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Rise/Sink/Float – RBs 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 here, and we’ll cover wide receivers and tight ends in subsequent posts.

RB Chester Taylor, Bears – Taylor passed the dreaded 30-year-old milestone last year, but he remained a productive second back in the Vikings’ system. He surpassed 700 yards from scrimmage in each of the last two years as Adrian Peterson’s understudy. Now he moves to Chicago, where he figures to have more of a 50-50 split with Matt Forte. Taylor’s receiving skills seem to be a hand-in-glove fit with new Bears coordinator Mike Martz, which leads some fantasy analysts to predict big things for Taylor. Add in the fact that Taylor scored at least six touchdowns in the three seasons preceding ’09, and Taylor looks like a nice No. 3 fantasy back who will get some chances to make plays. Because of the new offense and the growing opportunities in Chicago, Taylor looks to move from the 40s at running back into the 30s, which is at least a noticeable rise. Verdict: Rise

RB Thomas Jones, Chiefs – Jones bucked the trend of over-30 running backs falling off last season, rushing for 1,402 yards and 14 touchdowns in the Jets’ run-heavy offense. The former first-round pick, who turns 32 in August, did appear to wear down during Gang Green’s playoff run, but that kind of January workload doesn’t seem to be a threat now that he’s in K.C. What is a threat to his fantasy stock is Jamaal Charles, who broke out over the second half of last season and emerged as an electric big-play threat. Our hunch is that the Chiefs see Jones as a balance to Charles in a 60-40 split (Jones is the 40). And while Jones may get some goal-line carries, his fantasy stock won’t come close to the starter level it was last year. Instead, Jones falls into the 30s at running back and becomes an emergency fill-in but not much more. Verdict: Sink

RB LaDainian Tomlinson, Jets – Others tried to talk you into Tomlinson last year, but his 12 touchdowns didn’t offset his 3.3 yards per carry or the fact that he had just 20 catches after surpassing 50 in each of his first eight seasons. Tomlinson’s numbers ended up making him a borderline No. 2 fantasy back, and that was all because of touchdowns, which are an unpredictable stat. The Chargers saw Tomlinson as on a pretty steep decline and so they cut him. Tomlinson landed in New York, where he and Shonn Greene replace the Jones/Leon Washington combo that New York entered last season with. While we’re pretty bullish on Greene’s stock, we see Tomlinson as the bottom half of a 75/25 split designed to do little more than keep Greene from breaking down midseason. And rookie Joe McKnight could easily emerge as a far better receiving option out of the backfield than Tomlinson is at this point. After nearly a decade atop the fantasy rankings, Tomlinson was in the 20s at running back last season, and now he falls at least one more level – if not two – into the land of No. 3 and No. 4 backs. Don’t let his new gig distract you from the fact that LDT is D-U-N done. Verdict: Sinking like a rock

RB Mike Bell, Eagles – Bell has had a strange career. He ran for 677 yards and eight touchdowns (with 20 catches to boot) as a rookie in Denver, and then had just 19 total carries the next two years as he moved from the Broncos to the Saints. Then last year, Bell emerged as a complement to Pierre Thomas and Reggie Bush and carved out a niche, running for 654 yards and five touchdowns. Now Bell moves to Philly, where he will complement LeSean McCoy and Leonard Weaver now that Brian Westbrook is gone. Bell is an effective between-the-tackles runner but not a breakaway threat, which makes him a No. 2 running back for a team. But with Weaver in Philly, Bell’s goal-line chances will be limited. Bell’s a No. 4 fantasy back, and because Weaver is more of a runner than Bush was, his stock actually slips a bit in his new home. Bell will probably run for 500 yards or so, but expecting a bunch of TDs or receptions with that production isn’t wise. Verdict: Sink

