Eyes of the Guru
Posted 12/27 by John Norton, Exclusive to Footballguys.com
With most fantasy leagues in the books, this week's EOTG is a futures report.
There are a boat load of big name defenders headed to free agency and a lot
of young talent looking to get on the field. These are the guys that jump out
at me as having significant potential.
Chris Kelsay and Ryan Denney have shared the left DE position for the past couple
of years but neither has been able to distinguish himself or show much consistency.
In the short term Buffalo's trade for Anthony Hargrove only seemed to muddy
the waters buy there may well have been a long term plan. Kelsay is set to become
a free agent in a few weeks and with Hargrove in the fold, it's unlikely the
Bills will make much effort to retain him. That may simply mean that Hargrove
will take over the same time share but I have to believe that the Bills are
looking at Hargrove more as a bookend for Aaron Schobel. The Rams thought he
could be their starter opposite Leonard Little. In fact he had won that job
before he and the club developed un-reconcilable differences. In the end a fresh
start was a good thing for both parties. The bottom line here is that Hargrove
is a talented player with a lot of potential and it certainly never hurts to
be playing opposite a guy who is contending for the league sack title. The Rams
questioned Hargrove's commitment but only time will tell if the change of venue
will make a difference... London Fletcher is set to become a free agent as well.
He is coming off a great year and doesn't seem to be slowing but the fact that
he is 32 could come into play at the bargaining table. If things turn sour the
Bills could elect to go with Takeo Spikes, Angelo Crowell and rookie Keith Ellison
who made a very good showing at WLB after Crowell was injured. Obviously the
draft could factor in here as well. And there is a chance Crowell's broken leg
could be an issue. Both sides will work hard to keep Fletcher in town but if
it doesn't happen there will be a very productive fantasy position open. Both
Matt Roth is a player I have mentioned before but he is worth bringing up again.
Kevin Carter still has time on his contract but he'll be 34 early next season
and pockets a lot of cash. Roth got a lot of playing time down the stretch
and he took full advantage of it. Starting in week 11 he ran off a string of
4 games in which he was 8-1-3.5 and forced 3 fumbles. The Dolphins have been
trying to replace Adewale Ogunleye for a while now and they may finally have
their man... There are rumblings that the team could part ways with Zach Thomas
who will be a free agent and is also very well compensated. I just can't see
this happening. Sure he'll be 34 but he still plays well and is a life time
Dolphin. Thomas understands the business of the game, so I can see a new contract
for less money as a much better option for both sides. Channing Crowder owners
just need to keep being patient. Thomas can't play forever and when he does
hang it up Crowder will probably move inside and be the man.
New York Jets
So what should we expect from Jonathan Vilma in the future? That's a tough call
and one I blew heading into this season. Maybe he will never be comfortable
or a good fit in a 3-4 and maybe he will adapt and be the IDP come back player
of the year in '07. All I know is that the guy has a great deal of talent and
I can't see the Jets not finding a way to take advantage of it. Two things are
certain when it comes to Vilma, there are a lot of dynasty owners out there
who will be willing to sell cheap when the offseason trade market opens, and
there is a ton of potential.
There could be a great deal of change on the Bengals defense this offseason
and the personnel turn over may only be part of it. There has been much speculation
over the past two seasons, that the Bengals have been evolving their defensive
roster toward a 3-4 scheme. Justin Smith is set to become a free agent and will
garner much attention. Thus far the Bengals have shown little or no interest
in having him return. Brian Simmons remains under contract but rumor has it
he may become a cap casualty. This would open up an opportunity for either Caleb
Miller or the return of Odell Thurman. Possibly both if they elect to go 3-4.
If there is a plan to change scheme, it took a serious blow when David Pollack
was injured. The club is keeping the door open for chance but in reality the
guy is likely done and even if he's not will he ever be the same? Robert Geathers
seems like a perfect candidate to make a successful switch to OLB in a 3-4.
Frostee Rucker and or Ahmad Brooks might also fit. It will indeed be an interesting
offseason for Bengals fans.
It took 8 years but Ebenezer Ekuban has finally broken out. This season he's
nearly doubled his previous career best tackle numbers and his 6.5 sacks equals
a career high with a game left. It could be a mirage but I get the feeling he's
just found a scheme that fits. Ekuban is 30 years old so he still has plenty
of gas in the tank. The Broncos also have promising rookie Elvis Dumervil who
should be a much bigger factor next season. He leads the club in sacks (7) despite
being inactive for the first 3 games and playing a limited role in all the rest.
