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Breaking out the emails

 

By Adam Hoff

 

It’s been awhile, but it appears that the inbox needs to be cleared out.  The opening weekend of the NFL season set off a deluge of fantasy football related emails that beg to be consolidated, generalized, and turned into a list of 10 big questions to come out of the first round of games.  Here they are:

 

1.  Is Larry Fitzgerald THIS good?  In short, no, he’s not THIS good, because that would mean he’s one of the top five receivers in the game.  While he does have the size and great hands of a truly elite receiver, he doesn’t have the speed of someone like Moss, he doesn’t run routes as well as Holt, he lacks the strength of T.O., and he doesn’t have Manning throwing him the ball like Harrison.  So he’s still quite a ways behind each of those guys, and the truth is that he probably won’t ever reach that upper stratosphere.  He’s more like a Chris Carter type of receiver – destined to be a very, very good wideout for a long time, but probably never the best in the league.  All of that said, I do think he’s the clear number one guy in Arizona.  Many are saying that Boldin will battle him for that role, but I’ve got Fitzgerald clearly emerging in the desert.  When it is all said and done, he should be good for 1,200 yards, double-digit touchdowns, and a spot in the top 10 fantasy receivers for the season. 

 

2.  Should I trade Willy Parker while he’s hot?  As a proud Fast Willy owner I’ve considered selling high before Bettis and Staley get back in the mix and start tugging at Bill Cowher’s loyalties.  Because honestly, he’s probably going to lose carries to those guys (especially Bettis in the red zone) whether it hurts or helps the Steelers.  Plus, he’s not going to be running against the Titans every week either.  All of that said, the guy is just too good to trade.  He’s got so much speed, runs with toughness, blocks well, catches the ball well … he’s probably one of the 10 best backs in the league when you factor in the offensive line he runs behind.  You have to keep him with hopes that he’ll get 17-20 touches a game even after the other guys return.  That should be enough to go for 80-90 yards and a score most weeks. 

 

3.  Will Cedric Benson be this year’s Willis McGahee/Julius Jones?  The analogy is appropriate, as Cadillac Williams has already wrapped up the “Kevin Jones” award for “best rookie back that is actually counted on from the very beginning.”  The other Jones and McGahee both came out of nowhere last year and there is a decent chance that Benson could do the same thing this time around.  Thomas Jones is not very good and the Bears will be deploying the ground game with great frequency this season, so if Benson can get his shot, he could have a 9 games/1,100 yards/8 TDs kind of finish.  This sounds terrible, but he probably needs Jones to get dinged up so that he can get 25 touches in a game.  People forget that Travis Henry was blocking McGahee last year and that it wasn’t until the former went down with an injury that Willis took off and dominated the second half of the season.  If Jones gets hurt or plays so bad that Lovie Smith has to bench him, then I think Benson could be a hot commodity over the last 8-10 games.  Either way, he’s probably going to make a great sleeper pick. 

 

(P.S. We are one Tiki Barber injury away from Brandon Jacobs of the Giants being the next big rookie RB star.  Man, that guy is good.)

 

4.  Who are the real top five QBs?  This is a summary of the many QB related questions, most of which dealt with the downfall of Daunte Culpepper, the potentially lingering injury suffered by Donovan McNabb (not to mention the ill affects of the ongoing T.O. saga), and the fact that Tom Brady has finally arrived as a fantasy stud in addition to being the ultimate winner.  Basically, people are wondering if perhaps a major reshuffling is in order.  To provide some perspective, here are a few divergent top five lists:

 

Top five fantasy QBs in 2003

1. Payton Manning

2. Daunte Culpepper

3. Brett Favre

4. Matt Hasselbeck

5. Steve McNair

 

Top five fantasy QBs in 2004

1. Culpepper

2. Manning

3. Donovan McNabb

4. Brett Favre

5. Drew Brees

 

