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Tuesday, June 24, 2008

The Mike Martz effect

I have long been a follower of trends when it comes to the world of fantasy football. It's always been an interesting and legitimate tool in the determination of a player's overall draft value.

One trend that could have an enormous impact on drafts this season surrounds the increase in statistical success of running backs in their first season under offensive coordinator Mike Martz. Widely considered one of the greatest offensive minds in the NFL, Martz has been better known for his prolific pass attacks. But when we look inside the numbers, we find that runners also tend to see their overall numbers rise as well.

Furthermore, backs under Martz tend to become far more valuable in leagues that reward points for receptions.

Frank Gore, RB
San Francisco 49ers

2007 statistics
Att: 260
Yards: 1,102
TDs: 5

In Martz's first season as the offensive coordinator in St. Louis (1999), Marshall Faulk recorded a career-best 87 receptions and established an NFL record with 2,429 scrimmage yards. That included 1,381 rushing yards and 1,048 receiving yards, making him one of a select few players to record 1,000 yards in both categories in the same season. Faulk also found the end zone 12 times.

Overall, Faulk averaged 83 receptions in his first four seasons with the Rams. That was an 30 more catches than he averaged in his first four seasons with the Indianapolis Colts.

An argument can be made that Faulk was a superior running back even before he left the Colts and would have posted enormous as part of the "Greatest Show on Turf" regardless of who was at the helm of the offense. After all, that team also fielded the productive trio of Kurt Warner, Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce, not to mention some talented role players and a defense that was fast and aggressive on the other side of the football.

How, then, do you explain Kevin Jones?

Jones is a nice running back, but he's not even close to Faulk in terms of career numbers of value in fantasy football.

Still, the Virginia Tech product exploded for career bests in receptions (61), scrimmage yards (1,209) and total touchdowns (8) in 2006, and he did it all in 12 games. Had he been active for a full season, Jones would have projected to finish with 81 receptions, 1,612 scrimmage yards and 11 total scores under Martz's tutelage that season. Numbers like that would made Jones an absolute star in fantasy football, especially in leagues that reward points for receptions.

All of these little factoids make Gore even more attractive heading into 2008.

While he was a bit of a disappointment last season, Gore should still be seen as a surefire first-round selection in both standard and PPR (point per reception) formats. Martz plans to utilize Gore as the centerpiece of his offensive attack, so the Miami product will have a legitimate chance to finish with career bests in receptions and scrimmage yards if he avoids injuries.

And if you're worried about stacked defensive fronts due to the team's unstable quarterback position, it's time to remove that train of thought from your mind. In a recent look at the affect of a poor quarterback on a star running back, I found that runners could still have monster seasons even if the team's signal-caller was less than stellar.


Monday, June 23, 2008

Titans interested in Jones

Reports out of Tennessee indicate the Titans have some real interest in free-agent running back Kevin Jones. In fact, the team will be represented at a June 29 workout that features the veteran back.

Jones, who was released by the Detroit Lions in the offseason, has been able to make cuts on the knee in recent months. He even ran a short shuttle of 4.3 seconds. That's an impressive number for an athlete who's less than seven months removed from a reconstructive knee procedure.

Kevin Jones, RB, Free agent

Career statistics
Att: 761
Yards: 3,067
TDs: 24

"That is what teams can't believe I can do," Jones said.

Jones has had an unconventional rehabilitation program, part of which involves work in a pool and in the basement and dojo of a holistic medicine practitioner and sports agent, but it seems to be working out nicely. Barring setbacks, Jones could become a real asset for the team that takes a chance on him. There is some risk, however, as the Virginia Tech product has been prone to injuries at the NFL level.

Aside from his current knee ailment, Jones has also missed significant time due to an injured foot that required an operation to repair. Overall, he's never played in more than 13 games since his rookie season.

But the real story with Jones (at least in the world of fantasy football) is less about his comeback and more about the Titans' desire to add another back.

Why would a team with LenDale White, Chris Henry and rookie Chris Johnson have interest in Jones?

The answer to that question could center around Henry, who has failed to make progress as a running back at the NFL level. The Nashville City Paper even suggested that Henry would "have a difficult time making the active list on Sundays." Henry needs to improve on his skills as a blocker, not to mention his instincts when it comes to finding (and hitting) holes at the line of scrimmage.

With these questions at the forefront, Jones could be added and moved ahead of Henry on the depth chart. And if he's available for the start of the season, Jones' presence could hurt the value of White and Johnson.

As it stands, owners should see White as a borderline No. 2 or 3 fantasy back with Johnson slated to be his late-round handcuff. But if the team adds Jones and he makes an impact in training camp, this could turn out to be a backfield situation to avoid in drafts.


Friday, June 20, 2008

Rodgers looks good in workouts

One of the biggest questions in fantasy football this season surrounds the impact of Aaron Rodgers in his first stint as the starter in Green Bay. After all, he's replacing a legend in Brett Favre and now holds the keys to what could be one of the league's most talented offenses.

So far, all reports on the former first-round pick have been extremely positive.

Aaron Rodgers, QB
Green Bay Packers

Career statistics
Comp: 35
Att: 59
Yards: 329
TDs/INTs: 1/1

Rodgers has shown terrific arm strength, and has even drawn comparisons to Favre in that department. He has also looked very comfortable at the helm of the offense in offseason workouts. That shouldn't be much of a shock, though, as Rodgers spent three seasons learning behind one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever strap on a helmet and shoulder pads.

