By Michael Salfino
RotoWire Staff Writer
It's sad when a season ends. Doesn't August seem like yesterday? Just a few short weeks ago, we finally were starting to get 2006 figured out. Now, poof, it's over (for most of us, anyway). But there are still championships to be won for those still breathing. And the rest of the season and playoffs provide a great opportunity to objectively scout players who may yield winning returns in 2007.
Vince Young, QB, Titans: He's going to be a real fantasy monster. Heck, he's keeping coordinators up nights already. I'd pencil him in next year for 200-to-250 yards passing a week, 40-to-80 yards rushing and 2-to-3 TDs running and passing. That's assuming normal year-two developmental growth. If continues on the steep upward curve he's shown since the Titans handed him the starting job, he's one of the handful of league MVP candidates in ‘07.
Ronald Curry, WR, Raiders: Someone has to be the No. 1 receiver on the sad-sack Raiders, and Curry is clearly it with Randy Moss hobbling and mentally shot. Vince Evans, er, I mean Aaron Brooks at least isn't by far the worst QB in the league (now that's as a backhanded compliment). St. Louis awaits week 15.
Rudi Johnson, RB, Bengals: I know being on the radio is tough. You always have to have an answer ready. But I thought one of my esteemed colleagues lost it last week when he told someone to start Marion Barber over Rudi Johnson. Forget about TDs and even recent yardage totals. Never start a time-share guy over a full-time, goal-line guy on a good offense. Don't even consider it.
Vernon Davis, TE, Niners: He can be a fantasy freak if the Niners ever decide to open it up even a little bit. But Alex Smith remains rather stinky. More on that below.
Ladell Betts, RB, Redskins: I've always liked Betts. And it's not like he came out of nowhere. He was a second-round pick. But he got screwed when the Redskins decided to sell the farm for Clinton Portis. Running backs are fungible. Do you think that atrocious Washington secondary could have used Champ Bailey this year (who they traded for Portis)?
Sammy Morris, RB, Dolphins: Again, why use No. 2 overall picks on running backs when the Sammy Morrises of the world can step in cold and post 120 yards and a TD on a championship contender? I know, LaDainian Tomlinson. Well, there's an exception to every rule. But Michael Turner looks pretty devastating when he gets carries in that San Diego offense, too.
Philip Rivers, QB, Chargers: The new Troy Aikman. I fear that Rivers will never realize his fantasy potential. The Chargers put 48 points on the board, and Rivers throws every pass and has just a ho-hum fantasy day. If they fall behind by 21-plus points again like they did in Cincy, Rivers owners are in business. But San Diego is too solid to expect that in the foreseeable future.
Jamal Lewis, RB, Ravens: He's chugging along and getting lots of action since Brian Billick took over the playcalling. But the Chiefs are bad against the run, and Lewis still couldn't crack 4.0 per carry. This is a team that could afford to take a shot on a highly-skilled back with a top pick because the bottom third of Round 1 is the sweet spot for that come April.
Michael Vick, QB, Falcons: You can't look at recent trends when you own Vick. You have to commit to playing him every week or forgetting about him. Last week, three carries for five yards. This week, who knows? Another 150-plus-rushing-yard day wouldn't shock me. But I am guessing his ability to run will be hurt if both tailbacks are out. And it looks like that will be the case.
Chad Pennington, QB, Jets: The anatomy of a bad passing offense last Sunday versus the Bills: just four of 35 pass attempts traveled more than 10 yards from scrimmage. Of the four, two were complete (one for a TD), one was dropped and another was thrown behind a wide-open receiver. Yes, perhaps some of these plays were designed for longer attempts but the receiver was covered. Well, it's the offensive coordinator's job to get receivers open quickly in the second level of the defense, and not just against the Texans and Packers.
Tom Brady, QB, Patriots: Like the Jets, the Patriots did not attack the second and third level of the Dolphins defense. Brady only attempted four passes over 10 yards from scrimmage (not including the one he threw after crossing the line of scrimmage). None were complete. Brady has been very ineffective this year on intermediate throws and the percentage of these throws relative to overall attempts is down below 15 percent after hovering around 25 percent last year (average is about 20 percent). Maybe that shoulder injury on the injury report every week is the real deal.
Alex Smith, QB, Niners: He hasn't grown after beginning the season in promising fashion. Not only are the Niners a run-first team, but when they fall behind, Smith does nothing: 51 attempts when trailing by 14 or more in the fourth quarter, but for just 5.8 yards per attempt with three TDs, three picks and seven sacks.
Antonio Bryant, WR, Niners: He looks silly wearing No. 81. He talks the talk and drives the Ferrari [Ed. note: it was a Lamborghini] (over 100 MPH when drunk, according to police). But he's a Chevy receiver (there goes that sponsorship).
Santana Moss, WR, Redskins: With Moss, you never know if a quiet game is just part of the typical up and down so common to almost all NFL receivers or whether it's related to some nagging injury, in this case his hamstring. He's had two good weeks all year. Take them away and he has 32 catches for 340 yards and zero TDs. Now you know why almost all of his fantasy owners got a head start working on their fantasy baseball cheat sheets.
Brandon Jacobs, RB, Giants: He's had a very quiet second half outside of the TDs, raising doubt as to whether he can step in as feature back next year when Tiki Barber is full time in a TV studio somewhere. I think it's likely now that the Giants invest enough in another back and that said other back gets a large stake in a time-share with Jacobs. That's bad news for Jacobs owners in keeper leagues.
Article first appeared 12/12/06