Assembling your preseason draft board is without a doubt one of the most enjoyable aspects of fantasy sports. You'll likely spend countless hours in self-debate about who's your top quarterback, running back and wide receiver. Even more time will be spent scouting sleeper picks. Who doesn,t love a good sleeper pick? Especially when they pan out. A good sleeper pick could be worth years of fantasy street cred. Often times however, it will be neither that bring us fantasy glory.
The mid-round picks that come and go without much fanfare are usually the ones that rise up and provide the foundation for a championship run. The key is knowing where to look to get top value.
Some offenses are just naturally more prolific than others. Sure Wisconsin running back John Clay will be high on everyone's draft board. But odds are you're not going to be scanning the Badgers' depth chart for fantasy wide outs. While one may emerge, you have better odds looking elsewhere. It's all about potential upside.
We've profiled every BCS team and the heavy fantasy hitters from the non-BCS ranks in our Conference Look Aheads. Now it is time to strip away the conference affiliations and look at the top fantasy offenses for 2009 and identify where you might be able to find some draft day value in each.
In order to make our list the teams must meet two pretty simple criteria. First they obviously have to have an up-tempo offense. Most of the teams on the list will run some variation of the no huddle and/or spread. But it is not necessarily a requirement. Second they must have at least two legit week in and week out fantasy starters. For the most part I'm not talking about sleepers. So while teams like Missouri and Ball State meet the first criteria, they don't currently meet the second because of the recent turnover.
So enough jibber jabber and ground rules, let's get to it.
Top 10 Offenses to Pilfer in 2009
Few teams can boast three sure fire fantasy starters like UTEP. (And by sure fire I mean Tony Mandarich and investing in tech stocks type of surefire). Quarterback Trevor Vittatoe, wide receiver Jeff Moturi and wide receiver Kris Adams form a fantasy trifecta that is tough to match. And the best part is the trio will likely not be top targets on draft day. For that reason, they secure the top sport of teams to mine for fantasy gold on draft day. (Get it? Mine...Miners...never mind).
Adams will likely garner some early round attention after catching 14 touchdown passes last year, while Moturi will fly somewhat under the radar after an injury-plagued season. I'll wait and take Moturi over Adams. You may have to reach a little higher for Vittatoe this year, but like 2008, he is still one to target. Early dates with Kansas and Texas should scare some away. The key will be paying attention to the early ADP reports to see which round these three are being drafted before heading into your own draft.
Hefty Price Tags: WR Kris Adams
Value Plays: QB Trevor Vittatoe and WR Jeff Moturi. The running back spot could be a vulture play later on off the waiver wire.
Flashback to August 30, 2007, I'm sitting in a BW-3 watching Tulsa and Louisiana-Monroe kick off the 2007 season. Steve Kragthorpe bolted for Louisville in the offseason, and I was eager to see how Tulsa's offense would look under new head man Todd Graham. A devoured plate of hot wings and three Paul Smith touchdowns later, a new fantasy system play was born. Whether it's Jacob Bower, G.J. Kinne or Shavodrick Beaver, the Tulsa starting QB will be a mainstay in fantasy lineups in 2009.
As will wide receivers Damaris Johnson, Slick Shelley, A.J. Whitmore and Trae Johnson. There will be some debate on which one of the above is number one, but all will likely be taken at some point on draft day. However there is a problem. As mentioned in our College Fantasy Football Insider Show in February, the Golden Hurricane skill spots are highly volatile. No position will cause owners more heartburn than Tulsa wide receivers; three TDs one week and nary a blip in the box score the next. I call it the Taurean Henderson Factor. It's the nature of an offense that spreads the ball around and is predicated on exploiting defensive weakness.
As alluring as the Tulsa passing game can be, it won't be my favorite place to look for value on draft day. You'll pay a premium for most of the above players. The value rests with the run game. Anyone that has the pleasure (or displeasure) to engage in email banter with me the last two years knows my great affection for running back Charles Clay.
Whether or Clay will take over the full time running back duties this fall or continue to work as a H-back is still to be determined. This spring will hopefully go a long way towards answering that question and will determine just how high to draft Clay.
Hefty Price Tags: QB Jacob Bower (or whoever is named the starter), WR Damaris Johnson and WR Slick Shelley
Value Plays: RB Charles Clay, WR A.J. Whitmore, WR Trae Johnson and RB Jamad Williams
There is really no reason to regurgitate what we already know. Case Keenum is good. What is on everyone's mind is how the wide receiver spot will shake out in 2009? We have more in depth looks at the receiving cores of Houston and Texas Techs in the works. For now here is a quick recap: starters Tyron Carrier and L.J. Castile are back. Starter Patrick Edwards is coming off injury that sidelined him for the second half of the season and initial signs look positive for his return. The $64,000 question is who fills the shoes of Mark Hafner on the inside? We'll need spring ball to officially answer this one.
