Sunday, August 27, 2006

Terrible Owrns & Football's Top Busts (give or take a decade!)

After listening to the "life-support system for a sound-bite" that is Cowboy Terrell Owens state that "if Bill Parcells needs to see anything from me he can look at 10 years of video footage," it occurred to me... could T.O. be scared?

According to CBSsportsline.com and NFL analyst Peter King, "...Owens has been slower than normal in camp and has not been able to shake even 3rd-string Defensive Backs..." The fact of the matter is that T.O. has played just 21 of 32 regular season games since the '03 season ended. And, while it could be argued that his team-mandated suspension and correlational lack of play-time allowed his body time to heal and rejuvenate, at 33, Owens could have easily slipped into a quiet decline. While I'm inclined to take a "wait and see" approach as T.O.'s suspect speed could be attributable to his bum Hammy', savvy owners who have yet to draft might consider moving the perennial malcontent down on their draft boards.
Assuming that he's really nicked-up, I don't blame the man-child for protecting himself by taking a stand against playing and practicing. After all, the only one who really knows what's going on with T.O. is T.O. That said, the remarkably disrespectful stance he's taken towards his SuperBowl winning, Canton-bound coach does NOT fly... and that's where Owens finds himself in trouble. It's no secret that T.O. eschews authority the way my stomach does milk products, but many felt that the wayward Eagle would finally find a home in Dallas. Uh-uh, "any attention is good attention" and Terrell loves being in the spotlight; the guy positively preens. Like when Parcells demanded that he ride the bike... and "Terrible" arrived at camp dressed in a little yellow Lance Armstrong suit? Funny maybe, a back-handed slap at Parcells certainly.
Bottom line? Although Owens is a "Jerry Jones" guy... Jerry's gonna' stand by Parcells.
Should a "suddenly healthy" T.O. find himself sidelined for the Opening Act of the '06 season... no one will be surprised. What is surprising, however, is just how quickly T.O. has tarnished his star.

Moving along at near break-neck speed a question was recently put to me; is Terrell Owens a bust? My answer is an emphatic no... but T.O. has become a study in disappointment. As much as Owens has accomplished, and his career marks are as follows; 716/10,535/103 (rec./yards/TDs), T.O. won't be remembered for his remarkable skills. Instead, the first things that will come to mind when future conversations turn to Owens were his Prima Donna ways and what more he could have accomplished. How very sad.

Now, that begs the next topic for discussion; "The Most Magnificent Busts in Recent NFL History Give or Take a Decade or Two!" And please, feel free to weigh in on this topic!

Clearly, there's no shortage of Signal Calling candidates. One needs to go no further back in time than the much-heralded, quantity-rich but ultimately quality-poor class of 1999! With the notable exceptions of Daunte Culpepper and Donovan McNabb I give you... Cade McNown and Akili Smith! I could also throw former Kentucky golden-boy Tim Couch's name into the faux-diamond ring, but Couch did manage to cling to a starting job for a couple of seasons. Browns fans grimace at the very mention of his name... Couch never came close to his ample potential.

Todd Marinovich: Marinovich has been a virtual punchline since his ill-advised selection. Although he did lead USC to the Rose Bowl as a freshman, rampant drug use brought Marijuanavich's college career to an unceremonious end and his pro career was a glorious crash n' burn spectacle; a mercifully short-lived spectacle at that. Al Davis is probably still being haunted by the Raiders' '91 1st round pick. When last we spoke, 'Vich was firing-up a J-Bone' and leaning on his Surfboard... apparently, he enjoyed his stay at the Betty F*rd clinic enormously. The needy-weedy met some nice people, played a little shuffle-board, and scored himself some fine Hydro.

Heath Shuler: The Redskins 3rd overall pick in the '94 draft notched 15 career TDs and 33 career picks. Is it any wonder, then, that the dude's entered Real Estate? Shuler bounced about the NFL a bit, playing for the 'Skins, Saints, and ultimately washing-up on Oakland's shores. Like moths to a flame, virtually every over-rated or over-the-hill athlete seems to end up in the Black & Silver. It's an unwritten but widely understood universal property.
A wildly successful R.E. magnate, Shuler recently dipped a toe into politics. Props' to you, Heath.

Ryan Leaf: In "Webster's Unabridged Dictionary," under the word "Bust," you'll find a picture of Pamela Anderson's chest and an alternate definition; "Please See Ryan Leaf."
The maniac stated on a recent "Inside Sports" piece that he was "forced to play a game he didn't enjoy." Hmm, I believe the Chargers would've loved to have had that lil' nugget o' information handy prior to drafting him! I suppose the 'Bolts also crammed umpteen millions down Leaf's throat as well? Oh the humanity! Leaf is quite arguably the biggest bust in ALL of sports,, at least in my considered but understandably biased opinion.
As of today, Leaf is living the life of a successful rancher. "When I grow up I'm gonna' be a professional Football player and a Cowboy!" Mother Leaf imust be so proud of her baby-boy who saw both his dreams become real.
Still, it seems that Ryan Leaf's anger management issues haven't vanished completely. According to several highly placed chickens and at least 1 duck, Leaf punched a steer who reportedly "gave him a nasty look." The herbivore's legal team released the following quote; "I was just minding my own business, ya' know, chewing my cud? And out of nowhere this guy is a black hat say's hey, what the hell are you lookin' at? And then pow, he hit me in 2 of my stomachs and that's all I remember."
Charges may be pending, but neither the heifer's attorney nor Ryan Leaf himself would comment citing the ongoing litigation.

Running Backs:
Ki-Jana Carter: Carter was made the 1st overall pick of the '95 draft by Cincinnati. Unsurprisingly for a franchise that struggled to get out of its own way, Carter turned his ACL into cole-slaw during his rookie training camp. The injury robbed the former Penn State star of both his speed and cutback ability, K.J. was never the same. To his credit Carter did manage to hold onto roster spots with Cincy', Washington and New Orleans as recently as '04, but with a grand total of 1,144 rushing yards over the span of his 10 pro seasons Carter remains one of Football's most glaring busts.

Lawrence Phillips: After a prolific collegiate career Phillips, drafted 6th overall by the now-sorry Niners' during the '96 draft, just couldn't keep his nose clean. In 2005 Larry, to friends, of which he has at least... what, one? was arrested for driving a car into 3 teens. At the time, Phillips had a arrest warrant hanging over his head due to domestic charges, one of which was choking his then-girlfriend into unconsciousness. Slated to stand trial on numerous counts, the former Nebraska star faces double-diggy' years in prison.
This troubled athlete paved the way for guys like... Maurice Clarett.

Wide Receiver: My top nomination goes to Detroit Lion Charles Rogers. In response to reports that he's on the "roster bubble," Rogers was quoted as saying "I'm still a 2nd overall pick, teams know I'm talented... I'm not worried at all." Or... words to a similar effect.
Detroit fans have come to the unfortunate realization that Rogers is just as delusional as the club's president, GM, and the man responsible for his 1st round selection, Matt Millen. I swear, the team owning Ford family has the patience of the Biblical Job. What more does the Monday through Friday, 9-6 Prez' have to do to get kicked back to the broadcast booth? Bomb on a 1st round Quarterback? Been there, done that.
Millen was recently appointed to the NFL's competition committee, filling the chair Houston's former GM Charley Casserley recently vacated. What the hell do the Lions know of "competition?" Team observers overheard Millen telling Howie Long how he was going to "bring leather helmets back to Football."

Offensive Tackle Tony Mandarich: I remember seeing Mandarich grace the cover of Sports Illustrated back in the day. Selected 2nd overall by Green Bay just after the 'Pokes pulled Troy Aikman off the 'board with the 1st overall pick in the '89 draft, Mandarich was essentially a Test-tube with a pulse. With more "juice" running through him than a Tropicana packaging plant, the Packers would have been far better served by drafting... oh I dunno', maybe BARRY SANDERS?
Mandarich served as a CFL analyst for a full year! From 9/04 - 9/05 Mandarich waxed poetic about playing Football on what is quite literally, "frozen tundra." Alas, Canada's "Score" network handed Mandarich his pink slip in October of '05.

And last but certainly not least, "Performance Enhancing Drug-User Weekly's" favorite Football son... a magazine NO Cycler or Track and Field competitor should be without, BRIAN "THE BOZ'" BOSWORTH!
Let's put our hands together Boz', thanks for coming. Perhaps best known for being bulled into the End-Zone during a much-anticipated Monday Night tilt by none other than Bo Jackson himself, Bosworth actually won the first 2 Butkus Awards. Calling "The Boz" a "colorful character" would be like calling Michael Jackson "kind of eccentric." Still, college Football fans tuned into Oklahoma games just to see Bosworth detonate opposing Running Backs on a week in and week out basis.
Following Football Bosworth made a wildly successful transition to the silver screen, performing in cinematic masterpieces such as 2001's "Cold Steel" and... and... err', oh yeah', the half-baked remake of Burt Reynolds' classic, "The Longest Yard." According to Boz's publicist, Tammy Faye Baker, the former Linebacker will be auditioning for the London version of "The King and I"
One small sticking point, Boz' flatly refuses to put on the garb Yul Brynner made famous; "I don't wear rhinestones and I will NOT put on them pointy Persian shoes!" said Bosworth. The producers maintain that "pointy shoes are optional" because "the King" is really of southeast asian extraction. A confidential source opined that the whole costume thing is just "a smoke-screen." The real issue is Bosworth's unfullfilled contract demand that actress/nut-job Tawny Kitaen co-star.

