Offseason changes fantasy owners must know
One of the worst things an owner can do when entering a fantasy football draft is walk in unprepared, armed only with the previous year's stats, and draft players on the wrong teams. The stats, they will be a-changin'. Players move, roles adjust, new stats will be produced.
We could name every bit of offseason player movement in this piece, but that would be boring and cumbersome, and in a lot of cases, irrelevant. Kudos to Justin McCareins for "remembering the Titans," but really, how much does that affect what you do on fantasy draft day? So we've decided to go position by position with the moves that have the greatest impact. Because whether Artose Pinner is a Falcon, a Lion or -- wait for it -- a Bear, if you're interested in drafting him, you need more than this article.
David Carr, Gus Frerotte, Quinn Gray, Trent Green, Cleo Lemon and Josh McCown are among those who will be calling signals for new teams. Or not. The truth is, all of these guys were brought in more for insurance rather than to start. If Green, back with the Rams, is called to duty, that's not exactly good news for Marc Bulger owners -- or the Rams, for that matter. If Carr is driving the offensive bus for the Super Bowl champion Giants -- man, still seems strange to type that -- then something has befallen Eli Manning, and that's not a good thing. It's David Carr, ya know.
Derek Anderson was the major quarterback name on the offseason available list, but the Browns wisely decided it was safer to ante up and keep this Cinderella story near the lake, rather than let Brady Quinn sink or swim. Quinn will get his chance, eventually. So really, the story of the 2008 offseason for quarterbacks moving on is not much of a story at all. Marques Tuiasosopo went from the Jets to the Raiders. That's big news! OK, not really. Let's move on.
Now we have something to talk about, though let's just say the early rounds of your drafts won't be full of running backs in new places. There's one running back who gets his long-awaited chance to play full-time, and a few others who are running out of chances, but at least there's something at this critical fantasy position to discuss more than Trent Green.
2. Julius Jones, Seahawks: Thanks for the memories, Shaun Alexander. Now get outta town! That's essentially what the Seahawks did, taking the risk on the uber-disappointment Jones, who fell into disfavor in Dallas, and cutting a former league MVP who was clearly on the downside of his career. The question is, can Jones even replace Alexander's production? Alexander's stats didn't crumble merely because he hit 30 years old or started breaking body parts. Instead, the free-agent defection of Steve Hutchinson (and subsequent weakening of the offensive line) played a larger role. Jones didn't exactly thrive as a Cowboy, and when the Seahawks reach the red zone, there's a decent chance fellow acquisition T.J. Duckett will vulture the chances. But as a No. 3 running back in fantasy, you should at least get the yards you need.
3. Warrick Dunn, Buccaneers: What is Jon Gruden thinking? Didn't Earnest Graham rush for 898 yards and score 10 touchdowns in his first opportunity to play? Isn't Carnell Williams, who started his career with so much promise and has done little since, still on this team? Why did the Bucs bring Dunn, who many people think is his surname, back to the place where it all started for him? Might this be one of those situations in which a Hall of Fame player signs a short contract for the chance to show any former glory and then retire with the team he's famous for? In this case, not really. Dunn thinks he can still be a 1,000-yard back, and apparently Gruden agrees, but fantasy owners shouldn't be fooled. Dunn rushed for 11 touchdowns over the past three seasons combined, and he has serious competition back home. Fantasy owners might want to handcuff Dunn to Graham, but at this point neither back seems overly enticing on draft day.
The others: Well, the big dumping of Travis Henry in Denver could mean former long-time Buccaneer Michael Pittman made a wise career decision, or he could be the caddy for Selvin Young, who fancies himself a 2,000-yard back. Stranger things have happened. If you draft Young, keep Pittman in mind, although he's more of a threat in the passing game than on the ground. The Texans could eventually kick Ahman Green to the curb after his debut season in Houston lasted all of six games, and former Titan Chris Brown might be the major beneficiary. Brown piqued the interest of fantasy owners with his 175 yards against the Jaguars in Week 1, then proceeded to rush for barely that many yards the rest of the season. Chances are if/when Green has more injury problems, rookie Steve Slaton will get a look. The kid got a break when the Texans drafted him. DeShaun Foster is no longer fighting for carries with DeAngelo Williams in Carolina, but he's clearly the backup to Frank Gore in San Francisco. Foster received a two-year deal, and Gore did have some injury issues in 2007, but with the passing game being such a big mess, even those more talented than Foster would struggle. After all, this is a running back who has never rushed for even 900 yards in a season. Dominic Rhodes is back with the Colts, but don't expect him to annoyingly infringe upon Joseph Addai touches like he did in 2006. Rhodes adds depth, and Kenton Keith is likely the main backup. Mewelde Moore left Minnesota for Pittsburgh, and he might have thought he'd get a chance as the main backup to Willie Parker when he left, but then the Steelers spent a first-round draft pick on Rashard Mendenhall. In this case, Moore will be less. Jesse Chatman is a Jet! Contain your excitement. Even if Thomas Jones doesn't bounce back with big numbers, Chatman couldn't score touchdowns when the Dolphins let him start for a few weeks. Miami, New York Jets, what's the difference? LaMont Jordan could easily become New England's No. 2 back. He's a terrific receiver from the backfield and is an underrated power runner. Jordan instantly becomes a top-50 running back, and he's definitely draftable. Finally, as of this writing, both Travis Henry and Shaun Alexander were unemployed. Even when each finds work, be cautious about their futures.
