Monthly Archives: July 2009

FR: Prima Donnas

Per Carl’s idea, we thought we’d use Football Relativity to compare the biggest Prima Donnas in the NFL. We’ll do this on a 10-point scale, with 10 being the prima-est of the donnas and 1 being a guy just barely worth mentioning with this topic. If you think we missed anyone, leave a comment and we’ll update the post. Enjoy!

10 – WR Chad Ochocinco, Bengals – Endzone celebrations. Holdouts. And now a new name. Is there any doubt that Ochocinco is the ultimate prima donna in the NFL right now? At a position so full of prima donnas that we sometimes call them diva receivas, Ochocinco consistently finds new paths to prima donna-dom.

9 – QB Brett Favre, retired? – Will he? Won’t he? For what seems like five years now, we’ve spent offseasons wondering if Brett Favre will come back. We have to assume at this point that Favre wouldn’t be doing this same old song and dance if he didn’t relish the attention. And relishing the attention is entry one under the definition of a prima donna.

8 – WR Terrell Owens, Bills – Aside from his many antics, this alone is proof of T.O.’s prima donna nature – he has his own reality show. No other NFL player does. But until he becomes Terrell Ochouno, he won’t surpass Ochocinco.

7 – Executive Bill Parcells, Dolphins – Before Favre took over, Parcells had the patent on the will-he-or-won’t-he routine in the NFL. Maybe he wanted out because he wanted to buy the groceries. Maybe he wanted out for more money. But Parcells seems to like to have his name in the headlines – as long as he can control why it’s in there.

6 – none

5 – Head coach Josh McDaniels, Broncos – We’ve talked at length about McDaniels here on the blog – start here and work your way back for a review – so it will suffice here to say that McDaniels’ arrogant grandstanding in both the Jay Cutler situation and now in the Brandon Marshall tete-a-tete qualifies him as a prima donna. He’s probably the leading prima donna among coaches now, although Bill Parcells probably is the career leader in this category among coaches.

4 – WR DeSean Jackson, Eagles – Because Jackson is just a rookie, he could still move up this scale or off of it soon. But for now, the memory of Jackson’s TD celebration turned pre-goalline fumble (which was not the first time for him) is burned in our minds enough to make DeJax an entry on this list.

3- Jets head coach Rex Ryan and Dolphins LB Channing Crowder – The war of words these two opponents had during the offseason wasn’t really bad blood; it was more like prima donna chest-thumping and braggadocio. That makes them a joint entry on this list; they’ll move WAY up it if the words turn into some kind of confrontation in the first Jets/Fins game this year.

2- RB Larry Johnson, Chiefs – It always seems like Johnson is complaining about not getting enough attention or not getting enough carries or something else. (Dick Vermeil was so annoyed by this that he once had to tell Johnson to “take the diapers off.”) He’s also had some legal problems, which shouldn’t factor into this list. For some reason, Johnson seems like the biggest prima donna of the superstar running backs (or of RBs who used to be stars). That’s why we included him.

1 – LB Ray Lewis, Ravens – Lewis is a hard worker, a team leader, and a true superstar on the field. He only gets a mention on this list because of the dance he does during pre-game intros each week. That dance is prima donna, but nothing else about Lewis is. So we’ll mention him and move on.

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Get well soon, Kenechi

Vikings DE Kenechi Udeze retired Wednesday. Here are some thoughts on his career; you can see how his on-field career compares to other 2009 retirees in this still-growing post.

Udeze, a former first-round pick out of USC, played just three full seasons with Minnesota, all as a starter, and had just 11 career sacks. His career was cut short by leukemia, which caused him to sit out in 2008 and then to retire after a comeback attempt just before training camps started in 2009. It’s sad to see a career cut short by cancer like this, but if a football career is all Udeze loses in this battle, that’s still a win in the broad view.

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Is this the end?

The Brett Favre song and dance stopped Tuesday when Favre told the Vikings that he wouldn’t be coming out of retirement. We’ve seen enough back and forth from Favre that it’s still tempting to see this as a pause and not a full halt. But for now, we wanted to take a moment to consider where this leaves the Vikings.

Tarvaris Jackson is a talent, without question. So is Sage Rosenfels, actually. The problem with both players is their tendency to make mistakes. (More details here.) But these guys are not terrible, and they are good enough to get the Vikes to the playoffs. The question is whether they’ll be able in the postseason to avoid the killer mistake. Jackson wasn’t last year vs. the Eagles. But given the way Favre played down the stretch for the Jets last year, I think the Vikings are actually in about the same place postseason-wise. Favre was a mistake-maker too, as overtime of the NFC Championship 2 years ago showed.

Favre’s absence does not kill the Vikings. This is still a dangerous team. And if Jackson develops, then Minnesota will be far happier in the long run. Personally, I’d rather risk on Jackson taking a step forward – as he did in the last four games of the regular season last year – than on Favre holding off deterioration one more year. But that’s just the contrarian in me. Whether you’re a contrarian or not, though, you have to hope the Vikings finally turn the page on Favre.

**

Before we sign off, a brief word of grief for the passing of Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Johnson. He leaves a great legacy of attacking defenses in Philly. He deserves better than to be an afterthought on another of Favre’s day, but we wanted to remember Johnson here.

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Fantasy Football: Which ’08 busts should you trust?

As we continue our fantasy football coverage, I looked back at my top-100 list from last year. I looked at the guys who were busts last year, and thought it would be interesting to see which of these guys looks to be most trustworthy as a fantasy option in ’09. We’ll do this with a relativity poll, with 10 being the most trustworthy and 1 being a guy to completely ignore. We’ll indicate in each entry where you should consider drafting each player.

As always, before we begin, you can find all of our other fantasy football coverage on the blog by using our fantasy football category tag. In addition, the search feature on the right of each page will help you find info and commentary on individual players quickly.

10 – RB Ryan Grant, Packers – Grant, who was rated as a borderline first-round pick in fantasy leagues last year, had a horrific start because of a contract holdout and then some nagging injuries. But he played all 16 games and ran for 1,200 yards. His low touchdown total (5) and the fact that he failed to break the 100-yard mark in a game until week 7 is what impeded his fantasy value. While Grant isn’t among the elite fantasy backs this year, he’s a good option to be a starting back. He should be on your radar once the top 20 picks are off the board.

