Wednesday, May 31, 2006

NBA FINALS ... IT'S ALL ABOUT THE LOVE!

The Pistons are making the Miami Heat look far more dominant then they really are.

Now, that's NOT to say that the Heat haven't played good ball, because they've been "thisclose" to brilliant.
Shaquille O'Neal? The big man mau not be the player he was 5 years ago... but he remains a force.
SG Dwyane Wade? He may be the most exciting and complete young player in the game, King James included.
PG Jason Williams... well, he runs hot and cold. but...
PF Udonis Haslem is as disruptive a force as any team can boast, and talk about depth? Daaaammmn! 'Twan Walker, Gary Payton, 'Zo, and Michael Doleac??? Okay, maybe not Michael Doleac, but... wow, Riley's got a team... and, apparently, a head full of ceramic (bullet-proof?) hair.

The Pistons; the Wallace boys, Chauncey Billups, Rip' Hamilton and Antonio McDyess, whose played a critical role... there's a team that is aging and not gracefully. A little too much wear, a bit of tear, and not a star among them. The closest that franchise comes to fielding a true "star" is... resident headcase 'Sheed Wallace, maybe?
Ben Wallace? He's been chatted up as a Hall of Famer, but he's so one-dimensional that he practically disappears when he turns sideways.
Chauncey Billups... a sweet shooter and under-appreciated, but not a star.
Richard Hamilton? Maybe the best mid-range jumper in the game... but again, not a star.

Unlike the rivetting Sun / Maverick series, that duel holds little drama, but why??
Maybe it's because Shawn Marion does EVERYTHING (and well), Tim Thomas is a journeyman who finally found a home and everyone loves an under-dog, Boris Diaw has blossomed into a legit' powerhouse over the span of a single season, and watching Leandro Barbosa dart to the hoop is like watching a drop of water run down a window-pane. Or, maybe it's because reigning MVP Steve Nash holds the key to his teams' winning... or losing.
Is it the players or is it the close tilts that make the Suns and Heat such a compelling watch?

It's easy to slide to the edge of your couch when Phoenix snaps off a handful of fast-break points and the Mavericks counter with their nimble 7-footer, Dirk Nowitzki. If Shaq' dominates and captivates because of his sheer size, then "The Giant German" grabs attention because.... because he's a 7-footer who can put the ball on the floor and drive to the hoop like a small forward, shoot like a Guard, and defend like a Center. Small Forward Josh Howard looks a helluva' lot like Shawn Marion Jr., and PG Jason Terry... well, when he gets hot he's capable of keeping the Mavericks in any contest, single-handedly

Unlike the Spurs and their star, Tim Duncan, a man possessing the magentism of a Turnip, each player on the Mavs, Suns, and Heat are likeable.
Shaquille O'Neal; It's easy to hope that he gets another ring with Miami, for that will see his name put alongside legends such as Oscar "Big O" Robertson, Julius "Dr. J" Irving, Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (not the former Dolphin Running Back).
How 'bout Dwyane Wade? That dude has zero regard for his well-being and tosses his body around like a drunken Sorority girl does confetti on New Year's Eve! He also has this knack for dropping the circus shot as gravity pulls his smallish body earthward.
Udonis Haslem? Have I mentioned the Cornrows?

Steve Nash? That guy could make a 12 year old look like an All-Star, he seems down to Earth, and what about his Dutch Paintboy haircut?
Shawn Marion? That guy's game is tighter than a Nun's knees, and he flies higher than a coked-up Pigeon!
Boris Diaw? Tell me it's not nice to see hard work get someone somewhere!
Raja Bell? Tell me that Phoenix didn't play better ball with him back in the lineup... tell me that team didn't play with a bit more pep in their collective step!
Tim Thomas? Can that guy bury it from the top of the key? And, if ANYONE'S coming down with the big rebounds... it's Tim. His physical play and solid shooting certainly made the difference in the Laker series!
Leandro Barbosa? The fastest guy in the league... watching him slip and slide through the paint and hit his lay-ups was wonderful!

Dirk Nowitzki? If there's a more agile 7 foot germanic speaking Hoopster, I'd like to meet him. That guy is truly talented. He has the sweetest shot for a man of his size, and I... a 5-5 33 year old, could take a bath in one of his size 20-whatever Nikes.
Josh Howard? Coming on and coming on strong. A solid ball-handler, eager to administer a "Full Facial Dunk" to any foe, and a throwback ball defender.
Jerry Stackhouse? Not nearly as likeable as the others I mentioned, but he's got a little bit more left in the tank then Miami's Gary Payton... and a credible scoring op'.
Jason Terry? A draftmate of Shawn Marion's, Terry can get the whole team rolling with his perimeter shooting... and that can be exciting.
DeSagana Diop? Do you know another player from Senegal? How many of you even know where Senegal is? At 7-0/285, he can make a Shooting Guard think twice about entering the lane... and Diop has come down with some key boards and recorded some clutch blocks.

I don't know about you... but I can't wait to see if the Pistons will give Miami the Coup de' Grace tonight, and with the Mavericks and Suns about to engage in a "Best of 3" series... I'm ordering Pizza, Chinese, Mexican (will Game 7 Mexican even be necessary?) and stockin' up on the Arizona Ginseng Ice-Tea (Okay, maybe a 6 of Sam Adams)!

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

NBA PHOENIX SUNS KNOCKED OUT OF ORBIT!

Tonight's do-or-die for Phoenix, plain and simple. Going down 3 games to 1 to a team such as Dallas? Well, might as well tuck yer' head between yer' legs can kiss the season g'bye!
If the Suns are to pull off a critical "W" then several factors MUST click into place.

Phoenix's 5 Keys to Winning Game 4!

1. As Steve Nash goes... so too go the Suns. After their 4 day hiatus, Nash looked rested, spry and quick. Game 3, though, was an entirely different matter, and we were again watching a heavy-legged and sluggish 2-time MVP. Marion, Diaw, Barbosa, Bell (out with the calf injury), Thomas... they all orbit around their leader, Steve Nash, and if that dude can come out with guns a'blazin', hitting his shots and sticking to Jason Terry's hip, then the Mavericks will have their collective hands full.

2. The officiating was bad, especially Steve Jaffe's missed call on Nowitzki's waning minutes missed shot, but ain't no way that contest was decided by 1 bad call. It seemed as if the team lost focus last game due to the iffy calls. Nash and Co. just can't give Dallas a mental edge to go along with their physical advantage.

3. The Suns lack of hustle was downright alarming, and that MUST change if the series is to go past Game 5. Constantly expecting one another to come up with the loose ball and Rebound, the Suns were left standing around looking slack-jawed and silly as the Mavericks notched 2nd and 3rd chance basket after basket. It seemed as if EVERY loose ball ended up in a Mav's eager hands. The Suns must jack-up their level of intensity and stop looking to one another to make the play.

4. "The Giant German" will get his points and 'boards, the Suns simply lack the big, nimble athlete needed to cover him. That being said, Phoenix... and more specifically Shawn "The Matrix" Marion, cannot allow Small Forward Josh Howard to run rough-shod. And when, exactly, did Center Desagna Diop become such a clutch player?
Bottom line? Much smaller than Dallas, Phoenix must box-out Diop and Howard if they're to keep the rebounding ratio below 2 to 1.

5. The Suns MUST sink their easy put-backs and lay-ups. How many "gimme" baskets have the Suns missed over the last 2 games? Further, the team desperately misses Raja Bell's speed and clutch shooting, and they are forced to start key backup, Leandro Barbosa. The fastest player in the league, Barbosa MUST slash to the hole and sink his under-the-hoop buckets. The 15-foot Jumper is NOT Leandro's game and Phoenix MUST capitalize upon his most deadly weapon; speed.

In a nutshell, the Mavericks have done a great job in putting the brakes on Phoenix's explosive style. If coach Mike D'Antoni's boys are to snatch a win, they MUST run and they must gun!

Friday, May 26, 2006

FANTASY BASEBALL ... A LITTLE HELP, TIME FOR A TRADE?

It's Memorial Day weekend. Time for Hot Dogs, Hamburgers, Corn on the Cob, Tomato Salad... and time to deal.

After 45 or so games you know, within reason anyway, where your team's strengths and weaknesses lie. Turning a blind eye to a lack of Stolen Bases, for instance, and hoping that Julio Lugo turns on the jets and makes up for lost time (something I am currently doing) is unwise at best and could cost you a full place or 2 at worst.
It's now time to deal from a position of strength and bolster a position of weakness. With a little more than 2/3 of the season remaining, an owner can gain a helluva' lotta' ground between now and September! The key is to be aggressive but even-handed. Don't hesitate to talk a player up and don't hesitate to point out another owner's weaknesses, without being insulting.

There's nothing I detest more than receiving a trade offer a Chimp would decline; Andy Pettitte for Albert Pujols? What... are you kidding me? Even though Andy will likely turn it around, Pujols is a fantasy Weapon of Mass Destruction.
Spend 20 minutes, pore over the standings and carefully examine your leagues' rosters. If you boast 6 Outfielders but can only play 4... send Magglio Ordonez packing and add a crucial 3rd Closer. ***(Is Chad Cordero or Fernando Rodney available in your league? Either might be 'Wire meat, incidentally) In turn, cruise the waiver Wire at least 3 times per week; many owners do so daily. As a "for instance," Yankee Catcher Jorge Posada suffered a serious leg injury. In order to maintain pace, an owner might be forced to cut a quality Middle-Infielder in order to add a Catcher.

Now, people, is when Fantasy Baseball Championships are won... now is the time to be decisive and not lok back. If you don't... you'll be apt to look back around August and wonder why you opted to keep 2 1st Basemen and didn't add a Starting Pitcher!

Thursday, May 25, 2006

NBA ... CONFERENCE-SHMONFERENCE, THIS IS GREAT BALL!

When Steve Nash looked up at the scoreboard and discovered that the Suns, his team, was down by 9 and the seconds of Game 1 were melting away... the reiging MVP put pedal to metal or sneaker to hardwood in this case, and made the win happen. His 16 Assists, 1 shy of his career post-season high and the most by anyone over this '06 post-C', were good... but his 27 points were critical. Why? Because as Nash goes so too do the Suns. Darting and diving through the lane as effortlessly as a sewing machine's needle through cloth, Nash elevated everyone's game.
Boris Diaw: The Hawks are kicking themselves for letting this kid get away; 34 remarkable points, 6 boards, a block, a steal, and 8-10 from the charity stripe. Indeed, this game was a springboard and Diaw took another step towards stardom last night.

