Month: August 2014

The Maniacal Professor’s Fantasy Football Draft Rankings 2014

[Author’s Note—I’ve been playing fantasy football for about two decades now. I traditionally make a list of my draft preferences in order by position. One of the first websites I ever created was a fantasy football website. I remember the season I designated Drew Brees as the 32nd pick at quarterback, worst possible fantasy starter in the league, after his miserable 2003 season with the San Diego Chargers, his third season in the NFL. The Chargers were ready to abandon Brees and had drafted Eli Manning first in the draft, but ended up with Philip Rivers. Mind you, I’m a Purdue alum, and I love me some Drew Brees…one of the best games I saw live at Ross-Ade Stadium was Drew Brees vs. Maurice Clarett…still have my grudge against Ohio State because of that game. However, I apologetically wrote in my draft recommendations for 2004 that Brees seemed to be a bust in the NFL, and he wasn’t worth drafting for your fantasy team. Hindsight, of course, is 20/20, but there might have been other forces at work that year…

…the guys in my league know about something called the “Grampa Guff” curse, which means my draft selections and NFL wagers can actually alter the fine cosmic balance of the NFL universe at any time. The ghost of Grampa Guff sits on my shoulder as I watch football games or read NFL rosters, and he often whispers in my ear, suggesting perfectly logical assumptions about players, games, and outcomes. I haven’t learned to resist his slick, smooth tongue. I’ll follow ol’ Grampa Guff’s advice, and BAM! An injury. BAM! A sure-fire win becomes an upset loss. BAM! A once promising prospect slumps and ends his career unceremoniously. BAM! The disaster that is David Wilson happens (yep, he and Shane Vereen were my RBs after the draft last year). I’ve even seen Grampa Guff possess NFL coaches, as he has done with Mike Shanahan with both the Broncos (Mike Anderson or Olandis Gary ring a bell?) AND the Redskins last season (He handed the ball to Darrel Young THREE times at the goal line the very week I traded for Alfred Morris!). Some of my buddies actually contend that I caused the infamous Music City Miracle way back in the day (it’s a long story). Grampa Guff gets a great laugh from my football misery, slapping his little leprechaun-like knee and swinging from my elbow, as I watch the unfolding events of the NFL, year-after-year, slack-jawed and slump-shouldered.

Keep this factor in mind while reviewing my draft rankings. I usually hit more than I miss, but when I miss, it’s a doozy. It’s been many years since I won a fantasy championship (Daunte Culpepper with the Vikings was my QB), even though I made it to the championship two out of the last three years…not last year, though…last year Grampa Guff conspired to keep me out of the playoffs. Hopefully, he’ll lighten up after having his way with me last season.—SG]

Quarterbacks

1. Drew Brees—Reliable fantasy champ churns out the same great numbers year after year…yep, ever since that 2004 Maniacal Professor snub.
2. Aaron Rodgers—Cheesehead quarterbacks are always better fantasy picks than Bear QBs…and Rodgers might be the best Packer QB of all time. Solid fantasy QB.
3. Peyton Manning—I can’t argue with 55 passing touchdowns. I worry, though, that Manning might fizzle out at any time because of the wear and tear. The Super Bowl soured me. Sorry.
4. Andrew Luck—I’ve started Luck for the past two years. I have no problem plugging him in as my starter in his third season, where he might reach his full potential.
5. Nick Foles—Chip Kelly’s offense is designed for fantasy success, no matter the QB. It doesn’t hurt that Foles is turning out to be pretty darn good, even without DeSean Jackson on the roster.
6. Tom Brady—Sure, Brady had his worst year in a while last season, but tough-as-nails Brady will rebound. He’s likely to be a bargain pick in later rounds.
7. Colin Kaepernick—I know most people are more impressed by his quickness, but I can’t help but notice he can be rather accurate with a strong arm. A healthy Crabtree is necessary, though.
8. Cam Newton—He might have lost all of his receivers, but an argument can be made that he didn’t really have much at receiver last year. He’s an electric fantasy QB option.
9. Matt Ryan—He slipped big time last year, but I have a sneaking suspicion that he’s going to roar back this season. Julio Jones needs to be healthy and Roddy White needs to play for Ryan to return to form.
10. Matthew Stafford—I’ve never really liked Stafford’s game. Sure, he’s hurling to Megatron, but that’s never proved to me that Stafford can be all-around effective. I’ll avoid him as much as possible, but I’d take him if the previous nine happened to go before I had a starter.
11. Philip Rivers—I have a love-hate relationship with Rivers. I know he can be a reliable fantasy QB, so I’m willing to take him as first choice for a back-up option.
12. Russell Wilson—I think Wilson can be an effective fantasy quarterback, but the system the Seahawks have favors the running back on offense. I’d like to hide him on my bench just in case he explodes without anybody realizing he’s that good.
13. Andy Dalton—I root for the Red Rifle, and he’s actually quite serviceable as a fantasy quarterback. I’m just not confident enough to make him my starter…yet.
14. Robert Griffen III—I made no secret last season about how I didn’t trust Griffen, mostly because of what I perceive to be a bad attitude. I know he’s got high potential. I’m going to pass; you can take him.
15. Tony Romo—I could see myself bumping Romo up a bit on my board at the draft (still a back-up, not a starter). I’ve had Romo as a starter in the past, and I don’t want to have to rely on the Cowboys…or have to watch them every week.
16. Jay Cutler—I’m rooting for Cutler, but I have no faith in him. He always has his bad games, and he’s never proven to be a decent fantasy option. However, he’s got a strong O-line for a change, three giants and a scatback catching the ball, and a fairly smart coach…hmmm.
17. Johnny Manziel—I’m a fan of Johnny Football. I’ll be watching the Browns whether I draft Manziel or not. If Brian Hoyer starts, so be it…Hoyer looked pretty good last season for a game and a half.
18. Josh McCown—I might take a flyer on McCown, since I watched every second of his brilliance on the Bears last season. He also has some decent receivers. However, Lovie Smith has a way of killing an offense as coach…
19. Ben Roethlisberger—Big Ben is still the magic man, even if he’s getting a little long in the tooth. If I wait ‘til the end of the draft for my back-up QB and he’s still there, I’m swiping him up.
20. Teddy Bridgewater—I rolled the dice here. Literally. {1=Eli Manning 2=Carson Palmer 3=Joe Flacco 4=E.J. Manuel 5=Sam Bradford 6=Teddy Bridgewater } Six it was.

