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FR: 2009 Suspensions

As the season approaches, we thought it would be worth a look at the various suspensions players face to begin the 2009 system. So we’re using Football Relativity to compare the impact of these suspensions on their various teams. Note that this comparison doesn’t attempt to contrast the reasons behind suspensions; the only factor we’re considering in this comparison is how each player’s absence will affect his team or his own career. 10 is the most significant suspension; 1 is the least significant.

Note: The suspensions of Vikings DTs Pat Williams and Kevin Williams, Saints DEs Charles Grant and Will Smith, and Lions DT Grady Jackson are still pending. This “StarCaps” case is going through the court system, and there’s enough delay that all parties involved will be eligible to play in Week One.

10 – WR Plaxico Burress (2 years for violating personal conduct policy) – Burress’ biggest problem is obviously the jail term he is serving for criminal possession of a weapon, but he is ineligible to play in the NFL until after he serves his two-year sentence. That will knock him out of the NFL for the ’09 and ’10 seasons, and it could mark the end of his career given his age and the layoff he’s facing.

9 – Browns WR Donte Stallworth (1 year for violating personal conduct policy) – Stallworth was sentenced to less than a month in jail, but commissioner Goodell ruled that he would have to sit out the entire 2009 season. He is still under contract with the Browns, at least for now, which makes a move to the UFL for the season impossible. So Stallworth will have to sit. He’s still an NFL-caliber receiver, and even a starting-caliber guy, so his return in 2010 will bring some fanfare. But for now, Stallworth continues to pay for his huge mistake.

8 – Jets LB Calvin Pace (4 games for use of banned substance) – Pace, one of the Jets’ high-dollar acquisitions in 2008, said he accidentally took a tainted supplement that caused him to test positive for a performance-enhancer. Regardless of the unoriginality (or truthfulness) of his alibi, Pace’s absence will hurt the Jets. Pace has 13.5 sacks over the past two years in Arizona and New York, and he was a good fit as a pass-rushing OLB in the Jets’ 3-4 last year. As the Jets move to Rex Ryan’s system this year, the aggressiveness of the defense will be dialed up, which will play to Pace’s strengths once he hits the field. In his absence, the Jets are going to need pass rush to come from somewhere. Former first-round pick Vernon Gholston is the most likely candidate, but he just didn’t get it as a rookie. It’ll be interesting to see if the Jets’ D can thrive without Pace, because this looks like a pretty significant loss.

7 – Buccaneers S Tanard Jackson (4 games for violating substance abuse policy) – Jackson isn’t a household name, but he has started every game in both of his first two seasons in Tampa, and he’s becoming the type of playmaking safety that teams covet. So losing Jackson – especially on a defense that has already lost so many veterans – will make the Bucs’ defensive transition even more difficult. This is a huge blow to the Bucs’ hopes of getting off to a good start.

7 (con’t) – Bills RB Marshawn Lynch (3 games for violating personal conduct policy) – Lynch’s litany of off-field issues got him noticed by Roger Goodell, and he’s now serving a three-game suspension for that collection of misdeeds and mistakes. Lynch is a solid if unspectacular back who has more than 1,000 rushing yards in both of his first two seasons. But the Bills have Fred Jackson, another good back, in reserve, and Jackson’s good enough to carry most of the load through September. The real question for Buffalo is whether import Dominic Rhodes can be the kind of backup to Jackson that Jackson normally is to Lynch. I doubt that will happen, but the net effect won’t cost the Bills all that much because of Jackson’s ability.

6 – QB Michael Vick, Eagles (2 games for violating personal conduct policy) – We now know that Vick will be able to return to the NFL field after two games in 2009. The question is whether this penalty is enough to make sure that Vick is no more than a specialty player in the NFL in 2009. The Eagles have ideas on how to use him, but they don’t want to build their offense around a player who has missed two years before missing two games more in ’09. It’ll be interesting to see how Vick adjusts once he returns to the field.

5 – DE Shaun Ellis, Jets (1 game for violating substances and abuse policy) – Ellis, who was benched by the league and fined $100,000 as a result of a 2008 arrest for marijuana possession, will only miss one game, but it’s a significant one for the Jets. That’s because Pace, another member of the Jets’ front seven, is also sidelined for the game. That makes two big chunks out of the Jets’ defense, which will make beating the offensively prolific Texans on the road an even taller task.

