Monthly Archives: June 2010

FR: May-June cuts

This post compares cuts NFL teams made during the month of May. For previous cuts, start at the April cuts post and work your way back.

10 – Raiders (cut QB JaMarcus Russell) – The Raiders finally admitted that Russell, a former No. 1 overall pick, that he has become one of the biggest draft busts of all time. Russell has a big arm, and he went through a couple of offensive systems under Lane Kiffin and then Tom Cable. But Russell also showed an inadequate work ethic, and his noticeable belly became a tell about that. Russell’s failure became obvious last year, when journeyman Bruce Gradkowski took over the offense and got much better results. This offseason, the Raiders finally moved on from Russell, chalking up the $39 million they paid him as a sunk cost and trading for Jason Campbell as a replacement. Campbell, a QB who’s at least league average, if not a tick better, represents a huge upgrade over the underachieving and undermotivated Russell. Now Russell must show he wants to resurrect his career by getting in good shape and playing as a backup somewhere. But given Russell’s track record, a team would have to be completely desperate at quarterback to give him a shot, and aside from Buffalo, few teams are that needy. So Russell’s next shot won’t come easily.

9 – none

8 – none

7 – Patriots (cut CB Shawn Springs) – Springs was released after he reportedly failed a physical, although the Patriots indicated they may bring him back later in the offseason. Springs has been a good corner in the league for a lot of years, but his time as a starter is waning. He’s better as a No. 3 corner or even a veteran backup who gets a lot of time off during the regular season but who is available when it counts. Of course, all that assumes he can get healthy, which is no given for someone with 13 seasons of tread already on the tires.

6 – Seahawks (cut RB LenDale White, S Quinton Teal, QB Mike Teel, and WR Reggie Williams) – White had two good years out of four in Tennessee, but the Titans tired of his weight problems and attitude issues and dealt him to Seattle during the draft to move up a few spots in the fourth and sixth rounds. That light price in itself was a sign, but it appeared that White would be able to live up to his potential with his former college coach Pete Carroll. But when White was flagged for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy, which will shelve him for the first four games of the season, the Seahawks decided White wasn’t worth the hassle and released him. White has talent, but if Carroll, under whom White thrived at USC, doesn’t see White as worth a roster spot, then it’s possible that no one else will either. White now faces a huge crossroads, and if he doesn’t dedicate himself to performing on the field, he could end up in the UFL instead of the NFL this fall. Teal came over to Seattle from Carolina earlier this offseason, but after Seattle re-signed Lawyer Milloy and drafted Earl Thomas, Teal become redundant there. Teel, a sixth-round pick last season, got caught up in the Seahawks’ regime change after Seattle brought in Charlie Whitehurst and J.P. Losman to back up Matt Hasselbeck. Teel still may have some developmental potential, but the Patriots cut him after taking a quick look via waivers. Williams, a former first-round pick in Jacksonville, got a second chance in Seattle but wasn’t able to even make it last until training camp.

5 – Saints (cut DE Bobby McCray) – After adding Alex Brown this offseason, the Saints decided McCray was expendable in a move that saved the team over a million dollars. McCray had six sacks as he started eight games and played all 16 for the Saints in 2008 but slipped to just one start and 1.5 sacks in 16 games last year. At this point, he’s not going to provide a ton of pass rush, but he’d be a good minimum-salary gamble for a team looking for a third end who could start in a pinch.

4 – Dolphins (cut LB Reggie Torbor) – Torbor, a six-year vet, has never been a full-time starter in the NFL, and the Dolphins decided to move toward a younger (and cheaper) option at their backup inside ‘backer position. Torbor landed in Buffalo to help the Bills install their new 3-4 defense.

4 (con’t) – Chargers (cut DT Ian Scott and S Kevin Ellison) – Scott played as a backup defensive tackle for the Chargers last year, but he’s been passed on the depth chart and is just a replacement-level player. Ellison started nine games as a rookie for the Chargers last year, but he fell out of favor. Still, Ellison is young enough to be a prospect elsewhere, and that elsewhere is Seattle.

3 – Texans (cut RB Ryan Moats) – Moats had one monster game for the Texans last year, but fumble problems cut his playing time short, and with the addition of rookie Ben Tate and the emergence of Arian Foster, plus Steve Slaton in place, Moats faced a fight for a roster spot. Moats is good enough that the Vikings claimed him off waivers to take a look, but he’s not a starting-quality NFL back.