Running Backs

1. LeSean McCoy—No brainer number one. He’s at his peak age, in the middle of the Chip Kelly scoring machine. Defenses will not know where to go, pass or run. McCoy will chew up the field. Hopefully, there will be another freak snow game like last year.
2. Jamaal Charles—On second thought, Jamaal Charles is a no-brainer number one, also. The only thing that gives me pause is the memory of an injury-prone past. It’d be foolish to pass on Charles because of fear; he’s too damn good.
3. Adrian Peterson—He’s still my favorite running back of the modern era, since he’s Walter Payton reincarnated. He proved that he’s not only physically tough, but he’s also emotionally tough, as he went through some tragedy last season…and he just kept playing. Respect.
4. Marshawn Lynch—He runs like he’s got the world’s biggest chip on his shoulder, and the first guy to him usually gets dragged five yards…or whiffs. He doesn’t have as much wear on his body as you’d think…check his career stats.
5. Giovani Bernard—I’m reaching up and grabbing the dynamite with this pick. To say I was impressed with Bernard’s game is an understatement.
6. Eddie Lacy—I shake my head every single time the Packers outdo the Bears. I knew Lacy was going to do some damage as soon as the Pack snatched him from Alabama. I begrudgingly take him ahead of…
7. Matt Forte—Not that Forte is chopped liver. I said a long time ago that Forte is the modern-day Marshall Faulk…in fact, a few guys chuckled at my “idiocy”…until Faulk started comparing Forte to himself regularly on the NFL network. Duh.
8. C.J. Spiller—It seems like a lot of people have given up on 26-year-old Spiller. He did play through injury last season, and prior to that, he was a reasonable facsimile of Jamaal Charles. I’ll overdraft for him probably, but there’s a high reward to be had if he’s healthy.
9. Alfred Morris—I hesitate to draft Morris, only because of the nightmares I had last season with him on my roster. I just have to keep reminding myself that it wasn’t his fault. Morris might become the best running back in the league in his third year, and Mike Shanahan is long gone!
10. Le’Veon Bell—It was strange to me that a Steelers running back wasn’t a fantasy stud last season…probably because the Steelers always have a stud running back. Last season was an aberration. Bell was too good at Michigan State to be a bust in the NFL.
11. Arian Foster—You can’t fall in love with running backs. Arian Foster proves this. He fell off a cliff last season. However, considering how bad the passing game might be in Houston, Foster makes a reasonable choice for a second starting running back.
12. Montee Ball—Former Wisconsin star takes the reins of the Broncos running game. I think Knowshon Moreno was the beneficiary of the Peyton Manning pass machine last season, and there’s no reason to think that Montee Ball cannot do the same. There’s a chance Ball could do better!
13. DeMarco Murray—When Murray is healthy, he’s a fairly good quarterback. The offense is going to have to carry the Cowboys, so Murray’s got a good chance of being a fantasy producer. He’s gotta stay healthy though.
14. Doug Martin—People are leaping off the Martin hamster wheel as quickly as they leaped onto it in his rookie season. I saw way too much talent from this guy in 2012 to fall off the bandwagon just yet.
15. Bishop Sankey—There’s quite a few rookies who might make decent fantasy starters this season. Sankey makes the most sense, since Shonn Greene is likely to lose the starting gig in the preseason.
16. Andre Ellington—I made a waiver move for Ellington on my bench last season, so I watched him closely. He has a lot of potential, especially catching the ball out of the backfield. The only question will be if he can make any progress in the tough NFC West.
17. Zac Stacy—Same problem for Stacy, playing against the tough defenses of the NFC West. Tre Mason might cut into Stacy’s work, too. It’s a shame because Stacy looked like he could be the workhorse for the Rams if he could get some decent QB play to help him.
18. Frank Gore—A long-time Frank Gore fan, I keep waiting for Father Time to catch up to him…and he just keeps putting up the same numbers season after season. God bless him. I’d be fine with Gore as my number two back, but I’d probably look for a quality back-up quickly.
19. Reggie Bush—Reggie Bush has lightning moves and plays at least one game every season where you’re glad you drafted him. He’s not the most consistent scorer however. If Joique Bell keeps splitting carries with Bush, then I don’t know if I want to play Reggie every week in the RB2 slot.
20. Toby Gerhart—Gerhart’s not a bad running back. He reminds me of Mike Alstott at times. I have a notion that the Jags are going to surprise a lot of people this season. If that happens, it means that Gerhart is raking in touchdowns. Hmmm.
21. Chris Johnson—If there is one player that I think needs a big stage in order to produce, then it’s Chris Johnson…and the stage doesn’t get much bigger than New York. I don’t think he’ll run for 2,000 yards again, but he wasn’t as bad as we’ve become accustomed to last season.
22. Shane Vereen—I took a chance on Vereen last season, and he injured his wrist after game one. Thing is, he was rather good in the first game, and he was serviceable when he returned at the end of the season. It’s hard to gauge who’s running the ball with the Patriots, but I think that Vereen is Belicheck’s workhorse over Stevan Ridley.
23. Ben Tate—I thought Tate might supplant Arian Foster at one point of his Texans career. Now he’s only got a rookie to beat for the starting spot. He needs to stay healthy, but I can see Ben Tate electrifying Cleveland’s offense with Johnny Football leading the way.
24. Ryan Mathews—Mathews defines frustration. He didn’t have a terrible season, but he’s always an injury risk…plus, he’s competing for carries with Danny Woodhead and Donald Brown. I’d probably skip on Mathews because I’ve had him too many times in the past. Purely personal.
25. Darren Sproles—I wouldn’t skip on Sproles, though. I wonder if Sproles will be the man who replaces DeSean Jackson in the Eagles passing offense. Sproles looked like he might be losing a step or two on the Saints last season.
26. Pierre Thomas—I love the Illinois alum. I had him on my roster last season, and I forgot a cardinal rule: Always play Pierre Thomas when he’s playing against the Bears. He’s playing the Bears this season right around fantasy playoff time.
27. Ray Rice—Ignoring all the off-season drama, people seem to have forgotten that Rice was largely ineffective last season. I’m not sure he can recapture his glory days. I’ll draft him as a back-up, but not a starter.
28. Trent Richardson—I would have never predicted Richardson would be an NFL bust after watching his tremendous Alabama career. I’m reminded of Curtis Enis. Here’s hoping he lives up to the promise in his third year, this time after a full year with a playoff contender.
29. Devonta Freeman—After learning that Steven Jackson was already injured this season, I give the nod to the rookie here. Watching Hard Knocks, I think Freeman might be worth the pick here.
30. Danny Woodhead—Woodhead almost acts as Philip Rivers’ slot receiver when he’s in the game. He’s a threat to catch touchdowns, and he gets his fair share of carries.
31. Maurice Jones-Drew—I’m a fan of MJD, but it’s tough to see how the Oakland backfield is going to play out. I’m sure that Drew still has some tread left on his tires, so I lean towards him as the starter…
32. Darren McFadden—…McFadden, however, can be a beast when he’s healthy. The problem is that he’s going to be injured at some point in the season. It’s as reliable as Chicago snow in January.
33. Mark Ingram—I think Ingram has gotten a bum rap in his first three seasons in New Orleans. He runs pretty tough, and he’s had some good games when given the ball reliably. The problem has been the Saints RB rotation system, where Ingram doesn’t get consistent carries. I don’t think that will change (with Pierre Thomas and Khiry Robinson), but if they give Ingram the ball enough, I see good things.
34. Jeremy Hill—Let the onslaught of rookies begin! Hill has a good shot of taking carries away from BenJarvus Green-Ellis, so I lean towards taking him ahead of the other rookies.
35. Tre Mason—There are already rumblings out of St. Louis that they will run a RB-by-committee system. Mason is good enough to steal the starting job.
36. Christine Michael—I don’t think Marshaun Lynch’s job is in jeopardy, but I do think Pete Carroll prefers to run the ball instead of throw the ball. He might have dreams of a three-headed monster with Lynch and Russell Wilson running all over the joint.
37. Carlos Hyde—Hyde’s got a chance to take carries just because Frank Gore needs a blow every now and then. Plus, they might want to copy the three-headed monster concept of the rival Seattle Seahawks.
38. Ka’Deem Carey—This is a homer pick, but Carey has a body built for goal-line carries, which has been a weak part of Matt Forte’s game in the past.
39. Ahmad Bradshaw—End of the rookies here, especially since many assume Bradshaw has reached the end of his run in the NFL. I don’t think he’s quite ready to hang it up, especially considering Trent Richardson’s inability to break tackles. Bradshaw, when healthy, is a bruiser who refuses to go down. Might be worth a look.
40. DeAngelo Williams—I’ve made it a rule to avoid Carolina running backs because of the infuriating fantasy potential that NEVER pays off. If I had to choose between Williams and Jonathan Stewart, I’ll take Williams since he seems to get more carries.

