By Michael Salfino
RotoWire Staff Writer
Mike Bell, RB, Broncos: Bounced back with a couple of touchdowns and seven yards per carry in the second preseason game. Forget Top 20 running back, he can be Top 10, which means he MUST be taken 15-to-20 backs into every draft. Bell is an undrafted free agent, but was given a fourth-round grade by many teams that chose running backs earlier in the draft and therefore ignored the position in later rounds. Bell patterned himself after his idol, Terrell Davis, and obviously found a perfect environment to realize his dream. I knew this move was for real when Ron Dayne said he agreed with it, proving he was a beaten man. Let's assume Dayne knew that for good reason.
Musa Smith, RB, Ravens: He really showed some hops over the weekend. Mike Anderson is being moved to fullback. And that leaves only Jamal Lewis ahead of him on the depth chart. Lewis is out a couple of weeks with a bad hip flexor and will be the starter when he returns in a couple of weeks. But Smith showed so much that he's planted the seed that he's the better alternative. If Lewis doesn't return to pre-prison form, bet that the hook will come quickly. Brian Billick is too smart to bench his best runner two years in a row.
Kevan Barlow, RB, Jets: He was a really exciting guy back in 2003, which seems like a lifetime ago in the NFL. The surgically repaired knee is a concern. But the Jets are on the hook for $2.7 million this year, which isn't backup money. Curtis Martin's career is over. Who else threatens Barlow as a true feature back? Leon Washington could be a nifty third-down back, but lacks the mass to impede blitzers, which is very important with fragile Chad Pennington again entrenched as starter.
Frank Gore, RB, Niners: Like the Jets, the Niners are going to have a bad offense. But so is Cleveland and that's not stopping people form taking Reuben Droughns 20 picks into most drafts. It's a good week in August when the league adds two backs that are going to get first-, second- and goal-line carries and maybe third-down passes, too.
Lee Evans, WR, Bills: J.P. Losman likes him, and it looks like Losman is the starter. For how long, who knows? But Evans should get 130 or so targets for Buffalo. Steve Fairchild is a wild-man in the passing game, and Evans is in the mold of a Rams receiver. I think 1,100 yards and eight TDs is the over/under and I'd take the over even with all the questions at QB. The AFC East has some bad pass defenses, with Ty Law gone from the Jets and Miami and New England continuing to rebuild their secondaries.
Brian Griese, QB, Bears: Rex Grossman is a horror show, and it's August, when even the Browning Nagles of the world light it up before September Reality sets in. The Bears QB isn't someone you want to draft no matter who it is. But there's a better chance that the offense will keep the chains moving and the Bears running back (I'm not going here yet) and Muhsin Muhammad will be worth starting if it's Griese. Grossman's never had a chance to develop given all the injuries. He not only hasn't played since becoming a pro, but hasn't really practiced, either.
Willis McGahee, RB, Bills: The 61-yard TD run matters because it shows he has the speed that many doubt. I'd take him in the top 12 of most drafts. Yes, I'd hold my nose when making the pick. But he's young enough and entrenched in pretty much every role, now that the Bills have committed to featuring him as a receiver. The problem this year is that too many of the running backs with check marks across the board are on bad offensive teams with very dicey QB situations.
Jake Delhomme, QB, Panthers: Ben Roethlisberger has gotten an upgrade because the loss of Bettis makes it more likely the passing game will factor more predominately in the red zone. But Delhomme hasn't been similarly boosted. Why not? Stephen Davis is gone and no one else is likely to emerge as a reliable goal-line runner. Plus, Keyshawn Johnson was added to the mix and offensive coordinator Dan Henning still views Johnson (who he coached on the Jets) as a goal-line weapon.
Travis Taylor, WR, Vikings: He's had a great camp. The opportunity is there. He has a first-round pedigree on a team that's going to throw a lot. A couple of guys like Taylor are going to emerge from nowhere as solid fantasy weapons. Taylor is the best bet among those who've already peaked their head above water.
Maurice Drew, RB, Jaguars: I still like him as a pocket pick because the coaching staff isn't committed to Fred Taylor, and Greg Jones is a between-the-tackle type on a team that badly needs someone to step into a game-breaker role. Drew was picked in the second-round, and you don't take guys there unless you think they project as starters (especially when they're 5-foot-6).
Edgerrin James, RB, Cardinals: He's had four carries, people. Relax. Pick him wherever you were going to pick him in June.
Ben Roethlisberger, QB, Steelers: Showed no effects of the sprained thumb on Saturday (3-for-4 with a TD).
Koren Robinson, WR, Vikings: Well, I guess this is why they call addiction a disease. On the bright side, driving 100 miles an hour while drunk and without a license does constitute a tryout for the Bengals. (If he'd only had minors drinking in the car with him while also physically abusing a spouse, he'd be all set as Cincy's fourth WR in '07.)
Vernon Davis, TE, Niners: Why bother taking Davis when you're going to start Eric Johnson, whose uninspiring skill set is the reason you took Davis in the first place? Do you want a backup, rookie tight end on your team? I don't. But that's what Davis (one catch this preseason) is.
Carson Palmer, QB, Bengals: The knee is a problem and will likely remain one all year. Will it be one he can play with? Will he be distracted by the fear of another injury? Who knows. But these are serious questions that demand a downgrade. You can't take Palmer before five or six QBs are gone, and I'd rather have Kurt Warner later; Warner has even better receivers and plays in a weaker defensive division.
Mewelde Moore, RB, Vikings: Moore isn't tough enough to ever be an NFL running back. Capitalize it. Bold it. Underline it. If that's not enough for you, there's nothing he can do that Chester Taylor can't do better. Need more? The Vikings threw $20 million at Taylor because they knew Moore is a wuss.
Article first appeared 8/21/06