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FR: Training camp injuries

As NFL teams start full-contact practices in training camp, the injuries start piling up quickly. This post compares the significance of major training-camp injuries. Because training camp injuries are so prevalent, we’re only including injuries that will or could cost players regular-season time. We’ll update this post throughout training camp as the injuries add up.

For comparison of injuries during minicamp season, check out this post.

10 – OLB Elvis Dumervil, Broncos – Dumervil stayed away from offseason work in Denver until he got a new contract, but just after he signed his $60-million-plus extension with $43 million in guaranteed money, he tore a pectoral muscle in training camp. He’ll miss four months, which takes him into the final quarter of the season and could lead the Broncos to put him on injured reserve. That’s a huge blow, because Dumervil developed into a premium pass rusher in Denver’s 3-4 defense last year. His 17 sacks were nearly half of the team’s 39, which is a statement about how good Dumervil was and how little other pass-rush help the team has. Without Dumervil, Denver’s 3-4 will undoubtedly struggle to pressure the passer, which will lead to more gimmick pass rushes that put more pressure on the secondary. For a team whose defense collapsed down the stretch, that’s a recipe for disaster. Now that Brandon Marshall and Jay Cutler have been shipped out, Dumervil was one of the two best players Denver had, and losing him is a massive blow that changes the course of Denver’s season. The fact that another of Denver’s elite guys, OLT Ryan Clady, is still trying to get back from an offseason torn patella tendon only makes the Broncos’ prospects bleaker.

9 – DE Ty Warren, Patriots – Warren, a seven-year veteran, has started all but one game he has played since his second season, and the former first-round pick has proven to be a durable and dependable defensive end in the Patriots 3-4 defense. However, a hip injury that required surgery forced Warren onto injured reserve, which means he will miss the 2010 season. While Warren isn’t a flashy player making a big statistical splash, his reliable presence allows the Pats to be creative in the linebacking corps. With Warren gone, the Patriots could miss Richard Seymour even more in 2010 than they did in 2009, as well as Jarvis Green, another recent departee.

8 – CB Domonique Foxworth, Ravens – Foxworth was the Ravens’ big signing at cornerback in 2009, and he started all 16 games with four interceptions last year. But he won’t start any games this year after tearing his ACL in the first practice of training camp. Losing a starter is always a big deal, but the Ravens losing a solid player like Foxworth in their biggest area of weakness is especially painful. The five-year vet says he’ll try to contribute to the team by participating in meetings and watching practices in an attempt to mentor Baltimore’s young corners, but the bottom line is that not having Foxworth on the field dampens the Ravens’ high hopes for the 2010 season a bit.

8 (con’t) – WR Donnie Avery, Rams – Avery was set to become the Rams’ No. 1 receiver once again, but he tore the ACL in his right knee in the Rams’ third preseason game, which will land him on injured reserve and end his season. The injury is a big blow to the Rams, because Avery (who had 100 catches over the past two years) is the only proven receiver on the Rams’ roster. The injury not only stymies a St. Louis attack that’s bereft of playmakers; it also makes it harder for rookie QB Sam Bradford to succeed because he has so few quality targets to look for.

7 – OLB Sergio Kindle, Ravens – Kindle, a second-round pick by the Ravens in this year’s draft, injured his head in a fall in a home in late July, and as a result he was not able to report to training camp. His college head coach, Mack Brown, has said that Kindle suffers from narcolepsy, which could explain the fall. Kindle is not cleared to leave Austin, Texas, while the swelling on his brain lessens, and as a result he likely won’t make it to Baltimore until after the Ravens break camp. It wouldn’t be shocking if the Ravens either placed Kindle on injured reserve or simply didn’t sign him until he’s healthy later this season or after 2010. The injury is a big loss, because we’re big believers in Kindle’s talents.

7 (con’t) – DE Phillip Merling, Dolphins – Merling suffered a torn Achilles in late July, just before camp opened, and it will cost him the entire 2010 season. Although he started only four games over  his first two seasons, Merling was a sturdy run-stopper who figured into the mix at defensive end. Miami now needs first-rounder Jared Odrick to be an immediate contributor and veteran Charles Grant to adjust quickly to the 3-4 defense after years in the 4-3. Veteran Marques Douglas, like Grant a pre-camp signee, also adds depth.

7 (con’t) – CB Leigh Bodden, Patriots – In a surprising move, Bodden was placed on injured reserve at the end of August with a rotator cuff injury. Bodden played well for the Patriots last year as a starter, and the team will miss his physical presence out on the corner. Now the Patriots must rely on youngsters like Darius Butler and Devin McCourty to hold down the fort on the corner.

6 – RB Ben Tate, Texans – The Texans’ offense took a big hit when second-round pick Ben Tate suffered a season-ending ankle injury in the preseason opener. Tate was slated to compete with Arian Foster as the Texans’ featured back, and Houston head coach Gary Kubiak has shown he likes to have a deep stable of running backs. Now that Tate’s out for the year, Houston will need Foster to become an every-down back and Steve Slaton to regain consistency as a third-down back. Tate’s injury is a blow to Houston’s prolific offense, and that offense is the reason the Texans have playoff hopes.

6 (con’t) – RB Montario Hardesty, Browns – Hardesty, a second-round pick out of Tennessee, was a chic pick to become the Browns’ starting running back. But he suffered a torn ACL in the final preseason game that will cost him the entire season. It’s a blow to a Browns offense that has a solid line but a lack of playmakers.

5 – TE John Phillips, Cowboys – Phillips, a backup tight end who was emerging as a complete threat for the Cowboys, tore his ACL in the Hall of Fame game and will miss the season. Now that Phillips is out, Dallas needs Martellus Bennett to convert his potential into performance on a far more consistent basis to balance all-star Jason Witten.

5 (con’t) – RBs Lynell Hamilton and P.J. Hill, Saints – With Mike Bell leaving via free agency, Hamilton was slated to step into the backup running back role for the Saints behind Pierre Thomas. That was an important spot last year, because it allowed Reggie Bush to be a versatile threat and not a heavy-use runner. Now, with Hamilton gone for the year with a torn ACL, the Saints will need to add a back or give Bush more carries and hope he stays healthy. Hill bounced around as a rookie last year, and after Hamilton’s injury he may have been able to fight his way into a roster spot, but a left leg injury cost him the 2010 season as well.

