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Join SI.com's James Quintong in a discussion of some of the latest news in football, baseball and other sports and how it relates to fantasy teams and leagues.
1/05/2007 02:32:00 PM

Big Unit back to the desert; other notable moves

Randy Johnson
Randy Johnson won 34 games for the Yankees in two seasons but had a 4.34 ERA in that time.
Al Tielemans/SI
Just because most of the big-name free agents are off the board doesn't mean there aren't important moves that will impact your draft strategies.

First off, it looks like Randy Johnson will be returning to Arizona after two seasons with the Yankees. And to show exactly how unpredictable wins can be, the Big Unit won 17 games in each of his two years in the Bronx but had ERAs of 3.79 and 5.00. Meanwhile, in 2004, his last season for the D'backs, Johnson went just 16-14 and had an ERA of 2.60.

The most surprising part of Johnson's time in pinstripes is that his K/9 ratio was less than nine (8.0), while his career mark is 10.8. His 172 K's in 2006 were his lowest total in a full season since 1990, when he had 194 for the Mariners. The 60 homers allowed in two seasons for the Yankees were also a bit disturbing, although his control has stayed relatively consistent in recent years.

Even with all the issues, NL-only leagues now pick up two big-name starting pitchers in Johnson and Barry Zito, who might each demand a high price in your drafts. Zito's age and relatively good health obviously give him the edge over Johnson, who's 43 and recovering from offseason back surgery.

While the Johnson deal is still to be finalized, it appears the biggest name the Yankees will get is reliever Luis Vizcaino, who's had his moments over the years and struck out 72 in 65 1/3 innings for the D'backs last season. He's got good stuff and could pick up his share of vulture wins.

Speaking of the bullpen, a couple of murky closer situations are starting to come into focus thanks to signings this week.

The Red Sox signed Joel Pineiro to a one-year deal and he may be an early favorite to replace rotation-bound Jonathan Papelbon as the closer. Pineiro had a couple of decent seasons as a starter in 2002 and 2003, going 30-18, but his numbers got progressively worse after that. By the end of last season he was moved to the bullpen, where he was mediocre (1-1, 1 save, 4.81 ERA), compared to awful as a starter (7-12, 6.62 ERA).

There's still plenty of competition for that job with holdovers like veterans Mike Timlin and Julian Tavarez, youngsters Craig Hansen and Manny Delcarmen, and newly acquired J.C. Romero and Brendan Donnelly in the mix. On the other hand, remember that at this point last year, few would've considered Papelbon a closer candidate.

Meanwhile, one of Boston's former closers, Keith Foulke, has landed in Cleveland, where he'll be the favorite to get the bulk of the saves. Foulke has had his share of injuries in recent years, but he has two 30- and two 40-save seasons under his belt and he appears to be healthy once again. But the Indians also have a stockpile of potential closers, such as newly-signed Joe Borowski (who had 36 saves for Florida last year) and veteran Roberto Hernandez, plus youngsters like Rafael Betancourt, Fausto Carmona, Fernando Cabrera and Tom Mastny. If given the chance, Foulke could be a fine closer once again, but be cautious.

Of course, while these signings could determine a closer now, spring training will be a major factor in figuring out these roles. Remember that guys like Papelbon and Borowski weren't really on the radar for saves until well into March and April.

As for a couple of other moves that have gone down recently:
-- Aubrey Huff used to be an underrated bat before tailing off slightly the last two seasons in Tampa Bay and later Houston. But he can put up decent stats in the middle of the Orioles lineup, likely as the starting left fielder -- possibly putting up about 25 homers and 90 RBIs. Jay Payton likely moves down to become Baltimore's fourth outfielder.

-- After being a mild disappointment in Boston last year (.285-5-59), Mark Loretta heads to Houston to back up Craig Biggio. He can still hit in the .285-.300 range, but doesn't offer much else in terms of power or run production, and likely won't have that many at-bats.

-- The Yankees picked up Doug Mientkiewicz, although mostly for defensive purposes. He hit .283 for the Royals last year in limited action, but he was in the .230-.240 range for the Red Sox and Mets. You could do worse trying to fill a corner infield spot late in the draft. His signing could mean the end of Bernie Williams in the Bronx.
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1/02/2007 02:46:00 PM

Looking ahead to 2007

Steven Jackson
Steven Jackson actually had more total yards than LaDainian Tomlinson in 2006.
Simon Bruty/SI
With the 2006 fantasy season still fresh in everyone's mind, why not take an early shot at figuring out who will be taken early in the 2007 drafts?

