Monthly Archives: July 2009

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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FR: Summer signings

As we’ve done throughout the offseason, in this post we’re going to compare the recent free-agent signings in the NFL to each other. (If you want to see previous posts, check out the post-draft signings post and follow the links back from there.)

This post will compare signings from June 1 to July 17 to each other. 10 is the team that made the most impactful additions; 1 is teams that are merely worth a mention.

10 – Raiders (add DE Greg Ellis and QB Charlie Frye) – Ellis spent 11 years in Dallas before being released this offseason. He had been unhappy about his role and/or his contract for several years, and he did seem miscast as a 3-4 outside linebacker, even though he had one really good season in that role. He lands in Dallas where he will play in a more traditional 4-3. Ellis is big enough to be stout against the run in that role, and with 77 career sacks, he should bring some pass-rush presence too. His addition may allow the Raiders to trade Derrick Burgess (perhaps to New England), as has been rumored. In any case, Ellis will definitely find a role with the Raiders. It’s weird for the Raiders, who have Jeff Garcia, Andrew Walter, and Bruce Gradowski as backup quarterbacks, to bring Frye in. He’s probably the best No. 3 quarterback option they have, but to expect more from Frye at this point would be foolhardy. So Frye is an addition that seems unnecessary.

9 – none

8 – Chiefs (add S Mike Brown) – Brown was a former Pro Bowler who was a key cog in the very good Bears’ defenses of the middle of this decade. Consistent injury problems, though, have limited Brown’s ability to contribute over the past several years. That’s why the Bears were willing to let him walk via free agency even though he managed to start 15 games in ‘08. While it would be unwise for any team to count on Brown, adding him in a spot where he can beat out holdover safeties if he’s healthy is worth a shot. At his best, Brown (who has 30 career interceptions) is more of a playmaker than either Bernard Pollard or Jarrad Page. Brown can also join Mike Vrabel and Zach Thomas in bringing a veteran presence to a Chiefs’ defense that needs the massive overhaul it is getting. In that effort, this is a reasonable risk to take.

7 – Broncos (add WR Brandon Lloyd) – Lloyd has talent, but he’s bounced from Washington to San Francisco to Chicago and now to Denver without putting it all together. He was a decent target for Orton with the Bears last year, which is a plus, and his size would be a good contrast to Eddie Royal were Brandon Marshall to be unavailable. If the Broncos have designs on Lloyd replacing Marshall, they’ll quickly and painfully discover that not all Brandons are created equal.

6 – Falcons (add OL Jeremy Newberry) – Newberry is a versatile guy who was a Pro Bowler twice for the 49ers and has been a solid contributor for the Chargers and the Raiders over the last two years. He can play across the line, and he’ll provide a veteran influence for a line that’s lost experience with the retirement of Todd Weiner this offseason.

5 – Jaguars (add S Marlon McCree) – McCree, who was a Jag from 2001 to 2003, has 91 career starts with five teams. He’s a big hitter who’s OK but not great as a starter, which makes him the ultimate one-year stopgap. But for a team like Jacksonville that finds itself needing secondary help, McCree can step in and play strong safety.

4 – Texans (add QB Rex Grossman) – Grossman, who started a Super Bowl but was wildly inconsistent in Chicago, stayed on the free-agent market for a long time. He finally landed in Houston, where he looks to be a No. 3 quarterback behind starter Matt Schaub and Dan Orlovsky, who signed a multi-year deal to be the backup this offseason after the team dealt Sage Rosenfels. Grossman, who got a one-year deal at the minimum, has more experience than Orlovsky and probably more potential too, so don’t be surprised if he beats the ex-Lion out to back up Schaub. And with as many injuries as Schaub has traditionally had, winning the backup job would mean winning a few games to show his stuff again.

3 – Browns (add OT George Foster) – Foster, a former first-round pick in Denver, was the odd man out in Detroit after the Lions added Jon Jansen. Foster has good size, but he’s never lived up to his potential. But that potential is still at least a teeny bit tantalizing, which makes Foster worth a flier for the Browns.

