Training Camp Uppers and Downers

It’s almost football season. Training camp battles are starting, Favre is reinstated and back as an active player (which means he is thinking about retiring) and coins are flipping in Chicago to decide who will throw the rock for 2008. Smell that fresh air? Behind that freshness, the little taint of grass and sweat is the smell of football season, baby!

I had to change my shirt last night after watching the Hall of Fame game because my drool of anticipation for fantasy football had completely soaked it. It wasn’t pretty, but now that I’ve stocked up on paper towels, let’s talk fantasy football.

It’s this time of year that I like to sit down and write out some nice text messages to the NFL studs and duds for the upcoming season. I let each player know which of them is bringing me down or raising their stock, and everyone communicates through text messages these days.

NFL players don’t even take phone calls anymore. Well, at least, none of them return my phone calls. In fact, they may have even blocked my text messages. For that reason, I’ll post them here just in case. I know eventually they will read them and hit me back.

Brandon Marshall – WR – UPPER

Normally, I’d say a suspension was a downer, but you somehow made it out of the grasp of Roger Goodell with just a three-game suspension. You can even reduce that down to two games if you put some time in with the counselors. That’s like a celebrity jail sentence. You still have to earn back my trust, but I have faith that ‘Baby T.O.’ is going to grow up this year and show his skills. If I can get you near the end of the top 20 receivers, I’ll take that. Now we just need to figure out a look for you that says “I just caught the ball, and I’m a badass.” The one you have now is pretty garbage.

Brett Favre – QB – DOWNER

It’s a downer that you are all over my TV every single day. Anyone who makes Paris Hilton and the celebrity drinking team go away is not making strides to win me over. Anyway, just wanted to see how you were doing now that no one really seems to want you around. You got reinstated, but now you are just causing more of a fuss for a team that doesn’t want to give you a job. It’s not you, Brett. It’s me…and Green Bay. I just think that Green Bay is going a different direction. You’re two different people. Someday she might realize that you guys had a good thing going there, but hey, you had your chance. Let someone else take a spin. If Aaron Rodgers drops the ball, maybe you can get a shot later in the season. If you’re around late in a draft, I’ll take you, Brett, but right now, it seems like you don’t know where you’re going (if anywhere) any more than we do.

LaMont Jordan – RB – UPPER

The dark side. I can’t believe you did it. I mean, you were only out of Oakland for 12 hours before you were signed. I bet you were planning your escape all along. Although, to tell you the truth, I have a hard time figuring out whether the dark side is Al Davis or Bill Belichick. I almost like you better than Laurence Maroney this year. Why, you ask? Well, it’s beceause you’re cheap, my friend. I can take you in almost the last round and (possibly) have the workhorse back on TDs for the Patriots this year. From what I hear, they score a lot of those.

Steve Smith – WR – DOWNER

Your mom says you got in a fight at school, I mean, training camp the other day. Wait, seriously, you beat up your own teammate? What did he say? “Stop being the only player that wins games for us this season, dude. You’re totally cramping my style.” Was that it? Real mature. I don’t believe you. Now you’re sitting out the first two games of the regular season, but some fool is just going to gloss over that fact and take you way early. I’m fine with that. I’ll just offer him up a trade in week 3 when you look a little rusty, and he’s hurting for help at WR.

Ryan Grant – RB – UPPER

Ryan, Ryan, Ryan…you had me so scared there for a while. I had you rated as a potential top five back to end the 2008 season. Did you know that? I bet you didn’t. Unfortunately, you had to play all Javon Walker with the Green Bay management this year and hold out for a new contract. I hope you’re happy with the $30 million, four-year contract you signed this weekend. You had me thinking Brandon Jackson might have a chance of taking some carries from you by the time you got back to camp. Don’t ever scare me like that again.

Terry Glenn – WR – DOWNER

It’s rough to see you let go, Glenn. I thought you might be a decent fantasy WR3 that no one would take until the very last rounds of the draft, but you decided to play hardball with Jerry Jones. You know who plays hardball with Jerry Jones? No one. That’s who. That bum knee of yours must really be serious if you were so insistent upon keeping your money if it went out on you again. Now you might find a home in Miami with good ol’ Papa Parcells, but until the Dolphin’s have a quarterback, you’re value is almost nil. Re-order some business cards that say ‘Glorified Wide Receiver Coach’ and look into installing a bionic knee.

