I try to keep an eye out for solid reads and I really like this one. It highlights a couple of guys that I think are undervalued heading into this season and conversely challenges some of the trendy picks (namely LaMont Jordan)..
Whose stock is rising? Whose is falling?
By Richard Harris, Special to SI.com
Let's see what impact training camp has had on a handful of players, young and old, from around the league.
Steve McNair, QB, Tennessee: McNair is 32 years old and coming off an injury-marred season in which he finished with his worst statistics since he became a fulltime starter in 1997. So, how can his stock be rising? Well, the Titans lose free agents more often than your average first-grader loses their homework, and most of this offseason's key losses were on the defensive side of the ball. This means McNair may be forced to air it out as much as Billy Volek did last year, when McNair was sidelined due to injury. More important, the Titans will play one of the league's easiest schedules in terms of opposing defenses, including matchups with the Colts (twice), Texans (twice), Rams, Bengals, Browns and Raiders. Best of all, McNair worked very hard in the offseason, something he had not done for a number of years because he was always recuperating from one injury or another. He reported to training camp roughly 25 pounds lighter than he was last season, and he says he has improved his speed while strengthening his hips, chest, abdominal and back muscles. If Tyrone Calico or one of the team's rookies can adequately replace Derrick Mason at wide receiver, McNair could very easily have the best statistical season of his career.
J.J. Arrington, RB, Arizona: It appears the Cardinals will have an offense to be reckoned with this season. Former two-time MVP Kurt Warner will be under center, and though he is near the end of his career, he should be an upgrade over Josh McCown and John Navarre. Warner will be throwing to one of the more talented receiving trios in the league in Larry Fitzgerald, Anquan Boldin and Bryant Johnson. Last year, the problems at quarterback were compounded by Fitzgerald learning on the job as a rookie, and the three wideouts never practicing together until the regular season was half over because of injuries. All of this leads us to Arrington, who was the fastest back at the NFL Combine and led the nation in rushing last season with 2,018 yards (7.0 yards per carry). Everything appears to be falling into place for Arrington to be the most productive rookie back this season. Not only is he in camp on time, but he also has little competition for the starting job. Marcel Shipp was expected to be the top challenger, but he is trying to rebound from last year's season-ending leg injury and has been slowed by a hamstring problem at the start of training camp.
Michael Jenkins, WR, Atlanta: The Falcons' wide receivers generated a league-worst 217 receptions and just eight touchdown catches last season. As a result, the team plans to shake things up at the position. The Falcons used their first-round pick (27th overall) in the draft on Roddy White, who will challenge incumbent Dez White for the starting job at split end. Meanwhile, Jenkins, selected 29th overall in 2004, has already been named the starting flanker ahead of Peerless Price, who has been a major disappointment since joining the team as a free agent in 2003. Jenkins caught just seven balls last season, but he averaged an impressive 17 yards per catch. With his 6-foot-4, 217-pound frame and his 4.38 speed, Jenkins certainly has the physical attributes to succeed in the NFL, and unless Price suddenly turns things around, the second-year pro of Ohio State should be Michael Vick's No. 1 receiver this season.
KEEP AN EYE ON
Clarence Moore, WR, Baltimore: Considered the most NFL-ready receiver in the draft, it was assumed by nearly everyone that rookie wideout Mark Clayton would line up opposite Derrick Mason this season for the Ravens. Clayton, however, missed the first week of training camp due to a holdout, giving Moore an opportunity to work with the first team, a spot that he may not relinquish any time soon. As a rookie last year, the 6-6 Moore earned a starting job by December, finishing the season with 24 receptions and four touchdowns. His height and leaping ability make him a perfect red-zone target, and after bulking up to 218 pounds (13 pounds heavier than his weight at the end of last season), the lanky Moore is more prepared for the physical play of the NFL and should be a better all-around receiver.
Travis Taylor, WR, Minnesota: With Randy Moss being shipped to Oakland, Vikings fans were elated when the team used its first draft pick (seventh overall) on WR Troy Williamson, one of the fastest players in the 2005 class. Williamson, however, lacks polish and has a long way to go before making an impact. This would normally be good news for No. 2 receiver Marcus Robinson, but he is being pressed by another challenger -- Taylor, who caught a team-high seven passes for 93 yards and two touchdowns in a recent intrasquad scrimmage. Considered a first-round flop in Baltimore, Taylor is hoping to revive his career in Minnesota. Playing in the Ravens' run-oriented offense, Taylor's best season came in 2002, when he had 61 catches for 869 yards and six touchdowns. The Vikings feel that he is ideally suited to play in the slot and be their version of Brandon Stokley, another former Raven whose career didn't take off until he got out of Baltimore.
Terry Glenn, WR, Dallas: Before suffering a season-ending foot injury in Week 6 of last year, Glenn was in the midst of a solid season. He was on a pace to finish with nearly 1,100 yards and five or six touchdowns. This training camp, the 31-year-old receiver is not showing any ill effects from last season's injury, and quarterback Drew Bledsoe recently said Glenn looks better than he did in 1996, when the two players hooked up 90 times in New England. With fellow starter Keyshawn Johnson starting to slow down at 33, and No. 3 receiver Quincy Morgan playing with a shoulder injury that likely will require surgery at the end of the season, the Cowboys need a big season from Glenn to advance to the playoffs this season.
