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Fantasy Football: The A-Team of Quarterbacks

It’s summer, and that means it’s time to start our fantasy football preparation for 2010. The first step is to identify the Tier 1 players at running back, wide receiver, and quarterback. In this post, we’ll identify the Tier 1 guys (aka The A-Team because of this summer’s movie relaunch) at wide receiver. Check out the running backs here and the wide receivers here.

Definition of an A-Team player: A guy you can legitimately build a fantasy team around. He can’t just be a no-question starter; he has to be a stud who will produce even more than an average fantasy starter at his position. For a quarterback, that means throwing/scoring 35 touchdowns and 4,500 yards. For quarterbacks, that includes guys who make their way onto Tiers 1A, 1B, or 1C.

No-brainers

Drew Brees, Saints – Brees continued his dominant play in New Orleans, passing for 4,388 yards and 34 touchdowns. He’s thrown for at least that many yards in his four years as a Saint, and he has thrown 34 touchdown passes in each of the last two years. Brees also added two rushing TDs last year to cement his dominance. Brees has a ton of targets, so even an injury to his top target Marques Colston won’t substantially damper his fantasy ceiling. Brees’ phenomenal performance puts him at the head of the class for fantasy quarterbacks, and makes him an A-Team guy. Out of a group of quarterbacks with closely bunched stats, Brees stands above the pack.

Close calls

Aaron Rodgers, Packers – In his second year as a starter, Rodgers took a step forward, going from 4,038 passing yards to 4,434 and from 28 touchdown passes to 30. That step forward is the difference between a good fantasy quarterback (which there are a bunch of, as you’ll see) and an A-Team guy. The underrated thing that sets Rodgers above the pack is his ability to run. Last year, he ran for 316 rushing yards and five touchdowns, after running for 207 yards and four touchdowns in ’08. Those rushing stats last year gave him the equivalent of a 5,000-yard, 40-touchdown season, which are ridiculous quarterback numbers. And since Rodgers has run the ball well two years in a row, we can consider it part of his arsenal and not a fluke. If you’re wondering what separates Rodgers from the quarterbacks below him on the list, it’s those running stats.

Peyton Manning, Colts – Manning has long been the elite fantasy quarterback, but this year our first instinct was to knock him off of the A-Team. But Manning’s numbers – exactly 4,500 passing yards and 33 touchdowns – were basically the A-Team borderline last year. And although those are actually Manning’s best season numbers since his record-setting 2004 season, Manning can do it again. With top targets in Reggie Wayne and Dallas Clark and emerging youngsters in Austin Collie and Pierre Garcon, Manning suddenly has the best group of targets he’s had since Brandon Stokely, Wayne, and Marvin Harrison were in place. At age 34, Manning is closer to the end of his career than the beginning, but he has enough of his prime left to include him on Tier 1C for one more year.

Just missed

Matt Schaub, Texans – Schaub has as much fantasy upside as any quarterback this year aside from Brees, and he proved last year that when he stays healthy he can put up huge numbers – 4,770 passing yards and 29 touchdowns. Schaub has perhaps the most talented wideout in the league in Andre Johnson, and top-flight TE Owen Daniels returns as well to add to a deep group of receivers. So in a vaccuum, Schaub is a Tier 1 guy. But injury history keeps Schaub off the A-Team, since last year was the first time in his three years as a starter that he played more than 11 games. Schaub will put up huge numbers when he plays, but the nagging concern that he won’t play enough drops his fantasy stock ever so slightly.

Tony Romo, Cowboys – Romo has had elite fantasy seasons, with 36 touchdowns in ’07 and 26 in just 13 games in ’08. Last year, he had a career best in passing yards with 4,483, but that came with just 26 touchdowns. Other numbers like interceptions and quarterback rating suggest that Romo is entering his prime, and the emergence of Miles Austin as a No. 1 target along with the presence of Jason Witten and the addition of Dez Bryant are good signs. But because of Romo’s touchdown slip last year, we’re going to keep him off the A-Team. He has the potential to end up with the elite guys at the end of the year, but owners are wiser to slot Romo on Tier 2 for now.

Tom Brady, Patriots – After missing almost all of the 2008 season with a knee injury, Brady returned with a big season in ’09 with nearly 4,400 passing yards and 28 touchdowns. With Randy Moss in place, Brady has a top target, but Wes Welker’s late-season injury takes away a huge part of the Pats’ passing game. And behind Moss and Welker, the Pats have an inexperienced crew of receivers that could struggle enough to limit Brady’s fantasy numbers. Brady’s still a fine quarterback, and he proved last year that he’s healthy, but the situation around him limits his fantasy upside this year to about the numbers he posted last year. And those numbers put him on Tier 2, not with the A-Team on Tier 1.

Philip Rivers, Chargers – Rivers is a terrific quarterback on the field, but owners saw last year that he’s not among the fantasy A-Team. After throwing 34 touchdowns in 2008, Rivers slipped down to 28 last year. Plus, Rivers’ yardage total topped out at 4,254, which puts up a notch below the Brees/Rodgers/Manning/Brady/Schaub level. Rivers is a good fantasy starter, and he has good targets in Vincent Jackson and Antonio Gates. But Rivers is clearly a Tier 2 guy who slips below the elite fantasy producers at the position.

Brett Favre, Vikings – Despite all the offseason hand-wringing about his status, the king of separation anxiety had a terrific fantasy season with 33 passing touchdowns, 4,200 yards, and just seven interceptions. Spanx turned Sidney Rice and Visanthe Shiancoe into elite fantasy performers, and his young receivers should only be better this year. Favre’s absence during offseason work is a small concern, and at age 41 entering the season Favre could pretty quickly slip in his performance level. For that reason, we’ve got to look at Favre’s 2009 numbers as an outlier and slot him at the end of Tier 2 instead of among the A-Team for 2010.

Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers – Of course, Roethlisberger can’t be an A-Teamer since he’s facing a three- or four-game suspension entering the season. But his numbers from ’09 – 4,328 yards and 26 passing touchdowns (plus two rushing scores) despite missing a game – nearly put him on the A-Team. Big Ben is a Tier 3 quarterback because of his suspension, but we wanted to note here that he could post Tier 1-caliber numbers once he returns to the field in October.

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Fantasy Football: 2009 Awards

While the 2009 NFL season leaks into 2010 this weekend, the fantasy football season is already over in a vast majority of leagues. Since that is the case, I thought it would be appropriate to give a few 2009 awards for fantasy football excellence.

If you have any differences of opinion, or any categories to add, leave a comment. Note that all statistics are through Week 16 of the NFL schedule.

Quarterback of 2009: Aaron Rodgers, Packers – It’s a close call between Rodgers (27 pass TD, 4 rush TD) and Drew Brees of the Saints (31 pass TD, 2 rush TD). Brees has outpassed Rodgers 4,388 to 4,199, but Rodgers has 281 more rushing yards, and that’s the source of some hidden points. So this is basically a draw, and so we’ll go with the QB who was drafted later. While Brees was a top-2 quarterback coming into the season, Rodgers fell into the 5 to 8 range in most leagues. The fact that he’s put up No. 1 QB numbers from that spot is a huge boon to owners who passed on Brees, Peyton Manning, and Tom Brady and waited a round or two for Rodgers instead.

Breakout quarterback of 2009: Matt Schaub, Texans – In a year where most quarterbacks delivered on their potential, the one true breakout was Schaub, who overcame injuries to play in every game and throw a career-high 27 touchdown passes and for a career-best 4,467 yards. Considering his previous highs were 15 touchdowns and 3,043 yards, and considering that injuries limited him to 11 games in each of the last two seasons, that was a huge step forward. The bottom line is that anyone who took a shot on Schaub in the 10 to 12 range at quarterback was rewarded with a top-6 performance on a weekly basis.

Running back of 2009: Chris Johnson, Titans – Johnson was pretty much a consensus top 10 pick entering the season, but he has delivered beyond even that lofty status with 1,872 rushing yards, 483 receiving yards, and 14 total touchdowns. While he’s a tick behind Adrian Peterson (17) and Maurice Jones-Drew (16) in touchdowns, Johnson’s massive yardage total outpaces each of those guys by 600 yards or more.  That’s enough to put Johnson over the top.

Breakout running back of 2009: Ray Rice, Ravens – Rice had a hard time weaseling into the top 25 at running back before the season, but he blew up with a huge season – 1,269 rushing yards, a RB-best 683 receiving yards, and eight total touchdowns. That’s enough to make him a top-5 running back for the season and a huge benefit to any owner who spent a mid-round draft pick on him.

Wide receiver of 2009: Andre Johnson, Texans – Like his teammate Matt Schaub, Johnson played every game this season, and he delivered with 95 catches for 1,504 yards and nine touchdowns. Randy Moss had 13 touchdowns to Johnson’s nine, but with more than 300 more yards Johnson narrowly gets the nod.

Breakout wide receiver of 2009: DeSean Jackson, Eagles – Jackson was a borderline top-20 receiver entering the season, but he busted out in a monster way. The second-year man had 1,120 yards receiving, nine receiving touchdowns, 131 rushing yards and a touchdown, plus two punt return touchdowns to earn a spot as a top-5 fantasy receiver. He was the kind of mid-round pick that makes fantasy teams into championship contenders.

Tight end of 2009: Dallas Clark, Colts – In an easy call, Clark, who had 1,054 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns, became the clear-cut No. 1 tight end over Antonio Gates, Tony Gonzalez, and Jason Witten. In a year where four tight ends were thought to be at the head of the class, there was only one, and it was Clark.

Breakout tight end of 2009: Vernon Davis, 49ers – Davis, who had been a disappointment both on the field and for fantasy owners in his first three NFL seasons, became a monster in 2009 with 72 catches for 876 yards and 12 touchdowns. He was the kind of late-round pick or waiver claim that makes a difference for a fantasy team.

Pickup of the year: Miles Austin, Cowboys – Austin didn’t start the first five games of the year for the Cowboys, but once he entered the lineup he blew up with 10 catches for 250 yards and two touchdowns against Kansas City. From that point on, Austin was a No. 1 fantasy receiver, scoring eight touchdowns after his breakout game. If you claimed Austin after that game, he rewarded you with top-5 fantasy receiver performance. No other pickup made that kind of difference.

Rookie of the year: Knowshon Moreno, Broncos – It wasn’t a great year for rookies as fantasy forces, but Moreno did a good job for fantasy owners who drafted him as a top-25 running back. With 896 rushing yards, 165 receiving yards, and seven total touchdowns, he provided a nice fantasy threat, especially once he fully got over a preseason injury. So he gets the nod over WR Hakeem Nicks of the Giants, who had six touchdowns and 795 receiving yards.

Disappointment of the year: Matt Forte, Bears – Forte was a top-5 pick in many leagues, but his fantasy performance (828 rushing yards, 448 receiving yards, 4 touchdowns) was incredibly disappointing. Take out what he did in three games against the sorry Lions, Rams, and Browns, and his weekly numbers looked even worse. He was barely a top-20 running back and a team-killer as a first-round pick.

