Wednesday, July 12, 2006

FANTASY FOOTBALL ... QUARTERBACKS - BEST O' THE REST!

It's really time to take your Quarterback! You've lined up your bell-cow 'back, your #2 'back, and you snared yourself Chad Johnson as well. Nice scenario, no? Nice scenario, yes! However... did you out-wit yourself by passing on Jake Plummer or Drew Brees and cost yourself the season before it's even begun? No, several sneaky-good fantasy Field Generals remain. With the exception of possibly Michael Vick, though, don't look for any of these guys to lead your squad to the post-season promised land. Capable of fits of excellence, the Quarterbacks in this group are also apt to drive you to drain Peptol Bismol by the bottle... and chase it with a jigger of Maalox!

Falcons, Mike Vick: Although some would be inclined to rank slick Vick (2,412/21/13 and 597 rushing yards) higher, the former 1st overall pick ('01) has yet to truly distinguish himself as a Quarterback. A breathtakingly exciting athlete, therein lies the million dollar question; is Vick just a stunningly gifted athlete masquerading as a Signal Caller? Or, is there a real, live, NFL caliber Field General underneath all those pads?
This is the question that will make Vick's summary a somewhat lengthy one.
Although numbers mean little, especially when your dealing with such a rare talent, Vick's stats' DO warrant a bit of investigation. Last season, aside from a 306 passing yard, 2 TD game against Tampa of all teams, Mike Vick threw for as many as 200+ yards on just 3 occassions. The fact of the matter is, you never know what you're gonna' get from the ramblin' man. Will it be a 230 passing yard, 38 rushing yard, 1 pick, 3 TD (2 of which came on the ground) game ala' week 14 against New Orleans? Or, will it be a 116 passing yard, 18 rushing yard, 2 TD (both scores came on the ground), 3 INT, 2 fumble day such as Vick's "weak" 7 effort against the Jets?
Defensive Coordinators are very bright guys. Actually, the vast majority of those who coach at this level are remarkably astute, brilliant tacticians, and if you give 'em enough time they'll come up with a strategy to defeat any team and contain any player. Towards that end, the league finally seems to have discovered a way to clip this Falcon's wings. Flush Vick from the pocket with a speed rushing End(s) and send him right smack into the waiting arms of the Linebacker who stayed home to shadow him. This tactic led to 9 Sacks over the course of Atlanta's final 3 games last season.
So what do we make of the cannon-armed, stop-on-a-dime Sigal Caller and his unorthodox style? After much talk, this IS Vick's make or break season. Should Vick fail, however, it won't be because he lacked a supporting cast."MV-7" is protected by an athletic O-Line... a line that excels at run blocking but can also pass protect. The group has gotten short shrift in the pass blocking department, but I'd like to see another group of linemen guard a Quarterback who's about as predictable as the state lottery. In addition, Vick will be throwing to a young but talented group of pass catchers headed by TE alge Crumpler (877/5). The 6-2/265 TE isn't quite Gonzo' or Gates, but Crumpler possesses remarkable agility and surprising speed for a man of his size. A horror-show to defend in the red-zone, Crumpler has become Vick's safety-valve and target of choice.
Meanwhile, the youthful duo of WRs Michael Jenkins (speedy, with ideal size at 6-4/220, Jenkins must exit his breaks quicker) and Roddy White (very athletic but some question his toughness), each a 1st round pick, was drafted in order to provide Vick with a pair of lethal targets. Both receivers still require additional seasoning and each brings something different to the Falcon table, but the pair should take a giant step forward this season. Completing Vick's pass catching corps is the tall and reliable Brian Finneran (will likely be operating out of the slot this season) and the soft-handed Running Back, Warrick Dunn (220 receiving yards in '05).
Although expectations for Vick should be reigned in, the Hot-lanta coaching staff has decided to do precisely the opposite; the club will allow the Quarterback free reign. No longer will the team try to pound a round peg into a square hole and make Vick a pocket-passer. Instead, the Falcons will allow Vick to flee the pocket and make full use of those weapons that make him so special. This is a "no-brainer" coaching decision and it should be the one that finally allows Mike Vick to become the Quarterback everyone has longed to see since he was drafted back in 2001.
I'd expect to see an up-tick in Vick's passing totals, but he will still be more valuable in those leagues that place greater weight on TDs.

