by Moonlight Graham

No position has undergone more change over the last decade than the Middle Infield. Long a collection of slap hitting, base stealers and the occasional power guy, it saw drastic change with the emergence of big guns like Alex Rodriguez, Miguel Tejada, Jeff Kent and Barry Larkin.  Even marginal, late round options like Jose Valentin were good for better than 20 HR.

However, retirement, injury and position change have all been factors in depleting the ranks of the Middle Infielders that’ll give you a boost in the power department.  While some do remain, (Hanley Ramirez and Chase Utley will cost you a first rounder), for the most part, many Fantasy Baseball owners will settle for the mid-round options that produce low, double-digit HR’s, a solid BA and a decent number of SB.  The trick is, to find that one player who could break the mold and give you a top tier performance for a second tier price.

Fantasy Stars

-  Unless you’ve got one of the first two picks, you can forget Hanley Ramirez.  After that, Troy Tulowitzki and Jose Reyes top the Shortstop list but neither is a sure thing. Tulo comes off a terrific season but Fantasy Baseball owners still bear the burn marks from his disastrous ’08 season.  New York Mets’ star, Reyes, is not only coming off of a campaign lost to injury but was just cleared to play after a thyroid condition sidelined him for most of camp.  Don’t reach for either.  On the other side of the bag, Utley and Ian KInsler are the cream of the crop but Cincinnati Reds’ second sacker, Brandon Phillips, may be the best value.  He’s a guaranteed 20-20 from a position where that’s rare and he bats cleanup.  Going with that theory, we’d also have to add Robinson Cano of the New York Yankees, as he’s been moved to the five hole of that very potent lineup. Continue reading »

They’re the forgotten men; the filler picks at the end of any Fantasy Football Draft.  Tight Ends, Kickers and Defenses Horsefeathers4make up most of the final rounds with few exceptions.  The three or four elite TE on your draft list warrant mid round selections but, for the most part, its hard to pass on a productive WR or RB just to fill a required roster spot.  Defense/Special Teams is next in the pecking order with Kickers bringing up the rear.  Too many intangible factors determine the success or failure of these units to even consider taking any in the middle of the draft.  Don’t think so?  Ask anyone that drafted the highly rated Chargers last year before Shawn Merriman went down for the season.

Funny thing, though, championships are invariably won by the Fantasy Football Owner that pulls the winning ticket out of the hat: the kicker that becomes automatic from beyond fifty yards for an entire season, the tight end who suddenly finds himself with an aging QB coming out of retirement or the defense with the cornerback that starts returning every INT for six.  So, in order to put you in the best position to grab some of that good luck, take a look at the Wagstaff rankings.

Fantasy Draft Preview: Tight End

Studs

Tony Gonzalez was the Falcons’ biggest off season acquisiton and could be the last piece of the offensive puzzle in Atlanta.  He may not match the 96 REC and 10 TD he posted last year but the presence of Michael Turner and Roddy White should open things up enough for Gonzalez to remain at the top of the list… With the departure of Terrell Owens, Jason Witten becomes Tony Romo’s primary option in Dallas.

Stars

Dallas Clark sits on top of a lot of TE lists but not this one.  He’s too much of a possession receiver to bust into the upper echelon and doesn’t catch enough TD.  However, Peyton Manning makes him a valuable pick… Antonio Gates may be the best athlete at the position but is coming off an unproductive season due to injury.  The return of his own health as well as a productive La Dainian Tomlinson, should boost his stats back to their previous levels.

Sleepers

The Jets’ Dustin Keller had a stretch last year as Brett Favre’s favorite target before disappearing over the last month.  That probably won’t happen this year, as the Jets scale down their offense to accomodate rookie QB Mark Sanchez… Chase Coffman won’t even appear in some Fantasy Football rankings.  However, the Bengals’ rookie left Missouri as the all time receptions leader for TE.  If he wins the starting job in Cincy, expect a strong season.

Slippers

Denver’s Tony Scheffler registered just 3 TD last season with Jay Cutler under center.  Doesn’t seem like stardom is in the offing with Kyle Orton aboard… An uncertain QB situation in Oakland in addition to the Raiders’ home run passing philosophy make it difficult to foresee Zach Miller getting many touches

FANTASY FOOTBALL PICKS

Professor Wagstaff’s Top 12 Fantasy Tight Ends

  1. Tony Gonzalez
  2. Jason Witten
  3. Dustin Keller
  4. Dallas Clark
  5. Antonio Gates
  6. Chris Cooley
  7. Kellen Winslow
  8. Visante Shiancoe
  9. Owen Daniels
  10. John Carlson
  11. Heath Miller
  12. Chase Coffman

Professor Wagstaff’s Top 12 Fantasy Kickers

  1. Stephen Gostkowski
  2. Rob Bironas
  3. Neil Rackers
  4. Adam Vinatieri
  5. Mason Crosby
  6. Jason Elam
  7. Ryan Longwell
  8. Robbie Gould
  9. David Akers
  10. Nate Keading
  11. Matt Bryant
  12. Kris Brown

Professor Wagstaff’s Top 12 Fantasy Defense/Special Teams

  1. Vikings
  2. Giants
  3. Steelers
  4. Titans
  5. Jets
  6. Chargers
  7. Ravens
  8. Cowboys
  9. Eagles
  10. Patriots
  11. Dolphins
  12. Colts

by Professor Wagstaff

Well, here we are.  The first NFL training camp opens on Saturday in Buffalo, Horsefeathersperhaps because the Bills can’t wait to immerse themselves in the glow and warmth of newly acquired Terrell Owens.  Whatever the reason, the first whistle will also serve to alert Fantasy Owners that their drafts are just a few weeks away.  In most of those drafts, running backs will dominate most of the first two rounds so; the position seems as good a spot as any to start our 2009 previews.

