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Ear to the Ground

"The cosmos speaks in patterns" - Roger von Oech (paraphrase of Heraclitus)

"Winning is our business" - Bill Parcells (motto for Cowboys 2005 season)

The subject matter of ETTG is IDP with an emphasis on Dynasty leagues. Ear To The Ground was chosen for this column's title to convey a sense of detecting rumblings in the distance... an ability essential to project a prospect from college to pro and rookie to veteran. It will consist of four sections : Team Reports, a Defensive Rookie of the Year Meter, an In-Depth Profile and a strategy section called Cracking the Code. The team reports will be covered on a rotation (ARI - KC, MIA - WAS) every other week. The events that wash over the IDP Dynasty world and alter its landscape move at a slower rhythm and tempo and according to longer cycles than redraft leagues, making weekly coverage superfluous. IDP focus will be on the impact positions of LB, DE and S... exceptional DTs and CBs will be noted for leagues that differentiate DE/DT and S/CB. Dynasty content is geared towards youth. Like most successful working rosters that employ a blend of production and potential, there will be a balance of rookie and veteran coverage in the mix. FBG IDP content is complementary and interlocking. Upgrades/Downgrades and Strong/Weak Plays articles will by their nature see new names bubble up to the surface from week to week. Ear to the Ground will identify key players early on and can be thought of as a watch list for the whole season as it unfolds.

Team Reports -

MINNESOTA - Darren Sharper had a game for the ages, almost single-handedly lifting the Vikings to their third win of their, so far, epic disaster of a season... on and off the field. Almost, because he did get some help in the form and shape of rare dueling kick off and punt return TDs... an 86 yarder by ex(iled)-Seahawk Koren Robinson to start off the second half with a bang, and a 71 yarder by the incumbent (at least for the first half of the MNF "tilt" with their divisional nemesis Packers) starting RB, Mewelde Moore. Along with the former Packer's 92 yard INT return for a TD, MIN scored an unprecedented trifecta... it was the first time a team has scored a TD on an INT, punt & kick off return in the same game in NFL history. ABC programmers had no way of knowing (as could anybody) that two preseason favorites to win the Norris division would come into Sharper's homecoming game a combined 6-12. The brother of SEA SLB Jamie, Darren's 3 INT (& 1 TD) outburst catapulted him to the league lead in INTs among safeties (with 5... no other safety has even 4)... that would tie him for second among all DBs overall (ex-Patriot CB Ty Law also has 5 INTs), right behind the Bengals Deltha O'Neal (6 INTs)... he is pacing CIN's league lead in INTs (MLB & leading DROY candidate Odell Thurman has 4, as does CB counterpart Tory James). Even AFTER his stellar performance, FS Sharper is still only at #61 among DBs... he only has half as many tackles (24) as SSs like Mike Brown (48) and top 10 DROY candidate Kerry Rhodes (47), who are in the top 5 in the NFL among their positional peers. He has been hobbled at times in the past few seasons, no doubt a contributing factor in GB's decision to not sign the Pro Bowler to a lucrative long-term extension. When healthy, few, if any (Ed Reed?) can surpass his aerial skills and ability to play the ball in the air... his 36 INTs in his last 82 games over the last five and a half seasons set a blistering clip of nearly 1 INT every other game, and lead the league in that interval or time-frame. Maybe he has something left in the tank, with 2 TDs on INT returns in the 2005 season to go with those 5 INTs. Stud CB Antoine Winfield is starting to regain the form he routinely put on display the past few seasons as the best pound-for-pound tackler in the NFL (as they say, it is not the size of the dog in the fight). His 23 combined tackles in the past two weeks have helped propel the staggered and staggering Purple People Eaters 2.0 to wins in three of their last four games. Up to that point, MIN had lost four of their previous five... and the former Bills and Buckeyes star only had 20 combo tackles in the five prior games. Winfield has also been one of the few playmakers on the Vikings defense (2 INTs and 2 FRs). Highly regarded and touted rookie DE Erasmus "Father of the Humanities" James got off the mat with 4 combined tackles and a near miss on a FF that was ruled (correctly) an incomplete pass by NYG QB Eli Manning.

