Monthly Archives: July 2009

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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Mason hangs ’em up

As we approach training camp, it’s time for some veterans to decide they just don’t have another season in them. One made that choice Monday — WR Derrick Mason of the Ravens. Here are some thoughts on Mason’s retirement, followed by thoughts on what the Ravens might do now at wideout. You can see how this retirement compares to others this offseason in this cumulative post.

Mason wasn’t big (just 5-foot-10), but throughout the decade he has been a No. 1 receiver who is a dependable chain-moving target who can also make big plays. He had 60-plus catches every year this decade once he established himself as a starter in Tennessee, and he was the kind of solid receiver that defense-oriented teams in Tennessee and Baltimore needed him to be. In fact, Mason (a two-time Pro Bowler) had a similar career to Hines Ward, though he has never gotten the pub that Ward has. Mason deserves credit for the fact that those teams were contenders for much of the decade. Mason’s career numbers – 790 catches for more than 10,000 yards and 79 touchdowns – are surprisingly good, and they’re a tribute to the longevity of a guy who epitomizes the term professional.

The Ravens, now, are in trouble at receiver. Their lone proven receiver is Mark Clayton, who has emerged to be a dependable starter over the past two years. But he’s a No. 2 wideout, not a No. 1. Demetrius Williams is a tall wideout who can make big plays but who hasn’t been dependable. The Ravens sniffed around trade possibilities for star receivers like Anquan Boldin and Brandon Marshall this offseason, and they might now be motivated to make that kind of splashy move. But a more cost-effective move might be to bring in a veteran like Marvin Harrison to provide leadership and a security blanket for young QB Joe Flacco.

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Griese’s gone

It’s been really slow going on the NFL transactions wire lately, aside from the spate of draft-pick signings. But Monday, the Buccaneers finally released QB Brian Griese. Here are some thoughts on the move; you can see how it compares to other post-draft cuts in this post.

Griese’s second tour of duty in Tampa Bay came to an end, and it wasn’t unexpected. After signing Luke McCown to a backup-quality deal in the offseason, then adding Byron Leftwich, and then drafting Josh Freeman in the first round, there was simply no room for Griese. The 11-year veteran still has enough to be a decent backup if he wants to keep playing, but he also has been around long enough that retirement could be an option. If it is, the former third-round pick who succeeded John Elway can rest in the fact that he had a solid if unspectacular career.

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FR: Supplemental draft picks

The supplemental draft is coming up July 16, and now that we’ve previewed the players available this year, I thought we’d take a minute to compare players in the league who entered the league as supplemental draft picks. 10 is the player who has had the best career; 1 is the player who had the least success on the pro level.

10 – NT Jamal Williams, Chargers (2nd round pick, 1998) – Williams has been the stalwart of San Diego’s defensive line since joining the team via the supplemental draft. He’s a three-time Pro Bowler and two-time all-pro who consistently wreaks havoc with his ability to clog the middle and get pressure that stymies the opposition running game. To run a 3-4 defense successfully, you need a run stopper, and Williams has been one of the very best in the league at that for more than a decade now.

9 – none

8 – OG Mike Wahle, Seahawks (2nd round pick, 1998) – Like his supplemental classmate Williams, Wahle has translated his second-round selection by Green Bay into a solid career. Wahle remains a starter in Seattle now after productive stops with the Packers and Panthers, where he made his lone Pro Bowl and won all-pro honors in 2005. Wahle has had a strong career and still has the ability to start in the league.

7 – OT Jared Gaither, Ravens (5th round pick, 2007) – The Ravens picked Gaither, a local product from Maryland, and quickly developed him into a starting left tackle. Because they took the risk on him, the Ravens now have bookend tackles in Gaither and Michael Oher. Gaither’s huge size and good movement make him a prototypical left tackle, and so far he’s proven to be a worthy successor to Jonathan Ogden.

6 – none

5 – none

4 – OT Milford Brown (6th round pick, 2002) – Brown, who is still looking for 2009 employment, started more than 50 games after the Texans selected him in the supplemental draft. While he hasn’t been a standout, anytime a team gets that kind of use out of any 6th-rounder, it’s a victory. Brown certainly gave the Texans more than Tony Hollings, a 2003 second-round supplemental choice who did next to nothing in the NFL.

