Why They’re Here: They’re the champs. And you’ve got to beat the champs to be the champs. On offense, the Tide only got better. They return eight starters from a team that was exceptional last year and that includes Heisman Trophy winner RB Mark Ingram. Alabama will need to reload on defense, but come on, this is Nick Saban we’re talking about.
The Good: You know you’re ridiculously, obscenely loaded with talent when you’ve got a returning junior Heisman Trophy winner and he’s not even the thing you’re most excited about for the season. ‘Bama has always been defense, defense, defense and more defense during the Saban era (amazing that era is only four-years-old isn’t it?). After defense, the team’s next thought was defense. No more! This year the Tide look to be loaded with talent, from Ingram to fellow RB Trent Richardson to WR Julio Jones, the Tide look scary on O. Perhaps the biggest reason for head coach Nick Saban to smile may be QB Greg McElroy, who’s entering his senior season. He’s got all the weapons a young quarterback could ask for and from the look of things, he’s got all the skills too. On defense, the Tide only return three starters, but if there’s any coach and any team that we should believe can overcome that problem it’s this coach and this team. They also retain first team All-SEC S Mark Barron.
The Bad: There is cause for some worry in ole Tuscaloosa. First, no SEC team has every completed back-to-back undefeated seasons in the history of the conference. Alabama is also trying to go 8-0 in SEC play for the third straight year (the 2008 loss to Florida in the conference championship game doesn’t count), no team has ever accomplished that. Not only is history against the Tide, but historically speaking, the conference is too good for one team to dominate it for more than a year or two. ‘Bama will also have to play six teams coming off their bye week, that’s two more than any other team in conference history has every played. The teams they’ll play: arch-rival Auburn, LSU, Mississippi State, Ole Miss, South Carolina and Tennessee. Not exactly the children of the poor. Not only will the target be on their backs, but six pretty good teams will get an extra week to prepare for them.
The Final Word: This team will need to be ready for war every time they step on the field. If there’s even a hint of complacency the Tide are going to get rolled and it won’t be pretty. They’ll get their first test on Sept. 11 against Penn State and the hits will keep on coming. They get Arkansas, Florida, South Carolina, Ole Miss and Tennessee in a murderers row after playing Duke. If this team makes it to the national championship they’ll have earned it and they’ll be as good as we all think they can be. As good as they are, I don’t know that even this team can overcome everything that’s stacked against them. Then again, if any team can do it, it’s this team.
Final Record: 13-1
Why They’re Here: Like everyone else who writes about college football, I refuse to give up and accept that the Big (12) Ten has become an inferior conference. The Buckeyes are sort of like the Spurs this past year. You know that there’s no way they’re actually going to win a championship with the roster they had assembled, but you have to take them seriously anyway, because they’re always a threat. You never know what Head Coach Jim Tressel’s got up his sleve, and QB Tyrelle Pryor may just be great after all. Remember Vince Young’s sophomore season? Atrocious – 1,849 passing yards, 12 touchdowns, 11 interceptions. There’s certainly hope for the young Mr. Pryor, yet.
The Good: For all the crap I give the Buckeyes, this is actually a very, very talented team at almost every position. They return stand-out running backs Boom Herron and Brandon Saine and 16 starters from last year. Their secondary has been monstrous the past couple seasons and shows no signs of not being able to reload. Tressel has also been building for this year since 2005 when he first started recruiting Pryor. He’s been trying to create a pocket passing quarterback who can read the field, make all the throws and deliver the long bomb, but can also pull the ball down and beat anyone on the field to the end zone. Most coaches have been content to let their mobile quarterback simply be a runner or a passer. Tressel is trying to groom Pryor to be the first college QB who is a legitimate pocket presence, but can also destroy you for not respecting his scrambling ability. If it works, watch out.
The Bad: If it doesn’t work and Tressel has overloaded Pryor like a lot of people in Ohio think he has, the coach better watch out. He could be getting the ol’ pink slip. This whole season is on Pryor’s shoulders and if he can rise to the occasion, he’ll be legendary, but legends aren’t made, they’re born. The question is, does he have it in him?