Friday, August 18, 2006

FANTASY FOOTBALL'S IMPACT ROOKIES!

Inevitably, young talent intrigues Roto-rooters... especially when it comes to Fantasy Football. NFL Rookies thrill, NFL rookies inspire visions of league trophies, and ultimately... most NFL rookies tease.
Last year, we couldn't wait to see how Buccs' Alex Smith and Carnell Williams, Dolphin Ronnie Brown, Bear Cedric Benson, Viking Troy Williamson, Falc' Roddy White, Raven Mark Clayton, and Steeler Heath Miller would change the fantasy landscape. Of that group, who made the largest fantasy footprint? Right, Caddy' and Ronnie, though TE Heath Miller enjoyed a very nice, but quiet, 459/6 season.

And last season was no exception. The learning curve for Quarterbacks is ridiculous, and Wide Receivers, for the most part, don't really blossom until that magical 3rd year. Route running's a b*tch, and the speed of the game takes everyone by surprise. Of course, Individual Defensive Players such as Shawne Merriman, DeMarcus Ware, and Derrick Johnson can alter a leagues' outcome... but of the skill positions? With the rarest of exceptions, and I think Ben Roethlisberger's miraculous '04 run underscores this point in emphatic fashion, even winning QBs post marginal fantasy numbers. S'all about the Running Backs, people.

The dust from the 2006 draft has settled and the first tentative pre-season tilts are in the books, it's time to guage... FANTASY'S IMPACT ROOKIES!

QUARTERBACKS: Last season, both Alex Smith (49'ers) and Aaron Rodgers (Packers) were 1st round selections. This season? it's likely that neither would've been taken before the 3rd round. While Smith was handed the keys to Frisco's offense, his 1 TD, 11 INT season did little to inspire confidence. Rodgers attempted just 16 passes as a rook, good for 65 yards and a pick.
This year, however, the QB crop was far more robust. At least 3 of the draft's Signal Callers, Matt Leinart, Jay Cutler, and Vince Young, will assume the position within a year or 2, and another 2, Kellen Clemens (Jets) and Tarvaris Jackson (Vikings) could surprise and see early action as well. Of that group, only...

Cardinals, Matt Leinart: ...Looks to be an impact rookie. Card' incumbent Kurt Warner hasn't played a full 16 game complement since the 2001 season, and the likliehood of that changing ranges from slim to none. Warner, possessing the durability of a Calcium-deficient septugenarian, WILL fall to injury behind a somewhat suspect Offensive Line... it's just a matter of when (my over/under is Week 6). Although coach and resident numbskull Denny Green has shown a chubby for 3rd year Michigan product John Navarre, Leinart finally inked his deal and should be up to speed in time to step over Warner's prostrate form and jam hands under 6-4/320 Center Alex Stepanovich's refrigerator-sized backside.
With RB Edgerrin James picking up the blitz, keeping defenders back on their heels, and serving as an excellent safety-valve receiver, WRs Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin keeping the Safety's head on a swivel, and mammoth ("how mammoth is he?" 6-8/268 kinda' mammoth!) TE Leonard Pope at his disposal... NO Quarterback has more weapons at hand. The primary concern is the iffy O-Line. Those in deeper leagues should consider Leinart a late-mid to late round pick, those of you belonging to 6-8 team leagues may wish to wait for Kurt to hurt before making a 'Wire move.

Broncos, Jay Cutler: Numerous league observers believe that Jake Plummer is entering his final season as a Bronco. Although last season was a good one by anyone's standards (3,366/20/7), Plummer's numerous biskit'-head moves (both on and off the field), oft-erratic play, and porn-star mustache ('kay, maybe not the circa '73 'stache, but for the most part "Snake" has not delivered on his vast potential) exhausted coach Mike Shanahan's patience and Vandy' dandy Jay Cutler, whose meteoric pre-draft rise was remarkable, was too talented a prospect to pass upon.
Just as San Diego did this past off-season with Drew Brees, the Broncs' will cut bait. Denver will part ways with an older Plummer and turn the O over to a younger Cutler. And speaking of whom; Cutler's first NFL action came against the Lions and was a ringing, 16-22, 192/1 success!
Now, do I hear Plummer to the NY Jets, anyone? Remember, you read it here first!

Other Potential Contributors:

Titans, Vince Young: Young is a rare athlete; a confluence of speed, strength, grace and power. Yada-yada-yada. Young's Signal Calling skills are virtually Junior Varsity. Is he gifted? Absolutely. Can he chuck the ball and make plays? Darn' tootin'. However, Vince Young is a slab of marble awaiting the sculpter's touch. Mastering the 3 and 5-step drop, learning how to really read a defense as opposed to taking-off and fleeing the pocket at the first sign of trouble, and honing his curious mechanics; the concern is that Young's side-arm style will lead to his passes being batted down at the line of scrimmage, Young is at least a full season and another off-season away from being ready to grab hold the huddle.

Jets, Kellen Clemens: With Pennington throwing like a girl (SO politically uncorrect... but would "sissy" be any better?), Patrick Ramsey unspectacular at best, and Brooks Bollinger struggling to make the team... Mangini's 'back strapped Jet team just might turn to Clemens in order to see what he can do.

Vikings, Tarvaris Jackson: I don't think Minnesota's arsenal is particularly impressive, especially with WR Koren Robinson lost for the year, if not longer, due to a battery of infractions. However, the club fields an aging veteran in Brad Johnson and a pair of ho-hums in Mike McMahon and J.T. O'Sullivan. It could be that Jackson, whose mobility and arm strength hearken back to a younger Daunte Culpepper, gets the nod should Johnson miss any appreciable time.

RUNNING BACKS: These guys butter your fantasy bread. Running Backs will accrue the bulk of your weekly fantasy points, therefore it's wise to seek the top backs first. Several youngsters are highly regarded... but none are locks, as Carnell Williams and Ronnie Brown were last season. Even though it was understood that Brown and Ricky would share Miami's load... Brown's pre-fantasy draft dap' was considerable and the same was true for Cadillac Williams. This year...

Saints, Reggie Bush: A 5/11/205 gazelle. Bush may just live up to his considerable hype. I'm no fan of hyperbole... but holy smokes! Fast? Picture Olympic medalist Carl Lewis with a pork-chop stapled to his as*, being chased by a pack of Rottweilers. Bush's game speed is that fast. Moves? Dude has more moves than a veteran Vegas Call Girl.
With physical Deuce McAllister still in the new 'Awlins fold the team need not throw the USC alum' to the wolves, and indeed, the coaching staff says they'll run both out onto the field... simultaneously. If that can work, more power to the Saints. I'm of the belief that Deuce wants to shake loose and play elsewhere, but the club's unconvinced that Reggie can shoulder a 22-25 touch load (each week) and is therefore understandably reluctant to move their former feature. That said, Reggie's frame is such that he'll be able to pack-on another 10-15 pounds of muscle which will enable him to better endure NFL-style punishment. Further bolstering Bush's already impressive value is his versatility; Reggie will catch passes out of the backfield, line-up in the slot, and return punts and Kick-offs.
In early drafts and "expert leagues" Saint Reggie was being taken as early as 15th (in 10-12 team leagues). So long as he's able to withstand a 16 game slate... his owners should reap the rewards of a 1,300+/8+ (combined yards and scores) campaign.

Titans, LenDale White: The Titans rushing attack is a fascinating study in confusion. Chris Brown, the clubs' lead back since '04, has rolled for 2,300+ total yards and 13 scores over that span, but he's been dogged by injury and is unhappy with his current situation. A 5-9/215 Travis Henry was brought over from the Bills as insurance against Brown's injury-checkered past and is determined to secure the feature back title, but although his determination is unquestionable and the spirit is willing... his body's 3 yards and a cloud of dust. which brings us, naturally, to Reggie Bush's college bud, LenDale White.
A big (6-1/235) back, White's a horror-show to tackle once he's got a head of steam going... but his size could also work against him. Struggling to keep his weight in check is one thing, a nagging toe-injury is another, and White was in streets' the another night for precisely that reason. Still, with the incomparable Billy Volek over Center and the club trotting-out a markedly UN-impressive receiving corps, Tennessee could go run-heavy this year. Which again brings us back to White. Brown will probably continue to astound team Doctors by being the first glass-man, Henry will likely be slotted as the short-yardage/3rd Down back, and a healthy LenDale White could be given a considerable work-load; 12-15 totes per game will render him a sneaky-good 6-7th round draft pick.

Panthers, DeAngelo Williams: Williams is one of those players whose timed speed and game speed differ substantially. Faster than a Cheetah with a Baboon jockey (is that not a vivid image?), Williams' burst and superior on-field vision convinced the Cats' to expend their 27th overall pick on him. Don't let the club sell you a bill of goods, they also have little faith in DeShaun Foster's (what is it with backs whose names feature 2 capital letters? I'm thinking of changing my name to JaMey... lemme' know what you think) ability to make it through a full season. The '02 2nd round pick has had 2 of his past 3 seasons abbreviated by injury, and last season's 2nd round pick, RB Eric Shelton, has been a big hairy disappointment.
While Williams is admittedly starting off a bit slow (3 carries for no yards), he did rip-off a 20 yard run against Buffalo in his first pre-season action. The run was a virtual D-Will' Power-Point presentation; cut-backs, vision, burst and finishing the run. With DeShaun Foster almost sure to falter, DeAngelo will make for a fine #3/"Flex" Running Back come week 7 or so.

