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.

Fantasy Football Fools Mock NFL Draft 2008 – Part 2 of 4 (First Take)

Picking up where we left off with Part 1, here’s Part 2 of our first take on the upcoming NFL draft.

9. Cincinnati Bengals — Vernon Gholston, DE, Ohio State

The Bengals really need a DT, but with Ellis gone, they should go with Gholston here. He seems to take plays off sometimes, but he is too talented to fall any farther. Gholston will have a good combine workout and could possibly go higher after that, but he is a good pick here for the Bengals. If he learns to play every down in the game, this could be a steal.

Jacob’s Fantasy Take: Oh man, the Bengals need a defensive star. ANY help to that defense might help them put the team back together in the offseason. The Bengals got by for awhile by winning scoring contests, but they couldn’t survive this season when their offense lost its swagger. Rudi Johnson could be healthier this season, and Chad Johnson should stick around to help put this offense back together.

Look for Gholston to help this defense stop something every now and then, but it still needs a lot of help before it will be anything worth writing home about. The good news for Bengals fantasy stars is that the Bengals might see their offense getting more opportunities and maintaining a high level of play while winning more games.

10. New Orleans Saints — Aqib Talib, CB, Kansas

The Saints need help on defense, and they really need help at corner. Talib has the size and athleticism to be a great corner in the NFL. He could also play a little offense like he did at Kansas–a la Devin Hester–and have an impact on both sides of the ball.

Jacob’s Fantasy Take: This is a simple call. Fantasy owners ALWAYS started their receivers when they faced the Saints in 2007. With a better corner, the defense could snag some more interceptions, and more take aways equals more scoring chances for the offense. With Deuce back and Stecker discovered as a gear to turn the Saints offense, 2007 should be a bounce back year for all the Saints’ offensive fantasy hopes, but the defense still needs a few more improvements and work in special teams play before I give them my full endorsement.

11. Buffalo Bills — DeSean Jackson, WR, Cal

The Bills have a young quarterback, Trent Edwards, and could use a homerun threat downfield. DeSean Jackson is still a little raw, but he is a deep field threat on every play. He would be a good compliment to Lee Evans on the other side of the field. Jackson’s ability to run after the catch turns short passes into long gains, and he could also help in the punt return game.

Jacob’s Fantasy Take: Lee Evans had a miserable 2007 after his breakout performance in 2006. In 2008, expect Buffalo to try and take some heat off of him. Marshawn Lynch will give Trent Edwards throwing space, and a WR opposite of Evans to draw coverage could balance out this offense. Evans and Jackson should have big play potential, and depending upon the development of Edwards into a pro QB, 2008 could be a much better fantasy year for Buffalo’s passing game. Plus, with less heat on the running game, Lynch might be able to get some really good drives (see video).

12. Denver Broncos — Ryan Clady, OL, Boise St.

Broncos need a linemen, and Clady is the next best available. Still a little raw and needs some footwork, he could still thrive in Denver’s offensive Scheme. Clady will be a great asset to the running backs in Denver.

Jacob’s Fantasy Take: Watching Houston demoralize Denver in that Thursday game late in the season, it occurred to me that they should really improve their offensive line. Defensive line could use some help too, but Clady can tighten up the blocking for Cutler in the pocket and allow him to prove that his sparks of greatness in 2007 were the start of his emergence in the NFL. Cutler should breakout in 2008, and Selvin Young/Travis Henry will have no complaints either.

13. Carolina Panthers — Brian Brohm, QB, Louisville

The Panthers need a quarterback, and Brohm is still sitting on the board. It would be tough for them to pass on him since their quarterback situation is rather confusing. Testeverde is required to wear a leather helmet if he plays next year, David Carr just plain sucks at football, who knows about Delhomme and then there is Matt Moore. We don’t know much about Moore, but he is not as good as Brohm. Brohm could take over the reins in Carolina next year if they pick him.

Jacob’s Fantasy Take: The QB situation in Carolina is a little uncertain right now. Delhomme should return, but no one can guarantee he will play game 1 to game 17 in 2008. Matt Moore was a decent replacement near the end of the season, but someone like Brohm would give Carolina the courage to let Testaverde retire–again–and tell Carr he can clear his locker and take his little white gloves with him. He would be the good backup they sought out so desperately this season.

As a side note, if they don’t take Brohm or Woodson here, they could take another RB who has a good combine show or a top WR to compliment Steve Smith and replace Drew Carter.

14. Chicago Bears — Sam Baker, OT, USC

This would be a perfect fit for the Bears. They really need to address their QB situation, but with the 3 main QBs already off the board, they should look to the OL here. Baker is a great pass blocker and could improve whoever is behind the line. Some might see this spot as a little high, but OL is sorely needed by Chicago. I would take Baker here.

Jacob’s Fantasy Take: Chicago is unsure of what to do with their QBs. None showed great promise in 2007. Expect them to take a QB somewhere in this draft to develop into an eventual starter, but there is no need to spend this pick on one.

Baker will be a quality blocker for the Chicago offensive line. His game will bring up the QB and probably make Cedric Benson look better than he did in 2007.

15. Detroit Lions — Jeffery Otah, OL, Pitt

I know what you are thinking. Aren’t the Lions supposed to draft a WR in the first round? Isn’t that a rule? Well, because of the Lion’s hot start, they are now picking 15th which is pretty rare for them.

The Lions are one of those teams that sorely need an O-linemen, and Otah is the next best available. The Lions would be passing over some good talent at other positions, but this is my mock draft. This is who I would take. Otah will immediately upgrade a line that needs it.

Jacob’s Fantasy Take: Pretty simple. Better offensive line means less concussions for Kitna. At some point–maybe this season–you might even see Detroit begin developing another QB under Kitna’s tutelage, and he will need better protection.

Kevin Jones might look like a decent RB with Mike Martz gone and a better line, and Roy Williams and Calvin Johnson could have stellar seasons–even without Martz–as long as Kitna has time to throw. This pick raises the bar for fantasy potential out of the entire Lions offense.

16. Arizona Cardinals — Calais Campbell, DE, Miami

The Cardinals need an immediate impact on defense, and Campbell is that guy. He is a huge guy that can come off the end with some speed. Arizona could reach for home grown product Antoine Cason from Arizona, but Campbell would be more of an instant impact.

Jacob’s Fantasy Take: I like instant gratification, and Campbell is just that. Warner will keep the offense going strong if Matt Leinart doesn’t earn his spot back for the 2008 season or re-injure his pretty face. Campbell on defense will help prevent Arizona from constantly playing shootouts. This news may be bad for fantasy owners, but don’t expect the impact to be too drastic. Arizona’s offense will still produce well into 2008, and Campbell might just help them win some games in categories other than fantasy points.

For IDP leagues, I don’t think Campbell will be star right at the start, but without many bodies to stop people in Arizona, you might keep an eye on him throughout 2008.

Look for the next 8 picks in Part 3.