Fly By Night Away From Here
Santonio Holmes: Rick Stewart/Getty Images
It only stands to reason: If the Jets are partly to blame for the NFL delaying the release of its 2010 schedule -- thanks to the fallout from that apparent mishap involving the secret coin toss to decide which New York franchise would host the inaugural game at the new Meadowlands -- then the Jets, in turn, should go above and beyond the call of duty to provide substitute fodder for today's Fantasy Clicks: Enter the eye-opening acquisitions of LaDainian Tomlinson in March ... and now Santonio Holmes in April. Hmmmm, methinks they're off the hook in this realm.
New Jersey Turnpike-Style Revelations
Yes, Holmes coming to the Big Apple to play for the Super Bowl-or-bust Jets represents landmark news in real-world football, but does it have a similarly profound impact in fantasyland? After all, he'll be transitioning from a veteran quarterback (Ben Roethlisberger) who attempted a career-high 506 passes last season ... to a second-year signal-caller (Mark Sanchez) with only 364 passes on his entire professional résumé. Oh, and did we mention the Jets are a run-first, run-second operation under throwback coach Rex Ryan, especially when the weather turns bad? Just for kicks, here's a Revelations-style breakdown of Santonio's first go-round on the Broadway stage:
What His Teammates/Fantasy Owners Will Loathe: There's really no way of getting around Holmes' four-game suspension for violating the league's drug policy. Not only is Holmes receiva non grata for Weeks 1-4 ... but he'll likely struggle to find his proverbial sea legs in the Jets' fifth (and maybe) sixth game. That leaves only 8-9 weeks for Holmes to reclaim his Pittsburgh perch as a high-end WR2 in fantasy circles. Ouch!
What He'll Loathe: If Holmes had one of those Matrix-style cameras in his head, he'd see Jerricho Cotchery to his left, Braylon Edwards to his right, tight end Dustin Keller crowding his space on the inside and any combination of Shonn Greene, Leon Washington or Tomlinson in the backfield. In other words, how is he going to separate himself from the pack to earn Sanchez's unrequited trust? Look, no one's saying this is a case of too many cooks in the kitchen ... but it'll be near-impossible for any receiver to stand out with an offense that, by design, chews the clock and averaged only 63.7 plays per game last season (Weeks 1-8).
What He'll Loathe, Part II: Yes, Holmes certainly has a greater track record than Edwards or Cotchery; but physically, it's a three-horse race. And given his lack of rapport with Sanchez to date, it'll be extremely difficult to crack 60 catches this season.
What He'll Like: Spinning a negative into a positive, it's safe to say Holmes won't be double-teamed at any point this season; and regardless of the defense, he's still one of the NFL's most dangerous receivers "in space." Furthermore, I'm guessing Holmes will enjoy the limelight of the Tri-State Area and the country's biggest media market.
What'll He'll Love: With all due respect to the 2000 Washington Redskins -- a championship-contending fraud that bombed amid the over-the-hill signings of Bruce Smith, Deion Sanders and the seemingly ageless Jeff George -- the 2010 Jets, barring catastrophic injuries, are set up for great success. The AFC East should be a cakewalk (sorry, Pats) and the Colts, Chargers, Broncos, Texans and Titans may be imperceptibly weaker from last season. So, at the very least, Holmes will enjoy being the de facto 4:15 p.m. game on CBS every Sunday, and the host team for one or two AFC playoff games. Maybe he'll even get to reprise his role as Super Bowl hero.
What'll Make Him Cringe: I will bet an entire year's compensation (from what I earn writing Fantasy Clicks, rather) that Sanchez won't throw 35 passes in any game this season. As a result, Holmes should never eclipse his standard-bearing performance of 2009 (Week 13: 8 catches, 149 yards, 1 TD). Do the math: Fewer games to shine + more mouths to feed = mediocre production.
What'll Make Him Cringe, Part II: Sanchez will probably make a Pro Bowl or two by the time his career wraps in 11-13 years; but right here, right now, he cannot touch Roethlisberger's passing consistency. As a result, the over/under for Holmes posting two or less catches in 2010 ... is four games.
