At the confluence of the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers an ominous black cloud hangs over a blue collar city built on muscle, sweat and smash-mouth football. This sinister smog was not generated from the smokestacks of local steel mills or the steam discharge from river barges; it was created from the fumes of Steelers fans.
No wonder two-thirds of Steelers fans – the proud macho traditionalists that they are – hate every foam-filled ounce of him.
I for one believe their disdain is justified.
Sure, I love a goofy, oversized sports costume as much as the next guy, but when a revered organization like the Steelers spontaneously decides to defy tradition in order to attract a couple of extra bucks in plush toy sales, it's rather ignominious.
Seriously. What's next? The Packers hire Mayor McCheese and instruct him to fire blocks of cheddar from an air cannon into the stands at Lambeau Field?
Personally, if I were one of the 70,000 people who entered the contest to name the first mascot in franchise history I would have chosen a name that fused Pittsburgh's old-fashioned, hard-working American values with its gritty football past.
My entry: Jeromey McBus.
Oh how the kiddies would have loved his plump face, pearly white smile and bowl-full of jelly …
In dishonor of the silliness that is Steely McBeam – and to somehow ingeniously bridge this to fantasy – here are three RB powerhouses with the most potential to become McCrappy caricatures of themselves by year's end.
Larry Johnson, KC
Lowdown: Reports have surfaced in the past 48 hours that an end to Johnson's holdout is imminent. But is Grand-ma-ma really a top-three slam dunk? LJ will probably be without starting tackle Damion McIntosh for at least the first two games of the regular season and with Will Shields retired, the once dominant Chiefs offensive line is in transition. Throw in the suspect play of the un-dynamic QB duo of Brodie Croyle and Damon Huard and a burdensome schedule that features nine games against defenses that ranked in the top-15 in rush D a year ago, and the recipe is ripe for an LJ swoon.
Brian Westbrook, Phi
Lowdown: Westie's balky knee has already proved troublesome as the diminutive back missed three days of practice last week due to swelling. Despite his reoccurring knee issues, Westbrook fought through the discomfort last year and played in 15 contests for the first time in three seasons, tallying a consistent 12 games of 100-plus total yards. If he succumbs to knee pain at any point this season, flashy rookie Tony Hunt and/or injury-ridden I-back Correll Buckhalter would benefit.
Ronnie Brown, Mia
Lowdown: The warning signs of Brown's demise are inescapable. The Dolphins passing attack is anemic. The youthful offensive line looks transparent. And Brown, one of the most overrated runners in '06, is coming off a mediocre season in which he posted the same number of 100-yard games as Fred Taylor. Be afraid.
THE SPINMEISTER FIVE
Not only a great name for a polka band the Spinmeister combs through volumes of print each week to bring you the five most intriguing nuggets from the exhibition season.
Uno: Branded Starter?
Story: Packers second round draft choice Brandon Jackson ran for a marginal 57 yards on 16 carries against an inflexible Pittsburgh Steelers defense in his first exhibition game.
Spin: When Cheesehead head coach Mike McCarthy revealed Monday that Vernand Morency is still "a couple of weeks away" from suiting up for practice, Jackson's odds of starting Week 1 increased tenfold.
The former Cornhusker is a compact back who possesses 4.41-forty speed, an aggressive inside-running demeanor and a sharp cut-back ability, all of which fit perfectly for the Pack's zone-blocking scheme. His eight carries for 14 yards against the Steelers first-string defense seems atrocious, but, as a whole, the Packers offensive line had difficulties creating lanes for Jackson to plow through. On Saturday, Green Bay will face a Seattle Seahawks frontline that finished 22nd in the league in rush defense a season ago, which should give Jackson followers an insightful preview of his true potential. If he can perform admirably in his next couple of preseason contests, he will surely be the primary ball carrier when the Packers host Philadelphia on September 9. Selected on average in Round 7 of 12-team drafts and behind numerous time-share question marks – DeAngelo Williams, Chester Taylor, Fred Taylor, Julius Jones, Ladell Betts – B-Jax is an incredible mid-round value who has a reasonable chance to become the most treasured rookie running back this season. If he nails down the job, anticipate an end-season line around 1,250 total yards with 6-8 touchdowns.
Dos: Hardly Dunn
Story: Only three weeks removed from back surgery, Warrick Dunn returned to the practice field on Monday participating in all drills with the second team.
