Fantasy football owners spend offseasons looking for an edge, trolling the transaction wires hoping to find the key to a championship.
Some of this year’s veteran offseason moves will seriously impact upcoming fantasy drafts.
Let’s say you were counting on 10 touchdowns and another solid 800-1,000-yard season from Ricky Williams. Unless you’re in a Canadian Football League fantasy draft, the latest Toronto Argonaut probably won’t help that much.
But that means Ronnie Brown, the Dolphins’ first-round pick of a year ago out of Auburn, just became that much valuable.
What will Edgerrin James’ move to the desert mean in Arizona and Indianapolis? Will Aaron Brooks be any better in Oakland? What about Drew Brees in New Orleans and Daunte Culpepper in Miami?
Here’s a breakdown of some key offseason moves and their potential impact on 2006 Fantasy Football League drafts:
1. Ricky Williams suspended, signed by CFL’s Toronto Argonauts – This officially makes Ronnie Brown “The Man” in Miami and the key to a rushing game that produced more than 1,700 yards last season. Brown had a solid rookie campaign with 907 yards on 207 carries and four touchdowns. Expect Brown’s touchdown totals to rise. Without the Brown-Williams 1-2 punch, the Dolphins will have to rely on backups Sammy Morris and Travis Minor. The further result will be more carries and more yardage, potentially 1,200-1,400 for Brown if he can stay healthy and avoid a sophomore slump.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Suddenly, Brown is a legitimate first-round draft choice and given the Dolphins run-first mentality could establish himself among the elite backs in the NFL.
2. Edgerrin James to the Cardinals – What will ‘Edge’ do for Arizona? And, just as importantly, what does his departure mean for Indy’s vaunted offense?
Just as happened in Indy, James will make everyone around him better, from Kurt Warner to Larry Fitzgerald and the other Cardinals wideouts. James ran for 1,506 yards and 13 touchdowns last season, averaging 4.2 yards per carry. If the Arizona offensive line can improve, James can put up similar numbers in the desert.
But one of James’ least talked about attributes is his ability to read blitzes and pass protect. That means a lot for Warner, who has had difficulty staying healthy since his MVP seasons with the Rams – and a healthy, more effective Warner means a better passing game for the Cardinals.
On the flip side, Peyton Manning just lost his best friend in the Colts passing game. Manning will still put up numbers, but the Colts were exposed by Pittsburgh’s blitz packages in last year’s playoffs – and that happened with James in the backfield.
Dominic Rhodes, who ran for more than 1,200 yards when James was injured six games into the 2001 season, has been used nominally since. Even so, he is the current starter at running back and will be until the Colts coaching staff figure rookie first-round pick James Addai (LSU) is ready to assume James’ old job. If jersey numbers are any indication as to how the Colts feel about Addai, check this: Addai will wear No. 29, the number worn by Hall-of-Famer Eric Dickerson in Indy.
THE BOTTOM LINE: James is still a first-round pick and among the elite backs in the NFL. His presence means Warner has to be given more consideration as a fantasy starter and could be a steal in the middle rounds.
Rhodes and Addai will probably be splitting time in Indy, at least at first. Rhodes is a heady runner with pretty good shiftiness, but he lacks the between-the-tackles power of James. If he can learn to be a better pass protector, he will be on the field. If Addai surpasses him in that department, the job will be his.
3. Terrell Owens to Dallas – Circus aside, T.O. is one of the few impact players in the game. When he overcomes his affliction with self-absorption, he may be the best receiver in the game. He’ll have to do that in order to play for Bill Parcells in Dallas.
With the addition of Owens, Drew Bledsoe’s immobility becomes less of a factor and his strong arm and accurate deep ball become more of a weapon. Running back Julius Jones should also have room to run and Parcells may finally have the ground game he wants in Big D.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Owens is a top-five player and arguably the top receiver in anyone’s draft. Bledsoe has been no more than a serviceable backup in fantasy leagues since his heyday in New England, but Owens’ presence could make him a starter in some leagues. Bledsoe threw for more than 3,600 yards, 23 touchdowns and 17 interceptions in 2005, but those numbers, particularly the touchdown and interception totals could both improve with Owens as his first option and Terry Glenn as a solid No. 2. Bledsoe should go in the middle rounds to a team without one of the big guns, such as Peyton Manning or Donovan McNabb at QB.