Patriots, Laurence Maroney: Maroney's no joke. New England's brilliant coach, Bill Belichik, saw that veteran Corey Dillon's game fell-off considerably last season. And, unlike... say, the Jets, the Pats will NOT be caught flat-footed!
A 6-0/215 physical specimen, the former Minnesota Golden Gopher's got eye-blink speed (4.45 40) and Charles Atlas power.
Not as safe a bet as the aforementioned trio due to the Patriot offensive system and the presence of a still-effective Corey Dillon (especially around the Money Stripe), Maroney will nevertheless pilfer carries and could rapidly turn into a #2-ish fantasy back should the unthinkable occur... an illin' Dillon. Those of you who belong to "Dynasty" leagues may wish to take a gamble on Maroney and stash him away. Once Dillon calls it quits, 'cause I don't think he's going elsewhere once the Pats' kick him to the curb, Maroney's value will skyrocket.

Colts, Joseph Addai: There have been a number of juggernaut offenses in recent years; The Rams "Greatest Show on Turf," Minnesota's "Culpepper to Moss" connection, and the Chargers' dynamic duo of Gates and L.T.
But NO team has ever moved the ball with greater ease and impunity... NO team has ever looked upon opposing defenses with as much scorn and disdain as Peyton Manning and friends. Manning will go down as one of the greatest passers of all time, particularly of he can escort his club to the SuperBowl, and Marvelous Marvin Harrison is a 1st ballot Hall of Famer. But what made this offense run like a well-oiled machine? Edgerrin James. The Colts "verve and swerve" stems from the play-action, and the every down danger Edge' represented forced teams to respect it... even when they knew it was coming.
With Manning awarded a king's ransom to remain a Colt and Harrison receiving his own Lotto-style contract (and deservedly so, no pass catcher goes about his work in a more professional manner), the team pulled its pockets inside-out and came up with? lint. Will the contracts given to 2 of the 3 triplets (big bucks were disseminated on the defensive side of the ball as well) short-circuit the system? Probably not, but while rookie Joseph Addai has been called a "James clone" caution is in order.
Addai and Dominic Rhodes are slated to split the load, but the 5-11/215 former LSU star has been picking up the offense in rapid fashion and based on upside alone, is more valuable than the older Rhodes. Addai can pluck the ball out of the air, pick up blitzing 'Backers like a champ, and kick-it into high gear within a step or two. Indeed, teammates have raved about the rooks' ability to blow through the line at top speed.
Addai is a mid-rounder. While the team will probably be a passing circus, the youngster could end up with a much bigger role than originally anticipated... and his upside is considerable.

TOMORROW... IT'S PASS CATCHERS AND IDP'ERS!

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

FANTASY BASEBALL ... LATE-SEASON DIFFERENCE MAKERS!

Those of you who are staring up in the fantasy Baseball standings are eagerly preparing for Football's draft day. Yet... we're in the throes of Baseball's "dog-daze'," and countless owners are making a late-season push to win... place... or show in their leagues.

But we're not the only ones! Fantasy Baseball mimics life... and Major League Baseball, right now, is stopping for a cup o' coffee. With players starting to drop like flies, I.E. Placido Polanco (his loss could easily prove to be a devastating blow), and, at the very least, needing a late-season breather, clubs are starting to bring up the youngsters. Those already out of contention are auditioning for next season... and those who remain in the thick of the hunt are eye-balling athletes who just might be worth sticking on an expanded post-season roster.

Let's take a look at some potential difference-makers!

Catcher:
Dodgers, Russ Martin: Man oh man, do I have a fantasy man-crush on the promising young Trolley-Dodger (as they were called when the club played in Brooklyn, back when my DAD was but a gleam in Grandpappy's eye!). Martin possesses remarkable poise, can spray the ball to all fields, and has actually surprised his own club. L.A. thought the backstop position was going to be a real problem... and even went so far as to trade for former Yankee Dionner Navarro a couple of seasons ago. But in Martin the team saw po'... and the 23 year-old receiver has affirmed the club's faith. A disciplined hitter (40 Ks out of 284 plate appearances), R-Mart' is 6-14 over his last 4 games and is hanging a line of .306/6/47/43 on the year. In addition, he's thieved 8 bags... and speed is a rare commodity in Catchers. Assuming he continues his hot-hitting ways, Russ Martin will be a covetted Catcher come next season... and if, by chance, he's on your leagues' Waiver Wire? I would both examine my competition and snatch him up in a heart-beat!

1st Basemen:
Devil Rays, Lyle Overbay: At 29, the D-Ray finally seems to be putting it all together. Overbay may still be available since he's really gone on a post-All-Star Break tear. Hitting a not-so crappy .294 prior to the sport's star studded cavalcade, "Overbay the Devil Ray" is crushing all offerings at a .341 clip.
Other young 1st Baggers of consequence:
Howie Kendrick: Hitting .331 with 14 XBH out of 42 total hits
Greg Norton: Another D-Ray, Norton has hit 4 HRs and 3 Doubles over his last 10 games.

2nd Basemen:
Rangers, Ian Kinsler: I don't mean to repeat myself, but Kinsler was my "Breaking Down Fantasy Baseball's 2nd Basemen; Breakout Player of the Year." As consistent as a Swiss watch, Kinsler's reached base in 15 straight games, is a VERY tough K (just 44 Ks in 275 ABs), and is hitting .302/8/37, with 8 SB. Although the Rangers boast some big bats in Mark Teixeira, Gary Mathews Jr., Hank Blalock and Mark DeRosa... Kinsler's steady-eddie player and above-average speed are valued by Texas.

3rd Basemen:
Royals, Mark Teahen: A Royal? Yeah, a Royal. I'm an equal-opportunity Blogger... and Teahen's breakout season and potental 'Wire availability demands mentioning.
Another late emerging prospect, the KC Cornerman is posting excellent numbers; .281/14/56/57, with 16 Doubles, 7 Triples and a SLG % of .513. Given the fact that the lineup around him is positively anemic, Teahen's performance is all the more notable. A solid addition to any roster as a 2nd 3B or "Flex" play.
Reds, Edwin Encarnacion is another notable 'Wire grab should he be available.

Shortstops:
Diamondbacks, Stephen Drew: Again, another player I wrote about in my pre-season rankings, Drew has lived up to his more than ample hype. As of today, dude's over his minor hand injury and is continuing a borderline "NL Rookie of the Year" campaign.
Drew's power is still developing and as a 23 year-old he's still a baby, but a .330 BA and a Slugging % of .583 bode awfully well for the future. A definite "Keeper" candidate if you're in need of such, Drew doesn't steal much but 4 Triples attest to his speed.

Outfielders:
Indians, Shin-Soo Choo: I mentioned the 24 year-old South Korean export in a recent Blog posting... and since that time he's done nothing to disappoint. The impressive number of impact Indian prospects is a testament to the club's fab' foresight and ability to assess talent.
Swatting a very cushy .386 over his last 12 games, Choo's hit 6 Doubles and plated 14 teammates over that same span. Although his 60 AB sample doesn't give owners much to go by, Choo should be picked up by those in need of an extra Outfielder. I'd ride him like a $10 mule while he's hot!

Cardinals, Chris Duncan: The Card' 1B/LF is pitching coach may be Dave Duncan's son but he's earning his Major League ABs on his own merit. Currently hitting .315 on the season, Duncan's got nice pop and his ability to play both 1st Base and Outfield increases his value. Consider the lineup surrounding him, too; bone-crushingly potent.

Cubs, Matt Murton: The Cubs, 12 1/2 games back and coached by a semi-delusional Dusty Baker, don't boast a whole lotta' power; 3B Aramis Ramirez is enjoying a white-hot 2nd half and has hit nearly a dozen Homers' since the All-Star Break, and RF Jacques Jones is on a power-trip of his own. But after those 2 only one player, NO player brags more than 19 HRs.
Murton, at .296/8/44, was a virtual unknown entering the season. Now, though, the Cubby' is hotter than Texas asphalt on an August afternoon. A real talent, Murty' (to his friends, of which I am not one) crushed 4 Doubles in one game (8/3) and seems to have secured a spot for himself in Leftfield. Kid should only get better as the lineup around him improves.

Starting Pitchers:
Pirates, Tom Gorzelanny: I included Gorzelanny in Monday's Blog... and all the kid did was go out and toss a 7 inning, 1 earned run, 5 K gem against Prince Fielder and his talented young Brewer teammates. Although he's struggled with control, the Bucc' Lefty' has improved with each successive start and has whiffed 27 and allowed just 7 ERs over his last 5 starts. A "must-start" Pirate, you ask? A "must-start Pirate" I respond and no, I am NOT medicated. Currently, anyway.

TOMORROW... IT'S BACK TO FANTASY FOOTBALL AS WE LOOK AT IMPACT ROOKS'!

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

FANTASY BASEBALL ... HOT PICK-UPS & THE WEEKEND IN SPORTS!

So, instead of penning a piece on "Hot" and "Not" Defensive units that would be about as exciting as watching American Idol with the sound turned down... or even watching American Idol with the sound turned up for that matter, I thought I'd bring you... "Highlights from the Weekend in Baseball... and fantasy Baseball's Prospects!"

