Steve Smith: Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
Even before Steve Smith went loco on teammate Ken Lucas last week -- re-arranging the cornerback's face and earning a two-game suspension -- the Panthers wide receiver was in the middle of a precipitous decline on many fantasy draft boards. Just two summers ago, on the heels of a 103-catch, 1,563-yard, 12-TD season in 2005, Smith was the undisputed kingpin pass-catcher in fantasyland, a sure-fire top-10 pick. But now, at the tender (old?) age of 29 and with suspension in tow, some fantasy experts are seriously questioning Smith's capacity to crack the top 40 in standard leagues. But not me (to borrow a song quote from Peter Gabriel) ... I'm smarter than that. In fact, I highly recommend stealing Smith on Draft Day, anytime after the 32nd pick overall.
My reasons for trusting Smith again are five-fold:
1. Jake Delhomme is back ... and with a new elbow.
2. Smith racked up 15 catches (on 24 targets), 271 yards and four TDs in his only two full games with Delhomme under center in '07.
3. Even without Delhomme for much of last year, Smith still caught 87 passes for 1,002 yards.
4. Carolina's improved offensive balance (drafting RB Jonathan Stewart and signing WRs Muhsin Muhammad and D.J. Hackett) will mean zero double-teams for Smith.
5. Smith lucked out by missing games against the Chargers and Bears in Weeks 1 and 2 -- but he gets two shots against Atlanta and New Orleans and one shot against the Chiefs, Cardinals, Raiders and Lions. Cha-ching!
1. New York Giants @ Detroit: Is Steve Smith (not the Panthers' brawler) finally ready to be the team's No. 2 receiver -- or even the No. 1 guy if/when Plaxico Burress is sidelined?
2. Kansas City @ Chicago: Does rookie RB Matt Forte need a minimum number of preseason touches, in Bears coach Lovie Smith's mind, before earning the starting role for Week 1 against the Colts?
3. New York Jets @ Cleveland: For fantasy purposes, does it really matter which QB -- Chad Pennington or Kellen Clemens -- actually wins the starter's job? Does Clemens really have a markedly higher ceiling than Pennington?
4. Baltimore @ New England: I know it's preseason, but will the Ravens deploy any of the defensive tactics used by the Giants in the Super Bowl against the high-powered Pats?
5. New Orleans @ Arizona: Who will win the heated competition at power running back -- Saints fan favorite Deuce McAllister or Pierre Thomas, who surpassed 100 rushing and 100 receiving yards in last year's season finale?
Since this is an election year, it's only fitting that we balance Monday's "Understanding ADP" discussion featuring quarterbacks with a similar look at ... wide receivers. Using the same model from Antsports, SI.com has researched all the "Normal Mock Drafts" from July 13 to Aug. 3, enabling fantasy owners to project the range a certain pass-catcher would be drafted -- thus taking the guesswork out of the process and eliminating the need to reach for someone come Draft Day. Here are the top 20 WRs from that survey:
|Average Draft Position For WRs (12-Team League: July 13-Aug. 3)|
|Courtesy of Antsports.com|
Which Bengals tight end holds the club's single-season record for catches? (Hint: He scored a touchdown for Cincinnati in Super Bowl XVI.) Scroll down for the answer.
Antonio Cromartie: Doug Pensinger/Getty Images
If you absolutely, positively must take a defense early on Draft Day (and by "early," I mean sixth round), then your pick absolutely, positively has to be the San Diego Chargers (or the Baltimore Ravens, a round or two later). The Chargers defense is loaded with young, versatile, athletic playmakers and the special teams -- led by Antonio Cromartie (above) and Darren Sproles -- has few peers, as well. But what are the national pundits saying? Fanball.com's current preview magazine (an absolute must-read) has the following defense-only projections:
|Projected Top 12 Defensive Teams for 2008|
|Courtesy of Fanball.com|
He may currently own the Bengals' single-season records for tight ends (71 catches and 910 yards), but I predict that Ben Utecht, a free-agent signee, will eclipse Ross's marks in both categories this season (although Bob Trumpy's record of nine touchdowns is probably safe). Utecht, a fourth-year pro, was probably the NFL's best backup tight end with Indianapolis. And now, with Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh battling injuries (not to mention Chris Henry's exodus from the team), the door is wide open for Utecht to become one of Carson Palmer's trusted security blankets -- especially in the red zone.
Switching gears to baseball ... is there a more fruitless fantasy task than trying to predict exactly when a stud minor-league pitcher will become a consistent performer in the majors? Should the kid in question have a baseline of 500 professional innings? Should he be at least 24 years old? Or, should the supposed phenom have total command of at least three "out" pitches before entering the bigs? This week's winner of the "Ian Kennedy ... What Was I Thinking? Award" goes to White Sox farmhand Clayton Richard (not to be confused with Dodgers wunderkind Clayton Kershaw).