Shawn Marion: "The Matrix" came on strong towards the end of the Laker series and hasn't let up since. Last night, Marion hung 24, pulled down 13, swiped 3 and blocked the same number. **Noticeably limping at the end of the game, if Marion's ankle is badly sprained... Phoenix has a big problem; a virtually un-guardable Dirk Nowitzki.

Tim Thomas: In essence a journeyman, Thomas has found a home in Phoenix and his size and jumper make him an outstanding 3rd scoring option; 17 points (including 2 of 3 from downtown), 7 Rebounds, and 2 Steals.

The Giant German's 25/19 game was VERY impressive and it's almost unfair. The Suns just got done with the beast that is Elton Brand, now they're forced to contend with Dirk. But Nowitzki's dynamic game wasn't the story for Dallas last night. Uh-uh, that honor is reserved for 2nd year Point Guard Devin Harris, who dropped 30 points and recorded a fistful of Steals. Harris did what top-dog Jason Terry couldn't; he went for the jugular and forced Phoenix to hemorrhage points. Fortunately for the Suns, a savvy decision by Steve Nash saved the game... a pivotal game, for Phoenix.
Boris Diaw took yet another step forward in his development last night, and we were all there to see it. Did you catch it? With 4.5 seconds remaining, the league's "Most Improved Player" snared the inbounds pass with his back to the hoop, turned, and sunk a delicate touch shot.

Game, set, 3 more to go!

As for the Heat and Pistons... where'd Tayshaun Prince (5-13, 16/6) go? Where'd Rip' Hamilton 22/4/3, but 9-22?) go? 'Sheed Wallace (7/3 and 3 of 10 from the field)? Chauncey Billups (c'mon, 19 points, 7 dimes', and... 6 of 19), where fore art' thou? At least you know not to expect points from Big Ben, who was actually 3 of 3 for 6 points. The 'Fro' with Feet pulled down 14 'boards and notched 3 steals, but blocked nary a shot. When you shoot not even 38% from the field as a team, you have no business winning and... well, D-troit didn't.
The Heat were hot, 5 players scored in double-diggys', and even though Shaq' found himself in foul trouble Miami received quality minutes from Alonzo Mourning. 'Zo, who looks every inch the physical specimen, didn't post gaudy numbers but he did the little things. The little things that, for instance, Charles Oakley used to do for the Knicks. Gritty, ugly, not flashy... but downright neccessary.
Likewise, Dwyane Wade's 25 points 3 Assists, 3 Rebounds, 2 Steals and 1 no-no may look like a nice line, but foul trouble stalked him as well. Actually, 'Twan Walker and Gary "The Glove" Payton made this win possible. Walker, who took a great deal of flak from the press because "he was taking valuable minutes away from do-everything PF Udonis Haslem (who went 0-6, incidentally)" was integral to Miami beating the Nets... the team might be home if not for Walker's sure-shooting and clutch Rebounding.

The Pistons are't ready to lay down and roll over just yet, and it will require another team effort to salt away tonight's game. This will, in all likliehood, turn into a 7 game series.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

NBA ... SUNS V. MAVERICKS?

Daaaaaammmmmnnn! The 2006 NBA second-season has been punctuated by great games, compelling series', and replete with more drama than a day in the life of Paris Hilton!

As an interesting aside, what do Elton Brand, Lamar Odom, Rip' Hamilton, Shawn Marion, Jason Terry, Corey Maggette, Ron Artest, Devean George, and Manu Ginobli all have in common? .... ALL have represented in this years' post-season, ALL were taken in the 1st round of the '99 draft... all except Manu, who was the 2nd to last pick in the 2nd round!

After the Heat dispatched an upstart Chicago team in 6, and the Nets took 3 straight (including a pair of Road games) and made Indiana go the way of the Passenger Pigeon in the same number of games, 6, the subsequent Heat / Net series definitely intrigued, didn't it? What, with Dwyane Wade flying around the court like the forgotten Walenda brother (tight-rope walkin' family), Antoine Walker stepping-up late in the series, and the Heat beating the Jersey-ites in 4 consecutive games (including the season-ending 105-106 loss)... didn't that grab your attention? If not, then the Cavalier / Piston series most assuredly rivetted you. After nearly dropping out if the series altogether, the continued maturation and growth of the boy King James had to have captured your attention! Detroit, even playing below their usual level of excellence, snatched victory from the jaws of defeat and the Pistons will now have the honor of knockin' heads with the Miami Heat, a team they are well-suited to beat.

Look, if the NBA makes your pulse quicken then the Sun / Clipper contests had your heart pounding! Forced to a game 7 by the indomitable will of Elton Brand, Nash and Co. looked sluggish and heavy-legged in games 5 and 6, but a 4 day layoff restored the Suns' energy and their crisp passing and dead-eye shooting eclipsed the Clipps' good, but not good enough, play.
Shawn Marion started to come on hard towards the end of the Laker series and, in his last 9 games, "Matrix," the heart and soul of the Suns, has recorded a whopping 6 Double-Doubles including an inspired 34/20 Game 6. Likewise his "Clipper-thisis," Elton Brand, notched 3 Doub'-Doub's over the course of the series, including his signature game; 30/12 with 5 Blocks in L.A's Game 6 W.

Now, the Suns will do battle with the Giant German and his merry band o' Mavs'. Nowitzki is a rare player; a legit' 7-footer with an arsenal of low post moves, a very credible jumper (Nowitzki shot better than 50% from the floor and buried 1 of every 3 shots from beyond the arc) and the ability to put the ball on the floor and drive to the hoop like a guard. The Mav' Power Forward is a gritty, nose-to-the-grindstone player who can single-handedly take over a game with both his shot and his stifling D. Although Nowitzki is a Double-Double waiting to happen, the team is remarkable deep and should match-up well with Phoenix.

SUNS V. MAVERICKS:

PG Steve Nash V. PG Jason Terry: Nash enters this series rested, ready, and shooting like a house a'fire. When the reigning MVP sank his first 3-pointer, Clipper Corey Maggette said, "that's when I knew it was going to be a long night." With a Hoops IQ virtually unmatched (Jason Kidd may be the only other PG who can equal Nash's vision and ability to raise his teammates' games), and the ability to dart into and out of the paint like a Hummingbird, Nash can lay the ball in, kick it out to the open man for a 3, or roll back out beyond the 3-point line and sink his own shot. Tough to defend, Steve Nash definitely gives the Suns an advantage at this position. This doesn't mean that Jason Terry's a slacker, far from it. Nash is, however, operating on a whole other level and the Maverick PG would rather shoot first, pass later, and is therefore more of a Shooting Guard. Indeed, Dallas' young Devin Harris offers another look, a different dimension, and oozes potential.
Advantage Phoenix: When the Sun Point' needs some oxygen, Leandro Barbosa enters the game and his blinding speed makes Nash look lethargic. Watching the wiry guard thread his way through defenders as if they were standing still, you can't help but think that with a few more seasons under his belt Barbosa will be ready to grasp the team's reigns and they'll be in excellent shape. Terry will put up 20+ points, but his assist totals pale in comparison to Nash's. The future looks to be Devin Harris; we, however, are only concerned with "now."

SG Raja Bell V. Jerry Stackhouse: Again, the speed of Bell coupled with his passing acumen and penchant for sinking the clutch perimeter shot afford Phoenix with a very palpable advantage. Mav' Jerry Stackhouse was, at one time, one of the NBA's premier players... alas, no more.
Advantage Phoenix: Bells youth and versatility give the Suns the edge at this position as well.

SF Tim Thomas V. Josh Howard: Thomas can shoot, he can defend, and he can move laterally. Josh Howard, finally healthy, is a dynamic talent who doesn't eschew D. This will be a VERY intriguing match-up. If Thomas can clean the glass, stay out of foul trouble, and hit his outside shots... the Mavs' will be pressed.
Advantage EVEN: If Howard can ratchet his game up another notch, his youth and aggressiveness could end up being the difference in this series, especially if Thomas goes cold for a couple of games.

PF Shawn Marion (Kurt Thomas) V. Dirk Nowitzki: Marion is a Small Forward forced to masquerade as a Power Forward due to the injuries to Kurt Thomas and Amare' Stoudemire. Although Marion's high flying, hot-handed style helped guide Phoenix passed the Clippers, as good as Elton Brand is? Nowitzki's better. The Giant German is a whole other animal... think a younger Tim Duncan, but noy quite as fundamentally sound.
Advantage Mavericks: Nowitzki is without peer and Marion's small compared to him. It's not inconceivable that "Matrix" is marginalized in this series, though I can't see it happening.

C Boris Diaw V. Eric Dampier: Another Sun who can run, Diaw's elevated his game to another level over the course of this season... rest assured, the suns are thrilled to have signed him. Dampier is quick to foul and slow of foot, especially when compared to the speedy Diaw.
Advantage Suns: Diaw gives the Suns size and speed; Dallas will not match-up well against him.

Monday, May 22, 2006

FANTASY BASEBALL ... A LITTLE PITCHING HELP?

We are roughly 1/4 of the way into the regular season and that's long enough to observe some trends. As usual, a handful of high-priced players are underperforming; Richie Sexson, Marcus Giles, Aubrey Huff, Bobby Crosby, Carl Crawford, Randy Johnson, Andy Pettite, amongst others.

But if April and most of May have been long enough to discern 1/2 half disappointments... then it's also been long enough to identify several surprise contributors!

Position players are fairly easy to identify; are they getting onto the field regularly and do they hit when they play? Pitchers, however, are another matter entirely. An athlete can look like Sandy Koufax one week and Sandy Duncan the next.
So, starting with young hurlers...