That could be the greatest intangible in the determination of Rodgers' value in the world of fantasy football.

Remember, Rodgers was considered for the first overall selection in the 2005 NFL Draft before Alex Smith went to San Francisco. Three seasons later, would the 49ers make the same decision?

One thing is for certain. Rodgers will be taken ahead of Smith in almost all fantasy drafts this season.

Rodgers has immense weapons in Ryan Grant, Donald Driver, Greg Jennings, James Jones and Donald Lee, not to mention one of the best offensive lines in the NFL. He also looked terrific in relief of Favre in an important contest in Dallas last season, throwing for 201 yards and one touchdown in a 37-27 loss. But despite his lack of playing time, Rodgers has been prone to injuries.

In fact, he has sustained serious foot and hamstring injuries that have caused him to miss significant time while behind Favre on the depth chart.

All the intangibles are there for Rodgers to meet expectations, both for the Packers and fantasy owners. He's learned from one of the best in Favre, has a loaded offense at his disposal and should receive more than adequate protection from his line. The team could also use more spread formations this season, so Rodgers will have a chance to post attractive stat lines.

He won't finish with Favre-like numbers. But if he can avoid injuries, Rodgers should emerge as a nice No. 2 fantasy quarterback and starter against favorable opponents.


Thursday, June 19, 2008

Bears have faith in rookie Forte

The Chicago Bears have been known as a defensive-minded team in recent seasons. In fact, the Windy City has been a virtual fantasy wasteland.

But this team now fields several potential sleeper candidates, none more attractive than rookie Matt Forte.

Forte's fantasy impact


In his fantasy look at the Bears, NFL.com fantasy editor Michael Fabiano projects Matt Forte as a solid sleeper candidate. More ...

» Read more from Fabiano
» Top 100: Where did Forte land?

Forte found immense success at Tulane, and the Bears coaching staff has absolutely gushed about his skills and abilities this offseason. Now comes word that the team doesn't plan to add a veteran running back like Shaun Alexander or Kevin Jones, even after the recent release of Cedric Benson.

"We don't have any plans to do that," head coach Love Smith said. "From Matt to Adrian Peterson to Garrett Wolfe, to P.J. Pope, Matt Lawrence, we like all of our players and those are the ones that we're going with."

The backfield competition is wide open headed into training camp, but I think Forte has to be considered the favorite to win the top spot on the depth chart. He has all the tools to be a three-down back at the NFL level, not to mention a much more intense work ethic than Benson ever had with the team. I like Forte so much that I have him listed ahead of Jonathan Stewart on our current running back rank list.

That could change as the summer months pass, but for now it seems Forte has a better shot at a true featured role.

The Bears have also been very impressed with the development of Devin Hester as a wide receiver. In fact, the Chicago Tribune reports that Hester and Brandon Lloyd have looked like the team's most "legitimate" wide receivers in minicamp. Hester saw limited time in the offense last season, but he seems to have blossomed.

Receivers coach Darryl Drake even thinks Hester can be the best wideout he's ever coached. The one downfall is that Hester's time at the position could be at least somewhat limited due to his responsibilities as a return man on special teams. But with no real playmaking receivers on the roster, Hester's value is on the rise.

The final player fantasy footballers need to watch is Greg Olsen. He showed flashes of brilliance in his rookie season, and his role is almost certain to increase with Bernard Berrian and Muhsin Muhammad both out of the mix. I think Olsen has a chance to be mentioned in the same breath as fellow Miami Hurricanes Bubba Franks, Jeremy Shockey and Kellen Winslow, all of whom thrived at the tight end position at the pro level.

Olsen of course still has much to prove on the field, but I'd take a chance on him in the late rounds as a borderline No. 1 or 2 fantasy tight end.


Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Walker should be fine for training camp

The details of what happened to Javon Walker in Las Vegas earlier this week are clouded at best.

But one thing appears to be certain: He will be fine for the start of training camp.

Javon Walker, WR
Oakland Raiders

2007 statistics
Games: 8
Rec: 26
Yards: 287
TDs: 0

Walker, who was attacked, robbed and found unconscious on a Las Vegas street, is expected to be examined by Oakland's medical staff on Wednesday night.

According to head coach Lane Kiffin, Walker's status for training camp isn't a concern. The Raiders released a statement on the incident that basically stated that Walker had been the victim of a robbery, but will make a full recovery and continue to work towards the 2008 NFL season.

The Oakland Tribune reports that it's still unknown whether or not Walker suffered a fractured orbital bone as a result of the attack. There is also an unconfirmed story on TheDirty.com about the events of the incident. The site said it was a "friend" of Walker and painted an odd picture of that night.

Regardless of how and where this attack took place, it doesn't appear that it will make Walker less attractive in fantasy drafts. The veteran wideout from Florida State was already considered a risk-reward player. Aside from his problematic knee, which caused him to miss significant time while in Denver last season, Walker is also in an offense led by a quarterback (JaMarcus Russell) with minimal experience as an NFL starter.

The good news is that Walker shouldn't miss time due to what had to be a frightening experience. And hopefully, reports of the fractured orbital bone is false. But it's still hard to see Walker returning to the elite fantasy status he earned in his third NFL season, when he totaled 89 receptions, 1,382 yards and 12 touchdowns as a member of the Green Bay Packers.

