Combine workouts boost Long while hurting tight ends [Combine Update]

Todd McShay breaks down the players that helped and hurt themselves thus far in the Combine workouts.

Helping their stock: OT Mike Pollak (Arizona State), OT Jake Long (Michigan)Looking rusty: TE John Carlson (Notre Dame), TE Fred Davis (USC)

Free agents, controversial players on the move pre-Combine [NFL Rumors]

What better way to start day 1 of the NFL Combine coverage than with a collection of trade and free agency rumors from around the NFL. There are several key free agents making moves out there that you should keep your eye on for fantasy football in 2008.

After making his rounds around the Patriots and Saints, Zach Thomas signed with the Cowboys. His $3 million salary isn’t as much as his stats, but it’s not about the money. Thomas wanted to return to his hometown team and hopes to be able to be tackling for the Cowboys rather than hitting linemen. Thomas could be a high impact player for the Cowboys defense, a unit that did well for fantasy owners in 2007 already.

Rex Grossman signed for another year with Chicago as “the starter.” He got replaced last year after a poor start, so there’s nothing stopping Lovie Smith from replacing mid-season in 2008. The quarterback situation for the Bears probably won’t be worked out until after the draft and training camp, but there are rumors that Brian Griese may have played his last ball in Chicago.

While the talk has been that Alge Crumpler would be happy in Carolina next season after Atlanta released him, the Tennessee Titans have an interest in him for 2008. With Bo Scaife hurt and possibly not starting immediately in 2007, and Ben Troupe probably on his way out, Vince Young could use another tight end target. The Titans utilized the tight end effectively in 2007 with Scaife being third on the team in receptions and receiving yards, so Crumpler might find a productive situation there like he had with Michael Vick in Atlanta.

Tampa Bay is considering a trade with the Denver Broncos for the unhappy Javon Walker. Although he had a bum knee this season, Walker still have a playmaker ability within him that the Bucs could use. It wouldn’t be a very long-term solution for Tampa Bay though since their receivers are all getting up there in age. They might not be willing to make a good enough deal for Walker and could take a young rookie in the draft instead.

After saying he wanted to stay in Atlanta, DeAngelo Hall didn’t receive the warm welcome he wanted from the new coaching staff, and he went off to reporters that he wants out. According to the latest rumors, both the New York Giants and the Miami Dolphins are interested. The Giants are probably more likely to deal for him and could seriously use him with all the poor secondary play they had early in 2007. The Dolphins have expressed interest in Hall and Troy Williamson of the Minnesota Vikings. They likely would only take Hall if they had a good deal for him considering Parcells probably doesn’t want Hall’s off the field drama.

Fullback Lorenzo Neal is on the block with the Chargers. He is 37, but he might still have a good year or two left in him. He spent the last several years blocking for LaDainian Tomlinson in San Diego, so it will be interesting to see whether L.T.’s running game is affected if Neal goes.

Now for players who are staying put…

If you think Rudi Johnson‘s 2007 running game for the Cincinnati Bengals had declined, you might find him a changed man in 2008. Rudi plans to put on weight this offseason and return to his power running game. If he achieves his goal, he could surprise in 2008 and might be a steal come fantasy draft day.

Speaking of player with a lull in 2007, Lee Evans may get some help with the Buffalo Bill. Evans, as the only passing threat of the Bills, was horribly double-teamed and shut down this season. To help him out, the Bills are rumored to be taking a big wide receiver like Malcolm Kelly from Oklahoma or possibly DeSean Jackson from Cal. Depending on Trent Edwards’ development, the Buffalo Bills could have a very improved passing game in 2008.

The Arizona Cardinals, on the other hand, are looking for some speed in the running back department. While they love Edgerrin James for his production in 2007, they want a change up back that can hit those homerun drives–like a Ahmad Bradshaw or Adrian Peterson–and they will seek one in the draft ths year.

New NFL.com Combine Coverage on Fantasy Football Fools

We’ve added a Combine widget from NFL.com to keep the site updated with even more current Combine news as the fantasy football rookies of next year run through practice drills in Indianapolis. Check it out to the right, and come back to find updates.