The Last Word: One of three things will happen to Ohio State this season: 1) Tyrelle Pryor will emerge to silence all his critics by becoming the unholy spawn of Vince Young and Peyton Manning. It will literally be impossible to stop him and he will score five touchdowns against Michigan to win The Game for the Buckeyes in what sports writers across the nation will call “The Greatest College Performance Ever Witnessed.” The Buckeyes go undefeated and demolish Alabama in the BCS National Championship Game in a cudgeling not seen since Oklahoma – USC 2005 (a game that, according to the N-C-Double-A-holes, never actually happened). 2) Pryor gets injured, doesn’t spend enough time with his playbook or generally underachieves, but the Buckeyes still win the Big (12) Ten because Iowa has no playmakers on offense and the rest of the conference has been in the trash compactor since 1999. They then get squarely beaten in the Rose Bowl by whatever team from the Pac (12) Ten gets USC’s spot. 3) Prior doesn’t get hurt, but underachieves to the point that the Bucks lose stingers to Illinois, Iowa, Michigan State, Michigan and Wisconsin, or at least three of those games, Pryor gets benched and Tressel gets fired. My money’s on number two, but one or three would make this a much more exciting football season in general.
Final Record: 8-4
• Dallas Clark, IND – He is as reliable as they come at the position. Sometimes Peyton Manning will just lock in on him for an entire possession and opponents still can’t stop the duo. He is well worth landing in the #1 spot for tight ends, but just don’t take him before the 5th round. I believe this is a year where you can select a tight end late and have a great season.
• Antonio Gates, SD – If Clark is 1A, then make Gates a close 1B. You really can’t miss with either pick, as they are in a tier of their own for fantasy. Consistent touchdown production from this position throughout the season will always land you somewhere at the top of your league. And Gates is a magnet in the end-zone.
• Vernon Davis, SF – Finally had his breakout season in 2009, leading all tight ends with an incredible thirteen touchdowns. I don’t think he’ll quite hit those numbers again, but another double-digit touchdown campaign is definitely a possibility. I like Alex Smith to have more control of the offense and Davis will produce for the second season in a row.
• Jason Witten, DAL – I expect Witten to return to his old form in 2010. You know you have set the bar high when a 1,000 yard season was considered a down year. But it wasn’t the yards, it was his lack of touchdown, which was a fluke more than anything to me. He only produced two a season prior, but that number will drastically improve this time around. I think he’s good for eight this season.
• Jermichael Finley, GB – There is absolutely nothing not to love about the Packer’s offense. And Finley may be the most dangerous target they have. He is young, fast, and a freak of nature. He’s a star in the making and it won’t be long before he lands at the top of this list.
• Tony Gonzalez, ATL – The most consistent tight end the game has ever seen. Even on a down season, he is still good for six or seven scores. He’ll be as consistent as ever this season. Why? Because he is always targeted in the red-zone.
• Brent Celek, PHI – Celek was an early season pickup for me last fantasy season and was key to me winning my league. The Eagles have a surplus of young talent on the offensive side, but I don’t see Celek putting up as big of numbers as last season.
• Kellen Winslow, TB –A former 1st round draft pick, who came back to life in 2009. Josh Freeman is now in his second year and Winslow is worthy of being a starting tight end on your fantasy team.
• Visanthe Shiancoe, MIN – He doesn’t get many yards, but the last two seasons he’s hauled down eighteen touchdowns. Enough said.
• Greg Olsen, CHI – They say Mike Martz doesn’t produce valuable fantasy tight ends, but I’m not buying it completely. Olsen is too good not to get the ball and will have at least a handful of touchdowns in 2010.
• Zach Miller, OAK – I know it’s tough to draft a player from the Raiders, but he is very talented and will benefit from a better quarterback this season.
