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Path: /overtime/6-athletes-who-have-way-too-much-experience-criminal-justice-system

Sports is one of the few professions that have their own dedicated branch of psychology, probably because they seem to have a steady stream of its employees on the wrong side of the criminal justice system. It’s gotten so bad that some athletes actually have incentive clauses in their contract that score them a bonus every year they go without adding another felony to the record. When you’re done asking why every Wall Street CEO doesn’t have this in their work contract, just take a look at six of the sports’ worlds most egregious defendants who have spent more than their fare share of time on the witness bench.

1. Darryl Strawberry

This New York Yankees outfielder singlehandedly made becoming a career athletic criminal long before it became chic in the sports world by racking up a series of criminal misdemeanors and felonies that could make a mafia witness protection informant urge him to seek professional help. From 1987 to 2002, his time off the field consisted of seeing how much he could push his luck, which turned out to be pretty damn far. The first came in 1990 during an argument with his wife, who had just divorced him after a blood test determined him to be the father of a child to another woman, when he hit her in the face with a semiautomatic handgun. The charges went away when he got out of rehab. From then on, he racked up a stream of bizarre charges including drug possession, tax evasion, stalking and failure to pay child support and the only charges that really stuck where the drug possession that only netted him a jail sentence when he violated his parole after wrecking his car and testing positive for cocaine. If this were baseball, we would call that “hitting for the cycle.”

2. Mike Tyson

The former boxer and professional poster child for mental health awareness may have calmed down in his post-sparring years and even embraced his image as a high pitched man child with an uppercut that can rip a man’s face off if they look at him the wrong way. Even when he was at the height of his game, his criminal career seemed to contribute more to his career than even biting a man’s ear clean off could. Long before he got into boxing, he had more than his fair share with the law, being arrested for “purse-snatching” and getting expelled from high school for “a series of transgressions,” a word Tyson clearly didn’t know the meaning of because of his subsequent brushes with the criminal justice system and his inability to pronounce a word with more than three syllables in a way that doesn’t make anyone who hears him laugh until they stop breathing. He faced a number of minor assault and sexual battery charges, which ended in either dropped charges or favorable jury rulings. Then in 1991, he received a special grand jury indictment of rape, which led to his infamous 10 years prison sentence. Even while he was in prison, he got time added to his sentence for threatening a guard and disorderly conduct. He might be a career criminal, but at least he stays in training in the off-season.

3. O.J. Simpson

Sports might be full of athletes who have had more than their fair share of brushes with the law, but few have achieved and thrown away as much as the Juice did, a feat made more impressive by the fact that he had gotten away with most of it. The non-stop exposure of his murder trial that blanketed the national media for almost a year practically turned the former athlete’s reputation into toxic sludge after his defense “Dream Team” managed to convince a jury to drop the murder charge, which makes us question if anyone has a criminal justice degree these days. Even after escaping a lifetime in prison, he somehow managed to find himself back in the spotlight from the civil case that ruled in favor of the deceased’s families with a million dollar verdict that was never fully paid and the extremely distasteful “If I Did It” book and TV special that never got off the ground. Then just when he found at what could be termed his lowest point, he managed to find a way to get into a root cellar when he and some friends robbed a Las Vegas hotel at gunpoint, something he said he didn’t know was illegal at his sentence hearing, which netted him a 33-year prison sentence.

4. Robert Earnest Rozier

Usually when sports criminal have a brush with the law, it’s before they become big athletic hot shots with endorsement deals, luxury boats and an assortment of recreational narcotics that could make Tony Montana look and sound like a chaste Gregorian monk. This former St. Louis Cardinal and Oakland Raider was actually very close to being homeless following his pro-football career and found himself in and out of prison until he joined up with a religious cult called the Yaweh ben Yahweh Cult, a sect that required its members to prove their love to faith by hunting “white devils” and bringing back part of their kill as proof. Rozier actually trailed a drunk man in a Miami neighborhood, forced his way into his apartment and stabbed him in the heart. Following his arrest and subsequent prosecution, he testified against the members of the cult and admitted to killing seven people.

5. Tonya Harding

Usually when you picture a criminal athlete, a football or high profile baseball player seems like it would fit the bill more but one of the most infamous and meanest sports crimes of our lifetime actually took place in the world of figure skating, a sport that couldn’t produce a serious enough injury in the participation of the actual sport. Tonya Harding earned his infamous title in the days leading up to the start of the 1994 Winter Olympics when a masked man assaulted rival skater Nancy Kerrigan with a metal baton following skating practice in Detroit. As the details unraveled, the FBI arrested Kerrigan’s bodyguard Shawn E. Eckardt for conspiring to thwart the starlet’s chances at making it to the Olympics with Harding’s ex Jeff Gillooly, allegations that eventually pointed to Harding herself who lied to investigators about her involvement. Her subsequent prosecution led to a lifetime ban from the U.S. Figure Skating Association, forcing her to manage wrestlers and box to make ends meet.

6. Michael Vick

This former Atlanta Falcons QB threw away a career that most professional quarterbacks wish they could score, well, really only the ones that play for Houston or Oakland. This promising draft got 23 months in federal prison for running a dogfighting ring that not only pit animals against each other for gambling and profit, but also forced the mating of his fighting dogs and put several down that weren’t up to par by electrocution, hanging and even drowning. And if he weren’t in enough trouble already, he actually tested positive for marijuana use before his sentencing trial. Did he think that going to prison meant he could take a set of steak knives after the first five felonies?

<p> Money, fame and felonies. Just another day in the life of these professional athletes.</p>
Post date: Tuesday, August 23, 2011 - 11:30
All taxonomy terms: Indianapolis Colts, Peyton Manning, NFL
Path: /nfl/is-peyton-manning-overrated

In the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, they’re probably already constructing a Peyton Manning Wing, its many shelves built to support the enormous weight of Manning’s collection of personal hardware. One day, the lights of the wing will turn on, and fans will gather to reflect on his career. But what will they say? Will fathers tell their sons about the greatest quarterback ever to play the game, a man engineered to be the best at his profession? Or will they share stories of great achievement followed by even greater disappointment?

Thus is the complex nature of Manning’s NFL portfolio — one part god, one part goat. He has shown time and time again the ability to lead lesser men to great heights, but has failed so often to lead those men up the final stretch of the mountain.

Few doubt that one day Manning will own all of the NFL’s career passing records, and that he will gain entrance into Pro Football’s Hall of Fame in his first attempt. Those who defend his legacy suggest his bust in Canton should sit on the same shelf as those of Joe Montana, Otto Graham and Johnny Unitas — the standards to which all other quarterbacks are compared.

Only problem is, Manning has yet to meet that standard; after last season’s opening-round playoff loss to the Jets, Manning now owns a sub-.500 career postseason record (9–10), and the 35-year-old has guided his club to only one NFL title — two short of Unitas and Graham, and three short of Montana.

Could it be that Peyton Manning is (gulp!) overrated? Such a suggestion is bound to bring a man physical harm in parts of this country where Manning can do no wrong — in Indiana or Tennessee.

Of course, overrated can mean many things, and in this case it simply suggests that Manning’s true greatness does not fill the enormous shadow his legend has cast. He’s special, to be sure, but does his body of work rate him among the best of the best? There is plenty to suggest that, at the very least, the topic is open to debate.

The age-old quarterback question

NFL writers — like all sportswriters — relish their right to judge. It’s part of what defines the profession. And no player is immune from comparison and criticism. Gale Sayers didn’t play long enough … Emmitt Smith played longer than he should have … Jack Youngblood was every bit as good as Jack Lambert; he just wasn’t surrounded by as much talent … Jerry Kramer doesn’t deserve to be in the Hall of Fame because he was surrounded by so much talent.

The barroom banter flies in all directions.

And when it comes to debating the position of quarterback, the conversation can become far more complex. How can one compare Unitas against the quarterbacks who benefit from today’s pass-friendly offenses? Or how do you say Troy Aikman was greater than Drew Bledsoe, knowing the two men were dealt vastly different hands to work with?

Ultimately, though, the subjective talking points are brushed aside. Most often, quarterbacks are defined by two factors — wins and numbers. Deciding which is more important is where the debate gets tricky.

When the NFL Network offered up “The Top 100: Greatest Players” list last fall, the answer would seem to be the former, except where Manning was concerned. Four-time Super Bowl champion Joe Montana led the position (No. 4), and of the top five quarterbacks ranked, Manning (No. 8) was the only one without multiple titles to his name. Voters placed him well ahead of Brett Favre (No. 20), Tom Brady (No. 21), John Elway (No. 23) and Dan Marino (No. 25) even though Manning owns fewer rings than Elway and Brady, and has not yet caught up to Favre or Marino in career passing numbers. It was as if a different set of rules had been applied when it came time to judge Manning. The obvious question: Why?

Says Hall of Fame voter Len Shapiro, who has covered the NFL for three decades: “He’s won with a good running game and without a good running game. He’s won with all kinds of teams and all kinds of coaches. He’s won passing titles, made a gazillion Pro Bowls. I don’t see any holes in his résumé, quite frankly.”

About that lack of Super Bowl titles?

“Look at Sonny Jurgensen, who never won anything,” says Shapiro. “He’s in the Hall of Fame.” A valid point, although few think to compare Jurgensen to Montana and Unitas.

Manning’s advocates are trained to counter the Super Bowl question with this fallback statistic: In 11 of his 13 seasons with the Colts, Manning has guided the club to 10 or more wins. It’s an incredible run that cannot be ignored — proof Manning has consistently won, and done so with different supporting casts. But consider this: Both Brady (.776) and Ben Roethlisberger (.704) own a higher career regular-season winning percentage than Manning (.678), and Donovan McNabb (.626) is not far behind. Is this really Manning’s calling card — that he ranked one spot behind Roethlisberger and one ahead of McNabb among the winningest quarterbacks of his era?

Excusing those January woes

Before Manning, only January football mattered when discussing quarterback wins and losses. Joe Namath’s career passing numbers were atrocious by today’s standards, and yet his win over Baltimore in 1969 still resonates today. This is because fans and football analysts celebrate winners — big-game winners, to be precise.

Marino understands this. Before him, no passer was as sharp or prolific in the pocket. Marino could size up and shred a defense as well as anyone, and he was once enveloped in the same kinds of discussions that include Manning today. But Marino’s career forever carries an asterisk because he failed to produce when it counted most (8–10 postseason record); the closest he came to a title was a rout at the hands of San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl XIX. His 1984 AFC Championship ring? Probably collecting dust somewhere in a closet. “A loser’s ring,” he once called it.

Manning is by no stretch of the imagination a big-game winner, either. Seven times a Manning-led team has stumbled in its first playoff game — six times as the favorite, according to oddsmakers. In this sense, Manning has set a standard for playoff futility (Montana suffered defeat in his team’s first playoff game four times; it happened three times to Elway, Favre and Marino, and only twice to Brady).

Shouldn’t a man credited for his team’s 141 victories over the past 13 seasons be held accountable for that same franchise’s failures? Not necessarily. All of the Hall of Fame writers polled seem more comfortable blaming Indianapolis’ defense and lackluster running game than Manning for the team’s inability to win more than one championship. Never mind the fact that those same defenses and backfields were in place when the regular-season wins were piling up.

Is Manning not to be held responsible at all?

Mike Chappell of the Indianapolis Star admits that Manning’s postseason numbers do not compare to his regular-season averages. In fact, Manning’s postseason completion percentage, QB rating and yards per attempt are all lower than his regular season numbers, and his touchdown-to-interception ratio is completely out of whack. But Chappell makes a good point: “The same could be said of just about any quarterback. Quarterback numbers are going to be down in the playoffs because you’re playing better teams and better defenses.”

As Chappell points out, Brady’s postseason career QB rating is an alarming nine points lower than his regular-season rating. “Brady’s numbers haven’t been as good, and he’s been surrounded by better players.”

But why don’t Marino and Dan Fouts receive the same benefit of the doubt as Manning? As good as Mark Duper and Mark Clayton were, Marino never had a receiving corps as deep or talented as what Manning has had to work with, and in Marino’s 17 seasons, 10 different Dolphins running backs led the team in rushing.

Was San Diego’s defense special at the peak of the ‘Air Coryell’ years? No. In fact, in 11 of the 15 seasons Fouts was under center, the Chargers ranked 15th or lower in total defense (out of 28 teams). But those excuses are rarely part of the discussion when Marino and Fouts are compared to the all-time greats at the position. Instead, both men are left to suffer for their teams’ January woes.

When you’re Peyton Manning, however, blame gets re-routed. Look no further than Tracy Porter’s 74-yard interception return in Super Bowl XLIV that proved to be the deciding play for New Orleans. Immediately following the game, a number of analysts and fans rushed to Manning’s defense, suggesting Reggie Wayne ran a sloppy route and failed to place himself between the ball and Porter. Probably a fair assessment, only it’s somewhat uncharted territory; quarterbacks are forced to eat all of their mistakes, without exception. But for Manning, his gift to Porter — arguably the most costly interception ever thrown in a professional football game — was forever credited to his receiver.

And if Wayne was not to blame, there were others to suggest luck was at work. Said Colts general manager Bill Polian months later, “(Porter) jumped the route. Good for him. It happens in football. ... It’s not different than a pitcher throwing his best curveball, and the hitter is guessing curveball and hits it out. That’s exactly what happened.”

It’s the other things that matter

Why should Manning be excused for his shortcomings and judged by a different set of rules than all other quarterbacks? Perhaps it’s because he possesses a mind like no other the game has recognized. Even though his résumé lacks titles, it is forgiven because Manning’s genius is simply too awe-inspiring to ignore.

Says Tennessee cornerback Cortland Finnegan, “You might be blitzing, and he’ll know it. It’s almost like he’s a mind-reader.”

Everyone is familiar with the Manning pedigree, but it’s those extra hours of preparation where Manning separates himself from his peers. That’s where his keen mind has been shaped. “There’s not a stone unturned when it comes to reading defenses,” adds Finnegan. “He knows each defensive player’s weaknesses. You’re talking about a real student of the game.”

And like Favre, who earned style points for “saving” a once-doomed Packers franchise, Manning should be credited for making football relevant in Indianapolis. “It was an afterthought before he got here in 1998,” says Chappell, who then wonders aloud, “If Peyton Manning is not here, are the Colts even in Indianapolis? There certainly isn’t a Lucas Oil Stadium.”

But the thing all players and writers point to — that which distinguishes Manning from any other quarterback of his generation — is all that extra “stuff” he does before the start of each play. He reads the defense, identifies its weak spots, adjusts the Colts alignment accordingly, and spews a series of calls — some to serve a purpose, some for effect — before signaling center Jeff Saturday to snap the ball.

“The fact that he is responsible for so many decisions at the line of scrimmage makes him unique in this era,” says Dan Pompei, another Hall of Fame voter who covers the NFL for the Chicago Tribune and the National Football Post. “He’s in a little different category because of that.”

It’s one of pro football’s great side attractions, really — the mental games, the carnival barking — and most agree the only man equipped to pull it off is No. 18, especially when he is in control of the clock before the half or at the end of the game.

“He can work the hell out of that two-minute offense,” says San Diego’s Antoine Cason. “It seems like he has a play in his head for each situation. You know that comes from preparation, the trust he has in his teammates, and doing it so much that he’s comfortable with it.”

Could it be that this brilliant mind is why analysts are willing to ignore traditional measuring sticks when it comes to sizing up Manning? Or maybe Manning’s rare gifts have forced football talking heads to re-think how they’ve been evaluating quarterbacks all along.

“We don’t judge any other player, at any other position, by wins and losses,” says Pompei. “I think we put a little too much emphasis on whether quarterbacks win championships.

“If you look at Peyton’s body of work — in terms of what he’s done as a passer, as a leader, as an impact player — his body of work stacks up with just about anybody who’s ever played the game.”

Shapiro agrees. Chappell believes Manning needs one more title to put the discussion to bed for good.

The common practice for when a new player is being considered for Canton is to have the beat reporter who covered that player present a case for enshrinement on his behalf. This past year, Chappell and Bernie Miklasz, who covers the Rams, offered separate endorsements for Marshall Faulk.

Still, when it comes time to present Manning’s case for enshrinement to Canton, Chappell has joked that, assuming he is still on the 44-person committee, he won’t ask for much time. “These things can get very long-winded — 15 or 20 minutes — but to me, Peyton Manning is the type of guy where you stand up and say ‘I’m endorsing Peyton Manning for the Hall of Fame’ and then you sit down.”

Even after his career is over, Peyton Manning will live by a different set of rules.

Also Read:
The Indianapolis Colts 2011 NFL Team Preview

<p> Is Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning overrated?</p>
Post date: Tuesday, August 23, 2011 - 08:00
Path: /college-football/predicting-college-footballs-breakout-players-notre-dame

by Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)

What is a breakout player? Defining that term isn’t exactly easy. Although Notre Dame fans are likely already familiar with the names on this list, this is Athlon’s attempt to peg the players that will be household names at the end of the 2011 season. These players may have started at some point in their career, but have yet to become a name familiar with all college football fans.

Aaron Lynch, DE – There’s a lot of optimism surrounding the Notre Dame defense this season. The Irish allowed only 39 points in the final four games of 2010 and return eight starters from that unit, including All-American linebacker Manti Te’o. Adding to the potential of the defense is one of the top defensive line recruiting classes in the nation. Lynch is the headliner of that group, ranking as the No. 22 prospect in the 2011 Athlon Consensus 100. He enrolled early and wrecked havoc on the offense, collecting six tackles and a quarterback rush in the spring game. The Irish won’t need Lynch to start with Ethan Johnson and Kapron Lewis-Moore returning at end, but expect the true freshman to log significant minutes and should be one of the defense’s top pass rushers.

Zack Martin, OT – With four starters back, the offensive line should be a strength for Notre Dame in 2011. This group is anchored by three seniors, but Martin is one of the top sophomore offensive line prospects in college football. Martin started all 13 games as a freshman last season, with 11 of those coming at left tackle. The sophomore will be tasked with protecting the blindside of Dayne Crist or Tommy Rees this season and with the returning pieces around him, this could be one of the better Irish offensive lines in recent years. If Martin picks up where he left off last season, don’t be surprised if he earns All-American honors by the end of 2011.

Theo Riddick, WR – Riddick was off to a solid start last year, catching 33 passes during an early season four-game stretch. However, an ankle injury against Western Michigan limited his effectiveness the rest of the way. Riddick finished the year with 40 receptions for 414 yards and three scores, along with 29 yards on the ground. The Irish would like get Riddick as many touches as possible, so expect to see him used on returns, in addition to his offensive duties. With the junior returning to full health, he should threaten 70 catches and become a key cog in the Irish passing attack. With Michael Floyd and TJ Jones returning, along with Riddick’s development, Notre Dame will field one of the top receiving corps in college football. 

Prince Shembo, LB – With Manti Te’o, Carlo Calabrese and Darius Fleming returning, the Irish already own one of the nation’s top 10 linebacking corps. But this group could get even better with Shembo’s continued emergence. He played in all 13 games last year, registering 15 tackles, 4.5 sacks and one forced fumble. Shembo was used only as a reserve last year, but is ticked for a spot in the starting lineup as an outside linebacker. The sophomore should push for the team lead in sacks and at 6-foot-2 and 250 pounds, will be counted upon to help Notre Dame's rush defense continue to improve upon last season's numbers. 