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The 2009 All-Jersey Number Team

Over the past few weeks, we’ve analyzed the best players in the league at each position by jersey number. Now we’re combining those lists to create our 2009 all jersey-number team. From 1 to 99, here are the best players at each jersey number.

To see how we selected our finalists, you can review the jersey number project with wide receivers in this post and then with tight ends in this postand quarterbacks in this post and running backs in this post and offensive linemen in this postand kickers/punters in this post and defensive linemen in this post and linebackers in this post and defensive backs in this post.

1 – PK Neil Rackers, Cardinals

2 – QB Matt Ryan, Falcons. Other position winner: P Dustin Colquitt, Chiefs

3 – PK Stephen Gostkowski, Patriots. Other position winner: QB Derek Anderson, Browns

4 – QB Brett Favre, Vikings. Other position winner: P Andy Lee, 49ers

5 – QB Donovan McNabb, Eagles. Other position winner: P Mike Scifres, Chargers

6 – QB Jay Cutler, Bears. Other position winner: PK Joe Nedney, 49ers

7 – QB Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers. Other position winner: P Jason Baker, Panthers

8 – QB Matt Schaub, Texans. We originally gave the position nod to Matt Hasselbeck, but as Hasselbeck continues a steep decline, we’re switching to an ascending player in Schaub. Other position winners: QB Matt Hasselbeck, Seahawks; PK Ryan Longwell, Vikings

9 – QB Drew Brees, Saints. Other position winner: P Shane Lechler, Raiders

10 – QB Eli Manning, Giants. Other position winners: WR Santonio Holmes, Steelers; PK Nate Kaeding, Chargers

11 – WR Larry Fitzgerald, Cardinals. Other position winners: PK Sebastian Janikowksi, Raiders; QB Daunte Culpepper, Lions

12 – QB Tom Brady, Patriots. Other position winner: WR Marques Colston, Saints

13- QB Kurt Warner, Cardinals. Other position winner: WR Johnny Knox, Bears

14 – WR Brandon Stokely, Broncos. Other position winner: QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, Bills

15 – WR Brandon Marshall, Broncos. Other position winners: QB Seneca Wallace, Seahawks; P Craig Hentrich, Titans

16 – WR/RS Josh Cribbs, Browns. Other position winner: QB Charlie Batch, Steelers

17 – QB Philip Rivers, Chargers. Other position winners: WR Braylon Edwards, Jets; PK Shayne Graham, Bengals

18 – QB Peyton Manning, Colts. Other position winners: WR Sidney Rice, Vikings; P Jeff Feagles, Giants

19 – WR Miles Austin, Cowboys

20 – S Ed Reed, Ravens. Other position winner: RB Thomas Jones, Jets

21 – CB Nnamdi Asomugha, Raiders. Other position winner: RB LaDanian Tomlinson, Chargers

22 – CB Asante Samuel, Eagles. Other position winner: RB Matt Forte, Bears

23 – RB Ronnie Brown, Dolphins. Other position winners: CB DeAngelo Hall, Redskins; WR Devin Hester, Bears

24 – CB Darrelle Revis, Jets. Other position winner: RB Marion Barber, Cowboys

25 – RB Ryan Grant, Packers. Other position winner: S Ryan Clark, Steelers

26 – CB Antoine Winfield, Vikings. Other position winner: RB Clinton Portis, Redskins

27 – RB Ray Rice, Ravens. Other position winner: CB Rashean Mathis, Jaguars

28 – RB Chris Johnson, Titans. Originally, we opted for Adrian Peterson over Johnson, but as Johnson continues his historic season, and as Peterson continues to struggle, we’re going to make a switch. Other positional winners: RB Adrian Peterson, Vikings; S Gibril Wilson, Dolphins

29 – CB Leon Hall, Bengals. Other position winner: RB Joseph Addai, Colts

30 – S Mike Brown, Chiefs. Other position winner: FB John Kuhn, Packers

31 – CB Cortland Finnegan, Titans. Other position winner: RB Jamal Lewis, Browns

32 – RB Maurice Jones-Drew, Jaguars. Other position winner: S Eric Weddle, Chargers

33 – RB Michael Turner, Falcons. Other position winner: CB Charles Tillman, Bears

34 – RB Ricky Williams, Dolphins. Other position winner: S Dominique Barber, Texans

35 – CB Zack Bowman, Bears. Other position winner: RB Jerome Harrison, Browns

36 – S Nick Collins, Packers. Other position winner: RB Brian Westbrook, Eagles

37 – S Yeremiah Bell, Dolphins. Other position winner: FB Jason McKie, Bears

38 – S Dashon Goldson, 49ers. Other position winner: RB Samkon Gado, Rams

39 – RB Steven Jackson, Rams. Other position winner: CB Brandon Carr, Chiefs

40 – TE Jim Kleinsasser, Vikings. Other position winners: RB Brian Leonard, Bengals; S Marquand Manuel, Lions

41 – S Antoine Bethea, Colts. Other position winners: FB Lorenzo Neal, Raiders; TE Spencer Havner, Packers

42 – S Darren Sharper, Saints. Other position winner: RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Patriots

43 – S Troy Polamalu, Steelers. Other position winner: RB Darren Sproles, Chargers

44 – TE Dallas Clark, Colts. Other position winners: RB Ahmad Bradshaw, Giants; S Jarrad Page, Chiefs

45 – FB Mike Sellers, Redskins. Other position winners: TE Leonard Pope, Chiefs; DB De’Von Hall, Colts

46 – RB Ladell Betts, Redskins. Other position winners: TE Daniel Fells, Rams; LB Vinny Ciurciu, Lions

47 – FB Lawrence Vickers, Browns. Other position winners: S Jon McGraw, Chiefs; LB Brit Miller, 49ers