3 (con’t) – Cowboys (cut C Cory Procter) – Procter, who backed up for the Cowboys at guard and center, was released in what appeared to be a cost-cutting move. Instead of paying Procter more than a million bucks, the ‘Pokes can use a first- or second-year guy in a backup role at about a third of the cost. Despite that, though, Procter is good enough that the Dolphins are giving him a look.

2 – Buccaneers (cut LB Angelo Crowell) – Crowell was once a productive linebacker in Buffalo, but he missed the last two years with injury. At this point, it’s uncertain whether Crowell is anywhere close health-wise to a starting-caliber player.

2 (con’t) – Titans (cut WR Mark Jones) – Jones had a couple of good years as a return specialist, but injuries shelved him last season and continue to be a problem.

1 – Browns (cut PK Shaun Suisham) – Cleveland signed Suisham to put pressure on kicker Phil Dawson, who’s a free agent. But Suisham isn’t a long-term option, and Dawson has apparently called Cleveland’s bluff. The contract issue lingers, but Suisham won’t.

1 (con’t) – Broncos (cut QB Tom Brandstater and OT Maurice Williams) – Brandstater, who last year looked like a quarterback prospect, lost his roster spot after the Broncos added Tim Tebow and Brady Quinn in the offseason. He was claimed on waivers by the Colts and will get a shot to make the roster there. Williams, an offseason signee, wasn’t able to provide the OT depth Denver had hoped.

1 (con’t) – Chiefs (cut RB Kolby Smith and QB Matt Gutierrez) – Smith showed some flashes in Kansas City, but he fell behind Jamaal Charles and Thomas Jones and became too expensive to be a third-stringer. He landed in Denver via waiver claim. Gutierrez knows the Patriot-ish system the Chiefs run but has never proved he’s better than a No. 3 quarterback.

1 (con’t) – Bengals (cut CB Keiwan Ratliff) – Ratliff has bounced around in recent years after starting his career with the Bengals, but he’s out of a job – likely because Adam Jones pac-manned up the last CB spot on the roster.

1 (con’t) – Redskins (cut TE Sean Ryan) – Ryan is a block-first tight end who has bounced around but who wasn’t going to pass Chris Cooley or Fred Davis.

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FR: June signings

This post compares free-agent signings during the month of June. For past signings, go to the May signings post and work your way back.

10 – Raiders (add DT John Henderson) – Henderson was a salary-saving cut by the Jaguars, and he’s not the player he was at his Pro Bowl peak. But Henderson can still be a force inside, and at the worst he’s an upgrade over ’09 Raiders starter Gerard Warren. Henderson, like Richard Seymour last year, is an older player who can bring quality to a Raiders defense that isn’t bad. Plus, Henderson will help protect ’10 first-rounder Rolando McClain, which is a wise move as well. This is a nice late signing by the Raiders, who have had a solid offseason.

9 – Ravens (add UFA PK Shayne Graham, S Ken Hamlin, QB Marc Bulger, and UFA CB Walt Harris) – Graham had some great years with the Bengals, but last year wasn’t one of them, and the Bengals looked for a cheaper option. So Graham moves to Baltimore, where he figures to beat out Billy Cundiff at a spot that was a problem for the Ravens last year. Hamlin was a Pro Bowl participant just three seasons ago in Dallas, but his lack of range showed up over the last two years, and his play fell off to a level far below his contract. What Hamlin can still do is hit – he had 74 tackles last year and can still play as an in-the-box safety. But relying on him in coverage at this point will burn a team. In Baltimore, Ed Reed handles the backfield brilliantly, which makes a guy like Hamlin an acceptable safety counterpart. Maybe Hamlin finds the fountain of youth in Baltimore, but if he doesn’t, he can still help in a limited role. He’s still worth a shot for Baltimore on a one-year deal. Bulger was once a franchise quarterback in St. Louis, but years of playing behind a terrible offensive line sapped his effectiveness, led to injuries, and scuttled his starting career. So after posting three consecutive years with a 90-plus passer rating, Bulger has been pretty bad in recent years with his rating staying below 72. That’s a massive drop. The Rams have moved on to Sam Bradford, and now Bulger moves on to Baltimore. The Ravens are a good fit for Bulger because they have a solid offensive line and a top-flight running game, which means that if Bulger has to replace Joe Flacco, he’s set up to succeed. For the Ravens, meanwhile, Bulger provides a professional quarterback who’s just 33 and can be more of a long-term fill-in than Troy Smith at this point. This is a win-now move at $2.3 million that may not have been possible if not for the uncapped year. The signing of Harris is a similar transaction. Harris missed all of last season after an offseason injury, but before that he was a starter for some pretty good San Francisco defenses. Harris will be 36 when the season opens, but his more physical style can work in the right system. For a Ravens team that has really struggled at cornerback in recent years, Harris is the kind of veteran who may help younger players develop and who could even contribute on the field if the system makes up for his age-related shortcomings.

