by Russ Bliss (8/1/11)

Now that the business of the NFL is up and running, it seems like there is a bunch of news happening every day. I guess there is a bunch of news as months of player activity is being condensed into barely 2 weeks before preseason games start up. Free agent activity and trades have been going on a furious pace since the owners and players finally came to an agreement. Here are some of the moves that have made news that will impact fantasy football cheat sheets and rankings as fantasy drafts approach.


Kevin Kolb: Acquired by the Arizona Cardinals from the Philadelphia Eagles via trade, Kolb steps in immediately as the starter even though his resume boasts limited starting experience and inconsistent play. However, Kolb is certainly more talented than anyone the Cardinals had under center at any time in 2010 and the Cards as a team still managed to pass for nearly 3,000 yards. He should easily better that by 15% and that would place him with about 3,400 passing yards. If Kolb turns out to be as good as the Cardinals think he can be, his upside is much higher and he does have some weapons to work with in Arizona. But limited time to practice and questions surrounding him make him a bit risky to trust as anything more than a high upside fantasy backup.

Matt Hasselbeck: Changing scenery from Seattle to Tennessee could be a good thing for the aging Hasselbeck. If he can shake the injury bug that has plagued him the last few seasons, Hasselbeck could be in for a bit of re-birth with the Titans. However it could also be that Hasselbeck is at the end of his career and not able to reproduce the magic of former glory days as a solid starting fantasy QB. There are more weapons though in Tennessee than he had to work with in Seattle and as a backup fantasy QB he offers some potential. But if he fails or the team isn't in playoff contention late in the season, you can be certain to see rookie Jake Locker.

Donovan McNabb: With the Washington debacle in the rear view mirror, McNabb gets one last chance, now as a Viking, to prove he has something left in his tank. The odds are about 50/50. He'll have the league's best RB to hand off to, but Minnesota's WR corps needs to replace Sidney Rice and provide better offensive line protection. McNabb struggled last year in a similar situation and now, for the first time in his career, he'll be running an offense that isn't based in the west coast system. Can he handle it? I have my doubts and think it only a matter of time before we see whether the Vikings made a mistake selecting Christian Ponder as early in the NFL draft as they did. I'd rather have Kolb or Hasselbeck myself.

Bruce Gradkowski: For all the bluster about the Bengals being ready and comfortable to start rookie Andy Dalton, they wasted no time getting a veteran so they didn't have to rush Dalton in right away. Not that I disagree with the move as think Gradkowski makes a nice bridge QB. Gradkowski has never been really successful like Hasselbeck and McNabb have been in the past and is still trying to prove his detractors (like me) wrong about him not being able to be a solid NFL QB. I wonder how much of a mentor he'll be as he hasn't been gracious about losing starting jobs in the past. For fantasy purposes, Gradkowski has always been a streaky QB who can have some really good games along with some real clunkers and you never really know when those games will happen. I will not be surprised if we see Dalton before too long into the season.
Tarvaris Jackson: Either Charlie Whitehurst really stinks, or the Seahawks plan on tanking the season so they can draft Andrew Luck next year. While Jackson hasn't been awful all the time when starting games in the past, he's barely been watchable most of the time. I've questioned Pete Carroll's decision making in the past and while he has sometimes proven me wrong, he's also quite often proven me right. To really put it into perspective, Jackson wasn't even considered by the Washington Redskins (who are currently slated to start John Beck or stage a competition between Beck and Rex Grossman if they can get Grossman to re-sign). I wouldn't want any current Seahawks QB on my fantasy roster and won't even consider them.

