Saturday, July 30, 2005

RANTING ABOUT THE VIKING'S SERIOUS ISSUE, OVER-LEGISLATION IN FOOTBALL, AND A FANTASY FOOTBALL WIDE RECEIVER CHEAT-SHEET; PART 2

The Viking passing game suffered big time when Moss was absent from the lineup last season. Will this year be any different? Only time will tell, but here are a few questions that need to be answered.
A. The loss of brilliant O-Coordinator Scott Linehan

B. New #1 pass catcher Nate Burleson averaged a sorry 59 receiving yards per game when Moss was out of the lineup. Can he turn his game up a notch??

C. The team will feature 2 former, underwhelming, starting Baltimore pass catchers in Marcus Robinson (tho' his height and ups make him a decent red-zone weapon) and Travis Taylor. To say that he was an underperformer as a Raven would be an understatement, now that the he's not expected to be "the man" can Taylor become a pass catching factor?

D. Can rookie WR Troy Williamson develop quickly? He'd better, because after Burleson, Robinson, and Taylor, the receiving depth falls off a cliff- Aside from #4 Kelly Campbell who has never been able to tap his potential for more than a game at a time and Keenan Howry, primarily a return man who was on IR for all of '04, there's really no one else.

Should Nate Burleson fall as flat as he did last season when Moss was sidelined, the prolific Minny' passing game could sputter. The sole caveat for the Vikings is as follows; when they were at a loss for Moss last year, the offense had to be totally reconfigured. After all, with a talent such as Randy at a coordinator's disposal, logic dictates that most of the play calling will be designed to revolve around him.
Now that Randy Moss is no longer an option, the team can design passing plays for Burleson, Robinson, Taylor, possibly Williamson, and capitalize upon the speed of RB Michael Bennett and toughness of RB Mewelde Moore.

At last... "Part Deux!"

This season, wideouts should be larger and more consistent fantasy factors. Rotisserie Football is, and always has been, about the running game and that's not about to change; running backs can accrue more points with more opportunities to score.
However, the new and largely fictitious rules governing pass interference will allow pass catchers to be larger fantasy contributors. The "Five Yard Chuck Rule? .... ahhh, it's a "5 Yard Shmuck Rule!" Football is becoming over-legislated. Pretty soon, in order to register a Sack, all a defender will have to do is yank a bright red handkerchief from off of the QB's waist!
And, how 'bout the no horse-collar tackle" rule? For years, this was a necessary and legal way to bring down a ball carrier. After all, how the hell is a defender supposed to tackle a wideout or running back who is a step and a half ahead? It will be impossible. The truth of the matter is, once Eagle WR Terrell Owens was lost to injury... the league decided that such a tackle was "too risky."
Bottom line? Losing star players costs the league, and owners, revenue. Well, I volunteer that Football is all about risk! If one isn't interested in getting hurt than one shouldn't step onto the field- should one?!?

And, with THAT rant concluded...
"A Wide Receiver Cheat Sheet Part II: Ranking The 2nd Tier Pass Catchers"

Green Bay Packers Javon Walker: Should Walker (89/1,382/12 in '04) decide to make good on his threat to sit out I'd be amazed. Such a young player would be foolish to miss the time and surrender a full paycheck for each game missed. Playing against the Hi-Octane Os of the NFC North, Green Bay, whose D is even weaker than it was last season, will be engaged in a fair number of shootouts. Favre, who has assuredly lost a step, still tossed 30 TDs last season. And, Walker has a solid run game and complementary receivers (Donald Driver, in particular) who'll help to keep the focus off of him. Coming off of a career season that saw him double nearly every important receiving statistic (from '03), Walker could post even better digits in '05.

Indianapolis Colts: Reggie Wayne: Double diggy TDs (12), 1200+ yards, and an average of almost 16 yards per grab. Not a bad season for a #2 pass catcher. Wayne (77,1,210/12 in '04), who would constitute a #1 on almost any other franchise, benefits from playing within a scary-deep pool of pass catching talent. From #1 WR Marvin Harrison, to #3 WR Brandon Stokely, to star-in-the-making TE Dallas Clark, the team is positively loaded with dangerous, explosive pass catchers. With a QB who could conceivably toss 53-55 TDs, and alongside a world class RB, Wayne is another wideout capable of duplicating ... or even bettering, last year's numbers.

Houston Texans: Andre Johnson: A huge and agile pass catcher, Johnson (79/1,142/6 in '04) has the size and strength to bat those annoying little cornerbacks aside. Entering his quasi-mystical 3rd season... when pass catchers tend to flourish, Johnson offers owners great upside. The downside? Although he simply oozes potential, Andre Johnson is also prone to bouts of invisibility; the Texan's #1 receiver notched a mere 1 TD after week 5 last season. Although taking his game to another level is one consideration, a few things are outside of Johnson's sphere of influence.
1. Houston MUST develop a receiving threat to line up opposite him. Jabar Gaffney just isn't the answer, and at age 30, Corey Bradford is no longer going to blossom; he is what he is, an ordinary pass catcher.

2. The Texans MUST do a better job protecting their most valuable asset; QB David Carr. Opposing defenders have been taking team photos atop the beleaguered QB, and Carr is bound to be carted away on a stretcher if he continues to be subjected to such punishment.

Seattle Seahawks Darrell Jackson: The question in Seattle? Will the real Matt Hasselbeck please stand up. A tremendously consistent '03 gave way to anything BUT a consistent '04 for Hasselbeck. The C-Hawk signal caller was prone to throwing untimely INTs and frequently missed his receivers last season. Meanwhile, the wide receiving corps lost wayward son Koren Robinson to yet another DUI. The team couldn't endure the public humiliation of standing by the recalcitrant pass catcher, so they bit the financial bullet and cut him. Yet, playing on a receiving corps that was prone to costly dropped passes, Robinson was probably the team's biggest offender. "D-Jack" (87/1,199/7 in '04) should be the beneficiary of Robinson's dismissal. Although he has yet to hang 10 TDs in a season, Jackson did post a career high in receiving yards last year. Still, Jackson might not be productive enough for a #1 fantasy wideout... slate him as a #2 Roto-pass catcher. For alas, the Seahawks may well be a run first team in '05 now that RB Shaun Alexander signed a 1 year deal.

Green Bay Packers Donald Driver: Driver (84/1,208/4), due to his height and strength, can get good separation. Because of these skills he's a dangerous "down-the-sidelines" pass catcher. Accordingly, few QBs can throw that route with the accuracy Brett Favre can. As mentioned earlier, Green Bay's D was weakened substantially over the off-season. And, because of this, look for the team to be engaged in a fair number of high scoring shoot-outs. Having recorded a career season in '04, Driver should again post similar numbers.... and maybe even better them!

Pittsburgh Steelers Hines Ward: Due to the presence of a rookie QB, Ward's (80/1004/4 in '04) TD total fell from 10 in '03, to a mere 4 last season. However, with the departure of Plaxico Burress to New York comes increased visibility. #2 WR Antwaan Randel El should help keep secondaries from keying on Ward, and Ward's TD total should jump back up to the double-diggies.

Oakland Raiders Jerry Porter: While many experts have Porter (64/998/9 in '04) ranked lower than this, a strong-armed QB in Kerry Collins, and Hall-of-Fame caliber pass catching compadre' in Randy Moss pump Porter's value up considerably. A big, strong wideout, Porter was eagerly looking forward to showcasing his skills and being "the man" in Oakland this year. However, in an odd twist of fate, Porter's value and numbers might actually increase with Moss playing on the same field! Rest assured, Porter will see far fewer double-teams. And, with his combination of skill and size? Few #2 cornerbacks will be able to cover him. Look for Jerry Porter to hang a career season on the backs of his football cards in '05.

Tennessee Titans Drew Bennett: Bennett (80/1,247/11 in '04), a former college QB, had a statistically ill season last year. He didn't notch a single TD through week 6... but he positively blew up weeks 13 through 15, where he hung 517 receiving yards and a nutty 8 TDs. With former Titan #1 pass catcher Derrick Mason now suiting up for the Ravens, Bennett becomes Tennessee's go-to wideout. Can he assume such responsibility? My Fantasy Magic 8 Ball claims that "it's uncertain at this time." Seriously, though, Bennett's production will be linked to the QB. And, thus far, that QB will be Steve McNair. Bennett's a hard and diligent worker, runs smooth routes, and possesses deceptive speed. While he has "elite" potential, I'd be inclined to let someone else draft him and worry about the Titan QB situation and Bennett's consistency.
A WIDE RECEIVING CHEAT SHEET PART 3 COMING SOON!

Friday, July 29, 2005

FALLING OFF THE PACE & FANTASY BASEBALL

Ok ... So I've been wrapped up in a rather troubling family issue, and have been unable to post for almost a week and change. Wifey had recontructive knee surgery... there goes any and all chance she had at the Pro Bowling Tour! : )

Now, PART II of "Fantasy's Top Wide Receivers" will go up tomorrow afternoon.

Need a shot of pitching adrenaline? Give Yankee youngun' Aaron Small a look. HOWEVER... Small, who has come up large in both of his starts in a Yank uni', is no spring chicken! Fact is, Aaron Small is 33. Thus, his upside is umm, limited at best. Still, he might be a solid spot starter for a needy team.6 ERS in 3 games

Monday, July 25, 2005

LATE SEASON FANTASY BASEBALL HELP!!!

Ok, the 2nd tier Wideout Cheat Sheet will post no later than Wednesday-

AND NOW... Fantasy Baseball season is amid the dregs of summer. Franchises that are wallowing in the bottom 3rd, or floating between the top and middle 1/3's .... well, what's gonna push you into a chase for the crown, owners? Fantasy is NOT about "doing ok." Fantasy is, as coach Lombardi once said, "... all about WINNING!"

Do NOT be afraid to trade- It's absolutely ok part with an athlete at a position where you have strength. And, in almost all leagues, you are awarded only so many Pitching starts; usually 162. So, if you are begininng to push the starting pitching limit... swap a hurler for a point garnering position player AND prospect. Incidentally, keep in mind that it's mighty poor practice to try and rob a leaguemate deaf, dumb and blind. After all, you would NEVER consider an insulting trade offer, right? So, why should another owner? Also, dollars to donuts says that a fellow owner will be disinclined to trade with you in the future if you pepper him with idiotic trade offers. And speaking of which- Randy Johnson's gonna do you no good when you have 0 starts left... So, why not move him for a power hitting OF'er or corner IF'er? Set at those positions? Maybe your team needs an immediate infusion of speed... or your team is down double-digit Saves- Move a Starter for immediate help where it's most needed.
Or, if you're in a Keeper league... so much the better! You'll only be able to carry 2-3 athletes into the next season, correct? So, it'd be a capital idea (as well as outstanding strategy) to trade a couple of VERY good players for... an EXCELLENT player-

Now, youngsters to keep an eye on- Or... Potential Waiver Wire Acquisitions:

Phillies 1st Baseman Ryan Howard: After a mere 95 ABs, Howard's swatting .263/6/19, with 6 Doubles and 12 Walks. Previously, Howard was blocked by veteran Phillie 1st Bagger Jim Thome. However, Thome is down and out with an injury and not due back til' mid-August... this has paved the way for Howard's impressive call-up. This dude can rake! Depositing balls into the cheap seats with seeming impunity, yesterday, Howard had 2 Doubles in a losing effort. What will happen when Thome returns? Well, with the money Jimmy-boy's making? Howard will probably be relegated to bench-meat. But.... if the Phills' manage to get into a Playoff race? Thome's considerably slowed bat will have to be plucked from the lineup "like a cancerous polyp from deep inside the colon." I don't remember what movie that line is from, but I've always loved it : )
Later this season notwithstanding, Howard will offer you cheap power now... and promises to be a top power hitting, .280-ish 1st Bagger next season. When, mind you, the Phills' will no doubt try and move the aging Thome.

