The Weekly Gut Check No. 200 - The Preseason All-Gut Check Squad
By Matt Waldman
August 13th, 2010

The Weekly Gut Check examines the players, strategies and guidelines fantasy football owners use to make personnel decisions.

The Preseason All-Gut Check Squad

Here's how it works: I compile a roster of players that I believe will surprise. Last year, I incorporated players available in the early and middle rounds that I believed were "must-picks" for your draft due to their value. Then, I revealed a separate list of late-round plays for both traditional and IDP leagues. For the sake of transparency, here are last year's picks.

2009's Picks

Must-Haves

Pos Player Rank Comment
QB Tom Brady 7th Only 10 points from a top-four season
RB Felix Jones 40th A repeat of 2008 - flashes, but injuries
RB Ray Rice 4th Dead-on
WR Chad Ochocinco 14th Just 0.5 points away from No. 12 Wes Welker
WR Percy Harvin 25th High-end No. 3 production for rookie
TE Greg Olsen 10th Disappointment

All-Gut Check

Pos Player Rank Comment
QB Carson Palmer 18th Needed more weapons and protection
QB Trent Edwards 32nd See above
RB Donald Brown 57th Addai had a strong year
RB Ahmad Bradshaw 28th Flashed skill - portends for a good 2010
RB Bernard Scott 75th Did well in very limited time
RB Chris Brown 66th Ryan Moats and Arian Foster outplayed him
WR Chris Henry 97th Missed eight games and sadly passes away
WR Limas Sweed 170th Missed seven games. Mike Wallace outplayed him
DT Jamal Williams n/a Missed all but one game
DT Tony Brown 7th Solid season with five sacks
DE William Hayes 30th Not on radars in '09 - now he is
DE Cliff Avril 24th Finished the season strong - fave '10 sleeper
DE/LB Brian Orakpo 58th 11 sacks as a rookie
LB Adalius Thomas 118th No last hurrah
CB Leigh Bodden 21st Decent No. 2 CB
S Brian Dawkins 2nd Dead-on

I hit on 4 of the 6 "Must-Haves" and arguably, 5 of the 16 late-round picks. Not my best year in recent memory, but not bad - especially with the premium players.

This year I'm going to use the same concept and give you six "Must-Haves" and a roster of late-round options, including IDP.

2010 "Must-Haves"

These are players that I believe are worth targeting early and even reaching a bit for their services.

Quarterback

Matt Schaub: Everyone is talking about Tony Romo and Jay Cutler as early and mid-round candidates to elevate their production to top-three status. Schaub is already there, but kind of the quiet commodity this summer. But no one threw for more yards (4770) than Schaub last year and I don't see his ground game improving to the point that we'll see his attempts drop below 550 this year.

What I do see is Jacoby Jones developing into a strong second or third option with big-play ability that will manifest in more touchdowns for Schaub - especially with Owen Daniels likely to make a slow return to the Texans lineup. Even if James Casey gets time in relief of Daniels, I think the improved Jacobs combined with Andre Johnson and Kevin Walter will stretch the field for both the tight ends and scat back Steve Slaton.

The AFC South is predominantly a passing division, and I think Schaub has a great shot at 5000 yards and 30 scores. Schaub is currently the sixth QB off the board with a FantasyFootballCalculator.com ADP of 4.06. Let your competition take Tony Romo - he'll be very good. But I think you might end up with a better fantasy passer in Schaub a round later, maybe the best.

Running backs

Marion Barber: Barber is quickly becoming the anchor of my drafts when I opt to go heavy on receivers and passers early and wait until the mid-rounds on runners. The offseason talk of Felix Jones earning an opportunity to start and the demise of Barber's skills were both exaggerated, but Jones continues to go a round higher when the Cowboys have stated this summer that the Cowboys will use the same rotation as last year.

Barber was the 21st fantasy back in 2009 despite missing a game and playing much of the season on a significantly injured quadriceps muscle. Despite what was considered a bad year for Barber, his 932 yards was the second-highest rushing total of his career and he gained 47 more years on 26 fewer carries than his 2008 total. Where his injury hurt his stat totals was as a receiver, where he saw his receptions cut in half in 2009.