Spin: Dunn's pesky resilience is hard to swallow for Jerious Norwood backers banking on a breakout season. The 32-year-old Dunn, who has been a sound No. 3 RB over the past three seasons averaging 1,448 total yards and six touchdowns a year, said he experienced no residual effects from his Monday workout and expects to be ready for the regular-season opener at Minnesota on September 9. Although he may be a bit antiquated given his advanced age and nicks, Dunn is still a valuable bench commodity in yardage leagues. Most owners will scoff at him, but he's a tremendous value (111.3 ADP) who can be had after Round 8 in 12-team drafts.
Norwood is still the guy you want in the crosshairs given his dynamite open-field explosiveness and youth. Last year he averaged a ridiculous 6.4 YPC and a 1,200 total yard, 7-9 TD season is achievable if can eclipse the 200-carry mark this season. The second-year speedster vaulted up draft boards with Dunn sidelined, going as early as the late-third round in a recent expert's draft, but with wee little Warrick's unforeseen rebound, Norwood will likely be available in Round 5 of 12-team drafts. He could turn an early-round profit at a mid-round cost much like Joseph Addai did last year.
One deep sleeper to keep in mind during the midnight hour of your draft is rookie pounder Jason Snelling. Bobby Petrino wants to phase-out the Falcons zone-blocking scheme and install a more power-oriented, between-the-hashmarks rushing approach in his spread offense. Considering that both Dunn and Norwood are diminutive backs, they are not the typical fit for Petrino's system. But Snelling is. A bowling ball at 5-foot-11, 232-pounds, Snelling is an underrated, versatile talent who boasts a rare combination of bone-crushing strength and soft hands. Against the Jets last Friday, he ran for a team-high 48 yards on 10 carries and showed surprising burst on a 14-yard up-the-gut scamper. Because Dunn and Norwood are both susceptible to injury, it wouldn't be a shock if Snelling emerged a waiver wire darling this season. Until his opportunity to shine arises, look for him to be utilized in goal-line packages as a potential T.J. Duckett-type vulture.
Tres: Thomas the Train Derailed?
Story: Jets marquee offseason acquisition Thomas Jones suffered a mysterious leg injury during a seemingly innocuous blocking drill on Sunday. Jones had his ankle taped by a trainer and reportedly was seen walking with a noticeable limp on the sidelines.
Spin: Eric Mangini, who has a Gestapo attitude toward the media, described the injury on August 13 as a "lower leg injury … below the knee." Brilliant diagnosis, Dr. Mangenious. Luckily, the infinite wisdom of Drew Rosenhaus, Jones' agent, gave us additional insight into his client's status, stating that he suffered a "strain of the calf muscle" and is expected to be evaluated on a "week-to-week" basis. Jones, the 17th-best back in Y! fantasy games last year averaging a respectable 10.8 fantasy points per game, will likely miss a preseason game or two but is not in jeopardy of being absent from the starting lineup Week 1 versus New England.
Jones' prospects for a RB top-20 season are favorable. The Jets' relatively inexperienced frontline, anchored by '06 first-round pick D'Brickashaw Ferguson, should advance forward in the jelling process. Their improvement, coupled with Jones' tough, competitive running style will allow the ex-Bear to again post trustworthy No. 2 numbers around 1,400 total yards and 7-9 touchdowns.
Jones, who has failed to suit up in a miniscule three games in three seasons, is one of the league's more durable backs, but if the injury imp forced him to the sidelines, squatty second-year scatback Leon Washington would tote the load. Washington is a dangerous runner in space with electric open-field speed who sprinted his way to two 100-yard games last season and racked a stout 4.5 YPC mark in contests he received 15 or more touches. Because of his Mini-Me stature (5-foot-8, 202-pounds), many question his ability to haul the rock 20-plus times per game, but with Cedric Houston no longer in the picture it appears he would be entrusted to handle the full load in Jones' absence. Little Leon, currently a Round 11 pick on average in 12-team leagues according to Mock Draft Central, is an essential handcuff for owners aspiring to take Jones in Round 3.
Cuatro: Three-headed Tennessee Ferret
Story: In the Titans' first action of the exhibition season against Washington, starter Chris Brown carried the pill nine times for an uneventful 19 yards. Burger inhaler LenDale White also failed to inject any energy into the Titans' rushing attack, finishing with 12 yards on six carries. Rookie Chris Henry tallied 42 yards on 12 carries, entirely against second and third stringers.
