Archive for August, 2009

Training Camp Notes

Monday, August 31st, 2009

By Dalton Del Don

Matt Schaub suffered an ankle sprain during the Texans’ loss to the Vikings Monday, but he was able to play through it – Schaub went 10-for-14 with 108 yards passing (7.7 YPA). The 0:1 TD:INT ratio doesn’t impress, but Schaub played through pain and once again led productive drives like he has all preseason. Schaub had no reason to return to action Monday other than trying to prove he’s not soft, and while that was admirable (and suggests this injury shouldn’t be worrisome long-term), it still highlights his brittleness. In the past, Schaub has been injured mostly from illegal hits that you really can’t fault him for, but nevertheless, his durability is rightfully a question mark. I personally love Schaub (and the entire Texans’ offense), but the best strategy is to wait (and then wait some more) on quarterbacks. The more I think about it, the more I wouldn’t address the QB position until the seventh or eighth round at the earliest.

Tom Brady (shoulder) was present for the start of Monday’s practice – Brady’s shoulder may still be sore, but it’s a positive sign that he was out there Monday. There was no throwing going on while reporters were on hand, so how full Brady’s workout ended up being has yet to be revealed. Drew Brees may be the safer pick, and while this may not matter, his road stats last year are worth noting (7.1 YPA, 11:12 TD:INT ratio). Brady very well may struggle some in his first year back from the knee injury, but his upside is higher than Brees’, so he’s the #1 QB on my board. But again, don’t take one early, it’s just not worth it (unless you get a Brady 2007 season).

Brett Favre went 13-for-18 with 142 yards passing and a touchdown during the Vikings’ win Monday – It was an impressive outing, even before you consider it was Favre’s first extensive action with his new team. Favre was elusive in the pocket, showed he still has enough arm strength, and even almost ruined someone’s career with a highly illegal block for good measure. Favre claims he’s currently playing with a broken rib (to go along with the torn rotator cuff), but it certainly didn’t seem to affect his play Monday. With Bernard Berrian, a healthy Sidney Rice, Visanthe Shiancoe, Percy Harvin and the best running back on the planet, the Vikings have what looks like could be a deadly offense, at least on paper. And Favre’s performance Monday only gives more hope. According to most oddsmakers, Minnesota is the favorite to win the NFC North. But I don’t see it. In fact, I have them finishing third in their own division and out of the playoffs. But Adrian Peterson’s 75-yard TD run Monday was pretty sick.

Roundtable

Monday, August 31st, 2009

I’m competing in a “bloggers league,” and as a result, I participated in a recent roundtable. This week’s question: “Who are your Top 5 Running Backs (Non-PPR) in 2009, and why?” Head over to RookieBlitz to read my answer.

Wide Receiver Rankings

Sunday, August 30th, 2009

1. Calvin Johnson
2. Randy Moss
3. Larry Fitzgerald
4. Andre Johnson

5. Greg Jennings
6. Roddy White
7. Reggie Wayne
8. Steve Smith
9. Marques Colston
10. Dwayne Bowe
11. Anquan Boldin

12. Chad Johnson
13. Anthony Gonzalez
14. Eddie Royal
15. DeSean Jackson
16. Roy Williams
17. Braylon Edwards
18. T.J. Houshmandzadeh

19. Wes Welker
20. Terrell Owens
21. Vincent Jackson
22. Santonio Holmes
23. Brandon Marshall
24. Antonio Bryant
25. Lee Evans
26. Donnie Avery
27. Santana Moss

28. Donald Driver
29. Devin Hester
30. Kevin Walter
31. Lance Moore
32. Bernard Berrian
33. Josh Morgan
34. Hines Ward
35. Jerricho Cotchery
36. Ted Ginn
37. Torry Holt
38. Laveranues Coles

39. Percy Harvin
40. Chris Henry
41. Patrick Crayton
42. Chris Chambers
43. Derrick Mason
44. Hakeem Nicks
45. Domenik Hixon
46. Steve Smith (NYG)
47. Steve Breaston
48. Nate Washington
49. Michael Crabtree
50. Troy Williamson

Running Back Rankings

Saturday, August 29th, 2009

1. Adrian Peterson
2. Maurice Jones-Drew

3. Matt Forte
4. Steve Slaton
5. Chris Johnson
6. Michael Turner
7. Steven Jackson
8. DeAngelo Williams
9. Brian Westbrook
10. Frank Gore

11. Kevin Smith
12. Brandon Jacobs
13. LaDainian Tomlinson
14. Ronnie Brown
15. Marion Barber
16. Ryan Grant
17. Darren McFadden
18. Clinton Portis
19. Pierre Thomas
20. Reggie Bush

21. Beanie Wells
22. Ray Rice
23. Larry Johnson
24. Marshawn Lynch
25. Donald Brown
26. Joseph Addai
27. Knowshon Moreno
28. Thomas Jones
29. Felix Jones
30. Ahmad Bradshaw
31. Jonathan Stewart

32. Cedric Benson
33. Leon Washington
34. Darren Sproles
35. LeSean McCoy
36. James Davis
37. Rashard Mendenhall
38. Derrick Ward
39. Willie Parker
40. LenDale White
41. Chester Taylor

42. Laurence Maroney
43. Jerious Norwood
44. Michael Bush
45. Jamaal Charles
46. Tim Hightower
47. Fred Jackson
48. Shonn Greene
49. Glen Coffee
50. Jamal Lewis

The Scoop

Thursday, August 27th, 2009

By Dalton Del Don

I don’t want to overreact to one great start by John Smoltz that came in probably the easiest situation in baseball (against the Padres lineup in the best pitcher’s park in MLB), but it does highlight my previous stance about Boston being really premature in releasing him. The guy now has a 4.7:1 K:BB ratio! That would rank sixth best in all of baseball if he qualified. The quicker everyone stops evaluating pitchers based on ERA, the better baseball will be. On a related note, the Red Sox just released Brad Penny (5.61 ERA, 1.53 WHIP) and the immortal Junichi Tazawa currently sports a 6.65 ERA and 2.03 WHIP. But again, I’m not here to rehash the Smoltz issue regarding Boston. I’m here to once again question why Brian Sabean never even made a call about acquiring him. (Of course, I know the answer. He doesn’t “get it.”) But here’s an SF team right in the thick of the wild card race, with a No. 5 starter named Joe Martinez, who currently has a 7.52 ERA, 1.90 WHIP and a 17:9 K:BB ratio. Signing Smoltz cost St. Louis $100,000, which is dirt cheap in baseball terms. When the Cardinals make the playoffs and the Giants don’t, it won’t be because of luck. After all, we are talking about an SF organization that allowed its closer to throw 41 pitches in a game this week…And then had him throw 30 more pitches the next day.

Before the All-Star break, Manny Ramirez posted a 1.156 OPS with a 21:31 K:BB ratio. Since then, he’s posted a .797 OPS with a 36:17 K:BB ratio. The whole steroid issue is an easy explanation, but it’s worth noting he hit three homers with nine RBI over his first seven games after returning from suspension. After slugging one homer every 11 at-bats after joining the Dodgers last season, he’s hit just two homers over his past 119 at-bats. Ramirez is 37 years old, but in reality we are talking about a slump that has lasted about 120 at-bats. He’s obviously not as good as he was as a Dodger last year, but his recent struggles are almost certainly nothing to worry about, just a rough stretch over a small sample size. Don’t be surprised by a big finish.

