"If a man watches three football games in a row, he should be declared legally dead." – Erma Bombeck
This time each year, wives and girlfriends notice bizarre behaviors in their male companions. Magazines plastered with big, sweaty men are consumed incessantly. Nightmares about devastating knee injuries become a regular occurrence. And passionate cries of Houshmandzadeh are yelled out during love-making.
Have no fear, ladies, its just fantasy football season.
August 1 marked the day when fantasy addicts embark on a gridiron journey, trading in rawhide for pigskin and Sidney Ponson for a 350-pound lineman. These football brainiacs cram their heads with unpronounceable names, a rolodex of depth charts and top secret tidbits that explain why Joseph Addai will be a prominent roster piece. With Week 1 of the NFL season only a month away, the adventure is just beginning. Are you really ready to show your league-mates whose boss?
Over the entire preseason the Noise will investigate every important training camp battle, hammy pull and Mike Shanahan twitch to give you an edge. If you want comprehensive fantasy coverage without having to sift through mountains of resources, this is the column for you.
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. Determined Dillon
After rushing for only 733 yards and averaging a career-low 3.5 YPC in 2005, New England Patriots workhorse Corey Dillon is playing with renewed vigor in early camp action. The 31-year-old veteran recently vented his feelings, stating, "I'm pretty ticked off right now, so we'll see how it goes. I'm going to lay it all out there and see what happens. This is my 10th year. I don't have anything to lose. I did a lot of conditioning. I got on a good diet and maintained it. I just busted my butt to get into the best shape possible." Third in the NFL in rushing just two years ago, Dillon followed an offseason exercise regimen that included climbing hills, hell-bent to prove his skeptics wrong.
Spin: Talk about pent-up rage. If Dillon were in a steel-cage match right now with any opposing linebacker, only the defender's jockstrap would remain. Laurence Maroney owners ready to punch the rookie's ticket are sorely mistaken. Dillon's internal fire should quell any thoughts of an early-season running back coup. Despite a down yardage year, his 12 touchdowns in 12 games vaulted the Patriots ground gainer into the RB top-15 in performance leagues. Based on his statuesque physical condition, driven attitude and Bill Belichick's devotion to pound the ball at the goal line, his 81.2 Y! ADP continues to be an insane draft day bargain. For those that avoid the "running theory" in Rounds 2 or 3, Dillon is a medium risk/high reward No. 2 armrest in the mid-rounds. Playing for a well-oiled offensive machine that ranked fourth last season in TD-percentage inside the 20, Dillon is poised for a sensational bounce-back year. If you pass on him, you better hope he never bumps into you in a dark alley. As long as he's healthy, anticipate totals around 80 YPG and 10-12 touchdowns.
2. Palmer Progress
In the history of sport, perhaps no knee has been given as much media attention as Carson Palmer's. The status of the reigning No.1 fantasy QB is draped in cautious optimism. Although the first week of camp went off without a hitch, Palmer remains somewhat apprehensive, commenting, "I don't have complete trust in it, but I shouldn't. I'm not at that stage. I'm not at 100 percent. There still are some issues with it confidence-wise and strength-wise. It's not completely healed yet. I just have to roll with the punches. Hopefully, there are not too many problems with it." Head coach Marvin Lewis added, "In my terms, Carson is fine and we'll move forward. We'll keep him on the schedule he's been on and working the way he's been working. Barring any setbacks, he should be fine and ready to go." Palmer is scheduled to make his preseason debut on August 28 against Green Bay.
Spin: The news on Palmer, About the only Bengal not read his Miranda rights during the offseason, is better than any of us would have ever imagined back in January. Positive reports of Palmer's recuperation have sky-rocketed his Y! ADP by nearly 10 spots to 19.2 in recent weeks. Although greatly overvalued in Yahoo! drafts, other sources have the Bengals signal caller pegged at a more realistic pick No. 50. With each day, Palmer's confidence continues to grow, but remain skeptical. Due to the incredible amount of quarterback values that can be acquired after Round 6, it would be wise to pass on Palmer's services and go with a more stable, dependable option, such as Jake Delhomme, in Round 7. If the third-year starter can pull off the impossible and return to regular season action on time, he could very easily reach the 30-touchdown plateau again with Chad Johnson and the much underappreciated TJ.. Houshmandzadeh as targets. But, be smart and avoid temptation due to the enhanced risk. Take a more trustworthy option between Rounds 6-8 and let someone else sweat over Palmer.