Spin: To embellish a Lionel Richie lyric, the Titans RBs are once, twice, three times ladies. Underneath their prissy running styles, finely sculpted nails and affinity for Lifetime Network movies, there is a glimmer of hope that one of the Tennessee backfield turkeys can generate adequate No. 3 RB value. Last year, Travis Henry, running behind one of the most underrated lines in the league, resurrected his fantasy prowess, chugging for 1,211 yards, seven scores and a 4.4 YPC average in 13 starts. Much of Henry's success was due in large part to the aforementioned frontline and the speedy development of Vince Young. Despite his lack of pocket maturity a season ago, Young's superb athleticism and scrambling ability kept defenses honest, which was just enough to create running lanes for Henry. The presence of revitalized 11-year vet Eric Moulds and up-and-comer Brandon Jones to the receiving corps should help Young bewilder defenses at times this year and open up the running game.
Of the uninspiring trio, White has the best odds of emerging from the pack. The second-year back, who must have consumed massive quantities of KFC this past offseason, has reportedly cut nearly 25-pounds off his May mini-camp weight. Jeff Fisher has been impressed with White's assertiveness in attacking holes and his growing maturity as a teammate. Fisher wants to implement a two-back scheme this season, with the starter receiving roughly 275 total carries. If White can stay healthy – he is currently battling a minor ankle injury – and leap Brown on the depth chart, he could attain 1,200-yards with 6-8 TDs. White, the 38th back (ADP: 107.8) selected on average in Yahoo! leagues, is an anaconda, albeit one that has a small cow in his stomach, hiding in the late-draft grass.
Cinco: Fish Fried
Story: The Dolphins first-string offense was showered by a cascade of boos from the Miami faithful after putting on a display of utter incompetence in their opening exhibition tilt against in-state foes, the Jacksonville Jaguars. The first-team offense finished with an unspectacular 66 total yards in the first-half.
Spin: Somewhere in Tuscaloosa Nick Saban is smiling. Remember last year how everyone immediately jumped to conclusions about how terrible the Oakland Raiders offense was in their preseason debut? Well, the Dolphins evoke similar feelings.
Unless Richmond Webb is coaxed out of retirement, the Fins frontline will be turned into sushi with regularity. None of the current starters are incumbents and with three rookies involved in the rotation, this is a very inexperienced unit that will need time to develop into an average bunch. Because Trent Green, who went 6-for-15 with 60 yards and a pick in 30 minutes of player versus the Jags, has sandbags for legs and a noodle for an arm, he will be feasted upon by formidable defensive lines. Green looked like the same woozy quarterback he exuded last year as a Chief. Unless he can get time in the pocket to plant and throw, his numbers, along with Chris Chambers' totals, will most definitely disappoint this season.
For popular early-round plowshare Ronnie Brown, the despicable exhibition put on by the offensive line is very disconcerting. Brown was mauled by the Jags physical front seven, finishing with a pathetic eight yards on eight carries. Many will remind me that Cam Cameron's offense produced fantasy's most hallowed single-season line in history last year, but without an unyielding offensive line, a blocking rhinoceros like FB Lorenzo Neal to lead the way, and a competent passing game to stretch the field, Brown does not have the luxuries LaDainian Tomlinson had in San Diego. Sure, it's only one-half of the first preseason game and the O-line could magically jell come October, but it's senseless to risk a mid-second round pick for someone with house odds on becoming this season's LaMont Jordan.
Mark my words, Brown will cause nothing but pain and anguish for owners. Selected with the 17th pick on average in most drafts, an Edgerrin James (19.4 ADP), Brandon Jacobs (34.7), Marion Barber (36.5), or Carnell Williams (40.3) will likely finish with higher numbers.
