Browns become more valuable with Holcomb as starter
Posted: Wednesday August 20, 2003 12:27PM; Updated: Wednesday August 20, 2003 12:27PM
By Richard Harris, Special to SI.com
William Green, RB, Browns: With all the hubbub surrounding Cleveland's quarterback controversy, coach Butch Davis' praise of Green at Sunday night's news conference may have gone unnoticed. As soon as Davis finished explaining his decision to go with Kelly Holcomb as the starting QB, he commended Green for his performance in last Saturday's game against Green Bay. As the coach noted, Green averaged 7.5 yards per carry and scored a touchdown on an 82-yard screen pass. Davis went on to say that Green has "a flair for catching the ball."
The 16th overall pick of the 2002 draft, Green had the look of a first-round bust until the midpoint of last season, when he started to adjust to the pro game. In the last seven games, he ran with much more authority and confidence, averaging 103.7 rushing yards per game and scoring five touchdowns. Based on those numbers, he could rush for 1,600 yards and score 11 TDs in 2003. His detractors will say his hot streak at the end of last season came against some of the softer defenses in the league, which is true, but Green will not only begin 2003 as the undisputed starter but will also have more confidence and experience.
If Green continues to be involved in the passing game, he could be a top 10 back this season. Last year, Jamel White caught the majority of passes out of the backfield, but White has missed much of camp with a hamstring pull, giving Green more opportunities to showcase his pass receiving skills.
Warrick Dunn and T.J. Duckett, RBs, Falcons: With Michael Vick sidelined for at least six weeks, Doug Johnson will be Atlanta's starting quarterback for a minimum of four regular-season games. Johnson lacks Vick's mobility, but he has a strong arm and has played well when given the chance. When Vick missed a game last season with a shoulder injury, Johnson led the Falcons to a 17-10 road victory over the New York Giants, passing for 257 yards and a touchdown, plus running for another score.
While Johnson is a capable backup, the loss of the multitalented Vick will have a negative impact on the Atlanta offense as a whole. Dunn and Duckett, however, may actually benefit. The Falcons probably will not pass any more or any less with Johnson under center, but in the red zone, both backs will have more scoring opportunities as long as Vick, who had a team-leading eight rushing TDs last season, is not available.
Marc Boerigter, WR, Chiefs: With the unimpressive pair of Johnnie Morton and Eddie Kennison starting at wideout, Boerigter, a former CFL star, has an opportunity to earn significant playing time this season. Morton and Kennison have never been known as big-time scorers, and the 6-3, 220-pound Boerigter actually led the team with eight touchdown receptions last season. He also had a team-leading 21-yard average, catching 20 passes for 420 yards while working as the No. 3 receiver. Last Saturday against the Vikings, Boerigter flashed his playmaking skills again, scoring the Chiefs' first touchdown of the preseason on a 59-yard pass from QB Trent Green.
J.J. Stokes, WR, Jaguars: With Jimmy Smith suspended for the first four games of the regular season for violating the league's substance abuse policy, Stokes will be Jacksonville's No. 1 receiver. The 10th overall pick of the 1995 draft, Stokes has never lived up to his potential, but playing alongside stars such as Jerry Rice and Terrell Owens, he has never had an opportunity to be a featured receiver. The former 49er's best season came in 1998 when he caught 63 passes for 770 yards and eight touchdowns.
Keep an Eye on
Dennis Northcutt, WR, Browns: Including the playoffs, Holcomb threw for 11 touchdowns last season, with five going to Northcutt. In the 12 games Tim Couch started and finished, Northcutt caught just two TD passes. Holcomb played in a total of five games, including his record-setting playoff performance against the Steelers, and in those games (three starts), the balls were fairly evenly distributed -- Northcutt (16-322-5), Quincy Morgan (20-323-2), Kevin Johnson (23-354-2), Andre Davis (16-225-3). It should be noted that one of Morgan's TD catches came on a pass from Johnson, a former college quarterback.
While it is doubtful that Northcutt will produce better numbers than starters Morgan and Johnson, the situation bears watching. Northcutt definitely has a leg up on Davis, who has missed most of training camp with a knee injury.
