Monday, August 6, 2007

Fantasy Focus - PrePreSeason Rundown

One thing I've tried to do in the past is to make some assessments of the state of the NFL for fantasy purposes before the preseason really gets underway. The reason I think this is valuable is that most of the time, projections based on the previous year's regular season tend to be more sound than projections that are based on a couple of exhibition games that just happened. So at the end of the preseason, it's good to look back and see what you thought of the league before you sat down to look at any of that nonsense.

That's not to say that observations from the preseason are to be totally discounted. But the valuable information we learn from the preseason tends to be very specific, as opposed to general ideas about which player or team is going to be really good (or really bad) once the games start to count.

An example of a preseason observation that paid off for me was that last year I watched a Packers exhibition game and it became pretty clear that the Pack was almost completely lacking in serious offensive weapons, and that the Packers O would consist mostly of Favre flinging the ball repeatedly into double coverage trying to hook up with Donald Driver. I figured that was probably bad news for Favre, but good news for Driver, and I was mostly right - I got Double D in the sixth round and he wound up being one of the top scoring fantasy receivers in the NFL. (Favre actually had a pretty good year as well for fantasy purposes.)

One thing that jumps out at me this year is the Jets. Last year the Jets lacked a real running back, they had some new pieces on the o-line, and Chad Pennington was coming back from shoulder surgery. Despite all this, the Jets offense wound up being pretty decent. This season, the Jets have acquired Thomas Jones, they return all five starters on the line, and Pennington is completely healthy. This tells me that the Jets are poised to make a huge leap and become one of the top offenses in the league.

For that reason I expect Pennington and Coles to significantly outperform last year's numbers, and for Jones to have a good year as well. If Jones happens to be available when I pick in the first non-keeper round of my draft, I'll take him; otherwise I'll take Coles or Pennington if one of them happens to fall to the middle rounds.

Another team with great line cohesion is the Philadelphia Eagles - they return five starters from last year's opening day as well. The big question with the Eagles of course is the health of Donovan McNabb, who has been the second-best fantasy QB in the league the last three years when he's been healthy. Unfortunately he hasn't been healthy all that much.

I'd say Brian Westbrook is a good bet here, as is newly promoted WR1 Reggie Brown. Brown is a great candidate to have a breakout year and to be a steal in the middle rounds of most drafts. McNabb is more of a risk, and as much as I'd like to have him on the squad, I'll probably avoid him unless he somehow slips to the 6th round.

Teams I'm not feeling great about that some people seem high on - Arizona, a team that every year has a lot of impressive-sounding weapons but never seems to consistently produce from week to week. Detroit, a team with a nice collection of talent but that has a history of ineffectiveness and frustration.

Browns Beat - August 6th

Not much of great note coming out of Browns training camp this weekend, but here's a rundown of some assorted stuff that the team sent out on the wire.

The news with the biggest impact is the moving of former left tackle (and big 2006 free agent signing) Kevin Shaffer over to right tackle. Shaffer is not too pleased with the move, to be sure, but there's nothing he can really do about it as his contract makes him essentially uncuttable and untradeable under the salary cap rules.

With LeCharles Bentley still a long shot to make it back before midseason, the opening day Browns line is likely to look like this:

LT Joe Thomas
LG Eric Steinbach
C Hank Fraley
RG Seth McKinney
RT Kevin Shaffer

Talent-wise, that's a solid unit. The bad news is that of those players, only Fraley started a single game at that position for the Browns last year. O-Line play requires a huge amount of pre-snap and post-snap communication among the linemen, so it's likely that this group will probably underachieve this season, particularly in pass protection.

The other Browns buzz that's popping up a lot lately is that apparently Jamal Lewis has been looking pretty good in practice. That's not earth-shattering news and I'll temper my enthusiasm by noting that happy talk is always abundant in the preseason, even for terrible teams, but it's certainly better than the alternative. Lewis was once one of the top physical talents in the NFL, and in theory he should still be in his physical prime, so we Browns fans will keep our fingers crossed on this one.

NFL Preseason Begins

The official unofficial NFL season began yesterday as the make-believe version of the Pittsburgh Steelers thumped the pretend New Orleans Saints 20-7 in the Hall of Fame Game in Canton, OH.

The game did not count and little new information was revealed. The Steelers are a good defensive team with some problems on offense, and the Saints are a good offensive team with a terrible, terrible D. As is often the case in the early preseason, the Saints first-team O was too out of sync to make a dent in the Steelers first-team D, while the mediocre Steeler offense looked pretty good against the overmatched Saints defensive unit.

Most of the points worth making about the two teams could have been made before the game, the key one being that Pittsburgh is starting the year with a small running back who isn't much use in the passing game, and that running back happens to be sitting out with a knee injury. That's bad news and a sign that the Steelers aren't likely to return to their exemplary 2005 form this season.

As for the Saints, the big news from the game was that center Jeff Faine (a former Cleveland Brown) left the game with a leg injury whose severity has not yet been disclosed. Faine is probably cemented as the starter, so it's likely he'll miss most of the preseason regardless of the seriousness of the injury.