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Eyes of the Guru

Hello again IDP junkies and welcome to the 9th edition (part two) of the pre-season Eyes of the Guru. This time I'll be covering the NFC. If your looking for in depth coverage on the defensive side of the ball you have come to the right place. No one covers the game better than The Football Guys and I am proud that both I and the EOTG are now a part of the team. You will find nothing but fantasy football in this report. No contract talk, no police reports. Only the stuff that matters. For reference, when I mention where guys finished in the rankings last season I generally use the North American Fantasy Football Addicts (NAFFA) league I have run for the past 9 years as my model. If you care to check it out feel free. Defensive scoring in this league is basically the standard stuff though obviously rankings could vary a bit from league to league. From time to time I will reference the "rookie corner rule". Those of you who are familiar with the EOTG report know what that is. For those who are new, the rookie corner rule is basically the fact that in the NFL starting a rookie at corner is like throwing chum to the sharks. Offensive coordinators will target young and inexperienced players as weaknesses thus these guys have an accelerated number of opportunities. Most often these guys are the cream of the crop at the position (which is why they are starting so soon) and their numbers will begin to drop sharply in their second seasons. This will likely be the last you hear from me before the season opens so I want to wish everyone the best of luck. Starting with week 1 I will be doing a weekly version of the EOTG that will run through week 17. The season is almost here so lets get this going.

Philadelphia Eagles

Defensive Line
After a couple of injury marred seasons in Tennessee, DE Jevon Kearse was finally able to stay healthy through all of '04. He is the teams best DL fantasy prospect and is capable of much better production than last years 27-4-7.5. That said, Kearse hasn't reached the 40 tackle mark since his rookie season in '99 and his numbers steadily declined over his second and third years. In his defense, he was bothered by a foot injury in '00 and '01, though he didn't miss any games during those seasons. '03 first round pick Jerome McDougle was the expected starter opposite Kearse before the shooting that will all but end his season. McDougle had already run the gambit of injuries since joining the team, including shoulder, groin, chest, knee and even an irregular heartbeat. One has to wonder what this poor guys has to do to get his chance. When the team drafted him, McDougle was touted as a young Hugh Douglas. He is talented and has a ton of potential but was a major gamble even before the recent incident. He may return during the season but until he shows us something besides a fat contract, stay away from him. N.D. Kalu will likely get the call to replace McDougle in the starting lineup. He's a decent pass rusher but struggles against the run. Kalu held a starting role in '03 when he totaled a career high 33 solo stops and recorded 5.5 sacks. He isn't likely to be an every down player but should be good for similar numbers. Darwin Walker and Corey Simon project to be the starters on the inside but its not written in stone. Simon has contract issues and could hold out or even be traded, while Walker could end up seeing significant action at end. The Eagles have a history of removing discontents and we know that they don't renegotiate with guys who are under contract. Just a couple of years back they let Jeremiah Trotter walk over the same kind of issue and they are now taking the same stand with T.O. The club spent a #1 pick on Mike Patterson which sent a strong message to Simon. This one could get ugly. Walker is a versatile player who is no stranger to the DE position. He's seen time there on running downs over the past 3 seasons and with the McDougle situation will likely see considerable action there again this season. Walker is an excellent inside pass rusher but lacks the pure speed to be an outstanding rush end. What he does provide is strength versus the run. The addition of Patterson and the emergence of Sam Rayburn will free up Walker to move outside more as needed, especially if they do get Simon in uniform. All Rayburn did last season was to come off the bench and lead all Eagles DL in tackles (28) while finishing second on the team with 6.5 sacks. There is no doubt the Eagles have assembled a lot of football talent on a defensive line that produced 29 sacks last season. The problem for us is that too many guys see significant playing time so the numbers are spread too thin. No Eagle lineman put up over 28 tackles last season and its been at least 4 years since any of them reached 40. Meanwhile Kearse's 7.5 sacks was a team high in '04. Injuries can partially be blamed for the numbers being spread so thin as the Eagles were forced to shuffle guys around some, but most of the problem is that they have talented depth and like to keep everyone fresh and involved. Until we see this change, it might be best to avoid this whole situation.