8 – Rams (keep UFA S O.J. Atogwe, add DT Chris Hovan) – Atogwe didn’t have his best season last year, which made restricted free agency a little dicey for the Rams and their former franchise player. But Atogwe is still a plus player for the Rams as he forces plenty of turnovers and makes big plays. Maybe the Rams would prefer Atogwe be more consistent, but his aggressiveness is still a benefit for a team bereft of playmakers. Keeping him once they had to let his restricted free-agent tender lapse was something the Rams needed to do to continue moving forward. Hovan hasn’t been a dominant player since his early days in Minnesota, but he’s still a starting-quality tackle who may be revived under Steve Spagnuolo, who had great success with defensive lines coaching the Giants. Hovan started all but one game over the last six seasons in Tampa, so at the least he’s a guy a rebuilding team can depend on to be there.

7 – none

6 – Chargers (add UFA WR Josh Reed, UFA TE Randy McMichael and OT Tra Thomas) – Both Reed and Thomas are solid pros, but neither is more than a fill-in at this point in his career. Thomas lost playing time to rookie Eugene Monroe in Jacksonville last year, but his years of experience at left tackle in Philadelphia are what San Diego’s looking at. If starting OLT Marcus McNeill holds out, Thomas has the know-how to be a stopgap option. But Thomas, who never was a dancer out on the edge, has lost mobility as he’s gotten older and could be exploited by speed rushers. Reed was a slot receiver in Buffalo, and while he can catch the ball reliably, he won’t break many plays. But if star WR Vincent Jackson holds out, San Diego needed some veterans who could at least run the right patterns, and Reed fills that bill. The more interesting things about both signings is not what these players bring but what it says about the Chargers’ hard-line stance against Jackson and McNeill. McMichael never lived up to his potential as a game-changing pass-catcher, but he’s been somewhat productive, and so he becomes a solid backup to Antonio Gates. He’s the kind of luxury bench signing a contender like the Chargers need to make.

5 – Bills (add LB Reggie Torbor) – Torbor got caught in a numbers game in Miami, but he’s a nice addition at inside linebacker for a Bills defense trying to move to a 3-4 this year. Like previous signee Andra Davis, Torbor does his job and tackles well. Neither Davis nor Torbor is a great player, but they’re good enough to provide stability until the Bills get playmakers in their linebacker corps.

4 – Seahawks (add S Kevin Ellison) – Ellison started nine games as a rookie for San Diego last year, but he was a surpising June cut by the Bolts. Seattle snapped him up quickly, first claiming him on waivers and then cutting him so that they could sign him to a new contract. If Ellison is going to succeed, Seattle’s a great place, since the former USC product is playing for his college head coach Pete Carroll.

3 – Redskins (add UFA Mike Furrey) – Furrey is perhaps the only two-way player in the league right now, as he can contribute at safety or wide receiver. It’s at wideout that the Redskins need help, since Santana Moss could be facing a league suspension stemming from his connection to Dr. Anthony Galea. Furrey has had one huge catch season, but he’s primarily a slot receiver who runs good routes and has good quickness. He can help the Redskins in three- or four-WR sets.

2 – Vikings (add RB Ryan Moats via waivers) – Moats had his moments in Houston last year, and he played for Vikings head man Brad Childress back in Philadelphia. So when Adrian Peterson started sitting out of minicamps, the Vikes didn’t hesitate to take the opportunity to claim Moats. Moats’ pass-catching acumen could mean that he gets some shots over rookie Toby Gerhardt in replacing Chester Taylor.

1 – Saints (add OG Terrence Metcalf) – Metcalf was out of the league last year, but he had a seven-year career with the Bears and could fit in as a backup guard.

1 (con’t) – Steelers (add LB Matt Stewart) – Stewart didn’t play last season, but as a starter in four of his six NFL seasons with Atlanta and Cleveland, he could provide depth at inside linebacker for the Steelers.