I expect Barber to earn another 15-20 receptions in 2010 as well as red zone opportunities. He might not reach 1000 yards for the first time in his career, but I think another season in the 900-yard range with double-digit scores and 40 receptions could vault Barber back into the top-12. I think the worst-case scenario is that you draft Barber at the value of a No. 3 RB and get the dividend of an RB2. If you can imagine it, he's a mid-round version of Shonn Greene - both talented backs unlikely to reach high-end RB1 status, but probably locks as strong RB2s - Barber is just the better bargain.

Jahvid Best: I would love to say Ryan Mathews is a "must-have," but I think he's getting drafted where I expect his upside to be. With DeAngelo Williams, Ryan Grant and Jamaal Charles all going around the same time, I just can't justify him as player you must take. Best on the other hand is still a nice deal as a back you can acquire at the end of round four.

His ADP of 4.12 makes him the type of player you can pick and have some versatility for how you project to use him. He has RB1 talent and if you want to aggressively pick top receivers, Best has the kind of upside - especially in PPR leagues - to catch 50-60 passes as a rookie. I'm not that optimistic, but I still wouldn't mind taking him as my first back off the board knowing that I can get potential fantasy RB1 talent even later. At 4.12, he also gives you flexible drafting options as a targeted RB2 - something that the selection of Mathews isn't likely to do.

Personally, I'm still a Kevin Smith fan and I'm excited to hear that he's recuperating faster than expected, but I see Smith and Best as a the Midwest bizarro version of the Cowboys tandem. Best - unlike Felix Jones - will be the more productive back with Smith providing enough of a spark to turn in some decent fantasy production as a bye-week option with upside as an injury handcuff.

I don't envision Best to be the next Marshall Faulk, but I do think he has the skills to be what the Saints first envisioned from Reggie Bush, because Best will demonstrate better skills an interior runner, which could help him produce as a high-end RB2.

Wide Receivers

Calvin Johnson: Despite what I said about Jahvid Best, the Lions will need to throw the ball to stay in the game against its divisional opponents. Johnson is the most physically dominant player at his position. Now that he has a quarterback with an arm that matches his vertical skills, it should be a fun year for Johnson - especially with the addition of Best, Nate Burleson and Tony Scheffler, who will make opposing defenses pay if Johnson is bracketed too frequently and we won't see Johnson triple covered this year.

Last year, Johnson only played 14 games and Matt Stafford missed 5 contests. Johnson was also dinged in a few of those games he did manage to play and he still posted numbers that ranked him 21st among fantasy receivers. If you take his 9 targets per game average and his 49 percent conversion rate, he would have caught 8 additional passes if he didn't miss two games. Factor his 14.7 yards per catch average and catch-to-touchdown ratio, Johnson would have earned another 19 points to his 2009 total, which places him in the top 15 with 76 receptions, 1116 yards and 6 scores.

The fact that Johnson played with a rookie quarterback that missed five games and I'm not factoring the intrinsic rise in production that I think would have come if Johnson were actually playing at full strength the entire season. If we did use that intrinsic factor it's conceivable Johnson would be good for another 10-12 receptions, 150 yards, and another touchdown. Add those figures to his total and he's tied with Brandon Marshall as a top-10 receiver.

What this tells me is that I'm not convinced the Lions youth and lack of depth at the skill positions is a reason to think Johnson is a risk. In my opinion, Johnson's numbers took a dive from top-five production the previous year because he got hurt, missed two games, and continue to play hurt. After Andre Johnson and Randy Moss, I'm not sure there is a better receiver to pick this year in terms of upside combined with minimal downside.

Chad Ochocinco: Let me get this straight: Chad Ochocinco is healthy, his quarterback is finally healthy, and Terrell Owens is going to be the complementary target but fantasy owners are drafting a Wes Welker who is recuperating from an ACL tear ahead of Ochocinco? And they continue to prefer Sidney Rice who is hampered by a hip injury that might require surgery? Don't even get me started with DeSean Jackson, who is a great big-play threat, but lacks quarterback play and the intermediate skills of the Bengals veteran.