Chris Davis was one of the bigger fantasy busts earlier this season, posting a .207/.262/.414 line. While few expected him to hit .285 like he did last season with such a high K rate, he always posted a very high BABIP in the minors, so .260 was possible. And he did hit 15 homers in just 77 games. Still, Davis fanned a whopping 116 times over 266 at-bats, which merited a trip to the minors. To put that K rate into perspective, Mark Reynolds, who set an MLB-record with 206 strikeouts last season, had a .62 contact rate while doing so. Davis’ contact rate is at .56 for 2009. Of course, Reynolds’ monstrous season this year gives hope for the future, and Davis did post a .327/.418/.521 line in Triple-A after getting sent down. Now back up with Texas, he’s looking at regular at-bats (at the expense of Hank Blalock) and is worth picking up in all but the deepest of leagues. Davis has the kind of power potential that could really make a difference over the final six weeks of the season.

Even after back-to-back losses, the Rockies are 52-24 since June 4. Their run differential over that time is a staggering +103. Make no mistake, this is a very good baseball team.

With a terrific 9.80 K/9 rate and a 3.51 ERA and 1.27 WHIP, not many would complain about Yovani Gallardo this season. He even sports a solid 1.14 G/F ratio. With a 3.66 xFIP, there’s nothing to suggest luck has been involved either, because while his BABIP (.281) has been a bit fortunate, he’s also suffered from a 13.4% HR/F rate. However, the real interesting aspect of Gallardo’s pitching this season has been his surprisingly high walk rate. His 4.38 BB/9 mark is easily a career-worst, and in fact, only three starting pitchers who qualify have a higher rate.  Discouragingly, his control is only getting worse as the season progresses, with a 4.91 BB/9 mark in August. The strikeouts suggest a future ace (if he’s not already one now), but it’s not often that you see one of the better pitchers in the game walk three batters or more in eight of his past 10 starts.

With Adam Dunn, Elijah Dukes and Lastings Milledge penciled in as starters, it’s hard to believe Josh Willingham has emerged with such a big season. Dunn has been his usual self (can he make it five straight years with exactly 40 homers? Here’s to hoping so), Dukes has been a massive disappointment, and as for Milledge, he’s once again playing terribly, but now for Pittsburgh. It’s obviously far too early to reach a verdict, but it’s worth noting Nyjer Morgan posted a .393 OBP for the Nationals before suffering a season-ending injury Monday. Oh, and he’s also been the best defensive outfielder in baseball this season. BY FAR (26.3 UZR/150. The second best is at 18.6). I’m just sayin. Back to Willingham, who had a crazy good game Tuesday (4-for-4 with two homers, a walk, four runs scored and six RBI) and is currently sporting a .985 OPS, which would rank fifth-best in the National League if he had enough at-bats. He’s hit one HR every 15.2 ABs this year, so even though Scott Olsen predictably failed in 2009, it’s hard not to consider Washington the clear winner in the Emilio Bonifacio deal.

Including this year, Dan Haren has had significantly worse ERAs after the All-Star break compared to before, but looking closer, it seems like a complete fluke, as he really hasn’t pitched any worse. To wit: in 2006, his ERA jumped from 3.52 before the break to 4.91 after. Yet his K:BB ratio actually improved from 3.6 before to 4.3 after. And his K rate increased from 6.9 K/9 to 7.4 K/9. In 2007, there was a similar result. His ERA went from 2.30 to 4.15, yet his K:BB went from 3.2 to 4.0. In 2008, his ERA jumped yet again, from 2.72 to 4.18, and his K:BB ratio went from 5.1 to 5.2. This year he’s seen an ERA increase from 2.01 to 4.59, and although his K:BB ratio has dropped from 8.1 to 4:1, the latter mark is still fantastic. At some point, some might consider this a trend, despite evidence pointing to the contrary. The biggest culprit has been the home run. His HR/9 marks over the past four years before the break look like this, respectively: 1.2, 0.77, 0.72, 0.83. Conversely, here are his HR/9 numbers after the break: 1.3, 1.3, 0.90, 1.8. His HR/F rates have been 14.3%, 11.1%, 9.0% and 11.7% over the past four seasons, so while he’s been about league average, for some reason, it appears he’s been experiencing good luck before the All-Star break and the opposite effect after. Bottom line, Haren is probably not as good a pitcher as he’s been during the first half of the last four years, but he’s most certainly a far better pitcher than his last four second halves have shown. He’s hardly someone to worry about trading come the All-Star break next season.

Brad Lidge was 2-0 and a perfect 48-for-48 during save opportunities last season. This year, he’s 0-6 and has nine blown saves, easily the most in baseball. While his strikeout numbers (9.26 K/9) remain excellent, it’s a significant drop from his career mark (12.5 K/9), which incidentally, is the best ever in the history of the sport. His control wasn’t any good last year (4.54 BB/9), but it’s been even worse in 2009 (5.40 BB/9). His average fastball velocity has dropped for the fourth straight year, but at 93.5 mph, the far bigger problem has been the loss of effectiveness of his slider. I can’t remember a team as good as the Phillies entering the postseason with such a shaky closing situation. Ryan Madson actually took a blown save during his last appearance (although he did get the win), but he’s clearly the superior pitcher at this point. Of course, that doesn’t necessarily mean he’s more valuable in the traditional closer’s role.

The Mets are currently in the midst of one of the weirdest seasons you’ll ever see. The injury list is absolutely absurd: Jose Reyes, Carlos Beltran, Carlos Delgado, David Wright, Johan Santana, J.J. Putz, Fernando Martinez, Jonathan Niese, John Maine, Oliver Perez. At some point, coincidence and bad luck have to take a backseat to a bigger problem, which is clearly the root here, especially when you consider the treatment of Reyes, Beltran and Santana, specifically. Entering June, Santana had an 11.2 K/9. Afterward, it was 5.4 K/9. The fact the team allowed him to make seven starts after knowing he was in pain during a lost season and with four years remaining on a $137.5 million deal is deplorable. (On a side note, remember when the majority ranked Santana ahead of Tim Lincecum entering the year? Funny stuff.) The injuries were the least of the Mets’ problems when it comes to a PR standpoint, from the Tony Bernazard fiasco, to the Omar Minaya/Adam Rubin mess, to Minaya not even remembering Santana had dealt with elbow problems in the spring, to Jerry Manuel recently referring to his current starting rotation as the “fabulous five,” (you see, the media loves him because he’s such a comedian), this year has been an absolute joke. The best part? Even after one of the most catastrophic season’s in the history of the sport, both on and off the field, the regime appears set to safely return in 2010. And like driving by a car accident, I won’t be able to help myself from watching the carnage.

Quarterback Rankings

Thursday, August 27th, 2009

1. Tom Brady
2. Drew Brees
3. Peyton Manning
4. Aaron Rodgers

5. Tony Romo
6. Matt Schaub
7. Philip Rivers
8. Kurt Warner
9. Donovan McNabb

10. Jay Cutler
11. Carson Palmer
12. Matt Ryan

13. Matt Cassel
14. Kyle Orton
15. Matt Hasselbeck
16. Ben Roethlisberger

17. Trent Edwards
18. David Garrard
19. Eli Manning
20. Jake Delhomme

Tight End Rankings

Thursday, August 27th, 2009

1. Antonio Gates
2. Jason Witten

3. Greg Olsen
4. Tony Gonzalez
5. Dallas Clark
6. Kellen Winslow
7. Owen Daniels
8. Chris Cooley
9. John Carlson

10. Dustin Keller
11. Zach Miller
12. Jeremy Shockey
13. Brent Celek
14. Vernon Davis
15. Visanthe Shiancoe

NFL Barometer

Wednesday, August 26th, 2009

By Dalton Del Don

RISERS

Ray Rice – Already the favorite to get the majority of touches in Baltimore’s backfield, Rice totaled 32 yards with a touchdown during the team’s second preseason game against a tough Jets’ defense. More importantly, Rice was used at the goal line, and if that continues into the regular season, he’s going to be far more valuable than his ADP suggests. Willis McGahee still looms, but Rice was drafted by the current regime, and he appears to be their guy. He can be a major factor as a receiver, and it’s worth noting that Le’Ron McClain has been given a total of just one carry through two preseason games, so his shift to fullback looks permanent. Rice should be shooting up draft boards.