RB Larry Johnson, Redskins – Continuing a trend in this post, Johnson is now 30, which is usually a death knell age for running backs. His 2009 stats indicate that he may be in decline, as he averaged just 2.9 yards per carry with the Chiefs before being released. In Cincy, Johnson rebounded a bit, averaging 4.2 yards per carry for a run-first team. That gives a little bit of hope for Johnson from a fantasy perspective, but the glimmer of hope is actually a mirage. The crowded Redskins backfield with Johnson, Willie Parker, and holdover Clinton Portis will limit any of those backs from breaking out, and the Redskins’ offensive line doesn’t look like it will boost performance for any of those aging backs. We believe Johnson will be close to Portis in terms of having the most value of any of the Redskins’ backs, but that’s damning with faint praise. Neither guy will end up in the top 35 fantasy backs. Maybe that’s a slight increase over Johnson’s 2009 value, but don’t draft LJ looking for upside. Verdict: Rise

RB Willie Parker, Redskins – Like Johnson, Parker, a long-time Steeler, is looking for a renaissance in Washington. Parker, who turns 30 in November, averaged 4.0 yards per carry last year but lost his starting job to Rashard Mendenhall in Pittsburgh. Fast Willie doesn’t have the breakaway speed he once had, and last year he had just one touchdown. He figures to settle into a complimentary role in D.C. as a change-of-pace back – which leaves him out of the top 40 among fantasy running backs. Verdict: Sink

RB Peyton Hillis, Browns – Hillis showed some fantasy promise as a rookie in Denver with 5.0 yards per carry and five touchdowns over 68 carries. He lost his role in Josh McDaniels’ offense last year, which is why Denver was willing to include him in a deal with Cleveland. Given the Browns’ questions at running back with Jerome Harrison unproven and Montario Hardesty a rookie, Hillis could find a role as an inside runner in a carries split. He’s just a No. 4 fantasy back, but that’s more than Hillis was last year, and it’s reason enough to put Hillis back on the draft board for 2010. Verdict: Rise

RB Ryan Moats, Vikings – Moats burst onto the scene at midseason for the Texans last year, then burst right back off of it. By the end of the year, he was behind Arian Foster and Steve Slaton in Houston’s pecking order, and after the Texans drafted Ben Tate they released Moats. But Minnesota, looking to replace Taylor, claimed Moats on waivers. Moats is a different kind of back than rookie Toby Gerhardt – smaller, shiftier, and more of a receiver. That gives Moats the chance to establish a little value as Adrian Peterson’s valet. Moats is probably a No. 5 back, but being cut actually landed him in a situation where his value floats along at the same level. Verdict: Float

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Bear bonanza

We’re still compiling our Football Relativity comparison of the opening weekend moves in the NFL’s free agent market, but we thought we’d give special attention to the most aggressive team of the opening day – the Chicago Bears. Here are thoughts on the Bears’ big moves signing DE Julius Peppers from Carolina, RB Chester Taylor from division rival Minnesota, and TE Brandon Manumaleuna from San Diego.

The Bears, who don’t have a pick until the third round of this year’s draft, went whole hog in free agency and came up with their top three targets. The prize, of course, is Peppers, who’s still an elite pass rusher at age 30 and will make a huge difference for Chicago. The Bears had a bunch of so-so rushers but no studs, so Peppers provides that top-end rush and should help guys like Alex Brown be more productive across from him. Sure, Peppers isn’t always completely into games, but he still performs at a high enough level that he will help. He’s overpaid with $40 million coming in the first three years of his six-year deal, but the Bears had to overpay to lock him up. That made it worth it. On offense, Chicago added Taylor, who’s a solid all-around back who complemented Adrian Peterson in Minnesota. Now Taylor will earn more of a 50-50 split with Matt Forte, and Taylor’s pass-catching skills look to be a fit in Mike Martz’s new offensive scheme. Taylor is 30, which makes a three-year deal with $7 million guaranteed and $12.5 million total a little dicey, but he has always been a part-time player, which could extend his career a bit. Manumaleuna is a block-first tight end who better fits the new Martz scheme, which isn’t always great at protecting the passer. He got a five-year deal. Chicago’s spending spree is out of character, but the pressure is on head coach Lovie Smith and GM Jerry Angelo, and with no draft picks free agency was the only way to infuse talent into a mostly mediocre roster.

