[Editor's note: The introduction to this year's "Love/Hate" is, as Matthew Berry's regular readers have come to expect, a lengthy personal story in which the author exposes his own life with stark honesty and in sometimes excesive detail. But trust us, it will eventually tie into fantasy football. However, if you chose to dispense with the formalities, please click here. You won't find your soul or your sense of humor, but you will find this year's "Love/Hate." The rest of you, please enjoy the TMR responsibly, and remember, whether you gesture loudly or you subtly roll your eyes at your computer screen, he can't see you, and he's already got your click.]
"I have three kids."
The drinks had not been ordered yet. The menus were still closed. We were less than 60 seconds into our first date.
Now, I've been on a lot of first dates in my life. A lot. And I've heard many surprising things. "I'm a Wiccan," "My real job is as a dominatrix" and my all-time favorite: "I can't stay out late, my husband thinks I'm picking up a prescription."
I've been asked by a first date to give her a ride to her drug dealer; been asked how much money I made before dessert; been out with someone who had me drop her off two blocks from home because she was still living with her jealous, crazy ex who had an assault record; been in the company of women who spent the entire evening being evangelical about a specific cause (usually religion, politics or, in one unforgivable instance, the Dallas Cowboys); women who were openly racist; one who asked if I wanted to swap sex tapes (and was disappointed upon learning I didn't have one); and, on one occasion, one whose dad and brother dropped by because they were "big fans."
So it takes a lot to shock me on a first date. But this was a new one for me.
Occasionally, I had met a woman with a kid or even two, but never three.
But there she was. "Before we get any further, I just thought you should know," she said. "I was divorced five years ago and I have three kids."
I didn't know what you say to that. "Wiccan, you say?" didn't seem like it would work here. She continued, half-joking: "This is the part of the date where you run screaming away."
Now it's time for the big smile. "Nooo. What are you talking about? I love kids."
The part I fail to mention, of course, is that the reason I love kids is that they are never around me. The ex-Mrs. Roto and I never had kids, just my dog Macy, and at this point in time, very few of my friends had any kids. I don't live near any relatives. My interactions with kids are limited to stopping by lemonade stands on the side of the street and reading angry, misspelled tirades left in the comments section of my column by socially awkward 12-year-olds.
She breaks into a grin and says, "Well, I didn't want go too far without mentioning it" and proceeds to open her menu. I didn't think another thing about it because, truth be told, I really didn't care. Seriously. I wasn't going to be around long enough to ever meet her kids and honestly, she's pretty hot. Guys will nod and agree to anything crazy a woman says if she's hot. "I've always felt Wiccans were misunderstood" is the kind of thing I've said on a date, and could possibly even convince myself of momentarily believing, if it led to a second date.
And so began my relationship with The Current Mrs. Roto.
Date 1 goes well enough to lead to Date 2, and then Date 3, and eventually we're casually seeing each other a few nights a week. She's funny, it turns out. Loves a good dirty joke. She's got this wonderful empathy and nurturing side. She's whip-smart. She's adventurous and open-minded and has incredible energy. She's the first to laugh at herself or make fun of something she does. She's an amazing cook. She's a Howard Stern fan. She's an old-fashioned girly-girl and makes no apologies for it. Doesn't understand basketball yet roots for the Lakers with the passion of a season-ticket holder. We have the same morals and point of view on most everything. She just gets it. Whether we're at a corporate event with my bosses or at a dive bar with friends, she's totally comfortable. Everyone, including my dog, likes her more than they like me. But the thing I like the most? She's positive. Always, always positive and smiling. Super-happy and laughs easily and rarely complains or gets annoyed about anything. Which, for a curmudgeon like me, is a breath of fresh air.
Which is why, after we had been dating for a while, we had a problem.
I hadn't met them. By design. She didn't want me to meet them until we were serious and she knew it was going somewhere. I was totally in agreement. I'm certainly no expert and every situation is different, but to generalize on a subject I know nothing about (OK, fine, on a different subject I know nothing about), I think it screws kids up if they are constantly meeting new adults whom their single parents are dating. I've caused enough therapy in my own life, I don't need three kids' neuroses on my hands as well.
The CMR told me she was worried. She was starting to really fall for me because, and I can only guess here, she's human. To know me is to love me. Ask anyone. Wait. Just ask her. Actually, better just take my word on this one.
There are a few phrases dudes hate to hear.
"Why do guys always ask me that?"
"Seriously, that's it?"
And any combination of the words "Clear Sunday afternoon," "With my mother" and "Bed, Bath & Beyond."
But maybe no phrase in the history of relationships has sent more male eyeballs a-rolling than "Where is this going?" It was this last one that was before us now and, considering the amount of time we had been spending together recently, it was a legit question.
And in a rare moment of adult clarity, I said I don't know. I told her she had every single right to ask that question but the honest answer was, I wasn't sure. I didn't want to lie to her and say yeah, I was willing to commit to her because, well, she had three kids. Three kids I didn't know. Three's a lot, you know? I had no idea what that life was like. We only dated when the kids were with their father. A life with her and three kids is very different than a life with just her.
What if the kids hated me? What if I hated them? What if I discovered what I've always suspected is true: that I'm fairly selfish and like being on my own a lot more than with kids? I told her that I was willing to try but I wanted to be honest. If I discovered I didn't enjoy life with the kids -- for whatever reason -- I would have to bail. She respected my honesty but her kids, rightly so, were more important. She wasn't going to introduce me to them and take things to the next level without more assurances.
So she broke up with me.
But even while we were broken up and going about our normal lives, we kept in contact, a rarity for her. I'm actually friends with almost all of my exes; she, however, never looks back. Except this time. She would text or call me from time to time and we would have lunch or talk and catch up.
Eventually, she said she wanted to get back together and give it another shot. She would slowly introduce me to the kids and we would see. And if it wasn't a fit, then she'd deal with it and at least we'd know. And after I decided the shot at love was worth more than some sort of stand based on useless emotions like pride or ego, I said OK. That was big. Old me clung to ego and pride like The Situation clings to the claim that he's younger than 30.