2 – Saints (add LS Jason Kyle) – Kyle, a 14-year vet who spent the last 8 years in Carolina, is a pro’s pro at long snapper, but his veteran status priced him out with the Panthers, who are pinching every penny in order to pay Julius Peppers’ massive one-year contract. The Saints viewed Kyle as an upgrade over their long-time long-snapper Kevin Houser and made the switch.

1 – Jets (add P Reggie Hodges and TE Richard Owens) – The Jets are unsettled at punter, and so they brought back Hodges, who averaged a so-so 42.8 yards per punt with them last year. He’ll have to compete, but at this moment Hodges may well be the best option the Jets have. Owens, a block-first tight end, replaces the released Bubba Franks.

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Fantasy Football: Applaud or a Fraud?

We’re going to play another one of our site games here as we continue our fantasy football preparation. In this post, we’re going to look at several of the breakout players from 2008 and see whether we should applaud them or consider them fantasy frauds for 2009. These are judgments of fantasy football value, not of a player’s ability or contribution to his NFL team. Feel free to leave comments with other guys you’d like included in this post, and we’ll update it as we go forward.

Note: Some guys who fit this category have been analyzed elsewhere. For example, you can read about Steve Slaton, DeAngelo Williams, and Chris Johnson in this post. You can find that and all of our other ’09 fantasy football coverage  through this category link.

QB Matt Cassel, Chiefs – After taking over for Tom Brady last year, Cassel had a supersolid year, throwing for nearly 3,700 yards and 21 touchdowns, with two rushing TDs added in for good measure. Cassel is moving on to Kansas City, which at first seems like a recipe for fantasy irrelevance. He’s a fantasy sleeper, though, because he has a top-flight receiver in Dwayne Bowe, and the Chiefs’ new head coach Todd Haley proved he could put together a pass-happy offense in Arizona last year. Cassel isn’t a fantasy starter, so we can’t clap for him, but he’s an intriguing backup option in most leagues. We give this verdict with our fingers crossed. Verdict: A fraud

QB Philip Rivers, Chargers – Rivers had been a so-so fantasy quarterback for two seasons before exploding last year with 4,000 yards and 34 touchdowns. Those are elite numbers, and the fact that he did it for the first time leads to the question of whether he can do it again. Here’s why we say yes. First, he continues to build experience with coach Norv Turner, who has his faults as a head coach but is money tutoring quarterbacks. Secondly, Rivers finally got an elite receiver last year because Vincent Jackson emerged as a true No. 1 threat. With Jackson, TE Antonio Gates, and RBs LaDanian Tomlinson and Darren Sproles, Rivers has plenty of places to throw the ball. With all that going for him, Rivers should be a top-8 fantasy quarterback yet again. Verdict: Applaud

QB Aaron Rodgers, Packers – Rodgers waited and waited and waited his turn in Green Bay while Brett Favre changed and unchanged and changed his mind again. Finally, the Packers went with Rodgers, and he delivered with 4,000 yards, 28 passing TDs, and 4 rushing TDs. Rodgers has an elite target in Greg Jennings, and there’s a lot of receiver depth in Green Bay as well. Rodgers might not be a top-5 fantasy quarterback, but he’s definitely a top-10 guy at his position. That’s worth a hand clap. Verdict: Applaud

RB Cedric Benson, Bengals – Benson was a bust with the Bears after being a top-5 pick in the NFL draft, but after signing with Cincinnati during the ’08 season, he finished with 747 yards and two touchdowns in 12 games. That projects to a 1,000-yard season and begs the question of whether Benson is back as a fantasy consideration. He’s certainly not a top-20 back, but the RB crop drops off so quickly that Benson becomes a consideration rather quickly. For a guy who was completely off the radar in last year’s draft, Benson has put himself back on the list. So while we’re not giving him a standing ovation, we can muster at least a golf clap for him. Verdict: Applaud