3 – DB Paul Oliver, Chargers (4th round pick, 2007) – Oliver missed his rookie season with an injury and played as a backup most of last year, although he did get two starts. He’s in the mix for San Diego, but he has yet to establish himself as a starting caliber player. Still, he’s young enough to get a chance going forward.

2 – none

1 – LB Ahmad Brooks, 49ers (3rd round pick, 2006) – Brooks was a first-round quality talent with a ton of baggage, and the fit in Cincinnati wasn’t good because the Bengals already had more than enough talented but troubled players. Brooks was one of the team’s final cuts in training camp last year, and he landed with San Francisco but didn’t play. Maybe Mike Singletary, a Hall of Fame linebacker, can help Brooks unlock his potential.

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FR: 2009 Supplemental draft

The 2009 NFL supplemental draft will take place on July 16.  Teams will bid via email on players in terms of what round pick they would spend on a player. The team that bids the highest gets the player and then loses a pick from the round of their bid in next spring’s draft. So if a team places a second-round bid on a player, and it is the highest bid, it gets that player and surrenders next year’s second-round pick.

Most of the time, players enter the supplemental draft because they are declared ineligible for the next season of college play after the January deadline for declaring for the regular draft.

The most famous supplemental draft pick were probably QB Bernie Kosar and LB Brian Bosworth in the 1980s, but prominent players such as WR Cris Carter, DT Jamal Williams,  and OG Mike Wahle were also supplemental draft picks entering the league. (You can read a comparison of current NFL players who entered the league via the supplemental draft here.)

Here’s a brief comparison of the eight prospects eligible for this year’s draft. They’re compared to each other, so a 10 isn’t necessarily a first-round pick. In fact, it appears that just one player is likely to be drafted this year.

10 – DE Jeremy Jarmon, Kentucky – Jarmon tested positive for a banned substance, which he said was an over-the-counter diet supplement. Much like Chargers NT Luis Castillo, who had a positive steroids test at the combine entering the league, Jarmon has tried to get in front of this issue by admitting his mistake publicly. He is generally a good citizen who already graduated from Kentucky. He is also a talent who has good size (6-3, 278) and the stats (17.5 career sacks) to back up his ability. He’s probably more of a 4-3 defensive end than anything else, but he’s definitely worth a mid-round pick, and could be bid higher if a team falls in love with his skills.

9 – none

8 – none

7 – none

6 – none

5 – none

4 – WR-RS Deon Murphy, Kansas State – Murphy, who is a shifty 5-foot-10 wideout, totalled 94 receptions and 11 touchdowns in two seasons as a Wildcat after starting his career in community college. He also has return skills. That combo could lead him to be drafted with a late-round pick.

3- DE McKinner Dixon, Texas Tech – Dixon was suspended from the Red Raiders in April for academic reasons, and it was the second time he had flunked out of school. So he decided to try to take the pro route this summer. Dixon had six sacks as a freshman in 2005 before his first flunkout and nine more last year, but he doesn’t have the size at 6-foot-3, 250 pounds to be a full-time 4-3 defensive end. If he gets a shot, it will likely be with a 3-4 team, but that will probably be as a free agent, not as a drafted player.

2- DB Demetrice Morley, Tennessee – Morley was kicked off the Tennessee team once the Lane Kiffin staff took over, which leaves him in the supplemental draft. This was his second dismissal from the team; he was also removed in 2007 for academic reasons. In addition, Morley has an arrest record from his college days. Morley was once a five-star recruit, and he had five interceptions during the two seasons that he played in Knoxville, but his character questions likely will mean that no one will invest a draft pick in him. He does have at least a shot going the free-agent route, though.

2 (con’t) – WR Corey Surrency, Florida State – Surrency lost his eligiblity via an obscure NCAA rule that counted a year of semipro ball he played before entering school against his college eligibility. He is big at 6-5, 220, and at least has been in a big-time program, but he’s more likely to be signed as a free agent than drafted.