So we did just that, and it was then that I got the biggest shock since she first told me she had three kids.
I loved her kids. Loved. They are awesome. Smart, good-natured, (mostly) well-behaved, hilariously funny, energetic, they are three boys who just turned 7, 11 and 13. They're all into sports, so I'm sure my job helps some, but they quickly embraced me. But more importantly, I quickly embraced them.
What I discovered was that I enjoy being around kids. Love it, in fact. If you know me for more than five minutes you'll discover fairly quickly that I am, in fact, bat$*&% crazy. Stereotypically neurotic, I get in my own head a lot. A lot. Except when I'm around the kids. Because you can't be anything but focused on them. And when I'm focused on them, I'm not thinking about myself. Which is nice.
A couple of big breaks went my way. The fact that they're all boys, the fact that they all love sports, the fact that their father is still heavily involved in their life (he lives two minutes away) and has never been anything but gracious to me. The fact that they had been raised well before me ever showing up in their life. They are filled with love, have no bitterness and are just normal, upbeat kids who want their mom to be happy and like having someone else around that can shoot hoops with them or take them to the movies.
I can't describe the feeling as anything other than "freeing." I'm amazed at how quickly my priorities changed now that I have stepkids. That's right. Stepkids.
Because, you see, once I got to know the kids, the rest was very easy and there was no reason to waste time. Within three months, we had bought a house together, gotten married and gotten pregnant. In fairness, she's doing more of the work than I am in that department, but you read that one right. Three wasn't enough for me. So now we're having wait for it twins. There are three sets of twins in my family, so this wasn't a total out-of-the-blue, but it was still a bit unexpected. So this crazy ride I'm on just got nuttier. From zero to five in less than a year.
The twins will arrive during football season, when I already work seven days a week and am adding even more TV work this fall. I'm fairly certain I'll be the first ESPN analyst to ever fall asleep on air. When you see it on YouTube, try to be kind.
Saying that my life is very different these days might be the understatement of the century. My weekends are no longer spent in bars but on playgrounds. I have to watch a lot more "iCarly" and get to listen to a lot less Howard Stern these days. But I've never been happier.
I've written before about how I struggle with happiness. Despite having been unbelievably lucky to have careers in two different professions that many people want to get into, relatively good health and a terrific group of family and friends, long-term, consistent happiness eluded me. Clinical depression runs in my family, so I come by it honestly, but whatever spin you want to put on it, there it was.
Noticed I used the past tense. No longer the case.
It's weird. I wasn't sure I would ever solve the issue, but if I ever did, I knew -- I knew -- it would not be this way. I mean, come on. The girl I was dating before I met the CMR was 25. Yeah. I was not looking for anything remotely serious. The CMR is everything I wasn't looking for: age-appropriate, three kids, blonde (I tend to go for brunettes); the list goes on and on. For her part, the same held true. She never wanted to date someone without kids; she needed someone who understood what her life was like. She's not into sports and had no idea what I did for a living until our second date. To this day she doesn't totally understand it. (In fairness, neither do I.)
But once I was with her and the kids, my perception about all that changed. You know, when we draft a fantasy team, we are, in essence, taking a leap of faith. That this player will perform as expected or better. We are choosing this player over many other potential players with no assurances that it will turn out all right, but we do it anyway. We open ourselves up with cautious hope and optimism with the slight fear that our fantasy hearts will be broken.
Just like I've done in my personal life. Taking on three kids and having two more is, for a single guy, by any reasonable account, a crazy leap of faith. But you know what? I can't imagine my life without them, and my life seems much more normal than ever before, despite what I'm sure seems nuts to anyone looking from the outside. It was a long journey, both to my happiness and to the start of this year's Love/Hate, but here we finally are, where we will all once again head to draft day to take leaps of faith.
Look, fantasy sports is all about value. In this year's edition of my Draft Day Manifesto, I printed a list of the players that were most commonly on teams that played in the championship game last year in ESPN standard leagues. I won't reprint the whole list, but here's the top five: Michael Vick, Arian Foster, Darren McFadden, Jason Witten and Peyton Hillis.
What do they have in common, aside from never having been in my kitchen? All of them exceeded their draft-day value. Significantly. Meanwhile, from the same list, Frank Gore, DeAngelo Williams, Kevin Kolb and Brett Favre were all on fewer than 1 percent of teams that made the championships. Now it's skewed, of course, because chances are you dropped those guys at some point in the year, but it's not surprising; those guys all fell well below their draft-day value. Because if you assume that a majority of the players you draft do more or less what you expect (reasonable, if not entirely likely), then it's when you get a lot more production out of a player than what you "paid" for him that you win.
See: Foster, Arian.
So, if fantasy football is about value, draft day is about evaluating value. As you approach your drafts, it's not really about how good players are but how good you perceive them to be. That's a key difference.
And it's not just how you value every player, but how everyone else in your league perceives every single player. Doing mock drafts and, if possible, studying trends in your league's previous drafts can help you get a grasp of this. And if nothing else, look at those live draft results to have a general idea of where guys are going, so you can make sure to jump a bit early to get the players you want.
And that's what "Love/Hate" is all about. I've been doing it for over a decade now and many of you are familiar with the "Love/Hate" concept, but for those who are new to it, it's basically this: I go by our current ESPN live draft results, which are based on ESPN standard 10-team leagues. Players I "love" are guys I would reach for a round or two earlier to get. Guys I "hate" are players whom I feel are being overvalued, and I wouldn't want them unless they dropped at least a round or two from where they were going.
It's that simple. If you have a question about how I feel about a specific player versus another, I'll be posting my personal rankings very soon. Or ask me a question on my Facebook page (www.facebook.com/matthewberrytmr) or on Twitter (www.twitter.com/matthewberrytmr). I don't get to all of them, but I get to a lot more there than anywhere else.
A few final pieces of advice about this article. First, use your head. Just because I "love" Delone Carter and "hate" Maurice Jones-Drew doesn't mean I think you should take the rookie Colt over the veteran Jaguar. This isn't a pure sleeper-and-bust article because there's no such thing. Every player can be a bargain or overvalued, it just depends on what it costs to acquire that player.
