- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
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Last year it looked as though Arizona's signing of top free agent Edgerrin James (far right), then 28, from the Colts would bring some life to Arizona's lackluster running game. But those pricey new wheels (which were actually old wheels) couldn't break free behind the Cardinals' shoddy offensive line, which had ranked 32nd in rushing in 2005 (and wound up 30th last season). Houston's situation with Green (right) looks uncomfortably similar. Even with the addition of the 30-year-old free agent, the Texans' 21st-ranked rushing attack won't improve much behind a line that boasts zero inspiring acquisitions through the draft and free agency. Further, Houston's offense is in transition with new QB Matt Schaub and still only has one dangerous wide receiver, Andre Johnson, to stretch the field. In five years only one Texans back has ever topped 1,100 yards. Green's situation is as bad as James's--at least.
With Ricky Williams gone in 2006, Brown was set to get more carries in Miami in his second NFL season. He got the carries--but he didn't do much with them, totaling just 1,008 rushing yards. This year Benson and Addai are young backs who will get more touches after the departure of, respectively, Thomas Jones from the Bears and Dominic Rhodes from the Colts. But really, that's where the comparison ends. Benson, unlike Brown, thrived as a solo back in college. ( Brown split the load at Auburn with Cadillac Williams.) And while Addai's carries will increase, Tony Dungy will still rotate backs and keep Addai rested. Here's an added bonus for both: With the exception of Indianapolis's Tarik Glenn, who retired, their teams' Super Bowl offensive lines will return intact. Expect bigger numbers from these two.
A change of locale was supposed to be just what receivers Owens, Walker and Branch needed in 2006. Owens hated his team, Walker hated his contract, and any Branch fantasy owner had to hate the way the ball was spread around in the Patriots' offense. But none of the above met expectations in his new home--which should come as no surprise. A new team means a new quarterback, a new coach, a new system. It's the rare free-agent WR who thrives in Year One in his new home. We've already been down this road with the Patriots' Moss, who arrived in Oakland two years ago seemingly ready for a monster season and instead began his slow decline in production. Don't expect the Falcons' Horn, 35, or the 49ers' Jackson, 28, to break the pattern.
WHO WILL BE THIS YEAR'S MARQUES COLSTON?
ODDS ARE, no one. The seventh-round pick, who finished in the top 25 in every major receiving category his rookie season, was an exceptional case. There are, however, several unheralded players who will likely go undrafted by fantasy owners but deserve attention. Watch their progress and pluck them from the waiver wire early. They are: WR James Jones, a Packers third-round pick from San�Jose State who has developed an early rapport with Brett Favre, enabling Green Bay to cut Robert Ferguson; second-year RB DeDe Dorsey, who picks up the carries in Indianapolis that don't go to Joseph Addai; and Dolphins RB Jesse Chatman, a fifth-year veteran who was out of the league last year and has never had fantasy significance but is pushing Ronnie Brown for carries--in part because he knows Cam Cameron's system from their three seasons together in San Diego.-- David Sabino
IS LARRY JOHNSON DUE FOR A BREAKDOWN?
LJ SET AN NFL record with 416 carries last year, which set off alarms because the other four players to rush 400 or more times in a 16-game season-- Jamal Anderson, Eric Dickerson, Eddie George and James Wilder--saw significant drops in production the following year. If you include postseason carries in season totals, the trend is worse. Of those nine backs who rushed more often than LJ, only Terrell Davis ran for more yardage the next year. Throw in other Chiefs negatives, such as the loss of G Will Shields and T Jordan Black; their inexperienced skill players; and LJ's long holdout, and drafting Johnson high looks like a risky proposition.--D.S.