StrategyMarch 10, 2008

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Winds of Change – 2008

By Jeff LaGrassa

Just like the winds howling outside announce the arrival of March, the winds of change blowing in the NFL signal the first full week of free agency. There will be many acquisitions over the coming months (as well as the NFL draft in April) that will continuously shape the fantasy outlook for next year, and each signing will render parts of this article out of date. For now, let’s review the changes most relevant to the fantasy football world, and the players and teams they affect.

For reference, the labels RB2, WR3, etc., refer to the ideal average points one would expect from a player each week in a 12-team league that awards one point per 10 yards rushing/receiving:

Position Average Points Expected
RB1 15 (90-120 yards, 0-1 TDs)
RB2 11 (70-100 yards, 0-1 TDs)
WR1 11 (70-100 yards, 0-1 TDs)
WR2 9 (40-80 yards, 0-1 TDs)
WR3 7 (30-60 yards, 0-1 TDs)

Atlanta Falcons
Along with the retirement of Brett Favre, the acquisition of running back Michael Turner will arguably produce the most significant potential fantasy impact of all free agency moves thus far this off-season. The Falcons get a relatively young 237-pound power back with low mileage and a career yards-per-carry average of 5.5. The move also freed the Falcons to release geezer Warrick Dunn. However, shifty change-of-pace back Jerious Norwood should continue to steal carries on third downs. Additionally, considering the Atlanta offensive line, journeyman Chris Redman at quarterback, and no receivers beyond Roddy White striking much fear into opposing defenses, Turner is no lock as a first time starter against defenses that may game-plan against him. Fantasy football managers shouldn’t break the bank or reach too soon to acquire Turner’s services. For those who do, Norwood is a must-grab handcuff.

Carolina Panthers
The release of running back DeShaun Foster signifies the beginning of the DeAngelo Williams era in Carolina. While the Panthers have signed RB LaBrandon Toefield for depth and may use a draft pick on a promising running back prospect in April, you’ve got to love Williams’ chances to be the primary ball carrier in Carolina this year. Williams will be a savvy pick in August drafts.

Chicago Bears
With the departure of starting wide outs Bernard Berrian and Muhsin Muhammad for greener pastures, the very pedestrian Marty Booker and Mark Bradley will likely top the depth chart in Chicago. With Rex Grossman and Kyle “Neckbeard” Orton again competing for the starting quarterback job and the uninspiring Cedric Benson and “the other” Adrian Peterson in the backfield, the entire Chicago offense is a fantasy nightmare to be altogether avoided this year.

Cleveland Browns
The offensive revolution continues in Cleveland. Now on his fourth team in four years, wide receiver Donte Stallworth brings a speedy deep threat across the field from Braylon Edwards and is a major upgrade over the aging possession receiver Joe Jurevicius. Newly re-signed QB Derek Anderson’s fantasy value gets a slight boost with the addition of Stallworth, but as the third option in the passing game behind Edwards and tight end Kellen Winslow, Stallworth remains no better than an inconsistent WR3.

Denver Broncos
With the release of Javon Walker and the retirement of Rod Smith, Keary Colbert has a chance to start across from Brandon Marshall, push Brandon Stokley into the slot where he is more naturally suited, and make some fantasy noise for the first time in his career. However, the “rhythm method” of contraception is probably a safer bet than that.

Green Bay Packers
The retirement of Favre should welcome the start of the Aaron Rodgers era. As with any new, inexperienced quarterback, the fantasy value of his wide receivers and tight ends should take a small hit, although with the release of Bubba Franks, TE Donald Lee could become an oft-used safety valve for the unproven QB. Running back Ryan Grant could see an increase in usage as Rodgers goes through the learning curve, although defenses may game-plan against Grant and dare Rodgers to beat them with his arm.

Jacksonville Jaguars
The addition of Jerry Porter and Troy Williamson dilutes an already deep wide receiver corp, with Reggie Williams, Dennis Northcutt, and Matt Jones all fighting for a share of the pie. While quarterback David Garrard’s value as one of the top sleeper QBs in 2008 goes up, I’d be surprised if any of these wide receivers exceed typical WR3 value.

