Thursday, July 2, 2009

Running Back Blurb Breakdown: Steve Slaton



Slaton is another back who people are either very high on or very wary of.

Questions about him are many: Is he too small to carry the load (ala Maurice Jones-Drew)? Will he lose carries to a second back (ala Joseph Addai)? Will he have issues if (maybe when) quarterback Matt Schaub or wide receiver Andre Johnson go down?

Let's take a look at these very valid concerns and see if they hold up and if so (or if not), what that truly means.

First of all, size. While I have been researching an article on Jones-Drew, I've taken a hard look at the sizes and weights of many NFL running backs. Slaton is a tad on the short side, although at 5'-9 I still think that's not a huge concern.

What might be a concern is his weight. Slaton rolls in as a trim (maybe slight is a better term) 203 pounds. While he isn't Darren Sproles (5-6, 181lbs!) the thin frame is worrisome.

Even Slaton knew this - that's why he added about nine pounds of muscle to help with the pounding. That pulls him closer to some of the slightly taller backs (in the 5-10 to 5-11 range) and help him with his short yardage work.

Now, as we're concerned with size, it would stand to reason the Texans would be as well. But they didn't bring in a power back to cut into Slaton's carries at all. In fact, the backs behind him consist of a fragile runner, an underperforming back who runs like Slaton, a pair of rookies and a perennial camp body.

Not really a group striking fear into Slaton's heart. Of them, most likely to succeed in any way is rookie Arian Foster, who impressed in OTAs and at 6-1, 225 pounds can fulfill the power back role. This might harm Slaton's overall touchdown total as an awful lot of his TDs were short yardage - four were a yard or less and a fifth was just two yards.

Two thoughts - one, Slaton sure seemed to be ok going short yardage and not only was he effective on the goal line, but he played well getting first downs. Could it be that Houston didn't acquire a full-on short yardage back because they believe Slaton can do it, with Brown (or now Foster) spelling him?

Alternatively, you have to be concerned that if he does loose his goal-line attempts, his touchdown totals are decimated.

Slaton did have about seven 40+ runs, though, including one over 71 yards which resulted in a touchdown. He can break away from tacklers and if the offense is more consistent, that could offset any loss in the short yardage game.

Still, most of his ten touchdowns were short yardage. So it definitely could be a problem.

Finally, there is the concern that if Johnson or Schaub goes down with an injury, Slaton could face too many defenses selling out to stop him.

Well, with Schaub on the bench injured and Sage Rosenfels striking fear into the hearts of nobody, Slaton performed pretty well for the most part last season.

While the depth behind Schaub is even more shaky this year (Dan Orlovsky and Rex Grossman - WOO HOO!), I still expect Slaton to play as well as he did last year and with another year under his belt, have the potential to be even better.

Overall, Slaton ran the ball well throughout the 2008 season. He had some good games against good run defenses (Minnesota), some ok run defenses (Jacksonville) and some bad run defenses (Detroit, Green Bay & Indianapolis).

He also had some disappointing games against poor run defenses (Cleveland) and some great run defenses (Pittsburgh, Miami, Baltimore). That's to be expected from a rookie. This year he needs a little more consistency before he is considered a true stud.

Overall, I like Slaton quite a bit this year.

I think he will not lose much in the way of carries or targets and has already said he feels like he knows what his coaches want and how to achieve it. I think he has no more or less questions than any back in front or behind him, has no real challengers for carries and I believe the offensive line has continued to improve over time.

His questions are very real, however, and must be considered when drafting him.

If Slaton stays healthy and the offense plays well, he has the opportunity to not only crack the top ten again, but potentially the top five as well.

The risk is; with just one season to look over we don't know if last year was the rule - or the exception.

And that risk will keep him from the top of a lot of people's Fantasy Draft boards.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Running Back Blurb Breakdown: DeAngelo Williams


DeAngelo Williams

How can I NOT have him earlier will be the cry - and it doesn't matter where he ranks. If it isn't top 3, it won't matter. Some folks will be bent out of shape.

Those cries have a case - Williams finally exploded last season and Carolina Head Coach John Fox loves his veterans - usually to the point of benching a more talented rookie.

He might not even have to even make that choice this year as Williams seems to be poised for potentially another great season while second year RB Jonathan Stewart hasn’t stepped up yet to become lead back. And wow is that offensive line adept at opening holes for Panther backs to run through.

Yet even though the offense runs the ball a lot (504 attempts last season) will they duplicate the amount of carries from 2008 in 2009?

Stewart pitched in with 10 touchdowns and even while battling an early injury he played well last season. Rookie Mike Goodson might see some work too. As much as they do run there still should be plenty to go around but it also means they will need to spell Williams. How much? And if they don't will he burn out after two heavy carry seasons?

Finally, we have to wonder: was what we saw last year the reality - or a one shot deal?
Will he be able to repeat his 2008 performance? We've had one year wonders before - and many teams who grabbed them too early in the first regretted it later in the season.

I like Williams, don't get me wrong. But I'm not sure I like him enough to take him with a top five pick like many are suggesting.

Running Back Blurb Breakdown: Matt Forte


Matt Forte
Another guy who people will argue should/could be in the top 3 but I can't go there.

Yes, fantastic first year. And the offense looks like it is about to step it up. But that doesn't mean Forte will get even better.

Why? Well, for several reasons. First of all, his YPC was a pedestrian 3.9 and he'll need to improve that to continue to put up numbers, especially since his carries will probably drop as Cutler throws more than Orton did.

Speaking of Cutler - while his arm will open things up for the run game (even with mediocre wide receivers) a ton of Forte's 63 receptions were checkdowns by the quarterback. Cutler doesn't play that way - he much more often forces a throw down-field.

So I think it is hard to expect close to the receiving numbers He threw just 61 TARGETS to backs in 2008. Not receptions - TARGETS. (In fairness to the 'numbers' game - he threw at running backs 81 times in 2007.)

The Bears' offensive line is not as good as Denver's, his receivers aren't close and the defense should keep it close. Still, they didn't trade the house for Cutler to hand Forte the ball, regardless of the young RB's talent.

Once again, this points to at least a slight dip in Forte's production. I just don't know how big it goes.

If the Bears defense cannot hold the line, it could be a big dip as Cutler throws to his less-than-stud receivers to come from behind. Or it could just be a little regression as the team transitions into a more passing team.

But until I see the offense in action - and by action I don't mean t-shirts and shorts - I can't say what it will look like. So I don't want to invest a huge risk by grabbing him before some of the guys prior to him on the list.

He'll land in the top 10. I just don't expect a repeat of his top 3 ranking from 2008.

Running Back Blurb Breakdown: Maurice Jones-Drew


Maurice Jones-Drew
One of the most divisive backs in fantasy right now, Maurice Jones-Drew is a fantastic athlete whose strength and speed belies his size.

But questions still plague him.

He’s never carried the rock as the feature back, not even in college. And as much as he is tough, will he wear down if the Titans do use him as the bell cow? Or conversely, will they spell him a bunch with Greg Jones and Rashard Jennings?

MJD should put up nice numbers, especially in a PPR league but he’s going as the second – in some cases FIRST – Rb off the board in some drafts.

I haven’t even gotten to the revamped offensive line, though I think it will be healthy and capable this season. But they'll be rolling out a pair of rookies and while some of that could be merely for depth, they really collapsed fast in 2008.

In their defense, you can't have what they went through happen and not collapse. Once Richard Collier was shot and paralyzed, the fact they even pulled it together when they did is pretty gutty.

The passing attack appears to also be a big question mark at first glance. But Tory Holt alone is better than anyone on the roster last year, save the departed Matt Jones. And the two draft picks of Jake Dillard and Mike Thomas have looked good enough in tees and shorts to allow Dennis Northcutt to be traded.

Still, Garrard seemed to plateau last season and if he cannot get a little more going on, MJD might start finding his running lanes clogged.

While I think Jones-Drew has the talent, there are many questions I have about him. To many to take him earlier than where he is at five.

Running Back Blurb Breakdown: Steven Jackson


Steven Jackson
I have decided that Jackson is the perfect Fantasy Football Illusion. We all treat him as if he’s a stud and yet he’s only been in the top 10 fantasy-wise once in his five year career.

So what exactly is keeping him ranked this high year after year? Well for starters he DOES produce well despite missing games and suffering through terrible offensive lines and injured QBs. He can catch the ball, break a big run and fight for hard yards.

But the risk is he has only finished a full season once – in 2006 which was the year he was a top fantasy player. That’s telling – but so is how much he’s been hurt.

He’s also facing another season with a questionable Oline and now has a very young and/or inexperienced wide receivers for a weakening Bulger to throw to.

Jackson once again is a back with a ton of potential – but will it be reached or is it merely an illusion we chase every season?

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Running Back Blurb Breakdown: Ladainian Tomlinson


CURVE BALL. Instead of the number three back, I pull out old LT2 who I think is NOT dead yet.