1 – WR Torris Magee, Southern Mississippi – Magee has 54 catches in two years in Hattiesburg, but only 10 of them came in 2008, when he played just four games. He has above-average height at 6-foot-2, but that’s about the only remarkable thing about him as a prospect.

1 (con’t) – OT Joe McMahon, Central Michigan – McMahon started as a center and guard for the Chippewas, but he is a marginal NFL prospect at best. He’ll be lucky to get a look as a free agent.

1 (con’t) – LB Blake Boyd, Western Kentucky – Academic reasons sidelined Boyd in 2009 as well and prodded him toward the pros. He has decent size but didn’t make a huge mark at the FCS level after transferring from Louisville. He might get a look but is unlikely to stick as a free agent.

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Fantasy Football: The elite receivers

We’re in the process of building our draft board here on Football Relativity. We’ve already identified the Fantastic Four atop Tier 1A on the draft board, decided whether Larry Fitzgerald can join those four, identified the top quarterback on the board, and sorted through the second group of running backs to create Tier 1B.

Now we’re building Tier 1C. We have 13 players on the board in Tiers 1A and 1B thus far, so in general we’re looking at the second round and beginning of the third round in most leagues. We know from our previous posts that Tom Brady and Drew Brees are on this tier, and we also know that running backs Brian Westbrook, Frank Gore, Marshawn Lynch, and Knowshon Moreno will appear on this tier. We’re also going to include Ronnie Brown on the chart here.

The question is which receivers join these players on this tier. Larry Fitzgerald (who we addressed in detail in this earlier post) is the sole receiver on Tier 1B, so we have a group of receivers that are vying to be among the fantasy elite. Let’s see who makes the cut here.

(One more link: We ranked receivers for 2009 and beyond from a pure football sense in this post.)

Andre Johnson, Texans – Johnson is a no-brainer to include among the elite. He may be the most talented receiver in the league, and despite Matt Schaub’s injury problems last year he still tallied 1,575 yards and 8 touchdowns. The only red flag on Johnson is that he missed 7 games two years ago, but he’s actually played all 16 games in 4 of his 6 seasons. He’s the second-best receiver available from a fantasy perspective and a no-brainer inclusion among Tier 1C.

Randy Moss, Patriots – I was shocked when I looked at the stats and saw that Moss had just 1,008 receiving yards last year. That number should go back up with Tom Brady returning, but it would be foolhardy to expect Moss to mirror his 1,500-yard, 23-touchdown season of 2007. Still, Moss has always been a big touchdown producers, which means that you can rate him above his yardage numbers a bit. And with his history, there’s no doubt that Moss deserves to be included among the elite receivers in Tier 1C.

Steve Smith, Panthers – Smith is so quick and so competitive that he can put up huge numbers even when QB Jake Delhomme is sputtering. Despite missing the first two games of the season on a team suspension, Smith put up 1,400 receiving yards. He only had six touchdowns, but that number was artificially low because Smith was tackled inside the five several times. With a full season, we can count on 1,200-plus yards, and we can expect him to bounce up to 8 touchdowns at least. With those numbers, Smith deserves to be included among the elite receivers in Tier 1C.

Calvin Johnson, Lions – Calvin Johnson can compete with Andre Johnson for the title of most talented receiver, and he has a kick-butt nickname as well. And he’s coming off a big year with 1,300 yards and 12 touchdowns. The only thing holding Johnson back is the fact that Detroit’s quarterbacks and offensive line were horrific last year. The addition of Matthew Stafford should elevate Calvin to the No. 1 overall fantasy wideout in the future, but for this year it’s enough to list Calvin among the elite fantasy wideouts. He’s a yes for Tier 1C.

Reggie Wayne, Colts – Wayne has played every game since his second year in the league (2002), and he’s been a dependable yardage producer with at least 1,000 yards five years in a row. But last year was the second time in four years he had 6 touchdowns or less, and there’s such flux on the Colts offense that it’s hard for me to project Wayne to jump way up from that yardage number. Wayne feels more like a second-group fantasy receiver this year to me, and so I’m leaving him out of Tier 1C.

