Bringin’ the Noise: Steel crush

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man-crush (n.) – an intense platonic infatuation for a distinguished or uncelebrated fantasy sports commodity.

For controversial televangelists Pat Robertson and John Hagee and self-proclaimed Noiseophobes everywhere, the man-crush is considered a threat to morality. Its sinful powers are so enrapturing it can endanger marriages, dissolve long-term friendships and dash presidential hopeful dreams.

Owners who develop these unwavering obsessions often distort reality, falling victim to right-column ‘Ls’, lopsided trades and, during unsettling times, unhealthy Captain Morgan consumption.

As an admitted fanaholic, the Noise understands all too well the dangers of blind adoration.

Over the years, numerous mantasies have bewitched me. Some have yielded positive results. Others have led to Captain consultations.

In 2006, DeAngelo Williams’ shifty moves and marvelous versatility were repeatedly exalted. He finished the season with a 7.2 fantasy points per game average, 41st among plowshares.

Last year, Brandon Jacobs’ monstrous assets were extolled ad nauseam. The Football Frankenstein fought through several nicks and scrapes to average 14.0 fantasy points per game, the eighth-best RB mark.

Entering 2008 on an upward trend, the Noise has lustful feelings for another extraordinarily talented back that is destined to keep a certain Village People-fabulous mascot grinning from ear-to-ear.

Tackling Mendenhall could lead to dismemberment

The name of this year’s ultimate fantasy fetish: Rashard Mendenhall.

The first-round pick out of Illinois is Pittsburgh’s Undertaker. Not to be confused with the heavily tatted, Tombstone-driving WWE star with the same nickname, Mendenhall’s moniker stems from his ability to inflict devastating punishment on opposing tacklers. Try taking him down at full-speed and you’ll likely wind up six feet under. Just ask Eagles’ strong safety Quintin Mikell.

Described by many NFL scouts as the league’s most complete rookie back, Mendenhall has struggled transitioning from the college to pro game. Occasionally, he’s run with noticeable conviction and speed (e.g. in Minnesota). Other times, he’s appeared timid and unassertive (e.g. against Buffalo). But, despite two lost fumbles and a decent 4.3 YPC in three exhibition games, Steelers offensive coordinator Bruce Arians isn’t concerned about the youngster’s inauspicious start, noting to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Aug. 20:

“I have no problems using him in any phase right now, whether it’s first-and-10, short-yardage, goal-line or third-down. But we’re still two weeks away. He’ll find his actual role.”

Given Mendenhall’s violent running style, quick feet and tremendous cutback ability, he seems like a slam dunk to reprise the Jerome Bettis role. A tenacious inside runner, he will almost certainly supplant incumbent Willie Parker in goal-line sets. Once he stops overanalyzing mistakes and learns to run more instinctively, the YAC beast within will be unshackled. That is, if his arms survive the constant barrage of swiping hands from his teammates this week.

Sure, unless a significant injury fells Parker, the 21-year-old likely won’t be a fantasy monolith this season, especially with Pittsburgh’s questionable O-line. But the Steelers’ rededication to smash-mouth football will turn him into a dependable RB3 in 12-team leagues. Anticipate common weekly tallies around 12 carries, 50 yards and 1 TD. That output isn’t spectacular, but regular 8-12 fantasy point bursts would deem him ‘consistent’ in deeper formats.

Yes, the Noise’s arm still aches from reaching for Mendenhall in our recent Yahoo! Friends and Family draft (Round 5, Pick 58), but, as many of you know, man-passions are insanely difficult to squelch. The thought of someone else owning him would have been unbearable.

