Yes, fantasy football owners will indeed witness great change in the league this season. Wasn’t it General George S. Patton who stated, “Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it. Darn-it, I KNEW I should’ve started Sid Luckman over Sammy Baugh this week!”
Change is an integral component to success.
Towards that end, while your major pieces are in place following your leagues’ draft, some sneaky-good players just might remain unclaimed in your league. With final cuts, injuries and the conclusion of the pre-season, several club rosters remain in flux and youngsters will be given an opportunity to prove themselves. The cagey owner, assuming said owner possesses a roster spot, will grab one of these would-be contributors in an effort to both bolster his own roster and prevent a league-mate from snagging this year’s Matt Forte, Eddie Royal or Matt Ryan.
Lions Matthew Stafford: Stafford’s resume is as brief as his tool-kit is impressive. Attached to an arm that is as strong as any in the league (Cutler’s included), and capable of making all the throws required of an NFL signal caller, Stafford has a couple of nifty weapons at his disposal in WR Calvin Johnson and RB Kevin Smith. Johnson is on the brink of super-stardom, while Smith is a solid feature back and a capable receiver coming out of the backfield.
Lion Defenders were human speed-bumps en-route to the end-zone last season, and while they won’t be any worse than the squad that contributed to a winless 2008, the defense won’t be much better either. They proved that on Sunday. Stafford will be throwing the ball all over the field as the team will be playing from behind often. Owners can look forward to announcers screaming, “Stafford… to Johnson… Touchdown!” with some regularity this year.
Although his Week 1 numbers were poor (16-37, 205 yards, 3 interceptions), Matthew Stafford rates a “grab n’ stash,” as he should prove to be a capable spot-starter by mid-season should injury force you to swap-out signal callers.
Jets Mark Sanchez: I’m going with Gang Green’s hot-shot rookie pilot over 49′er QB Shaun Hill here. The former USC Trojan has displayed great poise since assuming command of the Jet huddle, and his arm strength is better than advertised. This is critical, as the winds that howl through the AFC East demand a ’slinger capable of spinning a tight ball. Sanchez may not brag Stafford’s velocity, but he does put adequate zip on the ball, his touch is exemplary, and his command of the playbook indicates a high football IQ.
The Jets don’t have a Randy Moss, Terrell Owens, Andre Johnson or even Keyshawn Johnson in their current pass-catching corps, but WR Jerricho Cotchery is an above-average receiver, RB Leon Washington can take it to the house any time he gets the ball in space, and second-year TE Dustin Keller is quietly developing into a top pass-catching option. No less encouraging are the flashes WRs Chansi Stuckey and David Clowney have shown.
Sanchez showed great poise in the pocket on Sunday, completing 18 of 31 passes for 272 yards, with 1 TD and 1 interception. The Jets were also 10 for 18 on third downs, showcasing Mark’s performance under pressure.
Behind a veteran offensive line and supported by sturdy, aging RB Thomas Jones, Sanchez rates a flier in 12-team leagues, particularly those of the keeper variety.
49ers Glenn Coffee: I covered Coffee in an earlier piece and yet, despite his increasing pub’, San Fran’s impressive rook’ runner remains unclaimed in over 50% of all leagues (on average). I understand that preseason ‘ball is as meaningful as the words, “I promise” coming from a politician. Nevertheless, no runner tallied more Pre-C’ rushing yards than this kid.
Keep in mind that Coffee is the uncontested backup to Frank Gore, a runner who is no stranger to injury. Mike Singletary is unveiling a “Black & Decker” offense: run heavy and hammer opponents into submission. Coffee has demonstrated lead back skills and will likely hear his number called 5-8 times per game with Gore healthy, and the sky’s the limit should if Gore goes down.
Chiefs Jammal Charles: There is ample fantasy buzz regarding the statistical decline suffered by Charger RB LaDainian Tomlinson, attributed in large part to his age. But Chief RB Larry Johnson will be on the wrong side of 30 before Thanksgiving himself.
LJ doesn’t benefit from an offense rife with play-making pass-catchers as LT does, and newly-minted Chief QB Matt Cassel lacks the experience ‘Bolt slinger Philip Rivers brings to the field. The KC passing game has WR Dwayne Bowe but not much else, and is in the midst of another rebuilding mode. Opponents can therefore expect to see a steady diet of Larry Johnson, but the veteran wasn’t the team’s most impressive back this past off-season. Charles, yet another sophomore runner, opened eyes in Chiefs’ camp. A stout 5′-11″/205 lbs, Jamaal Charles can tote the rock between the tackles, yet has enough speed to bounce it outside.
