FANTASY FOOTBALL IS NOT MY thing. Never has been. It relies too much on the running game. Last time I was in a fantasy draft with friends, 17 of the first 18 players picked were running backs. In the real football world maybe one or two of the top 18 picks in an open draft of current NFL players would be backs. Adrian Peterson and Chris Johnson, maybe. That's it. The rest would be quarterbacks and pass rushers, a left tackle or two (Joe Thomas, Ryan Clady) and a corner or two (Darrelle Revis, Nnamdi Asomugha). But when Ray Rice is picked ahead of Peyton Manning in anything related to football, it's time for the ruling powers of this infectious pastime to get together and say, "Uh, Charlie? Tim? Put down the Pabst for a sec. Time to rewrite the rule book."
BUT YOU CAN'T fight City Hall, and I won't attempt to here. And I think it's dangerous for a non-fantasy player like me to give advice like, "You've got to draft Devin Aromashodu. Can't-miss guy!" Instead, the best way I can help you is to take the information I have from talking to coaches and scouts and G.M.'s around the league since the end of the season and scattershoot some knowledge your way.
However, since most of you will draft in the week or two before the season, my insights are going to be just the beginning of your research if you want to finish in the money. I strongly recommend that you read as much as you can every day during training camp for draft intel. Lots of sites compile daily stories from beat guys for the 32 teams, and you need to skim those, at the very least, to figure out who you'll pick in the middle rounds—which is where you win or lose these leagues.
On with the show. My thoughts from around the league as you prepare your preseason draft boards:
I REALLY LIKE THE ROOKIES THIS YEAR LET'S SEE...
CHARGERS GENERAL MANAGER A.J. Smith, who is to player development what Jonas Salk was to vaccines, trades the 28th and 40th picks in a very strong draft to move up so he can select a running back at No. 12. In my opinion Ryan Mathews will be a 1,200-yard back. Or better.... The Lions are more likely than not to divvy up the carries 70-30, with Jahvid Best being the 70 and Kevin Smith the 30.... Interesting pick, and many called it a reach, when the Browns selected Montario Hardesty 59th overall in April. But Mike Holmgren told me that the team had to have a big back because of the draining weather in Cleveland, and I anticipate that Hardesty and 2009 December sensation Jerome Harrison will split the carries depending on who has the hot hand.... I was in Seattle over draft weekend, and I know this: Golden Tate is going to play in a lot of different spots, and I think one of them will be Wildcat quarterback. Pete Carroll is going to put the ball in his hands all over the field.... Kansas City's Scott Pioli really wanted Darren Sproles in restricted free-agency before the Chargers glommed on to him, so look for the Chiefs' quasi-Sproles, Dexter McCluster, to be a touchdown guy out of the backfield, the slot and split wide.... I don't know how much he'll touch the ball, but wideout Arrelious Benn was a sensation with the Bucs in early workouts. Watch him in camp.
KEEP AN EYE ON THESE FIVE RUNNING BACK BATTLES...
1 KANSAS CITY: Jamaal Charles took the NFL by storm late in the year, and it's logical to think that a young back, 11th in the league in rushing one year, would only rise higher the next. Hold on. Charles is not a good worker, and the Chiefs signed a true worker bee, Thomas Jones, who just happened to be the No. 3 rusher in the league last year. Todd Haley will play the best producer, but if Charles can't keep up with Jones as a worker and a blocker, he could lose some of his carries.
2 CAROLINA: It was amazing to see two guys run for 1,100 yards in the same year, and I wouldn't expect Jonathan Stewart (1,133) and DeAngelo Williams (1,117) to be that high—either one—this year. You never know, but I think John Fox will enter camp more confident in Matt Moore than he was in Jake Delhomme last year.
3 NEW YORK GIANTS: If the 2008 Brandon Jacobs does not reemerge, look for Ahmad Bradshaw (4.8 per carry last year) to get 200 carries.