In fact, I don't see Walker as more than a No. 3 fantasy wideout.


Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Ocho Cinco to have surgery

Our Adam Schefter is reporting that Chad Johnson will undergo ankle surgery on Wednesday. His agent, Drew Rosenhaus, told reporters last week that his client has bone chips in the ankle. Johnson is expected to return in time for training camp, but this is a situation that fantasy footballers need to watch over the next several weeks.

Chad Johnson, WR
Cincinnati Bengals

2007 statistics
Rec: 93
Yards: 1,400
TDs: 8

Johnson hasn't been the most consistent player at his position over the past two seasons, but he's still averaged 90 receptions, 1,404 yards and scored a combined 15 touchdowns in that time. Those numbers make him a No. 1 fantasy wideout across the board.

Johnson also plans to honor his current contract, according to Rosenhaus, so all of his offseason talk of a holdout seems to have been little more than blown smoke. Barring setbacks, this surgical procedure shouldn't have too much of a negative affect on his draft value.

With so much pomp and circumstance around Ocho Cinco, however, I'm keeping him out of the top five fantasy players at his position. Randy Moss, Terrell Owens, Reggie Wayne, Braylon Edwards and Andre Johnson should all be taken ahead of him. In fact, you can make an argument that T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Larry Fitzgerald, Steve Smith and Marques Colston even warrant consideration in drafts before Johnson and all of his personal baggage.

In other wide receiver news, Anquan Boldin isn't sure if he'll attend Arizona's training camp due to contractual issues. Most of these holdout threats aren't followed through into the regular season (much like Shaun Alexander, Hines Ward and Lance Briggs in recent season), so I don't think Boldin's value is affected.

In fact, I'd be more worried about how the presence of Matt Leinart in a prominent role alters the value of Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald. At this point, I still see Boldin as a high-end No. 2 fantasy wideout in all formats.

A wideout whose future is a lot more clouded is Terry Glenn, who had reportedly asked for his release from the Dallas Cowboys. Glenn is upset with the team after it asked him to sign an injury waiver due to concerns over his problematic knee. The veteran hasn't been able to practice with the team, but Glenn and his own personal doctor in Columbus, Ohio believes the health of his knee is not an issue.

If Glenn doesn't sign the waiver, the Cowboys could be forced to release him. If Glenn is cut, the team would be in bad shape at the wide receiver position. Terrell Owens is of course a lock to start with Patrick Crayton second on the depth chart. Sam Hurd would be the favorite to open the season as the No. 3 wide receiver, while Miles Austin, Isaiah Stanbeck and Danny Amendola would battle for depth-chart position.

Even if Glenn were to remain with Dallas, his knee problems have already drained much of his fantasy value.


Curse of the fantasy writer?

I've always liked to have fun with curses, trends and superstitions as they relate to fantasy football.

I've documented now infamous hexes like the Madden curse and the curse of the Super Bowl loser this offseason, and I'm always the first person to jump on trends like second- and third-year wide receivers and how closing in on the age of 30 affects the value of running backs.

Now I'm starting to feel like I've created a curse.

OK, it's a little far fetched (like I said, I like to have fun with curses), but five of the 10 players I had listed in my original players to avoid column have suffered some sort of setback or off-field incident.

Javon Walker, WR
Oakland Raiders

2007 statistics
Games: 8
Rec: 26
Yards: 287
TDs: 0

The first is Shaun Alexander (remember, some of these columns were written earlier in the offseason and have been updated as needed). Based on emails I received on the potential for Alexander to rebound this season, I thought it was a good idea to put him on the list of players to avoid in prominent draft positions. In my opinion, Alexander was done the second he turned 30 and lost OG Steve Hutchinson to the Minnesota Vikings.

Seattle released him in April, and he still hasn't landed with another team.

The next player on my list of those to avoid that have had some offseason trouble is Marvin Harrison. He missed most of last season with an injured knee, and at 35 (he'll be 36 in late August) Harrison's time as an elite fantasy wideout appear to be finished. Then came news that Harrison's name came up in a shooting in Philadelphia. No charges have been filed in the incident, and it appears Harrison will be back for the 2008 season.

How he'll perform, however, still remains to be seen.

I noticed this trend or curse when the next player, Travis Henry, was given his walking papers earlier this month. With Selvin Young, Michael Pittman, Andre Hall and rookie Ryan Torain in the mix, Henry was a perfect bust candidate. Then the Broncos decided to move on with him.

Like Alexander, Henry still hasn't landed with another team.

So with three players in my column in the news (none of it positive), I wasn't shocked to see a fourth player fall on hard times. Despite reports that he was still considered the favorite to start in Chicago, I still had little faith in Cedric Benson. I've never seen a back with so much talent run with so little motivation. So when the Bears drafted Matt Forte in April, I felt like Benson's fate was sealed.

Of course, Benson was ultimately released after a second run-in with police over alcohol-related issues. He also hasn't found a suitor, and chances are he could be a free agent when training camps open in July.

The fifth player to fall victim to the Fabiano curse is Javon Walker.

As much as I liked Walker in Green Bay, nothing has gone right for him since he tore his ACL in Week 1 of the 2005 season. He had issues with Packers management and finally landed in Denver, where he recorded 1,084 yards and eight touchdowns in 2006. Knee issues caused him to miss half of the 2007 season, but he still landed a monster contract with the Oakland Raiders in the offseason.

