Most of the preseason injuries are out of the way come Week 4, which makes it a perfect time to set up your fantasy football draft. Many people have already drafted, but if your commissioner has set up a draft any earlier than the last game of Week 3 of the preseason, they are only slightly less moronic than my friends from high school who set up our draft before we even knew if there was going to be a season.
If you have already drafted, this week's column won't help you much. But once again, this season's waiver-wire reports and keys to victory will be delivered on a weekly basis following each bone-crunching week of the NFL season, which kicks off this year with a glorious day of action to commemorate the 10th anniversary of Sept. 11, 2001.
Nobody wants to put up a bad score in the opening week of the fantasy season with the team you spent hours preparing to draft, so I have some draft tips that should help you make sure that doesn't happen.
Make sure you get your stud running back that you can count to be in your starting lineup right away in the first round. If you have the first pick overall, it is a hard choice between Adrian Peterson and Michael Vick this year but you can never go wrong with taking a quality running back over even the best of fantasy quarterbacks in the first round.
If you are in the middle or tail-end of the first round, it is even more important to get one of the better backs. Although some guys surprise you throughout the season, you always want at least one running back guaranteed to score double-digit points every week.
Unless you land Andre Johnson or Larry Fitzgerald late in the first round and know you can pick up a quality running back who has fallen down the board (after some guys inevitably draft Peyton Manning and Tom Brady in the first round), don't worry about a wide-receiver until at least the second or third rounds. A lot of years I prefer to wait on receivers because new names emerge every week and I would rather have two solid running backs and a quarterback before dipping into the receiver pool.
Don't worry about a tight end or defense until the later rounds. There is always more depth at tight end than there initially appears, and though it is nice to have horses like Jason Witten and Antonio Gates, you can count on other tight ends to have solid years, such as Marcedes Lewis, Vernon Davis, Jimmy Graham and Brandon Pettigrew. Of course, any New England Patriots tight end is sure to score in bunches the way Brady finds them.
When drafting a quarterback after Brady, Manning, Vick, Phillip Rivers and Aaron Rodgers are gone, it is important to look at a player's fantasy credentials rather than seeing a big name like Matt Ryan and getting excited to take him over a guy like Josh Freeman, who was quietly the 10th-best fantasy quarterback last season.
Matt Schaub is a solid option who helped lead my team to a championship last season, and nobody stretches the field more than Ben Roethlisberger, especially with a wide receiver as fast as Mike Wallace. Sam Bradford is poised to have a big year with new offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels at the helm, and he and Matt Stafford have to be considered elite backup quarterbacks on any fantasy team as either could start on any given week depending on the matchup.
Avoid guys like Jay Cutler and Donovan McNabb. The Lions defense will eat them alive this season, and it has been a rough preseason for both of them.
Depending on where your draft position is, I typically like drafting two running backs and a quarterback before stockpiling wide receivers while blending in some good backup running backs that could also start in flex positions (if your league has them).
Hope that helps, and good luck this year fantasy junkies. Just like last year, you can send your fantasy questions to email@example.com, or send them to me on Twitter @jlivi2.
Until Week 1 is in the books, here is a look at the top-12 players to draft compiled by myself and news reporter Ryan Boetel.
No. 1: Adrian Peterson
Peterson owners are rarely disappointed by his performances. He can turn an ugly game into a great game in a hurry with a big run, and he always seems to be good for a touchdown. Take him over Vick if you have the No. 1 pick because he is simply the most consistent and reliable running back in the league.
The Vikings offense may be struggling in the preseason, but it was less than spectacular in 2010 with Brett Favre's career winding down to its conclusion (for now) and Peterson still produced.
No. 2: Michael Vick
Last year every fan was at the edge of their seat watching Vick 2.0 not only score touchdowns with his feet, but finally make big plays with his arm. Vick was unreal last season, at times scoring over 50 points a week. With a balanced offense thanks to the running game of Lesean McCoy, Vick has time to sit in the pocket and make big throws to play makers like DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin and Brent Celek. With a brand-new, 6-year, $100 million contract Vick will play his heart out this season and the Eagles offense is going to score points at an alarming rate.