Top five projected fantasy QBs in 2005

1. Manning

2. Culpepper

3. McNabb

4. Trent Green

5. Favre

 

Top five fantasy QBs after Week One

1. Kerry Collins

2. Drew Bledsoe

3. Tom Brady

4. Bulger

5. Manning

 

With the exception of the somewhat jolting Bledsoe cameo after week one, those are some intriguing names on the Week One leaderboard, so it isn’t hard to see what people are wondering about here: are we experiencing a changing of the guard?  With Culpepper’s horrific opener, Favre’s stinker, and McNabb’s plethora of issues, are we primed for a whole new group of stud quarterbacks?  I honestly think we might be heading that way.  I know this puts me in the minority, because most are assuming that Culpepper will start racking up 400-yard games again, Favre will “find a way,” and McNabb will grit out one amazing performance after another, but I just don’t see it that way.  Obviously, Culpepper will be better and if I get the chance to trade for him, I’m going to do it.  He should remain a top five QB, although I do think he’s numbers will dip significantly all year long compared to last year’s monster totals.  Manning will be at or near the top again.  But I think the McNabb-Green-Favre group goes by the wayside.  For starters, each of those guys have serious issues.  McNabb is hurt and distracted.  Green is dinged up, has worse receivers than ever before, and will spend 70% of his time handing off to the Chiefs’ two-headed running back monster.  Favre is aging rapidly, plays behind a ravaged offensive line, just lost his best receiver for the season, and is forcing more and more bad throws every game.  All of these guys will have great games at times and ultimately have decent seasons, but I think they will all fall out of the top five signal callers for fantasy.

 

The other half of the equation is more positive.  Not only are these perennial fantasy studs dropping, there are other guys rising to take their place.  I’ve got Marc Bulger tabbed to be the second best QB in fantasy this year, behind Manning and ahead of Culpepper.  He has the support of a solid ground game, great targets to throw to, and he should be involved in plenty of shootouts and get the chance to throw 50 times in a few games.  He should go over 350 yards at least a half dozen times and wind up with 32 or more TD passes this season.  Tom Brady has been acknowledged to be the best big game QB in the league for quite a while now, but has always been a sleeper pick for fantasy.  Last year he broke into the fantasy top 10 with nearly 3,700 yards and 28 touchdowns.  With Dillon looking a little slow this year and the Pats defense primed to yield more points, I see Brady throwing more than ever and racking up huge stats.  I think he’ll finish as the #4 fantasy QB.  The fifth spot is wide open.  It could go to Kerry Collins in the high powered Raiders offense (although I think he’ll self destruct at some point).  It could be Aaron Brooks as part of a Cinderella Saints story.  Could be Jake Delhomme firing to Steve Smith in Carolina.  Maybe Vick.  Perhaps Hasselbeck.  My gut instinct is that Carson Palmer makes the leap into stardom, but the bottom line is that it will be someone not named Green, Favre, or McNabb.  Yes, a new day is dawning. 

 

5.  Who is on the hot seat for Week Two?  Most are going to name Culpepper, Favre, and other QBs that struggled, but instead I’m calling out the entire Houston Texans roster.  David Carr was an abomination, but very few teams should be relying on him for fantasy.  More important were the eggs laid by young studs Andre Johnson and Domanick Davis.  Johnson is supposed to be the big “third year” breakout player and ultimate red zone threat, yet he disappeared against the tough Bills D in week one.  Davis was a first round pick in many drafts and had a huge second half of the season last year, yet there he was, doing absolutely nothing last Sunday.  Granted, they were playing a tough Buffalo defense and it was only one game, but they need to be better.  They get Pittsburgh this week so it won’t be easy, but both Davis and Johnson need to break double figures in fantasy points to get the season moving in the right direction.

