1. The season of fantasy football drafts is upon us. Follow the Three Commandments of Draft Day Etiquette or suffer swift and well-deserved retribution from the fantasy gods.
• Thou shalt not be the fly in the ointment. Know when it's your turn to make a selection. Don't use every second of your allotted clock time on every pick. Don't attempt to draft three previously drafted players in every round after the first. Don't shout out each of your auction bids a nanosecond before the auctioneer closes the bidding. Don't badger your league-mates by inquiring of every player you're thinking about selecting, "Is _____ healthy?"
• Thou shalt not come empty-handed. If your draft is held in a public place for which all league members pay an equal fee, you're exempt (though you should still buy the organizer a beer for his troubles). But if someone is hosting your draft, bring them a bottle of wine, a six-pack of good beer, a batch of cookies or some sort of trinket bearing the logo of their favorite NFL team. If it's a BYO affair, don't come empty-handed, and make sure to bring more than enough of whatever you're eating/drinking. No one likes a mooch or a cheapskate.
• Thou shalt honor thy commissioner. Draft day can be stressful for a commissioner; don't add to his troubles (or hers, if you're governed by a commissionette). In addition to handling clerical and organizational duties, your commissioner is trying to concentrate on building his own team and perhaps even trying to enjoy himself. Don't be disruptive. Don't be quarrelsome. Don't get so loaded that you cause problems. Pay your league fee up front and don't make your commissioner bird-dog you for money. Don't be a schmuck.
2. Note that the item above makes no mention of talking trash or busting chops. These things are heartily encouraged at fantasy drafts. But by all means, be creative. No one enjoys trite trash talk.
3. In a 12-team league, the No. 5 and No. 6. draft slots seem like nice places to be. I count five elite, low-risk running backs — Arian Foster, Adrian Peterson, Chris Johnson, Jamaal Charles and Ray Rice — with Rashard Mendenhall close on their heels. At No. 5 you can come away with Charles or Rice (or possibly Johnson). At No. 6, you might still be able to get a top-five RB, and if not you can choose between Mendenhall, QB Aaron Rodgers or your choice of receivers. In the second round, you can come back with one of the six first-tier QBs; a low-risk, top-eight WR; or, if you want to go with an old-school strategy, a second top-10 RB.
In leagues where QB scoring is heavily weighted (six points per TD pass, for example), the No. 5 and No. 6 spots allow you to grab one of the six elite QBs, then still get your hands on a top RB or WR in the second round.
Some draft veterans prefer to be positioned at either end of a snake draft in order to fill two spots in rapid succession. Personally, I prefer the middle, where you're less likely to fall victim to a shortage following a run on players at a particular position, and where it's less likely that entire tiers of positional talent will be wiped out between picks.
4. If you miss out on a top-six QB — Aaron Rodgers, Michael Vick, Drew Brees, Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Philip Rivers — and aren't able to land Tony Romo (whom some believe to be a top-tier passer), you owe it to yourself to take a long look at Ben Roethlisberger. It's understandable that Big Ben isn't a particularly sexy choice this season. He still hasn't shed his status as a social pariah after some well-publicized misbehavior and overall jackassery. He didn't play especially well in Pittsburgh's playoff run last season. At age 29, we're unlikely to see significant improvement from him.
But let's not forget that Roethlisberger is only two years removed from a 4,328-yard, 26-TD season, or that he threw 32 TD passes in 2007. Regardless of whether you believe that a quest for redemption will add coal to Roethlisberger's furnace this year, you should buy into something much more tangible: the Steelers' pillowy-soft schedule. Take a look at it; I think you'll agree that it's favorable. I see 3,700 yards and 24 TDs as being the floor for Roethlisberger, and the ceiling is substantially higher.
5. I was high on Anquan Boldin to begin with, and I like him a little more now that the Ravens have added Lee Evans. Baltimore's rookie receivers have promise, but they weren't going to open up space in the defense for Boldin the way a veteran deep threat like Evans can.
6. Chris Johnson's holdout could present a rare buying opportunity for owners in late-drafting leagues. If CJ2K's holdout stretches into Labor Day weekend, or even just into the week before Labor Day, your competitors could get gun-shy about drafting him in the first round. Would you be willing to call Johnson's name early if the season opener were mere days away and he still wasn't practicing with the Titans?
Former team executive and current ESPN NFL business analyst Andrew Brandt predicted in a Forbes.com article that Johnson will get a new contract approximately one week before the start of the regular season. If he's right, it means Johnson's impasse almost surely won't have ended by the time your draft is held.
I'd be shocked if Johnson missed any games. If he's somehow available in the latter stages of the first round, grab him without hesitation.
7. There are those who believe that rookie Delone Carter is the most talented running back on the Colts' roster. But realize this: If he can't adequately protect Peyton Manning on blitzes, Carter won't play, period.
8. I can't shake the feeling that Ronnie Brown is going to play a bigger role with the Eagles than a lot of people are expecting. If so, that obviously wouldn't be good for LeSean McCoy owners. And let's not forget that there's already some built-in frustration that comes with having a featured running back in an Andy Reid offense.
9. Bears WR Johnny Knox has found his way into offensive coordinator Mike Martz's doghouse. Knox is no longer listed as a starter, his job going to Bears newcomer Roy Williams, who played for Martz in Detroit. Never mind that Knox is almost certainly the better player at this point. Caleb Hanie is approximately 10 times better than Todd Collins, but Hanie took up residence in Martz's doghouse last season for reasons no one other than Martz seemed to know, which is why Collins was allowed to stumble around for two series in last year's NFC championship game following Jay Cutler's injury before Martz finally came to his senses and inserted Hanie, who nearly led the Bears to a comeback victory.
