Monday, August 9, 2010

Preseason column #1: Old faces in new places


Emmitt Smith never mentioned his two final seasons in Arizona during his Hall of Fame induction speech. Jerry Rice tossed a small bone to the Raiders, but he apparently forgot his illustrious career ended in Seattle.

It’s a rare feat indeed when a star player steps up his game after leaving the team that drafted him. Even the greatest of the greats would rather not dwell on the time spent in their second or third NFL outpost.

One year ago, I wrote about roughly 20 notable veterans who had switched jerseys over the previous offseason. Knowing how these things usually go, I projected that just four would benefit from the new scenery, which turned out to be about right. Only Brett Favre, Kyle Orton, Nate Washington and Kellen Winslow measurably improved their fantasy production from the previous season. (Full disclosure: I pegged Orton, but predicted a “wash” for the other three.)

Meanwhile, the list of duds was exhaustive, including previous standouts such as Jay Cutler, Matt Cassel, Fred Taylor, Derrick Ward, Terrell Owens, Torry Holt, TJ Houshmandzadeh and Tony Gonzalez.

We’ve witnessed an even greater shift in the fantasy landscape in 2010, with more than 30 noteworthy offensive veterans signing with new teams. To put that in perspective, that’s at least twice as many player moves as Brett Favre retirement announcements. We’re talking a lot of changes.

In our first pre-draft column of the season, let’s span the league to take stock of each of the significant offseason moves, broken down by the projected impact on each player’s fantasy value.

MOVIN’ ON UP Look for improved production from these five.

Chester Taylor, RB, Bears. No longer dismissed as “Adrian Peterson’s handcuff,” the multi-dimensional back is a nice fit for Mike Martz’s pass-happy scheme. If Matt Forte doesn’t get his mojo back quickly after a disastrous sophomore campaign, Taylor may not be a backup for long.

Larry Johnson, RB, Redskins. He gets a nod simply because he has a realistic opportunity to supplant, or at least poach carries from, the oft-injured Clinton Portis. Johnson managed just 581 yards, without a TD, for the Chiefs and Bengals last season. It won’t take much to beat that.

Terrell Owens, WR, Bengals. Will Carson Palmer propel T.O. back to elite status? No way. Should you get your popcorn ready anyway? You bet.

Anquan Boldin, WR, Ravens. Joe Flacco is no Kurt Warner, but Boldin won’t be competing for targets with a receiver of Larry Fitzgerald’s caliber, either. If he can just shake the injury bug, Boldin will be among Fantasyland’s best again.

Shayne Graham, K, Ravens. He should climb back up the rankings if Baltimore’s offense soars, as many expect.


COMIN’ BACK DOWN Don’t expect these players to match last year’s results.

Donovan McNabb, QB, Redskins. His new receiving corps doesn’t hold a candle to the one he left behind in Philly. McNabb will have his moments, but you’ll like him better as your backup than your starter.

Jason Campbell, QB, Raiders. He passed for 3,618 yards, 20 TDs and 15 interceptions as a Redskin in 2009, yet Campbell rarely merited starting consideration. That’s likely to continue in Oakland, where his supporting cast simply has too many holes.

LaDainian Tomlinson, RB, Jets. Head Coach Rex Ryan calls him “the best third down back in the league.” Talk about your back-handed compliment to a future Hall of Famer. As we saw last season, Father Time spares no man.

Thomas Jones, RB, Chiefs. Annually one of the most underrated rushers in the league, he now backs up the explosive Jamaal Charles. Jones should see some goal-line work, but another 1,400-yard, 14-touchdown season is virtually out of the question.

Brian Westbrook, RB, Free agent. It’s only a matter of time before the once-prolific tailback signs somewhere. But when he does, it almost surely will be in a backup role.

Willie Parker, RB, Redskins. He’s lost so much horsepower, he may not even make Washington’s opening day roster.

Santonio Holmes, WR, Jets. A four-game suspension to open the season will be tough enough to overcome. Building a rapport with Mark Sanchez like he had with Ben Roethlisberger could prove even tougher.

Antonio Bryant, WR, Bengals. A bum knee that limited him for most of the ‘09 season may cost him his new job, especially now that T.O. is sucking all the oxygen out of the room.

Neil Rackers, K, Texans. If he wrests away the kicking duties from incumbent Kris Brown, he will be worth a roster spot. But the fact that Rackers hasn’t won the job already is a worrisome sign.


CALL IT A WASH For better or worse, these players should post comparable results to last season.

Jake Delhomme, QB, Browns. He was downright pathetic last year, and that was with Steve Smith and a great running game. I’ll stick with “downright pathetic” for my 2010 prediction.

Byron Leftwich, QB, Steelers. He flamed out in Tampa Bay after just three starts. He might get four in Pittsburgh while Big Ben sits out.

Leon Washington, RB, Seahawks. A severe leg injury cost him half the ’09 season. Once he returns to full speed, Washington will be fighting for carries with Julius Jones, Justin Forsett and possibly even Redskins castoff Quinton Ganther.

Brandon Marshall, WR, Dolphins. He managed to produce at an elite level in ‘09 despite a two-game suspension and multiple visits to the Broncos’ woodshed. Look for another Top 10 season as the most dangerous weapon in the arsenal of Miami’s promising young gun-slinger, Chad Henne.

Nate Burleson, WR, Lions. He should benefit from the extra attention paid to Calvin Johnson, but Burleson will still be no better than an injury or bye-week sub most weeks.

Ben Watson, TE, Browns. He was often lost among Tom Brady’s more electric receiving options. Now he’ll be battling the guys in the other jersey for Delhomme’s attention.


OFF THE RADAR These players changed addresses, but that won’t salvage their fantasy prospects, barring injury to the starters above them.

Derek Anderson, QB, Cardinals
Marc Bulger, QB, Ravens
A.J. Feeley, QB, Rams
Shaun Hill, QB, Lions
Brady Quinn, QB, Broncos
Mike Bell, RB, Eagles
LenDale White, RB, Titans
Laveranues Coles, WR, Jets
Ted Ginn, WR, 49ers
Torry Holt, WR, Patriots

See all the offseason moves here: http://fantasy-fools.blogspot.com/2010/02/offseason-roster-moves-of-note.html

Next week: A look at the Rookie Class of 2010.

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