9- none

8 – WR Marques Colston, Saints – Colston, who had more than 1,000 yards in both of his first two seasons, was considered a No. 1 fantasy receiver going into the ’08 season. But a broken finger sidelined Colston for five games last year, and he finished with just 47 catches. He turned those catches into 760 numbers and five touchdowns, which are good totals given that number of receptions, but he was not the clear No. 1 target in New Orleans’ offense. While some expect Colston to bounce right back to an elite level, he looks more like a good No. 2 fantasy receiver than a guy you want to build your team’s receiving corps around. The hunch here is that Lance Moore and Colston will have fairly equal fantasy value, instead of Colston being clearly more potent. That’s lower than many experts rate Colston, so take this as a small word of caution against letting his stock artificially inflate.

*This is the break between surefire every-week starters and flex options

7 – RB Joseph Addai, Colts – Addai, who cracked the 1,000-yard mark in his first two NFL seasons, and who had a monstrous 15 touchdowns in 2007, struggled last year, gaining just 544 rushing yards and scoring seven touchdowns in the 12 games he played. That return didn’t merit the top-10 status Addai had entering the year. In fact, Dominic Rhodes ended up being just as good an option from the Colts as Addai was. Rhodes is no longer in Indy, but now Addai must contend with rookie Donald Brown, the Colts’ first-round pick. That’s a major red flag on Addai’s fantasy value. Addai is only marginally more valuable in fantasy leagues than Brown is, which means that both guys are more No. 3 backs and/or flex options than traditional starters in fantasy leagues. Be careful where you rate Addai going into your draft.

6 – WR Chad Ochocinco, Bengals – The artist formerly known as Chad Johnson had been a reliable fantasy option from 2002 to ’07, delivering numbers worthy of a No. 1 fantasy wideout in five of those seasons, before falling apart last year with just 540 yards and four touchdowns in 13 games. Granted, he played much of the year with below-average backup Ryan Fitzpatrick instead of Carson Palmer, but Ochocinco’s preparation and focus was also a problem. Plus, at this point you have to wonder whether Ochocinco, in his ninth year, is starting to decline physically. With all those questions, it’s wiser to have Ochocinco as your third fantasy wideout instead of as a No. 2. He’s still worth starting in most leagues, and if you draft him late enough he still has upside, but rely heavily on him at your own peril.

*This is the break between regular starters and spot starters/backups

5 – RB Rashard Mendenhall, Steelers – Mendenhall, the Steelers’ first-round pick in 2008, had just 19 carries in four games before he fractured his shoulder, which ended his season. That presented a problem for fantasy owners who envisioned him sharing carries with Willie Parker and even seizing goal-line opportunities from Fast Willie. But just because Mendenhall missed time last year, don’t overlook him in your fantasy preparation this year. Parker is a year older, so the door is cracked for Mendenhall to step in and find a role. He could easily be a 500-yard, 5-touchdown guy, which makes him a good backup. And if Parker were to miss some time, Mendenhall would immediately be a fantasy starter. If you can get Mendenhall as your first backup runner, do it and don’t look back.

4- RB Earnest Graham, Buccaneers – Graham broke out of obscurity in 2007 with 1,200 total yards and 10 touchdowns, and he looked to be a starting-caliber fantasy back entering the ’08 season. But injuries limited him to 10 games, and he totaled just 737 total yards and four touchdowns in those 10 games. Now Graham will split carries with import Derrick Ward. When it comes to fantasy, Ward, not Graham, is the Buc back you want this year. Graham is no more than a fantasy backup who is worth having around as a spot starter who could become a starter were Ward to get hurt. But he’s simply not a guy whom you can count on for your starting lineup this year.

4 (con’t) – QB Matt Hasselbeck, Seahawks – Hasselbeck has been a solid if not unspectacular fantasy option for most of his time in Seattle, but last year his stock bottomed out as he played just seven games and threw just five touchdowns. His injuries, plus a ridiculous spate of injuries to the receiving corps, made him a fantasy bust in ’08. But Hasselbeck’s stock should bounce back this year, now that he’s healthy and the Seahawks have a No. 1 caliber receiver in T.J. Houshmandzedah. Hasselbeck isn’t a top-level fantasy starter, but if he’s one of two QBs you play matchups with on a week to week basis, he could deliver nice numbers for you.

3 – none

*This is the break between draftable players and undraftable players

2 – WR Chris Chambers, Chargers – Last year I considered Chambers a sleeper who could emerge as a true No. 1 receiver. Instead, it was Vincent Jackson who emerged in San Diego, while Chambers had 33 catches for 462 yards and five touchdowns. Those numbers sound high for Chambers, in part because all five TDs came in the first five games, and then he was useless from a fantasy perspective. I expect that uselessness to continue in ’09, and as a result I consider Chambers undraftable.

1 – RB Laurence Maroney, Patriots – Fantasy owners have been waiting on Maroney to emerge ever since the Patriots made him a first-round pick in 2007. But after two middling fantasy seasons, Maroney completely disappeared last year, playing just three games and rushing for just 93 yards. While Maroney should be healthy again, he’s not a fantasy option in 2009. Fred Taylor and underrated holdovers Sammy Morris and Kevin Faulk are around to take carries, which leaves Maroney as a sleeper. His fantasy value would only go up if Taylor got hurt or if Maroney got cut and landed somewhere with much less RB depth. All that said, stay away from Maroney in your drafts this year.

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Post-draft trades

Here’s a rundown and comparison of all trades in the NFL from the ’09 draft until the beginning of training camps. If you want to examine the offseason trades before the draft, check out this post.

(Note: None of these trades would have rated above a 2 on the previous trades post. So take all these with a grain of salt.)

