Articles By Athlon Sports

Path: /nfl/5-bold-predictions-2011-nfl-season

We make five out-on-a-limb predictions for the upcoming NFL season.

The Detroit Lions have had three consecutive double-digit-loss seasons. They are 48–128 since their last playoff appearance in 1999. Yet, it won’t be a surprise if the Lions win nine games — for the first time since 2000 — and flirt with a postseason berth.

The Lions won their final four games last season, beating the Packers, Buccaneers, Dolphins and Vikings, and they did it without their starting quarterback. Matthew Stafford, the No. 1 overall pick in 2009, has made only 13 starts in his two seasons, including only three in 2010, because of injuries.

The third time will be the charm for Stafford, who can’t possibly be that unlucky. Ndamukong Suh — who will be on one of the top defensive lines in football with Corey Williams, Kyle Vanden Bosch, Cliff Avril and Nick Fairley — says that if Stafford can stay healthy, the “sky is the limit” for the Lions.

Detroit will be the biggest threat to the Packers in the NFC North.

Elsewhere in this magazine, we pose the question of whether Peyton Manning is overrated. We thought, why not — let’s go all-in with our heresy and predict the Colts to miss the playoffs for the first time since 2001.

It’s not nearly as outlandish as it seems at first blush. Age catches up with all of us eventually, and the 35-year-old Peyton Manning is undergoing his first real bout with health concerns. The real possibility he won't be ready for the first game of the season due to off-season neck surgery will certainly hamper the team’s preparation following a lockout-shortened offseason.

Old problems — lack of a consistent running game, a defense that has trouble stopping the run and rushing the passer, a figurehead of a head coach — have yet to be corrected.

Then there are the Colts’ primary rivals for AFC South supremacy. The Houston Texans have teased and tantalized with their potential for years, only to fall short. Unlike the Colts, though, the Texans have addressed their weaknesses, hiring defensive coordinator Wade Phillips to fix a woeful defense.

As odd as it may sound, the old Cowboys castoff could represent a real and present danger to the Colts’ divisional dominance. It was an impressive run, but this is the year the Colts’ mastery over the AFC South will come to an end.

The St. Louis Rams were known as the Greatest Show on Turf when Kurt Warner was the ringmaster. St. Louis was 61–27, including the postseason, and won two NFC Championships and a Super Bowl from 1999-2003. After a long wait, it appears the Rams finally have found Warner’s replacement, and thus rediscovered their winning ways.

Sam Bradford, the No. 1 overall pick in 2010, was named the NFC’s Offensive Rookie of the Year after passing for 3,512 yards with 18 touchdowns and 15 interceptions. He led the Rams to within one game of a playoff berth — a 16–6 loss to the Seahawks in the season finale — without much of a receiving corps.

The Rams haven’t been to the playoffs since 2004, and they haven’t been a contender since Warner’s departure after the ’03 season. With his biggest weapons back, and a year of NFL experience under his belt, Bradford appears ready to take the Rams where they haven’t been since Warner called St. Louis home.

Gary Kubiak is 37–43 in his five seasons in Houston. He gets one more chance to give the Texans their first postseason berth, and in Wade he trusts. Wade Phillips, fired by the Dallas Cowboys at midseason, was hired by Kubiak to fix the Texans’ defense, which finished 30th in total defense and 32nd against the pass last season.

Phillips is switching the Texans from a 4-3 to a 3-4, moving Mario Williams from end to outside linebacker in the process. He got the five defensive players he wanted in the first five rounds of the draft, including J.J. Watt, Brooks Reed and Brandon Harris, and the Texans significantly upgraded the secondary in free agency by signing corner Johnathan Joseph and safety Danieal Manning.

Houston has been a popular pick to make the playoffs in recent years only to come up short. This, however, will be the year.

Will he or won’t he? That is not the question this year. Even if Brett Favre wanted to play another season, he wouldn’t find a suitor. His playing days are finished, a year later than they should have been.

The Vikings have moved on, drafting Christian Ponder as their quarterback of the future, and trading for Donovan McNabb for the short term. They can only hope McNabb does as well as Favre’s replacements in Green Bay and New York. Aaron Rodgers sat on the bench for three seasons after the Packers made him the 24th overall pick in 2005.

In 2009, the Jets used the fifth overall pick on USC quarterback Mark Sanchez. He has helped the Jets to back-to-back AFC title games. McNabb has an easier job: He doesn’t have to make Vikings fans forget Favre, because they already have. 

<p> Here's five big predictions for the upcoming season.</p>
Post date: Friday, August 26, 2011 - 03:25
All taxonomy terms: Larry Fitzgerald, Overtime
Path: /overtime/larry-fitzgerald-segway-gallery

A photo of Larry Fitzgerald on a Segway has been making the rounds, so we thought we'd have a little fun with it. Enjoy.

The Original:

Hurricane Larry is about to hit New York City:


Larry and JFK Enjoy A Ticker Tape Parade:




Larry Catches Up To The White Bronco:



Larry and the Queen Greet The Masses:


<p> Larry Fitzgerald + Waving on a Segway = Awesome</p>
Post date: Friday, August 26, 2011 - 03:21
All taxonomy terms: Cam Newton, Jerry Richardson, News
Path: /news/jerry-richardson-told-cam-newton-how-dress

With all the hub-bub going on about Jerry Richardson telling Cam Newton how to dress, it seems like we uncovered the real reason why the Panthers owner wants his star rookie quarterback to take a second and think about his appearance.

But after seeing this photo, we thought that Jerry may want to focus on things like "fluffy angel outfits," "high pink socks" and "pretty, pretty wands" instead of the thuggish tattoos and piercings. Also, he may want to have a talk with Cam about having male nurses with thigh-highs in his crew. 

<p> This photo explains a lot of reasons why Jerry Richardson wants his QB to dress a certain way.</p>
Post date: Thursday, August 25, 2011 - 10:33
Path: /nfl/5-things-watch-nfl-season

Here are five important story lines to watch this upcoming NFL season.

The Cowboys began last season openly talking about becoming the first team in history to play in a Super Bowl in their home stadium. They ended it with a new head coach, a third-string quarterback and plenty of questions.

Dallas got off to a 1–4 start but looked to turn it around against the Giants. The Cowboys led the Giants 10–7 and had just gotten their third turnover of the game, but that’s when blitzing linebacker Michael Boley got to Tony Romo untouched.

Romo’s fractured left clavicle sucked out whatever life was left in the Cowboys. The Cowboys lost that game and the next two, prompting the firing of Wade Phillips. Interim coach Jason Garrett was given the job after the Cowboys went 5–3 in the second half, including a 14–13, season-ending victory over the Eagles in third-string quarterback Stephen McGee’s first career start. Romo’s shoulder is completely healed, and so, the Cowboys say, are they.

Defensive guru Rob Ryan was hired to fix a defense that set a team record in allowing 436 points, and the Cowboys spent two of their first three draft picks to help Romo and the offense. The Cowboys are ready to do this season what they didn’t do last season — at least look like contenders. That, however, won’t be easy in the rugged NFC East.

The Chargers ranked first in the NFL in total offense and first in total defense last season. Yet, San Diego finished only 9–7 and missed the playoffs.

The reason? The Chargers had arguably the worst special teams in NFL history. They allowed three kickoffs and one punt to be returned for touchdowns, had four punts blocked and another deflected and ranked last in punt coverage.

The Chargers replaced veteran special teams coach Steve Crosby with Rich Bisaccia, who held the same job in Tampa Bay the previous nine seasons. They loaded up with special teams players in the draft, selecting Marcus Gilchrist, Jordan Todman, Vincent Brown, Jonas Mouton, Shareece Wright and Andrew Gachkar specifically for their special teams skills.

The young, speedy players can’t hurt, but how much will they help? The Chargers’ special teams will determine whether San Diego finally can fulfill its Super Bowl goal.

The 49ers’ past three full-time head coaches didn’t do anything for fans’ enthusiasm in the Bay Area. Dennis Erickson, Mike Nolan and Mike Singletary combined for a 45–82 record. But San Francisco’s hiring of Jim Harbaugh has delivered hope to an organization desperately in need of some.

Harbaugh has yet to coach an NFL game, and yet, he already is drawing comparisons to one of his mentors. Harbaugh is following in the footsteps of Bill Walsh, who won three Super Bowls after leaving Stanford for the 49ers.

The 49ers haven’t had a winning season since 2002, the last time they made the playoffs. But Harbaugh, 47, took over a 1–11 Stanford team and quickly turned around that program. 49ers fans expect similar results in the NFL.

A year ago, the Eagles traded Donovan McNabb and handed the starting job to Kevin Kolb. But Kolb lasted only half a game, suffering a concussion. He was replaced by Michael Vick, who became an MVP candidate and the NFL’s feel-good story of the year.

Though he rushed for 676 yards and nine touchdowns, Vick became a different quarterback, a better quarterback. Vick, who had never completed better than 56.4 percent of his passes in a season, completed 62.6 percent in 2010, throwing for a career-high 3,018 yards and 21 touchdowns and making his fourth career Pro Bowl despite starting only 11 games.

Vick, now in his third season removed from prison, could have used an offseason working with Andy Reid and Marty Mornhinweg. No matter — as long as Vick can stay healthy, he should continue to electrify the league and put up big numbers in Philadelphia.

Cam Newton won the Heisman Trophy, the Maxwell Award and the Davey O’Brien Award and was the Walter Camp National Player of the Year. He led Auburn to an undefeated season and a national championship. In the NFL, all that means little.

Can Newton do what he did in one season at Auburn for a career in the NFL? Can he adapt to an NFL offense, playing under center? Will he be the hardest worker on the team? Will he be a leader?

Newton declared himself an “entertainer and icon” in a pre-combine interview, but he has to become an NFL quarterback first. Newton insists he will not be Heath Shuler or Akili Smith or Tim Couch. The Panthers are counting on it.

<p> Here are five important story lines to watch this upcoming NFL season.</p>
Post date: Thursday, August 25, 2011 - 10:26
All taxonomy terms: NFL, Fantasy
Path: /columns/5-burning-questions/fantasy-football-wide-receivers-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.

But if you miss out on one of the top WRs or get one, go elsewhere for a few rounds and then look to get another one or two later, here's who we have as the sleepers to look out for and the busts to avoid. These are in no particular order. Check out the Athlon 280 to see who is where, as well as our current preseason WR rankings.


