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Ear to the Ground

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

"You can't block what you can't catch" - Montae Reagor (Colts DT)

"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.

Note to reader - Before the final set of team reports in the last month of the 2005 season (weeks 14-17), this week will take a hiatus from that function. As has been stated in ETTG before, no IDP league consists of defense only, so for a change we will sharpen our chops on the other side of the ball.

In assessing draft eligible players, rookies and young veterans, the concept of comp (ie - comparable) players is a crucial one. Having a large mental catalog/index of like or similar players in terms of physical traits, attributes and skill sets is indispensable for the purposes of comparing and contrasting incoming talent.

Towards that aim, below is a list of the top RBs of all time. Notice that there are leitmotifs (recurring themes) when it comes to attributes of the great ones. A constellation of traits such as size, strength, contact balance, toughness, the ability to break tackles, vision, instinctiveness, patience to allow blocking to develope, quickness, elusiveness, the creativity to string moves together... are seen over and over again.

Recognizing them in famous past examples and expanding your mental "library" will help to identify patterns in current and future RBs. In dynasty leagues it is a huge advantage to be able to pounce on trends ahead of your opponents. Feeding your comp player engine will better enable you to achieve this goal. Not every great runner will have every attribute. Runners like Sanders, Sayers and Faulk are more representative of the extreme range of the quickness and elusiveness end of the spectrum... Earl Campbell an exemplar par excellance of the size/power part of the continuum... RBs like Jim Brown, Eric Dickerson and Bo Jackson with the total package of size, strength, speed and moves were freaks and extreme rarities.

The important thing is not to adopt any one particular list (especially that of somebody else)... but to construct your own. The list below is offered in the spirit of helping inform and shape this process in new ways...

The Top 10 RBs In NFL History (A Personal List With Player Capsules)

1) Jim Brown - Old school, so highlights must be drawn upon heavily in most discussions of the incomparable back. The complete package of size, power, balance, toughness, speed, quickness, elusiveness, vision, instincts... the superlatives could go on. The former Syracuse great and legendary, archtypal RB could run you over, fake you out of your jock, had the creativity and instincts to string moves together and navigate between several player in the open field and the speed to blow by defenders when in the clear. In just one of seemingly hundreds of impossible runs, on one surreal play, in which two defenders were positioned in front of him in the open field and should have been able to stop an ordinary mortal cold, Brown leaned over at less than a 45 degree angle, simulataneously bowled BOTH of them over while using them to prop himself up and maintain his balance... did a 360 spin... righted himself... than resumed his run as if nothing happened (was it the noted football historians P-Funk that said... Freaky Deaky ain't the kind of Freak you want to be freakin out with). A supremely gifted athlete who was one of best lacrosse players ever, was once offered a pro baseball contract and perhaps could have been a world class decathlete.

2) Eric Dickerson - Faster than Brown and almost as big... the league had never seen anything like that kind of size/speed combo before him. He must have had a deceptive gait because many times when he burst through line, DBs would badly miscalculate his speed and the ex-SMU/Ram star would explode by them. In fact, Dickerson was just freakishly fast, period (almost don't need the "for a big man" qualifier), as even DBs WITH an angle in the open field would get scorched like a drag strip starting line. A master of what we would now call the "stretch" run play... only he had such mutant, freakish speed he didn't need to CUT BACK! He would string the defense along, smoke a cigarette, read the paper... than BAM!! Explode through the seam and it was off to the races. Possessed great patience, vision and instincts (these traits will be a recurring theme in the top 5-10 to the point of tediousness... but they are ultra-important and it has to be said). Perfectly suited then Los Angeles Rams HC and Southern California institution John Robinson's power run attack... remember USC's student body right? Under-rated power and contact balance, and a handful even for LBs to bring down (let alone DBs). Wasn't just running wild and crazy free in the open field when accumulating all those yards... broke a TON of tackles. While not placed near the top of a lot of Top 10 lists, perhaps he should be. In support of his prominence here, it must be remembered that Dickerson was on pace to shatter existing rushing records of that time... and might have put the record out of reach of even Emmitt Smith if he hadn't made the unfortunate and arguably ill advised decision to force a trade away from the Rams and their then elite offensive line. That said, a compelling case could easily be made to scoot Walter Payton or Barry Sanders (as well as several others) ahead of him. But for this observer, the better half of the Pony Express backfield would be no lower than #4.

