- Eric Karabell, ESPN.com Senior Writer
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Their situations are different, of course, but whether it's Terrell Owens, Chad Johnson, Plaxico Burress or Javon Walker, it seems like the news on some of the top wide receivers in fantasy just never stops, even during the summer.
Not that wide receivers should be hiding in caves to keep out of trouble, but don't any of these well-paid fellas go to some remote island to relax for a few months? Heck, even Randy Moss has managed to remain comparatively inconspicuous since the Super Bowl. Imagine that!
There aren't too many fantasy football drafts in June, and it's a good thing, because owners wouldn't know where to select a few of these guys. Owens isn't really in trouble, after all, as he recently agreed to a long-term contract extension, but the fact that the league placed him in the reasonable-cause drug program for missing a drug test does have to worry a potential fantasy owner just a bit, especially if you are considering making Owens your early second-rounder, no?
Maybe, as Owens claims, he innocently changed his cell phone number and didn't inform the league. Whatever. It's always something. Owens has an excused absence from the Cowboys' mandatory minicamp to tend to a personal matter, which again is probably nothing, but if you've owned Owens before, you know a monster season (even while it's happening) is never totally safe, because things can change quickly with the emotional wide receiver. Still, Owens should be one of the first three wide receivers to go in your league.
The Giants' Burress -- that's the Super Bowl champion Giants to you and me -- isn't really in trouble either, but he's not practicing and not happy with his contract, which pays him a mere $4-plus million per year for a few more seasons. We agree, it's embarrassing to work for such little coin. Anyway, Burress hasn't threatened to sit out training camp, and it's doubtful this situation will be allowed to fester into August. Burress is a top-10 wide receiver for fantasy, and him balking over money shouldn't change that. If anything, failed contract negotiations could motivate him more.
The situations with Johnson and Walker are far more compelling and worrisome to the fantasy owner. Johnson has been lobbying for a trade for six months, and he and the Bengals clearly are not thinking alike. Check out the mouthy wide receiver from one day to the next, and you never know what he'll say. One day, he's threatening to sit out the season; the next, he tells ESPN The Magazine, "Of course I'll be back. I may be crazy but I'm not stupid." Johnson has skipped some offseason workouts, whined that the Bengals have betrayed him and had some interesting bouts of outspokenness with multiple media members, including ESPN's Stuart Scott and Brian Kenny.
The latest on Johnson came this week when he had arthroscopic surgery on both ankles. The seemingly minor procedures were, according to the player, long overdue and could go a long way toward explaining erratic performances in 2007. If they were long overdue, why didn't Johnson have the surgery in February? Regardless, Johnson should be ready for the start of training camp, at least physically. Whether he wants to report and how much he intends to contribute are different things. His ability is such that he's a borderline top-10 wide receiver, but you might be a bit scared off by this offseason, and I can't blame you. He's in my top 15, but I'm not targeting Johnson in drafts.
Meanwhile, as of this writing, we still don't have much information on what happened to Walker, the Raiders' new deep threat, who was hospitalized for a few nights this week after being robbed in Las Vegas following a night of partying. Walker, who was found unconscious on a Las Vegas street near the Strip, had been photographed earlier in the evening spraying champagne on guests at a nightclub. He suffered a concussion and facial injuries. There were rumors of more serious injuries, but two days after the incident, he already had been released from a local hospital and his agent released a statement saying he was looking forward to the upcoming season.
Walker was on my list of sleeper picks for this season, as the Raiders made a big splash by signing the talented playmaker to pair him with sophomore JaMarcus Russell. This seems like a duo that could thrive. Walker has ability, and he proved it with very good seasons in 2004 and 2006, but he also has dealt with multiple knee injuries that destroyed his value in the seasons after. If you go by the every-other-year theory and the fact that Walker is getting a new start in Oakland, it makes sense to acknowledge he could be a breakout performer in 2008. But Raiders coach Lane Kiffin might have said it best in a news conference Wednesday: "The info that I have is he's going to be fine. Training camp won't be an issue. But until our guys look at him, I don't want to say [the extent of Walker's injuries]." Walker wasn't terribly high on most fantasy owners' lists to start with, probably outside the top 30 wide receivers, but I still regard him as a sleeper, a No. 3 wide receiver for your team, unless we find the injuries from the robbery are worse than anyone thought.
For wide receivers, it's the summer of their discontent, and it doesn't end with these guys. Marvin Harrison was involved in a shooting in his native Philadelphia, Anquan Boldin wants more money, Brandon Marshall still is recovering from an accident and who knows what will become of Terry Glenn. It's only June.
Steven (Birmingham, Ala.): Eric, I'm in a 10-team full keeper league and have the No. 2 pick. I need a running back and I know Darren McFadden is going first. I narrowed my choice down to Jonathan Stewart and Matt Forte. Which one do you think I should pick and why? Or if you think I should target another running back, who should it be and why? Whichever one I pick will be starting for me because running back is a position I'm weak at, with Michael Turner, Julius Jones, Travis Henry, Justin Fargas, Ahmad Bradshaw and Tatum Bell. Thanks.
Karabell: Well, I wouldn't necessarily call your running back corps weak, although you lack someone we would safely call a top-20 option. Chances are any rookie you draft won't be a sure starter anyway. I like Turner, probably more than most fantasy experts, and I also stand in the minority in thinking Oakland's Fargas will get more carries than people think, to the detriment of McFadden. Plus, Jones is starting in Seattle, and maybe the fresh start will fire him up. Any day now, Henry should find work. As for your decision, assuming you need to select a rookie running back, I'd go with Forte over Stewart, despite what our rankings in our ESPN The Magazine say. Since that was published, Cedric Benson got into some off-field trouble and was released by the Bears. Forte enters training camp with a golden opportunity to seize the starting job. In Carolina, Stewart is coming off toe surgery, and while he should be ready for training camp, it's been acknowledged he's in the mix to return kicks. Doesn't sound like a true, full-time starting running back to me, not with DeAngelo Williams still there. Of course, check the news on this and all situations, since your draft could be months away.
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Eric Karabell is a senior writer for ESPN.com fantasy. You can e-mail him here.
Eric Karabell looks at some of the recent news swirling around Chad Johnson, Terrell Owens, Javon Walker and Plaxico Burress and what it means for fantasy.