With essentially the same offense that racked up over 40 points and 560 yards per game in 2008 returning, only one thing keeps the Cougs from the top spot: the early season schedule. While contests against Oklahoma State and Texas Tech have all the makings of shootouts, fantasy owners may never feel truly comfortable heading into these contests. Especially if Houston stumble against the Cowboys in week two. Mix in a week three bye and a week six trip to Starkville, and the early season schedule raises some eyebrows.
Keep in mind this schedule could also provide an opportunity on the waiver wire if Houston starts out slower than anticipated.
Running back Bryce Beall is often overlooked in this high-powered passing offense, but there is no reason to believe that Beall can't duplicate his 17 touchdowns and 1700+ yards of offense from 2008.
Hefty Price Tags:QB Case Keenum, WR Tyron Carrier
Value Play: RB Bryce Beall, WR Patrick Edwards, WR L.J. Castile and WR Chris Gilbert (I can't quit you).
Mike Leach and his band of merry men would normally hold down the top spot. Unfortunately graduation has taken its toll and the element of the "sure thing" is missing from this year's Red Raider squad. Still this is Texas Tech and it would be sacrifantasyligious (note to my editor, I know this is not a real word) to not include them in the top 5.
It goes without saying that whoever wins the quarterback job is an instant fantasy starter. But I will anyway. A Tech quarterback has not thrown for less than 30 TDs in a season since Kliff Kingsbury in 2001 (25). So (insert name here) is surely a starter in any fantasy lineup.
As for the wide receivers, see the Houston section (more in depth pieces are in the works). Like Houston, the real draft day value could be at running back with Baron Batch. Shannon Woods (doghouse) and Aaron Crawford (bad case of fumbleitis) have been unable to instill confidence in fantasy owners. Batch, however, seems to be on the cusp of delivering and I'm going all-in. If it doesn't pan out, you can blame me.
Hefty Price Tags: QB Taylor Potts (or whoever is named the starter) and WR Detron Lewis
Value Play: RB Baron Batch, WR Lyle Leong, WR Edward Britton and WR Tramain Swindall
The Sooners could easily secure the top spot with Heisman Trophy winner Sam Bradford back for more. Call it intuition, the bunion, or just pure stubbornness; I'm just still not feeling Bradford okay? I wasn't last year (my bad) and I'm not this year (I'm a mule). Of course Bradford is still a top QB for 2009. He'll just be too rich for my blood on draft day.
However I am all aboard the DeMarco Murray, Chris Brown, Ryan Broyles and even Adron Tennell, Cameron Kenney (JUCO) and Jameel Owens train. Choo Choo.
Hefty Price Tags: QB Sam Bradford, RB DeMarco Murray and RB Chris Brown
Value Play: WR Ryan Broyles, WR Adron Tennell, WR Cameron Kenney (JUCO) and WR Jameel Owens. Draft at least one and hope for the best.
I'm sure you'll soon find that the Rock Chalk Jayhawk is a CFFinsider favorite for 2009. The cagey gunslinger Todd Reesing, the oft over-looked running back Jake Sharp and one of the top wide receivers in the country in Dezmon Briscoe all return.
Add in Kerry Meier who has clearly made the full transition from quarterback to receiver, and you have yourself another veteran unit that will give Big XII defensive coordinators fits.
Hefty Price Tags: WR Dezmon Briscoe
Value Plays: QB Todd Reesing, RB Jake Sharp and WR Kerry Meier
The Cowboys have three high-profile fantasy studs in quarterback Zac Robinson, running back Kendall Hunter and wide receiver Dez Bryant. Without diverting into a "sleeper" article it is tough to discuss value plays, all three will garner heavy attention on draft day.
Hefty Price Tags: WR Dez Bryant and RB Kendall Hunter
Value Play: QB Zac Robinson (could slip) and WR Justin Blackmon (sleeper)
Is there a Big XII team I have not mentioned yet? Virtually all the firepower that graced the Big XII last year returns and the Longhorns are no different. Quarterback Colt McCoy and wide receiver Jordan Shipley are givens. Like Oklahoma State it is tough to pinpoint a "value play" but it would be just plain silly not to mention them.
