Finally, it's here. This has been a huge last couple of weeks as the two most powerful entities in the world of sports have returned to the masses: NFL football and The Fire Sale.
I'm as giddy as a schoolgirl. I'm not referring to the return of football either. No, I'm talking about the end of the worst three-month span on the planet known as summer.
I hate summer. I hate everything about it. I hate the heat. I hate bugs. I hate swimming. I hate golf. I hate the smell of barbecues. I hate camping. I hate fishing. You name it, if it happens during the summer chances are I don't like it
So summer is coming to an end and soon it will be our time again. The time where we roll out of bed on Saturdays and Sundays and park our butts in the recliner for a 12-14 hour shift of watching football. The heat is replaced with cool, crisp autumn air. Barbecues are replaced with pizza. Swimming and golf are replaced with sitting and doing nothing. Everything makes sense again.
Some of you can keep playing golf and telling yourselves it's fun. People like me will wait patiently. Just a couple more weeks and our time will arrive. Soon our beloved football will return and all will be right with the world once again.
Now that the lockout is over and summer is ending, let's talk some football. On with the Fire Sale ...
Patriots passing game -- I really like the Chad Ochocinco trade for New England. After what Tom Brady did last year with that average group of receivers puts him in the Joe Montana class for me. I think Brady may end up being the single best football player I've ever seen when it's all said and done.
The last time the Patriots gave Brady a legit No. 1 receiver, he broke every passing record in the book. Ochocinco isn't Randy Moss. No one has the pure freakish physical skills that Moss possessed. Still, if you don't think Ochocinco is a big upgrade over Brandon Tate, I'm guessing you won't win your fantasy league this year.
Not only will Ochocinco help Brady's already gaudy numbers, Deion Branch should also benefit. Branch was a formidable fantasy receiver after rejoining the Patriots last year. I expect that trend to continue in 2011. Throw in young tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, along with the steady Wes Welker, and Brady has to be loving life right now.
One final note to everyone in the media: Stop saying "The Patriot Way" or I'm going to lose it. I worked in New England and "The Patriot Way" is to win at virtually any cost. Case closed.
Ryan Williams, RB, Cardinals -- I've been watching college football religiously for many years, and Williams is one of my all-time favorite collegiate players. When I watch Williams run he reminds me of the greatest player I've ever seen, Walter Payton.
Now, I'm not saying Williams is Sweetness. I'm just referring to his violent, aggressive running style. Think of Williams as a quicker, much faster version of Marion Barber.
Williams is the total package. He has size, speed, vision and a great burst in the open field. I thought the Cardinals selection of Williams was the single best pick in the entire draft.
So am I worried about Beanie Wells? If you're asking that question this is obviously your first time reading the Fire Sale. Since the day he was drafted I pointed out that while talented, Wells had no heart or toughness. He proved that at Ohio State when he would take himself out of big games with minor injuries. Some players can't play with pain. Wells is the poster boy for that group.
I keep hearing how Wells is in tremendous shape. That's great. The first time he takes a hard hit that means he'll look better standing on the sidelines. Besides, why isn't Wells always in great shape? That should tell you all you need to know about him right there.
Tim Hightower's trade to Washington not only gives Mike Shanahan one more back to taunt fantasy owners with, it really opens the door for Williams in Arizona. Now all the rookie has to do in order to be the featured back is outplay a guy who gets hurt blowing his nose. I like those odds.
Williams is my pick to win Offensive Rookie of the Year. I believe he'll be getting 20-plus carries a game by Week 5 and I see 1,100 yards and 12 scores for the young battering ram this season. Williams is the one rookie I would reach for in my fantasy draft. I think it will pay off for owners when it's all said and done. He's currently going between Rounds 11-13 in most drafts. That's highway robbery in my book.
Brandon Pettigrew, TE, Lions -- Can someone please explain to me why this guy is being selected on average between Rounds 9-12? Did he break his leg? Did the Lions sign Antonio Gates? Did Matthew Stafford get hurt again already? What am I missing here?
The reason I ask is because last year Pettigrew caught 71 passes for 722 yards and four scores with me and my next door neighbor throwing him the ball. Pettigrew is actually the tight end I'm targeting this year, and if I have to "reach" for him in Round 8 or 9, tell me where I sign.
Pettigrew has a shot to be a Top 5 fantasy tight end this season with all the weapons around him in Detroit. Now, I'm not going to insult your intelligence by suggesting Stafford will remain healthy all year but if he can play 10 games, Pettigrew should total 80 catches, 900 yards and eight touchdowns for fun.
I like to wait on tight ends while I fill my roster with running backs, receivers and a strong quarterback. Pettigrew is the guy I will be waiting on this year and I'll start him with extreme confidence every week.
Mike Sims-Walker, WR, Rams -- This signing isn't getting talked about a lot by the national media, but in the fantasy world, I think it could end up being huge.
