Thanks to this fanshot, I had a great idea for my fantasy post this week. While 49ers players discussed dream match-ups after Coach Singletary announced the nutcracker will return, I've decided to play fantasy nutcracker with some big name fantasy performers (and maybe some sleepers too). The match-ups, like the actual nutcracker, will be one on one competitions of players that you might have to decide between come draft day. Each match-up will feature players projected to go in a certain round. For example, match-up number one will feature two players from round one, match-up two will feature players from round 2, and so on. Without further delay, it's time to nut up or shut up.
The Main Event
Chris Johnson RB TEN (ADP: Round 1, Pick 1) - There's no denying that Titans running back Chris Johnson is a viable pick first overall in your fantasy draft. Johnson's incredible 2009 performance will not likely be repeated, but Johnson will have plenty of opportunity to perform. There's a sticky contract situation going on in Tennessee, and the Titans don't have an easy schedule, but these factors shouldn't prevent Johnson from living up to the draft's first pick. The team will not be blind to the fact that Chris Johnson is the best chance Tennessee has to win ball games. Johnson won't see 400+ touches again, but he's young enough and strong enough to parlay his 2009 season into an excellent 2010 campaign. Johnson will see plenty of carries, catch many passes and rack up a huge amount of total yards; he'll also cross the goaline at least 12 times (10 TDs in 2008, 16 in 2009).
Adrian Peterson RB MIN (ADP: Round 1, Pick 1) - Since entering the NFL, Minnesota running back Adrian Peterson has been one of the most reliable fantasy performers in the league. That reason alone could be enough for many to make AP the choice first overall on draft day. Other reasons include his ability to score TDs (he's never rushed for less than 10) and 2009's 43 receptions (he had 40 total career receptions before 2009). With the prospect of Adrian Peterson becoming an even more complete back, it's no wonder why the Vikings All-Pro RB is nipping at Johnson's heels. After all, Peterson has never totaled less than 1600 yards in a season, and he's totaled over 1800 yards twice. The one negative on AP is his serious case of fumblitis; he lost 6 fumbles in 2009, and 13 in his career. It's not a huge number, but in fantasy terms the 6 FL is taking away two touchdowns.
The Winner: TIE - I know, the Main Event should never end in a tie, but seriously, you can't go wrong with either player first overall (or second overall for that matter). The bottom line, you'll be getting a tremendous player at first overall. Adrian Peterson fumbles more, but has an easier schedule than Johnson and both players will rack up a similar number of TDs and total yards. If you can tolerate the tie, follow me after the jump for the rest of fantasy nutcracker...
Larry Fitzgerald WR ARI (ADP: Round 2, Pick 3) - The Arizona Cardinals have one of the best wide receivers in the league in Larry Fitzgerald, but is his production going to drop off with the retirement of Kurt Warner? What about the departure of Anquan Boldin? In seasons that Fitzgerald has played in without Warner as the primary starting QB, he's never had 1,000 receiving yards or 10 TDs. While these numbers aren't concrete, 2004 was Fitz' rookie season and 2006 he battled injuries, it's a sign not having Warner can hurt Fitzgerald. Anquan Boldin has left town, leaving Steve Breaston and Early Doucet as Fitzgerald's complements. When Boldin was in town, Fitzgerald still saw plenty of targets and I doubt Breaston or Doucet will be cutting into that total in 2010. The big issue is the departure of Kurt Warner, will Arizona want to run the ball more with Matt Leinart as the every day signal caller?
Calvin Johnson WR DET (ADP: Round 2, Pick 3) - Megatron, or Calvin Johnson to us humans, is Detroit's biggest, baddest and meanest offensive weapon. The Lions fourth-year WR enters his second season with Matt Stafford, and should likely see an increase in yards and TDs in 2010. While Fitzgerald was losing pieces in Arizona, Johnson was gaining pieces in Detroit. The Lions added Nate Burleson and Tony Scheffler to help surround Stafford with options. While this may take away a few targets for Johnson, it could also create some rare one-on-one match-ups too. A lot of Johnson's success, much like Detroit, relies on the performance of the less-than-impressive O-Line. If the team can establish a reliable ground attack (Jahvid Best can't hurt that chance) and get some time for Stafford, Calvin Johnson could indeed return to Megatron status.
The Winner: Calvin Johnson - I might be putting too much faith in Detroit, but I really feel the team's offense will be very productive. You can call me crazy if you like, but I envision Johnson out producing Fitzgerald on the fantasy sheet this season. While Fitzgerald is a proven commodity, the loss of Kurt Warner could seriously dent Fitzgerald's numbers.
Philip Rivers QB SD (ADP: Round 4, Pick 1) - Philip Rivers could likely whoop Tony Romo in the real nutcracker drill, but how will he stack up in the fantasy version? The San Diego Chargers QB is a fierce competitor and that usually reflects well on the fantasy scoresheet. With a less than impressive O-Line, Rivers tossed 265 yards a game last season, while amassing 9 multi-TD contests (to go along with 5, 300+ yard games). With Vincent Jackson potentially not joining the team until week 10 because of a contract dispute, Rivers may have one fewer set of reliable hands in 2010. San Diego only added one significant contributor in Ryan Matthews through the draft, and it looks like Rivers could have a less than excellent fantasy season in 2010 thanks to it. Marcus McNeill is in the same boat as Vincent Jackson; Rivers could be without his starting LT until week 10 too.