I like Knox, but it's hard to really like him if Martz doesn't like him. And I don't like Williams, even though Martz likes him. (And, like, why am I sounding like a preteen girl?)
So I'm thinking that with the mediocre Williams in favor and Knox out of favor, this situation might just work in favor of the Bears' other starting receiver, Earl Bennett, who's flying under the radar in fantasy drafts. Bennett started to make some nice strides last season and has the trust of Cutler, a fellow product of Vanderbilt. And while Bennett isn't especially big or fast, he's a cerebral player who grasps the nuances of his position. Sleeper alert!
10. OK, so we might not be ready to begin the NFL's Tim Tebow era just yet. But beware, Kyle Orton owners: There's still a good chance that Tebow is going to at least take some snaps in "Wildcat" formations near the goal line, depriving Orton of some precious scoring opportunities and chipping away at his fantasy value.
11. It's not as if Philip Rivers is being completely disrespected by the fantasy-football intelligentsia, but it seems as if he's being mildly underrated, even though he's being ranked among the top-tier quarterbacks. Rivers is this generation's Dan Marino. Rivers might not be the top-rated QB, but there isn't a safer one available.
12. No beer goes better with football than Dogfish Head Punkin Ale, a strong, pumpkin-flavored brew that defines what autumn tastes like. It's a seasonal beer that typically arrives in stores in early September, and I'm giving you a heads-up now, because they brew a finite amount of Punkin Ale and it seems to run out by Halloween. Do yourself a favor and find a store that carries this stuff. It's pure heaven.
13. I've got a four-pack of Dogfish Head Punkin Ale (did I mention it comes in four-packs?) that Lance Moore puts up better fantasy numbers than Saints teammate Marques Colston this season.
14. Yes, if you prorate Tony Romo's 2010 passing stats over a full season, the numbers will pop your eyes out of your skull. But of course, there's a reason why we're talking about Romo's prorated numbers — specifically, a fractured clavicle. Even after grabbing one of the premier offensive tackles available in this year's draft, Tyron Smith, the Cowboys don't exactly have an airtight offensive line. Romo's pass catchers are terrific, but his offensive line still concerns me — not enough to discount the possibility of drafting him, but I'd feel compelled to draft a better-than-average backup.
15. Washington Redskins = fantasy sinkhole. Is there any player on the Redskins you could insert in your lineup on a weekly basis without having that position be considered a weak spot in need of an upgrade?
16. I currently have Darren McFadden ranked No. 8 among running backs, and yet I can't imagine calling out his name in any of my drafts. He was dominant at times in 2010, and he has the talent to be a 1,500-yard rusher and 15-TD guy if everything breaks right (other than bones, that is). But he's a Raider: What are the odds that everything will break right?
McFadden deserves to be ranked as a top-10 back. But if I'm picking late in the first round or early in the second and he's the highest-rated RB remaining on my list, I'm probably taking the best quarterback or wide receiver available.
17. It might not be possible to overstate the significance of Josh McDaniels joining the Rams as offensive coordinator and working with second-year QB Sam Bradford. We saw last year how much talent and moxie Bradford has, even if his rookie stats were ordinary. Under McDaniels, who in past stops has managed to make Matt Cassel and Kyle Orton look like stars, Bradford should start to put up numbers befitting his vast potential. This might be the last time for a decade that Bradford isn't considered a top-10 quarterback.
18. If you play in a league with deep rosters and end up rostering LeGarrette Blount, you should consider Earnest Graham to be an essential handcuff. In fact, it might be worth it to spend a late-round pick on Graham even if you don't own Blount. Graham is largely a forgotten man after having rushed for fewer than 100 yards total in each of the past two seasons, but it wasn't long ago that he was effective in a greater role (898 rushing yards, 10 TDs in 2007). Blount has a hard-charging running style that invites punishment, so it wouldn't be a shocker if he missed some games, leading to significant playing time for Graham.
19. A sense of obligation compels me to watch every preseason game on NFL Network (except for the final week's games, which are utterly pointless). You don't fully appreciate how professional and competent most of the network analysts and play-by-play men are until you hear the local guys doing the preseason broadcasts. I don't want to pick on anyone, but … oh heck, let's pick on a couple of people.
During last week's Bengals-Lions game, play-by-play man Matt Shepard, handling the telecast in the Detroit area, repeatedly referred to Bengals WR Jerome Simpson as "Jeremy Simpson," never correcting himself despite the fact that Simpson had a couple of catches and also threw a crushing block on Lions safety Louis Delmas, leading to a personal foul on the Lions for retaliating after the whistle.
But Shepard is the second coming of Pat Summerall compared with Don Tollefson, who handles the local play-by-play duties for Eagles preseason games. Memo to Don: Try to come up with another adjective besides "great," which you used approximately 1,258 times during last week's game. Also, when a receiver turns to catch a crisp spiral thrown right into his breadbasket, it does not qualify as a "great catch!" And would it kill you to mention the name of an opposing player more than once a quarter or so?
20. The 49ers' top two receivers are Michael Crabtree, a head case who's dealing with a foot injury, and Braylon Edwards, a head case who's dealing with an unfamiliar offense. Anyone else smell a big season for Niners TE Vernon Davis?
21. Last week in this space I offered a few reasons why Michael Vick should not be among the first few quarterbacks drafted. Here's the best counterargument I've heard, courtesy of a friend who's hot and heavy to draft Vick, and it's a brief but reasonable point:
"Which QB would you least want to be playing against in any given week of fantasy football?"