I've never been a Sims-Walker guy. I don't care if two players score the same amount of fantasy points at the end of the year; I want the guy who is more consistent on a week-to-week basis. Sims-Walker has never been that kind of receiver. One week he'll score you 30 fantasy points then he'll go a month where he won't score you 30 points combined.
However, if you take all the signings and you look at talent level combined with opportunity, we could be talking about a massive draft-day steal in Sims-Walker. Say what you want about new Rams offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels as a head coach, the guy knows the passing game as well as anyone currently coaching in the NFL. Look at his resume. In 2007 the Patriots offense broke every major passing record and last season he directed journeymen players like Kyle Orton and Brandon Lloyd to career years.
In my opinion, this Rams offense is going to blow up under McDaniels. With Sam Bradford entering his second year and McDaniels' ability to find mismatches in the passing game, I think you're looking at one of the top aerial attacks in the NFL this season.
I was discussing the Rams with a friend recently, and he said, "They have no one to throw the ball to." I disagree. Sims-Walker gives St. Louis a borderline No. 1 option, and Danario Alexander has big-time sleeper potential. The Rams also added a lot of nice pieces through the draft. Actually, next week I'll be talking about tight end Lance Kendricks, who I believe has a shot to be one of the NFL's top offensive rookies this season.
Now that he has signed with a team, Sims-Walker will start getting selected a couple of rounds earlier, which puts him in that 10th-round area. I'll take a shot on the No. 1 receiver in a McDaniels offense with the 120th pick. That's good value right there.
Percy Harvin, WR Vikings -- If you look at all the free agent signings and how they fit into the fantasy football world, has any player benefited more than Harvin?
First, instead of having rookie Christian Ponder under center, Harvin now has Donovan McNabb throwing him the ball. McNabb may not be the player he was five years ago but I think we would all agree that for fantasy purposes, this is a huge upgrade.
Then the Vikings top receiver, Sidney Rice, leaves for Seattle. Some people may look at that as a negative for Harvin but I disagree. Harvin did just fine last year without Rice in the lineup.
I've always been a huge Harvin fan, going back to his days at Florida. While the media was constantly drooling over Tim Tebow I thought Harvin was the most explosive player in the country. When he was injured, the Florida offense wasn't the same. In my eyes Harvin has always been a special player.
Harvin does have one huge downside: Migraines. Some people think Migraines are just headaches and have questioned Harvin's toughness. For those of us who know someone that suffers from migraines, we can tell you it's a lot more than just a headache. There's no way a guy can play a football game if he's suffering from a migraine. It's just not possible.
Still, I believe the risk doesn't outweigh the reward when it comes to Harvin. I have a hunch Harvin is going to have the most productive season of his career in 2011. I would feel more than comfortable having Harvin as my No. 2 fantasy receiver. I'm really high on him this year.
I also think Visanthe Shiancoe is one of the most undervalued fantasy players heading into drafts but that's a conversation for another time.
DeSean Jackson, WR Eagles -- There's no question that Jackson is a tremendous football player. I think he's the most explosive open-field runner not named Chris Johnson or Mike Vick. The reason I don't like Jackson as much as some other receivers may sound strange. The reason is actually Vick.
Let me take you back to last year. At about the midseason point I traded for Jeremy Maclin and he helped me make a run at the league title. The reason I wanted Maclin so bad is because while he's also blazing fast, the Eagles have him run much shorter routes than they do Jackson.
This is a key point with Vick at quarterback. Jackson is the big-play guy, so he's often running deeper patterns that take longer to develop. That's a problem with Vick because although he's much better at going through his reads than he was earlier in his career, Vick isn't going to stay in the pocket very long, nor should he.
Vick looks at his first two or three options, but if they aren't open initially, he's most likely going to take off. I think this hurt Jackson's production last year and helped Maclin. I don't see that changing much this season.
Jackson is going to have his share of huge games. However, I think you can expect to see more of the inconsistency that we witnessed last year as long as Vick is under center. When you look at where Jackson is getting drafted, the other receivers being taken in that area are guys like Larry Fitzgerald, Greg Jennings, Vincent Jackson, Reggie Wayne and Dwayne Bowe. I would take any of those receivers over Jackson in a heartbeat.
I would take Maclin over Jackson as well. I think he's the safer play, especially in PPR leagues. I have Maclin rated a few spots ahead of Jackson in my rankings. At the end of the day we're talking about a guy with a second/third round price tag that caught 47 balls and only six scores last year. Oh, and he isn't happy with his contract either. Sorry, but I'll pass.
Let me say one final thing about the Eagles. Following their recent free agent splurge, a lot of people have the Eagles winning the Super Bowl. They've even been referred to as a "Dream Team." I suppose everyone is just glossing over the loss of Sav Rocca, huh? I don't know how a team can be considered a Super Bowl favorite when they're breaking in a new punter. That's crazy talk.
Julio Jones, WR Falcons -- I'm going to state what I believe is a fact and it's meant as no disrespect to Jones: He was the third best receiver in his own conference last season.