Donnie Avery – After breaking a bone in his foot, Avery was projected to miss 4-to-6 weeks, with his status for the season opener in doubt. However, the second-year wideout has already returned to 11-on-11 drills, just 18 days after suffering the injury, making a remarkably fast recovery. Assuming no setbacks occur, Avery not only should be ready for Week 1, but he’ll also be able to get valuable practice time to learn the team’s new offensive system. His value remains limited with the Rams’ shaky QB situation, but Avery is clearly the best option in the passing attack, and the NFC West is a weak division defensively. Avery should be considered in the 25-30 range among fantasy receivers.

Leon Washington – Washington totaled 83 yards with a touchdown on just 10 touches against a stout Baltimore defense Monday, and it was clear he was the best offensive player on the field. The Jets have one of the three best run-blocking units in the NFL, and with a rookie starting at quarterback and a defense that should be strong, expect a ground heavy attack. Shonn Greene’s presence makes things a bit murkier, but Thomas Jones is 31 years old and approaching 2,000 career carries. New coach Rex Ryan has vowed to get Washington the ball more, which makes sense when you consider the RB had eight touchdowns and totaled 803 yards on just 123 touches last season. It wouldn’t be a stretch to draft Washington ahead of Jones in fantasy leagues.

Chad Johnson – Johnson caught three balls for 69 yards in limited action during the team’s second preseason game, and that was without Carson Palmer (ankle) throwing to him. Johnson is always a bit of a wild card, but he looks rededicated after a disastrous 2008, which included multiple injuries and Ryan Fitzpatrick. Anyone who’s watched “Hard Knocks” knows Johnson is in terrific shape, despite all that McDonald’s intake. Remember, before last year, Johnson had averaged 1,374 yards and 8.6 touchdowns over a five-season stretch, showing tremendous durability during that span (he didn’t miss a single game). While he may be past his prime at age 31, unlike running back, that’s hardly too old to play the wide receiver position. It’s not ideal having to face Pittsburgh and Baltimore four times during the season, but it looks like J.T. O’Sullivan, although turnover-prone, is a huge upgrade over Fitzpatrick should Palmer go down again. Johnson should be ranked among the top dozen fantasy receivers.

Brian Westbrook – Not only is Westbrook (ankle) back practicing earlier than expected, but he’s even listed as the probable starter for Philadelphia’s preseason game against the Jaguars on Thursday. Since it was previously believed he’d be held out of all the preseason games, this qualifies as surprising, yet very good news regarding his recovery from offseason ankle surgery. Westbrook remains an obvious injury risk, but even if LeSean McCoy takes away touches, remember Westbrook totaled 1,338 yards with 14 touchdowns on just 233 carries last season.

Glenn Coffee – Coffee leads the NFL with 196 rushing yards over two preseason games, averaging 6.5 YPC. Of course, playing two home games against the Broncos and Raiders have something to do with it, but Coffee has looked good nevertheless. Frank Gore will still get the majority of the touches, but this is the first time in a while there’s a clear cut No. 2 back in San Francisco. Coffee is becoming even more than just a handcuff, as there would be legitimate upside if Gore were to suffer an injury, something he’s been prone to do.

Troy Williamson – Williamson has racked up 221 receiving yards over two preseason games, averaging a ridiculous 31.6 yards per catch. He’s shown so little during his four years in the league, it’s almost certainly a fluke, but since Jacksonville has so few options in the passing game, Williamson is at least on the radar now in deep leagues. Former Vikings coach (and now assistant coach in Jacksonville) Mike Tice must have saw something to bring him over to the Jaguars, and Williamson does have the pedigree of being a former top-10 draft pick.

Jay Cutler – For those of you concerned about Chicago’s weapons on offense or Cutler’s lackluster preseason debut, let me retort.

FALLERS

Terrell Owens – Owens continues to miss time with what is being called a sprained toe, an injury that could linger into the season. There’s still time to recover before the opener, but Owens is missing valuable practice time, especially since he’s learning a new system. He’s already been ruled out of Buffalo’s third preseason game, and his status is questionable at best for their fourth and final preseason game. Owens’ value already took a hit leaving Tony Romo and having to deal with the weather in Buffalo, and at age 35, he’s proving to be a slow healer. Draft Chad Johnson instead.

Derrick Ward – News of Carnell Williams being named the starter for Tampa Bay’s third preseason game isn’t that significant on the surface, but it does reveal how much of a committee approach the Bucs will implement this season. Ward is still likely to be the nominal starter (and he’s getting paid as such), but coach Raheem Morris recently revealed this plan regarding the running back situation: The starting running back would play two series, followed by another back taking the next two series, with the third back playing a single series. While coach speak can’t be taken for certain, especially this time of year, there are too many red flags to consider Ward a top-25 fantasy RB.

Julius Jones – As if news of Walter Jones (knee) possibly missing the season and center Chris Spencer out at least 4-to-6 weeks after suffering a quad injury wasn’t bad enough, Seattle also just signed Edgerrin James. The team subsequently cut T.J. Duckett, but assuming he kept himself in shape, James is a much bigger threat to steal carries away from Jones than Duckett ever was. Clearly the team knew it needed to address the RB position. Jones has also been missing some time with a bruised thigh, although he’s since returned to practice. Stay far, far away.

Nate Washington – Washington had been one of the more impressive performers in Tennessee’s camp, proving he was well worth the offseason contract. Unfortunately, he suffered a hamstring injury that sounds fairly serious. Although an MRI showed no major damage, Washington has already been ruled out for the final two preseason games, and his status for Week 1 is up in the air. Hopefully it’s just a minor setback, but at a minimum, Washington will miss time in which he could further be developing chemistry with Kerry Collins.

Jamal Lewis – While Lewis has looked old and slow in camp, not surprising considering he’s 30 and has accrued 2,399 career carries, rookie James Davis continues to impress, including an 81-yard TD run last week. Sure, it came against the Lions’ backups, but Davis has impressed in practices as well, and there are rumblings of a RB controversy in Cleveland. Lewis averaged just 3.6 YPC last year, and it looks like the end is near. Davis should be going off the board ahead of Lewis in fantasy leagues.

Jonathan Stewart – Stewart continues to sit out with an Achilles injury, and word from the Panthers is that he “doesn’t look close to being ready to strap on a helmet.” He’s almost certain to miss the rest of preseason, and his status for Week 1 is in question as well. Considering this injury stems from his foot problem dating back to his college days, it’s a serious concern. This isn’t an ankle – an Achilles can pop at any moment. If healthy, Stewart still offers tremendous upside. However, this injury knocks him below other upside guys like Ahmad Bradshaw and Felix Jones.

