There are fewer running backs carrying full loads around the NFL, which means the profile of the top receivers has risen during fantasy drafts.
So AFC South blogger Paul Kuharsky steps outside of his usual arena to debate fantasy expert Ken Daube on this issue: Who's the better choice as top fantasy receiver, the Houston Texans' Andre Johnson or the New England Patriots' Randy Moss?
Paul Kuharsky: Well Ken, it’s our turn to take the stage in the Eight Great Debate Series and we’ve drawn a good one: Who’s the better fantasy option, AJ or Randy?
I always hate to appear I am backing the AFC South just because it’s what I cover. But this job gives me an up close view of Andre Johnson and I’d have a lot of trouble drafting any receiver ahead of him heading into the 2010 season.
Moss is explosive, and there will be weeks when he can single-handedly win you a game in a fantasy league. But I prefer a week-to-week chart that has fewer valleys than Moss’ might. Johnson had six games of under 70 yards last season. Moss had nine, including three that were smaller totals than Johnson’s worst game.
While Tom Brady and Moss could link up in ridiculous fashion the way they did three years ago -- when the receiver caught 23 touchdowns -- I’ve got to judge things on the most recent evidence. I think Johnson will catch more balls for more yards. Texans tight end Owen Daniels, if healthy, could approach Johnson in targets. But a healthy Wes Welker will draw Brady’s attention away from Moss more than any Texans pass-catcher can take away from Johnson.
Ken Daube: OK Paul, let me interrupt you right here so I can clear something up nice and early. Johnson, for as good as he was in 2009, only outscored Moss by nine fantasy points. Consider that Johnson and his quarterback, Matt Schaub, were healthy for the whole season. On the other hand, Moss played 11 games after separating his shoulder and Brady was at less than 100 percent as he was returning from a blown-out knee. Thus it's clear to me that for Johnson to be considered the superior option in 2010, he should have blown away Moss last season.
Welker's targets aren't going to be any sort of hindrance to Moss' fantasy value. Over the past three seasons, Welker has been targeted an average of 152 times. Moss' value wasn't affected. In fact, last season was the season that Welker had the most targets (162), and the banged-up Moss still finished as the second-best fantasy receiver.
On the other hand, your argument does work against your case for Johnson. In case you forgot, Daniels was injured in the Houston Texans' eighth game of the season. The loss presented more opportunities for Johnson, who scored 21 more fantasy points in the games that Daniels missed versus the contests in which Daniels participated. Without those 21 points, Moss would have finished as the top wide receiver last year and I'd be having this argument with someone else, because Johnson would have plummeted to fourth.
Paul Kuharsky: Look, Ken, on my team we are anti-Diva. Johnson’s going to run his route every snap, block for the run game, face the media as often as they ask for him and be completely accountable. This fosters chemistry in my pretend locker room, and we all know you get a ton of points for team harmony …
Sure, Johnson did benefit a bit from Daniels being out. He had 13 more catches in the second half of the season than he did in the first, when Daniels was on the field with him. But my guess is if the Texans played Seattle and St. Louis -- two of the league’s eight worst pass defenses -- in the first half of the season instead of the second half, Johnson still would have had close to 20 catches and nearly 200 yards a game against them.
Houston was 30th running the ball last year, and while I expect the Texans will be better, they are still going to have to sling it to maximize their chances to win.
Weather will rarely get in their way. Conditions at all of Johnson’s home games are good, or the roof at Reliant Stadium is closed. They only have three outdoor games in cold season -- at the Jets, at Philly and at Denver. The Patriots, meanwhile, have eight such games with November trips to Cleveland and Pittsburgh, December road games at Chicago and Buffalo and four November-December games at Foxborough, Mass. Cold weather isn’t killing Moss or the Patriots' pass game, but it’s not ideal for it either.
Ken Daube: Actually, the cold weather is perfect for the Patriots' pass game. In their last two games in significant snow (versus the Cardinals in 2008 and the Titans in 2009), the Patriots averaged 53 points per game. Moss averaged 108 yards and two scores in those games. Bring on the bad weather, it works for Moss.
Back to the Texans, when you think about it, last year broke almost perfectly for Johnson. With both Steve Slaton and Daniels injured, the Texans were left with only one option -- Johnson. This season, Arian Foster will man the backfield. Based on his performance in the final two games last season and his 2010 preseason, he's looking like a very good back for their running system. Daniels returns and big things are expected from Jacoby Jones as well. All of those factors are going to eat into Johnson's opportunities.
Meanwhile, in Foxborough, the same cast of misfits will be running the ball and their second receiver remains the same. Sure, they've rolled the dice on some youngsters as their third receiver and tight ends, but none of those roles will detract from Moss' value. You can be sure that Moss wants redemption for being labeled as soft last season. With a new contract on the line, Moss already had incentive for ensuring he finishes as the top receiver this year. Wanting redemption will just keep him more focused. He won't score 23 times this season, but projecting anything less than 16 is foolish. Considering that Johnson scored 17 times in the last two seasons combined, those taking Johnson are going to have to bank on an awful lot of yardage to inflate Johnson's value. With Foster, Daniels and Jones around, I just can't see enough yardage available this year.
Paul Kuharsky: I've got to be honest. This qualifies as a beat down right now. My first attempt at a fantasy-based debate should be my last and I should stick to being an AFC South expert. But since I have the final word, I'll take my best shot at pulling out a late win. Like Schaub would be throwing to Johnson in such a situation, I will aim for your colleagues, Matthew Berry and Eric Karabell.
“I’m on Andre’s side,” Berry said. “…You should know the consensus is Andre as well, so you can always play [up that] millions of people can’t be wrong.
“Matt Schaub threw for at least 300 yards nine times last year, tied for the NFL lead with Peyton Manning.
“Oh, and by the way, if Randy Moss does outscore Andre Johnson this year from a fantasy perspective, it’ll be the first time in three years that the 33-year-old Moss has done it.”
Said Karabell: “I can’t really make a great case for Moss, actually. I think of the main fantasy positions, I can make a case for the No. 2 quarterback over No. 1, and same at running back, but not at wide receiver. AJ is dominant, it’s an underrated passing offense and he’s got years and legs on Moss.”
Also, Ken, aren’t you the guy who said LaDainian Tomlinson should be the No. 1 player drafted in 2009?