By Mike Harmon
June 14, 2005
Judging by the number of e-mails hitting my inbox and the flurry of activity on Yahoo! Sports Fantasy Baseball message boards, owners couldn't wait for the opening of the 2005 Fantasy Football campaign. The results of April's NFL Draft, the plethora of offseason player movement and Brandon Funston's expanded Big(ger) Board are hot topics of conversation.
So, to get the juices flowing and to spark a few more debates, I offer the opening salvo to the sleeper and bust evaluations for the coming season. The lists that follow are based on current injury, playing time and personnel information. As the summer months wind toward opening week, I'll keep a close tab on camp reports and scouts' evaluations to best prepare you to dominate your draft.
Let's begin with the sleepers.
Kyle Boller, Bal
There are some who contend that all the offensive weaponry in the world will not be enough to make Boller a solid fantasy performer. I believe that the Ravens did enough this offseason with the additions of Derrick Mason and Mark Clayton to do just that. Boller gets Todd Heap back on the field and a focused Jamal Lewis. The guidance of Jim Fassel and Rick Neuheisel will make Boller a more effective passer and dramatically increase his terrible 5.52 yards per pass attempt from 2004.
Joey Harrington, Det
If he can't produce with this supporting cast, then his days as an NFL starter will end quickly. Harrington's overall '04 numbers weren't abysmal, but to say he was inconsistent would be an understatement. Seeing weekly yardage totals of 101, 91 and 47 make you scratch your head. But, he did finish with two games of 300-plus passing yards and two touchdowns in his final three starts. I believe both Charles Rogers and Roy Williams will stay on the field and team with Marcus Pollard, Kevin Jones and Mike Williams to significantly improve on Harrington's 19 touchdown tosses of last season.
Kurt Warner, Ari
The trip to the desert may be Warner's last stand in the NFL. It's hard to blame him for the rough start experienced in his lone season with the Giants, although his 12 fumbles were somewhat disconcerting. Warner finds himself in a situation similar to that of Harrington in Detroit. He will have several top-tier weapons at his disposal and an offense predicated on his quick release. That skill, combined with the precision route-running of Anquan Boldin, may just evoke memories of the Warner glory days in St. Louis.
LaBrandon Toefield, Jac
The whispers about the health of Fred Taylor's knee persist. He's been held out of all workouts, thus far. That means that the third-year back from LSU will get the reps with the first team in the interim. He averaged 3.3 yards on a meager 51 carries in 04. Keep an eye on this situation, as Buffalo continues to listen to all offers for Travis Henry.
J.J. Arrington, Ari
The speedy running back from the Cal Bears will begin the campaign as the No. 1 back in Arizona. Dennis Green absolutely loves his abilities and gushes over the pick. Arizona rebuilt the offensive line, brought in the passing efficiency of Kurt Warner and will have a full season of Bryant Johnson, Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin on the wings. By spreading the defense, linebackers will be forced to try and chase Arrington down.
Cedric Benson, Chi
I received a number of questions regarding last week's Fantasy Football Training Camp piece and my omission of Benson in the rookies to watch. Benson is not only on the radar; he's a bona fide threat for a huge year with the Bears. Thomas Jones appears to be relegated to third-down duty and an insurance card for Benson. The talk of a platoon has been hushed, paving the way for Benson to dominate in Chicago.
Joe Jurevicius, Sea
The release of Koren Robinson opens the door for Jurevicius to take the No. 2 spot in the Seattle receiving corps. Matt Hasselbeck averaged 34 attempts per season in 04 and completed 59 percent of them (19 per game). I believe that the 6-foot 5 receiver will be a favorite target of Hasselbeck's this season, seeing six-to-eight looks per week and a number of red zone opportunities.
Tyrone Calico, Ten
With only one appearance in 2004 (two catches for 13 yards), Calico will likely be off of most fantasy owners' radars entering draft season. Looking back to his rookie season of 03, the big-play receiver made the most of his chances, hauling in touchdowns on four of his 18 receptions. Assuming he's left his knee injuries behind, Calico will be a deep-ball threat and red-zone monster. The departure of Derrick Mason slides Drew Bennett into the role of No. 1 receiver and a healthy Calico at the No. 2. Draft picks Courtney Roby and Brandon Jones will battle for the third receiver slot.
Darius Watts, Den
We saw Ashley Lelie blossom into a full-blown fantasy star during his third NFL campaign in 04. Rod Smith is his normally reliable self, but one has to wonder when age (he turned 35 last month) will become an issue. Mike Shanahan and the Broncos coaching staff have high hopes for Watts, whose hands betrayed him last season. He caught 31 passes (seven for 86 yards and a score in Week 8), but had troubles with drops. If he can get his hands in touch with his speedy feet, he'll become a fantasy fixture in 05.
Matt Schobel, Cin
As you begin to prepare your draft rankings, you will see one consistent theme. Carson Palmer is set to have a monster season with all of his top options back in the fold. One of the beneficiaries of Palmer's development will be Schobel. Rudi Johnson shoulders the load in the backfield and wideouts Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh will keep opposing defensive backs busy. That leaves Schobel to pick up additional looks. He scored twice in the final four weeks of the season and caught three or more passes in the 10 games he played.
Paul Edinger, Min
After a dismal final season with the Bears, the big-legged Edinger will enjoy booting the ball inside the Metrodome. The proficiency of the Vikings offense will give Edinger a tremendous number of FG opportunities (up dramatically from his 24 with the woeful 04 Bears) and several fantasy points each week by way of PATs.