NEW ENGLAND - Though wave after wave of injuries have reduced the Pats secondary to so much rubble strewn around a smoking hole in the ground, CB Asante Samuel may turn out to be a diamond in the rough. After getting 11 tackles and 5 PD in NE's first six games, the third year Central Florida (Daunte Culpepper also an alumni) product's stats have been surging in the past three games (17 tackles, 1 INT & 6 PD). If he could have sustained that level of production across nine games (and without the benefit of a lot of big play bonus points... no sacks or FFs and just the 1 INT), in leagues in which tackles are weighted more than 1 point per, Samuel would emerge as possibly the #1 CB and DB overall. IDP players (and all fantasy football players, for that matter) need to be careful about extrapolating to liberally and optimistically from small data sets. Conversely, ascendant players and emerging stars sometimes foreshadow their arrival and signal breakouts by putting together a string of consecutive strong showings. In start two CB leagues, Samuel could be worth a closer look to monitor and track his progress as the Patriots wend their way circuitously to a possible AFC East crown (a division underachieving largely due to erratic QB play from the other teams... Jets, Dolphins and Bills) and improbable fourth Super Bowl in the past five years. Samuel is not big (listed 5'10 185) but is a monster hitter... maybe SS and team leader Rodney Harrison's seek-and-destroy mentality and borderline trauma-inducing hits were contagious and rubbed off on his teammates. Even against a sleeker and more streamlined 2005 iteration, veggie-fueled Ricky Williams, his de-cleater that leveled"Captain Chronic" last Sunday was impressive and may have led to some self-adminstered Ayurvedic healing. Samuel blew up DEN TE Jeb Putzier with another hit that was played in heavy rotation on Sports Center earlier in the season.

NEW ORLEANS - BYE

NEW YORK GIANTS - The New York football Giants have three of the top young IDPs in the game, with DE Osi "& Harriet" Umenyiora (the subject of this week's profile section), MLB Antonio Pierce and SS Gibril Wilson. The former Troy State star (DROY candidate DeMarcus Ware is also a famous alumni) has rocketed all the way to #4 among DL... serial Pro Bowl teammate Michael Strahan is #3, and these two facts are not unrelated. "Osi" is chiseled and well cut (6'3 280), making him a nearly ideal size to be a perennial two-way threat as edge rush phenom and run stuffing force. He has turned the intensity up a few notches in the past five weeks (25 combined tackles, 6 sacks & 1 FF), and opposing blocking schemes will have a hard time accounting for him as long as Strahan's play remains at a high level. Pierce was a prized FA acquisition from division rival WAS (always a double bonus when you can get better while simultaneously weakening a key rival) and has been as good as advertised... he is ensconced at #5 among LBs. Though not possessing hulking, Jeremiah Trotter-like size (often preferred in the maelstrom that is the middle), the UFA and self-made success story has for the most part avoided getting stomped like Peter, Paul & Mary at a Sex Pistols reunion. Pierce played at a near Pro Bowl level with the NYG during the 2004 season, though it went mostly unrecognized due to his not exactly being a household name. He has risen quickly among more heralded positional peers (with in many cases superior measurables and athleticism and more impressive resumes) and found a vital niche by adding a cerebral dimension whenever he has lined up as the point man on his defense the past two years (whether for the Redskins or Giants), making sure the defense is lined up right and in the correct alignment based on his pre-snap keys and reads. Pierce is athletic enough to be a coveted three-down LB, and not only doesn't need to leave the field on obvious passing downs like many MLBs, coverage is actually a strength. He has been a playmaker this season (1 1/s sacks, 2 INTs & 1 FR) as the Eli Manning-led team has come of age ahead of schedule during a fortuitous time when NFC East bully Eagles may be mired in a temporary down cycle. Gibril Wilson is sitting at #6 among DBs (exactly one point behind Pro Bowler and ascendant star Troy Polamalu and three points behind multi-Pro Bowler Roy Williams... and that by virtue of an improbable last minute INT and TD return in the MNF miracle finish) and is proving last years incendiary rookie debut was no fluke or one-year wonder. A concern is the stinger suffered in the middle of last season that effectively shut him down for the remainder of the season. Wilson plays a lot bigger than his listed size (6'0" 197) and is fearless to the point of being reckless at times the way he throws his body around in run support. But when healthy, he is also a gifted athlete and tremendous playmaker (2 sacks, 2 INTs & 1 FF to complement two DD tackle games in little over a half season projects to a lot of big plays) that completes the Big Apple's nasty IDP threesome... they could comprise one of the best "power trios" since Hendrix and Cream.


