- Eric Karabell, ESPN.com Senior Writer
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As far as fantasy football owners are concerned, not much happened during the summer of 2008. The major free-agent running back switching teams was Michael Turner, and while statistically that worked out better than anyone could have hoped, let's just say the number of big names who moved on prior to the 2008 season was not terribly noteworthy. No critical quarterbacks had (at the time) new addresses, and at wide receiver our top-three list contained Javon Walker, Donte' Stallworth and Bernard Berrian. Wow. How exciting. Pardon me while I regain my balance.
This offseason was certainly a bit different, wouldn't you say? A Hall of Fame wide receiver is starting anew, and not for the first time, but certainly in a place few figured he'd go. A Hall of Fame tight end is also somewhere else, having been traded for a second-round draft pick. A Hall of Fame-bound quarterback who threw for 3,600 yards is Midwest-bound -- OK, so maybe Matt Cassel isn't quite Canton-worthy yet -- and who knows, maybe Tampa Bay picked up another short, stumpy, free-agent running back like Turner looking to get a starting job and run with it, literally.
It was quite the offseason. Let's sum up the movement you need to know about right here by position.
1. Matt Cassel, Chiefs: Well, we have to give him credit for the outstanding season he delivered in New England in relief of Tom Brady, but can he replicate those numbers in a new place? Remember, Cassel was a career backup in every sense of the word, and not just in the NFL. The Chiefs have quite a few question marks on offense and Cassel might be one of them. The team says he'll compete with Tyler Thigpen to start, but this has to be Cassel's job. They are paying him more than $14 million, after all, but don't call him a definite starting quarterback in your league, no matter the price.
2. Jay Cutler, Bears: It's still hard to believe how embarrassing the situation in Denver got, but Cutler got his wish, and starts anew in the Windy City. He's a Pro Bowler with a big arm, but the Bears don't run the same kind of offense, and don't have the same weapons. Cutler is obviously an upgrade over Kyle Orton, for the Bears and fantasy owners, but expect some dropoff in the statistics that will make him, like Cassel, likely to be a bit overrated on draft day.
3. Kyle Orton/Chris Simms, Broncos: Someone in Denver is in the right situation, depending on who earns the starting role. Orton came along with many draft picks from Chicago, while Simms was a free-agent pickup, who hasn't done much since the scary spleen injury of 2006. It will be interesting to see if Josh McDaniels' offense can be run effectively by a second-tier signal-caller, but fantasy owners should keep an eye on this for deep leagues. Personally, I'm a fan of Orton, after he carried fantasy owners at times in 2008. No doubt there's an upside in this Broncos offense.
What else: By the time you read this, Brett Favre might or might not be the starting quarterback for the Minnesota Vikings. Honestly, I give up. What happened in the news today? Brett went to the market? Anyway, if Favre signs with the Vikings, or any other NFL team for that matter, don't get too excited. If Favre stays on the farm, keep an eye on Sage Rosenfels, picked up by Minnesota in a trade from the Texans. He's more of a pocket passer than Tarvaris Jackson -- most quarterbacks are -- and did some nice things in relief of Matt Schaub. Rosenfels could be a sleeper if he wins the job. The Buccaneers will have a competition on their hands as well, with newcomer Byron Leftwich taking on Luke McCown. My money is on Leftwich, but it's not money I'd actually use. A bunch of other quarterbacks have new homes, but none of them appear to be legitimate contenders to start, or make much fantasy impact, from Jeff Garcia in Oakland to Brett Ratliff in Cleveland. Don't forget John Beck is in Baltimore, Kyle Boller in St. Louis, J.T. O'Sullivan in Cincinnati, Damon Huard in San Francisco, Jon Kitna in Dallas, Ryan Fitzpatrick in Buffalo, Dan Orlovsky in Houston and Patrick Ramsey went to Tennessee. Look elsewhere.
1. Derrick Ward, Buccaneers: Ward rambled for 5.6 yards per carry and more than 1,000 yards for the Giants, as backup to Brandon Jacobs. He goes to Tampa Bay, a team that has Earnest Graham hanging around but not much else. This sounds eerily similar to what Turner did in Atlanta, once he escaped the shadow of LaDainian Tomlinson. It's presumptive to ask for 1,700 yards and 17 touchdowns from Ward, but he does have that kind of ability. I probably like Ward more than, well, everyone else on the ESPN Fantasy staff, but I was also alone on Turner island, and drafted him everywhere in Round 3. I'll be hitching the Kara-wagon to Ward this season.
2. Fred Taylor, Patriots: Last summer, the No. 2 running back switching teams was a large dropoff after Turner. It was Julius Jones becoming a Seahawk. Yawn. Taylor leaving Jacksonville actually played a strong role in our rankings, vaulting Maurice Jones-Drew into our top three running backs. Taylor will be 33-years-old this season, and he missed part of the season with torn ligaments in his thumb. In 2006 and 2007, he averaged better than five yards per carry. The Patriots figure to throw a ton with Tom Brady, but it's possible Taylor earns value as a No. 3 fantasy running back, edging out Laurence Maroney, Sammy Morris and others in a crowded backfield.
