Fantasy football season is upon us.  To be fair, it’s been upon us for a month or two now.  I know that I personally have been doing ESPN and Yahoo mock drafts for six-plus weeks, as well as real drafts in some of my early-drafting leagues.   But the period from the last weekend in August through the first weekend before the start of the NFL season is always a draft crunch for tens of thousands (or more) of us from all over the world.

As I do more and more drafts during a particular year, I find myself gravitating towards and away from certain players.  Sometimes there’s a valid reason (injury, PT concern) and sometimes it’s just your spidey-sense tingling.  Here’s a compilation of some guys I have been targeting and avoiding throughout the summer, heading into three big drafts for me this weekend.

Tort’s Trendy Targets

RB Steve Slaton, Houston Texans –  Slaton came out of nowhere last year to surpass 1600 total yards and finish with 10 TDs.  He doesn’t get a lot of buzz among the top backs because he plays for a team that’s never gone anywhere and he wasn’t a name guy coming out in the draft.  To me anybody who gets him in the second round (anywhere after pick 12) has to be ecstatic.   Last year he ran big against teams like Pittsburgh, Tennessee and Chicago.  He’s also a great value in any PPR leagues (my preferred format) because he catches passes well and gets a decent amount of targets.

QB David Garrard, Jacksonville Jaguars – I don’t love their line, but then I didn’t love it last year either and Garrard had a solid fantasy season.  I think he can be a borderline #1 QB in smaller leagues (10-12 teams) and a solid second-level #1 in bigger leagues (14+ teams).    He’s finally got a veteran wideout like he hasn’t had since Jimmy Smith was there in Torry Holt.   His Yards Per Catch and Yards After Catch remained very similar last season, despite the fact that the Rams lacked weapons (not to mention an offensive line or reliable QB).  While I don’t think Holt will return to his old 1300/8-10 TDs form, I do think he’ll break 1000 yards and be good for 6-7 TDs.  That can only help Garrard, who also has MJD around to carry a big load.

WR Steve Smith, Carolina Panthers – He’s not what you’d call a “sleeper” by any stretch, but Smith does seem to be sliding in drafts despite having his second-best season last year.  Unnoticed thanks to the ridiculous emergence of DeAngelo Williams is the fact that Smith had more than 100 yards in five of the last six games last season, including two games over 150 yards.  He might miss a game or two most seasons, but this guy is unrivaled in my mind when it comes to the ability to win you a week from the wide receiver spot.  Even with Williams and Stewart taking a lot of the TD work, Smith is a good bet for 1400 yards and 6+ TDs again.  How many guys going in the third round can say that?

TE John Carlson, Seattle Seahawks – I understand the ‘Hawks want to run first, but given Walter Jones’ health and the fact that they’ve got Julius Jones and an aging Edge James at RB, I think they’ll figure out they have the personnel to move the ball through the air.  Carlson was a godsend for an offense that couldn’t keep anyone healthy last season and with T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Deion Branch and Nate Burleson all healthy Carlson should have plenty of room to work with.   He won’t match what the big seven can do at TE, but for a guy you can get much later in the draft he’s got the ability to hit 60/650/7  quite easily.

Deep Sleeper Pick:  RB Cadillac Williams, Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Maybe I’m crazy, but this guy always looks like the real deal to me and I’m just not convinced that Ward and Graham (who I think are both solid backs) can keep the ball out of his hands.  His health is obviously a huge red flag, but if you can grab him in the last round or two in 12-plus teams leagues I would jump on him frankly.  He’s got blue-chip talent.

Tort’s Anxious Avoids

RB Michael Turner, Atlanta Falcons – I’m not one of those people who believe in “The Curse of 370” or anything like that, but I have big issues with drafting Turner anywhere in my top 5.  His numbers last season were too dependant on a VERY heavy workload (25+ carries 8 times) and weak opponents.  He had 671 rushing yards and 6 TDs  in four games against DET, KC, OAK, STL.  (167.75 YPG).  In six games against his divisional foes (CAR, ATL, NO) he totaled 524 yards, with 6 TDs (four in one game against Carolina).  I don’t see any way he tops 320 carries this year with the improvements of Matt Ryan and coaching concerns about his workload.  He also won’t face creampuffs on the level of Detroit and St. Louis to bookend his season.  And yes those 208 yards against STL helped very few fantasy owners coming in week 17.   I think Turner is a 1200 yard/10 TD back.  He’s a first round pick, but not a top 5 guy by any stretch to me.  His value drops even further in PPR leagues.

QB Matt Schaub, Houston Texans – “They called me Mr. Glass.” I do not necessarily doubt Schaub’s talents.  He seems like a guy who can be a top ten fantasy QB.  My problem with Schaub is two-fold.  First, he’s never actually DONE that.  He’s been a starter for two seasons, playing 22 out of 32 games and managing 24 touchdowns against 19 interceptions.  Here’s what we know about Schaub.  He gets banged up and has had exactly two-thirds of a good fantasy season in his career.  And yet I’m supposed to get excited about a 28 year-old QB who will probably miss a month of the year and draft him over Garrard or Big Ben or Matt Ryan or Jay Cutler?  Heck, I’d be hard-pressed to take him over Cassel or Carson Palmer who have their own health concerns.  I’m just not drinking the Kool-Aid on this guy I guess.

WR Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona Cardinals – Don’t get me wrong, Fitz is a phenomenal talent and a lock as a top 5 wideout, but I don’t get the universal #1 ranking.  He scored 10 TDs last year and that was with Boldin out for a handful of games and no reliable running game.  Assuming Hightower/Wells is better than James/Hightower (and I think that’ll be the case) and Boldin is back to his usual levels, I would look for Fitz to be closer to 8 TDs than the 12-plus he needs to be fantasy’s #1 wideout.  I can’t justify taking him ahead of Andre Johnson or Calvin “Megatron” Johnson.  I would rank him in a lump with Randy Moss and Steve Smith, which ain’t bad company either.

TE Jeremy Shockey, New Orleans Saints – Okay I admit, it was tough to find a tight end I didn’t like.  I think there are 12-15 very nice tight end options this year.  Shockey isn’t the guy I want.  He has durability issues that are obvious and known.  He has attitude issues that are obvious and known.  But mostly I just don’t think Brees would rather throw the ball his way than to hit Colston, Bush, Moore, Thomas and even Meachem.  Too many other weapons.  Shockey will be around 500 yards with a couple of TDs at most.  He’s getting some sleeper buzz.  I say “zzzzzz” to that buzz.

Crazy Stay-Away Notice:  RB Steven Jackson, St. Louis Rams – This guy is an amazing talent.  He’s the total package as a back, and when he’s healthy there are few to match him.  My problem is that he’s been banged up for two years and the Rams offensive line isn’t going to scare anyone.  Neither is their passing game so Jackson is going to take a pounding.  I predict we’ll get 12-13 games of elite production… but that’s not enough for me to spend a top 8 pick on.  Stay away!