Wide Receivers

1. Demaryius Thomas—I lean towards Peyton Manning’s big target over Matthew Stafford’s. Plus, Thomas had slightly better numbers than Calvin Johnson, and I don’t think Thomas has hit his ceiling, especially since Eric Decker’s out of town.
2. Calvin Johnson—This doesn’t mean that I won’t scoop up Calvin Johnson if he’s there and Thomas is not. I’m pretty sure that most people are going to draft Megatron as the first receiver off the board, so I’ll probably enjoy another season without a Detroit Lion on my fantasy roster.
3. A.J. Green—Green is only in his fourth season, yet many people think he’s hit his ceiling. I’m not sure about that. I think he’s easily capable of eclipsing 11 touchdowns, especially if Andy Dalton plays with a chip on his shoulder this season.
4. Julio Jones—My premier receiver last season, my fantasy team sunk the same way the Falcons did when Jones was injured. I’m not shying away from Julio Jones because of injury. He could be the best deep threat in the game when he’s healthy.
5. Dez Bryant—I’m not a fan of the prima donna act, but I can’t deny the rewards Bryant can reap for a fantasy team. I’ll draft Bryant, bite my tongue, and suffer through the tantrums and the garbage football that is the Dallas Cowboys (That’s right, America’s team. I called your brand of football garbage…that’s what we call in Chicago “trash talk.” Hardy-har-har).
6. **Josh Gordon**—Here’s where I would draft Gordon if he didn’t have this God-forsaken suspension hanging over his head. He smoked some weed. Who cares? Let him play with Johnny Football. God, that would be awesome. Here’s hoping that the NFL stuns the world and gives Gordon a four-game suspension instead of a year.
7. Brandon Marshall—This is a tough choice for a Bears fan. I want both of these guys, but it’s not going to happen. Oh well. If I have to pick one or the other, I suppose I’ll take Marshall since Cutler seems to favor him slightly.
8. Alshon Jeffrey—See, the problem is that I think Jeffrey is actually a better receiver…or at least capable of being better…but only by a slight margin. Ah, halcyon days in Chicago, where having a good offense just doesn’t happen often…certainly not having potentially the best pair of receivers in the league.
9. Antonio Brown—I didn’t believe in Brown last season, and my buddy scooped him up and reaped the rewards. I’m not making that mistake this year.
10. Jordy Nelson—The Packers’ veteran receiver had his best season for catches and is playing for a contract this season. We know he’s capable of catching double-digit touchdowns. No reason to believe he won’t this year.
11. Percy Harvin—I’m reaching for Harvin. I know about the injury history. I even remember the migraine issue. I don’t care. This man can play. I know there’s risk, but man, I want that high reward. Drooling over the possibilities.
12. Pierre Garcon—I prefer Garcon in a Colts uniform, but he’s still pretty good in the Washington uniform. At least he’ll have some receiver help with Desean Jackson, so Garcon might be able to stretch the field a bit more rather than catching over the middle so much.
13. Vincent Jackson—He’s a big stud with hands of glue. Tampa drafted another stud with hands of glue to play on the other side of him. If Josh McCown plays like he did when he had the two big studs with hands of glue in Chicago, then we might be on to something here. Regardless, Jackson will get his catches because he’s that good.
14. Wes Welker—He’s Peyton Manning’s solid number two with Eric Decker in New York. We know Welker is capable of 100 receptions, but he only had 73 last season. He also had double-digit touchdowns for the first time in a while (10). Is it possible he could catch 100 balls and 15 TDs? If Welker can stay healthy, maybe…
15. Randall Cobb—As a Bears fan, this kid scares me. He’s cat quick and capable of being a perfect copy of Percy Harvin…and just like Harvin, he has to stay healthy. He was dinged up last season, but I remember how good Cobb was in 2012. He’s also playing for a contract, so he has incentive.
16. T.Y. Hilton—Ah, memories. The high-point of my season was the three-touchdown second half Hilton had against the Texans on a Sunday night (I had Andrew Luck also). I’ll take Hilton again just on the promise of another night like that.
17. Keenan Allen—Allen had a fairly impressive season, especially for a rookie. He might be the reason Philip Rivers experienced a resurgence. I caught a few Charger games, and Allen looked like the real deal. He seems like a decent WR2 pick.
18. Michael Crabtree—I kinda thought Richard Sherman was in the wrong last year with Crabtree. I’m not going to call him a thug, but I will allude to an act of classlessness. I think Crabtree is capable of finding some fair compensation for the grievance. He’s the key to the 49ers passing success.
19. DeSean Jackson—I have some history with Jackson. I know he’s capable of the big game. That’s obvious. The problem is he’s just as capable of going into seclusion and producing the one reception, nine yard game. It’s feast or famine with DeSean. I don’t think that will change in Washington.
20. Andre Johnson—Man, I wish the Texans would trade Johnson. He’d be drafted in the top ten if he had any kind of reliable quarterback play. Instead, he has Ryan Fitzpatrick. Ugh.
21. Larry Fitzgerald—I might be underbidding Fitzgerald a bit, since he had a good season when Carson Palmer came to town. I guess I see him as the ideal WR3.
22. Julian Edelman—I knew Edelman was going to replace Wes Welker as Tom Brady’s preferred target. I don’t see Aaron Dobson replacing Edelman just yet. Edelman might not catch a lot of touchdowns (esp. if Gronk stays healthy), but catching 100 balls again is not out of the question.