1 (con’t) – Broncos (add UFA FB Kyle Eckel and RB Kolby Smith via waivers) – Eckel is a borderline fullback who played for Josh McDaniels in New England. That’s the reason he has a shot to make Denver’s roster as a fullback, especially after Peyton Hillis left via trade. Smith has shown a few flashes in Kansas City, which makes him worth a waiver claim.

1 (con’t) – Colts (add QB Tom Brandstater via waivers) – Brandstater, once a prospect in Denver, got claimed on waivers by the Colts, who need to develop a backup to Peyton Manning now that Jim Sorgi is gone. Brandstater will compete with fellow ’09 rookie Curtis Painter for that spot, and only one of them will likely make the team.

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Pittsburgh’s Colon-oscopy

Few things make guys cringe more than the idea of a colonoscopy, so it’s a fitting image for the Steelers this week. Pittsburgh lost starting ORT Willie Colon to an Achilles injury. Below are some thoughts on the injury; you can see how it compares to other minicamp-era injuries in this post.

Colon, the Steelers’ starting right tackle who has 50 straight starts, injured an Achilles during a late-June workout and will almost certainly miss the season. That’s a huge blow for a Steelers team that has a subpar offensive line in general. Colon was a strong suit on that line, providing stability and some ground-game punch. Without Colon, the Steelers will have to immediately rely on rookie Maurkice Pouncey to start inside so that they can shuffle on the outside. Losing a starter in June is tough, but losing your best offensive lineman is almost devastating.

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Baltimore’s bargain bin

A few weeks ago, we posted on the Ravens’ signing of veteran FS Ken Hamlin to a one-year deal. Well, the Ravens have continued the trend of signing veterans as one-year insurance policies by adding QB Marc Bulger and CB Walt Harris. Here are some thoughts on those moves; you can see how they compare to other June signings later this week.

Bulger was once a franchise quarterback in St. Louis, but years of playing behind a terrible offensive line sapped his effectiveness, led to injuries, and scuttled his starting career. So after posting three consecutive years with a 90-plus passer rating, Bulger has been pretty bad in recent years with his rating staying below 72. That’s a massive drop. The Rams have moved on to Sam Bradford, and now Bulger moves on to Baltimore. The Ravens are a good fit for Bulger because they have a solid offensive line and a top-flight running game, which means that if Bulger has to replace Joe Flacco, he’s set up to succeed. For the Ravens, meanwhile, Bulger provides a professional quarterback who’s just 33 and can be more of a long-term fill-in than Troy Smith at this point. This is a win-now move at $2.3 million that may not have been possible if not for the uncapped year.

The signing of Harris is a similar transaction. Harris missed all of last season after an offseason injury, but before that he was a starter for some pretty good San Francisco defenses. Harris will be 36 when the season opens, but his more physical style can work in the right system. For a Ravens team that has really struggled at cornerback in recent years, Harris is the kind of veteran who may help younger players develop and who could even contribute on the field if the system makes up for his age-related shortcomings.

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Horn hangs it up

Joe Horn, who last saw game action in 2007, joined the retirement parade when he signed with the Saints so that he could retire with the franchise. Below are some thoughts on Horn’s surprising career; you can see how he compares to other retiring players in this post.

When I think of Horn, I don’t think of his infamous cell-phone touchdown celebration. I don’t even think of him as a Saint, which is what he was for his four Pro Bowl berths. (That’s why it was fitting that Horn re-signed with New Orleans for a ceremonial contract so that he could retire as a Saint.) Instead, I think back to my days at Pro Football Weekly and editing rosters. Part of our job for the PFW Preview magazine each year (which is still one of the best) was to edit the rosters down to fit. Some players would get their own lines; others would be relegated to a paragraph at the end. Horn started his career in the paragraph after coming to the Chiefs out of the CFL – he played for Shreveport and Memphis during the CFL’s ill-fated U.S. expansion era. And when Horn moved up to his own line on the roster, his alma mater – Itawamba J.C. – stuck out like a sore thumb. Considering that beginning, Horn’s rise to prominence in New Orleans is nothing short of shocking. Horn fought for his NFL chance and made the most of it once he grasped it, surpassing 600 career catches and 8,700 receiving yards and scoring 58 touchdowns. Horn earned a well-deserved spot in the Saints Hall of Fame, and as he retires we should celebrate his determination to establish himself as an NFL star.