3) Walter Payton - Sweetness will always be remembered for several key attributes... including his indomitable will, gyroscopically controlled balance (at times the late Payton looked like a cartoon when he would seemingly be inches from ground before churning his legs and miraculously righting himself) and his refusal to go down. Not the biggest, fastest or strongest RB. That said, the iconic Bear was incredibly strong for his size (especially upper body strength). Stronger than many LBs, and stronger than virtually all DBs he would encounter in open field... a secret to his nasty stiff arm (one of the best ever). Somewhat of a pioneer in training. He ran hills before Roger Craig and Jerry Rice of the 49ers made it hip and fashionable (presumably others did it before payton. who knows which player first got idea to run stadium seats for cardio stamina, endurance, leg drive, etc). By the time he got to the (level) playing field on Sunday, it was like he was only player on field running downhill (like a batter swinging two bats in on deck circle). Finished like a man possessed. Given a choice of running out of bounds or taking a full swing with an baseball bat in the kneecaps, he would probably opt for the latter... and than STILL run you over. As durable as a tank. This was a large contributing factor (along with his greatness) to his holding the NFL rushing record for many years... until it was broken by a player that idolized him... Emmitt Smith.

4) Barry Sanders - A human pinball. Cartoon-like ability to sprint full speed in one direction and instantaneously be moving full speed in an entirely different one. Not the fastest RB on this list by a long shot (caught from behind a lot, especially towards the end), but the Oklahoma State phenom and prodigy was unbelievably and mind bogglingly quick. Like current RB Brian Westbrook (and WR Marvin Harrison to use another positional instance), only more so, Sanders got to full speed in just a few steps, facilitating ease of separation. This is one reason 40 times are over-rated. Because he probably had the best stop-start ability and change of direction the league had/has ever seen, chasing him was not a 40 yard chase in straight line. It was a crazed, zig-zagging series of 10 yard dashes (if you zigged, he probably zagged)... and than you were in Barry's world. Poor, hapless defenders had as much chance of catching him in the open field as if they came to a rabbit hunt armed with nothing but a hammer. An artist with telepathic instincts at turning people around. The anti-Emmitt. Not the type of back to always be going forward and grinding positive yards on every play. He might get -1 three plays in a row than bust one for 40. Be that as it may, it is hard to not wonder what he would have done if he had played behind Smith's OL. Like Dickerson, but for a different reason (in this case, due to "premature" retirement... also like jim brown in that respect... alas, they retired in their prime), he was on pace to shatter the existing rushing records of his time... and tracking to put it out of sight of even Emmitt.

5) O.J. Simpson - Admittedly not the kind of guy you would want to drop off some glasses to his ex-wife that happened to get left at your work. If he didn't have world class speed (he was on USCs then record setting 4 X 100 relay team), he was super fast and possessed elite speed... the fastest RB on this list so far. The "Juice" was the first RB to crack magical 2,000 yard threshold. The former Heisman winner had phenomenal instincts and vision, outstanting patience to read blocks developing downfield, and the ability to weave through traffic like few others before or since. Not herky-jerky like Sanders... he was more of a smooth glider that had an innate sense of angles. Simpson had decent size and deceptive power.