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

Santonio Holmes, New York Jets
It didn’t take long for Holmes to work his way into the Jets’ passing plans. After serving his four-game suspension to start last season, the former Steeler drew nine targets his first time out. Over the final 12 games, he drew at least 13 more targets than anyone else on the team. He also caught two more TD passes than anyone else. Holmes’ yardage should climb from a career-low average, but even last year’s rates over a full season would make him a top-20 fantasy wideout.

Anquan Boldin, Baltimore
His debut season in Baltimore started out according to plan but turned sharply south. Through seven games, Boldin was on pace for 87 catches, 1,181 yards and 11 TDs. After the bye, though, everything fell apart. He saw 13 fewer targets over the final nine games than in the first seven. His catch rate dropped from 62 percent to 54 percent. The receiving average went from 13.6 to 12.3. Boldin has taken a lot of hits and is about to turn 31, but the first half of 2010 shows he still has something. The addition of Lee Evans to stretch the field and no proven TE helps as well.

Mario Manningham, New York Giants
Manningham drew 20 more targets, caught 10 more balls and scored three more TDs in the eight games after Steve Smith’s 2010 injury than in the previous eight. However, 28 of Manningham’s 56 second-half targets came in two games. Take away those and his two no-catch October games, and you get a five-target average per game. Nine of the remaining 12 games fell within one of that number. With Smith now gone to Philly, Manningham should see plenty of opportunities.

Jacoby Ford, Oakland
Ford figures to be one of the more fun guys to draft in fantasy this year. He looked awesome when given the chance in the second half of 2010, specifically in a pair of 100-yard receiving days. The speed that produced three kick-return TDs met with unexpectedly good hands. Now, his new coach — last year’s coordinator — calls Ford a No. 1 receiver and potentially one of the league’s best. He might not arrive there this year, but that belief should at least translate into opportunity.

Devin Hester, Chicago
It wouldn’t be fair to say the Hester-as-receiver experiment failed. He’s been OK. He just hasn’t turned into the kind of reliable starter the team hoped. That’s all right. Hester showed in 2010 that he could go back to being the league’s best return man with a chance to focus there. In addition to being listed as the team's kick and punt returner, Hester is also penciled in as a starting WR. With an ADP of 202 and as a starter in that offense, he's certainly worth a shot.

Jerome Simpson, Cincinnati
Has any receiver gone so quickly from bust to busting out? Through the 13th game of his third season, the former second-round pick had one career reception. Then he gathered 21 targets, 18 catches, three TDs and a pair of 120-yard games in the final two weeks. Coach Marvin Lewis said Simpson could be a No. 1 wideout. The new offense, uncertain QB situation and addition of A.J. Green limit that, but Simpson has at least grown excitement from what looked like a pot of disappointment.

Robert Meachem, New Orleans Saints
Meachem can be dangerous. He’s a big-play guy in arguably the league’s most exciting offense. He has 17 TDs in only 101 career catches. He also has yet to catch 50 passes in a season three years after the Saints picked him in the first round. Meachem says that his surgically repaired ankle will be better than it has been for a while. Camp will tell us more. Meachem also heads into a contract year with Marques Colston coming off a second microfracture knee surgery. The stage is set.

Emmanuel Sanders, Pittsburgh
The first thing Sanders needs to do this summer is prove that his broken foot is fully healed. Following February surgery, he got back to running in late June. If that checks out, though, his 2010 performance has led many observers to predict a 2011 breakout. Sanders sat significantly behind Mike Wallace and Hines Ward in season targets but closed the gap in the second half of the season. He drew just eight fewer than Ward over the final seven games, though he caught 10 fewer passes.

Steve Breaston, Kansas City
Injury and the absence of QBs made Breaston easy to miss in 2010, but he still delivered points of value. He topped 130 yards twice in the first four games he played. He reached 10 targets three times in the first seven. His 87 targets over 12 games project to 117 in a full season. Breaston remained a key option in a bad passing game and posted a career-high 15.3 yards-per-catch average. He brings the big-play ability of a kick returner. Now he reunites with Todd Haley in Kansas City with a strong running game and could be a solid option for the Chief passing game.

Derrick Mason, New York Jets
Mason’s six TDs over the final nine games — with Anquan Boldin struggling — made it look like he came on strong down the stretch. The fact is, though, that his targets per game dipped slightly, and his receiving average slipped by a yard per catch. Mason’s receptions per game were virtually the same in each half, and his season total was his lowest as an NFL starter. Mason remains a productive player heading into his age-37 season, and could be a safety valve for an average QB in Mark Sanchez.

PPR GOLD (Grab these guys if your league awards points for points per reception)
Mike Thomas, Jacksonville
Thomas is a man of hidden value in fantasy. The eight-catch, 149-yard day in Week 10 against Houston last year might have been the only game you could call “big” by fantasy standards. His lone TD in that one came on a batted Hail Mary. Thomas reached 90 yards only one other time. He surpassed six catches only one other time. He also only fell short of four receptions five times. He also ran for 114 yards and ranked sixth in the league in punt-return yardage.

Santana Moss, Washington
Strictly a PPR play. He racks up targets and catches but few TDs. He's shown in the preseason that he's still a solid PPR play. There's nothing sexy about the pick other than consistent productivity.

Danny Amendola, St. Louis
This year's "the next Wes Welker." There’s something to be said for knowing your role, and Amendola does. He’s a solid kick returner who has turned into a dependable interior receiver with limited yardage.’s Chris Wesseling pointed out that Amendola’s 8.1-yard receiving average last year was the lowest ever for a wideout with at least 60 receptions. Amendola averaged 3.5 yards more per rush. If Josh McDaniels looks at him and sees Wes Welker, though, there could be even more of those short shots.

Davone Bess, Miami
Brandon Marshall arrived to play No. 1 receiver last year and ranked fifth among wideouts in targets per game (10.4) and sixth in total receptions. Despite that, Bess’ workload increased. He ranked 19th at the position in targets and 11th in catches, and there was no spike in the games Marshall missed or noticeable increase when Brian Hartline went down. Bess has simply become central to the Dolphins’ pass offense. He presents low yardage but possesses the team’s most consistent hands.

Lance Moore, New Orleans
Moore isn’t just sneaky for opposing defenses. He slips the coverage of fantasy owners as well. He finished two of the past three seasons as a top-25 wideout across formats. Perhaps the injury trouble of 2009 was the only thing between Moore and a third such season. At the same time, the Saints present so many options. If Robert Meachem steps up, does Moore fall? Does Jimmy Graham take TDs away? Moore caught more than two-thirds of his targets each year, so we know he’ll be dependable.

Jordan Shipley, Cincinnati
Shipley proved just as dependable right away in the NFL as he was in college. His 70.3 percent catch rate ranked fifth among all wide receivers with at least 25 targets, and none of the four ahead of Shipley matched his 74 targets. He faces the same uncertainty as the rest of the Bengals’ offense, with a new coordinator, new QB and other new pieces. Still, it’s tough to imagine OC Jay Gruden not finding a place for the second-year wideout, who tied for third on the team in catches in 2010.

Steve Smith, Philadelphia
Smith has preached encouragement at the speedy recovery from microfracture surgery on his left knee. The lockout has kept us from discovering proof, though. The emergence of Hakeem Nicks last year cut into his big receiving numbers of 2009, but Smith was on pace for 144 targets and 94 catches through the first eight games. That would have ranked seventh and third at the position, respectively. He can be had very, very late these days and may drop all the way to a waiver wire pickup. See how the Eagles roster settles out and then make a decision on him.

BIG TARGETS (simply put these guys are attractive red zone targets)
Braylon Edwards, San Francisco (6-2, 214)
Edwards finished 2010 as a top-20 fantasy WR without PPR and a top-30 guy with it. Edwards posted the largest receiving average of his career in 2010. He notched his second-best TD total. The yardage is quite likely to come down. He’ll need to catch more balls to repeat his TDs. Edwards drew more targets in three Browns seasons than he did last year, and two of those ended with fewer yards and TDs despite more receptions. Here's what he has going for him: Michael Crabtree is a bust and if his QB can attempt a forward pass he has the frame to go get it.

Plaxico Burress, New York Jets
He replaces Edwards and should step into the role nicely. He's basically Edwards, but has this going for him: He has two receivers to draw attention away and could be the go-to target in the red zone as opposed to Vernon Davis probably being the red-zone target in San Fran.

Roy Williams, Chicago (6-2, 215)
Even while disappointing wildly since joining the Cowboys, Williams has posted strong TD rates the past two seasons. He has scored about once every six catches over that span. He reunites with Mike Martz and gives Chicago a big receiver for Jay Cutler to aim at.

Mike Williams, Seattle (6-4, 235)
There are unlikely comebacks, and then there’s this guy. Williams spent a year away from football before being drafted in 2005 and never seemed to recover. He washed out of Detroit in two years, as well as two other stops. Williams seemed like a novelty last summer when Pete Carroll brought him to Seattle, but a slimmed-down version drew 7.9 targets per game. Williams will remain the No. 1 target and should score more but will also continue to be limited by the Seattle offense.

Eric Decker, Denver (6-3, 220)
The foot injury that cut his senior college season short also caused a slow start to his pro career. Decker showed extremely reliable hands in college, topping out with a Big Ten-leading 84 catches and 1,074 yards as a junior. He sits behind Eddie Royal on the depth chart and on a team that's unlikely to see many three-WR sets, but if he can supplant Royal he profiles as the guy who will get the necessary yardage to convert on third down. Decker’s also capable of the big play; he averaged 15.2 yards a reception in his final season with the Gophers.

Jacoby Jones, Houston (6-1, 210)
Jones seemed poised for a big step forward in 2010 but didn’t really deliver. A dip from 2009’s TD rate seemed inevitable, but cutting his TDs in half while nearly doubling his catches didn’t help fantasy owners. Jones did catch an impressive 65.4 percent of his targets. The problem was that he didn’t earn more playing time or an even bigger role, in spite of injuries to others. His receiving average also fell. If Jones can grow his role, however, big-play upside comes along.

Riley Cooper, Philadelphia (6-3, 222)
Being 6'3" and 222 pounds as a receiver makes you noteworthy as soon as you make a roster. Cooper could grab a few TDs as a red zone target. The addition of Steve Smith may hurt Cooper's 2011 potential.