I know Ochocinco was on the list last year, but I can't help it if the rest of the fantasy football world thinks he's a good, but slightly overrated clown prince of wide receivers. Remember that Ochocinco finished 14th among fantasy receivers last year without a complementary receiver opposite him with top-36 production. I have mentioned in previous columns that most No. 1 fantasy receivers play alongside a complementary WR with top-36 production or a top-tier TE.

If Terrell Owens performs as expected Ochocinco will have a much easier time getting open and Carson Palmer will have more efficient plays in the passing game. Owens may no longer be a top-12 fantasy receiver, but if Donald Driver, Derrick Mason, and Hines Ward can earn top-20 stats, I believe Owens will now that he's in an offense that won't be mistaken for a CFL team (yes, Bill fans - it was a cheap shot). Fantasyfootballcalcuator.com's mock drafts have Ochocinco as the 18th receiver going off the board with an ADP of 4.08. I still think he's a bargain there.

Tight End

Antonio Gates: Dallas Clark was the top tight end last year. Jermichael Finley is the player on the rise, and the most trendy pick this year. Some folks are nervous about Vernon Davis because they want to see him string two seasons together. Jason Witten is probably the tight end most likely to rebound. The player that gets lost in this shuffle is Antonio Gates. I know he's the second tight end off most boards, but I think he's one of the safest picks this year.

Clark is in a better offense, but I believe his production will drop just enough due to wide receiver corps improving with the experience they collectively lacked in 2009. Finley could prove fantasy owners right - he appears ready to build on his second-half numbers - but there are a lot of weapons for Aaron Rodgers to spread the ball around and Finley could have a lower ceiling of production than expected. I think Davis will have a similar year to 2009 and Witten will rebound, but Gates has something none of these players have:

He's the only game in town.

With Vincent Jackson out and Phillip Rivers working with Malcolm Floyd, Legedu Naanee, Craig Davis, Josh Reed and Jeremy Williams, Gates is by far the best weapon in this passing offense. In fact, I believe RB Darren Sproles might see enough receptions to be the second-best option by year's end. This should not cause prospective Gates owners any concern. We've seen Gates consistently produce as an elite tight end when Rivers had no true No. 1 wide receiver. Why worry about Jackson's hold out now? I'm frequently taking Gates as early as the third round, knowing that Ochocinco is available to me in round four.

The 2010 All-Gut Check Preseason Squad

Quarterbacks

One of the three I am mentioning will crack the top-12 this season. I ranked them in order of preference.

  • Matt Stafford: I have no compelling statistical argument for Stafford. Although an alum of the University of Georgia, I'm not really a homer. Truth be told, I have never been to a Georgia game despite the fact that I work within a five-minute walk from the stadium and its only five miles from my house. The NFL is my sports passion; college football is something I study to serve that purpose. My case for Stafford in 2010 is based on two things: what I have observed from his performances at Georgia and Detroit and gut feeling.

    At Georgia, Stafford demonstrated a terrific arm, pinpoint accuracy on throws only elite pro quarterbacks could make, above average maneuverability in the pocket and an aggressive mentality to throwing the football. In Detroit, Stafford flashed the same skills but due to the dearth of surrounding offensive talent many of these plays resulted in sacks, incomplete passes, drops or turnovers. Although Stafford made a lot of mistakes trying to force the ball into tight spots, it's this type of mentality that great quarterbacks have.

    The most productive quarterbacks in football have several of these traits I just mentioned. You want passers that are willing to throw a receiver open and have the physical skills to do it anywhere on the field. With an improved offensive unit, I think Stafford will produce as a borderline QB1 in fantasy leagues this year because he will be more acclimated to the speed of the game, have more options to change plays at the line of scrimmage, and better weapons to spread the ball around.

