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Offseason Notebook: Are Alexander or Henry worth drafting?

6/6/2008

Another week, another notable running back out of a job. Shaun Alexander is no longer alone. After a very disappointing season with the Denver Broncos, Travis Henry was released by the club earlier this week. For fantasy owners, the question is: Are either one of these guys worth a draft pick at all? Will either find a job any time soon that could make them useful in fantasy leagues?

Alexander's recent search for work yielded no obvious results. He seemed to want to play more for the Bengals than Cincinnati actually wanted him. The Saints never expressed a real interest. Unless he signs a deal as a backup running back somewhere, Alexander is likely going to remain unemployed. No team is seemingly going to give him a chance as a starter. Plus, good money is likely not out there for the 2005 NFL MVP. If he does land somewhere, he might be nothing more than a handcuff. If he does not go to training camp with a team, the impact he could make with any team desperate for help because of an injury might not be significant.

Alexander might not be done, but he needs to land in an ideal situation. That would be a team with a strong offensive line that suits his running style of looking for holes and then trying to ease through an opening. Those kinds of holes were not available in Seattle the past two seasons and were a factor in his downfall.

Injuries and off-field issues were the main reasons for Henry's ouster in Denver, and there might not be much of a market for his services, either. Henry missed the first two weeks of Denver's passing camp with a hamstring problem, and it's clear Mike Shanahan had enough. Last season, he had envisioned Henry as the guy who could stabilize his running game instead of having to go to a tandem or committee approach. Yet Shanahan never seems to have much patience with running backs, so it's no surprise Henry is now gone.

"I think our players expected it," Shanahan told the Denver Post. "I don't think it really surprised anybody. They know the type of standard we demand and if you don't step up to that standard, you're not going to be with us."

So now many fantasy owners might spend a final-round pick on Henry in drafts, hoping, as with Alexander, that he will catch on somewhere else and possibly revive his career, or at least play respectably if pressed into a situation where he might be used often. Henry did an admirable job of reviving his career in Tennessee before getting a great chance to re-emerge as a star with Denver. Yet he might not have another comeback left in him and, like Alexander, he is perceived as a risk around the league. Many savvy fantasy owners don't think much of him anymore.

Alexander wears the label of "soft" because of his running style, which was based more on his great vision and elusiveness rather than banging for yardage. It's an inaccurate label considering all the short-yardage touchdowns and conversions he made during his glory days, especially in 2005. Plus, he played with a cast on his hand in his final go-round with Seattle.

I don't think that's "soft." His running style was never to be a bruiser, and that's a generic label he gets from people who did not watch him regularly. Still, he has been banged up by injuries since 2005 and is considered damaged goods. Alexander likely still has an ego that demands he contends for serious playing time, and that cannot help him in any possible negotiations.

Still, he might not be done and could conceivably help a team that invites him to camp. Alexander has a lot to prove and can still be an effective part of a running duo if given the chance. If he can hook on with a team soon, he's worth the late-rounder, but the longer he stays unemployed, the less he can help a team if he doesn't mesh with them during the preseason while getting the opportunity to get into the best possible physical condition.

Henry might have more trouble finding a good job than Alexander. Not only does he have injury concerns, he now comes with additional off-field baggage. Henry is perceived as a more physical runner than Alexander and likely will be more accepting of a backup role, which he used in Tennessee to ease his way back into a starting job. Still, most teams seem to be set with their running back situations for now, even though some such as Houston and Detroit could certainly use more insurance or quality depth.

So it will likely be the same waiting game for Henry that Alexander is going through now. If some team suffers a significant injury at running back, one of them might get a call and be worthy of a later-round fantasy selection. Of course, both could fade away, simply surrounded by rumors for many months. Veteran running backs with questionable outlooks are not in demand, as so many teams would seemingly rather give younger players a chance or stick with guys already on their roster. How else do you explain teams still wanting to see what they can get from Ahman Green or Tatum Bell, or not be willing to provide more depth behind Rudi Johnson?

At best, I'm using a late-round pick on Alexander or Henry if either is able to get into camp with some team before the season starts. In Denver, the departure of Henry now makes Selvin Young a solid target as a No. 2 fantasy running back and a good third-round pick. Michael Pittman will keep him from getting overworked and should see significant action on passing downs, but only figures to be a fantasy reserve, initially. Rookie Ryan Torian certainly has some sleeper potential, but I am not expecting Andre Hall to get much of a chance to be in the mix.

Offseason Mailbag

Matt (Bethesda, Md.): I am in a keeper league where you are allowed to retain two players, but you give up your first and second-round selections. My players worth keeping are Maurice Jones-Drew, Braylon Edwards, Thomas Jones, and the sleeper would be DeAngelo Williams. My initial plan would be Jones-Drew and Edwards, but with the new additions to the Jets offensive line, Thomas Jones is intriguing. Then there is DeAngelo Williams, who is slated to be the starter in Carolina with there new beefed-up line and Jonathan Stewart to take pressure off him, but I also realize the rookie could take touchdowns from him. I am also really considering not keeping anyone and trying to get Darren McFadden or Stewart in the first and second rounds and then have solid keepers for the foreseeable future even if they do not pan out this season.

Engel: Realistically, the only player I would seriously consider keeping is Edwards, who has clearly become an elite wide receiver. You seem to be heavily focused on running backs, but they are no longer the crux of many fantasy teams like they were a few years ago. There are too many guys with question marks at the position, and players at other positions have emerged as safer choices in many instances. Jones-Drew is a good No. 2 fantasy running back, but consistency might continue to be an issue and you might be able to do better in the draft. Jones might do better this year, but he will be more respectable, not worthy of a first or second-round pick. Williams is not a sleeper. Stewart will get a real chance to win the starting job and should get the majority of the touchdown chances. Williams does not have the confidence of the Carolina brain trust to be anything more than a part-timer and his upside is very limited. So it comes down to whether or not you should give up one of your early picks for Edwards. I say yes because he is a top player at his position and you can easily fill in around him in the draft.

Manny Busto (Tarrytown, N.Y.): I'm in a 12-team points-per-reception keeper league. We can retain two players from last year. I finished third, so my team is good and I narrowed down my possible keepers to Terrell Owens., Andre Johnson, Ryan Grant and Jones-Drew.

Engel: Owens' long-term outlook can be considered questionable at this point in his career, but he can help you at least for the upcoming season and maybe two more, so keep him as you remember that it's also about winning this year. Grant's outlook becomes foggier with the retirement of Brett Favre, and Jones-Drew can be inconsistent, so keep Johnson, who might have some big years ahead of him, especially as Matt Schaub settles in. You can then clearly address the running back position early in your next draft.

Scott Engel covers fantasy sports for ESPN.com. You can contact Scott here.