10 – Jaguars trade WR Dennis Northcutt to Lions for S Gerald Alexander
The Jaguars ostensibly completed their overhaul of their receiving corps by exporting Northcutt to Detroit in exchange for Alexander. Northcutt, one of Jacksonville’s two high-dollar receiver signings last offseason, had a decent year in ’08 (44 catches, 545 yards), but now he is gone, as are Matt Jones and Reggie Williams. Addition Torry Holt will have to carry the leadership role for the Jags’ wideouts, and youngsters like Mike Walker and ’09 draftees Mike Thomas and Jarett Dillard. In Detroit, Northcutt could be a starter opposite Calvin Johnson if he beats out fellow vets like Ronald Curry, Bryant Johnson, and Keary Colbert and rookie Derrick Williams. Alexander started 16 games in ’07 and the first five in ’08 before getting hurt. But despite being a second-round pick, he was not going to beat out Louis Delmas for a starting role this year. He figures in as a backup/rotation player with upside in Jax.

9 – none

8 – none

7 – none

6 – none

5 – Lions trade WR Ronald Curry to Rams for DT Orien Harris
Both teams parted with offseason acquisitions in this trade. For the Rams, Curry is a veteran presence who can supplement Donnie Avery and a bunch of other especially inexperienced receivers as they try to replace Torry Holt and Drew Bennett. Health has been Curry’s biggest problem, but he has good size and has shown ability in the past. The Lions could afford to deal Curry after acquiring Northcutt. Harris, whom the Rams acquired from the Bengals (see below), isn’t a worldbeater, but he’s good enough to be a rotation defensive tackle in a 4-3. He should make the Lions’ roster, which is something that was no surety for Curry after the Northcutt trade.

4 – Buccaneers trade TE Alex Smith to Patriots for 2010 fifth-round draft pick
Smith is a decent receiving tight end who never established himself in Tampa but did have some moments. But after the acquisition of Kellen Winslow, the Bucs didn’t have much room (or much use) for Smith. So they dealt him to recover a fifth-round pick from what they paid for Winslow. He goes to New England, which is stocked at tight end with Benjamin Watson, Chris Baker, and David Thomas. But none of those guys are world-beaters, so if Smith takes to the Pats’ offense, he could help there.

3 – none

2 – none

1 – Rams trade RB Brian Leonard to Bengals for DT Orien Harris
Leonard was a second-round pick just two years ago after a strong career as a ball-carrying fullback at Rutgers. He had a decent rookie year with the Rams but fell off the radar as a sophomore last year. Still, he’s a good enough prospect for Cincinnati to take a shot, especially since they have little depth behind Cedric Benson, who hasn’t proven himself as a dependable full-time back. In exchange, the Bengals gave up Harris, who is now onto his sixth team in four years. A few months later, the Rams sent Harris to his seventh team. It’s clear the new Rams regime didn’t have plans for Leonard and just wanted to get a roster-ready guy in exchange — the guy just ended up being Ronald Curry, not Harris.

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Bennett to Baltimore … to retirement

The Ravens filled the need for a veteran wideout – a spot vacated by the retirement of Derrick Mason – by signing Drew Bennett. Then Bennett retired himself. Here are some thoughts about the move; we’ll compare it to other training-camp additions in an upcoming post.

The Ravens need an experienced, reliable receiver to fill in the gap left by Derrick Mason’s retirement, and their original solution was to ink ex-Titan and ex-Ram Bennett to a one-year, minimum-salary deal. Bennett had one fantastic year in Tennessee back in 2004, and he was productive in the two following years as well. But after signing a mega-deal in St. Louis, Bennett was hamstrung by injuries and ended up with just 34 catches in two years. Had he been healthy, Bennett would have provided at least a competent vet who will provide some assurance to an offense that would have otherwise had to rely solely on Mark Clayton and Demetrius Williams. But Bennett was not healthy, and after just a day of workouts, he retired. The Ravens aren’t out any money, but they still need a veteran receiver to help Clayton and Williams. Bennett, meanwhile, retires as a solid NFL starter who had some disappointments but some high points as well. That’s not a bad legacy to leave.

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Fantasy Football: Players on the Move

This post is dedicated to assessing the fantasy value of players who have moved to new teams in the offseason. With these players, we’ll decide whether their numbers will rise, sink, or float (stay the same). If I forgot anyone, let me know and we’ll include them in comments.

We’ve already delved into the fantasy futures of several moving players at the top of the draft board. Here’s some linkage you can use to read about…

WRs Terrell Owens and T.J. Houshmandzedah are discussed here
TEs Tony Gonzalez and Kellen Winslow are discussed here
QB Matt Cassel and RB Derrick Ward is discussed here
And every pertinent fantasy rookie is discussed here
Outside of Football Relativity, this site is a good list of all fantasy-relevant free-agent movement

For all of our fantasy football coverage, click on the fantasy football category here on Football Relativity.

QB Jay Cutler, Bears – Cutler finally came into his own, at least from a fantasy perspective last year. He posted 4,256 passing yards and 25 touchdowns, with 2 rushing touchdowns thrown in as a bonus. Now that he’s in Chicago, those numbers can’t stay the same. He simply doesn’t have the same weapons in Chicago that he had in Denver. While Chicago’s tight ends, Greg Olsen and Desmond Clark, are above average, the receiving corps is not. Maybe Cutler’s old college teammate Earl Bennett will emerge, and maybe return guru Devin Hester continues to develop as a receiver and becomes a true No. 1. But there aren’t enough targets there for Cutler to throw for 4,000 yards again. So Cutler’s fantasy numbers will sink to the point that he looks much, much better as a backup with upside than he would as a guy you’re depending on to start in your lineup. Verdict: Sink

QB Byron Leftwich, Buccaneers – Leftwich rebuilt his reputation, which had been tarnished as he lost starting jobs in Jacksonville and then Atlanta, by serving as a backup in Pittsburgh and filling in well in spot duty a couple of times. He looks to be the opening day starter in Tampa, but don’t bank too much on that. The Bucs like Luke McCown and gave him a decent offseason contract, and at some point rookie Josh Freeman will get a look – the question is how long that look will be. Leftwich is a marginal fantasy backup who likely won’t surpass 20 touchdown passes. So take this rise with three grains of salt. Verdict: Rise