RB T.J. Duckett, Seahawks – Duckett only had 172 rushing yards last year, but in his short-yardage role he scored a whopping eight touchdowns. That role is very unpredictable, and so predicting another eight touchdowns in ’09 is flatly unwise. Draft Duckett at your own risk. Verdict: A fraud

RB Tim Hightower, Cardinals – Hightower broke out as a fantasy back last year, beating out Edgerrin James for a primary back role. But after winning the job, he ended up struggling, and he finished with just 399 rushing yards. He did score 10 touchdowns on the season. Hightower doesn’t have to contend with James anymore, but he will have to outman Chris “Beanie” Wells for carries. The guess here is that Wells will win that race and that Hightower’s touchdown total takes a significant dip in ’09. Verdict: A fraud

RB Le’Ron McClain, Ravens – The Ravens’ backfield was a mess from a fantasy perspective, as McClain, Willis McGahee, and Ray Rice all had games in which they were the primary ball carrier. McClain, who entered the year as a backup fullback, ended up with the best fantasy numbers after piling up 902 rushing yards and 10 total touchdowns. But in ’09, I wouldn’t want to rely on McClain as a fantasy starter or even as my primary backup at the position, because it’s much more likely that Rice ends up as Baltimore’s best fantasy producer at running back. So while McClain has some skills and might be a good guy in the locker room, I don’t think I want him on my fantasy team. Verdict: A fraud

RB Kevin Smith, Lions – As a fourth-round NFL draft pick last year, Smith emerged as Detroit’s top running back. He started 12 games and rushed for 976 yards and 8 touchdowns. Those aren’t great fantasy numbers, but given how pathetic the Lions were around him, they’re an acceptable rookie showing. The question is whether Smith can take a step forward this year. The Lions might not be completely sold on him, but given the other running back options around Detroit this year, Smith is still the one Lions back you should consider. Plus, the offensive line got a lot of veteran help in the offseason, which should bode well for Smith’s numbers. Smith should end up as a top-25 back, and we’ll give him a bit of a clap for that. Verdict: Applaud

RB Jonathan Stewart, Panthers – Stewart had a strong rookie year, rushing for 836 yards and 10 touchdowns even though he was clearly the No. 2 option behind DeAngelo Williams. It’s hard to see the Panthers ending up with 30-plus rushing touchdowns again in ’09, but Stewart should still be a productive fantasy back. He’s not going to pile up a lot of yardage numbers – that’s more of Williams’ forte – but he is the better short-yardage option, and that should pad his touchdown total. We can see him accumulating 800 rushing yards and 8 TDs again, and that makes him a legitimate fantasy back. Verdict: Applaud

RB Pierre Thomas, Saints – Thomas, an undrafted free agent a few years back, has slowly estabished himself as a legitimate NFL back. In 2007, he beat out draft pick Antonio Pittman to make the Saints, and in 2008 he surpassed long-time Saint Deuce McAllister to become the Saints’ primary back. Now Thomas pairs with Reggie Bush to form the Saints backfield. Thomas finished the year with 625 rushing yards and 12 total touchdowns, and he’s being listed as a top-20 fantasy running back going into 2009. But it would be a mistake to take Thomas that high. His yardage total should tick upward, perhaps to 800 yards or so, but his touchdown number looks suspicious. I think he’s much more likely to score 6 times than he is to score 10-12 times. I don’t see Thomas as a regular fantasy starter. Verdict: A fraud

RB Derrick Ward, Buccaneers – Ward was part of the Giants’ Earth, Wind, and Fire backfield last year, and thanks to a late-season injury to Brandon Jacobs, he surpassed 1,000 rushing yards. But he only had two touchdowns, and in the offseason he moved to Tampa Bay to team with Earnest Graham. It seems to me that Ward and Graham are basically equal partners in the RB tandem in Tampa, and if Cadillac Williams can get healthy – and that’s a monstrous if – Ward’s carries will decline a bit more. Ward may be the best fantasy back in Tampa this year, but he’s not a fantasy starter. I smell a 700-yard, 4-TD season. So from a fantasy perspective, we have a verdict. Verdict: A fraud

