"Hell hath no fury, like a fantasy owner scorned" – The Big Noise
What do Celine Dion songs on repeat, no Internet access on a football Sunday and Mike Shanahan head games have in common? They are prime examples of hell on earth.
Year in and year out, millions of fantasy owners burn in a fiery football inferno not because of injuries or poor performances, but rather due to a handful of pigskin Satans that make our blood boil with their questionable play calling, vague injury reports and suspect running back shuffles. Yep, I'm talking about NFL coaches.
For those of us – including yours truly – who are on a fast track to eternal damnation, two questions constantly loom: Can we wear shorts? And will there be fantasy football? If Hades has fantasy sports, you just know our most hated adversaries will torment us there for the rest of eternity.
Who are these fantasy football archfiends?
Along with the demons of ACL injuries, Ki-Jana Carter and Ryan Leaf, here are five NFL coaches destined to drive us crazy in fantasy hell:
5. Eric Mangini, NYJ
Spawn of the New England Beelzebub, the first-year head coach has already shown signs of agonizing fantasy owners with obscure injury news. Just ask anyone who selected Curtis Martin back in June drafts.
4. Bill Cowher, Pit
The wrath of the Cowher scowl could scare the bejesus out of anyone. But for Willie Parker owners, his goal-line chess moves are downright maddening.
3. Bill Belichick, NE
Don't be fooled by his cozy, soft gray-hooded sweatshirts, the Patriot Prince of Darkness will make your head spin with "questionable" labels every week. Right, Corey Dillon owners?
2. Bill Parcells, Dal
Unlike benign Starkist mascot Charlie the Tuna, the Dallas version is an evil fish that drives Julius Jones owners to the brink of insanity with his uncontrollable man-lust for Marion Barber.
1. Mike Shanahan, Den
Not only is Shanahan Lucifer incarnate, he could also body double for horror film icon the Leprechaun. Outside of the orange tint and torturous running back waffle jobs, his most sinister trait is when fireballs shoot from his eyes every time the name Tatum Bell is uttered.
Man, if I have to deal with Shanahan's perpetual crap in the afterlife, shorts better be an option.
THE SPINMEISTER FIVE
Not only a great name for an early 90s alternative rock band, the Spinmeister combs through volumes of print to bring you the five most intriguing training camp morsels each week.
1. Rare NFL Three-Way
Late on Tuesday, Atlanta, Denver and Washington pulled off a blockbuster three-way deal. In the trade, the Falcons acquired disgrunteled wide receiver Ashley Lelie from the Broncos, Washington received beefcake runner T.J. Duckett from Atlanta, while Denver received the Redskins' 2007 third-round pick.
Spin: Holy flippin' moley! The rumblings about a monumental trade were apparent, but this was unexpected. What does it all mean?
Whether you think of Duckett as a part-time Shrek impersonator or just a goal-line rhinoceros, one thing is certain, at 6-foot, 245-pounds, he's one guy none of us wants to bump into in a dark alley. Now in Washington red, he instantly supplants Ladell Betts as the backup runner. With Larry Johnson-like upside in an Al Saunders offense perfectly molded to his runaway truck style, Duckett has ginormous fantasy potential. Although fumble prone, he could spell Clinton Portis on occasion in goal-line situations and will likely tally 8-10 carries in an offense that will run the ball some 30-plus times per game. If you've yet to draft, speak of Duckett in the same breath as Jacksonville horse Greg Jones, a running back that is one injury away from becoming a fantasy superstar. Currently sporting an ADP around pick No. 168 in 12-team drafts, vault him up your draft board and don't be afraid to reach for his services in Round 8.
Since the trade went down, my inbox has been inundated with the same question: What happens to Clinton Portis' value? The acquisition of Duckett makes me believe the shoulder injury could be more serious than was originally let on. There have been a number of documented cases where backs have reinjured shoulders after an initial separation, leading them to the surgeon's table in the offseason. Obviously, the Redskins coaching staff is concerned that this is a real possibility and that's why Duckett became an option. Though I am confident Portis will be in uniform Week 1, I would slide him down a couple of spots. At this point, Portis will probably tally 11-to-14 touchdowns instead of the 20-TD goal Saunders set for him back in June. Regardless of the downgrade, Portis is still a top-10 back in a system that made Priest Holmes a man-crush mainstay from 2001-2004. Take Portis over LaMont Jordan, but not Steven Jackson. Oh, and don't forget to shackle Duckett. You'll regret it terribly if Portis runs into a brick wall against Minnesota on September 11.
