Mr. Rodgers' Neighborhood
Great to be here for a Fantasy Clicks special guest appearance. Lots of good stuff from last night's Packers-Bengals game, and I'd imagine America is waiting breathlessly for analysis on a certain young Packers' quarterback. So here it is: I thought Matt Flynn overcame a few shaky series to play well in the fourth quarter. Strong arm. Future leader. Very impressive.
You also don't want him near your fantasy team. As for the guy under the microscope who everyone was watching, Aaron Rodgers looked solid in his preseason debut. The game plan called for several quick slants and out routes, and Rodgers made the throws. He also connected on a few strong third down passes; two to Donald Driver particularly stood out. His TD toss went to James Jones, who lost his helmet on the ensuing hit but somehow kept his feet and took it to the house, easily the play of the night.
Among Rodgers' negatives -- and there will always be negatives with a young QB under intense pressure -- he threw one interception that bounced off his intended receiver's chest, which clearly wasn't Rodgers' fault. He also made one bad overthrow to a wide-open Jones on the Packers' third possession that should've been a 55-yard touchdown.
But overall, a nice debut for Rodgers, who finished 9-of-15 for 117 yards, with one touchdown and one interception. Of course, he'll still remain under the uncomfortable gaze of the media and Packer fans throughout the season. (And yes, the whole point of that last sentence was to link to those photos, which completely redefine the term "uncomfortable gaze.")
Rodgers wasn't the only Packer who stood out last night. Brandon Jackson (six carries, 44 yards) ran hard while subbing for the injured Ryan Grant. Wideout James Jones had a great night, and not just because of his sensational touchdown. I mean, did anyone else notice how often Rodgers targeted him? It's no coincidence that Jones and Rodgers spent a lot of time working together on the Pack's second-team offense the past couple of seasons. Jones could be worth a late flyer in fantasy drafts.
The Heat is On
A final thought on Rodgers: Has there ever been a player under more pressure in the history of the NFL? It's tough to come up with a worthy comparison -- Steve Young replacing Joe Montana? Brian Griese supplanting John Elway? Certainly no player has had to step in for a legend after a wildly publicized un-retirement and resulting media firestorm. This will be the first time the Packers have had a new QB under center since 1992, and despite his nice preseason debut, it's hard to envision Rodgers having much more than a mediocre season. I list him outside the Top 12 fantasy quarterbacks, making him a backup in most leagues.
The Bengals Were At The Game, Too
On the other side of the ball, the Bengals' offense under Carson Palmer got off to a sputtering start before clicking for a few long drives. With Rudi Johnson out with a hamstring injury, Kenny Watson and Chris Perry ran well -- Perry especially looked strong while hammering his way to a six-yard touchdown. It's doubtful either Perry or Watson would be a true feature back if Johnson is out for an extended period, but the pair could make a useful tandem if called upon. As for the receivers, Chad Johnson played through a sore ankle and recorded one catch (and one memorable sideline interview with Suzy Kolber -- unfortunately, no online video has surfaced yet). T.J.Houshmandzadeh missed the game with a hamstring injury that isn't believed to be serious.
One other player who stood out was new tight end Ben Utecht (four catches, 34 yards), who was targeted numerous times by Carson Palmer and scored the Bengals' first touchdown. He was always solid in Indianapolis, even in a limited role. This will be the first season Palmer has had any kind of weapon at tight end, which means Utecht's fantasy value is on the rise.
Five Guys I Absolutely Will Not Draft
Everybody has their lists of sleepers and busts. Me? I usually find a few guys I try to avoid in drafts at all costs. Here are five guys in no particular order I'm staying away from on draft day.
1) Jon Kitna, QB, Lions: With Mike Martz now running the offense in San Francisco, the Lions will install a run-first attack. So you're telling me I should consider a mistake-prone passer who's taken a ton of big hits and now has even fewer chances to amass yards and touchdowns? Pass.
2) Edgerrin James, RB, Cardinals: It's always good to avoid aging running backs so you're not the one burned during the season they run out of gas. To his credit, James actually showed he had something left in the tank last season. This year I'm even more skeptical.
3) Julius Jones, RB, Seahawks: Sometimes a change of scenery can be good. But I can't forget the fact that Jones wasn't very good for the Cowboys, and Dallas has a much better O-line than he'll find in Seattle
4) Marvin Harrison, WR, Colts: It hurts to say it, but we're nearing the end of the line for Indy's mainstay wideout. Last year's knee injury was serious, and even though he's reportedly looking good this preseason, the Colt's passing attack now runs through Reggie Wayne, and even Dallas Clark.
