April 15, 2010

It's been a big week in the NFL offseason, with moving vans loading up and lawyers getting PAID. In the Steel City, one superstar's fancy lawyers got him off the hook and another got a ticket out of town for assorted acts of tomfoolery. In Denver, the Broncos are in the final stages of their talent liquidation project. There's fantasy fallout galore involved in Ben Roethlisberger's freedom, Santonio Holmes' trade to the Jets, and Brandon Marshall's trade to the Dolphins.

The Marshall plan

So Denver coach Josh McDaniels finally got his wish ... Brandon Marshall is now somebody else's problem. Marshall went to the Dolphins for second-round picks in '10 and '11. While Marshall may enjoy the setting of South Beach, he won't enjoy playing with the Dolphins as much. People may rip Kyle Orton, but he's clearly a better player than the inexperienced Chad Henne. The Dolphin QB's numbers (60.8 completion rate, with 12 TDs to 14 interceptions) raise a red flag when considering Marshall's value. The surrounding WR talent (or lack thereof) is also troubling, and Marshall will face constant double coverage. You can surmise that the Fins' heavy tilt toward the rushing game -- they were third in rushing attempts -- was because of the lack of WR talent. That's reasonable, but old habits die-hard. The Dolphins will still run the ball far more than they pass it because of Henne. I'm projecting Marshall at roughly 1,000 receiving yards, and probably less, so consider him a reasonable WR2.

Thing to do in Denver when you're Dez

WR prospect Dez Bryant might as well book his flight to Denver next week, because it is pretty much set in stone that the Broncos will go after him hard in the draft. They're almost forced to do so with the trade of Marshall, because the cupboard is bare at WR. Eddie Royal fell on his face after a promising rookie season, and Jabar Gaffney's 732 receiving yards and two TDs are about as scary to opposing defenses as Elmo doing the "Single Ladies" dance. In short, the Broncos are desperate for WR help. Not that anybody was relying on Orton as anything more than a borderline fantasy backup, but the departure of Marshall kills his value stone dead. Marshall caught nearly twice as many passes (101) as the Broncos next leading receiver, Gaffney. Don't even consider Orton on fantasy draft day, because he's all down side, whether Denver improves the receiving group or not.

Holmes Stuck in baggage claim at Newark

Santonio Holmes was traded to the Jets for a fifth-round pick. That may sound like Pittsburgh got fleeced, but Holmes is bringing several carry-ons worth of baggage with him. He's facing a four-game suspension for his latest violation of the league's substance abuse policy. Another hit (so to speak), and he could sit for a year. Additionally, he's in the last year of his rookie contract. Essentially, it's a 12-game tryout to see if he gels with Mark Sanchez.

Holmes finished among the Top 10 receivers last year with 79 catches for 1,248 yards and five touchdowns, so scoring is obviously not his strong suit. He has only 20 touchdowns in four years. Theoretically, he would be the Jets' No. 1 wide receiver. His suspension makes the situation messier. Once he comes back, he'll have to work himself into the game plan and gain Sanchez's trust. The suspension aside, on a run-first, run-second team like the Jets, it will be difficult for Holmes to put up anything remotely close to last year's numbers. Consider him a middle round luxury pick, after you've filled up all of your other skill positions.

Wallace thrust into starring role

The Steelers obviously felt good enough about promising second-year player Mike Wallace to let him take Holmes' place in the starting lineup, and for good reason. Dude caught 39 passes for 756 yards and six touchdowns out of the slot as a rookie. If he turns into their top receiving threat, it's reasonable to see him approximating Holmes' 2009 numbers, only with more TDs.

Hines Ward is still feisty, catching 95 balls for 1,167 yards and six TDs. Every year, pundits predict a fall for Ward, and it never happens, so I won't bother to do so here. Ward may approach his previous numbers again due to Wallace's inexperience, but the speedy Wallace will be the one getting the highlight reel big catches.

Don't get caught up in the hype that the Steelers will return to the ground-and-pound days. Unless they get unbelievably lucky in the draft, they don't have the personnel to do so. They'll turn Roethlisberger loose, just like always, and he'll be looking at Wallace breaking open deep often. There's an excellent chance for Wallace to be a WR2 with upside for your roster, so a fifth- or sixth-round pick sounds like a reasonable place for him to go in your draft.

Roethlisberger still free as a bird

Roethlisberger got himself some rich man's justice, or maybe he's as pure as the driven snow ... I don't know. I wasn't there on any of the multiple occasions he has embarrassed himself. Innocent until proven guilty, I hear. Regardless, I seriously doubt any of this will affect his play. If nearly dying in a motorcycle accident and absorbing 189 sacks over the last four years didn't keep him from playing good football, another close shave with the law won't either. While there might be a momentary transitional phase as the Steelers shift from Holmes to Wallace, it won't affect Roethlisberger negatively. He's adept at distributing the ball to a variety of receivers, as tight end Heath Miller's 76 catches for 789 yards and six TDs clearly indicate. If the Steelers improve their offensive line in the draft, things could get even better. Roethlisberger is still a solid QB1 worthy of about a fourth-round pick.

The Sanchize expands (slightly)

With the Holmes trade, the arrow is pointing up for Sanchez. He's now surrounded by weapons in the passing game and supported by a stellar rushing attack, even taking into account that this year's LaDainian Tomlinson isn't quite last year's Thomas Jones. Still, you shouldn't get overly excited about the fantasy prospects of a second-year quarterback in an offense that attempted the fewest passes in the league. However, he can't help but improve in his second year with the surrounding talent and likely a few more opportunities to pass. Sanchez could work himself into QB2 territory by mid-season. Don't waste a draft pick on him, but keep an eye out.

Well, you can't drop it if you're not getting looks

The Holmes trade is a double-edged sword for Braylon Edwards. He has four games to prove what he couldn't do in 12 with the Jets last season ... be their No. 1 WR. While he had a couple of solid outings, he was pretty blah overall. Once Holmes comes back, the situation becomes more complicated for Edwards. As I mentioned, the Jets aren't likely to turn Sanchez loose and wing it all over the field, so there will only be so many opportunities for Edwards. In addition, neither guy is a possession receiver, so they'll also be fighting for those deep ball opportunities. Moreover, whose hands will Sanchez trust more in that case -- the Super Bowl MVP or Edward Flipperhands? That said, defenses' attention will focus squarely on Holmes, so Edwards could re-establish himself against lesser cornerbacks. By the sixth or seventh game, it should be pretty clear if Edwards is worth anything more than a roster spot on a deep bench. Draft-wise, he is bound to be overvalued on name recognition, plus Holmes' suspension. Don't overpay for him, but don't automatically dismiss him if you're getting good value. Round 10 is the highest you should nab him.

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