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There are less than four weeks until the start of the NFL regular season. That means it's time for fantasy football drafts.
Many fantasy team owners take a "cheat sheet" with them to their drafts -- a list of players ranked from best to worst that that they ripped out of a fantasy football magazine. But the problem is that most fantasy football draft preview publications come out in late June or early July -- long before most people select a team. Plus, the information contained in them is dated by the time the average fantasy league drafts in late August.
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Lucky for you, I have an entirely new cheat sheet listing the top 25 players. Feel free to print it out and take it with you to your draft. And this isn't a bare-bones list like most cheat sheets, by the way. I've spelled out the logic behind each and every pick.
It's the logic I have used to win every fantasy football league I've ever played in. (Which, sadly, is probably the greatest accomplishment of my life.)
Anyway, here's your cheat sheet.
1. Joey Harrington, QB, MIA -- You just took one of the worst quarterbacks in football with your first pick. The other team owners in your league will laugh at you. Mock you. Call you stupid. But you'll just sit there in silence, staring straight ahead with a subtle but confident grin on your face. And soon they won't know how to react. Why are you smiling like that? Why aren't you responding to their taunts? Do you know something they don't? Is Harrington getting the starting job in Miami over Daunte Culpepper? Is Miami coach Nick Saban installing a pass-happy offense? Are they woefully unprepared for the draft? Congratulations. With one pick you've taken total control of the entire draft. Now they are all putty in your hands.
2. Neil Rackers, K, ARI -- He's the highest-rated kicker available.
3. Adam Vinatieri, K, IND -- He's the second-best kicker available. And, yes, conventional wisdom says to wait to select kickers until the middle to late rounds, but who will be holding all the cards come trade time when someone in your league is looking to pick up a better kicker? That's right -- you. It's an ingenious strategy, really.
4. Shaun Alexander, RB, SEA -- Don't worry about Alexander's falling prey to the Madden cover jinx with an injury. It's tough to get injured when you run screaming for the sidelines on half your carries in order to avoid contact.
5. Donovan McNabb, QB, PHI -- On the Eagles he has absolutely no one to throw to. But on your fantasy team there will be a bevy of talented receivers. That's called beating the system, ladies and gentlemen. (I can't believe I'm giving away these kinds of tips for free.)
6. Alex Smith, QB, SF -- Most people see having two elite quarterbacks on their fantasy team as a helpful luxury. But I hate it. I never know who I should start each week, and I always end up disappointed when my backup inevitably outpoints my starter. So pick Alex Smith for peace of mind. He'll never make you regret not starting him.
7. Michael Vick, ATL -- You want to stock up on running backs early. And Michael Vick could be a great running back.
8. Hines Ward, WR, PIT -- Ward is a consistent contributor who will post catches, yards and touchdowns. Plus, he's the No. 1-rated player in every South Korean fantasy football publication (given that his mom is South Korean, as any Steelers fan knows). And that's good enough for me.
9. Jon Kitna, QB, DET -- Sure, Kitna is not an accurate passer. But Detroit's receivers run very imprecise routes. The combination could results in tons of coincidental completions.
10. Laurence Maroney, RB, NE -- My cousin's co-worker's sister's roommate's friend is sleeping with Bill Belichick, and she says Belichick feels that Maroney not only will start over Corey Dillon this year but also will approach 1,500 yards. And that's good enough for me.
11. Randy Moss, WR, OAK -- Moss is the best in the game at pulling down jump balls in the corner of the end zone. So expect a big year from him because every pass Aaron Brooks throws is like a jump ball.
12. Joe Jurevicius, WR, CLE -- Trust me on this: Joe Jurevicius is a player you absolutely have to have on your team. (But only if you're playing in a Cleveland Browns-only league.)
13. Steven Jackson, RB, STL -- Reports out of camp say the Rams are trying out this crazy new play where the quarterback takes the snap from center, turns sideways and places the ball into the arms of the running back, who then proceeds to run forward with the ball down the field through holes that his linemen create for him by blocking the onrushing opponent. It's apparently pretty revolutionary or, at the very least, something that hasn't been seen in St. Louis since way back before Mike Martz arrived. Anyway, Steven Jackson is supposed to be the focal point of the play, so he's worth a pick.
14. Domanick Davis, RB, HOU -- The Texans are so high on Davis they passed on Reggie Bush in the draft. So Davis must be pretty awesome because I can't think of one bad decision Texans management has ever made.