Other than Mendenhall and excluding noteworthy superstars and previous infatuations, here are the remaining members of the 2008 Big Noise Man-Crush team:

Big Noise Libido Drivers
Aaron Rodgers QB 15 120.7 10.1
’08 Preseason Stats: 36-53, 67.8 CMP%, 368 passing yards, 6.9 YPA, 2:1 TD:INT
Lowdown: You know the pressure on Rodgers is intense when church marquees in the Green Bay area are attaching godless labels to Brett Favre. Naysayers continuously point to A-Rod’s inexperience as the main reason to distrust him as a fantasy starter, but the haters are obtuse. Sure, the scrutiny will be unforgiving, but Rodgers’ bazooka arm, remarkable midfield accuracy and cucumber cool are strong indicators that he will thrive in the Packers’ spread scheme. With Green Bay’s atrocious effort against San Fran two weeks ago the lone exception, Rodgers has played brilliantly in exhibition play. In total, he’s completed nearly 68 percent of his passes, including a standout 18-for-22, 193-yard, two-TD effort against Denver Aug. 22. In that contest, Rodgers executed checkdowns flawlessly and delivered quick, accurate strikes. He also had time to step and fire, something that was almost nonexistent in his first two exhibition games. Donald Driver told the Canadian Press after the game, “I saw a difference in Aaron. He was more assertive in the huddle.” That confidence is an excellent sign of Rodgers’ growing maturity. If the Packers can persistently hold blocks, Rodgers will rack numerous multi-TD contests, especially given the abundant weapons – Driver, Greg Jennings, James Jones, Donald Lee and Ryan Grant – surrounding him. Don’t be at all surprised if Rodgers outpaces the legend he replaced.
Fearless Forecast: 239 passing yards per game, 25 passing touchdowns, 18 interceptions, 111 rushing yards, 2 rushing TDs
Steve Slaton RB 40 179.6 14.9
’08 Preseason Stats: 34 carries, 138 rushing yards, 4.1 YPC, 2 receptions, 5 yards, 1 TD
Lowdown: If Slaton were a Major League closer his intro music would be AC/DC’s “TNT.” Why? Just watch him explode. At 5-foot-9, 197-pounds the rookie from West Virginia is unmistakably diminutive. His smallish stature is worrisome, but Slaton is intelligent, versatile and fleet-footed. In his three seasons at Morgantown, he prospered in a zone-blocking system nearly identical to what the Texans employ. That comfort level has made his transition seamless, which has greatly impressed teammate Matt Schaub, “He’s got such a good burst. When he sees something, he hits the hole hard. You watch him and it’s hard for the first guy to bring him down. He’s always breaking a tackle and getting those extra yards and falling forward.” Through three exhibition games, the youngster has averaged a respectable 4.1 YPC. Given the nagging injuries to often-nicked veterans Ahman Green and Chris Brown, it appears Gary Kubiak is committed to opening the season with a Chris Taylor/Slaton 1A-1B platoon, provided the rookie’s recent turf toe setback doesn’t become problematic. Touchdowns will likely be a luxury for the former Mountaineer, but he will be valuable in 12-team and deeper leagues, especially PPR formats. In many ways, he’s an unpolished version of Brian Westbrook.
Fearless Forecast: 167 carries, 718 rushing yards, 33 receptions, 289 receiving yards, 4 touchdowns
Ricky Williams RB 29 84.7 7.1
’08 Preseason Stats: 27 carries, 121 rushing yards, 4.4 YPC, 2 receptions, 8 yards, 1 TD
Lowdown: Holistically healed and running with noticeable conviction, the ‘Pineapple Express’ is ready to stoke the fires once again. Dedicated, committed and focused, Ricky has arguably been the Fins’ most explosive player this summer. Through three exhibition contests he’s averaged a stout 4.4 YPC. Considering Ronnie Brown is not yet fully recovered from a catastrophic knee injury and is slated to miss the remainder of the preseason with a sprained thumb, Sticky Icky should tote the heavy-side of the Dolphins timeshare initially. Many will discount Williams because of his suspension risk, but according to his agent Leigh Steinberg, “Ricky has found a profound sense of inner peace through yoga and zen practice.” With his cannabis cravings suppressed, we could see a Ricky revival in South Florida. The Fins’ offensive line, anchored by No. 1 pick Jake Long, is an above average unit. Chad Pennington’s presence and Ted Ginn’s advancements in the passing game should keep defenses honest, curtailing the number of eight-man fronts Ricky would face. Sure, he’s one laced brownie away from a permanent vacation, but the new and improved Ricky has matured. At 31, he may defy all conventional wisdom about advanced RB age. A John Riggins-like rebirth is certainly in the cards. Remember, he’s tallied just six NFL carries since 2005. Look for him to open the season carrying between 60-70 percent of the workload.
Fearless Forecast: 184 carries, 773 rushing yards, 4.2 YPC, 21 receptions, 159 receiving yards, 7 touchdowns
Robert Meachem WR 44 158.4 13.2
’08 Preseason Stats: 9 receptions, 211 yards, 23.4 YPC, 1 TD