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Thoughts behind the Super Bowl tsunami

While most of the NFL players past and present were shillin’ and chillin’ in Miami for the Super Bowl, a few newsworthy nuggets emerged around the rest of the league. Here are some thoughts on them:

*Texans pay QB Matt Schaub a $10 million option bonus – Schaub finally stayed healthy all season for the first time in his Texans tenure, and the results were 4,770 passing yards and 29 touchdowns, along with the franchise’s first-ever winning record. So the Texans eliminated any doubt about Schaub’s future by cutting him a big check. By picking up this option, the Texans have Schaub under contract for three years at about $38 million, which is a reasonable rate for an above-average NFL quarterback. (This offseason we’ll do our annual comparison of the league’s starters to see just how Schaub compares.) And that’s what Schaub is at this point. He’s not Peyton Manning or Drew Brees in terms of efficiency, but he can put up numbers that keep up with guys like Tony Romo, Philip Rivers, and Aaron Rodgers, and thus Schaub deserves to be paid as such. Injuries will always be a concern with Schaub, but if he can stay healthy he can in fact be a franchise cornerstone. That requires an investment, and Houston should be patted on the back for being willing to make it.

*Bears hire Mike Martz as offensive coordinator – Last week in our loose ends post we discussed how the Bears seemingly couldn’t get anyone to come to town as a coordinator. Well, they finally landed a guy in Martz who has quite an impressive resume – a Super Bowl title as a coordinator, a Super Bowl appearance as a head coach, and success calling plays in San Francisco and Detroit as well. Martz was out of the league last year, and many observers cited his often prickly personality as the reason he had trouble getting a gig. But Martz knows offense, and he knows head coach Lovie Smith, who was Martz’s defensive coordinator for a time with the Rams. So Lovie (who needs to improve his record to save his job) is willing to take the risk of spirited coaching discussions for the sake of offensive success. At his best, Martz will unleash Jay Cutler in the passing game and turn him into a huge threat. Martz had success with Kurt Warner, Trent Green, and Jon Kitna, and it’s arguable that Cutler has more natural talent than any of that crop. But Martz’s disdain for extra blockers could create a problem given how porous the Bears’ offensive line is. This is a swing for the fences, but given how tenuous Smith’s job is (not to mention GM Jerry Angelo’s), now is the time to take such a swing. It will work, or the Bears will go down fighting, but either way it will be interesting to watch.

*Bills hire George Edwards as defensive coordinator and will install the 3-4 defense – New Bills head coach Chan Gailey is making a switch on defense from the 4-3 defense to the 3-4, and he’s bringing in Edwards, a former Dolphins assistant, to install it. Edwards has been a coordinator in the NFL before, and he seems to be a very solid hire. The question is whether the Bills have the personnel to thrive in the new defense. The good news is that ’09 first-rounder Aaron Maybin fits in better as a 3-4 rush outside linebacker than he did as a defensive end in his rookie year. Also, defensive ends Aaron Schobel and Chris Kelsay are big enough to move inside and become 3-4 ends if they’re willing to see their sack numbers diminish. And in Marcus Stroud, the Bills have a guy who can play on the nose in the defense as well. Paul Posluszny should fit in well as a 3-4 inside ‘backer. That’s a pretty good personnel fit for a team switching defenses. Buffalo will need to look at linebackers in this year’s draft, but if Maybin can make an impact a la Clay Matthews in Green Bay this year, the Bills’ first year in a 3-4 could be a really pleasant surprise.

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Fantasy Football: Regime change survivors

One of the biggest factors of a player’s fantasy football success is the offensive system he plays in. So as a service, we thought we’d go through the teams that are changing regimes this season and analyze how these changes should affect the relevant fantasy performers on each team. Where we’ve discussed players in more detail, we’ll include a link to our previous discussion. These offensive regime changes include teams with new head coaches as well as some teams with new offensive coordinators.

As always, you can read all sorts of other fantasy football analysis in our fantasy football category tag. And we have to give thanks to this site for a current list of offensive coordinators.

In this post, we’ve made some intentional omissions:
*With the Jets, Brian Schottenheimer survived the coaching change, and so that offense will look quite similar
*The Saints replaced Doug Marrone (now the Syracuse head coach) with Pete Carmichael Jr. but should run the same system
*The Patriots didn’t replace Josh McDaniels as offensive coordinator, but Bill Belichick and his lieutenants will keep the same offensive system in place
*The Seahawks, moving from Mike Holmgren’s regime to Jim Mora’s, will still run a similiar West Coast style of offense under coordinator Greg Knapp.

