Better late than never, my fantasy predictions for the 2009 NFL season are here to ease your draft day anxieties. There is a ton of value to be found in the mid-to-late rounds this year, especially at the running back position. Wise owners will recognize the opportunity to load up on WR talent in the early rounds if they don’t find themselves in a position to grab one of the top three or four running backs. Remember, fantasy championships are rarely won in the first few rounds of a draft, but they can definitely be lost. Be a savvy owner this season and choose based upon value, not name recognition. With that in mind, here are the true pearls of wisdom to guide you on your path to fantasy greatness … because anything worth doing is worth doing better than your friends.
1. Carson Palmer will return to prominence as a top-tier fantasy QB. I am predicting 4,000 yards passing and at least 25 TDs for the Bengals signal-caller.
2. In his second season as a pro, Kevin Smith will make the jump from rookie sensation to fantasy stud. I think he’ll pile up 1,500 yards from scrimmage with 40 grabs and 12 TDs.
3. Chris Cooley will out-produce Tony Gonzalez and Antonio Gates. This guy is just a good football player and there will be no shortage of targets with that receiving corps in DC.
4. The Seahawks will recapture the NFC West crown on the strength of a huge season by a receiver not named TJ. Nate Burleson will catch 70 balls for 1,000+ yards and 7 TDs.
5. Matt Leinart will throw for more yards and account for more touchdowns than incumbent starter Kurt Warner. Thanks to a suspect defense, the Cards will still miss the playoffs.
6. Although technically the #3 WR in Cincy, Chris Henry will produce like a #2 fantasy wide receiver. Expect 50-60 grabs with at least 8 of those going for TDs.
7. A forgotten man in the Saints attack last season, Marques Colston will remind owners that he is a top fantasy WR. 90+ catches and 1,200 yards in the 4th round? … yes please!
8. Hakeem Nicks has an outside shot to win ROY honors, and I think that he’ll come on strong as the season wears on. Pencil him in for 850 yards and 6 TDs for the G-Men.
9. Speakig of outstanding rooks, Mark Sanchez will get you 20 TDs and is a great late-round pick as a #2 QB. Dynasty leaguers don’t wait too long on this kid, he’s going to be a good one.
10. Willie Parker has fallen off the map in a lot of fantasy drafts but he’s a good bet to contribute 1,500 total yards this season with 8-10 touchdowns … tremendous value late.
11. Speaking of forgotten men, Ryan Grant will rebound in a big way for Green Bay. You can go receiver early and nab Grant and his 1,300 yards and 10 TDs later on.
12. Steve Slaton is due for a sophomore slump. He still carries nice value in PPR leagues, but not for where you’ll have to draft him to get him. Don’t expect 16 healthy games, either.
13. How many 300-carry backs can you find outside of the first round? … Value, thy name is Clinton Portis. The Skins meal ticket is slipping in drafts, not production. 1,400 and 10 TDs.
14. Vincent Jackson finished with 59 catches for 1,098 yards and 7 TDs and didn’t become the #1 WR in San Diego until mid-season. He finishes with more of all three in 2009. Hop on board before it’s too late, this guy is a beast.
15. This is finally the season to go get Vernon Davis. Nothing like getting top-10 production from the 20th TE off the board. I like Davis to reel in 50 balls for 700 yards and 5 TDs.
16. Speaking of underrated tight ends, Visanthe Shiancoe was a pleasant surprise last season but is still receiving no love. If he’s there late grab him and his considerable (8 TDs) upside.
17. Starting RBs are overrated (at least when they have great backups) … let others spend top round picks on Gore, Jacobs and Williams then go get Coffee, Bradshaw and Stewart, each will approach 1,000 yards.
18. That said, I am buying what the 49ers are selling. If he stays healthy Frank Gore has a shot to be the top fantasy point-scorer. 2,000 total yards and 15 TDs is not out of the question.
19. Knowshon Moreno could be great at some point, but not this year and not for this team. The Broncos are a gong show and I wouldn’t count on anything more than 800 yards and 5 TDs.
20. I love Jason Witten, but his numbers are due for a hit following TO’s departure. Expect him to see plenty of double-teams unless Roy Williams can command some respect early.
21. I rank my fantasy RBs with dreads in this order: Steven Jackson, Marion Barber, Chris Johnson, Marshawn Lynch, Tim Hightower. Close fades > Dreads.
22. I rank this receiver with dreads above all the running backs mentioned previously. Larry Fitzgerald is a sure thing and keeps getting better. Hello 1,600 yards and 18 TDs
23. Ray Rice has the potential to be a top-15 running back as early as this season, especially in PPR league. I expect a Slatonesque 1,500 total yards and 10 TDs for the diminutive fireball.
24. The Chargers D/ST will be a top-5 unit this season. When you see the Broncos, Chiefs and Raiders twice a year the odds are in your favor (getting Merriman back doesn’t hurt either).
25. Leon Washington will be the best fantasy option in the Jets backfield. What he lacks in goal-line looks he will make up for in reception and receiving yards.
26. In his first season in the league, LeSean McCoy will get as many snaps as Brian Westbrook and will make the majority of the starts for the Eagles down the stretch.
27. I hate to say this, but I think Maurice Jones-Drew is actually being slightly over-valued in drafts. The Jags offensive line is just that, but I still think MJD is good enough for 1,500 total yards and 12 total TDs.
28. Nate Davis will make at least four starts for the 49ers this season and he will win at least three of those starts. This kid from Ball State does everything well, winning most of all (Singletary needs winners, remember?).
29. When drafting your running backs, avoid the muddy situations in Denver, New England, Tampa Bay and Cleveland … I don’t see a single 1,000 yard rusher in these backfields.
30. I think a return to prominence is in the cards for Larry Johnson. He is the most talented player on the Chiefs roster and has a favorable schedule … look for him to turn back the clock with 1,200 yards rushing and double-digit TDs.