At 24, Richard seemingly possesses all the qualities prized by the superficial fantasy geek: He's a 6-foot-5 lefty, he's dominated at the Double-A level (to the tune of a 29/4 K-to-BB ratio since June 12) and he would likely get major run support from the potent White Sox hitters. And yet, in his three MLB starts (lasting only 13 innings), Richard surrendered 15 earned runs and 25 hits, while contributing to Chicago's freefall out of first place in the AL Central. Needless to say, I dropped Richard -- even before he was sent back to the minors -- and picked up the ultra-reliable Jesse Carlson to fill out my AL-only roster. The lesson here: Stay away from rookie pitchers at all times -- even if their minor-league dominance rivals that of Mr. Kennedy.
Trevor Cahill. Brett Anderson. Dexter Fowler. Matt LaPorta. These names may have little or no meaning to the non-keeper-league fantasy player right now. But as early as next March, one of these ballers -- if not all four -- could experience Evan Longoria-like breakthroughs for the 2009 season. Currently, the foursome is carrying the torch for Team USA's Olympic baseball hopes in Beijing next week, with the mission of duplicating the Americans' gold-medal feat from 2000. After that, each player is expected to make a quantum leap to the majors -- and staying there.
A's farmhands Cahill (11 wins, 2.61 ERA, 136 Ks in 124 IP) and Anderson (11 wins, 3.55 ERA and an absurd 109/26 K-to-BB ratio) are widely hailed as the best 1-2 punch in minor league baseball, even stronger than Tampa Bay's David Price (the No. 1 overall pick in 2007) and Wade Davis. Fowler (.944 OPS, 20 steals at Double-A) is likely the next-great outfielder to emerge from the Rockies' system. And LaPorta (21 HRs this season) has garnered a recent run of fame for being the Indians' major acquisition in the CC Sabathia trade to the Brewers. Someday, that deal will be a steal on Cleveland's end.
In need of a hitter (either via trade or waiver-wire pickup) who's been scorching hot, across the board, since July 4? SI.com presents a list of the top 10 must-have-right-now producers from that sample period:
1. Matt Holliday, Rockies (25 hits, .455 average, 19 runs, 6 HRs, 13 RBIs)
2. Mike Aviles, Royals (25 hits, .417 average, 12 runs, 3 HRs, 7 RBIs)
3. Miguel Cabrera, Tigers (24 hits, 7 runs, 3 HRs, 21 RBIs)
4. Bobby Abreu, Yankees (22 hits, 415 average, 18 runs, 5 HRs, 16 RBIs)
5. Aubrey Huff, Orioles (22 hits, .423 average, 12 runs, 3 HRs, 12 RBIs)
6. Alex Rodriguez, Yankees (20 hits, .392 average, 14 runs, 4 HRs, 12 RBIs)
7. Jose Reyes, Mets (24 hits, .393 average, 12 runs, 6 RBIs, 4 steals)
8. Ryan Ludwick, Cardinals (20 hits, .370 average, 13 runs, 5 HRs, 10 RBIs)
9. Xavier Nady, Yankees (19 hits, .404 average, 15 runs, 4 HRs, 11 RBIs)
10. Shane Victorino, Phillies (19 hits, .358 average, 13 runs, 5 HRs, 12 RBIs, 4 steals)
In search of an unheralded Tuesday spot starter for your fantasy lineup, one who may bring glory in Ks, ERA and WHIP -- if for just one night? Well, to be honest, there are no candidates who immediately jump off the waiver-wire page. After all, we're talking about a flawed group, such as Nate Robertson (can we really trust any Tigers pitcher these days?), Jon Garland, Seattle knuckleballer R.A. Dickey, the Nationals' John Lannan, Pittsburgh's Zach Duke and Kansas City's Brian Bannister.
With that said, I am going to recommend a slumping Jonathan Sanchez. Sure, the Giants pitcher hasn't surpassed 5 1/3 innings in his last five starts, allowing 17 earned runs in 16 innings during that span. But from May 16 to July 19, Sanchez posted a sterling K/BB ratio of 77/31, while allowing four-plus runs in only one outing. Sanchez, 25, is part of the Giants' three-headed monster of stud pitchers (along with Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain), and it's natural for a third-year player to have a few bumps in the road. But I have a gut feeling his turnaround begins Tuesday -- with the reeling Braves at spacious AT&T Park.
That before I dole out the NFL preseason schedule here, thus allowing you to DVR all the games on The NFL Network (mostly tape-delayed broadcasts), you must promise -- promise! -- to turn off the "fantasy-evaluator chip" in your brain at halftime of each game. Why? Because, as a golden rule, nothing worthwhile ever happens in the second half of a preseason clash ... and to think otherwise would be a foolish exercise.
Now, I'm not saying you can't watch the second halves. I'm just advising you to ignore Brady Quinn throwing two late and utterly meaningless touchdowns against a prevent defense (like he did last year against Detroit), or when Colt Brennan sparkled against the Colts' third- and fourth-string defenses in Sunday night's Hall of Fame game. To steal a line from the great Bill Murray from "Saturday Night Live" wayyy back when ... It just doesn't matter! It just doesn't matter!
At long last, SI.com has a fantasy football game, complete with all of the drafts, waiver wires, stats and analysis you need. Take the grand tour here and sign up a league. Heck, sign up two leagues if you want. We'll be waiting.