Early projection: With only 12 games this fall (assuiming perfect health), I'd say Holmes catches 47 balls for 683 yards and four touchdowns. (Yawn)
The Other Side Of The Coin
Lost in the Holmes-to-New-York hysteria lies one crucial detail: Mike Wallace, the Steelers' No. 3 wideout, could surpass the fantasy numbers of Holmes, Edwards and Cotchery this season -- in standard-scoring and Points Per Reception leagues. Yes, Wallace only finished with 39 catches for 756 yards as a rookie; yes, he only caught more than four passes in one game (7 catches for 102 yards in Week 3); and yes, Wallace still must contend/compete with the indefatigable Hines Ward (95 catches, 1,167 yards, 6 TDs in '09) when it comes to earning Ben Roethlisberger's trust ON the field (the reverse likely holds true off the field). But if any player is primed to double his receptions total from last season ... it's the ultra-athletic, highly versatile Wallace, who pulled down the game-winning TD against the Packers in Week 14. Plus, he's earned that battlefield promotion with offensive coordinator Bruce Arians, thanks to Holmes' abrupt departure.
You've Come A Long Way, Baby!
Everyone knows fantasy football has grown by leaps and bounds in the last 10 years (and will continue to mushroom throughout this decade, as well); but it's hard to truly appreciate just how deep the talent reservoir has gotten at certain positions -- tight end, for example -- until you stumble on this blast from the past: The 2001 CNNSI.com fantasy football cheatsheet which, ahem, boasts the following top-10 tight ends for the preseason.
1. Tony Gonzalez, Chiefs
2. Shannon Sharpe, Ravens
3. Freddie Jones, Chargers
4. Frank Wycheck, Titans
5. Chad Lewis, Eagles
6. Jay Riemersma, Bills
7. Kyle Brady, Jaguars
8. Wesley Walls, Panthers
9. Bubba Franks, Packers
10. Ken Dilger, Colts
Verdict: To be fair, this cheatsheet woefully underestimated the contributions of Byron Chamberlain, Desmond Clark, Eric Johnson and Marcus Pollard (8 TDs with the Colts) heading into the 2001 season; but the point remains that after Gonzalez and Sharpe (two likely Hall of Famers), the talent pool had an absurd dropoff. And to be honest, you could make a case the current No. 14 player in my TE rankings (Oakland's Zach Miller -- below) might've cracked the top-3 nine years ago ... especially since JaMarcus Russell was merely a junior at Williamson High in Mobile, Ala.
Where Mountain Men Runneth, Catcheth
Here's an early, early listing of the top 20 tight ends for 2010:
1. Dallas Clark, Colts
2. Vernon Davis, 49ers
3. Jason Witten, Cowboys
4. Antonio Gates, Chargers
5. Brent Celek, Eagles
6. Tony Gonzalez, Falcons
7. Jermichael Finley, Packers
8. Kellen Winslow, Jr., Buccaneers
9. Owen Daniels, Texans
10. Visanthe Shiancoe, Vikings
11. Greg Olsen, Bears (the Martz Effect is too daunting)
12. John Carlson, Seahawks
13. Dustin Keller, Jets
14. Zach Miller, Raiders
15. Brandon Pettigrew, Lions (would be higher if no ACL recovery)
16. Fred Davis/Chris Cooley, Redskins
17. David Thomas/Jeremy Shockey, Saints
18. Todd Heap, Ravens
19. Heath Miller, Steelers
20. Kevin Boss, Giants/Jared Cook, Titans (tie)
Rookies To Watch: Jermaine Gresham, Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez
On Boldin Pond
The way I see it, Anquan Boldin's fantasy prospects for the coming season were neither helped nor hindered following his March 5 trade to the Ravens. On the plus side, Boldin instantly becomes Baltimore's No. 1 receiving target, while joining forces with one of the NFL's best under-26 quarterbacks (Joe Flacco). And from an Arizona perspective, he no longer has to look over his shoulder at WRs Steve Breaston and Early Doucet -- two emerging fantasy forces for the Cards -- let alone worry about the development of embattled QB Matt Leinart.
