Eyes of the Guru - Week 1
Posted 9/3 by John Norton, Exclusive to Footballguys.com
Week one is finally upon us and it's time to put all our off-season preparation into action. Pre-season work sets the stage for us but there is no mistaking the fact that the first month of the season is critical to our championship aspirations. Most of us have one waiver period before the opener so we have one more chance to tweak our rosters before the bullets start to fly. A lot has happened over the past 4 weeks. Here are the important happenings that have caught my eye.
There hasn't been a lot of unexpected change with the Cardinals. The one thing that could be of interest is how the playing time looks to be breaking down at the DE and OLB positions. It's hard to tell for sure with the limited playing time of the starters over the last couple of weeks, but it looks as if Travis LaBoy is going to be on the field at OLB when the club is in the 3-4. When they shift to the 4-3 (which seems to be happening roughly 30% of the time) LaBoy is replaced by Bert Berry who lines up at DE. LaBoy has looked very good from the LB position where he has fit in very well and seems to have found his calling. If not for being a part timer, he could prove be right there with the Demarcus Ware, Shawne Merriman and James Harrison types. If those guys are particularly strong in your scoring system, keep an eye on LaBoy.
New England Patriots
Do to the history of poor IDP production by New England players, I was not a real big fan of Jerod Mayo early on. I am however, warming to the possibility that he could be very productive. The change of heart is partly in recognition of Mayo's ability but has even more to do with the fact that Adalius Thomas has been moved outside with Mike Vrabel, and Victor Hobson was released. That leaves Mayo with no one to steal any of his playing time, and a 35 year old Tedy Bruschi playing next to him. The lack of quality depth likely ensures that Mayo will be on the field for every snap. Don't be surprised if he proved to be the best and most productive of the rookie linebackers. bunch of guys behind those two much more to do with is
Things look much different in Cincinnati than we had expected a month ago. Deltha O'Neal and Ahmad Brooks are gone while projected starter Chinedum Ndukwe has been out with a mystery knee injury that the club doesn't seem to want to talk about much. The pre-season shed some light on this rebuilding defense which now seems destined to feature Keith Rivers as it's leading tackler and FS Marvin White as a second quality IDP option. Rivers hold out cost him time with the first team for a while but he has secured a starting job and has looked very good over the past couple of games. I still don't see him having top 10 potential but he looks like a probable 90+ tackle guy with some big play potential. White has been a very pleasant surprise. He looked good last year in very limited playing time but had been nothing short of impressive this pre-season. White has been making plays all over the field. He's made an impact in run support and has been laying the lumber on guys in general. He may put up the numbers many of us were expecting from Ndukwe before his injury.
If you're looking for an example of just how far off some pre-season reads are, look no further than the Atlanta MLB situation. Three games into the the scrimmage schedule Tony Taylor was the Falcons starting MLB with Curtis Lofton just beginning to see a little action with the first team. Just when they had everyone thinking that Taylor might start in week one, the club not only promoted Lofton, they even released Taylor. Game over. Now that Lofton has secured the starting job, all we need to know is who the Falcons will leave on the field in passing situations. My best guess is that Michael Boley will have that role early on but I expect Lofton will gradually encroach on that share of the playing time as well. Even as a 2 down guy Lofton could easily average 5-6 solo stops a game, especially if the Falcons prove to be bad as most of us expect them to be.
There are a few Panthers that have piqued my interest going into the opener. I want to see how the shift to WLB will effect Thomas Davis and Jon Beason's numbers. I don't have grand expectations for Davis and believe he will be no more than a quality backup option, but I am concerned that he will steal a few plays away from Beason. Maybe enough to drop him out of the top 10. The other situation I want to watch is at DE. While most people will be watching to see if Julius Peppers can rebound from last year's disaster, I am just as interested in what happens on the opposite end. Former Raiders bust Tyler Brayton is likely to get the start but keep an eye on Charles Johnson. The release of Stanley McClover pretty much ensures that Johnson is going to see time as their third end. Brayton may be OK in run support but he couldn't get to the QB if he has a head start. Johnson quietly had a pretty good pre-season and could open the regular season in a pass rush specialist role. Don't be surprised if his playing time grows over the course of the season. The last guy I am keeping an eye on is rookie Charles Godfrey who seems to be on track to open the season as the starting FS. There isn't much history of production from the Panthers FS position but they have never had a guy there with Godfrey's talent and potential.
I wonder if Kevin Payne has some compromising pictures of someone in the Bears organization or if Brandon McGowan has done something to tick the wrong person off? It has to be one of those things that landed Payne the starting SS job while McGowan plays in the nickel and backs up both safety positions. Having drafted McGowan in a few leagues myself, I have been watching this situation pretty closely. Unless Payne has been far more impressive in practice than he showed during pre-season, I just can't see how he starts ahead of McGowan here. That said, the call has been made and Payne is now the guy in a position that has been exceptionally productive in recent years. If he is truly a better player than McGowan, he will be a great pickup. I suggest you don't wait to see him play before making the move, or you may have a lot of competition for his services.