Now comes word that Walker was the victim of a robbery in Las Vegas and suffered "significant injuries" as a result of the incident. He was left unconscious on a Vegas street after a night of partying. A large amount of cash was a few pieces of jewelry were taken, according to police. There was also a report that Walker had sustained an orbital fracture" as a result of the attack.

Raiders officials are still in the process of gathering information.

The players who have been "unaffected" despite being on my list of players to avoid include Bernard Berrian, Justin Fargas, Edgerrin James, Greg Jennings, Jon Kitna, Matt Leinart (replaced Alexander), Jeremy Shockey (replaced Henry) and Fred Taylor (replaced Benson). And with all the talk about Shockey's relationship (or lack there of) with the New York Giants, he could be the next player whose fantasy value is altered.

Stay tuned...


Monday, June 16, 2008

Cadillac in drive for Bucs?

One of the biggest questions headed into the 2008 fantasy football season centers around the status of Cadillac Williams in his return from an injured knee.

Williams sustained a damaged patellar tendon in the third week of last season that was so serious that it was questioned whether or not his career was over. But after a surgical procedure to repair the tendon and months of laborious rehabilitation, Williams might actually have a chance to be on the Buccaneers' active roster at some point this season.

Cadillac Williams, RB
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

2007 statistics
Games: 4
Att: 54
Yards: 208
TDs: 3

"What he's done is nothing short of miraculous," head coach Jon Gruden told the St. Peterburg Times. "He has worked his tail off. He's got a chance to be ready to play football again this season. The amount of work he's put forth has really excited our players, and he's really done a great job."

Williams has even asked general manger Bruce Allen if he would allow him to participate in the team's three-day minicamp, but that is still a very unlikely scenario.

"We're going to have to harness him a little bit," Allen said. "Put a governor on the Cadillac."

The reason this situation is so important in fantasy land is because it ultimately affects the value of Earnest Graham. One of the best sleepers of the 2007 season, Graham came out of nowhere to produce 49 receptions, better than 1,200 scrimmage yards and 10 touchdowns. Numbers like that would make him an attractive No. 2 fantasy back, even after the addition of veteran Warrick Dunn in the offseason. But if Williams were able to return, either in Week 1 or at some point during the regular season, Graham's draft stock could experience an Enron-like fall.

After all, it's hard enough for a back to sustain a consistent level of production when another player (in this case Dunn) is utilized on passing downs. Imagine how hard it would be for fantasy owners to lean on Graham if Tampa Bay's backfield turned into a three-headed monster that included Dunn and Williams.

At this point in time, it appears that Williams has a better chance of starting training camp on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list. But if he continues to work hard and makes enough progress with the knee where he's certain to return this season, Graham could go from a running back to target to one to avoid on Draft Day.


Friday, June 13, 2008

Rivers, Burress in the news

» Philip Rivers has made incredible progress in his recovery from surgery to repair the torn ACL in his right knee. He's been able to run at full speed and even participated in full 11-on-11 practices earlier in the month. But while Rivers has never been a mobile quarterback, it still takes (on average) one full year before mental and physical confidence in a reconstructed knee is restored. He also faces the hardest schedule among quarterbacks in 2008, with 12 games against teams that finished in the top 10 against the pass last season. I see him as more of a No. 2 fantasy quarterback overall, but I might avoid him altogether based on his knee and the difficult nature of San Diego's schedule.


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» Plaxico Burress refused to participate in the Giants' mandatory minicamp this week because he wants a new contract. It might not be a coincidence that Burress' agent is Drew Rosenhaus, who also represents Chad Johnson. It's too soon to put up a red flag on Burress in terms of his fantasy value, however, because most players don't make good on threats of long-term holdouts. In fact, Hines Ward, Shaun Alexander, Lance Briggs and now Johnson are a few of the names who have talked the holdout talk but didn't walk the walk when it came time to missing time in the regular season.

» The state of the Seattle wide receivers is in limbo, as Deion Branch could miss the start of the regular season with an injured knee and Bobby Engram has threatened to hold out over contractual issues. Nate Burleson (50 receptions, 694 yards, 9 TDs in 2007) will be undervalued in drafts regardless of Branch and Engram, and Courtney Taylor could turn into a prominent option for the team this season. Reports indicate Taylor, not Ben Obomanu, has the inside track on the third spot on the depth chart until Branch's status becomes more clear. Whatever the scenario, the winner of the Taylor vs. Obomanu battle could be a low-end sleeper candidate.

» The backfield situation in Denver currently includes Selvin Young, Michael Pittman and rookie Ryan Torain, but the forgotten player in this battle is Andre Hall. The Denver Post reports that Hall, not Pittman, finished the team's recent minicamp second on the depth chart behind Young. I still think Pittman or Torain will be Young's eventual fantasy handcuff (Torain might have the best chance to unseat Young as the starter), but this news shows how unpredictable Mike Shanahan can be with his backfield rotation. This is a situation fantasy footballers need to keep close tabs on right up until the last week of the preseason.