5 (con’t) – WR Torry Holt, Patriots – Holt, the long-time Ram who was trying to hook on with New England this year to continue his career, suffered a knee injury that caused the Patriots to put him on injured reserve and end his season. This may be the end of the line for the seven-time Pro Bowler who was on the NFL’s all-decade team of the 2000s, and if it is, he unfortunately ended with a whimper.

5 (con’t) – S Gibril Wilson, Bengals – Wilson has been viewed as the answer in Oakland and Miami the last couple of years, but he hasn’t played up to the level he showed in his first four pro seasons with the Giants. The Bengals were ready to give Wilson a try this year, but he suffered a torn ACL and MCL in the second preseason game and will spend the season on injured reserve instead.

5 (con’t) – RB LenDale White, Broncos – White, who landed with Denver just after training camp began, had a nice preseason and looked to have a job locked down. But White suffered a torn Achilles in the preseason finale and will miss the season. White would have sat out the first four games of the year on a league-mandated suspension, but his injury takes away an option that the Broncos would have liked to have had.

4 – CB Walt Harris, Ravens – Harris, 35, was trying to prolong his career in Baltimore after missing the ’09 season with an ACL injury. But he couldn’t get healthy enough to practice, and that landed him on injured reserve with an ankle injury. It’s a shame, because after Domonique Foxworth’s injury, the Ravens could use Harris’ veteran wiles on the corner.

4 (con’t) – DT D’Anthony Smith, Jaguars – Smith, a defensive tackle expected to be a big part of the Jaguars’ rebuilt defensive line this year, tore his Achilles tendon and will likely miss the season. Smith, a third-round pick  out of Louisiana Tech in April’s draft, was along with Tyson Alualu to add depth to an area that has been a weak spot since the glory days of John Henderson and Marcus Stroud. Now the Jags need guys like Terrence Knighton to step up alongside Alualu, who needs to be a premium player for Jax.

4 (con’t) – C Eric Heitmann, 49ers – Heitman has started all but two games for the 49ers since 2004, but he will miss at least the first month of the 2010 season with a broken leg he suffered in training camp. That’s a blow for a Niners team that invested so heavily in upgrading its offensive line this offseason. With Heitmann out, David Baas, who has started for the Niners but hasn’t played center since college, gets the first shot to step in.

4 (con’t) – ILB Donald Butler, Chargers – Butler, a third-round pick out of Washington in April’s draft, was contending for a starting spot in San Diego’s 3-4, but he suffered a season-ending Achilles tendon tear in early April. That’s a loss for the Chargers, who need stability at inside linebacker and don’t have a ton of depth there. Veteran Kevin Burnett now needs to hold up for a bunch of snaps for the Bolts.

4 (con’t) – ILB Andre Frazier, Steelers – Frazier, a five-year vet, had carved out a role as a backup inside linebacker in the Steelers’ vaunted 3-4 defense. But a knee injury will sideline Frazier for the season.

4 (con’t) – S Jamie Silva, Colts – Silva, an undrafted player three years ago, carved out a niche as a special-teamer with Indianapolis, both on coverage and also as a punt returner last year. But a knee injury in the preseason opener will halt Silva’s 2010 season before it begins.

4 (con’t) – WR Mike Furrey, Redskins – Furrey, one of the veterans the Redskins added in the offseason to provide depth in a sorry receiving corps, battled concussion symptoms throughout training camp and decided not to play the season. The issue could end his career, which as Pro Football Talk spelled out, is a unique one. He played both wide receiver and safety in the league, including playing both last season with the Browns. Not bad for a guy who had to fight his way into the league by playing in the Arena League.

4 (con’t) – WR Kerry Meier, Falcons – Meier, a rookie out of Kansas, looked to be winning a spot on the Falcons’ roster as a tall possession receiver, perhaps replacing long-time Falcon Brian Finneran. But the fifth-round pick suffered a season-ending knee injury in the second preseason game and will miss the season.

4 (con’t) – WR Marcus Easley and LB Danny Batten, Bills – Buffalo placed two of its 2010 draft picks on injured reserve on the same day. Easley, a fourth-rounder, suffered a knee injury in early August that required surgery, while Batten, a sixth-rounder, needed surgery for a training-camp shoulder issue. Both will miss the season.

3 – DT Chris Hovan, Rams – Hovan, a former star, was trying to prolong his career with the Rams, but a back injury landed him on injured reserve. He will miss the season and may be done for his career as well.

3 (con’t) – RB Brian Leonard, Bengals – Leonard turned into a solid third-down back for the Bengals last year, but in the Hall of Fame game he suffered a Listfranc injury for his foot. That’s a blow to the Bengals, who don’t have another back who can block, catch, and run at Leonard’s level. Bernard Scott will have to step up behind Leonard as the complement to Cedric Benson until Leonard returns, which the Bengals hope will happen at midseason.

3 (con’t) – ILB Scott McKillop, 49ers – McKillop was a backup last year as a rookie out of Pittsburgh, recording 15 tackles. But his second year stopped before it started when he blew out his ACL in a training-camp practice. With McKillop out, veteran Matt Wilhelm or rookie NaVarro Bowman will have to be ready to step in at a moment’s notice.

3 (con’t) – OLB Marcus Howard, Titans – Howard, who played in nine games with 1.5 sacks as a rookie last year, suffered a triceps injury in training camp that will cost him the 2010 season in Tennessee.

3 (con’t) – LB Jordon Dizon, Lions – Dizon, a second-round pick in Matt Millen’s last Detroit draft, hadn’t established himself as a starter but did play in every game last year for the Lions. He was slated for a backup role until he tore his ACL in mid-August; now he will miss the season.

3 (con’t) – P Dave Zastudil, Browns – Zastudil, an eight-year vet who has done a good job in unkind weather conditions in Cleveland, will spend the 2010 season on injured reserve because of a patella tendon injury that cost him the second half of last season as well. He will be replaced by Reggie Hodges, who filled in last year as well.

3 (con’t) – QB Charlie Frye, Raiders – Frye, who got a cameo as a starter in Oakland last year because of injuries, will miss the 2010 season with a wrist injury. But the loss isn’t a huge blow to the Raiders, because they have Bruce Gradkowski set behind new starter Jason Campbell, and Kyle Boller may be an upgrade over Frye at No. 3.