There’s no way to be sure how some of these players will influence next year’s fantasy football draft. Most of it depends upon what team takes them. Still, you never know when a nugget of info that you passed over will give you an edge come draft time. Make sure you stay informed by following our coverage.

The Third-Year Breakout Wide Receiver Theory and Why It’s Coincidence

I don’t put much faith in the third-year breakout theory for wide receivers. It’s no perfect science but merely a common coincidence.

A wide receiver’s breakout year has more to do with when the receiver becomes comfortable in the offense than when they hit year 3 of their career.

Receivers–unless they fall into a good situation–usually don’t start their first year in the league. Some like Steve Smith (New York Giants) and Craig Davis (San Diego Chargers) may earn a role as a third receiver off and on throughout their rookie season, but overlooking exceptions like Marques Colston and Ted Ginn Jr. who start right away out of talent or necessity, a receiver’s second year is the first time most of them are hitting the field game after game.

By the third year, receivers actually feel comfortable in the NFL and should start to show their true talent. They get more playing time and, with fresh legs and some kind of NFL-worthy moves, they can shake cornerbacks better than the weak receiver or aging veteran they are replacing.

So there’s the average path of your third year “breakout.” The third year is simply when they see the field the most, know the plays and get a relationship with the quarterback.

If you look at a receiver that starts right away–Calvin Johnson, Dwayne Bowe or Marques Colston–they might see their breakout year in the first or second year of their career.

Marques Colston had a huge rookie campaign and came up big again this year even with the Saint’s slow start. He can hardly be considered a breakout following traditional third-year rules. Greg Jennings, in just his second year, posted numbers any fantasy team manager would like. Calvin Johnson performed early on but didn’t finish well, but he might still be on target for a nice 2008 though with a new offensive coordinator.

You just can’t say that the third year for these already starting receivers will be any different or more “breakout” than this season.

While you should watch which young receivers are becoming comfortable in the offense they are running, I would never take a chance on someone expecting the third year to be a breakout season. At the same time, I would never overlook a younger second-year receiver because they haven’t reached that coveted third year mark.

That’s my take. Watch their comfort level and relationship with the quarterback.

Smitty at Fantasy Football Xtreme put together an analysis of the third-year receivers from 2007 and list of breakouts for 2008. As the stats show, only 2 out of 9 receivers in their third year really showed breakout stats this year–Braylon Edwards and Roddy White. D.J. Hackett probably would have been up there if he hadn’t been plagued by injury, but for the most part, the third year receivers of 2007 were only worthy of subbing when they had great match ups.

The top 5 breakouts for 2008 look very solid. I wouldn’t even call them breakouts for 2008 since they already showed both talent and stats in 2007–and for some, 2006.

Smitty’s 2008 Third-Year Breakout WRs

  1. Marques Colston (NO)
  2. Santonio Holmes (PIT)
  3. Greg Jennings (GB)
  4. Brandon Marshall (DEN)
  5. Lance Moore (NO)
  6. Ben Obomanu (SEA)
  7. Jeff Webb (KC)
  8. Sinorice Moss (NYG)
  9. Jason Avant (PHI)
  10. Demetrius Williams (BAL)
  11. Derek Hagan (MIA)
  12. Maurice Stovall (TB)
  13. Brad Smith (NYJ)
  14. Chad Jackson (NE)
  15. Travis Wilson (CLE)
  16. Bennie Brazell (CIN)

The rest of the list is a bit sketchy. If you put a lot of stock in the third-year theory then you might consider going after them late in the draft or putting them on your watch list for 2008 for a snag on the waiver wire.

Why the Pro Bowl (Kinda) Matters

Many sports writers are bashing the Pro Bowl this year because it is a meaningless game. Truth be told, to many players, it probably is. Tom Brady and Randy Moss pulled out without a second thought after their Super Bowl embarrassment regardless of how many fans hoped to see them there. The defense is always pretty weak, and the offensive show is sometimes half-speed.

To a few players, it still matters–especially the young players and first-time Pro Bowlers. To them, the game is a big deal, and their effort shows on the field. To fantasy owners, it should matter a little as well. The Pro Bowl is a good chance to see how players interact regardless of teammates and quarterbacks. You get to see top players playing together in an offensive showdown.