3. Davis Down on Bended Knee
Sidelined for the first few days of training camp nursing a tender knee, Houston Texans running back Domanick Davis might be giving the front office a reason why they should have never passed on Reggie Bush. Hampered by the injury since late last year, Davis noted, "It's nothing new, just real sore. I want to be on the field, because I have to learn this new system. This is the real zone blocking. We started it last year, but we kind of got away from it. There's a big difference. Guys like it because they're all on the same page now." Head coach Gary Kubiak added, "We're going to do what's best for Domanick. We've got to be intelligent about the way we handle him. This may be a process where he goes for two days and then takes a day off and then comes back for two more. The important thing is to make sure everything is fine with his knee. The way it is now, we're going to have to sit down and chart out a course." An MRI on Monday revealed no new structural damage, but Davis is still seeking a second opinion from a local physician for reassurance. Kubiak expects his star back in camp by the weekend. Veteran Antowain Smith and second-year back Vernand Morency are competing for the backup job.
Spin: When healthy, Double-D is one fantasy back we all would like to get our hands on. The knee news is certainly troublesome, but the new Houston zone-blocking scheme is similar to Denver's style and would increase Davis' workload to 20-25 carries per game. A patient runner with excellent vision and quickness, Davis' ability as a pass-catcher – he's averaged 51 receptions and 425 receiving yards since 2003 – makes him one of the game's unsung all-around threats. Last season in 11 starts, he totaled nine games of 100-plus yards and had seven contests of three or more receptions. Despite the upside, if his knee continues to limit him, it will undermine Davis' ability to make cuts, a key weapon in his arsenal. In drafts, thus far, many have ignored the early warning signs and have taken the Texans versatile threat on average in the late-third round in 12-team drafts. Based on the rumblings, he will be lucky to play 12 games this season and is quickly becoming a headache to avoid. Given the plethora of fantastic mid-round back values, those that subscribe to the RB-RB strategy may want to change directions, avoid Davis and snag a top-flight receiver in Round 2.
4. Bucking Bronco
On July 31, Denver wide receiver Javon Walker made the Broncos faithful go berserk, leaping over two defenders to catch a Jake Plummer floater for a touchdown. Head coach Mike Shanahan commented, "We knew who we were getting. It's not like it's a surprise. We're just hoping that he stays healthy. As you could see, he made a couple big plays today, which is always nice to see. When that ball's in the air, he believes it's his. The great ones believe that every time that ball's in the air, they think they should have it." Shanahan plans on to use Walker sparingly this preseason to ensure his prized receiver's health. Walker is recovering from a torn ACL he suffered as a Green Bay Packer in Week 1 last year. Ironically, Denver's first preseason game is in Detroit on August 11, the same place where Walker suffered the injury.
Spin: To quote another Walker from the hit 70s TV show Good Times, Javon will be "DYN-O-MITE!" this season. Almost fully recovered and happy to be out of Green Bay, Walker will be a superior No. 2 wideout in any format this season. Historically, players returning from strenuous knee injuries have had difficulty with sharp route cuts and defender separation the following year, but Walker will be the exception to the rule. His high-wire acrobatics and sure-handedness will likely push the fourth-year vet past old horse Rod Smith as the team's go-to-guy by mid-season. Only two years removed from an 89 receptions, 1,382-yard, 12 touchdown effort, he is a Top-15 wideout that you can steal in Round 5. Points-per-reception owners especially need to saddle this Bronco. You can expect ballpark totals around 75 receptions, 1,150 yards and 7-9 touchdowns.