3 (con’t) – LB Freddy Keiaho, Jaguars – Keiaho, who was a starter for the Colts in ’07 and ’08 but fell out of the regular lineup last year, was trying to regain relevance in Jacksonville. But a concussion in the preseason opener landed him on injured reserve.

3 (con’t) – WR Jaymar Johnson, Vikings – Johnson, a sixth-round pick in 2008, played as a fifth receiver in ’09, but he had a chance at more playing time this year, especially early, given the health issues of Percy Harvin and Sidney Rice. But Tarvaris Jackson’s former college teammate suffered a broken thumb that will cost him the season, further depleting Minnesota’s receiving corps.

3 (con’t) – QB Byron Leftwich, Steelers – Leftwich, who was battling with Dennis Dixon to be the Steelers’ starter in the first four games of the season while Ben Roethlisberger was suspended, suffered an MCL injury in the preseason finale. It’s a two-to-four week injury that takes Leftwich out of consideration to start the season opener and may take away his starting shot entirely.

2 – ILB A.J. Edds, Dolphins – Edds, a fourth-round pick out of Iowa, suffered a torn ACL in an early-August camp practice and will miss the season. Edds was expected to find a role on passing downs at inside linebacker in Miami’s 3-4. The injury is a blow to Miami and a blow to a rookie trying to earn a gig in the NFL.

2 (con’t) – DT John Gill, Colts – Gill, a second-year player, had a shot to win a rotation spot at defensive tackle for the Colts, but he will be sidelined as he deals with an alcohol problem. The team has placed Gill on the non-football injury list.

2 (con’t) – RB Harvey Unga, Bears – Chicago spent a seventh-round pick in the summer supplemental draft on Unga, who had a nice career at BYU. But when he struggled in training camp, a roster spot appeared like a long shot, so the Bears took advantage of a hamstring injury to put Unga on injured reserve and get a full offseason with him in 2011.

2 (con’t) – RB Stafon Johnson, Titans – Johnson’s feel-good story took a nasty turn when the undrafted rookie suffered a season-ending ankle injury in the preseason opener. Johnson, a starter at USC who suffered a catastrophic throat injury during a weighlifting session when the bar fell on his throat, was trying to return to the field, but this injury makes the NFL an impossibility this year and even more of an improbability going forward. Johnson deserves better luck.

1 – RB-KR Kory Sheets, Dolphins – Sheets tore his Achilles tendon in a non-contact drill and will miss the season. He was contending to be the Dolphins’ primary kickoff returner. The Purdue product played in two games in his rookie season in ’09.

1 (con’t) – CB Evan Oglesby, Dolphins – Oglesby, who played one game for Miami last year, will miss the season with a left leg injury that landed him on injured reserve.

1 (con’t) – LB Darnell Bing, Texans – Bing, who spent the last two years in Detroit, was trying to make the Texans, but instead he will spend the season on injured reserve.

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Rise/Sink/Float – WRs in new places

As we continue our fantasy football preparation for 2010, we’re going to analyze players with new teams and predict whether their 2010 numbers will rise above, sink below, or float alongside their 2009 production. In this post, we cover running backs. We covered quarterbacks and running backs, and we’ll cover tight ends in a subsequent post.

WR Brandon Marshall, Dolphins – Marshall has been a 100-catch receiver in each of the last three seasons, and despite his problems with Broncos despot Josh McDaniels Marshall notched 1,120 yards and a career-best 10 touchdowns. Now he moves to Miami to become the Dolphins’ unquestioned No. 1 receiver. While Miami isn’t the pass-happy offense that Denver has had over the past few years, Marshall will get enough chances to notch at least 80 catches, and his yards-per-catch average should go up in Miami’s offense. Plus, emerging QB Chad Henne is more talented than Denver’s Kyle Orton, which bodes well for Marshall’s future. We continue to view Marshall as a top-10 fantasy wideout whose stock won’t suffer in his new home. Verdict: Float

WR Anquan Boldin, Ravens – Boldin has won fans for his toughness (especially after playing with a broken face) and also for his production. He’s averaged a whopping 6.17 catches per game over his career, so even in seasons when he’s missed a handful of games he’s been productive. Boldin’s never been a huge yards-per-catch guy, nor has he been a consistent touchdown machine, but the fact that Larry Fitzgerald was the bigger big-play threat of the former Cardinals duo may play a role in that. In Baltimore, Boldin pairs with Derrick Mason, a solid receiver who isn’t nearly the threat that Fitzgerald is. That may mean Boldin gets more attention, but it should also mean that the Ravens look to Boldin for more big plays and more in the end zone. Our guess is that Boldin’s fantasy stock makes him only a borderline No. 1 fantasy receiver somewhere between 12 and 15 at the position, which is where he has been in recent years. But now there’s upside that Boldin could move into the top 6 at the position. For that reason, we sense an ever-so-slight rise. Verdict: Rise

WR Antonio Bryant, Bengals – Bryant came out of nowhere as a No. 1 receiver in Tampa Bay in 2008, but last year as a franchise player he missed three games, fell out of favor, and finished with just 600 receiving yards and four touchdowns. After the season, he moved as a free agent to Cincinnati, where the Bengals hope he will do better than Laveranues Coles did last year in replaced T.J. Houshmandzadeh as Chad Ochocinco’s running mate. Bryant, who averaged 15 yards a catch last year, could also replace some of the vertical plays that the Bengals missed after the late Chris Henry’s injury last season. That’s traditionally been a pretty productive spot, and even though the Bengals have focused more on the running game, we see Bryant’s stock ticking upward this year. He should be a borderline No. 3 receiver in normal-sized leagues, which makes him a better buy than he ended up being last year. Verdict: Rise

WR Nate Burleson, Lions – Burleson didn’t get a ton of pub in Seattle, but he had a nice season last year. Despite missing three games, he totaled 63 catches for 812 yards with three scores. Now Burleson moves to Detroit on a big-time contract to provide a second option behind Calvin Johnson for young QB Matthew Stafford. But before you get too high on Burleson, note a couple of things. First, Burleson’s only surpassed 50 catches twice in his career, and he’s not traditionally a big-play receiver. So Burleson becomes a nice fill-in who’s a decent No. 4 fantasy wideout, but his stock isn’t much more than that. Our sense is that’s about what Burleson was at the end of last season, which means his stock is merely floating. Verdict: Float