NEW YORK JETS - PENALTY BOX

OAKLAND - PENALTY BOX

PITTSBURGH - Troy Polamalu flashed elite RB/WR-like open field running skills two weeks ago against the Packers with a weaving 78 yard INT return for a TD in which outstanding field awareness and burst allowed him to quickly put a fellow Steelers DB between a closing GB defender and himself within a split second, than the third year former Trojan All American was off to the races. He is on his way to his second straight Pro Bowl and is one of the most ascendant players in the league at any position... he has 3 sacks, 1 INT & 2 FRs on the season. The Samoan guided missile has futuristic measurables (4.3 with 40"+ hops) and is currently #4 among DBs... good looking teammate, CB Ike Taylor is #11 among DBs in his first season as the starter, and has acquitted himself very well.

SAN DIEGO - BYE

SAN FRANCISCO - OLB Julian Peterson is a freak and a physical specimen who is frequently cited as one of the top athletes in the game, along with Julius Peppers. The Michigan State converted DE/LB might be the only NFL player with the versatility and multifaceted skill set to once play DE, LB, SS and CORNERBACK (!) in the same game (against Cowboys in 2002). Also that season he began a run of two straight Pro Bowl appearances that might of ran to three if not for a torn Achilles tendon just five games into the 2004 season (3 1/2 sacks through first three games). Playing SLB in a 4-3 during this period, he was a player who was probably better in a pure football sense than as a consistently productive IDP force (easily one of the premier cover LBs in the game, but IDPs don't get scoring credit for coverage ability). With former Ravens DC/new HC Mike Nolan shaking up the former scheme and converting to a 3-4 base alignment, it was hoped that the two-time Pro Bowler and most talented 49er defender would be featured and break into the DD sack club (like BAL OLBs Peter Boulware and Terrell Suggs). After 2 1/2 sacks opening day expectations were running high... but Peterson has failed to register a sack in the eight games since. After a week four DNP and a shut out the following game against the Colts, he has steadily improved and elevated his tackle numbers... with 2, 3 (& 1 FR), 4 (& 1 FF) and 5 in the past month. He also may still be recovering from a difficult injury for a player that relies on his quickness and agility. Nolan and the SF front office will have a decision to make in 2006... sign him to a long-term contract extension, slap him with the franchise player designation again, or ??? They certainly don't want to saddle the retooling organization with an unwieldy, bloated contract for a player that is possibly damaged goods and who may be past his prime and never the same. On the other hand, it could be catastrophic for a defensive-minded HC to give up prematurely on a talent he could build his defense around... the ultra-versatile rush backer is only 27, and has a blue chip resume that precedes his Pro Bowl pedigree. He had 25 sacks in just 23 career games as a Spartan, and racked up a surreal, mind-boggling 40 sacks in a two year JUCO stint.

ST. LOUIS - PENALTY BOX

TENNESSEE - BYE

WASHINGTON - PENALTY BOX

Defensive Rookie of the Year Meter

  1. Odell Thurman, MLB, CIN, 2.16, Georgia (6'1" 230)
  2. Lofa Tatupu, MLB, SEA, 2.13, USC (6'0" 240)
  3. Shawne Merriman, OLB/DE, SD, 1.12, Maryland (6'4" 245)
  4. Derrick Johnson, SLB, KC, 1.15, Texas (6'4" 235)
  5. Darrent Williams, CB, DEN, 2.24, Oklahoma State (5'8" 188)
  6. Kirk Morrison, OLB/ILB, OAK, 3.14, San Diego State (6'2" 240)
  7. DeMarcus Ware, OLB/DE, DAL, 1.11, Troy State (6'4" 232)
  8. Kerry Rhodes, SS, NYJ, 4.22, Louisville (6'3" 210)
  9. Channing Crowder, ILB/OLB, MIA, 3.6, Florida (6'2" 240)
  10. Leroy Hill, WLB, 3.35, Clemson (6'1" 225)

    Standin On The Verge Of Gettin It...