• Fred Davis, WAS – Chris Cooley is the current starter, but not worthy of being drafted high. Davis will come at a steep discount, and if Cooley is traded along with his large contract, Davis will shine. He is their future tight end and showed he could play last season.
• Owen Daniels, HOU – It’s hard to call him a sleeper, but coming off of an injury is always a tricky situation. Daniels was one of the best at his position in the first half of 2009 before he blew out his knee. He’s one of those guys that will get drafted super late this season, but could end up being a bomb to left field.
Why They’re Here: Boise State is movin up in the world. This is the highest ranking the Broncos – or as I’ll be referring to them as henceforth, Blue Magic – have ever had and they’ve certainly earned it. They’ve managed three undefeated seasons in four years and have played in two BCS bowls and won both in that time. That’s an impressive resume no matter who plays in your conference. They’ll have to earn their way in, but if Blue Magic takes care of business they have an amazing chance to play for the BCS National Championship this year. That’s something no one would have thought even three years ago.
The Good: Blue Magic have everything going for them. They’ve managed to keep their coach from dumping them for a prettier program with no money, their first-thought Heisman quarterback is returning for his junior season – his third as a starter – and the running game and defense have never looked better. In fact, this squad returns 19 starters from a team that beat one of the nation’s best teams in last year’s Sugar Bowl. They’re ready for this number three ranking. They’ve earned it.
The Bad: Boise State being ranked third (which they probably will be in most national polls when the season starts, not just here) is sort of like Rudy starting for Notre Dame. Yeah, you pulled for him to get in the game, because he had to earn it and we all cried a little when he hit the field, but do you really want him out there starting the game with the first team D? Ask yourself how you’d really feel about a guy “five-foot-nothin, a hundred-and-nothin,” starting for your team. That’s sort of how it is with Boise State. We all loved them as a Cinderella story, but do we really want them out there with the first string D, week in and week out? With respect comes expectations and Blue Magic is going to have to bring it every week. They’ve always had the bull’s-eye on their back in the WAC, but they have now become every other team’s ticket to the national spotlight. One off week, one bad play, one botched call and it’s all over and the program may never have this opportunity again. No one at Boise has ever had to carry that kind of load – they were always the Little Engine That Could – and it will be interesting to see if they’ve got the stones to make it happen. Having a first-thought Heisman candidate who will have to air it out to get the necessary votes to become the school’s first-ever winner will add another wrinkle to the equation – especially since Blue Magic are at their best when the utilize the ground game.
The Last Word: Can you imagine splediferousness (that’s a Don King word) of a Boise State-Alabama national championship game? It would put Duke-Davidson to shame. It would be the greatest thing to happen to college football since Tim Tebow. Bama-Blue Magic would bring in a 40 rating, easy. Who wouldn’t want to watch The Little Engine That Could take on the most illustrious, untouchable program in the history of college football, coached by probably the most pompous, swaggerific coach in the game this side of Lane Kiffin? Would you miss that game? Not for the birth of your first son. The football gods have been plotting this one. I may be all alone in this one, but I think they can do it.
Final Record: 14 – 0
• Andre Johnson, HOU – This guy is a beast! AJ is the best wideout in the NFL right now and the clear-cut #1 fantasy option at the position. He is what Larry Fitzgerald was in last year’s fantasy draft. The Texans love to pass the ball and he has great chemistry with Matt Schaub. I’m thinking at least 12 TD’s in 2010.
• Randy Moss, NE – Always a great addition to a fantasy squad. One of those guys that can be shutdown all game in terms of yards, but will still manage to have that one TD catch. He’s also in a contract year and needs to prove that he is worth one final wad of cash.
• Larry Fitzgerald, ARI – If I wasn’t iffy about Matt Leinart, he’d definitely be my #2, if not my #1 still. But I AM iffy about Matt Leinart: hell, who isn’t? He hasn’t exactly proved that he is up to the job quite yet, if at all. On top of that, Larry sprained that same knee in his first preseason game that bothered him last season. He could definitely have another big year, which is why he remains this high, but it’s less likely this time around.