Yes, I know they were 27th in points allowed (24.7) last year, but the Vikings have retooled their defense to dramatically improve both the defensive line and defensive backfield. The jury remains out on whether the linebackers of Sam Cowart, Napoleon Harris (part of the Randy Moss deal), Dontarrious Thomas and E.J. Henderson will seal the deal for the always potent offense. They'll be tested in Week 2 when they travel to Cincinnati.
Let's turn our attention to the busts
Drew Bledsoe, Dal
Bledsoe will have several weapons available at wide receiver and will lean heavily on star tight end Jason Witten. However, for all the yardage that Bledsoe may rack up, particularly with everyone's favorite possession receiver Keyshawn Johnson in tow, I'm expecting a steady dose of Julius Jones in the red zone.
Drew Brees, SD
I'm prepared for the litany of hate mail that I'll receive for these remarks. Lest we forget, Brees racked up a third of his touchdown total over two games against the dismal Oakland and New Orleans defenses. However, while I believe the offense will continue to make strides with the return of Reche Caldwell and a full season with Keenan McCardell, it's difficult to believe that Brees will be able to repeat the magic of 2004. I expect the touchdown total to drop.
Chris Brown, Ten
Brown has developed the reputation of being soft and taunted fantasy owners with huge first halves numerous times in '04, only to hobble to the sideline after the break – he missed five full games and parts of others. Ownership continues to look into the possibility of acquiring Travis Henry. Until that deal is consummated, Jarrett Payton (son of Walter and fourth leading rusher in NFL Europe) stands to win the backup role, which has some value considering Brown's durability issues.
DeShaun Foster, Car
Foster has the speed to break a long on every time he touches the ball, if he's able to keep himself on the field. His injury history stands as one red flag in selecting him on draft day. The likelihood of a committee situation with Stephen Davis and Eric Shelton is the other. He's worth a shot as your third running back, but shouldn't be counted on for every day fantasy work just yet.
Fred Taylor, Jac
Taylor's knee injury continues to cause issues and delay his participation in drills. Therefore, the draft stock of LaBrandon Toefield has risen and second-year back Greg Jones has also appeared on the radar. Though it's possible that Taylor makes a full recovery in time for full-blown training camp next month, it appears that Taylor's three-year run as a top-tier back is at an end. If you're drafting soon, proceed with caution.
Brian Westbrook, Phi
Westbrook signed his one-year tender, but continues to pursue a long-term deal. He piled up 73 receptions while carrying the ball only 177 times in 04. For his efforts, it appears Westbrook will face a possible committee situation in 05, with rookie Ryan Moats and a rebuilt Correll Buckhalter vying for playing time.
Muhsin Muhammad, Chi
There's no chance that Muhammad can approach his 2004 efforts in the Bears offense. I like the thought of the Bears establishing a big running game with Cedric Benson and think his numbers will be just fine, but I think the passing game is still another playmaker away from effectiveness. From 2002-04, Muhammad experienced injuries and averaged only 55 receptions per season and scored a total of seven touchdowns. With the inexperienced Rex Grossman under center (though he did look solid in three games before the ACL injury sidelined him) and the lack of a true No. 2 receiver, Muhammad will find far fewer opportunities. He's been drafted in the sixth round of several experts drafts on the thinking that someone will need to catch the ball. Don't count on it. I'd go down the rankings list and nab Jerry Porter, Lee Evans or Deion Branch instead.
Brandon Stokley, Ind
Stokley was the third component of the fearsome Indianapolis receiving corps that propelled Peyton Manning to the single-season TD record. He did his damage chiefly in three games where he racked up 300 of his receiving yards and seven touchdowns. In looking at the Colts offense heading into 05, I expect more opportunities for Dallas Clark and for Marvin Harrison to benefit from opposing defenses paying more attention to Stokley and Reggie Wayne. I don't want to doubt Manning, particularly after last season, but some of those touchdowns will be lost to the foot of Mike Vanderjagt. For where you'd need to draft him (Round 5-6), I would turn my attentions elsewhere.
Peerless Price, Atl
This is more of a build up of my frustration of the failed promise since Price left Buffalo. It was believed that he was destined to join Michael Vick as one of the top young QB-WR tandems in the league. Instead, both players have left fantasy owners wanting. Vick turns in the highlights for his elusiveness and break-neck moves, but fails to find the end zone. Price has been a non-factor for two seasons (1,400 yards and six touchdowns total as the Falcons' No. 1 option). Price could be a cap casualty in the next several weeks.
Daniel Graham, NE
Graham started 04 strong, scoring five times in the first four games, then went silent for six weeks before closing with a touchdown in both Week 15 and 16. However, New England's No. 1 draft pick in 2004, Ben Watson, is making strides in his comeback from a knee injury. And, as we know, if he can go, Bill Belichick likes to get everyone involved.
Lawrence Tynes, KC
Fantasy owners looking to Tynes will do so with the hope of multiple PATs and a bevy of short-yardage field goal opportunities. However, he only converted five of 10 attempts from 40-plus yards in 04. There are certainly a dozen better options to be had.
Denver ranked ninth in the NFL at 19 points allowed per game in 04 and then went out and employed a bunch of Cleveland castoffs. That said, the linebacking corps is stellar, led by Al Wilson and Ian Gold, and Champ Bailey should be back to his old self. I'm concerned that health and the continued improvement of the other offenses in the AFC West will cause problems for Denver this season and mitigate its fantasy impact.
Updated on Tuesday, Jun 14, 2005 4:34 pm, EDT
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