Here's why:

Ladainian Tomlinson
I always love movies where some guy is counted out - be it in the boxing ring, a classroom, a board room - the comeback story is a favorite.

Maybe that's why I'm higher on LT than many others. I think Tomlinson has another year - at least - in him and will put up solid numbers this year.

By all reports he's healthy, so he won't be starting the season banged up as he did last year. Now staying healthy - that's the trick and at LT's age, it might be no mean feat. Also a question is the play of the offensive line, which was borderline criminal last season and left LT, Darren Sproles and Phillip Rivers exposed to mad abuse.

That certainly didn't help Tomlinson's numbers.

A lack of a pure blocking fullback hurt as well. That also remains a question mark though Jacob Hester's blocking improved as last season wore on.

Still I believe LT has at least one last hurrah in him and in fact will benefit in getting spelled for some carries by Sproles. He's on the mat, bruised and battered by the pundits and I think the story ends with him getting up one last time and sending those pundits to the mat.

Running Back Blurb Breakdown: Michael Turner



Michael Turner

Turner is a good news/bad news guy.

Good News: Tony Gonzalez is here to stretch the defense and add his skills for third downs.

Bad News: Tony Gonzalez is here to steal red zone TDs and third down yardage.

In other (potential) bad news, you also have to assume he won’t repeat the 377 carries which could dip his numbers. If they try to run him that often again, I would worry about burn-out and injury.

Some of that depends upon how he spent his off-season. If he got some rest while working to stay in shape, he should be good to go. But if he pushed too hard and didn't give his body time to recover, last season may hurt him a bit.

Still in a non-ppr league, he’ll put up great numbers. He drops in a PPR league, though as he gets no catches. Don't believe me? Last season he hit his career total – of 6.

He’s still a top back, but in point per reception leagues he won’t put up quite the numbers Jackson or a few other backs would.

But in standard scoring leagues, Turner is a solid bet to end up in the top five.

Running Back Blurb Breakdown: Adrian Peterson


So while I said I wouldn't be doing this numerically, I'd be hard pressed to start anywhere than with this guy.

Adrian Peterson
What’s not to like about Peterson? Good runner, great offensive line, decent WRs. All he needs is a few more TDs. Peterson has few minuses and now it looks like Brett Favre will be throwing the ball, in which case suddenly he gets someone who can keep the defenses from stacking against the run. Even Taylor isn’t too much of a threat for AP.

Safe and dependable, you know Peterson will finish in the top 5 every year. He has had some fumble issues he needs to work on and on occasion Childress has almost appeared to underuse him - but honestly these are minor details. Even a few carries to rookie receiver Percy Harvin won't hurt Peterson all that much. Aside from injury - and you can't predict that with real confidence - Peterson is the bottom line, safest running back in your fantasy draft.

2009 Running Back Rankings - 6/25/09

So after much shuffling of people and hand wringing, here is the inaugural Blurb top 50 Fantasy Football Running Backs. Over the next day or two, I'll have player breakdowns of about the top 10 or so on this list - not necessarily in order of where I ranked them.

If there is a guy you want to know about beyond that, drop me a line in the comments or at thunderingblurb(a)gmail.com and I'll try to get on it ASAP.

A lot of this list comes down to my feeling after several mocks and early redrafts. In my opinion from the second to the tenth pick, you could make an argument for a number of players. Feel free to make YOUR argument known here or even on next Wednesday's Blurb podcast.

Assume these will change by the time training camp hits.


Player
1 - Adrian Peterson
2 - Michael Turner
3 - Steven Jackson
4 - LaDainian Tomlinson
5 - Maurice Jones-Drew
6 - DeAngelo Williams
7 - Matt Forte
8 - Steve Slaton
9 - Chris Johnson
10 - Frank Gore
11 - Clinton Portis
12 - Brian Westbrook
13 - Brandon Jacobs
14 - Marion Barber
15 - Ryan Grant
16 - Ronnie Brown
17 - Knowshon Moreno
18 - Chris Wells
19 - Pierre Thomas
20 - Reggie Bush
21 - Willie Parker
22 - Kevin Smith
23 - Joseph Addai
24 - Thomas Jones
25 - Darren McFadden
26 - Larry Johnson
27 - Jonathan Stewart
28 - Donald Brown
29 - Marshawn Lynch
30 - Ray Rice
31 - Derrick Ward
32 - Jamal Lewis
33 - Cedric Benson
34 - Rashard Mendenhall
35 - Felix Jones
36 - Fred Jackson
37 - LenDale White
38 - Darren Sproles
39 - Julius Jones
40 - Leon Washington
41 - Ahmad Bradshaw
42 - Chester Taylor
43 - Fred Taylor
44 - LeSean McCoy
45 - Willis McGahee
46 - Earnest Graham
47 - LeRon McClain
48 - Jerious Norwood
49 - Laurence Maroney
50 - Justin Fargas



JUST MISSED


Cedric Peerman - Will he take over for McGahee?
Shonn Greene - The future Thomas Jones - will he get snaps?
Tim Hightower - If Wells holds out, Hightower gets a second chance.
Tashard Choice - Who is spelling Barber? Will Choice get a shot?
Jamaal Charles - LJ isn't getting younger.
Rashad Jennings - Someone has to spell MJD. Jennings has the talent.
Michael Bush - Looks great in shorts. Will he make it a three headed monster?

Back soon with the first batches of player breakdowns.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

ProFootballTalk.com Bought By NBC - Is This Good?

Sunday night, Blurb friend and excellent LA Times scribe Sam Farmer broke the story that Mike Florio's website ProFootballTalk.com will be purchased by NBC with plans to feature it prominently on the NBC Sports site.

For those who don't know (and if you're reading this on ThunderingBlurb.com or BleacherReport.com you probably do know) PFT was begun by Florio about eight years ago as a way for the then-lawyer to riff on the news of the day in the NFL.

Florio has broken quite a few stories over the years — as pointed out by Farmer, most famously the erroneous death of Terry Bradshaw (which should be a book, rock band or film if it isn't already).

Take a second and read Sam's piece at latimes.com and then come back - it's worth the read and will give you the grasp of what is going on.

What I want to focus on is the impact of something like this as well as the continuing impact of new media acquisitions.

Like him or hate him, Florio shoots straight about what he thinks. While that drew the ire of many NFL insiders and a ton of NFL fans (who still flock to a site they purport to hate), it also has attracted some pretty high-profile followers.

As mentioned in Farmer's article, among them is Al Michaels. You have to figure when Al Michaels is a fan, you're doing something right.

Heck, he's not alone. Everyone from casual fans, to guys like myself to folks like Farmer and Rich Eisen— we all have Florio's blog bookmarked. Heck, he's one of only four twitter people who have tweets sent to my low-tech crappy cell phone.

At various times, he's been wrong, loud, hypocritical, dead on right, loud and first breaking his own news just as often as he is reacting to someone else's news.

More than anything else, Florio has been Florio. A firm and unique personality is what builds a good website and that's what has attracted legions of fans and foes alike to his.

It's also rankled the NFL more than once. You know the NFL — the league is attached to NBC by a huge television deal. The NBC buying PFT.

See what might be an issue here?

Farmer put it best when asked by a twitter-follower how soon it would be before PFT publishes something the league dislikes which then causes them to lean on NBC. He simply replied 'that's the test'.

And it's a big one. Trust me; I really don't expect Florio to tone it down. But I also worked in Hollywood long enough to have seen first-hand network pressure.

It gets contentious. It gets loud. People start pulling rank and checkbook rank. 'We're footing your bill' is a phrase I heard more than once.

In Florio's corner are his super-lawyer powers. My assumption is he's prepared for such an eventuality. But who knows? What if he loses that battle? What happens to a site that — again like it or hate it — is a source of unvarnished opinion and more than a few scoops?

The real question here may be not how much a thing like this is to be celebrated — but if it should be at all.

On the one hand, anytime a site which started from nothing online and was built into a powerhouse is bought by a major like NBC, ESPN or CBSSports.com, it is a step towards legitimizing online work in a way that is harder to blow off than the odd scoop by a smaller site.

You can try to ignore it and continue dismissing us as people in our parent's basement but that's just head-in-the-sand thinking when this happens or NFLDraftscout hooks up with CBSSports and NFL.com.

It's not sweeping proof, but it helps. It shows that we can be just as hungry, accurate, successful and hardworking as anyone in 'traditional media'.

But one of the strengths of sites like Florio's or DraftDaddy or any of the small sites like mine is the agility that comes with being a small, independent entity.

What scares traditional media — that we don't have giant editors looking over us — can really be a source of strength. We can often react faster and speak our minds with less red tape than many in traditional media.

Why do you see so many good mainstream writers on Twitter? Well, among many reasons, the ability to reach their audience immediately. To throw out a reaction as something happens.

Of course, that's new media's kryptonite as well. I've seen firsthand how a bad story, un-supported and improperly followed up on or researched can sink a writer (and no, it wasn't me). So we have to be more on point and take it even more seriously because we are our own safety net and it's our rep on the line.