• Calvin Johnson, DET – Too high? Maybe. I love him in this position. He battled a ton of injuries last season and will come back with a bang this year. Matthew Stafford is in his second season, Jahvid Best has to be respected in the backfield, and Nate Burleson is the best WR to line up opposite CJ in a few seasons. He’s going to have a very big season!
• Miles Austin, DAL – It somewhat pains me to put him this high, especially after saying I would never draft him as a top five WR. But after seeing him in the first preseason game, he really is a top-tier guy. He is the Cowboys #1 weapon on offense and Tony Romo is a very good quarterback. He’ll put up similar stats to 2009’s.
• Greg Jennings, GB – He didn’t live up to expectations for most fantasy owners last season, but this year he will. What’s not to love about the Packer’s passing attack? It’s flat-out nasty! He always seems to have one huge play in him a game. He’ll enter the land of double-digit TD receivers this year.
• Brandon Marshall, MIA – Marshall is back in Florida, close to where he played college ball. A change of scenery is exactly what he needed. The only scare here is that he is Miami’s only real pass-threat. But with his size and ability, he’s too good to pass up. Plus, he has his money now, so it’s time to zip it and play ball, which he will.
• Roddy White, ATL – A very solid #1 wideout fantasy option. In 2010, he returns to the big-play, deep-threat guy we all know him to be.
• Reggie Wayne, IND – Too low? Maybe. Maybe not. I’m not too big on Mr. Wayne this season, clearly. He had a great first half in ’09, followed by a very mediocre at best performance in the final six games of the season. Manning has an abundance of players to throw the ball to: Dallas Clark, Pierre Garcon, Austin Collie, and Anthony Gonzalez. The Colts are just as successful when they get everyone involved, leaving Wayne to fall slightly in this year’s rankings.
• Steve Smith, CAR – He seemed to enjoy a chemistry with starting QB Matt Moore. The Panthers love to run the ball, but Smith is always a major threat downfield, so I like him returning to his old ways this season.
• Marques Colston, NO – As a fantasy owner, you want a scoring threat, and Colston is Drew Brees’ guy in the red-zone. He will put up about 10 TD’s, but will never have over 1,500 yards because of the stacked Saint’s offense.
• Desean Jackson, PHI – Probably the best deep-threat in the NFL. Won’t ever have a ton of receptions, but is good for several long TD catches each year, which is worth being drafted this high.
• Chad Johnson, CIN – Everyone says that the Bengals are a run-first offense now. Ya, ya, ya… I like Johnson to return to double digits in TD catches this year with the addition of T.O and Antonio Bryant as distractions. And I refuse to call him Ochocinco.
• Anquan Boldin, BAL – A great addition to a well-balanced offense and he finally has his money. Boldin makes for a very solid #2 fantasy receiver.
• Steve Smith, NYG – He may be a reception machine, but not a TD machine. Another solid #2 fantasy receiver. He would be higher, but I think Hakeem Nicks will make his presence felt more this year.
• Michael Crabtree, SF – Despite missing games due to his holdout, he proved he is a star in the making.
• Dwayne Bowe, KC – Is he a gamble? Yes. But is he worth it at this position? Absolutely. Cassel is healthier this year and the offense is now in the hands of Charlie Weis. I think you could hit a homerun with this pick.
• Donald Driver, GB – He’ll gain right around 1,000 yards this season to go with 5-8 TDs. If you want a safe, value-pick, look no further.
• Mike Sims-Walker, JAX – He’s a big body and will be healthier this season.
• Percy Harvin, MIN – With Sidney Rice out half the season with a hip injury, Harvin will see even more looks from #4. He has migraine issues, but that won’t stop him from catching balls all over the place this year.
• Johnny Knox, CHI – He is my biggest guy to have a breakout year this season. He’s the Bears fastest receiver and Mike Martz loves speed. He’s going to go over 1,000 yards with 7-9 scores, with the possibility of having the year Miles Austin had last season. He is my ultimate homerun sleeper this season at the wide receiver postion. That’s right, I said it.