» Reports out of Kansas City suggest that Damon Huard has fallen to third on the Chiefs' depth chart behind starter Brodie Croyle and Tyler Thigpen. What's more, there have been rumors that head coach Herman Edwards could give Thigpen a chance to unseat Croyle if the Alabama product fails to make strides in 2008. While neither Croyle nor Thigpen warrants serious consideration in most fantasy drafts, the status of the team's quarterback situation will have an affect on Dwayne Bowe and Tony Gonzalez. Aside from Larry Johnson, Bowe and Gonzalez are the two most valuable fantasy players on the team. Their values could be affected if Edwards makes a move at quarterback.


Thursday, June 12, 2008

Ocho Cinco reports to minicamp

Chad Johnson had threatened to hold out from all Cincinnati Bengals team activities, including training camp, during one of his numerous offseason rants to the media.

But when the Bengals opened their mandatory minicamp practice on Thursday, Johnson was there (albeit 12 minutes late). However, showing up to camp was about all he did. Johnson didn't run routes during positional drills and failed to interact with teammates or coaches not named T.J. Houshmandzadeh.

Then came word that the controversial wideout had complained to the training staff of a back ailment. Johnson's agent, Drew Rosenhaus, made an appearance at the practice and said his client also has an ankle ailment that could require surgery. In fact, Johnson had planned to have an arthroscopic procedure done in the offseason.

Chad Johnson, WR
Cincinnati Bengals

2007 statistics
Rec: 93
Yards: 1,400
TDs: 8

He didn't.

"It's been an issue dating back to last year and we're dealing with it now," Rosenhaus told bengals.com. "He may be going to see a specialist."

Head coach Marvin Lewis said the team would do its due diligence in terms of Johnson's ankle issues and didn't seem concerned that the wideout didn't participate in the practice.

"We're investigating what ailment it is so they're going to go through some further study and see how it goes through the weekend," Lewis said. "He went to the meetings, but didn't take any reps, which is kind of good because it allows us to move forward. The young guys need the work."

So what does all this mean to fantasy football owners?

Well, it means that Johnson, one of the better wide receivers in fantasy land, has a little more risk attached to him headed into the 2008 season.

Johnson hasn't been the most consistent player at his position over the past two seasons, but he's still averaged 90 receptions, 1,404 yards and scored a combined 15 touchdowns in that time. Those numbers make him a No. 1 fantasy wideout across the board. Johnson also plans to honor his current contract, according to Rosenhaus, so all of his offseason talk of a holdout seems to have been little more than blown smoke.

What owners do need to be concerned about, outside of his sudden ankle and back ailments, is a strained relationship with Carson Palmer. When asked about Johnson, the All-Pro quarterback didn't have kind words of encouragement.

"I think everybody in here is probably sick of hearing about him. Everybody out there is sick about hearing about him," Palmer said. "I'm not going to talk about him, I'll talk about other guys.

With so much pomp and circumstance around the Ocho Cinco soap opera, I'm keeping him out of the top five fantasy players at his position. Randy Moss, Terrell Owens, Reggie Wayne, Braylon Edwards and Andre Johnson should all be taken ahead of him. In fact, you can make an argument that Houshmandzadeh, Larry Fitzgerald, Steve Smith and Marques Colston even warrant consideration in drafts before Johnson and all of his personal baggage.


Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Branch remains a question

Deion Branch was once considered an attractive option in fantasy football. But ever since his holdout in New England and eventual trade to Seattle, Branch has seen a decided decrease in value.

His first season with the Seahawks was a disappointment, as he missed time with injuries and finished with 53 receptions, 725 yards and four touchdowns. The trade of Darrell Jackson heading into last season made Branch more valuable in 2007 fantasy drafts, but injuries limited his level of statistical success. He finished with an unimpressive 49 receptions, 661 yards and four touchdowns in 11 contests.

Deion Branch, WR
Seattle Seahawks

2007 statistics
Games: 11
Rec: 49
Yards: 661
TDs: 4

If that weren't enough for him to tumble down rank lists, Branch then tore his ACL in a postseason loss to the Green Bay Packers. The ailment required a surgical procedure that could keep Branch out for part of the 2008 season. In fact, head coach Mike Holmgren does not expect Branch to be available for his team's regular-season opener in Buffalo. The veteran wideout has been doing agility drills on the side during OTAs, but a timetable for his return to action remains in limbo.

With Branch's status in doubt, the value of Bobby Engram and Nate Burleson has risen across the board. Engram recorded the first 1,000-yard season of his career in 2007 and become a favorite target for Matt Hasselbeck. But reports now indicate that Engram is frustrated with his contract and has threatened to hold out of training camp. Because of his age (he turned 35 in January), the team is hesitant to extend his contract. The former Penn State standout should be seen as a high-end No. 3 wideout in fantasy land, but owners should monitor his contract situation.

Burleson, who scored tied a career high with nine touchdowns last season, could become a solid sleeper in drafts. He's slated to start alongside Engram until (and if) Branch returns to action. Should Engram's holdout come to fruition, the names Courtney Taylor and Ben Obomanu (no, not the democratic candidate for president) could be mentioned in fantasy land. The team will also look to incorporate rookie John Carlson into the pass attack. However, the Notre Dame product shouldn't be seen as more than a No. 2 fantasy tight end.

Another reason to keep tabs on Branch and Engram surrounds the value of Hasselbeck. If he loses two of his top three receivers, Hasselbeck could struggle to reach the 3,996 passing yards and 28 touchdowns he recorded last season. In fact, based on the questions surrounding Branch and Engram and an expected increase in the ground attack with Julius Jones, Maurice Morris and T.J. Duckett, Hasselbeck's numbers could slide a bit in 2008.