4. Drew Brees to New Orleans – If not for a shoulder injury in the final game of the season, Brees would have been the most sought-after free agent this past offseason. Even with the injury, Brees hit the jackpot with New Orleans and brings leadership intangibles and a high football IQ to the Saints.
But his departure also means the starting job in San Diego has been handed to 2005 No. 2-overall pick Philip Rivers, who has been used very little the past two seasons.
Brees threw for more than 3,500 yards, 24 touchdowns and 15 interceptions last season, completing 64.6 percent of his passes in the process. Mistakes at the quarterback position have held the Saints back the past few seasons. Brees brings a Pro Bowl pedigree and should cut down on the mistakes made by former Saints QB Aaron Brooks.
Rivers has performed well in his limited service with the Chargers. Now, they find out whether he will live up to his high draft pick, or be another QB bust in San Diego.
THE BOTTOM LINE: With 51 touchdowns the past two seasons, Brees should be a fantasy starter, but can probably be found in the second round of most drafts. Rivers, on the other hand, is an unknown quantity and should be a late-round pick as a backup. If he pans out, he could be a steal there in keeper leagues.
5. Daunte Culpepper to Miami – Culpepper’s injury was a merciful end to his final season with the Vikings. It was the worst of his six-year career. In six games before a knee injury sidelined him, Culpepper threw for 1,564 yards, six touchdowns and 12 interceptions. His QB rating was an awful 72.0.
The question is how soon Culpepper will be ready for the Dolphins. They’re not counting on him being there at the beginning of the season and former Lions first-round pick Joey Harrington was acquired in a trade after the draft as an insurance policy.
Culpepper’s departure from Minnesota means the reins will remain in the hands of veteran Brad Johnson. Johnson threw for nearly 1,900 yards, 12 touchdowns and four interceptions after taking over last season. But he is 38 years old, so he’ll have to prove he can still get the job done. With no viable backup in Minnesota, the job will be Johnson’s for as long as he’s upright.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Culpepper and his knee are both risks. It will be interesting to see if Chris Chambers can play the role of Randy Moss in Miami when the two get on the field together, but Culpepper could miss the first month of the season, so he’s no more than a sixth- or seventh-round pick. Harrington, on the other hand, is a temporary fix for the Dolphins and probably won’t do more for them than he did for the Lions. He is probably not an option for most fantasy teams on draft day.
Johnson, however, is a solid pick in the middle rounds as a backup or to a fantasy owner choosing his quarterback by weekly matchups.
6. Javon Walker to Denver – Walker gives Jake Plummer the No. 1 receiver he needs and takes away Brett Favre’s best option.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Walker is in the second tier of receivers behind Owens, Marvin Harrison, the emerging Steve Smith and the Randy Moss of old. The late second or third round should find Walker going off the board.
7. Chester Taylor to Minnesota – Taylor could never win the starting job outright with the Ravens. He won’t have that problem in Minnesota.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Taylor is probably a third back on most fantasy rosters, but is a reach any higher than the fifth round.
8. Jon Kitna to Detroit – Kitna is the starter by default in Detroit.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Kitna will have weapons in Detroit and could be a solid backup on most fantasy rosters as a late-round pick.
9. Brian Griese to Chicago – Rex Grossman still hasn’t proven that he can stay healthy and Griese has an uncanny ability to show up and win the starting job with new teams.
THE BOTTOM LINE: No Chicago QB is going to help a fantasy team win, but Griese is the most draftable at this juncture.
10. Keyshawn Johnson to Carolina – He gives Jake Delhomme a solid No. 2 receiver, which was missing from the Panthers offense last season.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Steve Smith is still the No. 1, but Johnson could put up 8-10 touchdowns with defenses attempting to find a way to cover Smith. At this point in his career, though, Johnson is no more than a third or fourth fantasy receiver and should be drafted accordingly.