5) Antonio Gates, TE, Chargers: It's not that I think Gates will be terrible, but he's battling a lingering toe injury. That, coupled with an abundance of productive tight ends around the league, makes me balk at using an early pick on Gates.
Whatchoo Talkin' About?
Willis McGahee's knee injury is apparently more serious than we thought. He underwent minor knee surgery, but is still expected to be ready for the start of the season. Most troubling, it's the same knee that was grotesquely injured in the 2003 Fiesta Bowl. A running back with a knee problem before the season even starts? Let someone else draft him in your fantasy league.
It's time to lower you ranking for Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, who will be without his most reliable receiver, Bobby Engram, for the first part of the season. Reports say Engram will miss up to two months with a cracked shoulder. A shame. The 35-year-old Engram has always been one of my favorite quiet, under-the-radar receivers. He is coming off a career-best 94-catch season (come to think of it, maybe last year wasn't so quiet?), but don't expect him to approach that level in 2008. With WR Deion Branch likely shelved until October with a knee injury, Hasselbeck will be forced to rely heavily on the dynamic duo of Nate Burleson and the unproven Ben Obomanu for the first part of season. Ouch.
Today's trivia question is a good one for any football fan -- especially an alumnus from one of the correct answers. Without further ado: What four universities have produced both a U.S. President and a Super Bowl-winning quarterback?
Give 'em a Start
Shifting over to baseball, plenty of baseball's big guns take the mound on Tuesday, including the Rays' Scott Kazmir, the Cubs' Rich Harden, the Mets' Johan Santana, the Giants' Tim Lincecum and the Reds' Edinson Volquez. Obviously, this could go down as a terrible Tuesday for MLB offenses.
Are there any hidden gems among the all of this elite pitching? For my money, I'd take a shot at A's rookie call-up Gio Gonzalez. Yes, he's pitching against the white-hot Rays and Kazmir. And yes, it's only his second career big-league start. But in his debut against the Blue Jays Gonzalez showed flashes of the greatness the A's are expecting of him. He gave up a first-inning, three-run bomb to Rod Barajas (Rod Barajas?), but later retired 15 of his final 16 Blue Jays to finish with four runs allowed in six innings pitched. He'll be with the A's for the rest of the year, and I think he'll go toe-to-toe with Kazmir in a pitchers' duel tonight in Oakland.
If you need to look deeper, the Red Sox have called up knuckleballer Charlie Zink, who, ironically, takes the spot of knuckleballer Tim Wakefield. Zink is 13-4 with a 2.89 for Triple-A Pawtucket this year, and if the knuckler is dancing he could fare well again the White Sox tonight.
Can Eva Nurse Him Back to Health?
Awful news for the Rays: AL Rookie of the Year candidate Evan Longoria went on the 15-day DL Monday with a broken wrist after Mariners' closer J.J. Putz drilled him with fastball on Thursday. It's a massive loss. Longoria is hitting .278 with 22 homers in 104 games since his promotion from Triple-A. Willie Aybar, who most people forget opened the season as the Rays starting third baseman, is likely to fill the void. If you've got Longoria on your fantasy team and need a replacement, might as well grab Aybar and hope for the best.
How about a moment of silence for the Rangers' erratic closer C.J. Wilson, who's done for the year after undergoing elbow surgery. It's 37-year-old Eddie Guardado who's next in line to get the saves in Arlington for the rest of the season.
Staying in the AL West, Huston Street is officially out as the closer in Oakland. He's posted a mediocre 4.20 ERA in 2008 while notching 18 saves and six blown chances, and lately he's been brutal. The A's put Street on waivers this week but no new team was able to complete a trade with the A's, which means Street will remain in Oakland for the rest of the year. Ninth inning duties will likely fall to rookie Brad Zeigler, with Joey Devine also in the mix.
The universities that have produced both a Super Bowl-winning QB and a U.S. President:
University of Michigan (Tom Brady, Gerald Ford)
Miami University (Ben Roethlisberger, Benjamin Harrison)
Stanford University (John Elway and Jim Plunkett, Herbert Hoover)
U.S. Naval Academy (Roger Staubach, Jimmy Carter)
Come One, Come All
At long last, SI.com has a fantasy football game, complete with all of the drafts, waiver wires, stats and analysis you need. Take the grand tour here and sign up a league. Heck, sign up two leagues if you want. We'll be waiting.
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