But back on point — if what attracts a company like NBC to a site like PFT is also what scares it....

Well, you have to wonder if that's a marriage destined to end well or happily. It sure wouldn't be the first time I saw an edgy project go to a conservative home and then get static for being what it was.

Let's be honest though. While you may love a site like PFT for the content, a large portion of the reason NBC likes it is because of the audience it can reach. They may love the writing, content, instant reaction and Florio's nice suits, but audience numbers often factor in there above all else.

Trust me, sometimes a corporation —especially an entertainment entity— jumps into bed with a project because of the pure, raw numbers of the audience.

If PFT breaks a few stories the NFL isn't crazy about and they mention that to NBC in a not-so-casual-way, someone, somewhere is going to want something to change.

And then we'll see how adaptable either side is.

If for some reason Florio backs off, even a little — well what does that mean for the rest of us? What makes online content? Is it the same if it gets watered down to be more mainstream? Does that defeat the point?

All things to consider as we watch this unfold.

One last thought though.

Perhaps when Sam said 'that's the test', he was speaking about more than the purchase of PFT by NBC. Maybe the test is about how new media as a whole and traditional media as a whole might struggle to coexist.

If that's the case, I can think of no better 'first-adopter' than Florio and PFT. They've made no bones about how they work in the past. I trust that they will continue to be 'who we thought they were' in the future as well.

If anyone can make it work, I have a feeling the lawyer from West Virginia might just be the guy.

2009 NFL Running Back Battles to Watch: Part 2

Welcome to part two of the 2009 NFL Running Back Battles To Watch. Yesterday we looked at a bunch of great backs including - but not limited to - the Denver Broncos, Indianapolis Colts and the Carolina Panthers.

Today we'll be looking at some more interesting backfield situations and seeing what they might mean for their respective teams.

We'll start off with a team that has a clear-cut number one back but also some questions as to what to do if he cannot carry the full load over the course of the 2009 season.

Jacksonville
We all think Maurice Jones-Drew aka 'The Human Bowling Ball' aka 'The Bad Little Man' will be the bell cow here and get most if not all the work. The man can do it all and despite his size, usually stays healthy. With no Fred Taylor, he should get every carry Freddy used to get, right?

Well, yes and no. While MJD is a stud and the offensive line is much healthier and better than 2008's version, the Jaguars will by no means risk burning out Jones-Drew before the playoffs. I expect one of the backs behind him to get a fair share of carries as well.

Note that I am not saying they will cut significantly into his totes - but that it will factor in and probably in a good way.

Former USC tailback Chauncey Washington patiently waited for his shot, but now has to hold off former Liberty stud Rashad Jennings a guy who improbably fell to the Jags in the seventh round - something I still can't figure out.

Both players have the ability to fill in for MJD but despite being a USC Homer, I like Jennings better. He can catch, he can slide into holes but he has decent size. Matt Waldman of the Rookie Scouting Portfolio and footballguys.com said it best; 'what you should know about Jennings is that he's a bigger back with finesse'.

That size combined with the skills Waldman alludes to make him a very attractive compliment to Jones-Drew and a guy to watch for long term on his own as well.

Jennings has some issues finishing a run and will need to improve that if he wants to catch Washington.

And lest we forget, Greg Jones has been occasionally stud-like when he has had a shot in the past and is a great 3rd down back. Jones has never quite been the same since a knee injury and is often hurt.

Who ends up spelling MJD could have some real value for fantasy owners and Jags fans. It should be a horse race between these three.

New Orleans
Will Reggie Bush stay healthy? Will Pierre Thomas? Who gets the ball on third downs and at the goal line?

Big questions for an offense which needs to improve it's run game to take some pressure off the pass game. It looks like Thomas has the between-the-tackles work locked down while Bush will continue to play scat-back.

But both have some injury questions (Bush his legs and Thomas' wrist) so the Saints have journeyman Mike Bell, second year player Lynell Hamilton, and undrafted free agents P.J. Hill and Herb Donaldson.

Mike Bell has played well in camp so far but don't discount the rookies. The Saints went hard into the street free agent market post-draft so they clearly have some concerns with the tailback position.

Bell has played well before and then faltered. Hill has some serious character concerns but seems to realize he screwed up and is motivated to prove he has the ability and maturity to make an impact. All three are big backs, something the Saints lost when they let Deuce McAllister go.

It will be interesting to see if any can make ground on Thomas and given the injury issues (for both Thomas and Bush) and Thomas' size, one of these guys could see action this season.

Philadelphia
With Brian Westbrook banged up again (What? Stop lying Garda! NEVER!) every Eagles fan - and many, MANY fantasy football owners - want to know who to grab for this year's version of Westbrook Insurance.

Aside: Should Westbrook and/or the Iggles talk to Geico about a sponsorship? I mean, in these troubled economic times, shouldn't a club be looking for cash wherever they can?

I'm not saying, but I am just saying is all.

But all shenanigans aside who backs Westy up resonates hard an long amongst the NFL community of fans and it goes beyond fantasy football folks. As much as I like the receivers and the passing offense this year, they need the run game hitting on all cylinders.

With the very real possibility that the last two years of 15 games might have been an illusion in terms Westy's health the Eagles need to know they can throw another guy in there and crank out the yards effectively.

Which leaves you with this question: LeSean McCoy or Lorenzo Booker?

Booker was a guy who I had high hopes for coming to Philadelphia last season after being virtually ignored by Miami previously. With his ability to catch the ball and his general shifty running style, I thought Lo-Book was going to get some traction finally but sadly that didn't happen.

Booker barely saw the field and then the team went and drafted LeSean 'Shady' McCoy who is plays very similarly to Westbrook's game. And while a tad undersized, McCoy plays tough and isn't afraid of contact.

It will be a battle in the most literal sense and no other fracas may impact the whole offense of a team like this one. If they cannot move the ball on the ground - and lack a player at the RB spot who can catch the ball as effectively as Westy - defenses could key heavily on the pass game.

San Francisco
I spent a lot of time the past few months looking oer the 49ers and there are a ton of questions surrounding this run game and what it could be.

New offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye keeps saying this will not be a run heavy playbook, but if you look at his resume, he's definitely developed some very strong rushing attacks. So does that mean Raye is tossing some disinformation out there?

Maybe not.

The 49ers often run a game where a strong rushing attack sets up a vertical passing attack. It hasn't worked well for many reasons - not the least of which is the lack of a permanent solution at quarterback.

So it isn't far fetched that Raye is being truthful - a rarity in today's NFL it seems. With the weapons at both running back and wide receiver, the Niners are set up to have an effective attack from either direction.

We know Frank Gore is the stud-bell cow-big dawg-whatever you call it in the backfield. But he cannot do it alone as we saw when he wore down last season.

So who is the backup who could share in his carries? A great question as the backs behind him all have questions.

Michael Robinson has functioned more as a fullback and special-teamer and while Thomas Clayton tends to shine in preseason games, he hasn't played worth a tinker's damn during the season. Neither of them have quite been able to give the team a consistent and safe backup to Gore in the past few years.

Two rookies - third round pick Glenn Coffee and street free agent Kory Sheets - have a shot at spelling Gore. Coffee is a solid one cut runner with great vision, who can aggressively attack the hole. He’s a powerful runner who could help the short yardage game, something that occasionally struggled in 2008.

Sheets has great acceleration and burst and is a very good receiver out of the backfield. He can be very elusive and shows patience behind the line with good vision and instincts. I think he could emerge as a nice compliment to Gore in the vein of a Leon Washington or Reggie Bush.

Adding Sheets as an extra weapon is nice, but ultimately the 49ers need to get someone to consistently and reliably spell Gore to save him for a potential run at a playoff spot this year.

Seattle
Somehow the Seahawks ended the draft without a replacement for the long departed Shaun Alexander, instead relying on Julius Jones and TJ Duckett for a solution at the running back position.

I can't say I am enthusiastic about that, however I am cautiously optimistic.

With a healthy pass game - which they lacked from the get-go last season - the Hawks could find themselves in possession of a consistent though not spectacular rushing attack.

Julius Jones has shown some skills in the past and will probably make a good two-down runner for the team, getting a lift from a new zone-blocking scheme which he fits into well. However, even though he was the top running back for Seattle last season, he was pretty inconsistent and has to correct that if the team is to depend upon him.

People keep talking each season about how this is TJ Duckett's time to shine, but I haven't heard a lot of that yet this off-season. Maybe that bodes well for the former Falcon/Redskin/Lion. He has always possessed a nose for the end zone and he'll get most of the redzone/end zone looks in my opinion - at least when the team isn't throwing the ball to Houshmandzadeh or second year tight end John Carlson.

The question - aside from will Edgerrin James or Duece McAllister sign prior to the season - I am asking is where do guys like Justin Forsett end up? If Duckett is more suited to the short yardage/goal line role, will Forsett a second year man out of California, end up as Jones' backup? Or will he be relegated to special teams?