Tony Romo QB DAL (ADP: Round 4, Pick 3) - This is one guy I have a hard time cheering for unless he's on my fantasy roster, then it becomes effortless. In 2009, Romo had eight 300-yard games and nine multi-TD games while averaging 280 passing yards per contest. The biggest concern Romo has in 2010 will be figuring out which wide receiver to throw the ball to when they all get open. Dallas let Flozell Adams go, but losing the LT will not have much fantasy impact on Romo; Adams stunk in 2009 and Romo did not. Grabbing Dez Bryant in Round 1 of the NFL Draft gave the Cowboys QB one more toy to drive around on Sundays. Romo is in a great situation, and you're fantasy roster will be too if you end up with Romo over Rivers.
The Winner: Tony Romo - Too many things are working against Rivers this season, while Romo may actually be comfortable in Dallas. Sure, Romo has heavy expectations of taking the Cowboys to the Super Bowl at Jerry Jones' Gazillion Dollar Stadium, but things are looking positive for Romo in 2010. Dallas has plenty of weapons for Romo's disposal; San Diego seems to running thin in that department for Rivers.
The Preliminary Bout
Chad Ochocinco WR CIN (Round 4, Pick 8) - It was good to see Chad Ochocinco bounce back from a dismal 2008 to put up respectable numbers in 2009. The Great 85 has never been one to score baskets of TDs in his career, so steady, consistent yards is what makes him a reliable fantasy threat. The nine TDs scored certainly helped, but Ochocinco had just three 100-yard games, and two multi-TD contests for the Cincinnati Bengals. Quarterback Carson Palmer seemed to be in a funk, and hopefully the addition of Antonio Bryant and Jermaine Greshman can give Ochocinco some breathing room in the secondary. You'll likely see 7-8 TDs from
Johnson Ochocinco this season, and hopefully he can manage 75 yards per game.
Michael Crabtree WR SF (Round 4, Pick 9) - San Francisco 49ers second year wideout Michael Crabtree could become a relevant fantasy option in 2010, but picking him in Round 4 over a guy like Ochocinco could backfire tremendously. It's great that Crabs is spending a full offseason with the team as that could pay huge dividends on the field in 2010. Sitting out five games in 2009 helped no one, and while Crabtree impressed us Niner fans when he debuted, he didn't have much of a fantasy impact at all. One encouraging stat Crabtree did have was his 4.3 catches per game, a number which could increase now that Crabtree has a full offseason of work with the first team offense. Expecting Crabtree to out perform Ochocinco in just his second year is borderline absurb.
The Winner: Chad Ochocinco - I'd love to pick Crabtree, but it just doesn't make sense. If you have incredible faith in Crabs putting up huge numbers take him in Round 4, but I think that's way too early for Crabtree. I'd much rather have the proven commodity that at least drives himself to perform just so he can talk about himself in Ochocinco. While the Bengal isn't getting any younger, and his yards per game is dipping, a productive 2010 is definitely in the forecast for Ochocinco.
The Dark Match
Mason Crosby K GB (Round 13, Pick 4) - What would be a nutcracker without a match-up of kickers? As much as I hate fantasy kickers, the stone cold fact is that many leagues still use kickers and therefore I've got to mention them at least once. Since Round 13 is about the time I suggest you start considering kickers, I'll start with Mason Crosby of the Green Bay Packers. The kicker out of Colorado has had at least 27 FGM in each of his three seasons, and at least 46 XPM; his career accuracy is 78% isn't jaw-dropping, but it's consistent. The Packers have an offense that can put up numbers in a hurry making Mason Crosby an excellent fantasy option at kicker. Expecting 127 points is not out of the question, the only alarming issue is that Crosby struggled from outside of 40 yards last season going 6-for-13 (2-for-6 were from 50+).
Garrett Hartley K NWO (Round 13, Pick 7) - Garrett Hartley is getting a lot of love in mock drafts as the third kicker being taken (after Nate Kaeding and obviously Mason Crosby). Hartley, in just his third season, has never played a full season in the NFL, so his sample size is rather limited. The fact that the New Orleans Saints have an efficient offense means the kicker will be a reliable fantasy leg - or I suppose that's the logic drafters of Hartley are using. With the ageless John Carney out of the picture, Hartley is entrenched as the number on kicker for New Orleans. One upside he has over Crosby is that 8 times a year, he gets to kick in a dome while Crosby deals with the elements of Lambeau Field 8 times a season. Just so you know, in 13 career games, Hartley has only attempted one 50+ yard FG, so it's hard to determine just how good he'll be.
The Winner: Mason Crosby - Giving it to the proven "threat" in Crosby because the Packers have an equally impressive offense as New Orleans (minus the O-Line part). Harltey has limited service in the NFL, so making him a 13th round choice over Crosby might be silly. Then again, these are kickers, so who cares? Your worst case scenario will be the rotating wheel of kickers from your league's waiver wire.
That wraps up another fantasy post for this week. All ADP were determined using Fantas Football Calculator and are based on 12-team leagues. Speaking of leagues, I have several openings in my Yahoo! 16-team league (we've got just six guys in there right now) so if you'd like to join, send me an email or post in the comments. Don't make me start pimping the fact that Samuel Lam (from the Examiner, PHUT! around here) finished second place last year and is already signed up for the 2010 season.