Running Backs

DeAngelo Williams: I really expected Williams to leave the Panthers and become a feature RB in another city, but he chose to take the money (can you blame him?) and stay in Carolina. This hurts his fantasy vale, along with the value of Jonathan Stewart. For last year's surprise RB (Mike Goodson) who was expected to have earned himself a larger role this year, it practically kills his fantasy value. If Williams went to another team, he could have been a fantasy RB1, Stewart would have been a fantasy RB 1/2, and Goodson a high upside RB4 with greater potential in ppr formats. Williams staying in Carolina means he is a RB2, Stewart a RB 2/3, and Goodson a waiver wire injury pickup.
Cedric Benson: Benson may have some issues emotionally, but either he or his agent knew that when the Bengals scheduled Ahmad Bradshaw for a visit they couldn't afford to let the one year deal the Bengals were offering to Benson get off the table. That was smart as Benson would have had a hard time finding another place where he could have been a feature runner. Back in Cincinnati, Benson will be the bell cow again for a franchise that wants to get back to running the football. More importantly, with Bruce Gradkowski and Andy Dalton at QB, the Bengals NEED to get back to running the football. Many considered Benson's 2010 season to be inferior to his 2009 season, and while he did accumulate 73 total fewer yards, he scored 2 more TD's and caught 11 more passes in 2010. Barring him breaking down, Benson is a good bet to get around 1,200 rushing yards in 2011. But his TD totals may not get better than the 6 he had in 2009.
Joseph Addai: Credit Peyton Manning for the Colts re-signing Addai as Manning knows Addai is a great blocker and solid all around RB. Problem is that Addai isn't special in any one category besides blocking, and his presence back in Indianapolis limits the upside of Delone Carter (who was ticketed to be a great fantasy football sleeper as a rookie in 2011). It also puts the breaks on any type of potential Donald Brown may have had (although Brown has previously proven to not be as good expected when given chances to succeed). The outlook for the Colts backfield in 2011 looks to be Addai as the primary RB and 3rd down RB with Carter likely to split rushing duties with him. Carter should also be the short yardage and goal line RB. Brown will be the top backup to both. Addai is likely to be the better ppr RB while in scoring leagues Carter could turn out to be quite the TD weapon.
Willis McGahee: If McGahee had moved on to Denver before this season he may have made a major impact, but he'll be 30 in October and is slated to be nothing more than a short yardage and goal line RB for the Broncos behind Knowshon Moreno. At least that's the plan while McGahee sits at 235 lbs. If he slims down some in pre-season, it's not difficult to imagine him getting a bigger role, especially since Moreno has a problem staying healthy. We also know John Fox has little problem using bigger RB's (he gave Jonathan Stewart a lot of carries in Carolina) to complement smaller RB's and that could again be the case in Denver. McGahee is likely to be drafted late, and has the upside to be a nice surprise for fantasy owners in 2011 if things break right for him.
Reggie Bush: Finally having run out of time to really produce in new Orleans, Bush takes his talents to South Beach and will be the change up RB to Daniel Thomas in Miami. Thomas is underrated as a pass catcher, but he isn't explosive, being more of a grinder RB. Bush will add an element of excitement and big play capability to the Dolphins backfield. It's said Bush wanted a bigger role than what he was getting in New Orleans and if the Dolphins commit to running the ball more he may have some value as a RB 3/4 in ppr formats.
Darren Sproles: Sproles replaces Bush in New Orleans. His presence kind of makes things clearer as to how the Saints backfield is going to shake out in 2011. Mark Ingram will be the primary RB. Sproles will be the 3rd down RB and change of pace. Pierre Thomas will be worked in some as the top backup to both. It's not likely that Sproles gets enough touches to really be fantasy impactful though.
Tim Hightower: To further muddy up the Washington Redskins RB situation, Hightower was acquired from the Arizona Cardinals. His acquisition makes things easier to see in Arizona, but in Washington, he further makes it harder to trust Ryan Torain or Roy Helu or Evan Royster as having fantasy value. Hightower catches the ball very well, and may be used as the 3rd down RB (thusly killing the value of Kieland Williams all the way around). He has been inconsistent running the ball, but maybe he fits the zone system in Washington better than he did the system in Arizona. I think that the Redskins job is Torain's to lose, but he has an extensive injury history and that could open the door for the rookies (Helu and Royster). Hightower could figure into the mix, but I can't say I'd draft him in any format right now.
Marion Barber: I'm not sure how Barber fits into the Chicago Bears offense as he appears like a strange fit. Barber hasn't been the same RB he used to be when he was "Marion the Barbarian". Injuries have zapped him of his former power and elusiveness and unless they come back, he'll have a hard time beating out Chester Taylor for being Matt Forte's top backup. Barber is no threat to Forte's fantasy value, and if he finds his power again, maybe he can be the goal line RB the Bears have lacked. But there's little chance of fantasy relevance with him.
Brandon Jackson: Jackson is a jack of all trades who excels at nothing. His signing by the Cleveland Browns is more an indictment of his knowledge of the type of offensive system the Browns are implementing under Pat Shurmur rather than any skills he brings. Jackson will be a backup to both Peyton Hillis and Montario Hardesty and provide unexciting, but veteran insurance in case either gets injured.