Fantasy Football Running Backs

Studs

Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson carried the ball 363 times last year.  363!  The NFL’s leading rusher probably won’t carry the same load this season but will still be the first pick in your draft… Michael Turner emerged from LT’s shadow in San Diego and became a superstar in Atlanta.  He ran for 220 YDS on Opening Day and never looked back. Ironically, he’ll likely go before Tomlinson in most Fantasy drafts…  It took a year but DeAngelo Williams finally showed the panthers the talent they expected when they drafted him.  His 1,500 YDS were a team record and 20 TD boosted him to an elite Fantasy ranking…  Jaguars’ star Maurice Jones Drew ran for less YDS than anyone in this group but made up for it with better than 500 YDS receiving.  Look for his rushing total to increase in ’09 as he’ll no longer be splitting time with the departed Fred Taylor… Not a bad rookie year for Matt Forte, who quickly became the focal point of the Bears’ offense.  The addition of Jay Cutler won’t hurt him at all since he’s probably Chicago’s best receiver, as well.

Stars

Talk to Fantasy owners that drafted Marion Barber in the first or second round in ‘08 and they’ll tell you they were somewhat disappointed.  Slowed in the final four games by a toe injury, Barber’s production fell off.  Healthy now, don’t look past the fact that he still managed 1,300 total YDS and 10 TD… Frank Gore, slowed in the latter part of the season by a concussion, had 1,500 total YDS and 8 TD.  A new O Coordinator with a reputation for running the ball will give the 49’ers star a huge boost…  Houston’s Steve Slaton went undrafted in many leagues last year (including mine) and was happily grabbed as a FA early on.  He’ll be the starter out of the gate this year so, expect bigger numbers… Brian Westbrook suffered through a litany of injuries last season yet, the Eagles star still had 14 TD and 1,300 YDS.  He’s had off season surgery on his ankle and knee so, be careful but the risk reward for drafting him is huge.

Sleepers

How does one of the greatest RB in the history of the game end up on a Fantasy sleeper list?  When he’s coming off an injury riddled season and he’s over 30, that’s when.  San Diego’s LaDainian Tomlinson is Wagstaff’s pick for steal of the draft in ’09 as he’ll probably go late second or early third round in a year where he’ll show everyone how great he is when healthy… Injuries and the emergence of LeRon McLain made for a tough rookie year for the Ravens’ Ray Rice.  However, McLain will be moved to fullback while Rice will split time with Willis McGahee…  We’re going out on a limb here with Arizona’s Beanie Wells, as he’s slated to split time with Tim Hightower.  The thought, however, is that Wells has more breakaway potential; enough to give him the bulk of the carries and some late round value… Given the history, how can you not want a Denver RB?  Knowshon Moreno will quickly become the Broncos’ go to guy, especially as they gently work Kyle Orton into the offense.

Slippers

A decent sleeper pick in ’08, LenDale White became nothing more than a short yardage specialist for the Titans as the season wore on with Chris Johnson taking the reins.  Don’t get sucked in by his TD total… Age and the Browns’ ineptitude have conspired to rob Jamal Lewis of his Fantasy value.  His totals last year were his lowest in four years and the Browns don’t look like they’ve worked out too many of their problems…, Willis McGahee seems to have hit the infamous RB wall; and the Ravens apparently think so, too.  They’re looking to work Ray Rice into the rotation… The Colts’ Joseph Addai was a first rounder in most Fantasy leagues last year but struggled mightily.  So much so, that Indy used its first pick on Donald Brown, who will definitely take touches from Addai.

Stiffs

  Larry Johnson has asked the Chiefs for a trade and will lose touches to Jamaal Charles and Kolby Smith… In Tampa Bay, Earnest Graham is returning from an ankle injury that cost him the last five weeks of an already disappointing season while battling the newly signed Derrick Ward for playing time… In Baltimore, LeRon McLain became a viable option when Willis McGahee went down.  However, he’s being moved to FB, making him the Ravens’ third option at best.

Fantasy Football Picks: Wagstaff’s Top 20 Running Backs

  1. Adrian Peterson                            
  2. DeAngelo Williams                    
  3.  Matt Forte                                         
  4. Michael Turner                             
  5. Maurice Jones Drew                  
  6. Steve Slaton                                    
  7. LaDainian Tomlinson               
  8. Brian Westbrook                         
  9. Marion Barber                              
  10. Frank Gore                                     
  11. Steven Jackson
  12. Clinton Portis   
  13. Brandon Jacobs   
  14. Knowshon Moreno
  15. Thomas Jones
  16. Marshawn Lynch
  17. Ryan Grant
  18. Joseph Addai
  19. Kevin Smith
  20. Willie Parker                                    
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