RotoWire Managing Editor
Two weeks into training camp, and already the fantasy football market's in motion. Let's take a look at some of the more significant movers up and down the preseason cheat sheet.
Jeff Garcia, QB, Buccaneers
There was supposed to be some kind of competition between Garcia and Chris Simms this summer, but Simms is struggling with a sore arm, a side effect of the surgery he had last year to remove his spleen. As a result, there's talk that Simms could be released, and at best, he's battling Luke McCown and Bruce Gradkowski for the No. 2 job. Meanwhile, Garcia has the starting job entirely to himself, though it remains to be seen whether we'll see the 2006 Eagles' version or the Browns/Lions disaster of 2004-05. Our bet is somewhere in between, but it bodes well that Jon Gruden likes to run a West Coast attack, not too dissimilar to what Garcia had success with in San Francisco and Philly.
Donovan McNabb, QB, Eagles
McNabb's returning from a torn ACL, and so far his progress has been good. Just last week he was able to trade the bulky knee brace he wore for a sleeve, and his throws have been sharp and accurate during practice. While an ACL tear is a serious injury, McNabb's was of a simple variety, and unlike Daunte Culpepper and Carson Palmer in 2005, who tore multiple ligaments, McNabb's rehab and recovery should be fairly straightforward. While his mobility might not be 100 percent early on, McNabb doesn't very often have to cut and change directions the way a running back or receiver would. McNabb was arguably the most valuable player in fantasy football for the first six weeks of last season, and concerns about his injury could turn him into a good value in 2007.
Daunte Culpepper, QB, Raiders
We can't say for sure that his knee will hold up, or that he'll have enough confidence in the joint to plant properly on his throws or side-step the rush, but it's better to be somewhere than nowhere, and even Oakland qualifies as the former, though barely. With JaMarcus Russell holding out, and Josh McCown and Andrew Walter far from proven commodities, Culpepper has a chance to win the starting job.
Brandon Jackson, RB, Packers
The Packers' second round draft this season has impressed so far in camp, both with his rushing ability and pass-catching skills. With Vernand Morency on the shelf for a few more weeks in camp, Jackson will get more chances to show the coaching staff what he can do and claim the lion's share of the team's carries.
Jerious Norwood, RB, Falcons
Just in case 6.4 yards per carry in 2006 wasn't enough, Warrick Dunn's surgery to repair a herniated disc virtually assured Norwood of a starting job in Week 1. While Dunn could return for the start of the season, new head coach Bobby Petrino prefers a power running game to the zone-blocking scheme in place last season which fit Dunn's style. At 6-0, 210, Norwood's not ideally suited to a power-running attack, either, but far more so than the 5-9, 180-pound Dunn. Norwood's also got blazing speed, and if he shows he can get the tough yards near the goal line, there's a lot of upside here.
Devery Henderson, WR, Saints
With Joe Horn gone, the No. 2 receiver job in the high-powered New Orleans attack is up for grabs, and early on, Henderson's been the only one grabbing. Rookie Robert Meachem showed up to camp overweight, then subsequently had his knee scoped, and holdover Terrance Copper projects more as a No. 3. Henderson easily led the NFL in yards per catch (23.3) and yards per target (13.8) last year, and shockingly tied Chad Johnson for the most 40-plus yard receptions with eight. Only Johnson's eight came on 87 catches and 152 targets, while Henderson's were on 54 and 32, respectively. Put differently, Henderson was far and away the best per-play receiver in football last year, albeit in a small sample size.
Craig Davis/Vincent Jackson, WR, Chargers
With Eric Parker slated to miss six weeks after undergoing foot surgery, Davis and Jackson should see more looks. Jackson's already slated to be the team's top wideout, and Davis has impressed in camp early on. Keep in mind that new head coach Norv Turner loves to run the ball near the goal line, and the team already has two of the league's best red-zone threats in LaDainian Tomlinson and Antonio Gates.
Greg Olsen, TE, Bears
Olsen's impressed Bears' coaches with his pass-catching ability early on, but what's surprised them more are his solid blocking skills, something he wasn't known for in college. Desmond Clark's not going away, but Olsen could be a bigger factor than expected out of the gate.
Zach Miller, TE, Raiders
With Randal Wlliams' release, Miller will start the season as the Raiders' top tight end. Miller's shown excellent receiving skills early in camp, and even though the Raiders quarterbacks are below average, there are plenty of top tight ends like Alge Crumpler, Todd Heap and Kellen Winslow that produce in similarly challenged passing games.