Brewer 2nd Baseman Rickie Weeks: I have been singing this guys' praises for umm, weeks. He's a power hitting athlete at a position that boasts few power hitters. He's discovering his stroke, he's got gap to gap power, and promises to develop 25-28 HR power.

Indians SS Jhonny Peralta: On the season, Peralts's .302/13/41, with 17 Doubles and 3 Triples. He possesses nice speed, a quick bat, and over-the-fence power. What's not to like? Cleveland's got more youngsters than your local elementary schools' Kindergarten... but Peralta is absolutely the team's future at Short. The Cleveland Shorty' has been smoking the ball in recent weeks, and any owner who has noticed... and snatched him offa' the 'Wire, has benefited from his hot streak. Peralta's future... is now (I said dramatically!)

Reds 2nd/3rd Ryan Freel: Freel, recently DL'ed with a nagging toe injury, missed a sizeable chunk of the mid-season. He is, however, back in uniform and is re-discovering his stroke. .294/2/9, with 13 Doubles, 1 Triple and 42 Runs scored on the year.... Freel's game is built upon speed and a keen eye at the dish. With 23 Swiped bags on the season, Freel will accrue those hard-to-find Steals while offering owners valuable flexibility: in many leagues, he's eligible to play 2nd, 3rd, AND Outfield.

Blue Jays 3rd Baseman, Aaron Hill: A young, promising corner-Infield prospect, in 206 ABs Hill hanging a line of .306/2/29, with 16 Doubles and 3 Triples. For a rook', Hill has a remarkably well developed eye at the plate; in those 200+ ABs, he's K'ed a mere 19 times. While Hill's power numbers aren't exactly eye-popping, his power should develop over the next season or two. And, if it's flexibility you need, Hill is eligible to play Short Stop in many leagues as well.

Devil Rays OF'er Jonny Gomes: So what if the guy spells his first name wrong? In fewer than 120 plate appearances (Numbers accurate as of Friday), Gomes is .294/8/18, and has an OBP of .356. Again, here's a Fantasy'er who offers you cheap speed (5 Doubs' and 2 Triples); he's got a duo of Swiped Bags already, and he'll attempt to steal more as he becomes more comfortable with the game... and as Lou Piniella becomes more comfortable with him.

Nationals OF'er Ryan Church: Never heard of him??? You will! In 185 ABs (as of Friday) the National OF'er is .314/7/32, with 31 Runs scored, 12 Doubles and 3 Triples... if they haven't already, numbers like that will have owners will goin' to Church!

Starting Pitchers:

Mets Kris Benson: Check out Benson's recent numbers. While he may no longer be available... Especially after this weekends' gem, Benson is rapidly developing into a nice #2 starter.

Orioles Daniel Cabrera: This guy has more ups and downs than a Rockaway Playland Roller Coaster. However, of late, owners may not realize just how steady Cabrera's been. In his last 4 starts, the Oriole starter has 3 Ws and 1 no decision. In those starts, Cabrera has allowed a mere 5 Earned runs while fanning 26. Need a late season fill-in starter? Cabrera's your man!


Next up.... that Wide Receiver Cheat Sheet I've been talking about!

Thursday, July 21, 2005

FANTASY FOOTBALL'S 4 STAR WIDEOUTS; A REDUX!

Fantasy Football's Wide Receivers


So, Fantasy Football owners... in the first 3 rounds of your fantasy draft, assuming you follow the time-tested pattern most "FGMs" (Fantasy General Managers) who are worth their salt... or keyboards or whatever do, you've pulled a pair of top Running Backs and your #1 signal caller off the draft board. Now, in the 4th round, it's high time you snagged yourself a top pass catcher!

As every experienced "FGM" is aware, fantasy wideouts don't have the same value fantasy Running Backs do. However, that's NOT to say that you should punt the position in favor of a backup QB or #3 'back. Actually, quite the opposite. A solid NFL receiver will consistently post fantasy points. This my friends, is crucial.

1. Eagles Terrell Owens: 4 STARS; 77 Rec., 1,200 Yards, 14 TDs: Assuming he re-joins the Eagle aerie by game 1 of the regular season... and seeing as how he'll be fined a hefty game check for each regular season tilt missed- my hard-earned dough is on T.O strapping 'em on, No NFL pass catcher is as dangerous. A tall, powerful, physical athlete with impeccable body control, T.O can overpower most D-Backs and assume control of a game in the same way Jerry Rice used to. Point-blank, a motivated T.O is fantasy’s most valuable wideout. McNabb and Terrell are as good a catch and throw combo as exists anywhere in the league, and are capable of matching, or even eclipsing, Indy's vaunted "Manning-to-Harrison" connection. Owens notched scores in 9 of the 14 regular-season games in which he played, and put on a post-season clinic; 13 grabs for 130 yards on a bum wheel. The Eag’s will receive solid run support from RB Brian Westbrook and possibly Westbrook’s rookie clone, newly inked Ryan Moats. As for complementary receivers… that’s a little dicey. TE L.J. Smith threatens to break out at long last, Todd Pinkston is an unremarkable pass catcher, and Greg Lewis could surprise.

2. Raiders Randy Moss: 4 Stars; 49 Rec., 767 Yards, 13 TDs: No wideout runs a better fade- No wideout is a deadlier red-zone weapon- and no top wideout is a bigger fantasy gamble. However, QB Kerry Collins throws the deep ball with confidence and accuracy, and Moss should be his greatest beneficiary. Young pass catchers Jerry Porter, Ronald Curry and Doug Gabriel will be all the more effective because of Moss' presence, and RB LaMont Jordan will punish the defenders who opt to key on the passing game. Porter, in particular, is a solid ’05 breakout fantasy candidate.. Eager to prove his detractors wrong, look for Moss... who's lookin' "My-T" sharp in his new silver and black threads, to have a big season... assuming Collins doesn't revert to his "deer caught in the headlights" style of play (please see "Collins, Kerry; Former Giant Quarterback). Moss was, however, nicked up for a good portion of last season. A "DNP" (did not play) for 3 games, he was also a virtual non-factor in 4 others. But what of the games that DID see Moss' rear in high gear? Week 3 against Chicago: 7 grabs, 117 yards, 2 TDs, and Week 4 at Houston: 5 receptions, 90 yards, 2 TDs. A healthy Moss was on an early season roll, racking up 8 TDs in his first 5 contests. Weeks 7-10 were an injury-marred washout for the former Viking, but he regained his form and was a steady fantasy (and real) performer weeks 12-17, with TDs in 6 of the 7 games. In addition, Moss had a standout performance in Minny's 31-17 Wildcard win over Green Bay (a week when many Roto leagues held their "Championship" games), adding another duo of TDs. Will Randy Moss rise to the challenge and make Minnesota rue the day they parted ways with the near certain Hall of Fame receiver? My well-handled Fantasy Magic-8 ball say's ... "Absolutely!" Look for 1,150 or more receiving yards and 10+ TDs. Randy Moss, Kerry Collins, and LaMont Jordan will be an impressive fantasy triad in 2005.

3. Colts Marvin Harrison: 4 STARS; 86 Rec., 1,113 Yards, 15 TDs: Does Marvelous Marvin really need ANY introduction? An absolute scoring machine on an O that revolves around the passing game in much the same way the sun revolves around the Earth... I joke, I joke- the way the Earth revolves around Mars, Harrison is Manning's top target. A small but durable pass catcher, Marv' is fearless and possesses an outstanding set of mitts. Although 86 grabs for 1,113 yards were his lowest receiving totals in 7 seasons, owners need to keep in mind that the 33 year old Harrison is also part of a receiving corps "par excellence." Fellow wideouts Reggie Wayne and Brandon Stokely, and TEs Dallas Clark and Marcus Pollard also received ample looks last season. In fact, the Indy O sported a trio of 1,000 yard receivers last year; positively nutty! Harrison's diminished numbers were a reflection of the incredible talent around him and NOT a reflection of diminished skills. Season after season, game after game, Marvin Harrison is there. Like Yellowstone’s “Ol’ Faithful,” Marv’s there. Like the changing tides, Marv’s there. Like the Great Pyramid of Giza, Marv’s … ok, you get the point, which is; the omnipresent Colt receiver is one of THE most under-rated NF’ers. Last season, Harrison scored in 11 of 16 games. Looking towards this season- with TE Marcus Pollard now in Detroit, the Colts can no longer play their much-beloved 2 TE sets. Although young TE Dallas Clark has proven himself capable and will receive plenty of red zone and "safety-valve" looks, it's not unreasonable to think that Manning, who enjoys a downright spooky connection with his #1 receiver, will look to Harrison with even greater frequency than in years past. If Brandon Stokely can remain healthy… he too could enjoy a second consecutive 10 TD season. Point blank? Although QB Peyton Manning has a tough encore season on his hands, the guy can stack 6’s like Denny’s stacks flapjacks. With talents such as #2 WR Reggie Wayne, #3 WR Brandon Stokely, TE Dallas Clark, and All-World ‘back Edgerrin James… it’s not inconceivable that Manning tosses 50-53 TDs. Look for "The Marvelous One," whose savvy and soft hands will offset any loss of speed... at least for this season, to again be Peyton’s “safety blanket” and hang double diggy' TDs.

4. Rams Torry Holt: 4 STARS; 94 Rec., 1,372 Yards, 10 TDs: Here's an O going through some small, but significant changes. It's no secret that both WR Isaac Bruce and RB Marshall Faulk are aging, but Bruce remains a factor where Faulk is relegated to a near afterthought. In Faulk's (Faulk’s ability to catch the ball out of the backfield is now his most valuable asset) stead- youngster Steven Jackson is assuming the feature ‘back duties. A tough, quick runner, Jackson will keep opposing Ds honest. As for our man Holt… the ’99 draft pick has had the opportunity to learn his craft at the knee of a master. Although he’s certainly lost a step… ‘kay, mebbe’ a step and ¾, Bruce runs razor-sharp routes, still has good quickness which allows him to get good separation, possesses tremendous football knowledge, and most importantly- has been a willing teacher. Bruce has taught Holt the many nuances of the position, and accordingly, Holt is almost on par with Oakland’s Randy Moss. Holt may not have Moss’ raw talent, but Moss assuredly lacks Holt’s every-down effort. In St. Louis, the student has supplanted the master; Holt notched scores in 8 games en route to his NFL record 5th consecutive 1,300 yard season. With a running game that is going through changes and Bruce getting no younger- Holt could notch career numbers.

5. Bengals Chad Johnson: 4 STARS; 95 Rec., 1,274 Yards, 9 TDs: If points were awarded for smack... Johnson would have enjoyed a record breaking season. Still, you've gotta like both his intensity and the game he brings to the field week in and week out. Johnson’s receptions rose for a 4th consecutive season, and at age 27- this cat’s just entering his prime. With a year of action under his belt, QB Carson Palmer now has a handle on just how quickly the game moves, he looks off receivers, moves through his progressions with greater confidence, and has improved his recognition skills immeasurably. And, having recorded TDs in their last 7 games together, Johnson and Palmer seem to have discovered that elusive QB/WR chemistry. With a capable #2 WR in T.J Houshmandzadeh lining up opposite him, powerful RB Rudi Johnson carrying the mail, and a pair of potential difference making rookie receivers in Tab Perry and Chris Henry learning the game- dare I say it? I dare; the Bengal O has explosive po’! Another of the new breed of big, strong receivers, Johnson can fend off D-backs and make the circus catch. Johnson had 17 plays of 20+ yards, and 5 of 40+ yards. Here's another fantasy wideout with career season potential.