Harry Douglas, Atlanta
Douglas’ 2009 ACL tear didn’t cause him to miss any time in 2010. It might have cost him a shot at prominence, though. Atlanta could have used another downfield threat to complement Roddy White, but Douglas could only garner 53 targets, and he caught fewer than half of them. He has posted a decent nine catches of 20 yards or more in 45 career receptions. If Atlanta morphs into a passing team, Douglas becomes much more intriguing on a team with two outside threats and he can settle into the inside role he belonged in all along.

Jason Avant, Philadelphia
Avant’s numbers actually dipped a bit with Michael Vick under center last season, which makes some sense. Vick’s big arm makes it easy to look downfield on the scramble when plays break down, while his legs make it attractive to go after the first down himself. With Green Bay’s D focusing on DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin in the wild card round, though, Avant led with nine targets and seven catches and the lone TD catch. His No. 3 role, however, will always cap Avant’s production.

Arrelious Benn, Tampa Bay
Benn finally started to really get worked into the gameplan over the season’s final third. He never drew more than three targets in a game before Week 12, but then went 6-5-4-4 over the next four contests. Week 16 brought a torn left ACL. Offseason reports have been nothing but positive, and Benn says he won’t be held back at all. Can we believe it? Only Kellen Winslow, Mike Williams and Cadillac Williams topped his 25 catches last year. The team might have to believe in Benn.

Dezmon Briscoe, Tampa Bay
The team may be able to hold off or delay its belief in Benn due to Briscoe's preseason performances. He has been a solid target for Josh Freeman throughout camp and could start if Benn can't make it back before the opener, and could hold onto the gig anyways.

Golden Tate, Seattle
There are players for whom you can find statistical reasons for optimism. Then there are purely speculative upside picks. Tate is the latter. There was plenty of hope for his debut season, but he was slow to pick up the offense, was admittedly undisciplined and missed five games. Coach Pete Carroll has consistently mentioned Tate as a guy they want to “break out.” The Seahawks desperately need that playmaking and will ensure opportunity if Tate is anywhere close to ready.

Blair White, Indianapolis
Combine Peyton Manning with the obvious “Blair White Project” nickname, and it’s tough to ask for much more from White’s debut. After Austin Collie’s first concussion (and Dallas Clark’s injury), White turned into a solid PPR contributor. He caught four passes or more in five of the final seven games, though he never topped 52 yards. If Collie stays healthy in 2010, we likely won’t see much of the “Project,” but the concussion questions mean that we shouldn’t forget about him.

Marcus Easley, Buffalo
Easley drew strong reviews with his speed last year and has been deemed a “beast” by teammate Steve Johnson. Another deep threat never hurts, particularly when a passing team traded away deep threat Lee Evans this preseason.

Earl Bennett, Chicago
It was disappointing to see Bennett’s targets per game fall in season one under Mike Martz. Part of that can be attributed to the team’s league-low pass-attempt total, but Martz has also copped to not getting Bennett enough work. If Martz makes good on his word to fix that, Bennett could be in for a significant bump. His catch rate in 2010 topped Devin Hester’s by 11 percentage points and Johnny Knox’s by 14. His connection with Jay Cutler that dates to college could finally pay off.

Danario Alexander, St. Louis
Two things are obvious with Alexander: talent and injury risk. The troublesome left knee made him go undrafted. Then Alexander got a four-year deal off the practice squad and caught four passes for 72 yards and a TD in his first game. Then he had a fifth surgery on the knee; then two outings with more than 90 yards. Alexander shows inconsistent hands, but the knee is the real question. If he can get healthy, he should find a prominent role. That’s a gigantic “if,” though.

Jason Hill, Jacksonville
A third-round pick of the Niners in 2007, Hill was never able to crack the starting lineup before getting dumped. Hill’s highlight was a fleeting two-TD flash in his first game of 2009 that followed rumors of a developing connection with Alex Smith. In Jacksonville, he's starting opposite Mike Thomas. Hill averaged 22.5 yards per catch in brief action with the Jags last year and would take over a spot where Mike Sims-Walker excelled at times.

Anthony Armstrong, Washington
Was Armstrong a bright spot in a fairly dismal 2010 for Washington, or did he just appear to be because everything else was so dim? Armstrong emerged as a downfield weapon in his rookie season. His 19.8 yards per catch ranked third among all players with at least 20 receptions. He matched teammate Santana Moss with six games of at least 80 yards despite catching less than half as many balls. He is behind Moss and Jabar Gaffney on the depth chart, but could rise to the top once the roster settles in.

Greg Little, Cleveland
You know a team needs passing-game playmakers when a second-round pick who sat out the 2010 season in college is immediately viewed as the likely No. 1 receiver. That said, Little is easy to like. A former RB with 166 career college carries who caught 62 passes in 2009, Little possesses good hands, terrific size, excellent leaping ability and enough speed. If he shakes off the rust quickly from a year away, Little shouldn’t have much trouble snatching offensive prominence.

Torrey Smith, Baltimore
The Ravens so badly need a downfield threat that they tried to pretend Donte’ Stallworth was an answer last year. He caught two passes, while Todd Heap posted the best receiving average among Ravens with at least 10 catches. Enter Smith. The former Maryland Terrapin is a raw route-runner but a speedy guy with pretty good size. He added more than two yards to his receiving average in his final college season and blew up for 12 TDs. The acquisition of Lee Evans probably hurt him for 2011, but it's not like Evans has lit up the NFL universe. So keep an eye on his progress to determine Smith's.

Tandon Doss, Baltimore
Doss didn’t post huge receiving averages in college, but he was enough of a playmaker that Indiana handed him the ball 42 times over his final two seasons and used him as the primary kick returner. He joins a Baltimore team with an aging receiving corps. Despite leaving after his junior season, Doss might be a more polished prospect than second-rounder Torrey Smith. Better route-running might help him get on the field more than Smith in 2011, especially if injury strikes a starter.

Vincent Brown, San Diego
The Chargers already have big-play options in the passing game, guys who can dominate downfield. What they could use is a more consistent shorter-range threat. To that end, Brown enters the league as a crisp route-runner with dependable hands. The speed doesn’t drop jaws, but he managed to convert it to receiving averages of 17.3 and 19.6 yards in his final two college seasons. At the least, the status of several Chargers receivers could clear a starter path by Year 2.

Cecil Shorts, Jacksonville
Shorts arrives in Jacksonville with the “polished” tag after generating some pre-draft buzz from the school (Mount Union) that also produced Pierre Garçon. He averaged a strong 17.1 yards per catch as a senior and posted six multiple-TD games despite missing three weeks. Going to the Jaguars also presents opportunity with Mike Sims-Walker gone and few proven targets remaining. The reality, though, is that Shorts comes from a Division III program, which is even a significantly bigger jump in competition level than most rookies face. With Jason Hill the only thing standing between himself and a starting spot, Shorts is worth keeping an eye on.

Reggie Wayne, Indianapolis
It’s easy to predict a slide for Wayne. At 32, he put up the lowest receiving average of his career in 2010. Youngsters Austin Collie and Pierre Garçon have emerged, and Peyton Manning is certain to throw fewer than last year’s 679 passes. Wayne has finished top 15 at WR in targets for five straight years, though. He accounted for at least 25 percent of Colts targets in four of those seasons. Manning is looking uncertain for the opener per the signing of the "retired" Kerry Collins. It drops all Colt skill players, and even upon his return the timing will be off and there are plenty of other options Manning has these days if all are healthy.

Desean Jackson, Philadelphia
Jackson and Michael Vick might be the best combo since chopped steak and Cheez Whiz. The strong-armed, improvisational QB found the lightning-quick wideout for five TDs last year in limited time together. They also averaged 23.4 yards per connection, 0.9 better than Jackson’s already-absurd season average. Health will probably always be a problem for the diminutive Jackson, and a 49 percent catch rate portends continued inconsistency. The highs are high, though.

Marques Colston, New Orleans
Here’s what to like about Colston: Everything to this point. In five NFL seasons, he has led the crowded Saints offense in receptions three times and receiving yards four times. The only time he didn’t was when he missed five games in 2008. Here’s what not to like: offseason right knee microfracture surgery. The good news is that he had the same thing on his left knee before the 2009 season, didn’t miss a game and scored nine TDs. His receptions dipped compared with other seasons, though.

Dwayne Bowe, Kansas City
Bowe’s numbers will fall this year. We know that. Randy Moss and Terrell Owens have never posted consecutive 15-TD seasons. Jerry Rice did so once. We also know that the Chiefs attempted the fourth-fewest passes in the league last year, at least 61 fewer than they did in any of the previous three seasons. They’ll play a harder schedule this year. They won’t win as much. That should mean significantly more passing. Look for a reception total in the 80s.

Brandon Marshall, Miami
If you arrive with Marshall’s baggage and proceed sluggishly through your first season with a new team, try to spend the offseason doing something other than getting stabbed by your wife. Fortunately, aside from that, Marshall has said he’s gotten into the best shape of his career with the same regimen he used to prepare for the 2006 draft. He did draw the fifth-most WR targets in the league last year despite missing about 2.5 games and surpassed 1,000 yards for the fourth straight time. But is he worth the mid-fourth round ADP he currently possesses? In PPR leagues maybe. In non-PPR leagues, forget it.

Sidney Rice, Seattle
Through four seasons, Rice has spent much more time in the training room than the end zone. The most significant impediment came in the form of last year’s hip injury. With that all better, it’s tough to shake the vision of his 2009. And we shouldn’t. Rice will be only 25 when the season starts and showed enough flashes in his first two seasons that many weren’t shocked by the breakout. The best evidence of that upside is a 12.3 percent career TD rate, 0.5 points better than Cris Carter’s. Then there's Tarvaris Jackson. If that's not enough, there's Charlie Whitehurst. Still not impressed, what about Brodie Croyle. Rice is going around Dez Bryant, Dallas Clark and Antonio Gates currently. That's an ADP of 53. He and Mike Williams should both go around Williams' ADP of 75, and that may be courteous with this QB situation.