WR Steve Breaston, Cardinals – Breaston, Arizona’s third receiver, exploded last year with 77 catches for 1,006 yards. He also had three touchdowns. But those numbers were padded during the 2 1/2 games when Anquan Boldin was out last year. So we can expect a step back from Breaston to more of the 700-yard range. So while he’s draftable in fantasy leagues, he’s not even a strong backup option in most leagues. He will not match his ’08 numbers in ’09. Verdict: A fraud

WR Antonio Bryant, Buccaneers – Bryant had gone through a star-crossed career and had missed the entire 2007 season before Tampa gave him a chance last season. That gamble paid off big time, as Bryant totaled 83 catches for 1,248 yards and 7 touchdowns. The Bucs then slapped the franchise tag, paying more than $8 million on Bryant to keep him for 2009. Bryant enters the season as Tampa’s No. 1 receiver option. However, it would be crazy to expect another monster season from him. Bryant has talent, but his reliability is still a question. Plus, the Bucs have a new quarterback situation, and so Bryant will be catching balls from Byron Leftwich or perhaps rookie Josh Freeman. And there’s a new coaching staff too. All that makes a repeat of Bryant’s breakout especially unlikely. Verdict: A fraud

WR DeSean Jackson, Eagles – Jackson broke through the usual rookie receiver wall, catching 65 passes for 912 yards and scoring four total touchdowns. Now he is Philly’s No. 1 receiving option, with rookies Jeremy Maclin and TE Cornelius Ingram likely to support. That means Jackson will get his chances, and when he gets his hands on the ball, he’ll take advantage. Don’t rate Jackson too highly, but he’s between 20 and 25 on the fantasy WR list. That makes him a starter in most leagues and causes us to give him a hand. Verdict: Applaud

WR Vincent Jackson, Chargers – Jackson didn’t get a lot of pub last year, but he had a terrific season, emerging as Rivers’ No. 1 option and totalling almost 1,100 yards and seven touchdowns. He only had 59 catches, which is a little low for a No. 1 wideout, especially on a pass-happy team like the Chargers. I expect that catch number to increase to 65-70 this year, and if that happens, Jackson’s numbers could actually go up. He’s a top-20 receiver for fantasy owners this fall. Verdict: Applaud

WR Lance Moore, Saints – Moore emerged as an all-world slot receiver last year, piling up 79 catches for 928 yards and 10 touchdowns in the Saints’ pass-happy offense. Some may look at those numbers and wonder if Marques Colston’s injury problems opened the door for Moore, but the fact that Moore plays inside and Colston plays outsider mitigates that concern. The bottom line is that Moore is in an incredibly potent offense, and he’s going to get his numbers. You can expect a minimum of 60 catches, 800 yards, and 8 touchdowns from him, and that’s reason to cheer. Verdict: Applaud

WR Eddie Royal, Broncos – Royal was another rookie who had a huge rookie season, finishing with 91 catches for 980 yards and 5 scores. He’s a small, shifty guy who can play out of the slot or outside, and he is the perfect complement to Brandon Marshall. But expecting 90 catches or 1,000 yards this season is foolhardy, because the Broncos have downgraded at quarterback from Jay Cutler to Kyle Orton. Marshall’s holdout talk and trade demand are troubling as well. So while Royal will be productive, he’ll end up looking like an imposter when compared to his ’08 numbers. Verdict: A fraud

TE John Carlson, Seahawks – As a rookie, Carlson finished ninth among all tight ends in terms of both catches (with 55) and yards (with 627). Combine those numbers with his 5 touchdowns, and you have a starting tight end for fantasy teams. Can he earn starter status again? The signs are good. QB Matt Hasselbeck should return to provide a more reliable passing offense, and that will help Carlson’s numbers significantly. And while the arrival of WR T.J. Houshmandzadeh may take a few receptions off Carlson’s plate, the fact that there’s no true second option should give Carlson plenty of room to perform well again. Fantasy starting lineups, here he comes. Verdict: Applaud