Lowdown: Meachem mojitos will soon be all the rage on Bourbon Street. Oozing with athleticism, the long, lanky receiver has blossomed in exhibition play, becoming a favorite downfield target of Drew Brees. Sidelined by a knee injury for the entire regular season a year ago, the former first-round pick is healthy and hungry to squash doubters. Through three preseason games, he’s the Saints’ leading receiver. Of course, gaudy exhibition numbers don’t necessarily translate to regular season success, but given Meachem’s pedigree, anticipated sizable role and New Orleans’ pass-happy spread attack, he could take a Santonio Holmes-like leap in his second season. Marques Colston and Jeremy Shockey will undoubtedly be Brees’ weapons of choice in the red-zone, but because of the youngster’s downfield talents, he will log several explosive pass plays this year. For a player going widely undrafted (46 percent owned in Y! leagues), he could post heavenly totals as a No. 3 in 12-team and deeper leagues.
Fearless Forecast: 81 targets, 54 receptions, 977 receiving yards, 5 touchdowns
Kevin Walter WR 39 195.4 16.2
’08 Preseason Stats: 13 receptions, 166 yards, 12.7 YPC, 2 TDs
Lowdown: The amount of hair product a receiver uses in his profile photo is always a great indicator of pass catching prowess, which means Walter (see left) could snag a minimum of 70 balls. Houston’s ‘Vidal Sassoon’ could be to Matt Schaub what Wes Welker was to Tom Brady a season ago. At 6-foot-3, 215-pounds, Walter is a strong, physical possession receiver built in the mold of former Broncos icon Ed McCaffrey. As Gary Kubiak remarked to the New York Times Aug. 1, “Kevin, in his career, has become such a technician at what he does, that if he’s like a tenth of a second (slower) here or three speedwise, he’ll find a way to make it up.” Last season, he refined his route running skills, filling in brilliantly for injured megastar Andre Johnson, who missed seven games. His 5.8 receptions and 53.4 yards per game from Weeks 2-9 proved invaluable for owners in PPR leagues. Yes, he’ll be the secondary option again this season, but Schaub’s percolating chemistry with Walter this preseason could be a sign of what’s to come. Throw in a suspect Texans running game and constant Johnson double-teams, and Walter could develop into a certifiable No. 3 in 12-team leagues.
Fearless Forecast: 117 targets, 74 receptions, 903 receiving yards, 6 touchdowns
Zach Miller TE 16 189.9 15.8
’08 Preseason Stats: 6 receptions, 64 yards, 10.7 YPC, 1 TD
Lowdown: Miller and JaMarcus Russell are on the verge of becoming Oakland’s ‘Black and Blues Brothers.’ The unbreakable bond the two forged in Week 17 last year (9 TGTs, 8 REC, 84 YDs) has grown stronger in exhibition play. Russell has targeted the towering 6-foot-5, 255-pound safety valve early and often this summer, a potential glimpse into the foreseeable future. The second-year QB has openly gushed about Miller’s talents, telling the San Francisco Chronicle Aug. 16, “He has a knack for getting open. Once you put it in his vicinity, he’s going to catch it.” Very quietly, Miller totaled one of the finest rookie tight end performances of the decade in ’07 catching 44 passes for 444 yards and three touchdowns. His colossal frame, soft hands and deceptive speed are supreme gifts that could launch him into the top 12 of tight ends this year. Too often, Miller was handcuffed to the line for additional protection last year, watering down his numbers. Kiffin has worked diligently this preseason to involve the former Arizona State standout more in the passing game, which should prove very fruitful. Yes, tight end is insanely deep this year, but Miller could return an enormous profit in deep PPR leagues.
Fearless Forecast: 60 receptions, 624 receiving yards, 5 touchdowns
Bonus Shocker Special
Kurt Warner QB 17 187.6 15.6
’08 Preseason Stats: 8-13, 61.5 CMP%, 95 passing yards, 7.3 YPA, 0:0 TD:INT
Lowdown: Plenty of tender Brenda post-game kisses are on the desert horizon for the very willing Noise Kurt Warner this season. Matt Leinart’s face-plant this summer has reportedly thrust the 37-year-ancient former Super Bowl MVP back into the limelight. No official depth-chart switch has been made – apparently Ken Whisenhunt isn’t crazy about Chris Mortensen’s presumptive reporting – but based on Leinart’s vomit-worthy 4-for-12, 24-yard, three interception implosion against Oakland on Saturday, it seems inevitable. Despite his crotchety age, Warner still possesses the skills to be a fantasy deity. His precision passes on short-to-intermediate routes combined with his lightning quick release are gifts maximized in Arizona’s vertical-heavy attack. Ken Whisenhunt has designs of a more balanced philosophy this season, but with premiere receivers Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin in the fold, aerial connections will be made routinely. Remember from Week 7 on last season the Sultan of Stubble averaged a ridiculous 280.8 passing yards and 2.3 air strikes per week, the best in Y! leagues. Yes, health and fumbling issues are worrisome, but Warner’s masterful no-huddle execution is unmatched. If he proves durable, a top 10 QB yield is not only possible, it’s likely. For those who’ve yet to draft, consider selecting the ageless wonder as early as Round 10 in standard 12-team leagues.
Fearless Forecast (as the starter): 258 passing yards per game, 28 passing touchdowns, 20 interceptions, 22 rushing yards, 0 rushing touchdowns
*Y!RK08=Expert composite player ranking by position
*ADP=Average draft position from Mock Draft Central
*12TMRD=Equivalent round drafted in 12-team leagues