First off, depending on your scoring system don't be surprised if running backs are taken with the first 10-12 picks of the draft. It was a strong season for running backs and not as much for quarterbacks or wide receivers. And with the flood of multi-purpose backs, it'll be hard to pass up on a top running back to get Peyton Manning, even if he continues to be a top-five fantasy player overall.

Secondly, it was an OK season for wide receivers, but you may be better off waiting for the second and third round to grab guys like the usual suspects like Marvin Harrison, Steve Smith, Torry Holt, Chad Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald. Plus, you don't have to be afraid to draft "No. 2" wideouts like Reggie Wayne and T.J. Houshmandzadeh early as well. Terrell Owens, on the other hand, is a major wild card depending on where he ends up. He had great stats overall yet it seemed like a disappointment based on his drops.

Without further ado, here's my guess for my top 12 running backs, which in many places is the first round. There's still a lot that could change during the offseason that could move people up or down the list. Just remember to slot in Peyton Manning somewhere in the middle of that pack.

1. LaDainian Tomlinson, RB, Chargers: His last two games notwithstanding, Tomlinson had a fantasy season for the ages with more than 2,300 total yards and 31 TD overall. There's little debate he should be No. 1.

2. Steven Jackson, RB, Rams: Here's where the fun begins. Jackson led the NFC with 90 catches -- as a running back, no less -- and ran for more than 1,500 yards. He has proved to be a fine successor to Marshall Faulk.

3. Larry Johnson, RB, Chiefs: His numbers were on par with 2005 (when he only started nine games), so the production didn't really drop off. It's hard to when you set an NFL record with 416 carries. You've got to wonder if that work (plus whatever he'll get in the playoffs) will catch up to him next season.

4. Frank Gore, RB, 49ers: Got the starting job for good when Kevan Barlow was shipped out of town, and all he did was lead the NFC in rushing. He's also got some receiving skills, plus Alex Smith is getting better as a quarterback. There's still plenty of upside in Gore.

5. Shaun Alexander, RB, Seahawks: It was an up-and-down season for Alexander, who missed a good chunk of time with a broken foot and was a bit off at times without guard Steve Hutchinson. However, he had a handful of good games late in the season, which makes me believe he can still pile up the yards and touchdowns.

6. Brian Westbrook, RB, Eagles: The durability questions will still linger, but he only missed one game with an injury and set a career high in rushing yards in 2006. The receiving skills are the reason why he's a highly coveted back but he proved he's a strong runner as well.

7. Willie Parker, RB, Steelers: The coaching situation may be a wild card in this question, but Parker proved he can be an every-down back, especially at the goal line. The passing game will improve next year, so there will be lanes for Parker to run.

8. Rudi Johnson, RB, Bengals: Always good for about 1,300-1,400 yards and 12 TDs a year in a high-powered offense. However, he doesn't catch that many passes, which hurts his value in leagues counting a point per reception. He did have for a career-low 3.8 yards-per-carry in 2006.

9. Maurice Jones-Drew, RB, Jaguars: He's a major wild card, depending on what Jacksonville does with Fred Taylor this offseason. Jones-Drew proved he can be an every-down back and he's got a nose for the end zone (15 total TDs in 2006). Plus, he's a solid receiver and at times was David Garrard's most dependable target. If he shares time, he's still a good pick but you can't rely on him as your No. 1 guy.

10. Edgerrin James, RB, Cardinals: A major bust to begin the season, but James did pick up his game in the second half. He ran for 464 yards with three TDs in his final five games -- not a bad sign. A new coach and hopefully an upgraded offensive line could mean better things for him in 2007.

11. Chester Taylor, RB, Vikings: The entire Minnesota offense went into a fade at the end of the season, even with Taylor facing some favorable defensive matchups. He'll still be the focal point of the offense, although Minnesota could use some receivers to help out Tarvaris Jackson.

12. Reggie Bush, RB, Saints: In leagues counting a point per reception, Bush ranks among the top running backs. However, his running still needs some work, but that should develop, depending on how he and Deuce McAllister are used together next season. But he did improve as the season progressed, so there's plenty of upside for him as well.

Also pay close attention to the playoffs to see how the running backs are used (especially in New England and New Orleans) as it could be an interesting preview of teams will use them next year.
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12/31/2006 08:30:00 PM

Week 17 fantasy notes

Peyton Manning
Peyton Manning finished the season with 31 passing TDs plus a surprising four rushing scores.
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images
It’s back to game-by-game notes to finish off the 2006 season as well as starting to look ahead to 2007.