23. Victor Cruz—Cruz was an ascendant fantasy prospect as recently as 2012, when Eli Manning forgot how to throw the football to players in blue uniforms. I suppose I’d love Cruz in the three slot, especially if Eli Manning remembers how to play quarterback.
24. Cordarelle Patterson—I’m overbidding on this Viking, even if the QB situation is in limbo. Potential lightning-in-a-bottle. I detect fantasy gold.
25. Marques Colston—Ah, I still remember the 2006 fantasy draft…I watched all of the Saints preseason games. I waited ‘til the last pick of the draft to take the impressive Marques Colston, of whom no one at the table was familiar, and declared it to be my best pick in the draft. Seldom do my declarations come true, but it sure did that year. Unfortunately, that was eight years ago, and Colston is slowing down a bit. I think Brees still trusts him, but…ya know, Jimmy Graham’s in the lineup.
26. Torrey Smith—I still have an emotional soft spot for Smith because of his losing his brother and playing with heart and passion through the emotional pain. If only Joe Flacco played every regular season game like he does when he’s in the playoffs…
27. Eric Decker—I know it’s fashionable to assume that Decker will suck because he left the Broncos to play for the Jets. I’m not so sure that will be the case. Decker proved himself to be a fairly impressive receiver. It wasn’t all Peyton Manning on those pass plays…and Michael Vick isn’t chopped liver when he’s got some decent protection (NEVER the case in Philly). The Jets are in the business of surprising NFL experts. I’ll try Decker if he’s there.
28. Reggie Wayne—Boy, I hope Wayne comes back healthy and ends his stunning legacy with a playoff run. If Andrew Luck has a healthy Hilton, Wayne, and Hakeem Nicks all season, then the sky’s the limit.
29. Terrance Williams—Terrance Williams was a pleasant discovery last season, especially after I lost Julio Jones for the season. He doesn’t have to worry about Miles Austin taking his fieldwork away from him either. I trust Williams to have a good fantasy season. He might be the only Cowboy I tolerate on my fantasy roster.
30. Michael Floyd—The Notre Dame product came into his own in his second season with the Cardinals, esp. with avg. yards per catch. He can catch the long ball. If Larry Fitzgerald becomes a Cris Carter-type possession receiver, then maybe Floyd can become the Randy Moss- type deep threat. Stranger things have happened.
31. Emmanuel Sanders—The number three option for Peyton Manning might be a starter for some fantasy squads. Sanders has some good speed and might be a deep threat. However, I’m not sure Manning can still throw the deep ball as reliably.
32. Sammy Watkins—We know Watkins will be a stud, but the question is, will it be in his rookie season? I admit I like E.J. Manuel’s game. It’s conceivable that the young QB with the strong arm develops a rapport and trust with his new receiver. Rookie records are meant to be broken.
33. Tavon Austin—I don’t think Austin will consistently do well, week-to-week, but rest assured, there will be an occasional game where Austin cuts loose for big numbers. I’d store him on my bench and look for weak defenses out of the NFC West to plug Austin in.
34. Brandin Cooks—This speedy rookie has the chance to be the surprise of the fantasy draft if Brees decides to chuck it deep, which you know he will do.
35. Kenny Stills—Based off of last season, I’d say Stills would be the ideal deep threat, if not for Cooks presence on the Saints.
36. Riley Cooper—It seems like Riley Cooper has a good rapport with Nick Foles. I’m not sure if he’s capable of being the number one receiver on the Eagles, but it is entirely possible.
37. Anquan Boldin—Boldin will have at least one extraordinary game for the Niners, but you can’t rely on him to perform every week.
38. Mike Evans—He’s going to be awesome in the NFL. If the Bucs had a better offensive line, I’d draft him higher, but McCown might not have enough time to throw.
39. Roddy White—Heard on Hard Knocks how Matt Ryan plans to use White like Tony Gonzalez this season. That’d mean good numbers if White can play the underneath routes.
40. Kendall Wright—If I had to take a Titans receiver, it’d be Wright. He’s got talent, but I’m not confident in the Titans’ QB play.
41. Mike Wallace—He should have stayed in Pittsburgh. His fantasy value took a big hit when he put on the Dolphins uniform.
42. Cecil Shorts—A good receiver on a team where there are low expectations. If Blake Bortles hits the big time, Shorts has a decent chance of being a quality fantasy WR.
43. Golden Tate—Maybe he’ll be the number two option that Detroit is looking for, except Stafford is still throwing the ball. I don’t see Tate’s numbers exploding over last season. Expect the same, which isn’t that stunning.
44. Greg Jennings—I like his chutzpah, but his days of being a fantasy stud are behind him.
45. Jeremy Maclin—Staying healthy has been the biggest problem for Maclin. If he stays healthy, then he could shine in the Chip Kelly fantasy machine.
46. Kelvin Benjamin—He’s a big target for Cam Newton. A lot of promise if Benjamin creates a rapport with his stud QB.
47. Hakeem Nicks—Maybe a change of scenery is what is needed to reinvigorate Nicks. He landed in a darn good spot for a comeback.
48. James Jones—I love me some James Jones in Wisconsin. Not so sure about James Jones in Oakland.
49. Steve Smith—He’ll be serviceable in Baltimore, but I wouldn’t count on too many touchdowns.
50. Malcom Floyd—He and Philip Rivers had a nice rapport before his injury. I’m hoping he’ll return to form for the Chargers.

