Here in minicamp season, hope springs eternal. Everyone visited the fountain at Lourdes on their break and is miraculously healing from injuries. There are endless stories about who is back at what percent, what previously hands-less receiver is catching everything in sight, and how some teams are set up to overcome crippling injuries and suspensions to stars. By now, you know all these silly claims by heart. They're like the endless droning of the vuvuzelas at World Cup matches.
Just because I like to be a downer, here are a couple of situations that aren't all sunshine, roses and Swiss victories over Spain.
The situation between San Diego and two of its stars, wide receiver Vincent Jackson and left tackle Marcus McNeill is getting ugly. Neither player will sign his contract tender offer, and both men are threatening to extend holdouts into the regular season. This would be a disaster of epic proportions, considering the makeup of the Chargers offense.
McNeill is, by far, the team's best offensive lineman, and a steadying presence in a group whose middle name was upheaval during the 2009 season. Injuries and ineffectiveness plagued the line, and one of the results was the team ranking second to last in rushing. If McNeill misses any time at all, or doesn't show up in fighting shape, rookie RB Ryan Mathews could face serious challenges living up to the hype.
Jackson missing time would be equally burdensome. The only other receiving threat on the team is tight end Antonio Gates. If Malcom Floyd and Legedu Naanee are the starting wideouts, Gates will be triple-covered, because those guys don't bring much to the table. Keep a close eye on the V-Jax situation in the run-up to your drafts. If training camp starts and he's not around, start dropping him down your draft board.
In other San Diego news, former Buffalo WR Josh Reed is interesting in a Chargers uniform. He gives the team the possession receiver they've lacked since Keenan McCardell five years ago, and the Chargers give Reed a legitimate quarterback for the first time in his career. Reed could be an interesting late-round pick in larger leagues, or someone to keep an eye on for a waiver wire claim in smaller leagues. At a minimum, he'll win the Chargers No. 3 WR gig.
You're on the clock and looking for a RB2. Quick, do you pick Ricky or Ronnie? If you answered Ricky, you're far more likely to win your fantasy league. In a random poll of mock drafts, Ricky Williams provides far better value than Ronnie Brown. Williams is typically coming off the board around 20 spots lower than Brown. Welcome to crazy town, where up is down. The numbers (and history) don't even begin to bear out a scenario where Brown will give you more bang for your buck.
Brown hasn't gone through a season injury-free in his five-year career. His '09 campaign ended with a foot injury in Week 9, and this was just the latest of his leg-related woes. Not an especially good sign for a running back.
Looking at the last two years, the numbers are comparable. Williams averaged 4.86 yards per touch, and Brown averaged 4.69. Both players scored 18 touchdowns. That's not a world of difference if you're in a standard scoring league, but there's a noticeable contrast in PPR leagues. Williams caught 64 passes to Brown's 47, and Brown's catches were down to just 14 in '09.
So basically, what you're getting for Brown is a bigger name at a higher price, and one whose only guarantee is that he will be injured at some point. Williams might be off-brand at this point in his career, but the price is right, and the value he'll give you at the RB3/Flex slot (and RB2 at some point in the season) is too good to pass up.
Let's all wish a belated happy Flag Day to everyone's favorite fake soldier, Kellen Winslow. From his bizarre rantings to his endless succession of knee injuries, Winslow is a walking, talking tall tale. He recently missed Tampa Bay's OTAs after a fifth surgery on his right knee in his six-year career. Based on last year's numbers, Winslow is easily a TE1. He was the Bucs leading receiver by a lot, and the second best, Antonio Bryant, is gone now. That leaves him at the top of the targeting order, with only has-beens and never-weres to distract QB Josh Freeman's attention from him.
Of course, that cuts both ways. Defenses won't have a problem rolling an extra man up on Winslow and making those unheralded WRs beat them. This also presumes that Winslow even stays healthy for the whole season, which he's done once in his career. I'd feel much better about his chances of shaking off coverage if the Bucs picked up a veteran wideout; perhaps Terrell Owens could help.
If they don't, it seems likely that Winslow will be blanketed with defenders when he's able to remain healthy. If you wait a bit on a TE your draft, you might be better served taking a Jermichael Finley or Zach Miller, players who haven't peaked yet. This latest injury is just another reminder of why he's not to be relied on.
Everyone was going bananas over Matt Forte after his surprisingly effective '08 rookie season. He went in the Top 5 picks in most fantasy drafts, and you'd be hard-pressed to find anyone who said he'd do worse in '09 with a better quarterback, Jay Cutler.
It didn't work out that way, of course. Forte fought injuries all season, didn't receive much help from the wide receiving corps, and was saddled with an offensive line that couldn't block anyone from icing him.
Word from Chicago's minicamp is that Forte recovered and regained the spring in his step, and will return to his rookie form. Assuming this bears even a passing resemblance to the truth, Forte could be a fantasy force under new offensive coordinator Mike Martz. The offensive guru has a history of getting plenty out of running backs, particularly ones that are as nifty catching the ball as Forte. That's not just Marshall Faulk; Frank Gore also prospered under Martz. Several Detroit Lions RBs also could have prospered under Martz's tutelage, but they played for the Detroit Lions in the Matt Millen era, so obviously that didn't occur.
Forte fits the system perfectly, and if the offensive line can get in order, he's a real fantasy threat. While he should not be drafted as a RB1, don't be surprised if by the end, he puts up those kinds of numbers. Of course, it's a big "if" to say that Chicago's blocking will be squared away this season.
Mike Gilbert is RotoExperts.com's Senior NFL Editor and a 2010 FSWA award winner. Need accurate and up-to-date daily and weekly MLB player ratings? Check out RotoExperts Xclusive Edge Rankings.