48 – S Chris Horton, Redskins

49 – FB Tony Richardson, Jets. Other position winners: LB Zack Follett, Lions; DB Rashad Johnson, Cardinals

50 – LB Curtis Lofton, Falcons. Other position winner: OG Ben Hamilton, Broncos

51 – LB Barrett Ruud, Buccaneers. Other position winner: C Dominic Raiola, Lions

52 – LB Ray Lewis, Ravens

53 – LB Keith Bulluck, Titans

54 – OG Brian Waters, Chiefs. Other position winners: LB Andra Davis, Broncos; DE Quentin Groves, Jaguars

55 – OLB Terrell Suggs, Ravens. Other position winners: DE John Abraham, Falcons; C Alex Mack, Browns

56 – LB Brian Cushing, Texans

57 – LB Bart Scott, Jets. Other position winners: C Olin Kreutz, Bears; DE James Wyche, Jaguars

58 – DE Trent Cole, Eagles. Other position winner: LB Karlos Dansby, Cardinals

59 – LB London Fletcher, Redskins. Other position winner: OG Nick Cole, Eagles

60 – OT Chris Samuels, Redskins. Other position winner: DT Joe Cohen, Lions

61 – C Nick Hardwick, Chargers. Other position winner: DT Gerard Warren, Raiders

62 – C Casey Wiegmann, Broncos

63 – C Jeff Saturday, Colts

64 – C Jake Grove, Dolphins. Other position winner: DT Kedric Gholston, Redskins

65 – OG Andre Gurode, Cowboys

66 – OG Alan Faneca, Jets. Other position winner: DT DelJuan Robinson, Texans

67 – C Jamaal Jackson, Eagles

68 – C Kevin Mawae, Titans. Other position winner: DE Jonathan Fanene, Bengals

69 – DE Jared Allen, Vikings. Other position winner: OT Jordan Gross, Panthers

70 – OG Leonard Davis, Cowboys. Other position winner: DE Kendall Langford, Dolphins

71 – OT Michael Roos, Titans. Other position winner: DE Kroy Biermann, Falcons

72 – DE Osi Umenyiora, Giants. Other position winner: OT Vernon Carey, Dolphins

73 – OG Jahri Evans, Saints. Other position winner: DT Jimmy Kennedy, Vikings

74 – C Nick Mangold, Jets. Other position winners: OLB Aaron Kampman, Packers; NT Jacques Cesaire, Chargers

75 – NT Vince Wilfork, Patriots. Other position winner: OG Davin Joseph, Buccaneers

76 – OG Steve Hutchinson, Vikings. Other position winner: NT Jamal Williams, Chargers

77 – OT Jake Long, Dolphins. Other position winner: NT Kris Jenkins, Jets

78 – OT Ryan Clady, Broncos. Other position winner: DE Jacob Ford, Titans

79 – NT Ryan Pickett, Packers. Other position winner: OT Jeff Otah, Panthers

80 – WR Andre Johnson, Texans. Other position winner: TE Bo Scaife, Titans

81 – WR Randy Moss, Patriots. Other position winner: TE Owen Daniels, Texans

82 – TE Jason Witten, Cowboys. Other position winner: WR Dwayne Bowe, Chiefs

83 – WR Wes Welker, Patriots. Other position winner: TE Heath Miller, Steelers

84 – WR Roddy White, Falcons. Other position winner: TE Benjamin Watson, Patriots

85 – TE Antonio Gates, Chargers. Other position winner: WR Chad Ochocinco, Bengals

86 – WR Hines Ward, Steelers. Other position winner: TE Todd Heap, Ravens

87 – WR Reggie Wayne, Colts. Other position winner: TE Brent Celek, Eagles

88 – TE Tony Gonzalez, Falcons. Other position winner: WR Isaac Bruce

89 – WR Steve Smith, Panthers. Other position winner: TE Daniel Graham, Broncos

90 – DE Julius Peppers, Panthers

91 – DE Will Smith, Saints. Other position winner: OLB Tamba Hali, Chiefs

92 – OLB Elvis Dumervil, Broncos. Other position winner: DT Albert Haynesworth, Redskins

93 – DT Kevin Williams, Vikings. Other position winner: OLB Anthony Spencer, Cowboys

94 – OLB DeMarcus Ware, Cowboys. Other position winner: DE Aaron Schobel, Bills

95 – OLB Shaun Phillips, Chargers. Other position winner: DT Jonathan Babineaux, Falcons

96 – OLB David Bowens, Browns. Other position winner: DE Tyler Brayton, Panthers

97 – NT Kelly Gregg, Ravens. Other position winner: OLB Calvin Pace, Jets

98 – DE Robert Mathis, Colts. Other position winner: LB Brian Orakpo, Redskins

99 – OLB Jason Taylor, Dolphins. Other position winner: DE Andre Carter, Redskins

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Fantasy Football Applaud or a Fraud – Week 12

Each week, we dive into the stat sheets to see which weekly performers fantasy owners should applaud and which fantasy owners should write off as frauds. You can read past applaud or a fraud analyses in the category listing. And you can also check out our fantasy football thoughts during the week via our Twitter feed here on the blog or here.

