Back Page: Firing up the fantasy radar, Part III
Updated: Thursday June 24, 2004 11:36PM
By Bob Harris, Special to SI.com
This is the third in a four-part series offering Fantasy owners a team-by-team preview of at least one situation that merits their attention when training camps open next month.
Miami: Jay Fiedler's grip on the starting quarterback job is tenuous at best following an offseason trade for Philadelphia's A.J. Feeley. However, Fiedler's .679 winning percentage as a starter ranks behind only Tom Brady (.739) and Kurt Warner (.700) among active players with at least 25 career starts.
After getting off to a slow start in initial minicamp workouts, the strong-armed Feeley reportedly began to assert himself the first week of June. While both men will receive an equal number of reps when camp opens July 31, I'm starting to believe Feeley will be the man under center come September.
Minnesota: According to observers, the Vikings will make a concerted effort to stretch the field this season -- even more so than in past seasons. After all, Randy Moss is the best deep route-runner in the league, free-agent acquisition Marcus Robinson is also an effective deep threat and Kelly Campbell is one of the fastest receivers in the league.
And Daunte Culpepper loves throwing the deep ball. Can you say fantasy gold?
New England: Receiver David Givens enjoyed a breakout season in 2003, finishing the regular season with 34 catches for 510 yards and six touchdowns. Givens caught five passes for 69 yards and a touchdown in the Patriots' Super Bowl win over the Panthers. In the Pats' 24-14 win over the Colts in the AFC Championship Game, he led the team with eight catches for 68 yards and a touchdown.
Based on his status as the Pats' most physical receiver (and best end-zone target), Givens, who has been compared to the Steelers' Hines Ward by a Patriots assistant coach, is an excellent late-round prospect in most drafts.
New Orleans: A former wideout with very soft hands, tight end Boo Williams enjoyed a breakout 2003 and emerged as one of the Saints' most reliable playmakers with veteran Ernie Conwell sidelined the final six games of the season with a fractured ankle.
Conwell expects to return at full speed this summer, but he realizes Williams is the primary threat at the position.
"Last year, Boo showed a greater maturity level," Conwell said. "Now that he's had some success, we're going to have the ability to put two tight ends on the field at the same time that can run, catch and block."
Of course, one of those tight ends -- Williams, who reportedly added 20 pounds of muscle over the offseason without losing any speed -- looks like a guy on the rise while the other's best days appear to be behind him.
New York Giants: Although Eli Manning's arrival prompted the Giants to release Kerry Collins, the subsequent addition of veteran free agent -- and two-time NFL MVP -- Kurt Warner seems to cloud the youngster's immediate future.
Some observers believe Warner will start early in the season before giving way to Manning once the newcomer fully understands the offense.
Along those lines, head coach Tom Coughlin recently noted: "I told [Manning] this on the day we drafted him that he's the future of the New York Giants at quarterback, whether it's game one, game eight, game 15."
Based on recent workouts, I suspect it'll be much closer to Week 1 than 15.
New York Jets: In the wake of Curtis Conway's failure to play up to expectations and Wayne Chrebet's questionable future, the Jets needed a threat to play opposite Santana Moss. Since Moss is so good at getting open inside, the Jets needed a big receiver they can target in the red zone as well as hit for the big play, and Justin McCareins certainly fits the bill.
The 6-2, 215-pounder played three years with the Titans after being drafted in the fourth round of the 2001 draft. He has registered 69 receptions for 1,202 yards and nine touchdowns in 36 regular season games played.
This seems like a good fit and McCareins could easily outperform expectations.
Oakland: Ex-Cowboy Troy Hambrick joins former Steeler Amos Zereoue as veteran tailbacks competing to replace Charlie Garner as Oakland's primary rushing weapon. Tyrone Wheatley and Justin Fargas also are in the mix.
While many observers expected Hambrick to step right in as the starter, the Contra Costa Times said the notion that Hambrick has secured a starting job is an assumption no one -- including new head coach Norv Turner -- in Oakland is ready to make just yet.
"He sees himself as a tailback. We're going to give him every opportunity to play tailback and see what he does best," Turner said of Hambrick. "We have a bunch of guys who see themselves as the starting tailback. When you have that kind of competition, it gives you the opportunity to come up with a featured runner. That's our goal."
For what it's worth, Turner also questioned Hambrick's current level of conditioning, and The Associated Press characterized Wheatley as the favorite Wednesday.
Philadelphia: As easy as it might be to get caught up in Terrell Owens' arrival, I've got my eye on tight end L.J. Smith, who flashed considerable talent as a rookie and is said to be gaining a better grasp of the West Coast offense.
As the Trenton Times recently noted, Smith has Jeremy Shockey-like speed and size that will allow the Eagles to get him in coverage mismatches with slower linebackers and smaller safeties.
Getting back to Owens, SI.com's Peter King believes the former 49er's presence on the outside means Smith is likely to enjoy single-coverage almost exclusively with fewer strong safeties playing over the top of him.
While there's still some question as to whether this is the year he truly breaks out, most observers agree Smith is definitely gaining ground.
That's all for now, check back next week when I point the radar towards Pittsburgh, St. Louis, San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle, Tampa Bay, Tennessee and Washington.