So the regular season is winding down, and I, as I type this, am smack in the middle of a fantasy championship game—but that doesn't mean it's too early to start the year-end wrap-up.
(I’m down 16 points, by the way, and I have Tony Romo going against his Martin Gramatica. It’s going to be very close.)
Anyway, first up for review: quarterbacks. 2006 has been a surprising year for young signal callers, with lots of new names finding their way into the headlines. Too many to keep track of, you say? Relax; here's an early cheat-sheet for the 2007 draft:
Newcomers with Value
Takes over the starting QB job (seriously, who thought that Kerry Collins would tank so badly?) and, after a few "growing pains," improves with every start. Think a thicker version of Michael Vick. If Tennessee had ANY semblance of a receiving corps (Drew Bennett is just one man!), Vince would be one of the top quarterbacks in the league next season. As it stands, he’s got the starting job all to himself...and a whole lot of potential.
Man, it sure sucks to be Drew Bledsoe these days; I think teams are going to start picking him up just so that guy on their bench turns into a superstar (Tom Brady, anyone?). Romo has been a stud in Dallas—and those of you needing a quarterback in the second half of the season found a new best friend. Look for Tony to go for about two TDs and a pick in most games next year.
Jake Plummer, what happened? After the Snake was put on life support, the Broncos went all-Cutler in the second half, and the youngster showed signs of promise. Cutler doesn’t get many downfield yards (partially because of the way the Denver D allows the offense to control the clock), but he does get the ball in the red zone. If you're thinking that ought to be good for at least a few blowouts in 2007, you’re probably right. (Although Rod Smith is STILL a bust. Damn it).
Next up in the “I-Lost-My-Job” sweepstakes is Mark Brunell, who was nothing short of awful at times in 2006. Campbell, on the other hand, got back to the bread-and-butter of the Washington offense: hitting Chris Cooley at least four times a game. Look for Campbell to really stand out in 2007, especially if the 'Skins bring in another receiver to take some heat off of Santana Moss.
Kurt Warner is going back to bagging groceries. Leinart took over for old Slick Hands and proceeded to rack up plenty of passing yards but not many TDs...which isn't entirely his fault, given that Edgerrin James forgot how to run until a few weeks ago—but still it presents a looming issue. Look for the Cardinals to emphasize their short passing game next year, with more than enough balls to go around for Boldin, Fitzgerald, and even the Edge himself. How many times they actually get into the end zone, however, remains to be seen.
See, this is where it gets tricky. Garrard filled in for Byron Leftwich this season and almost single-handedly turned Jacksonville into an offensive powerhouse (which still doesn’t justify drafting Ernest Wilford, by the way). The problem is that Leftwich isn’t bad, or exiled—he was just hurt, and he should be back healthy in 2007. Keep an eye on this one to see if there’s a QB controversy brewing next August.
Forgotten Names/Fantasy Steals
Jeez, you lose your spleen and it’s like you never existed! Let’s not forget, this is the guy who sent Brian Griese packing for Chicago because the Bucs thought he was so good. And he is. If Simms comes back at full speed next year, the entire Tampa offense gets a huge boost. (That means big numbers for Joey Galloway and Cadillac Williams, too.)
Daunte Culpepper/Joey Harrington
Honestly, I don’t trust either of these guys. Culpepper has yet to prove that he can go an entire year without Randy Moss (to say nothing of the lingering health questions), and Harrington has yet to prove that he can produce for two consecutive seasons. Either way, whoever wins the training camp battle here is probably going to be entirely at fault for a lack of production in Miami (with Ronnie Brown, Randy McMichael, and Chris Chambers, you really have no excuse). Look for Culpepper to lose the starting job to Harrington sometime in November 2007.
Good ol' Jeff has still got it: Nine TDs against one pick in his first five games sure does look nice. Problem is, he’s the backup to Mr. Fantasy himself, Donovan McNabb. That said, McNabb seems to be developing something of an injury habit...and who knows what kind of shape he'll be in heading into 2007. Bottom line: Keep an eye out for Garcia, and grab him if McNabb hits the turf (he’s not getting the starting job any other way).
Trent got the crap kicked out of him, had nightmares for weeks, and still came back to make Tony Gonzalez contemplate not killing himself after all. Damon Huard did fine as a replacement...but we all know that Eddie Kennison isn't what makes the Chiefs offense tick. Green will be back, and you can probably get him really late next year.
This is a gutsy pick. I think that if Domanick Davis plays again next year (and he’s done whining about his knee), Carr can be a top-ten fantasy QB. Without a tailback to pass to, on the other hand, the offense consists of Carr’s legs and Andre Johnson’s hands. That’s it. If Ron “Hands-of-Brick” Dayne is the starting RB next year, disregard all of this and avoid Carr until he learns how to stretch the field on a regular basis.
Granted, he’s probably not going to play much unless Matt Hasselbeck gets hurt...but he filled in nicely in 2006. His great mix of speed and arm strength makes Wallace a must-have if Hasselbeck goes down again.
Guys to Avoid
Brad Johnson/Tavaris Jackson
Johnson looked terrible—and, somehow, Jackson managed to look worse. Jackson is more athletic, and will probably take over the Minnesota offense next year, but neither one of these guys is worth your time. Factor in that the only good receiver on the team just got cut (Marcus Robinson—yes, things are that bad), and you can expect new lows from the Vikes next season.
Brett Favre/Todd Bouman
Favre gets worse every year that he plays. He can still air it out, of course...but most of the time it doesn't end up anywhere near the receiver's hands. If the old man returns, you can expect another sharp decline in his TD numbers, especially if any of his receivers get hurt (this year, Brett barely survived after Donald Driver went down). As for Bouman—who knows if the heir apparent can actually play? For the Packers to find out, Favre would have to step aside gracefully...and we all know that isn't about to happen. (If Brett got decapitated, you think he'd still have his headless body take the field?) Long story shot: Avoid both of these guys until further notice.
Next time: Running Back Roundup