On the negative side, Boldin must understand the Ravens are a run-first offense in September, October and November ... and a run-first, run-second operation in December and January; and even when Baltimore feels the urge to pass against quality defenses, running back Ray Rice will garner plenty of touches in that realm, as well. Speaking of touches, I'm quite certain that recent re-signee Derrick Mason (but not necessarily Donte Stallworth) will catch more balls than Boldin in 4-5 games, minimum. After all, Mason remains one of the most athletic -- and dependable -- receivers in the league ... and his long-standing rapport with Flacco won't likely vanish amid Boldin's presence. (This just in: AB gets injured alot, too.)
Verdict: It's wayyyyyyy to early to set anything in stone -- especially before Baltimore's schedule becomes public in April -- but I have Boldin down for 83 catches, 1,138 yards and 8 touchdowns in 2010. Simply put, Boldin will catch fewer balls and rack up fewer yards with his new team ... but the potential for more TDs is certainly there, assuming Ray Rice doesn't score more than five times from 30-plus yards out.
Into The Great Wide Open
Factoring in Boldin's move to Baltimore, along with Antonio Bryant's signing with Cincinnati, here's a revision of the top 25 wide receivers -- excluding any potential rookie stars:
1. Andre Johnson, Texans
2. Larry Fitzgerald, Cardinals
3. Greg Jennings, Packers
4. Vincent Jackson, Chargers
5. Reggie Wayne, Colts
6. Roddy White, Falcons
7. Calvin Johnson, Lions
8. Brandon Marshall, Broncos (ranking predates Fins trade -- we'll tackle this next week)
9. Randy Moss, Patriots
10. Sidney Rice, Vikings
11. DeSean Jackson, Eagles
12. Marques Colston, Saints
13. Miles Austin, Cowboys
14. Anquan Boldin, Ravens
15. Michael Crabtree, 49ers
16. Steve Smith, Panthers
17. Dwayne Bowe, Chiefs
18. Chad Ochocinco, Bengals
19. Mike Sims-Walker, Jaguars
20. Jerricho Cotchery, Jets
21. Antonio Bryant, Bengals
22. Percy Harvin, Vikings
23. Robert Meachem, Saints
24. Devon Aromashodu, Bears
25. Kenny Britt, Titans
Into The Great Wide Open, Part II
While we're at it, might as well list the next-best 25 WRs in fantasyland:
26. Hines Ward, Steelers
27. Derrick Mason, Ravens
28. Mike Wallace, Steelers
29. Laurent Robinson, Rams
30. T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Seahawks
31. Braylon Edwards, Jets
32. Jeremy Maclin, Eagles
33. Pierre Garcon, Colts
34. Steve Breaston, Cardinals
35. Chris Chambers, Chiefs
36. Donald Driver, Packers
37. Steve Smith, Giants
38. Lee Evans, Bills
39. Julian Edelman, Patriots
40. Nate Burleson, Lions
41. Mario Manningham, Giants
42. Kevin Walter, Texans
43. Donnie Avery, Rams
44. Santonio Holmes, Jets
45. Hakeem Nicks, Giants
46. Roy Williams, Cowboys
47. Austin Collie, Colts
48. Early Doucet, Cardinals
49. Lance Moore, Saints
50. Brandon Tate, Patriots
Note: Coming off major knee surgery, I am not expecting Patriots WR Wes Welker to be fully healthy until mid-November, at the earliest. If uninjured, he would've easily cracked the
A Rational Rant From An Irrational Being
Sam Bradford: Ronald Martinez/Getty Images ... Tim Couch: Donald Miralle/Getty Images
In last week's Fantasy Clicks, I genuinely promised to avoid further Sam Bradford talk until after the draft. But then it occurred to me while driving around Atlanta this week, listening to Sirius NFL Radio in my new Passat, that I still have some unresolved rants to disclose before next Thursday night. So, in no particular order, here goes:
**Of the top seven quarterbacks from the last 24 months -- Matt Ryan, Joe Flacco (2008), Matthew Stafford, Mark Sanchez, Josh Freeman (2009), Bradford and Jimmy Clausen (2010) -- Bradford would probably rank: 7th in arm strength, 3rd in mobility, 7th in familiarity with a pro-style offense, 6th in hair-trigger release, 4th in field vision, 7th in making downfield throws against a heavy pass rush and 1st in accuracy. But then again, it's hard NOT to enjoy pinpoint control when throwing to running backs in the flat or receiver-bubble screens at Oklahoma ... so take the accuracy rating for what it's worth.