Willis McGahee – RB – UPPER

So Cam Cameron thinks you can play three downs? That’s great news. If he can keep you on the field longer and make you look like Ronnie Brown this year, it would be a gift for all mankind. People forget that you’re around with that Cammy upside in fantasy drafts this year. Sometimes you don’t even go in the second round. Don’t feel bad though. If you’re around and a few other guys are off the board, I’ll take you there.

Kenny Irons – RB – DOWNER

I think your legs might be made of glass, Kenny. Did anyone ever check? You just can’t stay healthy since that 2007 preseason game where you blew your ACL. For your own sake, I hope you get that looked at and really rehab this year. If you get hurt again, I don’t think another team is going to kick you out, take you in and wait for you to put all the pieces of Humpty Dumpty back together again. You weren’t really on my fantasy radar for this year, but you could be someday…maybe…possibly. I just wanted to let you know that I was thinking about you.

Devin Hester – KR/WR – UPPER

Good move, Hester. You know when to get into camp, and it paid off for you. Did you text Ryan Grant for me like I asked? Thanks. Now that you’re in camp with your nice, shiny new deal, you can start learning to be a wide receiver so that late round snag looks like a smart move on my part, okay? Route running is a little more than just bolting off the line, but you are really good at making people miss. If Chicago can fit a uniform over a ball machine and sneak it into a game at QB, you just might have a chance of taking a few to the house this year. If Rex Grossman ends up your QB, well…good luck with that one, bud.

Javon Walker – WR – DOWNER

Sorry I didn’t get back to you when you left that really depressing voicemail. You were ruining my buzz. What? You tried to retire last week? I mean, I knew you were torn up that night I bumped into you in Vegas and stole your wallet, but come on, retire? Well, I hope the fact that I was planning on avoiding you in my fantasy drafts doesn’t push you over the edge. You have some issues that need working out. Why don’t you relax a bit. Take it slow. Get a massage or something? Just DO NOT go back to Vegas…without me.

Justin Gage and Justin McCareins – WR – UPPER

Is it cool if I just copy/paste the same message for you guys? I mean, you’re both named Justin.

Well, look at you two. On any other team, you might not see the field more than a couple of times each game, but in Tennessee, you are the starters. Vince Young is going to need some decent targets, and hopefully, you guys have the hands to do it for him this year. While I wouldn’t trust either one of you to be much more than a backup or low-end WR3 for fantasy this year, someone else might if they really can’t get a WR. I’m one of the faithful who thinks that Vince has a phenom NFL season in him somewhere. If you give it to him, we’ll be cool for life.

Andre Johnson – WR – DOWNER

I thought you were all healed up. What’s this about a groin injury? Just a tweak? That’s no good, man. I was planning on taking you early, but now I keep having these horrible flashbacks to your injury last season. Are you going to leave me hanging Harrison-style? I’ll keep you as a top 10, potential top 5 WR, but just so you know, you’re scaring me.

Todd Heap – TE – DOWNER

Please talk to Kenny Irons. You guys might have the same doctors. This calf injury does not exactly inspire confidence, Todd. Give me a sign that you’re actually going to stay healthy this year. I’m tired of hearing all this talk that you are one of the top fantasy TEs when I never see you on the field. If you don’t show up this season, I am going to get creative with your last name on the signs I make at Baltimore games. You know where I’ll go with it.

Off-season Update: Quick hits at wide receiver, tight end and cornerback [NFL News]

Most of the moves made in the last several weeks have no immediate fantasy impact. Backups are still moving from team to team, but a few starters finally landed at wide receiver in the last couple of weeks.

FANTASY WATCH-WORTHY MOVES

The 49ers dropped Darrell Jackson after his disappointing 2007 and added Bryant Johnson. I would have liked to see Johnson end up in Buffalo where he might have been a compliment to Lee Evans, but he is daring and will take his chances in the new Mike Martz system.

He will get his chance to be a number 1 wide receiver. I don’t expect Isaac Bruce to make a Randy Moss-like revival out there, and Arnaz Battle can’t put up much of a fight.

Ben Utecht escaped the shadow of Dallas Clark to Cincinnati this week when the Colts decided not to match the Bengals offer. Utecht showed some ability with the Colts, and he will become a key target for Carson Palmer in 2008 especially if Ocho Cinco (Chad Johnson) keeps his act up and leaves.

D.J. Hackett finally found someone to answer his agent’s phone calls this offseason and signed with the Carolina Panthers. All the dynasty owners of Dwayne Jarrett just died inside.