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Flag football, contact injury

Steve Smith of the Panthers made headlines with a flag-football injury. Below are thoughts on his injury; you can see how it compares to other minicamp injuries in this post.

Smith’s broken arm wasn’t a minicamp injury, but we’re including it because it happened during minicamp season. Smith broke his arm in late June playing flag football, and the injury will sideline him through training camp. Smith is due to return before the season opens, but his absence is disturbing on two fronts. First, the Panthers are trying to break in new starter Matt Moore and develop rookie Jimmy Clausen. Smith’s absence will force Moore and Clausen to emerge with a motley crew of receivers. And the Panthers’ lack of receiving talent is the other reason Smith’s injury is scary. Any setback, and Carolina will enter the season with guys like Dwayne Jarrett, Kenny Moore, and Brandon LaFell trying to perform at a starter level. That won’t work, and it would cause the Panthers’ top-flight running game to face eight-man or even nine-man fronts. Smith’s offseason flag-football jones could end up costing Carolina big.

And since it’s Fantasy Football Friday, we thought we’d add some fantasy thoughts on Smith. We’ve already omitted Smith from Tier 1 among receivers in this post, and now he becomes a bit more risky. Once training camp comes, fantasy owners will get a better sense of Smith’s recovery, and the good news about his injury is that bone breaks tend to heal cleanly. But now Smith falls to the top of Tier 3 as an upside play with some risk. His injury also keeps Moore (or whoever ends up starting in Carolina) from becoming even a deep-sleeper candidate at quarterback. And if Smith has a setback, we’ll have to reconsider our stances of DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart and considermoving them down.

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Brown’s new town is D.C.

The biggest NFL trade since the draft went down last week when the Saints traded OT Jammal Brown and sixth- or seventh-round 2011 pick to Redskins for third- or fourth-round 2011 pick and conditional sixth-round 2012 pick. Below are some thoughts on the trade; we’ll compare it to other offseason trades in an upcoming Football Relativity comparison.

The Saints won the Super Bowl last year with Brown on the sidelines with hip and sports-hernia injuries, and despite missing the former two-time Pro Bowler New Orleans’ offense moved on just fine. So with Jermon Bushrod in place to play left tackle, and with Brown making noise about wanting a new contract or leaving via free agency after the 2011 season, the Saints decided to get something in return for Brown now. The price – basically either a third- or fourth-round pick- isn’t great, but that should be a roster player for New Orleans. Getting 60 cents on the dollar for an unhappy player trying to come back from an injury isn’t the worst result in the world. Brown moves to Washington, and he’ll probably move positions as well from left tackle to the right side, where he will be a bookend to fellow Oklahoma product Trent Williams. Brown is good enough to excel in that role, the Redskins (who had a horrible offensive line last year) are now starting to address a problem area. If Brown proves he’s healthy, and if the Redskins are able to resign him, he’ll be well worth the price. But taking a gamble on a name tackle with two big ifs is the kind of approach that has blown up in the Redskins’ faces in the past, so it bears watching whether the franchise can actually make this situation work. There’s potential for success in his move for the Redskins, but Washington hasn’t always been able to turn such potential into production, so we view this move with just a bit of skepticism.

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DeAngelo done? The typo of the day might unveil a loophole

Imagine my shock when I checked the NFL.com transactions page and saw this on Friday afternoon… (See second team entry; click on the image to enlarge it)

Pro Football Talk quickly reported that this was a matter of confusion. DeAngelo Willingham, an unknown cornerback from the Bengals, was released, but Stats LLC punched in the wrong name and cut the Panthers’ Pro Bowl running back DeAngelo Williams in its system, hence the typo.

Typos are part of the business. I once caught this one that I had written: Instead of writing “When kids are little, they like to play with toys in the bathtub.” I wrote “When kids are little, they like to play with boys in the bathtub.” A typo can completely change the meaning of what you’re trying to say.

But this typo begged a question – should the Panthers cut Williams? Here’s the thinking: Williams wants a new contract, and one of the reasons the Panthers haven’t been able to oblige is the 20 percent rule that kicked in for the uncapped year of 2010. Now teams cannot give players raises of more than 20 percent over their base-year salaries when renegotiating contracts. This is a big sticking point in holdouts that face signed players like Darrelle Revis and Chris Johnson, among others. Williams and Ryan Kalil are the two Panthers hamstrung by this rule.