**My expectations for all NFL rookie QBs -- dating back to John Elway -- are minimal, at best; so it's not like Bradford would be under immediate pressure to reverse the Rams' fortunes. However, I sincerely doubt Bradford will possess the innate knack to carry a bad team to improbable victory in 2010, similar to what Stafford did against Cleveland in Week 11 (422 passing yards, 5 TDs, game-winning two-point conversion with separated left shoulder) or what Josh Freeman accomplished against Green Bay in Week 9 (three fourth-quarter TDs). On the plus side, St. Louis already has a solid offensive line in place to protect Bradford.
**This bears repeating: When comparing Bradford's collegiate mechanics to other QBs of the last 15 years, and how his game likely translates to the pro level, the obvious link begins and ends with Tim Couch, the No. 1 overall pick in 1999. In fact, please check out this Couch highlight package before looking at Bradford's -- prior to sending hate mail my way. On the bright side ... at least I didn't liken Bradford to Akili Smith.
As for the Rams ...
**They passed on Ryan, Flacco, Sanchez and Freeman at the No. 2 spot in the 2008 and '09 drafts, commendably opting to rebuild the trenches with Chris Long and Jason Smith, respectively. So, why would they suddenly feel compelled to take an injury-plagued prospect with the No. 1 overall pick, when they could've paid lesser money for the aforementioned quarterbacks? Bottom line: If you have a grand rebuilding plan that focuses on interior lines and developing playmaking talent in latter rounds -- stick with it!
**ESPN's Adam Schefter has intimated that St. Louis is entirely comfortable with drafting Bradford next Thursday night without a signed contract already in place, which just reeks of stupidity. Unless the Rams are trying to pull off a Eli Manning-esque coup from the 2004 draft -- holding a post-pick auction for the most coveted player, as a means of getting the QB they really want (in this case, Clausen) -- there is no justifiable reason for waiting until Friday the 23rd to sign a No. 1 pick. For starters, Bradford's agent (Tom Condon) can be a real shark ... and that's when he doesn't posssess pre-draft leverage during negotiations; and then you have the obligatory re-telling of JaMarcus Russell's sad tale, upon being taken at No. 1 by Oakland without a contract.
Seriously, even if Rams GM Billy Devaney prefers Bradford over Clausen ... at least pretend like Clausen has a great shot of earning the top slot (at a lower cap figure, of course). At least give the impression that Bradford will have to sing for his dinner ... which all spread-option quarterbacks ought to do in the NFL.
Head Of The Class
Here are my fantasyland projections for the 10 most impactful WRs (2010 only):
1. Golden Tate, Notre Dame (the closest thing to NFL-ready in this year's class)
2. Taylor Price, Ohio (good luck stopping him in West Coast offenses)
3. Dez Bryant, Oklahoma State (could go higher if drafted into the right system)
4. Danario Alexander, Missouri (could have a Maclin-like breakout this year)
5. Arrelious Benn, Illinois (perhaps the best athlete of the bunch, pound-for-pound)
6. Dezmon Briscoe, Kansas (a major fantasy wild card, would look great with the Chargers)
7. Demaryius Thomas, Georgia Tech (another 'X' factor ... whose fate rests on drafting team)
8. Brandon LaFell, LSU (could be a top-20 fantasy receiver in 3-4 years)
9. Jordan Shipley, Texas (presumably built for the West Coast offense)
10. Eric Decker, Minnesota (could rocket up this chart, if fully healthy by September)
Something To Talk About
Assuming the NFL schedule becomes public before next Tuesday (April 20), Fantasy Clicks will provide an extensive breakdown of the coming season on the 21st -- including an early look at Week 1 "locks" for 100 yards rushing/receiving and 300 yards passing. Who knows, perhaps Falcons RB Michael Turner will be a lead-pipe cinch for four rushing TDs ... assuming Atlanta hosts Tampa Bay that weekend (my personal hunch).