I want to watch this battle closely as teams all know the Seahawks are gearing up to throw the ball a lot. So who ends up running the ball is of paramount importance. If they cannot move the ball on the ground, the wide receivers may find it very tough to get room to work in the secondary.

That's it for now - if you don't hear from me in a few days, have someone send a cop to check on me. I might be buried under an avalanche of moving boxes.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Running Back Camp Battles to Watch Part 1

While OTA's are winding/have wound down, the NFL does not sleep. While the players get what passes for a vacation, media does not, especially since Brett Favre can't make up his damned mind.

In perfect universal symmetry, neither can the Vikings. Marriage made in heaven or hell? We'll find out soon enough.

In order to get you prepped for tons of footbally goodness at the end of July, I've decided to break down some of the more interesting running back battles to watch in July and August.

This is what happens when you drive cross country folks. You fill time.

This is also not to say that there won't be battles we don't see as important now, emerging down the pike as intriguing. But for now, these are ones that stand out as important immediately.

Without further ado (or more ado than usual at least) here are the Training Camp Battles to Watch: Running Backs.

Carolina: There is a ton of assumption going on here after DeAngelo Williams went off in 2008. We know John Fox loves to hang with his long term vets and you have to figure Williams earned some consideration. Still, Jonathan Stewart was able to score 10 TDs even with Williams numbers, so Fox is willing to work him in. Where this gets interesting is behind Stewart with Mike Goodson.

Stewart has been hurt during Mini's and OTA's and Goodson is a guy the team wants involved. Why does this matter? Because if Goodson gets a shot to shine and does so, this could become a three headed monster which might be great for Panther fans, though hurt the overall numbers of all three guys. Carolina runs a ton (504 pass attempts versus 414 passing according to footballguys.com) so there could be work for all, but that might be offset a tad by three running backs.

Baltimore: Will last year's Thundering Blurb Mr. Glass Award Winner (TM) Willis McGahee, ever be healthy? My guess is no, sure as heck not coming off of two off-season surgeries. Both his knee (the one that has been hurt since.... um.... 1942?) and his ankle went under the knife. Stick a fork in him (or a scalpel), the man is DONE. The Ravens may not agree and we'll get a sense of that in Training Camp. That could mean the start of the Ray Rice Ruckus (also (TM)).

Rice showed some skills last season when he was healthy and should get a ton of the carries. He won't do it alone, however and whether the teams sticks with rookie Cedric Peerman, moves Le'Ron McClain back from fullback (where he went during OTA's) or adds some work for Jalen Parmele. How the backs behind Rice shake out could impact his numbers very sigificantly.

Buffalo: With Marshawn Lynch suspended the first few games of the season, Fred Jackson will get his time to shine again. Jackson looked great in limited (sometimes not-so-limited) action last season. But the Bills acquired journeyman Dominic Rhodes this offseason to protect themselves and he'll duke it out for lead bell cow while 'Dis Muh Son' Lynch is in Goodell's pokey.

This battle, mostly between Jackson and Rhodes is critical because whomever wins the top spot might not relinquish it when Lynch comes back and could factor in with what the Bills do with the troubled back long term if he can't get his head straight.

Cincinnati: I know the Bengals think they have some sort of hidden gem in Cedric Benson, and I'm happy for them but remain unconvinced. Benson did well behind a tragic offensive line, which will not be the case if rookie Andre Smith can get his act together. But I can't help but recall all the problems Benson had in Chicago, so I am not annointing him anything and neither should Cinci. Brian Leonard and Bernard Scott are both good short yardage backs who can catch the ball and could make some noise.

Scott will have to overcome some maturity issues and they will both have to shine in camp to wrest carries away from Benson. That's completely possible in my opinion so I will be interested to watch this camp closely.

Denver: There are three sure things in football right now - Brett Favre will be considering and waffling about a comeback in the spring and early summer, the Raiders will make decisions based on logic only they can comprehend and the Broncos running back situation will be a cloudy mess.

But have we lost one of those sure things? Surprising everyone in this April's Draft, the Donks took Knowshon Moreno, the talented back from Georgia and the interwubs is all a-twitter (or all twittering) about Moreno carrying the whole load.

For sure, he can do it all - block, run, catch. But will Head Coach Josh McDaniels truly rely on one back? His former team, the Patriots, didn't. Of course, you can argue they lacked a back like Moreno.

All I know is Moreno has the ability to do it. But with recent additions Correll Buckhalter, Lamont Jordan and Darius Walker, along with impressive 2008 rookie Peyton Hillis, this is a camp battle you have to watch. Considering they no longer have Jay Cutler slinging the ball, the run game is of paramount importance this year.

Indianapolis: It wasn't that long ago that Joseph Addai was the answer in Colt-land at running back. A few injury-plagued seasons later, Donald Brown is drafted and Addai is poised to lose most of his carries.

Brown can do pretty much everything Addai can do, and might have the size to stay healthy as well. Most analysts feel it is only a matter of time before Brown takes over the higher percentage of carries in this obvious running-back-by-committee.

What I want to know is, what percentage does he start the season off with? A good camp by Brown could give him a large role in this prolific offense.

That's it for today's installment. I'll be back tomorrow with a look at some more teams, including who might be backing up MJD in Jacksonville, what Philadelphia is looking at if Westbrook stays hurt and who will be the top dog in the mess that is the Seahawks' run game.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Fantasy Rookies 2009: The Wide Receivers (Part Two)

Welcome to part two of my look at the rookie wide receiver draft class and it's potential impact on your fantasy team.

Today we look at some players who are shakier than the first group but may have just as much long-term potential.

A few could even produce this year.

Kenny Britt, TEN
Britt is a guy with a nice combination of ability and opportunity. Britt joins a decent but no-exactly Pro Bowl group with oft-hurt Justin Gage and inconsistent vertical threat Nate Washington. With his good hands and physical play, he should be able to carve out a niche in the offense and could become a possession receiver who is Kerry Collins’ best friend next season. However, it’s not like Collins throws 100 times a game so how much productivity will he have? Britt is a fringe guy for the top 5 rookies and if he has a good camp, might be worth a late flier in a redraft. I think Dynasty-wise he’s worth a look in the first few rounds (not first though).

Brian Robiskie, CLE
Robiskie is in an interesting situation and so far has impressed in camp. Tony Grossi from the Cleveland Plains Dealer says his two TD catches from Brady Quinn in red-zone drills along with the as-advertised crisp routes and overall polish make him an early leader for a #2 spot. There is a glut of other WRs there (including fellow rookie Mohamed Massaquoi), we don’t know who will be QB (though Quinn is looking good) and what impact Braylon Edwards has are all unanswered right now. Robiskie (and perhaps Massaquoi) could emerge during the season as a nice WR3 or 4. I would be careful in redraft but in Dynasty, Robiskie looks like a good bet to succeed down the road. Hopefully this will clear up a bit during training camp.

Mike Thomas, Jarrett Dillard, JAX
There isn’t much to prevent either of these two guys from breaking out other than Tory Holt and the bad history of wide receiver drafting in Jacksonville. However, Holt is a great person to mentor these guys and there is a lot to like about Dillard and Thomas both which might have been lacking in previous picks. Both rookies are already huge presences at the team facilities and are getting accolades from coach Jack Del Rio. Dillard was a great leader at Rice who, while a bit undersized, can leap to make grabs and plays bigger than he is. Thomas is also a little smaller than you’d like in a WR, but is a tough guy across the middle, has some speed and was very productive at Arizona. Both of these guys have upside, I expect the OLine and overall offense should be snappier and Holt isn’t a long term solution. Watch these guys and see which seems to emerge in August as a potential late round Wr or a dynasty pick who could be productive by the end of the year.

Juaquin Iglesias & Johnny Knox, CHI
With Jay Cutler coming to town you have to take a hard look at the wide receiver corps. There are a bunch of guys they will compete with – Hester, Bennett, Davies – but none have captured the first spot and run away with it. Hester (allegedly) is looking better than ever. But even the #2 slot on this team could be huge with Cutler throwing the ball. Iglesias is a tough, with good body control and a willingness to go across the middle. If he can become a reliable target, he could see a lot of work thrown his way though he might fight from looks with tight end Greg Olson. Knox is a vertical threat and he’ll see more competition from Hester. I’m still not sold on Hester and think there is room for Knox to move in, but it can be a risk. I would avoid either one in a redraft but either one could be a decent lat pick in a rookie draft.

Brandon Tate, WR
Tate is an intriguing guy – he has talent but he’s coming off of an injury which was pretty bad. Testing positive for drugs at the Combine doesn’t speak well of his smarts either. Even if Tate comes back and keeps clean, he’s a few years away from impacting the lineup. Undraftable in redraft and not worth anything more than a late spot on most Dynasty rosters as well.

Other guys I like:
Ramses Barden, NYG – Barden has to beat out Nicks and learn to use his body better but I’m a well known Barden Booster and I think he will emerge as a player in a year or two. He was prolific at the college level, even though he played against lesser quality opponents. He's a hard worker and while there are a bunch of wide receivers to vie with for time, I think he has what it takes to succeed.