WR Santonio Holmes, Jets – First things first: Holmes will have to serve a four-game suspension to start the season. That depresses his stock for fantasy owners. But on the field, Holmes emerged as a legitimate No. 2 fantasy receiver over the past two years, as his 79-catch, 1,248-yard 2009 campaign demonstrates. By moving to New York, Holmes moves to a more inexperienced quarterback in Mark Sanchez, and that could limit his per-game numbers to some degree. But in a contract year, we believe Holmes will perform at a similar level to his ’09 numbers once the second half of the season dawns. We put far more fantasy stock in Holmes than in fellow contract-year wideout Braylon Edwards among Jets wideouts. Holmes’ value falls from last year’s levels because of the suspension, but keep him on your draft board in search of midseason value. (FYI: We’ll have a post later this summer on how to deal with suspended players on your draft board.) Verdict: Sink

WR Ted Ginn, 49ers – Ginn never emerged as the big-play threat the Dolphins hoped he would after he was a first-round pick in the ’07 draft, and so now he looks for a fresh start in San Francisco. The 49ers aren’t known for their passing game, but with Alex Smith returning and Michael Crabtree emerging, that could be changing. If so, Ginn fits in as a big-play threat who can fill in as a No. 5 fantasy receiver. His stock isn’t what it was last year, but he’s worth leaving on your draft board as a late-round upside play. Verdict: Sink

WR Donte Stallworth, Ravens – Stallworth, who missed the entire ’09 season as result of a deadly traffic accident, returns to play for his fifth team. Stallworth has talent and speed, but he’s never put all his skills together. That has led to him being consistently overrated by fantasy owners. This year, Stallworth is fighting for the Ravens’ No. 3 receiver job, which would put him behind Boldin and Mason. That’s actually a role he can thrive in, because Stallworth has deep-ball skills. His upside is probably a stat line like he had in Philly in 2006 (38 catches, 725 yards, 19.1 yards per catch average, five touchdowns). That’s enough to make him worth a flier as a No. 5 fantasy receiver. Since he has fantasy value once again, we’re categorizing him as a riser. Verdict: Rise

WRs Mike Furrey and Bobby Wade, Redskins – Furrey hasn’t had much offensive production since his Mike Martz Detroit days in ’06 and ’07, but in Washington he at least has a chance of becoming a possessions receiver. Wade, who’s had at least 33 catches in each of the last four seasons despite playing for three teams, has that chance as well. Our guess is that one of them becomes a secondary option for the Redskins and gains some value. That means they both float as waiver-wire pickups in fantasy leagues. Verdict: Float

WR Kassim Osgood, Jaguars – Osgood was a special-teams dynamo in San Diego who always longed for an offensive role. But he had just five catches over the past five years with the Bolts. Now in Jacksonville, Osgood structured a contract with incentives if he emerges as a receiver. Chances are he won’t, but the Jaguars’ receiving corps is soft enough that there’s room for Osgood to emerge. He’s nothing more than a late-round supersleeper, but that’s at least worth mentioning. Verdict: Rise

Antwaan Randle El and Arnaz Battle of the Steelers, Matt Jones of the Bengals, and David Patten of the Patriots are veterans with little to no fantasy value this year who had equivalent value last year.

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Rise/Sink/Float – QBs in new places

As we continue our fantasy football preparation for 2010, we’re going to analyze players with new teams and predict whether their 2010 numbers will rise above, sink below, or float alongside their 2009 production. In this post, we cover quarterbacks. We’ll cover running backs, wide receivers, and tight ends in subsequent posts.

Donovan McNabb, Redskins – McNabb has never reached the Peyton Manning/Tom Brady level of elite fantasy quarterbacks, but for most of his career he’s been a productive fantasy starter. But now that he’s moved from Philly to D.C., that status is endangered. He doesn’t have nearly the targets in Washington that he did with the Eagles, and that should limit his big-play potential. There’s no DeSean Jackson type of threat in D.C., and the Santana Moss/Devin Thomas/Malcolm Kelly/Mike Furrey collection outside is among the NFL’s most pedestrian groups. McNabb will have to rely on tight ends Chris Cooley and Fred Davis heavily, and that’s not the path to fantasy greatness. And even though Mike Shanahan is a QB-friendly coach, he’s not above McNabb’s former playcaller Andy Reid in that regard. Throw in the fact that McNabb has missed at least two games in four of the last five seasons and that he hasn’t produced at an elite fantasy pace since 2006, and what you have is a player on a minor decline going to a far less favorable situation. That means McNabb is no longer a dependable fantasy starter in 10-team leagues. Verdict: Sink

Jason Campbell, Raiders – Campbell was dealt out of Washington when McNabb entered the scene. He lands in Oakland, where at least he’ll be a starter. But once again, Campbell faces learning a new offensive system. Coordinator Hue Jackson’s offense seems to fit Campbell’s skills a little better than what he had with Jim Zorn last year, so that’s a minor plus. And Oakland’s collection of receivers, while not a name group, has some promising young players in Louis Murphy, Zach Miller, and Chaz Schillens. Former first-round pick Darrius Heyward-Bey will need to emerge to give Campbell a true breakout threat, but there’s at least a chance of that happening. At the least, Campbell is a more professional QB than JaMarcus Russell and a more talented QB than Bruce Gradkowski, and that should help his receivers’ numbers and development. Last year was Campbell’s third as a starter and his first with 20 TD passes, and he threw for a career-high 3,600 yards as well. We don’t see Campbell moving into the top 10 of fantasy quarterbacks, but he’ll at least stabilize his numbers at last year’s level, and our hunch is that he might show enough of a tick forward to make himself a dependable fantasy backup. Verdict: Rise

Jake Delhomme, Browns – Delhomme hadn’t been a fantasy starter in recent years, but he remained fantasy relevant until last season’s total collapse in Carolina. He lost his starting job and got cut, and he landed in Cleveland as a stop-gap option. But don’t be fooled into taking Delhomme, even as a fantasy backup. Signs still point to the fact that he’s completely lost it, and even if he hasn’t Cleveland’s motley crew of receivers isn’t going to provide the opportunity for him to be even a decent fantasy fill-in. You’d be much better served taking a shot on a prospect who has a shot of taking over a starting job than spending a late draft pick on Delhomme. His stock is just as dead in the water as it was last year. We give him a float because he’s still sunk. Verdict: Float