At only 250 pounds Dumervil may struggle to break the lineup on running downs
but you can bet he will be working on improvement in that area. Kenard Lang
didn't make much impact and the coaching staff would love for the youngster
to earn a chance. Ekuban and Dumervil might make the best DE tandem the Broncos
have had since the famed Orange Crush defense. Seriously, can you name the last
really good DE tandem in Denver?
Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs went with experience at the safety positions this season but they
have a pair of young guns awaiting their opportunity. Both SS Sammy Knight and
FS Greg Wesley remain under contract for '07 but it's speculated if not expected
that one or both could be bumped from the lineup next season. The club spent
a second round pick on 6'2" 224 pound SS Bernard Pollard who they believe
will bring an intimidation factor to the position. He's bigger, faster and more
athletic than Knight. Seventh round pick Jarrad Page was a very pleasant surprise
for the club this season. He saw a fair amount of action as a rookie and is
believed to be the future at FS. At 6'0" and 224 Page is also big for a
safety and can pack a wallop. He could figure in at SS as well. Knight is almost
32 years old and has never been very fast so it's basically a given that he
will be out. What remains to be seen is if Wesley can fend off the challenge
and keep his job. Imagine being a 190 pound slot receiver that is asked to go
over the middle and catch a ball in front of 450 pounds of safety. While other
clubs seem to be moving toward smaller faster safeties, the Chiefs are taking
a different approach. In a division that has Antonio Gates and future star Tony
Scheffler, the little fast safety could be a liability. Chiefs safeties are
traditionally very productive, particularly the SS position. Knight is the teams
second leading tackler with 65 solo stops and a game to go... MLB Kawika Mitchell
has become a very dependable asset and a cornerstone of an improving defense.
He's set to become a free agent at seasons end but the club has every intention
of locking him up long term. That said, there is always a chance someone will
make him an offer he can't refuse. Keep an eye on that as well as the Kendrell
Bell situation. The Chiefs were very pleased with the play Keyaron Fox when
he replaced Derrick Johnson for a spell. They may be looking for a way to get
him in the lineup.
San Diego Chargers
It is expected that there will be a changing of the guard at the Chargers ILB
positions this offseason Donnie Edwards has been the centerpiece of the Chargers
defense for a long time but there is a well documented rift between him and
the organization. As a result it is all but certain that he is done in San Diego
after this season. Randall Godfrey reportedly contemplated retirement before
this season and then elected to return. He's having one of the best years of
his career but will soon be 34 and a free agent. He has mentioned a desire to
return next season but if he does it will likely be as a backup. The Chargers
recently signed both Matt Wilhelm and Stephen Cooper to long term deals. Both
guys have been impressive in what action they have seen over the past two seasons
and the Chargers believe they will not miss a beat next season with both of
them in the lineup. The only real question for us is which of the two will land
at the more productive left ILB position? Wilhelm is the favorite since he has
been backing up Edwards for the past two seasons while Cooper has worked behind
Godfrey... Edwards still has some fuel in the tank and will undoubtedly land
another Starting gig where he will likely continue to be successful. He would
be a great fit in New England but it's a given that he won't be back in San
Diego... Terrence Kiel is also headed to free agency if the club can't get him
re-signed. They will reportedly attempt to do so but with his off-field issues
how hard will they really try? Kiel hasn't been much of a fantasy factor over
the past two seasons but much of that can be attributed to the strength of the
Chargers front 7. Kiel is a quality player and if he lands in the right place
he could be very productive.
New York Giants
With the recent news that Michael Strahan will have surgery on his foot, the
stock of Mathias Kiwanuka is going through the roof. Strahan will turn 36 next
season and the injury/surgery he is having can be very serious. I believe it
is very similar to the injury sidelined a much younger Teddy Lehman for over
a year. Maybe Strahan's is not a serious but there is certainly the possibility
that he has played his last game, at least for the Giants.
The Eagles have been looking for an answer at WLB for a long time and may have
found it in surprising rookie 5th round pick Omar Gaither. He has played very
well as a starter and has shown signs of providing some much needed big play
ability to the Philly LB corps. He's started just 4 games but has more big play
production than any other Eagles linebacker and if you project the tackle number
from his 4 starts over a full 16 games he would be right behind Jeremiah Trotter
for the team tackle lead... Sean Considine didn't exactly light up the box scores
after he replaced Michael Lewis at SS but he did managed some respectable numbers.