Cierre Wood, RB – The Irish finished a disappointing 92nd nationally in rushing offense last year, but that number should improve in 2011. Wood emerged as Notre Dame’s top back over the second half of last year, tallying 329 of his 603 yards in the final four games. He also managed 20 receptions last season and averaged 20 yards per kick return. After providing a spark for the rushing attack at the end of 2010, Wood will open the year as Notre Dame’s top back and should post around 200 carries. With more opportunities to shine and an experienced offensive line, Wood should easily surpass 1,000 yards in 2011. 

Others to Watch

Tyler Eifert, TE – Caught 26 of his 27 receptions over the final seven games of last season. With Kyle Rudolph off to the NFL, expect Eifert to become a bigger part of the offense.

TJ Jones, WR – Another valuable weapon in the Notre Dame passing attack and should be better with another offseason to pickup the playbook.

Louis Nix, NG – Should be a perfect replacement for Ian Williams in the middle of the line. At 6-foot-3 and 326 pounds, Nix has the size and strength to hold up against the run and is having a solid fall camp.

Other Notre Dame Content:

How Texas A&M's Potential Move to the SEC Will Impact College Football
Five Reasons to Believe in Notre Dame for 2011

College Football's Top 25 Games for 2011

<p> Notre Dame fans are likely already familiar with the names on this list, but which players will be household names by the end of 2011?</p>
Post date: Tuesday, August 23, 2011 - 07:46
Path: /columns/5-burning-questions/fantasy-football-quarterbacks-sleepers-busts

Athlon Sports looks at the sleepers and busts at the quarterback, running back, wide receiver and tight end positions this week. These are the players we think you can wait on and still get solid production from and the players we think have an average draft position (ADP) that is too high for what you will get in return.

Now it's the quarterbacks' turn. There are five QBs you can seemingly set it and forget it — Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Philip Rivers, Drew Brees and Peyton Manning (if he's back in time for Week 1). But what do you do if you pass (or miss) on them? Well, if you keep on waiting, here are some that could serve you well.


See more of Athlon Sports value players, overvalued players and top rookies in our Best Bets story

Guys that give you a reason not reach for the five set it and forget it players...

Matt Ryan, Atlanta

Hype has followed Ryan basically since he entered the league, and it’s not hard to see why. Two of his three seasons have ended in the playoffs, and the fourth-year pro has a career TD-INT ratio of about 2-1. The huge draft-day trade for Julio Jones has the fantasy-hype train chugging along. Ryan, who was fifth in the league in pass attempts last season (571), now has Jones, Roddy White and Harry Douglas in the slot at his disposal. The Falcons led the NFL in offensive scrimmage plays last season, running at least 49 more plays than in either of Ryan’s previous two campaigns.

Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh
His ceiling remains lower than other passers. Visions of 2007’s 32 touchdown passes dance in some drafters’ heads, but that season remains a bit of an outlier. Roethlisberger’s 7.9 percent TD rate that season stands 1.6 points better than any other he has posted. His next two came in his first two years, each of which included fewer than 300 pass attempts. By comparison, Big Ben notched a 4.4 rate last season, good for 18th in the league, or one spot behind Carson Palmer. Still, it's hard to discount the 3,200 yards and 17 scores in 12 games (extrapolated out it goes to 4,200 yards and 23 scores). Certainly worth racking up other skill positions while the rest of your league grabs QBs and then taking Big Ben in the 5-7-round range.

Matt Schaub, Houston
The thing about Schaub is that you know he’ll throw it a bunch. He led the league in attempts in his breakout 2009 and ranked fifth last year. His two lowest totals opened and closed the season. In between, Schaub tallied fewer than 32 attempts just once — and then it was 29. This season should present a healthy Andre Johnson and Owen Daniels. Combine those replenished top two targets with a passer who has lowered his INT rate for three straight years, and there’s little downside.

Sam Bradford, St. Louis
There was a lot to like about Bradford’s numbers as a rookie, including an INT rate better than that of Peyton Manning and Drew Brees. Most observers believe Bradford has a chance to improve in Year 2, now under the tutelage of new offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels. The promise, however, must outweigh the questions at receiver: Will Mark Clayton be OK after his injury? Can Danario Alexander stay healthy? Can Danny Amendola produce like Wes Welker? Will the rookies deliver? If you haven't grabbed a QB yet, this is probably the last who could be counted on as an every-week starter.

Matthew Stafford, Detroit
He produced well in three games last season, but that’s too small of a sample to mean anything in a sport of small sample sizes. We know Stafford has plenty of arm. NFL Films showed us his toughness in that 2009 win over Cleveland. The weapons are obvious — and they don’t matter all that much beyond Calvin Johnson. The big question with Stafford is that shoulder, and it’ll create significant differences in his draft position. If he could only stay healthy is the mantra of many a fantasy player concerning Bradford. He's thrown for 2,800 yards combined in his 13 career games the last two years, and has one of the game's best WRs in Johnson, an emerging TE in Brandon Pettigrew and a pass-catching RB in Jahvid Best.

Jay Cutler, Chicago
A healthy Cutler has to produce more in 2011. The 2010 Bears attempted fewer passes (466) than any other team and tallied their fewest scrimmage plays (936) since 1993. Both numbers will rise. We’ve heard about the complicated Mike Martz pass offense, so it’s fair to assume Cutler and his receivers will have a better grasp this time around. Let’s also assume more weight on their shoulders, as 2010 presented Martz’s first offense that ran as much as 44 percent of the time. Cutler wasn't a complete bum in his first year in Martz's system. He threw for nearly 3,300 yards and 23 TDs while being sacked a league-high 52 times. It's easy to say: If you just add a few extras of this and that he would be ... Since it's easy to say such things, we will. So, give him an extra 50 yards a game and he's a 4,000-yard passer. The offensive line should be somehwat more cohesive and his leading receiver from a year ago, Johnny Knox, is now No. 4 on the depth chart. That tells you the coaches must like what they see from the other three.

Kevin Kolb, Arizona
Kolb remains a fairly hot ticket despite having only seven pro starts and three more career picks than touchdowns. He started the excitement in 2009 with a pair of 300-yard games. One came while playing from behind, though, and the other against a weak K.C. secondary. Injury killed his 2010 starting shot, and Kolb delivered just one noteworthy fantasy outing. An outstanding supporting cast helped him with the big numbers he did tally. After Bradford and Stafford, this has to be the sexy QB sleeper pick of 2011. Groomed by Andy Reid in Philadelphia, the Cardinals coveted Kolb from the get-go. He gets Larry Fitzgerald, one of the game's top five WRs and plays against a relatively easy division and schedule altogether.

Guys that have potential to be more than bye-week replacements...
Ryan Fiztpatrick, Buffalo

Fitzpatrick brings two things to the party: 1) opportunity, and 2) running ability. You don’t want to draft some little Ivy-Leaguer from Buffalo with a cool beard, but he’ll throw the ball plenty. That’s why he delivered 23 touchdowns last season in just 13 games. His pace would have meant 543 attempts over a full season, which would have ranked seventh in the league for a team that ran the sixth-fewest offensive plays. The team went defense with its first three picks to start the NFL Draft. They won’t be impacts immediately, plus the Bills lost LB Paul Posluszny and DB Donte Whitner to free agency. If nothing else, just the opportunity to put the ball in the air a lot makes Fitzpatrick appealing, as do the 269 rushing yards he added in 13 games to make him the fifth-best rushing QB.

Colt McCoy, Cleveland
Say this for Jake Delhomme: He’s a good guy to follow as your team’s starting QB. The former Panther was so bad that McCoy looked good while posting a QB rating that would have ranked 28th in the league had he qualified. Actually, McCoy did play well considering his situation. His 60.8 completion rate and 7.1 yards per attempt, over 222 passes in eight games, ranked in the middle of the league despite a weak set of wideouts. The West Coast offense might suit him well and the addition of rookie WR Greg Little certainly helps. He also has a friendly schedule until the fantasy playoffs begin in Week 14.

Jason Campbell, Oakland
Campbell has never had it easy, from the coordinator turnstile in Washington to having Bruce Gradkowski sitting over his shoulder in Oakland last season. He’s better than that, though, and Hue Jackson seems to agree. The new head coach was the offensive coordinator in 2010, when Campbell posted his best TD rate in a season in which he started more than seven games. Campbell has also averaged 5.0 yards per carry in his career and topped 220 yards rushing in three straight seasons. He has two solid RBs behind him, a bevy of quick receivers and a TE in Kevin Boss that may have been under utilized in New York. The schedule is somewhat favorable until the fantasy playoffs and the Raiders' defense, or lack thereof, may allow for more opportunities.

Two rookies worth a late flier on...
Cam Newton, Carolina

The best thing for fantasy owners to do in advance of Newton’s rookie season might be to look back at Vince Young’s debut. Young took over in Week 4, started 13 games, rushed for 300 more yards than any QB not named Michael Vick and finished as a top-12 fantasy passer. The Titans had a solid running back (Travis Henry) and no special pass-catchers. Newton comes with a better arm, two better running backs (DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart), two solid TEs in Greg Olsen and Jeremy Shockey and a true No. 1 wideout in Steve Smith. Young scored 225 fantasy points as a rookie, and if you told us we could get a potential 225-point QB in the final three rounds, we would jump at it.

Blaine Gabbert, Jacksonville
Newton is the rookie to go for considering he is the most likely to start all season, but Gabbert is the next most likely rookie starting QB candidate. He does have an average offensive line, RB (Jones-Drew), TE (Lewis) and WR (Thomas) to help him along. He was a 63 percent passer, averaging just under 250 yards per game in Missouri's spread offense last season, and can also use his legs to be productive. Let's say he starts after the Week 9 bye, the teams Gabbert will face include: the Colts, Browns, Texans, Chargers, Buccaneers, Falcons and Titans.

Two guys that have already proven they can be dependable fantasy QBs and are playing behind injury-prone QBs...
Shaun Hill, Detroit
Considering he entered 2010 as an off-the-radar backup, Hill was terrific. He put forth fantasy-starter value in his first start and generated plenty of other points thanks to a ton of pass attempts. That success helps to build momentum for Matthew Stafford’s fantasy stock now that the starter is back healthy. Hill has tossed 39 TDs versus 23 INTs in his career. If Stafford gets hurt, Hill put up three 300-yard games, 244 yards per game and nearly 1.5 TDs a game in his 11 outings last season.

Jon Kitna, Dallas
Had the Cowboys not opened so poorly, Tony Romo’s injury would have looked like a season-killer. It revived Kitna’s career, though. Two shaky initial starts gave way to four multi-score outings over the final seven weeks. Kitna topped 300 yards four times and helped Jason Witten to a career-high nine touchdowns. He posted the best TD rate of his career. Romo’s return pushes Kitna back behind the curtain, but at least we know what he can do in the event of another injury to the starter. Kitna put up 237 yards per game and 1.6 TDs a game in 10 outings.

Michael Vick, Philadelphia
Even Vick’s coaches couldn’t have foreseen his 2010 season. Being the unchallenged starter can only help, even without minicamps and OTAs. First-round pick Danny Watkins, a guard, strengthens an offensive line that ranked fifth-worst in adjusted sack rate, according to Speed and talent surround Vick, making it easier for him to create big plays with his arm than his legs. Vick’s career-high of nine rushing TDs figures to regress, but we know he’ll continue to produce there. Of course, he also lost four games to a running-related rib injury.

Matt Cassel, Kansas City
Seven players threw more TD passes than Cassel last season. All attempted at least 25 more throws and threw for at least 589 more yards. No QB has thrown for less yardage than Cassel did last year while ranking among the league’s top 12 in touchdown passes since 2006. That would seem to indicate a TD level that’s tough to sustain. Cassel will need to attempt significantly more passes to have a shot at repeating his numbers. Plus, who knows how efficient the offense will be with Charlie Weis back in college?

Josh Freeman, Tampa Bay
Freeman’s reputation might start to outgrow his actual value. His TD-to-INT ration of 25-to-6 last year was obviously tremendous. Five of those scores, however, came in a single home game against Seattle. It was the only time all year that Freeman threw for more than two TDs in a game. A guy known for above-average running ability also failed to rush for a single touchdown. Luck seems likely to change that, but Freeman’s next NFL ground score will be his first. His team also won’t sneak up on anyone this year.
Full disclosure, we have him ranked at 81 in our Athlon 280, and we thought that might be low. But he has an ADP of 100 in drafts and an ADP of 66 in drafts. So he's a bust somewhere and a great value somewhere.

More Fantasy Football Cheat Sheets and Rankings:
2011 Fantasy Football Rankings: Top 280
2011 Fantasy Football Rankings: Top 240 w/ IDPs

011 Fantasy Football Rankings: Quarterbacks
011 Fantasy Football Rankings: Running Backs
2011 Fantasy Football Rankings: Wide Receivers

2011 Fantasy Football Rankings: Tight Ends

2011 Fantasy Football Rankings: Kickers

2011 Fantasy Football Rankings: Defense/Special Teams

<p> Athlon Sports looks at the sleepers and busts at the quarterback, running back, wide receiver and tight end positions this week. These are the players we think you can wait on and still get solid production from and the players we think have an average draft position (ADP) that is too high for what you will get in return.</p>
Post date: Tuesday, August 23, 2011 - 07:00
All taxonomy terms: College Football, Fantasy
Path: /columns/college-fantasy-rankings/preseason-cfb-fantasy-te-rankings

Fall college fantasy football drafts are right around the corner and Athlon is here to help win your league in 2011. Over the next three months, look for updated rankings, player profiles and strategy pieces every week. As we dive into our preseason research, expect plenty of tweaks to the rankings before the season starts.

Scoring system rankings based upon -

1 passing touchdown = 4 points
Rushing/receiving = 6 points
25 passing yards = 1 point
10 rushing/receiving yards = 1 point
1 reception = 0.5 points
1 fumble = -1 point
1 interception = - 1 point

Updated: August 25

Rank Player Team
1 Ladarius Green UL Lafayette
2 Michael Egnew Missouri
3 Tyler Eifert Notre Dame
4 Luke Willson Rice
5 Orson Charles Georgia
6 Drake Dunsmore Northwestern
7 Lucas Reed New Mexico
8 Coby Fleener Stanford
9 Jordan Reed Florida
10 James Hanna Oklahoma
11 Kyler Reed Nebraska
12 George Bryan NC State
13 David Paulson Oregon
14 Gavin Escobar San Diego State
15 Jake Stoneburner Ohio State
16 Jacob Pederson Wisconsin
17 Dwayne Allen Clemson
18 Eric Lair Minnesota
19 Kyle Efaw Boise State
20 Brandon Barden Vanderbilt
21 Ted Bolser Indiana
22 Ryan Otten San Jose State
23 Cooper Helfet Duke
24 Kevin Koger Michigan
25 Philip Lutzenkirchen Auburn
26 Chris Gragg Arkansas
27 D.C. Jefferson Rutgers
28 Deangelo Peterson LSU
29 Jack Doyle Western Kentucky
30 Joe Halahuni Oregon State

<p> Athlon continues its release of the 2011 college fantasy football draft kit with the first look at tight end rankings.</p>
Post date: Tuesday, August 23, 2011 - 03:44
Path: /college-football/athlon-archive-totally-true-tales-tim-tebow

In his left hand, the little guy on stage wearing the white T-shirt and the two-sizes-too-big University of Florida football helmet holds a red plastic cup — the kind you’d find at any decent keg party or backyard barbecue. With his right hand, he grabs the microphone.

 “This should be interesting,” Kenny Chesney says, as his guitar player strums the first few licks of Jimi Hendrix’s “Voodoo Child.” As the axman reaches the part where Jimi would sing “I’m standing next to a mountain,” the 5-foot-nothing Chesney is standing next to a mountain. A 6'3", 234-pound hunk of granite emerges from stage left, Gator chomping in time to the music. The Chesney fans of Gainesville, Fla., needed only eight minutes to snap up all 400 tickets available for their man’s show at Common Grounds Coffee House this night in March, but at this moment, an artist who has sold 25 million albums is a mere supporting player in yet another Totally True Tale of Tim Tebow.

You heard this one, right? Chesney called Tebow, Florida’s sophomore quarterback, on stage, looked at the crowd and said, “OK. We’re going to sing something. I think we should let Tim do an a capella song for everybody.” And the crowd chanted “Te-Bow! Te-Bow! Te-Bow!” Then, Chesney huddled with Tebow and Butch Rowley, the versatile walk-on who holds for the Gators’ field goals and extra points. And the trio turned around, and Chesney spoke. “He says he wants to sing ‘Tractor,’” Chesney said to deafening applause.

And the band played, Chesney raised the microphone toward Tebow, who confirmed that, yes, indeed, “She thinks my tractor’s sexy.” After the show, Tebow and Rowley and a couple of other football players hopped on Chesney’s tour bus, and the group partied all the way to Key West. You heard that last part, right? It was on the Internet. It must be true. All the way to Key West.

According to Tebow, the truth ends at “sexy.”

That’s the problem with becoming a superhero before your 19th birthday. The True Tales become tall tales in a hurry. Here’s another whopper that’s been circulating since Tebow committed to Florida in December 2005. He can’t throw. Sure, he can stiffarm a linebacker clear out of Florida Field, but he fires every pass at 100 mph and couldn’t throw a fade if his life depended on it.

Funny, but that sure looked like a fade that dropped over the shoulder of cornerback Markihe Anderson and into the hands of receiver Louis Murphy for a touchdown during Florida’s spring game in April. That would be the game in which Tebow completed 15-of-22 first-half passes for 203 yards, led his team to four touchdowns in its first five possessions and delivered zero stiffarms. The performance prompted Gators coach Urban Meyer to issue the following declaration:

“He’s ready to go,” Meyer said after the spring game. “Tim Tebow is ready to go play quarterback at Florida.”

Still, every Tebow throw from now until he graduates will be dissected like the Zapruder film. Tebow was a cult hero before he arrived on campus in January 2006. When he crashed through the left side of the line to gain two yards on fourth-and-one in the fourth quarter at Tennessee on Sept. 16, he morphed into a genuine cultural phenomenon. Fans launched Web sites and printed T-shirts (Tim Tebow is My Homeboy) to praise the home-schooled evangelist’s son who would help deliver the Gators back to college football’s Promised Land. But that was when Tebow was the backup to Chris Leak, who, with considerable help from Tebow, did lead the Gators back to college football’s Promised Land.

Even after Florida won the national title, the pressure on the young southpaw mounted. Wait until Tim Tebow starts, fans said. He’ll be the greatest ever. Against Western Kentucky on Sept. 1, Tebow will emerge from the tunnel at Florida Field as the Gators’ starter. He’ll carry with him the hopes and dreams of a fan base that believes he can do anything.

Have you heard the Tim Tebow Facts? Tebow has. “I’ve heard that one about ‘Chuck Norris wears Superman pajamas.’ They changed it to Tim Tebow,” Tebow says. “Some people printed them out and brought them to the training room one day.” Not exactly, Timmy. According to, which borrows shamelessly from a Web site devoted to action star Norris, “Superman wears Tim Tebow pajamas.” Also, “When it rains in The Swamp, Tim Tebow doesn’t get wet. The rain gets Tim Tebow’d.”

Tebowmania is easy to understand. The guy doesn’t look like a home-schooler. He looks as if he graduated summa cum laude from Central Casting High. He’s got the blue eyes, the buzz cut, the rock jaw. His faith is unshakable, but he doesn’t flaunt it. He peppers his sentences with the word “awesome,” he says “yes sir” and “no ma’am” and he genuinely doesn’t see what all the fuss is about. On the field, he never backs down from a tackler.

Mothers pray their daughters will bring him home for pot roast night. Fathers pray their sons will grow up to be like him. Linebackers pray he won’t connect with that stiffarm.