6) Emmitt Smith - While it may seem controversial leaving the league's all time rushing leader out of the Top 5 entirely, it is very possible that several of the RBs on this list... with the proviso that they had stayed healthy (or not retired early)... might have done it behind his awesome, magnificent OL (Larry Allen, Nate Newton, Erik Williams, Mark Stepnowski, etc). In his heyday, the most distinguished RB from Florida U often wasn't even TOUCHED until he was 5+ yards upfield and already into second level. Just as some RBs may not be HOF material if they only play at a high level for a few years... mutant ability to stay healthy doesn't necessarily mean his best ever yardage total is indicative of and an accurate reflection of #1 overall ability. Not to dis Smith. He had monster lower body strength (including mammoth thighs), phenomenal contact balance (one of most important, neglected and overlooked aspects of RB greatness... and one of the surest acid tests to distinguish the truly great from the merely good RBs), the strength to break tackles, an inhuman pain threshold and tolerance (played a signature game with a separated shoulder... a testament to his off-the-charts toughness and resiliency), powerhouse strength (if a defender attempted to stop him with an arm tackle they might risk pulling back a bloody stump)... and surprisingly good and underappreciated short area burst and nifty feet in his prime. Smith was a nearly perfectly evolved life form to be the DAL RB in dynastic HC Jimmy Johnson's smashmouth, power running attack. His greatest attributes may have been his determination and durability (hallmarks of his idol Sweetness).

7) Gale Sayers - Didn't play long enough, or the Kansas comet would likely have edged OJ and possibly further. Before Sanders, he had similar terrifying stop-start ability and change of direction which put the fear of God into defenders. Must have been one of few human beings in history of planet capable of running through 9-10 defenders and scoring on ST plays. Spooky field awareness (which went well beyond instincts and vision). Made maybe the single most amazing play ever captured by NFL films. A sneaky defender was trying to chase him down from behind, catch him unawares and club in in the side of the head... WITHOUT LOOKING (peripheral vision?), Sayers SENSED the impending forearm shiver, ducked his head at the last instant, scooted off in another direction, turned on the nitrous ignition system and was... GONE! He smoked him like a pinner passed around at a Grateful Dead concert.

8) Bo Jackson - A nearly omniscient force in Tecmo Bowl. Like Sayers, didn't play long enough (a devestating necrotic hip condidtion that forced premature retirement was the only thing that ever succeeded in stopping him), and similarly had the talent, ability and skills to have penetrated the Top 5 and been one of best ever... if in fact he isn't already. Often dismissed due to his sadly short shelf life. Long-term productivity is often weighted heavily in greatest RB ever discussions (with the exception of the admittedly deserving Sayers), but it could be, and will be below, argued that this is an overrated criteria, and a blunt instrument when parsing all time greats. The media storm-creating "cross-trainer" had a Jim Brown-like physique but claimed to never lifted weights growing up and while at Auburn. "Dabbled" in baseball and was such a natural that he quickly became an All Star. If he hadn't divided his attention, time and prodigious gifts between the diamond and gridiron (and stayed healthy), the pioneer of third person narrative might have broken rushing records as surely as he snapped a bat over his thigh in his signature move. In terms of a pure size/speed combination, has no peer... surpassing even the extraordinary and superhuman Brown and Dickerson in this respect. Didn't have the niftiest moves, but it really didn't matter. A once-in-a-lifetime physical specimen and freak/force of nature.

9) Marshall Faulk - Terrorized defenses by exploiting his unprecedented versatility and unleashing his unique athleticism. The only RB on this list with good enough hands to arguably have been a Pro Bowl WR bolted on to a Pro Bowl RBs legs (augmented by the brain of a Bill Walsh). A complete skill set included blitz pickup and the detailed knowledge of the game to know and understand the place and role of every player on the field at all times... on offense and defense. Just as Smith was a perfect fit for the Cowboys, Faulk's skill set was perfectly suited for the Rams attack that put up historic numbers the league had never before seen. It might be fair to say that... as much as he fit the system, scheme & attack... THEY FIT HIM... and the most integral, dangerous and difficult to defend aspects of the (in its time) "Greatest show on Earth" were built around his many-faceted talents. Had amazing instincts and vision, especially around the goal line (47 combined rush/receiving TDs during the 2000-2001 seasons). Uncanny knack for finding the right crease once he got a sniff of the end zone, despite not being biggest or most powerful RB. Deceptive, underrated balance and functional, PLAYING strength. Few knocks (maybe nitpicking)... the New Orleans prep and San Diego State Aztec legend was taken out of his game in a loss to the more physical Patriots in the Rams second Super Bowl appearance (2001). Knee injuries have slowed him appreciably in the last three to four seasons. Martz giveth and taketh away... while he designed and built the historic and record shattering STL passing attack with him as focal point and around his dizzying pass receiving talents (covering him with a LB or safety was a preposterous, nightmarish matchup problem that confounded defenses when the Ram offense was at its apex and breathtaking pinnacle), Martz was notorious for underutilizing his running skills. When Faulk was younger, he was scorching fast, with ankle breaking stop-start ability, change of direction and open field elusiveness in his own right. Arguably only Sanders and Sayers were superior in this trait among the RBs listed above him.