Michael Crabtree, San Francisco
It’s hard to find reasons for new enthusiasm with Crabtree. He’ll play with the same QB of the past two years, the one he spent the summer in no hurry to join. You give Crabtree a chance, though, because the talent is there. That’s why the Niners drafted him 10th overall and started him right away despite a holdout that lasted into the season. It’s why Jim Harbaugh has already spoken highly of him. Keep an eye on the foot soreness that reportedly bothered him in the summer.

A.J. Green, Cincinnati
Judging by his size, deep speed and list of glowing scout assessments, Green looks like a more-polished version of Sidney Rice. He topped the yardage total of teammate Mohamed Massaquoi as a 2008 freshman in two fewer catches and matched the second-round NFL pick in TDs. Green went on to lead Georgia in all three categories for two years. Lauded as perhaps the best receiver prospect since Calvin Johnson, Green should quickly become the favorite option in Cincinnati. Problem is his QB situation. Neither rookie Andy Dalton nor Bruce Gradkowski are appealing options to get him the ball on a consistent basis, particularly with the current ADP of 98 he carries.

Johnny Knox, Chicago
Here's what we said prior to learning Roy Williams had pushed Knox to the fourth receiver spot in Chicago: This will either be a breakout season for Knox or the end of people predicting a breakout. Some might argue that downplays his 2010. The Bears threw the fewest passes in the league last year — shocking under pass-happy OC Mike Martz. Project Knox’s rates in those 466 attempts over the 563 of 2009, and you get a top-20 PPR receiver or a top-15 guy in non-PPR. For what it’s worth, rookie Torry Holt posted a 52-788-6 line for Martz in 1999. In 2000, he jumped to 82-1,635-6. His ADP of 117 concurs with his unfortunate demotion, but just in case you hadn't followed the Roy-over-Johnny situation, this lets you know not to draft him in the fifth to sixth round where he belongs. Until this roster settles, he's not draftable.

Deion Branch, New England
We figured that reuniting with his original team could only help Branch last year, but who could have expected 48 catches, 706 yards and five TDs as a Patriot? Those 11-game reception and yardage totals were his best season marks since 2006, his first year in Seattle. Branch hadn’t scored five TDs since his last year in New England. Not even second-half knee trouble could slow him down. Branch’s age and the maturation of some young Pats receivers could hurt his numbers in 2011. The addition of Chad Ochocinco and two RBs in the draft don't help either. He's a bust right now because he has an ADP of 88, and with this many mouths to feed, he's not worth an early eighth-round pick.

Malcom Floyd, San Diego
Floyd’s fantasy-sleeper groundswell grew stronger as Vincent Jackson’s 2010 holdout moved closer to the regular season. The year began without Jackson, and Floyd scored in three of the first five games, went for 95 yards twice in that span and broke out for 213 at Oakland. He also experienced more of the injury woes that have been a recurring theme. Heading into his age-30 season, Floyd has only twice topped 37 targets in a season, finishing 2010 with a 48.1 percent catch rate. He currently has an ADP of 80, and even in this pass-happy offense he's not worth a mid-seventh round pick.

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

<br />
Post date: Thursday, August 25, 2011 - 07:00
All taxonomy terms: plane hits bird, News
Path: /news/plane-plane-hits-pelican

That's going to leave a mark.

<p> That's going to leave a mark</p>
Post date: Thursday, August 25, 2011 - 01:35
Path: /nba/10-most-demeaning-basketball-highlights-summer

By Saul Hutson

Since NBA teams aren’t allowed to contact their stars during the lockout, your favorite pros have spent their downtime risking career-ending injuries at the local Y. It all came to a head this weekend when the country’s two most prominent pro-am leagues faced off and Kevin Durant’s Goodman League squad (Washington, DC) knocked off the Drew League team (Los Angeles) led by Brandon Jennings.

The game was intense, competitive and not nearly as enjoyable as watching NBA All-Stars embarrassing lesser talent in front of someone with a flip-cam. For that, just keep clicking through our list of the most demeaning basketball highlights of the summer.

10. Brandon Jennings will dribble off of anything…including your face

When he’s not bouncing the ball off of faces, he’s tossing the ball through his opponents’ legs

9. Deron Williams locks up the University of Illinois alumni game MVP award in one play.

We don’t think that’s legal in Turkey.

8. Kevin Durant does real-life NBA Jam impression, hits five consecutive DEEP three-pointers

Take note, Western Conference teams. The most effective way to stop the league’s two-time defending scoring champ when he’s on a roll is to have the fans storm the court until the game is called. 

7. LeBron Posterizes Helpless Child

This clip is the perfect microcosm for LeBron’s career: take it to the rim for a highlight dunk over a helpless opponent, wind up losing in the end anyway.

6. D-Wade Swats A Child

If the Heat didn’t seem evil enough already, here’s their other star punching an innocent child’s shot in a totally meaningless camp game of Knockout. This is probably what LeBron and D-Wade do to Chris Bosh during Heat practice. 

5. JR Smith Stuffs A Child

Apparently NBA players snuffing out shots by toddlers became quite popular this summer. Smith would fit right in with the Heat with those intense celebratory low fives.

4. Cleveland's Highlight of the Summer

Unlike the rest of these, this one didn’t exactly work out in the NBA’s favor. It’s also pretty much porn for Cavaliers fans.

3. Michael Jordan is Still Dunking

We know it’s a little sad, but he’s 48. When we’re 48, we just hope we can still pee standing up.

2. Michael Beasley Mushes A Heckler In The Face

If this happened in a real NBA game with David Stern watching, Beasley would be kicked out of the league for good. Unfortunately, it happened during an exhibition, so he still has to play for the Timberwolves when the lockout is lifted.

1. Stan Van Gundy Goes From Love Handles To Mad Handles

SVG has mad handles from The Basketball Jones on Vimeo.

We’d like to say this is the most athletic thing a Van Gundy has ever done on a basketball court, but it’s gonna take a lot more than a couple spin moves to top Jeff’s rodeo ride on Alonzo Mourning’s leg.

<p> This summer's basketball has been more fun that NBA basketball.</p>
Post date: Wednesday, August 24, 2011 - 15:15
Path: /college-football/2001-nfl-draft-revisited

By Jake Veyhl

Scan the list of the 2001 NFL Draft first-round selections below and you’ll probably recognize quite a few of the biggest names from college football. There are future Hall of Famers, franchise staples who are still with the organizations that drafted them and guys who have bounced around the league. And of course, there are a few busts.

All in all, the decision makers involved in the 2001 draft got it right. An astounding 19 of the 31 players selected in the first round in 2001 played football in 2010 or are signed for 2011. That’s nearly two out of every three picks, a remarkable percentage for a sport where injuries alone end many careers prematurely.

As for the picks themselves, check out these tidbits:

• Only one quarterback was selected, and you’ll probably feel some sort of emotional twinge when you see who it was.

• Nine BCS colleges supplied 21 first-round selections. Miami led the way with four, Michigan followed with three and seven others had two.

• Still don’t think there was enough talent to go around? The first five picks of the second round included four Pro Bowlers: Drew Brees, Kyle Vanden Bosch, Alge Crumpler, Chad Johnson. If those guys lasted until the second round, there must have been some pretty good players ahead of them. Without further ado, turn the clock back 10 years and relive the first round of the 2001 NFL Draft.

1. Atlanta: Michael Vick, QB, Virginia Tech
’01-06, Falcons; ’09-present, Eagles
You’ve been living under a rock if you haven’t heard about Vick in the last 10 years. On the field, Vick proved to be a fantastic athlete with dual-threat capabilities that made him one of the most exciting players in the game. Though his win-loss record is far from the NFL’s elite, he’s a four-time Pro Bowler who in 2006 became the first NFL quarterback to rush for more than 1,000 yards in a season. But Vick’s biggest headlines were made off the field following that season. In August 2007, Vick pleaded guilty to funding a dogfighting operation at a home he owned in Virginia and was later sentenced to 23 months in federal prison. He returned to the NFL as a backup with the Eagles in 2009, and in 2010 won the league’s Comeback Player of the Year award after passing for more than 3,000 yards, rushing for more than 600 and accounting for 30 touchdowns. He’s returning as the Eagles’ starter on a one-year contract in 2011.

2. Arizona: Leonard Davis, G, Texas
’01-06, Cardinals; ’07-10, Cowboys
The Cardinals paid Davis handsomely for his services, but aside from simply starting nearly every game in his six seasons in the desert, the former Longhorn didn’t live up to his draft position. He alternated between left tackle and right guard for the Cards, but he didn’t find his groove in the NFL until the Cowboys permanently made him a guard. The Cowboys signed the 6'6", 350-pounder as a free agent and were rewarded with three consecutive Pro Bowl seasons from 2007-09. Davis, however, was released shortly after the lockout ended.

3. Cleveland: Gerard Warren, DT, Florida
’01-04, Browns; ’05-06, Broncos; ’07-09, Raiders; ’10-present, Patriots
Even though Warren is the only top-six pick from 2001 not to reach at least one Pro Bowl, he has still put together a respectable career. A reliable but unspectacular defensive tackle, Warren has played for four different teams in 10 years, amassing 35.5 sacks, seven forced fumbles and four fumble recoveries.

4. Cincinnati: Justin Smith, DE, Missouri
’01-07, Bengals; ’08-present, 49ers
Following a rookie contract holdout, Smith hit the field and hasn’t left it since. A 16-game starter from his second season on, Smith posted a Bengals’ rookie record of 8.5 sacks that stood until 2010. For his career, he has averaged 67 tackles, 6.5 sacks and one forced fumble per season, making consecutive Pro Bowls with the 49ers in 2009-10. Signed through 2013 on a six-year, $45-million deal.

5. San Diego: LaDainian Tomlinson, RB, TCU
’01-09, Chargers; ’10-present, Jets
One of the best running backs ever to play the game, Tomlinson will one day enter the Hall of Fame with an extended list of credentials. The 2006 MVP is currently sixth in career rushing yards (13,404) and yards from scrimmage (17,727), second in rushing touchdowns (144) and third in total touchdowns (159), among numerous other accomplishments. Tomlinson has earned five Pro Bowl berths, four first-team All-Pro selections and began his career with eight consecutive 1,100-yard rushing seasons. Will back up Shonn Greene in New York this season.