Tebow can laugh off all this. It takes him five times as long as his teammates to get from the practice field to the locker room because of all the autograph seekers, but he signs nearly every football, T-shirt or hat thrust at him. He poses for every picture, even though he knows that if he takes a picture with a pretty girl, the blogosphere will rate his “new girlfriend” and the photo will circle the planet in a matter of hours. Tebow considers the pressure and the adulation parts of the package he signed up for when he chose Florida.

“I know how much I like Danny Wuerffel and a lot of the other quarterbacks that have been here. Of course, I’m not on that level like that yet,” Tebow says. “You’re still the Gator quarterback, and people look up to you just because of your position. That makes you feel good, but you’ve still got to go out there and prove it.”

Maybe Tebow was born to play quarterback at Florida, even though he sometimes plays like a nose tackle who has been handed the football. That brings up another Totally True Tale. Surely you’ve heard it. As a senior playing for Ponta Vedra Beach Nease High in the Class 4A state title game against Seffner Armwood, Tebow successfully begged his coach to let him play nose tackle on a late fourth-down play with Nease up a touchdown.

Forget the Web sites. Forget the T-shirts. Forget the duet with Kenny Chesney. That particular Tebow tale explains why Florida offensive tackle Jason Watkins said this of Tebow in October 2006: “I haven’t seen anybody like that. That’s not a regular person. Something is wrong with him. It’s something in his genes.” Watkins, of course, means “wrong” in the nicest possible way, but he’s dead on about the genes. Tebow’s father, Bob, confirms that basketball games involving Tim and his two brothers typically devolve into wrestling matches. “There are no fouls in our family games,” says the man who runs a mission that annually exports Americans to preach the gospel in the Philippines.

Because he earned their respect with his competitive streak, Tebow’s teammates don’t mind that women swoon and men punch each other in the arms every time Tebow walks past. Tebow’s teammates believe in him as fervently as Florida’s fans. If they didn’t know him so well, they might even believe he hopped on Chesney’s tour bus and partied his way down to Key West. Sometimes it’s difficult to pinpoint where the Totally True Tales of Tim Tebow stop and where the tall tales begin. That’s how it goes for living legends — even the ones who have yet to take their first snap as a starter.


This piece originally appeared in our 2007 SEC annual. Each week we'll take a look back at some features from the Athlon Archive.

<p> We look back on our 2007 Tim Tebow feature about the launch of his Gators career.</p>
Post date: Monday, August 22, 2011 - 15:53
All taxonomy terms: Best Offseason Moves, RALPH VACCHIANO, NFL
Path: /nfl/5-best-and-worst-offseason-nfl-moves


If you read the headlines only, the Philadelphia Eagles have owned them during the NFL’s abbreviated offseason. But the truth is they weren’t the only ones making moves. In the wildest, three-week scramble the NFL has ever seen, several teams tried to reinvent themselves quickly.

Many succeeded. Others, not so much.

The results, of course, won’t be known until the regular season begins. For now, though, there are a few offseason decisions that look like blockbusters for the teams that made them. And of course there are a few others that have left many people scratching their heads.


Eagles signing CB Nnamdi Asomougha and acquiring CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie
They were the surprise winners in the sweepstakes for Asomougha, a four-time Pro Bowler. Getting Rodgers-Cromartie (and a second-round pick) for their backup quarterback was a coup, too. Add that to CB Asante Samuel, and they suddenly have the best CB group in the NFL. And they need it in a division where teams love to send out three receivers and a tight end constantly. Nickel defenses have become the new base. And that’s not a mismatch for the Eagles.

Vikings acquiring Donovan McNabb
They had built their team to win the last two years before Brett Favre was finally finished, so their not ready to rebuild. So better than go with a rookie, they got one of the most underrated quarterbacks in NFL history. Yes, he was a disaster in Washington last year, but a change of scenery just might make him recapture the ability he flashed in Philly as recently as 2009.

Patriots signing DT Albert Haynesworth and WR Chad Ochocinco
Neither fit the Bill Belichick mold, but then again neither did Randy Moss. The combined price for the two was a fifth-round pick and two sixths, which is a steal for a six-time Pro Bowl receiver and a man who was considered the best defensive player in the NFL two years ago. For little risk, the Pats are taking the chance that Belichick can control them. Again, it worked once with Moss.

Texans signing CB Johnathan Joseph and S Danieal Manning
The Texans have been an enigma for years, but there’s no doubt they have enough weapons on offense. What they don’t have is a defense. In fact, they had the worst passing defense in the NFL last season. These two under-the-radar signings will make them a whole lot better, and makes up for the fact that their run at Asomougha failed.

Chiefs signing WR Steve Breaston
They were onto something last year with the high-powered combo of QB Matt Cassel and rejuvenated WR Dwayne Bowe. What they needed, though, was a better second option. Breaston thrived for years as the third option in Arizona, even catching 77 passes for 1,006 yards just three seasons ago. He should thrive as a starter and give Bowe some running room to grow even more.


Seahawks not re-signing QB Matt Hasselbeck
They gave WR Sidney Rice a five-year, $41 million deal, TE Zack Miller to a five-year, $34 million contract, and G Robert Gallery to a three-year, $21 million deal … but they couldn’t find a little more money for the quarterback that led them to the playoffs last season? OK, they were only 7-9, but they look like they were loading up for a run this year. But with Tarvaris Jackson at quarterback instead?

Redskins trading QB Donovan McNabb
It didn’t work last year and McNabb and coach Mike Shanahan clearly weren’t on the same page. But shame on Shanahan for not making it work. He should know that quarterbacks aren’t simply interchangeable and the idea that they can compete in the NFC East with John Beck or Rex Grossman seems crazy. It looks worse since a year ago they traded a second-round pick and a fourth-round pick to the Eagles to get him. After one bad year, they were only able to get two sixths in return.

Dolphins trading for RB Reggie Bush
It’s not so much the price. The Dolphins only gave up a couple of undisclosed draft picks and a back-up safety. The problem with this is that with Ricky Williams and Ronnie Brown gone, it appears the Dolphins may try to make Bush their every-down back. Almost everyone in the NFL agrees he’s just not suited for that role. He’s never rushed for more than 581 times in a season or carried the ball more than 157 times. He’s a dynamic player, a terrific receiver and a definite weapon. But he’s never been the push-the-pile type NFL teams need to keep their offenses balanced.

Cowboys not re-signing RB Marion Barber
He broke down in recent years and never lived up to the promise he sometimes flashed. But he was a punishing runner that defenses in the NFC East feared. Felix Jones is now the No. 1 back, and he’s a more explosive player, but no one is convinced he can handle that full role. Plus he’s more flash than power, and that’ll be missed in the Cowboys’ offense. Barber punished defenses and that made him worth keeping around.

Cardinals trading Tim Hightower for Vonnie Holliday
They did a great thing in trading for QB Kevin Kolb, then failed to re-sign WR Steve Breaston and then gave away a talented running back. Beanie Wells is their main guy, but he’s been a huge injury risk. Hightower has been an excellent two-way threat, with 23 rushing touchdowns in the last three years. And they gave him away for a 35-year-old pass rusher who had 2 ½ sacks last year.

<p> Some teams had great offseasons. Others, not so much.</p>
Post date: Monday, August 22, 2011 - 13:24
All taxonomy terms: Funny, Overtime
Path: /overtime/interoffice-memo-1995

We found this interoffice memo from 1995 about this amazing new thing called the Internet on an editor's cork board yesterday and thought we should share it. (Yes, it's been sitting there for 16 years. You should see his desk.)  I think this belongs in some sort of Internet museum.

 Some of our favorite gems are:

--Athlon now has it's own email address.
--We can also send email long distance at no charge--it's a great way to save telephone costs.
--I will monitor the e-mail daily and forward any messages addressed to you.
--We only have one email address at this time (it comes free with our dial-up Interent account), but in the future we may be able to access the email account through our personal computers!
--The Internet will be accessed through the big open Macintosh in the back production area.

<p> This Internet thing sounds like it could be the wave of the future.</p>
Post date: Monday, August 22, 2011 - 11:54
Path: /nfl/terrelle-pryor-drafted-raiders-al-davis-reign-terror-continues-0

NFL News: Well, he did it again. Raiders owner and walking zombie Al Davis proved that he doesn't listen to his detractors by drafting OSU's Terrelle Pryor in the third round of the NFL's supplemental draft.

Al's Detractors might say this would be a stupid thing to do. But does he listen? No. Al's detractors might say that he doesn't need another oversized QB who can't actually "throw" the ball (usually a minor bit of importance for a professional quarterback). But does Al listen to all these so-called "experts"? Oh dear lord no.

And why would he do that? With his football acumen, Mr. Davis has assembled a team that has averaged 5.5 wins over the last seven seasons. Who needs experts when you can pull those rabbits out of your hat.

Terrelle Pryor is a giant work in progress. His accuracy has been described as "horrendous" and yet Big Al gave up a third round pick for him. Here's a couple players who've gone in the third round of the NFL draft the past few years: Mike Wallace (Steelers), Jamaal Charles (Chiefs), Jermichael Finley (Packers), Mario Manningham (Giants), Franks Gore (49ers), Justin Tuck (Giants)...the list of value propositions goes on.

You'd think someone who drafted Jamarcus Russell would've learned. Draft you once, shame on you. Draft you twice, well, shame on you again.

Russell was a bigger version of Pryor. And he turned out to be one of the biggest draft busts in history. Jason Campbell is finally starting to come around, so why sabotage his confidence and overpay for Pryor. Do you think Davis will let a third round QB with a big name sit on his bench for long?

The Raiders don't have a great history of picking up good QBs in recent years, and this is just another example of why they will never return to glory and be th powerhouse they were int he 70s while Al Davis is still at the helm. He's like a cat that chases the bouncing feather, only to chase the next bouncing feather that comes along.

But the worst part is that he doesn't learn from his mistakes. In the early 2000s, people thought the quarterback position was changing. As players got faster and stronger, the quarterback position of the future was going to be manned by an Army of players who were a superhuman combination of Michael Vick and Ben Roethlisberger. Well, it's 2011 and there's still only one Michael Vick, and still only one Ben Roethlisberger. And each of them still manage to miss time each season for some reason or another.

The truth is, the quarterback positon hasn't really changed for 90% of the teams. Guys like Big Ben Roethlisberger and Vick are anomalies. The positon is still manned by the classic pocket passers like Brady, Manning, Brees and Rivers. 

Could it be that Al Davis' brain stopped working in the early 2000s? Yes, after looking at his decisions of the past ten years, I think that could be a real possibility.

The best part about all of this is that Davis probably thinks he got a steal. It's no wonder Bay area sports fans are all acting insane.

<p> In the supplemental draft, the Raiders paid too much for the Buckeye's Terrelle Pryor.</p>
Post date: Monday, August 22, 2011 - 09:53
Path: /columns/national-notebook/college-footballs-top-25-games-2011

The start of the 2011 college football season is two weeks away. With kickoff right around the corner, Athlon takes a look at the top 25 must-see games in the nation for 2011.

1a. LSU vs. Alabama (Week 10)
Nov. 5, All-Time Series: Bama leads 45-24-5

This one pretty much has it all: Coaching and fanbase storylines, divisional and conference title implications, a Heisman Trophy candidate and a potential BCS National Championship berth. Despite Alabama dominating for most of this rivalry and winning two of the last three, LSU has had Bama’s number for the better part of a decade – winning six of the last eight meetings. Both defenses should be downright nasty against the run which, of course, will be the strength of both offenses. Whichever quarterback can convert key third and longs in the fourth quarter will likely set his team up for a national title run. These are two of the best rosters in the nation, but the edge goes to the better coach and home-field advantage.

Athlon’s Very Early Prediction: Bama by 3

1b. Oklahoma vs. Florida State (Week 3)
Sept. 17, All-Time Series: Oklahoma leads 5-1

There’s a lot at stake in this Week 3 matchup. Oklahoma and Florida State are national title contenders, and a marquee non-conference win would go a long way towards an undefeated season. The Sooners easily handled the Seminoles last year, winning 47-17 in Norman. Florida State will be hungry to avenge last season’s embarrassment and a victory over Oklahoma would be a statement win in Jimbo Fisher’s second season in Tallahassee. The Sooners suffered a blow when linebacker Travis Lewis was lost for at least the first month of the season due to a foot injury suffered in fall camp. Although Lewis is out, Oklahoma’s linebacking corps remains one of the best in the Big 12, especially with the rapid development of sophomores Tom Wort and Corey Nelson. Much of Florida State’s national title hopes will hinge on quarterback EJ Manuel, who enters his first year as the starter. The junior has six starts over the last two years and there’s no question he has the talent, but has yet to prove himself over a full season.

Athlon’s Very Early Prediction: Seminoles by 3

3. Oregon vs. Stanford (Week 11)
Nov. 12, All-Time Series: Stanford leads 44-29-1

The Pac-12 conference title will likely be on the line when Oregon flies south to Palo Alto during November. Stanford has owned the all-time series, but over the last decade the Ducks have dominated the meetings. Oregon dropped 52 points on the Cardinal last fall and has won eight of the last nine meetings. The Ducks have struggled against power teams (Ohio State, Auburn) over the last two years and the Cardinal will have as close to a power rushing attack as there is in the league. Will the Ducks’ front seven jell in time to slow the Andrew Luck-led attack by Week 11? And can the Cardinal keep the Ducks from scoring 52 points again?

Athlon’s Very Early Prediction: Cardinal by 4

4. Nebraska vs. Wisconsin (Week 5)
Oct. 1, All-Time Series: Nebraska leads 3-2

This game will usher in a new era of football for Nebraska as it travels to Madison to play in its first ever Big Ten conference game. The corn-fed Big Red will have to face the dairy-fed Big Red in what could be a preview of the inaugural Big Ten Championship game. These look like the two most complete teams on paper as the play of Taylor Martinez against the JJ Watt-less Badger pass defense will be the deciding factor. These two Midwest powers have not been on the same field since 1974, when the Huskers topped the Badgers 21-20 in MadTown – which will be absolutely rocking for the visit from Bo Pelini and Company.

Athlon’s Very Early Prediction: Huskers by 6

5. Oregon vs. LSU (Week 1, Arlington)
Sept. 3, All-Time Series: LSU leads 2-1

A berth in the BCS national championship game could be on the line in the palace in Arlington on the first Saturday of the season. These two have not met since 1977 and this game marks the first time they will meet outside of Baton Rouge. One of the nation’s best offenses will square off against what should be one of the nation’s top defenses. The deciding factor should be whether the Ducks’ reworked front seven can slow the power rushing attack of Spencer Ware and Michael Ford – or if Jordan Jefferson can complete key third-and-longs in the fourth quarter against one of the nation’s top secondaries. The LSU line of scrimmage will be too much for Oregon – who has struggled against big, powerful front lines in its last two losses (Auburn, Ohio State). Should the game be close, and each team runs the table following the meeting, a rematch in the BCS title game isn’t out of the question.

Athlon’s Very Early Prediction: Tigers by 10

6. Oklahoma vs. Oklahoma State (Week 14)
Dec. 3, All-Time Series: Oklahoma leads 81-17-7

Dan Beebe and the Big 12 had to highlight one game on Championship Saturday after losing its title game and The Bedlam Series was an easy choice. Not only will in-state bragging rights be on the line for the 105th time, but the Big 12 title could be at stake as well. Oklahoma State fancies itself as the prime contender to Oklahoma in the league and will have a chance to prove it on the final weekend of the regular season. The Sooners have won eight straight in the series including last year’s 47-41 that featured 967 yards of total offense and 725 combined passing yards. Landry Jones and Brandon Weeden combined for 105 pass attempts, six touchdowns and six interceptions. With the stellar offenses returning for both in 2011, fans can expect fireworks once again from the Bedlam Series.

Athlon’s Very Early Prediction: Sooners by 3

7. Ohio State vs. Nebraska (Week 6)
Oct. 8, All-Time Series: Buckeyes lead 2-0

In what will be another first for Nebraska fans, Larry the Cable Guy and the rest of Husker nation will welcome the Buckeyes to Lincoln for the first time. It will also mark the return of the Tat-5 (or four) when Mike Adams, Boom Herron and DeVier Posey rejoin their teammates on the field. This too could be a preview of the Big Ten title game as the Buckeyes, despite the suspensions, are very much a contender in the Leaders Division. Quarterback play will be huge in this game as both teams should struggle to run the football against two solid front lines. Can ageless wonder Joe Bauserman or youngster Braxton Miller keep their composure in one of the most difficult places to play in the nation?

Athlon’s Very Early Prediction: Huskers by 3

8. South Carolina vs. Georgia (Week 2)
Sept. 10, All-Time Series: UGA leads 46-15-2

A trip to Atlanta is on the line in only the second weekend of action when these two SEC East contenders do battle Between the Hedges. The Dawgs have won six of the last eight over Carolina in Athens, but if Georgia expects to reverse last year’s loss to the Cocks, Todd Grantham’s defensive front will have to contain star tailback Marcus Lattimore. In only his second collegiate game a season ago, Lattimore carried the ball 37 times for 182 yards and two touchdowns in the tightly-played win This games always seems to be a low-scoring, blocked field goal type of game (other than ’09). Expect the same in 2011.

Athlon’s Very Early Prediction: Dawgs by 1

9. Wisconsin vs. Ohio State (Week 9)
Oct. 29, All-Time Series: Ohio State leads 53-18-5

Ohio State won 21 straight meetings with the Badgers from 1960 to 1980. Since then, Wisconsin has held its own in the blossoming rivalry 11-14-1 in the 26 games since. In fact, the these two teams have split the last six, eight and 10 games played. But Ohio State has won the last two in Columbus in convincing fashion (at least on the scoreboard) 69-30. Russell Wilson will be playing in the most hostile environment of his career when he walks into the Shoe and will need his running game if he expects to leave Columbus with a win. However, the Bucks have totally stymied the Badgers’ potent rushing game in the last two meetings on the Banks of the Olentagy’s. Sconie has mustered only 130 yards on 81 carries in the two losses.

Athlon’s Very Early Prediction: Buckeyes by 4

10. Texas A&M vs. Oklahoma (Week 10)
Nov. 5, All-Time Series: Oklahoma leads 18-11

Crimson and Cream faithful certainly have this one circled on the calendar this fall. Not only is Texas A&M one of, if not the, top contender to the Sooners’ title hopes, but they also are programa non grata in the Big 12 and upset OU in last year’s bout. The Aggies entered the fourth quarter with a narrow 19-17 lead before two big play touchdowns from Cyrus Gray and Ryan Swope broke open the game. Landry Jones was sacked four times as the Sooners were held in check on the ground. TAMU held Oklahoma to 72 yards rushing on 44 carries. Without Von Miller, the game moves to Norman with revenge on the mind of Bob Stoops.

Athlon’s Very Early Prediction: Sooners by 10

11. Arkansas vs. Alabama (Week 4)
Sept. 24, All-Time Series: Bama leads 11-8

Since these two became divisional rivals the series has been nearly dead even with Bama owning a slight edge 9-8. But the Tide has won five of the last six meetings (technically, there were two wins vacated) and three straight at home against the Hogs. Arkansas will do battle all season without star running back Knile Davis, so Tyler Wilson’s performance will be even more critical. Bobby Petrino knows how to draw up ball plays and the Hogs have loads of firepower still left on offense. The key will be the new-look offensive line and how they fare against the Courtney Upshaws and Dont’a Hightowers of the world. A very stingy Arkansas front seven should make it difficult on whoever is under center for Bama. Home field advantage will be massive in this contest.