Derek Anderson, Cardinals – Anderson, the former Browns starter, had a fantasy superstar season back in ’07, but his inconsistency cost him his job with the Browns. Now he moves on to Arizona, where he’ll back up Matt Leinart as training camp opens. Since Leinart hasn’t proved much in the NFL, Anderson could emerge as a starter, and he’d be interesting in that role with Arizona’s talented group of receivers like Larry Fitzgerald, Steve Breaston, and Early Doucet. That makes Anderson worth a flier as a backup quarterback in large leagues (more than 12 teams), just in case he overtakes Leinart early in the season. That hope means Anderson’s stock is actually a bit higher than it was in the doldrums in Cleveland last year. Verdict: Rise

Charlie Whitehurst, Seahawks – Whitehurst has never thrown an NFL pass, but he got a big contract after the Seahawks paid a pretty penny (at least in terms of draft picks) to acquire him from the Chargers. Matt Hasselbeck is still the starter in Seattle, but Whitehurst now looks to be the QB of the future there. That puts him on the fantasy radar. The former Clemson QB isn’t draftable except in mega-leagues where No. 2 QBs become handcuffs for their teams, but the fact that Whitehurst is worth noticing indicates a small rise in his value. Verdict: Rise

Marc Bulger, Ravens – Bulger had been battered over the years as a Rams starter, and his play quickly fell off as a result. Now he gets a chance to lick his wounds in Baltimore as Joe Flacco’s backup. That’s a good role for him, because if he’s pressed into action it will come behind a much better offensive line with an improved group of targets that includes Anquan Boldin and Derrick Mason. Bulger isn’t draftable in fantasy leagues, but if he gets on the field because of a Flacco injury, he becomes a decent fantasy fill-in. He’s still around the 35th best fantasy quarterback entering the season, as he was last year, but this time there’s upside involved. Verdict: Float

A.J. Feeley, Rams – Feeley hasn’t been on the fantasy radar since his starting stint in Miami back in 2004. And even though he’s the ostensible starter in St. Louis entering the season, he’s not fantasy relevant now. Sam Bradford looms, and the Rams don’t have nearly enough weapons to make Feeley worth a second glance by fantasy owners. His fantasy stock continues to float along at the worthless level. Verdict: Float

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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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Jersey Numbers: Wide Receivers

Over the next several weeks, we’re going to look at several different positions (I can’t yet promise all) to identify the best players wearing each jersey number at each position. If this goes as planned, we’ll then compile a list of the best player wearing each jersey number in the league.

If you have quibbles, or want to add someone I forgot, leave a comment and we’ll update this post. And please have patience – this is a big job.

We’ll start in this post with the best wide receivers at each jersey number. In general, wideouts are allowed to wear numbers between 10 and 19 as well as between 80 and 89.

10 – Santonio Holmes, Steelers – We’ll go with Holmes, the defending Super Bowl MVP, in this category, but it’s a close decision over DeSean Jackson of the Eagles. Both are significant starters for their teams and emerging stars in the league. Other notable 10: Jabar Gaffney, Broncos

11 – Larry Fitzgerald, Cardinals – Fitzgerald is one of the very best receivers in the league, and so he gets the nod as the premier wideout wearing No. 11. He became a superstar in last year’s playoffs, doing what he had done in relative obscurity earlier in his career in Arizona. Fitzgerald is the real deal. Other notable 11s: Mike Sims-Walker, Jaguars; Mohammed Massaquoi, Browns; Roy Williams, Cowboys; Laveranues Coles, Bengals; Julian Edelman, Patriots; Legedu Naanee, Chargers; Roscoe Parrish, Bills; Stefan Logan, Steelers

12 – Marques Colston, Saints – Colston is the premier receiver on the league’s most potent offense, and now that he’s healthy he’s showing incredible skills for his size. That gives him the nod over Steve Smith of the Giants as the best No. 12 wideout in the league. Both Colston and Smith may have to move over for Minnesota rookie Percy Harvin at some point in the future. Other notable 12s: Michael Jenkins, Falcons; Justin Gage, Titans; Darrius Heyward-Bey, Raiders; Quan Cosby, Bengals

13 – Johnny Knox, Bears – Knox is the only notable receiver wearing No. 13 this year. The rookie out of Abilene Christian has had a nice freshman season in the NFL with three receiving TDs and a return for a score. Maybe he’ll make 13 a trendier, if not luckier, number for wideouts.

14 – Brandon Stokley, Broncos – Like 13, 14 isn’t a popular number for receivers. Stokley, who had good seasons with the Colts and the most memorable touchdown of the season off a tip in the opener against the Bengals, is the best of the bunch over St. Louis prospect Keenan Burton. Other notable 14: Eric Weems, Falcons

15 – Brandon Marshall, Broncos – Marshall’s numbers aren’t quite as good this season as fellow 15 Steve Breaston of Arizona, but Marshall is the more dynamic and more important player than Arizona’s talented third receiver. Marshall has the talent to be one of the league’s top-5 overall receivers. Other notable 15s: Kelley Washington, Ravens; Chris Henry, Bengals; Davone Bess, Dolphins; Michael Crabtree, 49ers; Courtney Roby, Saints

16 – Josh Cribbs, Browns – Lance Moore of the Saints is the only notable pure wide receiver wearing No. 16 right now, but Cribbs, Cleveland’s do-everything guy, plays enough receiver and has a receiver number, so he counts here. Cribbs catches the ball, returns kicks, and plays under center in the wildcat. He may be the league’s best return man, and he’s growing as an offensive force. Moore had a strong season as New Orleans’ slot receiver last year, but injuries have hampered his production this year. Other notable 16: Danny Amendola, Rams

17 – Braylon Edwards, Jets – Edwards had fallen out of favor in Cleveland last year and this season, and his numbers reflected that diminished importance, but he’s now in New York and gaining steam. So we’ll list him as the top 17 over rookies Mike Wallace of Pittsburgh and Austin Collie of Indianapolis. Other notable 17s: Donnie Avery, Rams; Robert Meachem, Saints