TE Anthony Fasano, Dolphins – Only four tight ends had at least seven receiving touchdowns last year. You’d guess the first two – Antonio Gates and Tony Gonazalez. But you’d be hard pressed to name Visanthe Shiancoe and Fasano as the other two. Fasano, who Bill Parcells brought over from Dallas when he arrived in Miami, isn’t a great pass catcher – he had just 34 total catches. That kind of catch-to-TD ratio always makes me nervous, because it generally indicates that the TD total is out of whack. So while it’s safe to expect 30 catches and 400 yards from Fasano again, my guess is that the touchdown total will be 3 or 4, not seven. That makes Fasano a fraudulent fantasy starter in ’09. Verdict: A fraud

TE Zach Miller, Raiders – Miller had 56 catches for 778 yards in ’08, piling up an impressive 14 yards per catch. He scored just one touchdown, but he still announced himself as one of the better pass-catching tight ends in the league. That emergence should continue in ’08 as Miller and his quarterback JaMarcus Russell both emerge. While Miller isn’t a top-5 fantasy tight end, he’s good enough to earn a spot in the top 10 – and to earn a round of applause. Verdict: Applaud

TE Visanthe Shiancoe, Vikings – No veteran tight end had a bigger breakout in 2008 than Shiancoe, who had 42 catches for 596 yards and 7 TDs. That doubled the yardage total he had in his first five seasons, nearly doubled his catch total, and took his career TD tally from four to 11. So is Shiancoe a legitimate fantasy threat? It’s hard to say right now, given the Vikings’ unstable quarterback situation. But the fact that the Vikings only have one real starting-quality receiver (Bernard Berrian), and given the fact that struggling quarterbacks tend to look at the tight end more often, we’ll pencil Shiancoe in as a top-12 fantasy tight end. That’s enough for us to give a very light round of applause. Verdict: Applaud

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Franchise players summary

Earlier this offseason, we analyzed the 14 NFL franchise players using a Football Relativity comparison. Yesterday was a deadline for those guys to sign long-term deals, and I thought we’d do a summary of what happened with them.

(Credit to Mike Sando of ESPN.com for compiling all this info.)

Of the 14 franchise players:

One was traded – Matt Cassel. He was dealt from the Patriots to the Chiefs, along with Mike Vrabel, for a second-round draft pick. Cassel signed a six-yera, $63 million deal with $28 million guaranteed just before the deadline, replacing his $14 million franchise tender.

One had the tag removed – Leroy Hill. After drafting Aaron Curry, the Seahawks took the $8 million tag off of Hill. They then signed Hill to a more cost-effective deal, six years and $38 million with $15 million guaranteed.

Three franchise players signed long-term deals – Max Starks, Brandon Jacobs, and Terrell Suggs. Suggs (whose T-Sizzle nickname we should have included in this post) signed just before the deadline, inking a 6-year, $63 million deal with $38 million guaranteed. Starks, who wasn’t a full-time starter in ’08 but should be in ’09, got a four-year, $26 million deal with $10 million guaranteed. And Jacobs got a four-year, $25 million contract with $13 million guaranteed. All of these players, plus Cassel and even Hill, ended up with more guaranteed money than they would have had if they had played under the franchise tender in ’09.

Eight players signed their franchise tenders. They are guaranteed their tender amounts for the year no matter what, and they are not under contract for 2010. They are:

DE Julius Peppers, Carolina ($16.683 million)
LB Karlos Dansby, Arizona ($8.3 million)
WR Antonio Bryant, Tampa Bay ($9.844 million)
RB Darren Sproles, San Diego ($6.6 million)
S O.J. Atogwe, St. Louis ($6.3 million)
TE Bo Scaife, Tennessee ($4.46 million)
P Michael Koenen, Atlanta ($2.483 million)
PK Shayne Graham, Cincinnati ($2.483 million)

One player, Dunta Robinson, has not yet signed his tender. He can’t negotiate a long-term contract, so his only option to play in ’09 is to sign a one-year, $9.957 million deal and play for the Texans.