Athlon’s Very Early Prediction: Bama by 7

11. Ohio State vs. Michigan (Week 13)
Nov. 26, All-Time Series: Michigan leads 57-43-6

The greatest rivalry in all of college football will be renewed for the 107th time when these two Midwest powers lock horns in the final week of the regular season. Despite the prestige, tradition and nostalgia created from watching the Maize and Blue battle with the Scarlet and Gray, this rivalry has been totally one-sided of late. Ohio State has won seven straight and nine of the last ten. Brady Hoke and Denard Robinson look to have Michigan pointed in the right direction and could be in a position to surprise in 2011. However, the Buckeyes should be too strong at the end of the season for Michigan to sneak-up on them. Michigan will beat OSU in the near future, it just isn’t likely to be in 2011.

Athlon’s Very Early Prediction: Buckeyes by 7

13. Oklahoma vs. Texas (Week 6, Dallas)
Oct. 8, All-Time Series: Texas leads 59-41-5

The Red River Shootout doesn’t appear to have the same sex appeal as it has had over the last decade. This game has consistently been the best game in the league every season. However, after a 5-7 season from the Longhorns – and huge question marks looming along the offensive line and under center – this game losses some of its edge. But only some – this is still Texas-Oklahoma after all. Expect the Cotton Bowl to be rocking when these two bitter rivals square-off for the 105th time. Texas’ defense was the strength (if there was one) of this team last year, but DeMarco Murray rushed for 115 yards and two scores while Landry Jones tossed a pair of scores and protected the football in the 28-20 OU win. These two have split 2-2 over the last four years and the winner of the rivalry has gone on to win the Big 12 title each of the last three years. Athlon’s Very Early Prediction: Sooners by 13

14. TCU vs. Boise State (Week 11)
Nov. 12, All-Time Series: Boise State leads 2-1

When the Horned Frogs head to the great northwest to do battle on the blue turf, it will mark the first time these two growing powers will face off in the regular season. All three meetings have taken place in bowl games with bragging rights on the line, however, Mountain West Conference supremacy will be on the line this time. The offensive and defensive lines from Boise have NFL talent and will certainly test the reworked TCU team that returns only six starters. Kellen Moore also owns a massive edge over Andy Dalton's replacement. Home field advantage will give one of the top two mid-major programs a chance at yet another BCS bowl.

Athlon's Very Early Prediction: Broncos by 7

15. USC vs. Oregon (Week 12)
Nov. 19, All-Time Series: USC leads 37-18-2

This game should have been one of two potential Pac-12 championship game previews. USC is the best team in the South but will not be allowed to play in the inaugural conference title bout. That doesn’t really affect the players on the field, however, as these are arguably the most talent-laden rosters in the conference. Despite being dominated for the better part of the century, Oregon has reestablished its home field advantage in this budding rivalry, winning five of the last seven meetings in Eugene. The Ducks have also won three of the last four overall reunions, including a 53–32 shellacking in 2010.

Athlon’s Very Early Prediction: Ducks by 7

16. Alabama vs. Auburn (Week 13)
Nov. 26, All-Time Series: Bama leads 40-34-1

The Iron Bowl is one of the single greatest football games of the season each and every year. And while the 2011 edition might lack the national appeal of last season’s unbelievable come-from-behind Tigers victory, there will be no loved lost come November 26. Auburn will be a shell of its former self with a completely replaced offensive line and defensive unit. Oh, and Cam Newton isn’t around either. While there is loads of young potential running around the Plains – that will most assuredly be game tested by Week 13 – Alabama has too much veteran talent to miss an opportunity at payback. Especially when a BCS national championship could be at stake.

Athlon’s Very Early Prediction: Bama by 17

17. Arkansas vs. LSU (Week 13)
Nov. 25, All-Time Series: LSU leads 34-20-2

Arkansas has taken three of the last four from LSU, including a thrilling 50-48 win in Baton Rouge over the eventual National Champions in 2007. It is the Hogs only win in its last eight trips to the Bayou. An outstanding Arkansas front seven will be put to the test as the Tigers will look to pound the rock early and often. The battle for control of the line of scrimmage will either make Jordan Jefferson’s job much easier or much more difficult. Should Arkansas win that match-up, Tyler Wilson and the excellent talent around him will have to make plays down the field. The Hogs should have the holes on the offensive line plugged by then, but picking up yards on the ground against LSU sans Knile Davis will be a difficult task.

Athlon’s Very Early Prediction: LSU by 3

18. Notre Dame vs. Stanford (Week 13)
Nov. 26, All-Time Series: Notre Dame leads 17-8

This game has a chance to dramatically impact the overall national title landscape in the penultimate week of the regular season. This could be the only contest in which Notre Dame is not favored, and both teams could enter this arena unblemished. Even if both have dropped a game or two elsewhere, an at-large BCS bowl bid will likely be on the line. The Irish front seven showed massive improvement in the final month of 2010 and will be tested by one of the most physical running games in the nation. On the flip side, it could be an absolute treat to watch Dayne Crist (or whoever is running the Brian Kelly attack) square off with Andrew Luck, the best player in the nation.Athlon’s Very Early Prediction: Cardinal by 6

19. Michigan State vs. Nebraska (Week 9)
Oct. 29, All-Time Series: Nebraksa leads 5-0

The Spartans are still looking for their first ever win over Nebraska, and with one in 2011, they could find themselves playing in December in Indianapolis. After a nearly unblemished 2010, Sparty fancies itself as the primary contender in the Big Ten Legends Division and has no desire to let the new kid win it all. The sledding will be tough for Michigan State despite the outstanding skill talent it possesses on offense. There are 39 starts gone from the offensive line and the new faces will be put to the test against Jared Crick and the All-American Husker front seven. The last meeting between the two took place in the Alamo Bowl in 2003 and Nebraska has outscored Michigan State 181-34 in the five meetings with an average margin of victory just under 30 points.

Athlon’s Very Early Prediction: Huskers by 4

20. Oklahoma State vs. Texas A&M (Week 4)
Sept. 24, All-Time Series: TAMU leads 17-9

The right to challenge the Oklahoma Sooners for conference supremacy should be on the line when these two explosive offenses take the field in late September. The Pokes have won three straight in this series, including an edge-of-the-seat three-point win as time expired last fall. However, this game is in College Station and Jerrod Johnson – and his four interceptions – won’t be under center. Despite passing for 409 yards and five touchdowns against OSU last fall, Johnson lost his starting job shortly thereafter, giving way to Ryan Tannehill. This game could have been dramatically different had it been played after the switch at quarterback.

Athlon’s Very Early Prediction: Aggies by 3

21. Boise State vs. Georgia (Week 1, Atlanta)
Sept. 3, All-Time Series: UGA leads 1-0

There will be plenty on the table on kickoff weekend when Boise State travels to Atlanta to take on the Dawgs. A potential undefeated season for the Broncos will be at stake while Georgia has to get the bad taste of 2010 out of its mouth before taking on rival South Carolina the following weekend. Two of the nation’s best gunslingers should be on full display with Kellen Moore and Aaron Murray going head-to-head. Georgia will have to show marked improvement in its front seven if it expects to slow down what is an NFL offensive line from Idaho. History is on the Dawgs side as the only other time Boise ventured into Georgia, Jared Zabransky threw five interceptions and UGA won 48-13. That was in Athens and didn’t feature Chris Petersen, however. Expect a much stronger showing from these blue stallions as Peterson has been deadly when given seven months to prepare.

Athlon’s Very Early Prediction: Broncos by 3

22. South Carolina vs. Arkansas (Week 10)
Nov. 5, All-Time Series: Arkansas leads 12-7

This will be the third in a brutal late season road swing for the Gamecocks. After visiting Mississippi State and Tennessee the previous two games, Steve Spurrier will have to have his team prepped for another nasty environment in Fayetteville. Especially after getting torched by Ryan Mallett and company in Columbia a season ago. Stephon Gilmore and the USC secondary will have to play better against Tyler Wilson than it did against Mallett – who completed 21 of 30 passes for 303 yards and a score in the 40-21 drubbing. Quarterback Stephen Garcia (14 of 29, 161 yards, TD, 2 INT) and running back Marcus Lattimore (11 carries, 30 yards) will have to be at their best if they expect to win on the road for the third straight game.

Athlon’s Very Early Prediction: Hogs by 7

23. Florida vs. Georgia (Week 9, Jacksonville)
Oct. 29, All-Time Series: UGA leads 46-40-2

In one of the more exciting football games of the season, the Gators topped the Dawgs 34-31 in overtime last fall. The World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party should be just as intense in 2011. Murray set a career high with his first 300-yard passing game (313) and tied his career best with three touchdown tosses. He also set a career mark with three interceptions (he had eight total in 2010). Georgia will have to play better in the first three quarters of this one if it expects to get to Atlanta in December. Murray led UGA to three fourth quarter touchdowns to pull even before Florida kicked the game winner in overtime. The fireworks should be on display once again in Jacksonville.

Athlon’s Very Early Prediction: Dawgs by 4

24. Iowa vs. Nebraska (Week 13)
Nov. 25, All-Time Series: Nebraska leads 26-12-3

These two heartland powers really haven’t met since World War II. The border rivals met regularly during the World War I era as well as in the 30s and 40s, but have played only six times since 1946. The renewal of what is now an intra-divisional rivalry could provide a berth into the Big Ten title game. The whole ear of corn, so to speak, could be on the line in the season finale in Lincoln. The Hawkeye offense, despite losing leader Ricky Stanzi, shouldn’t miss a beat under James Vandenberg. And even though Kirk Ferentz must replace most of his starting defense, one would assume that by Week 13, this group will once again be a hard-hitting, stingy unit. Home-field advantage is the deciding factor in this one.

Athlon’s Very Early Prediction: Huskers by 3

25. Alabama vs. Florida (Week 5)
Oct. 1, All-Time Series: Bama leads 21-14

Seven of the last 12 meetings between these two national powers have come in the Atlanta with the SEC crown hanging in the balance. While this bout in the Swamp may not have SEC title implication, it certainly could have BCS bowl repercussions. Florida will feature a totally reworked coaching staff and offensive game plan. The Gators will need it after the 31-6 undressing at the hands of the Tide last fall in Tuscaloosa. This Florida team should be improved and hosting the game certainly helps. But if Will Muschamp expects to pull the upset, his uber-talented yet very young defensive front line will have to control the line of scrimmage.

Athlon’s Very Early Prediction: Bama by 7

26. Pitt vs. West Virginia (Week 13)
Nov. 25, All-Time Series: Pitt leads 61-39-3

27. USC vs. Arizona State (Week 13)
Sept. 24, All-Time Series: USC leads 17-9

28. West Virginia vs. South Florida (Week 14)
Dec. 1, All-Time Series: Tied 3-3

29. Florida vs. South Carolina (Week 11)
Nov. 12, All-Time Series: Florida leads 23-5-3

30. Florida vs. LSU (Week 6)
Oct. 8, All-Time Series: Florida leads 30-24-3

31. Michigan State vs. Ohio State (Week 5)
Oct. 1, All-Time Series: Ohio State leads 27-12

32. Wisconsin vs. Michigan State (Week 8)
Oct. 22, All-Time Series: MSU leads 28-21

33. Notre Dame vs. Michigan (Week 2)
Sept. 10, All-Time Series: Michigan leads 22-15-1

34. USC vs. Notre Dame (Week 8)
Oct. 22, All-Time Series: Notre Dame leads 43-33-5

35. Nebraska vs. Penn State (Week 11)
Nov. 12, All-Time Series: PSU leads 7-6

36. Miami, Fla. vs. Virginia Tech (Week 6)
Oct. 8, All-Time Series: Miami leads 17-11

37. Florida State vs. Florida (Week 13)
Nov. 26, All-Time Series: Florida leads 33-20-2

38. Miami, Fla. vs. Florida State (Week 11)
Nov. 12, All-Time Series: Miami leads 31-24

39. Nebraska vs. Michigan (Week 12)
Nov. 19, All-Time Series: Michigan leads 3-2-1

40. Oregon State vs. Oregon (Week 13)
Nov. 26, All-Time Series: Oregon leads 58-46-10

41. Missouri vs. Oklahoma (Week 4)
Sept. 24, All-Time Series: Oklahoma leads 65-25-5

42. Oklahoma State vs. Missouri (Week 8)
Oct. 22, All-Time Series: Okie State leads 28-22

43. Stanford vs. USC (Week 9)
Oct. 29, All-Time Series: USC leads 58-27-3

44. Missouri vs. Texas A&M (Week 9)
Oct. 29, All-Time Series: TAMU leads 7-4

45. BYU vs. TCU (Week 9, Arlington)
Oct. 28, All-Time Series: Tied 5-5

46. Florida State vs. Clemson (Week 4)
Sept. 24, All-Time Series: Florida State leads 17-7

47. LSU vs. West Virginia (Week 4)
Sept. 24, All-Time Series: LSU leads 1-0

48. Arkansas vs. Texas A&M (Week 5, Arlington)
Oct. 1, All-Time Series: Arkansas leads 40-24-3

49. Utah vs. BYU (Week 3)
Sept. 17, All-Time Series: Utah leads 51-31-4

50. Arizona State vs. Utah (Week 6)
Oct. 8, All-Time Series: Arizona State leads 16-6

Top Games of 2011 By Conference:

Top 15 SEC Games of 2011
Top 10 ACC Games of 2011
Top 10 Big Ten Games of 2011
Top 10 Big East Games of 2011
Top 10 Pac-12 Games of 2011
Top 10 Big 12 Games of 2011

<p> What are the most important, must-see match-ups of the 2011 season?</p>
Post date: Monday, August 22, 2011 - 09:33
All taxonomy terms: ACC, College Football
Path: /college-football/clemson-could-surprise-acc

By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)

Defining what is a surprise team is no easy task. Before the season kicks off, Athlon will take a look at a team from each of the BCS leagues that could be a surprise contender in their conference. Each of the candidates to surprise will be ranked fifth or worse in Athlon’s 2011 predictions.

Is Clemson the surprise team in the ACC? Here are four reasons to like and four to doubt the Tigers.

Reasons the Tigers will surprise:

1. In each of the last six seasons, Clemson has ranked in the top 25 of Athlon’s top 50 recruiting classes. The Tigers ranked ninth last season, which included one of the top linebacking classes (Tony Steward and Stephone Anthony) in the nation. Clemson has consistently recruited among the top teams in the conference, with nine players earning a spot on Athlon’s 2011 preseason All-ACC team. Although the results on the field haven’t been what Clemson fans have wanted to see, the talent is in place to contend for the ACC title every year.

2. The hire of Chad Morris as coordinator should produce instant results for Clemson's offense. Morris called the plays at Tulsa last season, leading the Golden Hurricane offense to an average of 505.6 yards and 41.4 points per game. The Tigers want to raise the tempo on offense and will throw a lot of different looks at defenses. Clemson ranked 10th in the ACC in scoring and total offense last season and similar numbers won’t be enough to contend in the Atlantic Division race in 2011. Expecting the Tigers to equal Tulsa’s totals from last year is ambitious, but improvement should be noticed, especially with a promising group of weapons stepping into more playing time.

3. The trio of quarterback Tajh Boyd, running back Andre Ellington and receiver DeAndre Hopkins could be one of the best in the ACC by the end of the year. Boyd has thrown only 63 career passes, but was regarded as the No. 77 prospect in the 2009 recruiting class. Ellington was off to a terrific start last year, but due to a toe injury, had only one carry in the final five games of last season. Hopkins is coming off a strong freshman effort in 2010, catching 52 passes for 637 yards and four scores. Although this trio is young, the talent is capable of leading Clemson to an Atlantic Division title.

4. Clemson suffered some significant losses on defense, especially with the departure of end Da’Quan Bowers, tackle Jarvis Jenkins and safety DeAndre McDaniel. However, with Kevin Steele at the controls, this unit may not suffer much of a drop-off. The Tigers ranked first in the ACC in scoring defense last year, allowing 18.8 points per game. Clemson return six starters on defense, including likely All-ACC players in end Andre Branch and safety Rashard Hall. Replacing Bowers and Jenkins on the line is arguably the unit's biggest issue. However, Branch and fellow senior Brandon Thompson are a solid duo, while Malliciah Goodman and Corey Crawford are ready to emerge as key cogs up front. Expect the defense to get a boost from freshmen linebackers Stephone Anthony and Tony Steward, who are expected to see significant snaps in 2011. Steele is one of the best defensive coordinators in the ACC and even with the losses, this should still remain one of the best in the conference.

Reasons to doubt the Tigers will surprise:

1. The Tigers are certainly bringing in elite talent, but that has meant little on the field in recent years. Clemson’s last double-digit win total came in 1990 under Ken Hatfield (10) and have managed only one appearance in the ACC title game. The Tigers have consistently underachieved and many people doubt Dabo Swinney is the right man for the job. Programs can bring in all of the elite talent they want, but if the right coaches aren’t in place, the results will fail to matchup. Considering the Tigers have possessed one of the ACC’s most talented rosters over the last six seasons, they should have fared better in the final standings. Is there really any reason to believe 2011 might be different?

2. In addition to Clemson’s history of underachieving, it closed out 2010 on a dismal note. The Tigers lost three out of their final four games, including the Meineke Car Care Bowl against South Florida. Losses against Florida State and South Carolina are nothing to be embarrassed about, but the Tigers have to step it up against those teams if they want to be a top 25 team this year. The disappointing end to last season raised a lot of question marks about coach Dabo Swinney’s future at Clemson. If the Tigers lose to Auburn and Florida State and finish September with a 2-2 record, those concerns will be ignited once again.

3. Although Chad Morris was one of the top offensive coordinator hires in college football, it might take some for all of the pieces to come together. Quarterback Tajh Boyd is capable, but lacks overall experience and completed only 52.4 percent of his throws last year. Running back Andre Ellington could be one of the best in the ACC, but he couldn’t stay healthy last season and his toe injury raised concerns about his durability. The offensive line returns four starters, but has to replace left tackle Chris Hairston – the top player from last season’s unit. The Tigers could have one of the most improved offenses in college football this year. However, with Boyd likely suffering a few growing pains in his first year as the starter, along with the entire offense picking up a new scheme, it may take a few games before things start to click.

4. The nation should get a good snapshot at just how good Clemson is in September. The Tigers play their first four games at home, which includes matchups against Florida State and Auburn. Considering the Seminoles host Oklahoma a week before playing Clemson, the Tigers could be in position to pull off the upset. Although a 4-0 start isn’t out of the question, Clemson didn’t catch any breaks the rest of the way. The Tigers have road dates against Virginia Tech, Maryland, Georgia Tech and NC State in conference play, along with the season finale against rival South Carolina. Five of the final eight games are away from Death Valley, including three key swing games in conference play. The schedule isn’t overly difficult, but the road dates will be tricky for a team that’s likely to be jockeying for position in the ACC Atlantic against Maryland and NC State.

Other ACC Content:

What the Miami Scandal Means for 2011
What Does Texas A&M's Potential Move to the SEC Mean for College Football?

Athlon Awards: Ranking the Best Units in the ACC

Predicting the Breakout Players in the ACC for 2011

Ranking the ACC's Top 25 Players for 2011

Athlon's 2011 ACC Predictions

<p> Talent is never an issue at Clemson. However, reaching expectations hasn't been easy. Will 2011 be different?</p>
Post date: Monday, August 22, 2011 - 07:30
All taxonomy terms: Zach Collaros, College Football, Big East
Path: /college-football/cincinnatis-zach-collaros-back-attack

One of the best quarterbacks in the Big East Conference is as comfortable doing a traditional Greek dance during the summer in his hometown of Steubenville, Ohio, as he is throwing touchdown passes at Cincinnati’s Nippert Stadium in the fall.