Marcedes Lewis, TE, Jaguars
Lewis is the favorite to win the starting tight end job in Jacksonville, and that could mean plenty of targets as new offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter likes to involve the tight end in his passing schemes. At 6-6, Lewis is a big rangy target, ideally suited for red-zone work, though keep in mind that Jacksonville has several big wideouts also capable of working from in close.
Frank Gore, RB, 49ers
While it's true that Gore's going to miss several weeks of camp with a broken bone in his hand, this isn't anything to worry about fantasy-wise. Gore will be ready for the start of the season, the injury won't linger and it won't affect his ability to hold onto the ball (a forearm injury would be more of a concern in that regard). Gore, who has a fantastic work ethic, showed up to camp in tremendous shape, and his conditioning obviously won't be affected by a hand injury. Moreover, unlike quarterbacks and receivers that need to work on their timing, running backs can usually get up to speed very quickly.
Larry Johnson, RB, Chiefs
A training camp holdout clouds Johnson's status for the start of the season, but like Gore, Johnson won't need a lot of time to get ready once he reports. Of course, there's a chance the holdout could extend into the start of the season, but that rarely happens as both sides have too big an incentive to avoid that result. At this point, keep Johnson in the top five on your cheat sheet.
Michael Vick, QB, Falcons
The allegations against Vick for being involved in a dog fighting ring are well known at this point, and his status for the start of the season is uncertain.
Brady Quinn, QB, Browns
Quinn's holdout, which could be protracted, virtually assures that he won't see much action in the first half of the season. While running backs can step in with little preparation or practice, quarterbacks need to sync up with their wideouts, getting their timing down and learn the entire offense. Rookie quarterbacks face an even steeper learning curve. Further complicating the negotiations is the fact that Quinn slipped to the 22nd pick of the first round, far below consensus pre-draft expectations of where he'd be chosen. As a result, Quinn thinks he deserves top-10 money, while the Browns want to pay him merely what his actual draft slot warrants.
JaMarcus Russell, QB, Raiders
See the entry on Quinn. The No. 1 overall pick's negotiations have stalled for a different reason, though – the Raiders don't want to allow a "skill and injury" clause protecting Russell's guaranteed money for two years, even though the last 15 No. 1 overall picks have all had such protection. The longer this drags on, the more likely we'll see Culpepper, McCown or Walter for the bulk of the year.
Edgerrin James, RB, Cardinals
On the bright side, the Cardinals want to establish a power running game and get James more touches. On the negative one, Marcel Shipp outperformed James in goal-line drills early on, and could significantly cut into James' touches from in close. If that happens, James will be but an aging back with a lot of mileage that operates between the 20s. Think Fred Taylor with less speed and more receiving ability.
Vernand Morency, RB, Packers
Morency's out for 2-to-4 weeks with soreness in his patella tendon, and rookie Brandon Jackson is looking good early in camp. While this battle's not over yet, Jackson has a chance to lock it up before Morency even returns to the field.
Warrick Dunn, RB, Falcons
Dunn's out four weeks after undergoing surgery to repair a herniated disc, but that might be the least of his problems. New coach Bobby Petrino prefers a power running game to the zone-blocking scheme the Falcons had the last several years, and second year man, Jerious Norwood is bigger, faster and more powerful than Dunn, who turned 32 in January. Expect Dunn back near the start of the season, but he'll likely be used more as a change-of-pace and third-down back this year.
Eric Parker, WR, Chargers
Parker had surgery on a cracked sesamoid bone in his right big toe last week and is likely to miss up to 10 weeks. When he returns, he'll have to battle Vincent Jackson and Craig Davis for Gates' and Tomlinson's scraps.
Anquan Boldin/Larry Fitzgerald, WR, Cardinals
Forget about the glory days of 2005 when both players were top-five in the league in targets – the Denny Green era is over, and the Ken Whisenhunt one is about to begin. Whisenhunt was the offensive coordinator for the Steelers the last few years, presiding over one of the most run-heavy attacks in recent memory. And he's promised to get the ball to Edgerrin James and establish a power running game in Arizona, meaning less passes thrown, and less targets for Arizona's top two receivers.
Desmond Clark, TE, Bears
Greg Olsen's emergence as both a blocker and receiver in camp makes it likely that he and Clark will largely split the tight end targets this season. Clark had a career year in 2006 when he had virtually all the looks to the position to himself.
Article first appeared 8/6/07