Starting Pitchers:

Giants; Matt Cain: Still raw as Sushi, the 6-3/230 Righty just tossed a Complete Game, 1 hit shut-out against the Oakland A's on Sunday. A bull, Cain's pitch count was up to a whopping 130 by game's end... yet he was still tossing the pill with authority. Clearly capable of greatness, just keep in mind that this is the same pitcher who surrendered 7 runs on 7 hits to the Cubbies' 11 days ago.
***Cain draws the Rockies at Home later this week... a solid 'Wire grab or "Buy" in 'cap leagues.

Astros; Taylor Buchholz: With Rocket Clemens likely to return to the 'Stro ro' by early summer, Andy Pettitte eating innings (certainly struggling but capable of catching fire and reeling off a handful of outstanding starts), Wandy Rodriguez cutting his teeth (shows signs, but his control is slipping) and stud Roy Oswalt anchoring the above-average corps, Bucholz's emergence has been a very, VERY pleasant surprise. Sporting a 3-3 record, a 4.35 ERA, and a 2-1 "Strikeout to Walk" ratio, the 25 year old hurler's record is nothing to get excited about. But, Sunday's Complete Game, 5 hit, 6 K shut-out is.
***Much like the aforementioned Giant Matt Cain, Buchholz is raw and his repetoire is developing. Watch it continue to develop against a better than expected, but still "whuppable" Pirate squad later this week.

Brewers; David Bush: Wet behind the ears yet talented team, most of the new Brew' Crew aren't even old enough to buy a beer. At 27, though, Bush is the "old man" of the rotation. His 3-4 record won't wow you nor wil a 4.35 era. But, a 1.15 WHP and an average of 6 punchouts per game will. Currently knocking heads with the Reds... see how Bush fares today before jumping on him. Should he win, though, David Bush could be a sneaky-good 2nd half grab.

MORE STARTING PITCHERS AND SURPRISE CLOSERS TOMORROW!

Friday, May 19, 2006

JASON TERRY; SACK-SMACKER!

Many have yet to see the video of Jason Terry's costly infraction... but I DID see the video, Terry DID punch Finley in "the cubes," and the suspension is absolutely justified.

Terry might've been angered by what he perceived to be Finley leaning or "accidentally" tripping over him while he was on the floor, but that's not a justifiation for for a closed fist shot to the groin. Lord knows you don't have to actually punch a pecker to disable its owner... all you've gotta' do is come near it. In fact, even the mere threat of a shot to the nuts can disable some weaker men.

Terry, a player who the Mavs' have relied upon throughout this series, may well have cost himself... and his teammates, a shot at the Conference Finals because he was unable to restrain himself.

A good call and a completely legit' suspension.

LEBRON "KING" JAMES; A TRUE COURT RULER!

LeBron James, the most pysically developed 21 year old I have ever seen, has already reached "greatness."

Some of the NBA's true post-pubsecent prodigies?

1. Oscar "The Big O" Robertson: A 6-5/220 freak o' early 60's nature. They just didn't make athletes of O's gargantuan size back in those days, and he was thus big enough, and skilled enough, to average a 30.8/12.5/11.4 Triple-Double as a sophomore during the '61-'62 season.

2. Wilt "The Stilt" Chamberlain: At 7-1, Stilt' was a giant amongst men... even when on the hardwood, the big-man's stomping ground. Chamberlain hung a simply eye-popping 37.6 points and 27 'boards per game.

3. Shaquille O'Neal: Without a doubt the most dominant Center of this generation, the "Big Aristotle" dropped 23.4 points and hauled in a hair under 14 rebounds per game as a rook'.

We all knew it was coming for we'd been given ample notice. Do you recall when James' High School games received national coverage? So it's no surprise that King James is enjoying such success, but what has been a bit of a shock is LeBron's humility, poise, and eagerness to give his teammates credit. Are the Cavaliers a "great" team? Certainly not, but PGs Damon Jones, Eric Snow, SGs Larry Hughes and Lamond Murray, PFs Drew Gooden and Donyell Marshall, and C Zydrunas Ilgauskas mesh awfully well due to the glue that is LeBron and his preposterous play.

After dropping 2 games to the powerful Pistons, James escorted his gaggle of Cavs' to a trio of consecutive wins including Wednesday's gut-churning 2 point victory. A victory made possible by LeBron James' 32 points and last second dish to Drew Gooden for the winning basket. Now, just 1 win away from the Eastern Conference Finals and with the previously arrogant Pistons doubting themselves and misfiring, the 21 year old prodigy has a chance to accomplish that which countless other would-be stars never did; LeBron James, single-handedly, may take his team from last place to... dare I say it? The NBA Finals. A journey based almost entirely sheerly upon will... sheer will and a healthy dose of absurd, once-in-a-generation talent.

Monday, May 15, 2006

NBA BASKETBALL, KNICKS' KNACK FOR MEDIOCRITY CONTINUES!

With 4 years at roughly $10 mill' per, the Knicks are reportedly looking into buying coach Larry Brown out of his contract after just a single season of work.

Brown came out at the conclusion of the team's horrid 23 win '05-'06 season and stated the obvious; "we stink." But, should one of the league's pre-eminent coaches be given his walking papers for chiding a group of overpaid, underperfomers?

A. These aren't "Larry Brown" type players. They don't play a lick of defense, and, with the rare exception, as a whole the team has an aversion to hustling.

B. Never one to keep his mouth closed, PG Stephon Marbury sparred publicly with his coach all season, refused to adhere to Brown's coaching style, and is really a 2-Guard masquerading as a Point Guard. Worse still, the pampered Point' has vowed to return to his "Star-Bury" personae. I presume that means he'll shoot first and ask questions later. So... I ask you, what will be different from this past season?

Meanwhile, should it be any secret that GM Isaiah Thomas, a "company man" through and through, has designs upon being both GM and Coach? Would it come as any great surprise to discover that Thomas approached his know-nothing boss, James Dolan, and stated that "we can't have our coach openly criticize our organization and players?"
A megalomaniac if ever there was one, Thomas did zip, zilch and zero with the Raptors, he proceeded to run the CBA into the ground and out of business, and of course, Thomas' stint with the Indiana Pacers was punctuated by... by... by what, exactly?

"The Dolan Gang" had done absolutely nothing to inspire confidence that they were capable of assembling a competitive Knick team. Nothing, that is, until they hired "LB." A proven winner, if any coach is capable of whipping New York's motley ensemble of players into shape it's Brown. And what, precisely, is the NY Knick team comprised of? What, exactly, was Brown given to work with? A ghastly group of Shooting Guards, a bunch of awkward Forwards, and an over-hyped, 1-dimensional Center in Eddy Curry.
Fans can question Brown's reluctance to play younger players and knock his substitution schemes, but what fans cannot question is the fact that the coach was forced to work with Isaiah's mug hanging over his shoulder, and that's the kind of looming presence that'd send any tactician over the edge.

When Thomas began to manipulate the Knick roster things, at least initially, started to look up. But then Isaiah made 1 trade too many... Thomas micro-managed and out-smarted himself. With PF Keith Van Horn finally healthy, meshing with his Knick teammates, and playing good Basketball, Thomas shipped both he and C Michael Doleac off to Milwaukee and acquired C Nazr Mohammed and PF Tim Thomas. Given the fact that the NY Knicks boast nary a white player, Thomas's motives might be called into question. Interestingly, neither player remains a Knick and both Mohammed and Thomas are now playing for perennial Playoff contenders.

While I'm not prepared to call Isaiah a racist, I will unequivocably state that he's unfit to serve as both Knick GM and Coach. His record as a GM, both past and present, speaks for itself. Further, I will also state that should the new Knick era begin with Isaiah Thomas as it's unquestioned leader, he will rapidly become the teams' judge, it's jury, and ultimately... it's executioner.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

FANTASY FOOTBALL; REVIEWING THE 1ST ROUND A FANTASY ANGLE!

UPDATED FRIDAY, 5/12!

WHAT CAN I TELL YOU, I LIKE TO BE THOROUGH!

The NFL Draft is an annual circus... a multi-million dollar circus that has become quite a spectator sport.
Every franchise has its own draft day strategy; some teams draft based upon need, others grab the "best player available," (at least according to their meticulously researched boards) and still others take players for reasons that are impossible for the expert and fan alike to divine. And, every year sees surprise picks, reach picks, "no-brainer" picks, and flat-out bad picks.
Case in point: last year, the Detroit Lions pulled 6-5/230 WR Mike Williams off the board with the 10th overall selection. Williams, who attempted and failed to enter the draft in '04, was widely viewed as a "luxury pick" given Detroit's glaring defensive holes and O-line needs. In addition, Williams' character was called into question as was his ability; many league observers feel that Williams is a Tight End masquerading as a Wide Receiver. Already boasting an offense with a pair of 1st round Wideouts taken in previous drafts, as well as QB Joey Harrington ('02 1st rounder) and RB Kevin Jones ('04 1st rounder), the team was widely blasted for making this pick. And, in hindsight, the former USC Trojan's 29/350/1 season must be viewed as a disappointment.

As for a "reach" pick? With the 21st pick in the 2005 draft, Jaguar coach Jack Del Rio reportedly pulled a groin muscle when he took Arkansas Razorback Matt Jones. A physical marvel, the 6-6 1/2" 245 Lb collegiate Quarterback faced a daunting challenge; become a starting caliber NFL Wide Receiver. But reach picks can pay great dividends as this pick illustrates! Jones posted a 36/432/5 season (compare his numbers with those of Mike Williams), he became nearly peerless red-zone weapon over the final third of the season, and he picked up Jacksonville's scheme in short order.

So, who will be this year's Ben Roethlisberger (Steelers' 2004 11th overall pick), Adam "Pacman" Jones (Tennessee's legally-challenged, 2005 6th overall pick) or Matt Jones? Who are this year's reaches, busts, and rookie contributors? Well, let's review the 1st round of this years' draft... and then, we'll take a look to see how the 1st round prognostications I made last year panned out!
There was a remarkable amount of movement in the first round of the 2006 draft. After the first 10 athletes came off the board no less than 9 teams jockeyed their picks around.