4 — PK Garrett Hartley, Saints (4 games for use of banned substance) – Hartley admitted taking Adderall to try to stay awake, saying he wasn’t aware it was forbidden by the NFL. The Saints signed John Carney to fill in for Hartley, and that could be trouble for him, because Carney filled in for Lawrence Tynes with the Giants to begin last year, never gave up the job, and ended up making the Pro Bowl. So Hartley’s job is now in jeopardy because of this suspension.

4 (con’t) – DT Shaun Smith (4 games for use of banned substance) – Smith says he used a water pill, which is banned under the league’s anabolic steroids policy because it can be used as a masking agent. He was with Cleveland last year and with Detroit in training camp, but the Lions cut him just before the season. Smith will hook on elsewhere, because he can be a quality backup defensive tackle or even an average starter, but this suspension will seriously inhibit his market value and keep him from finding a new home quickly.

3 – LB Michael Boley, Giants (1 game for violating personal conduct policy) – Boley, whom the Giants signed from the Falcons in the offseason, will miss a single game. The Giants (and every other team) knew that a suspension was in the offing for Boley when he hit the free agent market, so the fact that this isn’t a surprise should limit its impact. Boley will be a starter, but he’s not so dominant that his absence will upset the Giants’ plans in the opener against the Redskins.

3 (con’t) – Colts DT Ed Johnson (1 game for violating substance-abuse policy) – The Colts cut Johnson last year after he was arrested for drug possession. They re-signed him this offseason because of their glaring need for massive defensive tackles, but Johnson still must sit out for one game with a league suspension. Johnson didn’t play at all in ’08, but he started every game for the Colts in ’07 and should be a contributor to the team’s DT rotation this year. Missing him in the opener against the Jaguars will hurt.

2 – Cardinals TE Ben Patrick (4 games for use of banned substance) – Patrick said he took Adderall to stay awake on a long drive. He wasn’t slated to start in Arizona, but with Steven Spach likely out part of the year after a postseason knee injury, Patrick still had a chance to establish a role as the Cardinals’ primary blocking tight end.

1 – WR Reggie Williams (2 games for violating substances and abuse policy) – Williams, a former first-round pick by the Jaguars who was the team’s best receiver in ’07 and was a contributor in ’08, was arrested earlier this year for possession of a controlled substance. That has severely limited his free-agent value, which wasn’t strong to begin with. While unsigned, he’ll be serving a two-game suspension, and he’ll have to be reinstated by the commissioner before he can return to the field.

1 (con’t) – DE Erasmus James (1 year for violation of substance-abuse policy) – James, a former Vikings’ first-round pick, has been out of the league since playing for the Redskins in 2007. His career was near its end anyway, and this suspension completely closes the door.

1 (con’t) – S Jimmy Williams (1 year for repeat violation of substance-abuse policy) – Williams, who was once a second-round pick in Atlanta, busted out there and then was cut by the 49ers after the 2008 season. This suspension could be the final nail in the coffin for his career, despite the potential he once showed.

1 (con’t) – LB Vince Redd, 4 games – Redd, who played for New England last year, was cut just before reports of his four-game suspension began to emerge. The Chiefs decided that such a bubble player wasn’t worth the wait and cut him.

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Fantasy Football: Injuries and issues

As a service to fantasy football players, here’s a combined list of some of the major injuries and other issues that will affect players’ ability to play as the regular-season starts. So here’s the list, which we’ll update as more news develops. All week designations refer to the regular season.

Out to begin regular season

QB Matt Cassel, Chiefs – could be out up to two weeks with sprained MCL and ankle injury

QB Kyle Orton, Broncos – could miss opener with dislocated finger

QB Chris Simms, Broncos – up to first two weeks with a high-ankle sprain

QB Michael Vick, Eagles – undetermined suspension; will know how many games by Week 6

RB Marshawn Lynch, Bills – 3-game suspension

RB Kolby Smith, Chiefs – out at least 6 weeks

WR Brooks Foster, Rams – 4-6 weeks with ankle surgery

WR Jabar Gaffney, Broncos – “several weeks” (likely 2-4)  with a hamstring injury

WR Brandon Jones, 49ers – up to first four games with a shoulder injury

WR Chaz Schilens, Raiders – up to first four games with broken left foot

TE Ben Patrick, Cardinals – 4-game suspension

PK Garrett Hartley, Saints – 4-game suspension

Out for the year:

RBs Justin Green, Cardinals; Thomas Clayton, 49ers; Andre Brown, Giants

WRs Syndric Steptoe, Browns; Harry Douglas. Falcons; Roy Hall, Colts; Marcus Smith, Ravens; Plaxico Burress, Giants (suspension); Chris Davis, Titans; Donte Stallworth, Browns (suspension); Devard Darling, Chiefs; Brandon Tate, Patriots; Demetrius Byrd, Chargers

TEs Cornelius Ingram, Eagles; Dan Campbell, Saints; Reggie Kelly, Bengals; Tory Humphrey, Packers; Ben Utecht, Bengals

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Fantasy Football: Opportunists

At the suggestion of Carl, we’re going to take the opportunity to look at players whose touches should significantly rise or fall based on new circumstances this year. We’ll try to identify this trend among some players whom we have not yet discussed in our fantasy football coverage this year (which you can catch up on via this category on the blog or by searching via player name on the right).

