August 22, 2012

The most informative, entertaining fantasy column on the planet has returned for another season. Also, The Fire Sale is back for the 12 of you who care.

Entering its 14th season, The Fire Sale will continue to try and stay ahead of the curve. You won't hear me talk a lot about a guy like Eric Decker. You know why? I've been writing about him for the last two years. I've been promoting Decker since he was drafted and had him as a sleeper last season when no one else was even mentioning his name.

The guy is going to catch 90 balls this year, so anyone now referring to Decker as a "sleeper" is basically telling you the sky is blue. If someone needs to wait and make a prediction only when it becomes so obvious that my wife could do it then what good are they?

Oh sure, you could also mention that I once called Cade McNown the next Joe Montana, said Marquise Walker (Google him) would be a Pro Bowl receiver and declared Lance Kendricks would be named the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year last season. You could bring them, up but I figure anyone who listened to those awful predictions has stopped reading this column anyway, so it really doesn't matter.

Like always I'll try and have some fun this season, but above all The Fire Sale will attempt to identify the bandwagons before most people realize there is a bandwagon. Here's to a great 2012 fantasy season everyone.

Now, on with The Fire Sale...

Jake Locker, QB, Titans -- It's tough to sell a quarterback coming off a half of football where his passer rating was a 7.0, and to be honest, I'm surprised it was that high. However, even coming off his dismal preseason performance against Tampa Bay, I'm still very high on Locker for this season. And hey, the guy was just named the starter after that putrid outing.

I think Locker will be a top-12 fantasy quarterback in 2012. Yes, Locker will be one of the top fantasy quarterbacks in 12-team leagues. That's what I'm saying.

The Titans are my sleeper team in the AFC this season. Mike Munchak impressed last year and this Tennessee team has an intriguing makeup, especially on offense. Kenny Britt has been an absolute disaster this offseason but there's still a lot to like with the Titans. Nate Washington is an underrated receiver, Jared Cook has loads of talent at tight end and Kendall Wright could be one of the NFL's most productive rookies.

If Britt can stay healthy and ever get his act together, he'll still be in the mix once he serves his impending suspension. We can argue all day whether or not Chris Johnson will regain his form as a running back, but he's still an asset as a receiver out of the backfield. So, on paper, Locker will have a lot of weapons at his disposal.

Locker is still young and developing and he has good arm strength and mobility. He isn't Cam Newton or Tim Tebow, but I see another Donovan McNabb. Remember, McNabb wasn't a running quarterback; he was a mobile quarterback, but people think he ran more than he did. In reality, McNabb topped 500 yards rushing just once in his career and scored more than three rushing touchdowns only twice in 13 seasons.

Locker is a guy who will add 300 yards and a couple of scores on the ground, numbers similar to what McNabb did during most of his career. Still, that's a nice boost to Locker's overall fantasy value.

Fantasy owners are in a perfect situation with Locker. Grab him later in your draft as a backup and then at some point this season you'll have two starting fantasy quarterbacks on your roster, giving you the flexibility to move one of them if you desire.

And if you want to draft quarterbacks based solely on preseason performance, then go with Blaine Gabbert instead. Let me know in October how that's working out for you.

Ryan Williams, RB, Cardinals -- Last year I had Williams ranked as a top-15 talent coming into the draft, alongside Mark Ingram as my top running back in the class.

I'm still high on Williams, despite the fact that he injured his knee last preseason and never played a down. Williams is a punishing runner in the Marion Barber mold. I suspected that once Beanie Wells got injured (a mathematical certainty), Williams would come in and never give up the starting job. Now we're basically back to square one this season.

But here's the thing: The Cardinals desperately want to run the football to take pressure off their inconsistent offensive line. Arizona has Larry Fitzgerald but its line and quarterback situation isn't built to throw the ball 40 times a game. John Skelton was recently named the starter but that's like saying I still have one kidney. If you prefer to live in a fantasy world and only look at the bright side of things, then be my guest.

In my opinion the Cardinals coaching staff is losing confidence in Wells and his ability to stay healthy. I mean, can you blame them? I'm pretty sure the term "game-time decision" was created a long time ago but it's hard to believe it existed before Wells came into the league. No player has taken advantage of being a game-time decision more than Wells over the last couple of seasons. Those are the players that kill fantasy owners. I would rather have a player that tears his ACL than be a game-time decision every week. At least when a player is out long-term you can move on without him.

Williams will get plenty of opportunities to show what he can do early on in the season and that's all he'll need to become the main man in Arizona's backfield. Williams looked good returning from his knee injury against Oakland and I still believe he'll be a stud in the NFL. Considering Wells hasn't played a down of football as of Aug. 20 I'll go ahead and call him a game-time decision for Week 1. No need to draw out that drama. Here's another call: Williams will rush for 1,000 yards this season. Mark it down and don't forget to send me a Christmas card.

