Well, folks, the final set of preseason games begins tomorrow and ends Friday, meaning the regular season is just around the corner. Teams will likely rest most, if not all, of their starters 1) to avoid injury; and 2) to give the "bubble" players one last look before the deadline for cuts. By September 5th each team must have trimmed their roster down from 75 to 53 players in preparation for the regular season. That means a lot of players will soon be cut, but they'll have an opportunity to catch on with another team before the season starts. Don't worry about any of these (and past) value picks being cut, however. They are certified beasts (yes the NFL does hand out official certificates to award beastdom...well, maybe not, but if I were commissioner I would). Things are warming up in Maui so it's time for me to get this posted and head to the beach. Life is good. Here are my AFC East value picks:
Marshawn Lynch, RB, Buffalo Bills:
Perhaps my admiration for Marshawn "Money" Lynch (I believe that's what his facebook name was in college) is increased because he was a stud at California and I'm a huge Cal fan, but anyone that has seen this guy play in the NFL knows he's an absolute monster. So, how can a guy this good be considered a value pick? Well, my friends, Lynch was suspended for 3 games by the league for violating its personal conduct policy. That means he'll only be eligible to play in a maxiumum of 13 games this season. I see this as a blessing in disguise, though, for the fantasy owners that know Marshawn best (not personally, of course). Since entering the league in 2007, Lynch has been unable to stay healthy for a full season. That said, he's still been able to put up some impressive numbers (1115 yards, 7 TDs in 13 games in 2007 and 1036 yards and 8 TDs in 15 games in 2008). While his rushing yards decreased from year one to year two, Marshawn's receiving numbers skyrocketed from 18 receptions for 184 yards in 2007 to 47 receptions for 300 yards and a touchdown in 2008. That's a huge improvement that was key for his owners in PPR leagues last season. Also, while he may have played in less games in 2007, he received more carries than he did in 2008, mainly because the Bills wanted to get RB Fred Jackson some more touches. Jackson will start the first three games in Lynch's absence, but I don't anticipate him taking the starting spot with those three games. The Bills understand that they have a major talent in Lynch and, while they'll get both backs involved in the offense, Marshawn will be the starter when he returns from suspension. Fantasy owners are concerned, however, about Lynch's status with the team when he comes back and his ADP has dropped significantly over the past few months. Once considered an early 3rd round pick, Marshawn is now being taken in the late 4th/early 5th area, which I feel is still too low for a guy that has a good shot at posting double digit touchdowns (did I mention that he was a monster and that monster means he scores touchdowns?). Look for Lynch to get 200-210 carries this season for 850-900 yards and 8 touchdowns plus 45 receptions for 320 yards and 2 touchdowns. That's pretty solid production out of a back that you can draft in the 5th round. Just make sure you have two RBs to start in the first three weeks then watch Marshawn do what he does best for the remainder of the season: hit and run.
Anthony Fasano, TE, Miami Dolphins:
Aside from RB Ronnie Brown (late 3rd rounder) and TE Anthony Fasano, I'm not too keen on any Dolphins skill players this year. Since Brown is going right where he should be going, that leaves Fasano as the value pick by subtraction. For those of you who read my NFC North post (for those of you that didn't, what's up with that?), you'll recall that Fasano was the other tight end I mentioned, along with Minnesota's Visanthe Shiancoe, that was tied for third amongst tight ends with 7 touchdown receptions in 2008. Still, Fasano is falling all the way to late 12th/early 13th round in drafts. I know he won't consistently put up points on a week-to-week basis, but he'll help you more often than he doesn't. Dolphin QB Chad Pennington loves to look his way in the redzone, which makes him a valuable fantasy tight end. If you miss out on the elite tight ends (Gates, Clark, Gonzalez, and Witten) and want to firm up the core of your team in the early-to-mid rounds instead of going for guys like Cooley, Olsen, Daniels, or Winslow Jr. it's not a bad idea to wait on a guy like Fasano. My recommendation for you if you choose to do that would be to pair him with another similar tight end, like Shiancoe (MIN), Dustin Keller (NYJ), or Kevin Boss (NYG), and play the matchups. It's tough to predict touchdowns on a week-to-week basis, but if you're successful with it, you'll have one of the stronger teams in your league (assuming you made the right decisions in the early-to-mid rounds).
Tom Brady, QB, New England Patriots:
With more and more teams gunning the ball down the field these days, quarterbacks are playing an ever important role in fantasy football. Many believe that taking a QB before the 3rd round is crazy, but with the way the elite arms are throwing for touchdowns in this day and age I don't see anything wrong with taking one in the second round (or even the first in non-PPR leagues). I'd only recommend this for Drew Brees (NO), Peyton Manning (IND), and Tom Brady (NE), however, as they are the best of the best and play for high-scoring teams. I understand that the people who took Brady in the first round last year were pretty much taken out of the running right away when he went down for the year in week 1, but the could have just as easily happened to a 1st-round running back or receiver. Injuries happen, they are impossible to predict. Although he's coming off a torn ACL, Brady has had plenty of time to recover, he's looked like his old self in preseason, and he still has WRs Randy Moss and Wes Welker to throw to. Argue all you want, but it's my opinion that he warrants a late 1st/early 2nd round selection. Plenty of people agree with me as his ADP is 16th overall (early-to-mid 2nd round). It's not crazy, either, to take him over Brees. Sure, Brees is a "safer" bet since he hasn't missed a game since 2004, but Brady hadn't been missed a game in his career as a starter until week 2 in 2008. He's only a year removed from his 50 touchdown campaign and all the pieces remain in tact. Assuming he'll stay healthy, I expect Brady to put up around 4500 yards and 40-45 touchdowns this season, which would definitely put him in the top-5 overall point scorers this season. Regardless of where you take him (1st, 2nd, or even 3rd round), you'll get 1st round production at a very important position.
Leon Washington, RB, New York Jets:
I don't work for the New York Jets, but I've got to assume that the team is growing tired of RB Thomas Jones' antics. After a career year in 2008, Jones wanted an extension, which probably been granted if he weren't 31 years old with nearly 2,000 career carries. As a result of his demand, the Jets went out and drafted Shonn Green out of Iowa. Don't look for Green to be in Jones' way this year, however. That guy will be Leon Washington, who's been increasingly productive in his short NFL career. In short, Washington is an explosive playmaker that the Jets need to get the ball to. He's especially valuable in PPR leagues as he's one of the best receiving running backs in the league and is a threat to score 6 whenever he touches the ball. Head coach Rex Ryan (Baltimore's defensive coordinator in 2008) has no allegiance to Thomas Jones and likes what he sees from Washington, having gone on record stating that he'd like to get Leon more involved in the offense this season. One writer for Sports Illustrated predicted that Washington would get 300 touches, which if true would result in scary production, but I'm not buying quite that much action for him. I expect him to get between 200-250 touches (rushing, receiving, and returning) this season. With that kind of opportunity, Washington should have 1,000+ all-purpose yards and double digit touchdowns, huge production for a guy being drafted in the late 8th/early 9th round in drafts. Consider him my favorite sleeper. I am incredibly upset I was unable to get him in either of my two leagues. Don't make the same mistake I did and wait for this guy to fall to you. If he's there in the 7th or early 8th, it's probably your last shot at taking him as he's turning heads this preseason.