Wide Receivers

Chad Ochocinco: While many think Ochocinco going to New England means a return to a high placing on fantasy football rankings, I have my doubts. Tom Brady is notorious for spreading the ball around and I don't see that changing just because of Ochocinco's presence. There's still Wes Welker, Deion Branch, young Brandon Tate, TE's Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, and RB Danny Woodhead all there. Ochocinco will bring better size to the WR corps, but whether he's able to get back to fantasy prominence, I question. Could he be a top 15 fantasy WR? Yes. Could he end up with only 60 catches for 800 yards and 6 TD's? Yes to that too.
Plaxico Burress: Landing with the New York Jets is a good thing for Plax as he will be an immediate starter, but not have to be the playmaker thanks to the presence of Santonio Holmes. It's kind of funny that the Jets now start two former playmaking WR's for the Steelers. Burress isn't a big play threat anymore, but he has excellent hands and will provide a big threat in the red zone. There's a good chance Plax leads the Jets in TD receptions even though Holmes will best him in catches and yards.
Roy Williams: Another WR bringing the element of size to a new team is Williams. Bye bye Dallas; hello Chicago, and a reuniting with Mike Martz. Williams is likely to start opposite explosive Johnny Knox right away for the Bears and push Earl Bennett to the slot as the #3 WR. Devin Hester goes to being able to focus on returns and be the #4 WR. Williams had his best season ever in 2006 when coached before by Martz and while he isn't a playmaking WR, he could be a real surprise and bargain in fantasy leagues in the later rounds as fantasy owners ignore him because of his previous disappointing seasons in Dallas. In this offense, Williams definitely has the upside to be a WR3/4.
Steve Breaston: The lockout has caused some teams to become leery of trusting starting positions to rookies who haven't been able to get any time in the classrooms or on the field and the signing of Breaston by Kansas City is a prime example of that. Jonathan Baldwin was brought in to be a starter opposite Dwayne Bowe, but like all rookies, Baldwin's development was hindered by the lockout. The solution for the Chiefs was to go get Breaston. Breaston has experience in Todd Haley's offense from their time together in Arizona and will likely step in right away as a starter. While I like Breaston, I can't say I'm sold on Matt Cassel at QB and think Breaston is no more than a WR4. Bowe needs to prove last year wasn't a fluke, and Breaston's presence ends most of the potential Baldwin had of making an impact as a rookie.  
Mike Sims-Walker: In terms of fits, it's only fitting an injury prone WR like MSW should go to the team (St. Louis) that was decimated by injuries at the WR position in 2010. The Rams have a glut of WR's and while MSW has a big time advantage in terms of talent, his inability to stay healthy and diva attitude could get him into trouble. Of course, he could also turn out to be Josh McDaniels next Brandon Lloyd. It's really hard to get a read on the potential for any Rams WR, but I'd say it's either Sims-Walker or Danario Alexander who have the best upside to be fantasy relevant. Danny Amendola is a potential ppr machine, but not much of a threat for big plays. MSW is boom or bust for the Rams.
Santana Moss/Jabar Gaffney/Donte Stallworth: The Washington Redskins were busy at WR. They re-signed Moss (good move) and brought in both Gaffney (from Denver) and Stallworth (from Baltimore). Moss will be an immediate starter again coming off a great 2010 season. Gaffney will provide competition with Anthony Armstrong to be the other starter. The loser will then battle Stallworth for the #3 WR duties. The only one with any real fantasy value is Moss as a WR2. The others are likely to cancel each other out, but I think Armstrong has the best chance to be fantasy relevant. When in doubt, tie goes to the young guy instead of the aging vets.
Sidney Rice: Rice brings playmaking ability to a Seahawks passing attack that lacked it entirely in 2010. Unfortunately now, the Seahawks also lack a quality QB now. Rice has talent, but I doubt he has enough to be more than a WR 2/3 at best with Tarvaris Jackson throwing the ball. At least Seattle has a clear cut image at WR with Rice as the explosive #1 and Mike Williams the big possession WR at #2. But when WR's are hamstrung by poor QB's, they usually don't produce consistent fantasy numbers.