Tuesday, June 10, 2008

McNabb has shoulder issues

The Philadelphia Eagles have decided to shut down Donovan McNabb due to what is being called shoulder tendinitis. Head coach Andy Reid said the injury is "not a big deal," but this is still something for fantasy owners to monitor.

Donovan McNabb, QB
Philadelphia Eagles

2007 statistics
Comp: 291
Att: 473
Yards: 3,324
TDs/INTs: 19/7

McNabb was on what amounts to a pitch count for baseball pitchers in recent workouts, but now he won't practice for the remainder of this week. Reid compared this ailment to the one McNabb endured in 2004, when the team also decided to shut him down during OTAs.

"We will back off of him just like we did in 2004, and he should be ready for training camp," Reid told philadelphiaeagles.com. "No surgery, and there should be no repercussions from it. He'll just get treatment for about two weeks here, and he'll be ready to go."

The veteran signal-caller out of Syracuse will start a rehabilitation program that consists mostly of rest before he'll be allowed to throw a football again, which could be in a few short weeks.

McNabb was selected as a No. 1 fantasy quarterback in most 2007 drafts, but he produced less like a starter and more like a reserve in most formats. He was extremely inconsistent, as 61 percent of his touchdown passes in the fantasy season came in three starts. McNabb also failed to reach double-digit fantasy points on NFL.com in three starts and had minus-2 points in another contest. He also missed two starts due to injuries.

He did finish the season on a high note, however, as McNabb threw for 816 yards with five touchdowns in his final three starts. That could indicate he re-gained mental and physical confidence in his reconstructed right knee.

But based on his long line of injuries at the pro level, not to mention this latest shoulder ailment, McNabb has to be considered one of the biggest risk-reward fantasy players at his position.

McNabb is ranked ninth at the quarterback position on NFL.com.


Monday, June 9, 2008

Bears release troubled RB Benson

In a move that should surprise no one, the Chicago Bears have released Cedric Benson. The decision came after Benson's second run-in with police this offseason.

Matt Forte, RB
Chicago Bears

2007 statistics
(Tulane)
Att: 361
Yards: 2,127
TDs: 23

Benson joins a long line of recent bust running backs drafted by the team, a list that includes Curtis Enis, Rashaan Salaam and Anthony Thomas. While no one knows what the future holds for the troubled Benson, it just became a lot brighter for one of his former teammates.

Welcome to fantasy relevance, Matt Forte.

Forte, a rookie out of Tulane, has been ultra-impressive in his short time with the team. In fact, offensive coordinator Ron Turner has been public about his praise for him.

"I love Matt Forte," offensive coordinator Ron Turner told the Chicago Tribune. "He's got the size, he's got the hands. He's smooth as an athlete, very smooth. How many touches do I see him getting? A lot."

Now that the team has parted ways with Benson, Forte becomes the instant favorite to start ahead of Adrian Peterson and Garrett Wolfe. And for those fantasy footballers worried that the team's unstable quarterback position will hurt Forte's value, there's no need for such concern. In fact, I covered that topic earlier this month when I looked at several running backs who thrived despite a reliable quarterback.

The Bears won't hand Forte the top spot on the depth chart, but he's already well on his way to earning it. I'd consider him a high-end No. 3 fantasy back with the potential to be much more in 2008.


Benson in trouble again

Cedric Benson was in the news once again over the weekend.

It wasn't for an outstanding effort in offseason workouts or a report on his rehabilitation from surgery to repair a fractured leg near his ankle.

It was for another incident with the police.

Cedric Benson, RB
Chicago Bears

Career statistics
Games: 35
Att: 420
Yards: 1,593
TDs: 10

Benson, who was arrested earlier in the offseason for boating while intoxicated, had another run-in with police for driving while intoxicated in Austin, Texas. An Austin police spokeswoman said Benson was pulled over on June 7 for running a red light and refused to take a breath test or provide blood samples.

Fantasy football owners should now refuse to consider Benson in drafts.

While Benson's attorney, Sam Bassett, stated that his client "doesn't feel like he was intoxicated," this is almost certainly the beginning of the end for Benson as a member of the Chicago Bears.

"Disappointment is too much an often used word when we’re talking about Cedric," Bears GM Jerry Angelo said. "The No. 1 lesson for every player is protect your job. We’re all held accountable for our actions. I’m not going to say any more than that until we know for sure what the facts are."

Benson is expected to meet with team official this week to discuss this latest incident, not to mention his future with the team. Since being selected in the first round of the 2005 NFL Draft, Benson has been a serious bust both on the field and in fantasy land. He has rushed for 1,593 yards and 10 touchdowns, averaging 3.8 yards a carry.

He's also missed 13 games due to injuries.

The selection of Tulane's Matt Forte this past April was the first indication that the team has lost confidence in Benson as a featured back. The coaching staff has become enamored with Forte, who has even greater sleeper value after Benson's latest off-field issues.

"I love Matt Forte," offensive coordinator Ron Turner told the Chicago Tribune. "He's got the size, he's got the hands. He's smooth as an athlete, very smooth. How many touches do I see him getting? A lot."