Patrick Turner, MIA – There aren’t a ton of world beaters in Miami and Turner has a shot to compete for a starting spot. He’s not a speed demon, doesn’t get much separation and isn’t a deep threat. He’s an aggressive player – and tough – so he could carve out a red zone/short yardage niche in the offensive scheme.

Derrick Williams, DET – A guy who is not likely to explode for several years but might match up nicely with Calvin Johnson down the road. He has the speed to be so – but he was never terribly productive at Penn State so his ceiling is a big question mark.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

San Francisco 49ers Sign CB Dre' Bly


With the injury to Walt Harris this week, it was only a matter of time before the 49ers brought in another veteran to fill out the roster spot.

Bly, who according to Matt Maiocco of the The Press Democrat signed a 1 year contract today, has been around the league a few times. Most recently he played with the Denver Broncos after working for the Lions and Rams previously.

He has been unemployed since he was cut by the Broncos this off-season. While with Denver, he compiled 62 tackles - 54 solo, 8 assisted - over 16 games. He also had a pair of interceptions.

While Bly's best days might be behind him, he is still a producer and helps give the 49ers some veteran depth. With Shawntae Spencer coming off an injury and players like Tarrell Brown and Marcus Hudson who have yet to prove themselves a little extra proven support could be a big deal.

Bly will likely line up across from Nate Clements this season and will likely have to get his hands dirty supporting the run defense - something he can defintely do.

Fantasy Rookies 2009: The Wide Receivers (pt 1)

Welcome to the next installment in our look at the incoming NFL rookies and their impact in you upcoming fantasy season.

Today we look at part one of the wide receivers - which we began to look at on last night's Thundering Blurb Show on BlogTalkRadio.com. As is the case with everything this early, there are varying degrees of reaction to the rankings and breakdowns.

Last night I certainly heard some disagreement from the callers on the last few guys we spoke about. That's the point as far as I'm concerned, so feel free to join in below in the comments.

First of all, while I think there are more rookie wide receivers who could impact your fantasy season right now than any other position, receivers have a high bust rate and even when they succeed, it can take a long time.

Keeping that in mind - here is part one of the rookie wide receiver breakdown.

Michael Crabtree, SF
The 49ers had to be thanking their lucky stars that Crabtree fell to them, right?

It all depends upon how much stock you put in the character concerns surrounding Crabtree just before the Draft. Still, even if he has an attitude problem, head coach Mike Singletary has experience dealing with that.

So that issue aside, let’s talk about his skills. Simply put, the man makes plays.

He has phenomenal ball skills, makes amazing catches with his leaping ability and works very hard. Sure, he’s not winning any wind sprints. But he can ball.

Two big questions: 1) How will his foot heal and will it affect his play this season? And 2) The 49ers are loaded with talent at wide receiver. Where will he fit in 2009?

In my opinion, the answer to the first is that it probably will be ok and not affect his overall ability. To be honest, I’m no doctor, and I didn’t stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night, so this is about as arm-chair QB as you can get.

But the whole reason he skipped Pro Days and workouts was to get surgery to heal the foot. If he rehabs well – and as I said, the dude is known as a hard worker – then the foot won’t be a huge factor in his game.

It may factor in his playing time though. Like it or not, he won’t be on the field until late this summer. That is time lost. We know Isaac Bruce can play. We’re pretty sure Josh Morgan can play. Brandon Jones was brought over from the Titans because he can play.

OK, Jason Hill and Arnaz Battle aren’t that big a factor, but still – that’s quite a few wide receivers.

Morgan has the biggest impact, as they play the same spot on the field – the ‘X’ or split end position. There is every chance that because Crabtree may miss the bulk of mini camps, OTAs and maybe even a little Training Camp, that Morgan could start the season there and Crabtree could be eased in.

Down the road, I think Crabtree will take over. But Morgan already looks good in mini-camps and OTA’s and Crabtree will be playing catchup. Rookie wide receivers always have lots to catch up about.

Dynasty
Likely a top five pick in most leagues, depending on need and scoring. But keep in mind that wide receivers have a high bust rate – a huge factor in no wide receivers going in round one of the 2008 NFL Draft. Also, keep in mind that we have no idea who will be throwing the rock this year or next.

Still, those questions (and the few I listed earlier) aside – you’re looking at the top WR in a Fantasy Dynasty draft. I may not take him first overall, but he should be gone no later than 5.

Redraft
You know that high bust ratio I just mentioned? It makes drafting rookie wide receivers even riskier in redraft. We know Crabtree will get his shot but when and how often? I think he’ll make it on the field at some point, but I’d be cautious how much I needed him as a fantasy wide receiver, especially early in the season.

That makes him about as valuable as kick return/WRs and part timers. But when comparing Crabtree to, say, Kevin Walter – you have to determine upside. And it’s my opinion Crabtree will carry more upside than a #3/Kick returner.

So while I am looking to pick him up somewhere in the eighth or ninth round, and around WR35-40, I’d take him before guys like Walter, an aging guy like Tory Holt or an unproven guy like Devin Hester.

Jeremy Maclin, PHI
Most people will have Hakeem Nicks here, but I like Maclin more. Yes the Giants lack a #1. Yes, DeSean Jackson is a stud.

Still, I think Maclin is in a very good situation. Kevin Curtis won’t be a big threat as he will be more of a situational player. And Jackson will benefit from Maclin as well as Maclin will from him.

He does need to polish his route running and sometimes loses concentration, but I think his speed and overall ability to catch the ball totally outweighs those concerns.

The biggest problem is how he fits into this offense. As I said, I don’t think Curtis keeps him benched, provided he has a good camp. If that happens – and I believe it will – they will have to throw him the ball to keep defenses off both Jackson and Westbrook.

All draft season I was told ‘Andy Reid doesn’t draft offense in round 1’. He did – which means he intends to use him. And if he does Maclin could have a solid year.

Dynasty
In my mind, Maclin is a top ten rookie pick in nearly any rookie draft. He may not pay off immediately and I don’t expect numbers like Jackson had last season, but the presence of DeSean will help him by room to make plays and he can do that for sure. He could lag a bit in picking up the game – rookie WRS often do – but he will look very nice next year then, if that’s the case.

Redraft
Don’t get too fooled by DeSean Jackson’s 2008 numbers. I love Maclin – even for this year – but last year’s numbers will be hard to match. He’s more of an upside pick but is one of three guys I think have an excellent chance to provide some points for you and will be invaluable during bye weeks or in deep leagues.

Hakeem Nicks, NYG
Many are predicting instant (or nearly instant) success for the talented junior out of North Carolina. And given the situation he landed in – Toomer gone, Burress a victim of himself – you have to think he’ll get a shot.

Nicks is an outstanding route runner who can make amazing and tough catches consistently. He’s very competitive and will fight for the ball and has no fear going across the middle.

He does have some question marks in his game. He’s not terribly quick and doesn’t get much separation. Nicks can also be a bit inconsistent in his efforts and isn’t all that helpful as a blocker.

Now, there have been some outstanding WRs who haven’t gotten separation. Guys who make their bones being a hard-ass WR who makes plays. And you can learn to block.

But given that there are a grip of other wide receivers – Domenik Hixon, Steve Smith, Mario Manningham and his fellow 2009 rookie Ramses Barden (a Blurb favorite) – so he’s no lock to start beyond a #3 and it Barden has a better camp….

I think Steve Smith and Barden are threats more than Hixon or Manningham. Hixon seemed to fade after a big Super Bowl and when he should have stepped up he didn’t. And I’m not a big believer in Manningham. Barden has to learn to use his body better and that’s one thing Hicks does better.

It’s his edge – can he keep it? I’m not sure I am sold.

Dynasty
Hicks is a guy I seem to love less than a lot of analysts. Still, he’s in a position to succeed if he applies himself and warrants a look in your rookie draft’s first round. I think he has a little bit less distance to go than Barden, so I give him the edge.

But be prepared to sit him most of the year. If you are ok with that, he should produce within a year or so and has the upside to be very good. But if Barden starts using his huge body the way he can – it might be a fight.

Redraft
You’d probably pick him up around the time you’ll pick up NFL #3s and fellow rookies like Heyward-Bey and – depending upon how risk averse you might be – Percy Harvin. Nicks COULD produce, but the glut of WRs around him have me worried right now.

Hicks is one of the WRs who could move up my draft board though, with continued good news out of OTAs and Training Camp. Right now though, not sold enough to risk more than a #3 or 4 spot for my lineup.

Percy Harvin, MIN
Harvin has already had his share of trouble with some concerns over character and drug use – and raised eyebrows when he missed mini camp due to dehydration. When rumor has it you biffed a drug test you knew you would take at the Combine…

Well - let’s just say ‘red flag’.

Despite that, he is expected to be at OTAs and Sidney Rice himself says he expects to have to battle Harvin to for the starting flanker or ‘Z’ position at wide receiver.