Giants-Redskins: It’s hard to assess the Giants’ passing game with Tiki Barber carrying the load in the finale, but can Brandon Jacobs be the man next year? … Jason Campbell finished the season well enough, but can he find enough consistency with guys like Santana Moss, Chris Cooley and Antwaan Randle El to be more than a middle-of-the-road fantasy QB? … Ladell Betts’ streak of 100-yard games ended, barely, and he now creates an interesting scenario with Clinton Portis.

Lions-Cowboys: Detroit likely killed their chance to get Brady Quinn as its win cost it the No. 1 overall pick, but Jon Kitna put up big stats all year long and especially against a slumping Cowboys pass defense to get him a job somewhere next season. … Roy Williams and Mike Furrey made a surprisingly great pair of 1,000-yard receivers. Furrey’s value for 2007 will depend on whether the Lions get another outside wideout to move Furrey back to a slot/No. 3 guy. … Julius Jones did finish the season with 1,084 rushing yards, but his four total TDs pale in comparison to Marion Barber’s 16. … Terrell Owens finished with 13 TDs but just three 100-yard games. Of course, Terry Glenn had just two, but he also broke 1,000 yards. … Since the five-TD game on Thanksgiving, Tony Romo has five TDs and nine picks in nine games.

Steelers-Bengals: Willie Parker finished the season with a team-record 16 total TDs, and while he’ll be a top-10 running back next year, the player to watch is Santonio Holmes, who finished the season with his first 100-yard game and a 67-yard overtime TD dash. He improved slowly but surely throughout the season and will be a factor next season. … Chris Henry will continue to be a major factor in the Bengals offense, even as a No. 3 wideout (as seen in his 124-yard game in the finale), but just remember there will be major inconsistency from week to week. … Chad Johnson finished the season with just 122 yards in his final three games.

Patriots-Titans: New England didn’t call off the dogs as early as expected, and Tom Brady did get one more big game out of Reche Caldwell. … When healthy, the duo of Laurence Maroney and Corey Dillon continue to pile up rushing TDs (Dillon finished with 13, Maroney with seven total). It will be interesting if the pairing continues next year. … Congratulations to Vinny Testaverde for throwing a TD pass for the 20th straight season. … Vince Young finished his impressive rookie season with 12 passing TDs but 13 INTs and seven rushing scores. He’ll be a much higher pick next season, especially if the receiving corps matures and/or adds another name. … Travis Henry finished the season with six 100-yard games, one more than Rudi Johnson. Not bad for the third option in Tennessee earlier this summer.

Seahawks-Buccaneers: Seattle needed to get its game in order before the playoffs, which is why Shaun Alexander and Matt Hasselbeck played most of the way. … Alexander had a solid December, and he could be a draft-day steal if people look solely at his 2006 season stats. … D.J. Hackett is another potential sleeper candidate for next season if he ends up being Seattle’s No. 2 guy. … Joey Galloway broke 1,000 yards again with four 100-yard games but despite two games with 0 yards and four others under 40 yards.

Raiders-Jets: Justin Fargas did finish the season with games of 90 and 79 yards, but he’s still only a backup next year. .. Oakland may need to take a chance on Brady Quinn with the No. 1 overall pick thanks to its horrid QB play -- Aaron Brooks and Andrew Walter combined for just six TDs and 21 picks. … The Jets played it close to the vest, although Leon Washington is making a push to be the top running back next year. … Jerricho Cotchery finished 39 yards short of 1,000 but finished with a solid 82 catches.

Panthers-Saints: New Orleans pulled Drew Brees and Reggie Bush after one series, which explains why Jamie Martin, Jamal Jones, Jamaal Branch, Fred McAfee and John Owens got stats. … Bush did finish the regular season with eight TDs from scrimmage and a rookie record 88 receptions. … Steve Smith must’ve been happy to see Jake Delhomme back so he could grab two more TDs after coming up with no catches last week. … DeShaun Foster finished the season with a career-best 897 yards but that’s just 18 yards better than last year when he was backing up Stephen Davis. Meanwhile, DeAngelo Williams had just seven yards rushing to finish the season but did add 52 through the air.

Rams-Vikings: Steven Jackson is playing his way to the No. 2 pick (after LT) in many fantasy drafts in 2007 with a ridiculous finishing kick -- including 142 against a Vikings team that allowed under 60 yards on the ground coming in. … Tarvaris Jackson had a couple of scores but without much of a receiving corps can’t be considered a valuable fantasy commodity next year. … Chester Taylor did score this week but in the final three weeks managed just 116 yards against three iffy defenses in the Jets, Packers and Rams.