NFL Training Camp Notes

Monday, August 24th, 2009

By Dalton Del Don

Leon Washington totaled 83 yards with a touchdown in Monday’s preseason loss to Baltimore – Washington was without question the best offensive player on the field Monday, and it’s worth noting he did that damage in just one half (and on 10 touches) against a tough Baltimore defense playing most of its starters. He may be short, but Washington isn’t all that much smaller than plenty of backs who get 250-plus touches, and since the Jets deploy one of the best run-blocking units in the NFL (Nick Mangold is far and away the best center in the league), there’s some serious upside here. Of course, the previous coaching staff refused to give Washington ample touches, Thomas Jones remains on the team and is coming off a good year, and Shonn Greene is now around, so the path to stardom is still blocked. Still, new coach Rex Ryan is no dummy, so expect him to use Washington far more. He’s an excellent flier in the later rounds.

Pierre Thomas has an MCL sprain – Supposedly it’s minor, but this is something to obviously monitor. Thomas has huge upside, but if Reggie Bush somehow stays healthy, the receptions will dwindle, and there’s still no guarantee Thomas gets the goal-line work. However, the same question marks apply for most of the backs typically going in the first round of fantasy drafts, so assuming this injury isn’t serious, Thomas has to be considered in the early-to-mid second round. I took Kevin Smith over him in my home league Monday night, but that might have been an overreaction to the knee injury, and I have no doubt I’ll probably regret the decision.

Edgerrin James has agreed to a one-year, $2 million deal with Seattle – T.J. Duckett was subsequently cut. James outperformed Tim Hightower last year, but obviously expectations need to be held in check. This does highlight just how bad the RB situation is in Seattle. Expect a timeshare between James and Julius Jones this season.

Shaun Hill was announced as the 49ers’ starting quarterback – This had become a foregone conclusion, especially since Alex Smith suffered yet another injury, this one to his thumb (while he made an impressive tackle). Hill has a 7-3 record during his career as a starter, but it’s come against weak competition, and his lack of arm strength is apparent. Still, he can be a decent “game manager,” which fits well with the 49ers’ run-heavy attack. San Francisco set its franchise back 10 years by taking Smith over Aaron Rodgers four years ago.

The Scoop

Thursday, August 20th, 2009

By Dalton Del Don

Entering Thursday, Carlos Gonzalez had homered in four straight games and gone deep six times over the previous eight contests. His walk rate remains low, but he has improved in that area since last season, and his current .897 OPS is highly impressive for a 23-year-old. Encouragingly, the lefty has had more success against southpaws than right-handers this season, and Gonzalez has also performed better on the road, so he’s no product of Coors Field. He’s posted an insane .396/.429/.787 line during August, so it looks like the prospect is here to stay. Since he’s also been successful on eight of his nine stolen base attempts, you’re looking at a future fantasy star.

Tommy Hanson was lucky during his first month in the bigs, recording a 4-0 record with a 2.48 ERA despite an ugly 18:17 K:BB ratio. Since then, he hasn’t regressed a bit, deciding to instead take luck out of the equation, as he’s posted a 44:12 K:BB ratio. In fact, over his past four starts, Hanson has a 25:4 K:BB ratio over 24.2 innings. His slider is already among the better pitches in the league. It will be tough not ranking him as a top-20 fantasy starter entering next year.

Nick Markakis is a very good baseball player, but if his power ceiling is 20-25 home runs, and he stops stealing bases, his fantasy value becomes somewhat limited. Of course, at age 25, further development in the power department could be in store, and he’ll be a nice contributor in the counting stats. It’s just that he looks an awful lot like Hideki Matsui did in his prime, which certainly didn’t cost as high a draft pick as Markakis typically does. He was never all that successful stealing bags in the minors, and after going just 10-for-17 on attempts last season, Markakis has been shy to run this year, swiping only four bases. Another concern is his huge drop in walk rate, as it’s gone from 14% last year down to just 8% this season. It’s an odd time during someone’s career to show such regression.

It was nice to see Ben Zobrist homer Wednesday, because it was just his second long ball over his past 93 at-bats. In fact, he’s slugged just .302 during August. His plate discipline has remained the same since the break (22:19 K:BB ratio), and he’s continued to steal bases, but it looks like the too good to be true first half has come to a screeching halt. Then again, Zobrist has still been seeing plenty of at-bats as the Rays’ cleanup hitter, so there’s going to be plenty of opportunity for him to be productive from here on out.

Since moving to the bullpen in the middle of July, Kris Medlen has been flat-out dominant, posting a 1.06 ERA, 1.00 WHIP with a 21:3 K:BB ratio over 17.0 innings. He’s only an option in deep or NL-only fantasy leagues, obviously, but the Braves have themselves a potential late-inning guy…And speaking of middle relievers who are thriving, look no further than Chris Perez, who hasn’t allowed a single run over his last 13 appearances, posting a 15:4 K:BB ratio over that span. Perez looks like Cleveland’s future closer.

With a .304/.371/.528 line, Ryan Zimmerman has finally lived up to the hype. Despite playing in just 116 games, his 24 home runs already match a career-high, and his 86 runs scored and 80 RBI are certainly nice as well. His walk rate is way up, and it’s easy to forget Zimmerman is still just 24 years old. He’ll enter 2010 as a top-five fantasy third baseman.

Since coming over to the National League, Cliff Lee has a 0.82 ERA, 0.73 WHIP and a 34:6 K:BB ratio over 33.0 innings, so it’s safe to say he’s enjoyed the switch. Since he won’t even approach the 130.2 innings CC Sabathia pitched for Milwaukee after getting traded last season, it’s doubtful Lee can finish in the top-five Cy Young voting, but don’t be surprised if he’s equally as effective as Sabathia was when on the mound.

If Stephen Strasburg hadn’t signed at the last minute, everyone would have lost, most of all me, who sports a serious man-crush. Since he threw just 110 innings last year in college (and only 90 innings the year before that), expect no more than 150 next season, and 30 or so of those should come in the minors, so his upside in redraft leagues will be limited, even if he is able to dominate right from the start. In a keeper format, I’m not sure I could spend enough.

Matt LaPorta had a .917 OPS in Triple-A, including four homers over his past nine games before getting recalled to Cleveland. Since he’s been guaranteed regular playing time, unlike when he got the call last time, LaPorta is a must-add in all but shallow fantasy leagues. Interestingly, the right-hander has fared much better against righties (.970 OPS) than southpaws (.750 OPS) this season, so don’t worry about platooning him.

Homer Bailey has allowed five runs or more in five of his past seven starts, and in one of those where he didn’t, he coughed up three runs before leaving with an injury without retiring a single batter. Last year’s disappointing campaign had been blamed on a decrease in fastball velocity and immaturity, so it’s even more disconcerting seeing such struggles when both of those problems have seemingly been rectified. And the addition of the splitter, which led to a bunch of success in the minors this year, hasn’t helped one bit at the big league level either. It’s never wise to totally write off former top prospects, just look at Edwin Jackson this year, but Bailey now has a 79:73 K:BB ratio over 136.2 major league innings. His career ERA is 7.05. Bailey hasn’t just failed to live up to high expectations, he’s been brutally awful.

The Joe Mauer vs. Mark Teixeira MVP debate is comical, really. This is such a blowout, it’s more objective than subjective. Anyone who doesn’t realize just how “valuable” Mauer has been this season just doesn’t get it, plain and simple. Even in 1-catcher formats, he has to be considered as a top-five pick in fantasy leagues next year.

I’ve said it before, but it’s worth repeating, Jayson Werth is one of the most underrated players in baseball, both in fantasy and reality. For the former, let’s compare Werth’s current stats to teammate Chase Utley: Werth – .270, 28 HR, 79 runs scored, 76 RBI, 13 SB. Utley – .297, 25 HR, 86 runs scored, 79 RBI, 14 SB. Closer than I realized, that’s for sure. Werth is going to go down as one of the biggest steals of the 2009 fantasy season. And as for reality, Werth’s defensive numbers are a bit down this year but still above average. In both 2007 (37.7 UZR/150) and in 2008 (35.6 UZR/150), he was easily the best defensive outfielder in all of baseball. Since he’s also one of the best base stealers in the game (88% success rate throughout his career), Werth is a complete player. Opportunity and health have finally cooperated in 2009, leading to a career-year.