Fantasy Prospects
DE Jevon Kearse - Quality depth with strong upside
DE Jerome McDougle - His season is on hold as he recovers from gun shot wounds
DT Corey Simon- Minimal value even is he does sign
DT Darwin Walker - Depth in large leagues
DT Mike Patterson - Dynasty sleeper
DT Sam Rayburn - Sleeper, potential to be a quality backup or maybe even #3 starter
DE N.D. Kalu - Marginal value even if he replaces McDougle as the starter
DE Jamaal Green - Injury sleeper

Linebacker
Philly resigned Jeremiah Trotter last off season but were hesitant to hand him the starting MLB job. The thinking was that converted WLB Mark Simoneau was faster, had more range, would be much better in coverage and was a better fit in the speed first scheme. As a result, the Eagles were punished by less than stellar running games over the first half of the season. The best thing that happened to them was Simoneau being dinged which put Trotter in the lineup for week 6. He started one game, was nothing short of impressive and grabbed the attention of the coaching staff. Simoneau continued to struggle and by week 9 Trotter was the starter and never looked back. If you take out the final two games when the Eagles were resting everyone, Trotter put up 6 or more solo stops in 5 of 7 starts and totaled 47-5-1 over the 7 game span. Project that over 16 games and you get 107-12-2.5. Not bad production from a guy who usually takes a seat in passing situations. The only knock on Trotter is that he doesn't make a lot of big plays. Give me 7 tackles every week from my #3 linebacker and I'm happy as a lark. He will be grossly undervalued by many owners because his overall numbers last season were weak and he doesn't play on passing downs. Don't be one of those owners. The Eagles have a solid group of linebackers in general but the scheme is not particularly fantasy friendly to either of the OLB positions. Strong side starter Dhani Jones racked up over 100 solo stops at WLB with the Giants in '03 but the move to Philly's SLB job cost him over half his tackle numbers. The teams WLB position didn't produce much better with Keith Adams, Nate Wayne and later Simoneau all making starts at the position, combining to go just 77-16-2 over the course of the season. Adams put up the majority of those numbers despite making just 2 starts and will enter camp atop the depth chart. Simoneau is expected to compete for the job but the club has already seen them both enough to know what they can do and if Simoneau were their guy he would be there from the start. Second round pick Matt McCoy is a wildcard in the mix. The Eagles scheme is very complex and he has struggled to get with the program during off-season workouts. Come next season he could be pushing for playing time but the rook has a lot to learn and barring injuries or a major turn around, won't make much impact in the short term. One important point with the Eagles, their score keepers are very stingy when it comes to doling out assists. If your scoring combines tackles and assists the Philly defenders are much less valuable. Only 5 Eagles defenders were credited with double digit assists in '04, and none with over 23.

Fantasy Prospects
MLB Jeremiah Trotter - Solid #2 starter, excellent 33, plenty of tackles but not many big plays
WLB Keith Adams - Sleeper, should provide solid depth with a little upside potential
SLB Dhani Jones - No value
WLB Mark Simoneau -No value even if he starts
OLB Matt McCoy - Dynasty sleeper, good player but not in a great situation