Tight Ends

1. Jimmy Graham—Graham might be worth a first-round pick, right around Calvin Johnson territory.
2. Julius Thomas—Thomas came out of nowhere last season. He’ll be scooped up right after Graham this year.
3. Rob Gronkowski—There’s a lot of risk picking Gronk, but he could put up big numbers. I’m not sure I’d take the chance. Guess we’ll see how the draft plays out.
4. Vernon Davis—There aren’t many tight ends that can be considered deep threats. Davis qualifies. He had an extraordinary season, but I’m not sure he’ll reproduce the same TD results.
5. Jordan Cameron—It’s reasonable to see similar results from Cameron this season, especially considering how often Manziel or Hoyer might be dumping it over the middle.
6. Martellus Bennett—The tight end gets a lot of red-zone looks in the Chicago offense. Bennett’s a great target with good hands.
7. Jason Witten—A good reliable option at tight end. He’s still a Cowboy, though.
8. Greg Olson—Another good reliable option. He was the Panthers’ leader in receiving last season.
9. Jordan Reed—There’s a lot of potential with Reed, and RG3 will utilize the tight end a lot.
10. Dennis Pitta—Joe Flacco needs a good tight end to be effective. When Pitta got hurt, Flacco looked lost.
11. Zach Ertz—Lots of potential in that speedy, pass-happy Eagles offense.
12. Charles Clay—A quality versatile player in the Dolphins offense. Asked to block a lot last season.
13. Kyle Rudolph—A potential stud that needs to stay healthy.
14. Heath Miller—He’s still Roethlisberger’s favorite target. He could catch 4 or 5 TDs this season.
15. Antonio Gates—We keep waiting for Gates to quit, but he keeps coming back and doing okay. Good for him.
16. Eric Ebron—The Lions sure drafted him high. I might draft him and keep an eye out for a rookie surprise.
17. Delanie Walker—Servicable TE on a team that likes to use the TE.
18. Jared Cook—One thing you can count on about Sam Bradford: he uses his tight end.
19. Garrett Graham—The Texans’ quarterbacks might make Graham the leading receiver.
20. Scott Chandler—The Bills have a nice tight end option for E.J. Manuel.

Kickers

1. Matt Prater
2. Justin Tucker
3. Stephen Gostowski
4. Steven Hauschka
5. Phil Dawson
6. Dan Bailey
7. Mason Crosby
8. Nick Novak
9. Adam Vinatieri
10. Matt Bryant
11. Robbie Gould
12. Blair Walsh
13. Greg Zuerlein
14. Shaun Suisham
15. Nick Folk
16. Sebastian Janikowski
17. Graham Gano
18. Dan Carpenter
19. Jay Feely
20. Josh Scobee

Defensive/Special Teams

1. Seattle Seahawks
2. St. Louis Rams
3. San Francisco 49ers
4. Arizona Cardinals
5. Carolina Panthers
6. Denver Broncos
7. Kansas City Chiefs
8. New England Patriots
9. New Orleans Saints
10. Baltimore Ravens
11. Cincinnati Bengals
12. Cleveland Browns
13. Buffalo Bills
14. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
15. Chicago Bears
16. New York Jets
17. Green Bay Packers
18. Pittsburgh Steelers
19. Houston Texans
20. Minnesota Vikings

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Bound to Oklahoma

My parents moved to Oklahoma from Indiana a little over two years ago. My father visited a cousin who has lived in an outlying area of Tulsa for many years. He saw an opportunity to purchase almost 50 acres of land near his cousin’s large property, and he seized it. Both my mother and father enjoy living in the country, raising animals away from the hustle and bustle of the city. It’s a quiet yet fulfilling life, and I admire them for the opportunity to enjoy such a way of life. The only problem with the arrangement is that there is a considerable distance—some 750 miles of distance—between my parents and their family, most of which still reside in the Chicago area.

It’s difficult for me because of a special relationship I have with my mother and father. There are many details of this relationship about which I hesitate to write for public consumption. Someday I plan to narrate some of them, but not on this day. Suffice to say that it can be incredibly difficult to be so far away from my parents, away from intimate contact and a reassuring embrace every once in a while.

It’s even harder to realize my two daughters, still in their formative years, do not get to see their Grandma and Grandpa regularly. It might be hard for me, but it is still harder on my two girls. I think it is hardest on my mother, who has so much love in her heart for her grandchildren.