5. Panning for Gore
After a painful rookie season that forced San Francisco 49ers running back Frank Gore under the knife for two offseason shoulder surgeries, the former Miami standout is healthy, revitalized and wowed Mike Nolan and company during the first week of training camp. In combat with the once promising Kevan Barlow for the starting job, Gore commented, "I feel quicker. But I don't think I lost any strength. I feel like the more I run, the better I get. When the coach calls my name, no matter how many times he calls it, I'm going to be ready." Head coach Mike Nolan made it clear that the competition was "wide-open," but noted that Gore was a "tough sucker" and likes his "north-south" running style. The 49ers kickoff their exhibition season on August 11 against Chicago.
Spin: Ok, this Gore probably doesn't care about penguins and melting ice caps like the ex-VP, but it would be an Inconvenient Truth to pass on his services after Round 9. In 2005, Gore still managed to lead the 49ers in rushing yards with 608 and had the highest yards-per-carry average (4.8) of any NFL rookie, despite battling through various injuries. His powerful, low-to-the-ground running style and freak athleticism makes the 5-foot-9, 212-pound bruiser a mighty mouse. Because Kevan Barlow would have difficulty penetrating a wet paper bag, look for Gore to walk away from camp with the starting job. However, his suspect receiving skills will force him to the sidelines on many third downs. Currently going around pick No. 109 in Yahoo! drafts, confide in Gore as a low-tiered No. 3. With Alex Smith a year wiser and the presence of physical marvel Vernon Davis at tight end, the Niners should be able to open the field more this season, ideal for the running game. The confidence and bulldog aggressiveness is there for Gore to finish around 850 rushing yards and five touchdowns.
CHEAT SHEET HEAT
Who should you move up your rankings? What impact will injuries have on player values? Which Cincinnati Bengal will be tasered next and become undraftable? The heat gives you the gridiron dish on the volatile fantasy football player market.
Ron Dayne, Den, RB – Last Week RB Rank: 22, This Week: 19
Big daddy Dayne opens camp as the No. 1 in a system that would make any fantasy owner do naked cartwheels. Shanahan's lack of trust in Tatum Bell's goal-line presence and ability to stay healthy springs the 245-pound behemoth into the RB Top-20. Going nearly 25 picks later than Bell, the former Badger won't dig you a deep hole.
Greg Jennings, GB, WR – Last Week WR Rank: 56, This Week: 54
Your NCAA leader in receptions last year while at Western Michigan, Jennings has caught the eye of Brett Favre at Packers camp. Loaded with upside and outplaying veterans Robert Ferguson and Rod Gardner, a strong exhibition season will likely thrust the rookie into the No. 2 opposite Donald Driver. Normally, I would say avoid a first-year wideout as most take 2-3 years to develop, but Jennings is an attractive youngster in a pass-happy offense. Draft him as a No. 5 wide receiver in 12-team and deeper leagues.
Michael Bennett, KC, RB – Last Week RB Rank: NR, This Week: 59
Traded from New Orleans to Kansas City for an undisclosed draft pick on August 1, the once-prominent Minnesota speedster instantly becomes a late-round flier. If he can pick up Herm Edwards' system quickly, he has the quickness and experience to wrestle away the backup job from Dee Brown. Consider this move another step toward Priest Holmes' retirement. Larry Johnson owners need to keep an eye on Bennett.
Kellen Winslow, Cle, TE – Last Week TE Rank: 16, This Week: 13
Camp reviews continue to pour in that the misfortunate former first rounder is finally poised for something big. Browns QB Charlie Frye has established an excellent rapport with Winslow and went as far as predicting his teammate is in store for a "breakout" campaign. Winslow believes he will never be 100 percent again, but is confident his 90 percent "is better than every tight end out there." The slower step has not taken away from his incredible upper-body abilities and his stock will continue to rise as he gains more experience. With a 98.0 Y! ADP, he will be a terrific No. 1 tight end.
Reuben Droughns, Cle, RB – Last Week RB Rank:17 This Week: 21
Whenever a back loses a lineman with the nickname "The Maneater," it's never a good sign. The season ending knee injury to Pro-Bowl center LeCharles Bentley will certainly limit Droughns' chances for end-zone dives. He goes from a potential 7-9 TD season to a max of six scores. Knock him down a couple of spots.