Jarrett probably won’t hit the field for awhile now that Carolina has signed Muhsin Muhammad and Hackett unless this move scares him straight. Hackett and Muhammad should be able to open up the field for Steve Smith to make a comeback in production for 2008.

Kickers become fantasy-relevant for once outside of a close fantasy showdown now that Jason Elam has left the high altitude of Colorado to boot for the Falcons in 2008. It’s a tought loss for Denver since Elam won more games than any other single Bronco in 2007. While they search for a replacement, Elam will have to adjust to kicking in Southern humidity. I think he’ll be okay.

The DeAngelo Hall deal finally got done, so now he’s an overpaid Raider, too. The Raiders now have an even better secondary with Nnamdi Asomugha and Hall. Rumor was that they want to nickname the cornerback pair “Haul Ass-o” but Nnamdi won’t go for it.

YOU CAN NEVER HAVE ENOUGH BACKUPS

Quinn Gray signed on to be the second/third quarterback for the Houston Texans. This signing puts the wise Sage Rosenfels in danger of being traded if an offer comes the Texans’ way, or they just want to be VERY secure at the QB position if Matt Schaub goes down again in 2008.

Bubba Franks signed on to the Jets but will likely just provide veteran leadership behind Chris Baker and endless Bubba jokes for the locker room.

NEWS THAT MIGHT INTRIGUE YOU

Brandon Marshall got so upset after last week’s episode of Lost that he put his fist through a TV. He might be out for up to four months.

Just let that be a lesson to you to always pick up your McDonald’s slop after a late night Big Mac binge. I’m not too concerned. He’ll probably be back in shape for training camp and be in line for a breakout season as long as there is no lasting nerve damage.

The Patriots have been taking a look at Josh Johnson, the little known quarterback loved by many scouts and experts as a potential sleeper quarterback of the future. The theory is that the Patriots might try to convert him to a wide receiver if they draft him in a later.

What? They aren’t going to get rid of that Tom Brady guy? Maybe Josh can work the camera until he becomes Brady’s favorite target. He has the potential to be a QB in the NFL if someone puts the time into working him into it.

Off-season Update: Final free agents begin to move including Walker, Jones [NFL News]

Now that the fire sale on veterans and the betting wars for top free agents has pretty much all died down, the final group of unsigned players has begun to settle into place. I believe we have entered the downhill slide towards the NFL draft.

First, a few sidebars…

If you are having a hard time keeping track of it all, NFL.com’s Fabiano has a chart of offseason player moves and how the moves affect fantasy football values, [via FFLibrarian] and Smitty of Fantasy Football Xtreme talks about the ones who matter this offseason. Also on the Interwebs, NFL Gribiron Gab breaks down who is still out there.

Maybe you aren’t interested in free agents? If you are just now catching up to all the NFL draft happenings, catch the full results of the NFL Combine on FFToolbox.

Now on to the latest in offseason player movement.

The biggest news is that Brett Favre finally decided to get off the saddle in Green Bay. If you missed the hours upon hours of Favre montages and coverage, I am glad you finally escaped from that dark cave, my friend. FFLibrarian said goodbye in her own way–with Favre’s fantasy stats. The good news is that Aaron Rodgers should be a decent replacement. I would place him near the top of a list of potential QB2 if the receivers in Green Bay continue to impress.

Fantasy-relevant wide receiver Jabar Gaffney re-signed with New England. He will be an interesting player to watch in the 2008 fantasy drafts because he will now take the #2 role with Donte Stallworth gone and Wes Welker staying in the slot. When Randy Moss is getting shut down, who will be scoring those TDs? Gaffney might be someone you could snag on the cheap in the draft to put up big numbers for you. He certainly has the trust of Tom Brady, so take him late in the draft if he ends up being undervalued.

If you were set on taking Brandon Stokley in your fantasy draft expecting him to be a solid #2 in Denver with Javon Walker out, think twice about that. Keary Colbert should get the chance to play for a #2 spot now that he is signed in Denver. I think Stokley will remain a big part of the offense, but if Colbert can beat him out for the #2 spot, he might just be another waiver wire wonder for 2008. Brandon Marshall is still the receiver to watch for Denver in 2008.

The Oakland Raiders somehow dug deeper in their pocketbooks and found it in their hearts to extend a huge contract to Javon Walker. He could be great, or he could degenerate into what Randy Moss was in Oakland–worthless. I tend to lean on the hater side of like The Fantasy Football Geek Blog. Needless to say, his fantasy stock is uncertain.

