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!

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