Steve Smith, Car, WR – Last Week WR Rank:1 This Week: 1
Listed as day-to-day after suffering a scary hamstring pull last week, Smith takes a very slight hit in value due to the nature of the injury. As a receiver dependent on speed, hamstring injuries can be a bugaboo. Still the best wideout in fantasy, he inches ever so slightly closer to egomaniac Terrell Owens.
Thomas Jones, Chi, RB – Last Week RB Rank: 34, This Week: 36
In one of the more hilarious early season injuries, Jones pulled a hamstring during a routine physical last week. No damage was reported when he had to turn and cough. Embroiled in a crucial running back battle with Cedric Benson, every day Jones sits on the sideline Benson's grip as the No. 1 gets tighter. Luckily for the disgruntled Jones, Benson is expected to miss a few days with a right knee sprain. Even though his stock continues to plummet, I still believe he will make a fantasy impact this season. Keep buying low.
Matt Leinart, Ari, QB – Last Week QB Rank: 35, This Week: 37
At a contract impasse with the Cardinals front office, everyday Leinart sits in an air conditioned room his fantasy stock drops. Quarterback is undeniably the most important position to develop in training camp and Leinart's holdout adds to an already steep rookie QB learning curve. Jon Navarre could end up the most sought after backup when Kurt Warner inevitably goes down.
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?
Sorry, but I have to disagree with your theory that Antonio Gates warrants a second-round pick because he is head-and-shoulders above the other fantasy tight ends. This same logic (not from Yahoo! sports) got me BURNED in my baseball league when I was assured that Michael Young should be a late first-round pick because he would out produce all other shortstops … Wrong.
While Gates will have better numbers than all tight ends, the cost of taking Gates ahead of second-tier WRs or third-tier RBs is too great. I would never take Gates over a WR with upside like Boldin, Roy Williams, or Terrell Owens or a possible comeback RB like Jamal Lewis or Willis McGahee.
My point is: While Gates will destroy all other fantasy TEs, the potential of the WR or RB that you pass up to get Gates is too great.
– Nate, Maryland
Noise: As you probably know, I am a man who revels in taking a stand on the perplexing fantasy issues. The purpose of last week's Noise was to spur debate. And with my inbox full of replies and inquiries I think it fulfilled my expectations.
Since I am an ardent supporter of the "running theory" it would be a rare circumstance for me to pass on a solid RB for Gates in Round 2, despite last week's long-winded dissertation. However, I would not hesitate to acquire his services if a large number of serviceable wideouts (i.e. Roy Williams, Javon Walker, Derrick Mason, etc.) were available and I had a very late Round 2 or Round 3 pick. Remember, Gates is an elite receiver who outperformed guys like Hines Ward, Reggie Wayne and Chris Chambers over the past two years. When coupled with solid backs and a serviceable group of wide receivers, Gates' gargantuan week-to-week advantage at tight end can mean all the difference whether you drown yourself in Gatorade or Pabst Blue Ribbon come December.
As for the comeback RBs you mentioned, there are such a large number of terrific mid-round backfield values this season that I would be inclined to pass on a McGahee or Lewis for Gates. If either of those guys finishes in the running back Top-15, I will run around the streets of Baltimore and Buffalo in January with nothing more than a Speedo.
For McGahee, his 3.8 YPC average last season was the sixth-worst mark among all starting backs. During the offseason, the Bills failed to address their offensive line issues and have a three-headed quarterback monster that will force many Buffalo fans over Niagara Falls by year's end.
Meanwhile, for Lewis, he is expected to split about one-third of the workload with former Broncos RB Mike Anderson. Already banged up with a left hip flexor and given Anderson's nose for the end-zone, Lewis is far from a trustworthy No. 2 back. When a team signs a running back five years older than you, it is never a sign of confidence.
The bottom line: With players like Cedric Benson, Deuce McAllister, Ron Dayne and Joseph Addai going in the fourth round or later according to ADP values, I would look Gates' way in the late second or early third if the right pieces are in place. Trust me. The million-plus combined populations of Buffalo and Baltimore don't want their impressionable children to see some loony, nearly naked fantasy writer running down their street.