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Lessons From Last Year

Is McNabb this year's Culpepper? And other burning questions

Posted: Wednesday August 29, 2007 11:26AM; Updated: Wednesday August 29, 2007 3:01PM
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Philadelphia Eagles' QB Donovan McNabb.
Philadelphia Eagles' QB Donovan McNabb.
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
Fantasy Football: 2007 Preview
RANKINGS: Top 200 | QB | RB | WR | TE | K | D
GEORGOPOULOS: Indiv. Def. Player rankings
SI: Complete fantasy football preview
SI: Analyzing all 32 running back situations
SI: Next elite QB? | Take top QBs early?
SI: More burning questions for 2007
PROTRADE: Fan-driven stat projections
CARROLL: Previewing potential injury situations
CARROLL: Team-by-team list of injury risks
QUINTONG: Preseason Burning Questions: AFC
QUINTONG: Preseason Burning Questions: NFC
QUINTONG: Who should go No. 2 overall?
GEORGOPOULOS: Drafting kickers, defenses
FLOWERS: Breakout third-year wide receivers
FLOWERS: Key QB and RB handcuff selections
HICKEY: Injured players on the rebound
BEACOM: Training Camp Battle: Minnesota RB
BEACOM: Training Camp Battle: Tampa Bay QB
BEACOM: Training Camp Battle: Denver TE
BEACOM: Training Camp Battle: Dallas K
BEACOM: Training Camp Battle: Cleveland QB
BEACOM: Training Camp Battle: Green Bay RB
BEACOM: Training Camp Battle: N.Y. Giants RB
BEACOM: Training Camp Battle: New England WR
NAZAREK: The Stud RB Theory of drafting
EPSTEIN: All 10-Foot Pole fantasy team
MOCK DRAFT: Aug. 6 -- online experts
MOCK DRAFT: Sports Illustrated's experts
FANTASY DRAFT: SI.com's Experts League Draft

"Injury, schminjury" seemed to be the consensus about Daunte Culpepper going into 2006. Knee damage (three torn ligaments) from the previous season wasn't about to get in the way of a stellar year, so cocksure fantasy owners drafted Culpepper around the fifth round. But four games, 21 sacks and just two TDs later, Culpepper was on Miami's bench, wishing he hadn't rushed his return. His example should raise doubts about Donovan McNabb, who is the same age as Culpepper and has had virtually the same time to rehab from a comparable injury. Sure, McNabb looked good in his first preseason action, but Culpepper's 2006 preseason, in which he had a 93.5 passer rating, turned out to be terribly misleading. McNabb's massive upside is tempting, but so was Culpepper's. If you select Donovan McNabb, draft a good backup.

Is Ahman Green this year's Edgerrin James?

Last year it looked as though Arizona's signing of top free agent Edgerrin James, then 28, from the Colts would bring some life to Arizona's lackluster running game. But those pricey new wheels (which were actually old wheels) couldn't break free behind the Cardinals' shoddy offensive line, which had ranked 32nd in rushing in 2005 (and wound up 30th last season). Houston's situation with Green (right) looks uncomfortably similar. Even with the addition of the 30-year-old free agent, the Texans' 21st-ranked rushing attack won't improve much behind a line that boasts zero inspiring acquisitions through the draft and free agency. Further, Houston's offense is in transition with new QB Matt Schaub and still only has one dangerous wide receiver, Andre Johnson, to stretch the field. In five years only one Texans back has ever topped 1,100 yards. Green's situation is as bad as James's -- at least.

Is Cedric Benson or Joseph Addai this year's Ronnie Brown?

With Ricky Williams gone in 2006, Brown was set to get more carries in Miami in his second NFL season. He got the carries -- but he didn't do much with them, totaling just 1,008 rushing yards. This year Benson and Addai are young backs who will get more touches after the departure of, respectively, Thomas Jones from the Bears and Dominic Rhodes from the Colts. But really, that's where the comparison ends. Benson, unlike Brown, thrived as a solo back in college. (Brown split the load at Auburn with Cadillac Williams.) And while Addai's carries will increase, Tony Dungy will still rotate backs and keep Addai rested. Here's an added bonus for both: With the exception of Indianapolis's Tarik Glenn, who retired, their teams' Super Bowl offensive lines will return intact. Expect bigger numbers from these two.

Are Randy Moss, Darrell Jackson and Joe Horn this year's Terrell Owens, Javon Walker and Deion Branch?

A change of locale was supposed to be just what receivers Owens, Walker and Branch needed in 2006. Owens hated his team, Walker hated his contract, and any Branch fantasy owner had to hate the way the ball was spread around in the Patriots' offense. But none of the above met expectations in his new home -- which should come as no surprise. A new team means a new quarterback, a new coach, a new system. It's the rare free-agent WR who thrives in Year One in his new home. We've already been down this road with the Patriots' Moss, who arrived in Oakland two years ago seemingly ready for a monster season and instead began his slow decline in production. Don't expect the Falcons' Horn, 35, or the 49ers' Jackson, 28, to break the pattern. -- Adam Duerson

Who will be this year's Marques Colston?

Odds are, no one. The seventh-round pick, who finished in the top 25 in every major receiving category his rookie season, was an exceptional case. There are, however, several unheralded players who will likely go undrafted by fantasy owners but deserve attention. Watch their progress and pluck them from the waiver wire early. They are: WR James Jones, a Packers third-round pick from San Jose State who has developed an early rapport with Brett Favre, enabling Green Bay to cut Robert Ferguson; second-year RB DeDe Dorsey, who picks up the carries in Indianapolis that don't go to Joseph Addai; and Dolphins RB Jesse Chatman, a fifth-year veteran who was out of the league last year and has never had fantasy significance but is pushing Ronnie Brown for carries -- in part because he knows Cam Cameron's system from their three seasons together in San Diego. -- David Sabino

Is Larry Johnson due for a breakdown?

LJ set an NFL record with 416 carries last year, which set off alarms because the other four players to rush 400 or more times in a 16-game season -- Jamal Anderson, Eric Dickerson, Eddie George and James Wilder -- saw significant drops in production the following year. If you include postseason carries in season totals, the trend is worse. Of those nine backs who rushed more often than LJ, only Terrell Davis ran for more yardage the next year. Throw in other Chiefs negatives, such as the loss of G Will Shields and T Jordan Black; their inexperienced skill players; and LJ's long holdout, and drafting Johnson high looks like a risky proposition. -- D.S.

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