Eyes of the Guru
Posted 12/28 by John Norton, Exclusive to Footballguys.com
Week 17 is upon us and we have reached the end of another exciting and intense
season. There are very few leagues who will play their championships this week
so as is the tradition with the EOTG, this final edition will be dedicated to
the kicking off the quest for next year's title. There is a lot of change every
offseason so lets take a look at some players and/or situations that possibly
point toward production down the road. Tuck some of these names away or see
if you can land one of them as a throw in on an off season trade.
Ryan Denney/Chris Kelsay
Denney managed to put up solid numbers (26-17-4 through 16 weeks) for a #3
DE and is scheduled to be a UFA. Defensive ends are always in high demand on the
free agent market so Denney should command some attention. While he isn't likely
to be a smash hit no matter where he lands, Denney could get a shot at a
starting job somewhere and has the potential to be a fantasy contributor if he
lands in the right situation... Kelsay's fantasy production stands to be the
beneficiary if Denney leaves Buffalo. In their time share Kelsay has accounted
for 25-18-2.5 making the total numbers generated by the position 51-35-6.5. Put
that all on one player and you have a pretty solid fantasy option. The Bills
don't have anyone else pushing for playing time and will likely make an effort
to keep Denney but it could be expensive.
Kevin Carter is set to make a big chunk of money next season and he hasn't
been all that productive. Rumors have it that he will be cut for cap relief and
may retire. The Dolphins spent a second round pick on Roth who played very
little early on but was able to get his feet wet late in the season. The Fins
have high expectations and may have no choice but to throw Roth right into the
fire in '06.
Hargrove only posted 4.5 sacks through 15 games as a rookie but he did total
a solid 40 solo tackles, and 2.5 of his sacks came in weeks 15-16. There is
likely to be a great deal of change in St. Louis before next season which could
include a completely new coaching staff and/or a new defensive scheme.
Regardless of what happens Hargrove has solidified himself as an every down end
with a lot of fantasy upside. If the Rams adopt a more physical and aggressive
style of D in the future Hargrove could become a serious fantasy factor.
Especially is Leonard Little can return to form opposite him.
The Colts have a lot of issues staring them in the face this off season when
it comes to keeping their club in tact. Brock isn't a flashy piece of the pie,
playing mostly on early downs, but he has been a big time contributor to the new
found success of the defense. He is also set to become an UFA. Obviously the
club would like to resign him but with all their other issues will they be able
to do so? Brock shared time with Robert Mathis all season but still managed to
put up a mark of 31-8-4 in just 12 games. If he lands with a different club he
would likely be an every down player and would likely be very productive.
Travis LaBoy/Antwan Odom
The Titans are an up and coming young club and LaBoy is going to be a big
part of their defense into the future. He was banged up early this season but
managed quality numbers (25-13-6) despite not making his first start until week
8. Kyle Vanden Bosch should be a candidate for comeback player of the year, but
he only signed a 1 year deal with the club. After his monster season
(40-24-12.5) resigning him will be an expensive proposition. Certainly the
Titans will make an effort to do so but they will have a lot of competition. If
Vandy stays, LaBoy will start opposite him and give the Titans a strong 1-2
punch from the ends. Should the Titans be out bid for Vandy, the club would look
to Laboy and Antwan Odom to step up in '06. Either way LaBoy has the look of a
strong future option for fantasy owners.
Trent Cole/Jerome McDougle
Jevon Kearse is pretty much entrenched as the starter on one end for the
Eagles and '03 first round pick McDougle was set to be the other bookend before
injury landed him on IR without ever playing a snap. He is expected back and
healthy for the '06 season but in his absence a challenger has emerged in rookie
5th round pick Trent Cole. Cole exploded with 5 sacks over a three game span
between weeks 9 and 11 but then vanished from the sack column the rest of the
way. To his credit he did manage 27 solo tackles over his 8 starts heading into
the season finale. This will be an interesting situation to watch come next
training camp. One of these guys should step up and be at least a decent
One of this season's most puzzling situations to me was the Lions use (or
lack of) of Edwards. Early on when James Hall was sidelined with a sore groin,
Edwards provided an excellent pass rush. By week 11 he had tallied 21 tackles
and 7 sacks despite starting just 4 games. Yet his playing time diminished and
he has barely been heard from since his 4-1-1 against Dallas in week 11. We can
expect to hear his name come up this off season as Edwards is set to become an
UFA and will undoubtedly get a lot of interest. The knock against him in Detroit
is that he struggles against the run but he sure looked better than to me than
they want to give him credit for. Edwards could land in an every down situation
and has a lot of upside.
