Fantasy Football Sleepers: July 2008
Vince Young/Alge Crumpler/Chris Johnson
QB/TE/RB, Tennessee Titans
After chucking up 17 interceptions to go along with only nine passing TDs, Vince Young is understandably getting ignored until about the 11th round in fantasy drafts so far. While you may not want to trust him as your starter, he definitely should be useful as the type of backup that could offer surprising upside.
One reason for optimism is the return of coordinator Mike Heimerdinger, who should allow Young to pass more often, and implement plays to utilize the QB's great improvisational running skills.
Joining Young as a bounce-back candidate is Alge Crumpler, who is also being drafted in the 11th round. So far, the knee problems that plagued him over the past few seasons do not appear to be an issue, and he is once again in an offense that likes to employ a pass-catching TE.
Lastly, don't forget about Chris Johnson, the ultra-speedy RB drafted in the first round this year. Johnson may be the fastest offensive player in the league right now, and although his small stature precludes his use as an every-down RB, he should find a significant role on third downs, and perhaps as an occasional wide receiver.
TE, St. Louis Rams
Hey, do you remember Randy McMichael? Yeah, didn't think so. A 39-catch season will get you kicked off a lot of cheat sheets. McMichael is not the fastest, flashiest tight end, but his frequent use as an extra offensive lineman last season really destroyed his fantasy value.
In 2008, things are not looking quite as dismal for McMichael. For one thing, the Rams hired Al Saunders to run the offense, and judging by the scheme he used to make stars of Tony Gonzalez and Chris Cooley when he was with the Chiefs and Redskins, McMichael should be far more involved in the passing offense this year.
Also on the positive front, the Rams signed Anthony "Brick Hands" Becht this offseason, and as his nickname, which I just made up, implies, he is expected to relieve McMichael of some of his blocking responsibilities.
McMichael is typically getting picked up in about the 17th round in fantasy drafts this year, so he represents a terrific value if he can bounce back to his estimated potential of about 60-70 catches.
Bryant Johnson/Vernon Davis
WR/TE, San Francisco 49ers
Crazy Mike Martz keeps on getting hired by NFL teams for some reason. This season, "the most overrated show on turf" experiment can be observed in San Francisco, where Martz will be hopefully helping the 49ers to score more than 10 points per game.
For fantasy purposes, it's difficult to see how Martz's unique brand of passing-game anarchy can make anything much worse for a 49ers' passing game that ranked definitively last (168 yards per game) in 2007.
Of course, winning football games is a different issue altogether, but Martz will have the ball flying around, for better or worse.
This bodes well for newly signed Bryant Johnson, who should emerge as San Francisco's top wide-receiver target. Johnson does not have the speed of some of the other receivers that Martz has worked with, like Torry Holt and Roy Williams, but he is talented enough to end up with 1,000 yards and maybe six to eight TDs. This makes him a great pick around the 11th round.
Vernon Davis is a more intriguing case because he is probably the most physically talented TE in the league. Besides dealing with Alex Smith's errant throws, Davis's problem has been grasping the mental aspects of the game, but if gets his head on straight and plays to his potential, Davis is easily worth his current eighth-round draft position.
Kevin Smith/Tatum Bell
RB, Detriot Lions
The most significant development for the Detroit Lions' offense this season will probably be a return to a reasonable run/pass play-selection ratio, with new coordinator Jim Coletto bringing a zone-blocking scheme that will emphasize the run.
Last year under Mike Martz, Jon Kitna was the focal point of the offense, passing almost 70 percent of the time and absorbing a pretty good butt-kicking in the process (a league-high 51 sacks).
Clearly, anything that takes the ball out of Kitna's hands more often will be a welcome change for everyone involved. On the basis of playing opportunity, RB Kevin Smith appears to be the rookie in the best position to benefit from his team's situation in 2008.
Smith is a natural runner, with good vision and acceleration, but does not appear to be an elite talent. For example, his timed speed of around 4.50 is fairly average, and although he has decent size, he does not have the prototypical bulk you would want to see in a power running back.
That said, he did run roughshod over inferior college defenses for Central Florida of Conference USA, especially in 2007 when his 450 carries broke the NCAA single-season mark formerly held by Marcus Allen.
He ended last season with an amazing 2,567 yards, second only to Barry Sanders in NCAA history, to go along with 29 TDs, and 242 receiving yards.
Whether or not Kevin Smith is the complete answer for the Lions' revived running game, it is very possible that Tatum Bell assumes at least a visible role, and possibly more.
Bell was banished to obscurity last season, but he offers better speed over Smith, and a measure of veteran leadership. Kevin Smith is being taken in the late sixth round, while Tatum Bell is typically available around the 12th round in fantasy drafts so far.
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