Barry Zito has quietly posted a 2.36 ERA and 1.10 WHIP with a 34:12 K:BB ratio over 42.0 innings since the All-Star break. He’s always been a far better pitcher during the second half of seasons throughout his career, and it’s nice he’s finally turned into a solid No. 4 starter for the Giants, although he’s still not quite earning that contract. Fun fact: when Zito gets four runs of support, he’s 104-6 during his career.

Michael Bourn has been one of the best bargains of the 2009 fantasy season. He’s still not all that valuable to the Astros, but he has a .291 batting average, and his 46 stolen bases easily lead the National League. Moreover, Bourn is on pace to score 105 runs as well. Not bad for someone who hit a disgusting .229 last season. The difference? BABIP. He had a .291 BABIP last year, and it’s all the way up to .367 this season. Considering his career-mark is .299, let someone else buy him in 2010. Bourn has increased his walk rate as well as his line drive percentage while also hitting fewer pop ups, but for the most part, his batting average has been heavily influenced by luck.

Since the All-Star break, Rich Harden has been pretty much unhittable, recording a 1.64 ERA and 0.77 WHIP. The WHIP is even more remarkable when you consider his walk rate (2.86 BB/9) over that span. Of course, that matters little when opposing batters are hitting .136 against you. Like most years, Harden’s ERA is much better than his FIP suggests it should be, but that’s mostly because his career BABIP is .280, so that discrepancy should remain consistent. He’s actually been extremely unlucky with home runs in 2009, as his 17.5% HR/F rate reveals. Harden’s xFIP is a strong 3.70, and his 10.53 K/9 mark would tie him for second with Tim Lincecum in all of baseball if he qualified. While it appears Harden is a 150-inning max guy, it’s been encouraging not to see him suffer some sort of serious arm injury for the second straight season. And he can be extremely effective during those 150 frames. Like usual, he’ll enter 2010 with a bunch of risk and a ton of upside, because when on the mound, he’s one of the five best pitchers in baseball.

NFL Training Camp Notes

Thursday, August 20th, 2009

By Dalton Del Don

Beanie Wells (right ankle) only participated in individual drills during Wednesday’s practice – After recently aggravating the injury, Wells’ status for Saturday’s preseason game is still up in the air, and he continues to miss valuable practice time. The rookie hasn’t participated in a full practice this summer, and he wasn’t able to participate in any of Arizona’s OTAs either, thanks to college rules. About a month ago, Wells was one of my favorite targets, but his inability to stay healthy has clearly become quite a concern. My reasoning was while Wells was perpetually banged up at Ohio St., he only missed three games throughout his collegiate career, so he must be somewhat tough. And he clearly has the physical tools to be successful at the next level. Also, the NFC West is incredibly soft defensively, and with a fantasy playoff schedule of @SF, @DET, and STL, Wells could be a huge factor when it matters most. Moreover, Tim Hightower is terrible, and Ken Whisenhunt is a run-first coach at heart, and he didn’t use a first round pick on a running back to be a backup. Finally, the Cardinals field a much better run blocking unit than most people think.

Coach Andy Reid has been pleased with Brian Westbrook’s (ankle, knee) progress so far in training camp – Westbrook has been a guy I’ve avoided for three years running, thinking this is the time he breaks down physically. And after each instance he proved me wrong, I refused to go to the well the following year, as I was sure when I finally did, then that will be when he busts. Well, even though he continued to miss games, it’s safe to say this strategy has backfired. In 2006, he totaled 1,916 yards. Two years ago, it was a meager 2,104 yards. And even last season, when he was clearly hampered by injuries, he totaled 1,338 and a career-high 14 touchdowns despite a career-low 4.0 YPC. And the thing is, when you consider he’s putting up that kind of production while missing games each year, it actually makes him MORE valuable, since you get a replacement during the DNPs. Last year’s decline in YPC could be a sign of things to come; after all, he’s now 30 years old. But his career mileage (1,247 carries) remains low. However, LeSean McCoy has impressed during the preseason, and he offers a similar skill set, so the touch distribution could become 60-40 or even 50-50, since Philadelphia’s main goal is to have Westbrook healthy for the playoffs (not that that scenario is guaranteed). Still, Westbrook can be ridiculously valuable even with just 225 carries, and Jason Peters is a terrific run blocker, even if he gave up a bunch of sacks last year. I’m avoiding RBs like Clinton Portis and LaDainian Tomlinson, but Westbrook could easily remain a top-five back, despite his age.

Walter Jones will undergo arthroscopic surgery on his left knee, the same knee he had operated on in December – Shaun Alexander got all the fantasy glory, but make no mistake, Jones was mostly responsible. His return to health is imperative to the Seahawks’ 2009 season, so this is a huge blow to everyone involved. Jones is coming back from microfracture surgery, and although he practiced the first day of training camp, he suffered back spasms shortly after and missed the next 12 days. Translation = he’s breaking down. Normally I don’t like to overreact to secondary problems like this, but I’d downgrade Julius Jones, Matt Hasselbeck, etc. in this case. I’m having the hardest time trying to predict the NFC West winner, maybe more than any other division in football.

Podcast

Wednesday, August 19th, 2009

Mostly football, with some Stephen Strasburg love thrown in. Check it out. If you’re at work, there are a couple naughty words used, just so you know.

NFL Barometer

Wednesday, August 19th, 2009

By Dalton Del Don

RISERS

Ronnie Brown, RB, MIA – Considering four of his 10 touchdowns last season came in one game when Miami caught New England off guard using the Wildcat, Brown’s 2008 season wasn’t quite as good as it appeared on paper. The main problem was his use, as the team implemented a straight committee. In fact, Brown received more than 17 carries in a game just twice. He also had fewer receptions and receiving yards than the year before despite playing in nine more games. However, Ricky Williams, who is now 32 years old, which is ancient for the running back position, has really shown his age during training camp, so don’t expect another timeshare in Miami’s backfield moving forward. Brown, meanwhile, has looked terrific, and it’s clear more explosion is back now a full year removed from knee surgery. Don’t forget Brown totaled 991 yards in just seven games two seasons ago, so if the team starts throwing him the ball more, there’s quite a bit of upside. Brown’s ADP (30.15) is too low – he’s a legitimate second round pick.

Matt Schaub, QB, HOU – Schaub has missed 10 games over the past two seasons, but each injury resulted from an illegal hit that was flagged and later fined. Durability remains a concern, but over his final eight games last year, he got a whopping 8.7 YPA, which would have easily led the NFL over a full season. And since Houston’s defense figures to remain a weakness, the Texans will be throwing frequently, so there’s 30-touchdown potential here. Only health can prevent Schaub from finishing as a top-five QB this year.

Darren McFadden, RB, OAK – If you saw McFadden’s 45-yard run during Oakland’s preseason opener, you know why Justin Fargas isn’t long for the starting job, which even coach Tom Cable has finally admitted. It remains to be seen how many carries McFadden can withstand, but the team will certainly give him as many touches as he can handle after making him the fourth overall pick last year. The fact McFadden was able to manage 4.4 YPC last season playing for a bad team and with two turf toe injuries reveals huge potential now that’s he’s fully healthy. Since he should also be heavily involved as a receiver, McFadden shouldn’t last past the third round of fantasy drafts.

