FIVE: THE GUYS NOBODY CAN AGREE ON
31. Thomas Jones
The first Jet is off the board! J … E … T … S … JETS, JETS, JETS!
32. Lee Evans
Seems a little early, but screw it. Anyone who can catch long TD passes thrown by the likes of J.P. Losman deserves to be taken seriously. By the way, I forgot to put Evans on the Lindsey Hunter All-Stars for athletes with names that make them sound like hot females. Sorry about that, Lee.
33a. Marion Barber
33b. Deuce McAllister
Just because they rack up those TDs. I have Barber ranked slightly higher because every one who watched the 2006 Cowboys and/or studied their 2006 statistics believes Barber is clearly better than Julius Jones. Eventually, you’d think that someone on the Dallas coaching staff will realize this. On the other hand, Wade Phillips is prominently involved, so who knows?
35. Marques Colston
Everyone seems lukewarm on him this year. I don’t get it. What’s not to like? He’s clearly their No. 1 guy now.
36. Antonio Gates
A hard one for me because he killed both of my fantasy teams last season and I kinda sorta hate him for it. And yet, if Norv Turner has shown anything over the years, it’s an ability to maximize his assets on offense and get career years out of them. You’d think this would happen with Gates. You’d think.
37. Andre Johnson
It’s not like Matt Schaub is Joe Montana or anything, but at least he’s a decent QB, and Johnson was putting up big numbers with David Carr slinging him the ball. And don’t underestimate the positive effects of rookie WR Jacoby Jones (aka, the 2007 Mega-Sleeper Who Isn’t a Mega-Sleeper Any More After Last Week’s Preseason Game) opening some space for him. Like this pick. He’s 40-to-1 in Vegas to finish with the most receiving yards, by the way. Hmmmmmm.
38. Terrell Owens
Just know that he’ll never be on my team. I can’t root for him. It’s not in me. When TO does something good, I don’t want to feel happy. Also, for the number of times they threw to him, he should have had better numbers. I just don’t see him getting better. Speaking of TO, did anyone else think that the Idaho senator hired Kim Etheredge to handle his P.R. decisions this week?
TIER SIX: THE WILD CARDS
39. Donald Driver
Stick a gigantic, Bonds-like asterisk next to this pick if we find out that his injured foot is keeping him out for an extended length of time. When healthy, he’s one of the most reliable fantasy guys in football — not quite the Reuben, but definitely a grilled ham and cheese sandwich.
40. Clinton Portis
The captain of the “I Hope Somebody Else Takes Him So I Don’t Have To” Team.
41. Marc Bulger
If Westbrook is the Reuben, and Driver is the grilled ham and cheese, then Bulger is like an onion bagel that’s toasted and covered in butter — good enough to tide you over until dinner, tasty if you’re in the right mood, but that’s about it. I don’t totally trust him this season — between the contract extension, Holt’s knee, Isaac Bruce’s age and the inevitable Drew Bennett injury that hasn’t happened yet, he makes me juuuuuuuuuuuuust a little nervous. I’d almost rather take my chances with Alex Smith or Matt Schaub a few rounds from here.
42. Vince Young
Let’s say Bulger comes close to last year’s stats: 4,200 passing yards, 24 passing TDs and 44 rushing yards. And let’s say Young finishes with realistic numbers for him, something like 2,500 passing yards, 750 rushing yards, 13 passing TDs and eight rushing TDs. Guess who would have more fantasy points using a conventional scoring system with one point for every 20 passing yards, one point for every 10 rushing yards, four points for passing TDs and six for rushing TDs? Yep … Vince Young. So why is Bulger ranked 5-10 spots ahead of Young in every fantasy magazine, newspaper and Web site? You got me.
43. Adrian Peterson
The home run pick for this tier. Yeah, he’s splitting time with Chester Taylor and probably rushing against the first-ever 11-0-0 defensive formation because of Tavaris Jackson … but you never know.