As we steam into the home stretch, let's start with my beloved Yankees. The club dropped 2 games (Friday and Sunday) over the weekend, Chien-Ming Wang is again looking more like a #3 instead of a staff ace, and his 2nd consecutive poor start (in 5.1 IP, 5 ERs, 2 BBs, 3 Ks) cost 'em yesterday's game. Just like my gas-guzzling SUV's Side-View mirror, "objects are closer than they may appear!" Suddenly, the Yanks' AL-East lead has been reduced to just 1 slender game. The Bombers are also covering their collective eyes like the "See no Evil" monkey" every time A-rod is forced to make a critical, late-inning play (he recorded his 20th "E" on Saturd-E). Abreu and Craig Wilson not withstanding, Sheff' and Matsui can't come back soon enough! While I don't think the Red Sox have the pitching and weapons needed to overtake and put New York away... Baseball's a funny game!
Speaking of funny, who would have believed that young manager Willie Randolph would've taken his club... or "equipa" to most of his players, and run away with the NL East! With the Phillies 15 games back, the Metropolitans are lookin' like heart-attack serious 'Series contenders. With a line of .287/33/98 and with 30 Doubles and 14 SB, Carlos Beltran is earning his preposterous paycheck. Hot on his heels? David Wright (.310/22/86 with 30 Doubles and 15 SB) and Jose Reyes (.295/11/55, with 23 Doubs' and leading the league with 15 Triples and 49 SB!).

Although the NY teams are compelling, how 'bout Indian 1B/DH Travis Hafner? Pronk' hit his 6th Grand Slam Sunday, tying Yankee immortal Don Mattingly for the single-season "salami" record! With more lumber than Indonesia's pristine hardwood forests, poor pitching cost the Injuns' a post-season berth. That team, for all their talented youngsters, needs pitching before they can be taken "series-ly!"

And speaking of talented youngsters, Philly's Phine' Phirst' Bagger crushed his league-leading 41st Homer Sunday. That kid hits with SO much power... the club has been forced to pay NASA a small service charge in order to remove at least a half-dozen balls from a low-Earth orbit.
Angel prodigy Jered Weaver beat the Yankees for his 8th W of the season Sunday. "Weaver the Younger" became just the 3rd hurler in a century to go undefeated over his 1st 11 starts. Sadly, big bro Jeff doesn't possess quite the same talent. Once Jered secures his first Yankee contract he'll undoudtedly provide big bro with a low-interest loan.

Other youngsters to watch and or add to your fantasy roster;
Howie Kendrick: The L.A. Angel of Anaheim and the Lower Valley area... or whatever the Halos are calling themselves these days, is acclimating to the bigs quite nicely. As of today, Monday, the highly regarded corner-infielder is hitting .319 with 11 2-Baggers and a 3-Bagger over his 32 games.
Indians, Ryan Garko: Hitting .364 over his last 10 games with 2 HRs, 2 Doubles, and 8 Ribbies'.
Arizona's Stephen Drew: I snatched the young Shorty' up 2 weeks ago. Dude's hammering-out a .344 BA, put 3 balls into the cheap seats, and recorded 9 Doubles, 4 Triples, and a SLG % of .615 over just 26 games! Can you spell S-T-A-R?
Braves, Brian McCann: With developing power (definitely lookin' like a 30+/100+ Catcher) and remarkable poise, McCann approaches the dish with a plan. Accordingly, the 22 year-old Hot-lanta backstop is swatting a cushy .350/15/57 with a semi-silly SLG % of .571 over 88 games.
Indians, Shin-Soo Choo: The Korean import has been smacking the white offa' the ball and has earned regular time. Currently hitting at a nif-T .395 clip over his last 11 games, the Cleveland Outfielder is hitting .421 with RISP.

Now, let's pan the Diamond and list one worthy young prospect at each position;
Catcher: Although I could've gone with Minny's Joe Mauer, a guy who could one day challenge for both the MVP and Batting titles, Seattle's Kenji Johjima, who is already 30 after begininng his career in Japan, Angel Mike Napoli, the aforementioned crush-alot Brave Brian McCann, or the just called-up Indian Ryan Garko...
I'm going with Dodger Russ Martin: The artful dodger offers both speed and power; the kid's currently at .299/6/47/42, with 21 Doubles, 3 Triples, and 8 SB. Speed kills!

1st Base: Milwaukee's Prince Fielder has rapped-out an impressive line of .282/22/59/62, with 25 Doubles. Milwaukee's young royalty serves as the new Brew-Crew's linchpin and is making papa Cece' proud.

2nd Baseman: Ian Kinsler started off slowly but he's building momentum and is stirring the Ranger pot. On the season, Alfonso Soriano's would-be replacement is at .303/8/36, with 8 SB is fleshing-out Texas' powerful lineup.

Shortstop: After mentioning Stephen Drew above... and make no mistake, Drew is off to a red-hot start, I'll go with Mariner Yuniesky Betancourt. Playing on a young team that is attempting to generate the kind of excitement that's been lacking since the talented troika of A-Rod, Griff' Jr. and Edgar trod Safeco's basepaths, the 24 year-old Betancourt is hitting .299/5/38/51 and 17 Doubs', 4 Trips', and 10 thieved bags.

3rd Baseman: Again, the choices can make yer' lil' head spin! White Sock Joe Crede's having his long-awaited breakout season, Pirate Freddy Sanchez is vying for the NL batting title... but he's 30 already, and Royal Mark Teahen is enjoying a fine year of his own but he plays for a hapless franchise. Which, oddly enough, might be reason enough to vote for him as opposed to against... but I spit in the face of logic; pha-tew! There, I spit in the face of logic, may have shorted-out my keyboard, and definitely disgusted a co-worker.
But alas, Cincy's Edwin Encarnacion gets my nod. "EE," who I wrote about in my "Amid Season Report; 3rd Baggers," has continued his assault on National League pitching. The numbers? .302/11/55/40, with 24 Doubles and a SLG % of .533. Hold-on, gotta' mop up a lil' saliva.

Outfielders: Say Indian Shin-Soo Choo's name alound and someone may say "G-d bless you" (and NO, I am NOT being insensitive... it's just a little sarcastic humor, the kind at which I excel), but his numbers are nothing to sneeze at. If you belong to an ultra-competitive league, the Indian Outfielder may have already been snatched up. Why, you say? Choo's gobbling-up opposing pitching at a .322/2/15, 6 Double pace. All of this in just 14 games? Choo's a white-hot 'Wire grab!

Dodger OF'ers Andre Ethier and Matt Kemp (.279/7/21) are s'pose to be LA.'s dynamic Outfielding duo, but the future would appear to be now for Ethier. Obliterating offerings at a .345/11/47 clip, Ethier's managed to bank 17 Doubles and 5 Triples over just 89 tilts. Again, Baseball offers fantasy owners a wealth of promising young OF'ers. Playah's such as Matt Diaz, Jeff Francouer, and Alexis Rios numbering amongst them... but I'm goin' with St. Louis' super-sleeper Chris Duncan. "Dunk's" nestled amid a bone-crushing lineup, and his .306/10/23/32, 6 Double, 2 Triple line makes for a tidy fantasy pickup. Looking at his numbers another way, 18 of Duncan's 44 hits have been of the extra-base variety!

Pitchers: And what about hurlers? Who will help lead your club to the post-season Promised Land?

Pirates, Tom Gorzelanny: The Bucc' pitcher is certainly not without talent. After being called up, Gorzelanny tossed a pair of no-D's and a pair of losses. Over his last 3 games, however, the 24 year-old lefty' has hung a pair of W's and improved considerably. His one loss saw him surrender just 2 ERs and rack 6 Ks, sadly the 5 BBs didn't help his cause. Gorzy' allowed just 4 total runs over that 3 game complement.

Marlins, Josh Johnson: To savvy roto-rooters, Johnson's no secret. 10-6 with a sub 2.70 ERA, Johnson has allowed more than 4 ERs just twice over his last 10 starts and has notched at least 5 Ks in every outing except 1. Should Johnson remain unclaimed in your league... I would re-examine the competition.

Mets, John Maine: Maine had reeled off 4 straight scoreless games until the Nationals broke the string and forced a no-decision. Those 4 ERs tied Maine's May 2nd outing; the only other start wherein the big (6-4) righty allowed that many runs. Dude averages nearly 5 Ks per start, his WHP is under 1.00, and he's definitely carved out a niche for himself in the Met rotation.

Pirates, Scott Olsen: Pittsburgh, the very definition of a small market franchise, is forced to do much with little. Towards that end, the club likes to groom its own arms. Olsen, who was actually drafted by Florida in '02, is 9-6 with a 4.19 ERA. Those diggies' don't leap out at ya', but 120 Ks in 126 IP do.

Rangers, Edison Volquez: Volquez's slot could've been occupied by another Pirate, Ian Snell, another Cardinal, Anthony Reyes, or even Oakland'a VERY impressive Dan Haren (I'd go with Haren if I could get him, but just like Johnson he's been SO good that he's bound to already be on a roster) but the 1-1 Volquez scattered 4 hits and 3 walks against the Mariners during his last start... and according to scouts, the young Ranger has ample upside.

NEXT UP? WHAT WE'VE LEARNED FROM FOOTBALL'S FIRST PRE-SEASON CONTESTS!
Here's what they "in the business" call a tease;

1. Why did Dallas allow backup slinger' Tony Romo play the entire game?
2. Who, exactly, will run the ball for the Jets?
3. Will Mike Vick EVER grasp the pro game?
4. Who are the NFL's most promising rookies? Packer LB A.J. Hawk and Seahawk CB Kelly Jennings, are they as good as they looked?