Defensive Back
When the Eagles elected to let Troy Vincent and Bobby Taylor walk last off-season some people thought they were nuts. As it turned out the move was perfectly timed. Taylor signed in Seattle and was a bust while Vincent went to the Patriots and played less than half a season. Meanwhile Sheldon Brown and Lito Sheppard stepped right into the starting roles and the beat goes on. Neither of these guys are widely considered to be among the games best but they are both quality cover men and are a perfect fit for the scheme. The Eagles rely on pressure to disrupt the offensive rhythm and force mistakes. And if there is anything the Philly DBs are good at it's taking advantage of mistakes. Not only does the Eagles secondary rack up interceptions (14 in '04) but they also make a major contribution to the pass rush. Eagles DBs recorded more sacks (8) than any other secondary last year. There are no fantasy studs to be found here but there are some guys who can be contributors. With Trotter playing only about half the snaps last season, all 4 of the starting backs were among the team's top 5 tacklers. SS Michael Lewis led the club with 76 solos followed by Brown with 66 and FS Brian Dawkins with 62. All three of these players are worthy of consideration in this year's drafts but all of them come with some downside as well. Lewis is the most consistent from the tackle perspective. He posted 5 or more solo stops in 10 games. on the downside Lewis accounted for just 1 interception, 1 fumble recovery and was the only member of the starting secondary who failed to record a sack. Brown's final numbers are strong for a corner over all but he lacks consistency recording 3 or fewer tackles in 9 games. Likewise for Dawkins who is a big play threat (4 picks, 3 sacks) but couldn't manage more than 3 tackles 8 times in '04. This is the problem in general with Philly DBs. They look good at the end of the year but will drive you loony by racking up big games on your bench then going 2-0-0 when you start them. Save what hair you have left and look elsewhere for guys that can be counted on weekly. One guy worthy of keeping an eye on here is 4th round pick Sean Considine. This kid is a ball magnet. He's been receiving the praise of the defensive coaches from the first time he set foot on the field and is a strong favorite to eventually replace the soon to be 32 year old Dawkins at FS.

Fantasy Prospects
SS Michael Lewis - Strong backup or decent #3 starter in a pinch
FS Brian Dawkins - Decent depth but lacks consistency
CB Lito Sheppard - Solid starter in leagues that require corners, minimal value to the rest of us
CB Sheldon Brown - Depth in large leagues, starter in corner required
FS Sean Considine - Dynasty sleeper
CB Matt Ware - Injury sleeper, will be the nickel back


New York Giants

Defensive Line
The Giants DL boasts the leagues leading active sacker in Michael Strahan but that certainly isn't all they have going for them. Strahan went down in week 8 last year with a torn pectoral and was done for the season. This forced the Giants to insert '03 second round pick Osi Umenyiora, and in the youngster they found their silver lining. He completely disproved the assumption by many that he wasn't ready to be an every down player. Over the second half of the season Umenyiora totaled 33-16-5. Particularly impressive numbers considering there was no Strahan threat at the other end. With just 8 starts he managed to lead the club in sacks (7) and lead the front four in tackles with 42. Project the numbers from the kid's 8 starts alone over a full season and you get a very "Strahan like" 66-32-10. The kid is hot and could very well land among the top 10 fantasy DL in '05. Strahan is expected back at full speed and will again be a very valuable asset to some owner in your league. The question is will he be the same player who racked up 226 solo tackles and 61.5 sacks over the past 4 season's? Lets take a look at him a little closer. He will be 34 in November, is entering his 13th season and is coming off a season ending surgery. Even deeper though is the fact that his numbers prior to the injury were showing signs of decline. In 8 games he totaled 24-10-4 and was on pace for his lowest production since '99. He'll still be very good but is no longer a lock to reach 50 tackles and double digit sacks. Don't over pay on draft day. The Giants drafted Justin Tuck in round three this year and will begin grooming him to take over for Strahan when he hangs it up. There are some things he needs to work on but keep an eye on this youngster, he could be a good one in the long run. At the inside positions the Giants have some questions. Fred Robbins is a quality veteran player who is smart and dependable but isn't the most gifted of athletes. He is a contributor for the Giants but with numbers like last years 31-9-5, won't make much of a fantasy splash. William Joseph is expected to continue as the other starting tackle but the club has made it crystal clear that he needs to improve. Talent is not the issue with Joseph who has all the physical tools to be one of the best interior linemen in the league. What the coaching staff needs to see from him this year is consistency and heart. He would have to come a long way from last season poor numbers to deserve any fantasy consideration. The Giants have several names on the depth chart behind Joesph but none of them really jump out as guys who will push him except maybe former Steeler third round pick Kendrick Clancy.