Senior Zach Collaros, who led the Big East in passing yardage and touchdown passes in 2010, has never lost sight of his roots in Steubenville, where he led his high school team to back-to-back state championships as a junior and senior and went undefeated as a starting quarterback.

An old steel town with a population of about 19,000, Steubenville is located along the Ohio River about 39 miles west of Pittsburgh. The town that produced Dean Martin and Jimmy “The Greek” Snyder rallies around the Big Red football team, which has won three state championships and ranks among the top-25 programs in the country with 724 victories. It boasts a proud Greek heritage that Collaros eagerly embraces, right down to dancing at the annual Greek festival.

“I can do it all,” he says. “That’s my favorite part of the festival.”

Collaros, who grew up following the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Ohio State Buckeyes, dreamed of playing in Columbus. But at 6'0", 223 pounds, he doesn’t match the classic quarterback profile, so no matter how well he played or how many games he won at Steubenville, OSU coach Jim Tressel simply wasn’t interested.

“You would always hear rumors that Ohio State was here,” Collaros says. “After awhile, it’s like, you know, they’re probably not here. I would keep playing better and better and better and I wouldn’t hear anything.”

After he came to terms with the reality that Ohio State was not his destiny, Collaros accepted a scholarship from Cincinnati and swore to his father that he would never walk into Ohio Stadium unless he was playing against the Buckeyes.

He was redshirted during his freshman year at Cincinnati in 2007, then threw only four passes in 2008 when he was one of five Cincinnati quarterbacks to see action. As a sophomore in 2009,
he began training camp at No. 3 on the depth chart behind Tony Pike and Chazz Anderson, but ended up starting four games in place of the injured Pike, passing for 1,434 yards and 10 touchdowns. By the end of the season he had emerged as the frontrunner to be the starting quarterback in 2010.

In his first season as Cincinnati’s head coach last year, Butch Jones handed Collaros the keys to Cincinnati’s spread offense, and Collaros responded by passing for 2,902 yards and 26 touchdowns. But the Bearcats, coming off back-to-back Big East championships, fell off the map. Not only did Collaros suffer his first loss as a starting quarterback in either high school or college after 34 straight wins, but his team also lost repeatedly and at times couldn’t seem to get out of its own way.

Following a 2009 season in which Cincinnati finished third in the final BCS standings, narrowly missing a chance to play for the national championship, the Bearcats slipped to 4–8 overall, 2–5 in the Big East.

The season started with a loss at Fresno State. The Bearcats beat Indiana State at home, but then lost at North Carolina State and at Paul Brown Stadium to No. 8 Oklahoma, 31–29, in a game they might have won if not for four turnovers. Those turnovers proved to be a harbinger of a problem that would plague Cincinnati all season. The Bearcats finished with a league-high 29 turnovers, and Collaros had a major hand in that negative statistic, with 14 interceptions.

Cincinnati saw a 14-game Nippert Stadium winning streak come to an end against South Florida. It also lost at home to Syracuse and to Pittsburgh in its final regular-season game, finishing with five losses in its last six games.

But it was a loss at Connecticut on Nov. 27 that was the most crushing for Collaros, who fought back tears at the post-game press conference because he knew then that the seniors — many of whom he had begun his college career with — would not return to a bowl game. He assumed much of the responsibility for that shortcoming.

“We hadn’t lost that many games in all the years we’ve been here,” Collaros says. “It was disappointing and frustrating.”

After the season, Collaros went through a period of soul-searching where he tried to figure out what went wrong. Having won 33 games in their final three seasons under Brian Kelly, the Bearcats had reached the point where they expected to win. Perhaps they took winning for granted. Perhaps their fall was the result of playing for a new head coach and adjusting to a new way of doing things.

Whatever the reason, the losing season ate at Collaros.

“There was definitely a period of time where that was all you really thought about,” Collaros says. “Why were we this bad? Why didn’t I play better? We just had to forget about it and start playing for this year.”

Collaros had an outstanding offseason according to Jones, working tirelessly with his receivers in Cincinnati’s new indoor practice bubble and displaying a level of leadership that Jones has been waiting to see. In the long run, dealing with the pain of defeat might prove to be beneficial to Collaros as he enters his final season of college football.

“It’s been a great humbling experience for him,” Jones says. “It’s been a great learning curve for him. Being a quarterback, you’ve got to take care of the football. He had some bad habits where he was going to scramble and throw the ball.”

Indeed, a major part of Collaros’ interception problem last year was his refusal to accept defeat. That’s also part of what endears him to his teammates. When the Bearcats were trailing late in a game, he often tried to force a big play, usually with wide receiver Armon Binns at the other end.

Binns, who led the Big East in receiving, had a knack for leaping up to catch the ball in traffic, and Collaros had come to rely on him to make a play when there was nothing there. Binns would deliver occasionally. Every time he did, it made Collaros more willing to take an unwise risk.

One of Collaros’ strengths is his ability to make plays when the protection breaks down, so he doesn’t want to lose that ability to improvise on the run. But he has to learn the fine art of knowing when to throw the ball with a decent chance of success and when to pull it down, punt, and play for better field position.

“I’ve really been trying to work on moving in the pocket, resetting my feet and getting the ball out,” Collaros says. “Sometimes stuff breaks down and you can’t be in the pocket. Sometimes I held the ball too long and took a lot of sacks. Sometimes stuff breaks down and you have to be an athlete and make a play.”

Collaros is the unquestioned leader of Cincinnati’s offense now, but at one point early in his college career, he was so frustrated by his lack of playing time that he considered transferring from Cincinnati. He decided to stay, because to him, transferring would be akin to quitting. And he knew that wouldn’t go over well back home in Steubenville.

“I’d feel like I let everybody in Steubenville down,” he says, “and that was something I just didn’t want to do.”

Now Collaros wants to make sure he doesn’t let the fans in Cincinnati down. He enters this season determined to make sure the Bearcats return to the top of the Big East, where he believes they belong.

“I want to win games,” Collaros says. “That’s really all I care about. As long as we win games for this program and this city, I think the rest will take care of itself.”

Other Big East Content:

Athlon's 2011 All-Big East Predictions
Athlon's 2011 All-Big East Team

Ranking the Big East's Top 25 Players for 2011

How Texas A&M's Move to SEC Could Impact College Football

Predicting the Breakout Players in the Big East for 2011

Is Louisville the Big East's Surprise Team?

<p> After winning back-to-back Big East titles, Cincinnati posted a disappointing 4-8 record. It's up to quarterback Zach Collaros to lead the Bearcats back into contention.</p>
Post date: Monday, August 22, 2011 - 07:20
All taxonomy terms: busts, Fantasy Football, sleepers, Fantasy
Path: /columns/5-burning-questions/fantasy-football-tight-ends-sleepers-busts

Athlon Sports looks at the sleepers and busts at the quarterback, running back, wide receiver and tight end positions this week. These are the players we think you can wait on and still get solid production from and the players we think have an average draft position (ADP) that is too high for what you will get in return.

First up, are the tight ends. There are five elite fantasy players at the position — Antonio Gates, Jason Witten, Dallas Clark, Jermichael Finley and Vernon Davis. But what do you do if you pass (or miss) on them? Well, if you keep on waiting, here are eight that could serve you well.


See more of Athlon Sports value players, overvalued players and top rookies in our Best Bets story

Jermaine Gresham, Cincinnati

Gresham performed quite well as a rookie, especially considering the circumstances. He missed his final year of college ball with a knee injury. He joined a crowd of pass-catchers in Cincinnati. Yet, he showed enough to earn 10 targets in his first game out and ranked 12th among TEs for the season in 15 games. Unfortunately, 2011 still presents a crowd, if a slightly different one. A new QB also figures to complete fewer passes than Carson Palmer, though a big TE will be an attractive target.

Tony Moeaki, Kansas City
The Chiefs couldn’t have asked for a whole lot more from Moeaki in his rookie season, but it was a bit curious they didn’t give him a chance to do more. He did rank second on the team in targets but sat 60 behind Dwayne Bowe. That left him just 15th in the league among TEs on a team that desperately needed receiving help. Moeaki showed terrific hands, catching 64.3 percent of targets even while Matt Cassel completed just 58.2 percent. We’ll see if the new offense features him more.

Jared Cook, Tennessee
The difference between Cook and New Orleans' Jimmy Graham is that the latter is part of a much better offense. Cook’s talent has been obvious since college, but he has been slow to adapt to the pros. He finally broke through a bit with 24 catches over the final six weeks of 2010. Since then, new OC Chris Palmer has referred to Cook as a “special” talent and worries only that he’ll use the TE “too much.” QB is a question in Tennessee, but Marcedes Lewis’ 2010 level of production could be within reach.

Lance Kendricks, St. Louis
Kendricks entered college as a WR with enough speed that he carried the ball seven times for 102 yards as a junior at Wisconsin. He just kept growing, though, and is now generating buzz as a “move” TE for Josh McDaniels’ new offense. In McDaniels’ five years running offenses, only one TE has topped 36 catches. Ben Watson caught 49 with the Patriots in 2006 and was on pace for 48 in 2007. That could be Kendricks’ 2011 ceiling, but he also could become a favorite target of Sam Bradford, along with WR Danny Amendola, as the two consistently healthy options he's been able to work with in camp.

Visanthe Shiancoe, Minnesota
Shiancoe isn’t likely to have another 2009. Brett Favre rode into town with his proven record of pumping up TEs in the red zone and delivered career highs for “Shank” in receptions and TDs. The upshot without Favre is that Shiancoe can build a bit more yardage with catches between the 20s. He averaged at least 1.2 more yards per catch in each of his other three Vikings seasons. He could also be important in a diluted receiving group. Still, betting on 50 receptions seems unwise.

Kyle Rudolph, Minnesota
According to many scouts, Rudolph was a first-round talent who likely slipped to 43rd overall because of a serious hamstring tear in college. The pre-draft checks apparently showed him 100 percent recovered, though. The prevailing thought is that the Vikings will run a lot of two tight end sets considering Percy Harvin is the only real threat at WR.

Kevin Boss, Oakland
Boss has finished top-18 for three straight years in both PPR and non-PPR. Boss also hasn’t finished higher than 13th, settling most often around 16th. However, he does replace Zach Miller in Oakland and he was a go-to target for the Raiders. Was Boss not utilized to his fullest potential in New York? Can he step in and replace Miller without skipping a beat? He might be worth a look to figure it out.

Fred Davis, Washington
If Chris Cooley can't stay healthy then Davis is worth a look. He's a big target at 6-4, 258 pounds and might have some open field to work with considering Santana Moss returned to the team and the Redskins have Jabar Gaffney, Donte Stallworth and Anthony Armstrong to draw attention from the receiver spot.

Greg Olsen, Carolina
A rookie QB, only one dependable receiver on the outside and a solid backfield can easily translate into an offense that will look to the tight end position. Add in that the Panthers traded for Olsen to pair with also newly acquired Jeremy Shockey, and it makes for a sneaky play late in your draft. Both played for new Carolina offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski when he was the tight ends coach and OC at the University of Miami. The tight end will be a major play in this offense, and if we were betting men, we would go with the younger Olsen as the one to breakout.

Jimmy Graham, New Orleans

Graham sits here not because we think he is going to fall flat on his face. He sits as a bust because he's being drafted as a fifth-round player and we project him as an eighth-round player. So just don't reach for him. One might say that Graham hasn’t proven anything over a full season yet. What he did do was catch five TD passes last season, including four in the final three games, despite ranking just 37th at the position in targets. Graham saw six teammates catch more passes than he did, but only two beat him in TDs. Altogether, Saints TEs scored 10 times, a number not out of reach for Graham this season. Sean Payton conceded that Graham’s emergence led to the release of Jeremy Shockey.

Marcedes Lewis, Jacksonville
He got his money this offseason and, like Graham, it's not so much that he's a bust as much as it is his ADP has him going as a seventh rounder and we say ninth. Might be splitting hairs. The magnitude of Lewis’ breakout probably surprised everyone. Many around the team said the guy was poised to explode, though, and it seems all he needed was a chance. He drew 16 more targets last year than in any previous season. He saw nine red zone targets compared with zero in 2009. Lewis’ 66 percent catch rate was the best of his career but only one percentage point ahead of his 2007 mark. He simply got more looks as a receiver, spent less time blocking and delivered.

Owen Daniels, Houston
All reports have him completely healthy, but you can't overlook 13 missed games the last two seasons with weapons like Andre Johnson and Arian Foster around him to perhaps limit his looks. Daniels got in seven full games before his 2009 ACL tear. He was on pace for 89 catches over a whole season. He finally made it all the way back from that and related ailments for the final four games last year. His 22 catches in that stretch project to 88 for a full season. Matt Schaub has attempted the third-most passes in the league the past two years. That reception total is doable. Daniels was also on pace for 11 TDs in 2009 and has consistently averaged more than 12 yards per catch.

More Fantasy Football Cheat Sheets and Rankings:
2011 Fantasy Football Rankings: Top 280
2011 Fantasy Football Rankings: Top 240 w/ IDPs

011 Fantasy Football Rankings: Quarterbacks
011 Fantasy Football Rankings: Running Backs
2011 Fantasy Football Rankings: Wide Receivers

2011 Fantasy Football Rankings: Tight Ends

2011 Fantasy Football Rankings: Kickers

2011 Fantasy Football Rankings: Defense/Special Teams

<p> Athlon Sports looks at the sleepers and busts at the quarterback, running back, wide receiver and tight end positions this week. These are the players we think you can wait on and still get solid production from and the players we think have an average draft position (ADP) that is too high for what you will get in return.</p>
Post date: Monday, August 22, 2011 - 07:00
All taxonomy terms: Fantasy
Path: /columns/winning-game-plan/fantasy-football-sleepers-deep-sleepers

Athlon Sports gives its Best Bets — sleepers, deep sleepers, overvalues, top rookies, bounce-back and top IDPs from the each of the 32 NFL teams — for fantasy football in 2011. For more on each team, see our in-depth breakdown for all 32 teams.

• Arizona   • Miami    
Sleeper: Beanie Wells, RB   Sleeper: Davone Bess, WR    
Deep-Sleeper: Rob Housler, TE   Deep-Sleeper: E. Clyde Gates, WR    
Overvalued: Kevin Kolb, QB   Overvalued: Reggie Bush, RB    
Top Rookie: Patrick Peterson, DB   Top Rookie: Daniel Thomas, RB    
Bounce-Back: Larry Fitzgerald, WR   Bounce-Back: Brandon Marshall, WR    
Top IDP: Kerry Rhodes, DB   Top IDP: Yeremiah Bell, DB    
• Atlanta   • Minnesota    
Sleeper: Julio Jones, WR   Sleeper: Kyle Rudolph, TE    
Deep-Sleeper: Jacquizz Rodgers, RB   Deep-Sleeper: Em. Arceneaux, WR    
Overvalued: Tony Gonzalez, TE   Overvalued: Defense/Special Teams    
Top Rookie: Julio Jones, WR   Top Rookie: Christian Ponder, QB    
Bounce-Back: Harry Douglas, WR   Bounce-Back: Visanthe Shiancoe, TE    
Top IDP: Curtis Lofton, LB   Top IDP: Jared Allen, DL    
• Baltimore   • New England    
Sleeper: Torrey Smith, WR   Sleeper: Tight ends    
Deep-Sleeper: Tandon Doss, WR   Deep-Sleeper: Stevan Ridley, RB    
Overvalued: Defense/Special Teams   Overvalued: Danny Woodhead, RB/WR    
Top Rookie: Jimmy Smith, WR   Top Rookie: Shane Vereen, RB    
Bounce-Back: Anquan Boldin, WR   Bounce-Back: Stephen Gostkowski, K    
Top IDP: Terrell Suggs, DL   Top IDP: Jerod Mayo, LB    
• Buffalo   • New Orleans    
Sleeper: Ryan Fitzpatrick, QB   Sleeper: Jimmy Graham, TE    
Deep-Sleeper: Marcus Easley, WR   Deep-Sleeper: Robert Meachem, WR    
Overvalued: None   Overvalued: Marques Colston, WR    
Top Rookie: Kelvin Sheppard, LB   Top Rookie: Mark Ingram, RB    
Bounce-Back: C.J. Spiller, RB   Bounce-Back: Defense/Special Teams    
Top IDP: Nick Barnett, LB   Top IDP: Roman Harper, DB    
• Carolina   • New York Giants    
Sleeper: Mike Goodson, RB   Sleeper: Mario Manningham, WR    
Deep-Sleeper: Greg Olsen, TE   Deep-Sleeper: Victor Cruz, WR    
Overvalued: None   Overvalued: Osi Umenyiora, DL    
Top Rookie: Cam Newton, QB   Top Rookie: Jerrel Jernigan, WR    
Bounce-Back: DeAngelo Williams, RB   Bounce-Back: Lawrence Tynes, K    
Top IDP: Jon Beason, LB   Top IDP: Justin Tuck, DL    
• Chicago   • New York Jets    
Sleeper: Roy Williams, WR   Sleeper: Plaxico Burress, WR    
Deep-Sleeper: Earl Bennett, WR   Deep-Sleeper: Joe McKnight, RB    
Overvalued: Devin Hester, WR   Overvalued: LaDainian Tomlinson, RB    
Top Rookie: Stephen Paea, DL   Top Rookie: Scotty McKnight, WR    
Bounce-Back: Jay Cutler, QB   Bounce-Back: Shonn Greene, RB    
Top IDP: Julius Peppers, DL   Top IDP: David Harris, LB    
• Cincinnati   • Oakland    
Sleeper: Jordan Shipley, WR   Sleeper: Jacoby Ford, WR    
Deep-Sleeper: Jermaine Gresham, TE   Deep-Sleeper: Michael Bush, RB    
Overvalued: Cedric Benson, RB   Overvalued: Darrius Heyward-Bey, WR    
Top Rookie: A.J. Green, WR   Top Rookie: Taiwan Jones, RB    
Bounce-Back: Bernard Scott, RB   Bounce-Back: Chaz Schilens, WR    
Top IDP: Carlos Dunlap, DL   Top IDP: Tyvon Branch, DB    
• Cleveland   • Philadelphia    
Sleeper: Montario Hardesty, RB   Sleeper: Jason Avant, WR    
Deep-Sleeper: Evan Moore, TE/WR   Deep-Sleeper: Riley Cooper, WR    
Overvalued: Peyton Hillis, RB   Overvalued: Michael Vick, QB    
Top Rookie: Greg Little, WR   Top Rookie: Alex Henery, K    
Bounce-Back: D’Qwell Jackson, LB   Bounce-Back: Vince Young, QB    
Top IDP: T.J. Ward, DB   Top IDP: Trent Cole, DL    
• Dallas   • Pittsburgh  
Sleeper: Tashard Choice, RB   Sleeper: Emmanuel Sanders, WR  
Deep-Sleeper: Jon Kitna, QB   Deep-Sleeper: Isaac Redman, RB  
Overvalued: Miles Austin, WR   Overvalued: Hines Ward, WR  
Top Rookie: DeMarco Murray, RB   Top Rookie: Cameron Heyward, DL  
Bounce-Back: Tony Romo, QB   Bounce-Back: Ben Roethlisberger, QB  
Top IDP: DeMarcus Ware, LB   Top IDP: Lawrence Timmons, LB  
• Denver   • San Diego  
Sleeper: Willis McGahee, RB   Sleeper: Mike Tolbert, RB  
Deep-Sleeper: Eric Decker, WR   Deep-Sleeper: Vincent Brown, WR  
Overvalued: Brandon Lloyd, WR   Overvalued: None  
Top Rookie: None   Top Rookie: Vincent Brown, WR  
Bounce-Back: Elvis Dumervil, DL   Bounce-Back: Ryan Mathews, RB  
Top IDP: D.J. Williams, LB   Top IDP: Eric Weddle, DB  
• Detroit   • Seattle  
Sleeper: Brandon Pettigrew, TE   Sleeper: Golden Tate, WR  
Deep-Sleeper: Jerome Harrison, RB   Deep-Sleeper: Ben Obomanu, WR  
Overvalued: Nate Burleson, WR   Overvalued: Sidney Rice, WR  
Top Rookie: Titus Young, WR   Top Rookie: None  
Bounce-Back: Matthew Stafford, QB   Bounce-Back: None  
Top IDP: Ndamukong Suh, DL   Top IDP: Earl Thomas, DB  
• Green Bay   • San Francisco  
Sleeper: James Jones, WR   Sleeper: Braylon Edwards, WR  
Deep-Sleeper: Randall Cobb, WR   Deep-Sleeper: NaVorro Bowman, LB  
Overvalued: James Starks, RB   Overvalued: Michael Crabtree, WR  
Top Rookie: Randall Cobb, WR   Top Rookie: Kendall Hunter, RB  
Bounce-Back: Jermichael Finley, TE   Bounce-Back: Frank Gore, RB  
Top IDP: Clay Matthews, LB   Top IDP: Patrick Willis, LB  
• Houston   • St. Louis  
Sleeper: Jacoby Jones, WR   Sleeper: Sam Bradford, QB  
Deep-Sleeper: Ben Tate, RB   Deep-Sleeper: Danario Alexander, WR  
Overvalued: DeMeco Ryans, LB   Overvalued: Chris Long, DL  
Top Rookie: J.J. Watt, DL   Top Rookie: Lance Kendricks, TE  
Bounce-Back: Brian Cushing, LB   Bounce-Back: Donnie Avery, WR  
Top IDP: Mario Williams, DL/LB   Top IDP: James Laurinaitis, LB  
• Indianapolis   • Tampa Bay  
Sleeper: Blair White, WR   Sleeper: Dezmon Briscoe, WR  
Deep-Sleeper: Delone Carter, RB   Deep-Sleeper: Kraig Lumpkin, RB  
Overvalued: Austin Collie, WR   Overvalued: Josh Freeman, QB  
Top Rookie: Delone Carter, RB   Top Rookie: Adrian Clayborn, DL  
Bounce-Back: Dallas Clark, TE   Bounce-Back: Gerald McCoy, DL  
Top IDP: Robert Mathis, DL   Top IDP: Gerald McCoy, DL  
• Jacksonville   • Tennessee  
Sleeper: Mike Thomas, WR   Sleeper: Javon Ringer, RB  
Deep-Sleeper: Jason Hill, WR   Deep-Sleeper: Jamie Harper, RB  
Overvalued: Marcedes Lewis, TE   Overvalued: Kenny Britt, WR  
Top Rookie: Cecil Shorts, WR   Top Rookie: Akeem Ayers, LB  
Bounce-Back: Maurice Jones-Drew, RB   Bounce-Back: Derrick Morgan, DL  
Top IDP: Paul Posluszny, LB   Top IDP: Barrett Ruud, LB  
• Kansas City   • Washington  
Sleeper: Steve Breaston, WR   Sleeper: Tim Hightower, RB  
Deep-Sleeper: Tony Moeaki, TE   Deep-Sleeper: Anthony Armstrong, WR  
Overvalued: Matt Cassel, QB   Overvalued: Ryan Torain, RB  
Top Rookie: Jon Baldwin, WR   Top Rookie: Roy Helu, RB  
Bounce-Back: Dexter McCluster, WR   Bounce-Back: LaRon Landry, DB  
Top IDP: Eric Berry, DB   Top IDP: LaRon Landry, DB  