With Derrick Harvey holding out so long, the Jaguars got a long look at Quentin Groves and they like what they saw. Groves was expected to be a project type player but the project has gone very well. He doesn't seem likely to challenge for a starting job in the very near future but appears to be well ahead of schedule in his development and may have earned some playing time this season. The other point of interest in Jacksonville is at OLB where Justin Durant has been working at WLB in the base defense but will likely take a seat on passing downs with SLB Darryl Smith staying on the field. At least that's what the Jags have been showing us. This is another of those situations to watch. Durant is clearly the more box score productive of the two but as a 2 down guy playing next to Mike Peterson, he'll be hard pressed to make an impact as a 2 down guy. If he gets the full time gig, Durant might even challenge Peterson for the team tackle lead.
There are a lot of owners out there who jumped on the Zach Thomas band wagon early in the draft season. If you are one of those owners, I would suggest you sit him in week one until we can get a read on his situation. If the Cowboys continue as they have during the pre-season, and there is no reason to think they won't, Thomas is going to be a two down player. In passing situations the Cowboys have been pulling Thomas, Bradie James and Roy Williams with Bobby Carpenter playing MLB and FS Ken Hamlin creeping up into the box as the second LB. The bottom line with the Cowboys is that they are playing too many guys with virtually no one other than Demarcus Ware on the field full time. Even as a 2 down player Thomas could make enough plays to be a worthy LB3 but don't take that chance if you have other quality options.
After the Lions drafted Jordon Dizon a lot of people wrote off Paris Lenon. Not so fast. Dizon has been slow to pick up the pro game and hasn't even come close to unseating Lenon for the starting job at MLB. The good news for Dizon owners is that the club released Buster Davis who was also ahead of the rookie a few weeks back. That makes Dizon the #2 guy but certainly doesn't ensure that he will see the field anytime soon. He's shown some flashes so all of you dynasty owners shouldn't over react and let him go too early. That said, it's not looking good for the immediate future and Lenon should be on your pick up list for this week.
E.J. Henderson emerged as an IDP stud last season and many of us expected Chad Greenway to step up in the box scores this season. With the news that he has been shifted to SLB, we should lower those expectations. The good news for Greenway is that he is staying on the field in the nickel package. That should be enough to keep him roster worthy but we may as well give up the hope that he will be a solid #2 starter for us and accept that until further notice, he's little more than a quality backup. The addition of Jared Allen was huge for the Vikings and the ripple effect may make Ray Edwards a very pleasant surprise for us. Edwards has quietly had a strong camp and pre-season. He will continue to see a lot of single blocking and has a real shot at being a 40+ tackle, 10+ sack guy. If you lost Umenyiora or find yourself thin, this might be a good move to make now before he has a chance to get noticed.
New Orleans Saints
Like many I have been pimping Jonathan Vilma since he landed with the Saints. I am still high on him but have to admit that my expetations have been tempered after watching him play during the pre-season. I don't know if it's that he tentative because of the knee injury, just not completely comfortable or has lost some of his edge, but Vilma hasn't looked much like the player who set the IDP world on fire the last time he played in a 4-3. What I saw during the pre-season games was a player who seemed overly protective of guys going low to block, thus making him unwilling to sell out to make plays. Hopefully this is something that will go away as his confidence returns but right now I must admit some concern. An injury to Josh Bullocks helped Kevin Kaesviharn to captured the Saints FS job, but don't expect him to give it up anytime soon. Kaesviharn isn't the most physical of safeties but he is technically sound and a proven playmaker. He's not likely to reach the 70 tackle mark but should finish in the mid 60 range and will add enough big plays to make a quality backup for us with a little upside.
Kansas City Chiefs
A couple of weeks back someone stirred the pot and reported that DaJuan Morgan was about to replace Bernard Pollard at SS. It never happened. In fact Morgan never saw a snap with the first team during the pre-season. Of course that could change at any time but for now those of us who drafted Pollard can relax and start him with confidence. We can also feel good about plugging in Derrick Johnson as a third starter at linebacker. Even after training camp and 4 pre-season games we have no idea what to expect from the other LB positions here. Donnie Edwards returned to action late in the pre-season and saw some playing time but he appeared to be leaving the field in passing situations. There were times during August when Demorrio Williams teamed with Johnson in the nickel package, and there were times when MLB Pat Thomas was an every down guy. The only constant was Johnson who lined up on the weak side and never left the field. Until we can get a better read on this mess, it's best to avoid anyone else. Another guy you should avoid if possible is Tamba Hali. Gimpy or not the Patriots aren't going to allow Tom Brady to get hit and there is no Jared Allen this year to grab the attention of the blocking scheme. Hali may have good tackle numbers but don't expect anything more. One guy that should be considered is rookie Brandon Flowers. You can count on the Patriots finding him early and picking on him often.