• Hakeem Nicks, NYG – Another speed guy. He will eventually supplant Steve Smith as the Giant’s #1 WR.
• Kenny Britt, TEN –Vince Young will continue to get better and Britt will be his favorite target. Britt has the potential to be a top-tier NFL receiver someday.
Disclaimer: When I made this top 25, I had the [Name Removed] as my number four ranked team. That was before certain players had their Heisman trophy taken away, entire seasons were removed from the record books and they were banned from not only bowl games, but from even being considered for the coaches poll.
The Good: I figured even without [unnamed former coach] and with a cloud of NCAA sanctions hanging over them, [Name Removed] could compete for a Pac-10 title and maybe salvage something from this season. Because [Name Removed] were challenging NCAA sanctions, I thought – as apparently [Name Removed] officials, coaches and the now-fired athletic director did – that [Name Removed] would still be ranked this season. We were all wrong. This team still has a ton of talent, even without Seantrel Henderson, D.J. Shoemate and others who have abandoned [Name Removed] and if they weren’t barred from being ranked, they could probably be ranked pretty high. As high as number four on a preseason top 25 list, for instance.
The Bad: They’re playing for nothing. No rankings, no bowl, no championship, nothing. I can’t even begin to imagine how deflating that’s got to get. What do you even say to a team in a locker room before a game? “Boys, I know even if we win tonight it won’t mean anything and no matter how well we do this season, we’re playing for pride and nothing else and this isn’t even a rivalry game we’re playing, but we need to win. We need to win because…because…well…because you can’t lose. You don’t want to be a loser. Losers never get laid.” I could see Kiffin giving that speech.
The Last Word: Everything about this essentially nonexistent season will depend on whether or not this team can keep trucking along knowing they’re playing for nothing. Their situation sort of reminds me of the beginning of “Operation Mayhem” where Ed Norton and Brad Pitt would make recruits stand outside and if the recruit stayed for three days without food, water or encouragement he would be let in. Except in this case it’s two years.
Final Record: 12-0. Not that it matters, but I’m praying to every god in existence that they go undefeated. Would anything be more hilariously ironic than seeing this team go undefeated and having no chance to play for a national championship or any bowl game at all? Maybe I just have a twisted sense of humor. Maybe I’ve been living in LA too long.
• Aaron Rodgers, GB – Hands down my #1 overall fantasy QB. Not just because he singlehandedly won me my fantasy league in ’09, but because he is the “real deal”. He threw 33 touchdowns a year prior, and I expect that number to be similar, if not a little higher. Green Bay offense is also loaded with offensive firepower. The sleeper of it all though for Rodgers is the fact he can run and will create at least 3 touchdowns on the ground this season. Should be off the board by no later than early 2nd round.
• Peyton Manning, IND – You may be thinking, “Where’s Drew Brees?” But if you want a safe, consistent pick year-in and year-out, Manning is the choice here. Manning is more experienced and has a plethora of wide receivers to throw to. Match that with his chemistry to Dallas Clark and you really can’t miss on this draft pick. Plus, he’s had seven months to think about that Super Bowl loss. I would not be surprised to see him throw 40 TD’s this year.
• Drew Brees, NO – Here he is. Depending on what research you trust, you will find these top 3 QB’s arranged in many different orders. ESPN has him as the only fantasy signal-caller worth taking in the first round. I completely disagree, but that’s what’s great about fantasy, we all have our own opinions. Brees is certainly worth drafting in the 1st round, but so are Rodgers and Manning. He will always have great numbers with the system Sean Payton runs in the French Quarter, but this is where I’d take him. My theory: I don’t like guys coming off of Super Bowl wins.
• Tony Romo, DAL – 2010 is the year the Dallas Cowboy offense will explode. Romo quietly had a great season last year, and 2010 is going to be his best yet as a Cowboy. Miles Austin is his new #1 receiver. Rookie Dez Bryant adds big-play ability. Witten will rebound from this 2-TD performance in ’09. And you can’t discount Roy Williams yet, he will surprise some this year. Plus, Romo’s a year removed from Jessica Simpson, so his head is clearer than ever.
