Here is the heavily anticipated sequel to last weeks ranking of the top 16 keepers. This may be the single finest Part 2 ever authored that did not include the word “Boogaloo.”
Here we go with 17-36 (once again, age is a key factor).
17. Calvin Johnson (WR, Lions)
I was tempted to put him higher (somewhere in the 11-14 range), but I’m a little worried that the Lions won’t be able to find a QB for him (though they might use the top pick in the 2009 Draft to add a QB. My faith in the Lions organization to do the right thing isn’t exactly resolute). Still, you are looking at a guy who will challenge double-digit TDs each season. I just don’t think he’s a 100-catch wideout.
18. Drew Brees (QB, Saints)
Yep, he’ll be 30 at the start of the 2009 season. But is there any reason why he can’t keep up this level of production for another four years or so? Brees is going over 4,400 yards passing for a third straight season and might break Dan Marino’s all-time mark of 5,084 (he is on pace for 5,192) . He has a ton of weapons to work with (Bush, Shockey, Colston, Moore) and is in a prefect system for his talents.
(But 30 years old? Listen, 30 is okay for a QB. I’m pretty sure Matt Ryan will turn out to be a very good NFL QB. I’m certain that Brees, if healthy, will be a top-three QB over the next four years. Sure, Ryan is six years younger but it’s not as if Brees is 36. Gotta go with the sure bet, particularly if he’s still in his prime.)
19. Marshawn Lynch (RB, Buffalo)
The truth? He should probably be higher on this list. He’s rushed for seven TDs this season and has developed into a nice receiving option out of the backfield (42 catches in 2008, already more than twice his total last season).
Here’s what worries me: 3.8 YPC. (64.5 yards per game on the ground, down from 85.8 in 2007). Also this: The Bills have been much better with Fred Jackson (4.4 YPC) in the backfield this season. This stuff shouldn’t be happening to a top-tier back in his second NFL season. But he remains a must-keep if you own him.
20. Eli Manning (QB, Giants) and Philip Rivers (QB, Chargers)
Obviously these two guys are linked, but this is the rare trade that has worked out for both teams (sure, the Giants gave up a boatload, but I’m thinking one night in Glendale was probably worth it). It doesn’t seem that Manning will ever put up monster numbers with the Giants (Jacobs steals a lot of red zone TDs), but he’s always healthy and is good for 3,500 yards and 22-25 TD passes a season. And he’s made the jump in 2008 with a QB rating of 91.6 and a 62 percent completion mark, both of which would easily set career highs. He’ll be 28 at the start of the 2009 season, and should be a fantasy starter for the next five years or so, easily (Archie played forever and big brother is still getting it done in his 11th season).
Rivers has had a tremendous season (leads the league in QB rating (103.3) and TD passes (23), one that is even more remarkable when you consider that LaDainian Tomlinson and Antonio Gates have been far from vintage. I’d be a little worried that he may have to go through a bunch of coaches during his career, but he’s an easy choice as a keeper for the next half-decade.
22. Chris Johnson (RB, Titans)
Looks like a guy who will give you 1,600-1,800 total yards of offense with seven or eight TDs. Throw in 50 catches a year and you’ve got a better Reggie Bush (Johnson is at 4.5 YPC this season, Bush’s career average is 3.6). LenDale White (Who weighs more in five years—White or Vince Vaughn?) steals some scores, which does knock Johnson down a few spots.
23. Darren McFadden (RB, Raiders)
The one wild-card on the list. He’s been both brilliant (164 yards in a Week 2 win over the Chiefs) and frustrating (multiple turf toe injuries). The Raiders have done a good job of limiting McFadden’s carries this season, trying to ease him into the No. 1 role (which he’s going to assume, I’d imagine, in 2009. They didn’t give him $26 million in guaranteed money to split time with Justin Fargas.) He’s averaging 4.9 YPC in 2008 and has shown the ability to dominate at times. Could be become Barry Sanders? I guess he could be close, but he could just as easily be out of the league in three years. But the ceiling is so high that he must be kept.