New York Giants
Many owners are counting on Kenny Phillips for big numbers this year. I certainly don't expect him to disappoint in the long run, but you probably want to sit him this week. He has by far out played the Giants other options at the positions but Tom Coughlin is an old school guy who doesn't like rookies. Phillips will reportedly see action in the nickel package against Washington but is not expected to start. James Butler will be a starter but we don't know if it will be Sammy Knight or Michael Johnson next to him, and we don't know who else is going to be on the field in the nickel package. Until Phillips secures a full time job, this could be one of those value killing "every player has a role" situations... It may not seem like a big deal but don't blow off the Giants claiming of Jerome McDougle. Ever hear the cliché, history repeats itself? Just a few years ago the Eagles had a talented young player who battled injuries early in his career and failed to live up to expectations. Philly got tired of waiting and cut that young man, then signed with the Raiders and went on to lead the league in sacks. McDougle made a strong showing late in the pre-season and the needy Giants are going to give him a chance to play, maybe as their 3rd end. He's not going to do a Derrick Burgess imitation, but being a former 15th overall pick suggest that McDougle has some talent. He's a guy we need to be aware of.
Just when we thought Lawrence Timmons was going to get his big shot, Larry Foote was able to return to practice late this week. That however, doesn't necessarily mean Timmons is out. Apparently they have been sharing 1st team snaps this week. It's another one of those situations that be need to see for sure before we take a chance on Timmons. That said, my read would be that they are still considering Timmons for the starting job and just want to wait as long as possible to make that final decision. The Steelers aren't a team that does a lot of time share. I would expect them to pick a starter and have him play full time. The club got some good news when Troy Polamalu returned to the field and declared himself fit for the opener. If he can stay healthy he'll be a strong and highly under rated player. with his recent history, that's a big IF.
Green Bay Packers
All the news in Green Bay revolves around injuries as A.J. Hawk may sit with a chest injury and SS Atari Bigby is in danger of missing the game with a bad ankle. Hawk would be replaced by Brandon Chillar who is a solid veteran backup, but no threat to steal the starting role. Bigby on the other hand, may be more motivated to play just to keep Aaron Rouse off the field. Rouse had a very productive pre-season during which he pushed the starters hard. If the second year man can get on the field it may prove very difficult to get him off it. If Rouse starts and has an impact week, don't hesitate to go after him. It won't be a fluke.
MLB Stewart Bradley was a favorite sleeper of many this summer and will be put to the test right out of the gate. The Rams are expected to deal out a heavy dose of Steven Jackson this weekend against an Eagles defense that struggled versus the run a year ago. There is a ton of potential here from the player, the position and the match up. Barring some freakish turn of events in the game (such as an injury to Jackson of an Eagles blow out win), we should know what we have in Stewart after this game. If he flops here it will be a very bad sign.
St. Louis Rams
The Rams have an impact injury issue to deal with as well. Will Witherspoon has been out for a while nursing a groin injury. Initially there was no big deal made about it but it recently leaked out that the injury may be worse than the club has let on. There has been no official report from the club it it's looking as if Witherspoon may be out this week and possible beyond. At best it seems that this is an injury that could bother him much if not all of the season. Rookie Chris Chamberlain is listed as Witherspoon's backup on the depth charts but if he misses time I would expect to see Chris Draft at MLB instead. Draft has been a solid player and a productive fantasy option everywhere he has surfaced. He was 103-20-3 for the Falcons in 2003 and 83-26-6.5 with the Panthers in '06. If he lands at MLB for any extended period of time, he will be well worth grabbing.
New York Jets
Call it a gut feeling but I really like Kerry Rhodes against the Dolphins this week. Rhodes has practiced against Chad Pennington for a long time and knows him very well. I believe that will give him a huge advantage and lead to a big play or two. I also believe Miami is going keep this game close enough that they won't abandon the run early. Meaning Rhodes will have some opportunity in run support.
Rookie defensive ends don't often have great seasons but Lawrence Jackson might buck that trend a little. He was able to move past Darryl Tapp early in the pre-season and will likely be an every down guy right from the start. Dynasty owners in particular need to be all over this guy. He is a talented player who has looked good and is in a high potential situation with the aggressive style of the Seattle defense.
Keith Bulluck's chances of bouncing back have been a major topic of discussion since the end of last season. I still believe his poor numbers were a mirage but there have been some signs that he may never be the 100+ tackle guy we had come to expect. The most recent news that make you go HMM being the announcement that David Thornton will be wearing the defensive communication helmet. Add that to Thornton's team leading tackle numbers and higher fantasy ranking of '07, and the writing seems to be on the wall. Going into week 1 Thornton is certainly the more safe bet to be productive and is probably the favorite to repeat as the club's tackle leader. Chris Hope has been playing well and seems likely to rebound from last year's dismal injury plagued mess. He's a free agent in many leagues so if he has a decent week 1, don't hesitate.
That's going to do it for the pre-season. Next time we will have hard numbers and facts to look at. Until then,
Best of luck in week one!