  • Josh Bullocks, SS/FS, NO, 2.8, Nebraska (6'0" 205)
  • Barrett Ruud, MLB, TB, 2.4, Nebraska (6'2" 240)
  • Thomas Davis, SS/OLB, CAR, 1.14, Georgia (6'3" 230)
  • Marlin Jackson, CB, IND, 1.29, Michigan (6'1" 200)
  • Marcus Spears, DE, DAL, 1.20, LSU (6.4 295)
  • Carlos Rogers, CB, WAS, 1.9, Auburn (6'1" 194)
  • Chris Canty, DE, DAL, 4.31, Virginia (6'7" 290)
  • Mike Patterson, DT, PHI, 1.31, USC (6'0" 285)
  • Dominique Foxworth, CB, DEN, 3.33, Maryland (5'11" 180)
  • Shaun Cody, DT/DE, DET, 2.5, USC (6'3" 290)
  • Brodney Pool, FS/SS, CLE, 2.2, Oklahoma (6'3" 208)
  • Kevin Burnett, OLB, DAL, 2.10, Tennessee (6'3" 235)
  • Alfred Fincher, MLB, NO, 3.18, Connecticut (6'1" 240)
  • David Pollack, SLB, CIN, 1.17, Georgia (6'2" 260)
  • Erasmus James, DE, MIN, 1.18, Wisconsin (6'4" 270)
  • Justin Tuck, DE, NYG, 3.10, Notre Dame (6'5" 261)
  • Fabian Washington, CB, OAK, 1.23, Nebraska (5'11 180)
  • Matt Roth, DE, MIA, 2.14, Iowa (6'4" 270)
  • Bryant McFadden, CB, PIT, 2.30, Florida State (6'0" 180)
  • Nick Collins, FS, GB, 2.19, Bethune Cookman (5'11" 193)
  • Chris Harris, FS, CHI, 6.7, Louisiana-Monroe (6'0" 205)
  • C.C. Brown, SS, HOU, 6.14, LA-Lafayette, (6'0" 200)
  • Adam "Pacman" Jones, CB, TEN, 1.6, West Virginia (5'11" 185)
  • Corey Webster, CB, NYG, 2.11, LSU (6'0" 197)
  • Oshiomogho Atogwe, FS, STL, 3.2, Stanford (5'11" 220)
  • Jerome Carter, SS, STL, 4.16, Florida State (5'11" 220)
  • Jonathan Babineaux, DT, ATL, 2.27, Iowa (6'2" 280)
  • Stanford Routt, CB, OAK, 2.6, Houston (6'1" 195)
  • Lance Mitchell, MLB, 5.32, Oklahoma (6'3" 245)
  • Luis Castillo, NT, SD, 1.28, Northwestern (6'5" 305)
  • Travis Johnson, DE, HOU, 1.16, Florida State (6'5" 285)
  • Donte Nicholson, SS, TB, 5.5, Oklahoma (6'2" 216)
  • Justin Miller, CB, NYJ, 2.25, Clemson (5'11" 200)
  • Eric Green, CB, ARI, 3.11, Virginia Tech (6'0" 197)
  • Daryl Blackstock, SLB, ARI, 3.32, Virginia, (6'4" 240)
  • Ron Bartell, CB/FS, STL, 2.18, Howard (6'1" 213)
  • Travis Daniels, CB, MIA, 4.3, LSU (6'1" 184)
  • Kelvin Hayden, CB, IND, 2.28, Illinois (6'0" 198)
  • Stanley Wilson, CB, DET, 3.8, Stanford (6'0" 190)
  • James Butler, S, NYG, UFA (only undrafted free agent on this list), Georgia Tech (6'3" 210)

* Injured Reserve

  • Jordan Beck, MLB, ATL, 3.26, Cal Poly (6'2" 230)
  • Dan Cody, OLB/DE, BAL, 2.21, Oklahoma (6'5" 265)
  • Antrel Rolle, CB, ARI, 1.8, Miami (6'1" 202)

In-depth Profile

This section will draw from and point back to preseason work, such as the IDP Rookie and Sleepers articles, as well as include new profiles in-season as events dictate.

Osi Umenyiora, DE, New York Giants

Super Secret Stealth Stun Sleeper Special... After Strahan went down with a season-ending injury, came on like GANGBUSTERS. If his stats are prorated from when he became a full time starter, you emerge with something like a top 10 talent. Flying under the radar a little bit because he didn't do it for the whole year, and not everybody hunts sleepers to ground by breaking down the game logs. After guys like Peppers and Grant, he may have as much upside as anybody to be a big time two way threat. Could do even better with Strahan back to deflect the attention of blocking schemes away from him. The scary thing to opposing OCs and QBs in the NFC East is that he should get nothing but better. Tiny Troy State is all of a sudden becoming a sort of premier, elite, blue chip DE factory, pumping out two devastating, lethal edge rushing prodigies in about as many seasons... with the other being the luminously talented DeMarcus Ware (also in the FBG Top IDP Rookies).

Cracking the Code - When to Hold 'em and When to Fold 'em

For example, this may not be an ideal time to move one of the greatest WRs in NFL history... Randy Moss. His value is likely down due to myriad injuries in the past few seasons. On the other hand, his value could go up a lot, if he gets acclimated to his new surroundings and regains his former Pro Bowl and future HOFer form. Chances are, there isn't a lot of risk that his value will unexpectedly go down too much from here for a few more years (unless he suffers catastrophic injury or retires).

* dedicated to K

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