For this week's Fantasy Focus, Brandon Funston and yours truly, Mike Harmon, welcome back Matt Romig from his week away with questions about trades, committees and retread running backs. With the clock ticking toward the regular season, NFL coaches need to commit to their starters and fantasy owners have to hit the print button on their rankings and go to work.
Let the debate begin.
I would love to have Levens on my fantasy team … if it were 1997. Unfortunately, we are seven years removed from Levens' best fantasy season. I had Buckhalter down as one of my top sleeper running backs because I expected he'd garner more than just short-yardage, goal-line carries. Brian Westbrook surely would have shouldered a majority of carries, but Buckhalter would have been afforded a healthy minority. The same won't be the case for Levens who, at 34, is much more likely to be a short-yardage back only. He's going to occasionally spell Westbrook, but not nearly as often as Buckhalter would have. Levens shed fantasy viability in 2000 and he hasn't looked back.
Much as he was last year with the Giants – Levens will amount to nothing more than a fantasy nuisance. He won't get enough carries to justify a start, but he'll get just enough touches in the red zone to send Brian Westbrook owners running to the fridge for something to kill the pain. Levens did find the end zone three times in 2003, but how many of those chances were a product of Tiki Barber's inability to hold the ball? He certainly won't eclipse Buckhalter's numbers from 2003. I think 450 yards and five scores would be a big year.
Levens showed up on the fantasy radar last year with the Giants, swiping goal-line carries from the fumble-impaired Tiki Barber. It was enough to have fantasy owners stashing him in the deepest, darkest recesses of their benches, awaiting an injury or act of desperation by lame duck coach Jim Fassel. It was all for naught.
I think the same will happen this season. Buckhalter had both the size and speed to be a difference maker in the three-headed attack employed by Andy Reid in 2003. Let's not forget that the Eagles offense frustrated owners weekly and that Buckhalter gained only 542 yards on the ground last season. At 34 and with his last good fantasy season all the way back in 1999, the Eagles would be happy to see Levens hit 400 yards and 3-4 touchdowns. I look for Jon Ritchie to be a bigger part of the offense and nab those goal-line carries. Besides, if corners can't touch T.O. after five yards (new NFL rule), why wouldn't Donovan McNabb just play catch with him all day?
Q: Marty Booker landed in Miami in a trade this past week. Does he gain or lose value now that he is out of Chicago and in the Dolphins' fold?
It sure would have been nice to see Booker dealt to, say, Arizona. Dennis Green would have made better use of him than the Dolphins will. Let's see, what does Miami have to offer: no running game, conservative offense, suspect offensive line. It doesn't add up to big things for Booker. But, then again, I wasn't counting on much from him in Chicago, so it's likely that his value won't change much. Either way, I've done a good job of not having to make a call on him on Draft Day. The one positive outcome from the deal could be that it'll free up Chris Chambers a bit from extra defensive attention, as Booker has a fairly proven track record and defenses aren't likely to ignore him completely. I'll put Booker down for 900 receiving yards and five trips to the end zone.
I wouldn't move Booker at all. Sure, he was a No. 1 in Chicago, but the Bears are trying to revamp one of the five worst passing offenses in the league and they have an inexperienced QB calling the signals. Granted A.J. Feeley and Jay Fiedler won't be starring in any Isotoner commercials in the near future, but they have every reason to air it out this year. A 1,000-yard, eight-touchdown season is certainly not out of reach.
I don't think his value moves tremendously based on the change of address. He was already rated fairly high among receivers. Booker fought injury and "The Kordell (Stewart) Experiment" in Chicago last season and watched his numbers drop off a cliff. I didn't like him in Chicago's offense this season, particularly with the emphasis on younger receivers (even though Booker is merely 27) and Lovie Smith's infatuation with Thomas Jones.
He'll get a better chance to live up to advance billing as the clear No. 2 receiver to Chris Chambers, who will face double and triple teams until they find a suitable running back. It's no longer Dan Marino or Bob Griese under center, it's not even Jim Miller, but Booker's ability to run clean routes and fight off secondary corners should lend support to Miami's signal callers. He'll top 1,000 yards and haul in 8-10 touchdowns.
Q: In Booker's wake in Chicago there remains Justin Gage, Bobby Wade and David Terrell in the receiving corps. Who among these three merits the most fantasy consideration and what is your expectation for that player?
I'm not sure any of them warrant fantasy consideration. It seems conceivable to go through a draft without hearing any of their names called, similar to what befalls Kansas City receivers on Draft Day. To that point, Chicago's offensive coordinator, Terry Shea, comes over from the Chiefs and plans on running a similar spread-it-around passing game where five receivers are expected to be rotated through fairly liberally. QB Rex Grossman backed this assertion up recently, saying: "I think it's going to be spread around quite a bit. In that circumstance where you can pick a receiver over another one, I'm not really at that stage yet. I think they're all pretty good." Fantasy isn't some child education program where sharing is encouraged. It's a game where selfishness is applauded. Sans a go-to guy, Chicago is not a pool I'd fish for receivers from.