More Fantasy Football Cheat Sheets and Rankings:
2011 Fantasy Football Rankings: Top 280
2011 Fantasy Football Rankings: Top 240 w/ IDPs

011 Fantasy Football Rankings: Quarterbacks
011 Fantasy Football Rankings: Running Backs
2011 Fantasy Football Rankings: Wide Receivers

2011 Fantasy Football Rankings: Tight Ends

2011 Fantasy Football Rankings: Kickers

2011 Fantasy Football Rankings: Defense/Special Teams

<p> Athlon Sports gives its Best Bets — sleepers, deep sleepers, overvalues, top rookies, bounce-back and top IDPs from the each of the 32 NFL teams — for fantasy football in 2011</p>
Post date: Sunday, August 21, 2011 - 16:30
Path: /columns/nascar-monday-recap/disposing-competition

by Matt Taliaferro

There was no fuel mileage or weather-related strategy involved in the Pure Michigan 400 at Michigan International Speedway — only pure, unadulterated horsepower. And Kyle Busch had the most of it, pulling away from Jimmie Johnson on a green-white-checker restart to win his fourth NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race of 2011, and in the process, take the lead in the championship standings.

Of course, the first order of business for Busch was disposing of Johnson, whose ascension to the top of the pylon was a fortuitous one. He was the first driver to make his regularly scheduled pit stop under green flag conditions with 32 laps remaining. As he exited his stall, the yellow flag was displayed, and when the rest of the lead lap cars hit pit road under caution, Johnson assumed the lead.

He held that position — followed by Busch — after the green waved until a hard-charging Busch passed the five-time champion with 18 laps remaining. Busch drove away from there, but was drawn back to the field when his brother, Kurt, blew a tire and hit the Turn 1 wall with four laps to go.

Under the ensuing caution, the top 8, including Busch, Johnson, Brad Keselowski, Matt Kenseth, Mark Martin and Jeff Gordon, stayed on the track while a number of cars — led by eighth-place Ryan Newman — hit pit road for tires.

No amount of new tires, yellow flags or green-white-checker restarts would stop Busch, though. He dusted Johnson at the line when the green waved and walked away for a .568-second victory.

“I saw the 2 (Keselowski) was going to restart on the inside,” Busch said of the final restart. “I didn't know whether he was going to push the 48 (Johnson) or try to make it three-wide. I figured I'd just give myself the best opportunity to win, and that was just to run the topside, keep my momentum rolling up through Turns 1 and 2.

“When we got down in there (Turn 1), we were side-by-side a little bit. Jimmie had to pinch his car a little bit too much being the inside guy. Whether you get tight or loose, it's going to be hard to hold yourself off that outside guy. I figured I'd just give myself all the room that I needed to my outside in case I needed to run as high I could. There wasn't much debate from my side.”

With the win, Busch became the first driver to clinch a Chase berth and now leads the series with four wins this year.

“I feel like it's anybody's game right now still,” Busch said of the championship. “Although the 99 (Carl Edwards) had problems today, they can still come back. (The) 48 is going to be tough; 29 (Kevin Harvick) is going to be good. Hopefully, we can get our teammate in there with the 11 (Denny Hamlin) and he'll be good, too.”

Edwards and Hamlin — two drivers that had experienced a plethora of success at Michigan over the last few years — were both snakebit on Sunday. Edwards had engine issues early that dropped him 28 laps off the lead lap and finished 36th. Hamlin hit the wall with 71 laps to go when a tire went down and wound up 35th.

The poor showing dropped Edwards from the points lead to a tie for third, 39 markers behind Busch. Hamlin’s day may prove to be much more costly. Already on the playoff bubble, last year’s Chase runner-up slipped to 14th in the standings; his only saving grace being a win that — as of this week — would qualify him as a wild card Chase participant.

The other current wild card qualifier is Keselowski, who finished third, marking his third consecutive top-3 finish. At 12th in the standings, he owns two wins which lead any driver outside of the top 12 — and with apologies to Busch and his No. 18 crew, may be the hottest driver and team on the circuit.

“One good run breeds another good run,” Keselowski said. “I'm not sure how to quantify that — how or why. I think I'm probably a little too close to the fire to truly understand it. But (the last three weeks have) been amazing. It's been more than I could ever ask for and exactly what we were looking for out of our team here at Penske Racing and everyone that supports us.”

Three races remain in NASCAR’s regular season. Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Tony Stewart sit ninth and 10th in the standings and, despite not having a win, would be the final two to qualify for the Chase via points. Clint Bowyer is 11th, 24 points behind Stewart, but does not have a wild card win to fall back on as of yet. Keselowski, in 12th, is 72 back of Stewart, followed by Greg Biffle (-58), Hamlin (-59, one win) and AJ Allmendinger (-62). Paul Menard and David Ragan are the only other two drivers ranked 11th-20th that have a wild card win, but they sit mired in 18th (Menard) and 20th (Ragan).

<p> Kyle Busch pulled away from Jimmie Johnson in a green-white-checker finish at Michigan International Speedway to win the Pure Michigan 400 on Sunday.</p>
Post date: Sunday, August 21, 2011 - 14:59
Path: /nfl/five-nfl-teams-will-be-better-year-and-five-will-be-worse-0


No one has ever won an NFL championship in the spring and summer, and no one has ever lost one either. That’s not for lack of trying, of course.

Just ask the “Dream Team” in Philadelphia, or any of the up-and-comers pumping up their chests and thinking about a Super Bowl run. There are probably 32 teams thinking that way at the moment, even though a few of them are clearly braced for a fall.

Who are the likely risers and fallers once the NFL season begins? Here’s a look at five teams poised for a significant step forward, and five that should be bracing for at least a step or two back:


Dallas Cowboys (6-10) – There were a few free agent losses in Dallas (most notably RB Marion Barber) and no sign of a Jerry Jones spending spree. So why are they going to take a step forward? Because two years ago they were one of the best teams in the NFC. Then last year they lost their quarterback for much of the season. If Tony Romo is healthy, the Cowboys are contenders again, especially under new non-interim coach Jason Garrett, a rising star in the league.

Houston Texans (6-10) – They have been underachieving for years, but this will finally be the year they make a breakthrough. Quarterback Matt Schaub has a huge array of weapons, including one of the best receivers (Andre Johnson) and running backs (Arian Foster) in the game. The defense needs help, but Mario Williams, DeMeco Ryans and Brian Cushing is a good place to start, and signing Jonathan Joseph and Danieal Manning to play cornerback will help, too.

Oakland Raiders (8-8) – QB Jason Campbell got a bad rap in Washington, playing for a lost team and in a clueless-looking offensive system most of the time. He’s got a big arm, though, and that should fit Oakland’s downfield passing game. Darren McFadden is poised for a breakthrough season and Darius Heyward-Bey still brings serious speed at receiver. New TE Kevin Boss will help stretch the field, too. The defense will miss Asomougha, but coach Hue Jackson has them on the right path.

Detroit Lions (6-10) – You may not have noticed, but the Lions won their last four games last season, including one incredible 7-3 win over the Green Bay Packers. Jim Schwartz has gotten that moribund franchise on track and thinking big. He’s also built a tough defense, especially up front. Their key to success is to get a healthy season out of QB Matthew Stafford. If they do, the playoffs could finally return to Detroit.

Philadelphia Eagles (10-6) – They won the NFC East last year, so how much further can they step? If you ask them, you may as well pencil them in for the Super Bowl after they brought in Nnamdi Asomugha, Jason Babin, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Steve Smith … and, well pretty much every available free agent, it seems. A lot can happen between now and the Super Bowl, but as long as Michael Vick stays healthy this team should be very, very, very good.


Chicago Bears (11-5) – That was one ugly loss in the NFC championship game last year, mostly because of the aftermath when the whole world seemed to question QB Jay Cutler’s toughness. That was unfair, considering the beating he took all season. Beyond that, though, the offense was far too erratic last year and now he’s got a new center in front of him and a new tight end to throw to. Plus, there’s no telling how Cutler will respond to what happened in his last game.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (10-6) – What Raheem Morris did with the Bucs last year was a miracle, given that some thought they had the worst roster in football prior to the season. But they did nothing to add to their talent in the offseason. Josh Freeman is a rising quarterback and LeGarrette Blount might be a future star at running back. But asking them to repeat last year might be a little much.

Jacksonville Jaguars (8-8) – They struggled down the stretch without Maurice Jones-Drew, and the fact that he’s back and healthy will help. But it’s alarming that in a .500 season they gave up 66 more points than they scored last year. Behind a quarterback in David Garrard that hardly inspires confidence, that’s a dangerous number. They’ve been on a mediocre trajectory, but the division could be tough enough to finally send them down.

Seattle Seahawks (7-9) – They were a fun story last year, especially when they upset the New Orleans Saints in their playoff opener. And on the surface, adding WR Sidney Rice and TE Zach Miller should make them better. But Tarvaris Jackson and Charlie Whitehurst are the top two quarterbacks on the roster. Don’t underestimate what Matt Hasselbeck did there over the years. He’s better than both of the QBs he’s left behind.

New York Giants (10-6) – They were a tie-breaker away from making the playoffs last year, but look what’s happened since. They had to revamp their line, lost their tight end, a starting defensive tackle, and a Pro Bowl receiver to free agency, their first-round draft pick broke his foot and a Pro Bowl defensive end was caught in a nasty holdout. There’s talent there, but the team has taken far too many offseason hits, and the Eagles are making their front office look like it’s standing still.

<p> Here's five NFL teams that will take a step forward this year, and five that will take a step back.</p>
Post date: Sunday, August 21, 2011 - 12:17
Path: /nfl/worst-sports-owners-tournament-quarterfinals

By Scott Henry (@4QuartersRadio)

We're down to the quarterfinals of the WSOT, where eight crazy owners duel to see who's the worst in each individual sport. In case you need to look back at where we've been, here are the links to the earlier rounds:

Monday, Week 1: Baseball Round 1
Tuesday, Week 1: Football Round 1
Thursday, Week 1: Basketball Round 1
Friday, Week 1: Hockey/Soccer Round 1

Monday, Week 2: Baseball/Hockey/Soccer Round 2
Thursday, Week 2: Football/Basketball Round 2

Monday, Week 3: Quarterfinals
Wednesday, Week 3: Semifinals
Friday, Week 3: Final

So, by the end of this week, you can decide who's the kookiest owner in the history of sport. Just throw some votes on it, whether in the comments here or on the Facebook pages of Athlon Sports or 4 Quarters Radio.

Without further ado, here we go with the finals of each sport's bracket, barreling headlong toward the final four.

Worst Baseball Owner Final:

(1) Frank and Jamie McCourt (Los Angeles Dodgers 2004-present)
(2) Jeffrey Loria (Montreal Expos 1999-2002, Florida Marlins 2002-present)

McCourts def. Wayne Huizenga, Arnold Johnson
Loria def. David Glass, Marge Schott

The McCourts were able to triumph over Arnold Johnson because, despite Johnson’s frequent deals with the Yankees, few of them gave the indication that Johnson didn’t care about his team succeeding. Many of the McCourts’ moves since taking over the Dodgers indicated that owning the team was more about making the owners celebrities than giving the fans a good experience. As for Loria’s win over Marge Schott, Marge may have been comically cheap and an inveterate bigot, but once again, she cared about her club and especially about her club’s fans. Loria brought the pain more toward his own fans, particularly in Montreal, than his teams have brought toward their opponents.

As seen from the inclusion of such otherwise talented and successful owners as George Steinbrenner and Al Davis in the WSOT, one of the worst things that an owner can do is create a sideshow that hinders the fan’s enjoyment of the team. At least in the cases of Skeletor and The Boss, there was winning going on at some time. Ever since the McCourts took over, it’s been nearly all sideshow. The insanity reached its comic zenith when Jeff Fuller made a visit to Taiwan in December 2009.

Now for the million-dollar question: who's Jeff Fuller?

As far as Taiwanese legislator Chou Shou-Xun knew, Fuller was a Dodger executive, making a diplomatic overture for the team to play exhibition games in Asia before the 2010 season. Everyone else knows Jeff Fuller as the driver who was accused of having an affair with Jamie McCourt, one that resulted in Frank McCourt firing his wife from her CEO position and launching the divorce proceedings that have brought the franchise to its knees. Fuller’s trip to Taiwan came three months after he was fired from his “director of protocol” position. At least he was well-qualified, since Middle America figures that it’s typical Hollywood protocol for everyone to be banging everyone else’s wives anyway.

Like Steinbrenner or Davis, Loria did some winning shortly after arriving in Florida. The Marlins took the 2003 World Series behind aggressive trading, then slumped back down the standings behind equally aggressive trading that brought in prospects instead of sending them out. It’s what Loria’s done since that has placed him on this list, and also the image that he and his employees have chosen to cultivate.

President David Samson is Jeff Loria’s stepson, and was also the president of the Expos, both of which go a long way toward explaining how he keeps his job despite being a lightning rod for South Florida’s disdain of the way the Marlins have plundered the city (see Round 1). Samson is the guy who did a weekly interview on Dan LeBatard’s radio show and was often known to make some off-the-wall jokes about the Marlins, many of which also involved pornography in some way. Whether it was suggesting the Marlins implement a Porn Night promotion, insinuating that he had sex toys in his office, or offering comments on which Marlin players looked like porn stars (mercifully, there was no discussion of the players’ shower qualifications, if you catch our drift), Samson’s radio diatribes would make most other owners facepalm him into unemployment. Loria keeps him on and continues to cut him in for those hefty “management fees” that enable both of them to suck tens of millions out of the club.

But hey, at least they won a World Series, right? Now, as long as the city of Miami wants to pony up the hundreds of millions that the Marlins just don’t want to spend for a new stadium, the team may think about trying to go win another one someday.


Worst Hockey/Soccer Owner Final:

(1) Tom Hicks (Liverpool Football Club, 2007-2010)
(3) Harold Ballard (Toronto Maple Leafs, 1961-90)

Hicks def. Charles Wang, Atlanta Spirit Group
Ballard def. Freddy Shepherd, Bill Wirtz

Hicks and the Atlanta Sports Group were surprisingly similar cases, bringing infighting into the owner’s box, but the trump card for Hicks was his sheer brass in claiming that the conspiracy against him was so wide-ranging that it even involved one of England’s largest banks. With ASG, the friction began and ended with the nine men originally involved. As for Ballard beating Wirtz, what may have put Ballard over the top was his criminal record and the sheer lack of repentance that he demonstrated later.

While Wirtz was taking an active hand in dealing with the NHL’s labor issues, Ballard contented himself with a lot of pissing and moaning. One of the Leafs’ most popular players ever, Darryl Sittler still holds a record by scoring 10 points in a single game. Sittler was represented by agent Alan Eagleson, who was also the head of the NHL Players’ Association.

Both Ballard and new Leafs GM Punch Imlach had little use for Eagleson, who also represented Sittler’s linemate and friend Lanny McDonald. Imlach thought Sittler had too much influence in the locker room and began exploring trade options. When Eagleson mentioned that Sittler had a no-trade clause and that it would cost half a million dollars to get Sittler to waive it, Ballard and Imlach decided to do the next best thing: trade McDonald to the pitiful Colorado Rockies just after Christmas 1979. Several Leafs trashed the locker room in response, and Sittler ripped the captain’s C off of his sweater.

The following season, Sittler was reinstated as captain, but by the 1981-82 season, he and Ballard were at war again. Sittler volunteered several teams that he would agree to be traded to, but Ballard dragged his feet so severely on a deal that Sittler’s doctor advised that he simply walk out on the Maple Leafs, citing mental depression. Owners can frequently annoy their players, but how many can really say that they made their star players ill?