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Fantasy Football: The Rookies

As we continue our fantasy football coverage, I thought we’d take a moment to compare this year’s rookies. We’re going to do this on a Football Relativity scale, with 10 being the rookie who will make the most fantasy impact this year and 1 being a rookie who is worth noticing in your draft preparation but probably won’t make a huge impact. We’ll also include several bonus names just in case you play in a 47-team league.

You can follow our other Fantasy Football coverage for the ’09 season through this category link.

10 – RB Knowshon Moreno, Broncos – Moreno is the one rookie who has a chance to be an elite fantasy force this year. (You can see how he compares to other major running backs in this post.) Moreno is supremely talented, and the other backs in Denver – most notably Correll Buckhalter and Lamont Jordan – aren’t really candidates to steal a majority of carries from Moreno. I still believe that Moreno was a luxury pick for the Broncos in the draft, but he’s in a situation where he can be a quality pick for you in your fantasy draft. He’s a top-25 overall player, and there’s a big gap between him and the next rookie who should be considered in a fantasy league.

9 – none

8 – RB Chris “Beanie” Wells, Cardinals – Wells wasn’t the second running back taken in the draft, but he should be the second rookie back taken in fantasy drafts this year because of opportunity. With Edgerrin James gone, Wells and Tim Hightower are the two candidates for Cardinals carries, and that’s a battle Wells could win. I expect Wells to get 50-65 percent of Arizona’s carries, and in an offense that potent, that could result in numbers that make him a borderline fantasy starter and a top 20 or 25 running back. Wells is a guy who’s worth taking a round or even two rounds higher than most projections would suggest.

7 – WR Darrius Heyward-Bey, Raiders – Heyward-Bey was a reach with the seventh overall pick, but the Raiders will use him. He has great speed and is a downfield threat, and QB JaMarcus Russell has the arm to get him the ball. Given that, I think HeyBey has the best chance of any rookie receiver to be a fantasy starter as a rookie. I don’t expect HeyBey (and yes, that’s what we’re going to call him here on the site) to lead rookies in catches or receiving yards, but I do expect him to lead freshman wideouts in TD catches. Something like 40 catches with a high yards-per-catch average and 6-8 touchdowns sounds about right. If you’re in a 14-to-16 team league, HeyBey is the kind of guy I’d want as a backup receiver or even as a No. 3 wideout because he can score at any time.

6 – RB LeSean McCoy, Eagles – McCoy, a second-round pick, is backing up Brian Westbrook. Westbrook has gotten hurt often enough lately that McCoy should get some carries, and McCoy is talented enough to capitalize on them. McCoy looks to be a guy who will be a good start 3-4 times this year when Westbrook is sidelined, and that makes him a good backup option for your fantasy team.

6 (con’t) – WR Michael Crabtree, 49ers – Crabtree is a big, physical receiver who looks primed to start from the start in San Francisco. While he will likely face many of the growing pains other receivers encounter, Crabtree should still notch 50 catches or so as a rookie. And if he catches on quickly, his physical ability gives him a lot of upside. You could do worse than drafting Crabtree for the final WR spot on your bench.

5 – RB Donald Brown, Colts – Brown was a first-round pick, but he will likely have a bit of a harder time finding a role in his rookie year than Moreno or Wells. Brown is a do-everything back who will spell Joseph Addai, but it’s hard to see Brown reaching 50-50 status in terms of carries unless Addai gets dinged up. So Brown is a good guy to have on your bench, but you don’t want to rely on him as a starter. In keeper leagues, though, Brown’s value goes up, because you get the sense that the Colts aren’t thrilled with Addai and may want to replace him sooner rather than later.

5 (con’t) – WR Percy Harvin, Vikings – Harvin has had a tumultous offseason, but the Vikings are excited about finding ways to put his speed on display this fall. The fact that he can make big plays as a receiver, running back, returner, or even as a Wildcat-formation quarterback enhances his fantasy value. He definitely should be drafted in all but the smallest leagues, but don’t depend on Harvin to be an every-week starter until you see exactly what his role will be. Still, even with the growing pains every receiver faces, if you are ever stuck for a starter, Harvin is a good option as a fill-in because he is so potent when he gets the ball in his hands.