But if a team were to cut a player with the wink-wink acknowledgement that they would re-sign him to a bigger deal, would that beat the system? For guys like Johnson or Revis, with less than four years of service time, this wouldn’t work, because they’d be subject to waivers. But under league rules, once you have four years of service (and Williams does) you’re not subject to waivers. (I couldn’t confirm whether the waiver rules changed along with the free-agent rules in the uncapped year, which would squash this theory.) So Williams would immediately become a free agent, and any team -including the Panthers – could sign him to any deal it wanted.

It would be a risky play – remember how the wink-wink ended up for the Cavaliers with Carlos Boozer years ago in the NBA – but it would be creative loophole hopping, to be sure.

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Fantasy Football: Which running backs will break out?

As I work on creating tiers on my draft board, one of the things I like to do at the top of Tier 2 is to list young players with big upside. As part of the process, I analyze which young players – especially at running back – are most likely to break out. In this post, we’ll share that analysis of potential breakout running backs, both among veterans and among the top rookies.

(For analysis of who fits on Tier 1, check out our RB, WR, and QB Tier 1 posts. And though it isn’t our work, this fantasy football depth chart site is invaluable.)

Worth the Tier 2 gamble

Ryan Mathews, Chargers – Mathews wasn’t the first running back taken in the April draft, but he certainly has the best opportunity to make a big fantasy impact among rookie runners. Mathews is a big, burly back who can handle 20 carries a game, and he moves into a San Diego offense that helped make LaDainian Tomlinson a fantasy record-setter. With Darren Sproles still in town, Mathews won’t put up LDT numbers, but Mathews should come in with a terrific season – 1,200 yards and 10 touchdowns is well within reach. That makes Mathews a great rookie to take a shot on atop Tier 2.

Knowshon Moreno, Broncos – As a rookie, Moreno piled up 1,150 yards from scrimmage and nine total touchdowns, even though he had 10 carries or fewer in five of his 16 games. Moreno still faces a carries challenge from Correll Buckhalter, and Broncos head coach Josh McDaniels is from the Bill Belichick school of rotating running backs, but it’s fair to assume that, in his second year, Moreno will break through the 1,000-yard barrier on the ground. He should finish with upward of 1,300 total yards, and if he gets the 8-10 touchdowns that usually accompany that kind of yardage, Moreno will find himself securely in Tier 2. We predict a modest increase in his numbers, and that makes him a solid fantasy starter.

Jonathan Stewart, Panthers – The Daily Show had another fine fantasy season last year, running for 1,133 yards and averaging 5.1 yards per carry. He also grabbed 139 receiving yards, and, more importantly for fantasy owners, scored double-digit touchdowns for the second straight season. Even in a 60-40 carry split behind DeAngelo Williams, Stewart has proven he’s a legitimate fantasy starter. And when you consider that the Panthers won’t have Jake Delhomme turning the ball over constantly in ’10, both Williams and Stewart could actually see their numbers increase in the upcoming season. Because of his role, his week-to-week production can fluctuate, but the end-of-season results make it impossible to omit Stewart from Tier 2. He’s easily a top-20 fantasy back, and he’s knocking on the door of an even more elite group. And if Williams were to get hurt, Stewart’s stock would shoot up even more. He’s the real deal for fantasy owners.

Jamaal Charles, Chiefs – Charles had shown flashes of great ability in his rookie season and into his second year, but it wasn’t until Larry Johnson was sent packing that Charles exploded. He had at least 17 touches in each of the final eight games, and the results were six days with 100 yards from scrimmage and eight total touchdowns. So if the late-season status was the same, Charles would be a no-brainer for Tier 2 and a contender for Tier 1. But the Chiefs’ addition of Thomas Jones in the offseason will limit Charles’ opportunities enough to make him a borderline Tier 2 player. Charles (who had an impressive 40 catches last season) will still pile up 1,200 total yards, but Jones could steal a few touchdown chances and hold down Charles’ upside. So entering the season, we’ll include Charles at the bottom of Tier 2, with the proviso that if Jones gets hurt Charles could easily become a top-10 fantasy back.

Shonn Greene, Jets – Greene emerged as a running threat in the playoffs last year, and the Jets were sold to the point that they cut Thomas Jones and traded Leon Washington in the offseason. Now Greene and Tomlinson, who came over from San Diego, are the runners in an offense that depends on the ground game. Greene averaged five yards a carry in the regular season last year, and he had two 100-yard games in the postseason. Greene hasn’t proven he’ll be an end-zone specialist, and he hasn’t been much of a receiver out of the backfield, which limits his upside for fantasy owners. But if you’re looking for a No. 2 running back who will pile up 1,000 yards and eight touchdowns without making you sweat while still giving you the potential for much more, Greene’s a good option.

