By Michael Salfino
RotoWire Staff Writer
Let's get right down to the business of sorting out the few nuggets of actual preseason news from the nonsense.
Mike Bell, RB, Broncos: Not the Bell anyone thought would be getting an August upgrade, but that's Mike Shanahan for you. We laughed last year when Mike Anderson was elevated to first team around this time. But that stuck for the whole year. Bell is younger and a more versatile runner than Anderson, so he has a better chance of assuming a greater percentage of the carries than did Anderson in '05. If he fumbles one more time this preseason, however, all bets are off.
Ben Roethlisberger, QB, Steelers: Jerome Bettis was the default option near paydirt since the Clinton Administration. Who assumes that role now? Duce Staley? Don't see it; Staley has never been a short-yardage guy. Verron Haynes will surely not be given any deference, and Willie Parker is too small to pound for tough yards. Roethlisberger has led the league in YPA since becoming a starter and should translate that level of performance into greater TD production (25+) in '06.
Matt Jones, WR, Jaguars: Neil Diamond is known as "The Jewish Elvis." Jones might soon be known as "The White Moss." He lost some primary competition for red zone looks when Mercedes Lewis went down this week with the dreaded high-ankle sprain. Though Byron Leftwich is overrated, especially in accuracy where he's always among the trailers in percentage of poor throws, he's competent. David Garrard provides an arguably better option as backup.
Muhsin Muhammad, WR, Bears: As long as Brian Griese is in the running to win the Bears QB job (and he badly outplayed Rex Grossman last week), Muhammad is a No. 3 fantasy receiver with decent upside. Griese has proven he can adequately feed a top target on two teams, as he partnered with Rod Smith on 113 catches and 11 TDs in Denver and helped turn Michael Clayton into the most productive rookie receiver post-Randy Moss.
Heath Miller, TE, Steelers: He'll be on the receiving end of many (8-to-10) of those Roethlisberger TD passes that used to be Bus runs.
Dan Orlovsky, QB, Lions: I have Jon Kitna way up my QB rankings at No. 13 or so because Martz makes great fantasy QBs with the same ease and predictability as my grandmother makes great pierogies. But I also know that Kitna is a mistake-prone loser, which makes him the perfect fit in Detroit. This irresistible force/immovable object problem is vexing. Josh McCown has already fallen by the wayside, and Martz is enamored with Orlovsky, who could be playing Marc Bulger to Kitna's Kurt Warner a lot sooner than we think. Orlovsky had a 30 Wonderlic score, and Martz is a big fan of that test, though I agree with many psychologists who question its relevancy to NFL decision making.
Philip Rivers, QB, Chargers: Yes, he passed the first test. But preseason defenses are usually pure vanilla so the usual caveats apply. Most NFL coaches only take the third preseason game seriously when it comes to game plans.
Jamal Lewis, RB, Ravens: Got a shout out from Brian Billick after the game and looked serviceable on a couple of runs. Now the half-empty glass that is Lewis is suddenly looking half full. Maybe Steve McNair provides a decent passing threat for the first time in Lewis' career. Maybe he's better conditioned a year removed from "The Longest Yard"-offseason training program. Stay tuned.
Terrell Owens, WR, Cowboys: The media hoard is trying desperately to get Bill Parcells to voice disapproval regarding Owens' delay in coming back from a pulled hammy. Heck, ESPN just made up a story that Owens was out the entire preseason. But why should Owens push himself to play a couple of snaps in these meaningless scrimmages?
Clinton Portis, RB, Redskins: A dislocated shoulder is always bad news for a running back because it's more prone to popping back out again. Portis struggled with shoulder injuries last year and does not appear to be built for wear.
Domanick Davis, RB, Texans: There was an organizational meeting with Davis regarding his bruised knee, which is a not-too-subtle way of sayin', "Get on the field!" You don't want to tick off Gary Kubiak, because he may have learned The Fungible Running Back Theory from Shanahan, his former master.
Curtis Martin, RB, Jets: His career might be over as the new regime does not want the distraction of trying to accommodate a fading star. The lesson here is for those who seek to burn a top five fantasy pick on Tiki Barber, who eluded Father Time in 2005 as Martin did in 2004. You can run, Tiki, but you can't hide.
Deion Branch, WR, Patriots: Coaches hate, hate, HATE holdouts. It might not be fair in a free-market, collective bargaining sense. But it's no less true. Branch better get in camp pronto, or Belichick will play with four tight ends. Instead, Branch is telling friends he's prepared to sit out most of the regular season. Big mistake.
Ron Dayne, RB, Broncos: He's right back to where he was last year now that Mike Bell is above him on the depth chart. That could all change if either he or Tatum Bell is dealt. But a trade helps Tatum more than Dayne because Dayne is more clearly a product of the Broncos' system.
Article first appeared 8/14/06