• Tom Brady, NE – I really like Brady this season. Of course he’ll never come close to his incredible 50-TD season back in ’07 again, but that’s understandable. Wes Welker’s injury isn’t too scary because I think he’ll come back strong, and if not, second year man Julian Edelman has shown he can play. Moss is always good for a 10-TD campaign and the Pats have some young tight ends for Brady to hook up with. Match all of this with Belichick’s tendency to throw the ball, up three scores, with under two minutes to go, and Brady is a solid fantasy QB.
• Matt Schaub, HOU – He led the league in passing yards last season with over 4,700 and he has the NFL’s most dominant WR in Andre Johnson. A very nice combination.
• Philip Rivers, SD – He’ll be without Vincent Jackson for at least the first three games and some pretty inexperienced receivers will fill in. However, these WR’s will fit the bill. Antonio Gates will probably get more looks than ever, which is good as a fantasy owner. He’ll throw 25-TDs, but don’t be surprised to see his INTs go up.
• Joe Flacco, BAL – Player on the rise. Now in his 3rd season in the NFL, Joe will be better than ever. The Ravens also brought in Anquan Boldin, which may be the piece they’ve been missing for years. This season is his opportunity to make a statement that he will be good in this league for years to come.
• Brett Favre, MIN – No one wants to hear anything more about #4, so I’ll leave it at that.
• Eli Manning, NYG – Had his most TDs thrown last season and the Giants have some young WR’s for him to play with.
• Carson Palmer, CIN – He is too talented and has too many weapons now not to land this high.
• Jay Cutler, CHI – Mike Martz has to help, right? Not unless he improves his decision making.
• Donovan McNabb, WSH – New system, but same success.
• Matt Ryan, ATL – Rebound season.
• Kevin Kolb, PHI – Good enough to land in the top 15, but will have some growing pains inheriting the Philly offense.
• Matthew Stafford, DET – Last year’s #1 overall pick could turn some heads this year with a pass-first offense and the additions of RB Jahvid Best and WR Nate Burleson.
• Jason Campbell, OAK – Not a fantasy starter, but a solid backup with tremendous upside. New scenery is always good.
• Alex Smith, SF – A team on the rise and Smith’s final chance to prove he can play in this league. Combine that with Crabtree, Davis, Gore, and Westbrook. He has the talent. This is the year he puts it all together.
The Good: The Hokies still have Tyrod Taylor and Frank Beamer. Coach BMW has proven the last few years that you don’t need superstars or even particularly good players to compete year-in and year-out for a conference title. Tyrod Taylor also showed that he might actually be able to pass the ball with some consistency last year, which is dangerous for opposing defenses. The Hokies should be stacked on offense this year, unlike the past few where they’ve relied almost entirely on their defense and Taylor’s play-making ability to even stay competitive. RB Ryan Williams is poised to have a breakout season and with defenses already scared to death of what Taylor can do with his feet, the Hokies’ offense should have a lot to work with.
The Bad: I make it a point to never doubt the capacity to rebuild on defense of a defensive mastermind and I won’t do it here. I’ll just point out V-Tech is only returning four starters on defense and leave it at that. Tech had the No. 1 rated pass defense last year, but they’ll need to replace three of their secondary guys. They’ll also need Taylor to show up and throw the ball downfield. Taylor will need to be able to threaten defenses with his arm regularly, not just on occasion, for this team to triumph in the ACC.