As for Lelie, he is overjoyed to be out of the Mile High City and is hoping his time in Hot-Lanta will spark a slumping career. A long-strider with blazing 4.31-40 wheels, Lelie is a big time playmaker. With inconsistencies abounding in the Falcons receiving corps, Lelie could become Michael Vick's favorite downfield target. Despite the upside, his constant alligator arms across the middle will never make him anything more than a low-tiered No. 3 in PPR leagues. The brutal Atlanta schedule accompanied with Vick's questionable output pegs the former Bronco as a marginal No. 4 wide receiver in larger performance leagues. Expect final totals around 45 receptions, 750 yards and 2-4 touchdowns.
Also in Atlanta, mini-me Warrick Dunn gets a value jolt. But don’t go crazy. His net worth is substantially less than first round superstars Steven Jackson and LaMont Jordan. Although the featured back, he will likely split time with fullback Justin Griffith and rookie Jerious Norwood inside the five. Ranked No. 22 in my running back rankings, he will be a consistentcy king averaging 10-to-12 fantasy points per week in standard performance scoring formats. Take him in the early third round.
2. Blowhard Barlow Hits the Big Apple
On August 20, one-hit wonder Kevan Barlow was traded from the San Francisco 49ers to the New York Jets for a 2007 fourth-round draft pick. Jets general manager Mike Tannenbaum said, "We have been impressed with Kevan's production in both the running and passing game. We feel Kevan will complement our running back group, and he will come in and compete for playing time." An ecstatic Barlow added, "Everything happened so fast. Just (Sunday) I'm getting ready to play the Raiders, now I'm here in a Jets uniform. It's good, though. I'm excited about the opportunity I have to come out here and play. I left San Francisco on the West Coast, I'm here on the East Coast. I'm going to start a new slate and get things going out here." Barlow practiced for the first time as a Jet on Monday and expects to see action against the cross-town rival Giants this Friday.
Spin: Before you frolic through a grove of daisies over Barlow, remember this: he stinks. No longer trapped under Mike Nolan's "dictator" command, Barlow should see a boost in confidence in Kelly green, but be very, very wary. Yes he played on an awful string of 49ers teams that at times looked like a D-III college team, but his numbers have trended downward in three consecutive seasons. Since 2004, he has averaged just 3.3 yards-per-carry and joins a Jets club with a suspect passing attack and an average offensive line, at best. Sure he could run off-tackle behind pancake producer D'Brickashaw Ferguson all day, but his upright running style, inconsistent effort and questionable work ethic makes him a marginal No. 3 fantasy back, even in PPR leagues. For those yet to draft, aim for Barlow sometime in Round 5 in 12-team performance leagues, but do not pass up on a Thomas Jones or Ahman Green to acquire the former Pitt Panther's services. Count on totals around 1,100 total yards and 4-6 touchdowns.
In San Francisco, things are about to get Gore-y. The second-year 'U' product has plowed over defenders at will, averaging a stout 5.4 yards-per-carry on 17 attempts in two preseason games. Although diminutive in size at 5-foot-9, Gore is a well-built runner that can rack an abundance of yards after contact with his low-to-the-ground, hard-nosed running style. Scouts have praised Gore's upper-body strength and lethal stiff-arm, but have questioned his skills as a receiver. In many ways, his game mimics Cincinnati's Rudi Johnson.
This season, Nolan wants to implement more rollout passes to aid quarterback Alex Smith and with the additions of athletic freak Vernon Davis and underappreciated wideout Antonio Bryant, the 49ers offense should take a step forward. Ultimately, this will allow Gore to exploit bigger holes and tally more yards. However, despite the positives, the offense in San Francisco is still a work in progress and is likely a year or two away from being dynamite. Late drafters should classify Gore as a mid-tiered No. 3 with marginal touchdown totals, similarly to Willie Parker or Warrick Dunn. Anticipate 1,200 total yards and 6-8 touchdowns for the San Francisco horror show in '06.
3. Battle of the Bears
Determined Chicago Bears slasher Thomas Jones took reps with the first-team offense on Monday and is expected to start in Friday's exhibition game versus the Arizona Cardinals. Apparently, close to 100 percent after a hamstring injury sidelined him for most of training camp, Jones said, "Reclaiming my job is something a lot of people are talking about. I'm just excited about playing football again. I've played a lot of games in this league. I know how to prepare myself for a regular-season game." Current No. 1 Cedric Benson will be out for Friday's game, nursing a shoulder injury. Let the controversy begin.