Arizona (from Todd Haley to Ken Whisenhunt/Russ Grimm/Mike Miller) – Now that Haley has gone to become the head man in Kansas City, Whisenhunt will probably look to become a little more proficient running the ball in Arizona. Grimm, like Whisenhunt an ex-Steelers assistant, will be the run-game coordinator, and Miller is the passing game coordinator. This shouldn’t affect the numbers of QB Kurt Warner or WRs Larry Fitzgerald or Anquan Boldin much – call them floats– but WR Steve Breaston’s numbers will likely sink a little, while rookie RB Chris “Beanie” Wells, who will surpass Tim Hightower as a fantasy option, looks like the main beneficiary of this regime change.
*More on Fitzgerald here
*More on Boldin here
*More on Breaston and Hightower here
*More on Wells here

Cleveland (from Rob Chudinski to Brian Draboll) – This change is hard to quantify, but it probably pushes the Browns just a bit more conservative. It’s hard to know what to think of the Browns anyway, because QBs Brady Quinn and Derek Anderson are fighting for a job. But this should cause WR Braylon Edwards’ numbers to sink a bit, and could help RB Jamal Lewis’ numbers rise if he’s not in too much physical decline.

Denver (from Mike Shanahan to Josh McDaniels/Mike McCoy) – This is a pretty significant change from Shanahan’s more wide open West Coast style offense to a more mixed New England-style offense. McCoy comes from Carolina, where he was QB coach in a run-run-run offense. This (plus the change from Jay Cutler to Kyle Orton at QB) will cause the numbers of WRs Brandon Marshall and Eddie Royal to sink just a bit. TE Tony Scheffler will see an even bigger sink in his numbers. The beneficiary is rookie RB Knowshon Moreno and, to a lesser degree, ex-Eagle Correll Buckhalter.
*More on Orton and Buckhalter here
*More on Marshall here
*More on Royal here
*More on Moreno here
*More on Scheffler here

Detroit (from Jim Coletto to Scott Linehan) – The Lions’ offense was pretty much a train wreck last year, as was everything else in an 0-16 season. In comes Linehan, who bombed out as a head coach in St. Louis but who has a good record as a coordinator in Minnesota and Miami. He’s more prone to pass than Coletto was, and that should help the numbers across the offense work well. At quarterback, neither Matthew Stafford or Daunte Culpepper is a great prospect, because neither will likely play all 16 games. But Calvin Johnson remains a stud whose numbers will float, and one of the receiver additions, Dennis Northcutt or Bryant Johnson, could see his numbers rise if he can seize a starting job. Plus, Kevin Smith’s numbers, which weren’t terrible fantasy-wise in ’08, could rise at least a little.
*More on Smith here
*More on Calvin Johnson here
*More on Bryant Johnson and Northcutt here
*More on Stafford here

Indianapolis (from Tom Moore to Clyde Christensen) – The Colts should run the same system – Christensen has been on the staff for years, and Moore did a runaround on the NFL’s new pension system for coaches by becoming a consultant. So the changes here will be minor. You can expect the numbers of QB Peyton Manning, WR Reggie Wayne and TE Dallas Clark to basically float. RB Joseph Addai’s numbers will sink because of the addition of Donald Brown, while WR Anthony Gonzalez’s numbers will rise because of the departure of Marvin Harrison.
*More on Manning here
*More on Wayne here
*More on Clark here
*More on Addai here
*More on Brown and WR Austin Collie here

Kansas City (from Chan Gailey to Todd Haley/Gailey) – Gailey survived the coaching change in K.C., but with Haley now serving as head coach we should see a little different offensive system for the Chiefs. By the end of the year, Gailey was basically running a spread-type system that used the running talents of QB Tyler Thigpen and also let him fling the ball around. If the Chiefs are better this year, you have to think they’ll play it a little more conservatively, which would bode well for RB Larry Johnson. If Johnson plays the full year, his numbers should rise from his 874-yard, 5-touchdown campaign in 2008. WR Dwayne Bowe’s numbers should continue to rise just a bit, if for no other reason than the fact that import Matt Cassel is better than Thigpen. Look for Mark Bradley’s numbers to rise a little bit as well, and we’ve already predicted that free-agent addition Bobby Engram’s stats will float. Engram actually could fill the reliable role that Tony Gonzalez held for so many years in K.C. Cassel’s numbers should float in Haley’s pass-friendly system as well. All in all, the Chiefs should be a fantasy-friendly team this year.
*More on Cassel here
*More on Engram here 
*More on Bowe here