24. Steve Slaton (RB, Texans)
In a year that we have said goodbye to Paul Newman, Sydney Pollack and David Foster Wallace (great piece in Rolling Stone on DFW) can we at least rejoice in the fact that the Texans have found a franchise running back? Pretty sure that we’ve seen the last of Ahman Green in Houston, so Slaton should be a 250-carry back in 2009. He’s averaged 4.9 YPC this season and has a pair of games with eight receptions. And yes, that is two Texans and no Patriots on the list (to this point).
(Sometimes a guy is so productive in college that you wonder why he slipped so far in the draft. Slaton is an example, as is Forte. But I think we just focus on the guys who have actually had success. For every Forte or Slaton there is a Mike Hart (two carries for nine yards this season) or an Earl Bennett (SEC career leader in catches, has been inactive all season for the Bears. I’m sure there is a point somewhere in this paragraph. I challenge you fine readers to locate it.)
25. Greg Jennings (WR, Packers)
Under the radar, right? You don’t think to put Jennings on a list of the top five WRs in the league, but he might be there. He’s going to catch 80 passes this season and has 18 TD grabs in his last 24 games. A no-doubt No. 1 fantasy receiver for 2009 and beyond (he’ll be 26 at the start of the 2009 season.). I don’t think he’ll ever be the top WR in the NFL, but more of a Hines Ward circa 2003-type.
26. LaDainian Tomlinson (RB, Chargers)
27. Brian Westbrook (RB, Eagles)
Or, the co-winners of the 2008 “Shaun Alexander Freefall Award”. Tomlinson is down to 3.8 YPC, which would represent his lowest number since his rookie season of 2001. (I’m thinking Charger fans that complained that they were forced to start Turner over LT in the AFC Title Game might be happy with “The Burner” in the backfield now.) He’s also battled a variety of injuries throughout the season (though he has managed to play in all 11 games). As bad as he has been, he still is on pace to produce nearly 1,600 yards of total offense with nine TDs. Toss in 56 catches and you’ve still got a top 10 RB. Is he ever going to be MVP of the league again? No. But for the next two-three years he can be counted on as an every-week starter (the Chargers still have faith in him, he’s on pace for almost 300 carries). I still think we are a few seasons away from the “Emmitt in Arizona” part of Tomlinson’s career.
I’d be plenty worried if I were a Westbrook owner. Sure, his 4.0 YPC is better than Tomlinson’s, (but still way down from his career 4.6 mark) but he has missed two games with injuries and just hasn’t looked like the Westbrook of old, save for an outstanding Week 8 outing vs. Atlanta (167 yards rushing with a pair of TDs). Here’s the biggest concern: What is Brian Westbrook without Donovan McNabb? Can he still be productive, or are we looking at a huge dropoff with Kevin Kolb under center?
I still think he is a keeper. Remember, he’ll enter the 2009 just two years removed from a season that included 2,100 total yards of offense with 90 catches. He’s only had two seasons with more than 200 carries, so the wear and tear shouldn’t be hitting him yet.
28. Matt Ryan (QB, Atlanta)
I was dead wrong on Ryan. I just didn’t see it at Boston College (hard to believe, I know, coming from a guy who favored Leaf over Manning). I was convinced that Ryan would be a franchise QB after watching him vs. the Bears in Week 6. His numbers were great (22-30, 301 yards, a 116.1 passer rating) but what impressed me most was that there wasn’t a throw he couldn’t make. Great pick by the Falcons.
His home/road splits are striking, (107.1 rating at home, 72.0 away) but not a big deal for a rookie. He’ll play at least nine games a year in a dome (eight in Atlanta and one in New Orleans) and has a top five RB and top 10 WR at his disposal. Ryan enters 2009 as an every week start and should only get better with more experience.
(Quick aside, albeit Falcons related: If Michael Vick had read “Marley and Me” and was still the QB in Atlanta, would he be on this list?
Tough one. I think he would have been on the 2007 version, coming off a 2006 season that included 1,039 yards rushing. Basically he was Marshawn Lynch with 20 TD passes.
But two years later? He’ll be 29 at the start of the 2009 season, and one would suspect that he might be starting to lose some of that athleticism. And Vick’s passing numbers (career QB rating of 75.7, 53.8 completion percentage) did not overwhelm.
I’m voting no. But he would be on a roster, and might even be a weekly start, if he was still rushing at a high level.)
