Donovan McNabb: Al Tielemans/SI
Baseball season's in full swing but it's never too early to be thinking about fantasy football. So this week before taking a look at doings on the diamond, we're starting off with the four biggest individual fantasy gainers following last weekend's NFL draft and it's related player movement.
Donovan McNabb, Eagles: For those of you who are confused about that awkward feeling you sense these days emanating from Philadelphia, the Skeptical Sports Fan Capital of the World, it's called genuine optimism. Who can blame Iggles fans for being jacked about the addition of three key offensive skill players through the draft (playmaking wideout Jeremy Maclin, slippery running back LeSean McCoy and athletic tight end Cornelius Ingram) plus one of the finest left tackles in the league, Jason Peters, in a trade with the Bills. Now McNabb has at least five players (Westbrook, the LeSean and DeSean show, Maclin and Kevin Curtis) who are threats to score each time they touch the ball, and he doesn't have to worry quite as much as he has in the past about protection on his blind side, making him at least a top 10 quarterback, and possibly even a top five choice.
Percy Harvin, Vikings: If there were no character issues in his makeup, Harvin should've (and would've) been one of the top players selected. But the quicksilver offensive star from Florida slipped all the way to 22nd and lands in a near perfect situation for someone with his skill set. The biggest question in Minnesota is who will be calling the signals, incumbent Tarvaris Jackson or newcomer Sage Rosenfels. For Harvin, it really doesn't matter. He can play outside, inside or even come out of the backfield, and fits with either quarterback's style, having the ability to turn short passes from Jackson into big plays or to beat defenders deep connecting with Rosenfels. His speed will be maximized playing on turf in the Metrodome and he'll enjoy the added advantage of being teammates with the league's top offensive player, Adrian Peterson. He'll be what fantasy owners have always wanted Reggie Bush and Devin Hester to become.
Beanie Wells, Cardinals: The Cardinals addressed what they were sorely lacking last season: a reliable runner between the 20s. Now with the burly Ohio State star in the fold, Kurt Warner & Co. have a power back who can carry the load for a team that ranked 31st in the league with 3.5 yards per carry, and dead last in total ground gains with 1,178 total rushing yards. Last season's starter Edgerrin James was released this week and the 6-1, 237-pound Wells scored 30 touchdowns in 36 games as a Buckeye, eliminating the role of 2008's designated touchdown plunger, Tim Hightower.
Pat White, Dolphins: The Wildcat offense took the league by storm last season as quarterbacks lined up wide and caught passes, running backs took direct snaps and the option was used much as it had been during the league's leather-helmet days. Now it's ready to rise to another level following the addition of the NCAA's all-time leading rushing quarterback. The Dolphins coaching staff says that White will be allowed to compete for playing time as a quarterback, but he'll be the ultimate double-slash, as in QB/WR/RB, with productivity in each role. His position eligibility will be an important factor in his weekly fantasy usability, but he could become the league's top flex call.
A few hot starts have reminded us of a great lesson in fantasy sports: Far too many players are written off far too quickly when they come off of sub-par seasons while many preseason impressions are never as black and white as they're presented in preview information. These hitters were all underestimated prior to draft time, but are paying large dividends to those who either showed faith or simply stumbled onto them by accident.
Melky Cabrera, Yankees: Relegated to the role of fifth outfielder despite a red-hot spring, Cabrera has played his way into the lineup nearly every day due to Xavier Nady's elbow injury and general ineffectiveness of anointed starting centerfielder Brett Gardner. In 21 fewer at-bats, the switch-hitter has more hits, a higher average, home run total, on-base percentage and slugging percentage than another switch-hitting Yankee you may have heard of: Mark Teixeira.
Kosuke Fukudome, Cubs: Talks of a straight platoon with Reed Johnson have been silenced since the second-year Japanese star started the season on a tear, placing in the top 10 in batting in the NL while pacing the Cubs in RBIs. His .627 slugging percentage is higher than those of Manny Ramirez (.600), Carlos Quentin (.587) and Miguel Cabrera (.558).
John Buck, Royals: Slated to start the season as a pure backup to Miguel Olivo, Buck has excelled for the Royals, providing three home runs and 10 RBIs, which ties him for third and fourth respectively in the majors, and puts him well on his way to his 2008 totals (9 HR, 48 RBIs). You can point at Buck's .243 batting average as a negative if you like, but even that's 65 points higher than Olivo's .178.
Aaron Hill, Blue Jays: Knocked out by post-concussion syndrome after May of last season, Hill was limited to just 55 games during which he hit just two home runs and became a middling choice among middle infielders. In fewer than half the games and at bats he accumulated last season, Hill has more than doubled his home runs total (five to two) and has equaled his RBI production at 20, while batting .376. All three totals place him in the top three at his position and his 38 hits lead the entire majors.
The Fantasy Hitters of the Month of April are:
Ian Kinsler, Rangers: .326 Avg., 7 HR, 20 RBI, 7 SB, 18 R
Albert Pujols, Cardinals: .329 avg., 7 HR, 26 RBI, 3 SB, 21 R
The Fantasy Pitchers of the Month of April are:
Zack Greinke, Royals: 5-0, 44 Ks, 0.50 ERA, 0.89 WHIP
Heath Bell, Padres: 8 saves, 0.00 ERA, 9 Ks, 0.67 ERA