Marshawn Lynch (left) and Fred Jackson :: AP
The Bills' backfield is among the most confusing to assess going into the season. They have starter Marshawn Lynch, the 12th overall pick in '07, who has held steady as a top-15 RB option in fantasy during his first two seasons, topping 1,000 yards rushing both times and catching 47 passes for 300 yards in '09. But a suspension is going to cost him the first three games.
So we should expect to see plenty of backup Fred Jackson early on, as well as a decent look at offseason acquisition Dominic Rhodes. Jackson proved last year that he could be of value in PPR leagues, as he caught three passes five times and at least six passes twice. He also carried a respectable 4.4 yards-per-carry average in limited work (130 carries) and tallied 136 rushing yards on 27 carries as the featured back when Lynch missed the regular-season finale against the Pats.
Meanwhile, BuffalloBills.com's Chris Brown wrote an interesting piece about who he thinks will step up as playmakers for the Bills this season. While discussing Jackson, he quotes RB coach Eric Studesville as saying, "I'd like to see an ever-increasing role with Fred. He's proven that he's dependable and productive in everything that we've asked him to do. So we're going to do it, get him more touches and find more ways to get him in the game."
Hypothetically, it's possible that Jackson could make the most of his three starts (versus NE, TB and NO), and force his coaches to give him more touches once Lynch returns. Jackson may be on the field and see more touches anyway, if the Bills start using the no-huddle regularly, as has been rumored. In that case, we'd likely see both Lynch and Jackson on the field together.
I'm not concerned about Rhodes affecting touches. I see him more as insurance: a veteran who can contribute when needed.
Lynch is intriguing, though, at the right price. Missing three games is going to limit his overall value and drop him down draft boards. If he drops enough, he could be a real value. Consider that the addition of T.O. will open up things for the rushing game, especially big play-making, and that playing a shortened season will keep him rested for the fantasy playoff stretch run.
Overall, I consider Lynch an RB2 with decent potential to be a top 10 RB late in the season. If I get Lynch, I'll want to get Jackson as insurance. In PPR leagues, I'll also roll the dice on Jackson -- even if I don't get Lynch -- just to see what happens. At worst, he should produce enough to be a stop-gap option.
I was recently discussing Channing Frye with a friend, as we tried to figure out what happened to this kid and his fantasy potential. The eighth overall pick of the '05 draft, Frye exploded out of the gate as a rookie for the Knicks, averaging about 14.5 points, 6.3 boards and over 50 percent from the field the first two months. But his production dwindled after that, and he's never really done anything of note since.
My friend summed it up pretty simply: "Good offense, bad defense."
When you are physically gifted but can't play defense, you aren't going to get enough game action to prove yourself in the NBA. And that's going to permanently stunt your fantasy growth.
Frye just inked a two-year deal with the Suns this week. When they were the run-and-gun Suns, Frye could have made a name for himself, because he wouldn't have had to worry about defense. But the new-look Suns will expect a two-way game from Frye, which likely will limit his minutes.
On the other hand, the Suns frontcourt is relatively thin (Amare Stoudemire, Robin Lopez, Louis Amundsun), so it's not out of the question that Frye could start and provide some scoring value in deeper fantasy leagues.
I'm betting against it, but I'll keep a close on his him just in case he beats the odds.
The Pacers saw last year's first-round pick Roy Hibbert and this year's first-round pick Tyler Hansbrough named to the first-team all-summer league squad.
I'm not expecting much of anything in fantasy terms from the rookie Hansbrough, though he averaged 18.2 points and 5.6 boards in his summer run.
Hibbert, though, is intriguing for his potential as a shot blocker in deeper leagues. He averaged 20.2 points, 9.0 baords and 1.8 blocks in his summer games. Hibbert battled foul problems throughout his rookie campaign, but he kept that problem in check in the summer league. He also began hoisting three-point shots, which he's been working on this offseason.
To be honest, I hope he doesn't start hovering around the arc much. It would just limit his rebounding, shot blocking and field-goal percentage. In 42 games last season, Hibbert averaged 9.0 points, 4.1 rebounds and 1.2 blocks on 47.3 shooting from the field in just 17 minutes of work.
If he can build on that production during his sophomore run, he could produce like he did during his final seven games last season: 12 points, six boards, 1.6 blocks in 21 minutes. During hot stretches for Hibbert, he could top two blocks a game.
In deep leagues that's plenty good to fill out a roster with.
Elsa :: Getty Images
You always hear coaches talk about how you simply can't win championships without role players. You must have those unsung heroes upon whom you can rely to be there every week and take care of the dirty work.
Derrick Mason, who announced yesterday that he's "99 percent" certain that he's retiring from the NFL, was exactly that kind of player for champion fantasy coaches since the turn of the century.
Mason finished between 1,000 and 1,200 yards six times in his past nine seasons --the other three seasons: 895 ('00), 1,303 ('04), 750 ('06). Not huge production, but solid every year. He missed just three games over that nine-year stretch and was basically a shoo-in for 80-100 catches.
Although he was in the Pro Bowl twice, he didn't get all of the glory of the top-end receivers, partially because he didn't cross the goal-line often enough to be a top-end receiver (career-best nine TDs in '01). But he was there every week and rarely left your stats empty.
Losing a guy like that isn't just tough on us fantasy folks, it's going to be even tougher on second-year Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco, who is left with Mark Clayton, Demetrius Williams, Yamon Figurs and Marcus Smith as his receiving options now.
Clayton will take over as the top option. While he's been inconsistent and prone to injury, Clayton still has plenty of upside, especially if Flacco steps it up. Williams is particularly intriguing if he's fully recovered from his Achilles injury. Williams has a load of speed, which combined with Flacco's big arm, could lead to plenty of big games.
Obviously, there's no debating that Flacco will be negatively affected by not having the Mason safety valve this year. But he can still be a successful fantasy option if Clayton and Williams do their part. In reality, all three will have to play up to expectations for the others to succeed, too. That's a lot to ask, so keep your expectations limited.