  • Vince Young: Everything out of Titans training camp points to Young taking another step forward in his desire to become a complete passer in the NFL. This is Young's first full year studying film in the offseason and according to Bob Henry's Camp Updates he's showing a greater tendency to hit third and fourth options in scrimmages as well as stand tall and firm in the pocket.

    Since Bob is also a Titans fan, I think this a good time to take a quick tangent about these updates. I think this is by far the best thing Footballguys.com provides its subscribers during the preseason. I'd pay a subscription for these alone. I'm actually kicking myself that I didn't mention this before the free content period passed.

    Back to Young, the info the consistently has me optimistic about Young is his continually improving pocket presence. This is such an overlooked, but vital aspect of quarterbacking. Two years ago Young didn't know how to slide in the pocket and this forced him to scramble rather than find his second or third option. Last year, Young learned to climb the pocket and create more plays as a passer, forcing the defense to stay with its assignments a little longer before Young broke the line of scrimmage. Now, Young is learning maintain a consistent presence in the pocket without drifting into rush lanes. What we're watching is the evolution of a quarterback that is becoming dedicated to his craft.

    I'm not expecting Vince Young to crack the top 10 of fantasy quarterbacks this year. Unless he scores a significantly higher number of touchdowns in red zone situations, I think his upside is limited in 2010 due to a receiving corps that is still a couple of years away from becoming a legitimate threat to opposing defenses regardless of the ground game's effectiveness. However, I think Young could be closer to QB1 stats than his current ranking.

  • Matt Hasselbeck: I think this Seahawks offense is going to be much better than people expect. T.J. Houshmandzadeh is healthy, Deion Branch is healthy, Deon Butler has improved enough to hold his own with the exciting Golden Tate, and Mike Williams just might carve a niche for himself as a regular contributor in this offense. Throw in two versatile backs like Justin Forsett and Leon Washington and I think there is a strong possibility for Hasselbeck to far exceed expectations.

    Yes, the offensive line struggled last year and they probably won't be all-stars this year, either. However, strong skill position play can help less than stellar unit especially when a team can be more productive on first and second downs. Pete Carroll's offense will be less predictable than what we saw from Playoffs!?! Jr, and his regime in recent years. I wouldn't be at all surprised if the Seahawks have enough offensive firepower to give the 49ers and Cardinals a run for the NFC West well into November and Hasselbeck comes very close to cracking QB1 status.
  • Running backs

    Not a surprise, but most of these backs are players mentioned in my Upside Down Drafting Strategy.

  • Ahmad Bradshaw: I've mentioned Bradshaw more than probably any fantasy writer in the past four years. I don't think there is anything more I can say about him than I already have. Draft him.

  • Clinton Portis: He's not done; he was merely injured and frustrated. This year I believe we'll see a reinvigorated Portis that looks a lot more like the career stud he's been.

  • Laurence Maroney: This is Maroney's final shot to become a stud in the NFL and I think he makes good on it. Sammy Morris, Kevin Faulk and Fred Taylor are old, ancient and prehistoric as far as running backs go. I think this team has quietly made the offseason adjustments necessary to run the ball more effectively. Maroney is also focused on addressing his shortcomings.

  • Arian Foster: I hate to recommend a player in a committee that appears to be three backs deep, but I'm beginning to think this cluster is a mirage. Steve Slaton might be leaner and quicker, but he's also coming off a neck injury. I think he's relegated to a change of pace status. Ben Tate has physical talent, but I think he's already blown his opportunity to contribute as more than a 3-4 touch per game player this year. Foster was a player with obvious talent at the University of Tennessee, but it wasn't certain his head and heart were in the game to be an NFL starter. For more information, see this sample analysis (link is to an Adobe Reader document) from the 2009 Rookie Scouting Portfolio. Foster could become a solid fantasy RB2 if he earns the South Texas role of Marion Barber in a dynamic offense that uses him at the goal line and to close out games with his powerful style.