Brett Favre, QB, MIN – Well, he’s officially a Viking, so he’s back on the fantasy radar, at least in deep or 2-QB leagues. With a strong defense and terrific ground game, Favre won’t be throwing frequently, and at age 39, his fantasy value is obviously quite limited. With Bernard Berrian, a healthy Sidney Rice and the explosive Percy Harvin, Minnesota’s options in the passing attack could actually prove dangerous, but Favre is a long-shot to play in all 16 games at this stage of his career. Enjoy the circus but don’t consider Favre a top-20 fantasy QB.

Ahmad Bradshaw, RB, NYG – Bradshaw is clearly the No. 2 back for the Giants with Andre Brown (Achilles) out for the season, and he solidified that position with a dominant performance during the preseason opener, which included him running over a unsuspecting Carolina defensive back. Bradshaw is also the team’s best option as a receiver out of the backfield, and two years ago he had the longest run of the NFL season at 88 yards, so his breakaway speed is legit as well. Brandon Jacobs remains a big injury risk, and New York fields quite possibly the best run-blocking offensive line in the NFL, so Bradshaw could explode if Jacobs goes down. But unlike other backups who rely on injuries, Bradshaw should see 10-15 touches each week even if Jacobs stays healthy, as second-stringer Derrick Ward totaled more than 1,400 yards last season.

Jeremy Shockey, TE, N.O. – Shockey looked sharp in the Saints’ first preseason game against Cincinnati, catching three passes for a total of 61 yards and a touchdown. It’s obviously just one game in the preseason, but Shockey’s current ADP is 121.76 – typically the 11th tight end off the board, so his value is at an all-time low. Remember, he’s usually been pretty productive when on the field in between injuries, and the Saints’ passing offense ranked No. 1 in the league last year.

DeAngelo Williams, RB, CAR – Jonathan Stewart’s Achilles’ injury continues to sideline him, and considering it stemmed from a foot problem last year, it’s become a huge concern. There’s no way Carolina could maintain last season’s record-setting pace running the football, but don’t forget Williams rushed for 1,515 yards and scored 20 touchdowns on just 273 carries last year. If Jonathan Stewart weren’t in the picture, Williams would be worth the No. 2 overall pick, at a minimum.

FALLERS

Matt Cassel, QB, KC – It’s still very early, but signs are pointing more to Cassel being a product of New England’s environment rather than the next star quarterback in the NFL. In fact, rumors have swirled he hasn’t even locked up the starting job in Kansas City. Of course, the team gave him a $63 million contract, so he’s the heavy favorite, but Cassel has struggled mightily in camp. Considering Tony Gonzalez was traded, and Dwayne Bowe continues to disappoint, Cassel’s stock is falling.

Donovan McNabb, QB, PHI – It’s certainly not a huge deal, but it appears McNabb will miss out on 5-10 plays per game this year after Philadelphia acquired Michael Vick. McNabb remains a QB1 option, but that lost playing time won’t help. Don’t buy into the both will be on the field at the same time talk.

Chaz Schilens, WR, OAK – Schilens is expected to miss at least one month after breaking a bone in his left foot during Tuesday’s practice. Specifically, he broke the fifth metatarsal in his foot while making a cut during a route, and this is an injury that could linger well into the season. He’d been the Raiders’ most impressive receiver thus far in camp, so it’s an untimely injury for everyone’s favorite PPR sleeper.

Kyle Orton, QB, DEN – While patience should be preached, it was disconcerting to say the least watching Orton get picked off on each of his first three preseason drives against a mediocre 49ers defense. Orton was fine on the dink-and-dunk throws but ran into trouble any time he tried to make something happen down the field, so prospective Eddie Royal and/or Brandon Marshall owners take note. Because of the talented receivers on the roster and Josh McDaniels’ playcalling, Chris Simms becomes a deep sleeper if Orton’s struggles continue. Trading Jay Cutler remains mind-boggling.

Tony Gonzalez, TE, ATL – Coming to Atlanta, Gonzalez has a much better chance of finally winning his first playoff game than if he stayed in Kansas City, but his numbers are also more likely to drop. Even at age 32, Gonzalez proved he’s hardly done with a big year last season, but the Falcons ran the ball a staggering 181 more times than the Chiefs did. Roddy White should also remain the No. 1 option in the passing game. Gonzalez will remain plenty valuable, but Greg Olsen is probably the better fantasy pick.

Marc Bulger, QB, STL – Bulger suffered a small fracture in his right pinkie and will miss at least two weeks of action. He’s since admitted that the injury could affect him into the season, although he is targeting a Week 1 return. The team is learning a new offensive system and already lost Donnie Avery to a foot injury, so expect a slow start in St. Louis. Bulger was barely a QB2 option anyway, but this news further drops him down the cheatsheet. The Rams could have the worst offense in football in 2009.

Brandon Marshall, WR, DEN – The good news is he was found not guilty during his most recent trial, avoiding a potential lengthy suspension from the league. However, that was just one of Marshall’s many concerns, as his lingering hip injury remains an issue as well as his displeasure with the organization. He’s repeatedly asked to be traded and recently proudly admitted to being “not close” to learning the playbook. He wants a new contract but is also upset with a public-relations staffer allegedly telling Broncos players not to act too happy for Marshall after he was found not guilty of a misdemeanor battery charge in Atlanta. It’s a circus with too many unknowns.

RotoScoop Invitational

Tuesday, August 18th, 2009

Like last year, I plan on putting together a football league filled with readers of this here site. Hopefully it won’t be quite as drama filled as the baseball version has been but competitive nevertheless. Anyway, e-mail me at seven3d@aol.com or throw your hat in the ring under the comments section if you want in. Will be ran through Yahoo, and there will be a buy-in.

NFL Training Camp Notes

Monday, August 17th, 2009

By Dalton Del Don

Ahmad Bradshaw totaled 52 yards with a touchdown on just seven touches versus the Panthers – And he looked highly impressive doing so. With Andre Brown (Achilles’ tendon) out for the season, Bradshaw’s status as the RB2 is even stronger, not that he wasn’t already locked into the position. Brandon Jacobs will obviously get the majority of the carries, including at the goal line, but this is a team that ran the ball more than 500 times last season, and Jacobs remains a pretty big injury risk. Remember, even with Jacobs missing just three games last year, Derrick Ward amassed 1,409 yards, and there’s reason to believe Bradshaw is even more talented – part of his problem last year was that he was playing hurt, which wasn’t revealed until recently. The Giants have a fantastic offensive line and defense, so the ground game will remain the priority, and Bradshaw is a far superior receiver to Jacobs, whose hands might be the worst in the league. Bradshaw has averaged a remarkable 6.1 YPC throughout his brief career, and if given the opportunity, he could be a huge difference maker. I’d definitely take him over guys like Willie Parker and Julius Jones. If Jacobs suffered a season-ending injury, Bradshaw could win your league for you.

Roy Williams (sprained left wrist) returned to the practice field Monday – Williams looks like a boom-or-bust pick this year, and mainly because of Tony Romo, I’d take the gamble. There will certainly be safer options, but I’d roll the dice on Williams ahead of Braylon Edwards, Chad Johnson, T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Brandon Marshall.

Marc Bulger suffered a small fracture in his right pinkie and will miss two weeks – As a result, Kyle Boller will start for the Rams against Atlanta on Friday and at Cincinnati on Aug. 27. It sounds like Bulger will be available by Week 1, but this certainly doesn’t help the oft-injured QB’s chances of adjusting to the team’s new offense. There’s a legitimate argument for Steven Jackson as a top-five fantasy pick, but the Rams offense could be the worst in the NFL.