A couple weeks ago, I was spending some of the last of the summertime with my two daughters, as they are to return to school this very week. I will soon return to school myself, so once our precious summer vacation is completed, we will return to a schedule where we will not have much opportunity ourselves for companionship. Our summers are precious, as we have always valued our father-daughter time together. It is my fervent hope that we can maintain future times together, even into my daughters’ adult years.

We have not seen my parents for almost a year, as they did come to visit us last year during the holidays. We’ve done our best to keep contact through the phone. We periodically call my mother, giving each of my girls a chance to talk to their grandmother. During this most recent occasion, both girls spent a bit more time than usual talking to their Grandma. When I spoke to my mother, she told me that my brother and his family were planning a visit soon to Oklahoma.

More impactful, my mother’s voice started to break as she indicated that she missed my girls. She told me she wished she could hug them. It was the third time in as many phone calls where I heard the pain and depression in my mother’s voice. She missed her grandkids. It breaks my heart every time I hear that wavering in her voice as she tries not to cry.

I am not an impulsive person. Spontaneity is not an inherent characteristic, as I subscribe to a rather staid routine daily. I do not travel well, as I tend to gravitate towards staying at home most weeks. Leaving my Michigan City home for days is perhaps one of the most frightening prospects you could introduce to me.

Yet, I hung up the phone with my mother and promptly interviewed my girls about the possibility of doing something outrageous. My oldest daughter had already forsaken some of her summer activities so she could spend a week with her father, like cross-country practice and violin lessons. Still, I asked her about the possibility of travelling with my brother to Oklahoma. Her response was she would do just about anything to see her Grandma before school started. My youngest daughter readily agreed.

My heart broke for a second time in the short span of a half-hour. I didn’t have the money to travel down to Oklahoma. My daughters should prepare for their return to school in the week that remained of summer. I had some preparatory academic work of my own, and I would have to do some finagling to keep peace with some folk. I would have to break arrangements with several people with whom I had made prior commitments.

As far as I was concerned, we were going to Oklahoma, no matter the cost or effort.

I called my brother, who was more than willing to include us on his trip. However, considering he has one son and four daughters, there wasn’t exactly room in his vehicle for additional passengers.

I then called my daughters’ mother and asked if she would be willing to allow the girls to go to Oklahoma. There was an initiation and tour of the high school that my eldest daughter would miss, but it wasn’t necessary, considering my daughter had already attended her new high school on many occasions. She confirmed that it would be better for our daughters to see their Grandma in the short window available before school started.

I also asked my daughters’ mother if she would be willing to accompany us on the trip and allow us the use of her vehicle. I realized it might be awkward considering we have been divorced for a decade, but it would ultimately make the trip work best for all involved if she could participate. We’ve maintained a great relationship for the sake of the girls, and she is still an integral part of my family, even if it is a non-traditional formation. She agreed to the trip, and I remain eternally grateful for her decision.

The trip to Oklahoma was set, and all that was left was dealing with various stressors that introduced themselves prior to our departure. Several factors contributed to a sustained depressive bout, along with some fears and doubts about taking such a trip. Worst of all, as I was lying in bed two days before departing, contemplating the why’s and why not’s about travelling, a horrible car accident occurred right outside my open window. A young girl was hit by a car as she crossed the street on her bike. I didn’t see the accident, but I clearly heard the sickening sound. I turned my head and reflexively screamed at the sight of the young girl lying on the side of the road. I rushed for my phone and fumbled to call 911 on my infuriating touch screen cell. The driver of the car was over the girl, petting her head and asking her to breathe. She pulled out her phone and called 911. I realized that my call had not worked and dialed again, despite the fact that I saw the driver of the car doing the same. I told the 911 operator that a girl had been hit at my intersection and needed an ambulance. The 911 operator kept asking me if the girl was breathing, not realizing that I was still in my house, looking from my open window. I saw that the driver was not administering CPR and realized that I needed to go out there. I ran out there as quickly as I could, but thankfully, a police officer and ambulance arrived simultaneously. Not so thankfully, I witnessed the girl’s mangled, convulsing body and painful cries up close and personal. I also got to see the girl’s father’s face as he discovered his daughter. I don’t care to reminisce much more on this incident. It was frightening, and it brought back the memory of my own brother’s fatal car accident from my youth. Suffice to say, I was a mental mess before heading down to Oklahoma.

The drive down to Oklahoma didn’t exactly help, as far as reducing my stress. We left at the crack of dawn. It turns out that driving in a car for twelve hours straight, from sun-up to sun-down, can take a toll. I learned a little bit about myself as a driver, also. When it comes to driving through the summer highways of Chicago, with its mandatory construction and aggressive drivers, I don’t really give it a second thought, even though I’d wager to say that it’s some of the most dangerous driving in the whole country. However, when I have to navigate the rolling highways of Missouri, with the steep upgrades and downgrades of the Ozark Mountains, I squeeze the lifeblood out of the steering wheel at positions ten and two o’clock for five hours straight. I know that the roads are tame compared to some of the treacherous paths of Colorado or Tennessee. What can I say? I’m a bit of a wuss because I seldom drive outside of the comfortable, blessedly-flat realm of Chicago. At least my children and their mother assisted greatly with the trek. Their conversation eased the travails of an inexperienced traveler. They even got a good laugh as I nearly had an aneurysm passing over the Mississippi River through St. Louis (I already admitted I’m a wuss!).

By the time we crossed the border into Oklahoma, we were all a bit exhausted. We were also racing the setting sun. We had about two hours to make it to my mother’s homestead. Since I had never been there before, I wanted to make it to her house with as much sunlight as possible, especially since my mother’s description consistently painted her location as being “in the middle of nowhere.” Of course, we had stopped in Joplin, Missouri, for gas, and my youngest daughter had purchased one of those big cans of iced tea. About thirty minutes over the border of Oklahoma, I received the information that she had consumed the entire can and needed to use the facilities ASAP. Unfortunately, there aren’t too many exits on the tollway entering into Tulsa. We had a bit of excitement there, but we made it before the inevitable. My daughter had to do a little bit of seat squirming, which inevitably made me share in the experience. The only thing I’m saying is that it’s a good thing the speed limit in Oklahoma is 75 mph.