6. Saints Joe Horn: 4 STARS; 94 Rec., 1,399 Yards, 11 TDs: Damn! Quick question… who talks more smack, politicians or NFL’ers? Well… I have no answer for that one, actually, but Joe “Horn o’ Plenty” can talk junk like few others can. Shooting your mouth off can get you into big trouble on the grid iron… if you can’t back it up. Horn does, however, back his big mouth up with big game play. With an awesome 22 plays of 20+ yards, and an average of 14.9 yards per catch- Horn has some “oral wiggle room.” Despite playing on a bum wheel, Horn had a tremendous ’04 campaign. Horn made QB Aaron Brooks look better than he actually was by adjusting to some poorly thrown balls, and helped fill the offensive vacuum caused by RB Deuce McAllister’s injury-marred season. The mark of a good fantasy receiver is, as we discussed, consistent contribution, and Joe Horn was just that, a consistent contributor. Say what you want about his on-field theater, the guy plays through pain… crucial for we fantasy owners, and as for production? How’s about 9 games with 80+ receiving yards, TD’s in 10 games, and TDs in 6 of the Saints’ last 8 games. The bad news? At 33, Horn isn’t getting any younger and only his football knowledge and ability to separate keep him in “elite” company. The fact of the matter is, many owners will be downgrading Horn for ’05. I think, however, that Horn has at least one more 8-10 score season in him, and emerging young pass catcher Donte’ Stallworth will make it difficult for foes to double up on Horn. Bottom line? Horn won’t blow this year- He’s worth the 4th or 5th round pick!

Next up… 3 ½ STAR – 3 STAR Wide Receivers!

CATCHING UP!

The Ref' is doing just that; "Catching Up."

Being in Europe, where gobbling down Fish n' Chips is considered a sport, Football is really soccer, Cricket is all the rage, and sporting your team's colors on a sweet pair of Lederhosen is the height of fandom ... has left me a bit... weary.

The Yankees are beginning to fire on all 8 cylinders, only issue is... the starting rotation is held together by spit, gum and dental floss. That MacGuyver guy would be SO proud of Brian Cashman! No truth to that whole "slump-proof" rotation, huh?

Had a Yankee fan been told that the team, just past the A.S Break, would be 1/2 game outta' 1st WHILE FEATURING a buncha' guys not quite old enough to purchase a 6 pack... tonight's winning pitcher "Was'his Name" Small, 2nd Sacker extraordinaire Robinson Cano (recently likened to Rod Carew), former Trip A' prospect- turned 5th Yankee starter- turned 4th Yankee starter- turned Yankee STOPPER- turned Liggy' replacement candidate Chien-Ming Wang, OF'er Bobby Crosby ... wait, gotta take a breath- Anyway, that Yankee fan (had he / she even believed you) woulda been absolutely incredulous! Had Boss Steinbrenner been told the same thing? Well, excellent chance his daughter would be holding an emergency meeting with Mr. Cashman, after having assumed control of the team's finances.

With Baltimore flailing... the Yank's look good for the Wildcard, 'cause Boston's too good not to get it together.

NOW do you believe me? Detroit 1st Baseman/DH Chris Shelton is;

A. The real deal, and...

B. Most likely no longer available in your fantasy league as SOME savvy owner will have plucked him off the 'Wire.

However... San Diego Padre 2nd Baseman Mark Loretta has now returned to action after that whole thumb thing. He's swinging the stick in swell fashion, he might've been dumped by some rube in your league- Look for him!

And, if it's a 2nd Baseman you're needing, perhaps Milwaukee's "Stud-in-Training" Rickie Weeks is still up for grabs. If so, whilst he may need some work with the leather, his work with the lumber is A-ok! A near-certain future All-Star, Weeks is a nice pick-up because 2nd Base offers few power hitting fantasy commodities. Weeks will develop ample power, and may well rate a Keeper slot in deeper leagues by season's end.

Also, Seattle's Adrian Beltre has been coming on and looks primed for a big 2nd half... the chances of him being available, however, are almost nil in competitive leagues.

Anyone collect Baseball and Football cards? If so, try jumping on Prince Fielder and Rickie Weeks' SPx Auto rooks. The price tag on each should still be modest, Weeks', however, will escalate rapidly as he becomes a known quantity.

Also, Football fans, Ronnie Brown, Troy Williamson, Cedric Benson and Carnell "Cadillac" Williams all have Donruss Elite "Turn of the Century" Auto rookie cards, machine #ed out of 125, available. Each year, Donruss Elite is amongst the first of the upper tier products to go live. Each of the athletes' Elite autos can STILL be gotten, offa' ebay, for less that $70. Once training camp opens, however, these issues promise to appreciate rapidly. Elite's "TOTC Autos" maintain nice value, too!

Want a couple "Elite for instances?"

Last season, in August, I snagged a Big Ben Roethlisberger's Elite "TOTC Auto" for $58. NOW, that same card can't be had for less than $175... And, during Big B's scorching double diggy' W run last year? Same card couldn't be touched for less than a trio + of C-Notes. The same can be said (although for slightly lower dollar figures) for Eli Manning, the Jones boys, and Stud Bill receiver in-waiting, Lee Evans.

A few seasons ago, I jumped upon a LaDainian Tomlinson Elite Turn of the Century Auto the way a starving man leaps on a ham sandwich. I also snatched up his Upper Deck SPx Auto RC (RC denotes "rookie card"), Leaf Rookies and Stars Auto RC , and Playoff Contender Auto RC issues. Having observed Tomlinson in college... and make no mistake, a savvy Trading Card collector knows LOOOONG before draft day who will be hot... I knew Tomlinson was gonna be a big time talent. Anyhoo', that Tomlinson Elite Auto, purchased for a mere bag o' shells (Okay, mebbe' not shells... but close! $79). has had little ups and downs, but averages $180 or so. More on Game-days, after L.T churns through defenders the way Heidi churns through tubs of butter.

LASTLY sports fans... look for the Ref' to bring ya' "PART 2 OF THE WIDE RECEIVER CHEAT SHEET" by Thursday, 5:30 PM EST!

...And for those of you who belong to leagues that require IDP's ... yeah, I know some of you are scratching bald spots and thinkin' "what in name of hell's hot kitchen is an IDP?" IDP stands for Individual Defensive Players... look for an IDP Cheat Sheet to go up this weekend.

A "ROOKIES WHO'LL MAKE A FANTASY IMPACT" cheat sheet will go up next week!

Many thanks to ALL those of you who read, and enjoy, this Blog!

Monday, July 18, 2005

FANTASY FOOTBALL: A PASS CATCHING CHEAT-SHEET!

The Ref', now back from his European vacation... is much happier on American terra firma! The French... with few exceptions, are a snobby and obnoxious bunch. Eating at a French restarount is a risky affair. Some of the choices; "Pigeon Stuffed with Organ Meat," "Pig Tripe (intestine) with Earthy Morels," and "Calve's Sweetbreads." Sweetbreads are the Thyroid glands of a cow, breaded, battered and fried. Stuff that I would throw out... the French call a delicacy.

The British are FAR more accomodating and frankly, London reminds me of New York City. A VERY eclectic and approachable populace. British table fare is equally appalling at times, but at least I can read the menu!

And with that mini-encapsulation... on to:

A Top 10 Wideout Cheat Sheet:

1. Eagles Terrell Owens: Assuming he re-joins the Philly flock by game 1 of the regular season... and seeing as how he'll be fined a hefty game check for each regular season tilt missed, my hard-earned dough is on T.O strapping 'em on. No NFL pass catcher is as dangerous; a tall, powerful, physical athlete with impeccable body control, T.O can take over a game in the same way Jerry Rice used to. The hands-down most valuable fantasy wideout. McNabb and Terrell are a catch and throw combo extraordinaire (as the Frenchys' would say!)

2. Raiders Randy Moss: No wideout runs a better fade- No wideout is a deadlier red-zone weapon- And no top wideout is a bigger fantasy gamble. However, QB Kerry Collins throws the deep ball with confidence and accuracy, and Moss should be his greatest beneficiary. Young pass catchers Jery Porter, Ronald Curry and Doug Gabriel will be all the more effective because of Moss' presence, and RB LaMont Jordan will punish the defenders who opt to key on the passing game. Porter, in particular, is a solid breakout fantasy candidate. As stated in my "Fantasy Football Quarterback Review," Porter will see few double-teams when lined up opposite Moss. Eager to prove his detractors wrong, look for Moss... who's lookin' "My-T" sharp in his new silver and black threads, to have a big season... assuming Collins doesn't revert to his "deer caught in the headlights" style of play (please see "Collins, Kerry; Former Giant Quarterback).

3. Colts Marvin Harrison: Does Marvelous Marvin really need ANY introduction? An absolute scoring machine on an O that revolves around the pass in much the same way the sun revolves around the Earth... I joke, I joke- the way the Earth revolves around the moon : ) Harrison is Manning's top target. Small but durable, Marv' is fearless and possesses an outstanding set of mitts. His 86 grabs for 1,113 yards were his lowest receiving totals in 7 seasons, but the 33 year old Harrison is also part of a pass catching corps par excellence. Fellow wideouts Reggie Wayne and Brandon Stokely, and TEs Dallas Clark and Marcus Pollard also received ample looks. In fact, the Indy O sported a trio of 1,000 yard receivers last season. Positively nutty! Harrison's diminished numbers were a reflection of the talent around him and NOT a diminishment of HIS skills. Look for Marvin, whose savvy and soft hands will offset any loss of speed... at least for this season, to again hang double diggy' TDs.

4. Rams Torry Holt: Here's an O giong through some changes. It's no secret that both WR Isaac Bruce and RB Marshall Faulk are aging, but Bruce remains a factor where Faulk does not. And, in Faulk's stead- youngster Stephen Jackson. A tough, quick 'back, Jackson should keep the Ds honest. Holt has had the opportunity to learn at the knee of a master receiver. Bruce runs razor-sharp routes, possesses tremendous football knowledge, and has taught Holt the nuances of the position. The student supplants the master; Holt notched scores in 8 games, en route to recording an NFL record 5th consecutive 1,300 yard season. With a running game that is going through changes and Bruce getting no younger- Holt could notch career numbers.

5. Bengals Chad Johnson: If points were awarded for smack... Johnson would have hung career best numbers. Still, you've gotta like both his intensity and the game Johnson brings to the field week in and week out. The Bengal wideout's receptions rose for a 4th consecutive season, and at age 27- Johnson's entering his prime. With a year of action under his belt, QB Carson Palmer knows just how quickly the game moves, and his recognition skills will have improved. And, recording TDs in their last 7 games, Johnson and Palmer seem to have discovered that elusive QB/WR chemistry. With a capable #2 WR in T.J Houshmandzadeh lining up opposite him, and powerful RB Rudi Johnson carrying the mail- woe is the opponent who keys on Johnson. Another of the new breed of big, strong receivers, Johnson can fend off D-backs and make the circus catch. Here's another fantasy wideout capable of posting a career season.

Tomorrow... Fantasy Wideouts #6 - 10

P.S- Who caught new Yankee Pitcher Al "Lights out" Leiter's performance against the mighty Boston bats yesterday? An emotion fueled performance, after being drafted by the Yanks 18 long seasons ago... who say's you can't come home again? A decent stop-gap starter if you need one, grab Leiter off the Waiver Wire if he's available, but wait until he throws another competent 5 innings.