Packers, Brett Favre: While many thought that Favre (3,881/20/29) would finally hang 'em up, the lure of the game, the roar of the Packer backers, the entire exciting package ultimately proved to be too much for the Hall of Fame gunslinger to resist. Or so it would seem. I mean... with a mantle full of awards, a Scrapbook jammed full of ticket stubs from Hawaii (Pro Bowl), and a SuperBowl ring for his favorite finger, what else does Brett have left to prove? Nothing. At least not to the legions of Football fans who have had the privilige to watch him play, and the adoration for Favre extends far beyond Wisconsin's cheese-lovin' borders. No, what Brett has left to prove to himself is another matter entirely, and it's beyond our ken to presume that we can read his mind. But all we are concerned with, here anyway, is Brett Favre's ability to be a fantasy contributor... thus, that's all we'll attempt to divine.
Favre's TD totals have steadily declined over the past 3 seasons, his 6.39 "yards per attempt" was his lowest total since the '93 season, his longest passing play, 59 yards, was a career low, 29 INTs obviously represents a career high (his next highest INT total was 24, '03), and 7 lost fumbles marks another career high... or low, predicated upon the way you look at things. Indeed, Brett turned the ball over a career-worst 36 times.
To be fair, though, the Packers, particularly at the skill positions, were positively decimated by injury last season. WR Javon Walker caught 4 passes before suffering a knee injury that sidelined him for the remaining 15 1/2 regular season games, Robert Ferguson was dogged by injury, played in 11 games, and was limited to just 27 receptions, feature back Ahman Green was felled by a knee injury and was toes up by Week 8, burly backup runner Najeh Davenport was poised to assume the lead back's duties until, of course, he broke his ankle, TE Bubba Franks was continually pestered by the injury-bug and after missing Weeks 3-5 (6 was a Bye), Bubba said "buh-bye" to the season, and so forth. Ergo, Favre and Donald Driver (1,221/5) forged a nice chemistry, and the undrafted backup to the backup Samkon Gado (582/7 over 8 tilts) proved to be a nice fantasy surprise... and that's about it. This doesn't exonerate Favre for his ghastly-bad season, but a lack of playmakers certainly helps explain it. Ever the competitor, Favre is not lacking in arm strength and his field-vision remains razor sharp. The difference between the Brett Favre of last season and the Brett Favre of, say, 5 or 6 seasons ago, is an inability to make a whole lotta sumthin' out of a whole lotta' nuthin'. In conjunction and as one would expect, Favre is starting to break down after a decade and a half of NFL wear and tear.
And yet hope springs eternal! With the defection of Javon Walker to Denver comes the ascension of Donald Driver to new #1 pass catcher status. In addition, the receiving corps will feature a healthy Robert Ferguson and welcomes former Redskin Rod Gardner and former Kansas City Chief Marc Boerigter. But the 'Pack passing game will flounder yet again if RB Ahman Green cannot stay healthy. In last season's "Pre-Draft Positional Review" I wrote that Green, whose numbers have declined since his banner '03 campaign, was in for yet another "3 yards and a cloud of dust" season. I went on to suggest that I'd let another owner fret over Green. Sadly, my forecast was all too accurate. Due to questions surrounding Ahman Green and Najeh Davenport's recovery, I wonder whether or not G-Bay will be forced to go airborn early and often.
Although I would expect the defense to be much stouter with CB Charles Woodson and rook' LB A.J Hawk (an instant difference maker and an early favorite for "Defensive Rookie of the Year") making life unpleasant for the opposition, fans can still expect the team to be engaged in a fair share of shoot-outs.
Where does that leave owners with relation to a fantasy Favre? Consider that Brett Favre is struggling to absorb a new offense and it's confounding langauge. Much like his teammate, Ahman Green, I'd take a pass on Favre.

OTHERS TO CONSIDER:

Ravens, Steve McNair: McNair brings a breath of fresh "Air" to Balty'. WR Derrick Mason and TE Todd Heap are wonderfully gifted and each should flourish now that the club boasts a credible 'Caller. If RB Jamal Lewis can re-discover his sha'wing, and former Bronc' back Mike Andersen is more than willing to step in if he can't, then the Raven O could be VERY potent.

Jaguars, Byron Leftwich: Lefty' can make virtually every throw in the book... but he's a "statue-esque" Signal Caller to say the least. But with intriguing talents Matt "The Freak" Jones (a red-zone nightmare), Ernest Wilford (prototypical size), and rookie TE Mercedes Lewis (really just a giant WR) on the receiving end of Byron's passes, the Jag' QB could turn in a breakout campaign. Much will hinge upon RB Fred Taylor, however. If Taylor can't get it done then rookie RB Maurice Drew could see time, but he's just 5'8 and is more a change of pace/3rd down back.

Cowboys, Drew Bledsoe: A brittle Bledsoe will benefit from the presence of a game-breaking Terrell Owens. Until, of course, Bledsoe finds himself in T.O's rather spacious doghouse. Terry Glenn is a nifty #2 and TE Jason Witten ranks amongst the leagues' best, but the 1-2 combo of RBs Julius Jones and Marion Barber (the 3rd!) will see a heavy workload.

Jets, Chad Pennington: Is his surgically repaired shoulder sound and can he answer nagging questions surrounding his durability? With former Redskin 'slinger Patrick Ramsey serving as the Jets' co-pilot, Pennington's window of opportunity is rapidly closing.

Cardinals, Kurt Warner: At Warner's disposal is, perhaps, the most talented supporting cast in the league. WRs Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald and new Running Back Edgerrin James are a Signal Caller's dream. But Warner is an Orthopedic surgeon's dream, and if he's intact by Week 8... I'd be amazed. Rookie Quarterbacks are never good gambles, but Matt Leinart is worth a late-mid, to late round gamble based solely upon the talent surrounding him. If Leinart doesn't assume command of this offense by the final 1/3 of the '06 season that'd be surprising.

Raiders, Aaron Brooks: Although Brooks is last on this list... oddly, he just might boast more upside than most of the others ranked above him. At Brooks' bone-headed beck and call is a world class stable of pass catchers that features Randy Moss and Jerry Porter, and a "gonna' get medieval" RB, LaMont Jordan. While Brooks' judgement is highly questionable and can be downright bewildering at times, his arm strength is a certainty. In addition, the flighty QB can buy time and gain ground with his legs. A worthy and sneaky-good backup Aaron Brooks could be reborn in Silver & Black, not unlike another iffy Signal Caller who found a home and turned into a league MVP, Rich Gannon.

NEXT UP? 4-STAR RUNNING BACKS!

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