Fantasy Prospects
DE Michael Strahan - Stud but may have begun to decline a little
DE Osi Umenyiora - Solid #2 starter at the least with top 10 potential
DE Justin Tuck - Injury sleeper and dynasty prospect
DT Fred Robbins - Minimal value unless you have to start tackles
DT William Joseph - No value
DT Kendrick Clancy - Deep sleeper with minimal upside

Linebacker
This year's prize free agent addition is MLB Antonio Pierce who is a particularly sweet pick up for New York in that they not only landed one of the up and coming young linebackers in the league but raided a division rival in the process. Pierce has to prove that last season was no fluke but having watched the kid play, I seriously doubt it was. Pierce not only led the Redskins in tackles with a mark of 87 solos and 27 assists but also demonstrated some playmaking abilities with a sack, 2 picks and a pair of fumble recoveries. On a Giants club that is hurting for talent at LB, Pierce could easily be a 100+ tackle guy and is a serious threat to finish among the top 10 at the position this year. None of the Giants linebackers were able to muster any consistent production in '04 but it wasn't for lack of opportunity. New York's D had 498 running plays run against them last season. Only 3 clubs had more. Two years ago this defense produced a pair of 100 tackle guys. They are a little better over all at this point but that doesn't change the fact that this is a golden fantasy situation. Unfortunately beyond Pierce, the club really has no one capable of stepping up. WLB Barrett Green is over rated and somewhat injury prone. He missed nearly all of last season with an ankle injury early on, followed by a knee problem that required surgery and ended his season. This coming on the heels of three years of underachievement as a starter in Detroit. Carlos Emmons is actually a quality veteran player though he is nothing special and is in the non-fantasy friendly strong side role. Behind the starters the G-men have Nick Griesen and Kevin Lewis, both of whom gained a lot of experience as injury replacements last season but also proved beyond doubt that they are nothing more than backup material. To sum it all up in a sentence, it's Pierce or bust for fantasy owners when looking at this group.

Fantasy Prospects
MLB Antonio Pierce - Solid #2 starter with top 10 potential
WLB Barrett Green - Could provide decent depth in large leagues if he can stay healthy
SLB Carlos Emmons - No value
OLB Nick Griesen - Injury sleeper with limited upside
MLB Kevin Lewis - Injury sleeper with minimal potential

Defensive Back
The Giants safety positions are supposedly unsettled heading into training camp, with 3 players fighting for two positions. Shaun Williams has been the mainstay at strong safety for several years but is in serious danger of being the man without a chair when the music stops. He was lost in week 10 of the '03 season to a knee injury and made just two starts last season before blowing out the other knee. There are concerns that he may not be the same player as before the injuries and/or that he may not be all the way back for the start of this season. 5th round pick Gibril Wilson replaced Williams after the injury last season and was nothing short of impressive for 7 games before his season came to an end with a shoulder injury. In those games Wilson proved not only to be a tackling machine with 49 solo stops, but a playmaker who kicked in 3 sacks, 3 interceptions and a forced fumble. Project his 7 game numbers over a full season and Wilson is 112-16-6 with 6 picks, and is the #1 fantasy DB. Granted he probably isn't going to reach that plateau this year but there is certainly a possibility he could land in the top 10 if not top 5. Wilson will enter training camp first on the depth chart and it's hard to imagine him not coming away with the starting job, especially when you consider that Williams has just 11 career picks in 7 seasons. The coaching staff has made it clear that they believe Williams can play either position so I believe the true battle here will be between Williams and Brent Alexander for the FS job. Alexander is basically a dependable veteran who isn't the most talented or the fastest but makes few mistakes. He isn't as physical as Williams but does make more big plays. At the June mini camps Wilson and Alexander ran with the first team which could be a very telling tale. Still a healthy Williams has a good shot at coming out on top here, but its worthy of mention that he reworked his contract and is making much less money. What this means is that the club can afford to keep him in a backup role if so desired. With the Giants being weak at linebacker and questionable on the interior line, there could be a lot of action for the FS as well. Will Allen and William Peterson are quality corners though neither can be considered among the leagues elite. They also lack the kind of playmaking ability that a defense needs from the position. Allen was the club's leading tackler a year ago with 75 solo stops, but that fact is a little deceiving. Had any of several other players been on the field for a full season the story would be much different. Both Allen and Peterson put up good tackle numbers for corners and should remain decent options in leagues that require the position. Their value however, is hurt by lacking big play production. They each have just 4 picks over the past three seasons combined. The coaching staff is not at all satisfied with 8 total picks over three seasons and they have made it clear during off-season workouts that more is expected from them. A strong message was sent when the club spent a second round pick on Corey Webster. Frank Walker will likely open the season as the teams nickel back but the rookie is going to get a chance to play and it could come early.