Spin: Jones is a ferocious Bear that could scare the cold sweat out of Benson and Yogi-hater Stephen Colbert. Benson's alienation of coaches and teammates after leaving the sidelines early during Friday night's exhibition game and missing a team meeting afterward, couldn't have come at a worse time. Back to practice, but not able to participate in contact drills, Benson is slowly losing his grip on the starting job. As I said over a month ago right here in the Noise, Jones is the guy you want.
Although Chicago offensive coordinator Ron Turner has mentioned the Bears need for a two-pronged rushing attack to be successful, be confident that Jones will be the featured back. At 28, the former Virginia standout is a tough inside runner with a lethal bite in the open field. Remember, TJ was the ninth leading rusher in the NFL last season and his 1,335 rushing yard total was the highest mark for a Bears back since Walter Payton rushed for 1,551 yards in 1985. No matter how much money is invested in Benson, the Monsters of the Midway need Jones' all-around abilities to win games. Also, don't fret about the anticipated "split-time" situation. The Bears averaged almost 31 rushes per game last year and in Lovie Smith's ball-control offense, Jones would net 18-to-22 carries per game with Benson getting roughly 8-to-12 touches.
Jones is very motivated to reclaim his starting job. With Benson out for Friday's clash against a suspect Arizona front that allowed an NFL high 22 rushing touchdowns in '05, Jones has an excellent opportunity to make a cannonball splash. If he can prove the hamstring injury is a non-issue and post solid numbers, a depth chart flip-flop would occur. In late drafts, you have to consider the Bears running back situation a "twofer," but Jones alone is a sensational value based on his 94.4 Y! ADP. For those using standard performance scoring systems, pick him up no later than Round 7. If my predictions ring true, he will be a trustworthy high-tiered No. 3 fantasy back this season.
4. Busted in Baltimore
Tractor-trailer Jamal Lewis is out for the remainder of the preseason with soreness from a strained left hip flexor. Ravens head coach Brian Billick commented, "Medically, it's prudent at this point to give him a chance to fully rehab it, get that last bit of soreness or whatever it is that's going on in there out. So between now and the beginning of the season, that is what our focus is going to be. Hopefully, we're giving him two weeks to get the proper rehab and crank it up for Tampa Bay." In two exhibition contests, Lewis averaged a respectable 4.1 yards-per-carry on 15 touches. He is expected to suit up Week 1 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Spin: Jailbird Jamal has fallen and he can't get up. Hoping to bury the prison and poor play specters of 2005, Lewis' trail of disappointment continues. Since his unbelievable 2,066-yard, 14-touchdown season in 2003, his numbers have dropped drastically in two consecutive years, averaging just 3.4 yards-per-carry and 60.4 yards-per-game one year ago. Amazingly just 26-years-old – I could have sworn he was 50 – Lewis still possesses the skill-set to dominate when healthy. Given his bruising 5-foot-11, 245-pound frame, the former Tennessee standout has the burst, body control and cutback ability to be one of the toughest stallions to corral in the league. Near the tail end of last season, he looked to have regained the Bull Moose, kick-you-in-your-teeth mentality that made him one of the league's premiere backs, averaging 89.3 yards-per-game from Weeks 15-17. Much of his end-year success was generated from Kyle Boller's stark improvement. This year, with a more proven Steve McNair at quarterback, the Ravens should be able to stretch defenses and open up vast holes for Lewis to plow through. With a misguided Y! ADP of 80.7, it will take a late third or early fourth round pick to capture this bird in 12-team performance leagues. If he nets 14 or more starts, think totals around 1,150 yards and 6-9 touchdowns.
In the short-term, Mike Anderson gets a slight bump in value. Although having a quiet preseason with just eight carries for 25 yards and limited by a mild foot sprain, the 32-year-old North-South pounder is cemented as the No. 2 back. Rumors have circulated that the strong exhibition season by Musa Smith could overtake Anderson, but the former Bronco has worked out extensively with the first-team offense in Lewis' absence. On Monday, Anderson reportedly felt good, saying, "More carries are always welcome." In the event Lewis were out for Week 1, he would be a fair flex play against a stiff Tampa D that ranked sixth in rushing defense in 2005. For those yet to draft, Anderson is a vital Lewis handcuff to snag after Round 10.