6. New England: Richard Seymour, DT, Georgia
’01-08, Patriots; ’09-present, Raiders
The Patriots hit it big by drafting Seymour with the sixth selection. In his first five seasons in the league, the Georgia product won three Super Bowls, went to four Pro Bowls and was named first-team All-Pro three times by the Associated Press. He averaged nearly five sacks per season with the Patriots. Was traded to Oakland in 2009 where he made his sixth career Pro Bowl in 2010. Signed through 2012 with the Raiders, Seymour has a good shot at reaching Canton.

7. San Francisco: Andre Carter, DE, California
’01-05, 49ers; ’06-10, Redskins
Carter made the short trip from his college home in Berkeley to San Francisco but never quite lived up to lofty expectations. A standout pass-rusher at Cal, Carter has been a frustrating talent who never could string consecutive outstanding seasons together. In his 10 professional seasons, he’s registered at least 10.5 sacks three times but didn’t record more than 6.5 in the other seven. Never elected to the Pro Bowl, but in 149 games he has 66 sacks and 15 forced fumbles. Now a free agent after being released by the Redskins.

8. Chicago: David Terrell, WR, Michigan
’01-04, Bears; ’05 Broncos
Terrell recorded 1,602 yards and nine touchdowns in 53 games with the Bears. The first receiver taken in the draft, he certainly didn’t live up to expectations, but it’s hard to place all the blame on Terrell as the Bears’ passing game was in shambles. The organization shuffled through nine different starting quarterbacks while he was there. Injuries in Denver prevented his career from going further.

9. Seattle: Koren Robinson, WR, N.C. State
’01-04, Seahawks; ’05, Vikings; ’06-07, Packers; ’08, Seahawks
Troubles with alcohol and other off-field issues kept Robinson from living up to his potential. In his second year in the league, Robinson tallied a career-best 1,240 receiving yards and five touchdowns, and in ’05 he made the Pro Bowl with the Vikings as a kick returner. His career was marred by numerous run-ins with the law, jail time and a one-year suspension from the NFL for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy. Interestingly, during his second stint with the Seahawks, Robinson caught a 90-yard touchdown pass, the longest in franchise history.

10. Green Bay: Jamal Reynolds, DE, Florida State
’01-03, Packers
Reynolds takes the cake as the biggest bust of the top-10 draft picks. A star pass-rusher at Florida State, Reynolds was hounded by knee injuries in his first two seasons, and a lack of ability brought his NFL career to a quick halt. His career ended after only 18 games (none started), three sacks and two forced fumbles.

11. Carolina: Dan Morgan, OLB, Miami
’01-07, Panthers
An excellent linebacker whenever he played, Morgan had a difficult time just staying on the field. In seven seasons with the Panthers, he averaged fewer than nine games played due to a variety of ailments. There’s no question Carolina’s defense was better when he was in the lineup. The organization made its first-ever Super Bowl during his third season. Morgan’s best season came in 2004 with 102 tackles, two sacks, two interceptions, one forced fumble and two recoveries, all in only 12 games.

12. St. Louis: Damione Lewis, DT, Miami
’01-05, Rams; ’06-09, Panthers; ’10, Texans
Lewis isn’t often the guy you hear broadcasters raving about, but he’s survived in the NFL for 10 years as a big-bodied run-stuffer. A starter for less than half of the 141 games in which he’s appeared, Lewis has accumulated 23.5 career sacks, four forced fumbles and five recoveries for three separate teams.

13. Jacksonville: Marcus Stroud, DT, Georgia
’01-07, Jaguars; ’08-10, Bills; Present, Patriots
Stroud was considered one of the league’s premier defensive tackles during his heyday with the Jaguars when he teamed with John Henderson to form an imposing interior D-line. Stroud reached three consecutive Pro Bowls from ’03-05 and ended his Jags career with 22 sacks and 22 passes defensed in 100 games. Traded to Buffalo, where he quickly became the best player on one of the league’s worst defenses. Was signed and then released this offseason by New England.

14. Tampa Bay: Kenyatta Walker, T, Florida
’01-06, Buccaneers
Walker started all 16 games at left tackle as a rookie, then moved over to the right side, where he started 56 games from 2002-05. Though never considered a great player, he was a productive part of the Bucs team that won the Super Bowl following the ’02 season. A knee injury cut his ’06 season short after three games and essentially ended his NFL career.

15. Washington: Rod Gardner, WR, Clemson
’01-04, Redskins; ’05, Panthers, Packers; ’06, Chiefs
The Redskins pegged Gardner as their impact player in the receiving game. A starter from the beginning, Garner averaged 16.1 yards per catch in his rookie year and broke the 1,000-yard mark in ’02, Steve Spurrier’s first as coach. That breakout season was the high point of his career as he recorded only 600 and 650 yards in ’03 and ’04, respectively. Traded to Carolina before the ’05 season but didn’t make an impact there or at his final two stops.

16. N.Y. Jets: Santana Moss, WR, Miami
’01-04, Jets; ’05-10, Redskins
A small (5'10"), but speedy receiver, Moss has topped 1,000 yards in a season four times with career totals of 593 receptions, 8,558 yards and 52 touchdowns. Has also scored three times and averaged 11.3 yards on 112 career punt returns. Moss made his only Pro Bowl appearance in ’05 after posting a career-best 1,483 yards receiving. Re-signed with the Redskins this offseason.

17. Seattle: Steve Hutchinson, G, Michigan
’01-05, Seahawks; ’06-present, Vikings
One of the best interior linemen ever to play, Hutchinson has put together a Hall of Fame-worthy career that included seven consecutive Pro Bowl appearances and five AP first-team All-Pro selections from ’03-09. Hutchinson blocked for 2005 NFL MVP Shaun Alexander and played in the Seahawks’ Super Bowl XL loss to the Steelers that season. Signed with the Vikings through 2012.

18. Detroit: Jeff Backus, T, Michigan
’01-present, Lions
The second consecutive Michigan offensive lineman drafted, Backus has never been recognized as a Pro Bowler like Hutchinson, but he’s been a steady presence as the Lions’ left tackle each and every week for the last 10 years, starting in all 160 possible games during that stretch. The Lions have him locked up through 2011.

19. Pittsburgh: Casey Hampton, NT, Texas
’01-present, Steelers
Hampton is a beast of a man (6'1", 320) who has been clogging up running lanes for the Steelers since he was drafted. A prototypical nose tackle in the 3-4 defense, Hampton has produced far beyond his nine career sacks in 144 games. The five-time Pro Bowler and two-time Super Bowl champion will continue to create opportunities for the Steelers’ linebackers in 2011.

20. St. Louis: Adam Archuleta, SS, Arizona State
’01-05, Rams; ’06, Redskins; ’07, Bears
Archuleta recorded three interceptions, five fumble recoveries and three touchdowns during his five years with the Rams. He parlayed that decent — but far from elite — tenure into a six-year, $30 million contract with Washington before the ’06 season — the richest for a safety in NFL history at the time. Oddly, though, he didn’t seem to be in the coaches’ plans and played only one year in D.C. before being traded to Chicago, where he lasted just one year before being released.

21. Buffalo: Nate Clements, CB, Ohio State
’01-06, Bills; ’07-10, 49ers; '11, Bengals
A 2004 Pro Bowler, Clements made plays all over the field during his six-year tenure with Buffalo. He intercepted 23 passes, forced 13 fumbles and scored five touchdowns on defense while scoring twice more as a punt returner. That success led the 49ers to make him one of the highest-paid defensive players in the game with an eight-year, $80 million contract. Was released by the 49ers and signed by the Bengals this offseason.

22. N.Y. Giants: Will Allen, CB, Syracuse
’01-05, Giants; ’06-present, Dolphins
A notably competitive corner, Allen has started all but one of the 125 games he’s appeared in during his career, recording 15 interceptions, one touchdown and an impressive 106 passes defensed with two teams. Allen missed the entire ’10 season following knee surgery but will return to the Dolphins’ secondary — though probably not as a starter — with a restructured contract in 2011.

23. New Orleans: Deuce McAllister, RB, Ole Miss
’01-08, Saints
McAllister battled injuries throughout his career but still ended as the Saints’ all-time leading rusher. The two-time Pro Bowler posted four 1,000-yard seasons, including a career-high 1,641 in ’03, en route to a career total of 6,096 rushing yards and 49 touchdowns. He added 1,720 yards and five touchdowns through the air. McAllister continues to be a Saints fan favorite, and the organization made him an honorary captain of the NFC Championship Game following the ’09 season.

24. Denver: Willie Middlebrooks, CB, Minnesota
’01-04, Broncos; ’05, 49ers
One of the few busts in the draft, Middlebrooks started only two games in his NFL career and earned much of his playing time on special teams. Issues off the field, including a 2005 New Year’s Day assault charge, helped expedite his exit from the league. Latched on with the Toronto Argonauts of the CFL, where he was a starter at cornerback from ’08-10.

25. Philadelphia: Freddie Mitchell, WR, UCLA
’01-04, Eagles
An outspoken receiver known as “FredEx”, Mitchell is best known for catching the Eagles’ 4th-and-26 pass in the final minute of the NFC Divisional Playoff game against Green Bay following the ’03 season, which the Eagles won in overtime. Also part of the Eagles’ ’04 Super Bowl team. His subpar career ended with 90 receptions for 1,263 yards and five touchdowns.

26. Miami: Jamar Fletcher, DB, Wisconsin
’01-03, Dolphins; ’04-05, Chargers; ’06, Lions; ’07, Texans; ’08, Bengals
Played eight years in the league for five different teams but never became a full-time starter. In 105 games (12 starts), Fletcher recorded seven interceptions, 26 passes defensed and 193 tackles. Best season came with the Lions in ’06, when he picked off three passes, scored his only career touchdown and recovered one fumble.

27. Minnesota: Michael Bennett, RB, Wisconsin
’01-05, Vikings; ’06-07, Chiefs; ’07-08, Bucs; ’08-09, Chargers; ’10, Raiders
Bennett became a Pro Bowl running back in his second season, posting 1,296 yards and five touchdowns with the Vikings. Since then, he’s remained in the league by becoming one of the NFL’s most reliable third down options, playing for four different teams after his rookie contract expired with the Vikings. Currently a free agent with career totals of 3,703 rushing yards, 1,294 receiving yards and 19 total touchdowns.