Much was expected of Hall coming off a monster '04 season but an early groin
injury put the binders on his '05 campaign. While he did return to action after
missing about a month, he was never able to return to form. It's possible that
he was simply a one year wonder but groin injuries tend to linger and require a
long rest to completely heal. It's much more likely that his far less stellar
'05 numbers were a direct result of being slowed by the sore groin. He should be
back strong in '06.
James didn't see any serious playing time until week 9 when injuries helped
to push him into the lineup. In 8 games he managed to put up a mark of 22-5-3
while making a strong impression. James should enter next season as the starter
and his experience from this season will be a big plus. He's an explosive pass
rusher that is solid against the run and should be an every down player. Kenechi
Udeze will return from injury and likely contend with Darrion Scott for a
Simply put Williams suffered a horrible sophomore slump in '05. After
lighting up the box scores as a rookie he recorded just a sack and a half this
season while his tackle production fell by about half. There is a history in the
NFL of rookie linemen blowing up but never getting close to their rookie numbers
again. Jevon Kearse, Gerard Warren and Corey Simon come to mind as prime
examples. Williams may never repeat the stellar numbers of his rookie year but
he is certainly a better player than his '05 numbers would suggest. It's very
possible that there could be major changes in the Vikings organization and
coaching staff before next season as well which could change the way Williams is
used. The Vikings did a poor job of taking advantage of his talent this season.
The Falcons lack beef up front but they make up for it with quick athletic
interior linemen. Babineaux is very similar to Rod Coleman in this sense. While
he isn't a road grader type, he presents a lot of different problems for an
offense to deal with. Chances are he will join Coleman in the starting lineup
for '06 giving the Falcons the smallest interior tandem in the league but also
a pair who are both capable of making huge plays with their quickness and explosiveness.
Owners in leagues that require tackles will want to lend some attention to this
kid come next preseason.
For are the stink Howard has stirred in New Orleans this season he will get
a first class ticket on the first jet out of town this off season and the next
time he is in town it will be in a different uniform. This is a very talented
guy who has battled some injuries in recent years but will still be near the top
of several team's wish lists when free agency opens. The Saints are happily
prepared to go with Will Smith for the future and will make no effort at all to
retain Howard. He has been somewhat inconsistent while with the Saints but is
almost certain to land a high profile starting gig with someone in '06 and he
won't have to share time with Smith any longer.
Grant is another player who entered '05 with great expectations after a
monster '04 season. Unfortunately he was forced to play most of the year with a
nagging turf toe injury that seriously hampered his ability to push off and get
after the passer. He still managed 42 solo tackles but was a shadow of his
former self. Grant is an excellent player who should rebound strongly in '06
after an off season to rest the toe and rejuvenate.
Derek Smith/Saleem Rasheed
Smith has been the mainstay of the Niners defense for several years. He's a
solid if unspectacular player who is an excellent fit in a 3-4 scheme. He is
also set to become an UFA this off season. The club will very likely resign him
and make this a mute point but there is always the possibility that they will
consider giving Rasheed a shot at playing. He was the team's third round pick in
'02 and has had his share of injury issues but may get a look if Smith moves on.
If you picked Crowell up after Spikes went down this year, don't be in too
big a hurry to dump him. When Crowell entered the lineup early in the season
the initial reaction was that there would be a huge drop off in production from
the position. While Crowell didn't have the same big play impact that Spikes
probably would have, he did play very well and managed very solid tackle production.
The opportunity to play also got him some exposure heading into this offseason
when he will be a restricted free agent. The Bills are all but certain to tender
him an offer making it likely that he will remain in Buffalo as a backup but
if by chance he lands as a starter for someone, Crowell could be a quality option.
Eric Barton/Jeff Ulbrich/Ray Lewis/Takeo
All these guys are coming off injuries that ended their '05 seasons. Barton,
Ulbrich and Hartwell were all backup caliber fantasy options before being
injured and all are likely to return to that status for '06. Lewis and Spikes
are expected to make full recoveries and should be back at 100% by training
Bart Scott/Tommy Polley
When Ray Lewis went down the Ravens moved Tommy Polley to MLB and inserted
Bart Scott at WLB. Over the final few weeks of the season they actually turned
back to the 3-4 alignment they had moved away from heading into the season. The
important factor here is that not only did both Scott and Polley prove that they
can play and be productive, but both are set to become UFA after the season. The
Ravens will likely resign at least one if not both of them but either of these
guys has a chance to continue their success if they can escape the shadow of Ray
Lewis in '06.
