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Pass-happy NFL changes traditions of fantasy drafts
By John Dietz | Daily Herald Columnist

Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers against the Seahawks in the first half of an NFL preseason football game Aug. 21 in Seattle.


Associated Press

Saints quarterback Drew Brees looks for a receiver in the first quarter during a preseason NFL game against the Houston Texans at the Louisiana Superdome on Aug. 21.


Associated Press

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Published: 8/26/2010 12:05 PM | Updated: 8/26/2010 8:26 PM

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We live in a different world these days.

The suddenly everyday things we witness include:

• Texting.

• Phones attached to people's ears.

• Wi-fi available almost anywhere you are.

• People staying in touch via Twitter and Facebook.

• Reading our news online for free instead of subscribing to a newspaper.

What's the result of all this technology? Well, the post office and newspapers are both doing everything they can to avoid becoming obsolete.

And the same can be said of the "stud RB theory" in fantasy football. Not very long ago, our goal as fantasy players was to find any way possible to get two big-time backs and ride them to championships.

Now, unless you are in a keeper league where you somehow lucked into Steven Jackson and Maurice Jones-Drew (as one e-mailer has), the chances of this happening are going the way of pay phone.

Why? There are two reasons.

First, the NFL has morphed into a pass-first league. In 2009, a record 10 quarterbacks threw for 4,000-plus yards. A look at recent history shows us how amazing a number that is when you consider:

• In 1999, there were five 4,000-yard passers.

• In 1994, there were three.

• In 1989, there were two.

• And in 1984, there were three.

The other reason it's nearly impossible for us to get two stud RBs is that NFL teams are using the dreaded two-headed monster at tailback, turning the "studs" into "semi-duds". Nobody wants their big-money guy to turn into the next Terrell Davis or Jamaal Anderson.

So in fantasy circles, we must adjust accordingly. It's now OK to get your QB early in drafts - and you want a good one because after the top seven, there can be a precipitous drop in productivity.

My advice is to get one stud RB if you can, then secure a top WR and QB before the well goes dry.

Of course, we all can't be so lucky, so if you miss out on the Big Seven, it's not a terrible idea to sit back and wait until the middle of your draft to take a quarterback. Here are my thoughts on the eight guys I have ranked under the Chargers' Philip Rivers:

• Joe Flacco had a solid campaign in 2009, and that was without the recently added Anquan Boldin. Flacco averaged 279 passing yards and threw 11 TD passes in the first six games before cooling off. Based on his top-notch receiving corps, Flacco has a legitimate shot to score as well - or better - than the possibly Vincent Jackson-less Rivers.

• While it's never smart to doubt Brett Favre, the living legend scares me a bit this year. It's not so much the ankle surgery as it is the health of his receivers and the quality of his offensive line. Sidney Rice is out at least eight weeks, and Percy Harvin's migraines may pose a constant problem. Favre will struggle if he's throwing primarily to Bernard Berrian, Greg Camarillo and (gulp!) Javon Walker.

• The Eagles' Kevin Kolb is a boom-or-bust candidate, to be sure. Philly obviously believes enough in the Houston product that they let Donovan McNabb go. I think Kolb could be an Aaron Rodgers Lite, with solid receivers and a running back in LeSean McCoy that I don't have much faith in. Kolb will be throwing a lot.

• The toughest QB to figure is probably the Bears' Jay Cutler. He could finish with a career-high 30 TDs or end up with a medevac helicopter flying into Soldier Field by Week 4. He can be your starter, but make sure to back him up with someone such as Atlanta's Matt Ryan or San Francisco's Alex Smith.

• His season-opening four-game suspension is the only reason Ben Roethlisberger is ranked 12th. The last three seasons, he has 28, 19 and 34 total TDs. If you take Big Ben, find another mid-range QB with an easy opening schedule (the Niners' Smith) and go from there.

• When it comes to passing TDs, few QBs have been more consistent than Eli Manning. Last year he set a career high with 27, and he should have another strong season as Hakeem Nicks and Mario Manningham continue to mature and complement Steve Smith.

• Atlanta's Matt Ryan disappointed a bit last year, but he did throw 22 TD passes while missing two games. With Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez at his disposal, Ryan has a great chance at 25 TDs.

• Factor Alex Smith's stats over a full season and he would have thrown for 26 TDs last season. With Michael Crabtree in his second year and Vernon Davis out of la-la land, Smith is primed for a nice year. The Niners also feature a sweet finishing schedule (at Green Bay, Seattle, at San Diego, at St. Louis) that should include a lot of scoring.

• Saturday: running backs

Drew Brees Saints 4,400-4,800 31-36* Seven 300-yard games last year
Aaron Rodgers Packers 4,250-4,600 31-35 51 TDs last 23 games
Peyton Manning Colts 4,200-4,500 30-34* Starting to throw more INTs
Matt Schaub Texans 4,400-4,800 27-32* 11 games of at least 280 yards!
Tom Brady Patriots 4,100-4,400 27-31 But for '07, never had over 30 TDs
Tony Romo Cowboys 4,250-4,550 25-29 Red flag: O-line is banged up
Philip Rivers Chargers 3,800-4,000 24-27 VJax's absence scares me
Joe Flacco Ravens 3,650-4,000 23-27 He's going to light it up
Brett Favre Vikings 3,500-3,900 24-27* No way he repeats amazing '09
Kevin Kolb Eagles 3,500-4,000 24-27* Eagles believe, why shouldn't we?
Jay Cutler BEARS 3,700-4,000 25-28* Tough finish includes Jets in W16
Ben Roethlis. Steelers 2,600-3,000 19-23 Remember, he's suspended for 4 gms
Drew Brees Saints 4,400-4,800 S31-36* Seven 300-yard games last yearS
Eli Manning Giants 3,550-3,800 23-26* A great play in the right matchups
D. McNabb Redskins 3,300-3,700 22-26 Bad O-line ... he'll get hurt
Matt Ryan Falcons 3,100-3,500 21-25 More upside than Palmer
Carson Palmer Bengals 3,175-3,400 20-26 5 of 21 TDs last year came vs. Bears
Alex Smith Niners 3,100-3,400 21-25* Good sleeper pick
D Matt Moore Panthers 3,000-3,300 21-25* 1,053 yards in just 5 games last yr.
Chad Henne Dolphins 3,250-3,550 17-22* Addition of Marshall will be big
Kyle Orton Broncos 3,150-3,400 17-21 Loss of Marshall will be tough
Next 6: David Garrard, Jaguars; Vince Young, Titans; Matthew Stafford, Lions; Mark Sanchez, Jets; Matt Cassel, Chiefs; Jason Campbell, Raiders
* 15-plus interceptions likely