As a result, this "love" and "hate" article is tied to where each player is being drafted, meaning I would spend a late-round flier on Carter (currently undrafted, I would grab him in the 14th) and wouldn't draft MJD until toward the end of the second round, well after where he's currently going. Don't be a moron. Or, if you choose to be a moron, don't blame me for it. Remember, only a poor craftsman blames his tool. That's all I am, your tool. Wait, that came out wrong. Which is odd, since I've used that joke two years in a row now. Huh. No wonder my kids like me. I have the same mentality as a child.
Second, sometimes I give analysis about why a player is on one list or the other; other times I'll just try to make a joke, because a column of nothing but stats is boring. But trust that I've done the research. Or don't. There's a fairly good chance I'm making all this up as I go.
Third, every year, I get complaints that there are too many "love" players and not enough "hate." That's just the nature of the beast. It doesn't do you any good to say I hate Jimmy Clausen. His value and rank already reflect that he is not highly thought of. So you're really only choosing "hate" from the guys that are considered at a high enough level to be drafted with big expectations, which pretty much eliminates anyone in the lower rounds.
The guys I "love" can come from anywhere, from the first round to the last. I try to balance it between wanting to be comprehensive and hitting a number of the guys I have ranked higher and lower than is common, while not going totally nuts on every single player. And it's long, as you've already figured out. But so what? It's the preseason. You've got nothing better to do anyway.
Fourth, don't put any stock in the order in which players appear. I mostly do it by teams, and alphabetically at that. It's not that I love Ryan Williams the most; it's just that he's an Arizona Cardinal. A reminder that I gear my analysis -- and this article -- to ESPN standard 10-team leagues, the most popular version of the game on this site. Which means four points per touchdown pass, no PPR, etc.
Finally, due to the lockout, there are lots of moving parts. Fantasy value changes constantly, and as we get into training camp and preseason games, I'll be writing more articles and rankings and discussing everything on the site and on the Fantasy Focus 06010 podcast I do daily with Nate Ravitz. In addition, we will be having preseason "Fantasy Football Now" specials every Sunday on ESPN2 at 11:30 a.m. ET, so be sure to check them out.
Which brings us, finally, to this year's preseason football edition of "Love/Hate."
2011 Players I Love
Ryan Williams, RB, Cardinals (currently going in the 10th round; I'd take him in the 8th): He's not Beanie Wells. He's built to be an every-down back, the Cardinals will have a better offense than folks think and, again, the whole "not Beanie Wells" thing.
Roddy White, WR, Falcons: (2nd, No. 1 WR overall): Friend of the podcast! To be the No. 1-ranked wide receiver doesn't mean he has to finish as the No. 1 guy to be worth the pick. What it does mean is that he's the safest guy. Never missed a game in a six-year career, double-digit touchdowns in back-to-back seasons, whatever targets that are taken away by Julio Jones are mitigated by the lessened defensive attention on him. You know what I'm drinking in Atlanta this year? A hot Roddy! Don't worry. The jokes get better. Probably. Well, maybe. Actually, I have no idea. Let's all just hope for the best, shall we?
Anquan Boldin, WR, Ravens (8th, 7th): The hate, while understandable, has gone too far. Last year I wasn't a fan because he was going too high, and my preseason sleeper Derrick Mason -- whom no one ever likes but who had Joe Flacco's trust -- would have similar numbers at much less the cost. That turned out to be a good call (my Flacco love, on the other hand. ) Well, now Mason is gone and Boldin's price has dropped. Anquan should get a lot more targets and, in his second year with Flacco, should be a lot more comfortable with the offense and his role in it. Only a year removed from being a top-10 wideout, he's not dead, he's just in Baltimore. "I'm soldin' on Boldin!" is the kind of sign you will never see at the stadium, but for a seventh-round pick, the sentiment will be there.
Fred Jackson, RB, Bills (8th, 7th): Yawn. Instead of a "Damn!" or "Good pick!" when you draft Fred Jackson, you'll get a "Whew!" or a "Yawn." Maybe even a "ho-hum," which I feel is due for a comeback soon. I get it. He's not a big name, he plays for the Bills, it's just whatevs, dude. But. He's played all 16 games for three straight seasons, he's averaged between 4.2 and 4.5 yards per carry every year, and then look what he did last season from Week 5 on, once Ryan Fitzpatrick was named the starter, Marshawn Lynch was traded and they had the bye week to figure everything out. From that point through the rest of the season (11 games in his case), Jackson averaged 89.9 total yards from scrimmage, 17th-best among running backs over that time frame. I have to do average because not every runner played the same number of games, but that 89.9 yards per game over that time frame was better than Rashard Mendenhall, Felix Jones, Ahmad Bradshaw and BenJarvus Green-Ellis, to name a few. Yes, I expect C.J. Spiller to be more involved, and yes, Jackson's upside is certainly limited. But so is his downside, and that's just as important.
Matt Forte, RB , Bears (3rd, top 22): I'm a man, I'm Forte! Forte Potty. Posh, Baby, Scary, Ginger and Forte Spice! Oh, it's not just bad team nicknames that are fun when you draft Matt Forte. As I mentioned in the Manifesto, over the past three seasons, there are only six running backs to have at least five 100 total yards game per campaign: Adrian Peterson, Chris Johnson, Steven Jackson, Maurice Jones-Drew, Frank Gore and Matt Forte. For his career, he's never missed a game and never had fewer than 1,400 total yards in a season. I'm sure the ghost of Marion Barber will vulture some scores, but that's true of almost any running back. He's a good fit for the Mike Martz offense, and it's not like their offensive line can get any worse.
Colt McCoy, QB, Browns (not drafted, last non-kicker): At least 13 fantasy points in five of eight games last season, I like him in a deep two-QB league, late-round-flier kind of way. Don't love the fact that it's a new system for him, he's in just his second year and there's not a whole lot talent-wise in Cleveland these days. But every time I watched him, it just seemed like he was making something happen. He had 136 rushing yards in limited action, adding some value, plus the man wrote a book called "Growing Up Colt." That's right: He went third-person in his book title and he's only 23. A gutty little player who could be Josh Freeman Lite this year.