Fantasy Prospects
SS Gibril Wilson - Likely stud in a stellar situation, could be a top 5 DB but there is some risk
FS Brent Alexander - Depth in most leagues if he wins the starting job
S Shaun Williams - Depth in most leagues if he wins the FS job, a decent #2 or strong #3 should he come out on top at SS
CB William Peterson - Solid depth in leagues that start corners
CB Will Allen - Decent depth in leagues that start corners
CB Frank Walker - No value
CB Corey Webster - Sleeper, rookie corner rule could apply at some point


Dallas Cowboys

Defensive Line
There are several clubs turning to a 3-4 defense this year, what sets the Cowboys apart from the rest is the way they have gone about it. The club obviously has no intention of evolving into the new scheme like some clubs do when they set out to accumulate "3-4 players" over a span of two or three years. And they aren't trying to fit all their 4-3 personnel into it either. In true Bill Parcells fashion he has completely rebuilt the defense from the ground up in one fell swoop. The first block in the foundation actually came well before the draft when the team signed Jason Ferguson away from the Jets to play the nose tackle position. Ferguson isn't the biggest of the 3-4 NTs by far but he is very stout against the run and is more nimble than most 305 pounders. He should be a perfect fit. The second DL cornerstone to be laid came in the first round with the selection of Marcus Spears. Spears is another agile big man who's scouting checklist points toward his being a good fit. He should soon eject Kenyon Coleman from the top of the depth chart and take his place as the long term answer at end. With Ferguson and Spears in place, two thirds of the DL is set. There are however big questions at the other position where previous DE standout Greg Ellis is currently listed as the starter. Ellis himself has expressed concern about his role in the new defense. He realizes as clearly as anyone that at 270 pounds he is not built to play DE in a 3-4. Not to be caught unprepared, the Cowboys spent 4th and 7th rounds picks respectively on a couple of more young guys who fit the mould in Chris Canty and Jay Ratliff. Ellis stated in an interview that he believes the way has been paved for his release before next season. This may be true but Parcells isn't a guy who will just let a talented guy like Ellis go. Don't be surprised if he is traded before the end of camp this year. There are a lot of teams out there who would certainly be interested in a guy who has averaged almost 8 sacks a season over the past 4 years. Last year's starting tackle La'Roi Glover in in a somewhat similar situation. He has been moved inside to NT where he also is a square peg in a round hole. He could also be shopped though he doesn't have much trade value at this point in his career. On the other hand he did post 7 sacks last season, his best since '01. The fantasy bottom line here; this is the same situation as all the other 3-4 schemes I've already covered. None of these guy have much chance at 40 tackles or 8 sacks. that said, if your sitting on Ellis in a dynasty league, I suggest you not be in too big a hurry to dump him. He's worthless in this situation but he won't be here beyond this season at worst.