QB Kyle Orton, Broncos – Amidst all the attention paid to Cutler’s move to Chicago, we tend to overlook Orton’s new home in Denver. Orton actually had a decent year in Chicago last year when he finally established himself as a starter for the first time since his extended rookie-year fill-in performance. He threw for almost 2,900 yards and 18 touchdowns (with three rushing TDs thrown in) despite having an extremely laughable cast of receivers. He’ll have better targets in Denver, from Brandon Marshall to Eddie Royal to Tony Scheffler. If Marshall leaves, this recommendation loses its punch, but for now Orton could near a top-15 quarterback status and could actually outperform Cutler from a fantasy standpoint. Verdict: Rise

RB Correll Buckhalter, Broncos – Buckhalter had been a backup in Philly since 2001, and despite some repeated injuries that halted his career, he emerged as a solid backup and fill-in for Brian Westbrook. Last year, he had almost 700 yards from scrimmage and a total of four touchdowns. In Denver, he looks to be the main backup to rookie Knowshon Moreno. Watching the system that new Broncos coach Josh McDaniels used in New England, you would guess that he would use more than one back, which could open the door to Buckhalter. Moreno’s far and away better, and he’s likely going to be a fantasy stud, but it’s still going to be possible for Buckhalter to repeat his ’08 performance in his new home. Verdict: Float

RB Maurice Morris, Lions – Like Buckhalter, Morris was a long-time backup (he had been in Seattle since 2002) who used free agency to break free. Morris looks to be the main backup to Kevin Smith now in Detroit. While Morris never had a great season, he had at least 500 rushing yards in each of the last three seasons. He scored two touchdowns last year as well, both as a receiver not a rusher. Morris is no starter, as he proved when he couldn’t usurp Julius Jones in Seattle, but he’s not a terrible backup. Still, behind a rebuilding Detroit offensive line, it’s hard to see Morris reaching 500 yards for a fourth straight season. Verdict: Sink

RB Dominic Rhodes, Bills – The Bills added Rhodes, who had a renaissance in Indy last year, after they found out that Marshawn Lynch was going to be suspended for three games to open the season. But don’t overvalue Rhodes because of that. Fred Jackson, not Rhodes, still looks to be Lynch’s No. 1 backup and early-season replacement. And remember too that Rhodes was not productive in his only other season away from Indy, a forgettable ’07 campaign in Oakland. There’s no way Rhodes nears his totals of 840 combined yards and 9 touchdowns from ’08. Verdict: Sink

RB Fred Taylor, Patriots – Taylor spent 11 years in Jacksonville and is probably the Jaguar franchise’s greatest player ever. He has more than 11,000 career yards, and has had seven 1,000 yard seasons. But last year, as Maurice Jones-Drew emerged as a true star, Taylor lost carries, and he ended up with 556 rushing yards and just one touchdown. In New England, Taylor will share carries again, but he certainly should get more chances than he had last year in Jacksonville. Don’t expect too much, but closer to 700 yards and 3-4 touchdowns is a reasonable projection for Taylor. Verdict: Rise

RB Leonard Weaver, Eagles – Weaver is kind of an unsung guy, but he had carved out a role as a fullback and short-yardage guy with the Seahawks. He moves to a similar offense in Philly, where Weaver should share the backfield often with Brian Westbrook. Weaver’s numbers – 250 total yards with two touchdowns – aren’t a fantasy factor, but if you’re looking for a emergency fill-in (and it has to be a major emergency), Weaver will be on the field enough that he could grab a cheap touchdown. Verdict: Float

RB Jason Wright, Cardinals – With Cleveland, Wright was a fantasy sleeper last year after a sneakily productive 2007 season, but he never got many chances behind Jamal Lewis last year. Wright ended up with less than 250 total yards from scrimmage and just one touchdown. In Arizona, his role will be the third-down role that J.J. Arrington held last season. Rookie Beanie Wells and Tim Hightower won’t give Wright many carries, but the fact that Wright has 20 catches in each of the last two years shows that he has at least a little value. Don’t expect too much, but in mega-sized leagues Wright belongs on your draft board. Verdict: Float

WR Laveranues Coles, Bengals – Coles, who was a long-time contributor with the Jets and the Redskins, moves to Cincinnati this year to replace T.J. Houshmandzedah as Chad Ochocinco’s running mate. While Coles is a vet, he’s still pretty productive – he had 70 catches for 850 yards and 7 touchdowns last year. Those numbers will be hard to match in Cincinnati, given Ochocinco’s presence. But Houshmandzedah always had good fantasy numbers, and that means that Coles has an opening. His numbers will dip a little, but he’s still a borderline fantasy starter in all but the smallest leagues. Verdict: Sink

WR Ronald Curry, Rams – Curry has loads of talent and potential, and the former college quarterback (and point guard) had three 50-catch seasons in Oakland. Now he’s in St. Louis, after signing with Detroit and then being traded to the Gateway City. Curry had just 19 catches for 181 yards and two touchdowns last year, and in St. Louis he looks to be a starter, which can’t help but increase his fantasy value. So while Curry isn’t going to go much past 40 catches in a moribund offense (or maybe even 30), his fantasy numbers were buoyed by his late-July trade. Verdict: Rise

WR Bobby Engram, Chiefs – Engram is an underappreciated receiver, but over his 13-year career he has 645 total catches and 79 touchdowns. After a huge ’07 campaign in Seattle, injuries limited in 2008 to 47 catches for 489 yards, and he didn’t score. Now he moves to Kansas City, where he looks to be a solid third-down option for Matt Cassel. Dwayne Bowe and the emerging Mark Bradley are still above Engram in K.C.’s pecking order, but Engram should find a nice role with the Chiefs. His catch numbers will decline, but he’ll get in the end zone a time or two to create equilibrium in his fantasy numbers. Verdict: Float