3. Correll Buckhalter, Broncos: This looked like a wise career move for the former Philadelphia Eagle until draft day, when Knowshon Moreno was plucked in the first round. It also didn't help Buckhalter's plight that the Broncos signed seemingly 45 running backs since the Super Bowl. That list got whittled down a bit when newcomer J.J. Arrington was released. Moreno might get a bit overrated in fantasy because he'll be selected as a fantasy starter. It might not happen in real life, but that same thinking could make Buckhalter and LaMont Jordan sleepers. Even with Mike Shanahan gone, the Broncos could do just about anything at running back, so be prepared. Buckhalter averaged five yards per carry backing up Brian Westbrook the past two seasons, so if the Broncos give him the ball, it could be interesting.
What else: A year after stunting the value of Joseph Addai in Indianapolis, Dominic Rhodes has joined the Buffalo Bills, where he's probably No. 3 behind Marshawn Lynch and Fred Jackson. Then again, Rhodes can catch the ball, and Lynch might miss a few games with a suspension. Jordan is a large fellow, and could fit into the Broncos' lineup as a goal-line option. Maurice Morris has landed in Detroit, but Kevin Smith landed there from the draft a year ago, and delivered a strong season. The Bengals seem content to give Cedric Benson multiple carries, but the new backup should be Brian Leonard, acquired in trade from the Rams. He has a better chance of taking carries and receptions from Benson than Steven Jackson did.
1. Terrell Owens, Bills: Yes, Owens comes off a relatively disappointing season in Dallas, but we've been through this act before. When Owens first landed in Philadelphia, he produced 1,200 yards and 14 touchdowns in only 14 games before injuring his ankle, and his first campaign in Dallas was strong, with 85 receptions and 13 touchdowns. Plus, it's not like Owens turned into Mike Furrey last season. Owens was one of only seven players to catch 10 or more touchdown passes, and he was 13th in yards. Trent Edwards doesn't have to be Tom Brady to make this work, and another sidebar to the situation is Lee Evans should thrive without double teams.
2. T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Seahawks: Wide receivers don't fall off a cliff statistically the way running backs do when they hit 30, so because Houshmandzadeh will be 32 in September shouldn't scare anyone. Plus, I like Matt Hasselbeck to bounce back, assuming he's healthy. This is a nice situation for the possession-oriented Houshmandzadeh to catch a lot of passes, and improve on his 2008 campaign.
3. Torry Holt, Jaguars: No, this is not a passing offense, and Jones-Drew might get 90 percent of the plays out of the backfield called for him, but Holt should help stretch the field. Is he a sleeper or someone just past his prime? Can't he be both? Holt went from consecutive seasons of 93 receptions to only 64 the next season, and while he's probably going to be back in the 64-catch neighborhood in this offense, he makes for a useful flex receiver after the first five rounds.
What else: Laveranues Coles has a new home in Cincinnati, but his value is predicated not only on the health of Carson Palmer, but what state of mind Chad Ochocinco is in. Sounds risky to me. The Chiefs needed wide receiver help for new quarterback Cassel, so enter new slot guy Bobby Engram. He won't be Wes Welker, but he can be productive. An unhealthy Joey Galloway caught 13 passes in 2008, and unless there's an injury to Randy Moss or Welker, he's unlikely to put up big numbers in New England. Nate Washington leaves Pittsburgh for Tennessee. Unless Ben Roethlisberger follows and replaces Kerry Collins, there's not much to like about the move. Similarly, Washington kind of replaces Brandon Jones, who bolted to San Francisco. It's just not the kind of offense that makes fantasy wide receivers valuable. Plus, Michael Crabtree is there now. Ronald Curry and Bryant Johnson are new to Detroit. Good luck, fellas, but in time the quarterback situation should get better. Jabar Gaffney leaves Tom Brady for Cutler sorry, Cutler left, too. Bad timing to go to Denver, Jabar.
1.Tony Gonzalez, Falcons: All it took was a 2010 second-round pick to get this productive Hall of Famer, but fantasy owners need to realize, he won't be the first or second option in the Matt Ryan offense. Turner and Roddy White were very productive in 2008. Gonzalez remains one of the top tight ends off the board, and he should make the playoffs now, but lop off 20 receptions and 200 yards from normal figures.
2. Kellen Winslow, Buccaneers: Fantasy owners didn't get the 80 receptions and big yardage they expected in 2008, as injury and bad quarterback play derailed him, but what should we make of the Tampa Bay quarterback situation? Frankly, it's too early to tell. We'd assume Winslow is plenty motivated, and the talent is certainly there, but counting on him as a top-5 option at the position is asking a lot.
3. L.J. Smith, Ravens: OK, so after the two big names at tight end to move on in the offseason there wasn't much to discuss, but Smith did have his moments in Philadelphia, and Todd Heap had some productive moments in Baltimore. Look for Smith, not exactly a strong blocker, to get some passes thrown in his direction, but probably not enough to make him a starter in fantasy.
Eric Karabell is a senior writer for ESPN.com who covers fantasy baseball, football and basketball. He has twice been honored as fantasy sports writer of the year by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association. His book, "The Best Philadelphia Sports Arguments," was published by Source Books and is available in bookstores. Contact Eric by e-mailing him here.