With praise like that, it's hard to see Forte in anything less than a prominent role as a rookie. The Bears have had numerous busts at the running back position since the retirement of the great Walter Payton (Curtis Enis, Rashaan Salaam, Anthony Thomas, Benson), but Forte will look to break that trend. If the team does release Benson, Forte would become the instant favorite to start ahead of Adrian Peterson and Garrett Wolfe.

If you ask me, Forte was the favorite to start the second the Bears took him in the draft.

This situation (more to the point, Benson's status in Chicago) is one for fantasy footballers to watch in the weeks and months to come. But even if Benson remains on the team, his failures both on and off the field make him one player to avoid in a prominent spot in all drafts.


Friday, June 6, 2008

Positive news on Delhomme

The name Jake Delhomme doesn't incite a lot of excitement in fantasy football.

The veteran out of Louisiana-Lafayette was buried on the New Orleans depth chart for the first five seasons of his NFL career, and he didn't have much value in fantasy circles until he went to Carolina. While he did have two solid seasons from 2004-05, one of which led to a Super Bowl appearance, Delhomme's numbers over the past two seasons have been mediocre.

Jake Delhomme, QB
Carolina Panthers

2007 Statistics
Comp: 55
Att: 86
Yards: 624
TDs/INTs: 8/1

He has missed 13 starts due to injuries in that timeframe, and he required what's become known as "Tommy John" surgery to repair the damaged right elbow he suffered last September.

Despite his proneness to injuries in recent seasons, however, fantasy owners should be optimistic about Delhomme's value for 2008.

Delhomme has had no setbacks in his rehabilitation from what was considered a successful surgical procedure. In fact, he's been able to throw the football in Carolina's recent OTAs (Organized Team Activities).

He's even drawn praise from teammate Steve Smith.

"It seems like he has a stronger arm; he's not showing any signs of weakness with that major surgery," Smith told the Charlotte Observer.

Aside from his tremendous rapport with Smith, who is one of the top wideouts in fantasy football, Delhomme will also have new additions D.J. Hackett and veteran Muhsin Muhammad at his disposal. That list of weapons could increase even further if Dwayne Jarrett can make strides after a disappointing rookie season.

Delhomme should also have added support from the team's backfield after the addition of rookie Jonathan Stewart, who will be paired with DeAngelo Williams.

Fantasy footballers should also remember that before he hurt his elbow last season, Delhomme was the fourth-most productive quarterback on NFL.com. He threw for 624 yards and eight touchdowns in what amounted to fewer than three full starts, and his 72 fantasy points were more than Brett Favre, Peyton Manning, Ben Roethlisberger and Matt Hasselbeck. He'll also face Arizona, Atlanta (2), Chicago, Detroit, Minnesota and New Orleans (2) this season -- none of those defenses finished better than 23rd against the pass in 2007.

Barring setbacks, Delhomme could be considered a candidate to exceed expectations and develop into a tremendous draft value. Consider him in the late rounds as a No. 2 fantasy quarterback with the skills, experience (not to mention a long list of favorable defensive matchups) to make a legitimate impact in fantasy land.


Thursday, June 5, 2008

RB Brown making progress

Ronnie Brown was the most valuable running back in fantasy football after the first six weeks of last season.

Not LaDainian Tomlinson, Adrian Peterson or Brian Westbrook. It was Ronnie Brown.

Ronnie Brown, RB
Miami Dolphins

2007 Statistics
Att: 119
Yards: 602
Rec: 39
Yards: 389
TDs: 5

Then came Week 7, when Brown tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee in a loss to the New England Patriots. He had already amassed five receptions and 109 scrimmage yards in the contest before sustaining the ailment. That had put him on pace to record 89 receptions (one fewer than Westbrook's 90, which led all running backs) and 2,265 scrimmage yards (would have been the 11th most all-time in a single season).

Instead, he finished the season on injured reserve.

Brown underwent a surgical procedure to repair the damage and has spent the offseason in a rehabilitation program geared towards strengthening the muscles around the knee. The Miami Herald reports that Brown's recovery is "apparently going very well," and new head coach Tony Sparano expects him to be ready for the start of training camp. While he hasn't been involved in team drills, Brown has received more carries in the team's recent OTA (Offseason Team Activities) workouts.

"Each one of these practices, he's been able to do a little bit more and that's good for us and good for Ronnie," Sparano told the Herald.

That's also good news for fantasy football owners, but to what extent remains to be seen.

Barring setbacks, Brown will remains atop the Dolphins' depth chart and should be in the backfield in Week 1 when the team opens its season against the New York Jets. But based on the struggles of most backs in their first season back from a major knee injury, not to mention the presence of veteran Ricky Williams, Brown could be in for a slow start. In fact, a committee situation that includes Brown and Williams could be utilized in an effort to ease Brown into the offensive attack.

So where does Brown fit into the landscape of fantasy drafts?

Well, there's no doubt that he can make some serious statistical noise based on last season's success, and a Bill Parcells team is certain to lean on the run (especially with John Beck or Josh McCown under center). But because of questions about his knee and the potential for a committee situation with Williams, Brown will be seen as more of a second- to fourth-round selection as a No. 2 fantasy runner.


Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Fantasy football is back!

You've been waiting for it. It's OK to admit it.

You're an NFL fanatic, and the offseason leaves you feeling a little empty on Sundays. But with the release of NFL.com's FREE Fantasy 2008 and League Manager games, it's time to prepare for the start of the fantasy football season. While we're left to wait until August for preseason action, fantasy footballers can start to prepare for that ever-important draft right now. And there's no better place to build up your fantasy knowledge than right here on NFL.com.