Fox’s Jay Glazer speculates that Brett Favre could still decide to return to the NFL – Of course. Again, now that almost everyone is fed up with this ridiculousness, even including the majority of current and ex-players, this situation becomes even more amusing. Nothing should surprise at this point. In fact, I’m definitely rooting for a Favre return.

Drafts Results Q & A

Monday, August 17th, 2009

More discussion regarding the recent Yahoo Friends & Family draft I was in.

Yahoo Friends & Family Draft

Saturday, August 15th, 2009

I don’t plan on posting the results of every draft I do. After all, I’m in far too many. However, I thought it would be worth posting the results of the recent Yahoo Friends & Family draft, which is probably the biggest industry league I’m in. It’s the first time I’ve been invited to participate, and it’s an extremely deep league, with 14 teams and a starting roster of 1 QB, 2 RB, 3 WR, 1 Flex, 1 TE, 1 K, 1 Def. Scoring is pretty standard, except you get .75 points per reception. Here are the results.

The Scoop

Thursday, August 13th, 2009

By Dalton Del Don

Neftali Feliz is sure to undergo some growing pains at some point, but the rookie has been about as impressive at it gets so far. Working as a reliever, Feliz has recorded a ridiculous 13:0 K:BB ratio over 6.2 innings. He’s allowed one whole baserunner during that time. It’s obviously been a tiny sample size, but his average fastball velocity has been an unheard of 98.8 mph, and his curveball might be an even better offering. Pitching in Texas is going to be tough, but I can’t wait to see what Feliz can do in the starting rotation in the future.

With news of further shoulder surgery for Erik Bedard, it means he’ll be unable to throw a single pitch in September for the third straight season. Even with diminished velocity, Bedard remained an elite pitcher when on the mound this year, but he’s clearly got something wrong with his arm, and a much more serious procedure could be in store. Bedard lost himself a lot of money with yet another season ending on the disabled list.

With a modest seven-game hitting streak, including three multi-hit efforts over the past five contests, Milton Bradley is starting to heat up at the plate. He’ll always be an injury risk and has been a pretty big bust in 2009, but don’t forget he finished with OPSs of .999 and 1.004 over the past two seasons. He’s always been a better hitter against southpaws throughout his career, but never have the splits been so pronounced as this year (.349/.402/.470 versus LH, .233/.397/.371 versus RH). Still, he has enough upside to be a difference maker from here on out.

With another homer and four more RBI on Thursday, Joe Mauer’s monstrous season continues. He leads all of baseball with a .370 batting average and is first in the American League in both OBP (.437) and slugging (.619). Considering he’s done this while playing catcher, it would take a pretty big catastrophe for Mauer not to take home the AL MVP hardware.

Jorge De La Rosa is hardly the safest pitcher to roster, as the volatile hurler has allowed seven runs in a start four times already this season. However, there’s still quite a bit to like, despite the underwhelming season numbers (4.78 ERA, 1.38 WHIP). De La Rosa’s control remains a problem (3.74 BB/9), but he’s shown marked improvement over his past five starts (2.16 BB/9). He has a 3.51 ERA and 1.17 WHIP since the All-Star break, and his 9.07 K/9 mark ranks ninth best in major league baseball. Calling Coors Field home is hardly ideal, but since De La Rosa also sports a very good 1.40 G/F ratio, he has the skills to succeed in any venue. He’s picked up a half mph on both his fastball and slider this year, and at age 28, his best seasons have yet to come. Pitching in the NL West is helpful, and his 3.78 xFIP is the 17th best mark in the game, ahead of pitchers like Wandy Rodriguez, Chad Billinsgley, Roy Oswalt, Cliff Lee, Johan Santana and CC Sabathia. In fact, there are only three other pitchers with a bigger discrepancy between ERA and xFIP than De La Rosa. Once his strand rate (.675) normalizes, the ERA will follow. De La Rosa should be owned in nearly all formats right now and has the upside of a top-25 fantasy starter next season.

Jeremy Affeldt isn’t some big fantasy difference maker and is unowned in almost all mixed leagues, but his season deserves some attention nevertheless. His 1.66 ERA and 1.22 WHIP are nice, but it seems like a fluke when you look at his flat-out bad 35:24 K:BB ratio. And the left-hander has actually been far more effective against righties (0.96 WHIP) than lefties (1.62 WHIP). But what’s really intriguing is his groundball rate, as he’s posted a staggering 4.59 G/F ratio. To put that in perspective, Joel Pineiro leads all starters in that category with a 2.41 G/F mark. Affeldt has really changed his game this season, and the results have been highly effective.

Andrew McCutchen has posted a .905 OPS since the All-Star break with a 17:16 K:BB ratio (he had a 29:10 K:BB ratio before the break). He’s also been successful on 12 of his 13 stolen base attempts and was recently given the green light to run even more. Still just 22 years old, McCutchen has also recorded a 3.4 UZR/150 while playing center field, so he looks like an extremely valuable asset moving forward. If he decides to steal bases like he truly is capable of, there’s some serious fantasy upside to come.

NFL Barometer

Thursday, August 13th, 2009

By Dalton Del Don

Risers

Knowshon Moreno, RB, DEN – After agreeing to a five-year contract last week, Moreno is no longer a holdout. While he’s predictably listed lower on the depth chart, Moreno has already been getting reps with the first team in practice and is scheduled to play in Denver’s preseason opener Friday. Coach Josh McDaniels has repeatedly called him a “three-down back,” and although the coach implemented a committee in New England, McDaniels didn’t draft Moreno with the 12th overall pick to sit him behind mediocre options like LaMont Jordan and Correll Buckhalter. The Broncos have one of the best offensive lines in football, highlighted by the team’s 4.8 YPC mark last season, which was the second best in the NFL, despite a below average RB corps. Moreno could be a major difference maker in fantasy leagues this year.

Jerricho Cotchery, WR, NYJ – Cotchery is coming off a disappointing 2008 campaign, as he only totaled 858 receiving yards despite playing in 16 games and with what was supposedly a big upgrade at quarterback with Brett Favre. While part of that lack of production can be blamed on Favre’s arm injury down the stretch, it’s not like the team enters 2009 with a much improved QB situation, as either Kellen Clemens (career 6.1 YPA) or rookie Mark Sanchez will be under center. There’s no question New York will focus on its running attack first and foremost. That said, with Laveranues Coles no longer around, the Jets have a glaring weakness at the WR2 spot, so Cotchery’s targets should greatly increase. He’s been running out of the split end position so far in camp, so Cotchery should see few double-teams, and he’s been a frequent target in the red-zone in years past (although the TD production doesn’t reflect it). After the top-25 wide receivers are off the board, the position gets quite muddled, and Cotchery is a fine target later on in drafts.

Matthew Stafford, QB, DET – It’s early, but Stafford has done nothing but impress so far since joining the Lions. His arm strength is apparent, and he’s also proving to be athletic and accurate. Of course, Stafford hasn’t faced any live game action yet, and even successful rookie quarterbacks like Matt Ryan last year usually don’t translate into high fantasy production, so this is more for keeper-league formats. Don’t be surprised if Stafford starts immediately, and with a bad defense, he’ll be forced to throw more than most rookie QBs are asked to. While plenty of mistakes and inconsistency are inevitable, Calvin Johnson will mask some of that.