This year, the takeaways revolve around Tony Romo [Romo highlights], Terrell Owens [T.O. highlights] and Adrian Peterson [A.P. highlights].

Despite their loss in the playoffs, Romo and Owens still showed a good connection on the field, and T.O. was in good spirits to work with any quarterback that took the field with him. Romo even pulled off a crazy escape–Eli Manning-esque I guess is the hot term–to get a pass off. The highlights between these two just show that you can have confidence that the Cowboys will keep their high-scoring fantasy offense alive in 2008.

With Adrian Peterson, we saw his explosiveness–even though the secondary was never really going after him. His power and speed showed in the tackles he broke on a field full of pros. One could argue that this performance might rank him above LaDainian Tomlinson for next year, but don’t get too carried away. Peterson still might have durability issues, and even if he says he is going to get 2,000 yards, L.T. could seriously return to form next year if the Chargers come together to start the 2008 season. It’s a toss up between the two, and it will likely stay that way. It might be a choice of personal preference for whoever has the number 1 overall pick in your league.

In other news, Derek Anderson was one player that looked shaky and a little out-of-sync, even with his fellow Browns. While the performance would worry some, he should still be alright for 2008. He was hot and cold in some of his late 2007 performances, but with an entire offseason as the starter, I can’t imagine him not developing an even better connection with his receivers and returning as a top QB in 2008.

Hot 2008 Fantasy Football Offensive Free Agents

If the Patriots proved one thing this season, they proved it is absolutely required for top fantasy managers to track free agent movement. Don’t be distracted by rookies taken in the NFL draft. Besides a few impact first-rounders, you probably won’t see a lot of impact to your fantasy season by anyone in the draft until 2009 or even 2010 year.

This offseason, many critical fantasy players are up for new contracts. Football Jabber provides some analysis of some of the top offensive free agents [Link no longer available]–although I suspect many of the players he discusses will stay where they are besides Michael Turner–and Draft Daddy went in-depth to rank and track all the offensive free agents [Link no longer available]. Note that Draft Daddy pulls out the Key Restricted Free Agents from their rankings and lists them below each position.

Offensive free agents that I suggest you pay attention to in the offseason:

Rex Grossman, QB Chicago Bears
If someone else gives Grossman a chance, i.e. Atlanta, Baltimore or Miami, Grossman could become fantasy-relevant again. I like the guy even though he has never been solid. He might be worthy of a QB2 spot if given a different supporting cast.

Shaun Hill, QB San Francisco 49ers
I know Hill has already signed an extension, but with Alex Smith on rocky terms with the coach, Hill could be the quarterback that Mike Martz gives his offense. Hill fits the mold a little better than Smith does, and Smith might not take kindly to returning from injury only to take part in an offense built around Frank Gore.

Chris Redman, QB Atlanta Hawks
I, for one, felt that he showed promise with the games he started for Atlanta. He might be on the same level as Grossman. If someone is willing to give him a chance–like Miami maybe–he could make a mark in the NFL and be fantasy-relevant. He certainly had his shining moments to end 2007.

Michael Turner, RB San Diego Chargers
Turner is where the big free agent money is aiming this offseason. He has been touted as a guy that can carry the full load for more than two season now. With no contract in hand, he is ready to take all offers and see what he can do outside of L.T.’s shadow. Big hopes and big money will be put on him in 2008 for whatever team gets him. The Houston Texans and the New York Jets are two teams that could benefit from a running back in free agency if not from the draft.

Justin Fargas, RB Oakland Raiders
The Raiders have enough running backs. Fargas is most likely on his way out and might land a decent back up role somewhere. I don’t expect him to be carrying the full load anywhere even though he was solid for the Raiders in 2007. He could very well end up in a decent committee somewhere after this season though.

Derrick Ward, RB New York Giants
He’s in talks with the Giants already, but considering they don’t need him as bad as other teams do, you could see Ward popping over to another team. He filled in nicely for Jacobs this season and handled starting and taking a full load–until he got injured, that is.

Bernard Berrian, WR Chicago Bears
Berrian is the top receiver that has the potential to move. Most likely, the Bears will franchise him and keep him one more season, but I bet Berrian would love to escape Chicago’s QB problems to the Raiders and see what JaMarcus Russell can do with him.