Antonio Brown, WR, Steelers -- The Steelers made the right call in signing Brown. Not only is Brown is better than Mike Wallace, he's one of the best receivers in the NFL.

After watching a few Steelers games last season, it's surprising that some people aren't sold on this guy yet. Brown has it all. He runs great routes and makes catches with defenders draped all over him. Wallace has blinding speed but I've never seen him do the things Brown did last season.

One criticism of Brown is he only scored twice last year, but he was knocked out of bounds inside the five-yard line on four other occasions. Those things will even out at the end of the day.

One of the reasons Brown will score more is because he's such a dangerous open field runner. He's more quick than fast, similar to Wes Welker. And he also reminds of Victor Cruz with the ball in his hands. Cruz is faster but they both have moves to get by initial defenders and take short passes a long way.

Overall, the guy is tough as tails and a true No. 1 NFL receiver. Obviously, the Steelers think so as well.

Brown, though, is still getting selected in the fifth round on average ... behind Wallace. That's just stealing. Brown should be going in Round 3 at the latest. I guarantee Brown will produce better numbers than most of the guys being drafted ahead of him, regardless of what happens with Wallace. He's one of the best receivers in the NFL, and if you're not a believer yet, you will be soon.

Dwayne Allen, TE, Colts -- Allen was my top-rated tight end heading into the draft and I'm not backing off that now. Once Allen and Coby Fleener both got selected by the Colts, people forgot all about Allen. That's a mistake because Allen is the better player and he'll prove it right off the bat.

In watching a couple of Clemson games over the summer, the announcers mentioned something interesting. They noted the Clemson coaches said they moved Allen all over the field like the Patriots do with Aaron Hernandez because he's so athletic. Then this summer some of the Colts coaches also compared Allen to Hernandez because of his versatility to line-up at different positions. So that's two completely different coaching staffs that compared Allen to Hernandez. Does that do anything for you?

People who don't watch college football have pointed out that Fleener averaged 19.6 yards per catch last year, while Allen only averaged 12 yards. Again, they don't understand the situation. Stanford didn't have athletic receivers, so Fleener ran more vertical routes down the field.

On the other hand, Allen played with the Clemson track team. Sammy Watkins and DeAndre Hopkins are so fast they could give the U.S. Olympic relay team a run for their money, so Allen ran a lot of underneath routes. It doesn't mean Allen can't create mismatches down the field; trust me, he can.

We've also heard about how much Luck loves Fleener. Really? Well, Fleener caught a whopping 34 passes last year. Remember that Stanford played one of the easiest schedules in the country, and in the two games they lost -- against the only two tough teams the Cardinal faced -- Fleener totaled six receptions for 75 yards and zero touchdowns. Does that sound like love to you?

I'm not right all the time but I know deep down in my bones that Allen is the better player. Fleener will be a solid pro but Allen has the skills to be an elite tight end. In two months don't forget who set you straight on this one.

Charles Clay, TE, Dolphins - Clay played both running back and H-back at Tulsa, but I always thought he was miscast as a running back. Clay was such a productive receiver from the H-back position, it seemed odd why the team even bothered using him in the backfield at all. It made no sense. Clay has soft hands, so catching the ball has never been a problem. He's always been a better receiver than a running back.

Anthony Fasano is what he is at this point -- a good blocker but just an average receiver. Rookie Michael Egnew may have been the most overrated tight end prospect in this year's draft class. So that leaves Clay as Miami's most athletic tight end.

New Dolphins coach Joe Philbin knows he needs to get the ball into the hands of the few playmakers he has on offense. Clay is one of those playmakers. Philbin can line Clay up in different spots and use his athleticism to create mismatches in the passing game. Plus, given the Dolphins' current situation at receiver, they really need a guy like Clay to step up and provide some big plays.

Some are concerned because Clay got yelled at in practice on an episode of HBO's Hard Knocks. Well, Clay responded by playing well in Miami's first preseason game. Besides, if you're making fantasy decisions based off Hard Knocks there's a chance you drafted Chad Johnson after the first episode. How's that working out for you? Also, in Miami's second preseason game Clay ran exclusively with the first-team offense at H-back, so it's not like he's playing in the fourth quarter.

When I used to watch Clay at Tulsa I knew he would be a tight end in the NFL and I also thought he could shine in the right system. Well, I believe he's now in the right system.

Clay is a deep sleeper so there's a chance he could get cut at any time during the summer. However, if you're looking for one of those guys that comes out of nowhere to have a big fantasy season, Clay may be your guy at tight end.

Delone Carter, RB, Colts -- The Colts' running back pecking order is one of the more intriguing training camp battles for fantasy owners to keep an eye on. After getting to see Carter play quite a bit at Syracuse I liked his chances to be a successful NFL running back. Well, after one season I was wrong.

Carter disappointed as a rookie. I went back and watched some of his runs from last year and it wasn't pretty. If you take away a 42-yard scamper against the Saints, Carter may have been the worst running back in the NFL last season who got at least 100 rushing attempts. He was that bad.