The Cowboys: As a lifelong Redskins fan (and you thought my struggle with happiness was all self-inflicted), this kills me to write. But trust me, this is not some attempt at a Simmons-esque reverse jinx. This team is loaded and, despite my personal dislike for the team and everything it stands for, as an objective analyst, I gotta tell ya: How 'bout them Cowboys?
Yes, Jason Garrett was calling the plays all year long, but once he was fully in charge, things ran differently for Dallas and you could tell. Good stat for you: Once Garrett took over, in the final eight games of last season, only the New England Patriots scored more touchdowns. And that was with Jon Kitna at quarterback, a banged-up Dez Bryant and a brutal offensive line.
Now with everyone back healthy and some improvement on the O-line, this is an offense that is in the elite tier with teams like the Patriots, Colts and Saints, but its components aren't being drafted like it. Let's start with Tony Romo (5th round, 4th round). I acknowledge the injury risk and penchant for petite blondes. But I feel that he's been more unlucky than injury-prone and, as Stephania Bell will tell you, that's a significant difference. The Cowboys threw 576 times last year, and Romo has a career 64 percent completion percentage. He was averaging 18 fantasy points a game before he went down with injury (Aaron Rodgers averaged 19.5 a game by comparison). I'm a Romosexual and I don't care who knows it.
I'm high on Dez Bryant and Miles Austin (4th round, 3rd round for both) as well. Despite being a rookie, missing most of training camp last year and playing with two different quarterbacks, Bryant had seven total touchdowns in 10 games. He's strong, son. Country strong. A freak of nature. Meanwhile, Austin and I have a lot in common. We've both been on the Fantasy Focus podcast. We've both dated women who had their own sex tape. And we both dig us some Tony Romo.
As Gregg Found of ESPN Stats & Information points out, starting with Austin's huge game versus the Chiefs in 2009 (when he became the starter), Romo and Austin have played 17 complete games together (the last 12 of 2009 and the first five in 2010).
Austin's numbers in those 17 games: 6.6 receptions per game, 101.5 rec yards per game, 12 touchdowns (0.7 per game). Romo's numbers in those 17 games: 66.6 completion percentage, 276.9 yards per game, 30 touchdowns (1.8 per game), 12 interceptions (0.7 per game).
As for Felix Jones (6th, 5th), he is dangerously close to becoming fantasy kryptonite for me. But once he was freed from the evil clutches of Wade Phillips, he averaged almost 100 total yards a game. In fact, under Garrett, as you see by the fancy charts from John McTigue of ESPN Stats & Information below, the offense as a whole was more balanced, and Felix certainly benefited.
Felix Jones offense by head coach, 2010 season
Cowboys offense by head coach, 2010 season
And Gregg Found adds this: When getting at least 17 touches, Felix Jones has never had fewer than 83 total yards in a game, and averages 103 yards per contest.
Finally, you know Witten will be solid. And Tashard Choice is a decent flier late. So I'll say it again: How 'bout them Cowboys?
Knowshon Moreno, RB, Broncos (5th, 4th): Kyle Orton under center means defenses have to at least respect the pass, John Fox at the helm means they'll be running a ton, and a finally healthy Moreno with no real competition (sorry, Willis, but it's true) means a fourth-round bargain. Yes-shon!
Calvin Johnson, WR, Lions (No. 4 WR, No. 3 WR): I have him behind only Roddy White and Andre Johnson, so I throw him in here because he had 12 scores last year (should have been 13, right, Lions fans?) and over 1,100 yards with three different quarterbacks. You'll win a few bar bets with this stat that I've been using all over the place: Last year, there were only two teams that attempted more passes than the Detroit Lions: Peyton Manning's Colts and Drew Brees' Saints. The Lions throw a lot, and Calvin's a freak of nature when it comes to catching things that have been thrown in his general direction. Sometimes it's that simple.
Matthew Stafford, QB, Lions (12th, 9th): You saw the pass attempts stat in the Calvin paragraph, right? If you count the "DET QB" as one player, last season that QB threw for 3,810 yards, 28 total touchdowns, 16 interceptions and piled on 247 rushing yards. That works out to approximately 260 fantasy points, which last season would have ranked seventh overall, or three points fewer than Drew Brees. And in case you think a poor Lions defense caused a lot of shootouts, we go Next Level on yo' buttocks with this nugget from John McTigue of ESPN Stats & Information: The Lions dropped back to pass (pass attempts, sacks and scrambles) on 57.2 percent of all of their plays while ahead last season. That was the fifth-highest rate, behind the Saints, Eagles, Packers and Redskins.
Brandon Pettigrew, TE, Lions (14th, 12th): Am I pumped forthe Dallas and Detroit games on Thanksgiving? You're damn right I am. Bet the overs. And parlay them.
Ryan Grant, RB, Packers (7th, 6th): Reserving the right to change my mind after I see him in preseason, but Starks or no Starks, there are gonna be enough points for everyone on that team. By the way, love all the Packers this year, I just think they're all basically being drafted in the right spot.
Owen Daniels, TE, Texans (8th, late 6th/7th): Once finally healthy, he averaged 9.5 points per game over the final four games. To give a comparison, Dallas Clark and Jermichael Finley averaged just 8.5 per game last year. It's a small sample size but I got news for you, sailor: Life is a small sample size.
Ben Tate, RB, Texans (16th, 14th): Don't forget the ghosts of Steve Slaton and Ryan Moats. Or at least those of their former owners' playoff hopes. Gary Kubiak is a devil disciple of Mike Shanahan. As long as he's healthy, Arian Foster isn't going anywhere, of course, but don't be surprised if Tate vultures some work as Kubiak tries to lighten his feature back's workload.