Opportunity Rising

RB Fred Jackson, Bills – With Marshawn Lynch being suspended for the first three games of the season, Jackson will be a No. 1 back to begin the year. The fact that he was so productive as a No. 2 back last year (884 total yards, three TDs) makes him a solid fantasy backup; the fact that he’ll be the guy for three games makes him an early-season starter. Jackson is a No. 3 fantasy back in leagues of 10 or more teams, and don’t be shocked if he starts for your team at some point after Lynch’s three-game break.

RB Darren McFadden, Raiders – This is more of a hunch than a situational call, but you can bank on McFadden having more than 142 touches in 2009. He missed three games last year and had three more games in which he had three or fewer touches. (Those numbers also indicate that someone else in Oakland, either Justin Fargas or Michael Bush, will likely lose some touches.) If McFadden just gets up to 10 touches in those games – which is a conservative projection – he becomes a borderline No. 2 fantasy running back. If he can move up to 15-20 touches a game, he’s a gimme starter with huge upside.

RB Ray Rice, Ravens – Rice was the third guy in Baltimore’s RB trio last year, but all signs from training camp this year are that he has stepped up to be the primary running back. LeRon McClain will still get work as a fullback, but Rice should end up with more than 140 touches and more than 727 yards, which is what he ended up with last year. He’s a borderline starter and a flex option for fantasy leagues.

RB Pierre Thomas, Saints – Thomas established himself as a big-time fantasy back last year despite being a part-time player in New Orleans. He had just 160 touches last year but turned that into 900 yards and 12 touchdowns. Now that Thomas has proven his ability to produce, we can count on him moving up into the 200 touch area, which will put him equivalent to or maybe even a tad above Reggie Bush’s load. That should push Thomas into the 1000-yard area, which will make him a borderline No. 2 fantasy back at worst.

WR Miles Austin, Cowboys – With Terrell Owens gone, the Cowboys have a No. 1 receiver in Roy Williams who probably won’t be an 80-catch guy and no clear No. 2 receiver. That opens the door for Austin, who had just 13 catches but three touchdowns last year. He should be a 30-catch guy easily this year and could end up with many more grabs than that. (We talked more about Austin in this post.)

WR Donnie Avery, Rams – Avery was kind of under the radar as a fantasy wideout last year, but he had a strong season for a rookie, catching 53 balls for 674 yards and three scores (along with one rushing TD). With Torry Holt gone, Avery is now the unquestioned lead receiver for the Rams, and with some luck (most notably health for Marc Bulger) he could move up to the 70-catch level. As you project Avery, watch his leg injury, which held him out of most of training camp and could sideline him in the regular season’s first game or two.

WR Patrick Crayton, Cowboys – As we discussed earlier, there are plenty of opportunities in the Dallas passing game. Crayton is the natural guy to move up from a 39-catch guy last year up into the 50-catch area. He was at that level in 2007, so he can do it. Crayton isn’t quite a fantasy starter, but he’s worth a bench spot as you see just how much of an opportunity he has in ’09.

WR Jerricho Cotchery, Jets – With Laveranues Coles gone, Cotchery is the unquestioned No. 1 wideout for the Jets. While that’s not a huge fantasy production spot now that the Jets are going with rookie Mark Sanchez at quarterback instead of Brett Favre, Cotchery has a chance to up his reception total from 71.

WR Anthony Gonzalez, Colts – With Marvin Harrison gone, Gonzalez moves up from a No. 3 slot receiver in Indy to a starting role. He’ll play both outside in 2-WR sets and in the slot in three-WR groupings, which means he’ll be on the field a lot. That means that he should see a bump up from his 57-catch total from last year. He’s probably not an 80-catch receiver, but 65 to 70 grabs is reasonable, and Gonzalez would likely turn that kind of opportunity into a 1,000-yard season.