Friday, August 11, 2006

FANTASY FOOTBALL TIGHT ENDS, 3 HOT! & 2 NOT!

They say that "imitation is the sincerest form of flattery" and boy oh boy, do Football teams like to flatter one another! Whether it's the "No Huddle" offense or the 2-Deep Zone, find something that works and another club is sure to follow.

And that brings us to Tight Ends. While the NFL has seen the likes of Kellen Winslow (senior), Todd Christensen, Mark Bavaro, Ben Coates and Tony Gonzalez, the bevy of enormous and athletic pass catching Tight Ends is a fairly new phenomena. When the Chargers signed a young hoopster out of Kent State, Antonio Gates, they sparked a revolution of change. Of course, teams continue to utilize Tight Ends as extra blockers, but every franchise is seeking the "next Gates." Accordingly, these clubs have begun combing college Basketball's deep ranks and Gates' unparalleled success paved the way for rookies such as Vernon Davis and Mercedes Lewis.

Who's Hot? The torch has already been passed; Tony Gonzalez is no longer the game's best Tight End... that honor now belongs to the aforementioned Gates. Indeed, the NFL brags a host of elite Tight Ends and that list is growing at an exponential rate. Proven pass catching commodities such as Alge Crumpler, Jeremy Shockey and Jason Witten should be on the board for your mid to late-round pleasure.

Redskins, Chris Cooley: The Redskins' new Offensive Coordinator, Al Saunders, has worked with 2 of Football's most prolific Tight Ends; Kellen Winslow (Senior) and Tony Gonzalez. The pupil is thrilled to be working with a man who transformed a pair of Tight Ends into legends... and the teacher is equally excited at the prospect of working with a very talented, athletic, nose-to-the-grindstone player. Chris Cooley (71/774/7) was a Waiver Wire pick-up for most owners last season, but after a banner '05 he enters this season as a coveted, mid-round pick.
The 'Skins' talented trio of Wideouts, newcomer Antwaan Randle El (35/558/1 rec.), Brandon Lloyd (48/733/5) and Santana Moss (84/1,483/9), will tap opposing Secondaries' depth and make it difficult for those teams to cover Cooley, who moves with all the speed and agility of a Running Back, with anything more than a Linebacker. Naturally, that plays right into Al Saunders' scheming hands and Chris Cooley is fast enough, and at 6-3/255 powerful enough, to run over or away from all but the most athletic 'Backers.
Supported by elite Running Back Clinton Portis and protected by a powerful Offensive Line led by bookend Tackles Jon Jansen and Chris Samuels is QB Marc Brunell. Although Bru' isn't the leagues' oldest Signal Caller he's got more miles that a '75 Dodge Dart and his window is rapidly closing. Cooley is a favored target, look for the pair to hook-up with frequency.
The Redskin Tight End has 1,000 yard skills but the presence of Randle El and Moss will probably prohibit that from happening. Nevertheless, an 850/8+ season could easily be on the back of Cooley's Trading Cards come season's end.

Steelers, Heath Miller: Steeler coach Bill Cowher, thrilled by the play of his rookie Tight End last season, was positively effusive in his praise of Miller. And anyone who knows Cowher, a life-support system for a jutting jaw, knows that the level-headed coach doesn't "gush" about anything.
A huge target at 6-5/260, Miller runs nice routes, can catch virtually anything that comes within reach, and enjoyed a very productive 39/459/6 rookie campaign.
This coming year the team will be adjusting to life without either Jerome Bettis or Antwaan Randle El, and that might just force a change in offensive philosophy. Without "The Bus" around to push roughly 800 or so pounds of defender across the 'stripe, the club will need to re-examine its Red-Zone options... and that's where Miller will prove most valuable. In conjunction, with the versatile Randle El no longer lining-up alongside veteran WR Hines Ward and Cedrick Wilson proving to be a talented but largely unspectacular Wide Receiver, opposing Secondaries will likely allot most of their resources to shutting down Ward. As a consequence, Miller should have ample room to roam after the catch.
"Big Ben" Roethlisberger was fortunate to escape his recent Motorcyle accident with all limbs present and accounted for, and is even more fortunate that his career remains intact. Both he and Miller forged a nice chemistry last season and the two should only build upon that relationship. Coming off a 450+/6 season, look for the 2nd year TE to double his yardage numbers and increase his TD total by as much as 1/3. Better yet, look for an 800/8+ season from Mr. Miller.

Browns, Kellen Winslow (Junior/"The Chosen One"): For a 3rd year player with precisely 5 catches and 50 receiving yards on his resume', Winslow has an awful lot to say. With confidence a non-issue, all Winslow has to do now is stay healthy, work like his daddy did, and cash the HUGE checks his ego is writing and his mouth is co-signing.
Any number of NFL Tight Ends could've been slotted here;
Raven Todd Heap: With a real live QB on the other end of the passing game Baltimore's Offense might actually out-score it's defense this year!
Colt Dallas Clark: Clark has yet to crack 800 rec. yards, but with Edge' gone and the O sure to go pass-heavy he could hang a breakout season.
Saint Zach Hilton: At 6-8/270 Hilton's a gargantuan receiver and is a super-sleeper if ever there was one. While a Charger, Drew Brees and a guy named Gates hooked-up on a few!
49'er Vernon Davis: While he has the potential to be a fantasy monster it's all on QB Alex Smith... and I remain unconvinced.
Eagle L.J. Smith: With Philly's receiving corps lacking a proven playmaker Smith could become D-Nabb's go-to.
The above are a handful of "for-instances', but Winslow Jr. is undeniably gifted; a rare athlete with racehorse speed, brutish strength, and the potential to be better than most... if not all of the above. If... if, WR Braylon Edwards can find his way back to the field by Opening Day, and #2 WR Joe Jurevicius can keep foes from rolling double-coverage Edwards' way, and QB Charlie Frye can get his pass catchers the ball, and RB Reuben Droughns punishes those defenders that elect to overlook the run, and... yeah, lots and lots of variables.
Assuming even half of the aforementioned come to fruition, Winslow plays faster than a Cheetah running on hot asphalt. If nothing else the dude is worth a late-round pick.

Who's Not? Finding a trio of Tight Ends who are poised to disappoint is not as easy as you might imagine. So I went with my top... or rather bottom, 2.

Packers, Bubba Franks: Although the Packers' dearth of pass catchers is well-documented Franks would still be a Tight End to avoid come draft day. Need a couple of sound reasons? Right-O! How 'bout Bubba's "hands of stone," trick knees, and the simple fact that Green Bay's O-Line is so flawed that the coaching staff prefers to keep Franks' at "home" in order to utilize his above-average blocking skills in order to keep QB Brett Favre... oh I dunno', ALIVE?
There are a number of better options out there; Indy's Dallas Clark, St. Louis' super-sleeper Joe Klopfenstein, Detroit's Marcus Pollard, and New Orleans' Zach Hilton should all be available via 'Wire.

Chiefs, Tony Gonzalez: "My God man!" you exclaim... "Gonzo's a Tight End I should avoid? You're as nutty as a 10 pound fruitcake!" you continue. If I recall, you were outraged that I listed Bear QB Rex Grossman as a solid sleeper QB... but I made a strong case for him, didn't I? So? just go with it and follow my logic!
So... it's not that I wouldn't draft the chief Chief pass catcher because as the 3rd or 4th best Tight End in Football Gonzo's (78/905/2) not without value, but given Kansas City's severely depleted Offensive Line, the club's shallow receiving corps (or to put it another way, when he breaks-off his blocking assignments and slides out for a pass he's going to be swarmed by hungry defenders), and the fact that the bruising RB Larry Johnson will spear-head a more run-heavy offense, I would see if I could snag Alge Crumpler (Vick's top target), Jason Witten (assuming everyone can co-exist, foes will have their hands full with T.O. and Glenn, leaving Witten in single-coverage), or Shock-Jock (Manning and Shockey have a rapport, and the Big Blue TE may be somewhat fragile but he fights for every ball and claws for every extra yard) first.
Frankly, Gonzalez has been subject to a lot of wear and tear, is coming off of a 2 TD season, and I don't see brighter days ahead with new coach Herm Edwards calling the shots. If you belong to a yardage league then Gonzo's value creeps up a bit... but I think a 950/5-8 season is probably the most an owner can hope for given KC's numerous woes... and that's probably an ambitious projection.

NEXT UP ... DEFENSES, 3 "HOT!" AND 3 "NOT!"

FANTASY FOOTBALL WIDE RECEIVERS, 3 HOT! & 3 NOT!

This week, I've been putting fantasy Football's skill position players under a narrow, 3-athlete wide 'scope.

Today, let's dissect 6 Wide Receivers!

Who's Hot? Pass catchers rarely impact rosters the way Running Backs do. Studs such as Steve Smith, Chad Johnson, "Marvelous Marvin," Larry Fitzgerald, and Torry Holt are rare gems; pass catchers capable of posting preposterous fantasy point totals on a week-in, week-out basis.
Owners are, however, fortunate in that a number of top-tier contributors will be ripe for the mid-round picking; Randy Moss, T.O (who is more likely a 3rd rounder predicated upon your leagues' depth), Anquan Boldin, and Roy Williams amongst them.