1. Texans; DE Mario Williams: Given Texas' nearly countless needs and with the understanding that the lack of a credible OT renders QB David Carr's life expectancy to be on par with that of a Fiddler Crab, naturally the team took... a Defensive End? Yup', a Defensive End. Houston allowed opposing backs to rack-up almost 145 ground yards per game, ranking 'em a dead-last 32nd, and after surrendering a stunning 431 total points (an average of 27 per game) the franchise ranked dead-last in that category as well. Clearly, the D required a bit of "tweaking." In Mario Williams the team now has a 6-7/295 nightmare inducing (at least for those QBs and Offensive Coordinators who'll need to prepare for him) freak of nature. Williams was an All-American as a Junior last year and finished the year... his last year as a collegiate ball player, with 14 1/2 Sacks, 27 1/2 Tackles for a loss, and 62 Tackles (32 of them solo). Able to chase down a Running Back in backside pursuit and relentless enough to get in a QB's grill in a flash, Williams has the ability to take over games and, in general, wreak havoc. Sporting an arsenal of rips and spins yet powerful enough to blow through an Offensive Lineman, Williams is cat-quick and is able to get off the snap in a hurry. Assuming he plays to his full capablity, and that's been one of the few knocks on the newest Texan, Mario Williams has the ability to be a game changing, elite Defensive End.
All of that being said, the Texans did nothing to drum up mystery, they made no effort to disguise their interest in Williams, they actually came to terms with the NC State star the evening before the draft, and indeed the talk around the league is that Houston selected Williams in large part because of his signability. I still contend, as do most analysts and writers, that GM Charley Casserly could have done much more with his first overall pick.
FANTASY VALUE: Question the wisdom of this pick all you want, it has no bearing upon Williams' fantasy value. Given the Texans' horrifying defensive play and seeming inability to halt a ball carrier, the physical marvel that is Mario Williams stands to be an impact player as a rookie. Capable of notching double-diggy' Sacks this year, Williams should also record upwards of 50 tackles and force a couple of fumbles while he's at it. In short, you should have no trepidation about making this dude a mid-round IDP pick.

2. Saints; RB Reggie Bush: After preparing to draft the aforementioned DE Mario Williams, the Saints were delighted to find RB Reggie Bush fall into their laps. The former Heisman Trophy winner, who has been likened to a "young Marshall Faulk but with more speed," can return kicks, has a Wide Receivers' hands, can make things happen after the catch, and once in the open field is about as easy to corral as a drop of water on waxed paper. The Saints will field a dynamic 1-2 Running Back punch in Bush and veteran Deuce McCallister. The one pre-draft issue that had some teams concerned is Reggie's lack of size. At 5-10/200, Bush may not be able to endure 20+ touches a game at this level. But then again, with a 4.33 40 and the ability to make somethin' out of a whole lotta' nuthin', the former Trojan star won't need 20 touches to make his presence felt.
Look for the Saints to devise sets that feature both runners in the same backfield; with Deuce's power and ability to catch the ball out of the backfield, and Bush's absurd speed, vision, and great flexibility, the Saints will be very difficult to scheme for.
FANTASY VALUE: The last player who had Reggie Bush's "stop and go" ability was Hall of Famer Barry Sanders, and Bush could be the most exciting skill player to enter the league in decades. Bush will see action as a rookie, but the issue, for this season at least, is the presence of veteran Deuce McCallister. The team has issued statements alluding to their eagerness to see both runners on the field simultaneously, but I don't know how happy Deuce is about Bush suiting up for his club. Clearly McCallister, who is recovering from a torn up knee, is the more physical runner, capable of 25+ touches per contest. NFL observers and scouts have questioned the record-setting runner's durability and ability to play 16 or more games at this level. If the Saints keep the explosive talent to 12-15 touches, Bush, who's a threat to score from virtually anywhere... at virtually anytime, could be a fantasy stud from Week 1 on.

3. Titans; QB Vince Young: Although some mock drafts had the record-setting USC QB Matt Leinart going to Tennessee due to the presence of his former tutor, Offensive Coordinator Norm Chow, the majority of the Titan brain trust was chomping at the bit to grab the 6-5/228 Texas Signal Caller, Vince Young. Young, who is very poised and seems to have his head screwed on straight, possesses a remarkable set of tools; a strong arm, ideal size, a quick release, and great vision. Indeed, the team believes that Young is a faster, more athletic version of the last Quarterback they took with a 1st round draft pick; Steve McNair in 1995. All of the above render Vince Young a 12 year franchise Quarterback and there would be little doubt about such if not for one... perhaps two, albeit considerable, criticisms. Firstly, Young's delivery has been called "awkward." Basically, the young Signal Caller "flicks" the ball with a side-arm motion and doesn't stride into his throws. That, however, is a matter of mechanics and mechanics can be re-tooled. Of greater concern is his ability to read opposing defenses and absorb a complex NFL playbook. After his Wunderlic scores were unfairly made public knowledge NFL insiders privately, and openly, questioned Vince Young's ability to compete at the pro level. Only time will tell.
FANTASY VALUE: At this point, the only rookie QB possessing an iota of fantasy value is Matt Leinart. While Vince Young has the potential to redefine the position, he's just a baby and it'll be 2-3 seasons before his value can truly be assessed. If you belong to a "Dynasty" league, Young might warrant a 'Wire pick if your roster is stacked.

4. Jets; OT D'Brickashaw Ferguson: Not a "sexy" pick but certainly a solid pick. The Jets reportedly made no effort, however, to trade up in order to get a shot at a brilliant playmaker in RB Reggie Bush.
Well, after New York lost Jason Fabini to the Cowboys and released Kevin Mawae, the team would have been left with a pair of steak Tar-Tar raw Offesnive Tackles. And, after the team struggled to both run and pass protect last year, the O-Line was made priority #1... and apparently, #2 as the team drafted Center Jeff Mangold with their 2nd 1st round pick.
In "The Brick," Gang-Green gets a 10-year starting Left Tackle who is already being compared to greats such as Baltimore's Jonathan Ogden and St. Louis's Orlando Pace. Premature? Certainly. But, 6-6/310 Tackles who are as nimble as Ferguson is are exceedingly rare. The NFL sees perhaps a dozen quality Tackles enter the draft each year, but out of that group perhaps 2 are suited for work on the left side. "Brick" has the speed needed to pull and the athleticism and "quicks" it takes to close out "speed" and "edge" rushers.
In order to reach his full potential Ferguson must put more size on his lower half and amp-up his level of aggression. "Good" Tackles possess a mean streak, "Pro Bowl" Tackles are downright nasty. D'Brickashaw Ferguson shows the required intensity, but he must do so consistently. The Jets believe that he'll learn to leap off the snap, fire into the defender, and finish his blocking assignments with authority. Assuming he does... than the Jets do have a 10-year, Pro Bowl Tackle with Canton level skills.
FANTASY VALUE: Unless your league awards points for pancake blocks... and it'd be the first I've ever heard of such a stat being recorded, the only fantasy impact Ferguson will have is on RB Curtis Martin. If he starts from Week 1, it's not inconceivable that Ferguson will open holes a Tractor Trailer could roll through.

5. Packers; LB A.J Hawk: Ohio State's undisputed leader and without doubt the best Linebacker in this year's draft, Hawk is the player the Pack' had their sights set upon. Incredibly instinctive and always around the action, Hawk is capable of blowing up the run but he also boasts rare coverage skills. Green Bay allowed opposing teams to roll-up 125+ rushing yards per game, largely because LB Nick Barnett was the sole Linebacker of consequence. Now, with Barnett, former Brown 'backer Ben Taylor, and Hawk forming the backbone of the Green Bay D, teams will find the going to be far tougher. An athlete with rare closing speed, the ability to accelerate like a NASCAR entry, and explode into the ball carrier, A.J Hawk should make quite an impact and his intensity will make him a fan favorite in short order!
FANTASY VALUE: Perhaps the most exciting Linebacker to enter the league since Chicago's Brian Urlacher, Hawk will provide the club with an immediate infusion of energy. Able to stalk a Runner like a Mountain Lion does a White Tail, Hawk is able to slide through trafic, shed blockers like water, and hit the ball carrier with Sledgehammer force. Hawk is an early favorite for defensive Rookie of the Year honors and stands to make an appreciable IDP impact.

6. 49'ers; TE Vernon Davis: Just like G-Bay did with Hawk, the Niners' got the player they coveted; a playmaker of the highest order. Davis, who came out of Maryland as a Junior, had little left to prove at the collegiate level. A 6-3/255 TE with a sub 4.4 40, Davis is a remarkably gifted athlete. The hands-down best TE in this draft, Vernon Davis is really just an enormous wide Receiver. The dude can run like the wind, catch almost anything thrown his way, block when the assignment calls for it, and stretch the defense which will allow San Fran's iffy wide receiving corps the opportunity to get open. The Forty-Niner's needed to get young QB Alex Smith a playmaking pass catcher... and they got him. Although Davis is not an eager blocker he can learn. That being said, San Francisco did NOT take a TE with the 6th overall pick because they needed an extra blocker. No, the Niners' took Davis because the team threw for a league low 162 YPG last season and he has the ability to make a significant splash as a rookie. Some believe that the rook' has the potential to develop into a weapon on par with the Chargers' Antonio Gates.
FANTASY VALUE: The Niners' are awful, plain and simple. Running Back Frank Gore, who is recovering from shoulder surgery, has supplanted veteran Kevan Barlow, who's recovering from his own surgery (knee). With Brandon Lloyd fleeing for the greener pastures of Washington, the team signed former Brown and Cowboy, Antonio Bryant. Left with the unexciting Arnaz Battle as the teams' #2 receiver and TE Eric Johnson as the sole pass catchers of consequence, the franchise was understandably concerned that young QB Alex Smith had few weapons at hand. Towards that end, Vernon Davis should go a long, long way towards legitemizing the San Fran' air attack. In this age of pass catching TEs Vernon Davis, really just a gigantic Wide Receiver, stands to have a very good fantasy season.