  • Jerome Harrison: I love players with something to prove and Jerome Harrison is that player this year. He was dominant in three games last year, but the Browns were so impressed that they drafted blue chip prospect Montario Hardesty. Now Hardesty is (once again) having difficulty staying healthy and Harrison continues to perform like the best runner on the depth chart. I have often stated that Harrison is a poor man's Priest Holmes (check out this RSP sample) and like Holmes, who was initially brought to Kansas City to be the change of pace back to the bigger Tony Richardson, I can imagine a similar dynamic occurring in Cleveland with Hardesty. If the Browns offensive front can run the ball half as well as they did down the stretch, Harrison could become a surprise fantasy RB1 this year if Hardesty pulls a "James Davis."

  • Reggie Bush: This is probably the most puzzling transition from college football to pro football I have seen since I began the RSP. I really thought Bush had a chance to become the next Marshall Faulk with a small dose of Gale Sayers. I don't know if it was the injuries, the pressure to be a superstar, or the fact he wanted to be less sore for his post-game dates with Kim Kardashian, but he completely changed his approach to running between the tackles after his first couple of NFL games.

    The Reggie Bush that got me excited at USC wasn't the YouTube sensation that reversed his field and made crazy open-field moves. That was the icing. The cake was how Bush saw small creases between the tackles and wasn't afraid to burst through them with confidence. This is what had me thinking he was destined to become an every down back in the NFL.

    This year he's finally healthy, free of attachments and coming off a divisional playoff game where he flashed some of that USC game that made him a college legend. With Lynell Hamilton out for the year, I think the Saints are more likely to lean on Pierre Thomas and Bush (unless they feel a player like Brian Westbrook is sufficiently healthy enough to join the team and contribute quickly). I actually think this three-RB rotation came about because Bush has never been at full health and they wanted to limit his touches to high-impact plays.

    As fantasy owners go gaga over Felix Jones and C.J. Spiller, I think Reggie Bush is the only player of their ilk to be worth where he's going in drafts.
  • Wide Receivers

  • Darrius Heyward-Bey: When I study players with my checklist evaluation method for the Rookie Scouting Portfolio I try to eliminate subjective feelings about what I see in favor of a clear methodology. However, Heyward-Bey was one of those players that I felt he could overcome his deficiencies with pass-catching technique to have a good NFL career because his bad moments looked pretty correctable. Last year the Raiders rookie was a punch line rather than a powerhouse. But when I hear about a receiver working after practice with an All-Pro cornerback and the results are showing, I have a feeling we're about to see the real Heyward-Bey this year.

    There was wide receiver with size and after the catch skills that allowed enough balls to bounce off his hands as a rookie that they called him "Fifi." It turns out that Jerry "Fifi" Rice received his induction into the Hall of Fame last weekend and he is hands-down the greatest wide receiver in the history of the game.

    Heyward-Bey had a worse rookie year than Rice, but I think that like the 49ers legend he can overcome his careless and overly self-conscious play and come much closer to approaching his potential in year-two. The fact that he's available at the end of round 13 and slated to start makes him well worth taking the chance.

  • Jacoby Jones: Jones is one of my favorite late-round picks this year. This guy just screams talent when you watch him play, but his lack of maturity and mental lapses as a professional have limited him to an exciting reserve that only sees spot-time. Jones has the entire package of game-braking speed, electric moves and acrobatic body control to go along with good hands.

    The Texans coaching staff has been thrilled with Jones' approach this offseason and he is working hard to unseat incumbent starter Kevin Walter. This is one of those training camp battles that will make the entire offense better because as I have mentioned in my rankings, Jones' improvement is a win-win situation for the team and fantasy owners alike.

    If Jones doesn't win the job he has played well enough to see far more time as the No. 3 receiver in a high-octane passing offense where he's likely to be a matchup nightmare to opposing defenses and a strong bye-week starter for a fantasy team. If he wins the No. 2 role, he probably relegates Kevin Walter to a lesser role than Jones would have as a No. 3 and Jones will earn enough targets to surpass 1000 yards.

  • Bernard Berrian: I have a feeling Sidney Rice is going to regret not having hip surgery after two doctors recommended it during the offseason. Two years ago Berrian was among the best deep threats in the league. Last year, his preseason injury woes opened the door for Rice. You know how restaurants often have two sets of doors to get to its lobby? Berrian might have opened the first door for Rice, but I think Rice is about to return the favor to Berrian.