L.J. Smith, TE Philadelphia Eagles
Smith has been plagued by injuries lately. While he is most likely headed right back to the Philly locker room, he could test the waters. When healthy, L.J. Smith can be a critical receiving tight end, and plenty of teams could use more offensive production from their tight ends in 2008. Anyone else thinking Seattle?

Offensive linemen will be significant this offseason, and impact the offensive production more than you would think. I won’t break down each and every one, but watch who moves where to know how your quarterback and running back production could be impacted. Draft Daddy ranked all the top centers and linemen for your enjoyment [Link no longer available].

Big Ben gets his Big Man

Ben Roethlisberger did enough complaining about wanting a big wide receiver. Now, he got his answer in…Matt Trannon?

There is no doubt that Trannon is a big man, but whether he will be worth anything to the Steelers remains to be seen. At 6’6″ and 235 pounds, Trannon went undrafted and signed with the Arizona Cardinals in 2007 only to be cut in training camp. He never saw the field, but bounced around several practice squads last year.

Put him on your DEEP sleeper list for right now. He hasn’t even made a team yet, but since Big Ben wants a big target, Trannon might be able to make it happen. He could be the breakout red zone target of the Steelers for 2008 if he can get in shape.

Let’s see if he shows up after Pittsburgh Steelers camp when preseason kicks off. A few pounds lighter and quicker, and you might have a fantasy steal on your hands come 2008.

The Denver Trifecta for 2008: Cutler, Marshall and Scheffler

Jay Cutler, Brandon Marshall and Tony Scheffler are already back to work on getting their game together for 2008.

I am going to go on record now as saying that I liked what I saw from all three of these players this season, AND I expect even more from them in 2008…

While Jay Cutler has been touted as one of the best (at times) and one of the slowest developing, most unpredictable (at times) of the quarterback class of 2006, I think he has the arm to make it big in Denver. Fans and teammates have been putting a lot on his shoulders since he took the starting job, but he continues to develop at his own pace–as he should. Can’t we say that Eli Manning at least shows that sometimes patience in a young quarterback pays off? Regardless, I think 2008 is his year.

Cutler’s biggest days are ahead of him as his 4 TD performance against Kansas City in week 14 shows. He had 244 yards that game and not a single fumble or interception. As he continues to click with Brandon Marshall and with Tony Scheffler, the Denver passing game is going to come together in 2008. Cutler will start the season high on my cheatsheet for quarterbacks–top 15 at least as long as the offseason progresses as I see it.

Brandon Marshall had a breakout season this year. With Javon Walker injured, he made the big plays and might have completely won over Walker’s job now that Javon can’t get over losing some value with the team during his injury. Going into his third season–the money season for most fantasy receivers–his value looks to be on the upward climb. As many would agree because of the hype surrounding him, he is a top 15 receiver for 2008.

Tony Scheffler was my sleeper tight end this season. I picked him up when Greg Olsen of the Chicago Bears started to slump, and he started for me throughout my fantasy playoffs. Scheffler’s “Superman” catch, along with his 100 yards, saved my fantasy championship run in week 15 when many fantasy studs disappointed. He is a top 10 tight end going into 2008, and I can easily see him jumping higher to a top 5 if he evolves into an even stronger red zone target.

If Javon Walker gets his act together and stays in Denver, Cutler has the makings of a nice passing arsenal. Don’t forget Brandon Stokley is out there, and he helped one Peyton Manning set a record for touchdowns in a season not too long ago.

With that said, the Denver passing offense will be much improved next season. As long as their team stays healthy, I see them as a playoff contender and could see Cutler finishing as a top 10 quarterback for fantasy. Take it or leave it, but a good bet is taking any of these Denver players when you can get your hands on them in your fantasy draft in 2008.

Impact wide receivers on the move this off-season

Many a team in the NFL could use a game-changing wide receiver. Several teams are stuck with either aging veterans or a bunch of young butterfingers running routes each Sunday.

Lucky for them, numerous top receivers are up for free agency or wanting a trade this offseason, and several of them might be moving if they aren’t secured by their current teams. While these players’ value is likely to stay the same, wide receivers who jump ship impact your fantasy quarterback selection come draft time–just look at what the Patriots did in free agency this past offseason.