WR Jabar Gaffney, Broncos – Gaffney, who never realized his potential as a second-round draft pick in Houston, carved out a solid role as a third receiver in New England. He surpassed 35 catches and 400 yards in each of the last two seasons, combining for seven touchdowns in those two seasons. Now he moves with former Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels to Denver, and it appears that Gaffney will have a similar role in Denver to the one he had in New England. While Gaffney is good enough to carve out a role behind Brandon Marshall and Eddie Royal, his quarterback isn’t good enough to keep Gaffney’s numbers at the same level. Unless Marshall leaves Denver or holds out, Gaffney’s catch total is bound for the 20s, not the 30s. Verdict: Sink

WR Joey Galloway, Patriots – Galloway has played 14 years, but last season broke his string of three straight 1,000-yard campaigns. But last year, because of injuries, he had just 13 catches for 138 yards. Those numbers are bound to go up now that he’s in New England; the question is how much. Randy Moss and Wes Welker are still the top dogs among New England’s receiving corps, and Greg Lewis will make a few big plays, but Galloway should eventually establish himself in three-receiver sets and end up replicating what Jabar Gaffney brought to the Patriots over the past two years – 35 catches, 400-plus yards, and 3-4 touchdowns. Verdict: Rise

WR Torry Holt, Jaguars – After a Hall-of-Fame caliber career in St. Louis, Holt moves to Jacksonville to lead a young (check that; it’s a preemie) receiver corps in Jacksonville. With Mike Walker and three rookies as his competition, Holt is the unquestioned alpha dog in Jacksonville. So the question is whether Holt can match his ’08 numbers – 64 catches, 796 yards, and three TDs – in his new home. It’s hard to project more from Holt, but similar numbers are achievable. Holt is now a No. 3 receiver in most leagues, so don’t overrate him, but don’t be scared to consider him useful. Verdict: Float

WR Bryant Johnson, Lions – The Lions added Johnson and Dennis Northcutt (and for a while, Ronald Curry) in an effort to find a running mate for Calvin Johnson. Bryant Johnson, who never really lived up to his billing as a first-round pick back in Arizona, still has had between 40 and 49 catches in each of the last five seasons. That seems about right for him in Detroit, but with a rookie quarterback looking to get most of the snaps this season, Johnson’s other numbers – 546 yards and three touchdowns – seem a little high. Something like 40-400-2 looks right, and that’s enough of a dip that we need to note it. Verdict: Sink

WR Greg Lewis, Patriots – Lewis is no better than the fourth receiver in New England, which is similar to the role he ended up with in Philly. Lewis is the kind of player who will break open deep every third game and catch two of those three bombs. That’s not going to be enough to give him fantasy relevance in ’09 unless Randy Moss gets hurt. Lewis had 19 catches for 247 yards and a touchdown last year, and he’ll be hard pressed to even match those catch and yardage totals this year. Verdict: Sink

WR Brandon Lloyd, Broncos – Lloyd is on his fourth team, moving on after an average season in Chicago in ’08. The Broncos signed him after Brandon Marshall began making noise about wanting a trade. Lloyd is only the third-best Brandon in the Broncos’ receiving corps (behind Marshall and Stokely), and he won’t come close to his 26-catch, 364-yard, two-touchdown season unless Marshall prompts a deal or holds out. Verdict: Sink

WR Dennis Northcutt, Lions – Northcutt went to Jacksonville in ’08 to be the leader of the Jaguars’ receiving corps, but he managed just 44 catches for 545 yards and two touchdowns as he saw Mike Walker and Matt Jones surpass him in the pecking order. Now Northcutt moves to Detroit via trade, where he will combine with Bryant Johnson to try to complement Calvin Johnson. Northcutt has never impressed me, and so I think Bryant Johnson will end up doing more than Northcutt. That spells sink to me. Verdict: Sink

WR Nate Washington, Titans – Washington was a big-dollar signing by the Titans, who see him as a starter across from Justin Gage. He emerged as a solid deep threat and third receiver in Pittsburgh last year, catching 40 passes for 631 yards and three touchdowns. Washington should be able to step up to a starting role in Tennessee, and even though the Titans’ offense isn’t pass happy, that would mean more catches – 50-to-60 – and a few more yards. He won’t be able to keep his yards-per-catch average above 15 as a starter, but he will be more productive. All that will make him a borderline fantasy starter in most leagues, with the possibility of upside that could make him even more of a fantasy factor. Verdict: Rise

TE Chris Baker, Patriots – Baker, a long-time Jet, saw his playing time taken away in the Meadowlands because of Dustin Keller, and so he has moved on to New England. He’ll be contending with Benjamin Watson and ex-Buc Alex Smith for catches in New England, and that means he definitely won’t be the threat he was in ’06 and ’07. We don’t even see Baker matching his ’08 numbers of 21 catches for 194 yards. Verdict: Sink

TE L.J. Smith, Ravens – After a long career in Philly, Smith moves to Baltimore, where he looks to serve as a backup and safety net for Todd Heap, who has been injury prone in recent years. That means that Smith, who has been a borderline fantasy starter at tight end for many years, is less than that this year. His numbers will fall from his 37-catch, 298-yard, three-TD level of last year, but he’s worth watching in his new home, especially if Heap gets hurt. Verdict: Sink

PK Mike Nugent, Buccaneers – Nugent lost his job to Jay Feely last year after a training-camp injury. Now he moves to Tampa, where he will try to beat out Matt Bryant for a starting job. The guess here is that Nugent takes that job, but even if he does we don’t see him as a 100-point kicker. That would make Nugent a bye-week fill-in, not an every-week option. Verdict: Rise

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Fantasy Football: Valuing Tight Ends

One of the most difficult things I face every year in putting together my fantasy football draft board is valuing tight ends properly. Part of this is because of the peculiarity of the leagues I play in. Two of the three leagues include tight ends with wide receivers, and so very few tight ends are worthing of starting in the WR/TE position. But the other league requires a tight end starter.

So I thought I’d go through the top tight ends and compare them as fantasy options using the football relativity scale. On this scale, 10 is a tight end who is an elite fantasy player, and 1 is a tight end who’s only worth owning in leagues of 12 teams or more that require a tight end starting every week. We’ll indicate on the scale the levels where the tight ends are also starters at WR/TE positions and where tight ends are worth owning as backups in WR/TE leagues.

One more note before we begin: you can follow all of our previous fantasy football articles by following the fantasy football category here on the blog.