Oakland (from Lane Kiffin/Greg Knapp to Ted Tollner) – Good luck trying to describe the Raiders’ offense last year – best I can tell, it was more or less a West Coast offense approach, given Knapp’s history. And good luck trying to even identify the offensive leader this year – Tollner is passing game coordinator, Paul Hackett is quarterback coach, and there is no run game coordinator. But given the fact that head coach Tom Cable is an offensive line coach, and given Al Davis’ history, we can expect a run-friendly offense with deep passing. That means Darren McFadden is ready for his numbers to rise, especially if he stays healthy. McFadden’s just too good not to get a bunch of carries. If he does, as we expect, then Michael Bush and Justin Fargas will see their numbers sink. Passing wise, don’t expect too much out of JaMarcus Russell, who could lose snaps to Jeff Garcia. That could cause Russell’s modest numbers to sink even a bit more. Meanwhile, TE Zach Miller’s numbers should rise a little bit – he won’t have just one touchdown again – and Darrius Heyward-Bey actually has good fantasy potential for a rookie receiver.
*More on Miller here
*More on Heyward-Bey here

St. Louis (from Scott Linehan to Pat Shurmur) – Linehan is a quality offensive coordinator, but his head-coaching tenure was a disaster. Now the rams are under the system installed by Shurmur, who was the Eagles’ QB coach. His pedigree (his uncle Fritz was a longtime Mike Holmgren aide) indicates a pedigree in the West Coast offense. The Rams have completely reworked their offense, letting stalwarts Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce go. It should center around RB Steven Jackson, whose numbers should at least float. QB Marc Bulger is coming off a horrendous season, and if he can stay healthy his numbers will rise, but not enough to make him a fantasy starter. He’s not even really a feasible backup in most fantasy leagues. The only other Ram who is draftable is WR Donnie Avery, who had a decent first season and could see his numbers rise if he can up his touchdown total from the three he tallied in ’08.
*More on Jackson here

San Francisco (from Mike Martz to Jimmy Raye) – The 49ers had a pass-happy system under Martz last year, at least until Mike Singletary took over. Now Singletary will revert to a more old-school, pro-style offense that will feature lots of running and short passing. That means that RB Frank Gore’s numbers should float and that rookie Glen Coffee is worth a look late in the draft. The quarterback situation is still a battle between Shaun Hill and Alex Smith, so watch to see who wins the war before investing in one of them as a sleeper. At receiver, Michael Crabtree is a draftable prospect (as long as he doesn’t hold out too long) and either Josh Morgan or Brandon Jones could emerge as a quality fantasy backup. And while TE Vernon Davis isn’t draftable at this point, he’s a fantasy sleeper to watch if he finds more of a role in the 49ers’ new system.
*More on Gore here
*More on Crabtree and Coffee here

Tampa Bay (from Jon Gruden to Jeff Jagodinski) – Gruden fancied himself an offensive guru who used a high-flying offense, but new coordinator Jeff Jagodinski will likely be a bit more conservative. That means that breakout WR Antonio Bryant’s numbers will likely sink, and newly acquired TE Kellen Winslow’s numbers will rise only because he missed time with injury last year. At running back, both Derrick Ward and Earnest Graham are draftable, but the fact that they’re splitting carries is nettlesome for fantasy owners. We expect Ward’s numbers to sink and Graham’s to sink as well given the new split, which should be almost 50-50. QB Byron Leftwich’s numbers will rise because he should start some games, but don’t rely on him too heavily because rookie Josh Freeman is in the wings and could see time in the second half of the season.
*More on Bryant and Ward here
*More on Leftwich and Mike Nugent here
*More on Graham here
*More on Winslow here