7. Raiders; S Michael Huff: In a draft replete with intrigue and surprise the first shock of the day was Houston taking a DE with their 1st overall pick, the 2nd was USC QB Matt Leinart's plunge. The Raiders completed a trifecta when they bypassed the offense and drafted Huff with the 7th pick in the draft. Team owner Al Davis, as a rule, eschews Defense and opts for cannon arms, great speed, and big names. So, it was quite a stunner when the team, in dire need of a Signal Caller, allowed both Matt Leinart and highly regarded Vanderbilt QB Jay Cutler to slip through their grasp. And yet, in light of S Charles Woodson leaving Oakland to sign a 7 year, $52.7 Milly' dollar deal with Green Bay, this pick was actually remarkably well informed.
Strong Safety Michael Huff is a human Cruise Missile. The Texas product has speed to burn (4.34) and can thus play man-to-man, and at 6-0/205 he has the size needed to support the run. A sideline to sideline playmaker, Huff's ability to kick it into 2nd gear almost instantaneously provides him with good "make up" speed so he's rarely beaten, and a knack for delivering tooth-loosening hits as the ball arrives allow Huff to not only break up plays, but make pass catchers think twice before going up for the ball when he's in the area. A reliable open-field tackler, Huff has excellent instincts and is able to play "on an island." Although the Raiduh's new Safety can turn virtually any INT into a "quick 6," he must learn to "play under control" and gamble less.
FANTASY VALUE: An unexpectedly good pick for the defensively challenged Oakland Raiders, Huff will relpace the departed Charles Woodson and help bolster a lousy Secondary. Able to stuff the run with all the power of a Linebacker, Huff also has the skills needed to be an elite Corner'. In short, Huff's goal is to blow-up each and every play with snot-bubbling results. Alongside Packer 'backer A.J Hawk, Huff is an early "Defensive Rookie of the Year" favorite.

8. Bills; S Donte Whitner: This strange pick would rank as the draft's "4th surprise," and is an indicator that;
A. the Bills were expecting to draft Huff who came off the board immediately before Buffalo picked.
B. the team may have tried to trade out of this spot and, finding no takers or not getting enough in return for the pick, found themselves pressed for time, panicked, and selected the 2nd ranked Safety on their board.
The Ohio State Strong Safety was a 2nd and even 3rd round talent on most teams' boards, and unless he becomes a stud... Marv Levy is going to take a whole lotta' heat over this selection. Even so, Donte' Whitner has a chance to be a rock solid Safety. At 5-10/200 Whitner is under-sized and may have a hard time staying healthy at this level. In addition, a lack of height will hinder attempts to cover pass catching TEs, he has a tendency to get taken along for a ride by opposing backs and bigger pass catchers, and lead backs will be able to blow him out of the ball carrier's way. The upside? Whitner plays "bigger" than he really is, attacks the play, relishes run support, and should be an exemplary Special Teamer. Had he been 2" taller and 10 pounds heavier, Whitner probably would have been the draft's top ranked Safety.
FANTASY VALUE: The perception is such that Whitner was drafted much too early, but that doesn't mean he won't be an impact player. A sideline to sideline playmaker, Whitner's size caused many draftniks to drop him on their draft boards, but his speed, ability to explode into a ball carrier or pass catcher, and his break-neck Special Teams play make him a standout IDP'er.

9. Lions; LB Ernie Sims: With both Matt Leinart and Jay Cutler still undrafted, Lion GM Matt Millen must have given some thought to taking a new field general. After all, 2002 3rd overall pick Joey Harrington's future seems to be about as bright as that of Akili Smith, Cade McNown and Tim Couch... all of whom were drafted in the highly touted but ultimately disappointing (aside from the Eagles' McNabb and possibly Miami's new starter, Daunte Culpepper) class of '99. Given Millen's suspect track record when it comes to 1st round selections, in conjunction with the fact that the team inked a pair of starting caliber Signal Callers in former Bengal John Kitna and former Cardinal Josh McCown over the off-season, the former player turned analyst turned GM's skittishness is understandable. In addition, the team also has former Connecticut Husky Dan Orlovsky waiting in the wings. "Ski" was the team's 5th round pick in last season's draft. With an offense that already features a plethora of high draft picks, a franchise that yielded almost 130 rushing YPG and allowed foes to score an average of 3 TDs and change a week opted to bolster its Linebacking corps. Hard to find fault with that. One-time stud prospect SLB Boss Bailey, taken in the 2nd round of 2003, has proven himself to be over-rated and injury prone, MLB Teddy Lehman, a 2nd rounder out of the 2004 draft who missed 11 games last year has likewise proven himself to be nothing special, and former 5th round (2004) WLB Alex Smith has shown flashes of ability but will never be a game-altering force.
Unfortunately Ernie Sims, a 5-10/230 Outside Linebacker from FSU, may not become the kind of 'backer the team needs him to be. With a history of concussions... the kid is already staring down the barrel of post-concussion syndrome. Additionally, Sims lacks ideal size and tends to get swallowed up by larger blockers, he has trouble shedding blocks, and due to his lack of height will struggle when asked to cover most of the league's pass catching TEs.
Sims may not be a Pro Bowl talent, but so long as he's able to stay healthy and avoid knocking himself out he has a chance to do yeoman's work and be a very solid Linebacker due to his ability to quickly sniff-out and diagnose a play coupled with his natural strength; Sims can hit like a lead pipe. All in all, the Lions might have been better off taking either DT Haloti N'Gata or Brodrick Bunkley.
FANTASY VALUE: Expect Sims to be inserted into the starting lineup post-haste. Millen is looking for Sims to help put some bite back into the Lion D, and with his speed, acceleration, and ability to fall back into coverage, Sims could be a difference making defender. Observers do, however, doubt Ernie Sims' ability to be consistently productive due to shoddy tackling technique and his inability to control his agressiveness.

10. Cardinals; QB Matt Leinart: Christmas came to the desert early this year, and the chubby guy in the funny suit dropped off a Heisman Trophy winning, record-setting, chip-on-the-shoulder franchise Quarterback! Leinart's draft day drop cost him millions of dollars, but it also may have taught him a valuable lesson in humility. There was no way the Cards' were going to let Leinart pass them by once he fell to them, and chances are quite good that with a rickety, rocking chair ready Kurt Warner serving as the starter and an iffy and inexperienced backup in John Navarre, the team would have taken a Quarterback with their 2nd round pick (41st overall).
Conventional wisdom said that the Titans would take Leinart at #3 since Offensive Coordinator Norm Chow worked with Leinart when they were both at USC. That was a smoke-screen, however, and the Titans took the Signal Caller they wanted (most of them, anyway) all along in Vince Young. Once the Titans passed on Leinart... wouldn't the Jets draft him with their 4th pick? Much to the dismay of the Gang Green faithful who were sitting in Radio City Music Hall watching the dream unfold, 'Nope. Once the Jets allowed Leinart to pass them by neither Green Bay nor San Fran' were going to take another 1st round QB after each did so last year. But the Raiders who went nowhere with Kerry Collins at the helm last year would surely take him, right? To everyone's collective surprise, no, and Leinart dropped all the way to 10, probably due to questions surrounding his arm strength and suspicions that he was a "system Quarterback."
'Zona coach Dennis Green, who can now trot out a "shock and awe" offense comprised of Warner (Leinart won't start until Kurt's hurt), RB Edgerrin James, and WRs Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald, wouldn't have been happier had he received a lifetime pass to an "All-You-Can-Eat Seafood Festival." After going 37-2 as a Trojan Matt Leinart enters the NFL with prototypical size (6-5/225), intangibles rarely seen in a rookie Field General, and a veteran's ability to dissect a defense. Unfortunately, Leinart also ascends to the next level with a history of injury (major shoulder injury as a high Schooler and a rather serious elbow surgery prior to his senior year at USC), suspect arm strength, and an inability to avoid the league's speedier pass rushers.
On the brighter side, Leinart's ability to read defenses coupled with a compact release should allow him to get rid of the ball quickly, his muscular build and size should allow him to absorb the big hits he'll invariably be subject to, and the nearly peerless corps of playmakers at his disposal should be able to get open and pick up the blitz. Without a doubt, the Cardinals landed the steal of the 1st round. And, if Leinart develops into the kind of ball player his supporters believe he will, the Cardinals have themselves a 12 year starter with All Star skills.
FANTASY VALUE: QB Kurt Warner will continue to be the teams' Field General. Until, of course, he suffers his inevitable injury. The bottom line is that rookie Quarterbacks are awful fantasy gambles. Even the best rookie QBs notch nominal point totals. When Big Ben Roethlisberger was forced into starting duty... even he recorded poor fantasy totals. A worthwhile late-round pick ar mid-season Waiver Wire grab due to Arizon'a incomparable corps of playmakers, give Leinart 3 seasons and he'll be a rock solid fantasy weapon.

11. Broncos (from Rams); QB Jay Cutler: The first trade of the day saw the Broncos leapfrog several teams that might have been inclined to draft the 3rd ranked QB on everyone's draft board. Cutler, a 6-3/225 Signal Caller hailing from Vanderbilt, saw his stock rise dramatically in the days and weeks leading up to the NFL's "Dog and Pony Show." Initially believed to be a low 2nd round to mid-3rd round pick, Cutler's rockin' Senior Bowl practices and willingness to let it all hang out during the Combine led to him shooting up everyone's draft boards. But did the Broncos really need to take a project QB and give up so much (the 15th overall pick and their 3rd round pick) to get him? It seems that Denver had an inkling that the Jets might have been negotiating a trade in order to draft Cutler, and even if New York was unable to do so a QB-strapped Baltimore team might well have taken the Vandy' dandy with their 12th pick.
So what does Denver have in their '05 All-SEC Signal Caller who threw for 3000+/21 and completed 59% of his passes as a Senior, and graduated on time from one of the finest schools in the United States? A successor to... and near clone of, Jake Plummer. Cutler has plus arm strength, nice accuracy, solid escapability, and possesses all the intangibles a club looks for in a franchise Quarterback. Obviously intelligent, Cutler should be able to pick up the team's playbook in no time and experience and tutoring will teach him how to interpret the various defensive looks opponents will show him, of that there's little concern. It will take time, however, for Offensive Coordinator and former NFL QB Gary Kubiak to teach Cutler proper form and consistent mechanics. The young Bronc' doesn't always have a great sense for pressure and has subsequently taken some big hits, and Kubiak will need to hone Cutler's deep ball; with former Packer Wide Receiver Javon Walker now donning a Denver uni', the team will go vertical far more often. In sum, Cutler may have been a luxury pick at #11 but with Bradlee van Pelt as the sole backup, Denver now has a capable fill-in should Plummer fall to injury and a future franchise in the fold. The move was certainly a bold and unexpected stroke from the usually quite conservative coach, Mike Shanahan!
FANTASY VALUE: Short of motivating Jake Plummer to reach new heights and make better decisions, Cutler's fantasy value is nil. Even if Plummer suffers an injury, Cutler will need time to sharpen his skills.