I recently sat down with my ex-colleague Jeff Ritter, who left SI.com this week for an extremely cushy gig with the folks at Golf.com (a Time, Inc. subsidiary in New York City), to discuss some Vegas-style prop bets for the coming season. And per usual, we butted heads on topics that seemingly have just one correct answer:
Behind Chris Johnson/Adrian Peterson, the No. 3 overall pick should be ... ?
Jeff Ritter: It has to be Maurice Jones-Drew. I like Ray Rice a lot and expect the Ravens' burner to seize the reigns at the goal line next year; but you cannot deny MJD's proven track record for finding the end zone. I expect he'll have just as many opportunities to equal, if not surpass, his 15 rushing TDs from 2009. My only caveat: I reserve the right to flip MJD (1,763 total yards in '09) and Rice in my rankings, if Jack Del Rio does not return as Jacksonville's head coach.
Jay Clemons: Aren't caveats grand when putting your butt on the line? Anyway ... I'm hearing everything you're saying about Rice and MJD ... but I'm still leaning toward Michael Turner at the 3-hole -- given his strong potential for 1,700 rushing yards and 17 TDs next season. Yes, Rice is the bigger lock for total yardage over Turner; and yes, Jones-Drew surely posssesses the fear factor edge over Turner, on any given fantasy Sunday. But I'm sticking to my guns here with Turner (at least until Darren McFadden ends his tour-of-duty as Oakland's best receiver -- HA!)
Please rank QBs Sanchez, Henne, Stafford , Freeman, Young for 2010:
1. Chad Henne, Dolphins
2. Vince Young, Titans
3. Mark Sanchez, Jets
4. Matthew Stafford, Lions
5. Josh Freeman, Buccaneers
Clemons: I'll keep this short and sweet:
1. Stafford (mark him down for five 300-yard passing days; 10 games of 2 or more TD passes)
2. Young (earns a slight edge over Henne, given the ascension of WRs Kenny Britt/Justin Gage)
3. Henne (still a solid choice in Rounds 9 or 10 for 12-team leagues)
5. Sanchez (don't let the poor ranking fool you ... he's a solid fantasy backup next fall)
In 2010, I Promise To Not Re-Draft ...
Ritter: Matt Forte. It'd take a minor miracle to pull the trigger again on the Bears tailback (57 catches, 1,400 total yards, 4 TDs in '09). I've also had enough of LaDainian Tomlinson. He won't be on any of my teams next year.
Clemons: I got majorly burned by Darren McFadden in four leagues this season, so much that I've made a public pledge to NOT take him before Round 9 come August. Without question, I still believe in his unlimited fantasy ceiling ... but from a distance now.
The 2010 Fantasy MVP Will Be ...
Ritter: I just know Jay will trot out some sexy name like Ray Rice or Knowshon Moreno. As for me, I'll take boring, old Peyton Manning (4,500 yards passing/33 TDs in '09). Next year, Peyton should have a healthy Anthony Gonzalez and a maturing Donald Brown to mix with established weapons like Reggie Wayne, Dallas Clark, Joseph Addai, Pierre Garcon, Austin Collie. In fact, I can easily envision the Colts offense becoming the league's top attack, with Manning delivering top-5 fantasy value from a second-round pick.
Clemons: Let's not overthink this one, OK? The fantasy MVP race for 2010 revolves around Chris Johnson -- even if he cannot repeat the feat of 2,000 rushing yards. The way I see it, he's the ONLY running back on the planet who's a lock for 170 total yards and one touchdown every Sunday. Rain or shine ... regardless of opponent.
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