10 – Jason Witten, Cowboys – Witten is a catch machine. He had 81 catches for 952 yards following a 96-catch, 1,145-yard season in ’07. But he had just four touchdowns last year, which was a mid-pack figure for tight ends. But with Terrell Owens gone, Witten is by far the most dependable receiving option in Dallas, and you can reasonably expect that Witten gets some of the red-zone looks that Owens demanded in previous years. That means that last year’s numbers are on the low end of what you can expect from Witten in ’09, and his TD numbers should go up as well. He’s the surest thing among fantasy tight ends in 2009 and should be the first one off the board.

10 (con’t) – Dallas Clark, Colts – Clark has long been one of the best touchdown producers among tight ends, crossing the goal line 30 times in the last five years. He had 77 catches for 848 yards and six scores last year, putting him near the top of the tight end category in terms of catches and yards. With Marvin Harrison gone, you have to figure that Clark will be a little more frequent target for Peyton Manning, and that should help to stabilize his production and make him more valuable as a fantasy option. The only negative on his profile is the fact that he’s been dinged enough to miss games each of the last three years, Still, Clark is one of the top 2 tight ends from a fantasy perspective for 2009.

9 – Tony Gonzalez, Falcons – Gonzalez is an all-time great who might end up being the all-time greatest tight end. He’s had at least 95 catches for at least 1,000 yards in each of the last two years, which shows you that he’s not losing any steam. He also still has great leaping ability in the red zone, as his 10-touchdown ’08 campaign attests. The only question with Gonzalez is what kind of role he’ll find in his new home in Atlanta this year. The Falcons have a stud receiver in Roddy White and a big target in Michael Jenkins, and the two of them may take a play or two away that Gonzalez had gotten in the red zone in his K.C. days. Gonzalez is still a tight end stud and a legitimate starter in WR/TE leagues as well. He just doesn’t quite have the sure-thing quality that Witten and Clark appear to have going into the ’09 season. But if you are the third to take a tight end, you’re still going to be set up for big success.

8 – Antonio Gates, Chargers – Gates has been a fantasy stud for years, but even though he played all 16 games in ’08, he finished with a lower-than-usual 60 catches for 704 yards. He still scored eight touchdowns, which was second among tight ends, but even that was his lowest TD total in five years. His fantasy value is as much from touchdowns as from receiving yards, and with Vincent Jackson emerging, there’s not a need for the Chargers to target Gates every time in the red zone any more. So it seems like Gates’ fantasy impact is starting to wane just a bit. Still, while there are some questions, Gates is still the fourth-best tight end on fantasy draft boards, and he’s still a No. 3 starter at WR/TE in a 12-team league.

*No tight end below this level goes into the season as a starter in 10-12 team leagues with a combined WR/TE position.*

7 – Owen Daniels, Texans – Daniels is the newest guy to break into the ranks of fantasy starters. Did you know that he’s averaged 66 catches and 815 yards in each of the last two seasons? Those are elite numbers. The only negative is his touchdown totals – he had five in his rookie season but just five combined in his last two seasons. Daniels should put up big numbers again in ’08, and if his touchdown numbers inch up, he could truly join the elite receivers. Of course, for that to happen, QB Matt Schaub must stay healthy, which is a question. So for now, Daniels is a supersolid starter as a tight end in fantasy leagues, and he’s a quality backup and spot starter in WR/TE leagues. And if his TD rate starts gaining speed, his value will shoot up.

6 – Chris Cooley, Redskins – Cooley had a strange fantasy season last year. He had career highs with 83 catches for 849 yards, but he had just one touchdown after scoring at least six in each of his first four seasons. Cooley has surpassed 700 receiving yards in each of his last four seasons, so he’s a safe starting tight end, and if his touchdown total moves back up to five or more, he could pass Daniels and even come close to the four elite tight ends. But I’m a little skeptical about that given Jason Campbell’s uneven performance thus far in his career. The reason Cooley lands below Daniels is that I trust Matt Schaub more than I trust Campbell. Still, Cooley is a starting tight end in all leagues and a worthy backup in leagues with a WR/TE position.

5 – Greg Olsen, Bears – Olsen, a former first-round pick, continued to take steps forward in his career in ’08. He went from his rookie totals of 39 catches for 391 yards and two scores to improved sophomore stats of 54 catches for 574 yards and five scores. A similar gain in ’09 would make Olsen a top-five tight end. A gain is possible, because new Bears QB Jay Cutler is much better than the Bears’ former starter Kyle Orton. But remember that Olsen is sharing TE duties with Desmond Clark, another quality pass catcher, and even though the Bears run a lot of two-TE sets, that still should hold Olsen’s numbers down. We can project enough of a gain for Olsen to make him a sure fantasy starter and a backup in WR/TE leagues. But projecting more right now would be getting your head out over your skis.

*No tight end below this level goes into the season as the equivalent of a fourth or fifth option at WR/TE in leagues without a tight end position. Therefore, they should not be backups in 10-12 team WR/TE leagues.*

4 – Kellen Winslow, Buccaneers – Winslow may be the most physically gifted tight end in the league, and he has been really productive in the last two years. He had 171 catches for nearly 2,000 yards and eight TDs in ’06 and ’07 combined, and in just half a season last year he still had a whopping 43 catches for 428 yards and three TDs. He moves from a pass-first Cleveland system to Tampa Bay, which would seem to be more of a run-first scheme with lesser quarterbacks. So that could cause a dip in his numbers. We still expect at least 500 yards and four touchdowns, which makes Winslow a tight end starter. He also has upside to do more than that. If you’re picking a fantasy TE starter late and Winslow is there, take a shot and hope for the best. But don’t reach for this talent in such an uncertain situation.

4 (con’t) – John Carlson, Seahawks – Carlson had a strong rookie season in Seattle with 55 catches for 627 yards and five touchdowns. And he did that with Matt Hasselbeck missing much of the season. Hasselbeck’s returns will help Carlson’s numbers, but the arrival of T.J. Houshmandzedah could hurt a little. So pencil Carlson in for 500 yards and four touchdowns, make him one of the last TE starters picked in your draft, and hope that Carlson exceeds expectations in ’09 like he did in ’08. Carlson is a safe pick with some upside, which is what you want with a late-round pick.

