Decisions, decisions, decisions -- fantasy football owners will have to make plenty of them when it comes time for the draft. And while the ability to unearth sleepers and avoid those players who could experience decreases in statistical success is vital, it will be that much more important to make the correct choices in the first few rounds on the players who will be the foundation for your roster. The problem is that in some cases it can be difficult to make a final decision between two players at the same position with similar value.
In our continual mission to help owners in their quest for a championship, we've broken down 10 different scenarios between two players and made the final decision based on categories such as their overall talent, trends, offensive line effectiveness and strength of schedule.
Brees and Palmer have similar value in that both have a 4,000-yard season under their belt and are the leaders of offenses with immense statistical potential. Brees made a huge statistical jump in his first season with the Saints to post an NFL-best 4,418 passing yards and 26 touchdown passes, but Palmer was no slouch either -- he finished fifth with a career-best 4,035 passing yards and 28 touchdown passes. Since these two quarterbacks also have effective offensive lines ahead of them, the final decision between them for this season's drafts is based on their schedules -- that is where Brees sees the advantage. He faces the 14th-easiest pass schedule, while Palmer faces the eighth hardest slate, and he'll have to do it without receiver Chris Henry for the first eight contests.
We had Bulger ranked ahead of Brady for much of the offseason for three reasons: First, Bulger is in the final year of his contract and will be motivated to produce monstrous numbers. Second, the Rams added both Drew Bennett and Randy McMichael to what was already a formidable pass attack. And third, Bulger faces the easiest pass schedule in the NFL. But after the Patriots added Donte' Stallworth, Wes Welker, Kelley Washington and then Randy Moss, it was almost impossible not to rank Brady ahead of Bulger. While he does have a far more difficult pass schedule (third hardest), Brady is also more durable and has a much better offensive line in front of him headed into the regular season. Both quarterbacks are solid, but we'll side with the Super Bowl hero.
Two of the most valuable quarterbacks in the NFL and fantasy football alike, Hasselbeck and Young will both be coveted assets in all drafts. But based on our research, there is one clear-cut winner in this competition. While Hasselbeck is the veteran and has been a solid starter for owners in recent seasons, he doesn't have the intangibles that Young brings to the table. While he is far less experienced than Hasselbeck, Young is a terrific passer and has the potential to record close to 800 rushing yards and five-plus rushing touchdowns. He showed flashes of brilliance as a rookie and will be the main man in the Titans offense, so Young will have every opportunity to post enormous numbers. Unless you're fearful of the dreaded Madden curse, Young is the better choice.
Back in the late winter months when the NFL.com Fantasy Football Preview Magazine was being written, Johnson was our choice as the second-best player in fantasy football behind LaDainian Tomlinson. But after the offseason loss of G Will Shields, the trade of Trent Green and a holdout in training camp, Johnson has fallen to third on our list behind Jackson. One of the more well-rounded offensive threats, Jackson led all runners in receptions last season with 90 and will continue to be the centerpiece of what should be an even more explosive Rams offense. Even if Johnson comes to a contract agreement before the start of the season, questions that surround the Chiefs' quarterback position and line now make Jackson a safer selection in the first round.
This battle between young and old backs seems like a winner on both sides of the coin, but both come into the season with serious question marks. Alexander is just two seasons removed from a 28-touchdown campaign, but he missed six starts last season due to an injured foot and will be 30 at the start of the regular season. Gore led the NFC in rushing yards in 2006, but he lost his offensive coordinator, Norv Turner, and it's debatable whether a back with previous knee issues can handle 350-plus carries. Aside from these concerns, Alexander and Gore have the skills to produce double-digit touchdowns and will remain surefire first-round selections. Because he is far younger than Alexander and has an improved offensive line ahead of him, we'll side with Gore.
Two of the biggest name backs to switch uniforms in the offseason, Henry and McGahee will no doubt be valuable commodities in drafts. Both are veteran runners with 1,000-plus yard, double-digit touchdown seasons on their respective resumes, so the decision to choose one or the other is a hard one. The Broncos and Ravens both have similarities on their offensive lines (the latter has improved in the offseason), but McGahee has an edge in opponents -- he faces the seventh easiest run schedule, while Henry has the 15th hardest. However, where Henry has the decided edge is that he will be in a system that produces 1,000-yard, touchdown-machine runners on a seasonal basis. Both are solid No. 2 fantasy backs, but Henry will be a bit more coveted in drafts.
Anyone how plays fantasy football or watches the NFL knows about Johnson, a.k.a. Ocho Cinco, as one of the league's most consistent and productive wide receivers. He has recorded 1,200-plus yards and averaged close to nine touchdowns over the past four seasons, and his immense level of statistical success should continue in a prolific Bengals offense. However, the potential we see in Smith this season makes him the better choice and the top wideout on our rank list. He had 1,166 yards and eight touchdowns last season despite missing two games and without his No. 1 quarterback, Jake Delhomme, for the final three weeks. While he has had injury issues in recent seasons, Smith's potential to post better numbers than even Johnson makes him worth the risk.
Marvin Harrison vs. Terrell Owens
Harrison and Owens are worlds apart in terms of their personalities and off-field presence, but this duo has very similar value in the realm of fantasy football. Both are virtual locks to record 1,000-plus yards and double-digit touchdowns, and each has a tremendous complement (Reggie Wayne and Terry Glenn) in high-octane offenses that will put a ton of points on the scoreboard. Where the elder wideout of the two receivers, Harrison, has an edge is in his incredible level of durability. The future Hall of Fame wideout has missed just two regular-season starts since 1999; while T.O. has started all 16 games just once in that timeframe and has missed 11 contests in the past three seasons. Owners can't go wrong with either, but Harrison gets the overall nod.
This is a decision that at least one fantasy football owner will face in every single draft: Which Cardinals wide receiver should I take, Boldin or Fitzgerald? After all, both have had 1,000-yard seasons, both are still young, and both are prominent components of an offense that has some talent. While Boldin has the longer track record of statistical success, it's Fitzgerald who has more upside and the abilities to record better numbers. New offensive coordinator Todd Haley plans to make Fitzgerald a main focus of the pass attack, and the receiver's terrific size and hands make him a perfect option in the red zone. Boldin will continue to be a real stud -- he will be utilized much like Hines Ward is in Pittsburgh -- but we think Fitzgerald has more statistical potential.
There is no question that Antonio Gates will be the first tight end selected in almost all drafts, but the decision between Gonzalez and Heap as the second-best option at the position has increased in recent seasons. Heap has averaged 74 receptions and scored a total of 13 touchdowns in the past two seasons, while Gonzalez has averaged around 75 receptions with seven touchdowns in that same time. And while Heap has been more consistent on a week-to-week basis, Gonzalez is the best option in the Chiefs' pass attack and has the potential to post more explosive numbers. In fact, Gonzalez has recorded nine games with 80-plus yards over the past two seasons, while Heap has a mere three such performances. It's a close call, but we'll take Gonzalez in 2007.