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FR: New and moved NFL announcers for ’09

There’s been quite a bit of turnover on the NFL announcing scheme for the 2009 season. Among the changes:

*Fox is adding John Lynch (No. 6 team), Trent Green (No. 7 team), and Charles Davis (No. 3 team) as full-time game analysts, replacing Brian Baldinger, Tony Boselli, and J.C. Pearson
*NBC is adding Tony Dungy and Rodney Harrison to Football Night in America, replacing Jerome Bettis and Cris Collinsworth
*Collinsworth moves to NBC’s Sunday Night Football booth to replace John Madden
*ESPN’s Monday Night Football replaced Tony Kornheiser with Jon Gruden
*NFL Network replaces Collinsworth for its late-season games with Matt Millen
*Info man Adam Schefter moves from NFL Network to ESPN
*Former Patriots LB Tedy Bruschi, ex-Buccaneers LB Derrick Brooks, and former WR Drew Bennett join ESPN as studio analysts
*Former Rams head coach Mike Martz, Hall of Fame WR Michael Irvin, and info man Jason La Canfora join NFL Network

So how do these new voices (in new roles) compare to each other? Sounds like a relativity comparison to me. 10 is the guy whom we think will be best in his new role; 1 is for the guy who we anticipate struggling the most.

10 – Cris Collinsworth, NBC’s Sunday Night Football – We’ve already written about how Collinsworth is the best game analyst around. Now he’ll get to strut his stuff not on NFL Network’s limited platform but on the marquee stage of Sunday Night Football. He’s more than ready and more than able to become the league’s most authoritative announcing voice.

9 – Charles Davis, Fox – Davis was a no-name before Fox started using him as the color announcer for the BCS national championship game a few years ago, but he’s incredibly good. With Fox soon losing the BCS, it makes sense for them to move Davis onto their NFL roster. He’s going to be on the No. 3 team, which is a huge complement to his ability. The only strange thing is that Davis never made it in the NFL, and so he’ll be commenting on something outside of his experience. But he’s so polished that it won’t end up mattering in the end.

8 – Rodney Harrison, NBC’s Football Night in America – Harrison is a straight shooter who isn’t afraid to step on anyone’s toes (and actually might enjoy doing so). He’ll bring an edge to a show that was bland last year with the always-jovial Jerome Bettis and Tiki Barber, who has TV teeth but the charisma of a carp. (OK, that’s mean. Sorry.) Harrison and Tony Dungy will be an interesting counterbalance as analysts.

7 – Adam Schefter, ESPN – A long time ago, Schefter was the Broncos’ correspondent for PFW, and I spoke to him weekly. (Random fact: He’s the reason I know what gefilte fish is. As Terrell Davis put it in a column Schefter wrote for PFW, it’s the hot dogs of fish. Just try to forget that.) Schefter definitely knows his stuff and has great sources. The only question is whether he’ll get lost in the shuffle among ESPN’s other info men Chris Mortensen, John Clayton, Ed Werder, and whoever else comes across the crawl.

6 – none

5 – Jon Gruden, ESPN’s Monday Night Football – My initial thoughts about Gruden’s hiring were positive, but the question of what Gruden’s style is going to be still lingers in my head. If he’s honest and direct, he’ll be great. But if he’s out to avoid making enemies so that he can land his next coaching job, he’ll end up being disappointing. For some reason, I’m getting a hunch that the latter may be true. I guess we’ll see.

4 – Tony Dungy, NBC’s Football Night in America – Dungy is respected, and he definitely knows his stuff. I only wonder if he has enough energy to jump off the TV screen. Maybe Dungy’s likability will translate, and if it does NBC will really have something with him and Harrison. But if Dungy comes across as bland, then it won’t really work.

4 (con’t) –  Trent Green, Fox – Green has shown a lot of promise as an announcer in his offseason studio appearances, but you never know how that will translate into game announcing. I’m a little afraid that Green will end up like Rich Gannon, who had similar promise right after retirement but hasn’t really been spectacular as an announcer. For now, we’ll give Green the benefit of the doubt and take a listen, but to excel he’ll have to translate his knowledge of the game and likability into the short bursts he’ll speak between plays. The fact that Green can ease in on Fox’s No. 7 team helps; if he’s good, he should be able to move up some. But Fox has new depth with Davis and Brian Billick emerging the last two years as supersolid No. 3 and No. 4 guys.