Do you ever question why on earth you’re not a fantasy expert? This is the place for you to vent your thoughts, tirades and frustrations. Can you bring the noise?

LenWhale succombing to doughnut gluttony is some of the finest journalism I have ever seen. Well done sir. Philip, San Jose, Calif.

Noise: To be fair, it seems White has suppressed his yearning for sugary pastries. For the first time in his career, he entered camp sans an adjustable gastric Lap-Band. But let’s say hypothetically LenDale went on a 30-day Dunkin’ Donuts binge. After the powdered sugar settled, what whale would he most resemble?

Sperm? Too aggressive. Humpback? LenDale’s expanded waistline would make breaching physically impossible. Killer? Too trainable. It seems to me the only logical cetacean comparison would be the Beluga. They’re playful, portly and short-armed. And upon first glance, there is an uncanny resemblance.

Hey Brad. Is the honeymoon over? Last year you had a man-crush on Brandon Jacobs but this year absolutely nothing. I know what you are … a love ‘em and leave ‘em type. I just saw the “Football Frankenstein” at Giants camp this year and he was freak-ish. I know people are worried about Bradshaw but that is just for change of pace. Jacobs is still a free-kin beast and should be bumped up accordingly. Jerry, Albany, NY

Noise: Yes, in terms of fantasy “crushes” the Noise is definitely a swinger. “Franky” (That’s my pet name for Jacobs) and I do have an open relationship. We’ll always care deeply for one another, but my insatiable lust for quality fantasy producers cannot be caged.