Quarterbacks

Kyle Boller, Rams – As you look for fantasy fill-ins, Boller is a name that tends to get overlooked. But after throwing for 282 yards and a score against the Seahawks, you should at least notice. Boller is going to have the Rams’ job for at least a couple more weeks, so if you’re desperate, Boller is worth a claim to be a backup. He’s not going to produce as much as Vince Young, but he will surpass guys like Dennis Dixon and Matt Leinart. Verdict: Applaud

Ryan Fitzpatrick, Bills – This is a bit of a strange call, but Fitzpatrick has provided a spark for the Bills since interim head coach Perry Fewell inserted him in the lineup two weeks ago. Fitzpatrick threw for a touchdown a ran for another this week, and he seems to be good for at least a score a week. That makes him definitely worth a claim and perhaps even worth a start in multi-QB leagues. Verdict: Applaud

Chris Redman, Falcons– Redman was pressed into action when Matt Ryan was hurt in the first quarter of Atlanta’s win over Tampa Bay. He responded with 243 passing yards and two touchdowns. If Ryan is out, Redman has enough weapons to be a top-18 fantasy quarterback on a weekly basis. He’s the fill-in you want, not Matt Leinart or Dennis Dixon. Verdict: Applaud

Vince Young, Titans– Young had a huge day with 387 passing yards, including a last-minute game-winning drive. But he only threw for one touchdown, which continues the pattern he’s established since he returned to the lineup. That lack of TD passes keeps Young from being a fantasy starter. He’s good depth, and if you’re missing a starter like Kurt Warner, Matt Ryan, or Ben Roethlisberger, Young can be an emergency option. But he’s not a guy you should be looking to start. Verdict: A fraud

Running Backs

Fred Jackson, Bills – With Marshawn Lynch out, Jackson blew up with 73 rushing yards, 43 receiving yards, and two touchdowns. But Lynch should return soon, and that means that Jackson simply won’t get the opportunities to remain a significant or consistent fantasy producer. Verdict: A fraud

Brandon Jacobs, Giants – In a week where Ahmad Bradshaw was out, against a Denver defense that had been gashed on the ground in recent weeks, Jacobs put up just 27 yards on 11 carries. He’s not a reliable fantasy starter at this point. We figure he’s outside the top 20 fantasy backs, which is a disappointment for a guy who was a first- or second-round pick in most leagues. But it’s time to deal with reality and be willing to put Jacobs on the bench when the matchup dictates. Verdict: A fraud

Larry Johnson, Bengals – Johnson rewarded the Bengals for his second chance by running for 107 yards on 22 carries against Cleveland. But even during the performance, Move the Sticks (a Twitter-based scout) was commenting on how slow Johnson looked. That means that Johnson isn’t worth a run against a better defense. That scouting report, plus the imminent return of Cedric Benson, means that Johnson isn’t a top-40 back going forward. Verdict: A fraud

Felix Jones, Cowboys – Jones broke a 46-yard touchdown this week against Oakland and finished with 68 rushing yards. That performance was a window into Jones for fantasy owners. While Jones is capable of busting a big play, he doesn’t do it often, and unless he does his fantasy value is extremely limited. He’s outside the top 35 at running back from a fantasy perspective and isn’t worth a roster spot in leagues of 10 teams or less. Verdict: A fraud

LaDanian Tomlinson, Chargers – If you were watching the ticker, you might have seen that Tomlinson scored twice against the Chiefs. But don’t miss the fact that he also averaged just 3.0 yards per carry on 13 totes. He also had just one five-yard catch. While LDT is starting to find the end zone more often, he’s far from the force he used to be. You should still beware. Verdict: A fraud

Wide Receivers

Miles Austin, Cowboys – Austin had yet another huge game on Thanksgiving, posting seven catches for 145 yards and a score. Consider that star turn a reminder that Austin is now a top-10 fantasy receiver. Verdict: Applaud

Kenny Britt, Titans – Britt caught the game-winning touchdown for Tennessee against Arizona, and he also had his best game of his rookie season with seven catches for 128 yards. Britt has now scored two straight weeks, and he seems to have a pretty good rapport with Vince Young. Don’t get carried away, but if Britt is on your league’s waiver wire he’s now worth a claim. He seems to be emerging late in the season. Verdict: Applaud

Donald Driver, Packers – Driver is almost 35 years old, but he continues to post monster numbers year after year. His 142-yard performance against Detroit, which included a touchdown, goes to show that he’s still a top-15 fantasy wideout after all these years. He should be in your starting lineup in ink. Verdict: Applaud

Percy Harvin, Vikings – The star rookie had his first 100-yard game of the season against the Bears, notching 101 yards and a score on six catches. As Harvin becomes more a part of the offense, he becomes a starting-quality fantasy receiver. He’s moved within the top 30 of fantasy receivers, and his uphill climb might still have heights to attain. Verdict: Applaud

Calvin Johnson, Lions – Considering that most leagues saw Johnson drafted as a top-10 receiver (if not higher), it seems crazy to consider benching him. But with Matthew Stafford banged up and Johnson not at full strength either, right  now it’s foolish to consider Johnson as a legit top-10 fantasy wideout. His two-catch, 10-yard day against Green Bay was redeemed a bit by a touchdown grab, but it’s still a sign of trouble. Megatron is still in the top 20 of fantasy wideouts, but you have to at least look at your other options before starting him. So we can’t rate Johnson as a top-10 guy anymore. Verdict: A fraud

James Jones, Packers – Jones had four catches for 35 yards and a touchdown on Thanksgiving Day. It was his fourth touchdown of the year, all of which have come after Green Bay’s Week 5 bye. In large leagues (16 teams or more), Jones is not a bad fifth receiver, but he still doesn’t have much relevance for fantasy owners other than that. Verdict: A fraud

Terrell Owens, Bills – Don’t look now, but T.O. is on a roll in Buffalo. He has scored in two straight weeks and has at least 78 yards from scrimmage in his last four games. He’s finally back to being an every-week starter in just about every fantasy league. If you kept him, your patience is being rewarded, and if you claimed him or traded for him, your gamble is paying off. Verdict: Applaud