Beanie Wells, Cardinals – As a rookie last year, Wells started slowly, but he ended up with 793 rushing yards and seven touchdowns. More importantly, he established himself as at least an equal partner with Tim Hightower in the backfield by about Week 6, and from that point on Wells was a solid option. With Hightower around, Wells is unlikely to get more than about 18 touches a game, especially since Hightower trumps him in the receiving department. But with Kurt Warner gone, there should be more carries in Arizona, and that bodes well for Wells. And if Hightower were to get hurt, Wells’ upside jumps considerably. We think a 1,000-yard season is in the offing for Wells, and it should come with 8-10 touchdowns. That makes him a guy we’ll sneak onto Tier 2 as an upside play.

Wait to roll the dice

Felix Jones, Cowboys – As the season dawns, it looks as though Jones has a leg up on Marion Barber and Tashard Choice in the Cowboys’ crowded backfield. That’s important, because while Barber and Choice are more physical runners, Jones is the Cowboy with the most breakaway ability. After playing just six games as a rookie, Jones stayed healthy enough for 14 last year, and the results included 800 total yards from scrimmage and three touchdowns. With a few more touches (and good health, which isn’t a given), Jones could knock those numbers up to 1,200 yards from scrimmage and eight touchdowns. But while that upside is there, Dallas’ stacked depth chart and Jones’ injury history make it unlikely. So we’ll leave Jones off Tier 2 and consider him an exciting No. 3 fantasy back instead of a dependable No. 2.

LeSean McCoy, Eagles – With Brian Westbrook gone, McCoy looks primed to take over as the Eagles’ No. 1 back. But don’t read too much into that role. FB Leonard Weaver proved last year that he needs to get a few carry chances in each game, and free-agent signee Mike Bell is going to find a role too. Given that situation, it appears that McCoy’s best games will be 80-yard, single-touchdown affairs, and he could finish under 1,000 yards for the season despite being the starter in Philly. McCoy is only a borderline fantasy starter, and that leaves him on Tier 3 instead of with the starters-with-upside group in Tier 2.

Jahvid Best, Lions – Best is one of three running backs who was selected in the first round of the NFL draft, and like Mathews he seems to have a clear shot at starting, at least until Kevin Smith returns from a major knee injury at midseason. But Best proved to be a bit brittle in college, and he looks like a back who can succeed more in 15 touches a game than a carry-the-load, 25-carry guy. Best will make his share of big plays, but he’s more of a matchup play and a bye-week fill-in for fantasy owners than a guy they will want to depend on each and every week. Others may be enamored with Best’s skills, but our feel for his role causes us to leave him on Tier 3.

C.J. Spiller, Bills – Spiller may be the most skilled of the rookie running backs, and he proved in college that he could break a big play on a run, catch, or a return. But Spiller doesn’t have a clear shot to carries in Buffalo, where even with Marshawn Lynch apparently out of favor, Fred Jackson still merits touches. Spiller is small enough that a carry split is wise, at least early in his career, but Buffalo’s below-par offensive line is another strike against Spiller’s fantasy value. As long as Jackson is around, Spiller isn’t more than a No. 3 fantasy running back in most leagues. On Tier 3, he’ll provide enough big plays to be an exciting option for fantasy owners. On Tier 2, though, Spiller’s numbers will be sporadic enough to make him a disappointment. So drafters should hold off on picking Spiller until the Tier 3 level.

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Hamlin’s new home

The Baltimore Ravens added a former Pro Bowler Thursday by signing S Ken Hamlin. Below are some thoughts on the move; you can see how the addition compares to others in the month of June in an upcoming post.

Hamlin was a Pro Bowl participant just three seasons ago in Dallas, but his lack of range showed up over the last two years, and his play fell off to a level far below his contract. What Hamlin can still do is hit – he had 74 tackles last year and can still play as an in-the-box safety. But relying on him in coverage at this point will burn a team. In Baltimore, Ed Reed handles the backfield brilliantly, which makes a guy like Hamlin an acceptable safety counterpart. Maybe Hamlin finds the fountain of youth in Baltimore, but if he doesn’t, he can still help in a limited role. He’s still worth a shot for Baltimore on a one-year deal.

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