Keep in mind that Lewis continued to see some action along the way as well.
Lewis will be a free agent and will not be in Philly next year which means Considine
won't have to share any of his time or production. That could make a big difference
in his tackle numbers... Lewis is an excellent safety. He may have fallen out
of grace in Philly or maybe it was a slight change of philosophy but whatever
the reason some club out there will be very happy to land him as a free agent.
We haven't heard the last of Michael Lewis.
Someone pinch Andre Carter so he knows it's not a dream. Over the past month
the guy has finally been playing like the Redskins had envisioned when they
inked him last offseason According to Carter he is now playing on instinct and
thinking much less which has made all the difference. What brought about the
onslaught I don't know but Carter was 9-2-1 versus Atlanta in week 13, 7-1-1
against the Saints in week 15 and 8-0-1 at the Rams last week. Those numbers
are reminiscent of his early days in San Francisco. Carter is only 27 years
old and is in the prime of his career. In short, the numbers probably aren't
a fluke... With the Redskins eliminated from contention the coaching staff is
looking at some young players over the final few games. Roger "Rocky"
McIntosh is one of those guys. His first career start came against the Rams
in week 16 and he responded strongly in the box scores with a 10-0 mark. The
Washington coaching staff is very high on the kid and the fact that he is playing
now points toward him opening next season as a starter. The Redskins are looking
for a leader at the LB position. MLB Lemar Marshall is a very average player
and Marcus Washington, while a very good player, isn't a vocal leader or a guy
who fires up his teammates. The coaching staff would like to see McIntosh take
on that role down the road. They hope to have a Derrick Brooks type WLB in him.
Lance Briggs is set to test the free agent waters this offseason and the Bears
may elect to let him. Being selected to the Pro-Bowl may add a zero or two to
Briggs contract expectations and it remains to be seen if the club is willing
to pony up. The decision making process could come down to money and/or what
they think of Jamar Williams. Unfortunately Williams spent most of his rookie
season on IR with a torn pectoral muscle, robbing the team of an opportunity
to get much of a look at him. In the Tampa-2 scheme employed by the Bears, the
WLB is in a prime position as evidenced by Briggs 108 solo tackles (currently
second in the league). If Briggs moves on Williams stands to be an excellent
sleeper option for '07... Rookie Mark Anderson can hardly be called a sleeper
after leading all rookies with 12.5 sacks. The question is, after his outstanding
rookie campaign can he unseat one of the starters and gain a full time job?
With only 27 tackles and 5.5 sacks Adewale Ogunleye has been somewhat of a disappointment
this year and he struggles against the run at times. It's a good problem to
have if you are the Bears... Mike Brown is the starter at SS when healthy but
how healthy will he be coming off a second major injury in two years? The Bears
like young Chris Harris who has played fairly well over the past few weeks.
If Brown struggles to make it back, Harris could inherit the Starting job on
a regular basis.
Teddy Lehman seems to have inherited the injury jinx that has plagued the Lions
linebackers over the past couple of seasons. The foot injury from last year
lingered and when he finally did return he pulled a hamstring before he could
work all the way back into playing condition. With a full offseason to recover
from all that ails him, Lehman should be 100% for training camp and could give
the Lions a major boost at LB next year. The Boss Bailey at MLB experiment was
a failure and Paris Lenon is certainly not the answer so all indications point
toward Lehman regaining the starting job at what should be a very productive
MLB position in Detroit. James Hall slid to the late rounds in most drafts this
year. All he did was go 18-6-5.5 in 6 games before being lost to a season ending
shoulder injury. He should be completely healthy for '07 but fantasy owners
tend to have very short memories. His shortage of overall numbers will keep
him under the radar and help him to be a major steal.
Green Bay Packers
The late season promotion of Cullen Jenkins to starter at DE came as a surprise
but maybe it shouldn't have. Jenkins is basically an Aaron Kampman clone. Very
tough against the run but quick and agile for a big man. Jenkins is currently
where Kampman was a couple of years back in that he's somewhat of a project
with a lot of upside. With the success he has shown already there is no reason
to think the Packers will look to replace Jenkins over the offseason In fact
his performance probably allows them to address other pressing needs. As a backup
tackle Jenkins needed to keep his weight up but now that he is an end expect
him to shed a few pounds and become an even better pass rusher... The Packers
signed Marquand Manuel last season as a stop gap until they could better address
the SS position. They then spent a late round pick on Tyrone Culver to be his
backup. Culver was a bit raw and was considered a project but the coaching staff
really likes the potential they see in him. He didn't play a lot this season
but don't be surprised if he pushes for the Starting job next summer.