CHEAT SHEET BEAT
Similar to popular teeny-bopper tabloid Tiger Beat, the CSB gives pigskin-crazed fantasy followers the scoop on the volatile player market – and, OMG!, Justin Timberlake. Adjust your rankings accordingly.
|Cheat Sheet Jumpers|
|Kevin Jones||$7.54||78.9, 6.5||39||+3|
|Lowdown: With Tatum Bell and T.J. Duckett battling for first-team duties, Jones has rehabilitated his surgically repaired left food with ferocious determination. In individual workouts last week, Jones caught passes and made cuts against imaginary defenders without recourse. Off the field he's used a variety of non-traditional methods to expedite the healing process, including heat acupuncture, soaking his foot in Epsom salts and wearing a compression sock to bed. He and Bell have both proclaimed their grip on the starting job, but in all likelihood Rod Marinelli will utilize a three-man rotation until Jones regains full-strength. Even though he missed four games last year, Jones still finished with the fifth-most receptions among RBs with 61. Clearly, he's a better all-around back than "Taco" Tatum and is worth a sixth-round gamble based on the optimistic news. Remember, he averaged 14.1 FPPG in standard scoring leagues last year, which ranked him ninth among RBs in that category. Fearless Forecast (12 G): 165 carries, 660 yds, 54 rec, 453 yds, 9 TD|
|Brian Leonard||$1.17||202.4, 16.8||54||+5|
|Lowdown: The pride of Piscataway is a Steven Jackson knee-buckle away from becoming '07's version of Nick Goings. In his preseason debut, the 6-foot-1, 224-pound bruising fullback bulldozed his way to 66 total yards, including a 10-yard touchdown run, against the vaunted Vikings rush defense. Leonard's unmitigated muscle, sticky fingers and stellar speed makes him a hidden gem late in drafts. Jackson is under contract through the '08 season, making Leonard a potential late-round bargain in dynasty leagues. Fearless Forecast: 75 carries, 337 yds, 15 rec, 52 yds, 4 TDs.|
|Michael Pittman||$1.00||198.1, 16.5||46||+3|
|Lowdown: With Mike Alstott on IR, the futon-flexible Pittman will experiment as a fullback. The chiseled 32-year-old added an additional 15 pounds of muscle in the off-eason and now tilts the scales at a robust 230 pounds. His increased bulk and determined, straight-forward rushing style could net him ample looks near the goal line this season. Already one of the best receiving backs in the NFL – he's averaged 41.3 receptions per year since '04 – Pittman will remain the Bucs third-down back in passing situations and could become a viable flex play in points per reception (PPR) leagues when the matchup warrants. Don't forget about him in the hazy hours of your draft. Fearless Forecast: 55 carries, 264 yds, 41 rec, 344 yds, 4 TDs|
|Cheat Sheet Dumpers|
|DeAngelo Williams||$22.37||54.9, 4.5||26||-4|
|Lowdown: If only DeShaun Foster was accidentally mauled by a renegade raccoon. The delicate Williams missed the Panther's preseason opener and has seen limited time on the practice field the past four days because of ankle stiffness. For now, Foster, reinvigorated by the team's new zone-blocking scheme, is in line to again handle the heavy side of the 60-40 time-share. Williams might be a more dazzling receiver and better insider runner than Foster, but being drafted some 50 picks previous than his platoon-mate labels him an unwise Round 4 selection based on the circumstances. Fearless Forecast: 143 carries, 614 yds, 42 rec, 407 yds, 4 TDs|
|Ahman Green||$15.98||43.0, 3.5||25||-1|
|Lowdown: It appears Green could get the boot at the goal line this season. Gary Kubiak tipped his goal-line hand Saturday, pulling Green in favor of Ron Dayne inside the five. At 30, Green has lost a noticeable amount of speed and quickness and is not the 25-carry back of his zenith years. Dayne may have the appearance of the Pillsbury Doughboy, but he's a hard grinder who is difficult to stop when falling forward. If Kubiak continues to supplant Green at the goal-line he'll have trouble eclipsing six touchdowns. Fearless Forecast (13 G): 240 carries, 984 yds, 43 rec, 339 yds, 5 TDs|
|Marshawn Lynch||1||42.8, 3.5||29||-3|
|Lowdown: He may know how to showboat behind the wheel of an injury cart, but Lynch won't be a driving force for owners in his inaugural season. The Bills have a brutal schedule matched against seven teams a total of 11 times that finished in the top-15 in rush defense a year ago. Sure, Buffalo solidified their offensive line in the offseason and J.P. Losman's decision-making advancements are a plus, but due to the Bills absurdly difficult slate and with Anthony Thomas and Dwayne Wright lurking at the goal line, employing Lynch as a No. 2 is foolish. Fellow rookie namesakes Adrian Peterson (60.2 ADP) and Brandon Jackson (85.6), drafted some 20-40 picks after Lynch, have more promise this season. Fearless Forecast: 242 carries, 992 yds, 33 rec, 267 yds, 6 TDs|
Upset you don't have a forum to express your disdain for drafting Clinton Portis? 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?