Joseph Addai, RB, Colts (9th, 8th): "Quantity over quality" is not just a closing-time mantra but also the thesis behind my running back strategy this season. Addai and Ryan Grant could be the poster children, if people still made posters. How 'bout the Fathead children instead? Doesn't quite have the same ring to it, does it? Anyway, these guys were top-10 running backs fairly recently; injuries and playing-time questions have dropped them almost out of the single-digit rounds. At last call, could she say "No, I'd rather, er, stay on the bench, with my angry, less-attractive friend?" Sure. But she could also say "What the hell, I dated a Wiccan last week, how much worse could it get?" I wouldn't want to pin my hopes on Addai, but in the eighth round, he's a helluva lottery ticket.
Rashad Jennings, RB, Jaguars (15th, 13th): You'll never guess who's in "hate." I'll give you a hint: His name rhymes with Luis Drones-Crew.
Jamaal Charles, RB, Chiefs (No. 2 RB overall): Again, an obvious name and first-rounder, but including him because I have him as my No. 2 running back, behind only Adrian Peterson. It's not just the two first names that are a crowd-pleaser, it's also the fact that he's probably the most talented running back, skill-wise, in the NFL. The argument against Charles can be boiled down to two words: Thomas Jones. Over the first eight games of last year, Jones had 141 offensive touches to Charles' 134. Jones averaged 4.2 yards per carry and Charles averaged 6.4. Now, over the second eight games of the year, Jones had 118 touches to Charles's 141. Charles once again averaged 6.4 yards per carry. Jones went down to 3.0.
That's a lot of math to tell you that Jones wore down toward the end of last year and is old and that I expect more of a workload for Charles this year. Remember, no team ran more than the Chiefs last season, and if Jones gets, say, 60 fewer carries this year, insane amounts of fantasy goodness are ready to happen. Remember, dude was the third-best fantasy running back last year yet had only five rushing touchdowns. I still think Charles gets vultured a decent amount (Jones? Le'Ron McClain, maybe?), which keeps him behind AP, but his yardage totals, talent and long TDs will result in him being the second-best fantasy running back this year.
Percy Harvin, WR, Vikings (7th, 6th): Well, they ain't throwin' it to Michael Jenkins. Harvin's a special talent who can line up in the slot or on the outside, I expect the Vikes to do what Washington did with Santana Moss last year and move Harvin all over the place to try different ways to get the ball in his hands. He'll be McNabb's new best friend, and AP's too, as Minnesota needs to throw enough to keep defenses honest.
Donovan McNabb, QB, Vikings (13th, 12th): Jayson Werth, Gilbert Arenas, probably some WNBA player add McNabb to the talented, famous athletes who have gone to Washington only to be terrible. That said, he had no offensive line (only Jay Cutler was sacked more than him), no great receiving options beyond Moss, an inconsistent run game and a head coach who undermined him at every opportunity. His completion percentage and yards per attempt last year were right in line with career numbers. Much of last year wasn't the fault of McNabb, who still has something to prove and an offensive system that should play to his strengths. This goes against my "avoid anything new this season" theory, as does Harvin, but for a bye-week QB with upside, I like McNabb this year more than some of the others going at the same time in the draft.
Jimmy Graham, TE, Saints (13th, 11th): According to John McTigue of ESPN Stats & Information, 23 percent of the Saints' pass attempts in 2010 were to tight ends. That was the 12th-highest rate last season. Yup, 23 percent of 661 pass attempts. That's 152 balls thrown by Drew Brees. And now there's no Jeremy Shockey. Hop on the bandwagon; there's still room.
Mario Manningham, WR, Giants (8th, 7th): If he were a video game, he'd be Super Manningham Brothers. Wait, what? Let's just move along. Nothing to see here. Keep moving. Nothing to see. Here we go.
Shonn Greene, RB, Jets (6th, 4th/5th): Well, at least he's cheaper than last year. Like an addict, or an idiot, or a really dumb person who craves stuff, I can't wean myself off Shonn Greene. Still a run-first team, and he's gonna get the lion's share of carries.
LaDainian Tomlinson, RB, Jets (12th, 11th): This team will run enough for two. And LT will still get his targets out of the backfield. Very limited upside, but fairly limited downside, too. Rarely said about me.
Santonio Holmes, WR, Jets (5th, 4th): The concern is that this is a run-first offense, and it is, but check out this chart from ESPN Stats & Information:
Jets offensive ranks with Santonio Holmes and without, 2010
Once the Jets got Holmes back from his suspension, they maintained their run rate, and the passing game got better as well, because the whole offense was better. The run sets up the pass on the Jets as well as it does on any team, and Holmes is a special player. Now in his second year in the system (and with no Braylon Edwards), he should have a terrific year and be a very solid No. 2 fantasy wideout.
Jason Campbell, QB, Raiders (15th, 13th): Gonna be weird for Campbell and all, what with him having the same playbook for more than one year in a row. Averaging over 15 fantasy points a game in his final five last season, he's a better quarterback than people give him credit for being. He can air it out, and the Raiders have a couple of speedsters who can take it to the house anytime they touch the ball, be it a deep bomb or a swing pass to Darren McFadden. Needs to stay healthy, but with the same playbook, actual talent around him and Al Davis staying out of the way, Campbell could be a nice value as a bye-week fill-in No. 2 quarterback.
Jacoby Ford, WR, Raiders (15th, 13th): Averaged almost 19 yards a catch. Needs more of them, but the speed and big-play ability are there, as is the opportunity.
Michael Vick, QB, Eagles (No. 1 overall): Putting him here because he is currently going sixth overall and second among quarterbacks, and I think he should be the No. 1 player overall. I've heard the arguments against, and no doubt, you can talk about his inflated rushing totals, a whole offseason of teams figuring out how to defend him and how he's injury-prone. But remember, Vick wasn't the starter coming into camp last year. Kevin Kolb was. Kolb, not Vick, was the guy who got the most first-team reps, he's the guy they geared the offense toward, and Vick had been back in the league for all of one season. The Eagles also had a banged-up and brutal offensive line that, in theory, should improve (they drafted two linemen, including first-rounder Danny Watkins) and be healthier this year. Much of what Philly had to do last year was adjust on the fly, because an offense led by Vick is a different one than the one they had planned for, an offense led by Kolb.