4 – QB Matthew Stafford, Lions – Rookie quarterbacks generally aren’t worth a great investment, but once Stafford takes over the starting role, it’s not outlandish to expect at least one TD pass a week to Calvin Johnson because Johnson is so freakishly good. So if you have one of the top 2-3 quarterbacks, Stafford is a decent option as a late-round backup QB who you’ll only play on your starter’s bye week.

4 (con’t) – TE Cornelius Ingram, Eagles – Ingram fell to the fifth round in the NFL draft because of a knee injury, but he’s healthy now and is probably the best pass-catching prospect among this year’s rookie tight ends. It’s not out of the realm of possibility to see him as a fantasy starter by mid-October. If you’re looking for upside at tight end, Ingram’s one to watch.

4 (con’t) – WR Austin Collie, Colts – If we had to identify one fantasy sleeper among the rookie receivers, it would be Collie. Collie played in a pro-style system at Purdue, and he faces little opposition to step up to become the third receiver in Indy pretty quickly. If he wins that role, he could post 30 or 40 catches, which combined with his upside could make him a backup-worthy player. And if Reggie Wayne or Anthony Gonzalez gets hurt, Collie is definitely a name to watch.

3 – RB Glen Coffee, 49ers – Coffee was a productive back at Alabama, and he looks to be Frank Gore’s primary backup in San Francisco. So he’s at least worth a pick as a handcuff, and given Gore’s injury history he may be worth a flier even if you don’t draft Gore early.

3 (con’t) – QB Mark Sanchez, Jets – Sanchez is probably more likely to start Game One than Stafford is, but for some reason I think Sanchez’s ceiling is about 15 touchdown passes as a rookie. A season like Joe Flacco’s rookie campaign (just under 3,000 yards and 14 touchdowns) is reasonable to expect, but that’s a third-string fantasy QB in most leagues. Again, in a keeper league, Sanchez is definitely a guy to take.

3 (con’t) – WRs Mohammed Massaquoi and Brian Robiskie, Browns – Cleveland spent two second-round picks on rebuilding their receiving corps. Massaquoi is the more physically talented of these two receivers, but Robiskie’s experience and technique (his dad is a longtime NFL receiver coach) could help him make an impact more quickly. One of these guys will probably end up starting across from Braylon Edwards, and so whichever one wins that job becomes a fantasy prospect.

3 (con’t) – WR Jeremy Maclin, Eagles – Maclin is a gamebreaker who could make a big impact right away. However, he’s got a bit of a transition from the relatively simple routes he ran at Missouri to the precise routes of the West Coast offense Philly uses. Still, he’s worth a draft pick, especially considering the big rookie season that his new teammate DeSean Jackson had last year. I don’t see Maclin matching Jackson’s rookie year, but Maclin is still a draftable prospect.

3 (con’t) – TE Chase Coffman, Bengals – Like Ingram, Coffman was a productive college player who fell a bit in the draft because of injury concerns. But he’s a real pass-catcher who moves to a pro team that has no strong tight end option in front of him. Coffman is a legit spot starter at tight end and could be a more regular fantasy option by midseason.

2 – RB Shonn Greene, Jets – Greene has a lot of talent, but it doesn’t look as though he’ll have a lot of opportunity as a rookie because he’s behind Thomas Jones and Leon Washington. So we’ll note his name, and if you draft Jones, consider adding Greene to your team late.

2 (con’t) – QB Pat White, Dolphins – It’s hard to tell what White’s role is going to be. He has great speed, but he probably won’t see snaps except in the Wildcat formation. The fact that Ronnie Brown can go under center in the Wildcat could limit White’s opportunities. White may be worth a flier to some, but we’re not among them. Let someone else take this risk in your fantasy draft.