In regards to your Handcuff Hierarchy column: what a good article! I don't completely agree with your 'hierarchy' but I was laughing my ass off while reading it. Oh, and as an Eagles fan I want to apologize personally for Brian Dawkins driving you ol' gentleman Jack over Clinton Portis. No man should have to suffer that fate. Keep up the great work.
– Mike, Philadelphia, PA
Hey Evans, I have no doubt that handcuffing is necessary in all those cutthroat expert leagues, but I really don't understand its necessity in most leagues. For example, I've been fortunate enough to own LT in a keeper league and every year some wise guy takes Michael Turner way too soon (5th/6th round). I'm not going to give up a pick that early to secure a backup. Therefore, I've always drafted backs with upside, never handcuffs. It just seems to me that owning five RBs with some fantasy relevance is better than having three handcuffs who, barring injury, have almost no fantasy relevance. P.S. – Just exactly how are you related to Lee Evans up in Buffalo?
– Jason, Kalamazoo, MI
Noise: I'm Lee Evans' albino cousin. Jason, your anti-shackle logic is justified. Tomlinson has missed a measly one game in six seasons and the odds of him landing on the IR are about as good as Pacman Jones teaming up with former WWF king of bling, the Million Dollar Man Ted Dibiase, for a rain-making TNA pay-per-view blowout. As I alluded to in my "Handcuff Hierarchy" column, I agree it's silly to avoid an upside back you know will receive ample carries for a backup who needs a lucky break to become desirable. Last year, the same idiots in your league probably sidestepped a Frank Gore, Joseph Addai or Deuce McAllister just to spurn you by taking Turner. Dumb.
For backs in non-platoon situations, it is important to hogtie, but only at a reasonable cost. Clinton Portis is the only exception I can think of this season. If you confide in the tender-kneed Redskin as your No. 2, it's imperative to reach for Ladell Betts no later than Round 6 in a 12-team draft.
Brad, I have Darrell Jackson on my fantasy team as one of my WRs this year and I'm wondering how valuable he'll be in San Francisco. There is a guy who may be willing to trade me Donald Driver for D-Jax and Marshawn Lynch. Would this be a good trade or are Jackson and Lynch worth keeping?
– Jason, Hattiesburg, MS
Noise: For the love of stadium nachos topped with processed jalapeño cheese, do not make this trade. Although I do believe Driver is a superior receiver to Jackson, "throwing in" Lynch is the deal-breaker. Lynch does have the most difficult schedule of any back this season, but, despite his horrific slate and unspecified role in the platoon, running back depth is a key ingredient in fantasy success. Inevitably, you'll be faced with an agonizing matchup decision at some point this year and Lynch could prove to be a palatable solution, albeit in five games. The insignificant fantasy points per game difference expected between Driver and D-Jax does not outweigh Lynch's value as a No. 3 back in a non-keeper league.
Evans, they say "actions speak louder than words." I'm sure you've heard it before with you being so big on expressions. Face it. You're having an awful season in the Friends and Family baseball league. Your bouncing around in the bottom third does not impress me. And no, I'm not a fan of your archrival Funston either. Even "Falzone the Calzone" is wrecking you. Can't wait for football when you'll be telling me to draft Chris Weinke because you love his name.
– Andy Behrens' Newest Fan, New York, NY
Noise: Forget wrinkly Weinke and his AARP paycheck, there's only one name I've scribbled with hearts in my Trapper Keeper – Brandon Jacobs. After finishing eighth last year in the Friends and Family football league, hopefully, I can wrestle the Football Frankenstein away from Funston (who drafted him in this week's F&F draft) and rectify my expert reputation. Otherwise, the new Falzone, Michael "Bolton's Next of" Gehlken will blacken my name in ridicule in his Friends and Family companion piece each week. As the great George Carlin said, "If you can't beat them, arrange to have them beaten." And in your boy Behrens' case, he better hire Brian Urlacher for protection – especially if he continues to recommend drafting the Bears defense in the fifth round of 12-team drafts …