15. Steve McNair, QB, BAL -- Steve McNair, long one of the elite quarterbacks in the NFL and the league co-MVP just three years ago, is now in the hands of Brian Billick -- a quarterback guru without parallel. Just look at all the greats the genius that is Brian Billick has mentored: Stoney Case, Scott Mitchell, Tony Banks, Elvis Grbac, Chris Redman, Kyle Boller. It's quite a prestigious list. But none of them had the talent that McNair does. And I can't even imagine how awesome McNair will be with Billick to guide him. I think we're talking 10 or maybe even 11 touchdown passes, folks. That's some pretty heady territory in Baltimore.
16. Joseph Addai, RB, IND -- The rookie has all the tools to make it look like Edgerrin James never left Indianapolis. In fact, Addai is such a James clone that it's easy to imagine the Colts almost completely ignoring him in their playoff game plan on the way to yet another postseason elimination.
17. Willis McGahee, RB, BUF -- Willis McGahee has said in the past that he's the best running back in the NFL. Now I can't say for sure if that's true because I've rarely seen the Bills play since they're never on national television due to being awful -- which is thanks, in part, to having a wildly underperforming starting running back. So I'll just have to take this McGahee fellow at his word and pick him high.
18. Bubba Franks, TE, GB -- Brett Favre is likely to reign in his gunslinger ways of recent years and stop heaving the ball way down the field into triple coverage on nearly every possession. So if he does play more conservatively and chucks the ball only 5 to 10 yards down the field into triple coverage instead of the usual 30 to 40, Franks will have a chance to get a lot of receptions off deflections.
19. Curtis Martin, RB, NYJ -- So what that Martin is 33 years old and coming off a 735-yard season in which he averaged only 3.3 yards a carry? He's gone over 1,000 yards in 10 of his 11 seasons in the NFL, so simple logic and even an elementary understanding of statistical probability says he's in line for at least 1,000 yards again. This one is a no-brainer.
20. Chris Perry, RB, CIN -- Fantasy team owners have long picked Fred Taylor's backup in Jacksonville so they can play him when Taylor inevitably goes down with an injury. The thinking is the same here. You want Chris Perry so you can play him if Bengals starter Rudi Johnson hangs out with his teammates and gets arrested.
21. Bam Morris, RB -- And then, once it's Perry's turn to go to jail, you'll want to have Morris waiting in the wings since he's the kind of character guy the Bengals would likely pick up to fill their hole in the backfield.
22. Oakland Raiders, Defense -- Sacks and turnovers are nice, but when you're picking a fantasy football defense you want one that can get touchdowns. So you'll be in good hand with the Raiders defense. It single-handedly creates lots and lots of touchdowns.
23. Maurice Clarett, RB -- It's very unlikely he'll see an NFL field this season or any other season, but since you're already stocked at running back by now it's worth taking a flier on Clarett just for fun. He's so desperate for a job in football -- he was planning to play for the Mahoning Valley Hitmen of the Eastern Indoor Football League before his recent arrest -- he'll probably agree to show up at your draft if you give him a heads-up that he'll be selected (and if you can help him meet bail). Your friends will think it's pretty cool if you get a former college star to come by the house, making it a draft to remember. Just be sure to have some mace and a stun gun handy if Clarett gets unruly.
24. Terrell Owens, WR, DAL -- Information is power in fantasy football. Who's hurt. Who's starting. Who's in the coach's doghouse. That's why having Owens is such an advantage. You can't not hear about him even if you wanted to. Just flip on the television and you'll find out what he had for breakfast. What he said to Bill Parcells. What he didn't say to Bill Parcells. What he might say to Bill Parcells. What he thinks Bill Parcells had for breakfast (this morning it was an entire steer, 12 dozen eggs and 300 pancakes, by the way). So take Owens if you can get him. Just not too high, because he is a locker-room cancer and you don't want to risk disrupting the chemistry of your fantasy football team.
25. Larry Johnson, RB, KC -- In the middle to late rounds of your draft you want to be making value picks, and Larry Johnson is the universally No. 1-rated fantasy football player. So if you can get him this late you've made yourself quite a value pick. Congrats.
DJ Gallo is the founder and sole writer of the award-winning sports satire site SportsPickle.com. He is also a regular contributor to ESPN The Magazine and Fantasy Sports Monthly, and has written for The Onion and Cracked.