29. Aaron Rodgers (QB, Packers)
Oh, I was also on the wrong side of the Rodgers vs. Alex Smith debate. Do you think Smith ever starts another NFL game?
Rodgers looks like a solid top seven or eight QB for the next half-decade at least. He’s on pace for 3,780 yards passing, and his 63.5 completion percentage is a great number for a first-year starter. The Packers got rid of Favre at the right time. Rodgers has been just as good this season, if not better.
30. Marques Colston (WR, Saints)
I think Colston might be the best buy-low candidate in 2009 drafts. His injuries shouldn’t linger into next season, and I expect that he’ll jump right back into the No. 1 for the NFL’s top passing offense. He’s shown enough the past few weeks (140 yards receiving in Week 10, a 70-yard catch on Monday Night vs. the Packers) to suggest that he’s still the same player who caught 98 passes a season ago.
31. Dwayne Bowe (WR, Chiefs)
Just a really good receiver. I’m not sure he’s ever going to break out and become a top three WR, but 128 catches in his first 27 career games is impressive, particularly when you look at how badly the Chiefs have struggled to throw the ball (23rd in pass offense this season, 20th in 2007).
Bowe isn’t a home-run threat, but he’s a solid possession guy who should be an annual 80-catch, double-digit TD wideout. He’ll be just 24 at the start of the 2009 season (that’s cheating, he’ll turn 25 on Sept. 21st) and I think he’ll absolutely be a No. 1 WR for owners.
(A year ago the No. 1 keeper would have been Peterson, but after the 2006 season it would have been either Tomlinson or Larry Johnson, who was coming off a 1,789-yard, 17-TD campaign. Now LT is on the decline and Johnson might not make a list of the top 100 keepers. I guess that 416-carry season took a lot out of LJ, who I imagine will be out of Kansas City after this season.)
32. Reggie Bush (RB, Saints)
In a PPR league he’s actually somewhere in the 10-14 range.
If healthy, he’s going to catch 80-90 passes. If he gives you 600-700 yards on the ground with three or four rushing TDs then you have a guy you must start every week. He’s not a flop, but he’s another year or two away from cementing his status as a disappointment.
33. Roddy White (WR, Falcons)
With this superb season is White firmly entrenched in three spot on the “People With Roddy As a First or Last Name” list? Piper is never moving from No. 1, but I think the late Rod Roddy can be passed with a few more 1,000-yard seasons.
It’s possible that White deserves to be higher on this list. I knocked him down a couple of places due to his age (he’ll turn 28 early in the 2009 season), but he’s clearly a No. 1 fantasy WR and should team with Matt Ryan to form one of the NFL’s beat WR-QB duos for the next five seasons.
34. DeAngelo Williams (RB, Panthers)
I know Carolina used a first-rounder on Jonathan Stewart, but Williams has to be a keeper. He’s over 5 yards a carry for the second straight season and is on pace to rush for 1,285 yards in 2008. Is he ever going to be a 300-carry back? Nope, but you’d take 1,400 total yards with seven TDs and 25-30 catches from a No. 2 RB, right? I think that’s Williams for the next five years.
35. Tom Brady (QB, Patriots)
I’m going to assume that he’ll be under center for the start of the 2009 season (he’ll be 32 years old). How many other QBs are you taking over him for the next three years (remember, he’ll still have Moss and Welker)?
I’ll give you Cutler, Romo and Brees. That’s it. (Even Cutler can be argued.) After that it’s a guess. The Brady of 2007 is probably gone, but I don’t think it’s unrealistic to expect the pre-2007 Brady for the next few seasons. And that’s 3,500-3,800 yards with 25-28 TDs. Any fantasy owner would sign for those numbers for his QB at the start of the season.
36. Peyton Manning (QB, Colts)
See above. I know he had a tough start, but he’s on pace for another 4,000-yard passing season and deserves MVP consideration. Again, any reason to think he’s going to slow down? I think he still could easily be a top-five QB in three years. Look at it this way: Is Joe Flacco going to be better than Manning or Brady in two years?
Kirk Minihane, WEEI.com Contributor, is the resident Fantasy Football expert for WEEI.com.