12. Ravens (from Browns); DT Haloti N'Gata:
Baltimore could not have been pleased to see Jay Cutler come off the board mere seconds before they picked. No longer convinced of incumbent QB Kyle Boller's leadership or ability to take the team to the post-season Promised Land, the Ravens may well have been looking to take the Vanderbilt graduate with their 12th overall pick. Instead, the team will have to settle, for the time being at least, with former Steeler backup Brian St. Pierre as the #2.
Known for making their living off of an absolutely carnivorous defense, coach Brian Billick drafted Oregon's 6-4/338 DT, Haloti N'Gata. N'Gata has what it takes to become an elite player and an Offensive Lineman's worst nightmare; at almost 340 pounds the dude is HUGE, plus he's built like an Armored Personnel Carrier and is almost as powerful. To say that N'Gata is a "once in a decade" athlete wouldn't be hyperbole. Capable of bull rushing an opposing lineman and strong enough to send him crashing into the Quarterback, N'Gata is also a fantastic athlete and he explodes off the ball. Given the DT's enormous frame, one would thing him slow-footed but nothing could be further from the truth. Able to run the 40 in under 5.3 seconds, N'Gata is also able to play at that speed... and that's a rare distinction. N'Gata has enough speed to beat a runner to the edge, he can blow through the line and drop a runner for negative yards, and is brutish enough to toss blockers aside with relative ease. Such a player will demand double-teams on virtually every snap. By occupying more blockers he should allow LBs Ray Lewis and Adalius Thomas more freedom to flow to the ball and make plays. Lewis, in particular, struggled to shed blocks last year, and his production suffered accordingly.
Currently a bit soft-bodied, N'Gata must get himself into better shape and learn how to become a "Baltimore ball player;" that is, a whistle to whistle, man-eating defender.
FANTASY VALUE: Using spring training and the pre-season as a springboard, N'Gata will whip himself into Football shape (LB Ray Lewis will be happy to do it for him) and stands to become a monster. He won't, however, be an IDP monster... at least not next season. N'Gata's main resopnsibilities will entail collapsing the pocket and occupying blockers so Lewis, Thomas and Reed can fly to the ball unmolested.

13. Browns (from Ravens); DE Kamerion Wimbley:
If the Ravens were aggrieved to see the Quarterback they had targeted come off the board right before they picked, then the Browns were positively appalled when the Ravens snatched DT Haloti N'Gata, a player Cleveland GM Phil Savage projected to be the centerpiece of their 3-4 defensive alignment, from their grasp immediately before they drafted!
Virtually everyone taken at this point in the draft is a "special" athlete. But here again we have another team that had to settle for a "consolation prize" pick. In DE Kamerion Wimbley the Browns get a classic "Tweener," but unlike the majority of the leagues' speed rushing Ends; guys like Carolina's Julius Peppers, Oakland's Derrick Burgess and Indy's Dwight Freeney, Wimbley lacks their instincts, ability to time the snap, and he tends to break down at the point of attack.
FANTASY VALUE: Wimbley will serve as Cleveland's 'Tweener, the current NFL rage. Oversized Linebackers who operate under the guise of defensive Ends have been the NFL's flavor of the month for several seasons now, and really, they're just speed rushing Linebackers... albeit HUGE Linebackers. Wimbley doesn't figure to supplant either tackling machine Andra Davis (139 tackles last season, 89 solo) or the highly productive Chaun Thompson (63 solo stops, 2 FF, 5 Sacks) at either Inside Linebacker spot, but under the capable tutelage of newcomer Willie McGinest, Wimbley could replace Matt Stewart as the ROLB.

14. Eagles; DT Brodrick Bunkley: There was some speculation that the Eags' would draft OT Winston Justice with this pick while other mock drafts gaged Philly's interest in DT Haloti N'Gata to be high. With N'Gata going to Baltimore, the team drafted the quietly consistent FSU Tackle, Bunkley. A squat, nearly immovable object at 6-3/310, Bunkley was actually a top-10 pick on most teams' boards. A typical "Andy Reid Eagle," Bunkley turned heads at the Combine when he bench-pressed 255 pounds more than 40 times. Bunkley comes off the snap in a hurry which allows him to get good penetration, and his great strength affords him the ability to collapse a pocket single-handedly. A tremendous competitor who's extremely coachable, Brodrick Bunkley plays whistle to whistle Football, which is rare for a Defensive Tackle, and is willing to do whatever it takes to win a game.
FANTASY VALUE: Behind last year's pick, Mike Patterson, on the depth chart, Bunkley will learn the system and afford the team with depth. He'll probably see several snaps a game and although he has the potential to be as disruptive as a Rhino in a China shop, Bunkley's value as a rookie will be marginal.

15. Rams (from Broncos via Falcons); CB Tye Hill: With the understanding that St. Louis gave up points by the dozen (the team ranked 31st in points allowed) and was frequently victimized through the air, coach Mike Martz made bolstering the Secondary a top priority. Enter CB Tye Hill. Although the kid is not even 5-10 and he weighs less than 190, his scorching 4.30 40 made him the fastest player at the Combine and his fluid hips and ability to stay on a receiver make him a "sticky" Corner'. Despite his dimunitive size Hill doesn't shy away from run support, and with a vertical leap comparable to that of a Dingo allow him to break up passes intended for taller targets.
Hill's footowrk is shoddy and his tackling technique needs work. Hill doesn't drop into a back-pedal, rather, he slips into a side-pedal which leads to him getting turned around on fakes. Nevertheless, Hill can high-point the ball, tremendous "ups" will allow him to defend his fair share of passes, and once he gets his somewhat iffy mitts' on a pick he can take it to the house in a nano-second. The real question will be whether or not he'll be able to stay healthy at this level due to his small stature.
FANTASY VALUE: The Ram secondary was its achilles heel and opponents targeted their iffy group of Cornerbacks with regularity last year. Although his willingness to support the run is commendable and his ability to stick to a Wideout's hip uncanny, Hill's footwork and technique needs honing and his IDP value should be minimal this year.

16. Dolphins; CB/S Jason Allen: Allen dislocated his hip in October and although he's expected to make a full recovery, such an injury can impede an athlete for life. In addition, a creaky shoulder prompts questions about his health, durability, and ability to stay on the field of play at this level.
Now, assuming Allen can surmount his physical issues at 6-1/210 the former Tennessee Volunteer has rare size, good speed (4.39 40), and he's unafraid to deliver a pop in run support. Adding to his appeal, Allen can play press coverage as well as man to man, and his high Football IQ and leadership skills are sorely needed in Miami. Following the departure of ball hawks such as Sam Madison, Patrick Surtain, and Sammy Knight, and left with inconsequential starters like Will Allen, Deke Cooper and Travares Tillman, the 'Phin Secondary is desperate for an infusion of talent.
There's no question that Allen can become an impact player. He must, however, rehab' his injured hip and hone his technique.
FANTASY VALUE: Operating under the assumption that his hip is approaching 100% come Opening Day, Allen's rare size, closing ability, and long arms will allow him to break up a lot of passing plays and, at the least, render him an excellent Nickle Back as he learns. In conjunction, his willingness to stick his nose into a Running Back's belly and attack the run add to his IDP value. That being said, I'd look elsewhere for my IDP play... at least until such time as the 'Phin proves that he's healthy.

17. Vikings; LB Chad Greenway: Minnesota has a new owner in Zygi Wilf, a new head coach in Brad Childress, a new starting Quarterback in Brad Johnson (ok, this is a reach since he's been on the roster... but the team did part ways with Culpepper), and is making a determined effort to usher in a new era with an emphasis on character and defense.
The team has a spotty history when it comes to drafting and judging young Linebackers. Under Mike Tice's regime, the Vike's drafted E.J Henderson, Raonall Smith, Rod Davis and traded Randy Moss to Oakland for a package that included Napolean Harris. Nonetheless, the position remains a weak spot and the team allowed opposing Running Backs to roll for 115+ YPG last year, in large part because the 'backers are not instinctive and they practice poor tackling technique.
While A.J Hawk (Packers) headlined this year's Linebacking crop, and Ernie Sims came off the board at #9 to the Lions, Greenway is a fine blend of size (6-3/245), speed (4.75 but plays faster) and atleticsm.
FANTASY VALUE: A sneaky-good IDP draft pick. Greenway stands to make an immediate impact due to Minnesota's threadbare Linebacker corps. An elite Special Teams player who excelled at blocking punts as a collegian, Greenway's 4-Quarter mentality, ability to get to the Quarterback, and ability to sniff-out the play should make him a Week 1 starter and stud IDP play. His above-average coverage skills will be an added bonus.

18. Cowboys; LB Bobby Carpenter: The drafting of Bobby Carpenter continues a tradition for Parcells who coached the 'backers Running Back daddy.... waaaay back in the day when both were Giants. Last year saw "The Tuna" draft impact players DE DeMarcus Ware, LB/'Tweener Marcus Spears, and DE Chris Canty, and this year the aquisition of Carpenter does a nice job of firming up the team's 3-4 Defense.
With Outside Linebackers coming off the board in a hurry, Parcells secured the last... maybe 2nd to last, 1st round Linebacking talent. The Chiefs, who took DE/LB Manny Lawson with their 21st pick, got the last top-tier Linebacker. A typically tough "Bill Parcells" player, Carpenter is swift to the ball, has the ability to make plays all over the field, and does as good a job dropping into coverage as he does filling in against the run. The loss of flexible, versatile Dat Nguyen to a neck injury that, unless I'm misinformed is a career-ender, forced the team to draft a 'backer when Al Singleton proved himself to be nothing more than a temproray fill-in. The Ohio Statey' has a tendency to get ensnared by opposing blockers and isn't nearly as quick off the snap as the other LBs who went earlier are. And, there are questions surrounding Carpenter's instinctiveness... some say the kid is VERY instinctive while others believe he's a solid player whose suite of skills make him look better than he really is. A workout warrior, the general consensus amongst NFL scouts is that Carpenter doesn't play to his timed speed and that he'll make a lot of tackles... but not a lot of game changing plays. Better against the pass (ranked 11th, Dallas allowed 192.7 PYPG) than the rush (at 15, they allowed runners 108.2 RYPG) the rook' need not be the second coming of legendary Giant Carl Banks. Instead, if Carpenter, who is expected to be a Week 1 starter at this point, can hinder opposing backs and bolster the pass rush Bill Parcells... and Bobby's dad, Rob, will both be thrilled. 'Poke fans can expect that much at least and, if "The Tuna" is correct, far more at some point.
FANTASY VALUE: Former Parcells favorite Dat N'guyen was a highly productive fantasy defender given his solid tackling skills and knack for being around the ball, and Carpenter should also notch a ton of tackles. On the mend due to a broken ankle he stands to be a solid defender, but I would not, however, look for him to be an elite IDP play.