    Berrian led the NFL in yards per catch in 2008 without Brett Favre as his quarterback. If Favre returns, Berrian could greatly benefit. It's quite conceivable with Rice and Harvin struggling to see the field that Berrian begins the season as the starter and ends it as the most consistent performer in the passing game.

    You can get Jones, Heyward-Bey and Berrian at the end of round 13-early round 14 if your draft follows FantasyFootballCalculator.com's mocks. If I'm looking for quality backups with upside, I would draft Berrian in round 12, Heyward-Bey in round 13 and shoot for Jones in round 14.

  • Mike Williams: Not the Buccaneer, although he isn't a bad pick either, I'm going for the long shot in Seattle. I devoted a good bit of time this spring writing about Williams, and thus far he's performing well enough in camp to have a good shot at contributing in this offense. Williams is proving with every catch in traffic, leaping play in tight coverage and red zone reception in practice that the talent has always been abundant, but the conditioning and work ethic were lacking until this year. I think at worst, Williams plays a role for the Seahawks that Kelley Washington played in Baltimore last year, but I have higher expectations because Seattle will need to throw the football and Williams is a unique type of target. Watch how he performs in the preseason, because I think it he's in a situation where a lights-out August earns him a starting job but a poor one buries him. I doubt he'll play that poorly, but it's one of the more intriguing situations to monitor this summer.
  • Tight Ends

  • John Carlson: Notice I left someone out when I talked about Matt Hasselbeck's surrounding offensive talent? I hope so, because according to our Training Camp Updates Carlson is getting a lot of opportunities split from the formation in training camp and the team expects big things from him this year. Considering that Pete Carroll has always liked to use the tight end as a big part of the passing game (remember Ben Coates?), I'm thinking Carlson is a great option if you miss nabbing the more established fantasy options because unlike guys like Jeremy Shockey or Jared Cook who have great talent but their situation makes them boom-bust picks, Carlson has similar upside due to his situation but with far less downside. I think he might be one of the safer picks in the mid-to-late rounds this year.

  • Aaron Hernandez: I know, big surprise, right? Might as well put a bit in my mouth and hook me to the wagon I've been dragging. Hernandez continues to work with the receivers in practice and Bob Henry's camp updates report that Tom Brady is working with the rookie quite a bit - including throwing almost exclusively with him in two-minute drills and pulling him to the sideline for extra coaching. He's a high-risk, high-reward pick, but I just think people are inordinately obsessed with Wes Welker.

    I think if you take Welker's 110-120 receptions from recent years and divide it among Welker, Hernandez and Tate, you've got about 40 catches for each and I think with Welker's injury we're probably looking at closer to 30 catches for Welker, 40 for Tate and 50 for Hernandez. If Welker suffers a relapse and/or Tate fizzles, Hernandez is a looking at record-breaking targets for a rookie tight end.

    At this point, 40 catches puts Hernandez within the conversation of performing like a borderline fantasy starter; 50 catches will probably seal the deal. I'll take that kind of upside.
  • Defensive Linemen

  • Brandon Graham: The Eagles defensive end was a 100 meter champion in high school and continued to show that speed and acceleration at Michigan. Guess what? He's tearing it up in Philadelphia's training camp. So much so that he's working frequently with the first unit. But it's not just the speed, it's his pass rushing moves and counter moves that have veterans like Juqua Parker conceding that Graham's time to shine will be very soon. If you play in IDP leagues, think of Graham as Justin Tuck the year that he was good enough to rotate with Michael Strahan and Osi Umenyiora. With Juqua Parker, Darryl Tapp and Trent Cole, Graham has a good shot to beat one of them for an opportunity to rate frequently, if not win the job outright opposite Cole. I think Graham will be in the conversation for Defensive Rookie of the Year and I'm taking him as my third DE in leagues where I need two starters.