Monday, July 11, 2005

JAMEY THE REF' IS ON VACATION THROUGH SUNDAY!

Seeing the sights... and sites, of Paris and London- "Jamey The Referee" will be away through Sunday-
Look for new postings on Monday. Plus, when the Ref' returns, the Blog will feature pictures and additional features. Previously, the Ref' feared technology... a "Speak n' Spell" would cause me great consternation.... but no more!

So, as the Frenchys' all around me would say....

"Bon Soir!" I'll be back, pullin' no punches and tellin' no lies, Monday!

Thanks to EVERYONE who visits the Blog-

P.S, if Detroit 1st Bagger/DH Chris Shelton remains available... snap him up like a Parisian does a Frog's Leg! The kid swings an awfully nifty bat.

Friday, July 08, 2005

PART 3 OF FANTASY FOOTBALL'S TOP RUNNING BACKS

Wrapping up Fantasy Football's Running Backs is no easier than slotting the 1st and 2nd tiers! You've got veterans entering career twilight; youngsters not quite ready for prime time; and then there's sort of a ... middle-ground I guess you'd call it.

No matter HOW you look at it, however, a solid Running Back is an owner's "best friend." Fantasy dynasties are built upon the backs of... well, young 'backs, and guys who wouldn't have received a 2nd glance last year warrant 2nd round attention this season. Likewise, athletes who have consistently been drafted amongst fantasy's top 1/3 in season's past... several might be 'Wire meat.

Let me throw a couple "for instances" at ya. Whattaya' think about...

1. Erstwhile Buffalo Bill, Travis Henry: (Will he be dealt and have an opp' to be a feature factor?)
2. Lame Jaguar Fred Taylor: (Serious knee injury and subsequent surgery cast season-opener in doubt. Just 3 TD's last year?)
3. San Fran's heartless Kevan Barlow: (Will rook' Frank Gore push... then replace last season's feature 'back?)
4. Minny's Michael Bennett: (In best shape of career, primed for a bounceback season- but can he remain healthy?)
5. Dolphin's Ricky Williams: (After the smoke clears... will Saban swap the former stud for an '06 3rd round pick?)

Again, my "Fantasy Magic 8 Ball" claims that ALL of the above remain "Unclear At This Time." An $8.99 piece of crap, that's what that thing is. Ummm, anyway-

2 1/2 STAR Runners

Cincinatti Bengals: Rudi Johnson 2 1/2 STARS: 1,454 Yards 12 TDs: Productive enough to have been listed with the "3 STAR" runners, a lack of "game-breaking" speed warrants the lower ranking. That being said, there's no reason to believe that Johnson won't post yet another excellent fantasy (and real, for that matter) season. Up until let's say... mid-season of last year, Johnson was thought (by fantasy owners and maybe even the Bengal front office) to be "Corey Dillon's understudy," and a stop-gap 'back. Not so! Accordingly, many of the owners who passed the Bengal 'back over, believing his '03 campaign to be an anomaly, were seen kicking themselves as the durable Johnson rumbled between his tackles and proceeded on through the AFC North. A powerful man whose low center of gravity, coupled with his thick legs and hips afford him tremendous lower body strength and make him difficult to tackle, Johnson can move the pile and is fine goal line runner. Having finished last season on a roll, notching 5 TDs in his last 3 games, look for Rudi to move up the fantasy 'back ladder.

*EXTRA POINTS: QB Carson Palmer's continued emergence as a legitimate NFL signal caller will help boost Rudi Johnson's numbers. No longer can opposing Safeties creep up in order to run blitz. Palmer has a big arm, improving vision, and talented wide receiving corps at his disposal. WR Chad Johnson (95/1,274/9) is a gifted, Pro Bowl pass catcher whose commitment to excellence makes up (maybe not quite make up for, actually) for his but-headed, continual commentary. #2 WR T.J Houshmandzadeh emerged after Peter Warrick went down, and while he may have a name that's practically unpronounceable, rest assured- opposing defensive coordinators are well acquainted with T.J. A tough possession receiver, Houshmandzadeh keeps the chains moving. Keep an eye on rookie WRs Chris Henry and Tab Perry. Although Henry has a chip on his shoulder that's been measured to the approximate size of Plymouth Rock... his talent is undeniable. Likewise, Perry is swift, physical, and will present mis-matches when paired with Chad Johnson and Houshmandzadeh. Either Perry or Henry could unseat current #3 WR, the disappointing (to this point, anyway) Kelly Washington.

NY Giants: Tiki Barber 2 1/2 STARS: 1,518 Yards (Giant Franchise Record), 15 TDs (2 rec.), 578 Receiving Yards: Tiki's another runner who frequently gets overlooked when discussion drifts to the game's top players, and he too could've... and probably should've, been ranked higher on this list. The problem is, many fans and owners still think of the Giant running back as more of a 3rd down specialist. Nothing could be further from the truth, however, and Barber, through hard work and admirable dedication, has transformed himself into a top NFL running back and the Giants' most talented skill position player. In a poetic nutshell, NY's offensive sun rises and sets upon Barber's shores. How so, you say? Well, Barber recorded 9-100+ yard rushing games, scored at least 1 TD in 13 games, and really carried the team when locker room leader and on-field general Mike Strahan went down with an injury and a rookie QB was thrown to the wolves of the NFC. Ya' see! That's heady stuff... but wait, there's more! How 'bout the fact that his 2,096 total yards accounted for a downright silly 44.3% of NY's total offensive yardage. Or, the fact that his 15 total TDs accounted for almost 1/2 of the G-Men's 34 offensive scores. Yeah... how're you liking Tiki now! Having missed a mere 4 starts in 3 seasons, it's a damn good thing for head coach Tom Coughlin that Tiki's durable because this team is ill-equipped to win without him. A bolstered and improved O-line should help Tiki find positive yardage, though it's hard to imagine the 9 year pro improving upon '04's numbers. Look for another VERY solid fantasy season from the veteran Giant, and assuming he remains healthy, we'll re-assess the guy's future next August.

*EXTRA POINTS: Look for 2nd year signal caller Eli Manning to improve upon an often rocky rookie season. It was difficult at times to watch the "young Man-ning" struggle, expecially when older brother Peyton was stacking 6's like a child does building blocks. As easy as the game has become for Peyton is as inscrutable as it was for Eli last season. However, with his according to Coughlin "painful but priceless" rookie year (28 sacks may have caused bruising) squarely in the rear-view mirror, it's open road ahead, right? Maybe, but not so fast. Hunk o' humanity RT Kareem Mackenzie (6'6", 327 Lbs), late of NY Jet fame, bolsters a line that was not as bad as was reported last season. However, looking past the line, a young QB, and even RB Tiki Barber for a moment... what's up with the wide receivers? This bunch, as ludicrous as it may sound, did not record a single TD last season. Again... 'cause that's no misprint; NO GIANT WR SCORED A TD IN '04! Enter, former Steeler Plaxico Burress. The tall (6'6") pass catcher has speed, leaping ability, and should pose serious match-up difficulties, but the guy doesn't play to his height or, many say, his ability. After Burress, Amani Toomer is on the down side of his career, Tim Carter has ability and speed, the coaching staff hopes he'll break out season, and Jamaar Taylor and Willie Ponder are unproven... but talented, commodities. TE Jeremy Shockey is one of those local legends; a tremendously gifted, mis-used, "Canton-quality" player. Just ask him, go ahead! he'll tell you. In reality, however, Shockey's proven to be fragile, moody, and stone-handed. Even still, a ... curiously evil-looking 61/666/6 (look it up, I swear!) season was a productive one for a FANTASY tight end.

Hosuton Texans: Domanick Davis 2 1/2 STARS: 1,188 Yards, 14 TDs (1 rec.), 588 Receiving Yards: A talented, multi-purpose runner coming off consecutive 1,000 yard seasons, Davis may be able to elude tacklers but he can't seem to shake the questions surrounding his durability. Thus, his low seeding. The drafting of Oaklahoma St. RB Vernand Morency, whose size and style are quite similar to Davis', sends a message to "Double D" AND secures an insurance runner for the team should the incumbent go down for a longer period of time. Given the presence of a highly regarded rookie, and the fact that Davis is playing for a new contract, look for the Texan 'back to play through that which he might not have in the 3 years prior. Assuming he remains healthy, Davis should be considered a top 10 fantasy running back.

*EXTRA POINTS: Over the course of the Texans' final 6 contests, Davis seemed to turn it up a notch. He averaged 110+ rushing yards, scored in 8 of the the last 9 games, and his season culminated with a career best 158 yard rushing day against Jacksonville. Further, there were but 4 games wherein the talented runner did NOT score at least 1 TD, and he added 5-50+ yard receiving days.
QB David Carr has improved in each of his 1st 3 seasons; last season being his most productive with career highs in virtually every category. However, the guy's been a "Pinata with a pulse," and no one can be expected to endure the ass-kicking he's been subjected to. The Texans MUST find an answer for the weak Left Tackle position. The team attempted... but failed, to trade for gargantuan Ram Orlando Pace, and they enter the season with same ol' same ol', Seth Wand (more of a run blocker) at the critical position. Should opponents continue to take defensive team photos on top of the beleagured QB, the guy will, no doubt, be carted away on a stretcher.
Lastly, the Texans need to develop a pass catcher to start opposite star-in-the-making, Andre Johnson. WRs Jabar Gaffney and Derrick Armstrong are solid contributors with good hands, but neither one is a vertical threat. Really, the only in-house candidate is Corey Bradford, and he's snagged just 51 passes over the last 2 seasons. Until such time as a competent tackle and complementary receiver are in place, the Texans will be a middling franchise.

Jacksonville Jaguars: Fred Taylor 2 1/2 STARS: 1,224 Yards, 3 TDs (1 rec.), 345 Receiving Yards: Fred Taylor was put in an unenviable and unfair position. The team lied about the severity and extent of his knee injury, and many fans felt the runner had returned to his patty-cake personae. The start of Taylor's career was injury riddled, yet the Jaguar runner had made a healthy 45+ consecutive starts prior to this latest injury; a torn ACL and a torn PCL. The blame for the ... misdirection shall we call it? lies with Jag' head coach, Jack Del Rio. Head coaches, more often than not, will play a "shell game" with injury reports. Guys who are healthy are listed as nicked up... and guys who are nicked up are listed as healthy. It's all so much "sleight of hand," with coaches trying to conceal their true game plans and personnel groupings. Del Rio was a prime offender, and for several reasons the league made changes to the injury reporting policy. Not that it'll help Taylor much.
A speed merchant with great burst, vision, and dynamic change of direction skills, how much of Taylor's lateral quickness and cutting ability remains is just a guess at this point. Due to his injury, and the fact that he's lost a step, the team has actively tried to move Taylor but to no avail. As far as his fantasy value goes- Well... Taylor's FAR more valuable in "yardage leagues." With a mere 3 TDs last season, Taylor ended up being nothing more than a #3 runner. However, with yardage totals such as his 144 yard day against Detroit, 147 yard day against Minnesota (Ok, so BOTH teams had hapless run Ds last season), and 165 yard day against Green Bay, there IS value to be had predicated upon how your league tallies points. Still, keep an eye on the Jaguar's pre-season reports. It could well be that even if Taylor's best days aren't behind him, this season will be one of recovery.