Now that they've had the whole offseason to gear the offense toward Vick and figure out ways to keep him healthier, he'll have all the reps to get his timing down with his guys. When he was with the Falcons, Vick never had a core around him including the likes of DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, LeSean McCoy or even Brent Celek, and the Eagles gave him new weapons in Ronnie Brown and, if you believe the reports, a not-as-injured-as-we-thought Steve Smith. (No, not that one; the one who used to be on the Giants).That's as good an offensive core as there is in the league. Vick also didn't have the kind of coaching he has in Philly, where, as Katharine Sharp of Stats & Information points out, an Andy Reid/Marty Mornhinweg offense has been top-10 in the NFL in passing yards and top-12 in passing touchdowns every single season since 2004.
And the majority of that was with Donovan McNabb (career completion percentage: 59 percent) and without guys like Jackson and Maclin. Last year they did it with their backup, Vick, who managed a completion percentage of 62.6, clearly a more accurate passer than he was in Atlanta.
Some people have asked how I can preach a safety-first approach in my Manifesto and also say Vick should be No. 1. Well, what I actually preached is "putting yourself in the best position to win." Based on his potential, even if he plays only 12 games, Vick does just that. He also qualifies for my other big rule in this lockout year: guys with the same coaches, systems and personnel around them over those needing to start from scratch who have five weeks to do it.
LeSean McCoy, RB, Eagles (7th overall): Currently going 10th overall, I have him at 7 and in the first round; three spots makes a difference at this point. Shout-out to ESPN Stats & Information, who points out that, with Vick in the lineup last season, McCoy was the real Slim Shady, averaging 5.8 yards per rush. With Kolb as the quarterback? Just Marshall Mathers at 3.8 yards per rush. McCoy scored eight touchdowns with Vick under center and just one with Kolb. More games for Vick, obviously, which skews things, but Kolb was out there long enough to attempt almost 200 passes. Point is, the fallacy that a running quarterback hurts the running back is just that: a fallacy.
Jeremy Maclin, WR, Eagles (5th, 4th): Yeah, kinda all-in on the Eagles this year. Just like with the Cowboys. Boy, does the Redskins fan in me hate the analyst side right now. I just kicked myself in the ankle.
Mike Wallace, WR, Steelers (3rd, late 2nd/early 3rd): An obvious name but included here because he's the last of the elite No. 1 wideouts, and that means I'm OK with reaching for him a bit if necessary.
Emmanuel Sanders, WR, Steelers (15th, 13th): It's one thing to beat out Kirstie Alley; it's another to blow past a NFL cornerback (although the two are more similar than you'd think). Hines Ward is no longer young or fast, but Sanders is. Tied with Ward for targets over the second half of last year, Sanders is gonna be a yards-after-the-catch monster and will be a much better draft-day value than your reigning "Dancing With The Stars" champ.
Mike Tolbert, RB, Chargers (11, 9): So I don't wear a wedding ring. I never wear a watch or any jewelry, but this was actually the Current Mrs. Roto's choice. She'd rather me not wear one. She knows too many women who do nothing but sleep with married men. You see? People hate vulturing in real life, too. But sadly, it's a fact of life. And Tolbert is going way too late for a guy who scored 11 of the Chargers' 17 rushing touchdowns last year. I'm not convinced Ryan Mathews stays healthy, and even if he does, Tolbert is still going to get work. Here's a dirty little secret: When he gets close, Norv Turner likes to run. (Only Michael Turner and Arian Foster had more rushes inside an opponent's 10-yard line last season). Way too low for a guy who will get a chance to steal a lot of scores. Speaking of stealing, by the way, my good friend (and ESPN fantasy hoops columnist) John Cregan always calls his wife "The Current Mrs. Cregan," which I've always found hilarious. So I stole that and keep it to this day, as it's a lot funnier and less cumbersome than The Permanent Mrs. Roto.
Philip Rivers, QB, Chargers (3rd, 3rd): Going in the right round, but with Vincent Jackson, Malcom Floyd and Antonio Gates all together and (presumed) healthy to start the season, I like him more than Peyton Manning. That is, I like him more than I like Peyton Manning. I've no idea how much Peyton himself likes Rivers. And if he does, can he admit it to his brother, Eli, for whom he was traded? Like, if the Mannings were having a fantasy draft, and the rule was that you couldn't draft yourself, would Peyton feel forced to take his brother even with Phil still on the board? Would that be awkward, or am I just overthinking it?
Marshawn Lynch, RB, Seahawks (8th, 7th): What are they gonna do, let Tarvaris throw it? Exactly. Nothing sexy here, but Pete Carroll will run the ball a lot behind a rebuilt offensive line in a fairly weak division. And Marshawn is still just 25 years old.
Anthony Dixon, RB, 49ers (undrafted, 16th round): Why not use a late-round draft pick instead of your No. 1 waiver or all of your in-season FAAB money when (er, if) Gore goes down? Like Dixon more than Kendall Hunter in the Gore handcuff rodeo.
Sam Bradford, QB, Rams (11th, 9th): It's not that he'll throw more under Josh McDaniels. I mean, the guy was third in the NFL in pass attempts last season. But the passes (and whole offense) should be more effective. Having actual healthy wide receivers will help. Bradford set an NFL rookie record last season for attempts and completions, and only Peyton Manning had more passing yards as a rookie. The kid's the real deal, and at least one wide receiver will emerge, Brandon Lloyd-like, to be very fantasy-relevant. But until we see some preseason games, we won't know whether that's Danny Amendola (a poor man's Wes Welker?) or Danario Alexander or Donnie Avery or even Mike Sims-Walker. Kinda have a weird feeling on Amendola and MSW, but regardless of who it is, Bradford will produce a lot more than what it costs to acquire him.
LeGarrette Blount, RB, Buccaneers (4th, 3rd): Once he became the starter for Tampa Bay, from Weeks 11-17, Blount was third in the NFL in rushing yards. Third. I love this guy so much I've stopped doing punching jokes, and you know how much I love to run something into the ground, which is just what he does with defenders. Among running backs who had at least 200 rushes, none had a better yards-after-contact average than LGB. In an era of time shares, he's the only guy on a good offense.