The fact that Rice is coming off a knee injury which contributed to a lackluster year (one we expected him to break out in) gives Harvin a leg up – so to speak – but by no means do I count Rice out.

In reality both WRs bring different skills to the table – Rice can make big leaping catches and use his body against opposing secondary while Harvin can both get separation to be a vertical threat as well as work the middle.

Fact is, while Rice’s knee contributed to his lackluster 2008, the clock is ticking and if Harvin can keep his head on straight, he can duplicate some of what Rice can.

Aside from the worries about Harvin's attitude, I don't have a ton of worries. As I said on the podcast, all these guys have question marks. Some - Crabtree and Maclin - have talent which makes those questions not as big.

But most of the rest don't quite fall in that category so they should shuffle all summer long. Harvin has a ton of talent and I think he'll overcome his penchant for bad decisions at least enough to stay on the field.

Beyond anything else, they will get him involved. If he doesn't beat out Rice, they'll put him in the slot or occasionally split him out wide - whatever it takes to utilize his abilities.

Also - this ranking could change radically if His Royal Favreness becomes a Viking. I can't say if I think that is bad or good yet, but it could change the landscape.

Dynasty
Harvin is a guy who certainly has some risk but also a tremendous amount of ability. Like the Vikings, you're banking on the fact that he can overcome his penchant for bad decisions to fully reveal his ability, which is great. He may not vault to superstar status immediately but I think he will emerge down the road as a solid wide receiver - perhaps more than that - for your Dynasty squad.

Redraft
Harvin is also a risky pick for a redraft owner but could end up being productive. As always, minimize your risk. And consider that since most redraft leagues don't draft until late summer, you are in a good position to see where Harvin stands and pick accordingly. If you had to pick him right now, I would wait quite a long time, and he wouldn't be any higher than mid to late WR 50.

Darrius Heyward-Bey, OAK
Ok, let's forget for a moment the ridiculousness of the pick by the Raiders. DHB was still a guy we all felt was a receiver who could be a first round pick.

He's got his faults. At Maryland, he had big problems with drops and he rarely if ever played against press coverage. He wasn't productive, but you can blame that on an offense that never used him to his full capabilities.

DHB also lacks special teams experiance, though that was always more of a factor for me in terms of the actual draft versus fantasy purposes.

I would be positive Heyward-Bey could improve his overall game if it wasn't for one thing - that would be the play of JaMarcus Russell.

Now I'm not calling Russell a bust. I will, however, point out that he is already struggling in OTAs. According to Jerry McDonald - beat writer for the Oakland Tribune - Russell's performance as recently as Wednesday (5/21) was 'awful'.

Head Coach Tom Cable says the problem with Russell is his unfamiliarity with the new offense. But a guy who can throw 70 yards from his knees should be much better in an offense which goes vertical like this one should while in shorts and with no hitting.

So while Russell is no bust, he's starting to list that way and if he struggles, what does that mean for DHB? And before we cry for Garcia, he's not going to allow Heyward-Bey to stretch the field the way Russell should.

Dynasty

Heyward-Bey could develop into a very good receiver or at worst, a Nate Washington type who can stretch the field often, if not be incredibly productive. In my mind, I have big concerns that are not really stemming from his potential. One I mentioned - Russell and his development or lack thereof. Second though, is the organization itself. The Raiders are a mess - is this a place that will be able to develop a wide receiver successfully?

As that is the case, he probably slips down into the second round of a rookie draft for me. He's got some very good upside - but I am unsure he will realize it for some time.

Redraft

With the disarray of the wide receiver corps in Oakland, who is in his way? Chaz Schilens? Javon Walker? If Russell can get his game on - or even if Garcia is a reasonable replacement - DHB could become a decent producer of fantasy points.

But - and this is a large but - this is not an offense I think is primed for big things. So sure, he could be the best wide receiver (2nd best receiver overall next to Zach Miller) on the Raiders - but that might be like re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.

So that's it for this edition of the Wide Reciever Breakdown. Next week I will have the rest of the bunch - and I think there are several guys who have a great deal of value especially in Dynasty leagues.

If there is someone you really want me to cover, throw it in the comments or email me at thunderingblurb@gmail.com and I will tackle them.

Not literally.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Fantasy Rookies 2009: The Running Backs

What's not to like about running backs? I could chat about - and on occasion - with them for hours and never get bored.

In so far as fantasy impact, the running backs coming out of college have less of a learning curve than the quarterbacks and wide receivers.

As I said last time, I don't expect many Steve Slaton's here. Guys who could surprise because you don't know who they are. There are a ton of backs to like overall though and long term, some real potential.

We start off with a trio of backs with the best chance to have an impact immediately.

Knowshon Moreno, RB, DEN
While a gasp inducing pick for many – myself included – Moreno has an excellent blend of talent and opportunity. I don’t foresee most of the guys behind him taking too many carries away if he has a good camp.

Buckhalter and Jordan are threats but not hugely so. Moreno can do everything – hit the hole hard and run through the tackles, catch the ball out of the backfield and he can even block well. He might need to adjust his running style, which is very aggressive and might lead to too much abuse.

But in what will probably be a one cut and run rushing attack, Moreno could have significant success and get a bunch of carries. I know, historically, with DEN RB you have to be extra careful. But new coach, new offense – I think a new attitude as well.

Dynasty
Moreno should be off the board no later than three and probably will be gone in one. While the offense could struggle this year, I think he can do enough well to be on the field three downs and even in a timeshare short term, he’ll be worth a ton long term.

Redraft
He’s one of the few guys I would take to use as a consistent starter, though you have to figure flex/RB2 depending. But his upside is pretty good. He could go as anywhere between the 25th onward in a redraft and I don’t think I would blink.

Chris Wells, RB, AZ
In the conversation for top rookie RB, Wells fell into a very good situation in Arizona. Edgerrin James is gone (although you can blame some of his underproduction on lack of use) and Tim Hightower showed us he was not able to carry the full load last season.

Wells - an outstanding downhill runner with good burst, vision and top speed – has some durability concerns and isn’t a great receiver. But I think in the injury concern isn’t as bad as many fear. The lack of good receiving skills may hurt him on long third downs and that’s why he’s behind Moreno here.

He might be the better back, but he’ll be on the field one less down. But when he's on the field, he has an outstanding pass attack to keep the opposing defenses honest and that will give him good room to get to top speed and take off.

Also, he could work hard to improve his receiving game and that could make him even more dangerous.

Dynasty
Like Moreno, Wells will go in the top three of any Dynasty draft and he should. He won’t get you as many points in a PPR, so again, this is another reason he is behind Moreno. But if you are in the 1,2,3 slot in your draft, be very happy.

Redraft
Could be a guy who will go near Moreno (yes again) somewhere after RB25 and on. He has the upside to be better than that so he might go earlier than 25th back off the board, but I don’t expect Forte or Johnson here. He should be a very reliable but you can’t expect more than you would from other backs who we’re not sure about like Derrick Ward in Tampa and part timer/scoring machines like LenDale White.

Donald Brown, RB, IND
I like what Brown brings to the table – he has good hands and can catch, can make a big play even when he doesn’t have the speed to run away from defenders, has great vision and can break tackles. I don’t know what to expect from him and Addai going forward.

Unlike Moreno who I believe to get most of the carries in Denver and Wells who is just a better back than his partner Hightower, Brown is a guy who has a legit starting back next to him.

Addai’s biggest problem is injury – and Brown will get the rock enough to keep him healthy.

But I have two questions.

First, what if Addai is healthy? Do we see Addai retain 75% of the snaps? And who is getting the third down/short yardage carries? Neither Addai nor Brown are short yardage backs. So who is getting the short yardage? And if it isn’t them – well how much will that hurt their overall numbers?

Dynasty
I think long term, Brown will end up with the starting gig. It’s just a feeling as Addai is spending too much time hurt while Brown has proven (at least in college) that he can carry a full load. Brown is easily a top 5 rookie pick, but keep in mind that he may only be a part timer for you at least the first year. If you have Addai, and happen to see him drop to you, I would consider him even over the other two, since you are already invested in the Colts run game.

Redraft
Because there is so much clutter around how this RBBC split will go, Brown drops a little further down the board in a redraft – even in a PPR league. He could have tremendous numbers – but he could also be average. I would say somewhere in the neighborhood of RB35 and beyond – amongst fringers who start but are aging and seeing smaller production totals (like Jamal Lewis) and backups with upside (like Felix Jones).

After the above guys, you have upside, but players who might take time just getting onto the field.

Shonn Greene, RB, NYJ
Greene is a guy who could shoot up or drop down this list at any time. As of right now, Leon Washington and Thomas Jones are both holding out. I don’t expect that to stay the case but it brings up some important thoughts.

First, we can be pretty sure that the guy who gets paid first (Leon Washington) is the guy who will still be there down the road and the guy who isn’t (that would be Thomas Jones) won’t be.

Got a headache yet? You should, but pop some aspirin and bear with me. Long term, Jones isn’t the answer for Gang Green. It’s one of many reasons why the team leaped up a second time to get him. They know (or think they do) Jones isn’t the long term guy.

