After the scintillating action that was the NFL Combine (running! jumping! multiple choice questions!), our focus this week turns back to real football players and the start of free agency.
The "last year" rules related to the expiring Collective Bargaining Agreement have produced an odd and cautious free agency period. Many players who should have been on the market this year aren't, and the free agent talent pool is shallow. The only massive splash in free agency is the Bears' uncharacteristic "all in" acquisitions of Julius Peppers, Chester Taylor, and Brandon Manumaleuna. These moves stir up some fantasy interest, so let's take a look.
Let's set aside, for the moment, that Chicago still has a long way to go in building a competent offensive line. So far, the only step they've made in that direction is throwing the carcass of Orlando Pace over the side of the boat. Addition by subtraction, certainly, but that still leaves a hole to fill, and depth is a big issue.
So then, what exactly are the Bears thinking, bringing in an older version of current starter Matt Forte? Setting aside that Taylor is a role player and Forte is a starter, their numbers over the last two years are pretty similar. Both players averaged 3.8 yards per carry and both are fairly proficient at catching the ball. Taylor has 89 catches over that two-year period to Forte's 120. Not a lot of daylight there. And it's not like Taylor is a bulldozer compared to Forte. He's a few pounds lighter, and while he might be slightly better between the tackles, he's played behind good offensive lines in Minnesota and Baltimore during his career.
There's nothing thus far to suggest that Taylor can bring something to the table that Forte doesn't. Maybe he's being brought in to push Forte, but that really doesn't matter to fantasy owners. Taylor will be good enough in tandem with Forte, however, in fantasy terms, having two similar RBs on the same roster kills both their values. As if Forte could sink any lower after last year's debacle...
In contrast to Chicago's poor choice of free agent RBs, Kansas City did the right thing. Former Jet Thomas Jones can definitely be the thunder to Jamaal Charles' lightning in the Chiefs' backfield.
When Charles took over the starting job in Week 10, he proved that a talented RB could overcome the limitations of the Chiefs' subpar O-line by averaging 121 yards per game. That's certainly impressive, but it's very hard for a sub-200 pound back to keep that up over the course of a season with no reliable backup/headbanger. Charles did well enough on the inside, but he's a rock star running on the edges.
Additionally, the number of rushing touches he got ostensibly kept him from contributing much in the passing game, which is where he has the tools to excel. Jones' presence as a pile-pusher frees up Charles to do just that. That's not to say that Jones is just going to be some change-of-pace schlub. Dude rushed for at least 1,100 for five years running, so he'll be a significant contributor.
If the Chiefs keep up their run-pass split of 43-57, you have to figure that Charles and Jones will get close to half of the offensive touches. That doesn't make either one of them a fantasy superstar, but they'll both have good value. It's a bit of a blow to Charles' value, as he was shaping up to be a first-round pick. Don't drop him too far, though; maybe the third round or so. Jones will contribute enough to be a solid mid-round pick.
Why do coaches insist on making their lives more difficult? Since the beginning of the Mike Shanahan era in 1995, Denver has always done one thing particularly well: run the ball. From '95 until Shanny's firing after the 2008 season, the Broncos ranked in the top 12 rushing teams every single season. They mainly did it with unheralded RBs like Terrell Davis and Mike Anderson -- runners who were acquired specifically because they fit into the Broncos' preferred one-cut style. This was possible because the Broncos made an organizational decision to acquire offensive linemen built to operate their highly successful zone-blocking (some would say cut-blocking) scheme. These linemen tended to be relatively smaller and more athletic than those required for teams operating a power-blocking scheme. Of course, every coach thinks he knows better than his predecessor and wants to install his own system. That's his right. But that doesn't mean it's always the smart thing to do.
Which brings us to Josh McDaniels. The Broncos finished 18th in rushing under the new management. Now, with the release of long-time center Casey Weigmann, Boy Genius McDaniels has decided to scrap the zone-blocking scheme that worked so well for the Broncos for so many years. Weigmann will likely be replaced by second-year man Seth Olsen, a larger player drafted in the fourth round, as the first piece in McDaniels' revamped line. Moves like this just drive me nuts, and I'm not even a Broncos fan. Why change a system that works? Ego? Change for the sake of change? This shift in scheme forces the Broncos to draft O-line replacements with picks that they should ostensibly use on their beleaguered defense. A flux in the line will also negatively impact Knowshon Moreno's numbers, and those weren't all that promising anyway (3.8 YPC).