Ravens, Derrick Mason: Any number of receivers could head this list; Donte' Stallworth (assuming Drew Brees is healthy, RBs Saint Reggie and Deuce will keep defenders back on their heels and Stallworth, Joe Horn, and sleeper TE Zach Hilton will punish those coordinators who elect to focus upon the New Orleans run game), Kevin Curtis (slowly but surely, Curtis is supplanting Isaac Bruce as Torry Holt's wing-man), and Plaxico Burress (a maturing Mann' has a wealth of targets at his disposal), as a for-instance troika.
But the drafting of Reggie Bush has brought the 'Aints lots of publicity, and the signing of Drew Brees gives the O much more credibility. Curtis is part of a well-known aerial attack, and Burress plays for one of the singlemost visible franchises in the league.
But Derrick Mason (86/1,073/3) has fallen off many owners' radar due to the previously shoddy Raven QB play, and both he and Steve McNair once shared a fine rapport. Indeed, Mase' fondly remembers the Titans; he notched 37 receiving scores as "Air's" top target (McNair wasn't Mason's QB for all 37 TDs). Now that the pass and catch tandem has been reunited by Balty' coach Brian Billick... the hope is that the pair will pick up where they left off.
The Ravens have become known... feared, for a carnivorous defense spearheaded by both LB Ray Lewis and S Ed Reed. But McNair instantly renders the offense credible, something neither Kyle Boller nor predecessor Chris Redman were able to do, and with #2 receiver Mark Clayton, TE Todd Heap, and RB Jamal Lewis all offering above-average to elite level skills... the Defense will no longer be expected to carry the entire club.
Look for Mason to rapidly become Steve McNair's top target and a 1,200/8+ campaign should be within reach.

Dolphins, Chris Chambers: If they hadn't been before, virtually every fantasy owner became acquainted with Chris Chambers last season. The 'Phin blew-UP last year and recorded career highs for receptions with 82, receiving yards with 1,118, and matched his career mark with 11 TDs.
Just imagine the dizzying heights Chambers will be able to reach with Pro Bowl field General Daunte Culpepper over Center!
It's understood that C-Pepp' has much to prove; dude tore 3 of his 4 God-given knee liggies' and is still on the mend, he's got a nasty habit of fumbling, and was seemingly unable to succeed when Randy Moss was pine-lined with injuries of his own. However... and there's always that however, Culpepper is supported by a fine young back in Ronnie Brown (1,100+ total yards and 5 TDs), a rare if not troubled athlete in TE Randy McMichael (60/582/5), and an above-average #2 receiver in Marty Booker (averaged almost 18 YPC)
So long as the club isn't forced to award the QB duties to Detroit castoff Joey Harrington Chris Chambers, a tall, fast, fan-freakin'-tastic Red-Zone threat, amounts to a top-15 fantasy weapon. If everything comes together, I'd look for a season akin to 1,400/12-15.

Jaguars, Matt Jones: Matt Jones (36/432/5) might be viewed as a curious inclusion given the NFL's innumerable, more proven pass catching commodities... but this is a list of pass catchers you might be inclined to overlook, and by no means should "The Freak-thlete" be overlooked!
The unexpected retirement of WR Jimmy Smith, QB Byron Leftwich's highly productive and reliable go-to, has produced a vacuum. Although the club is publicly pushing Ernest Wilford (41/681/7) as Smith's heir-apparent, Jones is more likely to be the #1, Wilford the #2, and bringing up the rear? Former 1st round pick, Reggie Williams.
At 6-6 Jones is taller than every D-Back, at 245 pounds he's bulkier than the biggest Safeties, and Jones' measureables don't end there; the Cat' Wideout brings a stunning confluence of speed, short area quickness, vertical leap and soft-hands to the Jag' offense. Speaking of the Jag' offense, veteran RB Fred Taylor is recovering from a slight hamstring pull but should be ready to butt helmets come Opening Sunday, and rookie TE Mercedes Lewis is yet another towering (6-6/275) target.
With an ample arsenal, QB Byron Leftwich could be on the cusp of the season his coaches have been waiting for... and his top target will likely be the acrobatic leviathan, Matt Jones. Look for numbers approaching 900-1,000/8-10.

Who's Not? Will Randy Moss reclaim his Elite status with fallen Saint Aaron Brooks now donning the Black & Silver? Yeah, I think that he's healthy, he'll benefit from a powerful, sure-handed runner in LaMont Jordan, and with fellow Wideouts Jerry Porter, Doug Gabriel and Ronald Curry making life miserable for opposing secondaries... Moss should thrive. But what about some lesser lights?

Jets, LaVeranues Coles: A meal is only as good as the chef who prepared it, and an offense, like the chef's ingredients, is only as good as the Quarterback. I could bust-it down further and examine the head coach and Offensive Coordinator but you get the jist.
Although the party line is that "nothing is concrete," the Jets will more than likely enter the '06 season with Chad Pennington at the helm. The team brought in the stronger armed and younger Patrick Ramsey, but he's been unimpressive so far as has Brooks Bollinger, and despite the excitement rookie Kellen Clemens is as green as broccoli. But Gang-Green's troubles don't end with a spunky but ultimately weak-armed Pennington... oh no, far from it. The Offensive Line will feature 2 highly regarded but still inexperienced rookies in D'Brickashaw Ferguson and Nick Mangold, and the suspect rushing attack is just as daunting as the up in the air QB situation. With RB Curtis Martin slow to recover from a serious knee injury, it was revealed that he might not be back til' mid-season... if then. That leaves Derrick Blaylock (he's been nothing more than a 3 yards and a cloud o' dust runner), Cedric Houston (he's big at 6'/220, and is the more likely lead back should C-Mart miss considerable time or retire altogether), and rookie Leon Washington (great speed and fine hands, his dimunitive size 5-8/195 will force him into a 3rd down role) to alleviate the vise-like pressure opposing defenders will subject the Jet passing game to.
So with a Quarterback who is recovering from yet another shoulder surgery (and was never known for his arm strength when to begin with), a very iffy run game, and a pair of unproven complementary receivers in Jericcho Cotchery and Justin McCareins (please add both lazy and fragile to McCareins' blurb), Defensive Coordinators will devise schemes that put the clamps on LaVeranues Coles (who still insists upon spelling his 1st name incorrectly).

Chargers, Keenan McCardell: This, my fantasy friends, is a short story and for obvious reasons.
The 'Bolts, somewhat surprisingly, decided to part ways with proven Field General Drew Brees and instead, handed the keys to the kingdom to a promising but raw Philip Rivers.
Rivers will be forced to contend with several of the NFL's top defenses; Baltimore, Denver, Pittsburgh and Seattle are all on the Charger docket this season, and the young gun will have no easy go of it. In turn, the Charger coaching staff will be inclined to simplify the system for Rivers and subject RB LaDainian Tomlinson to an even heavier workload... and make no mistake, San D' has been using their bell-cow back in much the same way the then coach of the then Houston Oilers ground their then star Running Back, Earl Campbell, down to a nub before he was 30.
McCardell (70/917/9) will probably eclipse 60 receptions, though TE Antonio Gates is sure to be a favored outlet receiver, but it's unlikely the 15 year vet' will rack anything close to double-diggy' scores this year. A 65/850+/5 season would have to be viewed as a ringing success.

Packers, Donald Driver: And last but certainly not least on our "Not!" parade? cheese-wiz, Donald Driver.
Here again we have another cut and dried candidate. QB Brett Favre, aging, strong-armed but losing velocity, has exactly one credible pass catching threat; Driver. Sure, TE Bubba Franks will snare a few... but by no means will he jolt a defense into action. Nope', with the Packers trotting-out an Offensive Line that's as tight as a Fishnet Stocking and with RBs Ahman Green (dude was spent before he ruptured his quad') and Najeh Davenport each coming off serious injuries, foes will slide double... and even triple-coverage Drivers' way until either Robert Ferguson proves he can be a consistent threat or the club goes run-heavy and makes excellent use of Sam Gado.
Reports out of G-Bay camp have Favre pressing and throwing picks in bunches, again, and as I have written before... 1 hand can't clap. But alas, the truth of the matter is that this is an all-or-nothing selection!
The Pack' have a pretty soft schedule and it could be that Favre recoups his poise and refuses to be lured into foolish picks, either Green or Gado... or both force defenders to creep up closer to the line and leave Ferguson, rookie WR Greg Jennings, former Redskin Rod Gardner, and TE Bubba Franks room to roam after making the catch, and Driver puts up numbers that are within hailing distance of.... or even surpass his standout (86/1,221/5) '05. Still, I can't get around that suspect O-line, Ferguson's suspect health, a mighty questionable rushing attack, and an aging Brett Favre. I would be inclined to leave Driver to another owner.

NEXT UP... FANTASY FOOTBALL'S TIGHT ENDS, 3 "HOT!" & 3 "NOT!"

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

FANTASY FOOTBALL; QUARTERBACKS 3 HOT! & 3 NOT!

Every season, at least one prominent player slides... without any grace at all, into a great big vat of mediocrity. Last season, if Brett Favre and his 29 INTs didn't prove to be the poster-boy for this point then I don't know who was. That said, I believe the picks were more a manifestation of the gunslingin' QB trying to do far too much with way too little.
But what of Balty' back Jamal Lewis? What of QB Michael Vick? And what of TE Tony Gonzalez? Will Ronnie Brown flourish as the unquestioned feature with Ricky Williams now in Canada? Will Chris Simms make his daddy proud now that he's been handed the keys to Tampa's offense? And does Donald Driver, Brett Favre's only significant deep threat, possess any significant faantasy value

I'll break each of the skill positions down, but today let's take a look at Quarterbacks... "3 Hot!" and "3 Not!"