LEAST LIKELY TO MAKE A MOVE

  • Chad Johnson, WR Cincinnati Bengals

    Starting with the loudest and least free of the bunch, Ocho Cinco A.K.A. Chad Johnson is probably less likely to move than many of the receivers on this list. Despite his moaning and groaning, it would cost the Bengals quite a bit to get rid of him, and he will stay unless the Bengals can’t stand him anymore. If he does move, look for him to make a big impact since he will feel like the eyes are all on him wherever he may go. Johnson has expressed interest in going to Carolina to play with his former junior college teammate Steve Smith or taking the trek down to Miami.
  • Randy Moss, WR New England Patriots

    Almost every team will wish they could get their hands on Randy Moss this offseason. Unfortunately, Tom Brady confessed his undying love for Moss before the Super Bowl, and the Patriots will likely sign him for a smaller paycheck than he could fetch elsewhere so that he can continue to help Brady break records.
  • D.J. Hackett, WR Seattle Seahawks

    After his breakout 2007 season, the Seahawks are sure to bring D.J. Hackett back. Had he not suffered an ankle injury that plagued him throughout 2007, his stats would have been even better. Hackett is the deep threat that the Seahawks need to utilize now that Matt Hasselbeck is Seattle’s main offensive weapon. I don’t see him moving.

BUSTING OUT OF TOWN?

  • Bernard Berrian, WR Chicago Bears

    After a turbulent season with quarterbacks in Chicago, Bernard Berrian actually improved his breakaway stats this season despite having less touchdowns. That stat looks good for him as he enters free agency. The Oakland Raiders are very interested in him–and they should be after giving up Randy Moss just before JaMarcus Russell arrived on the scene. Unfortunately, rumors are that the Bears will at least lock him up with a franchise tag. Berrian is definitely one of the prime target receivers for this offseason.
  • Andre Davis, WR Houston Texans

    When Andre Johnson of the Texans went down, Andre Davis showed up with several big performances–3 TDs receiving and 3 TDs as a returner. The “other” Andre could very easily find himself on another team for 2008 as both a receiver and a special teams performer considering the low price tag he carries. Look for him to find an option elsewhere and maybe earn a starting job. If so, he is worth considering as a sleeper and could definitely improve some quarterback situations. Depending upon coach opinion, Davis could end up in a role almost anywhere.
  • Javon Walker, WR Denver Broncos

    After the emergence of Brandon Marshall during his injury, Javon Walker made a lot of noise that he wanted to get out of Denver. Considering his history of griping, his agent probably advised him to shut up, and now he seems to be happy again. If Shanny decides that he’s not worth the spot–and this could definitely happen–look for him to move to a team with a few old veterans and many inexperienced hands like a Miami, Oakland or Baltimore. For a cheap price, he could even go to Tennessee or could end up in Pittsburgh as a new target for Big Ben.
  • Bryant Johnson, WR Arizona Cardinals

    With Anquan Boldin out late this season, Bryant Johnson stepped up–at least a little bit. He had so-so stats but still showed he has the talent to be a decent WR3 and improve to become a starter. As part of the high-scoring Arizona offense this season, I am sure he showed someone his worth and can get re-signed for 2008 with another team looking for fresh blood. Johnson is an unrestricted free agent.

PROBABLY STAYING PUT (BUT DOES IT MATTER?)

  • Justin Gage, WR Tennessee Titans

    The Tennessee Titans didn’t have much of a passing game this season, but Justin Gage was one of two receivers at the top of it. He is in talks to renew his contract with the Titans as an unrestricted free agent, but he still could go elsewhere considering the Titans might find better options and new blood by bringing in a receiver from the draft and/or free agency.
  • Jabar Gaffney, WR New England Patriots

    The Patriots buried Jabar Gaffney until late in the season in 2007. Although at times he looked better than Donte Stallworth, he will remain a bench reserve. He will likely sign again with the Patriots to make another run at the Super Bowl even if he could fetch a higher tag elsewhere. Maybe–just maybe–he could take on a larger role in the offense in 2008 if the Patriots mix it up a little more.