28. Oakland: Derrick Gibson, DB, Florida State
’01-06, Raiders
This selection was particularly painful for Raiders’ fans considering the productive careers of the players chosen immediately afterward. Injuries and ineffectiveness limited Gibson’s career in Oakland. The Florida State product played five seasons at safety (missing the entire ’04 campaign), recording 194 tackles, three interceptions, 11 passes defensed and one forced fumble.

29. St. Louis: Ryan Pickett, DT, Ohio State
’01-05, Rams; ’06-present, Packers
Pickett became a starter in his second season with the Rams and has been a productive part of the defensive lines of both the Rams and Packers since. The 6'2", 340-pounder has recorded 454 tackles and 9.5 sacks in his career and was a key part of the Packers’ Super Bowl championship run during the 2010 season. Signed through 2013.

30. Indianapolis: Reggie Wayne, WR, Miami
’01-present, Colts
The best receivers of all time often go hand-in-hand with the best quarterbacks. Wayne is no different, matching up with Peyton Manning in Indianapolis since he became the fourth Miami Hurricane drafted in the first round in 2001. A five-time Pro Bowler who stepped out of Marvin Harrison’s shadow to become the Colts’ No. 1 target, he has topped 1,000 yards in seven consecutive seasons. Wayne continues to climb up the career receiving charts with 10,748 yards, 69 touchdowns and a Super Bowl championship in his pocket. Entering the final year of his contract.

31. Baltimore: Todd Heap, TE, Arizona State
’01-10, Ravens
The then-reigning Super Bowl champions selected Heap with the final pick of the first round, and he didn’t disappoint, remaining an integral part of the Ravens’ offense throughout the entire decade. Heap is a two-time Pro Bowl tight end with more than 5,400 career receiving yards and 41 touchdowns. Was released by the Ravens following the lockout.

First 5 Picks of Second Round
1. Drew Brees, QB, Chargers
2. Quincy Morgan, WR, Browns
3. Kyle Vanden Bosch, DE, Cardinals
4. Alge Crumpler, TE, Falcons
5. Chad Johnson, WR, Bengals

Late Round Notables
3. Steve Smith, WR, Panthers
4. Rudi Johnson, RB, Bengals
4. Ryan Diem, RT, Colts
7. Renaldo Hill, DB, Cardinals
7. T.J. Houshmandzadeh, WR, Bengals

<p> We take a look back at one of college football's best classes.</p>
Post date: Wednesday, August 24, 2011 - 12:25
All taxonomy terms: NFL, Fantasy
Path: /columns/5-burning-questions/fantasy-football-running-backs-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.

As always, a running back is the favorite to be the No. 1 overall selection. The question is who. We explain ourselves why we chose who we chose here.

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

But if you miss out on one of the top RBs or get one, go elsewhere for a few rounds and then look to get another one or two later, here's who we have as the sleepers to look out for and the busts to avoid. These are in no particular order. Check out the Athlon 280 to see who is where, as well as our current preseason RB rankings.


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

Shonn Greene, New York Jets
No RB disappointed fantasy folks more in 2010. Greene failed to build on the terrific 2009 playoff run and couldn’t even get relevant when LaDainian Tomlinson slowed down midway through the year. With LT another year older, though, Greene should get more opportunity this time around. We have to be wary after a mere 4.1 yards-per-carry average and two TDs last year, but the previous production wasn’t imaginary. Greene must show better instincts for finding the hole, but offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer says Greene is ready to “explode.”

Mark Ingram, New Orleans
Yeah, things are crowded in the Saints backfield. The team didn’t jump back into the first round for a committee back, though. Sean Payton’s debut season in 2006 saw Deuce McAllister draw 51.7 percent of carries. No player has surpassed 40 percent since. Pierre Thomas was that kind of runner for half of 2008 but can’t stay healthy. Ingram was a strong, highly dependable runner in college and should be the guy Payton leans on to lead the rushing attack in 2011. TDs will come.

Cedric Benson, Cincinnati
Last season brought Benson career highs in carries, receptions and rushing TDs. It was the first time he played all 16 games. He also managed just 3.5 yards per carry. The low TD total came despite the third-most red zone carries in the league; the two RBs ahead of him each scored at least 12 times. Cincinnati figures to have Andy Dalton under center, and the short-yardage blocking must get better. Benson will continue to be a high-carry back but will be hard-pressed to generate much greater production.

Daniel Thomas, Miami
Thomas doesn’t come with big-play speed, but he can be a punishing between-the-tackles runner. He averaged a strong 5.2 yards per carry over two seasons as Kansas State’s starter and was particularly productive in the red zone. Thomas scored two TDs or more in eight of 13 games en route to 19 scores for the 2010 season. He isn’t a special receiver but did catch 52 passes over the two years. Assuming Reggie Bush cannot be the workhorse back, which he is not, Thomas should lead the Miami backfield in carries and stand first in line for TDs behind a rising O-line.

Ryan Grant, Green Bay
James Starks is the exciting new guy scaring folks off of Grant. Starks ­wasn’t exactly Shonn Greene from the ’09 playoffs, though. Grant isn’t the big-play threat some other backs are, but he comes with two 1,200-yard seasons behind him. He converted 11 TDs in 2009 despite only tying for 14th in the league in red zone carries. He’s the proven player and is recovered from his September ankle fracture. There’s no reason for the Packers to marginalize him, even if a few carries go the kid’s way.

Joseph Addai, Indianapolis
Fantasy owners seem to treat Addai as some dude riding Peyton Manning’s coattails. He might not be a special runner, but Addai has produced as a receiver, goal line back and pass protector. In 2009, he ran for 10 TDs and amassed the league’s seventh-most red zone carries. He scored all of his three receiving TDs from inside the red zone. Last year brought the best rushing average since his rookie year. Addai’s biggest challenge has been health. He has reached 230 carries only once in five seasons.

Fred Jackson, Buffalo
Jackson’s coaches always take a bit of time to realize his value. A new staff in 2010 waited until Marshawn Lynch was gone to finally give Jackson more than nine carries in a game. Then he averaged 17.3 over the final 11. That would have ranked 11th in the league for the season. C.J. Spiller will get more work in his second year, but Bills coaches would be foolish to go away from Jackson constantly. He has averaged at least 4.2 per rush every year behind lackluster lines and has topped 30 catches in three straight seasons.

Beanie Wells, Arizona
Two years ago, he was the first-round pick set to save the Arizona running game. Last year he was ready to build on some late-season success after a slow start in 2009. Now Wells is a well-conditioned question mark who needs to put it together in real games to be trusted. The talent is certainly there. Wells is a big, fast back on a team seeking a lead runner. With Ryan Williams out for the year and Tim Hightower traded to Washington, this might be his last chance in the desert. Three thoughts post Williams injury: With no one there to push him do we get same old Beanie? Can he handle the role he has failed to handle so far? And if the team tries to acquire more depth, what will Wells' role be? If he can answer the first two positvely then he's worth a shot.

James Starks, Green Bay
After basically missing the regular season, the rookie drew 81 postseason carries. He was effective, with 123 yards to ice the Eagles and 52 on just 11 carries in the Super Bowl. He wasn’t explosive, though. Starks averaged just 3.9 yards per rush and had only one run of 20 yards or more. Against Philadelphia, he topped 10 yards on only two other carries. Coaches love him, but we have yet to see what the kid brings to the table that Ryan Grant doesn’t.

Mike Tolbert, San Diego
Tolbert was a bit of a novelty before last season. His teammates loved his TD dances. Fans might have known him best for his 66-yard TD reception in 2009. Last year, though, he emerged as Peyton Hillis Lite after Ryan Mathews got hurt. Tolbert delivered near the goal line, tying for sixth in the league in rushing TDs, and caught 25 of his 29 targets. Word is that the Chargers want to split carries between he and Mathews this year.

Reggie Bush, Miami
His percentage of team rushes slipped every year since 2007, down to 9.5 percent in 2010. Some of that is injury, which combines with Bush’s running limitations to lower his fantasy value. That said, he’ll always be a high-reception guy. Bush was on pace for 68 last year had he played all 16 games.

Brandon Jacobs, New York Giants
The early season story was Jacobs flinging his helmet into the stands and disappointing on the field. By the end, he had a personal-best 5.6 yards per carry. Jacobs also produced his largest rate of 20-yard runs. His performance motivated coaches to promise more carries for the big man in 2011. Jacobs doesn’t fill a true goal line role but gets enough work for non-PPR production. Injuries must be accounted for with Jacobs, though, as last year was the first time in five years he played every game. He re-negotiated his deal with the Giants, actually for less money so the team could re-sign Ahmad Bradshaw, but did so with a reported caveat that he get more carries than he did in 2010. Reportedly this will be a shared backfield, making Jacobs a good mid-round pickup.

Javon Ringer, Tennessee
Ringer was a very productive runner in college and has looked solid in short work as a pro. The reason he’s relevant, though, is that Chris Johnson is among the few true NFL workhorses. A devastating injury to Johnson would shove a ton of work someone’s way behind a pretty good line. The question is whether Ringer can hold off rookie Jamie Harper. Ringer has averaged an impressive 4.9 yards per carry so far in the NFL and might benefit from the lockout limiting workouts. Harper has looked solid in preseason, but Ringer would get the starting nod if there were no CJ this season. The longer CJ holds out the more likely it is Ringer becomes that starter, and who's to say even if Johnson did show up right before Week 1 he would stay healthy. There's not a massive sample size to gain research from those backs that holdout and come back right at the start of the season, but with no offseason whatsoever to get ready, the chances of an injury have to increase dramatically. Ringer and Rashad Jennings will probably be the favorite handcuffs this year, and you will probably have to go earlier than you would like for them.

Michael Bush, Oakland
Bush’s career 4.4 yards-per-carry average through three seasons shows that he can be an efficient back overall. His seven red zone TDs showed his effectiveness as a goal line back. A similar role could produce bigger numbers this year. Bush drew nearly one-fifth of his runs last year in the red zone for a team that scored the sixth-most points in the league. That came despite a struggling passing game that should be better in 2011. If Darren McFadden gets hurt again, Bush can deliver in a feature role.

Roy Helu, Washington
Projecting Mike Shanahan’s backfield plans can be frustrating but also quite rewarding. The coach is well-known for believing he can turn late-round backs into rushing stars, and he packaged three picks for the chance to do so with Helu in 2011. The former Husker averaged 5.9 yards over 578 carries in college, including 6.6 per rush as a senior. Helu is the kind of downhill runner Shanahan likes and brings good speed when he has room to get going.