5. Booming Bill
Buffalo Bills trench rat Willis McGahee – the self-proclaimed best back in the NFL – rushed for 88 yards and a touchdown on nine carries against the Cincinnati Bengals on August 19. The former first-round pick noted, "My speed is trying to come back. There's plenty of more to come, to tell you the truth. It felt real good, like a monkey off my back. I really didn't want my teammates riding me about getting caught from behind." Buffalo hosts the Cleveland Browns on Saturday.
Spin: Attention beautiful babies of Buffalo: A pale-faced fantasy writer with a sexy receding hairline could be headed to your town this January. Lock your doors. Hide your daughters. And shield your eyes.
For those clueless readers, three weeks ago I risked embarrassment and potential frostbite stating that Willis McGahee would not finish in the top-15 of fantasy backs this season. If he does, yours truly will sport a banana hammock and "Frank the Tank" the downtown streets of Buffalo in the dead of winter. After McGahee's very impressive second preseason game, I've already hit the tanning booth twice.
Before you catapult McGahee up your draft board, realize his 61-yard touchdown run was against the league's 20th-best rush defense from a year ago. Even though I've crept McGahee up my running back list from No. 19 to No. 17, I'm still not convinced he finishes in the running back top-15. Why? For starters, the Bills have the 24th-toughest fantasy schedule for running backs based on 2005 fantasy points-per-game allowed. Also – and most importantly – J.P. Losman is a sweet dream for opposing defenses. As Losman's three total turnovers against the Bengals can attest, the passing game will struggle. This will put a great deal of pressure not only on McGahee, but also on Takeo Spikes and company to keep games close on defense. If the Bills are forced to play from behind a great deal this season, McGahee's fantasy numbers will suffer. Bank on it.
Although the negatives are a bit discouraging, there are a couple of pluses in McGahee's column. The third-year back should see a career high in receptions as Bills offensive coordinator Steven Fairchild wants to involve the ultra-talented runner more in the passing game. Also, McGahee has openly expressed his excitement running behind a smaller, quicker offensive line that could open more opportunities for big runs. Finally, he is the life and soul of the Bills offense and will likely finish in the top-10 in the NFL in total carries, averaging roughly 22-25 per game.
In the end, this team has way too many question marks on offense to trust McGahee as a No. 1 or even a No. 2 in shallower leagues. The catalyst of the Buffalo offense, McGahee's straight-line speed, vision and quickness will net him 1,200 plus yards, but the Bills lack of a marquee possession receiver in the red-zone will force defenses to stack the line, lowering his touchdown totals. You can expect 1,400 total yards and 4-6 touchdowns.
CHEAT SHEET HEAT
Who should you move up your rankings? What impact will injuries have on player values? Which Cincinnati Bengal will get tasered next and become undraftable? The heat gives you the gridiron dish on the volatile fantasy football player market.
Terry Glenn, WR, Dal – Last Week WR Rank: 24, This Week: 22
Forget "she," Glenn is 100 percent pure man. His acrobatic catches in Monday night's preseason game are an indication of what he can do when healthy. He has played only two full seasons in his 10-year career, but defenders focus on Owens will open up big plays for him. Glenn is a strong No. 3 who should total 65 receptions, 1,200 yards and 6-8 touchdowns.
Mike Bell, RB, Den– Last Week RB Rank: 21, This Week: 17
Move over Bronco "Barrel Man," I need room to jump on the Mike Bell bandwagon. Rushing for 73 yards and two touchdowns on 10 carries against the Titans on August 20, he will leave camp as the No. 1. His infectious work ethic and bulldog, low-shoulder approach will keep him in the top spot the remainder of the year. Move him into your running back top-20.
Jerious Norwood, RB, Atl – Last Week RB Rank: 54, This Week: 50
Warrick Dunn still has a reason to look over his shoulder. With Duckett out of the way, Norwood's value launches skyward. Head coach Jim Mora has praised Norwood's aggressiveness, drag-racer speed and incredible work ethic this summer and could thrust him into a more prominent role, possibly in goal-line situations. He is a terrific pick anytime after Round 11 in 12-team leagues.
Tony Romo, QB, Dal– Last Week QB Rank: NR, This Week: 36
All the talk of Cowboys camp, you just know if Romo becomes the starter an endorsement deal with Tony Roma's Ribs is just around the corner. Drew Bledsoe's valiant 12-for-16, 156 yards and two scores against the abysmal Saints won him the job, but Romo is a short hook away. Completing an insane 75.8 percent of his passes in exhibition play, deep two quarterback leagues need to take a long look.