We passed through Tulsa and headed west to my parents’ home. I called my mother for some last minute directions as we passed over the Arkansas River at the southernmost point of the magnificent Osage Indian Reservation. There was no driving anxiety at that point, as I paused to take in the majestic sight. I was already falling in love with the natural beauty of Oklahoma. My mother gave directions, but I admit I wasn’t paying as close attention as I should.

When we came to the exit for our destination, the sun was giving us about a half-hour at the most. That’s when the fun truly began…fun for my passengers anyway, as they got to witness my second prolonged aneurysm of the trip. We took a right turn and left the comfortable pavement of civilized roadways shortly after leaving the highway. There were no streetlights or guardrails anywhere, and red dirt roads with some rock for traction were our path for the remainder of the five-mile trek. The first road I took had an incline that went up and up and up, bringing us above the treeline of the hilly terrain. I could see all about me, including homes in the distance on top of the hills on the horizon. I was wondering if my parents lived on top of one of them as I casually looked to the side, noticing that I had about a foot of road on either side of me. If I drifted, it would be a quick plummet down through some wooded forest. I wondered if the grade of the hill down the other side of the road was going to be as steep as the climb…of course it was. Both of my hands were back to squeezing the life out of the steering wheel. We went over two more steep hills before I stopped to call my mother to insure we were going the right direction. Of course we were. I muttered something to myself, wondering aloud about the backwoods to where my father had moved my mother. My children were delighted by the new landscape (in addition to getting a good laugh from my anxious ramblings).

After the hills ended, we took a curve that turned across a railroad crossing. Two pickup trucks were travelling at great speed towards us down the middle of the rocky road, clouds of dust in their wake. They didn’t seem to acknowledge our presence, and I had to hug the side of the road over the railroad crossing, noticing another dangerous drop over the side as the trucks barreled past me. We crossed a bridge over a creek and saw a coyote cross the road in front of us. A bit further down, there was a property with several rusted-out cars, mostly VW bugs, with a mobile home further up the property on a hill. A mother deer and her baby stood to the side, gawking at us as if we were aliens. We were indeed in the wilderness. Several jokes were made about hearing Deliverance banjos on the air before we finally reached the long, even bumpier half-mile driveway where my parent’s property was located.

When we reached the end of our journey, right at sundown, we found my parents’ stunningly beautiful property, and I recognized my mother walking towards our car anxiously. I do not remember a more gratifying scene than seeing my daughters hug their grandmother with joy, with the pink and purple sky painting the satisfying backdrop. I embraced my mother, and so much of the anxiety of the past week—maybe the past year—left me. We had arrived in Oklahoma for the first time, and it felt like home instantly.

My brother and his family had arrived about an hour before us (bless his speedy little gear-head heart), so there were kids hopping about everywhere (as there would be for the remainder of the week). I noticed my younger brother was missing from the foray. My younger brother has Down’s syndrome and moved down to Oklahoma with my mother. Now over thirty years of age, he’s still maintaining his daily routine of prolonged outdoor activity, like swinging on a play-set, jumping on a trampoline, and shooting baskets (he’s still one of the best free-throw shooters I’ve seen). He’s obviously needed special care and attention, and I spent a great deal of my upbringing helping my parents take care of him. I find myself deeply missing my brother, and I wondered where he was at. My Mom told me he was in the back, swinging at sunset. I moved around the corner of the house and there he was, pumping his feet furiously, as per his usual regiment. I stood and waved at him, a big, sheepish grin on my face. He jumped from the swing, sprinted towards me, and gave me one of the best bear hugs I’ve ever received. I missed my little brother.

My father was inside. Unfortunately, he had to leave us that evening. He’s officially retired from the machinist job he retained for over thirty years of his life, but when you’re as good at installing machines as he is, there’s still work to be had…and my Dad’s nothing if not one of the hardest workers I know. He was contracted to install a machine up in Peoria, Illinois. Crazy thing is, when he lived in Chicago, he was constantly on the road, often finding himself in the Oklahoma area performing work; after he moved to Oklahoma, it seems like all of the work he travels to ends up being in the Chicago area! At any rate, I was worried about him because he had recently undergone an operation on his stomach. He had been suffering from an ailment that was preventing him from eating much food. I could tell that he had lost weight, but he appeared to be in good spirits. One thing I know about my Dad: he doesn’t let his body keep him from doing what is necessary. He’s damn tough, and I know I’ll never be able to meet his standard of tenacity when it comes to work ethic. No one can. I was happy that I got to see him and give him a hug before he left, though. We don’t converse very well much of the time, but there’s more respect and love between us than casual observers might assume.

The next few days were simultaneously a whirlwind of activity and a slow-paced enjoyment of each other while doing absolutely nothing. It’s hard to describe because it seemed to last forever, yet the time we spent together flew by much too quickly.

I spent much of the trip reacquainting myself to my mother. It was so good to share things and talk with her again. It’s not enough to talk on the phone or write e-mails; being in the same room means more than I can properly express. It was something to see her interact with all of her grandchildren again, smiling ear-to-ear. Seeing my mother so happy and content had the amazing effect of making me very happy and content.

My mother and I shared some light-hearted moments also. We don’t always see eye-to-eye on many topics, and we agree to refrain from talking about things political or religious. (In fact, I’ve made it a point to refrain from mentioning my blog to her for fear of disappointing her sensibilities…I imagine she will discover the blog because of this article…alas, I can’t keep it a secret forever). However, our epic debates are a point of interest in our relationship, and I just couldn’t resist bringing up a few inflammatory topics (much to my brother’s chagrin). My mother and I kept it to a sensible volume and mostly kept it light (though she did pull a knife from its perch atop the refrigerator at one point…a threatening gesture to make her point…jokingly of course…though sometimes I think my mother would happily plaster duct tape over my mouth to stifle my antagonism). Debate is a long-running aspect of our relationship together, and I’m glad we got the chance to reinvigorate our passions for good-natured philosophical argument. I think she would agree, as long as I didn’t push any of the hottest buttons of contention.

