Buckhalter, Graham rising; top QBs Garcia, Maddox fallingPosted: Thursday July 31, 2003 8:45 PM
By Richard Harris, Special to SI.com
Correll Buckhalter, RB, Philadelphia: With Duce Staley holding out, Buckhalter is currently on top of the Eagles’ depth chart at tailback. Buckhalter missed last season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee, but the injury occurred at a post-draft minicamp in the spring, giving the third-year pro more time to recover than most. So far in camp, he has run hard and effectively on his surgically repaired knee.
In 2001, Buckhalter set a team rookie rushing record with 586 yards on 129 carries (4.5 average), and the Eagles are counting on him to add some big-play ability to the running game, something that Staley has not provided. Staley, who also skipped voluntary minicamp last month, is in the last year of his contract and would like an extension before reporting to camp. The situation likely will be resolved before the regular season begins, but at a minimum, you can expect Buckhalter to split the rushing load with Staley.
Daniel Graham, TE, New England: The second-year tight end has been one of the more impressive players in Patriots camp, and he is one of the top candidates to have a breakout season in 2003. Graham, the 21st overall player taken in the 2002 draft, dropped too many passes as a rookie, but he has improved greatly in that area, and his downfield speed makes him much more of an offensive threat than starter Christian Fauria. The Patriots' wide receivers are all on the small side, and QB Tom Brady frequently looked for his tight ends in the red zone last season, throwing nine of his 28 TD passes to either Fauria (seven), Graham (one), or former teammate Cam Cleeland (one). This season, Graham should not only grab a larger share of those TD passes, but also post yardage numbers good enough to put him among the top 10 performers at his position.
Donte’ Stallworth, WR, New Orleans: With an opportunity to begin the season healthy and as a starter with added experience and maturity, Stallworth is poised to become one of the elite receivers in the league. Despite starting only seven games last year, Stallworth posted impressive numbers for a rookie receiver, catching 42 balls for 594 yards and eight touchdowns. The 13th overall pick of the 2002 draft and one of the fastest players in the league, Stallworth became the first NFL rookie in 20 years to catch a touchdown pass in his first four games. He also set a club record for most scoring catches by a rookie. He accomplished this despite being hampered by hamstring injuries for most of the year. He missed most of training camp and three games, but in the offseason, Stallworth worked with the same physical therapist who helped Isaac Bruce with the hamstring problems that plagued him early in his career.
Derrius Thompson, WR, Miami: With consistently strong performances in camp, Thompson appears to already have locked up the No. 2 receiver job in Miami. He is currently starting opposite Chris Chambers in practice, ahead of veterans Oronde Gadsden and James McKnight. The 26-year-old Thompson had a breakthrough season of sorts last year as a first-time starter in Washington, catching 53 passes for 773 yards and four touchdowns. Though he doesn’t have blinding speed, he uses his 6-2, 220-pound frame to his advantage against smaller cornerbacks, and he should prove to be a reliable compliment to Chambers.
Keep an eye on
Javon Walker, WR, Green Bay: Walker is currently the underdog to win the competition with Robert Ferguson to start alongside of Donald Driver at wide receiver for the Packers. Ferguson, a third-year pro, has the edge because he has an additional year of experience and because Walker dropped too many passes last season. However, Walker and Karsten Bailey worked with the Packers' No. 1 offense in place of the injured Driver (hamstring) and Ferguson (bruised tailbone) at a recent scrimmage, with Walker impressing by leading all receivers with seven receptions for 138 yards and two touchdowns. He has a tremendous combination of size (6-3, 220) and speed (4.38), and if he continues to display improved hands, he could very well be the Packers’ opening-day starter at flanker.
Adrian Peterson, RB, Chicago: The Bears featured the league's worst rushing attack last season. The organization is not overly confident that starter Anthony Thomas is the answer at tailback, and with a solid performance at training camp, Peterson will be in a position to at least share some of the workload during the regular season. Thomas has missed several days of practice this week with back spasms, giving Peterson an opportunity to work with the first team. Peterson, the Division I-AA all-time leading rusher with 9,145 yards (160.4 per game) at Georgia Southern, received only 19 carries last season, gaining 101 yards and averaging 5.3 per carry.