Brandon Jacobs, RB, NYG – Last Week RB Rank: 45, This Week: 43
With a 4.51 40-time and standing at 6-foot-4, 245-pounds, Jacobs is a football Frankenstein. Tiki Barber has dropped hints of retirement after this season and at 31, could have difficulties playing a full 16-game slate. If Barber were sidelined, Jacobs would thrive as the primary carrier. For now, he will again steal away precious carries inside the five, totaling 7-9 touchdowns. Keeper leagues need reach a little earlier.
Terrell Owens, Dal, WR – Last Week WR Rank: 2, This Week: 5
T.O. continues to blow tires on his Tour de Oxnard journey. Already beginning to undermine his relationship with hardhead Bill Parcells, Owens' hamstring issues are a major concern. If the season started tomorrow, I bet he would play, but the injury news and his general deviancy makes the mental circus a risky choice. Every time he opens his mouth, his star dims.
Randy Moss, Oak, WR – Last Week WR Rank:12 This Week: 15
If the Oakland passing game doesn't improve, Moss' job as a smoothie salesman could expand sooner than expected. Quarterback Aaron Brooks should improve as he becomes more comfortable in Art Shell's offense, but this is not the Vikings' Moss.
LenDale White, Ten, RB – Last Week RB Rank:49 This Week: 50
The saliva projector continues to be an overvalued option based on his marginal preseason efforts. Tallying just 28 yards on seven carries in his NFL preseason debut, he is a No. 5 running back until the injury bug bites Chris Brown.
Reggie Bush, NO, RB – Last Week RB Rank: 33, This Week: 35
Guess what? A good defense with linebacker speed is Bush's Kryptonite. The Dallas 3-4 defense limited the electric rookie to seven yards on four carries and proved he is not a player worth the 87 Madden player rating. If you take him in the second round in a non-keeper league, you'll be sorry.
Hines Ward, Pit, WR – Last Week WR Rank: 10, This Week: 13
The reigning Super Bowl MVP is quickly becoming the "hospital" Ward. Ten minutes into his first practice since August 4, Ward tweaked his tender hammy. No longer a spring chicken at age 30, he will likely sit out the rest of the preseason. Given the nagging nature of hamstring injuries, knock him down a couple of spots.
UNLEASH THE BEAST
Upset you don't have a forum to express your disdain for drafting Willis McGahee? Do you 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?
You're absolutely wrong about Fred Taylor going down before the season comes to a close. Taylor is in the best shape of his life and when he is healthy he is undeniably one of the best running backs in the game. He will have a breakout season and you will have to eat your crow. The Jaguars are going to the Super Bowl. You heard it here first.
– Josh Park
Noise: Josh, you obviously have killed too many brain cells in your day. To refresh your beer-fogged memory, here is a year-by-year breakdown of "fragile" Fred's injury-laden career:
1998: In Taylor's rookie campaign – his "breakout" season – he missed just one game due to a strained shoulder and concussion. He finished with 1,644 total yards and 17 total touchdowns.
1999: The tame kitty missed six games with a tender hamstring.
2000: Taylor is forced to ride the pine for three games because of an MCL strain.
2001: On a play that would make any man curl up into the fetal position, Taylor tore a groin muscle in Week 2. The injury put him on the shelf for the remaining 14 games.
2002: Touched by God, Taylor plays all 16 games.
2003: Taylor missed all of training camp with a bone bruise in his right knee, but miraculously played in his second consecutive 16 game tilt without a muscle twinge.
2004: The fragile one sits the Jags' final two regular season games because of a torn ligament in his right knee.
2005: Taylor was sidelined for five games because of a bone bruise in his right ankle
To recap: In his eight-year career, Taylor has missed a whopping 31 games, averaging 3.8 fantasy headaches per year. Sure he's sculpted like a Greek God and primed for a resurgent campaign in '06, but be realistic. Taylor's 30-year-old body and historical track record of shelf time will continue to make him a Manute Bol arm's length choice on draft day.
What's my prognosis for Mr. Flimsy this season?
On Tuesday, Jack Del Rio formally announced that Taylor will enter Week 1 as the starter over bruiser Greg Jones. But don't shoot him up you cheat sheat. Even though I do believe he still possesses the burst, elusiveness and versatility to be a superb No. 3 fantasy back, his touchdown totals will continue to be in the 3-4 range with Jones stealing away goal-line carries. If he's there in Round 7 and the happy feeling of a few adult beverages kicks in, maybe I reach, but only as a third back in 12-team leagues.
Sorry Josh, but the over/under on total games played by Taylor this season is at 11. For me, the under is easy money.