WR Domenik Hixon, Giants – Hixon, whom the Giants plucked off the waiver wire in 2007, emerged as a legitimate receiving threat last year with 43 catches for 596 yards and two scores in ’08. With Plaxico Burress gone, Hixon is the best down-field option Eli Manning has now. That’s worth knowing going into fantasy drafts. While his catch numbers probably won’t scream upwards – he’s more likely to end up in the 50s than in the 70s – he should make enough plays on deep balls to be an intriguing fantasy option most weeks.

WR Eddie Royal, Broncos – Royal had a whopping 91 catches for 980 yards as a rookie, and it could be hard for him to match that catch level in the Broncos’ new offense. But we want to put him on this list to note that in the new Josh McDaniels system, Royal may end up with more catches than Brandon Marshall. And if Marshall holds out, sits out, or gets traded, Royal’s production will make him a starting receiver. This is a name you need to know going into your draft.

WR Steve Smith, Giants – The Giants let go of Plaxico Burress and Amani Toomer in the last year, and so there are opportunities a-plenty in New York. Smith, who had 57 catches last year, is the most likely guy to lead the Giants in catches. He may not have the yards or touches that other receivers like Domenik Hixon or maybe even Mario Manningham create, but Smith will be the most consistent fantasy option among the Big Blue wide receivers.

TE Dustin Keller, Jets – We’ve already discussed Jerricho Cotchery’s opportunity, but the real beneficiary of Coles’ departure is Keller, who should become a more regular part of the Jets’ offense. He had 48 catches last year, but he should be well into the 50s or even the 60s this season. His yards per catch will probably slip as a result, but from the ultimate fantasy perspective the opportunities will pay off. (We talked more about Keller in this post.)

TE Marcedes Lewis, Jaguars – With the upheaval the Jaguars have experienced at wide receiver, there’s an opportunity for Lewis to step up his production this year. He had 41 catches for 489 yards last year, and he could move up toward 50 catches and 600 yards this year. Because of the depth of the tight end position, those are still backup numbers, but they make Lewis a legit backup, especially if your league forces you to carry two tight ends.

PK Lawrence Tynes, Giants – After his postseason heroics in the Giants’ Super Bowl run, Tynes sat most of last season. He was hurt early, and replacement John Carney did so well that Tynes never really got a shot. But Carney is now in New Orleans, which means that Tynes once again will be the Giants’ full-time kicker.

Opportunity Falling

RB Joseph Addai, Colts – With the addition of rookie Donald Brown, Addai can no longer be considered Indy’s No.1 back. That means that Addai’s production will be more like what he offered in ’08 (750 yards, seven touchdowns) than his stud years (1,400 yards, 8 and 15 touchdowns) before that. (We talked more about Addai in this post.)

RB Earnest Graham, Buccaneers – Graham entered last season as the Bucs’ No. 1 back, but he can’t boast the same status this year because of the arrival of Derrick Ward. That makes Graham little more than a fantasy backup this season. (We talked more about Graham in this post.)

WR Lee Evans, Bills – Evans has been the Bills’ bellweather receiver for years now, but with Terrell Owens coming to town, he’s now more of a complementary player. That may not hurt Evans’ numbers too badly, because he’s averaged only 59 catches over the last two years. Evans will probably be around 55 catches this year, but with more of his chances coming downfield, he could average 16 or 17 yards per catch with six touchdowns or so. Still, that makes him more of a No. 3 receiver than the No. 2 he’s been in some recent years.

WR Justin Gage, Titans – Gage was the Titans’ best receiving option last year, compiling 34 catches in the 12 games he played. Because the Titans’ offense isn’t that pass-happy, no Tennessee receiver is a great fantasy option. But the addition of free-agent Nate Washington indicates that Gage will be more of a possession receiver in ’09. That knocks him from being a fantasy backup to more of a waiver-wire option in most fantasy leagues.

TE Benjamin Watson, Patriots – Watson, a former first-round pick, had a big fantasy season with 6 touchdowns in 2008, but he had just two last year. With Chris Baker coming on board, Watson should be even less of a receiving option this year. As a result, Watson is not a draftable fantasy guy.

PK Matt Bryant, Buccaneers – Make sure you note on your list that Mike Nugent signed in Tampa Bay to take over Bryant’s job.

PK Garrett Hartley, Saints – Hartley stablized the Saints’ kicking position late in the season last year, and the Saints’ kicker should be a high draft pick because of New Orleans’ prolific offense. But Hartley will miss the first four games of the season due to a league suspension, and the Saints brought in vet John Carney to fill in. Last year, Carney rode a fill-in spot with the Giants to a full season and a Pro Bowl berth. That means that you can’t bank on Hartley to begin the season and shouldn’t have him on your roster until Carney is out of the way.

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