I'm not sold on any of the quarterbacks in Chicago's camp, so the prospects for this trio are pretty bleak. Terrell is running out of chances to prove he wasn't a huge bust at No. 8 in the 2001 draft and I don't think he has it in him. That leaves Gage and Wade – and Gage has the bigger upside as a deep threat. There are worse guys to take a flyer on in the speed rounds. Around 700 yards and six TDs for Gage are realistic with slightly better numbers in reach if Grossman clicks.
Apart from Thomas Jones, you can take a wait and see approach on every Chicago skill player. Other than people making homer picks, Rex Grossman isn't flying off draft boards. In fact, I participated in a draft just yesterday and not one of these players was selected save Jones. After last season's train wreck, Grossman and the Bears will need to put something together to make fantasy owners take notice.
With that said, I would add Justin Gage to the list of sleepers. At 6-foot 4, he creates some matchup problems on the wings. Watch to see how many balls fly his way in the opener against Detroit. Talk is that Bobby Wade will slide into Booker's vacated No. 1 spot, leaving David Terrell on the outside looking in yet again. This is likely his final shot to make an impression in Chicago before he's jettisoned to the magical land of Bust City.
Q: Cleveland backup RB James Jackson has interest from Arizona, Miami and Minnesota. If he's dealt, where is his most ideal destination?
I wouldn't mind seeing Jackson in a Cardinals uniform. I think back to Dennis Green's tenure in Minnesota. He coaxed some good years out of has-beens like Terry Allen and Leroy Hoard. And a prime-year back like Robert Smith was able to consistently rip off five yards a carry for Green. Smith cut short his career after four consecutive 1,000-yard seasons. Heck, even Amp Lee graced some fantasy rosters from time-to-time. I think Jackson would be a shoe-in for 1,200 yards and 7-9 TDs in a featured role in Arizona. Given Miami's offensive line woes, I don't think he would be as big of a threat in South Florida.
Miami would offer the best opportunity for Jackson to move up the depth chart and earn consistent carries. He had a decent fantasy run last year when William Green ran into legal problems. He seems like a nice fit for a team that historically favors workhorse backs (Ricky Williams, Lamar Smith, Larry Csonka) over breakaway runners. Smith scored 14 touchdowns for Miami in 2000 while averaging only 3.7 yards per carry. That happens to have been Jackson's average in 2003.
Jackson would like nothing better than to return to his college stomping grounds of Miami. He could quickly displace Travis Minor and the cast of would-be ball carriers with the Dolphins. Arizona is committed to Emmitt Smith and Minnesota is crowded with solid backs. Remember, Onterrio Smith will only miss the first four games.
Jackson did put up a solid four-game stretch last season while Lee Suggs recovered from nagging injuries and William Green entered Butch Davis's doghouse. I think he has ability and just needs consistent reps. Miami is the best place for that to happen.
Q: Quentin Griffin looks like Denver's top back, but his size may be prohibitive to short-yardage (read: goal line) situations. How much concern is there that Griffin will have to take a back seat in the deep red zone?
I like Griffin, but I've seen his stock soar to crazy heights of late – has gone in the top 20 of two recent "experts" drafts. At his size, it'll hardly be a surprise if another Denver back takes over for Griffin near the goal line. But Griffin has the type of breakaway ability to net 4-6 touchdowns from 10 yards and beyond, like Brian Westbrook in Philadelphia last season. Griffin is going to give away carries to the other backs on the team, so I'm putting him down for just at 1,000 rushing yards and a max of six touchdowns. That's not top 20 material, but it certainly warrants consideration in the realm of where you'd typically see the likes of Tiki Barber, Curtis Martin, Duce Staley, Charlie Garner and Warrick Dunn.
I'd feel a lot better about owning Griffin if Mike Anderson was traded, as rumored. A lot of rushing touchdowns have been scored in Denver during Mike Shanahan's reign, but few by running backs listed at less than 200 pounds. My search was less than exhaustive, but Vaughn Hebron was the only grossly undersized back I could find breaking the plane for Shanny. Between size concerns and the eventual emergence of Tatum Bell, Griffin is a risky pick, particularly when his preseason numbers elevate his draft position.
Griffin's first preseason outing opened some eyes and sent his stock shooting up the charts. However, his failures in short yardage scenarios push the door back open for Mike Anderson. The former 1,500-yard back responded with a big night in Week 2 (120 yards). The Broncos still haven't been able to test the abilities of rookie Tatum Bell (he'll see his first preseason action this weekend), and the venerable Garrison Hearst also figures to see time. I know that the Denver running back position historically yields 1,000-yard backs. I'm not sold that Griffin is that guy for the 2004 model.
Preseason football continues to motor on. For those jonesing for games that count, tune in on Saturday to watch the No. 1 USC Trojans take on the Virginia Tech Hokies. I know it's college ball, but you can always begin scouting for next year's sleepers today. Happy drafting!
- Mike Harmon
- Brandon Funston
- Dorsey Levens
- Correll Buckhalter
- Lovie Smith