Anointing him as heir to the Chiefs run game may be a bit premature, but he has shown enough promise to warrant a pick-up as a handcuff and even spot-starter should the passing game show signs of life. Even with QB Matt Cassel out, the Chiefs offense showed signs of life, hanging with the Ravens until late in the 4th quarter on Sunday. Charles touched the ball 8 times, accounting for 37 yards against a tough Baltimore defense.
Saints Mike Bell: With erstwhile Saints RB Pierre Thomas not marching in Week 1 due to the lingering effects of an ankle sprain, Bell was a sneaky-good start and potentially won many fantasy matchups for owners willing to gamble. Thomas isn’t guaranteed to be back next week, and Bell has shown signs of handling the load in his absence.
The Saints passing attack was in rare form Sunday, accounting for 6 TDs for QB Drew Brees. However, that didn’t stop Bell from gaining 143 yards on 28 rushing attempts, good for 5.1 yards per carry. With RB Reggie Bush only receiving 7 carries, look for Bell to continue to get the bulk of the rushing load with Thomas out.
Bengals Chris Henry: With T.J Houshmandzadeh now suiting up for the Seattle Seahawks and Chad Ochocinco coming off a so-so season, the door is open for Henry to reclaim QB Carson Palmer’s confidence. In his physical prime and with a 9-TD ‘06 season on his football card, Henry certainly has the physical skills. He has said all the right things in training camp and appears determined to salvage his reputation and career. After an ugly game for the entire Bengals offense (Henry had 1 catch for 18 yards), you’ll likely want to keep him on the bench, but he should be a lot of help down the road.
Vikings Percy Harvin: Outside of runningback Adrian Peterson, it’s kind of hard to get excited about the Vikes’ talent. TE Vishante Shiancoe is making steady progress and is a mid-level #1 TE while WR Bernard Berrian is the team’s most reliable deep threat, but in first-round pick WR Percy Harvin head coach Brad Childress feels he has his own Reggie Bush/Leon Washington.
A dynamic playmaker who can force defenders to retrieve their jock straps after being juked out of ‘em, Harvin can lineup as a running back or wideout, and even gives Minny a Wildcat-O dimension. Rest assured, while the Vikings will ease Harvin into his role slowly, the plan is for the first-year player to be a major offensive cog to a team that has Super Bowl designs. He was for the start, accounting for 55 total yards and 1 receiving TD in Sunday’s win over the Cleveland Browns.
Titans Kenny Britt: The Rutgers product is still raw but was running with the first-team offense by the conclusion of preseason. The Titans’ first-round pick was rock-solid in the season opener against the Steelers this past Thursday, snaring 4 balls for 85 yards. The Titan rushing attack is formidable with the tandem of Chris Johnson and Lendale White hammering foes into submission, and if QB Kerry Collins and Britt can continue to develop their rapport, the results could be spectacular. Owners thin on pass catchers just might want to take the gamble.
Giants Mario Manningham:It was a stand-out week for middle of the road pass catchers: Saint Devery Henderson (5/103/1), Raven Mark Clayton (5/77/1), and Cowboy Patrick Crayton (4/135/1) all hung rock-solid Week 1 digits. It’s hard to get excited about adding any of those wideouts to your roster, however, as each is a known receiving quantity. But second-year Giant pass-catcher Mario Manningham also had a fine game Sunday, hauling in 3 passes for 58 yards and a TD, and his upside looks to be greater than any of the aforementioned.
With rookie Hakeem Nicks nursing a sprained ankle for the next 2-4 weeks, Domenick Hixon looking slow and sluggish, and Steve Smith a PPR stud but deep-threat dud, Manningham has an opportunity to emerge as Big Blue’s vertical threat. The former Michigan star looked sharp out of his breaks, ran crisp routes, and was dangerous after the catch (19.3 YPC amounts to “dangerous”).
Those needing to add some depth at the wide receiver position just might wish to take a flier on Manningham, as the dividends could be a very reasonable 6-8 TDs over the course of the season.
I'm the Head of Youth Services for the Edgewater Free Public Library; I place great value on education and literacy... hell, I proof-read everything. Ever proof a Chinese Food Take-Out menu? I do, great for a laugh. Anyway- A long-suffering Minnesota Vikings fan... I harbor hopes, however slender, that my beloved Vikes will claim a Super Bowl trophy during my lifetime.
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