Delone Carter, Indianapolis
At 5'9", 225 pounds and with more short-area quickness than speed, Carter perfectly fits the short-yardage profile. Perhaps just as important, scouts say he’s already impressive in pass protection. Those qualities will help him get on the field for the Colts, who could use more power in the backfield and always value blocking. Carter lacks experience and proven ability as a receiver, but his skill set and 24 college rushing TDs make him a good complement for Joseph Addai.

Tim Hightower, Washington
Was the second-round selection of Ryan Williams a bigger knock on Beanie Wells or Hightower? Perhaps the answer is “both,” but the Cards seem determined Hightower wouldn’t be the feature back as they shipped him off to Washington. He topped 13 carries only twice last year. Most alarming is the fact that Hightower stopped getting passes. A year after ranking second in RB receptions, he finished just 30th in RB targets. But now he is in the lead in the snafu that is the Washington Redskins backfield. He is probably going too high in drafts because Mike Shanahan is so fickle with his backs, but if you can get him after in the ninth round and beyond, it's probably worth the risk.

Kendall Hunter, San Francisco
Anthony Dixon might get more work when Frank Gore is healthy, but Hunter should be the handcuff target. He topped 100 carries in three of four seasons at Oklahoma State and finished each of those seasons with a rushing average of 5.7 yards or better. Hunter surpassed 1,500 yards and ran for 16 TDs in each of his two full starting seasons. His size (5'7", 200) is a bit scary, but Hunter runs tough inside. That might wear him down quicker after a few pro seasons but is helpful early on.

Jerome Harrison, Detroit
For a few years in Cleveland, Harrison looked like a guy who just needed a chance. He flashed big-play ability and then enjoyed that absurd stretch to close 2009. His 106 carries and 561 yards in three games gave way to a disappointing start to 2010, though. Harrison quickly ceded the starting job to Peyton Hillis and was shipped to Philly. It’s hard to imagine Harrison as more than a complementary piece now, but it’s also hard to believe the upside has disappeared. One thing he has going for him: He went to Detroit after rookie Mikel Leshoure went on IR with an Achilles injury. So the Lions were obviously looking for another back to tote the rock with Jahvid Best. After what Harrison did in 2009 and basically sitting in neutral in 2010, there is a good chance that he could fill the role Leshoure was drafted to perform.

Thomas Jones, Kansas City
Jones was expected to play goal line vulture to Jamaal Charles in 2010 and basically did that. He wasn’t special in the role, though. Among RBs with at least 100 total carries, 15 others saw a higher percentage of their rushes come in the red zone. Starters and younger, more productive short-yardage guys finished ahead, despite the Chiefs scoring nearly 25 percent more points than in 2009. Jones got a surprising amount of between-the-20s work, putting forth a lackluster 3.7 yards per carry overall. It is going to be a tough schedule for the Chiefs this year, much tougher than last, and particularly tougher against the run. Jones could either be there to pound out the tough yards or take on a bigger role if the smaller Charles gets roughed up during the year.

Willis McGahee, Denver
Talk about a player who knows his role. In 2009, McGahee got 29 of his 109 carries in the red zone. His TDs fell last season, but we can pin at least part of that on the decline of the Baltimore line. McGahee is a short-yardage specialist and has been pretty good at it the past three years. Only eight players had more rushing TDs over the past three seasons, and each carried at least 197 more times than McGahee. There seems to be no love for Knowshon Moreno coming from the run-friendly John Fox and the new Broncos coaching staff. We wouldn't be surprised to see McGahee get 12-15 carries a game and become the feature back in the Mile High city.

Kraig Lumpkin, Tampa Bay
The Bucs will need a change of pace from the plodding LeGarrette Blount. Kraig Lumpkin could be that change. He could fill the void that Cadillac Williams left. Williams had 125 rushing attempts and 46 catches last season. Lumpkin is currently in a battle with veteran Earnest Graham and rookie Allen Bradford. Both Lumpkin and Bradford (keep an eye on who wins the backup RB job) would serve as spectacular late, late round fliers.

Mike Goodson, Carolina
Not much good emerged from Carolina last year, but Goodson was a bright spot. He ranked second on the team with 40 catches and produced two 100-yard games among his three starts. Goodson topped 20 carries in each of those two outings but likely isn’t a high-carry prospect. He is a top-shelf speedster who matched Chris Johnson’s 57 targets last year despite inconsistent use over the first six games. He’ll be a more consistent piece of a run-heavy offense in 2011, particularly if DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart propensity to get injured remains..

Montario Hardesty, Cleveland
There are two main factors working against Hardesty: His ACL tear last summer and Peyton Hillis’ ensuing beastly performance. It might also seem worrisome that the coach who drafted him is now gone. The team president and GM, however, are not, and new head coach Pat Shurmur has stated his desire for a two-headed running game. Hardesty is a 225-pounder with 4.49 speed who averaged 12 yards per reception as a college senior. If healthy, he’ll be a threat. Plus, Hillis (back) and newly acquired Brandon Jackson (turf toe) are already dealing with injuries in preseason.

DeMarco Murray, Dallas Cowboys
It’s fair to wonder whether Murray has already hit his ceiling. He arrived at Oklahoma as an exciting big-play threat and averaged 5.8 yards per carry over his first two years. Murray also dealt with injuries every year in college, though, and averaged just 4.2 yards per rush over his final two seasons. Murray did go for double-digit TDs in three of four years and turned in huge receiving numbers. His best bet might be to settle into a third down role for the Cowboys and marginalize Tashard Choice. The role could be bigger if Choice is shipped out, though.

Tashard Choice, Dallas Cowboys
Finally. Marion Barber is gone. Time for Choice to step into a more prominent role in a cleared-out backfield. Wait, DeMarco who? Choice has spent three years looking like the Cowboys RB most likely to consistently help fantasy owners. At the same time, Jason Garrett has been cutting down his work. Choice went from a few promising 2008 starts to fewer than 85 total touches each of the past two years. His best bet might be primary goal line work until Felix Jones’ next injury. He's a sleeper if he ends up on another team; perhaps old NFC East rival Arizona would be a good fit to replace Ryan Williams.

Stevan Ridley, New England Patriots
The Patriots' preseason hero thus far, Ridley doesn’t come with the speed or moves to become a feature back but is a hammer at the line of scrimmage. He scored 15 touchdowns last year for an LSU team on which no other RB or receiver surpassed four rushing and/or receiving. He’ll serve as early insurance for BenJarvus Green-Ellis and figures to replace the 2010 breakout player whenever BJGE leaves. Ridley is a good fit for Bill Belichick’s committee approach.

Joe McKnight, New York Jets
For most of his rookie season, McKnight was best known for puking during training-camp conditioning drills. Perhaps some folks were more aware of him disappointing coaches with his slowness in picking up the offense. Either way, he made no real impact until a 32-carry, 158-yard Week 17 performance against Buffalo. After the season, Rex Ryan referred to McKnight as a special talent. The second-year player should push LaDainian Tomlinson for third down duties.

Isaac Redman, Pittsburgh
Redman’s profile says goal line horse. His usage says otherwise, though. After not touching the ball as a rookie, Redman averaged 4.8 yards per carry last year but took only 10 of his 52 handoffs in the red zone. He caught passes in five of the final eight games. Redman won’t vulture TDs as long as Rashard Mendenhall is healthy and will have trouble finding much more work at all. His all-around play in 2010, however, suggests he could step in solidly should injury befall the starter.

Ben Tate, Houston
A year ago, he looked like the odds-on favorite to lead the Houston backfield. The Texans traded up to draft Tate in 2010’s second round, and his speed-power combo looked potentially special. A broken leg later and Arian Foster is a No. 1 fantasy pick. Now Tate will have to compete with Derrick Ward for backup duties. Camp will tell us if he’s all the way back, but Tate will have had more than a full year to recover. He should carry more upside than the veteran Ward.

Jamie Harper, Tennessee
If Chris Johnson's holdout extends much longer than most of us fantasy players would like (and it already had), then Harper has a chance to be a TD vulture. The rookie from Clemson looked solid in the second preseason game and the reps leading up to the season can do nothing but help. He might be worth keeping an eye on even if CJ is back in time for Week 1, still running as that vulture role.

Jamaal Charles, Kansas City
This time last year, many were skeptical of Charles’ chances of building on his late-2009 run of astounding production. Everyone believes now. There is no more explosive back in the NFL. He actually increased his yards per carry with a growing workload each of the past two years. Of the 23 RBs with at least 200 carries last year, none came within 1.2 yards of Charles’ 6.4 average. He has probably hit a ceiling there but should see more red zone work than the meager 20 carries of last year. He sits as a potential bust due to the brutal schedule. The Chiefs play seven defenses that were top 10 against the run in 2010 — six of those seven come prior to the fantasy playoffs and then they get the Jets to start the fantasy playoffs.

Ahmad Bradshaw, New York Giants
Bradshaw proved his toughness in 2010, playing through nagging injuries while garnering a career-high 276 carries. A bad left ankle sapped his second-half effectiveness, though. Bradshaw averaged 5.3 yards per carry over his first seven games, 3.7 per carry over the final nine. His foot and ankle issues date back to college and led to offseason surgery for the second straight year. He should be fine heading into the season, but coaches are concerned about his workload. Fantasy owners should worry about another second-half swoon. Talk in the preseason has been of a 50-50, 60-40 split with Brandon Jacobs. That's not good news. Neither is losing the receiving threats down the middle in Steve Smith and Kevin Boss. Add in Dallas, Washington and the Jets in the fantasy playoffs, and we're a bit skiddish.

Peyton Hillis, Cleveland
No one expected anything near Hillis’ 2010. We should have expected good things, though. As a college fullback, Hillis was the leading receiver on a team that included Darren McFadden, Felix Jones and receiver Marcus Monk. Pressed into starting duty for the Broncos as a 2008 rookie, Hillis ran for five TDs in less than four full games and turned in a 100-yard receiving game. Montario Hardesty will return and steal some work this year, the question is how much. Hillis and Denver receiver Brandon Lloyd have been the poster boys for fantasy busts in 2011, and Hillis seems to be nudging Lloyd off of that poster so he can have it outright.