Fantasy Prospects
DE Greg Ellis - Minimal value but his situation could change
DE Marcus Spears - Deep sleeper, has some potential but limited upside
DE Kenyon Coleman - No value
NT Jason Ferguson - No value
NT La'Roi Glover - No value

Linebacker
Arguably the most important position in a 3-4 is the outside linebackers. These guy are generally charged with putting the pressure in the term "pressure defense". Heading into the off season there was no reason to believe any of the Cowboys linebackers would be OLB material in the new scheme. Heck none of them had ever recorded more than 2 sacks in a season. The Cowboys answer was to spend their first pick on Demarcus Ware, who was arguably the top 3-4 OLB prospect the draft had to offer. In the words of one NFL scout "Demarcus is a skilled sack artist, who has the uncanny ability to find the quarterback. He is a playmaker who has a good motor, and determined to never lose a battle. He's a disruptive player who consistently makes plays behind the line of scrimmage". Just so happens that is the definition of a 3-4 OLB. Once they get this truck out of the ditch, Ware is going to be a good one. The club added the second piece of the OLB puzzle in round two when they grabbed Kevin Burnett. Or at least they believe they did. Burnett's scouting report says things like "great athlete", "fluid when changing directions" and "makes plays in space". All these are the kind of things that sound great but unlike Ware, Burnett is far from polished and could prove to be a bit of a project at an unfamiliar position. Despite all his speed and natural ability, he's not a proven pass rusher and had very few sacks while at Tennessee, including just 1 as a senior. There is no doubt Burnett is a talented player but it remains to be seen if he is a grand fit for Dallas. Bradie James is listed as the starter at OLB on some depth charts but don't believe it. There are mixed opinions on where he will play this season but the smart money says he starts at ILB along side Dat Nguyen. James will compete with Al Singleton and Scott Shanle during training camp. Shanle was running with the first team during the last off-season mini camps but that may have been a motivational ploy by Parcells to send James a message. If he gets it, this guy could be very productive. Nguyen is entrenched as the other starter and is the favorite to lead the club in tackles for the 4th time in 5 seasons. It would be 5 straight had he not missed half of the '02 campaign. Nguyen is usually good for 80-90 solo stops a season and should be in that range again even with the scheme change. The knock against him in the past has been a virtual absence of big play production. Prior to '04 his career totals were 4 sacks and 3 interceptions over 6 seasons. To his credit, Nguyen was much improved last season with 3 picks and a sack. Parcells expects his linebackers to be playmakers, maybe Nguyen has turned over a new leaf.

Fantasy Prospects
ILB Dat Nguyen - Quality prospect, likely a good #3 starter or quality backup
ILB Bradie James - Sleeper, talent is there if he can earn the opportunity
ILB Al Singleton - Minimal value
OLB Demarcus Ware - Could be a star in the right scoring system but likely no more than a backup in most
OLB Kevin Burnett - Deep sleeper with limited upside in most scoring systems

Defensive Back
The '04 Cowboys had a lot of holes in the secondary and it showed in the fact they finished the season ranked 21st in pass defense. Terrence Newman has emerged as one of the leagues premier corners but opposite him was a revolving door of average players that no one was able to step up and close. As expected they were aggressive in addressing those needs over the off-season. The club spent most of their draft picks on the front 7 but turned to free agency to fix the leaky secondary. Former Cleveland starter Anthony Henry is a very solid player and should make an excellent compliment to Newman. Henry led the league with ten interceptions as a rookie in '00 so he certainly bring some playmaking ability to the table. The club didn't stop with Henry and added Aaron Glenn to the mix late in the off-season. A 12 year veteran, Glenn is closing in on the end of a fine career but still has gas in the tank and can contribute at a high level. He's expected to take over the nickel duties but is very capable of playing on every down should the need arise. With the additions Dallas has turned a major weakness into a relative strength, however they still have a hole to fill at FS. Roy Williams played that position most of last year but the coaching staff has decided that they are better off with Williams in his more natural SS position where he can play closer to the line and make a bigger impact. This is great news for fantasy owners who saw his number plummet from over 80 solo tackles as a rookie SS to under 60 as a FS in his second season. Williams remained at FS last season and his numbers rebounded a little, but much of that can be attributed to the Cowboys struggles in '04. Williams is one of the best SS in the league and is a prime candidate for a top 10 fantasy finish. Moving Williams to SS leaves the FS position in dire straights. '02 undrafted free agent Keith Davis currently tops the depth chart at the position and is expected to battle with '01 undrafted free agent Lynn Scott for the job. The fact of the matter is that neither of these guys is the long term solution and its safe to bet that the team will keeping an open eye for veteran help when the training camp cuts start coming. Beyond Williams there are no sure fantasy prospects in this group. Both Newman and Henry put up decent numbers for corners in '04 but this will be a completely different situation and neither of them are certain to even reach 50 tackles in '04.