NY Jets: Curtis Martin 2 1/2 STARS: 1,697 Yards, 14 TDs (2 rec.), 245 Receiving Yards: Ok, so why is Martin, after double diggy' TDs and having won the league's rushing title last season ranked this low? Because... well, he's 32, and an NFL'ers legs can go over the course of a single off-season. While I do NOT expect that to be the case, look for Martin to be a solid #2 runner. The Jets face a grueling schedule, QB Chad Pennington's arm is NOT a solid gamble (at least at this point), and the team will significantly tweak the offense.
While I'm no fan of head coach Herm Edwards' apparent "try not to lose" mentality and ghastly clock management skills (there's a misnomer!), there's no disputing the fact that his players love him and play "pedal to the metal" Football for him.
But we're talking fantasy value here, and Martin, with a career high 371 totes last season, seemed to slow down as the year wore on.The prolific Jet zipped into 4th place on the "All-TIme" rushing list, and accumulated 1,000+ yards for a 10th consecutive season. That's great... yet this year may well be the year Martin stumbles. The loss of TE Anthony Becht and RT Kareem McKenzie will resonate most soundly in the run game, with Martin finding fewer holes to break through. Look for a solid season, but it could be that Martin notches fewer than 10 rushing TDs. In fact, that wouldn't be a surprise at all.

*EXTRA POINTS: The Loss of back up RB LaMont Jordan could be huge. A big guy with surprising speed and wiggle, Jordan capably spelled Curtis Martin while giving opposing Ds a different look. New Jet back up runner Derrick Blaylock lacks Jordan's game-breaking ability, and the team could be in deep trouble if Martin goes down for any length of time.
The Pennington-Coles connection is back! The 2 had an oft-uncanny knack for hooking up during Coles' 1st tenure in New York, and there's no reason to believe that the magic won't be back for a return engagement.


"The Best of the Rest!"
Dallas Cowboys: Julius Jones 2 STARS: 819 Yards, 7 TDs: Although some have questioned Jones' durability, his ability is assuredly NOT in doubt. The truth of the matter is, 3 consecutive games of 30+ carries should assuage any concerns an owner might have about the 5'9", 205 Lb runner. A compact 'back, Jones' 7 TDs came in the 'boys final 6 contests. Although there are recognizable names at the skill positions, with the exception of stud youngster TE Jason Witten, these guys are not exactly "The Younger Gang." They're more like "The Over the Hill Bunch." Julius Jones, an explosive talent with Pro Bowl po', is truly the 'Pokes "Lone Star."

*EXTRA POINTS: An aging wide receiving duo of Keywhawn "Just Throw Me The Damn Walker!" Johnson and Terry "Ooh! I Think I Tossed My Hip!" Glenn, in conjunction with an aging, immobile QB in Drew "I've Fallen and I Can't Get Up!" Bledsoe, could easily be problematic, and standout TE Jason Witten is really the only pass catcher of consequence. On the other hand, depth at the RB position is actually quite good, with former 1,000 yard "Bear'back" Anthony "A-Train" Thomas, and promising rookie Marion Barber III filling out the stable.

Oakland Raiders: LaMont Jordan 2 STARS: 273 Yards, 2 TDs: The Raider Nation's new runner, Jordan fled NY in order to fulfill his feature 'back dreams. Of course... the $27.5 Milly' team owner Al Davis is giving Jordan is also ample motivation. A big dude and slick runner, Jordan is as happy to run through a defender as he is around him. With the speed and quicks to get past the first level of defenders, woe is the Safety in Jordan's sights. Impossible to arm tackle, Jordan runs with an excellent pad level and my "Fantasy Magic 8 Ball" say's, playing Robin to Moss' Batman, Jordan will acquit himself well in his first season as a franchise 'back.

*EXTRA POINTS: The Raiders' remarkable pass catching contingent will make it impossible for opponents to key upon the run. Likewise, Jordan has the skills to pay the bills, and will punish defenders who devote their energies to shutting down the passing game. And, with #1 and 2 WRs of Randy Moss and Jerry Porters' calibre... good luck shutting down that passing game. Making matters all the more difficult, WRs 3 and 4, Doug Gabriel and Ronald Curry. Grey-beards Tim Brown and Jerry Rice rode off into the San Fran' sunset, but not before teaching the nuances of the pass catching craft to the youngsters. That precious knowledge, coupled with the receiving corps' raw talent, bodes awfully well for the future. Should their cannon-armed QB (Kerry Collins) work out, Oakland could be the surpise of the AFC.

Philadelphia Eagles: Brian Westbrook 2 STARS: 812 Yards, 9 TDs (6 rec.), 703 Receiving Yards: Westbrook is difficult to assess. A small but slippery runner, his soft hands and change of direction skills pose match up headaches when he comes out of the backfield as a receiver. As with all runners of Westbrook's stature (5'9", 208), questions about durability and 3 down toughness arise, especially when said athletes are pushing for new contracts. Big dollar contracts, to boot. So, as OUR issue differs from the Eags', let's quickly break down Westbrook's RUNNING BACK production. The Eagle 'back ran for a mere 2-100+ yard rushing days, weeks 1 and 3. Westbrooks' next most productive day on the ground? Week 6', a 64 yard yard effort, and after that, a not-too-terrific 63 yard Week 10. But what about TDs, you ask? Ah! Well, Westbrook notched his 9 scores in 5 games, and 3 of those TDs came through the air during the Week 13 tilt against Green Bay. That's it. And, what's an owner to do about the Eagle scat 'back for this coming season? Frankly, my "Fantasy Magic 8 Ball" claims "It Is Uncertain At the Point." "Try Again Later."

*EXTRA POINTS: WR Terrell "I won't be a distraction coach. I promise. Cross my heart" Owens has become just that, a sideshow and a distraction to a team that would much rather be efforting towards Superbowl XXXX. Further, Owens' promised hold-out will do bupkiss to help a team that's trying to find a passing rhythym. The team parted ways with loudmouth wideout Freddy Mitchell, veteran Todd Pinkston has shown flashes... but they're just that, flashes, and both TEs Chad Lewis and L.J Smith are on the mend from injuries that may prevent them from returning at full speed. On a brighter note, rookie Reggie Brown, a 2nd round pick, has turned heads this spring. Keep an eye on Terrell Owens and his money grubbing agent co-star Drew Rosenhaus. They are starring in the NFL Soap Opera; "As the Stomach Turns."

"WORTH DRAFTING"

Tennessee Titans: Chris Brown: 1,067 Yards, 6 Rushing TDs: Oh how the mighty have fallen! A Tennessee Titan Tag sale saw oodles of talent, on both sides of the ball, depart in the off-season. And someone, somewhere, has a Steve McNair doll stuck plum full of Voo-Doo needles. That poor guy has a surgical file thicker than the Manhattan Yellow Pages. Another back whose future is obscured by iffy durability... I'd be inclined to look for another runner, and let someone else agonize over the injury prone Brown.

Minnesota Vikings: Michael Bennett: 276 Yards, 1 Rushing TD: Bennett has rotated through Head coach Mike Tice's dog house with such frequency, the 5th year runner had a turnstile installed. The team's bevvy o' 'backs, injuries, and an embarrassment of offensive riches threw the much-maligned runner off of his star course. Now, with team mate Onterrio Smith serving a year-long suspension for something I'd rather not get into, Bennett has one last chance to prove his mettle. A former Olympic sprinter, a recent 9.9 second timed 100 yard dash (eye-blink quick) has coach Tice grinning from ear to ear. Look for RBs Moe Williams (A TD specialist if ever there was one) and Mewelde Moore to pinch carries, particularly of the Goal line variety... but with the speed to score from anywhere on the field, Bennett should be a good yardage league runner. And maybe... just maybe, the passing game won't miss Moss too much, WRs Nate Burleson, Marcus Robinson and Travis Taylor will step up, and Bennett will sneak into "Fantasy Comeback Runner of the Year" country.

Chicago Bears: Cedric Benson: Rookie: With QB Rex Grossman returning from injury, look for the Bears to use Benson as a sledgehammer. The receiving corps, a virtual abomination last season, is now legit' with former Lion Muhsin "Moose" Muhammed on the field. WRs Justin Gage and Bobby Wade need to show a little somethin' somethin', however.
With the passing game bound to go through growing pains, look for the capable Benson to approach double diggy' TDs.

Denver Broncos" Tatum Bell: The Broncos are a virtual 'back factory, churning out 1,000 yard rushers with assembly-line efficiency; Terrell Davis, Olandis Gary, Mike Anderson, Reuben Droughns. Coaches and opponents swear it's the O-line that's so good, and not the guy carrying Denver's mail. The team bid adieu to last year's 1,000 yard man, Reuben Droughns, and will go with 2nd year runner Tatum Bell. Owner of a gaudy 5.8 YPC average, Bell is tough to tackle and has the strength to put a defender on his back. A quality mid-round gamble, Bell will probably go even earlier than that in most drafts. **NOTE: Rookie RB Maurice Clarett could be an intriguing Waiver Wire/late round pick up. That's one dude with something to prove.

Atlanta Falcons: T.J Duckett: 509 Yards, 8 TDs: Warrick Dunn and Duckett form a stellar "thunder and lightning" running back combo. A powerful Goal Line runner, Duckett won't be snapping off any 20 yard scampers, however. Still, with his 1 cut capability and Warrick Dunn not getting any younger... I take Duckett just for the ... heck of it.

St. Louis Rams: Steven Jackson 673 Yards, 4 Rushing TDs: The heir apparent to Marshall Faulk's throne, Jackson has some big cleats to fill. An intriguing blend of size and speed, Jackson can hit like a freight train... but again, here's another runner with 3 down issues. If healthy, a tremendously talented group of wideouts featuring Pro Bowler Torry Holt will make Jackson's job easier.

Arizona Cardinals: J.J Arrington: Rookie: If Arrington was a woman, head coach Dennis Green might've bought him flowers on draft day. It's no secret that the offensive-minded Green had long coveted the former California star, who recorded an awesome 2,018 yard senior year.
All the pieces are in place for a big Cardinal season, with big, swift, soft-handed wideouts in Bryant Johnson and Anquan Boldin to complement Arrington, and a former Pro Bowl QB in Kurt Warner to delivering ball. The entire Cardinal season will hinge upon Warner's health. A risky gamble for sure!

NETX UP... FANTASY FOOTBALL'S WIDE RECEIVERS.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

FANTASY FOOTBALL DRAFT: A QB CHEAT SHEET!

In the not-too distant future, many of you will be participating in fantasy drafts. Use this as a guide for those drafts. Everyone's got a pet QB... favorite RB... sleeper wideout etc.

The best piece of advice I can give you? Do NOT let favoritism cloud your judgement! Stocking up on Chiefs... or Packers... or Giants will doom you to bottom feeder status right out of the gate. Even long-time fantasy buffs have a tendency to lean towards athletes on favored teams. DONT!