Andra Davis/Ben Taylor/Chaun Thompson
Davis and Taylor are both set to become free agents this off season. Chances
are the Browns will make a strong effort to keep at least one of them. The wild
card here is Thompson who moved outside in the Browns 3-4 but looked like a fish
out of water at times. Thompson is a natural inside linebacker and the Cleveland
brain trust may take a long look at moving him back to where he belongs. The
bottom line here is that all three of these guys have good potential so keep an
eye on this situation.
Remember the '03 season when Thornton was a stud? The move to SLB ruined him
for fantasy purposes over the past two years. Thornton is still the same player
and plugged into a better situation he could again reach the 100 tackle plateau.
He may get that chance as he enters the off season as an UFA. The Colts have a
lot of players to resign and they can't keep them all. Thornton could very well
find himself on the outside when the money is divided up in Indy. If that is the
case someone out there is going to get a very good player who is best suited to
play in the middle. There are several clubs in dire need of a solid run stuffer
and Thornton may well be the best free agent available at the position.
The Giants have a decision to make with Griesen who is headed for free agency
this offseason He has seen a great deal of action as a backup over the past
two years and has played well enough to be considered for a starting role. New
York will get Antonio Pierce back for '06 so there is no opening in the middle
leaving the Giants to decide if Griesen can be their starter on the weak side.
If they choose to let him go he will be a free agent and will be in search of
a club that will give him a chance to start. Griesen isn't a great player but
he is a very solid and dependable guy who makes up for his average talent with
heart and effort. He would have to land in just the right situation to be a
fantasy factor in '06 but it could happen.
The word out of Washington is that Arrington is out once the Skins are done
this year. He is set to be a huge cap hit for next year and has fallen out of
grace with the organization over several issues including money. According to
recent reports Arrington will consider leaving football if he is released by the
Skins but I'll believe that when I see it. He's a great talent who has struggled
with injuries but if he can stay healthy he can be a star.
There will be a ton of change in Detroit this off season and it could range
all the way from management through the coaching staff and onto the field. In
the preseason. EOTG I made the statement that Lehman was the Lions best linebacker
period, and I stand by that statement to this day. He missed a golden opportunity
to prove it this year when he was injured early in the season and eventually
landed on IR. Lehman will be healthy in plenty of time for '06 and should finally
emerge as the starter in the middle. The knock on him was that he could be pushed
around a little in the running game which led the club to go with aging vet
Earl Holmes at MLB. Holmes will be 33 this off season, landed on IR with a chronic
sore knee and is a UFA. Chances are he will not be back.
Sam Cowart/E.J. Henderson/Dontarrious Thomas
Cowart fell short of expectations this year in Minnesota and is headed for
free agency. More than likely he will not be invited back. While I have been
a Cowart fan over the years I have to admit after this season that he isn't
the player he once was. That said, he is still a quality veteran linebacker
who will likely land a starting job for someone and could be box score productive
it it's the right someone. Meanwhile if Cowart does leave the Vikings are likely
to slide Henderson back into the middle which would open the WLB job for Thomas.
None of the Vikings linebackers jumped out in the box scores this season but
ownership has been noncommittal on the future of the coaching staff so we very
well may see a completely different look on defense in Minnesota come '06.
Witherspoon is headed to free agency this offseason unless the Panthers
can get him a new deal soon. He's a very solid player who will draw a great
deal of interest if he hits the open market. There has been no word from the
team to suggest how interested they might be in retaining his services and I
have to wonder if maybe the plan is to shift Thomas Davis to the position? If
Spooney can get away from Morgan and land in a better situation, he has the
potential to be a fantasy stud.
The '05 season has been a disaster for the Saints right from the opening
gun. Courtney Watson opened as the starter in the middle but poor play and then
injury landed him on the sideline and eventually on IR. Fincher struggled
through his rookie campaign and was bypassed in favor of over the hill vet
Ronald McKinnon. Fincher however is a talented player who will make a strong run
at the starting job come training camp. The Saints MLB position is a golden
fantasy opportunity if they can just find someone to step up and play well.
Fincher was a tackling machine in college and is next in line to get a shot.