Josh Freeman, QB, Buccaneers (7th, 6th): Among quarterbacks, only Mike Vick had more rushing yards. Only Tom Brady had a better touchdown-to-interception ratio. And only Mama Freeman loves him more.
Arrelious Benn, WR, Buccaneers (undrafted, 15th): If he hadn't torn his ACL, I'd like him even more. What can I say, the heart is a fickle thing. More of a name to file away for later. I liked what I saw out of him down the stretch and, once he's fully healthy, I suspect he'll be a factor down the stretch. Good size/speed combo on a good offense.
Kenny Britt, WR, Titans (7th, 6th): Like a super-hot but annoying girlfriend, he doesn't make it easy to love him. But it doesn't mean we can stay away. Nor should we.
Jared Cook, TE, Titans (undrafted, 15th): At least 40 yards in five of his final six games with, shall we say, sporadic quarterback play? Dude is 6-foot-5, and when Matt Hasselbeck is running around, this is the guy he's gonna find.
2011 Players I Hate
Note that I am a staunch advocate of picking your defense in the 15th round and your kicker in the 16th, so if I wouldn't take a player before the 15th round, he'd be undraftable on my squad.
Kevin Kolb, QB, Cardinals (12, wouldn't draft): New system, new team, Kolb doesn't do well under pressure, and last season Arizona was tied for allowing the second-most sacks in the NFL. I've heard some say he's a top-10 guy in Arizona, but I'm not buying it.
Matt Ryan, QB, Falcons (7th, 10th): A very good real-life quarterback, there's no reason he should be going two rounds ahead of guys like Eli Manning. This is a team that runs when it gets in close and doesn't go deep often (the Falcons' yards-per-attempt number of 6.5 last year was fourth-lowest in the league). I know people expect that all to change with Julio Jones this year, but even Roddy White said on my podcast that their playbook was thick and he expected it to take some time for Jones to grasp it. The lockout didn't help matters, and even with a new toy in Jones, I don't expect the Falcons to abandon their ball-control identity. More than 300 yards only once last year, and more than two touchdowns only four times. Solid and safe? Very much so. Big upside? Not so much. If you don't get one of the big seven, you can get similar stats much later.
Tony Gonzalez, TE, Falcons (13th, wouldn't draft): Say this for the man: Pretty handsome guy considering how hard he's hit the wall.
Lee Evans, WR, Ravens (15th, wouldn't draft): Seems mean to pick on a 15th-round pick. I mean, I'm truly of the belief that there's no such thing as a bad pick after the 13th round or so. But we know what Evans is, and it's not great, and an upgrade in quarterback is offset by the new offense he has to learn and quickly. If Anquan Boldin disappointed in his first year with Baltimore, I promise you Lee Evans isn't going to do better. Meanwhile, guys like Anthony Armstrong, some of the Rams' guys, Arrelious Benn, Jason Avant and Steve Smith of Philly (I love Maclin, but you never know with this mysterious illness) and more are all going after Evans. If you're gonna draft a lottery ticket, why draft one that hasn't topped 700 yards in two seasons?
Jonathan Stewart, RB, Panthers (6th, 8th): You know whom the Panthers paid all that money to in the offseason? Not Jonathan Stewart. At best he's an injury-prone running back on the wrong end of a time share. At worst, he's a guy who will see very limited touches (maybe Mike Goodson takes some third-down work?) and, thanks to poor quarterback play, faces eight-man fronts when he does actually touch the ball. And before you go all "Yeah, but Jeff Otah is healthy this year" on me, consider what John McTigue of ESPN Stats & Information found: Over the past two years, with Otah in the lineup, Stewart averaged 4.6 yards per carry. Without? 4.9. He's a talented runner but going ahead of guys with fewer question marks and not nearly as much downside.
Jay Cutler, QB, Bears (12, 14): One of my "You Heard Me!s" from last season was that Cutler would have a worse statistical season under Mike Martz than the year before. Turned out to be true. Eight million Bears fans and Kristin Cavallari can't be wrong. As long as Martz is calling the plays and Roy Williams is considered an upgrade at WR, you want no part of the Human Turnover.
Pick a Bengal. Any Bengal: I know a lot of people like Jerome Simpson and/or Jordan Shipley as sleepers, and with a rookie quarterback, I could see Jermaine Gresham being interesting in a deeper league, but this is a bad situation. Not to be confused with The Situation, although both leave me with similar feelings. Everywhere you look on the Bengals gives me the feeling that the Redskins have real competition in the "Suck for Luck" sweepstakes. Knowing my Skins' luck, Cincy will get the No. 1 pick and deal it away, not to Washington. Anyway, Cedric Benson is toast. I'm not convinced this team scores eight touchdowns all year, let alone Benson getting that many. I like many running backs going after him. I'm sure there will be some fantasy value on this team, but it will be inconsistent and hard to predict. Nor will it come early, as a rookie QB and a young team are even more affected by the lockout. I know everyone chastises Cincy for all the off-the-field legal troubles, but I say bring it on. The only reason to watch this team is the hope that someone starts a crime spree during a game. "Hey, where's Andy Dalton? Why, he's robbing the Dippin' Dots guy at gunpoint!" No, no, no. Not even with your team.
Peyton Hillis, RB, Browns (3rd, 4th): The hate has almost gotten so bad that he's gonna be a decent value, but until then, it seems everyone hates this guy for a variety of reasons: No scores the last five games of the season and he really wore down. Seemed to be listed as questionable every week. Madden Curse. Pick your favorite.
Jahvid Best, RB, Lions (5th, 7th): Things that are bad for Jahvid Best's health; Too much junk food, swimming right after eating, the additional physical contact that comes with getting more of the workload.