A QB CHEAT SHEET

1. Indianapolis Colts: Peyton Manning (Ridiculous pass catchers; could go for 50 TDs)
2. Minnesota Vikings: Daunte Culpepper (loss of Moss?)
3. Philadelphia Eagles: Donovan McNabb (If Owens is out, value drops)
4. Green Bay Packers: Brett Favre (Could drop due to weak O-line & Walker holdout)
5. Kansas City Chiefs: Trent Green (weak pass catchers affect his value)
6. Oakland Raiders: Kerry Collins (Has league's best WR corps)
7. St. Louis Rams: Marc Bulger (Bruce not getting younger, Holt's getting better)
8. Atlanta Falcons: Mike Vick (Crumpler + Jenkins' progress & White's potential= career year)
9. Seattle Seahawks: Matt Hasselback (If Alexander holds out passing game'll be ugly)
10. New England Patriots: Tom Brady (Solid, steady, under-rated fantasy value)
11. Denver Broncos: Jake Plummer (Error prone, aging #1 WR hurt value)
12. New Orleans Saints: Aaron Brooks (O will revolve around RB McAllister)
13. San Diego Chargers: Drew Brees (Real deal? We'll see, S.D faces 7 playoff teams)
14. Cincinatti Bengals: Carson Palmer (Watch for breakout year, could be top 7 QB in '06)
15. Jacksonville Jaguars: Byron Leftwich (New O will emphasize vertical passing game... where is WR talent? RB Taylor may miss season opener)
15A Buffalo Bills: J.P Losman (A tie, poised young gunslinger, standout wideouts, elite run game... could be a surprise team)
16. Houston Texans: David Carr (Andre Johnson and... and..)
17. NY Jets: Chad Pennington (If shoulder is Ok, move him up 5 or so places)
18. Pittsburgh Steelers: Ben Roethlisberger (Loss of Burress hurts passing game)
19. Tennessee Titans: Steve McNair (Just how much does the dude have left?)
20. Detroit Lions: Joey Harrington (Ridiculous trio of WRs, + RB Jones... if this ain't the year... "via con dios mi Joey!")
21. Dallas Cowboys: Drew Bledsoe (Aging WRs & an aging QB are a bad combo!)
22. Tampa Bay Buccs': Brian Griese (Clayton, new 'back should increase scoring opps')
23. NY Giants: Eli Manning (Iffy WR corps limits value, should improve tho)
24. Balt. Ravens: Kyle Boller (Coaches can't say enuff good things... improved pass catchers. We'll see!)
25. Chicago Bears: Rex Grossman (so-so WRs, run heavy philosophy limit talented QB)

"JERK" CHIRAC BLASTS 2012 OLYMPICS

That nutty Jacques Chirac! As usual, frenchy's making friends and influencing people everywhere. Paris, vying against New York City and London (the front runners) for the 2012 Olympic Games, lost to London. Was the London win an upset? Certainly, as France had been the odds-on favorite to win the games. However, few were more upset than the curmudgeonly Chirac, who claimed even before the announcement was made that London would be UNABLE to host the games due to their gastronomic inferiority. In other words, London was an inferior Olympic candidate due to poor food quality, whereas France would lay out quite the shmorgasboard.

Chirac and British Prime Minister Tony Blair already have a strained relationship- Issues such as Britain's stance on the European Economic budget and quite possibly their position on the War on Terror, contribute to the friction. Nevertheless, Chirac's testy and unnecessary jabs and insults underscore a much greater issue; France's blatant anti-Americanism and France's blatant "anti-everyone else-ism." London won the Olympics in a 54-50 vote, with NYC, Madrid, and Moscow bringing up the rear.

A much, much larger issue is at stake, however; "The Chirac/ Blair Pissing Contest." The winner receives... (drum roll please) unofficial control of Europe!

Chirac was quoted as saying, amongst other ugly things, that "the only thing the British have ever given the European farmers is Mad Cow Disease." Worse yet was Chirac's second statement; "... You can't trust a people who cook as badly as the British."

The loss of the Olympic bid further diminishes Jacques Chirac's bid for a 3rd Presidential term.

But really, when you get right down to it, Chirac's foot-stamping, mud slinging, and Middle-school insults really smack of "sour grapes." And coming from France, a nation as reknowned for it's wine regions as it's post-World War II surliness, such "sour grapes" should come as no surprise. A nation, whose people would more than likely be speaking German right now if not for the British leaping to their defense and the Americans shortly thereafter, should be a bit more gracious. But of course... France, and the world at large, have a VERY short memory regarding such contributions and sacrifices. Chirac and France's short-sightedness and ungrateful nature is the real crime, and the loss of an Olympic bid pales in comparison to such national shame.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

FANTASY FOOTBALL'S 3 STAR RUNNING BACKS

Breaking down fantasy football's running backs is no easy task... and a number of variables need to be considered before ranking the athletes. A quality NFL'er doesn't always translate into a quality fantasy football player... and vice versa, for that matter. Need a couple "for instances?" Ok, Jaguar Fred Taylor and Falcon T.J Duckett. "Fast Freddy" Taylor totaled a VERY respectable 1,224 yards while averaging 4.7 yards per carry last season, but for all his yardage... finished the '04 season with a mere 3 TDs (including 1 receiving). Duckett, on the other hand, racked up a far less impressive 509 rushing yards... but his 8 TDs offset that weak yardage total. That being said, Taylor's totes would've titillated those owners belonging to "yardage" fantasy leagues. So, aside from the all-important "scoring leagues" vs. "yardage leagues" consideration, keep the following in mind when constructing your own Running Back cheat-sheet.

1. Has the team's offensive system or philosophy changed at all? Jacksonville, Chicago, and Miami have all either installed entirely new systems, or the existing systems will undergo significant change.

2. Has your athlete's team undergone change along the O-line? And, DOES that line excel at run blocking, pass blocking, or both? Note, Green Bay lost stalwarts Mike Wahle and Marco Rivera this past off-season, and how that will impact the run game and Ahman Green remains to be seen. ***Note: Packer coaches are confident, however, that the return of Center Mike Flanagan will offset the loss of the standout guards, and that line play will be as good, or even superior, to that of last season."

3. Did your athlete's team import appreciable new skill position talent? I.E, Cleveland will line up a blue chip rookie receiver in Braylon Edwards, Oakland will line Randy Moss up opposite Jerry Porter, the Giants will trot out new wideout Plaxico Burress, and Miami welcomes brilliant coordinator Scott Linehan (late of Minnesota) and a rookie running back who is slated to be the team's feature 'back, Ronnie Brown.

Cleveland's unimpressive QB Trent Dilfer limits Edwards' ability to contribute, thus RB Lee Suggs' value takes a hit (Suggs' fantasy value is further diminished by the presence of veteran Brown RB/"nut job" William Green, and newcomer Reuben Droughns. The former Bronco standout, in particular, may steal all-important goal line carries.); Randy Moss' ability means that Jerry Porter will see few double-teams, therefore new RB LaMont Jordan should have ample room to roam because both wideouts' playmaking ability must be respected; Plaxico Burress will be a viable playmaking partner to veteran pass catcher Amani Toomer, and RB Tiki Barber will be an equally grateful beneficiary; and lastly, Linehan will surely devise ways to capitalize upon WR Chris Chambers' height and leaping ability, and rookie runner Ron Brown's athleticism.

4. And last but not least, keep in mind your player's accumulated wear, tear, and offensive miles. I.E, Kansas City Chief Priest Holmes has certainly endured his share of injuries, and has missed huge chunks of the past 2 seasons because of them; Titan 'back Chris Brown is young, but seems to be injury-prone; and lastly, just how much tread IS left on veteran Jerome Bettis' wheels? ***Note: "The Bus" might be more like "The Jitney" this season, as his trips will be short ones with RB Duce Staley listed as the Steeler starter. Bettis may receive a steady diet of goal line totes, but even that is unclear at this point.

All of the above considerations should be factored into your draft day strategy...and even still, there are many more variables to consider. Just use your best judgment when drafting skill position players... and remember, there's something to be learned from each of your mistakes. Don't forget the time-proven adage; those who forget their history are doomed to repeat it!
And with that "fortune-cookie-esque" wisdom... onto

3 1/2 - 3 STAR RUNNING BACKS:

Buffalo Bills: Willis McGahee: 3 1/2 STARS: - 1,128 yards, 13 TDs: Even with a Pro Bowl runner in Travis Henry on the roster, the Bill front office decided to take a 1st (23rd pick) round gamble on the former Miami Hurricane. And my oh my, did that gamble pay off handsomely! The move to draft the then-injured ‘back was widely panned, and called everything from “arrogant,” to “foolhardy,” to my personal favorite, “country dumb.” Yet, in hindsight, McGahee’s acquisition was a stroke of genius.
While McGahee recovered from his knee injury, the Bills received a yeoman’s effort from Travis Henry, who played through the pain of his own serious leg injury. Henry ground out tough yards, served as solid red-zone weapon, and provided his team with a true, blue-collar running game. Henry’s toughness and grit are worthy of our admiration and applause… but, McGahee affords the Bills with a stellar running attack, is an exemplary red-zone weapon, and is a true star in the making.
Let’s throw out the week 2 game against Oakland, where McGahee totaled -3 yards on 2 carries, and Buffalo’s week 3 Bye. Those weeks thrown aside, the Buffalo ‘back reeled off 90+ rushing yards in 8 of 14 games, and notched 10 TDs in the final 6 games of the season. Looking at the numbers for the entire season, it really seems as if the light came on for the young runner during the week 8 tilt against Arizona, where Willis rumbled for 102 yards and 2 scores. From that point forward, McGahee notched 13 TDs in 10 games, including a tremendous 4 TD effort against Seattle.

EXTRA POINTS: A young, 2nd year signal caller will impact upon McGahee’s value. Just how much… well, that’s unclear at this point. QB J.P Losman has received great praise from coaches and teammates alike, they talk of his strong arm, tremendous athleticism, and impressive leadership skills. The team was going nowhere with veteran Drew Bledsoe at the helm, so the change to Losman was made.

Both Losman and McGahee will benefit from a VERY strong pass catching duo of Eric Moulds and Lee Evans, and the early reports on rookie WR Roscoe Parrish have been overwhelmingly positive. The young receiver is catching everything in sight and has displayed impressive toughness. Working out of the slot (replacing the disappointing Josh Reed in the process), Parrish might be a difference maker straight from the gate. Keep an eye on his pre-season stats... he just might rate a late round flyer if you belong to a deeper league. Such a savvy and swift contingent, so long as the team receives credible play from Losman, will make it difficult for opponents to stack the box to stop McGahee. Thus, owners can look for an even better year from the runner as he will have benefited from a FULL training camp, and will be able to place thorough trust in his reconstructed knee.

New Orleans Saints: Deuce McAllister: 3 1/2 STARS: - 1,074 yards, 9 TDs, 228 Rec. yards: Again, slotting runners at this point can be difficult, especially an athlete such as Deuce. Hobbled by a severe ankle sprain last season, McAllister was missing his trademark burst. That lack of burst will explain why the 5th year runner’s plays of 20+ yards dropped from 18 in ’03, to just 6 last season. Despite his injury, Deuce still managed to shake loose for a fistful (5) of 100 yard rushing games. An off-season of rest should allow McAllister to rebound this season. A banger who can tote the rock between the tackles or bounce it outside, a healthy McAllister has the speed to go the distance from almost anywhere on the field. Towards that end, his week 16 and 17 performances last season should go a long way to convincing owners that he is again healthy, and ready to reclaim his place amongst the game’s elite runners. Against tough Atlanta and Carolina Ds, McAllister recorded rushing totals of 128 and 140 yards respectively, and totaled 57 carries. Look for McAllister, who will play a MUCH more prominent offensive role this year, to return to top 5 fantasy 'back status.

EXTRA POINTS: Although Saint QB Aaron Brooks may never be confused with Colt legend Johnny Unitas, he is capable of making some spectacular plays. In ever consistent WRs Joe Horn, and emerging (finally) Donte’ Stallworth, Brooks has a very capable 1-2 punch. Over this past off-season, WR Az-Zahir Hakim backed out of a supposed deal with Kansas City to ink a 1 year deal with New Orleans. Owner of an impressive 17.2 YPC average last season, Hakim, 2nd year man Devery Henderson, and TEs Ernie Conwell and Boo Williams, round out the Saint receiving corps.