Tom Hicks appeared slightly ill himself when he gave a 2010 interview to Sky Sports News and recounted the history of his transfer dealings as Liverpool boss. Hicks claimed that the club had spent $300 million (or perhaps £300M, he had difficulties keeping his currencies straight) in buying players during his three-plus years in charge, and recouped half of that in selling others. Liverpool fan sites and blogs, in some of that “Internet terrorism” that Hicks enjoyed so much (see Round 2), took great delight in recounting Liverpool’s transfer history over the past three years and noting that the gross spend came to £172M, way off of the claimed £300M (but not far off of the $300M). While Liverpool recouped £144M in selling their own players, not far off of Hicks’ claimed figure, his need to puff up the club’s activity underscored just how ineffectual all the spending was.

Much like Jeff Loria above, Hicks took a black eye from a family member making obscene statements. Tom Hicks Jr. was exchanging emails with a fan who was inquiring about the club’s transfer budget, and apparently the questioning got a little uncomfortable. Hicks Jr. called the fan an “idiot,” then followed that up with another message reading in part, “Blow me, f*** face. Go to hell. I’m sick of you.” Unlike Loria, Hicks actually persuaded his son to resign from Liverpool’s board, but the PR stain added to the club’s already filthy reputation.


Worst Football Owner Final:

(1) Dan Snyder (Washington Redskins 1999-present)
(3) Bob Irsay (Baltimore/Indianapolis Colts, 1972-1997)

Snyder def. Ralph Wilson, Mike Brown
Irsay def. Hugh Culverhouse, Norman Braman

Which is worse: apathy toward a team’s fans, or outright hostility toward a team’s fans? Snyder practiced the latter, and that’s what set him apart from Brown. Brown has little incentive to improve his team, as he continues to rake money from the city of Cincinnati, but how much liability does the city have to bear for that? For Irsay vs. Braman, do you prefer an owner who’s never around, or an owner who’s always there, usually half-tanked, and causing chaos at every turn?

In Round 2, we got into the drunken coaching change that Irsay made when Howard Schnellenberger told him to go bugger himself rather than consent to the quarterback change that the owner was demanding. Funny enough, that wasn’t the only time he demanded such a move. In 1980, the Colts were trailing Miami by seven at halftime, and Irsay wanted Bert Jones replaced with Greg Landry. Head coach Mike McCormack refused, and Jones ended up leading the team back to a 30-17 win. Irsay still let McCormack have it after the game, although he should have been thankful he didn’t lash him in front of the team, as he was often known to do.

The following season, Irsay reached his nadir. He barreled into the coaches’ booth and commandeered the headset, taking over the team’s playcalling. Jones rolled his eyes, and then practiced his own brand of insubordination. "[Irsay] couldn't have told you how many players there were on the field, never mind what plays we had," said Jones, who was rotated with Landry on a play-by-play basis. "All he was trying to do was embarrass the coaches and the players. When he told me to run, I threw. When he told me to throw left, I ran right." In a development that should come as no surprise, the Colts lost that game 38-13 to the Eagles.

Dan Snyder has never tried to take over the play selection, to our knowledge, but he has perpetrated a lot of other mean, nasty behavior on his coaches. Norv Turner coached the Redskins to a division title in 1999 and was 7-6 in 2000, but that wasn’t good enough for Sa-Dan Hussein, and Turner was canned with three games left. The next year, Marty Schottenheimer rallied from a 0-5 start to finish 8-8. That was a failure, too, and Marty was fired, too. Even Joe Gibbs couldn’t recapture his vintage form, finishing four games under .500 under Snyder’s watch. “Win or die” is a motto that any coach could be said to live under, but Snyder took it to a new extreme.

For the coordinators, it occasionally became “Win or I’ll mess up your office.” Defensive coordinator Mike Nolan shared a story in John Feinstein’s book Next Man Up regarding Snyder’s taste in both defenses and ice cream. Snyder derided Nolan’s defensive calls as “too vanilla,” and to illustrate the point, he left a gallon of some other ice cream on Nolan’s desk. Nolan didn’t get the hint, apparently, so later on in that same season, three giant ice cream canisters were left in his office with a note saying “I wasn’t joking. I do not like vanilla.” Nolan got the hint and bailed after one year of Snyder’s meddling, getting out of Dodge before the owner could apply ice cream to his office walls with a fire hose.


Worst Basketball Owner Final:

(1) Donald Sterling (San Diego/Los Angeles Clippers, 1981-present)
(3) Chris Cohan (Golden State Warriors, 1994-2010)

Sterling def. Joe/Gavin Maloof, James Dolan
Cohan def. George Shinn, Ted Stepien

Sterling and Dolan can go ego for ego, and that’s saying something. But at least Dolan’s never been accused of being a virulent racist. As for Cohan, his 16 years of incompetence easily outstrips Ted Stepien’s three, even if Teddy was so out of it that the league needed to save him from himself.

In Round 2, we talked about Sterling’s issues with a “plantation” mentality. Occasionally, though, he took it to a somewhat creepy extreme. In Elgin Baylor’s age-discrimination suit against Sterling, he included a complaint in the name of players Elton Brand, Corey Maggette, and Sam Cassell regarding a disturbing habit Sterling was cultivating. Baylor claimed that the players would complain to him about Sterling bringing women into the locker room, and more specifically into the shower. While the nude players stood cleaning themselves, the owner would proudly gesture to them and invite the women to “Look at those beautiful black bodies,” as if he was conducting an 18th-century slave auction.

The people that Chris Cohan treated like dirt usually weren’t the ones he was paying, it was the people that were paying him. When the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum was being renovated during the 1996-97 season, the Warriors reached a deal to play in San Jose, about 40 miles to the south. In an attempt to strong-arm his way into a guaranteed revenue stream, Cohan told his season ticket holders that they would have to renew for the season in San Jose or lose their ticket tenure and priority when the team returned to Oakland. Essentially, fans that lived north of Oakland needed to travel another hour or they’d be erased from the books and have to start all over again. Little wonder that the Oakland fans were booing him in front of his son and Michael Jordan five years later at the All-Star Game.

So, which would you prefer? The racist “massa” or the grumpy cuss out of touch with the reality of being a fan?


As usual, throw some votes on it, and let’s see who gets down to the final four. There are some real titans of terror here, so hopefully the reading helped you make an informed decision. Check back in on Wednesday for the semifinals.

<p> Eight crazy owners battle for spots in the final four</p>
Post date: Sunday, August 21, 2011 - 11:56
All taxonomy terms: NFL, Fantasy
Path: /columns/winning-game-plan/fantasy-football-depth-32-teams

Fantasy football season is here. In order to help you better prepare for your drafts, Athlon Sports breaks down all 32 NFL teams.

What you will find on each team page:
NFL insiders answer key fantasy questions about all 32 teams.
What's in store for each team when it comes fantasy playoff time — Weeks 14-16.
Athlon Sports' Best Bets for the 2011 season
Which players we are avoiding on draft day
The fantasy impact of each team's draft class

AFC North AFC East
Baltimore Ravens Buffalo Bills
Cincinnati Bengals Miami Dolphins
Cleveland Browns New England Patriots
Pittsburgh Steelers New York Jets
NFC North NFC East
Chicago Bears Dallas Cowboys
Detroit Lions New York Giants
Green Bay Packers Philadelphia Eagles
Minnesota Vikings Washington Redskins
AFC South AFC West
Houston Texans Denver Broncos
Indianapolis Colts Kansas City Chiefs
Jacksonville Jaguars Oakland Raiders
Tennessee Titans San Diego Chargers
NFC South NFC West
Atlanta Falcons Arizona Cardinals
Carolina Panthers St. Louis Rams
New Orleans Saints San Francisco 49ers
Tampa Bay Buccaneers Seattle Seahawks

More Fantasy Football Cheat Sheets and Rankings:
2011 Fantasy Football Rankings: Top 280
2011 Fantasy Football Rankings: Top 240 w/ IDPs

011 Fantasy Football Rankings: Quarterbacks
011 Fantasy Football Rankings: Running Backs
2011 Fantasy Football Rankings: Wide Receivers

2011 Fantasy Football Rankings: Tight Ends

2011 Fantasy Football Rankings: Kickers

2011 Fantasy Football Rankings: Defense/Special Teams

<p> Fantasy football season is here. In order to help you better prepare for your drafts, Athlon Sports breaks down all 32 NFL teams.</p>
Post date: Sunday, August 21, 2011 - 10:52
Path: /overtime/college-football-coaching-alignment-chart

Alignment charts have been a popular staple on the Internet for a while. (Who doesn't like to break anything down to a nice chart?) So we thought we'd take a look to how some of the biggest coaching names in college football--like Joe Paterno, Mack Brown, Les Miles, Jim Tressel and Lane Kiffin--fit in. Enjoy.

Note: For those of you who aren't familiar with "alignment charts," we're not saying that these coaches are actually "evil."  Evil is a relative term that refers more to going against authority. You can find the origin and breakdown of alignment chart definitions here.

<p> Where do some of the biggest college coaches fall on the alignment chart?</p>
Post date: Sunday, August 21, 2011 - 10:16
Path: /columns/5-burning-questions/fantasy-football-beware-michael-vick

Athlon Sports’ 2011 Fantasy Football magazine has Philadelphia quarterback Michael Vick ranked No. 6 at his position and No. 26 overall because we don’t trust him. 

Will Mike Vick become a fantasy bust this year? The reason we think he will be if you make him a Top 5 drafted QB. Why? Because of trust.

We don’t trust that the 31-year-old will have the kind of year on the ground that he had last season, when he piled up 676 yards and nine scores. Since the 1960s, no quarterback who has rushed for even eight touchdowns in a season has come back to score more than five the next year.

We don’t trust that the career 55 percent passer will repeat his 62.6 percent performance from a year ago. He had eclipsed 55.3 percent passing in a season only one time before last year, and he did not hit last year’s 62.6 percent season mark in any of his final four games of the season.

We don’t trust that Vick’s offensive line has improved enough to keep him comfortable in the pocket, despite the fact that the Eagles need to do all they can to protect their key asset with Vince Young, never having run the West Coast offense, being the next man up.

In the six games after his monster 57.3-point fantasy effort against Washington, Vick attempted more than 38 passes five times — something he had not done in his first six games of the season — and he was intercepted in all but one of the games, fumbled nine times (lost three of them) and had 19 of his 34 sacks.

Did defenses figure him out? Well if they didn’t, they have certainly had nothing but time during this lockout to study all they need to about the new-and-improved Michael Vick.

And we had Vick ranked sixth at QB and 26th overall well before DeSean Jackson decided to hold out and long before knowing of Jeremy Maclin's health issues. These two factors don't help his cause much, either.

Combining all the above with the fact that we also don’t believe he will make it a full 16 games has led us to the following conclusion: Beware of Vick in 2011.

We DO trust the quarterbacks who have done it year in and year out in recent memory more than we trust a player who finally put it together for one season and didn’t even stay healthy in the process.

Our Old Reliables are Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Drew Brees and Philip Rivers — all quarterbacks who succeeded with missing pieces last year and have been there at the top year after year.

That five-man group has started 537 of a possible 560 games (95.9 percent) since becoming starters for their respective teams. Of the 23 missed starts by these five, Brady accounts for 15. He tore his ACL and MCL a little over seven minutes into the first game of the 2008 season.

We are willing to take the chance that, while they may score fewer points than Vick, their chances of being upright from Week 1 to Week 16 are much greater than the Philly scrambler’s. Vick, who was incarcerated during the 2007 and 2008 seasons and had to sit the bench in 2009, has started only 77 of a possible 90 regular-season games (85.5 percent) since 2002 and has played a 16-game season only once.

So take the risk if you’d like and waste another pick in the middle of your draft to get some insurance. Meanwhile, we will take the safe, proven bet — pick up a player in that same round who we can use multiple weeks and see who gets to the championship.

Q: Vick: Better or worse in 2011?
A: Depends which part of the first year you’re comparing him to. Vick put up some ridiculous numbers in wins over Washington and the New York Giants but tailed off at the end of the season as teams began finding ways to blitz him into poor decisions. Best guess: Vick will be steadier in 2011, putting up reliably good numbers without as many extreme highs or lows. Also, expect his rushing totals — Vick had nine of the Eagles’ 18 rushing TDs last year — to be down. One thing Vick and the coaches want is for him to protect his body more.

— Phil Sheridan, Philadelphia Inquirer

Here’s how the five QBs we have ranked ahead of Vick have fared when it comes to starting games from the time they ascended to the starting role on their respective teams. Vick has started 77 of 90 games in that time.
Player, Years — Starts
Aaron Rodgers, since 2008 — 47 of 48
Philip Rivers, since 2006 — 80 of 80
Peyton Manning, since 2002 — 144 of 144
Drew Brees, since 2002 — 137 of 144
Tom Brady, since 2002 — 129 of 144
Total starts, since 2002 — 537 of 560

More Fantasy Football Coverage:
Athlon Sports gives its Best Bets — sleepers, deep sleepers, overvalues, top rookies, bounce-back and top IDPs from the each of the 32 NFL teams — for fantasy football in 2011. Also see our values/overvalues story as well as our players we are trying to avoid for the 2011 season. And for more on each NFL team, see our in-depth breakdown for all 32 teams.

Fantasy Football Cheat Sheets and Rankings:
2011 Fantasy Football Rankings: Top 280
2011 Fantasy Football Rankings: Top 240 w/ IDPs

011 Fantasy Football Rankings: Quarterbacks
011 Fantasy Football Rankings: Running Backs
2011 Fantasy Football Rankings: Wide Receivers

2011 Fantasy Football Rankings: Tight Ends

2011 Fantasy Football Rankings: Kickers

2011 Fantasy Football Rankings: Defense/Special Teams

<p> Athlon Sports’ 2011 Fantasy Football magazine has Philadelphia quarterback Michael Vick ranked No. 6 at his position and No. 26 overall because we don’t trust him. That's it in a word.</p>
Post date: Sunday, August 21, 2011 - 09:02
Path: /columns/5-burning-questions/fantasy-football-whos-number-1

Athlon Sports has made Houston Texans running back Arian Foster our No. 1 overall player. But it did not come without a healthy debate. Below the case is made for Foster being the consensus No. 1. We also make a case for the other four players who could be your league’s top pick, and there would be nothing wrong with that, either.

Take a look at the pros & cons of all of the potential first-round RBs.

Arian Foster for No. 1 — Athlon Rank: No. 1 Overall
Arian Foster of the Texans should be the first overall pick in your fantasy draft. He had the most yards, most touchdowns and second-most catches by a running back last season. Foster scored close to 100 fantasy points more (in most formats) than any other running back in 2010. The only argument against him being taken in the top spot seems to be, “Well, he can’t do it again.” Why not? The third-year workhorse is young, his strong offensive line returns, and Houston’s solid passing game will keep opposing defenses from keying on him. It also does not hurt knowing that if Foster puts together another stellar campaign, he should be rewarded with a lucrative contract. Besides his eight 100-plus yard games, he was held below 50 yards in only two contests. The main thing to like about Foster’s game is that he’s a consistent producer across the board. Despite not having blazing speed, he was in the top four in the league last year in 20-plus yard carries. Foster also had a whopping 66 catches, and he receives his team’s goal line carries. Trust in a budding young star in a loaded offense. Trust in Gary Kubiak’s track record of being able to run the ball. And do not hesitate to take Arian Foster if you have the No. 1 pick in your draft.

Number to Know that soldifies Arian Foster as the No. 1 overall pick: 25
Arian Foster, as a running back in format where all TDs count six points, was the third-best scorer in all of fantasy football. He was surrounded by two QBs ahead of him 12 QBs behind him before the No. 2 RB showed up. Even if you took 25 percent of Foster's scoring away from last season, he still would have been better than Peyton Hillis by 5.2 points. It's worth repeating: Even if Foster had not played in four games last season (and he even missed two quarters via coach's benching), he still would have outscored the second-best back by 5.2 points.

Adrian Peterson for No. 1 — Athlon Rank: No. 2 Overall
Having the first pick in 2011 might be more of a curse than a blessing as there are more names with legitimate claims to the No. 1 slot than ever before. So when splitting hairs, it is easy to select the most naturally gifted running back on the planet. Yes, he has quarterback concerns and O-line question marks. However, the offense still runs through No. 28. How many backs can say that their career low in rushing is 1,298 yards? Peterson has also added the receiving aspect to his game in the last two seasons with 79 catches for 777 yards over that span. He had only 40 catches for 393 yards in his first two seasons. All Day is the safest and most dependable back in the draft — and has as much upside as any other player in the league.

Ray Rice for No. 1 — Athlon Rank: No. 3 Overall
The case for Rice hinges on a few distinct factors that separate him from the other names atop the rankings. First, he has arguably the best team around him, with established stars at quarterback, wide receiver and head coach to go with an opportunistic defense that normally gives the offense the ball in good field position. Second, he is a complete tailback in that he is a true threat in the receiving game. His 141 receptions in the last two seasons are far ahead of every other elite tailback on the board. Additionally, his crossover schedule could not be easier, as Baltimore will face the worst division in football in 2011, the NFC West. Finally, his running style and size make him a more durable option. He is low to the ground, powerful and rarely takes direct hits. If he can add a couple more scores to his ledger, Rice could easily finish No. 1.

Chris Johnson for No. 1 — Athlon Rank: No. 4 Overall (pre-holdout)
Chris Johnson should be viewed as the Usain Bolt favorite in this year’s No. 1 fantasy running back foot race. No other back can match CJ’s combo of recent-past production, present-day prime and near-future potential. Johnson’s career thus far has been all about numbers — from his record-breaking 4.24 40 at the 2008 Combine to his record-breaking 2,509 total yards in 2009. Last year, CJ2K became CJ1.36K, but that is missing the point; CJ is a total yards total package. Historically, only LaDainian Tomlinson and Eric Dickerson produced more total yards over their first three seasons than Johnson’s 5,606. The 5’11”, 191-pound playmaker will turn 26 on Sept. 23, and he has never missed a game due to injury (CJ sat out Week 17 for the then-13–2 Titans in ’08). He has his eyes on the prize at every level — finding daylight along the line (read: signing a new contract), juking linebackers (read: securing endorsement deals) and sprinting to the end zone (read: establishing his place in NFL history). Look around and do the math: Johnson is statted-up. CJ’s average game is 119.3 total yards and 0.81 TDs; his average season is 1,868.7 total yards and 12.7 TDs. Johnson is the gold standard for fantasy running backs and it’s not even a close race.

Jamaal Charles for No. 1 — Athlon Rank: No. 5 Overall
With so much uncertainty surrounding the No. 1 overall pick, why not roll the dice on one of the league’s rising stars? Charles finished 2010 No. 3 overall in fantasy scoring among running backs and has plenty of room to grow in terms of carries. With Thomas Jones declining, Charles should easily surpass the 230 carries he posted last season. Jones will still be a factor around the goal line, but Charles is a good bet to increase his five rushing scores. Charles has been the team’s top big-play threat, increasing his yards per carry by at least a half a yard in each of the last three seasons. Also helping Charles’ case is his improving surrounding cast. The addition of Steve Breaston and Jon Baldwin should give quarterback Matt Cassel another weapon in the passing game, which will prevent defenses from focusing too much on stopping the rushing attack. Even though Kansas City’s schedule is more difficult in 2011, and the coaching staff doesn’t want to overwork him, the arrow is pointing up on Charles’ fantasy value.

<br />
Post date: Sunday, August 21, 2011 - 09:01
Path: /columns/5-burning-questions/fantasy-football-analyzing-first-round-running-backs

Athlon Sports takes a look at the pros and cons of the 10 running backs that will come off of your fantasy football draft boards first during your 2011 drafts.

