OpinionMarch 10, 2007

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Winds of Change

By Jeff LaGrassa

Just as howling winds signify the arrival of the month of March, the winds of change are blowing through the NFL as we experience the first full week of free agency. There will be a myriad of signings over the coming weeks and months (as well as the NFL draft in April) that will continue to shape the fantasy outlook for next year, and they will make this article outdated almost the minute it is published. But for now, let’s take a look at and review the most relevant changes in the fantasy world and the players and teams they affect.

Baltimore Ravens
After Jamal Lewis left for Cleveland, the Ravens traded for young stud Willis McGahee from Buffalo. McGahee will run behind a better offensive line in Baltimore, and Musa Smith will be the 3rd down back and the necessary handcuff for those that target McGahee in drafts in August.

Cleveland Browns
I don’t see Lewis making much of an impact in Cleveland – his best days are clearly behind him. His yards-per-carry average has dropped precipitously over the last two years, and won’t improve behind the Browns offensive line. I still think Cleveland drafts phenom-to-be Adrian Peterson with the third pick.

Denver Broncos
Travis Henry’s arrival could have the biggest fantasy impact of the all moves to date this year. Denver’s zone blocking scheme can make stars out of even marginal backs, and fantasy owners should be licking their chops at the thought of a talented young back with low mileage in that scheme. While Coach Skeletor is known for some dubious running back by committee arrangements, one has to assume that Denver wouldn’t pay Henry such money and not give him a majority of the carries. While it’s never wise to never trust in Old Leatherface, I’ve got faith that Henry will be a bonafide stud next year and will surely be worth the high 3rd round pick or even late 2nd round pick necessary to grab him. Denver also signed tight end Daniel Graham, which could drop Tony Scheffler a bit in my rankings, although Graham should be used primarily for blocking.

Houston Texans
Ahman Green was a big signing for this club and gives them stability at the RB position, but I don’t like the outlook of an aging RB with a history of fumbling playing behind the Texans woeful offensive line. If he can ever get healthy, Domanick Williams (formerly Davis), Wali Lundy, Samkon Gado, and Chris Taylor will all fight to spell Green. This is a situation I’ll avoid like the plague.

Jacksonville Jaguars
Fred Taylor was signed to a contract extension, and Greg Jones will be returning from a knee injury, which should quell most talk of wunderkind Maurice Jones-Drew being drafted in the first round of fantasy drafts in August. I still think MJD will have a great year, but it’s very doubtful he scores another 15 TDs in 2007. The signing of WR Dennis Northcutt only serves to dilute the value of Matt Jones, Ernest Wilford, and Reggie Williams, which wasn’t very high to begin with. I recommend ignoring them completely.

New England Patriots
Corey Dillon’s release and the signing of RB Sammy Morris cements Laurence Maroney’s position as a stud running back next year. If there’s no other free agent WR signing or an elite WR drafted in New England, I think Wes Welker has the chance to excel as a safety valve for Tom Brady and kick returner much as he did in Miami. In leagues that award points for receptions and significant points for kick return yardage Welker is absolutely worth a late-round draft pick.

New York Jets
I think Thomas Jones will yield third down carries to Leon Washington, but I like Jones’ prospects better in New York than when sharing carries with Cedric Benson in Chicago. Washington’s value drops considerably now, and Cedric Houston should become fantasy-irrelevant.

San Diego Chargers
Geriatric WR Keenan McCardell was released, cementing big red zone target Vincent Jackson as a strong sleeper pick for next season.

Tennessee Titans
With the departure of Travis Henry and Chris Brown, will the starting job be handed over to LenDale White? You can almost guarantee a free agent RB will be signed in Tennessee as insurance and to provide competition.

Atlanta Falcons
There’s a chance that Joe Horn brings some veteran leadership and expertise to Atlanta and turns around Michael Vick. However, there’s an equal chance that as an aging WR with nagging injuries the last few years, Horn makes no fantasy impact. I’m betting on the latter.

Chicago Bears
With the departure of Thomas Jones, Cedric Benson should skyrocket up cheat sheets and rankings for 2007, even though he seems to have difficulties staying healthy. Backup Adrian Peterson also gains some value now as a valuable handcuff.

Detroit Lions
The trade for Tatum Bell shows that Detroit is in no rush to hurry Kevin Jones back from injury, and Bell is exactly the kind of back that thrives in Mike Martz’s offense. He’s fast, has soft hands catching the ball, and good field awareness. I would drop a 4th round pick on Bell in almost all formats, and maybe even a 3rd round pick in points-per-reception leagues.

Green Bay Packers
Ahman Green’s departure for “greener pastures” leaves Vernand Morency and Noah Herron to compete for the starting job, but there’s almost universal consensus that Green Bay will draft rookie RB Marshawn Lynch if he falls to them in the upcoming NFL Draft in April.

Minnesota Vikings
The Vikings vastly overpaid for marginal talent in TE Visanthe Shiancoe and WR Bobby Wade, and I predict neither will be relevant in fantasy.

New Orleans Saints
The release of Joe Horn elevates Marques Colston to the Saints’ #1 WR, and elevates the stock of WRs Devery Henderson and Terrance Copper. If I need an extra WR late in my fantasy drafts, I’ll choose one of the latter for sure.

Philadelphia Eagles
The Eagles signed WR Bethel Johnson who will likely only make an impact on special teams. No news is good news with regards to Donte’ Stallworth, who has yet to sign with another team.

San Francisco 49ers
Ashley Lelie will be an ultimate boom or bust pick in 2007. After a few marginal seasons and a strong year in 2004, Lelie was an eventual disappointment in Denver and Altanta. As the #1 WR in San Francisco there’s a chance that Lelie could have a breakout campaign, but I wouldn’t be willing to risk anything better than a 10th round pick on it.

St. Louis Rams
Drew Bennett was signed to a six-year deal and will ultimately replace Isaac Bruce. Even as the #3 WR, I like Bennett’s fantasy outlook in St. Louis with Bulger at QB better than being the #1 WR in Tennessee with Vince Young.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Jeff Garcia will provide some competition for Chris Simms, and I like the prospects of whoever wins the starting job and will be slinging the rock to Calvin Johnson this autumn.

Jeff LaGrassa is a Steelers fan and Cafe regular. Besides fantasy football, he enjoys disc golf, skiing, winemaking, and playing the electric bass. You can catch him posting in the Cafe's forums as The Lung.
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