Rashard Mendenhall, RB, PIT – Mendenhall remains a mixed bag, with some practice reports suggesting he’s impressed and looks to be in terrific shape, while others caution he’s looked rather normal, and we haven’t even got into preseason action yet. However, Willie Parker has missed practice time this week with back spasms, highlighting just how unsuited he is to be a workhorse. Mendenhall may very well be a bust, but it’s worth noting he was drafted in the first round, and at 5-10, 224 lbs, at a minimum he should emerge as the team’s goal-line back. Coach Mike Tomlin has never shied from playing his young guys, and with Parker likely gone after this year when his contract expires, Pittsburgh will give Mendenhall every opportunity to take over the job. Considering this is a team that just won the Super Bowl and sports the best defense in the NFL, there’s quite a bit of upside that comes with the job.

James Davis, RB, CLE – Since Jamal Lewis will soon be 30 years old and has amassed 2,399 career carries, the backup running back situation needs to be highly monitored in Cleveland. Jerome Harrison is the most explosive option, but he struggles in pass protection and would be unlikely to hold up with a full workload. Davis isn’t flashy, but he very well could emerge as the top ballcarrier at some point this season – he would have been a much higher draft pick had he decided to leave in 2008 rather than stay for his senior season.

Devin Thomas, WR, WAS – Thomas was a massive disappointment last year, catching just 15 balls for 120 yards despite considered by many as the best receiver to come out of the draft. Still, he’s slated to start at flanker in Thursday’s preseason opener, and with little competition on the roster, it’s a role Thomas can keep if he takes advantage of the situation. Receivers often break out during their second year in the league, and although Thomas has dealt with hamstring issues, Santana Moss does so constantly, and if he were to miss some time this season, Thomas’ targets would sky rocket.

Roddy White, WR, ATL – White got downgraded last week, but with a swift resolution to his contract dispute, his value remains intact. He now has plenty of time to prepare for the season, and since all signs point to Matt Ryan looking even better so far as a sophomore, the Falcons’ passing attack could become elite, especially with the addition of Tony Gonzalez as well.

Fallers

Donnie Avery, WR, STL – Avery suffered a stress fracture in his left foot, which should cost him around 4-6 weeks. These types of injuries also tend to linger, and since the team was installing a new offensive system, the missed time is especially costly. Avery can no longer be viewed as a top-25 fantasy WR.

Antonio Bryant, WR, TB – Bryant will miss three weeks with a torn meniscus in his left knee. Coach Raheem Morris said Bryant will not play in the preseason but will be ready for the regular season opener Sept. 13. While it’s better to take care of the problem now as opposed to during the season, the injury makes Bryant, who was already a risky pick, even more dangerous. He’ll have to yield some targets to Kellen Winslow, and the new offensive system figures to spread the ball around more, but Bryant is talented, and it’s worth noting just how monstrous his second half was last season (46 catches, 797 yards, six touchdowns).

Kurt Warner, QB, ARI – Warner is great and all, but there’s just too much risk for someone with a 40.54 ADP. The fact he’s typically being selected ahead of Aaron Rodgers and Tony Romo is crazy. Last season marked the first time Warner played in 16 games since 2001 and at age 38, durability should only become an even greater concern. It’s also worrisome that his hip still has lingering issues, and even after offseason surgery, the pain remains. Moreover, Anquan Boldin is going to be limited throughout the rest of the preseason with swelling in his knee.

Steve Smith, WR, CAR – Despite negative X-Rays on Smith’s shoulder following an injury in Monday’s practice, he’s doubtful to play at all during the preseason. While it’s encouraging nothing is broke, and the team is calling his status day-to-day rather than week-to-week, Smith is still in a considerable amount of pain, and he’s talked of a future MRI as well. His value shouldn’t take a major hit, but this is something to monitor, as Smith has a history of injury problems.

Dwayne Bowe, WR, KC – Bowe was listed as a third-team receiver on the Chiefs’ first official depth chart, and while that is mostly meaningless this time of year, his attitude and work ethic remain in question, which is especially worrisome with a new regime in town. Bowe will almost certainly be starting come Week 1, and he’s a threat to lead the league in targets, but he continues to drop a bunch of balls throughout practice, so his ascension into the fantasy elite may not be so smooth. An inaccurate Matt Cassel throwing to someone with hands as poor as Bowe’s may not be the best combination.

Derrick Ward, RB, TB – Ward hasn’t done anything wrong, but it’s becoming clearer that Tampa Bay will be a true backfield by committee in 2009, especially with Carnell Williams’ miraculous recovery from a second torn patellar tendon. Ward is getting paid like a starter, but he’s also currently dealing with a foot sprain. The Bucs have an underrated offensive line and will rely heavily on the ground game with a shaky quarterback situation, but Ward is locked in a timeshare.

Terrell Owens, WR, BUF – Fantasy owners shouldn’t overreact to what appears to be a minor toe injury, but it’s a reminder that Owens is 35 years old, and while a physical specimen, injuries figure to become a much bigger problem with age. Factor in the big downgrade at QB, along with the huge difference in weather conditions with the move to Buffalo, and Owens isn’t necessarily someone to target.


Wednesday Training Camp Notes

Thursday, August 13th, 2009

By Dalton Del Don

Despite rumors to the contrary, Thomas Jones is not being shopped by the Jets – With what appears to be a strong defense, a rookie QB and a terrific offensive line, the Jets’ running game should be extremely productive this season. However, it also looks like a three-headed monster. As a 31-year-old unhappy with his contract coming off a career-year, Jones is likely to be overdrafted, but as long as he remains in New York, he’s still the favorite to lead the team in carries, limiting the upside of Shonn Greene, who has continued to impress the coaching staff throughout camp. And then there’s Leon Washington, who Peter King claims will get 300 touches this year. Washington is not ideally suited for a full workload, but there’s no doubt he was underused with the previous regime. Last year alone Washington totaled 803 yards with eight touchdowns on just 123 touches, so it’s safe to say he’d be a top-10 fantasy RB if he really were given 300 touches. Again, this looks like a true committee, so fantasy owners should be hoping for a Jones trade.

Greg Olsen had another great practice, capping it off with an acrobatic, one-handed catch in the end zone during the two-minute drill – The hype machine is in full effect when it comes to Olsen, so don’t go expecting to get him as a bargain. Devin Hester will be heavily involved, but Olsen is likely to lead the Bears in targets this season, and since Jay Cutler will be making the throws, it really wouldn’t be a shock if Olsen were the TE1 in fantasy football this year. Jason Witten and Antonio Gates should still go before him, but the gap is close. He’s not just a practice wonder, remember Olsen was a 2007 first round pick, so he’ll be a difference maker in 2009.

Marc Bulger says his arm feels strong heading into the first preseason game – That’s all well and good, but who is he going to throw to? The Rams are learning a new offense, lost Torry Holt to the Jags and Donnie Avery to a foot injury that will probably linger into the season. Over the last two seasons, Bulger has gotten 6.2 YPA with a 22:28 TD:INT ratio. The Rams play in an easy division defensively, but there’s no longer any upside here.

Darrius Heyward-Bey is listed as one of the Raiders’ starting wideouts – Depth charts at this time of year don’t really mean a thing, but this one in particular speaks volumes about Oakland’s lack of depth, as DHB is hardly getting the rookie treatment, especially with all of his problems with drops in practice. He has gotten more positive reports of late, but he’s still a long shot, especially for 2009. With Michael Crabtree’s outrageous contract demands, maybe Al Davis isn’t so crazy after all? Hardly, as the team inexplicably gave Heyward-Bey a contract about 20% more than what his draft spot got last year, which has directly influenced Crabtree’s silly contract demands. And to think, da Raiders passed on both Jay Cutler and Calvin Johnson in recent drafts.