Offseason Notebook: Don't count on Favre
Speculation continues to swirl that we haven't seen the last of Brett Favre. Many experts and fans won't actually believe he is done until they see him not in uniform when the 2008 season opens. Favre recently told the Biloxi Sun-Herald that it would be challenging for him not to return to the NFL if the Packers needed him because of injuries during the upcoming campaign.
"To think that if they called me in October and told me, 'Hey, we need you this week.' That would be hard. I'm sure mentally, I would be refreshed. I'd be away from it for a long time," Favre said.
Favre then cautioned, though, that being mentally prepared and enthusiastic may not be enough in such a scenario. "Mentally versus physically, the last thing I'd want to do is go up and it's 'Oh, this is great and all that stuff and me be excited and then just flop." Favre then reiterated his current outlook on a possible comeback or continuation of his career.
"I guess the best response would be, right now, no," he said. "I'm happy with my decision. Just taking it one day at a time." Such comments are the ones fantasy players should read more than once and remember them until further notice.
Don't entertain thoughts of how the Green Bay offense would get a boost if Favre returns. This is especially important if you play in keeper or dynasty leagues. Don't waste that extra dynasty league roster spot on Favre based on "what if," and keep your 2008 expectations for Greg Jennings, Donald Driver and Ryan Grant lowered for now. Aaron Rodgers has a lot to prove, even though he has had the benefit of learning on the sidelines during his first three pro seasons.
Rodgers does have fine physical tools and is considered to be a sharp student of the game. He has sound mechanics, can make throws into tight windows with good velocity, and has the potential to stand in the pocket under pressure and make tough throws. He does his best work on shorter and midrange passes. His first goal, though, will be to show he can manage the offense effectively as a full-time starter in the NFL and keep the offense respectable rather than trying to take it over and be an instant standout.
So fantasy leaguers shouldn't expect much upside from Rodgers yet, although he is worth holding on to in dynasty leagues. Green Bay will simply want to establish proper balance on offense so Rodgers doesn't find himself in too many adverse situations. At best, he can be projected to be a decent fantasy backup. A very successful season can't be fully ruled out considering Rodgers' potential, but you can't bank on it at all during his first season as a starter and you can only consider anything better than average play a bonus.
Last week, Packers coach Mike McCarthy told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel the Packers may lean toward drafting a backup to Rodgers over acquiring a veteran. So it's Rodgers or bust for Green Bay, and that certainly can't be comforting if you own Jennings or Driver now.
Jennings often played at the level of a No. 1 fantasy wide receiver in 2007, catching 12 touchdown passes in his second pro season. He also missed three games, which prevented him from reaching the 1,000-yard mark. Injuries also slowed him during his rookie season. With the gunslinging Favre no longer at the controls, Jennings simply can't expect to see the same number of downfield throws he did in 2007. Rodgers won't let loose nearly as much as Favre did, even if he plays well. Tempering expectations to around seven touchdown receptions seems more realistic, and given that he has been banged up in his first two years, Jennings figures to be viewed as a borderline No. 2 fantasy wide receiver for the upcoming season.
Driver may be the toughest wide receiver one can recall since Brian Blades, and he caught 82 passes for 1,048 yards last season. Rodgers certainly will look to him as the most trustworthy pass-catcher. Yet Driver caught only two touchdown passes in 2007, and at 33 years old, checking in at 6-0 and 190 pounds, you wonder how much more he can take. He likely doesn't have too many big plays left in him, especially with Rodgers learning on the job. Most savvy fantasy owners will not draft Driver as a starter in 2008.
The biggest concern for fantasy players, though, is how Grant will be affected by the quarterback change. In ESPN leagues, Grant scored 142 of his 146 fantasy points in 10 games from Week 8 onward in 2007. Such performances would project in the range of 208 points projected over a full season. That would have made him the fifth-best running back in terms of fantasy production last year.
Even the less-dedicated fantasy owner, though, is likely already concerned that Grant will face extra defensive attention in 2008. Opposing defenses will try to stop Grant first until Rodgers proves he can beat them consistently. That means he'll have to work very hard for his yardage early in the schedule. Grant rushed for 956 yards and eight touchdowns after he burst onto the scene last season, but I wouldn't project him for much more than 1,200 yards and the same amount of scores in 2008. I'm not saying he can't have a fine season, but you have to approach him more conservatively and not use a first-round pick on him in yearly leagues based on last season's production. I would view him as more of a prime No. 2 running back on draft day.
What Packer fans and fantasy owners alike must hope for is that Rodgers, who replaces a living legend in Green Bay, will be at least adequate. The Dolphins still haven't recovered from the retirement of Dan Marino. The Packers do have a better outlook as the post-Favre days begin, at least based on Rodgers' potential, yet we must assume, until proven otherwise, is that respectable play is the best we can expect.
Jake (Denver): I am in a 16-team keeper league and need to decide on three of the following five players: Brian Westbrook, Terrell Owens, Ben Roethlisberger, Willie Parker and T.J. Houshmandzadeh. I believe Westbrook and Owens are certain keepers but am not sure on the final selection.
Engel: In such a large league, every move is magnified an even larger extent. I agree on keeping Westbrook and Owens. Westbrook is a clear No. 1 fantasy running back and Owens is still a topflight wide receiver. I would then toss Parker out of the mix. Even though he's a great fit as a second fantasy running back, you have Westbrook already to anchor your running back corps. Roethlisberger is an underrated fantasy quarterback and a solid keeper in most formats, but you can't keep him when you have a player who can be a No. 1 receiver operating as your No. 2 guy at the position. I'd rather have Houshmandzadeh as a No. 2 fantasy receiver than Parker as a No. 2 running back. Sure, there will be concerns in Cincinnati about the loss of Chris Henry and Chad Johnson's outlook, which I covered in last week's notebook, but in a worst-case scenario, Houshmandzadeh will perform at the level of a good No. 2 fantasy receiver.
Charles (Juneau, Ark.): I'm in a 12-team league and I can retain two players, sacrificing a pick in the round in which I originally drafted them. I know one will be Laurence Maroney for a ninth-rounder. Should I then keep Tom Brady for a first-rounder, or hold on to Andre Johnson for a third-rounder? I'm thinking I should not keep Brady and hope to pick up LaDainian Tomlinson or Steven Jackson, and I could always pick up Brady later, unless I get stuck with a late pick.
Engel: You likely won't get another shot at Brady if you toss him back into the player pool, after he comes off the best fantasy season of his career and has Randy Moss returning in 2008. Someone else will snatch him up in the first round if you toss him back, and unless you have a top-two selection, you likely won't get a shot at Tomlinson if he is available. I like Jackson, too, but running backs are no longer king in fantasy, and Brady can be your cornerstone of a championship squad. He's well worth the first-rounder you sacrifice for retaining him. Johnson is good for a third-rounder, but I would rather have Brady. Plus, I believe Maroney is headed for a true breakthrough season, and you already have a pretty good outlook at running back when you keep him.
Scott Engel covers fantasy sports for ESPN.com. You can contact Scott here.
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