With about as much fanfare as David Carr got when he was cut from Carolina, Joey Harrington was let go by Atlanta. Apparently, he is not the savior of the franchise. In his last words, he said he had to go see Michael Vick about a dog Vick was dog-sitting for him.

Seattle seems less confident in Shaun Alexander than we are after going out and signing T.J. Duckett and Julius Jones. Rumor is that Alexander could be on the street by June. I think they keep him on the roster and give him one last shot to be all the Shaun that he can be. His leash is certainly shorter for 2008.

Brandon Lloyd, an up-and-comer that never quite “came” after moving to the Washington Redskins signed with the Chicago Bears. Apparently, someone in the Chicago front office realized they just let both starting receivers go in an offense with no quarterback. It’s taken them a year or so to realize that a football team has an offense in addition to a defense. Let’s see if Lloyd makes them better or just causes problems.

The Bears also got Marty Booker signed to a two-year deal. Maybe there’s hope they can get a decent passing game together this offseason.

Not to be seen as cheap, the Browns paid their newly acquired defensive tackle Shaun Rogers his weight in $100 bills. The contract is large for someone they haven’t even put on the field yet, but Rogers should make the Browns defense better since they were absolutely horrible last year.

Losman to Dolphins? Samuel to the Saints? Foster to 49ers? More free agency moves [NFL Rumors]

Asante Samuel may find his $100 million, 10-year contract in New Orleans. Fox Sports says that the Saints are willing to pay the ticket up to $10-11 million dollars a year for Samuel’s talents. Samuel is direly needed in New Orleans because their secondary was the wrong kind of holy last year. If they fork over the money, they could see significant improvement on defense next year–maybe avoid those shootouts with Kurt Warner.

The Cleveland Browns are a less likely candidate for Samuel’s services, but they are interested. It seems they want every free agent they can get this offseason. They definitely have the same shootout problem as the Saints though, so Samuel could help in Cleveland just as much as he could for the Saints. Time will tell who pays the highest price because we all know Asante is all about the Benjamins this offseason.

I know I said DeShaun Foster would be going to Tampa Bay to back up Earnest Graham, but now John Clayton is reporting he may be headed to the 49ers insteads to back up Frank Gore. Not sure which of these will come true. Either way, Foster’s fantasy value is likely to be very low next year.

The best advice I could give the 49ers is to pick up a decent wide receiver this offseason with Mike Martz coming into rework the offense. They currently don’t have any big threats in the receiving department. According to recent reports, Bernard Berrian is “interested” in the 49ers if an offer comes his way. He will be highly sought after this offseason and might get his pick between the Browns and the 49ers if both are serious about making an offer since the Browns have previously stated their interested. While Berrian’s value would increase if he moved to the Browns, it would skyrocket if he moved to the 49ers since he would definitely be taking a #1 receiver position with Martz directing the passing plays.

Rumors are rampant about Jerry Jones’ moves for the Cowboys this offseason. First, everyone said he would go after the Miami #1 pick to get Darren McFadden. Now, NFL talk is that Jones is after bringing Randy Moss or Javon Walker to the Cowboys. He has stated that he wants a big offensive addition this offseason. Both of these guys would be an impact–Moss more than Walker–but Moss is very unlikely to leave his beloved Tom Brady.

Expect more rumors about Walker move to circulate, but I expect Randy Moss and the Patriots to announce a restructured contract on February 29. If Walker jumps to the Cowboys, his fantasy value would depend upon how they utilize him versus Terrell Owens, but it would be about the same as if he stayed in Denver opposite Brandon Marshall. He wouldn’t be an elite wide receiver either way.

J.P. Losman might find a second chance as a starter for either Miami or Kansas City next year. Both have inquired about his services. I think he still has some juice left in the tank once he heals up and recovers from being prematurely replaced by Trent Edwards. He could immediately impact Miami as long as he can beat out John Beck if that is his destination of choice, but he would have to battle for the starting job in Kansas City–probably not to his liking. His value would be higher as a mid-tier quarterback if he ends up in Miami along with some free agent wide receivers that Bill Parcells lands this offseason.

For the Baltimore Ravens, if they don’t take a quarterback in th draft, their hope will be in Troy Smith to lead the Ravens to victory. They liked what they saw from him the last two games of 2007 and will look for him to prove himself in 2008.

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.

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.