Offseason Notebook: Alexander waits for next opportunity
Since the Seahawks cut him loose, Shaun Alexander has been exploring his options as he tries to revive a once-outstanding career. Alexander has a lot to prove. Although he was one of the very best running backs in the NFL for a half-decade -- and the best in the league in 2005 -- Alexander's quick decline from stardom is more of a focus these days than his fine past accomplishments.
Some detractors say he took the big money and simply lost his desire. Others point to injuries. Some claim he was "soft." I say he was a runner with great vision, but after a trip to the Super Bowl, he didn't fit in well behind a declining offensive line in transition. In 2007 Alexander tried to play with his hand in a cast. During the past two seasons, there weren't many open holes for him to dart through. I don't believe age automatically entails hitting a wall, either. In fantasy football, I tie trends to numbers much less than I do in, say, fantasy baseball.
I don't think Alexander can ever be a fantasy superstar again, but if he lands in a good situation, he may show he still has another good year or two left in the tank. He could produce decent numbers if he can be at least a significant part of a time-share somewhere. Although Alexander is searching for a new employer, he isn't jumping into anything. His agent, Jim Steiner, told the New Orleans Times-Picayune his client has no timetable for finding a new home.
Alexander also visited the Bengals, but they are only interested in him as a backup for Rudi Johnson, according to the Cincinnati Enquirer. That may not be a bad situation for the former Seahawk, as the physical Johnson needed to be replaced by desperate options such as Kenny Watson last season. Alexander, who in his prime made tacklers miss, hasn't taken the overall wear and tear on his body that other, more-bruising runners may have accumulated at similar points in their careers. If he has healed, he could end up being an optimal option behind Johnson, especially since Alexander grew up in nearby Kentucky.
According to the NFL's official Web site, the Broncos have also expressed some interest in Alexander, and Denver could be another good landing spot for him. Denver cannot count on Travis Henry to stay healthy, and Selvin Young is far from a proven commodity. Rookie Ryan Torain could be a long shot to make an impact, especially in fantasy football. In Denver, where waiting for a hole to open and then bursting through it has been the norm, Alexander's style of picking his spots before accelerating upfield could still pay dividends, and he still has value to offer as a short yardage/goal-line running back.
However, a starting job, or even a time-share, is hard to come by now, particularly after the NFL draft. Teams who had obvious needs at running back have filled them recently with rookies or other veteran plug-ins. The Lions and Panthers both used high draft picks on running backs, and the Texans still have confidence in Ahman Green and also added Chris Brown. Actually, Alexander could be a potential upgrade over either player, but there has been no reported interest from Houston. When he was released, there were some initial rumors of Alexander going to the Patriots or Colts. However, there have been no confirmed reports out of New England, and Indianapolis brought Dominic Rhodes back earlier this week.
The Jets and Titans could certainly benefit from some veteran depth as well, but for now, Alexander can sit back and wait for an opportunity to present itself. A significant injury could occur at any time between now and the end of training camp, and Alexander likely would be the first guy signed off the street in such an instance. Luckily for fantasy owners in yearly leagues, we can gauge Alexander's appeal much better during the summer.
For now, Alexander is looking like a late-rounder who can still potentially be at least a good flex player if he lands somewhere. It would not be a shock to see him be a decent No. 2 fantasy running back if he plays for a team with a good offensive line. Don't expect him to fade away in the same way as Corey Dillon, for instance. If he doesn't end up somewhere by the time the season starts, though, his value will fall significantly. Missing training camp would not help him get up to speed and could be detrimental to his conditioning.
The Seahawks now seem set with Julius Jones and T.J. Duckett as their running back duo in 2008, and the team did not draft a potential impact player at the position. A change of scenery may work well for Jones, who should be selected in the late-fourth or early-fifth round in yearly drafts. Duckett obviously will vulture many short-yardage carries, though, and could finally re-emerge as a solid contributor for the first time since he left Atlanta. Don't hesitate to pick him as a fourth running back with some remaining upside.
Engel: Johnson is nowhere near the top 5, and he's not even a first-rounder anymore. Even if he can avoid injuries, his supporting cast will drag him down. A very shaky passing game will only increase defensive attention on the Chiefs' running backs, limiting Johnson's opportunities to finish off scoring drives. I would not think of drafting Johnson until at least the third round. Jackson, on the other hand, could have a truly outstanding season. When he gets to the second level, no running back in football is tougher for defenders to bring down, and he's a truck near the goal line, too. He also catches passes. Plus, he can finish off many scoring drives and enjoy the balance that the Rams' passing game will provide offensively. I would still take Jackson just outside the top 5 overall and would not laugh at anyone who takes him fourth or fifth.
Zach (Columbus, N.C.): I am a huge Carolina Panthers fan, and for this year's upcoming draft, I was initially targeting DeAngelo Williams as my third running back. But with the Panthers recently drafting Jonathan Stewart, I am trying to decide between the two. Which one will make more of a fantasy impact this upcoming season?
Engel: You may have heard this before, Zach, but you should never, ever base your draft picks on your allegiances. It may seem more fun to pull for a guy who is on both your fantasy team and your favorite team, but it does nothing to help your draft strategy. Taking the best available players and filling needs first are much higher priorities. Plus, you can never target players ahead of time because you never know for sure what other owners are thinking and when someone may come off the board. It's better to have a short list of players ready in each round than to wait on a certain guy, only to be disappointed. To answer your question, though, Stewart seems like more of a physical runner and goal-line threat, has more scoring potential and is a good sixth-round choice. Williams has flex potential, but I would not touch him before the ninth round. Ultimately, though, you just need to have a list of the best available players, not the best available Panthers.
Scott Engel covers fantasy sports for ESPN.com. You can contact Scott here.