Revisiting 2003 predictions: Free agents
Posted: Thursday February 12, 2004 8:50PM; Updated: Thursday February 12, 2004 8:50PM
By Bob Harris, Special to SI.com
This is the second in a three-part series reviewing predictions made last year. This week's target: free agents.
Rather than go into detail on all of last year's free agents, we'll keep the focus on some of the bigger names, players most likely to have an impact on a given owner's fantasy season.
The following players are listed in by position in alphabetical order. You'll find a brief synopsis of the opinions I offered on each last heading into last season; what went right; what went wrong and what the future might hold for all those featured.
Jeff Blake, Arizona Cardinals
What Went Right: Not a heck of a lot. Blake ultimately lost his starting job to unproven youngster Josh McCown and was released by new head coach Dennis Green last month.
What Went Wrong: According to at least one published account, Blake wasn't just bad, he also created problems in the locker room. Teammates reportedly started calling him "Leon" in reference to the me-first character from the Budweiser ads. Blake has always been that kind of player, and some former teammates in Baltimore said they were glad he left after the team did not bring him back. Those Ravens players say Blake would often call plays in games that were not practiced on the field. In Arizona, he didn't always know the plays.
What The Future Holds: See "What Went Right."
Jake Delhomme, Carolina Panthers
What Went Right: Delhomme turned out to be one of the top free-agent pickups of the year, leading -- and I do mean leading -- the Panthers to a 14-6 record and their first Super Bowl. He showed a knack for winning close games, eight times leading the team to winning scores on their final possession. An effective power-rushing attack clearly factored into his success, as did Steve Smith's emergence as a legitimate big-play threat.
What Went Wrong: Other than the fact he wasn't actually the opening day starter, any fantasy owner sharp enough to snag him late in last year's draft certainly isn't complaining.
What The Future Holds: Delhomme clearly has locked himself in as Carolina's long-term starter. According to those who follow the team closely, the Panthers will try to make sure he's around for the foreseeable future this offseason when they look to extend his contract, which currently ends after the 2004 season.
Jake Plummer, Denver Broncos
What Went Right: Posted career highs in passer rating (91.2) and TD-to-interception ratio (15-7). And according to the Sports Xchange, his ability to make plays on the run is something Denver hadn't seen since John Elway was playing.
What Went Wrong: Missed four consecutive games with shoulder and foot injuries; missed a fifth start when Shanahan held him out of the regular-season finale as a precautionary measure.
What The Future Holds: Still has plenty of room left to grow in Shanahan's system, but needs the team's receiving corps to pick it up a notch in order to maximize potential.
Kordell Stewart, Chicago Bears
What Went Right: Offensive coordinator John Shoop tried to work to Stewart's strengths by keeping the ball in the veteran signal caller's hands as much as possible.
What Went Wrong: Stewart came up small despite Shoop's efforts. The former Steeler appeared in only nine games -- seven as a starter.
What The Future Holds: Rex Grossman's solid play last year probably means Stewart will spend most of his future Sundays toting a clipboard and wearing a ball cap.
Stephen Davis, Carolina Panthers
What Went Right: Carried the ball 382 times and set a franchise record with 1,444 yards in his first season as a Panther.
What Went Wrong: Injuries cost him two full games and cut into his touches significantly in two others.
What The Future Holds: Will be a huge factor again in the Carolina offense next season. However, many observers believe he'll get fewer carries in 2004 with DeShaun Foster expected to be at full speed from day one.
Stacey Mack, Houston Texans
What Went Right: The Texans improved their per-game rushing average to 103.2 yards per game.
What Went Wrong: Mack had nothing to do with that improvement after losing his starting job to Domanick Davis, a fourth-round draft pick, a month into the season. Mack ultimately finished the season on injured reserve and missed the last three games with an inflamed left toe.
What The Future Holds: Mack, who originally signed a one-year deal with the Texans, is unlikely to be asked back for another season.
Emmitt Smith, Arizona Cardinals
What Went Right: I suppose that depends on your point of view. For me, the fact an injured and ineffective Smith gave way to Shipp was rather fortuitous.
What Went Wrong: For those counting on him to come up with one more productive season, the fact an injured and ineffective Smith gave way to Shipp was rather unfortunate.
What The Future Holds: According to published reports, Green likes the idea of resurrecting the NFL's career rushing leader -- a development that some believe might provide additional motivation for Smith to come back for the second and final season on his contract.
David Boston, San Diego Chargers
What Went Right: Overcame nagging injuries to finish the season with a team-high 880 yards and seven TDs on 70 catches. Had two games with two TDs and more than 100 yards.
What Went Wrong: It's safe to assume the Chargers were looking for more -- in terms of both performance and attitude -- when they signed him to a $47 million deal. Boston appeared to go out of his way to irritate Schottenheimer as often as possible. The process started early, with the mercurial wideout testing Schottenheimer's "no-practice, no-play" rule in the week leading up to the regular-season opener.