19. Chargers; CB Antonio Cromartie: One of the biggest gambles of the 1st round could also pay handsome dividends if the breathtakingly talented Cromartie can bounce-back from his torn knee liggies' (ACL). A 6-2/210 Corner with jets (4.40), the Bolts' are banking on his impressive ball skills and gambling upon his upside because Antonio Cromartie split most of the '04 season with 2 other Corners and missed all of '05 with his injury.
Cromartie's technique needs a whole lotta' tweaking; due to his upright style he struggles to slip out of his backpedal, and Cro' tends to get turned around much too often. Clearly, the former Seminole would have benefitted from remaining in college for his Senior season and had he done so, he likely would've been the top... maybe 2nd, Cornerback drafted. Even so, the Chargers believe that they'll turn his raw arsenal of skills into those of a sticky, physical cover corner. The sole knock on Cromartie, aside from his marked starting inexperience and injury, of course, is the distaste he holds for run support duty.
FANTASY VALUE: Cromartie should eventually become a solid IDP play. This year, though, he'll still be recovering from his injury and subsequent surgery, will lack the ability to make on-a-dime cuts, and will be soaking-up the San Diego playbook.

20. Chiefs; DE Tamba Hali: The Herman Edwards era has certainly begun, and the former Jet coach ushered it in with a definite reach pick! While Hall fits the "Herm Edwards mold" to a tee, the Chiefs almost certainly would've found him up on the board when they picked in the 2nd round. Edwards may be a "player's coach," but following his iffy stint with the Jets... why did Kansas City pursue him as if he were the 2nd coming of Vince Lombardi? Frankly, nothing on his resume' demonstrates the ability to run a franchise.
As for Tamba Hall... very compact (6-3/275) but powerful, he's a "character" guy with a fiery demeanor. With his all-out motor, ability to play the point of attack, and willingness to chase the play all over the field, the former Penn State player looks like he'll be a solid but unspectacular defender. Hall's Football IQ may be adequate but instinctiveness and explosion are both lacking from his game. While Hall's ability to recognize and identify the play may improve over time, a trait such as explosiveness is not something that can be taught and therein may lie the difference between an elite starter and a journeyman. Look for a solid career from Tamba Hall, but Herm's first pick as Chief suit was VERY uninspired!

21. Patriots; RB Laurence Maroney: A great value pick, the Patriots are well positioned to groom a replacement for Corey Dillon. Dillon, who may be slowing down a bit, missed a handful of games last season and his 733 rushing yards were the 2nd lowest total of his 10 year career. Even still, the rugged runner likely has another solid season or 2 left in him, and with scat-backs Kevin Faulk and Patrick Pass in the Pat' fold, the team has excellent depth and need not toss Maroney to the wolves as a rookie.
The Patriots have always placed great emphasis upon what their draft picks do off the field, and with LenDale White contending with injury and a number of character issues New England opted to pass on the USC back; a runner originally believed to be a top-12 talent. The Patriots love the 6-0/218 runner's size, strength, and punishing style; a running style not dissimilar to that of incumbent Corey Dillon. Strong enough to tote would-be tacklers and keep his balance when a defender tries to deliver the knock-out shot and doesn't wrap-up, Maroney is also powerful enough to lay an unprepared Safety or 'Backer out. With nifty feet and above-average vision, the former Minnesota runner can cut on a dime. His tendency to dance when no hole opens leads to an unacceptable number of negative yards, and a lack of aggressiveness render Maroney a tease. Like the girl with the curl, when Maroney's good... he's very good, and when he's bad... he can look very bad. Keep in mind that Laurence Maroney played in the same backfield as the Cowboys' Marion Barber (the 3rd, of course), and the Golden Gopher coaching staff believed that Barber was the superior talent.
FANTASY VALUE: With Dillon and Faulk already enconsced as the Pats' 1-2 Running Back punch, unless Dillon suffers an injury Maroney's value will be minimal. Other rook' runners such as Indianapolis's Joseph Addai, Tennessee's LenDale White and 'Lina's DeAngelo Williams stand to be more productive. Should they be unavailable, though, keep an eye on Maroney and if you find your roster to be "back-bare," pick him up off the 'Wire might and stash him on your bench.

22. 49'ers (from Broncos via Redskins); DE Manny Lawson:
In order to offset the defections of both Andre Carter and Julian Peterson, the team snatched-up NC State star Manny Lawson. Yes, the fact that he fell this far was surprising, especially in light of his off-the-hook pre-draft workouts, but the Niners' won't kick a gift horse in the mouth. Although he hasn't played so much as single NFL snap, Lawson is already San Francisco's top pass rusher and his effect upon the team's D is expected to be huge. Last year Frisco' allowed foes to go downfield early and often, ranking 32nd (they allowed 276+ passing yards per) against the pass. If Lawson can put pressure upon the QB with some consistency, he'll make CBs Mike Rumph and Shawntae Spencer look that much better as they won't be forced to stay with opposing receivers for minutes on end. A top athlete (6-5/240) who should become a Special Teams star from the get-go, the coaching staff will need to be patient with Lawson as he makes the transition from Defensive End to Outside Linebacker.
FANTASY VALUE: Lawson's fantasy value as a 1st year player is iffy. Certainly, it will take some time to learn the nuances of his new position. And while it doesn't take a MENSA member to become a Linebacker, Lawson may struggle against the run due to his size and he'll have to learn how to defeat O-Linemen who outweigh him by 100 pounds or so.

23. Buccaneers; G/T Davin Joseph: Tampa pulled the 2nd Offensive Lineman of the draft off of the board with this pick; a lineman who will be expected to start immediately. A 6-3/312 Guard, Joseph is extraordinarily powerful and incredibly mobile, and is a "John Gruden kind of guy." Nasty and tough as dirt, one of the few knocks on the former Oaklahoma player is that he took plays off and wasn't always aggressive. Several scout felt that Joseph was so talented that his natural abilities allowed him to play a notch or 2 below "urgent." In the NFL, though, every player was the best player on their team, and Joseph will need to ratchet up his level of intensity. The Buccaneers don't believe that will be an issue, and if the kid plays every snap as if it will be his last and keeps his knees bent, the sky's the limit. Capable of getting out in front of a runner on sweeps due to his speed and ability to shuffle down the line, Davin Joseph is also strong enough to bowl defenders aside and get to the 2nd level of defense as a run blocker. In sum? Talented enough to be as good as he wishes to be.
FANTASY VALUE: Well, he'll be able to help blow open holes for Carnell Williams, that's fore sure!

24. Bengals; CB/S Jonathan Joseph: With his speed and penchant for coming up with the game changing play, Cin' City coaches think Joseph compares favorably to teammate Deltha O'Neal.
A big corner at 5-11/195, Joseph's 4.3 speed, long arms, and raw skills lead the Bengs' to believe that they snared themselves a future Pro Bowler. What is notable about Joseph are his fluid hips and ability to recover lost ground. In addition, his size and acceleration allow "Jo-Jo" to deliver ear-ringing hits and above-average hands help him make INTs many other DBs couldn't. The downside to picking Joseph at this spot is the fact that his resume consists of just 14 games as a collegian.
FANTASY VALUE: So raw that he's pink in the middle, Joseph won't have any real IDP value for 2-3 seasons. Once he has a year or 2 of experience under his belt, Joseph's scorching speed and sticky hands should make him an INT machine.

25. Steelers (from Giants); WR Santonio Holmes: A dynamic return-man and legit' deep threat, Holmes is a more than capable replacement for the departed Antwaan Randel El and his ability to stretch the field will give the Steelers yet another toy to play with on offense. This draft wasn't particularly rich in pass catchers, and declaring for the draft as a Junior was a very savvy move. Quite arguably the best Wide Receiver of the bunch (TE Vernon Davis is probably the most exciting pass catcher), Holmes's slight build (5-10-ish/188) will force coaches to think twice about sending him over the middle. Size aside, Santonio Holmes runs crisp routes, possesses exceptional quickness, and can make the tough catch. Able to "pop the clutch" and hit high gear within the scant space of 2-3 steps, his elusiveness makes him difficult to tackle in the open field and the same qualities make him a stunning return specialist. Holmes will be able study and learn from Hines Ward; one of one of the NFL's most talented Wideouts.
The Steelers will look to put Holmes on the field in multiple receiver sets, and his great speed and ability to slip past the jam should afford him the ability to get open in a hurry. Comparable to the Rams' Kevin Curtis (Holmes is far shiftier in the open field), assuming he doesn't leave himself open for a decapitating tackle the Pitt' rook' should be a threat to score on almost every reception.
FANTASY VALUE: The Steelers offensive mentality is to run, run, run, then.... then they like to run some more. Still, coach Bill Cowher didn't move up 7 spots in order to draft a kid who is gonna' sit on the bench. Initially slated to be the team's #3 receiver, Holmes explosive return skills will get him onto the field by week 1. He'll be eased into the passing game over time, but it's not out of the realm of possibility that Holmes finds the End-Zone 3-4 times in his first year as a pro.