Miami Dolphins
With the midseason trade of Chris Chambers, the release of WR Marty Booker, and the addition of former Jags WR Ernest Wilford, the Miami wide receiver corps will have a very different look in 2008 than it did at the start of the 2007 season. However, even with the addition of QB Josh McCown, I don’t like the fantasy prospects of players on a team that is clearly rebuilding almost from scratch.

Minnesota Vikings
The addition of Bernard Berrian gives the Vikings another deep threat alongside promising second year player Sidney Rice. Berrian is a big step up from recently departed bust Troy Williamson, and with defenses forced to add extra men in the box to defend against the dangerous Adrian Peterson, Berrian could break 1,000 yards for the first time in his career. However, Berrian’s fantasy success is heavily dependant on Vikings QB Tarvaris Jackson showing some consistency this year, and Berrian shouldn’t be counted on as anything more than a WR3.

New England Patriots
Jabar Gaffney competed with Donte Stallworth for most of last season for the #2 WR position across from Randy Moss, with Wes Welker in the slot. Gaffney had all but won the job towards the end of the season and was starting to put up some nice numbers. Now, with Stallworth out of the way, Gaffney should be an awesome sleeper pick to target in late rounds. Moss won’t catch 23 touchdowns again, but he’ll be the #1 WR taken and likely won’t make it out of the second round in most formats.

New York Jets
7-time Pro Bowl guard Alan Faneca and 3-time Pro Bowl fullback Tony Richardson will join D’Brickashaw Ferguson and Nick Mangold in blocking duties for the Jets running backs. Assuming the Jets don’t draft Darren “McDaddy” McFadden, and because of his lack of touchdowns in 2007, Thomas Jones could be one heck of a mid-round steal in drafts this year.

Oakland Raiders
The contract deal offered to Javon Walker shows that owner Al Davis is clearly not of sound mind. When healthy, Walker is a top 10 wide out but many questions remain about the health of his knee which may reportedly require micro fracture surgery. All money issues aside, if Javon Walker recovers to full health he would hold some fantasy value, but it’s a situation I wouldn’t bet anything but a late round draft pick on.

San Francisco 49ers
With Mike Martz as the new offensive coordinator, you’d like to think the fantasy prospects of the 49ers skill players might have a rosy outlook. However, the learning curve of Martz’s complex offensive schemes may prove daunting for the unproven Alex Smith and Shaun Hill, who will compete for the starting QB job. While Isaac Bruce is reunited with his head coach from his years in St. Louis, injuries and age have caught up with Bruce recently – he’s scored just 10 TDs in the last 3 years. The tight end has never been heavily utilized in a Martz offense, which may continue to stunt the enormous potential of Vernon Davis. RB DeShaun Foster holds value only as a handcuff to Frank Gore, who has already seen his fair share of the trainer’s table in his brief tenure.

Seattle Seahawks
As this article was going to press, the Seahawks reportedly signed RB Julius Jones who could become part of a “thunder and lightening” RBBC along with T.J. Duckett, who is best suited as a goal line vulture. This move could pave the way for the release of RB Shaun Alexander, whose decline in fantasy value from what was formerly a top 3 overall pick just a few years ago has been shockingly swift.

St. Louis Rams
The Rams signed Josh Brown and made him the highest paid kicker in the NFL. But for fantasy football purposes, that doesn’t mean jack squat. Wait to take the best available kicker in the last round of your draft, if you’re even forced to draft one at all.

Tennessee Titans
Pro Bowler Alge Crumpler should pose a formidable red zone threat for the Titans. However, the fantasy value of any Titans WR or TE rests on the arm of quarterback Vince Young, and is questionable at best.

Top Free Agents Yet to be Signed

• WR D.J. Hackett – Either Hackett’s price is too high or injury questions are too strong for other teams. There’s no question that when healthy he’d be a WR1 for almost any team in the league.

• WR Bryant Johnson – Larry Fitzgerald’s contract is a huge bugaboo for the Cards and with abundant trade rumors it remains a situation worth watching. Johnson is a big target and could end up as a starter in Arizona or on another team.

• QB Daunte Culpepper – I don’t think Culpepper will ever fully return from the very serious knee injury he suffered a few years ago, but as someone who was arguably one of the top 3 quarterbacks in fantasy football at one point, I’m curious to see if a team takes a chance on him.

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 forums as The Lung.
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