As good pass catchers do for every team, the Saint squad is capable of punishing the defense that elects to overlook it. Horn, in particular, is as reliable and dangerous a pass catcher as exists anywhere in the league, and rumors of his demise are premature. Look for the Saint wide receiving corps to afford RB Deuce McAllister (a capable receiver himself) room to run.

Green Bay Packers: Ahman Green: 3 STARS: - 1,163 yards, 7 TDs, 275 Rec yards: Although the 6’, 220 Lb Packer ‘back may be slowing down a bit, it’d be irresponsible to slot him any lower. Is reliability your yardstick? If so, Green has tallied at least 1,150 rushing yards for 5 consecutive seasons. Is scoring your unit of measure? Ok, then Green has notched an eye-popping 61 TOTAL TDs over the same 5 year span. How’s about durability… you go for durability? Should THAT be the case, Ahman has strapped on the pads for all but 7 games over the 5 year period we’ve been chatting about.
For all the reasons we just discussed… Green demands to be slotted here. And yet, I just can’t escape a nagging thought; Ahman Green is slowing down. Look at the final 6 games of ’04, when Green notched but 1- 90+ yard rushing game, 1- 75+ yard rushing game, and rushing totals of 15 yards (Houston), 37 yards (Philadelphia) and 13 yards (Chicago). I would be cautious when considering drafting the veteran ‘back. Keep an eye on Green Bay’s training camp reports… and if you belong to a league that drafts during the pre-season, take a look at the reports from Packer camp. Should Ahman Green struggle, Mike Sherman might give brutish Najeh Davenport a considerable workload.

EXTRA POINTS: Not helping Greens’ value; the loss of linemen Marco Rivera and Mike Wahle. Not only will QB Brett Favre probably find himself running for his very life, but Green will most likely struggle to find daylight as well. ***Note: In addition to C Mike Flanagan's return from injury, coaches say that QB Brett Favre is noticeably leaner and came to camp in fantastic physical condition. Could be that the "doom and gloom" outlook for Green Bay's line will be proven false." Further, WR Javon Walker’s contract squabbles and promised training camp hold-out shake the morale of a usually tight locker room.
AND… then there’s the not-so-small issue of ball security. Last year, the Green Bay ‘back put the ball on the ground as many times as he scored; 7. Although the team recovered 4 of those fumbles, that doesn’t do diddly for Green’s fantasy value.

Bottom line? Although I don’t think the final 6 games of last season are representative of Green’s skills… they could be. Ahman Green will probably be drafted higher than he should be, and with talented youngsters to be had in later rounds such as Kevin Jones, and Julius Jones to name but two- I’d be inclined to leave Ahman Green for another owner to draft, and agonize over.

Baltimore Ravens: Jamal Lewis: 3 STARS: - 1,006 yards, 7 TDs: Last year was a bitter pill for Jamal Lewis’s owners to swallow. Coming off a simply awesome 2,066 yard, 14 TD ’03 campaign, owners understandably expected a huge encore performance. Yet, Lewis delivered less than half of ‘03’s yardage and exactly half the number of scores. What was up? My guess, the federal drug charges and potential prison time, which in retrospect turned into very real prison time, hanging over Lewis’s head proved to be a mite distracting. Savvy owners who took Lewis’s legal troubles into consideration and avoided drafting the then-troubled runner were right on the money. Now, those same owners can rest easy and gravitate back to Balty’s bulky ‘back. Time to think… ‘cause I’d imagine staring at the ceiling of a 5’ X 5’ cell provides one with quality “me time,” should have honed Lewis’s competitive sprit to a razor’s edge. With that emotional axe to grind, look for the ravin’ Raven to find his way back into the game’s elite.

EXTRA POINTS: Coaches can’t seem to say enough good things about the progress QB Kyle Boller has made. In addition, new #1 pass catcher Derrick Mason (from Tennessee), polished rookie wideout Mark Clayton, and all-world TE Todd Heap (a new $30 Mill’ contract extension, the richest in league history for a TE, gives Heap quite a heap o’ dough) will allow the Baltimore O to click like a Swiss watch.

Kyle Boller is a legit' "Sleeper" pick. With such talent around him, if Boller has indeed improved his game he'll be a fine #2 fantasy signal caller and spot starter. Mason will again be a solid #1 fantasy pass catcher, Mark Clayton may well make the same noise “last-namesake” Michael Clayton made as a rookie receiver for Tampa Bay in ‘04, and as usual, expect Ray Lewis and company to make life utterly miserable for opposing QBs and ball carriers. This year, though, the Ravens have installed the "46 Defense." Cover the women's eyes and hide the children, 'cause I shudder to think of the carnage a human wrecking ball like Lewis will wreak while playing out of such an aggressive scheme.

Washington Redskins: Clinton Portis: 3 STARS: - 1,315 yards, 7 TDs (2 rec.), 235 Rec yards: Portis never really found a comfort zone in Joe Gibbs’ offense last season which is understandable, because it seemed as if Joe Gibbs himself never really found a comfort level with his offense. In his 2 seasons in Denver, Portis ran for a pair of 1,500+ yard seasons. With 3,099 total rushing yards already on Portis' Football cards, Washington fans... and fantasy fans, quite understandably anticipated big things from the flashy Redskin runner. But Clinton Portis couldn’t deliver on his considerable talent because really, his running style just never meshed with Gibbs’ schemes. The legendary Redskin coach builds his running game around counters and traps, and Portis was forever running up the backs of his lineman. After averaging 15 plays of 20+ yards per season as a Bronc’, Portis notched all of 5 as a ‘Skin. Worse still, particularly from a fantasy perspective… for that’s all that really matters here… Portis rang up a mere 5 100+ yard rushing days. In addition, Ports went 7 games without a score last year, and coming off of 29 TDs in 2 seasons in Denver… Gibbs and owner Dan Snider were looking for a multiple of his 5 TDs in a Redskin Uni’ .
After a full season and 2 off-seasons to acclimate to each other’s styles, look for ’05 to be a better, more productive year for Clinton Portis. But, the unsettled nature of the Redskin QB position, coupled with the team’s lack of playmakers, will put a big ol’ bulls eye on Portis’ chest. To expect a season of 15 TDs would be unrealistic.

EXTRA POINTS: Although Portis projects for a better season, he might not be much more than a solid #2 runner this year, due to the team’s iffy QBs and pedestrian pass catchers. Keep an eye on rookie signal caller Jason Campbell, however. Gibbs likes him, and is NOT high on incumbent Patrick Ramsey. Though raw, the early reports on Campbell have been excellent… and those belonging to “Keeper/Dynasty” leagues might take a late… LATE, round flyer on the youngster.

Detroit Lions: Kevin Jones: 3 STARS: - 1,133 yards, 6 TDs (1 Rec): Jones, a waiver wire pickup for most last season, has seen his stock appreciate almost as rapidly as eBay's. The offensive cast around him, namely WRs Mike and Roy Williams and Charles Rogers, are second to none. Incidentally, Lion observers were thunderstruck by the mini-camp play of Charles Rogers, and stated that he was most impressive of the Detroit receivers. Given Roy Williams' performance last year, and the hype surrounding Mike Williams this season, that is high praise indeed. Should Joey Harrington FINALLY live up to his high draft status… and potential, Jones will be an excellent #1 fantasy ‘back. Last year, the young Lion came on strong towards season’s end, rolling up 5 99+ yard rushing days in 7 games, including inspired 196 yard and 156 yard efforts against Arizona and Green Bay respectively. In addition, the TDs started to come, with Jones racking up 4 in his final 5 games. With a relatively gaudy 4.7 YPC average, and a long run of 74 yards, Jones is obviously the most dangerous ‘back the team has fielded since Barry hung ‘em up. With a bright, bright future ahead of him, those owners in “Keeper/Dynasty” leagues might wish to answer their “running back Jones” before another owner does!

EXTRA POINTS: Team GM Matt Millen will NOT give QB Joey Harrington much longer to make the team his. Further, head coach Steve Mariucci may well be eager to see has his own guy, 3 time Pro Bowler Jeff Garcia at the helm. Although the team owning Ford family has been extremely patient, with playoff caliber talent at the skill positions and a solid D, they’d have to be complete boobs to allow this much talent to underachieve again.

2 1/2 STAR AND 2 STAR 'BACKS COMING SOON!!

THE HAFS'... AND THE HAF' NOTS!

Shame on fans and sportswriters alike. Baseball's summer cavalcade of pomp, circumstance and stars will be missing one very deserving candidate; Cleveland DH/1st Baseman Travis Hafner. Instead, Baseball's cognoscenti invited slap hitting, empty numbered Shea Hillenbrand. I get the fact that EVERY team's s'pose to have a candidate... I may not agree with it, but I get it. What I DON'T get, Hillenbrand's appeal. Let's compare the numbers, for they speak for themselves;
Travis Hafner: Hafner has been absolutely clubbing the ball. Currently, the Indian DH is sporting a line of .314/17/57, with 20 Doubles, an OBP of .416, and an equally robust .583 Slugging. Hafner's OPS is a healthy .999. Over the course of the Indian's last 11 games, the DH is 22/45 (a preposterous .488) with 22 RBIs and 15 Runs scored.
Now... the light-hitting Hillenbrand's diggies'.
Shea Hillenbrand: .304/8/37 on the year, Hiilenbrand's OBP is.364 (50+ points lower than Hafner's), his Slugging % is .447 (135+ points lower than Hafner's), and his OPS is .811. Those figures aren't bad by ANY measure... but they're far from Hafner's Herculean numbers.

Perhaps... just perhaps, the All-Star selection criteria should be re-examined. Not EVERY team needs to field a representative, because invariably, deserving candidates are overlooked... or worse, passed over entirely.

Monday, July 04, 2005

JULY 4TH FANTASY BAR-BE-QUE!

On Independance Day '05, let's take a look at some of the Fantasy Baseballer's whose performances have been SO abysmal, that they warrant a grilling... and then, let us applaud those few, extraordinary newcomers who rate a slab o' Cherry Pie with vanilla Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream. And sprinkles... or "Jimmies" for those of you living below New Jersey. And whipped cream. And oh yes, walnuts. Ohh! Let's not forget the all important Maraschino cherry as well.

Incidentally, the thanks we owe to the countless veterans who have sacrificed of themselves; life, limb, time... and so much more, so that we may relish in the freedoms we tend to take for granted is a debt that can never be repaid.

Now, anyone else see the news conference where sad-sack Seattle 2nd Bagger Brett Boone sobbed like a toddler whose Ice Cream cone fell apart? Hmm? Boone, whose '05 numbers can only be classified as horrendous, has been in decline for several seasons now. The fellow made skillions of bucks, enjoyed a decade-long career, and is exiting with all the grace of a Rhino in a China shop. Note to Brett Boone: your family's prolific Baseball history and connections, coupled with your former savvy play, should enable you to land a job as a coach, somewhere. Life WILL go on- However... with the San Diego Padres having expressed interest in trading for the former All-Star middle infielder, those coaching plans may be postponed for a year or 2!

Speaking of which....

"1ST BASE... RAW & UNDERCOOKED, YA' MAKIN' ME SICK!"
1ST BASE: Philadelphia Jim Thome: Hitting an utterly anemic .207 with a ghastly 7 HRs, 30 RBIs and a mere 7 Doubles, Thome is more akin to a slap hitting 2nd Baseman than power hitting corner Infielder. In addition, the guy's striking out almost once every 4 ABs. Last season, Thome's numbers and performance fell into a bit of a second-half slide. That slide has progressed to free-fall; loooook out beeeeeeelow! Don't look for a bounce-back 2nd half either. The Philly' 1st Baseman's bat has slowed down appreciably.