  • Cliff Avril: He was on my list last year and finished (just barely) as a starting DE. But this year, I think he has a great shot to see his stats blow up because of Kyle Vanden Bosch on the opposite side and Ndamukong Suh in the middle. I think the Lions defensive front gets a lot better and Avril could jump into the top 12 because of his speed and athleticism as a pass rusher. He should see better match ups because the Lions defense now has the linemen to run more effective stunts or draw double teams away from the former Purdue linebacker.

  • Ndamukong Suh: I'll be the first to admit that I still have more to learn about defensive tackles, but what I saw from Suh at Nebraska was so impressive that I can't help but think he's going to surprise folks with his pass rushing skills. I don't expect him to be among the NFL leaders in sacks as a defensive tackle, but I wouldn't be surprised if he leads DTs in this category as a rookie. Jim Schwartz coached Titans units where the defensive tackles got their share of hits on the quarterback and I don't think it will be any different in Detroit. Because this position is generally the least valuable and one of the easier to fix off the waiver wire, I suggest taking a chance on Suh in your drafts.
  • Linebackers

  • E.J. Henderson: I understand that he's not officially fully back to starting in the middle for the Vikings, but I'll defer to this NFC East Blog from ESPN to tell the story. Henderson makes a nice 4th or 5th LB for a fantasy squad that starts three.

  • Rolando McClain: With John Henderson in the middle I think this Raiders defense has the guns up front to let rookie McClain run amok. I had the fifth pick in an IDP dynasty league this year and I opted for McClain without reservation. He could be a top-10 fantasy performer on the defensive side of the ball from year-one because of his instincts, skill as a tackler and smarts. He's one of those players for your lineup where you "set him and forget him."

  • Michael Johnson: This guy was a beast at Georgia Tech and the Bengals staff is raving about him making the adjustment to linebacker when the team uses a 3-4 scheme. I watched him put a lot of pressure on Dallas' first-team unit in the Hall of Fame game and he reminded me a bit of DeMarcus Ware. He's available at the price to take a chance on that kind of upside.
  • Defensive Backs

  • Nate Allen: Everyone is talking about Eric Berry - a great player out of Tennessee who will make an impact day one - but the guy under the radar with similar potential to make fantasy owners happy is Nate Allen, the rookie drafted to (truly) replace Brian Dawkins. Allen is a hitter with good coverage skills. He reads the field very well and according to the Eagles, he's done nothing to lose his starting role since he was given it this spring. His teammates compliment him for his poise and consistency. If you're looking for a late-round starter (or potential trade bait) draft Allen as your second or third safety and you'll see how you reaped the benefits by midseason.

  • Mike Jenkins: Allen's former teammate at South Florida, Jenkins made the Pro Bowl as a rookie and produced as a top-24 corner in IDP leagues despite playing part of the year in just nickel packages. I believe the Cowboys have the offensive firepower to force opposing offenses into a lot of passing situations. Jenkins will get a lot of chances to defense passes and make tackles - good tidings for an improvement in last year's semi-impressive IDP production.

  • Marcus Trufant: When healthy, Trufant was one of the top IDP corners to draft. This year he's at full strength and I think he's a late-round option to scoop up. He'll be sitting there at the end of most drafts when your competition has drafted guys that had nice stats last year. Take appropriate advantage.

  • Asher Allen: Here's a Georgia player that many scouts considered a sleeper. Here we are in year-two and he's currently atop the depth chart over Lito Sheppard. Allen is probably the most likely Vikings defensive back for teams to target. As long as he holds his own and keeps his job, enjoy the show...

  • Jason McCourty/Alterraun Verner: Don't be shocked if this is the Titans starting cornerback tandem within 2-3 years. Right now, McCourty has a chance to win the job opposite Cortland Finnegan. If you remember the value that Nick Harper often brought to the table, then you know this is a good IDP spot to draft. Verner is an impressive rookie from UCLA who is a bit undersized, but held his own with players much bigger. McCourty is the guy to pick up now; Verner is the one to pick up if injuries strike.
  • Questions, suggestions and comments are always welcome to waldman@footballguys.com.

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