The Indianapolis Colts found immense success last season with the two-headed backfield monster of Joseph Addai and Dominic Rhodes. In fact, the two could have been co-MVPs of Super Bowl XLI if a certain quarterback named Peyton Manning wasn't on the team. But after the departure of Rhodes to Oakland, the Colts ground attack will have a different look in 2007.
That new look appears to be Addai, Addai and more Addai.
The second-year runner out of Louisiana State seems destined to handle an enormous workload. The Colts looked at veterans such as Chris Brown and Corey Dillon, but in the end the team decided to stick with Addai and a mix of DeDe Dorsey, Clifton Dawson and Kenton Keith behind him on the depth chart.
It's not an unfamiliar scenario for the Colts, who have featured more than one back just twice since 1993. It didn't hurt that the franchise had Marshall Faulk and Edgerrin James in that time, and Addai seems to be the next name on that list of elite backs. He obviously has the confidence of head coach Tony Dungy and his staff, and offensive tackle Ryan Diem has no worries about Addai's increased offensive role.
"We haven't changed up anything with our techniques or game plan. We expect whoever is back there to take the same approach," Diem told the Tribune Star. I'm sure he can handle the load of carrying the ball 35 times if he needs to."
Addai, who averaged 14 carries per contest as a rookie, could see that number rise to 20-25 in 2007. He is also expected to become more involved as a receiver out of the backfield, which only adds to his value for fantasy owners. He also has the advantage of playing with one of the most feared quarterbacks ever, and a pass attack that will force defenses to remain honest and not focus their attention on the run.
While the winner of the battle between Dorsey, Dawson and Keith will be used to spell Addai at times -- Dorsey is the current favorite but Dawson has been impressive in training camp -- none of this trio will put a significant dent into the number of carries Addai receives this season. As a result, look for the versatile back to record somewhere in the neighborhood of 300-350 carries and 50-plus receptions out of the backfield.
Addai isn't on the same level as LaDainian Tomlinson, Steven Jackson or Larry Johnson, but he is inching closer to an elite level. In fact, fantasy owners should consider him one of the top six backs in the NFL and well worth a first-round selection. In leagues that reward points for catches, owners should even consider Addai as a more valuable option than former NFL MVP and fantasy superstar Shaun Alexander.
BRANCH IMPRESSIVE IN SEAHAWKS CAMP
Remember Deion Branch?
He's that wide receiver who won MVP honors in Super Bowl XXXIX while with the New England Patriots and was a nice asset for fantasy owners. Well, after a mediocre 2006 season that included a holdout and a move to a Seattle team with a crowded wideout position, Branch now appears set to resurrect his value.
When the Seahawks traded veteran wide receiver Darrell Jackson to San Francisco, it opened the door for Branch to become the team's featured option in the pass attack. And if his performance in training camp is an indication, Branch is ready to embrace the role and run with it…all the way to the end zone.
Reports out of Seattle have described the veteran receiver as almost "uncoverable" in practice. He also hooked up with Matt Hasselbeck on a 31-yard touchdown pass in the team's preseason opener in San Diego, and his knowledge of the offense and rapport with his quarterback is evident.
"I'm more experienced in the offense," Branch told the Seattle Times. "It's not me coming in and doing so much thinking now. I'm just reacting, just playing football. I knew coming in that in the beginning it was going to take some time, but now I feel like I'm going out there and reacting."
Branch has the best chance of his career to record his first 1,000-yard season at the NFL level. While Shaun Alexander and the ground game will of course remain the focal component, the Seahawks won't be timid when it's time to let the football fly. That is a real positive for Branch, who should now be considered a much more viable No. 2 fantasy wideout and well worth a middle-round selection in all drafts.
NEWS & NOTES
-- Reports out of Cleveland suggest that the loser of the quarterback battle between Charlie Frye and Derek Anderson could be traded or released. While Frye is considered the current favorite to start after a solid preseason debut, Anderson still has a chance to unseat him. Overall, neither signal-caller will have draft value as the winner keeps the position warm for rookie Brady Quinn to learn the offense and take over the reins. Quinn's performance in the preseason will no doubt affect his value in all keeper formats.
-- Raiders head coach Lane Kiffin, who is back at camp after a bout of mononucleosis, told reporters this week that he does not know who his No. 1 running back will be when the regular season starts. His options are a bit limited, however, as Dominic Rhodes is out the first four games due to a league-imposed suspension and rookie Michael Bush is still less than 100 percent. LaMont Jordan should win the spot over Justin Fargas and Joe Echemandu, but that fact that he hasn't locked it up already is cause for concern.
-- LenDale White seems to have become the favorite to open the regular season as the No. 1 runner in Tennessee, but an injured ankle will keep him out of Friday's preseason game in New England. That could create a chance for Chris Brown or Chris Henry to impress the coaches and close the distance between them and White. The former Southern California standout has been impressive in training camp and is a viable sleeper candidate, but owners shouldn't draft him as more than a borderline No. 3 or 4 fantasy back.
-- It appears that Reggie Williams is in danger of losing his roster spot in Jacksonville. Local reports have defined him as "disinterested" in training camp after a recent demotion that saw Dennis Northcutt and Ernest Wilford, among others, pass him on the depth chart. As it stands, Northcutt and Wilford are the top starters with Matt Jones working out of the slot. As for Williams, he needs to reverse his fortunes to have a chance to be prominent in the Jaguars pass attack or have even a smidge of value in fantasy football drafts.
-- With Warrick Dunn (back) out and Jerious Norwood (stomach infection) expected to be limited, rookie Jason Snelling is now expected to start in Friday's preseason battle in Buffalo. A big back at 5-foot-11 and 232 pounds, Snelling is more of a bruiser than Dunn or Norwood and could be a nice fit for head coach Bobby Petrino's offense. While he has little chance to finish higher than third on the depth chart, Snelling could earn short-yardage and goal-line carries if he shows off some skills at Orchard Park.