No. 3: Jamaal Charles
Charles was my fantasy MVP last season. His production led both of my teams to championships, and it helps earn him the No. 3 spot ahead of players like Arian Foster and Ray Rice. Charles has proven to be a dual threat while running the ball for over 1,400 yards in 2010 and also bringing in 45 catches for 468 yards. He had eight total touchdowns last year, but that figure should go up with coach Todd Haley committed to getting Charles the ball 20-plus times a game and the Chiefs desire to use Thomas Jones less throughout the year to see if he will hold up longer down the stretch.
No. 4: Arian Foster
Foster will go No. 2 or No. 3 overall in most leagues, and if he does fall to No. 4 he is a must-get. He led the league in rushing during his breakout season last year, and the Texans rely on him for the rushing attack they so badly needed for years until Foster burst onto the scene. Don't worry about his hamstring injury sustained in Week 3 of the preseason. He isn't, and expects to be back for the season opener.
No. 5: LeSean McCoy
McCoy gives the Eagles offense the perfect rushing attack to go along with Vick. He is a tough, durable back that Andy Reid trusts with the ball on the goal line to punch it in and get six points. He rushed for 1,080 yards and seven touchdowns last year, and also hauled in 78 passes for another 592 yards and two touchdowns. Those numbers might only go up.
No. 6: Aaron Rodgers
If you are going to take an elite quarterback other than Vick in the first round, Rodgers is the guy to get. With a Super Bowl ring on his finger, his confidence will only go up. He threw for 3,922 yards last season to go with 28 touchdowns, and I expect him to easily surpass 4,000 this year if he plays all 16 games, and 30-plus touchdowns. Of course, he is always an occasional threat to run a bootleg into the end zone before strapping on his championship belt.
No. 7: Ray Rice:
On most draft boards, Ray Rice will be ranked in the top five. Rice rushed for 1,220 yards last season, down from his 1,339 yards in 2009. His touchdowns also dropped from seven to five and he had 15 fewer receptions. With his backup Willis McGahee now in Denver, Rice may have to carry the ball more, especially at the goal line — which means touchdowns — but one has to wonder if the 5-foot, 9-inch running back can take any more of a beating than he already does, especially when he sees James Harrison and the Steelers defense twice a year.
No. 8: Maurice Jones-Drew
The bowling ball keeps on rolling, and Jones-Drew is expected to have another big year as the focal point of the Jaguars offense. Despite an injury last season, he still carried the ball for 1,324 yards and five touchdowns along with 317 receiving yards and a pair of receiving touchdowns. If healthy, that number could go up as he will be relied upon as much as ever. Plus, no player in the NFL loves making his fantasy owners proud more than Jones-Drew.
No. 9: Andre Johnson
Johnson is the only wide receiver to crack our top 12 this season. Larry Fitzgerald is another good option, but we like Johnson better early in the second round because nobody is 100-percent sold on Kevin Kolb yet, despite his promising start in Arizona. Johnson is a stud receiver who can catch just about anything thrown his way. He and Matt Schaubb have solid chemistry that is continually improving, and the Texans expect to be playoff contenders this season. If they are to make the playoffs for the first time in franchise history, it will be in large part because of Johnson.
No. 10: Chris Johnson
Many people will be surprised to see CJ2K fall this far down the list, but Boetel and I think he is out of touch with reality. His holdout continues as he demands to be payed top "playmaker" money like the Cardinals just gave Fitzgerald. After guaranteeing he would rush for 2,500 yards last year, Johnson rushed for just 1,364 and averaged just 85.2 yards per game. He still scored 11 touchdowns rushing and one receiving, but if he is to even come close to that this year he needs to get to camp and play. If he does play, he is still a solid weapon, but in a new offense in Tennessee with matt Hasselbeck at quarterback, we also don't like the Titans offense.
No. 11 Rashard Mendenhall
Mendenhall had his biggest season as a pro last year when he rushed for 1,273 yards and 13 touchdowns. When healthy, Mendenhall can lower his shoulder and run right through defenses, while having the speed to break away for a big run. Look for him to be a top back in the league this year if he can stay healthy.
No. 12: Michael Turner
Turner might not be the most exciting player to pick up in the first round, but the guy produces, especially at the goal line where Falcons coach Mike Smith still likes to pound the football. He ran for 1,371 yards and 12 touchdowns last year, and he should benefit from the Falcons addressing their needs on offense this season to become a more well-rounded and explosive team.