Tight Ends

Fred Davis, Redskins – With Chris Cooley’s significant injury now looking to be a season-ender, Davis is worth a second look. He had four catches and a touchdown against the Eagles, and he’s had at least four catches in three of the past five games. If you’re scrambling for a tight end, Davis is a decent option at this point in the season. Verdict: Applaud

Zach Miller, Raiders – The only redeemable thing about the Raiders’ offense from a fantasy perspective right now is Miller, who had five catches for 73 yards against the Cowboys on Thanksgiving Day. Miller has had at least 50 yards receiving in five of his last seven games, which makes him a startable option in leagues of 12 teams or more. He doesn’t score enough to be an elite fantasy tight end, but he’s raised himself up to option status. Verdict: Applaud

Jason Witten, Cowboys – Witten has seen his production lag this year, but he busted out with a 107-yard game against Oakland on Thanksgiving despite being a game-time decision to play. That’s a positive sign for owners who were wavering about whether to keep starting the former fantasy stalwart. The answer is that yes, you should leave Witten in your weekly lineup. Verdict: Applaud

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Jersey Numbers: Tight Ends

Over the next several weeks, we’re going to look at several different positions (I can’t yet promise all) to identify the best players wearing each jersey number at each position. If this goes as planned, we’ll then compile a list of the best player wearing each jersey number in the league.

If you have quibbles, or want to add someone I forgot, leave a comment and we’ll update this post. And please have patience – this is a big job.

We started this project with wide receivers in this post. Now we move to tight ends. In general, tight ends wear numbers between 80 and 89, but several also wear numbers in the 40s.

40 – Jim Kleinsasser, Vikings – It’s hard to tell whether Kleinsasser is a true tight end or more of a fullback/H-back, but he plays on the line enough to earn the nod here. Kleinsasser doesn’t get the ball much, but he remains a solid blocker deep into a solid career.

41 – Spencer Havner, Packers – OK, so Havner is the only tight end wearing 41. But we have to give a few props to a player who was playing linebacker until about three or four weeks ago and now suddenly has three touchdowns in the past two games.

44 – Dallas Clark, Colts – Clark is probably the best receiving tight end in the league at the moment. He’s not just reliable – he’s explosive down the middle of the field. He’s emerged as the complement to Reggie Wayne in the Colts’ prolific passing game, and Clark is just now hitting his prime.

45 – Leonard Pope, Chiefs – The former Cardinals starter landed in K.C. this year with a new jersey number. Pope has never played up to his immense physical gifts, but he is still a threat simply because of his size and speed.

46 – Daniel Fells, Rams – Fells is the only tight end wearing 46, but like Havner he has three touchdowns on the season. Of course, one came on a fake field goal, and the other two came from Kyle Boller in one game on the same play call, but three is three. Other notable 46: Delanie Walker, 49ers

47 – Chris Cooley, Redskins – Cooley is hurt at the moment, but he has proven to be a terrific pass catcher in Washington in recent years despite playing with subpar quarterbacks throughout his tenure. He’s also a serviceable blocker and a fan favorite because of his outsized personality. He’s one of the few home-grown players who has really paid off for the Redskins. Other notable 47s: Jeff King, Panthers, Billy Bajema, Rams; Travis Beckum, Giants; Gijon Robinson, Colts

80 – Bo Scaife, Titans – Scaife is the Titans’ most important receiver because he has great size and provides a great interior target. Tennessee recognized his value when it tagged Scaife as its franchise player this past offseason. That’s enough reason to give Scaife the nod at 80 over Zach Miller of the Raiders, who’s a great young receiver. Other notable 80: Derek Schouman, Bills

81 – Owen Daniels, Texans – Before he suffered a season-ending knee injury last week, Daniels was the most productive tight end in the league. That marked the third straight season he was one of the league’s most dangerous targets. That’s enough to earn him honors for this number over Minnesota’s Visanthe Shiancoe, who has blossomed as a receiving threat the last two seasons. Other notable 81s: Dustin Keller, Jets; Joey Haynos, Dolphins

82 – Jason Witten, Cowboys – Witten isn’t having his most sterling of seasons, but he has long been one of the league’s two or three elite receiving threats from the tight end position. He may be the receiver Cowboys opponents need to concentrate on stopping most. He’s an All-Pro level tight end, which puts him above young studs Kellen Winslow of the Buccaneers and Greg Olsen of the Bears at this number. Other notable 82s: Alex Smith, Eagles; L.J. Smith, Ravens

83 – Heath Miller, Steelers – Miller is a tall target who can really catch the ball, and that makes him a great mid-field target in a Pittsburgh offense where ball control is still important. Miller is also having a bit of a bounce-back year numbers-wise, which makes it even easier to give him the nod at 83 over the declining Alge Crumpler of Tennessee. Other notable 83: Jeff Dugan, Vikings

84 – Benjamin Watson, Patriots – The Patriots have never seemed completely satisfied with Watson, a former first-round pick, at tight end, but Watson continues to put up good touchdown numbers. He also has the longest touchdown reception in Patriots playoff history, a 63-yarder against Jacksonville in the 2005 season. So he gets the nod over Randy McMichael of the Rams, who has had some decent seasons, and rookie first-rounder Brandon Pettigrew of the Lions. Other notable 84: Robert Royal, Browns

85 – Antonio Gates, Chargers – Gates, who didn’t play football but basketball in college, has been one of the preeminent receiving tight ends in the league over the past decade or so. Injuries have slowed him a step or two, but he’s still really good. One day, Vernon Davis of the 49ers will claim this number, but that won’t happen until Gates retires. Other notable 85: David Thomas, Saints