QUARTERBACKS... WHO'S HOT? It doesn't take a Rocket scientist to realize that Colt QB Peyton Manning is a prolific passer who stacks "6's" like Poker chips. Likewise it's understood that Cincy's wunderkind Signal Caller, c'Arson Palmer, will set the league a'fire... assuming he's healthy.

Bears, Rex Grossman: "Grossman!" you say/shout with rising emphasis on the "man" syllable? "You've already lost me!" an outraged you continues. "Bear" with me for another minute and pardon the cheap play on words. Sure, health and durability are issues for Grossman... but he's shown great flashes of talent and I am not suggesting that he be your top dog.
Yes, Grossman has started just 8 games over his 3 seasons, but Chi-town coaches and players alike are reportedly marvelling over Grossman's quick release, velocity, and poise. In conjunction with suspect durability, the Bears are a run-first and run-second squad. However, RB Cedric Benson's already got his left shoulder and elbow in a sling following a practice-pasting by LB Brian Urlacher and S Mike Brown, and Thomas Jones is on the "Physically Unable to Perform" list with a bum Hammy'.
At Rex Grossman's disposal are WRs Muhsin Muhammed (64/750/4), Mark Bradley (coach Lovie Smith feels Bradley's a "star in waiting"), Bernard Berrian (a legit' deep threat if healthy, Berrian's reportedly been making a strong push to be the club's #2 WR), and pass catching TE Desmond Clark.
If Grossman can just stay off the Training Table league observers feel that he's got the tools to be an above-average NFL Field General. Unless you belong to a remarkably deep league, Grossman should be on the Waiver Wire come Opening Weekend. Keep an eye on his pre-season performances and, assuming he performs in reasonable fashion, don't hesitate to pull the trigger and pick him up should you find yourself in need. Sexy Rexy should be considered a deep Sleeper.
S'all I'm sayin'!

Buccaneers, Chris Simms: Any potential Tampa Quarterback controversey was squashed when coach Jon Gruden allowed former starter Brian Griese to sign as a Free Agent with Chicago.
Griese fell to injury during Week 6 of last season, Simms assumed the starter's duties, and the club hasn't looked back. Over the span of his 12 games last year, Simms threw for 2,000+ yards with 10 scores and 7 INTs. Indeed, Gruden saw enough spark... enough of Chris' SuperBowl winning dad, Phil, to allow the more experienced Griese to flee.
Now, as the Buccs' unquestioned and unchallenged starter, the young lefty' offers lots of upside. Simms boasts great accuracy (61% last season), sound decision making skills, is bolstered by a rushing attack that has great promise in 2nd year star-in-the-making RB Cadillac Williams and his backup, the brutish Michael Pittman, and with a speed merchant in Joey Galloway (83/1,287/10), a bright, 3rd year talent in Michael Clayton (a fabulous rookie season gave way to a horrifying sophomore campaign, but Clayton's got skills), a savvy vet' in Ike Hilliard (averaged nearly 18 YPC), the HUGE David Boston (trying to reclaim his career), and a gifted TE in Alex Smith (a 6-4/260 receiver with soft hands and the ability to seperate), young master Simms has an embarrassment of pass catching riches at his beck and call.
With such talent and Gruden calling the plays, Simms should post tidy numbers... for a #2 fantasy QB this coming season.

Ravens, Steve McNair: The long-time Titan takes hold of Baltimore's offensive reigns and for the first time since Trent Dilfer jammed hands under Center, the forward pass will be more than just a diversion.
McNair, like Arizona's Kurt Warner, is a proven but fragile commodity. Pick an appendage any appendage, McNair's either injured it or injured it and had it operated upon. Still, the dude's as tough as naugehyde and will rekindle the rapport he enjoyed with WR Derrick Mason when both suited up for Tennessee. In addition, the club will be able to make lethal use of their super-elite TE, Todd Heap (75/855/7).
The club is hoping that the accurate McNair will help open a second offensive front, the rushing attack. RB Jamal Lewis's troubles can certainly be traced back to his jail-time and ankle injury, but an erratic Kyle Boller must also shoulder some blame. With Boller hardly able to connect the dots let alone with a receiver on the fly, opposing defenders regularly clogged the running lanes and drilled Lewis before he was able to get past the line of scrimmage.
The hope, and I believe it to be reasonable, is that "Air" McNair will open the entire offense up. If not, this will likely be coach Brian "The self-appointed Genius" Billick's last stand.

QUARTERBACKS... WHO'S NOT? There's nothing worse than drafting a Quarterback... only to see him crash and burn. Those who owned Brett Favre and Aaron Brooks last season know what I'm talking about. So, who should owners avoid like Ebola carrying monkeys this season?

Falcons, Mike Vick: Avoid Michael Vick? He's perhaps the leagues' most explosive player... Saint Reggie not withstanding. why shun a guy who racked 21 TDs (6 rushing) to just 13 INTs ?
Those who've owned or still own the Falc' Field General can tell you, Vick's fantasy's answer to the proverbial "box of chocolates." Frankly, you never know what yer' gonna' get. Will Vick throw for 220 yards, rush for 75, and record 3 scores... 2 of them coming on the ground? Or, will Vick bank a 145 passing yard, 30 rushing yard, 1 TD, 2 INT, 1 fumble day? Want diggies'? I'll give you diggies'; Vick threw for 200+ yards on just 4 occassions season, and recorded a scant 3 multiple passing score games (two games of 2 passing TDs, one 3 TD game).
Further impacting Vick's value is the fact that the versatile Signal Caller is entering the season with an already cranky Hamstring and isn't exactly built like a brick outhouse.
Bottom line? if you give Defensive Coordinators, bright guys all, enough time they'll solve any problem. The "Vick Dilemma" was solved by using rush Ends to flush Vick into the arms of a stay-at-home Linebacker. Atlanta has tried to pound a square peg into a round hole; by attempting to reinvent Mike Vick as a pocket passer the team robbed him of the qualities that make him so special. Not known for his accuracy (career 54.1%), coach Jim Mora has decided to allow Vick more freedom to improvise and utilize his speed and stop on a dime elusiveness.
Although Vick should be a credible #2 fantasy QB in scoring leagues, I'd let another owner fret over his durability and see-saw play.

Eagles, Donovan McNabb: Fab' 'Nabb (2,507/17/9 over 9 games) makes this list based more upon a depleted pass catching arsenal than any drop-off in ability. I won't go so far as to venture that McNabb and his flock are going to crash and burn, but outside of TE L.J. Smith (61/682/3) and the electric but smallish RB Brian Westbrook (1,200+ total yards and 7 scores), there's not a whole lot to get excited about. Reggie Brown found the End-Zone 4 times last season, Greg Lewis once, and Todd Pinkston didn't play, he missed all of '05 with a torn achilles. And what of 'Nabb himself? The Eag' tried to be the hero and play through the agony of a sports hernia. Sadly for McNabb owners, his season was over by Week 10.
Reports out of camp have the frequent Pro Bowler completely recovered from surgery, lighter, and tighter.
If there's any reason for enthusiasm it's that the Eagles are prepared to let McNabb run more often, and rushing TDs can only inflate Donovan's fantasy value. If... if human multi-tool Brian Westbrook can stay healthy and either Greg Lewis or Reggie Brown steps up BIG and becomes a serviceable deep threat... then McNabb will reclaim his place amongst the game's elite.
That disclaimer aside, I can't get past the lack of pass catchers and have concerns over McNabb's durability. Given the depth at the QB position, why not let another owner worry over 'Nabb's health and Philly's dearth of offensive weaponry.

Packers, Brett Favre: Sorry, I just don't see a renaissance season on the horizon. Make no mistake, I love Brett Favre as much as the next fan and I'm not heapin' a helpin' hatin' on the 'Pack Q'Back for no reason... but where, exactly, are the pass catchers? And who, exactly, will force opposing defenders think twice about dropping into help coverage... 'cause I firmly believe that RB Ahman Green is spent.
Much like D-Nabb', Favre's 29 pick horror-show of a season might be more reflective of the iffy supporting cast. But clearly, Brett's fastball has lost a few MPH and no matter the reason, fantasy is a "results-oriented" affair. The bottom line is that Donald Driver's (86/1,200+/5) a 1-man gang; #2 pass catcher Robert Ferguson's a big tease... a big fragile tease, and Rod Gardner is a big but slow target. Further complicating matters is a porous O-Line.
Packer backers are a fierce lot, defensive to the last fan... but even they concede that the G-Bay offense is in disarray. Favre's decision making was ghastly last season and it was obvious that he tried to put the entire club on his back. Apparently, things haven't improved much and according to team observers, Favre is still pressing and has been tossing picks in bunches thus far. Packer coaches are hoping for one of two possible outcomes; that the "old" RB Ahman Green (20 TDs in '03) resurfaces... or that Sam Gado proves to be more than a flash in the pan. A credible run game will help alleviate the considerable pressure being placed upon Favre's increasingly slumped shoulder-pads.
Bragging a flawed O-Line and without much hope for improvement on the offensive side of the ball... I would leave Favre, and EVERY G-Bay skill po' player, to another owner. Period.

TOMORROW, RUNNING BACKS, 3 "HOT!" AND 3 "NOT!"

Friday, August 04, 2006

FANTASY FOOTBALL'S TOP KICKERS! (yes, Kickers)

Although Peyton Manning may feel otherwise, Kickers deserve some respect. How many contests are won on last second Field Goals? How many pressure-filled Time-Outs have preceded game-winning Extra Points?