There are some mighty big names among wide receivers finding new homes, but none are likely to have anywhere near the impact Randy Moss did a year ago. Then again, there might not have been any move in history like that one. But a few of these guys are looking for redemption, while others are simply winding down a Hall of Fame career.
1. Javon Walker, Raiders: Even before he was the victim of an apparent robbery in Las Vegas, it was debatable how much Walker had left in the tank. Recurring knee problems destroyed his 2007 season and made him one of fantasy's bigger disappointments. Walker seemingly had healed well following 2005 ACL surgery, topping 1,000 yards and eight touchdowns in 2006, but he didn't find the end zone at all last season. The Raiders were willing to bet on Walker returning to former glory, sensing a highly motivated player wanting to stay in the AFC West and wreak havoc on a former employer. At 29, Walker remains a deep option who can threaten defenses, but the main question is whether his knees can make it through the season. If they can, there's upside in this situation, but we wouldn't bet on it.
2. Donte' Stallworth, Browns: The Browns appear to be top-heavy with Derek Anderson targets, as Braylon Edwards and Kellen Winslow were the main receivers in 2007. But Stallworth proved he remains a home run hitter when he can stay healthy. Stallworth was mildly productive as the No. 3 wideout last season in New England, and now should start for Cleveland and get plenty of looks, especially deep. Now on his fourth team in as many seasons, he's not likely to threaten his career marks of 70 catches and eight touchdowns, but he's worthy of No. 3 receiver status in fantasy. As for the team he leaves behind, we think they'll do just fine with Jabar Gaffney as their No. 3 receiver.
3. Bernard Berrian, Vikings: Freed from the moribund Chicago passing offense, Berrian lands in Minnesota. Woo-hoo. Tarvaris Jackson threw nine of the team's 12 touchdown passes in 2007, and didn't reach 2,000 yards, but with Berrian, the Vikings might be able to keep defenses a bit more honest. Sidney Rice was the lone Viking to catch more than 32 passes and reach 400 yards! Berrian is an instant deep threat, and Jackson, for all his faults, did show progress late in the season, throws a nice long ball and is the undisputed starter. Berrian could be in for his first 1,000-yard campaign, and he looks like a top 30 wide receiver.
The others: The Bears think Devin Hester can step up and be more of a threat on offense, but they still needed to improve their depth at the receiver position. Enter Marty Booker and Brandon Lloyd. Let's just say Rex Grossman was better off in 2007. Along with Berrian, the other starter Chicago lost was Muhsin Muhammad, who returned to Carolina, where he had his best seasons. Of course, D.J. Hackett also left his team to head to the Panthers, and only one of them gets to be the "main decoy" next to speedster Steve Smith. Plus, let's see how Jake Delhomme does in recovery from Tommy John surgery before recommending any Panthers wideouts. Jerry Porter has been injury-riddled in his career, and now switches coasts to Jacksonville, where he could be the top threat for David Garrard. Porter had productive seasons in 2004 and 2005 with Oakland, and it wouldn't be a shock if he flirts with a 1,000-yard season. Darrell Jackson had one unexciting season in San Francisco, after which the team couldn't wait to get rid of him. Jackson gets to play in a better offense in Denver and could be a nice complement to Brandon Marshall. Isaac Bruce appears ticketed for Canton eventually -- and deservedly so -- but don't expect him to return to the stats of his prime after leaving the Rams for the 49ers. Bruce still has something left, though, and could be a No. 3 fantasy wideout.
The New Orleans Saints picked up Jeremy Shockey from the Super Bowl champion New York Giants for a few draft picks right before training camp, but how much can we really expect from the outspoken Oklahoman? Many of us have been burned by Shockey the past few seasons, not because he wasn't productive, but because he delivered false advertising. If all we're getting is 600-something yards and 60 receptions, then he's not a top-5 tight end in drafts. He should go later. You have to like the move from the Giants offense to the Saints, if for no other reason than the accuracy of Drew Brees and the frequency with which he throws the ball. Shockey will get targeted plenty, and he should score. Just keep expectations in check for a guy who has never played 16 games in a season, is limping around camp now with a leg injury and probably gets a bit overrated based on the name. He's good, a top-10 tight end for sure, but let's not compare him to Tony Gonzalez.
Meanwhile, the Giants have given second-year Kevin Boss the reins as starting tight end, but this remains someone with nine career receptions. He showed his worth when Shockey broke his leg with a few touchdowns in the final weeks of the regular season, but caught only five passes in four postseason games. He could catch 50 passes and score five times, meaning he's not quite on Shockey's level yet, but those stats could land him top-10 status at the position. Certainly his profile is raised by the Shockey trade, but don't assume he's an instant star, either.
The other tight end whose offseason move could reap fantasy benefits is Ben Utecht. He won't have Peyton Manning throwing to him, but Carson Palmer isn't such a bad option. Utecht has dealt with shoulder problems in the past but was productive as the backup to Dallas Clark. He should start in Cincinnati and become the best tight end option in the Palmer era, and also a possible fantasy starter.
A few other name tight ends moved on, but don't expect big numbers. The Packers lost long-time tight end Bubba Franks to the Jets. He should start, and could become a red-zone option. Ben Troupe left the Titans for the Buccaneers, and Anthony Becht went from the Buccaneers to the Rams, but there's little to get excited about in either case. Marcus Pollard is no longer a Seahawk. He'll play with Tom Brady in New England, which is enticing, but he'll also fight for playing time with Benjamin Watson, which is not.
Eric Karabell is a senior writer for ESPN.com fantasy. You can e-mail him here.
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