Arian Foster, RB, Texans (No. 2 overall, No. 5 overall): Look, he's a stud. I loved him for two years, well before it was cool. I have him ranked fifth overall. But he's currently going second overall, and that's significant in the first round. And depending on how this hamstring issue plays out, I might move Ray Rice ahead of him as well. Because, you see, Rice has Vonta Leach blocking for him now, and Foster has converted tight end James Casey currently atop the Texans fullback depth chart. Yes, the team signed Lawrence Vickers, but Vickers isn't Leach, who is widely regarded as one of -- if not the -- best blocking backs in the league. How important in Leach? Well, I got this email recently that I thought described it better than I could (I had to edit for length )
Rex Hackbarth (Towson, Md.): Statistical evidence why Arian Foster will have a significant drop off this year. His fullback last year, Vonta Leach, is considered to be the best fullback in the game rated by the players. Remember Lorenzo Neal? He was considered pretty much the best as fullback in the game as well. Look at LT's stats before and after Neal. When Neal joined the chargers in 2003, LT jumped to 5.3 yards per carry. However, the first year Lorenzo Neal left was 2008, and coincidentally LT's YPC dropped from 4.7 to 3.8, the lowest of his career by far. Huge drop-off after the star fullback left. I feel the exact same could happen to Arian Foster so there is no way I will draft him. Feel free to use these stats. If you do, just give me a shout out in your column because I don't listen to the podcast and I apologize.
Back to me, and no need to apologize, Rex. We don't care if you listen; just download! We only care about clicks. Now, I don't just print random emails, so I sent this off to ESPN Stats & Information and they came back with this:
The numbers in here are accurate. Tomlinson averaged 4.7 yards per rush from 2003-07 when Lorenzo Neal was on the team. He averaged 3.8 and 3.3 yards per rush in his final two years in San Diego, without Neal at fullback. To go a little deeper, in the games with Neal, Tomlinson averaged 4.65 yards per rush. In his entire career in San Diego, Tomlinson averaged 4.0 yards/rush in games where Neal wasn't the fullback.
If you read my Draft Day Manifesto, you know that only five running backs in the past 20 years have had 18 or more rushing touchdowns and then followed it up with a season of 18 or more touchdowns. Five running backs (though some of them did it more than once). I love Foster. Truly. But not at No. 2.
Peyton Manning, QB, Colts (2nd, 3rd): Another sort of nitpicky one here, as, let's be real: He's Peyton Manning. America's sweetheart. He's money in the bank and one of the greatest quarterbacks who ever played. But I list him here because I have him after Philip Rivers (as QB No. 6 for me) and feel that he and Romo are much closer in value than folks feel. The neck is worrisome, as is the fact that he needed 100 more pass attempts last year to throw for the same number of touchdown passes. His yards-per-attempt was the lowest since his rookie year, and he had his highest turnover rate since 2004. Can some of that be attributed to all the injuries and different players he played with? Of course. But I feel that this year they'll run a bit more, and have a little more balanced attack. And if Manning starts slow or misses a game with the neck, that adds to the concern. He'll be fine, but I've seen some folks take him as the No. 3 or 4 quarterback, and since I have him at 6, he makes the hate list.
Reggie Wayne, WR, Colts (3rd, 4th): If it makes you feel better, he was on this list last year and I was dead wrong. But getting slower, more competition for balls and a lack of explosiveness say he'll be a No. 2 fantasy wideout being drafted as a No. 1.
Maurice Jones-Drew, RB, Jaguars (1st, 2nd): A month ago, on "SportsNation," I thought I was all bold for saying he'd be a bust. Apparently it wasn't all that bold. Many folks are down on MJD this year and it's easy to see why. Over the past two years he's fourth in total touches in the NFL. Single-digit touchdowns for the first time in his career last year; they used Rashad Jennings a lot, and that's only gonna increase. Plus, if the Jags go to Blaine Gabbert at some point, you have to expect MJD sees a lot more eight-man fronts. Those are no fun.
Matt Cassel, QB, Chiefs (11, 13) and Dwayne Bowe, WR, Chiefs (4th, 6th): Remember that easy schedule they had last year? Yeah, they don't have that anymore. Remember that most-rushing-attempts-in-the-NFL offense they had last year? Yeah, they still have those backs. Remember the lack of production in the final five games and the brutal playoff loss without Charlie Weis? Yeah, you don't want any part of that.
BenJarvus Green-Ellis, RB, Patriots (6th, 8th): You know what you do if you're happy with your running back? You don't draft two more. This has "committee smell" all over it. Committee smell, by the way, is somewhat pungent, with a hint of pine.
Derrick Mason, WR, Jets (16th, wouldn't draft): New system, new QB, old player.
Reggie Bush, RB, Dolphins (11th, 13th): Just what we were all hoping for. Leaving a great offensive team on turf for a middle-of-the-pack squad that plays on grass and faces the Jets' defense twice. The only upgrade here is to the South Beach nightlife, so if you get points for that, by all means, grab him.
Marques Colston, WR, Saints (5th, 6th): The only consistent thing about him is that he's banged up again.
Ryan Mathews, RB, Chargers (5th, 7th): In fairness, he did have that great year where wait, what? Oh, that's right. He's proved nothing. At best he stays healthy and is on the right side of the time share with Mike Tolbert. At worst, he continues to be hurt and splits carries (when healthy) with Tolbert, who vultures every score. For once, two first names? Not a crowd-pleaser.
The Eagles D/ST (9th, 15th): Nnamdi Asomugha is a great player, but he's not a huge fantasy impact, unless you get lots of points for holding teams to low point totals. It's been proved over and over again: Defenses are too statistically similar and rarely return the investment to waste anything other than a late-round draft pick on one.
There you have it. The 2011 preseason Love/Hate. A lot more love this year -- in football and in life. Here's to you finding both.
Matthew Berry -- The Talented Mr. Roto -- wishes Randy Moss was on a team so he could hate him. Hate him hard. With a passion usually reserved for dictators and ex-wives. He may have owned Randy on an important team last year. Just saying. Berry is the creator of RotoPass.com, a website that combines a bunch of well-known fantasy sites, including ESPN Insider, for one low price. Use promo code ESPN for 10 percent off. He is a charter member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association Hall of Fame. Cyberstalk the TMR | Be his cyberfriend