The NFL preseason is almost over and the regular season is ready to start. This means fantasy football leagues are about to have their drafts and their owners are making last-minute adjustments to their cheat sheets.
So whose fantasy stock has risen and fallen after the final week of exhibition games and the last rounds of roster cuts? Here is a look.
Derek Anderson, Arizona Cardinals
When a quarterback goes from backup to starter, his fantasy value skyrockets quicker than a politician’s popularity after a tax cut. This is the case for Anderson, who beat out underwhelming and now unemployed Matt Leinart in a battle between the lesser of two evils in Arizona.
Anderson’s fantasy value would be higher if he were coming off of a Pro Bowl season. Unfortunately, his Pro Bowl season was in 2007. Last year he made Mark Sanchez look like Joe Montana. Anderson threw three touchdown passes compared to 10 interceptions while posting a laughable 42.1 quarterback rating. But while much of the blame should be heaped on Anderson himself, he was throwing to the worst collection of receivers in the NFL while he was in Cleveland. Just ask Brady Quinn about that crew of butter-fingered pass catchers.
Anderson now gets to throw to Larry Fitzgerald, which is like throwing to 10 Mohamed Massaquois. Steve Breaston is probably also better than anyone Anderson played catch with in Cleveland last year, too. Arizona might pass less and run more due to the loss of Anquan Boldin and the emergence of Beanie Wells, but the Cards will still throw more than most teams, which can only help Anderson’s numbers.
Anderson will not repeat his 29-TD 2007 season this year, but he will not have a 3-to-10 touchdown-to-interception ratio, either. If he stays healthy and keeps his job throughout, 18-21 touchdowns and 14-16 interceptions is what I’d expect.
Terrell Owens, Cincinnati Bengals
T.O. might have to worry about his reality show’s sagging ratings, but he won’t have to worry about Antonio Bryant taking his starting spot and stealing his receptions. Bryant was released by Cincinnati—an $8 million mistake that is SO Cincinnati—because his troublesome knee will not allow him to get on the field. That means Owens and Chad Ochocinco will be pestering Carson Palmer for passes full-time, all the time.
Give Owens credit for what he did in Buffalo last year. For him to muster up 829 receiving yards with Trent Edwards and Ryan Fitzpatrick throwing to him in frigid conditions is worthy of an ESPY. Just think of what T.O. can do with Palmer throwing his way and Ochocinco keeping him from getting double-teamed.
I think there is a better chance of Owens churning out a 1,000-yard, eight-TD season than there is of him totally imploding and doing sit-ups in Joey Votto’s driveway.
Ryan Mathews, San Diego Chargers
As soon as San Diego drafted Mathews in the first round of this year’s draft, the kid was slotted in as a Top-15 fantasy force. Chargers head coach Norv Turner loves the rook as much as Brett Favre loves comebacks and has been quoted as saying that Mathews will get at least 300 touches this season.
But the preseason can make rookie running backs look bad and force organizations to trade for or pick up veteran runners not wanted on other teams. Mathews did not make anyone in the San Diego’s front office search for insurance policies, though. He just reaffirmed that he will be the man and that Darren Sproles will be back to doing what Sproles does best—being the change of pace, third-down dude.
Mathews was ninth in the league in preseason rushing with 146 yards. This kid can catch, this kid can run hard in the red zone, and this kid can break big plays. Here is your leading candidate for fantasy football’s Rookie of the Year.
Derrick Ward, Houston Texans
Ward has gone from a 1,000-yard back who parlayed his success with the New York Giants into a multi-million dollar deal with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to being overweight and temporarily out of work.
Ward was a member of Tampa’s three-headed rushing monster in 2009 but was outplayed by Cadillac Williams and limited to just 414 rushing yards. His yards per carry went from 5.6 in 2008 to 3.6 last year. You think having Brandon Jacobs and a great Giants offensive line wearing down defenders helped Ward out? Yeah, just a tad. So Tampa dumped him.
Ward was only on the bread line for a few days. Houston signed him to be the No. 3 back behind Arian Foster and Steve Slaton. If Ward cuts some weight and runs with the same speed and conviction he did with the Giants, he could get 10-15 carries a game down the line. It is not like Foster and Slaton are Eric Dickerson and Craig James from the SMU "Pony Express" days. But Ward could easily be a roster casualty in a week, too. His fantasy value is currently in the negatives.
Michael Crabtree, San Francisco 49ers
Add Crabtree to the growing list of receiver divas in the NFL. Fantasy owners should have known Crabtree could be crabby last season when he held out longer than any other rookie and demanded more money that the market dictated he was worth. Now when he is primed to become one of the top 20 receivers in fantasy football, Crabtree is putting on an antic clinic that could get him a big contract from Cincinnati some day.
Crabtree has not seen a down on the field during the preseason due to a mysterious neck injury that San Francisco has been tight-lipped about. He loves practice as much as Allen Iverson, and he has actually made Vernon Davis into "the good guy" in their ongoing training camp feud. Jerry Rice must be very proud.
Crabtree only showed some flashes of brilliance at the tail end of last season. He might have all the talent and tools to be a superstar, but right now is the second banana in San Fran’s mediocre passing attack, and he has to catch dying quails thrown from Alex Smith. Crabtree should be dropped a couple spots on people’s draft lists.
The New York Jets defense
I think it is safe to say that the best defensive player in the NFL, Darrelle Revis, will not be suiting up for the Jets Week 1. That is bad enough. But now that leading pass rusher Calvin Pace is going to miss the first four games or so due to foot surgery, someone may need to get Joe Klecko and Greg Buttle on the horn and in uniform.
The Jets will now be asking a lot more out of new acquisitions. Once Antonio Cromartie finishes paying off his child support and remembering his kids’ names, he will be asked to man up against the top receiver on opposing teams. That was not supposed to be his role. Cromartie would be a great No. 2 cornerback. As he proved with San Diego last season, he is a shaky No. 1 cover man.
Meanwhile, Dancing With the Stars alum and former Jets hater Jason Taylor, who was slated to be a third-down pass rusher, has to become a full-time outside linebacker to make up for Pace’s untimely absence. The extra snaps will likely wear Taylor down and hurt his ability to rush quarterbacks late in games. The one thing the Jets defense lacked fantasy-wise last season was sacks. That does not look to change at least while Pace is off the field.
The sacks, interceptions, and fumble recoveries are going to go down, and the points and yardage allowed are going to go up without Revis and Pace on the field. That is undeniable with the Jets being without both their best cover corner and their best pass rusher. New York was ranked No. 1 among fantasy defenses in many publications heading into the season, but you cannot fault owners if they choose Pittsburgh or Green Bay instead during drafts this week.