Michael Wiley, RB, Dallas: The Cowboys have some questions at running back this season, as the unproven duo of Troy Hambrick and Wiley will attempt to replace the NFL’s all-time leading rusher, Emmitt Smith. Hambrick, a power runner with good size, has a career average of 4.7 yards per carry and is expected to receive the majority of the carries. However, he fell into new head coach Bill Parcells’ doghouse this spring when he showed up at minicamp overweight, and Parcells has not ruled out the possibility of using a running back-by-committee system. At a minimum, Wiley, a former track star who has a career average of 6.3 yards per carry, will see a lot of action on passing downs.
Jason McAddley, WR, Arizona: With the Cardinals’ top three receivers -- David Boston, Frank Sanders and MarTay Jenkins -- departing via free agency, the team has a huge void at wideout. Top pick Bryant Johnson and Anquan Boldin were added in the draft, but holdovers McAddley and Bryan Gilmore, who missed half of last season with a fractured leg, are the top candidates to start. McAddley, who started more games (eight) and caught more passes (25) last year than anyone else left on the roster, has good size (6-2, 205) and speed (4.4) and has the added advantage of actual game experience within the Cards’ system.
Josh Brown, K, Seattle: At the end of last season, the Seahawks had one of the more prolific offenses in the league. The club won four of the last six games, and over that span, the Hawks averaged 29 points. The keys to the offensive surge were the emergence of QB Matt Hasselbeck and WR Koren Robinson and the late-season addition of RT Chris Terry. Those players, combined with RB Shaun Alexander, WR Darrell Jackson and Pro Bowl OT Walter Jones, proved hard to stop, and with the unit returning intact and G Steve Hutchinson back after missing the final 12 games of last season, that trend likely will carry over into this season. This is good news for Brown, the Seahawks’ seventh-round pick and the only kicker on the roster. Brown, who made 77.8 percent of his field-goal attempts as a senior at Nebraska and has hit roughly the same percentage at training camp, could sneak into the top 10 at kicker this season.
Onterrio Smith, RB, Minnesota: When it was first announced that starter Michael Bennett would miss at least the first month, and perhaps the entire season, because of a stress fracture in his left foot, Smith’s fantasy value soared. Veteran Doug Chapman, entering his fourth season, currently tops the depth chart. Fellow veteran Moe Williams, second-year pro Larry Ned and former XFL star John Avery are also in the mix. While Smith is not in Bennett’s class in terms of speed -- he is more known for his running instincts, balance and elusiveness -- he does appear to be the best of the bunch. However, there are a few things to consider before using a high draft pick on the rookie back. The fourth-round pick out of Oregon carries some extra baggage into the league; his draft stock fell because of questions surrounding his departure from Tennessee in 2000 (reportedly for marijuana use). Smith also tore cartilage in his left knee midway through his senior season at Oregon and did not run at the NFL Combine. He is healthy now, but if nothing else, his fantasy value is somewhat limited by the fact that QB Daunte Culpepper and Williams are a threat to steal his goal-line scores, as the pair combined to rush for 21 TDs last season.
Tommy Maddox, QB, Pittsburgh: Entering this season, the Steelers are somewhat concerned about the durability and consistency of Maddox. Despite efforts to renegotiate the five-year contract that he signed last year, Maddox goes into this season as one of the NFL's lowest-paid starting quarterbacks. The Steelers apparently want to see him play at his 2002 level for a full season before committing big money to him. The 32-year-old quarterback never has completed a full season as a starter, and last year, he suffered a spinal injury that left him temporarily paralyzed. Maddox also needs to cut down on the turnovers; he threw for 20 touchdowns in 12 games, but also threw 16 interceptions.
Jeff Garcia, QB, San Francisco: Garcia has seen his passing yardage totals drop for two consecutive seasons (only 3,344 yards in 2002), and his 6.3 average yards per attempt last season were the lowest in team history for a starting quarterback. Under new head coach Dennis Erickson, the 49ers plan to implement a more vertical offense, featuring more three- and four-receiver formations. On the surface, this would appear to enhance Garcia’s fantasy value. However, it is questionable if Garcia has the arm strength to be an effective down-field passer, and a bulging disk in his back is also a concern. Garcia is 33 and on the small side (6-1, 195), and his scrambling style often leads to him taking some big hits.
Richard Harris is the Senior Writer and Managing Editor for FanatsyFootballExperts.com. His weekly columns have appeared on SI.com, ESPN.com, or USAToday.com over the past five years. FantasyFootballExperts.com provides the essentials for a fantasy football championship, including exclusive articles, customized player rankings, cheat sheets for multiple scoring systems, updated depth charts, injury updates, and weekly matchup analysis.