26. Bills (from Bears); DT John McCargo: Another ligament tearing reach for old man Levy, the team felt the talent at Tackle dropped off considerably after McCargo... hence, they decided not to chance missing out on the intriguing NC State talent. Given the current state of Buffalo's D; 31st against the run, 19th against the pass, 29th in yards allowed, and 24th in points allowed, it's tough to fault the team for trying to strengthen the unit.
McCargo fits the Bills new defensive scheme. A DT who can really make things happen off a stunt, he can shoot through the gap and disrupt a play even before it begins, he can "jolt" the Offensive Tackle and get him moving back on his heels, and he's a smart player with a high Football IQ. McCargo does, however, need to improve upon his conditioning (missed the final 1/3 of the '05 season to a foot injury from which he's still recovering) and improve his strength; at the Combine, McCargo recorded just 25 reps of 225. If nothing else the young defender will give Buffalo some much needed line depth this year, and after a year or 3 od seasoning he has the potential to be a real handful for an O-Line.
FANTASY VALUE: Some players have a knack for timing the snap and playing above their physical skills, and McCargo is one of 'em. Shorter than the ideal and certainly not as powerful as others at his position, he can, nonetheless, Sack the Quarterback and get into the backfield in a heartbeat. He does, however, need a lot of work and tutelage in order to reach his full potential.

27. Panthers; RB DeAngelo Williams: As my next door neighbor's grandma used to say, "Such a boy, and so strong! If only you were taller." Okay, so it never worked out between me and "the girl next door," but DeAngelo Williams and Carolina, on the other hand, make for a perfect marriage! Currently, 'Lina's stable of backs is comprised of backup Nick Goings, who's best suited to that role, and feature DeShaun Foster, who has yet to play a 16 game complement due to a host of aches, breaks, sprains and serious pains. At 5-9 Williams may be on the shorter side, but a 215 pound package of speed, muscle and balance makes for a most interesting draft pick.
Williams has great vision and is patient enough to wait for a hole to open. In conjunction, his soft hands add to his versatility as a receiver coming out of the backfield. Quick feet often provide him with the ability to dart through the smallest crease and make somethiing out of nothing, but there are also serious question marks about his ability to play at this level. He suffered injuries each of the past 2 seasons, including a serious knee injury his Junior year, and although Williams' timed speed is 4.44, he appears to lack the top-end gear that will allow him to burst through the hole and "run to daylight." Instead of getting a powerful and elusive runner in the mold of say the Redskins' Clinton Portis (5-10/210), DeAngelo Williams is almost a DeShaun Foster clone. Lacking the strength to break tackles and move the pile, the dude appears to be more of a finesse runner.
FANTASY VALUE: As mentioned above DeAngelo Williams, one of the NCAA's most productive runners ever, will be a real question mark, albeit a talented question mark. With sure hands and sweet feet there's no question that he'll be able to gobble up yards like Pacman gobbles up dashes and dots. Still, his iffy durability, lack of toughness, and modest speed will likely prevent him from being a fantasy stud. This season he'll learn from DeShaun Foster and see time and touches, but his productivity as a rookie will be minimal. Unless, of course, he's forced into a starting role.

28. Jaguars; TE Mercedes Lewis: Taking nothing away from Raven Todd Heap, Charger Antonio Davis, and Steeler Heath Miller their due (we've seen bupkiss outta' Cleveland's Winslow Jr. so far) the Forty-Niners drafted the best pass catching Tight End to enter the league... quite possibly in years, in Vernon Davis. And although any number of teams were in dire need of pass catching TE, Lewis dropped into the Jags' laps. Now, with WR Jimmy Smith taking Jacksonville by surprise and announcing his retirement, the club's receiving corps is thin and Mercedes Lewis will be even more valuable. QB Byron Leftwich has coveted a playmaking Tight End for a couple of seasons now, and UCLA's most effective pass catcher will afford his new team with a tall, field stretching target. A difficult prospect to assess because his timed speed and playing speed differ, the 6-6/258 pass catcher has a top-end gear that most TEs lack. In addition, although he's rather lanky, Lewis is deceptively strong and is capable of making the tough catch with defenders draped all over him. To his credit, the big guy's not adverse to going up high over the middle, which of course leaves him vulnerable to ESPN highlight hits, but he's also capable of keeping his feet and retaining possession of the ball.
Paired with the equally tall 2nd year man Matt Jones, the still developing 6-4 Ernest Wilford, and Reggie Williams (also 6-4 but he may turn out to be a real bust), Mercedes Lewis gives the team the league's tallest pass catching corps. Now, if he can just become a more consistent, more willing blocker, Lewis has the goods needed to become a very good all-around NFL Tight End.
FANTASY VALUE: After Jimmy Williams, a sneaky-solid Hall of Fame candidate, announced his retirement on Thursday, the drafting of Mercedes Lewis appears to be an even smarter move. While his game is rather raw, Mercedes Lewis is talented enough to take the field as a rookie and make an impact. With enough speed to get downfield and the ability to find the seam and split defenders, Lewis, who can make things happen after the catch as well as carry would-be tacklers around like luggage, should see a fair amount of action as a first year player. His run blocking needs to improve as must his route running, but with the Wide Receivers QB Byron Leftwich has at hand... Mercedes Lewis could be an interesting mid-season 'Wire grab.

29. Jets (from Broncos); C Nick Mangold: Again, will fans view this as a sexy pick? Hell no! But, is this a good pick from an organizational standpoint? Hell yes, unquestionably!
Each draft sees perhaps one solid Center emerge; Cleveland's Jeff Faine ('03) and San Diego's Nick Hardwick ('04) come to mind. Alas, this year it's Ohio State's bright eyed and bushy tailed Nick Mangold. An excellent athlete possessing great playing speed and nifty footwork, Mangold can pull, and get to the corner and seal if off just like his predecessor, Kevin Mawae. More importantly, he has the intellect to make all the necessary line calls and the frame to get bigger. At 6-4/299, Mangold needs to play lower due to his high center of gravity, and he must build both size and strength. Often over-powered by more powerful NTs and bull rushers, if Mangold is to reach his full potential he must fill out.
FANTASY VALUE: RB Curtis Martin couldn't have been pleased to see C Kevin Mawae go the way of the Passeneger Pigeon. A text-book run blocker with extraordinary speed and technique, Mangold boasts many of the hard skills and intangibles Mawae had.

30. Colts; RB Joseph Addai: Summer, the incredible run of the TV show "Friends," and adolescence. What am I driving at? That all good things, in time, come to an end. Sadly, the era of Indy's "Triplets" has also come to an end.
Manning, Marvelous and Edgerrin James were the cornerstones of not just the Colt offense, but indeed the entire franchise. But, after giving Marvin Harrison his much deserved extension and awarding Petyon Manning a Mega-Millions Jackpot of a contract, the team just couldn't... or wouldn't, pay Edge' what he felt he was worth. So, it's off to the desert for James and the era of Joseph Addai begins.
When you're first overall pick is #30, it's hard to find an athlete capable of making an impact as a rookie. However, Reggie Bush's USC teammate LenDale White was still on the board and ripe for the picking. Although White's pounding style meshes nicely with the Colts' offensive schemes, coach Tony Dungy, much like the other clubs and coaching staffs, elected to pass on a gifted runner whose off-field issues obliterated his on-field value. Instead, Indy selected the player most draftniks thought they would; LSU's Joseph Addai. The team is quite content to go into the season with proven Dominic Rhodes and the shifty yet bruising James Mungro as the 1-2 Running Back punch.
The team really has its hands full with Addai, who doesn't play to his timed speed and runs with an upright style that leads to him getting drilled by defenders. The team places great value on Addai's ability to catch the ball coming out of the backfield, his cutback ability, and his ability to pick up the blitz. Off-field issues aside, it would appear as if Addai's suite of skills lend themselves more to that of a backup or change-of-pace runner, and White would've been a much better pick.
FANTASY VALUE: With Rhodes' proven 3-down ability and nose for the 'Zone and the versatile Mungro also in the Colt fold, Addai's fantasy value will approach .... oh, maybe zero.

31. Seahawks; CB/S Kelly Jennings: Picking players who're capable of making an impact at this point is tough. The team clearly felt that Jennings' speed and ball skills lent themselves to their defensive mentality... and it's tough to argue with such logic.
After former Frisco' pass rush and run stopper extraordinaire Julian Peterson moved north to Seattle, the need for another difference-making Linebacker was minimized, and Shaun Alexander's deal ensures that the team's franchise player won't be heading elsewhere anytime soon.
Exemplary cover skills, brilliant footwork and his ability to soak-up information beg the question... why did he fall to 31? Likely, his lack of ideal size. At 5-11/175, Jennings will have a tough time with the big, physical receivers in the NFC West.
FANTASY VALUE: Jennings will debut in Nickle and Dime coverages. In short... his IDP value is akin to that of mine,

32. Giants (from Steelers); DE Mathias Kiwanuka: With a top pass catcher in Chad Jackson and a skilled runner in LenDale White both on the board, the G-Men naturally took... a Defensive End? With Sack star Mike Strahan on one end, up and comer Osi Umenyiora lining up on the other, and promising Justin Tuck backing up both, this was an odd pick to be sure. It could be that the coaching staff intends to shift either Kiwanaku or Tuck to Tackle.
RB Tiki Barber looks tremendous but, as Gang-Green back Curtis Martin can attest after his terrible season, a runner can lose his legs over the span of a single off-season at this age. Barber, starting to push AARP status (in Football years), has maybe 2 more years left in dem' wheels. Likewise, Plaxico Burress was a great sign... but the team really needs another big, vertical target to pair him with as TE Jeremy Shockey's availability varies from game to game.
Had the former BC star come out last year, he likely would've been a top-15 pick. But, after a down season, Kiwanku nearly fell to the 2nd round... and probably should have. A massive physical specimen at 6-8/253, the new "Big Blue" is a skilled pass rusher whose speed, feet, and strength combine to make him an impact player. Limited in his pass rush repetoire, operating under the assumption that he adds a few moves and develops some more strength, the Giants may well have a diamond in the rough. A diamond, though, that they had no immediate need for.
FANTASY VALUE: Kiwanaku needs to spend time in both the weight room and on the practive field. Although he'll likely see 5-8 plays a game, his impact will be minimal until such time as his pass rush arsenal improves.