Carter was indecisive, slow and easy to tackle. I don't know about you but that usually doesn't sound like a recipe for success when it comes to NFL running backs. Maybe Carter lost his confidence, but at times he was really hard to watch. If he doesn't get a lot better in a hurry, Carter will get buried on the depth chart, even in Indianapolis.

The guy to watch in Indianapolis is rookie Vic Ballard. If Carter and Donald Brown don't get the job done, Ballard will have a lot of fantasy value. Brown has talent but he has had trouble staying on the field, so a guy like Ballard could play a major role in the Colts offense.

Carter is already dealing with a rib injury and Ballard is gaining ground on him to the point where he may have locked down the backup job. With Mewelde Moore probably locked in as the third-down back, Carter is falling out of favor fast in Indianapolis.

Some tabbed Carter as a sleeper earlier in the summer. Forget about being a sleeper, Carter has to worry about just making the Colts roster. I say he gets cut. The Jets will probably pick him up, though. They seem to like big backs that don't go anywhere.

Michael Turner, RB, Falcons -- He's slower, older, doesn't catch passes and will have have his workload reduced. Should I go on? If you can get Turner in Round 8, go ahead. If you're drafting Turner in Round 4 then you must think we're drafting based on last year's statistics. You may as well draft Eddie George instead. You'll get about the same amount of production every week. The only thing Turner is "Burning" in 2012 is the fantasy owners wasting a high draft pick on him.

Justin Blackmon, WR, Jaguars -- There's a chance Blackmon will burst onto the scene and be the NFL Rookie of the Year, but let's be honest; he didn't get off to a very good start.

Soon after being drafted, Blackmon learned his offense is in such shambles that Chad Henne could actually be the Jaguars starting quarterback. Then after getting arrested for a DUI Blackmon declared he's done drinking "for now."

Boy that makes me feel good. What the heck does that mean? I used to wake up on my kitchen floor after a night of snorting Jagermeister up my nose and say "I'm done drinking for now." Then five hours later I was funneling Vodka.

Sorry if Blackmon's statement doesn't give me a warm fuzzy feeling inside or instill much confidence that he's done drinking. Again, maybe he doesn't touch another drop of alcohol and blows up as a rookie, but the facts are the facts.

I suppose finding out one of the worst franchises in sports traded up to draft you would make anyone hit the bottle. To quote the infamous Dean Wormer in Animal House, "Fat, drunk and stupid is no way to go through life, son."

I know Blaine Gabbert has looked like a Hall of Famer so far in the preseason, and Blackmon played well in his first meaningless game. That really means a lot considering Colt McCoy and Mark Sanchez were tearing it up last preseason, while Cam Newton couldn't complete a pass. How did that turn out?

Please don't listen to fantasy geeks who make predictions based off of glorified practices. It just shows they don't understand the game of football. Hey, if you don't want to hear the truth, don't read this column.

Do yourself a favor and don't draft any Jacksonville players on your fantasy team this season. At least wait until 2013, when Matt Barkley arrives. Then maybe Blackmon will finally be able to stay sober.

Sidney Rice, WR, Seahawks -- I'm going to talk about Rice this once because I don't want to have to talk about him again this season. In fantasy terms, I'm not really sure why we spend any time talking about this guy.

Here are the facts: Rice has played five seasons in the NFL. He's had one season with more than 32 receptions. He's had one season with over 500 yards receiving. He's had one season with more than four touchdowns. Guess what? It all came in the same season. You know what that means? Sidney Rice has only had one good year in the NFL.

It stuns me that people still draft this guy. Do you know how bad things have to be for a team to sign Terrell Owens? Do you know how little faith they must have in their No. 1 receiver to sign a guy who was recently released from an Indoor Football League team where he was part owner? That really says a lot.

We talk a lot about guys like Ryan Mathews and Beanie Wells, but Rice may be the least durable player in the NFL. He's only played 15 games in the last two years. People say you can't predict injuries but I think that's a bunch of garbage.

If a guy is always injured, I'm going to say he has a better chance of missing games than most players. That's just common sense. I mean who is more likely to get hurt, Rice or Reggie Wayne? I know who I have my money on.

Rice's average draft position has dropped to Round 12 but that's still too high. He's getting selected right near Vincent Brown. That's a joke. I would much rather have Brown and at the end of the year I bet Brown has better numbers and Rice will be on IR.

Don't waste your time on Rice. Go get a more durable receiver, like, say ... Malcom Floyd.

Chad Johnson, WR, Unemployed -- I don't understand, you mean Johnson met his wife on Twitter and things didn't work out? What is this world coming to? By the way, call me when this clown actually says something funny. Why do people still laugh at him? He hasn't said anything funny since 2008. If he really wants to make people laugh he should show us film of his play last season. That would have had us rolling.

Follow Thomas Casale on Twitter @ThePigskinGuy.

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