It’s why he won’t get the money he wants. And the longer he holds out, perhaps the better it is for Greene.

Greene, for his part, is a great match for the speedy, game breaking Washington (who will get some money). He’s physical, powerful with a very strong lower body, gets stronger as the game goes, fights for the last inch and always falls forward and he rarely coughs the ball up.

Paired with Washington in the backfield, Greene would help give the Jets the running game they need to control the clock the way they want and help protect their inexperience QB (whichever guy it is).

Dynasty
Greene should go somewhere in the first 10 picks – it depends upon need. I might take Stafford or Sanchez if I had ok RB depth. Crabtree should almost certainly go before him. But he will be the Jets starting running back within two years and should have worthwhile success. Jones will likely be back in camp, so Greene may not produce this year. But he will soon.

Redraft
As I said, I expect both Washington and Jones to go to training camp, which will limit Greene’s effectiveness this year. You can take a flier on him, but that means after all the starters and upside backups go – probably around RB 55-60 give or take.

If Jones holds out for even a portion of camp, I might be tempted to pull him out a little earlier. Recall how hard it was on even backs like Steven Jackson when they skip portions of camp? Jones may find himself struggling if he holds out into late August – and then Greene may get more carries. But still, mostly upside which is likely to remain untapped here for 2009.

LeSean McCoy, RB, PHI
Am sort of torn on McCoy.

On the one hand, he's a great athlete, with natural vision and instincts. He's quick, agile, and can either catch the ball well or hit the hole hard.

In short, Westbrook part 2, although that doesn't do justice to what he is capable of in my opinion.

He has his downsides - his size, ball security and not much of a blocker. But I think he could really be a big factor, save for one big minus.

That would be Westbrook. If Westy stays healthy (and I always assume a player will) how much will 'Shady' get the rock?

I think down the road, he could be Westbrooks' replacement. But if that tales two or three years, what does that mean for his owners?

Dynasty
I like McCoy a ton. If you are a Westbrook owner, I think he is a must have and around the 4-6 spot if he is there and you already have Westbrook, you grab him. It may take a few years to get his full shot, but he will and I like what I have seen so far. Even if you don't have Westbrook, he's a worthy guy to grab and will produce down the road.

Redraft
If you grab Westy in the first, you almost have to get McCoy later. The question is - WHEN? While I might take him after Greene in Dynasty, I think he's probably a slightly better bet in redraft leagues.

I know, I said I don't count on players getting hurt. But with Westy's history, better safe than sorry. I grab him maybe around RB 50 - around the time guys like Jerrious Norwood go. A part timer who could put up ok numbers and has a shot if someone gets hurt.

Rashard Jennings, RB, JAX
Man, I still boggle at how Jennings got overlooked. Maybe it was the small school. Maybe it was bouncing around between Pitt and Liberty.

Whatever, Jennings dropped into the laps of the Jags and they have to be happy.

Athletic, strong and powerful, but with decent speed for the size. He can move the chains and could be a huge factor in a short yardage game.

I think he could pair up well with Maurice Jones-Drew and can both block for MJD, as well as sub for him. And as he can catch AND run, not too much of a step back from a strategy standpoint.

How much he will play is a question mark, but here is a guy who can rocket up this ranking in short order this summer.

On top of what I wrote, this is a good character guy. Why did he leave Pitt for the small program at Liberty? he went to be nearer to his

Dynasty
I think this is a guy you have to think about no later than second round in a rookie draft. There are issues, and I don't know if he will win enough of the load to impact immediately, but I think the skillset and ability fit well with the Jags.

And with a newly shored up OLINE? Dang.

Redraft
Jennings is a guy who will be hard to decide on until I know it's him and not Washington or Greg Jones as the #2 behind MJD. Whomever is that guy will have value somewhere in the neighborhood of RB 50-60. If not, you can count Jennings as not worth drafting - this season.

Andre Brown, RB, NYG
I have heard conflicting evaluation on Brown. I have heard he will step right in for the departed Derrick Ward. I have heard him called a project and that Danny Ward will be the 'Wind'.

I think Brown is probably in the middle.

He's got a great set of skills and should at least get into the RB rotation as a #3. Whether he can catch Bradshaw is another thing.

Brown runs with very good power, can break tackles and can also catch out of the backfield.

His downside is a lack of great speed and elusiveness, some durability concerns and isn't great at turning the corner.

Thing is, his skill-set fits very well with the rotation that the Giants. If he can stay healthy, he can probably hold off Ware - who I like, but believe does not have as much upside as Brown.

Dynasty
Brown will probably work his way more and more into the lineup but with Jacobs there for the duration, his impact might be limited, especially since he splits the carries three ways instead of two. Eventually if he is effective, you can imagine Bradshaw will be let go in free agency. But there is a chance all three will stick and that could limit his long term impact.

Redraft
I like Brown, as he will probably play this season. But that three way split makes him a little less attractive than the backs who have preceded him on this list. Jacobs is a sure thing in the run game but Bradshaw and Brown's splits are a question mark. I like him, but probably around RB60 or so and as an upside pick later in the draft.

Here are some other guys who may impact down the road or have a shot in some way this season, but by no means are they assured carries.

Javon Ringer, RB, TENN - Ringer has some durability and size questions but he is a solid runner who has something some say LenDale White lacks - an amazing work ethic and leadership. If White carps in 2009 like he did in 2008 - Ringer could take his slot. A later pick in Dynasty and a Hail Mary pick in a ReDraft though don't expect much this season.

Gartrell Johnson, RB, SD - Two years running people have said 'Oh, the Bolts have grabbed LT's replacement' but it hasn't happened yet. Johnson is a good late Dynasty pick as he could fit part of that role - a tough, aggressive runner who can block and get tough yards. But he isn't necessarily a bell-cow, but could fit well with Hester or Sproles in a two back system. Untouchable in redraft, but a mid-to-late round in a Dynasty draft.

James Davis, RB, CLE - Jamal Lewis is slowly grinding out the end of his career, though effectively, given the Oline issues. Jerome Harrison was the LAST staff's guy. And most of those last staff's guys are gone. The Clemsen back is a strong runner who can run inside, but lacks game breaking speed. Still, he'll get his shot. A good later round pick in a rookie draft, but another guy not to grab unless very late in a redraft.

Glenn Coffee/Kory Sheets, RB, SF - Both backs have question marks but someone has to help Frank Gore carry the load if this becomes a run-centric offense. Coffee could do some short yardage work which failed last year and Sheets is a fast, quick back who can catch out of the backfield. This looks like it could be a junior version of the Giants 3-headed monster. If Michael Robinson or Thomas Clayton were the answer, there wouldn't be two rookie backs in camps.

Arian Foster, RB, HOU - Steve Slaton has great value because the Texans didn't pull a running back within the draft. However, they still have questions about how he can do alone. They need a second back and Foster is an intriguing possibility. He's not incredibly fast and isn't a big play threat but he can block, shows good patience and can catch out of the backfield. He has the skills, but also some questions which make him a shaky long term (or short term) pick. But he's a guy to watch. Jeremiah Johnson is an interesting prospect as well, and is similiar to Foster. Either one can succeed as a back up to Slaton.

There are other backs worth watching - Chris Ogbonnaya with the Rams, Mike Goodson with the Panthers, Bernard Scott with Cincinnati and Cedric Peerman with Baltimore.

All those guys have some value either as backups to big backs or are in situations which are cloudy enough to give them a shot to emerge at some points.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Fantasy Rookies 2009: The Quarterbacks

Now that we've had a little bit of time to digest the draft and overcome our shocks, hangovers, or disappointments, it's time to start breaking down the players from the most important direction possible—their impact on your fantasy football squad.

Priorities, right?

This is the first in a series of articles which will cover various positions for both Dynasty and Redraft leagues.

I'll start by saying something I have said multiple times already prior to and after the draft, and will say pretty much at the top of all of these articles—do not be fooled by last year's numbers. We will—in all likelihood—not see the success that we did last year.

So for Dynasty, keep thinking about long term ramifications as much as (if not more than) short term. In redraft, do not over-value a rookie and leap on one too early, as it is unlikely most of them will pay off this season.

There will be precious few studs with immediate impact this season—and I would hazard a guess that none of them will reside in today's category, the quarterbacks.

If this class was a weak one from a pure football standpoint, it isn't much better from a fantasy one. There are a few who might play this season, a few with long term upside, and many who will be sitting on a waiver wire for a very long time.

With that, here are my thoughts on the 2009 rookie quarterbacks, ranked in order of their draft position, with a rank at the end of how effective I think they will be long and short term.

Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions

Stafford has the arm to take advantage of Calvin Johnson's vertical game and, yes, he's a guy who can either buy time in the pocket or throw on the run, which he will need unless that offensive line pulls a miracle.

Stafford looks like he might have the tools to succeed down the road, but that's my biggest concern—will he be allowed to develop or will he be rushed out this season?