Greg Jennings, Packers – I’ve never been a Jennings believer, but last year he had a legitimate fantasy year with nearly 1,300 yards and 9 touchdowns. He has emerged as Green Bay’s No. 1 receiver, and he has a good rapport with starter Aaron Rodgers. Given that, and given his performance last year, it’s time to include Jennings among the fantasy elite. I’m surprising myself by including Jennings in Tier 1C and making him one of the elite fantasy wideouts going into the year.

Roddy White, Falcons – White has put up huge numbers two years in a row, including nearly 1,400 yards and seven touchdowns last year. As Matt Ryan develops, White should become even more of a fantasy force. The only strike against White from a fantasy perspective is the fact that he has only 13 total touchdowns in his two seasons. This is a really close call, and if we were talking running backs I would lean toward including White. But because there are more quality receivers around, we’re going to knock White out of the elite class and make him one of the top receivers in the second group. Just barely, White misses out on Tier 1C.

Anquan Boldin, Cardinals – Boldin is a supertough guy, and despite his persistent contract squabbles, he’s produced big numbers in Arizona. Even though he played in just 12 games last year, he still surpassed 1,000 yards and had 11 touchdowns. In fact, he has 20 touchdowns in just 24 games in the last two seasons. That low game total is a reason for pause, though, and the fact that Larry Fitzgerald has stepped up into the stratosphere is as well. I think Boldin is a legit No. 1 receiver on a fantasy team, but that’s for someone who takes him at the top of Tier 2 instead of at the end of Tier 1.

Terrell Owens, Bills – Whatever his faults, both personality wise and in terms of drops, Owens remains a big-time producer. The only time this decade he scored less than 9 touchdowns was when he was exiled by the Eagles in 2003, and last year’s total of 1,052 yards was his lowest full-season total this decade as well. If he can get those numbers in his new home with the Bills, he’s a Tier 1C guy. That’s a question, but when it comes down to it, Owens seems to be a half a hair better for fantasy owners than other borderline elite receivers like Wayne, White, and Boldin. That makes Owens a yes for inclusion on Tier 1C.

Brandon Marshall, Broncos – Marshall has put up monstrous yardage numbers the past two years, and so he merits consideration here despite the questions about his remaining in Denver. But here’s what holds Marshall back from a fantasy perspective. First, like Roddy White, he doesn’t score a ton of touchdowns. (He has 13 over the past 2 seasons combined.) Second, you have to figure his numbers will take a hit now that Jay Cutler is gone and Kyle Orton has come. With all that, we can’t include Marshall in Tier 1C despite his talent, and he actually might even end up slipping out of the top of Tier 2.

Wes Welker, Patriots – We’ve talked about receivers who pile up yards but don’t find the end zone, and Welker was probably the ultimate example of that last year, as he neared 1,200 receiving yards but had just three touchdowns. That TD total was probably artificially low (he had 8 with Tom Brady at QB in ’07), but it’s enough of a warning sign to knock him out of Tier 1C. Even if we figure Welker to score six or seven TDs, he’s a Tier 2 guy, not a Tier 1C guy.

Dwayne Bowe, Chiefs – Bowe followed up his strong rookie season by taking a step forward last year with 1,000 yards and seven touchdowns. Those numbers might actually pick up this season for a couple of reasons – the presence of QB Matt Cassel and head coach Todd Haley. Plus, Tony Gonzalez is gone, which could lead to more targets for Bowe in the red zone. His yardage total and all the new stuff make Bowe a reach in Tier 1C, but he’s a solid fantasy option at the top of Tier 2.

T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Seahawks – Houshmanzadeh had 904 yards and eight touchdowns last year, and that was with Ryan Fitzpatrick trying to get him the ball most of the year. With Matt Hasselbeck as his quarterback, it’s fair to project T.J. to have stats more like his ’06 and ’07 numbers, which averaged 1,100 yards and 10 touchdowns. Given all the changes, Houshmandzadeh is a better fit on Tier 2 than among the elite on Tier 1C, but he’s a wideout you won’t want to forget.