86 – Todd Heap, Ravens – Heap is another tight end having a renaissance year this season, reminding all of us how good of a receiver he has been in his career. Like Heath Miller, his size is his biggest asset as a receiver. Other notable 86s: Donald Lee, Packers; Fred Davis, Redskins; Daniel Coats, Bengals; Chris Baker, Patriots

87 – Brent Celek, Eagles – Celek had a good game or two before this season, but he has seized his opportunity this season and established himself as a better-than-average receiver at tight end already. He brings an explosiveness to the position that the Eagles never got from L.J. Smith. Other notable 87: Kellen Davis, Bears

88 – Tony Gonzalez, Falcons – T-Gon is another of the classic tight ends of this era, and like Gates he had a basketball background. Gonzalez is still a prolific receiver, and his veteran presence has made the Falcons’ offense much more dangerous. He’s clearly the choice here over Jeremy Shockey of New Orleans and many others. Other notable 88s: JerMichael Finley, Packers; Tony Scheffler, Broncos; Dante Rosario, Panthers; J.P. Foschi, Bengals; Desmond Clark, Bears

89 – Daniel Graham, Broncos– This is a close call between Graham, who’s known more for his blocking than for his receiving, and young tight ends like Kevin Boss of the Giants, John Carlson of Seattle, and Marcedes Lewis of the Jaguars. We’ll give Graham the nod based on the longevity of his career and his blocking prowess. Other notable 89s: Will Heller, Lions; Sean Ryan, Chiefs; Matt Spaeth, Steelers; Ben Patrick, Cardinals; Shawn Nelson, Bills

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Applaud or a Fraud – Top 10 Tight Ends

Over these midseason weeks, we’re going to take our preseason draft board and break down the top players at each position in an effort to determine which players are living up to their draft status, which are surpassing their draft status, and which are falling below their draft status. We’ll use our Applaud or a Fraud titles to compare these players vs. preseason expectations, but you’ll want to read each player’s report to see what the verdict means for him.

We’ve already done this with the top 35 running backs and emerging running backs and with the top 35 wide receivers and emerging wide receivers. Now we turn to the top 10 tight ends from our preseason draft board.

As a companion to this piece, we’ll look at the top tight ends who weren’t in our top 10 before the season and try to determine whether we should applaud them or consider them frauds for the rest of the season. Watch for that post tomorrow.

1. Jason Witten, Cowboys – As the Cowboys have struggled, Witten has been perhaps the biggest victim. He has 259 yards receiving, which is OK for a player who’s already had a bye, but just one touchdown. He’s not the No. 1 overall tight end that we expected before the season, but he is still a guy you must start each and every week. So as a starter going forward, we’re going to clap, despite the disappointment those who drafted him high must have. Verdict: Applaud

2. Dallas Clark, Colts – Clark has always been a terrific fantasy producer, but thus far this year he’s taken it to another level. With Anthony Gonzalez missing so much time, Clark has stepped up into an even bigger role in the offense, and the results are stirring. Even though he’s had his bye, he leads all tight ends with 441 yards (that’s 84 yards per game) and he also has two touchdowns. He deserves not just applause but a standing ovation. Verdict: Applaud

3. Tony Gonzalez, Falcons – In his first year in Atlanta, Gonzalez has proven he still has it as a top-tier fantasy tight end. His yardage total of 267 is a little lower than usual (just 46 yards per game), but he does have three touchdowns, all in the Georgia Dome. Those touchdowns make Gonzalez still a reliable fantasy tight end for those who invested a high draft pick in him. Verdict: Applaud

4. Antonio Gates, Chargers – Gates has quietly piled up a whopping 419 yards on the season (that’s 70 per game), and although he has just two touchdowns, he’s still one of the top fantasy producers at tight end. Owners might wish that the Chargers looked to Gates more in the red zone, but they can’t complain about finally having him healthy and productive once again. Verdict: Applaud

5. Greg Olsen, Bears – We figured that Olsen would emerge as Jay Cutler’s favorite target, and so we moved him up to the top of the second tier of tight ends. So far, that has been a dicey move. Olsen is producing fantasy points because he has three touchdowns in the first six games, but he has just 151 yards. That 25 yards-per-game average has to go up, and if Olsen keeps getting in the end zone it this will turn out OK for fantasy owners, but it’s still hard to make ourselves clap for Olsen because we expected so much before the season. Still, Olsen is a solid fantasy starter, and so we’ll clap. Verdict: Applaud

6. Owen Daniels, Texans – Daniels was the other tight end we put in the second tier, and that has paid off. Daniels has been a terrific yardage-producer in recent years, and he’s done that again with 374 yards through six games (that’s 62 per game). But after scoring just two touchdowns last year, he already has four in ’09. That’s a huge blessing for Daniels owners who find themselves with one of the most productive fantasy tight ends around. Verdict: Applaud

7. Chris Cooley, Redskins – Cooley, like Daniels, is a long-time top receiver who saw his touchdown total dive in ’08. That trend appears to be continuing in ’09. He has 311 yards (52 per game) and 2 touchdowns, which is OK production, but given the Redskins’ problems at quarterback and their widespread offensive line injuries, fantasy owners have to be worried about whether Cooley can continue to produce starting-caliber numbers going forward. Given how good a player Cooley is, we’ll give him the benefit of the doubt, but this is a close call. Verdict: Applaud