Alshon Jeffery was the best receiver in the SEC, followed by A.J. Green and then Jones. Yes, for those of you who don't watch a lot of college football, Jeffery was the best. He's the closest thing I've seen to Randy Moss. You'll find out next year when Jeffery is selected in the Top 10, wins Offensive Rookie of the Year, goes to the Pro Bowl and is inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame after only one season in the NFL. So yes, I really like Alshon Jeffery.
Getting back to Jones, he's going to be a really good receiver but his average draft position so far is somewhere in the neighborhood of Round 8. That's right around where receivers like Johnny Knox, Deion Branch, Santana Moss, Kenny Britt and the Steve Smith twins are being selected. I'm sorry, but no thanks. That's too rich for my blood.
Jones will eventually be big-time in Atlanta. He has size, speed and toughness. I also think Jones is going to have a productive rookie season. Still, if you're drafting Jones to be your WR2 you're asking way too much.
Jones is probably the most overvalued player heading into fantasy drafts this year. If you can get him as your third or fourth receiver, take a shot. However, if you're expecting Jones to be one of your top fantasy wideouts, you'll be making a trade for another receiver a couple of weeks into the season.
Roy Williams, WR Bears -- For the second time in four years the Cowboys have released a guy named "Roy Williams" who can't play. I would say thanks for nothing but that would be a slap in the face to nothing. Now that Williams is no longer taking up space in Dallas, keep an eye on sixth-round pick Dwayne Harris out of East Carolina. Harris could end up being a steal for the Cowboys and emerge as a solid fantasy contributor as a rookie.
The media likes to point out that Williams' best year was under Mike Martz in Detroit. OK, that was five years ago. A lot of things have changed since '06. Think about what you were doing in '06. That's when Williams had his one and only great NFL season.
By the way, what in God's name are the Bears doing? Their strategy is to sign every player that stunk someplace else? Williams was so bad last year that he began losing reps to Kevin Ogletree. Vernon Gholston was a huge bust for the Jets and Amobi Okoye was awful in Houston. What's next? The Bears put in a call to JaMarcus Russell?
Miami Dolphins -- Apparently the Dolphins are high on Andrew Luck because that's the direction they are headed in right now.
Listen, I'm not saying Miami has to give up the world for Kyle Orton. In NFL terms, I think Orton is basically an 8-8 quarterback. So let's say they aren't going to get Orton. What's the Dolphins Plan B? Matt Moore? That's not good enough.
I'm looking at this Miami team and two words keep coming to mind: "Stay Away." In case you've forgotten, Miami plays in the same division as the Patriots and Jets, two teams considered strong Super Bowl contenders on paper. So if you're a Miami fan, what's your goal exactly? To finish ahead of the Bills? Wow, keep reaching for the stars.
This once proud franchise has been average for way too long. Usually when a team keeps teetering on average, sooner or later the bottom falls out. Unless the Dolphins make a drastic move to improve their quarterback situation, I think this could finally be the year the bottom falls out on them.
I have no intention of drafting anyone on the Miami offense. In a PPR league if you can get Reggie Bush as a RB3 or Brandon Marshall slips to the point where you can't resist taking him, those aren't terrible moves. As a general rule though, I would advise staying away from the Miami offense overall. This team has disaster written all over it on the offensive side of the ball.
Miami could still make moves to improve its offense, but as of right now, I would refrain from taking your fantasy talents to South Beach this season.
Since I have an undying devotion to college football I've decided to take a look at a few undrafted free agents who could make a splash if things break the right way. Obviously, these players are long shots but so were LeGarrette Blount and Christopher Ivory heading into last season. Hey, you never know, right? Let's not leave any stone unturned.
John Clay, RB Steelers -- Clay and the Steelers are a match made in heaven. Clay is a big bruiser in the Barry Foster-mold, and Pittsburgh doesn't have much behind Rashard Mendenhall and Isaac Redman. If Clay makes the final roster, he could factor in should Mendenhall go down.
Mossis Madu, RB Buccaneers -- Madu wasn't a star at Oklahoma but that's because he was part of a loaded backfield that included DeMarco Murray and highly-touted freshman Roy Finch. Madu is an excellent receiver out of the backfield and that skill could help him carve out a role with the Bucs.
DeAndre Brown, WR Eagles -- Brown has freakish physical tools. Seriously, you don't normally see guys with this much talent go undrafted. The problem with Brown is he never put it all together in college after a strong freshman campaign. He was plagued by injuries and a bad attitude at times. If Brown gets it together, the Eagles could have a real find on their hands. Then again, by the time you read this Philadelphia will probably have just coaxed Jerry Rice out of retirement, so it won't matter.
Jeff Maehl, WR Texans -- It always goes back to Bill Belichick's simplistic breakdown of what he looks for in a receiver: A guy who gets open and catches the football. That's Maehl. The Texans have an explosive offense but one thing they're missing is a consistent slot receiver. Maehl could help in that area.
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