Fantasy Prospects
SS Roy Williams - Stud, the move back to SS should do wonders, probable top 10 with top 5 potential
FS Keith Davis - Sleeper with potential short term value
CB Terence Newman - Likely starter in leagues that require corners
CB Anthony Henry - Possible starter in leagues that require corners
FS Lynn Scott - Minimal value even if he wins the job
CB Aaron Glenn - No value


Washington Redskins

Defensive Line
The Redskins managed to finish near the top of the league in total defense in '04 but it was no secret that their DL could use some improvement when it comes to the pass rush. Imagine the embarrassment of being an NFL defensive end on a team that was led in sacks by a cornerback. This was the case with the Redskins as Shawn Springs posted the team high of 6. As a unit the defense recorded a very strong 40 sacks on the season but the DL accounted for only about half of them. With these facts in mind it was expected that the situation would have been addressed over the off-season but that isn't the case. The only personnel difference heading into the new season is a healthy Phillip Daniels at end. It seems the club is putting a lot of expectation on a 32 year old player who is coming off a season ending injury and has never reached double digit sacks. Daniels twice recorded 9 sacks ('99 and '01) but over the other 8 years of his career he's put up 6 or fewer, and over the past three seasons he's played in 34 games with just 9 total. In his prime Daniels was a solid every down end and an above average pass rusher. It's hard to say where he is at this point in his career but he isn't the answer to the Redskins pass rush issue. Renaldo Wynn will once again get the call at the other end. This former first round pick has never lived up to the lofty expectations that come with the draft position, and has a career high of only 4 sacks. Still he is a very solid run defender and apparently fits the team's plan. Their best defensive lineman hands down is tackle Cornelius Griffin. This former second round pick of the Giants is a very nimble 300 pounder who is not only stout against the run but is one of the leagues better inside pass rushers. Griffin led all Redskins linemen with career highs in both sacks and tackles in '04. In fact his 55 solo stops ranked second in the league among interior linemen and his 5.5 sacks was 4th. In his first year with the Skins Griffin checked into the top 15 among DL on the final fantasy rankings for the first time in his 6 year career. He should continue to prosper and be a strong fantasy contributor, especially in leagues that aren't weighted toward sacks. The Skins seem content to go with Brandon Noble as their other defensive tackle even though his numbers would suggest he wasn't very productive last season. Noble made six starts over the second half and racked up a whopping 2-3-0 in those games. This however, doesn't necessarily mean that he didn't do his job well. Someone has to do the dirty work so that Griffin and linebackers like Antonio Pierce can soak up all the glory. To sum it all up, the Redskins seem content to gear their front 4 toward slamming the door on opponents running games and lean on the blitz to supplement the pass rush... at least for now.