NFL.com's fantasy preview hits newsstands on June 16, but you can order your copy right now at NFL Shop.

» Click here to order

If you're looking for an immediate fix, you can visit NFL Shop.com and order your copy of the NFL.com Fantasy Football magazine, which hits newsstands soon. The magazine is chock full of information from NFL.com experts and personalities and is a tremendous basis for building your draft preparations.

Everything in the magazine is updated on nfl.com/fantasy, where you can find player rankings, in-depth content and video. We've also released our 2008 NFL.com fantasy draft kit, which includes close to 50 pieces of original content.

Our draft kit has all the bases covered.

Looking for sleepers, breakout players, players to avoid and the top fantasy rookies? We have it. Looking for players in contract years, a list of second- and third-year wide receivers and running backs who turn 29 or older this season. We have it. Do you need a refresher course on all the important offseason player movement, the impact of offensive lines or a break down of all 32 NFL backfields?

Yeah, we have that too.

We've also broken down the teams with the easiest run and pass schedules and exclusive player rankings for every position, including individual defensive players. That means QBs, RBs, WRs, TEs, K, DTs, LBs, DLs and DBs are all covered. We've even taken a look back at last season to find out which players posted the most consistent and inconsistent fantasy numbers on a weekly basis.

Some of the results will surprise you.

NFL.com senior editor Craig Ellenport covered the top training camp battles to watch, and for all of you NFL historians out there, NFL.com associate editor Adam Rank took a look back at the roots of fantasy football.

In short, there's really no reason to visit any other website than NFL.com for all of your fantasy football needs.

Let the fantasy games begin!


Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Leinart, Warner battle in Arizona

A recent report out of Arizona suggested that while Matt Leinart remains atop the Cardinals' depth chart, Kurt Warner is very much in the mix. If you're a fantasy football enthusiast, you're pulling for the latter.

Leinart struggled at the start of last season before an injured collarbone landed him on the sidelines. Enter Warner, who would finish with 3,417 passing yards and 28 total touchdowns in his absence.

Matt Leinart, QB
Arizona Cardinals

2007 Statistics
Comp: 60
Att: 112
Yards: 647
TD/INT: 2/4

The veteran was one of the better waiver-wire additions in fantasy land and led countless owners to a league championship. Furthermore, he'd be a Top-10 fantasy quarterback headed into this season if not for the presence of Leinart.

While head coach Ken Whisenhunt told the Arizona Republic that Leinart has made "major strides" in the offseason, it's still hard not to think about last season's failures (not to mention pictures of him in a hot tub with college co-eds).

But because a move to Warner could be seen as a setback to the Cardinals' franchise, the Southern California product is still seen as the favorite to open this season as the starter and remains a better option in fantasy drafts. That perception will have a trickle-down effect on the team's talented duo of wide receivers, Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald.

While both remain prominent options in fantasy land, Fitzgerald and Boldin would have more value with Warner under center. It should also be noted that in the three starts Leinart, Boldin and Fitzgerald were all active last season, Leinart seemed to favor Boldin in the pass attack. The Florida State product recorded 22 receptions, 286 yards and three touchdowns, while Fitzgerald had 15 receptions, 192 yards and no touchdowns.

As it stands, Leinart should be seen as no more than a middle- to late-round flier in seasonal formats. The potential for statistical success is evident, but Leinart has much to prove before he earns a prominent role in fantasy circles. Should he falter and lose the top spot, I'd look for Warner to rank right up there with Carson Palmer, Ben Roethlisberger, Derek Anderson and Matt Hasselbeck at the quarterback position.


Monday, June 2, 2008

Broncos release RB Henry

The backfield situation in Denver became a little more clear on Monday, as the team decided to part ways with Travis Henry. The veteran rushed for 691 yards on 167 carries (4.1 avg.) with four touchdowns in 12 games (7 starts) last season, but his failures down the stretch made him less of an asset to the Broncos and fantasy footballers alike. Now a free agent, Henry joins Shaun Alexander on the list of past-their-prime runners who are looking for work.

Selvin Young, RB
Denver Broncos

2007 Statistics
Att: 140
Yards: 729
TD: 1

With Henry out of the mix, Selvin Young sees a significant boost in value. He's now atop the team's depth chart and believes he can rush for 2,000 yards this season. Young, who has added seven pounds in the offseason, described himself as a "beast" in a recent interview with the Denver Post. Whether or not he can be a beast for owners remains to be seen, as there are questions if Young can handle the load of a featured runner at the NFL level. In fact, Shanahan has stated in the past that he doesn't see Young as an every-down back.

Enter Michael Pittman and Ryan Torain.

Pittman signed with the team last month and should see time as a third-down back and on passing downs. Torain is the darkhorse in the competition. A talented runner out of Arizona State, Torain will now warrant late-round consideration in most fantasy drafts.

However, the Denver running back to target (at least for now) is Young. Based on the success of the position under Shanahan in the past, the Texas product should now be seen as a viable No. 2 fantasy back. He might not rush for 2,000 yards, but Young should reach the 1,000-yard mark if he can secure the top spot on the depth chart in training camp. Pittman appears to be the favorite to finish second and become Young's handcuff, but be sure to keep tabs on Torain as well.

NFL News
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