In all seriousness, you’re absolutely right, Jacobs is an unmitigated monster. His carries will be curtailed somewhat but even with 15-20 touches per game he will do significant damage. When Bradshaw took on a larger role late last season, Jacobs ripped off back-to-back 140-plus total yard games in Weeks 15 and 16. For all of the admonishment I received over Jacobs’ supposed deplorable efforts, he was a cornerstone on many championship rosters.

Really, the rise of Bradshaw and Derrick Ward should be viewed positively. Their increased roles should keep Jacobs healthier this season. If he staves off the injury imp, 1,200 total yards and 7-9 TDs is very attainable.

“D-Will, expected to be the explosive yin to Stewart’s power yang, has excelled in training camp.” JESUS Brad! After 2 TERRIBLE seasons and your F&F rankings of bad (8th ’06) and worse (14th ’07), you should really rethink your analysis and evaluation of talent. Julius Jones is a better pick and so is Selvin Young. The season will tell all, my friend. Adam, Huntington Beach, Calif.

Noise: Thank you Adam for realizing that the Noise can, A) Walk on water (To clarify, puddles, not seas), B) Cure the sick with a finger’s touch (Sick being those delusional people who don’t appreciate Brandon Jacobs) and C) Encourage people to build houses of worship in my honor (‘Houses’ being small tin shacks where Heineken BeerTenders constantly flow).

Yes, the Noise’s historical Friends and Family record is humiliating, but I’m cautiously optimistic this will be the year. Well, according to my Ron Santo Complex.

Look, the Little Napoleon played second fiddle to DeShaun Foster for two straight seasons, which explains his unspectacular efforts. Based on his electrifying preseason (7.2 YPC, 3 TDs), that could change. It appears he will carry the heavy-side of the timeshare with Jonathan Stewart, at least initially. Very comfortable in the Panthers’ zone-blocking scheme and running with more vigor, he should yield a more generous profit than either Young or, especially, Jones. Let’s be real. J-Junk would repel backwards running into a Styrofoam wall, which is why Mike Holmgren recently trimmed his practice reps.

Noise, congrats on 5,005 Ricky Williams adds last week, roughly 4,000 more than his runner-up. Can you please tell everyone to drop Chad Johnson for Domenik Hixon?Bill, New York, NY

Noise: Sure, the Noise’s words are often taken as gospel, which is flattering. But no one would blindly follow Ocho Stinko drop advice, which is unfortunate. Then again, if we’re talking about fantasy swimming, owners would be more inclined to mass drop the non-Phelpsian Johnson when advised.

On a more discomforting note, reported Monday that Johnson has a partially torn labrum in his shoulder. He plans to tolerate the pain but if his shoulder were to separate again, team doctors noted he would need season-ending surgery. However, the chances of that occurring are “unlikely.” Obviously given the demonstrative receiver’s enhanced injury risk, he should be categorized as a borderline No. 2-3 wideout, and that’s optimistic. Assuming Chris Henry (194.8 ADP, 22 percent owned) can dodge pepper spray over the first four weeks of the regular season, he should see significant targets immediately upon his return.

Programming Note: Surely to the jubilation of Noiser’s everywhere, the ‘Silence the Noise Challenge’ is set to return Week 1. For those unfamiliar with the popular ongoing segment, check out the rules and regulations here (bottom of the page).

This year, instead of playing purely for enjoyment and prestige, selected contestants who outperform the Noise in a given week will earn a spot to play against Yahoo!’s blabbermouth in a fantasy football league next year. Please include an active email address along with your name, city and state in each entry. Remember, no obvious choices or long pick dissertations. Short and sweet submissions are appreciated.

Show the fantasy world that your stones are large. Submit your picks for Week 1 by midnight CT Tuesday.

Brad "The Big Noise" Evans has obsessed about his fantasy teams since the days when Jeff George had value. Yahoo! Sports fantasy’s resident baseball, football and bracketology expert, Brad also lends advice on the two-time Emmy-nominated webcast "Fantasy Football Live" each NFL Sunday.
Follow him on Twitter. Send Brad a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Tuesday, Aug 26, 2008