10) Earl Campbell - Jerome Bettis on crack. Ask ex-Rams LB Isaiah Thomas about his monstrous power and jackhammer leg drive. Another guy that didn't play at high level long enough, which had a lot to do with his preferred high contact mode of playing. If he could run around you or through you... he was going to run through you. A poster child for the horrors and ravages of pro football in general and the RB position in particular (he needs help tying his own shoe-laces now). Some players fade gradually (see Smith, who also wasn't fast or quick enough to NOT have his power and physicality be a featured and integral component of his style/skill set... but Smith was better protected by his OL... and was just more physically robust, resilient and able to stand the pounding better and longer). After a meteoric ascension and handful of stellar seasons, the Texas Longhorn great hit the wall harder than a NASCAR crash gone terribly wrong. With Bettis recently and quietly elevating into the all time rushing leaders (in top 5 in yardage)... as a superior physical specimen, Campbell clearly deserves to be pretty high among any all time list of the best rushers. With Brown, they were probably the most powerful RBs on the list (Dickerson, Smith and Jackson were no slouches, either... though Earl's tree trunk thighs would probably make their lower extremities look like chicken legs in comparison) and like smith, had underrated nifty feet and elusiveness in open field, given his herculean physical staure.

PRIMED...

Ladainian Tomlinson - Too soon to annoint him one of best ever, but no question he gets there barring catastrophic injury and if he doesn't suffer some totally unexpected, inexplicable regression. Could be a slightly smaller Brown, with Payton's heart, intensity and determination and close to the elusiveness of Sanders. Needless to say... a NASTY combo of a skill set. He also flashed the hands to catch 100 passes few seasons ago, if he needs to do THAT! If LT II stays healthy and plays long enough, has the goods to get in Top 5.

JUST MISSED THE CUT...

Marcus Allen - A case could be made for his inclusion in the Top 10 (but who to drop?). Huge TD total places him in the stratosphere of the league's all time leaders in that department. Though this could be two-edged sword. Just as some dock Sanders for supposedly not being a great goal line runner (odd, given he wasn't given the chance as often as he should have been based on how he looked the little he was ever afforded the opportunity), he may be docked for being largely a goal line specialist towards the end, which doesn't fit the profile of anybody else on the list. The USC super star and Heisman winner was a great athlete that had underappreciated and utilized receiving skills (if not quite Faulk-like... before Faulk). Didn't have enough monster, breakthrough seasons to pierce the collective consciousness of football fans towards elite status. Was so gifted and such a natural that it may have looked like he was loafing, and fans may have docked him for appearing "lazy" or "slow" at times. Could do it all, including priding himself on blocking. Was criminally wasted in Al Davis' roomy and expansive doghouse for a few seasons. Look to the great Super Bowl run against the Redskins (maybe not too controversial to call the best Super Bowl run ever?) to see what he was capable of in his prime, and to answer questions about his speed... he was fast ENOUGH.

Curtis Martin - A very, very, very good RB (can't say very too much). Extremely well rounded RB with the heart of a lion. Can't match the power of the big backs above him... and may not quite fit the profile of the smaller backs on the list, as far as having electric quickness, long speed, or open field elusiveness. Not a lot of negative yardage plays, but not a ton of flashy, explosive huge gainers, either. Like Emmitt maybe more than anybody else, in respect that he has ridden metronome-like consistency to move up the rushing yardage leader boards, more so than the jaw-dropping pure running skills of a Sanders, Sayers or Faulk.