For more on free agents, stay tuned to our offseason fantasy football–and only football–coverage.

After the dust settles: What the Giant upset means for fantasy football in 2008

Despite what they might have done for your fantasy team, the Pats aren’t perfect.

The New York Giants upset in the fourth quarter of Super Bowl XLII is being touted as one of the greatest comebacks in sports history, but how will their performance impact your fantasy season in 2008? Should you draft David Tyree next year? I got your answers.

Eli Manning – QB New York Giants

With the final offensive drive for the Giants, Eli Manning looked like a superb quarterback, but Eli didn’t get hot enough to be worthy of starting until the playoffs.

Manning had just three noteworthy performances during the regular season:

  • Week 1 against the Cowboys: 4 TDs, 1 INT, 312 yards
  • Week 6 against Atlanta: 2 TDs, 2 INTs, 1 FUM, 303 yards
  • Week 17 against the Patriots: 4 TDs, 1 INT, 1 FUM, 251 yards

These three games include both of Manning’s 300-yard performances and his “breakout” showing before playoffs in week 17 against the Patriots. His week 6 performance was plagued by his 2 INTs and a fumble.

Overall, throughout the regular season, Manning averaged 13 points per game in standard scoring. That isn’t worthy of starting these days when some quarterbacks are pushing 40+ points each game like one *ahem* Tom Brady.

Move Manning up on your cheatsheets just a smidge, but be cautious of him. He can play at a higher level as he showed in the playoffs, but he will probably return to form with INTs and fumbles in 2008 until he finds his system again. I wouldn’t touch him in 2008.

David Tyree/Steve Smith – WR New York Giants

As for Tyree, are you crazy? Tyree will probably disappear into the Giants offense next season. His catch in the Super Bowl will go down as one of the best, but where was he all season long?

Keep your eye on Steve Smith who emerged late in the 2007 season as a solid target for Manning. With Amani Toomer aging, it could be Smith that takes the role opposite Plaxico Burress.

Both Tyree and Smith could start the season on your watch list in 2008 at wide receiver.

Tom Brady, QB New England Patriots

Some say the injury that Brady sustained against the San Diego Chargers still plagued him in the Super Bowl. Regardless, he didn’t have that winning touch he showed all season.

Tom Brady should have been pegged down a few spots for 2008 simply because he can’t post back-to-back phenom seasons. With his performance in the Super Bowl, all NFL teams now see how to break his system and beat the Patriots. Expect him to drop a few more spots for 2008 as far as the overall draft ranking are considered, but he is still a top 5 QB and probably the top QB heading into 2008. He is likely to be taken first round in many leagues, and he rightfully should be as long as Randy Moss and his other key weapons stay.

Randy Moss, WR New England Patriots

Randy Moss showed he is not too old to dominate in this league. While he won’t have the production he did this season now that the secret is out for how to beat the Brady-to-Moss connection, Moss should still have a productive year next season. He’s the receiver to beat for 2008 and should be drafted first unless someone has a real obsession with Reggie Wayne.

Wes Welker, WR New England Patriots

Wes Welker‘s stock rose during his Super Bowl performance. If he had been utilized even more, the Patriots might have moved the ball better.

Now that the system is out there to beat the Patriots, the Patriots response should be to use Welker more in the middle and under those big routes Donte Stallworth and Randy Moss are running. He will likely be undervalued again next year, but be sure to keep your eye on him and take him–especially if you can get him at a low cost. I would rank him among the top 20 receivers and maybe even among the top 15.

The Giants defense

The real winners of this game were the Giants defense. With Justin Tuck leading the charge, they sacked Tom Brady more than any other team has this season. The defensive line of the Giants was absolutely dominant.

Look for them to keep their dominance next season. Even if Manning starts cold, the Giants defense–as long as they don’t lose their coordinator–will continue to rule the line and create some turnovers. I would put them high on the list of defenses to take early in the draft in 2008.

If you are wondering about your draft strategy for 2008 and where you should start taking your QBs and WRs after the lack of RB performance in 2007, subscribe to our feed and catch the updates this offseason. If you so choose, you can even subscribe by email, and that’s classy.