4 (con’t) – Zach Miller, Raiders – There are actually two Zach Millers playing tight end in the league this year, so if you want this Miller, make sure to draft correctly on your computer system. Oakland’s Zach Miller took a step forward in his second season, increasing his catch total from 44 to 56 and his yardage total from 444 to 778. He only had one touchdown, which limits his fantasy value. But Miller probably will pass 700 receiving yards again in ’09, and if he can move his touchdown total up, he’ll move from being a marginal fantasy starter to a solid one. Given the Raiders’ problematic offense, it’s hard to project that TD jump, which is why Miller ranks down here. But he’s the best weapon Oakland has aside from Darren McFadden, and that fact should help Miller’s numbers remain solid.

*No tight end below this level goes into the season as a tight end starter in 10-team leagues. The players below should be seen as backups except in larger leagues.*

3 – Visanthe Shiancoe, Vikings – Shiancoe was one of the breakout fantasy players of 2008, as his seven touchdowns and nearly 600 yards made him an elite fantasy tight end. That touchdown total, though, seems a bit out of whack given the fact that Shiancoe had just 42 catches, and so prudency demands we expect that TD total to take a bit of a dive. The Vikings’ unsettled QB situation (obligatory Brett Favre mention) is troubling as well. I can see Shiancoe amassing 400 yards and three touchdowns without a lot of trouble, and he does have the capability to do more. But he’s not good enough to put him in the top 10 at the position in fantasy terms. He misses that plateau, although not by much.

3 (con’t) – Dustin Keller, Jets – Keller, a Jets’ first-round pick in ’08, had a strong rookie season, totaling 48 catches for 535 yards and three touchdowns. If he makes the kind of second-year jump that Greg Olsen and Zach Miller did, Keller would be a fantasy starter. But the fact that the Jets are breaking in a rookie quarterback could hold Keller back just a little. Keller is a talent, and Mark Sanchez has a better arm than Brett Favre had at the end of the ’08 season. But for safety’s sake, we’ll project Keller to match his ’08 numbers and hope for some upside instead of expecting more and getting less.

2 – Heath Miller, Steelers – Miller is a quality tight end who is remarkably consistent. He’s had at least 34 catches but not more than 48 in each of his four seasons; had at least 393 yards but not more than 566 in all four seasons; and had at least three touchdowns every year as well. Miller has shown some touchdown productivity in the past, but he had just three last year, which I think is a sign of things to come because Santonio Holmes has finally emerged as a proven No. 2 receiver for the Steelers. So Miller is a safe backup tight end, but he doesn’t have the fantasy upside that a guy like Keller has. In a huge league, Miller’s an OK starter if you’re among the last to take a tight end, and he’s a perfectly good fill-in if your starting tight end has a bye or gets hurt. But at this point, we know what Miller is – and that’s not an elite fantasy tight end.

2 (con’t) – Jeremy Shockey, Saints – Shockey is a huge talent at tight end, and he has had monster numbers in past year. Last year, despite missing four games, he still had 50 catches for nearly 500 yards. But there are strikes against him. First, he didn’t score a touchdown last year in his first season as a Saint. Second, he is no Saint, as off-the-field problems are frequent enough to make fantasy owners nervous. Third, he is injured often enough – he’s never played all 16 games in a season – that you can’t rely on him. If he played all 16 games in New Orleans, he could be a top-5 tight end. But the chances of that happening are slim enough to downgrade Shockey. He’s a classic boom or bust pick, which means he’s worth taking late but not worth taking early. I wouldn’t rely on Shockey as a starter, but he’s the kind of guy worth having as a backup tight end if your team requires you to carry one. Just be prepared for a roller-coaster if you take him.

2 (con’t) – Brent Celek, Eagles – If there is one tight end who’s going to take a leap out of obscurity in ’09, it’s Celek. He played in every game and started seven for the Eagles last year, totaling 27 catches for 318 yards and a touchdown in part-time duty. Now, with L.J. Smith gone, we can expect Celek to have the kind of season Smith used to have in Philly – something like 300-500 yards and three TDs. But there’s upside for even more production than that here, and that makes Celek an intriguing fantasy backup.

2 (con’t) – Kevin Boss, Giants – Boss replaced Shockey with the Giants last year and had a solid season, catching 33 balls for 383 yards and six touchdowns. That’s a good season for a fantasy tight end, but it’s not enough to pencil Boss in as a fantasy starter this season. His touchdown total is out of whack compared to his catches, which means it’s wiser to expect him to have more like three scores in ’09. He’s a solid backup, but there is more upside with up-and-coming players like Carlson and Keller and Zach Miller that you should opt for before considering Boss.

1 – Tony Scheffler, Broncos – Scheffler has been a fantasy sleeper in his first two seasons, with at least 40 catches and at least 549 yards in each season. He’s also averaged 4 touchdowns a year through his three-year career. But while Scheffler has talent, he is going to be hurt by his situation as much as any fantasy player this year. The departure of Jay Cutler takes away Scheffler’s best friend on and off the field. Moreover, Scheffler’s down-the-field style doesn’t seem to fit the Josh McDaniels offensive system we saw in New England in recent years. Scheffler’s good enough to get 300 yards regardless of system, but he’s a backup until we see him prove that he can thrive without Cutler in McDaniels’ new system.

1 (con’t) – Bo Scaife, Titans – The Titans used their franchise tag on Scaife this offseason to make sure they kept him after his 58-catch, 561-yard season. But it’s hard to see Sciafe matching those numbers in ’09. The Titans drafted rookie Jared Cook, a pass-catching tight end who will take at least a few opportunities away from Scaife. And even with all of Sciafe’s catches, he has never had more than two touchdowns in a season. For fantasy owners, Scaife is just a fill-in. He’s a guy who’s better on the NFL field than he is in fantasy scoresheets.