In Fantasy Football, a Kicker can be no less crucial. Sure, there's always a leg or two to be found on the Waiver Wire, but the top Kickers? those guys are capable of posting numbers that one would normally associate with a "Flex" or #3 Skill Position player! Of course, much depends upon the manner in which your league tallies points, but if your system rewards Touchbacks... versatile, strong-legged Kicker such as New York's Jay Feely and Arizona's Neil Rackers are potent fantasy weapons, indeed!

And with that "s'up playah' nod" to the lonely dude whose best bud' is a tee;

FANTASY FOOTBALL'S TOP KICKERS! (yes, Kickers)

1. Cardinals, Neil Rackers: Rackers' value formerly resided in the fact that the club simply couldn't put the ball across the 'stripe and into the End-Zone. It's all changed now, though, and reliable-Rackers, who made 40/42 FG attempts, nailed all 20 Extra Points (XPs), and set an NFL record for Field Goals (FGs) made last season, is at the back-end of a high-octane O.
Just turning 30, Rackers recorded 8 kicks of 48 or more yards last season with a long of 54. Dude's got plenty of leg.

2. Colts, Adam Vinatieri: No longer a Patriot, Vin' won't be exposed to New England's often blustery conditions. Accordingly, the cool-as-ice Kicker should thrive within Indy's cozy Home-Dome confines. Last season, Vinatieri was 40/45 for FGs (with a long of 49) and 40/41 for Point After Tries (PATs).
With the Colt offense adapting to life without their Edge', the O will likely go pass-heavy... and an added scoring burden just might fall upon Vinatieri's SuperBowl winning shoulders.

3. Bengals, Shayne Graham: Another high-powered offense, another high-powered leg. The 29 year-old Graham missed just 4 of his 32 FG tries and none of his 47 XPs. With the Beng' O just beginning to scratch the surface of its vast potential, Graham could even improve upon an excellent '05 campaign.
**Note: The good news is that Carson Palmer is said to be moving effortlessly and isn't even wearing a brace, just a smallish knee pad. Still, if that trick knee should trouble him and the club is forced to go to backup QB Anthony Wright for any appreciable duration, Graham's value will skyrocket.

4. Cowboys, Mike Vanderjagt: Much like Indy's Adam Vinatieri, Mike Vanderjagt, an elite Kicker, changed unis' this off-season. Now suiting-up for "The Tuna," Vandy' would do well to keep his opinions to himself and his mind on the field of play. Going by his record, if the 'Pokes new Kicker can do that much... Dallas will be in fine shape. In his last season as a member of Tony Dungy's Colts, Vanderjagt converted all 52 XPs and 23 of 25 FG tries.
While his new new employer's offense doesn't quite stack-up to that of his last, the Cowboys should still hang plenty of points and Vanderjagt should continue to sport one of the NFL's most accurate legs; his career average for FG tries is 87.5% and his PAT average is an eye-popping 99.4%.
That said, at 36 it's not inconceivable that he could lose a bit of leg strength.

5. Rams, Jeff Wilkins: If there's any benefit to playing for a franchise that boasts an elite offense but a largely fictitious defense it's that you're bound to see an abundance of Kicking opportunities. And sure enough, that was Wilkins' lot last season.
As good a Kicker as you'll find anywhere in the league, Jeff Wilkins reliably dots the I on St. Louis' offensive circus. The Ram tough Special Teamer was good on 27/31 FG attempts and converted all 36 PATs. Bragging above-average leg strength, he crushed 9 of 11 kicks of 40-49 yards and all but 1 of his 5 tries of 50 yards or greater.
This coming season the Ram offensive philosophy is slated to change, and if the club does follow through on it's plan to better utilize bruising Running Back Steven Jackson... then Wilkins just might see a slight downward correction in his fantasy point totals. Still, look for the St. Loo' leg to remain amongst the games' most elite.

6. Giants, Jay Feely: In his first season as a member of Tom Coughlin's band of Big Blue Football brothers (prior to coming to NY, Feely was a Falcon) Feely put 35 of 42 Field Goal tries and all 43 Extra Point attempts through the uprights.
If you're looking for a Kicker capable of booting the ball a country mile, the G-Man drilled 8/10 from 40-49 yards, and was 3/5 on kicks of 50 yards or greater. With QB Eli Manning sure to improve, the 30 year-old Kicker will certainly retain his value... and might even see an uptick in fantasy value.

7. Broncos, Jason Elam: Jason Elam has been getting it done for more than a decade now, and Denver's rare mile-high air certainly helps put a bit more "loft" beneath his kicks. Long in the tooth, Elam's one of those guys who could see his stock plummet precipitously if age catches up with him within the span of a single off-season as it has for so many former athletes.
Accurate on 24 of 32 FGs and 43 of 44 XPs last season, the Broncs' value could even buoy slightly (he'll handle Kickoff duties) since he's the likely fill-in for a suspended Todd Sauerbrun. Naturally, it's all predicated upon whether or not your league awards points for Touchbacks.

8. Seahawks, Josh Brown: Just as Jeff Wilkins has benefitted from playing within the incredibly productive Ram passing game, Brown has reaped the rewards of being RB Shaun Alexander's extra-point posting Caddy. In addition, the 'Hawks' steady as a rock Signal Caller, Matt Hasselbeck, and the knee-deep receiving corps also serve to bolster Brown's fantasy value. With RB Shaun-A's multi-score games come multi-score games for Brown... it's a tit-for tat dynamic and one of the few in life that you can actually enjoy.
Josh Brown's Field Goal accuracy vacillated a bit (18/25), but he's virtually automatic from "39 yards and in" (he missed just 1 kick), and after drilling 5 of 8 from distance (50+ yards) Brown can assuredly boom it. After going 56 for 57, Brown was virtually automatic on Extra Point tries as well.
The club did lose the SuperBowl and how they respond to the defeat remains to be seen, but the loaded offense should continue to stack 6's like Wonder stacks white Bread.

9. Chargers, Nate Kaeding: Entering just his 3rd pro season, the 'Bolt booter should be considered a top fantasy weapon... and I ain't "keeding."
Nate was great on all 49 PATs and missed just 3 of his 24 Field Goal opps'. Why so few FGs? Same reason as C-Hawk Josh Brown; an accomplished offense and a time-eating Running Back, Ladainian Tomlinson.
It should be noted that Kaeding was 3 of 5 from 50+.

10. Eagles, David Akers: Akers missed a chunk of the mid-season due to injury, but once he returned the Eag' kicking game was back in capable hands. "The Akers" banked 16 of 22 FGs (4 of those misses came on tried of 41+ yards) and was 23 for 23 on FG tries.
This season the Philly' O is in a bit of flux; no T.O., no clear-cut #1 pass catcher, and a gifted, versatile feature back in Brian Westbrook whose durability remains a concern. Look for an uptick in FG tries for this late-round fantasy draft pick as he's bound to notch several big games while playing against the big boys of the NFC East.
*NOTE: According to Internet sources, Akers hit a 65 yard Field Goal attempt in practice on Sunday... no lack of oomph' there!

11. Chiefs, Lawrence Tynes: Although he's 28, Tynes has just 2 pro seasons under his belt. Hailing from Scotland, "Larry" (to friends) looks a helluva' lot like a suhweet' fantasy commodity. The Chief hit 4/8 from 40+, 2/3 from 50+, and missed just 1 of his 45 XP attempts last season.
With RB Larry Johnson grabbing hold of the offense's reigns and the passing game iffy at best, the club could turn to the 3rd year Kicker more frequently than it did over his first 2 seasons. And given what K.C. has seen out of Tynes (or Larry, if we were friendlier) thus far this pre-season... new coach Herm Edwards will be just fine with that.
Consider Tynes a bit of a "sleeper" amongst Kickers. While he's by no means an "unknown," other owners might not be aware of his considerable upside.

12. Steelers, Jeff Reed: Reed's club regularly plays in unfavorable weather conditions and those inclement games clearly manifest themselves in his numbers.
His accuracy can't be questioned as he put all 45 PATs into place... that is, right between the big yellow posts, but Reed missed 5/11 FG tries; he was 6/9 from 40+ and 0/2 from distance.
With short yardage/G-Line specialist Jerome Bettis and do-it-all pass catcher Antwaan Randle El relegated to mere memory, the club is left with swift RB Willie Parker (who is not going to shift the pile), a talented but to date disappointing #2 pass catcher in Cedrick Wilson, and a rookie in #3 Santonio Holmes. The Steelers are bound to lean more heavily upon Reed than they did last season.
Solid? Certainly, spectacular? Not. Look for some incremental improvement from Jeff Reed, he should be a credible frontline fantasy leg this season.

AND THERE YOU HAVE IT, THE NFL'S TOP-12 KICKERS!
While you may disagree with the seeding(s), or have Raven Matt Stover (with McNair at the helm the Ravens should be far more dangerous offensively) and/or Raiduh' Sebastian Janikowski (another rock-solid fantasy Kicker, newcomer Aaron Brooks renders the pasing game far more lethal than "deer-in-the-headlights Kerry Collins) on your list, each of the above 12 should help guide an owner to Roto-glory. That said, there are at least another half-dozen Kickers worth your time, with the above 2 heading that list. Likewise, don't hesitate to comb the 'Wire for a Kicker should yours disappoint. Last season, I pulled Jeff Wilkins AND Jay Feely off o' my 12-team leagues' discard pile... and helped ride them to 1st and 2nd place finishes.