Terrell Davis - Difficult to determine if he was a great or a very good RB. He is perhaps cursed by the successes of his successors. Which brings up inevitable, nagging concerns that he was a system back... with the double stigma that he didn't play at a high level very long due to a sadly premature, career-ending knee injury. While Sayers is also thought by some (though not many) to be of dubious and tenuous merit as an all time great on these exact same grounds, no one has ever, or will ever, accuse him of being a "system back". Nuf sed on their respective cases.

* FOOTNOTES ON THE RATIONALE AND GUIDELINES FOR SEQUENCE...

The "didn't win big game/s" argument doesn't hold water (Marino just went to the HOF). Football isn't a mano-a-mano sport. All things being equal, if you took two teams evenly enough matched (say DEN & PIT in AFC or SEA & DAL in NFC) and could use a time machine to put Jim Brown on their team, he admittedly probably tips scales of the balance of power in the conference. Put Brown on the Texans or 49ers, however, and it is doubtful he propels them to a Super Bowl win (or even appearnace). No amount of individual talent can compensate for or erase a big enough disparities in a consumately team sport such as football... so dependent on the other 10 members of the offense and 11 on defense (as well as ST... look at all the K gaks this week) for their collective fortunes. So if Sanders played on some mediocre teams for DET towards end (he did), and Smith had the excellent luck to be drafted as one of the Dallas triplets (with fellow recent ring of honor inductees Troy Aikman and Michael "It was my brother's" Irvin) in the midst of one of the top "dynasties" in league history... in a judicious kind of symmetry, it is seemingly as tough to punish Sanders for his bad fortune as it is to reward Smith for his good fortune.

On the longevity and durability vs. talent debate... RBs like Sayers, Jackson and Campbell get knocked down a bit due to their meteoric but all too short careers. None are in the Top 5. But not TOO much. Neither did any of them free fall all the way out of the Top 10. The obvious example at the other extreme is Smith. It would be absurd to not credit the all time NFL rushing leader with Top 10 inclusion. Yet he was bumped from the Top 5 by more talented players ahead of him (just missing out at #6, though)... of course a case could be made for grading him ahead of Dickerson and OJ (among others). Allen and Martin certainly had/have long and distinguished careers... but they don't make the top 10. While the aforementioned Sayers, Jackson and Campbell do. For the purposes of constructing this list, talent trumps durability and brute longevity.

To elaborate and expand on the justification for this bias... it would seem absurd to include a hypothetical RB who plays merely one season on the list. Even if he gets 3,000 yards in a season, then abruptly retires. There might remain doubts about talent. Questions might lurk. What it it was the system? What if he got lucky? What if the stars were aligned that season?

But clearly, Sayers and Campbell, and less clearly in the case of Jackson, but some would be inclined to keep him in this stellar (but challenging to assign their place in history) group, played long enough to flash the extraordinary skills, ability and talent to strongly suggest their success was not of the one-hit wonder variety. Many reasonable scouts would say, if injuries hadn't shortened, changed or aborted their careers... you could make VERY strong cases for them to be in the Top 10 (possibly even higher). They all had Top 5-10 talent, if not longevity.

Smith, OTOH, had #1 longevity for a top RB (good enough to get him there, anyway... among RBs on this list), but arguably not Top 5 talent. Allen and Martin also show up well in the longevity department, and while very talented, miss out on the Top 10 list because the WOW factor seems to elude them.

As a thought experiment... if by the year 2010-2020, we can start to genetically engineer RBs that have a shelf life of not 10 years (for elite RBs), but say 30 years (from 20-50... they may be mutant freaks, but they can tote the rock for a third of a century) and they put up mediocre yearly totals of 1,000 yards for an astounding, superhuman 30 years (with miracles of nanotech, a blown ACL could be remedied during a timeout) for a total of 30,000 yards... this would shatter the current record of Smith... or what RBs like Dickerson could have done if he HAD stayed with the Rams, or Brown and Sanders if they hadn't walked away from game at the height of their powers and peak of their game... even with what we could have realistically extrapolated from them back in the day... would that than make robo-RB a better pure running talent that the likes of these legends?