8. Dustin Keller, Jets – We figured that Keller, who had a nice rookie season with Brett Favre as his quarterback, would prove to be Mark Sanchez’s safety net this year. Plus, the Jets didn’t have top receivers, and so Keller figured to help fill in that gap. But the addition of Braylon Edwards and Sanchez’s recent meltdown have limited Keller’s fantasy production. He’s averaging just 31 yards per game (187 total) and has just one touchdown, and things don’t look to be getting better soon. If you have Keller as a starter, it’s time for a change. Verdict: A fraud

9. John Carlson, Seahawks – Carlson’s numbers look OK, with 294 yards (59 per game) and two touchdowns. But since his six-catch, 95-yard, two-touchdown game in Week 1, Carlson hasn’t had more than 55 yards in a game. We don’t like that trend, and that leads us to pass on Carlson as a fantasy starter going forward. Verdict: A fraud

10. Kellen Winslow, Buccaneers – In a lost season in Tampa Bay, Winslow has emerged as a solid threat for the Bucs. He has 286 yards (47 per game) and four touchdowns, which is solid for tight ends. Since Winslow is the only thing going in Tampa, it seems like he can keep producing no matter who’s at quarterback for the Bucs. As a result, we’ll continue to recommend Winslow as a fantasy starter. Verdict: Applaud

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Cowboys/Broncos thoughts

A few thoughts on the Week 4 game between the Dallas Cowboys and the Tennessee Titans, both from an on-field perspective and a fantasy football perspective. Denver won the game 17-10.

On-field
*The Cowboys have a lot of quality offensive weapons. In fact, with their offensive line and their stable of backs, Dallas should be a run-first juggernaut, much like the Panthers were last year. But you have to wonder whether coordinator Jason Garrett is willing to move that way as a play-caller. But a run-first approach would feature Marion Barber and Tashard Choice (as well as Felix Jones, when he gets healthy again) and allow Roy Williams to be a down-field threat and Jason Witten and Martellus Bennett to be mid-field threats via play-action. This kind of approach best fits the Cowboys’ offensive line as well, because they would be able to use their size to their advantage. It would also cover up the lack of depth Dallas has at wide receiver behind Williams.
*Moreover, leaning into their running strengths would allow the Cowboys to take pressure off of Tony Romo, who isn’t playing up to his physical gifts right now. He made killer mistakes that cost the Cowboys a Denver touchdown and a scoring chance of their own, but Romo was precise throwing the ball most of the time. He’s good with no pressure on him but seems to wilt under the pressure too often. If the Cowboys ran more, it would take some pressure off Romo and perhaps let him get his feet back under him.
*This is my first extended look at the Broncos’ defense, and I’m more impressed than I thought I’d be. OLB-DE Elvis Dumervil, who had his seventh and eighth sacks of the season, is quick and determined on the pass rush. The one thing the Broncos’ front seven has is speed, and that made for a bad matchup in pass protection for Dallas’ huge but slow offensive line in pass-rush situation. But Dallas’ line did a good job on several screen passes of making outside blocks to spring big plays.
*Rookie OLB Robert Ayers, one of Denver’s first-round picks this year who plays beside Dumervil on many passing downs, is downright tiny and will have to put on weight to be a force, but he is quick off the edge.
*The play Knowshon Moreno made on his second-quarter touchdown catch shows why the Broncos wanted to draft him even though he didn’t fit a need. Moreno is extremely talented, and Denver could build its offense around him if it wanted. It just doesn’t seem as though Josh McDaniels wants a run-first team revolving around a bell-cow back. Of course, Correll Buckhalter is a good player as well, so using both guys makes sense. But Denver could and should get more out of Moreno.
*Denver’s passing game, though, is less than the sum of its parts. Part of that is because Kyle Orton is OK but not special as a quarterback. He’s not able to utilize WRs Brandon Marshall and Eddie Royal the way strong-armed Jay Cutler was last year.
*Brandon Marshall can cause his share of trouble, but you saw at the end of the game why the Broncos haven’t cut the cord. Marshall’s leaping catch and then double-cutback run for the game-winning touchdown was a jaw-dropping play, and it indicates just how talented Marshall is.
*It’s not fair that Denver’s Matt Prater gets to kick off at altitude eight times a year. Combine his strong leg with the Mile High altitude, and you get the strange sight of Dallas RS Miles Austin standing five yards deep (in the stranger sight – the diamond-patterned end zone) to receive the kick. Prater becomes a field-position weapon for the Broncos on kickoffs in home games like this one.

Fantasy Football thoughts
*There are few things better as a fantasy owner than watching Marion Barber run as hard as he did and push the pile into the end zone as he did on his first-quarter touchdown. He’s a hard-nosed runner who’s a sure-fire starter as long as he’s healthy. The problem with his running style is that it keeps him from being healthy all the time.
*I like the skill set of both Broncos RBs, Knowshon Moreno and Correll Buckhalter, but neither seems to be enough of a focal point to make them fantasy starters week to week. But both are good players, and they’re worth having on your roster because they’re decent options if you get in a bye-week or injury-caused pinch.
*I wouldn’t want to have to rely on any of the receivers from this game. For Dallas, Roy Williams simply isn’t a true go-to guy, which means Dallas won’t rely on him. And the other receivers – Patrick Crayton, Miles Austin, and Sam Hurd – are as unimpressive as any 2-3-4 combo in the league. Even Jason Witten, a terrific player, is losing numbers because defenses can focus on him – to the point that I might start looking for a replacement if I owned him. For Denver, Orton’s not able to make full use of Brandon Marshall and Eddie Royal, and so their numbers suffer as well. None of these receivers, as talented as Williams or Marshall or Royal are, are among the top 20 fantasy wideouts, and only Marshall can make an argument to be in the top 25. He’s worth a shot in most leagues because he can break a big play, but I wouldn’t center my team around him.

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