BenJarvus Green-Ellis, New England
No one can complain about anything from BJGE’s 2010 breakout. An effective complementary back previously, he seized his opportunity and tied for the second-most rushing TDs in the league. There’s reason to expect less work, though. He drew 50 percent of the Pats’ carries in 2010, the first time since 2004 that any player did so. Otherwise, the team became known for spreading it around its backfield. Sure enough, the draft added Shane Vereen and big back Stevan Ridley. There’ll be work, just not as much.

Jahvid Best, Detroit
Turf toe injuries to both feet limited Best’s effectiveness as a rookie. He returned to full strength this offseason and says his speed is back. The team drafted Mikel Leshoure so the two could share the backfield. Leshoure goes down and the team signs two more backs in Jerome Harrison and Mike Bell. All signs point to Best not being the bell cow of the backfield. He has already been banged up in the first two presason games. He does, however, have big-play ability and receiving skills as only five RBs caught more passes last year (and that was with Best dealing with turf toe injury times two).

Knowshon Moreno, Denver
Moreno hasn’t been what the Broncos expected when they took him in the first round of the 2009 draft. Injuries have stunted his growth, but more important, Moreno hasn’t shown the big-play ability critical for an early first-round back. He has been a quality receiver, so good that the team has split him out wide on occasion. Moreno caught more passes than Adrian Peterson and MJD last year despite missing three games. Only four RBs produced a better receiving average. That will help Moreno contribute numbers in a more complementary role in 2011. Willis McGahee in that backfield is a major buzzkill for those hoping this would be the year Moreno finally broke out.

Ryan Mathews, San Diego
The knock on Mathews heading into his rookie year was his injury background in college. Sure enough, a Week 2 ankle sprain knocked his entire season off track. A wrist injury later in the year also required offseason surgery. Mathews ceded work to Mike Tolbert and struggled in pass protection when on the field. He did bounce back for five TDs over the final four games, including a huge Week 17. That was the only game, though, in which Mathews surpassed 20 carries or reached 80 yards. We’re left wondering if he can translate his talent to the pros. And word from Norv Turner in training camp that he is leaning heavily toward a split-carry backfield does not bode well for Mathews, particularly with the mid-third round ADP he currently carries.

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: Wednesday, August 24, 2011 - 07:00
All taxonomy terms: New York City Earthquake, News
Path: /news/great-reason-miss-new-york-city-earthquake

I was IMing with a friend of mine who works in Manhattan when I heard about the 5.8 magnitude earthquake that hit New York City, Virginia and Washington DC. This was his response when I asked him if his building shook:

mikegeorge2: (1:11:02 PM) no
mikegeorge2: (1:11:03 PM) well
mikegeorge2: (1:11:07 PM) everyone's talking about it
mikegeorge2: (1:11:09 PM) but i didn't notice
mikegeorge2: (1:11:14 PM) because i'm eating a burrito
mikegeorge2: (1:14:56 PM) apparently everyone ran out of our buioding

You know you're eating a pretty good burrito when it can cause you to miss the biggest earthquake to hit NYC since 1944.

Post date: Tuesday, August 23, 2011 - 14:14
Path: /nfl/10-nfl-soap-operas-sure-play-out-during-nfl-season

Every NFL season has its share of drama. Unfortunately, with the Twitterverse and 24/7 media world, most of that drama happens off the field, as opposed to on. In the spirit of preseason predictions, I looked into my crystal ball and predicted 10 stories the sports media world will work itself into a frenzy over this season.

10. The Lack of NFL Kickoffs Will Have A Serious Effect On Ratings
How The Drama Will Start: The Nielson ratings will come out (duh.)
The way the NFL has been working for the viewer the last few years has been something like this:
1. Touchdown!
2. Wait three minutes for replay-booth review to confirm what was clearly a touchdown is actually a touchdown.
3. Wait three minutes to watch pointless PAT.
4. Five-minute commercial break.
5. Kickoff and runback.
6. Another five-minute commercial break.
7. Next offensive drive starts.

What stands out in that sequence as the only actual NFL action? The kickoff. And guess what there's going to be a lot fewer of this year? You guessed it, kickoffs. The average American viewer has the attention span of a gnat on a coke-binge, so do you really think they're going to wait 15 painful football-less minutes and not click around to one of their other 270 channels? I didn't think so, either.
How The Drama Will End: A bunch of NFL execs with official-sounding titles will show up on talk shows and talk about how committed the league is to safety. And then they'll reinstitute the old kickoff rules by Week 10.

9. The Eagles Will Be Called Overrated
How The Drama Will Start: Nnamdi Asomugha will get burned for a TD pass, Vick will miss two games and/or the Eagles will lose two games in a row.
It's going to happen. Asomugha will give up a TD pass or Vick will have a bad game or Andy Reid will accidentally lower his play sheet far enough below his mouth so that the opposing team reads his lips and know exactly which play he's calling next. And when it does, the media will turn on a dime and say the words "overrated" and "chemistry" more often than Al Davis says the word "braaaaiiiiiiins." The same people who called the Eagles a Dream Team will be baffled at how "everyone else" thought this "group of talented free-agents" could compete against "individuals who play like a team."
How Will it End: The Iggles will rattle off 7 straight Ws, win the NFC East and be the team to beat in the NFL playoffs.

8. Jay Cutler's Heart Will Be Questioned
How The Drama Will Start: Jay Cutler's face.
Poor Jay Cutler. The guy gets destroyed almost every game while playing behind a pop warner offensive line, but because his face always looks like he's smelling someone's used jock, no one thinks he cares. He sticks up for his teammates and says all the right things (for the most part), yet the media will still try to kill him for his body language. (Jay Cutler will also glady remind everyone that his face also dated a super hot celeb.) 
How Will It End: Jay Cutler's face will continue to have that jock-smelling look if he throws a 75-yard TD bomb to Roy Williams (which would be difficult, since that would mean Roy Williams would have the ability to catch a football), or if he throws one of his patented red-zone drive-killing interceptions. People will realize that at some point and stop bothering him about his face.

7. Commissioner Roger Goodell Will Fine The S&%# Out of James Harrison
How The Drama Will Start: James Harrison will tackle an opposing player
You know Goodell is waiting for this one. You can't call someone who has the ability to make your life a living and financial hell a "crook" and a "devil" and not expect a little blowback from the guy who also happens to be the most powerful man in football. Harrison should go ahead and send a $100,000 check to the front office and get it over with.
How Will It End: Harrison will pay the fine and say all the right things through clenched teeth at a post-fine press conference as a smiling Dan Rooney holds a gun to his back.

6. Brett Favre Will Be An Annoying, Invisible Presence All Season
How The Drama Will Start: A starting quarterback will get injured.
For some reason the idea of Brett Favre throwing a football in tight pants turns grown men into little girls. The moment a starting quarterback goes down this season, the media Twitterverse will freak out with tweets like "OMG, Brett Favre shuld B My Team's BFF!" or "@BrettFavre u wuld make our qb dreams come tru". But this is the year Favre finally says "STFU, I Like Mowing On A Tractor Now" Then Carson Palmer will tweet, "Hey guys, still on my couch. Hello? Hello?" And that's when I will "LOL."
How Will It End: Brett Favre ain't coming back, people. Deal with it.

5. Plaxico Burress Will Get Arrested For Something Stupid Like Drunk Driving
How The Drama Will Start: Plax will blow a 2.4 BAC on Riverside Drive early one early October morning.
This always happens. Some idiot screws up his second chance by doing something super stupid again.  (Sidenote: Why do NFL millionaires drive themselves to and from the bar? I make 1/1,0000000th of what they make and I can afford a cab. I never understood why don't don't just have drivers so they can get as obliterated as they want.)
How Will It End: Plax will make the walk of shame out of a Manhattan courthouse, wearing sunglasses and being hounded by reporters. The media will get on its high horse until a starting QB gets injured and they forget about Plax and start drooling over Favre again.

4. Tim Tebow's Followers Will Demand His Ascension to the Starting QB Job
How The Drama Will Start: Kyle Orton (aka Judas Orton) throws an interception.
Tim Tebow's already numerous (and loud) disciples have put Big Time Timmy Jim in the football Hall of Fame already. They are just waiting to pounce on Orton once he makes a mistake or could remotely be blamed for a Broncos loss. How long will the Broncos, who've shelled out $6 million to the Timster let all that cash just sit on the bench? That's a very expensive cross to bear.
How Will it End: Orton will remain the starter and Tebow will stay a very expensive pine-rider all season who sees some QB-sneak and goal line work, but nothing more.

3. Fights In The Stands Will Be Reported On More Than The Games
How The Drama Will Start: Do we need another reason (I'm looking at you 49ers and Raiders fans.)
Another "incident" will happen at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum and Fox will start filming every Raiders game like an episode of Cops, with handheld cameras chasing thugs down in the stands and getting blurry footage of fat guys trying to punch each other and hold $9 beers at the same time. You'll have to check the box score to see who won the actual game.
How The Drama Will End: Every Bay area football fan will end up in prison, the hospital or the morgue.

2. Gary Kubiak Might Actually Maybe Get Sort Of Fired
How The Drama Will Start: The "loaded" Texans will go 8-8...again.
Do any of these proclamations sound familiar: "This is their year!", "The Texans are definitely going to do it this year!", "The Texans have all the weapons to be Super Bowl contenders!" Well, they should, because the sports media has been shouting them at you for the last five years. But THIS YEAR is REALLY the year. We promise.
How Will The Drama End: The Texans quiet the critics and not only make the postseason, but win a playoff game. Or Kubiak gets fired this time. No, really.

1. A Few HGH Busts Will Cause The Media To Momentarily Care About Steroids In Football
How The Drama Will Start: A couple high profile players will get busted for HGH.
With the new CBA rules testing players for HGH this year, there's no doubt that a few high profile players are bound to get busted. But since this isn't baseball, the media will get worked up about these roid busts for about a week, and then go back to not caring which players are juicing and which ones aren't. Members of the baseball media world will continues to watch the double standard with a baffled and irritated look on their faces.
How The Drama Will End: Three days will pass after the juicers are busted and the whole subject will quietly go away.

<p> Here's NFL stories bound to spark a lot of drama this season.</p>
Post date: Tuesday, August 23, 2011 - 13:52
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: /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
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
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: /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
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.

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Post date: Sunday, August 21, 2011 - 09:01