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3/08/2007 06:17:00 PM
Running back shuffle
After rushing for 13 TDs in his first full season, Willis McGahee has just 11 combined over the last two.
I promise I'll get to some baseball stuff, especially since I've got a couple of more mock drafts under my belt this week. But there are a few more notable football moves this week that will have an impact on fantasy drafts later this summer.
Fresh off my list of running backs switching teams, two more notable names have changed uniforms the past couple of days. First off, Jamal Lewis opted not to return to Baltimore but instead signed a one-year deal with the Browns, who struggled at running back last year. Lewis bounced back with 1,132 yards and nine TDs last year, although his 3.6 yards per carry leaves a lot to be desired. While he's still a middle-of-the-road No. 2 back, he won't have those annual two games against Cleveland to boost his stats (remember that he set the single-game rushing record against the Browns).
With Lewis gone to Cleveland, the Ravens filled the hole quickly by trading three draft picks to the Bills for Willis McGahee, who was being shopped around this offseason. McGahee actually had worst stats than Lewis last year (990 yards, 6 TDs) and hasn't come close to the 13 TDs he scored in 2004. Neither back has to worry about splitting carries, which helps their values, but would you rather have the older Lewis or the younger McGahee? As an aside, if Lewis won't get to beat up on the Browns anymore, will McGahee pick up that slack now that he can't run over the Jets for two big games each year?
If you're trying to figure out the wide receiver and tight end situations, a couple of big names have also moved in the past couple of days. Joe Horn, cut by the Saints, lands with the Falcons and might actually give Michael Vick a somewhat consistent target who isn't named Alge Crumpler. Horn is 35 and was slowed by a groin injury last season, so he's no sure bet to be a top wideout again. But if he's healthy, Horn can still put up stats and maybe even help former first-rounders Michael Jenkins and Roddy White actually accomplish something. Horn can be a decent No. 3 fantasy wideout
It didn't take long for Randy McMichael, who's been pretty good in his career, to find a job after being cut by the Dolphins. The Rams picked him up and will get his looks in that offense at the expense of youngsters Joe Klopfenstein and Dominique Byrd. Another tight end to move is Eric Johnson, who heads to New Orleans after being overtaken by Vernon Davis in San Francisco. Johnson isn't Antonio Gates, but he could be a solid No. 2 tight end option playing with Drew Brees. Also, fantasy owners shouldn't get too caught up with Daniel Graham signing with the Broncos. He can steal a few red-zone scores, but he'll be used more as a blocker, while Tony Scheffler is still worth watching as the receiving tight end.
Finally, Jay Feely is on the move again, signing a deal with the Dolphins, who will cut ties with longtime kicker Olindo Mare. Feely has put up nice stats the past few years, and while the conditions will be better in Miami, will the offense give him the same scoring chances?
Thomas Jones has rushed for 2,545 yards the past two seasons and is now off to New York.
Less than a week into free agency, there are a bunch of running backs who have seen their 2007 values rise thanks to their changing teams or former teammates switching uniforms. Despite the rise in a number of players, it appears many of these moves won't change the first round a whole lot. There still isn't an Edgerrin James-type to switch teams (and we saw how that worked out for most of the year).
But as of Thomas Jones' trade to the Jets, here's a rough ranking of the running backs who have improved their value heading into next season. Obviously, this list will change once free agents like Jamal Lewis, Corey Dillon, Dominic Rhodes and Chris Brown sign, if potential trade targets like Willis McGahee get dealt, and obviously, the draft.
1. Travis Henry, Broncos: He rushed for 1,211 yards last year despite being not being the primary option to start training camp. Now he goes to a running back paradise in Denver complete with the featured back job. While Mike Bell might steal some goal-line scores, Henry could see a return to his best days in Buffalo. He might've risen into the second round with this move.
2. Thomas Jones, Jets: After a lackluster start to his career, Jones has turned it up the past couple of seasons (two 1,200-yard campaigns) with Chicago as he fended off Cedric Benson. Now he's got the No. 1 job all to himself on a team that desperately needed to a go-to back. There's no worry he'll be part of a time-share situation, although Leon Washington will be a change-of-pace back. But will Jones perform without that chip on his shoulder? That seems to be a better question to ask rather than how many carries will he lose to another back.
3. Laurence Maroney, Patriots: Corey Dillon is gone, so now Maroney has the job to himself and the potential to be a stud fantasy back. He showed glimpses of it last year, now he's got the room to do his thing.
4. Tatum Bell, Lions: There's a decent chance Kevin Jones doesn't start the season, so Bell is at the least a great insurance policy. He's got plenty of speed and became the latest running back to crack 1,000 yards for Denver, although the lack of scores was a bit of a concern. And can he catch passes in Mike Martz's offense?
5. Joseph Addai, Colts: Dominic Rhodes is on his way to a big payday somewhere, but Addai now gets the chance to get the bulk of the carries as Indy's featured back. He didn't actually start a game until the playoffs, but he did just fine as a rookie with the promise for much more.
