It’s too early to project how certain signings and trades will color fantasy football outlooks for the 2009 season. There are still more transactions to come, and the NFL Draft is still too far away to know how many ballclubs will fill their outstanding needs.
You cannot get too excited or too down about any adds or losses when the squads that will go to training camps are still in the process of being formed.
Yet we at RotoExperts.com realize the fantasy football season never ends for many of you, so we continue to go in-depth on major recent moves during the off-season.
Now that some recent transactions have sunk into our collective minds a bit more, we can step back and analyze them for fantasy purposes while mixing in some important pure NFL perspectives.
A few transactions point to the direction certain teams are heading in when looking to improve their fortunes.
Most notably, Seattle’s big catch of T.J. Houshmandzadeh clearly indicates the offense is headed back to respectability. Reports have circulated that Houshmandzadeh chose Seattle over Minnesota because of its more stable quarterback situation.
Matt Hasselbeck’s 2008 season was an aberration, as a mad rash of injuries at wide receiver and offensive line left him either searching for guys who did not get open, or not having enough time to throw.
Seattle is counting on many key players returning to good health in ’09, and Houshmandzadeh is going to a team that can rebound and provide him with a solid supporting cast.
Hasselbeck will turn 33 during the season, and that is by no means “old” for a quarterback. Houshmandzadeh turns 32, and he isn’t “old” for a wide receiver either.
Hasselbeck is a high-percentage passer, and Houshmandzadeh is a tough possession guy. It’s a very good marriage between the two, who will lean on each other to keep the ball moving. Houshmandzadeh doesn’t back down from facing top cover cornerbacks, and Hasselbeck will make the right throws in his direction.
Nate Burleson is making solid progress in his return from a knee injury, and second-year tight end John Carlson is already established as a player who draws some attention away from the wide receivers.
Seattle can’t count on Deion Branch to stay healthy, but he will only help more when available. It still remains to be seen how Courtney Taylor and Ben Obomanu fit into the WR picture, but the Seahawks may still entertain high hopes for both.
Then there is the matter of whether or not Seattle tabs Michael Crabtree or another top WR in the draft. Crabtree isn’t a speed merchant, but if Burleson returns with no issues, and Branch is back in the picture, Seattle will have a very deep WR corps that can challenge defenses both in high percentage situations and downfield.
The Seahawks aren’t likely to be fully done addressing their WR corps, as one more piece may conceivably come via another veteran acquisition or through the draft. The Houshmandzadeh signing is the fulcrum of a broader goal to have a much better receiving crew.
It still remains to be seen if the Seahawks will upgrade their running game also, as they could trade down and take a much-needed running back to balance the offense.
The offensive line should also be more reliable next season if key players such as Walter Jones and Mike Wahle return intact, and Seattle may also move to further upgrade the area in the upcoming weeks as well.
It may mean retaining the underrated Ray Willis or using an early pick on an offensive tackle. Ultimately, however, Seattle has started to move back towards gaining offensive stability with the Houshmandzadeh signing.
Fantasy-wise, that means Hasselbeck is a serious rebound candidate who will be undervalued in 2009. Look for him to throw close to 25 touchdown passes. Houshmandzadeh will certainly revive his TD totals as well, and should be good for seven to nine scores.
If Seattle doesn’t have a dependable running game again in ’09, he’ll be a near-lock to catch in the neighborhood of 90 passes again. I would at least draft him as a high-level WR2.
Houshmandzadeh’s departure from Cincinnati puts a lot of pressure on Chad Johnson to bounce back, and it’s a veritable crapshoot to determine how he will respond. Johnson is a boom-or-bust pick, and Laveranues Coles won’t be a consistent threat opposite him.
The Bengals re-signed Cedric Benson, but he is a gamble, too, now that he won’t be playing for a new deal like he was last year. Cincinnati’s plan appears to be hoping for the best and rolling the dice.
Cincinnati is also taking something of a chance that Carson Palmer won’t need elbow surgery and is praying he has no setbacks. Drafting Bengals will be a risky move in ’09.
There will certainly be less worries surrounding Tom Brady now that the Patriots have shipped Matt Cassel to Kansas City. Don’t think for a minute that New England would have moved Cassel if they weren’t very confident that Brady is making a good recovery.
He may start slow statistically in ’09, but by the time the key portion of the fantasy schedule rolls around, you’ll be able to count on him as your QB for a championship push.
As for Cassel, he did quite nicely with luxurious surroundings in New England last year. While he does have Tony Gonzalez and Dwayne Bowe to work with now, I don’t believe he’ll be able to enjoy the same variety of weapons and support from other units that helped his cause with the Pats.
Cassel won’t stink, but I’m not going to be listing him anywhere near my Top Five fantasy QBs, either. The Cassel move, though, outlines that the Patriots are ready to invest heavily in Brady again, while the Chiefs do have the offensive arrow pointing upwards under Todd Haley. So we won’t be drafting top K.C. players with the same disdain as in the past.
There are still some questions in Tampa Bay about how the quarterback situation will shake out, but even if it’s Luke McCown, he will rely heavily on Kellen Winslow, Jr. Things shouldn’t change too much for Winslow for fantasy purposes. You know what you are getting when he is healthy, but don’t expect him to stay healthy.
Derrick Ward should complement Earnest Graham well, but I’ll take Graham to score more often and be the more valuable fantasy player. Ward, however, will be a top handcuff because of lingering health concerns about Graham.
I thought the departure of Mike Shanahan would cure the RB ills in Denver, but now the additions of LaMont Jordan, Correll Buckhalter and J.J. Arrington only clutter the picture further. Denver simply doesn’t have a RB on the roster right now who projects to be the lead guy.
While two-RB time shares aren’t as difficult to dissect nowadays, this situation makes the Mariners race for a closer look like an easy field to handicap. I still think this team will be just fine with Peyton Hillis as the main man.
Fred Taylor doesn’t clutter up the Patriots RB situation as much as you might think. He’s simply insurance in case Laurence Maroney disappoints again.
Maroney is still New England’s RB of the future, or at least they hope, and if he finally starts to put it together this year, Taylor will be a big-name change-of-pace guy. I’m not going to draft Taylor based on past accomplishments.
Roy Williams is now the main WR in Dallas, and is primed for a renaissance in 2009. I believe the Cowboys will also surround him with another playmaker. If not, Patrick Crayton may now get another chance to operate as a top target for Tony Romo, who can now be more steady without the T.O. distractions.
Miles Austin, though, has shown considerable promise and may be a better option than Crayton. Both are viable late-rounders for ’09.
However, Dallas has now paved the way to rely more heavily on a Marion Barber III/Felix Jones running duo to ease pressure on Romo and maximize the outstanding talents of both RBs. Draft ‘em both with confidence; Jones has stellar upside.
The signings of Nate Washington (Titans), Brandon Jones (49ers) and Bryant Johnson (Lions) don’t move me much from fantasy standpoints. None of the three figure to be more than spot statistical contributors, although Washington can hit the occasional home run on a deep ball.
Jabar Gaffney will be a much less frequent TD option in Denver, and won’t be worth a fantasy draft choice. Sage Rosenfels is an erratic gunner who can be a pretty good fantasy backup and improve the overall production of Bernard Berrian.
He’ll get good pass protection in Minnesota, but he has shaky decision-making skills and won’t be reliable if he starts often. He’ll strictly be a matchup play.
Scott Engel will continue to cover the NFL through the fantasy lens with bi-weekly editions of Angles throughout the off-season. Look for an in-depth breakdown of the Terrell Owens signing in the next edition of Angles. E-mail Scott at email@example.com.