The retirement of Tiki Barber left a void in the New York Giants backfield and has left fantasy owners with one less reliable back to choose in the first round of drafts. But if Brandon Jacobs has anything to say about it, the transition from the Barber Era to the Jacobs Era will be a smooth one for the Giants and owners alike.
Jacobs, a 6-foot-4, 264-pound touchdown machine, will bring more of a power running game to the Men in Blue. A goal-line runner behind Barber for the first two seasons of his NFL career, Jacobs now has to prove that he can run the football in a much more featured role. He hasn't been in that sort of situation since 2002, when he was the main man out of the backfield for Coffeyville Community College in Kansas. Jacobs moved on to Auburn, where he was behind future first-round selections Ronnie Brown and Cadillac Williams, and he also shared carries with two other running backs after he transferred to Southern Illinois.
He won't have to do it all alone in the Big Apple, though, as the team acquired Reuben Droughns in the offseason. Droughns, a 5-foot-11, 220-pound runner who rushed for 3,230 yards the past three seasons between Denver and Cleveland, will be used to spell Jacobs and minimize the punishment he will endure.
"We know we're going to need each other, and we know we're going to need to pick each other up and stand by each other because we know it is a task for all of us," Droughns told the Giants official website. "I think we are replacing a legend and it's going to take all of us, it's going to be collective."
Therein lies the issue that faces fantasy owners when it's time to draft: Will the Giants be able to lean on Jacobs in a featured and prominent role, or will he be used in a backfield committee along with Droughns?
Offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride seems to think the former of those two scenarios will come to fruition.
"You have to start with Brandon as the guy with Reuben competing for as much playing time as he can get and Brandon trying to hold off and trying to get as much as he can hold on to," Gilbride said. "Tom (Coughlin) said there's some interesting competition at certain positions and it is probably not proper for me to say that I think this guy is going to start. But right now you got to say that Brandon is the guy we feel confident in to be the running back to carry the ball 20-25 times a game. But we will let it play out."
A tremendous sleeper candidate, Jacobs will be allowed every chance to earn that top spot, and the fact that he will also remain the main option near the goal line makes him that much more attractive. Even if he posts mediocre yardage totals in a given contest, that one-yard run across the goal line is still worth six points for fantasy owners. And if he finishes the season with 1,000 rushing yards (62.5 yards per game) and eight touchdowns (his career season average), Jacobs will still finish with 148 fantasy points - that's more than Thomas Jones, Ronnie Brown and Willis McGahee had last season without adding receiving yards.
Unless he falters in the preseason or a backfield committee with Droughns is announced, Jacobs should be considered well worth a second- or third-round selection as a viable No. 2 fantasy runner in all formats.
LEFTWICH LOOKING SHARP IN CAMP
All the talk about a quarterback battle in Jacksonville's training camp has been silenced due to the play of veteran Byron Leftwich, who has been one of the most impressive players in the team's practice sessions.
NFL Network's Adam Schefter reports that Leftwich has been the talk of camp over the past two weeks. He has improved his footwork under the watchful eye of quarterbacks coach Mike Shula, and it seems the ankle issues that have hindered his career are behind him. New offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter will also let Leftwich be more involved in calling plays, and the fact that the new system will utilize the vertical pass attack often could be a positive for the quarterback's statistical success and value in fantasy football drafts.
But before we label Leftwich an underrated sleeper candidate in drafts, we need to keep a few things in mind. First, this is a player who has missed 15 starts over the past two seasons, mostly due to injuries. Leftwich has also never thrown for 3,000 passing yards in a season in his NFL career - his best total is 2,941 yards in 2004 - and his highest touchdown total is 17, which he achieved in both 2004 and 2005.
The fact that Leftwich will be motivated to produce in what is a contract year is notable, and an increase in his number of chances to throw the football downfield could mean some nice stat lines. But this is still a run-based offense, and Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew remain the centerpieces. Furthermore, the Jaguars have serious question marks at the wide receiver position. Matt Jones has fallen to third on the current depth chart behind veterans Dennis Northcutt and Ernest Wilford and is now working as the slot receiver. Former first-round selection Reggie Williams has been working with the third-team offense.
Leftwich will be a viable starter against weaker opponents and is worth a late-round selection in drafts as a No. 2 or 3 fantasy quarterback, and he could even move up our rank list if he continues to perform at a high level in preseason action. But in an offense that will lean on the run and with questions about the wide receiver position and his own proneness to injuries, Leftwich won't lead your fantasy football team to a title.
NEWS & NOTES
--Reports out of Oakland indicate that LaMont Jordan and Dominic Rhodes are about even in their competition for the top spot on the Raiders' depth chart. With Rhodes out for the first four contests due to a league-imposed suspension, however, Jordan will open the season as the starter and be considered a viable No. 3 fantasy runner or flex starter. Once Rhodes does return (Week 6 at San Diego), a backfield committee and a number of headaches for fantasy owners could be the result.
--With rookie Dwayne Jarrett limited due to an injured hamstring, Keary Colbert, not Drew Carter, seems to have emerged as the favorite to start opposite Steve Smith. While the Panthers would like to see Jarrett earn the role, it seems that he hasn't done enough to this point to warrant a promotion. Colbert, who made an impact for fantasy owners as a rookie but disappeared the past two seasons, still has limited value in most drafts. Carter should now be removed from rank lists.
--One of the most famous "touchdown vultures" in fantasy football history, Mike Alstott was placed on IR by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Once considered a viable fantasy starter due to his nose for the end zone and skills as a runner and receiver out of the backfield, Alstott has had to deal with neck problems in recent seasons. With the "A-Train" out of the mix, Cadillac Williams is in line to see more goal-line opportunities that would make him a more attractive No. 2 fantasy back.
--Joe Horn seems to be a lock to start in Atlanta, but the battle for the second starting spot between Michael Jenkins and Roddy White isn't so clear cut. In fact, White has been impressive in training camp and the coaches have used Jenkins as a slot receiver in recent practices. While this is positive for White and could be detrimental to Jenkins, no wide receiver outside of Horn warrants serious draft consideration, and he is worth little more than a middle- to late-round selection.
--Michael Robinson has lost 13 pounds due to a recent bout with dehydration and is now about five pounds from his playing weight of 227 pounds. He had to be carted off the field last week when he didn't adequately hydrate himself, but Robinson has returned to 49ers practice. This situation is relevant for fantasy owners as Robinson, Maurice Hicks and Thomas Clayton all battle for the second spot on the depth chart. The winner will be seen as a nice late-round handcuff for Frank Gore.