18 – Sidney Rice, Vikings – Rice is emerging as the Vikings’ most reliable receiver, and he has become one of Brett Favre’s favorite targets. His good size and exceptional ball skills and leaping ability are finally starting to shine through now that he’s in his third season. He beats a crop of rookies to earn the honor as the best receiver wearing 18. Other notable 18s: Kenny Britt, Titans; Jeremy Maclin, Eagles; Louis Murphy, Raiders; Sammie Stroughter, Buccaneers

19 – Miles Austin, Cowboys – Austin has come out of nowhere over the past three games to establish himself as an explosive threat and the Cowboys’ best receiver. Even with the return heroics of Miami’s Ted Ginn Jr. and Denver’s Eddie Royal this year, Austin is the best 19. Other notable 19: Devery Henderson, Saints

23 – Devin Hester, Bears – Because Hester came into the NFL as a defensive back, he’s been allowed to keep his old DB number of 23 even though he’s now a wide receiver. The fact that he’s Chicago’s No. 1 outside target makes this a legitimate listing for a bit of a funky number for a receiver.

80 – Andre Johnson, Texans – If you made me pick one receiver as the best in the league, this is the guy. He has freakish size, incredible speed, and great production throughout his career. The only pockmark on his resume is the fact that he’s been dinged up from time to time. So he gets an easy decision here over Donald Driver of Green Bay as the best receiver wearing 80. Other notable 80s: Earl Bennett, Bears; Malcom Floyd, Chargers; Bryant Johnson, Lions; Bobby Wade, Chiefs; Marty Booker, Falcons; Mike Thomas, Jaguars

81 – Randy Moss, Patriots – Moss is already an all-time great, and he’s still performing at a premium level for the Pats. This is an easy call, even though  current great Anquan Boldin of Arizona, past greats Torry Holt of the Jaguars and Terrell Owens of the Bills, and future great Calvin Johnson of Detroit also wear 81. This number has great depth of talent. Other notable 81: Nate Burleson, Seahawks

82 – Dwayne Bowe, Chiefs – As deep as 81 is in talent, 82 is thin. We’ll give the nod to Bowe over the Giants’ Mario Manningham because Bowe has had more good seasons, even though Manningham has been more impactful this year. Other notable 82s: Antwaan Randle El, Redskins; Brian Hartline, Dolphins

83 – Wes Welker, Patriots – Welker, who piles up gobs of catches as the jitterbug/security blanket of the Patriots offense, narrowly gets this nod over Vincent Jackson of San Diego, who has joined the list of the league’s 10 best receivers. Lee Evans of Buffalo doesn’t have equivalent numbers because his quarterbacks have stunk for years, but he’s no slouch either. Other notable 83s: Kevin Walter, Texans; Deion Branch, Seahawks; Sinorice Moss, Giants

84 – Roddy White, Falcons – White has emerged as one of the top receivers in the league over the past three years, and he looks like he’ll team with Matt Ryan for a long time as Atlanta’s dynamic duo. We’ll take the ascending White over the descending T.J. Houshmandzadeh, who has had a great career in Cincinnati but is starting to show signs of slippage in his first season in Seattle. Other notable 84s: Patrick Crayton, Cowboys; Josh Morgan, 49ers; Bobby Engram, Chiefs; Javon Walker, Raiders

85 – Chad Ochocinco, Bengals – We have to give this jersey-number to Ochocinco, since he changed his name to be his jersey number in Spanish (kind of). But Ochocinco deserves it given the renaissance year he is having with the Bengals. Derrick Mason of the Ravens contended for the honor based on his long career, while Greg Jennings of the Packers could claim this honor in the future. Other notable 85s: Pierre Garcon, Colts; Jerheme Urban, Cardinals

86 – Hines Ward, Steelers – There aren’t a lot of great receivers wearing 86, but there is one – Ward. The former Super Bowl MVP isn’t just great at catching the ball; he’s a vicious blocker downfield as well. He’s a borderline Hall of Famer who is still building his resume. Other notable 86s: Dennis Northcutt, Lions; Brian Finneran, Falcons

87 – Reggie Wayne, Colts – Wayne has seamlessly taken over for Marvin Harrison as Peyton Manning’s premier target in Indy, and now Wayne is building his own case for the Hall of Fame. There aren’t five receivers in the league who are better or more explosive than Wayne. Other notable 87s: Bernard Berrian, Vikings; Andre Caldwell, Bengals; Muhsin Muhammad, Panthers; Mike Furrey, Browns; David Clowney, Jets; Jordy Nelson, Packers; Domenik Hixon, Giants

88 – Isaac Bruce, 49ers – Bruce is no longer the dynamic force he was for years in St. Louis, but he’s good enough to claim this number as his lifetime achievement award. Rookie Hakeem Nicks of the Giants is the only other significant 88 as a receiver, but he looks as though he will be a good one. Other notable 88: Chansi Stuckey, Browns

89 – Steve Smith, Panthers – Smith hasn’t had the season this year that he’s had in the past, and he’s even felt at times that he wasn’t an asset to his team, but those problems have more to do with the struggles of Carolina QB Jake Delhomme than with Smith’s own shortcomings. Smith is just 5-foot-9, but he’s lightning quick, built like a brick house, tough to bring down, and shockingly good on jump balls. He’s still an elite receiver. Other notable 89s: Santana Moss, Redskins; Jerricho Cotchery, Jets; Mark Clayton, Ravens; Antonio Bryant, Buccaneers; James Jones, Packers

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Wild Wideout Wednesday

Two huge news items regarding NFL wide receivers Wednesday. San Francisco and first-round draft pick Michael Crabtree finally agreed to a contract, ending the last holdout from this year’s NFL draft. Then the Browns traded WR Braylon Edwards to the Jets for WR Chansi Stuckey, LB Jason Trusnick, and third- and fifth-round draft picks. Here are some thoughts on both moves, both from an on-field perspective and a fantasy football perspective

On-field perspective

Many observers and analysts considered Crabtree the best receiver in this year’s draft (including Crabtree himself), but the Raiders took Darrius Heyward-Bey over Crabtree with the seventh pick. Crabtree went 10th the 49ers but continued to insist he deserved to be paid as the top receiver entering the league this year. That led to a stalemate between the Niners and Crabtree, with the would-be rookie threatening to sit out the entire season. But with the Niners coming on, Crabtree came on board and signed a six-year contract in which the final year is voidable. It will take Crabtree time to learn the offense, but later this season he could be an impactful addition to the Niners’ playoff push. His route-running and run-after-the-catch ability meshes well with QB Shaun Hill’s accuracy, and that could create more big plays than the Niners’ offense is currently capable of. It remains to be seen how long it will take Crabtree to become a good pro, but it seems safe to say that he will become a good NFL player at some point.