Perhaps the most fulfilling moments of our visit involved the isolated farm living that my parents now enjoy. As a young man, I expressed to my mother how I despised country living. I further stated how I enjoyed city living and would pave over the country if I could. That’s one of those statements I wish I could take back, as maturity and experience have changed my viewpoint. One of the best aspects of the visit, for me, was to abandon entirely my monitoring of technology, to which I was accustomed to at home. No news broadcasts. No Facebook. No cellphone. No e-mails. No blogging. Let me clearly confirm for you: it was heavenly to unplug myself from the manic trappings of so-called civilization, especially at a time with so many depressingly uncivilized occurrences happening about the globe.

As opposed to the persona I had in youth, I now possess a love of the quiet solitude of nature, and boy, do my parents have it in abundance. Every night, I stood out under gleaming stars, listening to the absence of human existence, awash in clicking insects, soft breezes, and howling coyotes. In the mornings, we attended the animals by the call of the rooster, which I admit to missing somewhat. My parents have fifteen Cayuga ducks, three turkeys, three guineas, and fifteen chickens. They also tend to sheep and goats, even though the herd was a bit thin at the time we were there. The sounds of the sheep and goats, especially at sundown, are hilarious; there’s a cacophony of braying that had us rolling…you’d have to hear it to experience the comedy. My parents also have a sheep dog that we all agreed we were going to kidnap because of its preciousness. It was also good to see their two house dogs, both of whom I was familiar with from Indiana, as precious Daisy is getting old, and it might be the last time I get to rub her belly as she grins; rough-and-tumble Bosco missed raking his claws across my arms and belly and chewing on my hands. My daughter and I witnessed a brave gopher raking dirt out of the ground. I stood two feet away from a hummingbird feeder as a dozen of them flitted to and fro, their wings audibly tickling my eardrums as they fed directly in front of my face. In the next field over, my cousin owned two regal horses and a stout, hearty mule that would often come to visit our family from their side of the fence.

One of the finest blessings from this trip was the chance to meet my father’s cousin, the man who spurred my family’s move to Oklahoma. I hadn’t met him to this point of my love, except in a time when I was too young to remember. I love his genuine personality…so loving and accepting. He puts his priority on family first and foremost, and he welcomed me with open arms. I was often reminded of my young life growing up with beloved Grandpa Edward, my cousin’s uncle. We talked about the legend of his work ethic (a common theme in my family) when he worked as a carpenter building elevator shafts within the skyscrapers of Chicago. I was reminded of the times I spent with my Grandma Isabel, playing pinochle, listening to her sing opera and show tunes, and learning about Edgar Rice Burroughs and Arthur Conan Doyle. I remembered all of the Star Trek and Doctor Who stories my Aunt April shared with me as a child. It was good to again embrace a side of my family that has been lost to me for years now. My father’s cousin is now a brother for life who has helped anchor me to Oklahoma, because he is family. He campaigned for me to move down there to enjoy the lifestyle, this family, every day of the year. I can’t deny that it is entirely an unappealing proposition; though, I know I have too many obligations at my home back in Chicago to seriously make the move. Something to consider for the future, I guess.

I was able to meet some extraordinary people in Oklahoma. My mother invited her good friend, a woman, along with her husband who could not make it, who has befriended my mother and father through Biblical study and spiritual camaraderie. This friend knew of my mother’s heartache; I thanked her profusely for her love for my mother, for acting as a surrogate when my mother’s family was so far away.

My cousin brought my brother and me to visit a neighbor, an extraordinary man who raced cars in his youth. He spends much of his time in retirement working on Alfa Romeo cars, and he’s accumulated a modest collection of vintage models on his property. He has an impressive airplane hanger and airstrip, which my cousin helped to build, where in the past they’ve flown planes constructed at home from a kit. This man and his wife were so welcoming and friendly. Good people.

It was also a very good thing to visit my brother’s children who also made the trip. I admit I don’t get as much time to see them, even though they are located closer to home. My three youngest nieces left me a bit sore, at times, as I seem to no longer have the stamina to endure sustained rough-housing. My nieces are pretty adept at tag-teaming efforts, too. I still have the bruises to prove it. My daughters impressed me with their interactions with their cousins: my oldest proved to be a worthy caretaker, and my youngest latched onto my nephew, as they enjoyed their obsession with the vid game, Clash of Clans.

On our last full day in Oklahoma, my cousin took all of us to local attraction Frog Rock. Frog Rock is a large boulder at the peak of a large hill, painted annually by a local family to look like a giant frog. I’m sure the local kids use it as a place to hang out at night and drink beer, as the broken glass about the place would indicate. However, it was an impressive monument, which we all got to climb. From the peak, you could spy the entire valley with the majestic Cimmaron River cutting through the heavily wooded area. All of the children from our clan scurried all over Frog Rock, squealing with glee, creating a mental video that I’ll replay in my head for years to come. We took some pictures for posterity’s sake, and the kids were invited to sign their names to Frog Rock. Before leaving, I wrote our family name on the frog’s underbelly, and traversed to the frog’s back to scribe my moniker, “The Maniacal Professor.” I’ll have to return someday soon to see if our marks are still there, as I find myself yearning to sit again atop Frog Rock in solitude, pondering the finer points of life amidst the beautiful landscape.

When it came time to leave Oklahoma, it was understandably hard to depart. Tears flowed freely. My daughter’s mother quietly conveyed to me that she didn’t want to leave, and I begrudgingly muttered that we had to, even though I had to force it out. My two daughters were quietly sobbing, which was difficult to watch, but beautiful to behold…because it confirmed the necessity of our trip. Our family bond is strong, and the love we have maintains itself despite the separation of the width of our grand country. I embraced my younger brother first and held him for several long moments. I hugged my big, tough cousin, and we shared a good cry together. My mother gripped me as if she couldn’t let go, which reminded me of all of the times in our lives when we had to support each other to muster the will to carry on day-to-day. She whispered about how much she missed me, and I tried to tell her about how strong we have to be. I’m not sure if I believed what I was saying, but I hope that it helped, as this visit would have to sustain any emotional longing for quite a while.

On the way down, we were bound for Oklahoma; on our way back home, I realized that I am forever bound to Oklahoma. I couldn’t help but wonder, as I pulled away from my mother, wiping tears from my face, when I’d next have a chance to return.