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.

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.

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.