So after all this, Tier 1C includes these players, who are listed alphabetically:

Tom Brady
Drew Brees
Ronnie Brown
Frank Gore
Greg Jennings
Andre Johnson
Calvin Johnson
Marshawn Lynch
Randy Moss
Knowshon Moreno
Terrell Owens
Steve Smith (CAR)
Brian Westbrook

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Fantasy Football: The second wave of RBs

OK, it’s been a few days since our last post, but hopefully this one will be worth it…

Here on Football Relativity, you’re getting an inside look at how we put together our fantasy football draft board. You’ve already seen us identify this year’s fantastic four and then decide if Larry Fitzgerald deserves to join them on Tier 1A. You’ve also seen us break down the top 3 QBs to see who the best of that lot is.

Now it’s time to start breaking down the next batch of running backs. We’ve got 12 names, and we’re going to see which of the 12 will join Fitzgerald in our Tier 1B. To fit into this tier, a back must be a player you’re comfortable drafting before any quarterback or above any receiver other than Fitzgerald. There is no limit to the number of backs we can put on this tier. So we’ll break these running backs one by one and give a verdict about whether they fit on Tier 1B.

Steven Jackson, Rams – Jackson missed four mid-season games last year, but he still finished with more than 1,000 yards and 8 combined touchdowns. The way that Jackson performed down the stretch indicates that Jackson has bounced back from his subpar ’07 campaign. If he’s back, Jackson could be an elite back, as he was in 2006. The addition of rookie OT Jason Smith should make the Rams’ abysmal offensive line better as well. I’m still not sure I would want Jackson to be the bellcow of my team, but when it comes to Tier 1B, Jackson is a yes.

LaDanian Tomlinson, Chargers – You can no longer take Tomlinson as the No. 1 pick in fantasy, but his 2008 season – 1,100 yards rushing, 400 yards receiving, and 12 total touchdowns – still ended up being good fantasy numbers. If Tomlinson can do that again, or maybe even stay a little healthier and knock those numbers up 10-20 percent, he’s worth a Tier 1B investment. The mitigating factors are the presence of Darren Sproles, who got a big one-year contract to be an offensive factor, and whether Tomlinson can be at or near full strength all season. I’m not sure I expect Tomlinson to exceed last year’s numbers, but I’m comfortable saying that he’ll match them. That means that when it comes to Tier 1B, LDT is a yes.

DeAngelo Williams, Panthers – Williams, a former first-round pick, went bananas last year, rushing for 1,500 yards and totalling 20 touchdowns. It would be irrational to expect that kind of crazy production again in ’09, but there are good signs for Williams. He is in a run-first offense, and even though Jonathan Stewart is around, it’s not like Stewart (10 TDs, 800 yards) did nothing last year. While we can expect Stewart to get a bit more work this year, projecting Williams for 1,200 yards and 12 touchdowns isn’t a stretch. And with those numbers, when it comes to Tier 1B, Williams is a yes.

Chris Johnson, Titans – Johnson had a great rookie year, rushing for 1,200 yards and nine touchdowns and also catching 43 passes for 260 yards and a score. He is a gamebreaker who gets tons of yards on big plays. But LenDale White, who is apparently in better shape, is there to split carries with Johnson. But White had 773 yards and 15 rushing touchdowns last year, and I just can’t see him surpassing those numbers in ’09. In a run-first offense, that leaves plenty of opportunities for Johnson, who should have another big year. So I say that for Tier 1B, Johnson is a yes.

Brandon Jacobs, Giants – Jacobs is a big, bruising back, and last year he ran for 1,000 yards and 15 touchdowns. I actually think that Jacobs could take a step forward from those numbers this year. Injuries cost him three games last year, and another member of the Giants’ Earth Wind and Fire trio, Derrick Ward, moved on to Tampa Bay in free agency. So while Ahmad Bradshaw is still around to spell Jacobs, it’s big Brandon who will be the Giants’ No. 1 running threat. That makes Jacobs a yes for Tier 1B.

Brian Westbrook, Eagles – Westbrook has been an elite fantasy back for the last three years, but while his total numbers last year look good (1,300 total yards and 14 total touchdowns), his production was definitely down. Even worse, the injury problems that had plagued him much of his career seemed to reoccur. Plus, the Eagles finally got a top-level complement to Westbrook in rookie LeSean McCoy. All this makes me think the arrow is starting to point down on Westbrook, and so when it comes to Tier 1B, I’m saying no on Westbrook. I’d rather invest in him as a high-upside, if a bit risky, Tier 1C guy.

