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“I Love You, Man”

Every year, there are guys who are not rated as highly as I think they should be. And then there are some guys who, for some reason or another, I simply fall in love with. You cannot really call most of these guys “sleepers”, since they are definitely on peoples’ radars. But they are guys who I think are underrated.

QB Aaron Rodgers (GB): Yes, he is consistently ranked as a top-10 QB, and even top-5 on a lot of lists. But he was second only to QB Drew Brees last year in total scoring. And I think he will only get better in 2009. The Favre-saga is [mostly] behind him and now he is the unquestioned leader of the team. I have him ranked 3rd, after Brees and QB Tom Brady.

RB Steven Jackson (STL): The more I think about Jackson, the more I like him. And its not just because of his sweet Nike commercials. Last year, Jackson held out thru training camp. And, in the history of the NFL, that basically guarantees that you will get injured. (RB Ryan Grant suffered the same fate.) However, this year, he comes into camp ready to play. And the Rams’ line is much-improved. I think Jackson will return to fantasy stardom. He is not without risk, however.

RB Steve Slaton (HOU): Slaton has everything you want in a top fantasy RB: (1) youth, (2) running ability, (3) receiving ability, (4) a high-powered offense, and (5) no potential threat as a backup. Last year, Slaton surprised many with his combo of running and receiving skills, and posted over 1600 yards and 10 total TDs. I think he will be even better this year. And I am not at all worried about RB Chris Brown or RB Ryan Moats taking carries away from him. Which is a huge plus these days.

RB Marion Barber (DAL): Barber was expected to blow up last year. But injuries limited him in the second-half of the season. Guys like Barber can be annoying in fantasy football: They are too tough to sit down when they are hurt, but they are less effective (for fantasy purposes). It was clear his toe injury was bothering him. But I think he will be back this year. He may never be a full-time RB, due to the flexibility and talent of RB Felix Jones and the emergence of backup RB Tashard Choice, but he is still the most complete RB on that team, and he has one of the best noses for the endzone in the NFL.

RB Ryan Grant (GB): He struggled last year because he tried to play through a hamstring injury after missing camp due to a holdout. But he should come in this year healthy and ready to pick up where he left off in 2008. For some reason, the Packers like to utilize one RB, which is good for Grant. Barring injury, I think he will end the year as a borderline RB1.

RB Kevin Smith (DET): Smith quietly put up a very solid rookie season in 2008. And keep in mind, he did that while sharing carries with RB Rudi Johson (seriously?) early in the year and while playing for the 0-16 Lions, who were constantly playing from behind. I do not expect the Lions to be much better than last year, but Smith should be the unquestionable starter and get quite a few carries. I think he is a solid RB2.

RB Ray Rice (BAL): I think the RB Willis McGahee experiment in Baltimore is about to end. Rice looked very good last year and McGahee has struggled mightily with injuries lately. Plus, he seems to have lost his explosion and desire. Rice, on the other hand, has both. Unfortunatley, as long as McGahee (and FB/RB Le’Ron McClain) is in the picture, Rice will not be the stud he could otherwise be. Watch the news from Ravens camp to see how the team decides to use these guys.

WR Terrell Owens (BUF): It hurts my [football] soul to even include him on this list, but I do think TO is underrated this year. QB Trent Edwards is a better than you think. And WR Lee Evans is better than anyone TO has had across from him in awhile. Plus, TO always has a one-year honeymoon period with his new team, before he starts tearing them apart from the inside. And he only has a one-year contract. Much like WR Randy Moss when he first showed up in New England, TO will have something to prove.

WR Dwayne Bowe (KC): He is ranked pretty high on most lists, but not high enough, if you ask me. This guy is a stud. And he put up very good numbers over the past couple years with very marginal QBs . In 2008, he was third to only WR Brandon Marshall and WR Andre Johnson in targets among WRs. And QB Matt Cassel is clearly better than the previous KC QBs. So Bowe should benefit. And without TE Tony Gonzalez, Bowe should become the primary redzone target.

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