We're talking about a guy who served a one-game suspension following a run-in with an assistant coach; a guy who once asked defensive teammates to go easy on him in practice because his recently pierced nipple was still sore; and a guy who slipped away from a game he missed due to injury without sitting in on the postgame lecture as expected.
What The Future Holds: Until he really believes it's Schottenheimer's way or the highway, his future in San Diego will remain in question.
Laveranues Coles, Washington Redskins
What Went Right: Got off to a strong start en route to an 82-catch, 1,204-yard season.
What Went Wrong: Unable to produce consistently over the entire season, due in part to a very sore toe that slowed him noticeably down the stretch, and perhaps to a greater degree by the shortcomings inherent in Steve Spurrier's offense.
What The Future Holds: According to those who follow the team closely, Coles has a terrific work ethic, can make tough catches over the middle and is virtually uncoverable on crossing patterns. Although it remains to be seen exactly how the new coaching staff will use him, I suspect Joe Gibbs and crew will greatly appreciate the attributes Coles brings to the table.
Curtis Conway, New York Jets
What Went Right: Started 15 games, pulling in 46 passes for 640 yards with two touchdowns.
What Went Wrong: The 33-year old started slowly and didn't really come into his own until late in the year when Wayne Chrebet shut it down for the year with concussion-related problems. For what it's worth, those observers pointing out he'd lost a step had it right. Conway finished the 2003 season with just one catch over 40 yards or more.
What The Future Holds: Conway will be in the mix, but his diminishing speed and skills all but guarantee diminished totals in 2004.
Brandon Stokley, Indianapolis Colts
What Went Right: Once he was healthy, Stokley gave the Colts a fearless -- and very productive -- threat over the middle. Finished the season with six touchdown catches despite 10 injury-related DNPs.
What Went Wrong: Wasn't able to go full speed until Week 13.
What The Future Holds: I hate to be a smart aleck, but ... if he can avoid the kind of injury woes he suffered during his tenure in Baltimore, the underrated Stokley would give Indianapolis a fearless threat over the middle.
Derrius Thompson, Miami Dolphins
What Went Right: I'll have to get back with you on this one.
What Went Wrong: Thompson was a major free-agent bust for the Dolphins, finishing with just 26 catches for 359 yards with no touchdowns. His inability to get the job done ultimately prompted team officials to re-sign Oronde Gadsden at midseason.
What The Future Holds: Surprisingly enough, the Dolphins plan to bring Thompson back in 2004 -- if he's willing to adjust his contract to their satisfaction.
Desmond Clark, Chicago Bears
What Went Right: Yes. That might be as vanilla a prediction as I've made in my 11-year career as a fantasy info guy. Nonetheless, Clark finished the season with 44 passes for 433 yards and two touchdowns while the rest of the team's tight ends pulled in 11 catches -- all by Dustin Lyman -- for 80 yards.
What Went Wrong: Injuries -- along with an inconsistent and ineffective passing attack -- kept him from blowing away my projected totals.
What The Future Holds: Pro Football Weekly suggested that new offensive coordinator Terry Shea -- an import from Kansas City -- wants to stress the tight end in the passing game. Although he'll never be mistaken for Tony Gonzalez, Clark is a converted wideout who is capable of getting past most of the league's linebackers in one-on-one coverage.
Jay Riemersma, Pittsburgh Steelers
What Went Right: In 2002, Steelers tight ends caught only 18 of the team's 350 receptions. They upped that total to 24 out of a possible 306.
What Went Wrong: Riemersma, who missed four full games due to a variety of injuries, was only responsible for 10 of those 24 catches.
What The Future Holds: Despite his disappointing 2003 season, team officials still like Riemersma's ability to get open over the middle and he's expected to figure prominently into their plans in 2004.
John Hall, Washington Redskins
What Went Right: Hall certainly outperformed my expectations, hitting 76 percent of his field goals without missing from inside the 40-yard line until December. He did especially well on longer attempts, hitting six of nine from 40-49 yards and four of seven from 50 and beyond.
What Went Wrong: No go on the chinstrap.
What The Future Holds: The arrival of a staff intent on improving the team's overall offensive output has to be good news for Hall fans.
Rian Lindell, Buffalo Bills
What Went Right: Those swirling winds were never really a factor.
What Went Wrong: Only six NFL place-kickers finished 2003 with fewer than the 24 attempts Lindell had, which was certainly no fault of his own. But the two misses that cost Buffalo a win against Houston -- a 12-10 loss -- fall squarely on his shoulders.
What The Future Holds: A new coaching staff and offensive philosophy are just what the doctor ordered.
That's all for now. Check back next time, when I'll review some of last year's key sleeper predictions.