Lance Mitchell/Gerald Hayes
Mitchell is a guy I was high on as a sleeper heading into this season but
he never got his chance. He was promoted to the second team during training
camp but when Hayes went down early in the season, Mitchell was passed over
due to his "lack of experience". Hayes will be back from his knee
injury in time for training camp and there will likely be a heated competition
for the starting job between these two and/or possibly another entry not currently
on the roster. It is certainly a situation to watch over the offseason
Another of my preseason. deep sleepers, McCune was initially cut and signed
to the practice squad but later added to the 53 man roster. Most of his action
came on special teams when he did play but the fact is the Skins aren't sold
on Lemar Marshall as their long term answer in the middle. Marshall moved into
the lineup when Antonio Pierce was lost to free agency last off season. Marshall
has done a very adequate job but he is not the force that Joe Gibbs wants at
MLB. McCune is a little unpolished but he is a big physical presence who could
get a longer look now that he has a year in the NFL under his belt.
There is little doubt that the Bucks were looking to the future when the
drafted Barrett Ruud in April. He didn't see a lot of action this season playing
mostly on special teams and in short yardage situations but he is clearly next
in line at MLB. The question is, how long will he have to wait? Shelton Quarles
will turn 35 early next season so he has to be very near the end of the road.
Ruud will certainly see a bigger role next year and there is a real chance he
could come out of camp as the starter.
After being out of football for a short while Hawkins may have found a way
to extend his career. Hawking had never played safety until the Patriots came
knocking but he has done a solid job for them since joining the team. Rodney
Harrison's career is likely over leaving the Pats with no one at SS for '06.
While it is a real long shot that Hawkins could hang onto the starting job, it's
a possibility that should be considered.
Demps has been stuck behind Ray Lewis and beside Ed Reed for a long time and
hasn't had much of an opportunity to make a fantasy impact. He's set to be a
free agent this off season so all that could change. Demps has the ability to be
productive in the box scores if he lands in a more target rich environment.
Sean Jones/Broadney Poole
The Browns spent early picks on Jones and Spencer over the past couple of
years but neither of them made a significant contribution in '05. The safety
play in Cleveland left something to be desired from a consistency standpoint if
nothing else. There will be a stiff competition for the starting safety jobs
again come training camp '06 as the new coaching staff continues to put their
mark on an improving young club.
Adam Archuleta is set to be a free agent and there is at least some chance
the Rams won't make a real strong play to keep him. He has been fighting a bad
knee for the past couple of years which prompted the coaching staff to try him
at FS during training camp in order to save some of the pounding. That experiment
failed but Archuleta was obviously not the same player he has been in the past.
Carter was the team's 4th round pick this spring and played well when called
upon to during the season. This will be an interesting situation to keep an
eye on over the of season.
Like many corners before him Hill may have extended his career by making
the switch to safety. The Raiders defensive scheme used a hybrid nickel alignment
as their base defense much of the year with Hill playing basically as a third
safety. His success will not have gone unnoticed as he enters free agency. Look
for someone to give him a job but likely not as a corner.
Derrick Gibson/Tony Parrish/Madieu Williams
Here are three guys who landed on IR this season after getting off to strong
starts. None were missed more than Williams who burst onto the scene as a rookie
and then left the Bengals secondary in dire need at safety early this season.
All three are expected back and healthy for '06 and should be able to pick up
right where they left off.
The Falcons coaching staff busted Scott to backup in an effort to get more
physical play at free safety. It didn't work. Maybe they will go back and look
at last year's game films where they would see a more physical Scott playing
strong safety. Scott is a solid player who contributed well in '04 from the SS
position but simply isn't cut out to play off the ball at FS. He's still the
best SS on the Falcons roster and if they realize it before next season he will
again be a solid fantasy option. If they don't realize it maybe they will
release him so my Bengals can pick him up. God knows we could use him...
Davis was as complete a bust as they come this year. After a ton of hype
all through the preseason. he lost the starting job right before the opener
and never regained it. After spending such a high pick on him the club is going
to look for a way to get him on the field. That could come at linebacker or
SS but it will come. Marlon McCree held the SS position all season but is no
better than average at best. The club would undoubtedly like to see Davis play
the SS position that he was drafted to play but he will need to improve his
cover skills for that to happen.
Bullocks initially worked at FS when Jay Bellamy went down but by the end of
the season he has switched with Dwight Smith at SS. While inconsistent in the
box scores, Bullocks played well and turned in several solid outings. He will be
in the lineup from the opening gun come '06 and should show improvement with the
That puts a cap on another great season. I'll
be back next come training camp with another edition of the preseason. EOTG.
Until then remember championships are won in the offseason!