6. Cedric Benson, Bears: Thomas Jones is a Jet, so the pressure is on Benson to produce. He had his moments during the playoffs and late in the season, but he was invisible at the Super Bowl even before he got hurt. Being the definite No. 1 guy does help his value, though.
7. Ahman Green, Texans: The good news is that he's healthy and is coming off a rather productive season, and he has little competition for the No. 1 job. But is he in any better situation with the offensive line in Houston compared to Green Bay?
8. LenDale White, Titans: Both veteran backs ahead of him are gone, so for now the starting running back job goes to White, who was underwhelming in his rookie year but still shows promise. For now, the opportunity is there for White to succeed, but will the Titans find help elsewhere?
9. Brandon Jacobs, Giants: Jacobs does have the skills to be more than just a goal-line back, but it appears the Giants are still shopping to replace the retired Tiki Barber. His value would depend on who joins him in the backfield this offseason.
Ahman Green rushed for 1,059 yards, including five 100-yard games last season.
It didn't take long for the beginning of the free-agency period to provide some notable transactions for fantasy football purposes. Not only were there some intriguing signings and trades, but also a handful of cuts this weekend adds more names to the pool, meaning you'll see a bunch of familiar names in different places this fall.
Running back is arguably the most coveted position in fantasy football, and a couple of notable ones have already changed teams with a number of others in line to do so as well.
The first big running back to move was Ahman Green jumping to the Texans. Green had been bothered by injuries the past couple of seasons but he did rebound last season with 1,059 yards and six total TDs. He should be the featured back for a team that used Wali Lundy, Samkon Gado, Ron Dayne and Chris Taylor last season after Domanick Davis (now Domanick Williams) was lost for the season with a knee injury. Williams' return is uncertain, and Green still has OK value despite an iffy offensive line.
While Green's value may not change a whole lot moving to Houston, Green Bay now has a big hole in its feature back role, although remaining backs Vernand Morency and Noah Herron have had their moments. Otherwise, they could be in the running for such free agents like Jamal Lewis, Corey Dillon and Chris Brown, or they could go after a running back in the draft.
Travis Henry could've been on their radar after being cut by the Titans over the weekend, but it appears he will be headed to Denver, where he would replace Detroit-bound Tatum Bell. Henry rushed for 1,211 yards with seven TDs last season after replacing Brown as Tennessee's top back. He could match or surpass those stats in Denver, given the recent history of running backs under Mike Shanahan.
Meanwhile, the big winner in Tennessee is LenDale White, who now appears to have the feature back job to himself with Henry and Brown both gone. An offseason to get himself back into shape should make him a lot more valuable in 2007.
White will need to pick up some of the load because the Titans are now without top wideout Drew Bennett, who signed with the Rams. Bennett led Tennessee with 46 catches for 737 yards and three scores, although it's unclear whether he'll be the No. 2 or No. 3 guy with Isaac Bruce. There should be a lot of balls to go around in St. Louis, but can Bennett surpass last year's modest numbers?
Meanwhile, the Titans could depend more on Brandon Jones, who led the team with four receiving TDs and had a 100-yard game in Week 16. After that, the Titans' receiving corps is muddled, especially with David Givens still struggling with a knee injury. Keep that in mind when figuring out what type of passing stats Vince Young will have. However, there's plenty of time for the Titans to shore up their receivers.
Bennett wasn't the only notable wide receiver to move so far. The 49ers replaced Antonio Bryant, who was cut after one so-so season in San Francisco, with Ashley Lelie, who was a bust in his only season with the Falcons. After a promising start to his career, Lelie has faded out of fantasy relevance. Alex Smith needs some actual wide receiver targets, so Lelie may get another chance.
Another wideout to make a move is Dennis Northcutt, who got a five-year deal from the Jaguars. Northcutt hasn't done much recently after going for a career-high 806 yards in 2004. He could give Jacksonville some extra speed, but is he much better than the current crew of Matt Jones, Ernest Wilford and Reggie Williams?
One potential move with intriguing fantasy ramifications is the Patriots trading for Wes Welker. Welker led the Dolphins last year with 67 receptions, although he scored just one TD. He could be a good fit for New England's passing game where the smaller guys seem to thrive. Meanwhile, the Patriots also added Sammy Morris and Kyle Brady, but those moves just solidify Laurence Maroney and Ben Watson as the primary running back and tight end next season.
Otherwise, a number of top wideouts opted to stay put, with the Cowboys bringing back Terry Glenn and the Texans signing Andre Johnson to an extension, although they could use a No. 2 receiver.
Finally, Tampa Bay's quarterback situation is very amusing after the Bucs signed Jeff Garcia to a two-year deal and then traded for Jake Plummer, who then announced his retirement rather than report. Garcia filled in ably for Donovan McNabb late last season, and he should give Chris Simms (recovering from having his spleen removed) a run for his money as the starter. I'd be hesitant to take either quarterback at this point, although if the Bucs draft Calvin Johnson, that could change things as they could use another wideout to go with the effective but aging Joey Galloway and Michael Clayton, who has slumped after a great rookie year. And if Plummer actually plays, then all bets are off.