1 (con’t) – Todd Heap, Ravens – Heap was once an elite fantasy tight end, but injuries and changes in Baltimore’s offense have limited his impact. Even though he started every game last year, he had just 35 catches for 403 yards and three touchdowns. Now, the Ravens have added L.J. Smith to the roster, which could limit Heap’s numbers even more. It’s hard to see Heap as a fantasy factor this year; we’re including his name here just so you know we didn’t forget.

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Newberry’s reward

Long-time 49ers center Jeremy Newberry retired today. (He even broke the news himself on Facebook.) Here are some thoughts on Newberry’s career; you can compare his career to that of other ’09 retirees in this amalgamated post.

Newberry was a long-time 49er who played a total of 10 years in the league. While he never got great acclaim, he earned two Pro Bowl berths and was the centerpiece of the San Francisco O-line for half a decade. He spent a year with the Raiders and Chargers and had signed with the Falcons for ’09 before injuries caused him to call it quits instead. Regardless of what caused him to leave, he goes into his post-football life with a solid on-field legacy.

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FR: Same Names

Ever have a stupid idea that mushroomed as you chased it? Well, this is my latest version of that…

So the thought crossed my mind — which pair of NFL players who have the same name are the most productive? And after spending way too much time researching, we actually now have a list.

A couple of caveats: First, we ruled out pairs of players in which one is an undrafted or street free agent – which usually can be translated as “training camp fodder.” So apologies to the Chris Bakers, the Michael Bennetts, the Chris Browns, the Mike/Michael Browns, the Brandon Harrisons, the Nate Joneses, the David Martins, the Antonio Smiths, the Marcus Smiths, the Bobbie/Bobby Williamses, and the Chris Williamses.

Then we ruled out players whose names are the same but spelled or nicknamed differently. That ruled out Michael/Mike Adams, Andra/Andre Davis, Anthony/Tony Gonzalez (that one hurt), Nic/Nick Harris (knocking out our only punter), Renaldo/Reynaldo Hill (our most unique first name on the list), Michael/Mike Jenkins (two first-round picks), Charlie/Charles Johnson, Joey/Joe Porter, Sean/Shaun Smith, Jonathan/John Wade, and Eddie/Edward/Edwin Williams.

So we’ve compared these name pairs on a 10-point scale, with 10 being the pair with the most combined production and 1 being a pair that shares nothing but a name and a roster spot.

The Steve Smiths – One Steve Smith is a four-time Pro Bowl receiver for the Panthers who is generally considered one of the top five receivers in the game. He has more than 500 catches and 43 touchdowns in his career thus far. The other Steve Smith is also a receiver. He had 57 catches for 574 yards last year and is the Giants’ No. 1 wideout going into the ’09 season.

The Roy Williamses – One Roy Williams is a five-time Pro Bowl safety who was cut by the Cowboys in the offseason. He landed in Cincinnati, where he will try to build on his solid career that includes 19 interceptions. The other Roy Williams is a Cowboys wide receiver who looks to be their No. 1 target in ’09 after struggling following a midseason trade last year.

The Adrian Petersons – One Adrian Peterson is a superstar running back for the Vikings who has more than 3,100 yards and 23 total touchdowns in his first two seasons in the league. The other Adrian Peterson is a backup running back and ace special-teamer who has 1,232 rushing yards in his seven seasons with the Bears.

The Chris Johnsons – One Chris Johnson was a revelation as a rookie last year with the Titans, running for 1,228 yards and 10 touchdowns. The other Chris Johnson is a five-year vet who had his first three career interceptions last year with the Raiders.

The Will Allens – One Will Allen is a former first-round pick who has started at cornerback throughout his eight-year career with the Giants and now the Dolphins. He has 13 career interceptions. The other Will Allen is a Buccaneer who has played five years in the NFL but started only one at free safety.

The Zach Millers – Both Zach Millers are tight ends. Explain that. One Zach Miller is an emerging star for the Raiders who has more than 100 catches in his first two seasons. He’s becoming one of the top 8-10 tight ends in the league. The other Zach Miller is a rookie tight end in Jacksonville who was a sixth-round pick in April.

The Dexter Jacksons – One Dexter Jackson is a former Super Bowl MVP with the Buccaneers who now starts at safety for the Bengals. He has 17 regular-season interceptions in his 10 NFL seasons. The other Dexter Jackson played in seven games as a rookie last year with the Bucs but didn’t have a catch as a wide receiver.

The Alex Smiths – One Alex Smith is the former No. 1 overall pick who had one good year as the 49ers quarterback but is now fighting to regain his starting job. The other Alex Smith is a tight end who had 129 catches and 11 touchdowns in four years in Tampa Bay. He was traded in the offseason to New England, where he will compete with one of the Chris Bakers for time at tight end behind Benjamin Watson.

The Chris Clemonses – One Chris Clemons is a defensive end who has 17 career sacks in five years. He now starts for the Eagles. The other Chris Clemons is a fifth-round draft pick from Clemson (anagram!) who will fight for a cornerback job in Miami this year.

The Michael Johnsons – One Michael Johnson is a two-year veteran who starts at safety for the Giants. He had 72 tackles and two picks last year. The other Michael Johnson is a third-round draft pick who could start at defensive end for the Bengals in his rookie season.

The Chris Henrys – One Chris Henry is an oft-troubled wide receiver who has been productive when he’s gotten on the field in his four years with the Bengals. He has 107 career catches for 1,590 yards and 19 touchdowns. The other Chris Henry is a former second-round pick who hasn’t yet panned out as a Titans running back. He had only one carry in his second season in ’08.

The Kyle Williamses – One Kyle Williams is a defensive tackle who has started for the Bills for three years and has four career sacks. The other Kyle Williams started three games last year as a rookie with the Seahawks.

The Marcus Thomases – One Marcus Thomas is a two-year veteran who started every game at defensive tackle last year for the Broncos and had 34 tackles. The other Marcus Thomas is entering his second year. He played in three games for Detroit last year and is trying to make the Browns’ roster this year.

The Brandon Williamses – One Brandon Williams is a wide receiver who has played in 23 career games and will try to make the Steelers’ roster this fall. The other Brandon Williams is a linebacker whom the Cowboys picked in the fourth round this year.

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