Defensive Rookie of the Year Meter

The Top 10 DROY Candidates (through Week Nine)

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 - Darrent Williams, CB, DEN, 2.24, Oklahoma State (5'8" 188)
5 - Kirk Morrison, OLB/ILB, OAK, 3.14, San Diego State (6'2" 240)
6 - Derrick Johnson, SLB, KC, 1.15, Texas (6'4" 235)
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, SEA, 3.35, Clemson (6'1" 225)

Standin On The Verge Of Gettin It...

Carlos Rogers, CB, WAS, 1.9, Auburn (6'1" 194)
Josh Bullocks, SS/FS, NO, 2.8, Nebraska (6'0" 205)
Adam "Pacman" Jones, CB, TEN, 1.6, West Virginia (5'11" 185)
Jerome Carter, SS, STL, 4.16, Florida State (5'11" 220)
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)
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)
Corey Webster, CB, NYG, 2.11, LSU (6'0" 197)
Oshiomogho Atogwe, FS, STL, 3.2, Stanford (5'11" 220)
Ron Bartell, CB/FS, STL, 2.18, Howard (6'1" 213)
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)
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)

In-Depth Profile

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

SS Jerome Carter, St. Louis Rams (Florida State), 4.16

Overview: In a 2005 draft class quirk, the highest graded safeties... first rounder Thomas Davis (Georgia), second rounders Brodney Pool (Oklahoma) and Josh Bullocks (Nebraska), and third rounder Oshiomogho Atogwe (Stanford)... were collegiate FSs. Though SSs were somewhat marginalized in this class, Carter was one of the top talents at his position. He looks the part and is well put together and powerful in a compact way (5'11" 220), plus reportedly clocked a 4.4 in his personal workout. Some scouts felt he held up very well in coverage at Florida State, the little he was asked to do so. Carter is a violent striker whose medieval approach to defense and tackling could be contagious and make STL tougher up the middle (along with a healthy Jimmy Kennedy at DT and the addition of MLB Chris Claiborne) and stronger against the run. He is a natural leader who spearheaded the Seminole defense (seventh in the nation in total defense and fourth in scoring defense). Carter was running with the first team at SS when Adam Archuleta was tried at FS in what now looks like a short lived experiment. The latest has Arch back at SS where he is best equipped (coverage has never been his strong suit). It is unclear if Archuleta is in the Rams long term plans. With seasoning and a chance to have the game slow down, Carter might be in position to fight for a starting job next season... and with Archuleta's balky disc, could be pressed into service much sooner.

Fantasy Outlook:
The Rams stable of safeties is not very stable. It is possible that Carter and Atogwe could be paired together as soon as later this season or in 2006. The common refrain about STL defense in recent seasons was that it lacks toughness and can't stop the run. The former Florida State Player of the Year could go a long way to remedying both these critical problem areas. Evidently he couldn't wait to start laying the wood on unsuspecting skill position players, as he wasted no time getting into camp by being the first rookie in the NFL to sign a contract. With STL sporting typically speedy but undersized edge defenders (DEs Little/Hargrove and OLBs Coakley/Tinoisamoa), whoever ultimately emerges at SS for the Rams could get dialed up early and often as one of the primary shock troopers designated for initial contact with the enemy. Carter takes bad angles on occasion and has been known to whiff on the ballcarrier entirely going for the kill shot, but improvement should come with reps, technique work and experience. His long term prospects for becoming entrenched as the SS will be helped if he doesn't get beaten in coverage like Sly Stallone in the opening rounds of a Rocky movie. The upside if he ascends to the starting role in 2006 or sooner... Archuleta rocked the tackle stats from the SS position in two of the last three seasons. He was second and eighth among NFL safeties with 102 and 79 solos in the 2002 and 2004 seasons, respectively. Like Atogwe (and most of the DBs outside of the Top Five), he is a far better dynasty than redraft prospect until the dust settles on the Rams deep patrol battle.

Cracking the Code - Fantasy Football and Chess

Just as we need to familiarize ourselves with the rules of chess, how the various pieces move and what their relative worth is... a knowledge and understanding of the rules of IDP and what the "pieces" corresponding values are is equally important. Like in chess, the "rules of the game" can be learned very quickly... in some cases, in just a few minutes. Also like in chess, knowing the rules is far from mastery in learning how to apply them in a powerful way.

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