4 (con’t) – Michael Irvin, NFL Network postgame – Irvin was a bust as an ESPN analyst because his aggressive bluster was too often baseless or just silly. But he’s improved over the past few years on his radio show in Dallas, and he may be ready once again for a studio shot on NFL Network’s postgame coverage. Perhaps the discipline of having to defend himself to sports-radio callers will make Irvin defend his points better and turn his bluster into opinions that are still strong but more defendable. If so, he can be a big plus for the league-owned outlet.

3 – Matt Millen, NFL Network – Millen, who will also be a college football game analyst and studio analyst for ESPN, was once the best Xs and Os analyst on television. When I covered the Panthers, I would make sure to tape games Millen was doing so that I could hear his analysis of the team. He was that good. But the question is whether viewers will be able to forget his stinkbomb of a tenure as Detroit’s GM and take him seriously. That will definitely be a barrier in year one, but hopefully Millen’s broadcasting prowess will repair the perception he has at large.

3 (con’t) – Tedy Bruschi, ESPN studio shows – Bruschi, who played in four Super Bowls and won three as a linebacker in New England over 13 years, is staying in the region by landing at ESPN as a studio analyst for its various midweek shows. Bruschi will bring a current knowledge of the league and an inside knowledge of its most inscrutable team, the Patriots, which are both assets. But for Bruschi to thrive, he’s going to have show the personality of recent ESPN hire Marcellus Wiley or the no-holds-barred criticism of ESPN’s Trent Dilfer and Steve Young. If he’s just another talking head, he won’t stand out on a massive roster of analysts, and that’s a recipe for a short tenure.

3 (con’t) – Derrick Brooks, ESPN – Brooks still wants to play, but until he finds a fit on the field he’s landed at ESPN. Brooks will start out on ESPN2’s First Take, filling a role that Jamal Anderson, Kordell Stewart, Lomas Brown, and Ray Buchanan have had in the past. Brooks is smart, and his recent playing experience will lead to good insights and stories, but he’ll have to turn his likability into humor and chatter if he’s going to succeed in the morning-showish First Take model. Brooks probably will work better in the NFL Live/SportsCenter type of shows eventually, but you get the sense that ESPN wanted to add him where it could when he was available.

2 – John Lynch, Fox – This ranking isn’t really a slam against Lynch – it’s more of an indication of how strong the other new announcers are, as well as the prominent roles they have. Lynch will be on Fox’s No. 6 team, so he has a chance to do some games and make a name for himself. I didn’t hear Lynch in his cameos last year, so for now I can only hope that he has some upside.

2 (con’t) – Jason La Canfora, NFL Network studio shows – La Canfora, a former Washington Post reporter, takes Adam Schefter’s old spot as the NFL Network’s insider. He has big shoes to fill, because Schefter is aggressive and connected, and there’s no way that La Canfora can jump into the role immediately at the same level as Schefter.

2 (con’t) – Drew Bennett, ESPN studio shows – Bennett, who had success as a wideout in Tennessee before flaming out as a high-dollar free agent in St. Louis, retired after a one-day stop in Baltimore in training camp this year. He doesn’t have the star power or the Q rating that ESPN’s other studio additions, Tedy Bruschi and Derrick Brooks, have, and so Bennett will have to do more to make an impact on the airwaves. It’s possible – just ask Tim Hasselbeck – but it’s an uphill climb in the most crowded analyst environment in the media.

1 – Mike Martz, NFL Network’s Total Access – Martz established a reputation as an offensive guru from his time with the Rams before less successful tenures as a coordinator in Detroit and San Francisco. He now leaves the coaching ranks and joins NFL Network’s studio show on Thursday and Friday nights. Martz certainly knows his stuff, but I question two things about him as a broadcaster. First, can he present his knowledge in a palatable form? And second, will his prickly personality make him seem like a know-it-all? Maybe he’ll be a revelation, but I just can’t see him as an identifiable breakout broadcaster.

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