"1ST BASE: PERFECTLY COOKED, GIMME MORE!"

1ST BASE: CHICAGO CUBS: DERRICK LEE: Ok, so the guy isn't a surprise player... but his .383 batting average IS. Plus, he's clubbed 25 round trippers', driven in 67 Runs, sports a ridiculous .729 Slugging percentage and matches it with an equally silly .456 OBP. Equally silly because most of the other Cubbies couldn't purchase a hit. A legit' Triple Crown candidate with a shot at a .400 average, it'll be fun to keep an eye on Lee's numbers as the season progresses.

"2ND BASE: RAW & UNDERCOOKED... YECH! I'M FEELIN' QUEASY!"

2ND BASE: SEATTLE MARINERS: BRETT BOONE: No doubt about it, Boone's the hands-down winner...or loser, it really depends; are you a "cup half-full" or "cup half-empty" person? Anyway, there's no question about what's empty with Boone; his tank and his numbers. Fantasy owners who were looking for a big bounce-back year were sorely disappointed. Boone might've benefited from steroids, although in his defense there's no evidence for that, aside from his formerly bloated power numbers and physique. His '05 swoon consists of a .231 batting average and .299 On Base percentage. Contrast those sorry digits with his banner '03 campaign, where the former All-Star hit at a .294 clip, with a hefty .535 Slugging (for a 2nd Baseman, at least, a .535 SLG is hefty!) and .356 OBP. Look for the middle infielder to latch on with another team... and sure, one day the guy'll be someone's solid Bench Coach.

2ND BASE: NY MET KAZUO MATSUI: The Met-sui isn't even playing. Hobbled by assorted nicks and knocks, the disappointing NY Metropolitan has been on the Trainer's Table far more often than the field this season. Currently batting .234/3/21, the Mets had projected a far better season for the Japanese import following an off-season of work. Matsui's impressed no one, aside from his financial adviser, that is.

***NOTE: ON SECOND-THOUGHT; DIS-HONORABLE MENTION"

2ND BASE: NY YANKEE TONY "NO-MACK" WOMACK: Womack's 2nd Base play had been SO disappointing, coupled with the Yanks desperate need for speed, that the former Cardinal All-Star has been playing the Outfield. Young Robbie Cano's play at 2nd surpasses the veteran's... yet, the Yankees are paying the guy big bucks and need to capitalize on his quicks any way they can, even if it means putting him at a position he's ill-equipped to play. Truth be told, however, Womack's play in the Outfield has been no worse than... say, long-time Yankee Bernie Williams'. Currently, Womack is swatting an ugly .243/0/12, although does have a respectable 19 swiped bags.

"2ND BASE: YUMTIOUS, SCRUMPTIOUS, PERFECTLY DONE-TIOUS!"

2ND BASE: COLORADO ROCKIES: CLINT BARMES: A toss-up here, for Yankee Robinson Cano, White Sock Tadahito Iguchi (.279/5/32) and Philly Chase Utley, amongst others, are quality candidates. Although the guy's DL'ed, I'm inclined to lean towards Barmes. Cano (.291/6/26) benefits from a stacked Yankee lineup... and Utley's numbers while excellent, aren't anywhere near Barmes'. Expect the rookie to return sometime in August. Before he was felled by an armload of Venison in the early part of the season, (and you just cannot make stuff like this up) Barmes was hitting an astounding .329/8/34, with a Slugging % of .516. For next season, and even as a late season 'Wire pickup, keep Barmes' ability to play Shortstop in mind. His surprising power, speed, and positional flexibility make him an awfully atrractive Keeper candidate for those beloging to deep, deep leagues.

***NOTE: 2ND BASE: MILWAUKEE BREWERS: RICKIE WEEKS: Keep an eye on the young Brewer. Though he's still quite raw, he forms a formidable tandem with 1st Baseman Prince Fielder (son of leviathan former big leaguer, Cecil Fielder) Weeks is getting his feet wet, and has already delivered a couple of big hits. As of today, on a mere 76 ABs, Weeks his hitting .276/4/13, with 4 SB and a solid Slg % of .487. In addition, the kid has displayed impressive plate discipline and has already garnered 10 Walks. Those numbers project awfully well for next season... and those belonging to deeper Keeper leagues might want to take a flyer on Weeks. At a position that boasts few sluggers, aside from the rare athlete such as Texas' Alfonso Soriano, Milwaukee's Rickie Weeks could catapult into the position's upper tier next season.

"3RD BASE, DUDE, I THINK I'M GONNA HURL!"

3RD BASE: SEATTLE MARINERS: ADRIAN BELTRE: It seems as if Seattle has a dastardly duo of underpeformers. Although Boone's performance takes the virtual cake, Beltre's "post-Lotto type contract" play isn't too far behind. After a statistically outrageous 200 Hit season (in a Dodgers Uni'), wherein Beltre clobbered 48 freaking Home Runs and 32 Doubles, while driving in 121 Runs and posting a simply ludicrous .629 Slugging percentage, Beltre could do NOTHING BUT disappoint. Still, after the Mariners gave him major coin, Beltre's .264/8/39 season... well, sucks. Plain and simple. That being said, hope might be on the horizon. It's not unreasonable that the expectations heaped upon the Mariner were too much to navigate. A VERY good month of June saw Beltre bat .326, with 7 Doubles, 3 Dingers', and post .512 Slugging and .385 OBP percentages. Maybe... just maybe, his owners can restrain themselves from getting sick, and other owners might wish to see if Beltre can be had; I just wouldn't give up too much for him. Seattle's a team that's going, umm, nowhere.

3RD BASE: CLEVELAND INDIANS: CASEY BLAKE: Granted, Blake's play hasn't been THAT bad, and he has played far more often in the Outfield than he has Infield... but still, in most league's Blake's eligible at 3rd. On the season, Blake is .228/10/28. Those numbers aren't awful, aside from the weak average. On the upside, Blake has hit at a .319 clip for the month of June, with a .536 Slugging %. The Indians seem to be peaking. Should they still be avvailable, savvy owners might want to snatch Blake or OF'er Grady Sizemore off the Waiver Wire.

"3RD BASE... WOW! WHATTYA' CALL THIS?"

3RD BASE: TAMPA BAY DEVIL RAYS: JORGE CANTU: Cantu... CAN DO! Hitting a nif-T .297/13/49, Cantu took many Fantasy Baseballers by surprise, cause'... few had ANY idea of just who the hell he was! Cantu offers flexibility at 1st, 2nd, and 3rd. That's just one of many reasons to love the guy. His 19 Doubles and bevvy of multi-hit games are another. Although Lou Piniella and the Rays are an ongoing Soap Opera, Cantu promises to be a star!

3RD BASE: HOUSTON ASTROS: MORGAN ENSBERG: Ensberg's been knocking about the 'Stro system for sometime now, but at age 29- seems to have finally discovered a reliable, repeateable stroke. The Astro lineup isn't exactly the 2nd coming of "Murder's Row," but Ensberg capitalizes upon his opportunities and will crush a mistake pitch. Although he's no speed merchant, the 3rd Baseman will steal on occassion and has 6 SB to his credit. A gritty, gutty athlete who plays through pain, Ensberg will do anything and everything it takes to win. Currently, he boasts an average of .287 (.305 for the month of June) and a Slugging % of .588 (.726 over June). With 22 HRs and 59 Ribbies on an iffy offensive team, Morgan Ensberg is having a true break-out season.

Tomorrow... SHORTSTOPS, PITCHERS AND OUTFIELDERS!

Friday, July 01, 2005

FROM THE FANTASY FRONT...

What the hell has happened to Pitcher Javier Vazquez? The former Montrealer turned Yankee turned Diamondback is lookin' mighty ragged these days. Ok, so the guy has NEVER looked like Cy Young, but c'mon! Sure, the '05 season started bleakly enough with Vazquez losing his first 3 games, including his first ever as a D-back where he lasted all of an inning and 2/3, surrendered 7 earned, and sported an ERA of 37.80 by game's end. But then came his April 20th, 2-1 gem of a win against San Fran', where he allowed 0 earned... and Javier proceeded to reel off 7 wins in his next 8 starts. In those games Vazquez had seemingly turned around his season, and the negative views of his owners by allowing a mere 2 runs each to the Dodgers, Pads', Pirates and Nats, and but 1 run to the anemic Houston Astros (curiously, the 1 game over the span that he lost). Then came the 'Zona hurler's best game of the year; his complete game shutout against Detroit. Yes, May was good to Javier Vazquez. He permitted a mere 11 earned runs, gave up only 2 long balls, punched out 39 batters, and notched an ERA of 2.15. Wonderful! Vazquez and his owners are on their collective ways to All-Star games and banner seasons, right?
Ahhh... well, no. That's precisely when the wheels came off Javy's season, and those wheels continue to bounce downhill. Lookout below! Big man in free fall! Ohhh, the fates! As kind as May was... is as cruel as June turned for Javy- His ERA rocketed to 6.75, he surrendered 6 Home Runs on 40 hits, and was charged with a HUGE 22 earned runs. We can only hope... those of us who own Vazquez and those 5 or 6 'Zona fans who live in and around the Tri-State area, that July is easier on the guy.

Moving right along... it's at about this point in the Baseball season when fantasy teams, suffering injury, need to look to the Waiver Wire. I have been unabashed in my love for Cleveland's stud-in-the-making, OF'er Grady Sizemore, and his hot hitting ways continue. .306/8/37 on the year, Sizemore also has 9 Stolen Bases, 18 Doubles, 6 Triples, and 48 Runs scored. Over his last 7 games, Grady's hitting .321, with 12 Runs scored. Should the Indian Outfielder STILL be available in your league... which unless you're playin' with numbskulls is unlikely, pick the guy up. What more do you need!

Need a 3rd Baseman? Look no further than Garret Atkins. Atkins, in 194 ABs, is swatting the ball- He's hitting .320/7/36. On a 9 game hitting streak, Atkins is 17/35 (that's a scorching .485) with 2 Homers, 12 Ribbies', 7 Runs, and a mere 3 strikeouts.

Need a spot starter... or 2? Take a look at Colorado's Jeff Francis, NY Met Slick Vic Zambrano, and San Francisco's Noah Lowry. Francis' year has been nothing to write home about, but his past couple have looked much brighter. Over those 2 games, Francis boasts an ERA of 1.29 and has recorded 12 Ks. His last game, against the Cardinals, Francis (who tossed the Rockie's 2nd shutout on the season) scattered 3 hits over 6 innings.
SF Giant Noah Lowry .. is starting for a team that has been decimated by injury. Lowry, who has hurt himself this season by allowing many more Walks and Home Runs than he did last year, is 2-1 over the last 3 games. Over those games (2 V. Arizona, 1 against Oakland) Lowry allowed 5 earned runs and has punched out 13. But, the 10 batters that he's given free passes to don't help his WHP any.

Lastly, Victor Zambrano... acquired in the Scott Kazmir deal. Yeccchhh! Some day, this swap may be right up there with the ghastly Seaver and Nolan Ryan trades. Anyhoo', for now, "Zammie" is tossing the pill well and has a respectable 3.84 ERA. But, the guy is receiving VERY iffy run support... Although, now that we're all chummy like this- if you look at the run support that Houston starters Roy Oswalt and Andy Pettite receive, then Zambrano should consider himself blessed, shouldn't he? Anyway, I digress. Zambrano, over the past 7 games, has been pretty solid. Assuming the Mets have a big 2nd half... and there's reason to believe that they will, Zambrano could be a sneaky-good pick up.

Take a look, sports fans! More later!