When NFL fans think about special teams, one name comes to mind -- that name is Steve Tasker.
At 5-foot-8 and 183 pounds, Tasker wasn't the biggest man on the football field, but he was still one of the most feared hitters on both punt and kickoff return coverages. He is also widely considered the first non-kicker or punter to establish himself as a star playing almost exclusively on special teams. The former Buffalo Bills standout was also voted to seven Pro Bowls and was named the game's MVP in 1993.
Tasker now works as an analyst for the Bills and CBS Sports, and he's also been in fantasy football leagues. I caught up with the special teams wizard this week to talk about the Bills and fantasy football.
Fabiano: What have you seen from Marshawn Lynch in training camp? What will his role be in the Buffalo offense this season?
Tasker: I think he's going to be their No. 1 back without question, and they're going to use him in a number of different ways. He's not only going to run the football, but he's also going to catch it a lot out of the backfield. If you're in a league that puts a premium on yardage, then he's a guy to get.
Fabiano: Talk a little bit about the development of J.P. Losman. What can fantasy owners expect from him?
Tasker: I think he's going to take a step forward, but I don't think he's going to take as big a step as he did last season. He went from a 40-rated passer to an 84-rated passer, and I think he'll be a little bit more consistent. If he can throw out those games where he was a 40-rated passer and be above 80 or 90, then the team is going to be happy. I think Losman will throw for over 3,000 yards again this season.
Fabiano: How has the team's re-constructed offensive line looked thus far?
Tasker: They've certainly gotten bigger, that's for sure. Jason Peters is a 340 pounder at left tackle. One the other side Langston Walker is 6-foot-8, 360 pounder from Oakland, and then there's Derrick Dockery, who came in from Washington and is a 330-pound guy at left guard.
Fabiano: Has the line been solidified?
Tasker: The one position that is still up in the air is at center. Melvin Fowler is entrenched, but he's been injured for a couple of weeks. At right guard they've been playing Duke Preston, but he had to move to center while Fowler was out. The guy that they're really looking to bring in at the guard position is Brad Butler, who has also been injured but will get a chance to play in the preseason finale. That's the offensive line they want to go into the season with -- they've made big changes and they feel like they've made a lot of improvements there.
Tasker: I don't know how many points their offense will score, but in the second half of last season after they shifted their offensive line around they scored about 23.5 points per game. It looks like they're going to continue to improve, so I won't be surprised if they scored 27-30 points in several games. Lynch is going to be a big part of that success.
Fabiano: OK, let's move on to the rest of the NFL. Peyton Manning is the top quarterback in fantasy football, but there's some debate as to who should be drafted behind him at the position. What are your thoughts?
Tasker: I think Drew Brees is the second-best quarterback in the NFL and fantasy football, and I think the Saints will have the top offense in the league. Sean Payton runs a great offense and Brees is right on it with him. Brees is going to consistently put up numbers with guys like (Marques) Colston and (Terence) Copper. And with Reggie Bush also catching the ball out of the backfield and splitting out, that will put a lot of pressure on defenses. I think Brees will record a lot of yards and a lot of touchdowns.
Fabiano: Moving on to the running backs, if LaDainian Tomlinson is No. 1, then who is the No. 2 at the position?
Tasker: I like Larry Johnson. He carried the ball over 400 times last year. I know that's a lot of touches, and he's going to get a lot more opportunities than other backs. There's a chance Herman Edwards will use him a bit less and give him more breaks, but they're going to depend on Johnson a lot. He'll need to make an impact especially with a new quarterback under center.
Fabiano: Is there a player out there you think will be a nice sleeper or undervalued in fantasy drafts?
Tasker: I know he's not a sleeper, but I really think Matt Hasselbeck is going to bounce back and have a good year. I think they had a little bit of a let down after (Shaun) Alexander got hurt last season, but I think Hasselbeck is going to take another step and get himself back to the top of the league.
Fabiano: How about some players who will disappoint this season?
Tasker: Byron Leftwich is probably not going to be a good guy to draft. I don't think he's going to play as well as he has in the past. There are some question marks in Jacksonville. I would also hesitate to pick Brandon Jacobs. I'd let him prove it first before I jump on his bandwagon. Maybe he will be a better option next year. I also don't know if Jay Cutler is going to have the kind of year in Denver that many expect. He has all kinds of physical ability, but I'd like to see him do it consistently this year. Of course, Denver and Mike Shanahan have normally had more of an established quarterback and Cutler doesn't fall into the category quite yet.
Fabiano: A lot of big names switched uniforms in the offseason. Which one will make the greatest impact with his new team?
Tasker: I think Randy Moss will really help the Patriots. They're going to be able to go deep and get vertical very quickly. And its not just Moss -- a lot of the receivers they picked up are going to help Tom Brady, and he knows how to find them. As crazy as it sounds, they got better this year in a big way.
Fabiano: Aside from Lynch, which other rookie will make the biggest fantasy splash?
Tasker: think Adrian Peterson has a chance to make a real impact in Minnesota. I think the Vikings are going to depend on him as much as the Bills will depend on Lynch. The Vikings will use a run-based offense for sure -- they'll look a little bit like the Falcons did with Michael Vick last season. They have an athletic quarterback in Tarvaris Jackson and I don't think they'll do most of their damage through the air. They will do it on the ground with the duo of Peterson and Chester Taylor -- that will be their identity.
Tasker: The impact on fan interest has been huge, and it affects how people watch the game. I think it's widened the league and the scope of the NFL, and that's a real plus. The fans don't just follow their own teams in their hometown, but now they're following certain players on other teams because they're on their fantasy teams. That spurs your interest and people flow multiple player and teams.