More on our top five backs.

Arian Foster - Houston Athlon Top 280 Rank: 1
Pros: Foster was the No. 1 fantasy running back last season by a wide margin. Texans own one of the league’s top lines. Great supporting cast. Only running back in NFL last year to average more than 100 yards per game.
Cons: Very limited track record. Ben Tate is healthy and could steal a few carries away. Injuries have been a concern throughout Foster’s career.

Adrian Peterson - Minnesota Athlon Top 280 Rank: 2
Pros: Arguably the most talented running back in the NFL. Four straight 1,000-yard seasons. Seems to have solved fumble issues. Four seasons of at least 1,600 total yards and 10 scores.
Cons: Vikings have Donovan McNabb in his twilight years, could start a rookie quarterback, and offensive line is a question mark. Despite questionable surrounding cast, Peterson remains a solid fantasy pick, but needs help to improve upon last year’s numbers.

Ray Rice - Baltimore Athlon Top 280 Rank: 3
Pros: Back-to-back 1,200-yard seasons. Could see more work around the goal line this year. A top option in PPR leagues.
Cons: Offensive line a question mark. Ravens added more weapons at receiver, which could reduce receptions. May be difficult to top last year’s 307 carries in 2011.

Chris Johnson - Tennessee Athlon Top 280 Rank: 4
Pros: One of the safest picks at running back after three straight 1,000-yard seasons. With uncertainty at quarterback, Johnson should be the focal point of the offense and will see plenty of passes in his direction once again.
Cons: Titans, like the Vikings with McNabb, have Matt Hasselbeck in his later years and could start a rookie quarterback later. Has been holding out due to contract. Yards per carry dropped from 5.6 in 2009 to 4.3 last year. Already has a lot of work on a slight frame.

Jamaal Charles - Kansas City Athlon Top 280 Rank: 5
Pros: Very little wear on the tires. Increased yards per carry by at least a half a yard each of last three seasons. With Thomas Jones in decline, likely in line for more work around the goal line.
Cons: Schedule among the toughest in the NFL. Chiefs could continue to limit his workload to prevent him from breaking down.

LeSean McCoy - Philadelphia Athlon Top 280 Rank: 8
Pros: Led all running backs with 78 receptions. Eagles don’t run the ball a ton, but he doesn’t have any competition for carries at running back. Makes what carries he gets count — had a 5.2-yard average in 2010.
Cons: May not improve much on rushing yardage totals due to Eagles offense. All of the weapons are back in Philadelphia, which means McCoy’s touchdown totals are also unlikely to increase.

Rashard Mendenhall - Pittsburgh Athlon Top 280 Rank: 9
Pros: Entering the prime of his career. Has back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons and tied for second in the NFL with 13 rushing scores last year. Has very little competition for touches; should top 300 carries once again.
Cons: Although the offensive line is getting better, it remains a concern. Mendenhall won’t be much of a factor in PPR leagues and could lose a few more goal line touches to Isaac Redman.

Maurice Jones-Drew - Jacksonville Athlon Top 280 Rank: 11
Pros: The Jaguars still have a questionable passing attack, which should make Jones-Drew the focal point of the offense. He has back-to-back 1,300-yard seasons and remains a significant contributor in receptions out of the backfield.
Cons: Coming off of knee surgery. Touchdown totals were significantly down from 2009 season. Should be focal point of offense, but lack of consistent passing attack is a concern.

Darren McFadden - Oakland Athlon Top 280 Rank: 12
Pros: Finally lived up to the hype by earning first 1,000-yard season. Raiders should boast an improved passing attack, which will ease pressure on McFadden. A factor in PPR leagues.
Cons: Has never played a full 16-game slate due to injuries. Backfield mates Michael Bush and Taiwan Jones will factor into Oakland’s gameplan each week. Offensive line could be a question mark.

Frank Gore - San Francisco Athlon Top 280 Rank: 13
Pros: Before last season’s injury, was on pace to earn his fifth-straight 1,000-yard season. New head coach Jim Harbaugh was a run-first coach at Stanford and wants the same mentality in San Francisco.
Cons: Injury prone — he has played 16 games only once in six seasons. Yards per carry dropped from 4.9 to 4.2 last year. 49ers passing game will be an issue once again.

<p> Athlon Sports takes a look at the pros and cons of the 10 running backs that will come off of your fantasy football draft boards first during your 2011 drafts.</p>
Post date: Sunday, August 21, 2011 - 09:01
Path: /columns/5-burning-questions/fantasy-football-their-last-legs

If you are in a keeper or dynasty league, we believe the following players will begin their descent down the rankings after this season.

Steven Jackson, RB – STL Athlon Top 280 Rank: 14
Jackson, one of the league’s last true workhorses, turned 28 in July. Even at such a young age, he’s already cracked the NFL’s top 40 in career carries with 1,878. He’s bounced back from missing a combined eight games in 2007 and ’08, but the Rams still probably won't be involving Cadillac Williams or Jerious Norwood in the game plan enough to releive pressure from Jackson.

Michael Turner, RB – ATL Athlon Top 280 Rank: 16
Turner’s YPC average dropped to a career-low 4.1 last season, and that was with a cohesive offensive line. The Falcons’ front wall could have three starters leave via free agency, and several untested youngsters would fill the holes. Add the potential deep threat of Julio Jones, and Turner may not be needed or able to roll the kinds of numbers we’re used to seeing.

Reggie Wayne, WR – IND Athlon Top 280 Rank: 27
In single-season leagues, Wayne is still elite. If you have to plan for next year, though, free agency could rear its ugly head. Wayne still produces like a top-10 receiver, but at the age of 32, will the Colts be willing to pay him like one until he’s 37 or 38?

Anquan Boldin, WR – BAL Athlon Top 280 Rank: 51
Boldin’s chemistry with QB Joe Flacco was slow to develop last season, so the two worked together as much as possible during the lockout. Even so, the Ravens will also look to get rookies Torrey Smith and Tandon Doss up to speed with Flacco. Boldin absorbs a lot of shots and will be 31 in October, so tailor your expectations when deciding what receivers to keep.

Cedric Benson, RB – CIN Athlon Top 280 Rank: 60
There's a lot of wear on these tires. Benson ranks fourth amongst running backs in touches per game over the last three seasons at 22 TPG (901 overall over 41 games). There aren't a lot of options in Cincy with rookie Andy Dalton quarterbacking the team, so the ball will find itself in Benson's hands a lot this season as well. So add another 300 touches and that's 1,200 touches on a player that will be 30 near the end of next season.

Tony Gonzalez, TE – ATL Athlon Top 280 Rank: 123
It’s not breaking news that Gonzalez is getting old (35 this season). The developing news is how the Falcons’ offense will integrate rookie Julio Jones and to what extent the deep ball will be emphasized. If Jones’ speed becomes a focal point quickly, there will be much less need for Matt Ryan to target his tight end 100-plus times.

LaDainian Tomlinson, RB – NYJ Athlon Top 280 Rank: 97
L.T. leaped off the line like a classic muscle car in 2010, averaging 106 yards from scrimmage in the first five games. From Week 6 on, the car had a flat. In the season’s last 11 games, he averaged 3.3 yards per carry. In the last five, he caught only nine passes for 53 yards. Whether he even stays in the game could be riding on how he produces this season.

Steve Smith, WR – CAR Athlon Top 280 Rank: 108
His flagging production can be blamed on bad quarterback play even more than the aging process. Still, Smith Version 1.0 has dealt with nagging injuries for years (2004 was his last 16-game season) and a nagging one already sidelined him this training camp (a finger injury).

Charles Woodson, DB – GB
Athlon Top 100 IDP Rank: 31
Soon to be 35, Woodson carries the perpetual threat of retirement. Even this year’s production may be restricted by his increased use as a slot corner. He can attack running backs and force fumbles like no other CB in the game, but don’t plan on a huge interception total.

Ray Lewis, LB – BAL Athlon Top 100 IDP Rank: 34
Lewis’ continuing production is impressive. Still, his coverage ability is beginning to suffer thanks to Father Time, and it’s possible that he may continue to soldier on when his tackling begins to do the same. He remains a leader on the field, but there are better (read: younger) options for your fantasy squad.

Brian Urlacher, LB – CHI Athlon Top 100 IDP Rank: 45
Dhani Jones didn’t rate him as one of the league’s top 10 linebackers, and many might agree. Like Lewis and London Fletcher, he’s still productive despite his creeping age, and younger players are racking up comparable numbers. Draft them first.

London Fletcher, LB – WAS Athlon Top 100 IDP Rank: 99
A linebacker playing in 208 straight games is an incredible feat. Fletcher is 36 years old and still producing, but the linebacker position has a fresh jolt of talent on the rise. Even if London keeps calling on opposing ballcarriers, it’s hard to draft him over guys like Lawrence Timmons or A.J. Hawk.

More Fantasy Football Cheat Sheets and Rankings:
2011 Fantasy Football Rankings: Top 280
2011 Fantasy Football Rankings: Top 240 w/ IDPs

011 Fantasy Football Rankings: Quarterbacks
011 Fantasy Football Rankings: Running Backs
2011 Fantasy Football Rankings: Wide Receivers

2011 Fantasy Football Rankings: Tight Ends

2011 Fantasy Football Rankings: Kickers

2011 Fantasy Football Rankings: Defense/Special Teams

<p> If you are in a keeper or dynasty league, we believe the following players will begin their descent down the rankings after this season.</p>
Post date: Sunday, August 21, 2011 - 09:00
Path: /columns/5-burning-questions/fantasy-football-top-12-injury-concerns

Athlon Sports looks at the top 12 injury concerns overall and by position for the 2011 fantasy football season. These are 48 guys that may concern you in your draft preparation, and that you may be able to get as a steal due to their injury history or may go much sooner than they should because of that history.

1. Matthew Stafford, DET, QB 
Burly, strong-armed passer has played in only 13 of his possible 32 career games.

2. Frank Gore, SF, RB 
Has not played 16 games in a season since his second year in 2006.

3. Maurice Jones-Drew, JAC, RB 
Battled through injuries last season and underwent arthroscopic knee surgery in January.

4. Michael Vick, PHI, QB 
Dynamic dual-threat who takes a beating has played in 16 games only once in his career.

5. Austin Collie, IND, WR 
A thumb injury, multiple concussions, and his role in the slot make him a risky pick.

6. Owen Daniels, HOU, TE 
Has missed 13 games over the last two seasons with serious injuries.

7. Antonio Gates, SD, TE 
Chronic foot issues have bothered him for years; finally cost him six games last fall.

8. Joseph Addai, IND, RB 
Has missed 13 games over the last three seasons for a team that doesn’t look to run often.

9. DeAngelo Williams, CAR, RB
A serious foot injury cost him most of 2010. He missed three games in 2009 as well.

10. Ryan Grant, GB, RB 
Upright runner saw his 2010 end after eight carries with a season-ending ankle injury.

11. Steve Smith, PHI, WR
May start the season on the PUP list while recovering from microfracture knee surgery.

12. Sidney Rice, MIN, WR 
Hip injury forced Rice to miss all but six games last season following breakout 2009.

1. Matthew Stafford, DET

Burly, strong-armed passer has played in only 13 of his possible 32 career games — missing all but three contests last season.

2. Michael Vick, PHI
Dynamic dual-threat who takes a beating. Vick has played in all 16 games only once in his career (2006).

3. Peyton Manning, IND
Has had neck sugery in each of the past two offseasons. Colts might not be concerned — but fantasy owners should be.

4. Matt Hasselbeck, TEN
Has missed 12 games over the last three years, and he turns 36 in September.

5. Alex Smith, SF
Has averaged fewer than 10 games per season over the last three years.

6. David Garrard, JAC
His 216 carries over the last three years will begin to take a toll at some point — it cost him two games in 2010.

7. Tarvaris Jackson, SEA
Injuries interfered with his opportunities last fall, and the five projected starters on the O-line have never played together.

8. Tony Romo, DAL
Porous O-line could keep Romo running for his life after missing most of 2010 to a broken collarbone.

9. Jay Cutler, CHI
Takes chances, and his mental toughness was questioned in the playoffs a year ago.

10. Chad Henne, MIA
Has never started a full season in the NFL, due to injuries and ineffectiveness.

11. Christian Ponder, MIN
Suffered shoulder and elbow injuries in college; might not get much protection from his O-line this fall — if he plays at all.

12. Matt Schaub, HOU
Injury issues could be a thing of the past, but he missed 10 games in 2007-08.

Running Backs
1. Frank Gore, SF

Suffered hip injury in Week 12 last season; had two knee injuries during his college days at Miami.

2. Maurice Jones-Drew, JAC
Battled through injuries last season and underwent arthroscopic knee surgery in January.

3. Joseph Addai, IND
Has missed 13 games over the last three seasons for a team that doesn’t look to run often.

4. DeAngelo Williams, CAR
A serious foot injury cost him most of 2010. He missed three games in 2009 as well.

5. Ryan Grant, GB
Upright runner saw his 2010 end after eight carries due to a season-ending ankle injury.

6. Pierre Thomas, NO
Ankle injury cost him 10 games last fall. Arrival of Mark Ingram crowds the backfield.

7. Ahmad Bradshaw, NYG
Nagging ankle injury required offseason surgery for the smallish second-year starter.

8. Ronnie Brown, PHI
Alternates healthy and injured years: seven games (2007), 16 games (’08), nine games (’09) and 16 games (’10).

9. Montario Hardesty, CLE
Recovering from a torn ACL that caused him to miss the entire 2010 season.

10. Beanie Wells, ARI
Battled injuries at Ohio State, and that trend continued last fall with a knee issue.

Wide Receivers
1. Austin Collie, IND

A thumb injury, multiple concussions — in both November and December 2010 — as well as his role in the slot make him a risky pick.

2. Steve Smith, PHI
May start the season on the PUP list while recovering from microfracture knee surgery.

3. Sidney Rice, SEA
Hip injury forced Rice to miss all but six games last year following a breakout 2009 season.

4. Danario Alexander/Donnie Avery/ Mark Clayton, STL
Each of these Rams has dealt with major injuries over the past few seasons.

5. Arrelious Benn, TB
All signs point to him being healthy for the start of the season after rehabbing a torn ACL.

6. Marques Colston, NO
Appears to be struggling to get healthy after undergoing offseason knee surgery. He missed five games in 2008 as well.

7. Dez Bryant, DAL
Season ended with a fractured ankle last fall, but he appears ready to go in 2011. Bryant is also a concern off the field.

8. Percy Harvin, MIN
Migraine headaches have cost Harvin a handful of games the last few seasons; he also has a history of hamstring and ankle issues.

9. Michael Crabtree, SF
Injuries continue to plague the former first-round pick, who is battling an injury this training camp as well.

10. Wes Welker, NE
Healed from ACL injury in 2009, but he gets hit a lot near the line of scrimmage.

11. DeSean Jackson, PHI
Brittle, smallish player has missed time in each of the last two seasons.

12. Jerricho Cotchery, PIT
Offseason back surgery and declining numbers add doubt to his value in 2011.

Tight Ends
1. Owen Daniels, HOU

Has missed 13 games over the last two seasons with serious injuries.

2. Antonio Gates, SD
Chronic foot problems have bothered Gates for years and cost him six games last fall.

3. Dallas Clark, IND
A season-ending wrist injury slowed one of the most physical tight ends in the league.

4. Jermichael Finley, GB
A season-ending knee injury in Week 5 cut short what was looking like a breakout season.

5. Todd Heap, ARI
Missed three games in 2010, and he turned 31 in March.

6. Heath Miller, PIT
Has missed two games in two of the last three seasons.

7. Kyle Rudolph, MIN
Rookie missed significant time over his final two seasons at Notre Dame due to hamstring and shoulder issues.

8. Jeremy Shockey, CAR
The 10th-year vet has missed 10 games over the last three seasons.

9. Jermaine Gresham, CIN
Suffered ACL injuries in high school (2005) and at Oklahoma (2009).

10. Chris Cooley, WAS
Workhorse bounced back last season after missing nine games in 2009, but is battling injuries in camp already.

11. Tony Moeaki, KC
Missed time in each of his final two seasons at Iowa and one game last season in Kansas City. Was on PUP list at outset of camp.

12. Tony Gonzalez, ATL
Has played at least 15 games in all 14 NFL seasons, but Gonzalez turned 35 in February.

More Fantasy Football Cheat Sheets and Rankings:
2011 Fantasy Football Rankings: Top 280
2011 Fantasy Football Rankings: Top 240 w/ IDPs

011 Fantasy Football Rankings: Quarterbacks
011 Fantasy Football Rankings: Running Backs
2011 Fantasy Football Rankings: Wide Receivers

2011 Fantasy Football Rankings: Tight Ends

2011 Fantasy Football Rankings: Kickers

2011 Fantasy Football Rankings: Defense/Special Teams

<p> Athlon Sports looks at the top 12 injury concerns overall and by position for the 2011 fantasy football season. These are 48 guys that may concern you in your draft preparation, and that you may be able to get as a steal due to their injury history or may go much sooner than they should because of that history.</p>
Post date: Sunday, August 21, 2011 - 09:00
Path: /columns/5-burning-questions/fantasy-football-repeating-magic-season

Every once in a while there’s that player who has the “magic” season in fantasy football. But what does history say his next season will look like? Let’s take a look at those players over the five seasons prior to 2010 who led their positions and were at least 30 points ahead of their next-closest competitor in one season, and see how they fared the next season. A repeat is possible. However, it’s also worth noting that the two who did repeat their No. 1 ranking did not increase their points totals in doing so.

        Pts. Next Next Yr.
Year Player Name Pos. Points Year Rank
2010 Michael Vick* QB 467.1 ?? ??
2010 Arian Foster RB 358.8 ?? ??
2010 Jason Witten TE 199.2 ?? ??
2009 Chris Johnson RB 365.9 250.9 6
2009 Aaron Rodgers QB 395.8 360.5 3
2008 Tony Gonzalez TE 213.8 164.2 5
2007 Tom Brady** QB 490 3 59
2007 LaDainian Tomlinson*** RB 332.9 251.1 5
2007 Brian Westbrook*** RB 325.4 242.8 9
2007 Randy Moss WR 336.3 197.3 11
2006 Peyton Manning QB 369.5 335.1 3
2006 LaDainian Tomlinson RB 444.3 332.9 1
2005 Antonio Gates TE 214.6 181.9 1
2006 Adalius Thomas DL 157.5 131 2

*Vick played in 12 games last season but led in points per game. For the purpose of the chart, his 2010 point total is extrapolated for all 16 games, where he would have outscored Tom Brady by 96.1 points
**Brady tore his ACL in the first game of the 2008 season.
***Tomlinson and Westbrook were 1-2 in 2007, and the next-closest RB competitor scored 254 points.

More Fantasy Football Cheat Sheets and Rankings:
2011 Fantasy Football Rankings: Top 280
2011 Fantasy Football Rankings: Top 240 w/ IDPs

011 Fantasy Football Rankings: Quarterbacks
011 Fantasy Football Rankings: Running Backs
2011 Fantasy Football Rankings: Wide Receivers

2011 Fantasy Football Rankings: Tight Ends

2011 Fantasy Football Rankings: Kickers

2011 Fantasy Football Rankings: Defense/Special Teams

<p> Every once in a while there’s that player who has the “magic” season in fantasy football. But what does history say his next season will look like? Let’s take a look at those players over the five seasons prior to 2010 who led their positions and were at least 30 points ahead of their next-closest competitor in one season, and see how they fared the next season.</p>
Post date: Sunday, August 21, 2011 - 09:00