Though inconsistency was an issue, E.J. Henderson emerged as a quality fantasy
option for many of us this season. That said, don't get too comfortable with
him. There could be a lot of change at linebacker for the Vikings in '07. Napoleon
Harris is going to be a free agent and the Vikings probably won't make a lot
of effort to keep him. That will create an opening at MLB. Then there is Chad
Greenway who the the Vikings spent a first round pick on, then lost to a knee
injury. Henderson did a good job at WLB this season but his natural position
is in the middle and the club drafted Greenway to play on the weak side anyway.
If everyone is healthy Henderson likely moves inside to make room for Greenway.
The Vikings employ the Tampa-2 which generally makes WLB the most box score
productive of the linebacker positions. Playing behind Kevin and Pat Williams
both Henderson and Greenway could be very productive but Greenway may be the
guy to have here.
Dan Morgan insists that he is not finished even though multiple concussions
finally landed him on IR this season. Maybe he will play again and maybe not
but you can bet the Panthers will be prepared for "not". When Morgan
went down early in the season the initial adjustment was to start young Adam
Seward in the middle. The coaching staff was supposedly high on Seward but it
didn't take long for him to be chased from the lineup. What is uncertain is
if it was simply a matter of inexperience or if maybe they realized he wasn't
as good as they initially believed. There is a similar situation at WLB where
the club hopes rookie third round pick James Anderson can be the long term answer.
Starter Na'il Diggs will be a free agent and isn't expected back. The bottom
line is that the Panthers MLB position can be a gold mine of fantasy production
if there is a quality player at the position. Chris Draft will be a free agent
and is clearly not the long term answer. Morgan may play again but when (not
if) he gets his bell rung one more time he is done. In fact the long term answer
may not even be on the roster at the moment. The club's free agent moves and
draft will give us a strong indication as to what they really think of Seward
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
I just can't talk about next year without mentioning Barrett Ruud. Shelton Quarles
will be 36 years old by next season and has fought nagging injuries for the
better part of the last two seasons. So will Ruud finally get his chance in
'07? He made a hand full of starts this season with somewhat mixed results and
didn't perform well enough to prompt a permanent lineup change but was it because
he really didn't play well enough or was it simply a matter of Jon Gruden showing
loyalty to his aging veterans? Between Ruud and Quarles the Bucks MLB position
has produced an excellent 101-52-3.5 on the season with both guys turning in
some very productive games. If Ruud finally lays claim to the job in '07 he
would become a solid top 20 candidate. If he doesn't finally land the job it
would be a very strong sign that the Bucks don't see him as the long term answer.
St. Louis Rams
The Rams decision to ship Anthony Hargrove to Buffalo was made easier by the
presence of rookie Victor Adeyanju. The rookie 4th round pick outplayed his
draft position in the eyes of the coaching staff and provided them with a guy
who they fully believe can be the bookend to Leonard Little. Adeyanju missed
some time with injury which will slow his progress from an experience standpoint
and with just one sack on the season, he's yet to show the rest of us what the
Rams coaches saw in him. That said, the team has given no indication that they
have soured on him and they continue to expect big things in his future.
When the decision was made to bench Michael Boulware several weeks ago, one
had to wonder how long that would last. After being given some time to contemplate,
Boulware was returned to his Starting role last week. All I can say is thank
you to the Seahawks for allowing me to cut him and then resign him at the league
minimum in one of my dynasty leagues. It saved me nearly $3 in cap space. Boulware
may have had some issues but All in All he is a very good strong safety. The
only question about him in fantasy terms is will he ever be able to produce
quality numbers while playing behind one of the leagues top linebacker trio?
That's going to wrap up the '06 season. It was a somewhat successful season
for me personally as I made the playoffs in 8 of 9 leagues and made it to the
championship in 4 of them. I say somewhat because rotten luck has me standing
at 0-3 in those Super Bowls with one to go this weekend. Hey when Ron Dayne
goes for 153 and 2 scores against you in the biggest game of the year, you know
it just wasn't meant to be. That's the way the funny shaped ball bounces. Best
of luck to those of you who are playing this week and for the rest, keep in
mind that championships are won in the offseason! See you next year.