2 (con’t) – TE Brandon Pettigrew, Lions – Pettigrew was the only tight end selected in the first round, and he’s the most likely rookie tight end to start Week One. But his role will be as much blocking as receiving, especially given the tenuous state of the Lions’ offensive line. That will likely limit his receiving numbers as a rookie. Pettigrew may merit consideration as a spot starter, but his fantasy impact in 2009 looks limited.

2 (con’t) – WR Hakeem Nicks, Giants – Nicks is a good prospect long-term, but given the experience the Giants return at receiver (Steve Smith, Domenik Hixon, and Mario Manningham), and given the usual adjustment period rookie receivers need, he’s unlikely to make a huge fantasy impact in ’09. He’s worth noting, especially if Steve Smith gets hurt for some reason, but he’s probably draftable only in huge leagues or keeper leagues.

2 (con’t) – WR Kenny Britt, Titans – Britt is a first-round pick who should eventually find a starting role in Tennessee, but he’s unlikely to put up big numbers in a run-first offense as a rookie. With free-agent signee Nate Washington and Justin Gage in front of him, Britt looks to be a third receiver at best in ’09, which makes him a fantasy afterthought unless there’s an injury.

2 (con’t) – WRs Mike Thomas, Jarrett Dillard and Tiquan Underwood, Jaguars – The Jags razed their receiving corps in the offseason and are starting anew. Ex-Ram Torry Holt and holdover Mike Thomas figure to start, but one of Jax’s rookies will play a big role. Our guess is that Thomas is the most likely rookie to emerge, but watch Dillard and Underwood to make sure that one of them doesn’t explode onto the scene in training camp.

2 (con’t) – WR Juaquin Iglesias, Bears – Iglesias could end up as a starter or at least a rotation player in Chicago right away because the Bears’ receiving depth chart is so flimsy right now. He was a productive guy at Oklahoma and could be a 20-30 catch guy immediately, especially with Jay Cutler bringing more passing prowess into town. So if you’re in a big league, keep an eye on Iglesias as a late-round prospect.

1 – RB Andre Brown, Giants – Brown has a chance to step into the Giants’ Earth, Wind, and Fire trio as the replacement for Derrick Ward, the former Fire who moved to Tampa Bay in the offseason. Still, unless Brandon Jacobs misses time, it’s hard to see Brown getting more than a handful of carries a game.

1 (con’t) – WR Ramses Barden, Giants – Hakeem Nicks isn’t much of a prospect, and Barden is less experienced and played lesser competition in college. But Barden’s huge size (6-foot-6) could find him a minor red-zone role. I could see him having the kind of season that James Hardy had in Buffalo last year (9 catches but 2 touchdowns), or maybe a touchdown or two more. So keep an eye on Barden’s development just in case.

1 (con’t) – WRs Brian Hartline and Patrick Turner, Dolphins – We’re going to mention Hartline and Turner as a group entry. There’s room in Miami for one of them to emerge as a starter outside, and if that happens that rookie could end up being a fantasy consideration. So watch their camp battle and see if one of these rookies seems to emerge.

1 (con’t) – RB James Davis, Browns – The Browns have every-down back Jamal Lewis returning, but they let Jason Wright go in the offseason, which opens the door for Davis to be Lewis’ primary backup. And with Lewis’ age, it’s important to know who his backup is. So Davis is a handcuff option for Lewis owners, and the rookie may even be worth a flier in deep leagues as an option to stash until midseason to see what his role becomes.

Other rookies whose names you should know but probably not draft, unless you’re in one of those 47-team leagues…

RBs Mike Goodson (Carolina), Rashad Jennings (Jacksonville)

WRs Deon Butler (Seattle), Louis Murphy (Oakland), Brandon Tate (New England), Derrick Williams (Detroit), Mike Wallace (Pittsburgh), Johnny Knox (Chicago), Brooks Foster (St. Louis), Sammie Stroughter (Tampa Bay)

TEs Travis Beckum (N.Y. Giants), James Casey (Houston), Jared Cook (Tennessee), Richard Quinn (Broncos)

PK Ryan Succop (Kansas City)

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