Hefty Price Tags: QB Colt McCoy and WR Jordan Shipley
Value Play: We'll need to see if a running back separates himself by August and who emerges as Colt's #2 target.
Quarterback Colin Kaepernick has become a cult hero for college fantasy football fans. Whether he's getting it done with his arm or his legs, the gangly six and a half footer is fun to watch.
While most will be fighting for Kaepernick's and Vai Taua's rights on draft day, the wide receiver position may be overlooked. Marko Mitchell moves on, opening the door for Chris Welling to become Kaepernick's favorite target in 2009. Wolfpack wide receivers are far from sure things, so don't reach too high.
Hefty Price Tags: QB Colin Kaepernick and RB Vai Taua
Value Play: WR Chris Wellington, RB Luke Lippincott, WR Brandon Wimberly (sleeper)
As long as Brian Kelly is running the show, the 'Nati will be a top fantasy destination for owners. Quarterback Tony Pike will likely slide past the first few rounds making him a solid pickup for those, like myself, that like to wait to draft quarterbacks.
Marshwan Gilyard is the one proven commodity out wide and will probably be snatched up rather quickly. If you're looking for other value plays at wide receiver you'll have to assume some risk with JUCO Jamar Howard and Marcus Barnett.
Hefty Price Tags: QB Tony Pike
Value Play: WR Jamar Howard (JUCO), WR Marcus Barnett and possibly RB Isaiah Pead
The Mustangs skin their way in with a pair of wide receivers: Emmanuel Sanders and Aldrick Robinson. The fact that quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell will also be a late round draft day selection solidifies their status with the elite.
While Robinson and Sanders are sure to be high round selections, there is still a way to get some value out of the pair. You just have to be willing to resist the temptation to act first. Wait until one is drafted and try to pick the other in the next round. Of course playing this game of chicken could leave you without both (like that fable about the dog and the bone).
Hefty Price Tags: WR Aldrick Robinson and WR Emmanuel Sanders
Value Play: QB Bo Levi Mitchell
Best of the Rest / Bubble Teams
Central Michigan - Quarterback Dan LeFevour left many fantasy owners hanging in 2008, which could give him better draft day value in 2009. Same holds true for wide receivers Antonio Brown and Bryan Anderson. From a pure value perspective, the Chips' offense would be in the top five.
Florida - They have this pretty good quarterback named Timmy. The problem is identifying which one of the track stars or high school All-Americans will also step up.
BYU - Quarterback Max Hall and tight end Dennis Pitta should have been enough to get them in the group above, but I'm just being mean. We need a wide receiver or two to emerge before I budge. McKay Jacobson? O'Neill Chambers?
Boise State - Second only to Charles Clay, is my extreme man love for running back Jeremy Avery. Add in quarterback Kellen Moore, wide receivers Austin Pettis and Titus Young and the Broncos hold very good value on draft day.
Southern Mississippi Wide receiver DeAndre Brown will be no stranger to the early rounds. Quarterback Austin Davis will likely not garner as much attention however. And while running back Damion Fletcher's numbers are trending downward, he's still draft worthy if his legal woes are forgiven. That gives the Eagles three fantasy worthy players for 2009.
Notre Dame - Is quarterback Jimmy Clausen ready for full-time fantasy duty? If so, then they jump to the list above. Golden Tate led all Irish receivers in 2009, but Michael Floyd is the receiver I'll likely target on draft day.
Oregon - I love the bulldog Jeremiah Masoli as much as the next guy, but I'm just not ready to anoint him week in and week out fantasy quarterback status just yet. Running back LeGarrette Blount is obviously the shiznizzle.
USC - The Trojans have all the glitz and game, but they've been a fantasy owners' nightmare. There is too much talent on this team to ignore, however.
Florida Atlantic - Quarterback Rusty Smith and wide receiver Cortez Gent are back which will provide owners with some nice depth, but not necessarily starting lineup firepower.
Ole Miss - Quarterback Jevan Snead and wide receiver Dexter McCluster are on the verge of becoming household names.
Penn State - Heavy losses at wide receiver will take their toll and strip some of the fantasy value from quarterback Daryll Clark. Running back Evan Royster is a given.
Michigan - Running back Brandon Minor will be on most draft boards, will freshman quarterback Tate Forcier?
Buffalo - Running back James Starks and wide receiver Naaman Roosevelt return. Breaking in a new quarterback had me debating whether or not to include them on the list however.
Hawaii - Hawaii was a fantasy black hole last year. Quarterback Greg Alexander has lots of upside. The wide receiver spot still looks like a quagmire though.