Kris Wilson, TE, Kansas City: The Chiefs had big plans last year for Wilson, the 2004 second-round pick, before he suffered a broken leg during the final preseason game against Dallas. The versatile Wilson has the ability to play tight end, wide receiver and fullback, and the receiver-starved Chiefs could certainly use another set of hands. At training camp, fellow tight ends Tony Gonzalez and Jason Dunn and wideouts Freddie Mitchell and Marc Boerigter have been nursing injuries. More important, the Chiefs' No.1 receiver, Eddie Kennison, is on the downside of his career at age 32, and speedy second-year pro Samie Parker, who takes over for the departed Johnnie Morton, is an untested commodity. All in all, the stage is set for Wilson to make an impact this season. Faster than most linebackers, bigger than most defensive backs, he should present matchup problems for opposing defenses.
Willie Parker, RB, Pittsburgh: On Monday, RB Duce Staley, who missed half of last season with a pulled hamstring, underwent surgery to repair a lateral meniscus tear in his right knee. The Steelers expect him to miss about a month. Veteran Jerome Bettis will be the Steelers' No. 1 back if Staley isn't ready for the start of the regular season. At 33 and having some health issues of his own, Bettis may not be able to duplicate the success that he had last season when he took over for an injured Staley and led the Steelers in rushing with 941 yards, topping 100 yards in each of the six games he started and adding another against the Jets in the playoffs. The good news for Pittsburgh is that Parker and third-down back Verron Haynes are promising backups who could emerge if Bettis and/or Staley were to miss significant time during the season. With Staley out, Haynes is the No. 2 back, but he has struggled with injuries in his first three NFL seasons and may not be durable enough to be an every-down back. Parker, on the other hand, is very intriguing. He is not a small back (5-10, 210), and he possesses speed in the 4.3 range. As a rookie last year, Parker began to be noticed when he was one of the leading rushers of the preseason. In limited action during the regular season, he proved that performance was not a fluke, rushing for 186 yards on 32 carries (5.8 average), including a 100-yard effort in the season finale against a Buffalo team that needed a win to make the playoffs and featured one of the best defenses in the league.
Reuben Droughns, RB, Cleveland: No player was a bigger surprise than Droughns last season. He began 2004 as a backup fullback in Denver with only 40 carries on his pro resume and emerged as the Broncos' leading rusher with 1,240 yards. The prevailing feeling in Denver must have been that Droughns was more a product of the system than a hidden gem; why else would they trade him to Cleveland this past March for two mediocre defensive linemen? Now, Droughns is in the midst of a three-way battle to be the Browns' No. 1 tailback. Incumbent Lee Suggs, who closed out last season with three straight 100-yard games, has the inside track, and William Green appears to be rejuvenated by the new coaching staff and has impressed coach Romeo Crennel with his never-quit attitude. Droughns, meanwhile, has been slowed by a hamstring pull, hurting his chances to overtake Suggs and giving Green a chance to show that the team did not waste a first-round pick on him in 2002.
Mewelde Moore, RB, Minnesota: With "whiz" kid Onterrio Smith suspended for the season, the door appeared to be wide open for Moore to make a run at the Vikings' starting tailback job this summer. As a rookie last year, Moore was rushed into action in the fourth game, starting Oct. 10 against Houston after Michael Bennett and Moe Williams were injured and Smith was suspended. In the Vikings' next three games, Moore rushed for 339 yards and amassed another 198 receiving yards, averaging 6.7 yards every time he touched the ball. However, his flirtation with greatness came quickly to a halt when he suffered an ankle sprain, and in the subsequent weeks, he apparently fell out of favor with the coaching staff due to inconsistent blocking, an unwillingness to play hurt, and a general lack of maturity. As a result, Moore is currently third on the depth chart behind Bennett, who appears to have locked up the starting job, and Williams, the reliable veteran. While it is unlikely that the Vikings' coaches would argue that Moore is more talented than Williams (and perhaps even Bennett), the second-year pro has yet to win back their trust. My gut feeling is that Moore will still see significant playing time this season, especially since Bennett has been anything but durable in the past. On the other hand, if Williams is used as a goal-line back, as he has been in the past, and QB Daunte Culpepper rushes for a handful of scores, as he has done in previous seasons, the Vikings' No. 1 back will have a limited upside.
Lamont Jordan, RB, Oakland: Many appear to be overestimating the "Randy Factor" in Oakland, but one Raider who is almost certain to post career-high numbers is Jordan. As a New York Jet, the 2001 second-round pick languished on the bench behind Pro Bowl running back Curtis Martin for four years. When Jordan did play, he was effective, including last season, when he rushed for a career-high 479 yards and averaged 5.2 yards per carry. In the offseason, Jordan signed a five-year, $24.5 million free-agent contract with the Raiders, who ranked last in rushing offense last season. He is the undisputed starter in Oakland, and the 230-pound back should get plenty of carries in Norv Turner's offense that is based on power running and deep play-action passing. So what is not to like about Jordan? The main concern is how many touchdowns he will score this season. Moss and fellow wideout Jerry Porter will likely combine to produce 20-25 scores, and then there is Zack Crockett, who has accounted for 21 red-zone touchdowns in the past three seasons. Turner indicated recently that Crockett will likely be the primary ball carrier near the goal line.
Richard Harris is senior writer and managing editor for FantasyFootballExperts.com, which provides the essentials for a fantasy football championship, including customized player rankings, cheat sheets, updated injury reports, depth charts and weekly matchup analysis.