44. Philip Rivers
You know he’ll put up solid numbers, and there’s a chance Norv Turner will give him a boost. Yes, this is where I include the obligatory “Every offense that Norv has taken over since 1873 has jumped at least 10 places in the offensive standings” stat.
45. Ronnie Brown
Splitting preseason carries with Jesse Chatman on an awful team with below-average QBs and spectacularly bad receivers, and it’s unclear whether he was ever that good in the first place. Other than that, he looks good.
46. Brandon Jacobs
Crummy team, crummy coaching staff, and it’s unclear whether he’s the poor man’s Christian Okoye or the homeless man’s Christian Okoye.
47. Roy Williams
Seems about right.
48. Matt Hasselbeck
49. Anquan Boldin
See the reason for No. 24.
50. Ahman Green
Here’s where the draft officially falls off — when you’re talking yourself into Ahman Green. I’d go with the Ravens, Bears or Pats defense in this spot. But that’s just me.
While we’re here, my 12 favorite fantasy sleepers:
Sleeper No. 1: Wes Welker
I am making one “take this to the bank” prediction, and only one: if he stays healthy, Wes Welker will catch at least 85 passes for at least 950 yards and at least eight TDs this season … and he’ll throw in one or two special teams TDs to boot.
Sleeper No. 2: Vince Young
As explained above.
Sleeper No. 3 (tie): Matt Schaub, Alex Smith
I’d rather grab these guys in the middle rounds over wasting a fourth-round pick on Bulger or Hasselbeck and hoping they stay healthy.
Sleeper No. 4: Jerious Norwood and Warrick Dunn (as a handcuff tandem)
If you go this route, make sure you get both — after analyzing this from every direction, I have become convinced that (A) the Falcons have more Ewing Theory potential than any sports team in the 21st century, (B) Bobby Petrino might have a bigger fantasy impact than any player on this list outside of the top six, and (C) it’s exceedingly possible Joey Harrington isn’t a terrible quarterback.
Sleeper No. 5: Vincent Jackson
Technically, he’s not a sleeper anymore because everyone’s onto him. We need a new term for guys like this. Nappers? Dozers?
Sleeper No. 6: Jacoby Jones
If I’m a Dolphins fan this season, I’m thinking about four things: (1) I hate Nick Saban; (2) I hate Daunte Culpepper; (3) I hate Ricky Williams; and (4) instead of taking Ted Ginn Jr., the Fins could have taken Brady Quinn at No. 9 and grabbed Jones at No. 71 (two picks before the Texans took him) to do the same things that Ginn does. Bad times.
Sleeper No. 7: The Oakland defense
They were a top-five defense last season (secretly) and now they have a real coaching staff and the following QBs on their schedule: Jon Kitna, Jay Cutler (twice), Charlie Frye/Derek Anderson, Trent Green, Damon Huard (twice), Vince Young, Matt Schaub, Rex Grossman. Tavaris Jackson, Brett Favre, Byron Leftwich. That’s a lot of potential turnovers, no? I just made your second-to-last round pick for you.
Sleeper No. 8: Joe Horn
Might have one last good season in him. And don’t underestimate the Petrino Factor. In fact …
Sleeper No. 9: Joey Harrington
You’re not picking Harrington as much as you’re picking the QB who’s running Bobby Petrino’s potentially explosive offense on a Falcons team reeking of Ewing Theory potential. Think of it that way.
Sleeper No. 10: Santonio Holmes
Nearly every season, a second-year receiver makes The Leap. Here’s your best bet for 2007.
Sleeper No. 11: The Ronald Curry/Daunte Culpepper combo
I’m not even kidding.
Sleeper No. 12: Selvin Young
I won’t even tell you what team he’s on. Now that’s a sleeper.
Bill Simmons is a columnist for Page 2 and ESPN The Magazine. His book “Now I Can Die In Peace” is available in paperback.