Ladies and gentlemen, this is the weekend I have been waiting for for over a month now. I'm not going to any of the pivotal Giants vs. Rockies games at AT&T, nor am I attending the Outside Lands Festival at Golden Gate Park. You think I have time for those minor spectacles when I have something as important as a fantasy football draft to prepare for by Sunday night? Definitely not, but to be honest, I don't have much preparation to do for Sunday since, for once in my life, I didn't procrastinate and wait until the last minute to do my research. I am 100% ready to dominate the poor souls that have put up money to compete in a league with the best thing to happen to fantasy football since the Internet (I'm talking about myself, of course). You didn't come here to read an arrogant rant, though. You want some value picks and I'm ready to drop some for you. Time to talk about the NFC North.
Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay Packers:
It's incredibly difficult to find a good value pick from the Packers. I'm not saying that the team lacks talented, productive players (quite the opposite, actually), but rather fantasy owners are selecting their Packers just about where they should be going. I like WR Greg Jennings in the 2nd round and can live with RB Ryan Grant in the 3rd (though you won't see me taking him there), but my value pick from the Pack is QB Aaron Rodgers. Currently being taken towards the end of round 3, Rodgers has one of the best big play wideouts in the league (Jennings) as well as several other capable pass catchers (Donald Driver, James Jones, Jordy Nelson, and TE Donald Lee) to throw to. Much to the dismay of those with Driver on their roster, Rodgers does an excellent job of spreading the ball around to all his receivers, which makes it especially tough for opposing defenses to defend the Packers' aerial attack. Rodgers has looked sharp thus far in the preseason and has the tools surrounding him to replicate his outstanding numbers from 2008. I wouldn't reach for him in the 2nd round, but once Peyton Manning is taken off the board, Rodgers is the safest QB to take in the 3rd. Jay Cutler, QB, Chicago Bears:
Running back Matt Forte is easily the best player in the Bears' offense, but he's a top four pick, making it difficult to justify him as a value pick. Instead, I'm looking at his quarterback, Jay Cutler, who's being taken late in the 7th round. Sure, Cutler's wideouts (Devin Hester and Earl Bennett) are a cause for concern, but Hester's tremendous speed paired with Cutler's big arm could prove to be a deadly combination and, for what it's worth, Bennett and Cutler were teammates back at Vanderbilt so those two could restore the chemistry they had in college. Luckily for the Bears, their offense will not live or die based on production from the wide receiver position. I expect RB Matt Forte and TE Greg Olsen to be Cutler's favorite targets this season as both have great hands and knack for getting open. Cutler's still got a lot to prove, but with Hester and Bennett outside, Olsen in the middle, and Forte in the flat, he's got athletic and competent weapons to work with. He's a 6th round talent going a round too late.
Visanthe Shiancoe, TE, Minnesota Vikings:
You know how many tight ends scored more touchdowns than Visanthe Shiancoe in 2008? I'll give you a second to think about it. Ready? A couple more seconds? Fine, I'll wait....TWO! Tony Gonzalez and Antonio Gates finished the season with 10 and 8 touchdowns, respectively, leaving Shiancoe tied for third at 7 TDs with Miami's Anthony Fasano. I know, I know, touchdowns aren't everything, but they sure do help (especially when it comes to tight ends). It's not like that's all Shiancoe did, either. He caught 42 balls for 596 yards in 2008. Shiancoe mentioned in a sideline interview during the Vikings' second preseason game that his work with a personal trainer this past off-season has him feeling stronger and faster than ever, and at 6'4", 250 pounds, that's saying a lot. Those owners taking him in the late 11th round are getting themselves a nice bargain, demonstrating how deep the tight end position is this season. Waiting around for Shiancoe enables you to stock up on the other skill positions while still securing a very capable tight end. If you miss out on the elite tight ends (Gonzalez, Gates, Witten, and Clark), don't panic because there are plenty of guys like Shiancoe that can step up and produce in 2009.
Kevin Smith, RB, Detroit Lions:
Only two Lions should be on fantasy rosters to start the season: WR Calvin Johnson and RB Kevin Smith. No doubt, Johnson is the best player in Detroit (in any sport), but he's being taken early in the 2nd round right where he should be going. On the contrary, fantasy owners are not giving Smith the same respect. A rookie in 2008, Smith rushed 238 times for 976 yards (4.1 avg) and 8 TDs. He added to that stat line with 39 catches for 286 yards (7.3 avg). While the Lions will definitely struggle again this season, there is no way that they'll have another 0-16 campaign in 2009. They have to get better, and my guess is that Smith will show the most improvement of them all. He's being taken in the late 3rd/early 4th round territory, which I believe is an incredible bargain for whomever drafts him there in PPR leagues. The Lions will increase his workload to around 275 carries and he'll continue to serve as a capable receiver out of the backfield, which is especially important with a poor offensive line and a rookie quarterback, both of which Lions have (yes, I am assuming Matthew Stafford will start early on, if not week 1). I'm not saying that Smith is a 2nd round talent, but he should be going in the early-to-mid 3rd round.