Steve Slaton, Texans – Last year, Slaton appeared on my draft board when he wasn’t on most lists, and as a result I ended up grabbing him as my last pick in a couple of leagues. That worked out well, as Slaton became a primary back by Week 3 and ended up posting nearly 1,300 yards and 10 total touchdowns. The question is whether he can do it again. I think he’s definitely a 1,000-yard, 8-touchdown guy, but my hunch is that he takes half a step back this year. Part of the reason is that I still don’t see the Texans’ offense as one that can sustain huge numbers from both Slaton and WR Andre Johnson, and I think Slaton’s numbers are the ones that will fall back just a bit. But I’m still going to sneak Slaton into the bottom of Tier 1B, because if you end up picking near the end of round 1 and he’s your top back, I still think you’ve gotten a solid guy.

Frank Gore, 49ers – For some reason, I think of Gore as injury prone, but he’s played at least 14 games in each of the last 3 years. But his production has leaked over the past three seasons, going from 1,695 rushing yards in ’06 to just over 1,000 last year. His TD numbers bounced back to 8 last year, though. I think at this point that we have to say that Gore is what he’s shown the last two years – a 1,100-yard, 8-touchdown guy – and not what he was in 2006. And since that’s the case, we have to put Gore on 1c. So when it comes to Tier 1B, Gore is a no.

Marion Barber, Cowboys – Barber has never been an unquestioned No. 1 back, because he’s always had a complement, whether it was Julius Jones in the past or Felix Jones and Tashard Choice last year. But Barber has still been really productive touchdown-wise, scoring 37 over the past three seasons. He has shown a bit of a decline in those touchdown numbers – going from 16 to 12 to 9 last year – and his yardage numbers aren’t eye-popping, as he totalled around 1,200 combined rushing and receiving yards in each of the past two years. The logical thing in rating Barber would be to knock him off Tier 1B, given his numbers and the presence of Felix Jones and Choice. But right now, my sense is that Barber is due for a bit of a bounce back. So as we start our draft board, Barber is a yes to sneak into Tier 1B. It’s a bit of a call, but one we’re willing to make right now.

Clinton Portis, Redskins – Portis hasn’t gotten sincere fantasy love over the past few years, but last year he played and started every game, totalled more than 1,700 yards from scrimmage, and scored 9 touchdowns. Those are big numbers, and they aren’t out of character for Portis at all. Really, aside from a 2006 season in which he missed half the year, that’s what Portis does every year. So while he doesn’t always get mad fantasy respect, he’s legit enough to earn a spot on Tier 1B.

Knowshon Moreno, Broncos – I’m a sucker for rookie running backs, but they often jump into fantasy stardom right away. Moreno is the back who has the best chance to do so this year. He should have plenty of carries, and he has the talent. But the major changes going on in Denver make me a little more hesitant about Moreno. Instead of putting Moreno on Tier 1B, we’ll make him a featured player on one of the next two tiers. If that means I miss out on him, I can live with that. For Tier 1B, Moreno is a no.

Marshawn Lynch, Bills – Lynch is a very solid back, and he’s had more than 1,000 yards in each of his two seasons. The problem is that he’s facing an NFL personal-conduct suspension that is currently slated to last three games. The Bills also have Fred Jackson and addition Dominic Rhodes to split carries with Lynch. A couple things to note: While the suspension must knock Lynch down a bit, it could be reduced, as Brandon Marshall’s was just before last season. And when he returns, Lynch should at least be a top-15 running back. That’s not enough to put him on Tier 1B, but know that his suspsension makes him a bit of a value just a little further down the board. For Tier 1B, though, Lynch is a no.

So after all this, here is Tier 1B, alphabetically:

Marion Barber
Larry Fitzgerald
Steven Jackson
Brandon Jacobs
Chris Johnson
Clinton Portis
Steve Slaton
LaDanian Tomlinson
DeAngelo Williams

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