The Lions are saying all the right things; that Daunte Culpepper is the guy this year, that Stafford needs time to learn and get used to the NFL.

But six or seven games in, will he be on the bench if the Lions stay lousy?

I know I have been in the midst of arguments that the Lions' offensive line isn't that bad off, but I have my doubts about that. And on top of that, I prefer a quarterback to sit for a season before being thrown in to the fire. A QB's psyche is sometimes a fragile thing.

Yes, Peyton Manning survived and got better in spite of that initial hellish season one. Many, many quarterbacks did not and they far outnumber the survivors.

If he gets most of the season to adjust to the NFL, I like Stafford quite a bit. His arm, his feet, all the little things he does well. But I like him less if he gets thrown to the wolves in the NFC North too soon.

That offense would live and die by his arm and I don't think it has the tools for him to bring that off. If he goes in, and they double cover Johnson or stack the box against Kevin Smith, what then?

He can't win it all and behind that offensive line, I worry about the pounding he might get and its results.

Dynasty Rank

First round rookie, with the hopes he gets the time to work up to starter. If you own Culpepper, you almost have to have him unless you have better.

Redraft Rank

A late addition—probably near QB 28-30. He could bump up if he wins the job outright, though not much and I'm hoping sense prevails and he sits.


Mark Sanchez, NY Jets

Sanchez's situation is at once similar to Stafford's and also wildly different.

Let me explain. I love the upside of Sanchez, he can make all the throws you need, is a natural leader, a hard worker, and a very smart player.

That said, like Stafford, he'd benefit from a little time to develop.

Unlike Stafford, though, he has a better chance of survival if he is thrown in the mix early.

Whereas the Lions would need Stafford to do a ton of heavy lifting, the Jets built their offensive line to be a power run blocking line.

Yes, they utterly got away from that when Favre showed up. That's reason number 4,546 why Eric Mangini is a Brown.

But ultimately, that's what they are. And in that case, the quarterback's burden is much easier.

Sanchez is a guy who has already impressed the team with his hard work and overall play and while they—like the Lions—say all the right things about it being a competition, it isn't looking like that.

Sanchez has a better chance of being stuck in a No. 1 spot at the beginning of the season and he also has a better chance of survival if he is thrown directly into the fire.

That said, even if he's wildly successful, he's not likely to have to throw often (assuming the Jets' defense and run offense work out) and so he won't be a guy who blows up this season.

Longer term, until they get him a legit No. 1 wide receiver, he will lag behind Stafford assuming he (Stafford) survives.

Dynasty Rank

Like Stafford, he's a first round rookie, and in his case is probably safer to start in a bye week. But long term right now, I put him behind Stafford. Until the Jets get him some vertical weapons, he is unlikely to match Stafford's potential long term production.

Redraft Rank

Again, a guy who you probably look at after most of the veteran starters are gone. I think the same things that might limit his long term potential—the offensive schemes, the defense—make him a safer bet than Stafford to put consistent points up. Those points still won't make him reliable as much more than a bye week or emergency filler.


Josh Freeman, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

After leaping over non-existent teams desperate to grab Freeman and all the "I know this kid, he's AWESOME" talk from the head coach, I don't know I believe Freeman doesn't start at some point.

Still, there is a good chance we see Byron Leftwich as the starter come week one, despite Freeman's really ill-advised (and perhaps flat out incorrect) statement that Leftwich was just "smokescreen" to throw people off the scent.

Riiiiiiight.

Freeman is a big, tough, quarterback with a strong arm who has lots of experience and pretty good mobility.

Two things don't work for me about him.

First, stuff like that statement about Leftwich really tell me he's not much of a leader, no matter what many sites have said otherwise. How is that the way you want to enter a locker-room? How do you win that place over?

Not smart. Worse, it smacks (in my mind) of Ryan Leaf. He expects to be "the man." I wonder if that work ethic, which was a plus in college, will exist at the Pro level.

More importantly is that he was incredibly streaky in college and, as much as he would succeed, he would go a game throwing picks and bad passes. For example, his November 1 game against Kansas. Freeman threw no touchdown passes in the 52-21 loss, while tossing three interceptions and getting sacked three times.

The fact that the Bucs were at that game disturbs me. So does the fact that he didn't throw any touchdown passes in four games against Texas A&M, Colorado, Kansas, and Missouri.

Yes, he lacked big time players. I still say some of the best—most successful—quarterbacks had success at the college level despite a dearth of top talent.

And who does he have in Tampa? Antonio Bryant, who finally lived up to expectations last year but who isn't a sure bet to repeat, and a decent run game. And some real questions on the defensive side of the ball.

Does it really sound all that much better?

That doesn't mean he won't succeed. I just don't like his chances.

Dynasty Rank

A distant third behind Stafford and Sanchez and even then I don't like him. To me, he's a project (which really all these guys are to some extent) and I'd rather grab another skill position and pick up another quarterback later or trade out for a QB in next year's draft.

Redraft Rank

I wouldn't even draft him unless he was sure to start and even then, I don't know if I would go for him when he might get drafted. I would rather pick up a backup earlier and then value at another position while someone risks a pick on Freeman.


Pat White, Miami Dolphins

Is he a quarterback or is he a wide receiver? Is he an every down player or is he a gadget guy like Brad Smith of the NY Jets?

These questions make him a risky pick in any draft.

Still, taking him in the second is a sign they expect something of him and reports are that he will challenge Chad Henne for backup duties.

Henne had the locker room and skills last season, and might have started if Pennington hadn't arrived. Until the draft, many were predicting Henne would start sometime in 2010.

On top of the extreme athleticism and trick play skills, White is actually a decent quarterback and many scouts stopped looking at him as a hybrid or wide receiver conversion. He's smart and looked very accurate in every workout the past few months.

Still, it's one thing to throw balls in shorts and perfect weather (or no weather like at the Combine) and another with Bart Scott bearing down on you.

It's a little soon to guess which way this is going to go and how White will adjust to the NFL. Many players like him have failed as QBs and either transitioned to another position or dropped out of the league.

But he has the upside and potential to be a dynamic player at this level too. It's a coin flip.

Do keep in mind—if he is categorized as a quarterback by the league, most league sites will do the same and then he may not be available to you as a flex player, which might be his best value if he gets used in the Wildcat formation a ton.

Dynasty Rank

A guy you take later in your rookie draft as a pure upside pick. If you don't have a ton of holes, he's worth a look. But if you have other needs, don't burn the roster spot. When he takes a year or two to develop, owners may get frustrated and you could find him on the waiver wire to pick up at your leisure.

Redraft Rank

You'll have to wait, but if you can hold on until the last quarter of your draft, he could be a really interesting upside pick.

If he is integrated as a new wrinkle on the Wildcat, he might prove a useful flex player assuming your league is set up to accommodate. But the trick will be waiting long enough to where you won't be angry when you drop him for more consistent injury or bye week help.


Nate Davis, San Francisco

You have to keep an eye on the guy who has only Shaun Hill, Damon Huard, and Alex Smith ahead of him on the depth chart.

Davis has a strong arm, is a good team leader, and has great touch and timing. He's a hard worker and exceedingly competitive, which strikes me as a very Singletary trait.

He does have a learning disability but that hasn't fazed the 49ers, and he definitely needs some work both in mechanics and the fact that he rarely worked under center.

Still, there isn't a lot of incredibly impressive talent in front of him and with Josh Morgan, Isaac Bruce, and the newly drafted Michael Crabtree, whoever the starter is has some fantasy potential.

Davis is likely a longer term project but you never know and he's worth keeping an eye on.

Dynasty Rank

More attractive if you happen to have Alex Smith on your roster already but Davis is likely to slip out of a rookie draft in all but the deepest leagues with a long rookie draft. Watch the QB battle in San Fran over the summer closely and be ready to hit the waiver wire. Just in case.

Redraft Rank

Not someone you'll be drafting in a redraft league unless you draft late and he's won the job. But like in a Dynasty league, you'll want to keep an eye on the QB battle and a finger on the waiver wire trigger. The weapons in that offense could be very productive, and in that case, Davis could be as well.

The following two QBs are worth noting in Dynasty leagues but not worth looking at really at all in a redraft.

Stephen McGee, Dallas Cowboys

McGee is a very underrated quarterback who could take over down the road if he develops well and Romo keeps losing games late in the season. Very raw though and will burn a roster spot unless you have a taxi squad in your league.

Tom Brandstater, Denver Broncos

While it's unlikely he'll see the field anytime soon, Brandstater has a nice touch, timing, and is very smart. Is this McDaniels' attempt to replicate Cassel? Probably not due to a lack of arm strength but there is enough confusion at the Denver QB position to keep an eye on him in Dynasty leagues.

This will be worth revisiting during the summer and we will, here as well as on The Thundering Blurb Football Show every Wednesday. Some street free agents may end up being worth a Dynasty look and some of these players may find themselves firmly in possession of a clipboard.

But for now, here's hoping this helps you start to get ready for your Fantasy Football drafts.

I'll be back next week with a breakdown of running backs.