The Last Word: The game that could determine this entire college football season happens on Sept. 6 when Va. Tech hosts Boise State. If Boise wins, they have a legitimate claim to be the number 2 team in the country, given their victory in last year’s Sugar Bowl and their likely preseason top 5 ranking. If Tech wins, they would have a rightful claim to that potential number 2 or 3 spot, which could potentially put two ACC teams into the top 5. That would center the college football world squarely on the conference and provided they can keep up the winning – Tech then plays James Madison, Eastern Carolina, Boston College, NC State, Central Michigan, and Wake Forrest before their next legitimate game against Georgia Tech – the ACC champion will most assuredly be in the National Championship game. The first game of the season has never meant more to more people. Rest assured, the entire NCAA is praying for Virginia Tech.
Final Record: 11-2
NFL season kickoff is now less than a month away, which can only mean one thing: Fantasy Football. That’s right; it’s time to do your research for the 2010 NFL season. Get your league together, buy your magazines, make your rankings, and do some mock drafts. As you know, every fantasy season brings an abundance of new players to the top of draft boards. So starting here, every few days SRG Fantasy Football analyst Thomas Gerard will do his positional rankings. Let’s get started!
• Adrian Peterson, MIN – He is only 25 years old and a beast of an athlete. Coming off a year in which he had 18 touchdowns, he is a fantasy football machine. Brett Favre is back and Chester Taylor is gone, which is an even better situation for prospective fantasy owners. Look for AP to be in on more 3rd down plays this year and to hold on to the ball better. Combine all of that with probably 15 TDs and AP is a great start to your team.
• Chris Johnson, TEN — Most projections have him ranked #1 overall, but for me he had almost “too good” of a year last year. I’m not a huge fan of guys coming off of “monster” years. He has the ability to break for a TD at any moment and is faster than anyone in the NFL. However, he is a smaller player and touched the ball a lot of times last year, so that lands him in the second spot. He will have a big year again, just nothing in comparison to what he put up last season.
• Ray Rice, BAL – Rice straight up stole the RB job in Baltimore last year away from Willis McGahee. He will get even more carries this year than he did a season prior. Combine that with the fact that even when he is not carrying the ball, he has a great chance of catching the ball out of the backfield. The one downside is that McGahee is a highly-paid man who will steal some goal-line opportunities. That doesn’t worry me much though. I think Ray has the possibility of putting up a year such as CJ did last season. He may not rush for 2,000 yards, but he will get around 1,750 and 500 receiving.
• Maurice Jones-Drew, JAX – This guy always figures a way to get into the end zone. Another tiny guy, but get’s a ton of carries inside the 20-yard line. A solid pick. Look for a similar year to the one he put up last season.
• Steven Jackson, STL – Many rankings have Jackson a lot lower than this, but I like him this year for a number of reasons. First, the Rams are terrible and will run the ball a shit load. Two, the Rams have a rookie QB. Three, the Rams have a better offensive line. Four, he has no backup and could carry the ball 375 times this season. Fifth, he is an awesome pass-catching RB. Finally, he is coming off of a 4 touchdown season, which will only go up. Side note: I’m a Rams fan.
• Frank Gore, SF – Frank missed two games last year and still put up good fantasy numbers for an entire season. The 49ers are better offensively and will probably pass more than in previous years. Look for similar stats to ’09.
• Rashard Mendenhall, PIT – I really like him this year, especially with Big Ben’s suspension. He is young, quick, and plays for a good team. Look for him to have his best year yet and carry the Steelers while their QB is out.
• Deangelo Williams/Jonathon Stewart, CAR – I’m sorry, but at this point, I see them as virtually the same RB. They split the carries almost evenly and had virtually the same numbers a year ago. I know Stewart is coming off an injury, but he always is and has done just fine. There’s no need to separate them. A good strategy would be to wait until the 4th-5th round and grab Stewart, meanwhile picking up talent at other positions.
• Michael Turner, ATL – His 370 carry season made him vulnerable to injury last year, after a breakout season with the Falcons. I’m hesitant about putting a guy coming off of an injury too high on this list, especially with Jason Snelling emerging as a solid backup. Even with his injuries and lack of receptions, he is still a top 10 RB. However, this is a very hit or miss spot.