Justin Fargas, RB, Raiders: In two preseason games, Fargas, a third-round pick, has rushed for a league-leading 198 yards and one touchdown on 35 carries (5.7 average). Currently, the rookie is buried on the depth chart behind Charlie Garner and Tyrone Wheatley. Both veterans are over 30 years old, and while Garner is in no danger of losing his starting job, Fargas could surpass Wheatley, who has seen his role decrease steadily over the last two seasons.
Fargas (6-1, 220) did not have a distinguished college career. Hampered by injuries, he struggled to move up the depth charts at both Michigan and Southern California. He did, however, come on at the end of last season at USC, rushing for more than 120 yards in four of the final six games. He continued to impress at the draft combine by running the 40-yard dash in 4.35 seconds and doing 27 reps on the bench press with 225 pounds.
Justin McCareins, WR, Titans: McCareins is battling Drew Bennett to replace the departed Kevin Dyson (Carolina) in the starting lineup. Both players joined the team in 2001 -- McCareins as a physically impressive fourth-round pick and Bennett as an undrafted free agent who spent a part of his college career playing at quarterback. McCareins missed most of his rookie season due to injury and subsequently slipped behind Bennett on the depth chart. The pecking order has not changed since, but McCareins recently closed the gap with three catches for 57 yards and two touchdowns in the Titans' preseason win over the Bills.
Tony Hollings, RB, Texans: Taken in the second round of the supplemental draft on July 10, Hollings is recovering from an ACL injury suffered last Oct. 1 while playing for Georgia Tech. At the time, he was leading the nation in rushing and scoring, with 633 yards and 11 touchdowns in four games. Had he stayed in college and remained healthy this season, Hollings (5-11, 216) undoubtedly would have been a first-round pick in 2004. Early in camp, there was some doubt about how much he could contribute this season, but he had a solid outing in the Texans' second preseason game, carrying 14 times for 45 yards. Possessing more speed and big-play ability than starter Stacey Mack, Hollings is the Texans' feature back of the future, and if he continues to progress, he may get a shot at that role this season.
Larry Johnson, RB, Chiefs: Apparently not totally convinced that Priest Holmes would fully recover from last season's hip injury, the Chiefs used their first-round pick on Johnson. A big back (6-1, 228) with 4.44 speed, Johnson was a 2,000-yard rusher as a senior at Penn State, but he has yet to make a big impression on Coach Dick Vermeil, who reportedly was not keen about drafting him in the first place. In three preseason games, Johnson has rushed for just 45 yards on 17 carries, and he has fallen behind Derrick Blaylock, a 2001 fifth-round pick, in the competition to be Holmes' backup this season. Holmes, meanwhile, is looking better with each preseason game and is diminishing the value of his backups at the same time. Last Saturday against the Vikings, Holmes had 41 yards on nine carries (4.6 average).
Mike Vanderjagt, K, Colts: The 33-year-old Vanderjagt is the NFL record holder for the highest career field-goal percentage (85.1 percent). In just five NFL seasons, he has averaged 120 points. Last season, however, he scored a career-low 103 points and made a career-low 74.2 percent of his field-goal attempts. His drop in production may be an indication that he is declining with age. The fact that he was critical of coach Tony Dungy and QB Peyton Manning in the offseason may affect his relationships with some teammates, which, in turn, could negatively impact his ability to focus this season. Another concern is that the Colts added free agent Brett Conway in the offseason as competition. Both players have had a rough start to the preseason, making only one of five field-goal attempts (Conway 1-3, Vanderjagt 0-2).
Doug Jolley, TE, Raiders: Jolley started only three games in last year's rookie season, but he still caught 32 balls for 409 yards and two touchdowns. Those numbers should improve this year, as he is expected to begin the season as a starter for the pass-happy Raiders, but impressive rookie Teyo Johnson is also in the mix for some playing time. While Jolley is a promising player, the 6-foot-6, 250-pound Johnson, a former wide receiver and basketball player at Stanford, appears to be a rare talent, and it will be difficult to keep him out of the lineup. In two preseason games, Jolley has two catches for 18 yards, while Johnson has five receptions for 82 yards.
Richard Harris is the Senior Writer and Managing Editor for FantasyFootballExperts.com.