 

6.  Will Jamal Lewis turn it around?  Honestly, I’m not so sure he will.  He looked absolutely terrible against the Colts.  He had no burst, he was tip-toeing through holes, shuffling sideways to avoid tacklers, you name it.  Chester Taylor looked much better and I wouldn’t be surprised if he started getting 8-10 carries a game.  In fact, other than Larry Johnson, he might be the best pure backup runner in the game.

 

7.  Which veteran receiver out of Jimmy Smith, Keenan McCardell, and Keyshawn Johnson will keep it up for the entire season?  Well, none of them.  There is no way that any of those guys are going to finish with 1,400 yards and 15 TDs, which is what would happen if they kept up the level of play they displayed in week one.  However, even if you scale the numbers down to 1,200 and 10 and say that one of those guys will get those numbers, it is pretty impressive.  Smith seems most likely because he get downfield and has the best shot at posting nice yardage totals.  McCardell is the worst bet because Gates is coming back into the mix and will steal 10 looks a game.  I really think Keyshawn will score the most touchdowns of the group and wind up around 1,000 and 11.  If I had to take one guy, I’d take Johnson on gut feeling, although Smith is probably in the best situation to make a run at big numbers. 

 

8.  Should defense be worth a lot of points in a fantasy matchup?  Ah, a philosophical question.  I’m in several leagues and all place a different degree of importance on defenses.  In one league they are basically worthless as you can only score points on touchdowns and shutouts.  In another, defenses regularly make up six or seven of the top 10 scorers each week.  I’m not a big fan of either extreme, to be honest.  The ideal scenario for me is if the top D each week scores around 14-16 points, against the top offensive outputs that are in the 23-27 neighborhood.  Basically, however your league scores QBs can serve as a nice barometer, because the top Ds should mirror the second tier (6-10) QBs, in my opinion. 

 

9.  Who has the breakout games this week?  It is always tough to forecast something like what Bledsoe did to the Chargers or what Larry Johnson did on only a handful of carries, but some among us might have had a feeling about guys like Willie Parker, Larry Fitzgerald, or even Jimmy Smith (since he was playing the Seahawks and all).  This week, I’ve got five guys tabbed to do something special:

 

Stephen Jackson – Will bounce back in a big way against the Cardinals (140 yards, 2 TDs, 26 fantasy points).

Derrick Mason – Will take advantage of both Kyle Boller’s absence and the Titans miserable defense (160 yards, 1 TD, 22 points).

LaMont Jordan – The Chiefs D looked amazing last week, but that was thanks in large part to Chad Pennington.  Jordan will duel the Priest Johnson combo and rack up big numbers in the process (190 total yards, 1 TD, 1 fumble, 23 points).

Miami Defense – The Jets are not going to be good this year and I see the Fins taking a few mistakes to the house (top scoring defense of the week).

Jake Delhomme – I’ve got Vick and Brooks having big games as well, but Delhomme is my breakout QB of the week.  He should amass huge numbers trying to keep pace with the Pats (320 yards, 3 TDs, 1 Int., 22 points).

 

10.  Who are your picks for this week’s game (against the spread)?  I don’t gamble on sports unless I’m in Vegas for a bachelor party, but I thought this might be a fun thing to get involved in for the purposes of the column (famous last words).  I know everyone makes picks these days, but why not?  Here are my Week Two picks:

 

Saints (+3) over GIANTS

Steelers (-6) over TEXANS

Lions (-2) over BEARS

BENGALS (-3) over Vikings

COLTS (-9) over Jags

Ravens (-4) over TITANS

PANTHERS (+3) over Pats

BUCS (-2.5) over Bills

49ers (+13.5) over EAGLES

Rams (+1) over CARDS

Falcons (+1) over SEAHAWKS

JETS (-6) over Fins

PACKERS (-6.5) over Browns

Chargers (+3) over BRONCOS

Chiefs (-1.5) over RAIDERS

COWBOYS (-6) over Skins

 

Adam Hoff is a columnist for the Webby-winning WhatifSports.com and a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers of America.  He can be reached at wis.insider@gmail.com.

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