• Ryan Grant, GB – The Packers have an awesome passing game and love to throw the ball. But Grant still had 280 carries last year, to go along with 11 TDs. I think he’ll be slightly less productive as last year, but is still worth of landing in the top 10.
• Jamaal Charles, KC – Would be higher if not for the arrival of Thomas Jones and McCluster.
• Beanie Wells, ARI – With Warner gone, I think the Cardinals establish a little bit more of a run game.
• Shonn Greene, NYJ – Injury prone, but the 2010 playoffs proved he can flat out play. Don’t draft too early.
• Cedric Benson, CIN – His 2009 season came out of nowhere. Will get his fair share of yards, but uncertain about the end zone.
• Knowshon Moreno, DEN – Would also be higher if not for pass-happy Josh McDaniels.
• Ryan Matthews, SD – Prove me something first.
• Lesean McCoy, PHI – The new Brian Westbrook, but has Mike Bell as backup.
• Justin Forsett, SEA – Breakout alert!
• Matt Forte, CHI – Could be a steal at a great price.
• Pierre Thomas, NO – You won’t see me drafting a New Orleans RB.
• C.J. Spiller, BUF – He hasn’t played a down in the NFL yet. But with the injuries to Fred Jackson and Marshawn Lynch, he could take over the reins from Day 1. Future Chris Johnson.
• Felix Jones, DAL – He will slowly get more carries from Marion Barber as the team’s future and feature back. Plus Jerry Jones always favors an Arkansas boy.
• Steve Slaton, HOU – He’s battling Arian Foster for the #1 job and most likely will split carries at best. But with his speed and game-breaking ability, an injury to Foster or a breakout game by Slaton, could make for an MVP-like late-round fantasy pickup.
Why They’re Here: As much as I hate that stupid slogan and as overused and hackneyed as it’s become, The U is…you know what, on second thought I’m not going to say it. But I will say this, coach Randy Shannon has rebuilt the program into a more than formidable foe and this team has the personnel to bring the glory back to Coral Gables…and Miami.
The Good: The young man QB Jacory Harris has reached that pivotal season in his career where he’s no longer an overachieving youngster. During his freshman and sophomore campaigns no one was expecting too much from him, but all that is over this year. I expect Harris to be in the Heisman conversation come December (and yes, I’m aware I’m pretty much alone in that expectation). The Canes lost RB Javarris James, but five-star recruit Storm Johnson should be able to step in and tote the rock admirably. Coach Shannon also brought in a pair of big four-star recruits on the line to help shore things up. And THIS JUST IN: The Canes officially inked consensus No. 1 2010 recruit OT Seantrel Henderson. Henderson is 6’8” and 340 lbs and will almost certainly start immediately. If these young bucks can be immediate difference makers, nothing can hold Jacory Harris back but Jacory Harris. The team will also return its all-conference punter and place kicker. Never underestimate the value of a solid, dependable kicking game, it takes a lot of pressure off the offense.
The Bad: Pass protection was a big problem for Miami last season. Eventually Harris just got tired of taking the hits and folded. He started throwing up wild passes and interceptions and generally lost his rhythm in the pocket. They lost some senior leadership this season and will have to rebuild what was not a great O line last year. The question marks about the U are going to start and end here. As my old football coach once told me, “Football is all about blocking and tackling. The team that does those two things better than the other is going to win. Every time.” The Canes also get Ohio State on Sept. 11 and Pitt in a Thursday night game on Sept. 23, both on the road. Why Shannon insists on making things as difficult on his team as possible I will never understand.
The Last Word: My money in the ACC is on this team, but it all depends on Jacory Harris. He wilted down the stretch last year, after playing an incredible first half of the season, and now there are questions about whether Harris has what it takes to get it done. He’s going to have to be straight up better than Tyrod Taylor and nothing else will do. Coach Shannon showed he could get it done with the best of them in the offseason by signing a top-15 class that absolutely has to be considered top 10 with Henderson on the books. If Shannon can get it done as well during the season, the sky is the limit for The U’s near future.
Final Record: 12-2