Edwards, a former top-3 draft pick, only had one season in which he fully lived up to his potential in Cleveland. In that season, 2007, he was a big-time receiving threat with 80 catches for 1,239 yards and 16 TDs. He has great size and speed, but his hands are sometimes questionable. That was certainly the case last year, when he fell to 55 catches for 873 yards and three scores. Edwards also was reportedly unhappy in Cleveland, and Chris Mortenson tweeted that Edwards was the source behind many of the “problems” and “grievances” that had been filed against head coach Eric Mangini. Because Edwards wasn’t on board, Mangini and the Browns dealt him away – just as they dealt away their other top offensive playmaker, Kellen Winslow, in the offseason. With Edwards gone, the Browns will have to rely on rookies Brian Robiskie and Mohammed Massaquoi to step up as receivers. Chansi Stuckey, the third or fourth receiver with the Jets who came over in the trade, could help, but he’s not a long-term answer. In addition to Stuckey, the Browns got special-teams stalwart Jason Trusnick and third- and fifth-round picks. That’s not great return for Edwards, who might have drawn a first-rounder from the Giants or Titans before the draft if Cleveland had traded him then. This is another example of Mangini assigning more value to guys he previously coached and getting inadequate value in a trade – just as he did in the Mark Sanchez draft-day deal. For the Jets, this deal could answer their biggest question – an outside receiving threat. Jerricho Cotchery has been good, but he’s more of a possession guy than a gamebreaker. Having Edwards and Cotchery, along with TE Dustin Keller, gives the Jets a chance to build a passing game around rookie QB Sanchez. Edwards longed for the spotlight of a big city like New York, but we’ll have to see if he can perform at a level to make that spotlight shine instead of glare. If he continues dropping passes frequently, he could get run out of the Meadowlands in an ugly scene. But at this price, the trade is a no-brainer for the Jets, who have a chance to build a special offense.

Fantasy Football perspective

Crabtree is not a great prospect for this year, because it will take him at least a month or two to adjust to the offense. If you’re in a keeper league, he’s worth a speculative claim. His presence also bumps Shaun Hill’s value up just a bit.

The Edwards deal has many more fantasy football ripples. Edwards has about the same value with the Jets as he had in Cleveland, although it would be no surprise if his numbers jumped a bit because he’s happier in the system. He’s still a marginal starting receiver in 10- or 12-team leagues. Cotchery, who had become a solid fantasy starter, will likely take a step back to being a No. 3 fantasy receiver, because Edwards will take away some targets. Sanchez’s value increases a bit, but he’s still a fantasy backup, not a starter. In Cleveland, whatever sleeper value Derek Anderson had takes a hit, simply because he doesn’t have many good options to throw to. The best might be Massaquoi, who had 8 catches for 148 yards last week after Anderson entered the lineup. He and Robiskie are the upside guys who are probably worth claiming this week as the receiving corps sorts itself out. Josh Cribbs, the returner extraordinare, could find a few more plays as well, which could make him an emergency fill-in. Stuckey, like Mike Furrey, is an OK receiver on the field who doesn’t have real fantasy value.

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Fantasy Football: Supersleepers

As we continue our fantasy football coverage, we’re going to jump off of Carl’s idea and try to identify some supersleepers. Some of these individuals are players who fit as the final bench player coming out of your draft who could contribute mightily by the end of the year. Steve Slaton last year – whom I drafted in the final round in a 12-team league with great success – is the ultimate example. Others on this list are longshots to monitor early in the season so that you can be ahead of the game when it comes to waiver claims.

Before we begin, remember that you can go to the fantasy football category on Football Relativity for many more articles, and you can use the search bar on the right to find specific players. And one more thing – we’ve left rookies off of this list, because we did a comprehensive analysis of those players including supersleepers in this post.

RB Greg Jones, Jaguars – Jones is a big, bruising back who seen his role go up and down in his four years in Jacksonville. Last year he had just two carries and 13 catches playing behind Maurice Jones-Drew and Fred Taylor. But now that Taylor’s gone, Jones has a good chance to plug in as the No. 2 back in Jacksonville. He’ll have to beat out rookie Rashad Jennings for that job, but if he does, it could be lucrative for fantasy owners, because the Jaguars probably will want MoJo to stay closer to 20 touches a game than 30. That makes Jones (and Jennings) worth a speculative draft pick late in your draft, especially if you have a deep bench in your league.

RB Danny Ware, Giants – With Derrick Ward leaving via free agency, and Brandon Jacobs so big that he’ll end up missing some playing time, the No. 3 back in New York is worth a fantasy look. And now that rookie Andre Brown is out for the year with a torn Achilles, holdover Ware is that guy. Recall that Ward had more than 1,000 yards last year in limited time, and then put Danny Ware on your draft list. He should be about a 300-yard back for the season, but if Jacobs and/or Ahmad Bradshaw gets hurt, that total will ratchet up quickly running behind one of the league’s best offensive lines. He’s worth stashing on your bench if it’s long enough.

RB Jason Wright, Cardinals – Wright, a former Brown, moved to Arizona in the offseason to take the third-down back role that J.J. Arrington once held. While that particular role isn’t a fantasy football bonanza, Wright is worth watching because of the injury issues that rookie Chris “Beanie” Wells is experiencing. If Wells misses time, which seems somewhat likely, Wright is primed to leap over Tim Hightower on the depth chart to get some playing time. If you’re counting on Wells for your fantasy team, make sure you get Wright just in case, and late in a draft Wright might be worth a flier regardless.