Jaguars-Chiefs: Maurice Jones-Drew finished the season with TDs in eight straight games and 15 total scores. His fantasy value next year probably depends on what the Jaguars do with Fred Taylor, who did return to score a TD. If Taylor doesn’t return, Jones-Drew could be as high as a late first-rounder. If Taylor is back, he might get bumped down a bit later. … Matt Jones finished the season with a 100-yard game, and might be a potential breakout candidate in 2007 depending on who’s at quarterback. … Quinn Gray replaced David Garrard in the second half and ran for two scores. … Larry Johnson broke the single-season record for rushing attempts with 416. Could that shorten his career a tad? Something to keep in mind in keeper leagues. … After a four-TD game in a loss to the Browns, Trent Green had just three TDs and five picks in his last four games.

Browns-Texans: Charlie Frye did return for the season finale and was spotty at best, but he did connect with Kellen Winslow 11 times, further cementing the soldier’s fantasy value for next year. … Reuben Droughns also showed a little life late in the season against awful competition. … Could Chris Taylor be in the running back mix for Houston next year after going for 99 yards and a score while Ron Dayne got no touches? He did help his cause. … Andre Johnson is the only wideout to break 100 catches this but he had such an awful finish to the season, mainly because David Carr struggled so badly.

Cardinals-Chargers: So despite a record-setting year, LaDainian Tomlinson finished the season with no TDs in the final two weeks. Still, that shouldn’t affect his standing as the top fantasy player this year and the top draft choice in most leagues next. year. … However, Philip Rivers did rebound after some spotty performances (231 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT), improving his game in time for the playoffs. He’s also found a potential No. 1 for next year in Vincent Jackson, who scored another TD. … Antonio Gates finished with nine TDs, best among tight ends. … Kurt Warner proved he still had game, ending the season the way he began it -- with a 300-yard game. … Edgerrin James continued his solid second half and could still sneak into the first round in many drafts next year if people believe he and the Arizona offensive line got better as the year went on.

49ers-Broncos: Jay Cutler’s streak of games with at least two TD passes ended, just as Denver’s playoff hopes went up in smoke. Cutler was knocked out of the game briefly and replaced by Jake Plummer, who threw a pick. … Mike Bell continued to be the late-game back and outgained Tatum Bell on the ground 66-48. … Tony Scheffler caught another TD pass and will be a solid tight end pick next year. … Frank Gore ran for 153 yards to win the NFC rushing crown, fighting off Tiki Barber’s late surge. He’ll be a top-five back next year.

Dolphins-Colts: Peyton Manning finished his regular season with 31 passing TDs and just nine picks. Plus, he has four rushing TDs this season, two more than Michael Vick and three more than Carnell Williams. Manning also got tight end Dallas Clark back from a knee injury, and he had four catches for 56 yards. … Marvin Harrison finished the season with 12 TD catches, one behind Terrell Owens for the league lead. … Joseph Addai had a key fumble late but finished with a rookie best 1,081 yards rushing. … Cleo Lemon nearly drove Miami to an upset and had 210 yards passing in his first start. … Ronnie Brown burned the Colts defense for 115 yards and his first 1,000-yard season. … It seems odd, but Randy McMichael finished with his second-best season yardage total in his career; meanwhile, Chris Chambers had his worst season of his six-year career.

Bills-Ravens: Lee Evans moved his way up the draft charts for next season after finishing with a 145-yard game and a career-best 1,292 receiving yards. He may have an OK No. 2 guy in Roscoe Parrish as well. Plus, J.P. Losman is improving as a QB, although he had a pick returned for the Ravens’ only TD. … Baltimore’s offense could find the end zone, but they got close enough to have Matt Stover provide the points.

Falcons-Eagles: With the Cowboys’ loss finalized early in the game, the Eagles’ starters played one series before the backups came in, and the Falcons removed their main guys soon after. So it was nice to see A.J. Feeley and Matt Schaub duke it out in a prime example of why most leagues pack it up in the next-to-last week of the season. … Alge Crumpler did set a career-high with eight TDs this season. ... Surprisingly, Hank Baskett finished with two 100-yard games this season after going for 177 from the high-flying Feeley.

Packers-Bears: Rex Grossman has turned in a couple of big stinkers on national TV this year, which is not a good sign for the playoffs and next year. On the other hand, Brian Griese wasn’t much better save for a 75-yard bomb to Mark Bradley. … However, Cedric Benson showed plenty of life and may finally be able to seize the starting job in 2007 and maybe even the playoffs. … If this is Brett Favre’s final game, he did well for himself despite the fact that Donald Driver was double-covered most of the game and Greg Jennings out to attend the birth of his child. But he got great games from Ruvell Martin and Carlyle Holiday to beef up the stats.
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