WR Miles Austin, Cowboys – Austin only had 13 catches last year, but he averaged a whopping 21.4 yards per catch and scored three touchdowns. That big-play ability is a good sign, and it’s reason for the Cowboys to give Austin every chance to develop. Because Patrick Crayton isn’t a legit No. 2 receiver, Austin also has the opportunity to move into the starting lineup and not just into three-WR sets now that Terrell Owens is gone. Austin is the second Cowboys receiver (behind Roy Williams) that fantasy owners should want this year, and he’s definitely worth a draft pick.

WR Earl Bennett, Bears – Bennett struggled to learn Chicago’s offense last year as a rookie, and as a result he didn’t get a single catch in his freshman year. But he seems to have a better grasp of the offense now, and the fact that he played collegiately with new Bears QB Jay Cutler at Vanderbilt with such great success should make Cutler confident throwing him the ball. Devin Hester is the Bears’ best receiver, but he’s more of a downfield or screen-pass threat, and so there’s room for a third-down target to end up with 50 catches or so. Bennett is the most likely guy to fill that role. If you believe in Cutler as a fantasy quarterback this year, then you need to believe in Bennett and stash him on your bench in the draft.

WR David Clowney, Jets – After the Jets let Laveranues Coles go in the offseason, they enter the ’09 season with only one proven wideout. So someone should be able to emerge across from Jerricho Cotchery. The candidates are Brad Smith, Chansi Stuckey, and Clowney, a big receiver with downfield ability who seemed to be breaking out before getting hurt at the beginning of the year last year. Don’t risk too much on any of these guys, but if you want one to watch, take a flier on Clowney.

WR Mike Furrey, Browns – Furrey, who had almost 100 catches in Detroit two years ago, moves to Cleveland, where he or David Patten, or perhaps rookie Brian Robiskie or Mohammed Massaquoi, will run alongside Braylon Edwards. Furrey is the most likely out of that group to emerge as a dependable chains-mover, and that puts him on this list. You’ll have to watch the waiver wire to see whether that role puts him on a pace for a 35-catch season or a 55-catch season, because the latter level is worth a bench spot while the former won’t be.

WR Pierre Garcon, Colts – Garcon is competing with rookie Austin Collie for the Colts’ No. 3 receiver job. We project Collie as the favorite in that competition but wanted to mention Garcon for the sake of full analysis. Whoever wins the Colts No. 3 job probably merits a bench spot in deep leagues with 14-16 teams, given how Anthony Gonzalez and Brandon Stokely before him have produced in that role.

WR Malcolm Kelly, Redskins – Kelly and fellow rookie Devin Thomas had forgettable rookie seasons in 2008, but there’s a wide-open door for one of them to walk through and become a starter in 2009. Since you can’t draft both, we’ll recommend Kelly as the sophomore who’s more likely (if only slightly) to take the starting job. That should put him in the 30-40 catch realm, which is enough to make him a midseason fill-in if you’re stuck for a receiving option. If Santana Moss gets hurt, though, both Kelly and Thomas could become fantasy factors. At the least, they’re names you should know.

WR Johnnie Lee Higgins, Raiders – It was mostly overlooked because the Raiders were so rotten last year, but Higgins began to emerge at the end of his second season last year to score four receiving touchdowns to go with his three punt-return touchdowns. Now he’s a starting receiver in Oakland who has the chance to be the Raiders’ No. 1. Rookie Darrius Heyward-Bey will get some long balls, but Higgins looks as probable as anyone to be the main outside target for JaMarcus Russell. If Higgins gets 50-60 catches, he’ll score his share because he’s so good with the ball in his hands. That makes Higgins an interesting guy to grab at the end of your draft, because his production could easily surpass that sort of draft position.

WR Mario Manningham, Giants – Manningham is the buzz receiver in Giants camp this year. That kind of preseason buzz doesn’t usually pan out, but given the fact that the Giants bid goodbye to Plaxico Burress and Amani Toomer in the offseason, there are a lot of catches waiting to be claimed in the Meadowlands. So if Manningham carves out a role, he’s worth watching as a supersleeper.

WR Jordy Nelson, Packers – Green Bay has a solid stable of wide receivers led by Greg Jennings, but Donald Driver’s age means that there may be a chance for a young receiver to step into the starting lineup this year. The question is whether that would be James Jones or Nelson. We’ll put our bet with Nelson, who had a very solid 33 catches for 366 yards and two touchdowns as a rookie last year. If Nelson progresses as most young receivers do, he should start to take some playing time from Driver. That could push him into the 50-catch range, which would make him worth a bench spot. So if you’re taking a chance late in a draft, Nelson is a reasonable gamble to take.

WR Limas Sweed, Steelers – Sweed was a bust as a rookie, finishing with just six catches, but many receivers are. If he progresses, he can provide height and jump-ball ability that Pittsburgh’s other receivers don’t have. That could make Sweed a guy who gets a disproportionate number of red-zone looks, which could make him a 4-6 touchdown guy even with only 30 catches or so. Sweed isn’t draftable unless Hines Ward or Santonio Holmes gets hurt, but watch to see if he’s getting looks in the red zone so that you know if he’s now worth an early-season waiver claim.

WR Mike Walker, Jaguars – Torry Holt is getting the publicity in Jacksonville, but Walker could emerge in his second year as the Jaguars’ most productive receiver. He had 16 catches in just 9 games last year, but he should have a starting role this year. Given the fact that Holt appears to be slowing down, that would put Walker in position to catch 50 balls or more. There are rookie receivers who could step in if Walker struggles, but on draft day Walker is worth consideration because there’s a chance he could end up as Jacksonville’s No. 1 receiver this season.

WR Demetrius Williams, Ravens – Williams is a big receiver who has played just one full season in his three years. But if he can learn to truly leverage his 6-foot-2 frame, he can provide an option that Baltimore’s offense hasn’t had. He enters the year as the Ravens’ No. 3 option, so he’s not a draftable player, but watch him early in the season to see if his production merits a speculative waiver claim.

TE Gary Barnidge, Panthers – Barnidge missed his entire rookie season in ’08 due to injury, but he’s giving Jeff King and Dante Rosario a run for their money for the starting tight end job in Carolina. If he gets it, Barnidge’s receiving skills make him worth monitoring as a fantasy player. In a starting role, he could end up with 400 yards and a couple of touchdowns, and that would put him as a backup tight end in larger leagues. So when your tight end is on bye, be aware of what Barnidge’s role is and keep an eye on him.

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