Fantasy Prospects
DE Phillip Daniels - Sleeper with limited upside, could make a solid #3 but more likely just adequate depth
DE Renaldo Wynn - No value
DT Cornelius Griffin - Solid #2 starter, strong/consistent tackle production
DT Brandon Noble - No value

Linebacker
Probably the most impressive thing about Washington's defensive success last season is that they accomplished it without their best DE (Daniels) or their playmaker LaVar Arrington at linebacker. Arrington proved to be a big fantasy tease in '04. After waiting five years for him to be moved out of fantasy purgatory at the SLB position, he was finally going to play the weak side where he belonged, and become the fantasy stud we all knew he could be...Right! Unfortunately we never got the chance to see if the new position would have the anticipated box score impact. Instead we were forced to sit through another injury mess while we watched Antonio Pierce and Marcus Washington pile up the production. All we heard late in the off-season is how Arrington is healthier than he's been for years and that he's almost 100% etc. If there is anything I have learned over 14 years of playing this game, it's that when it comes to injuries, you never believe anything beyond the box scores or what you see with your own two eyes. If indeed Arrington is healthy as he claims, he's a serious contender to be a top 20 linebacker and has the potential to break into the top 10. However he is already missing training camp time as the knee continues to give him problems and has been placed on the PUP list. Marcus Washington made more solo tackles (87) than any other strong side linebacker in the league last season. He kicked in 4.5 sacks as well and was able to overcome the limitations of the position to become the most fantasy productive SLB since Anthony Simmons somehow put up 101 tackles back in '01. Washington's numbers were aided by the fact that he's a very versatile player and was one of the few strong side backers who remained in the game on passing downs. With Pierce out of the picture he will continue to see action in practically all situations and could even line up at MLB in the nickel package at times. It's highly unlikely he'll ever break into the top 20 fantasy LBs but Washington should continue to be a decent #3 or a strong backup. The wild card here is 5th round pick Robert McCune. Lemar Marshall is currently penciled in as the replacement for Pierce in the middle but he simply isn't a starting NFL linebacker. Meanwhile McCune is a very mature rookie who has under his belt 3 years of military duty along with 2 seasons as the starting MLB for an improving Louisville team. He is fast, plays sideline to sideline and hits like a train. Its not a reach to predict McCune as the opening day starter in the middle. If/when he get the promotion to starter, there is one thing that could dampen his fantasy numbers. If Arrington is actually healthy as he claims, due to lack of experience McCune would likely be the first to leave the field when additional DBs are brought in. Mark McCune up high on your sleeper list and even higher if you're in a dynasty league. He'll be a good one over the long haul.

Fantasy Prospects
WLB LaVar Arrington - Potential stud but a major injury risk
MLB Robert McCune - Strong sleeper, dynasty owners should be all over this guy
SLB Marcus Washington - Likely a decent #3 starter or solid backup with limited upside
MLB Lemar Marshall - Sleeper who most likely ends up in a backup role
OLB Warrick Holdman - Injury sleeper at best

Defensive Back
When the draft ended back in April the Redskins secondary was looking very good. They had added arguably the best young corner the draft had to offer in Carlos Rogers, to a unit that was already very solid. The closer we get to training camp however the more questions are beginning to pop up. First there was the legal mess that FS Sean Taylor has gotten into and then their prized rookie (Rogers) was injured and won't be ready for camp. There is a little good news on the Rogers front, apparently the injury which was originally reported to be a stress fracture, has turned into a much less serious ankle sprain. Or at least that is the what the later reports are saying. Only time will tell the truth. Either way Rogers will get a late start and has all but lost any shot at a starting job in the short term. The Skins believe they will be fine with Shawn Springs and Walt Harris as their starting corners and were planning to initially have Rogers handle the nickel duties while gaining experience anyway. Shortly after the injury they went out and signed veteran journeyman Artrell Hawkins just in case there is a hole that needs plugged. Having seen Hawkins first had when he was a Bengal, I can tell you the Skins are going to want Rogers back ASAP. Taylor is entrenched as the starter at FS so long as he is available to play. Chances are the legal battle will be put off until after the coming season so if there is a suspension (or jail time) it won't come into play until next year. Taylor fell a little short of fantasy expectations last season when he put up a mark of 61-17-1 with 4 picks. Take into consideration however that he only started 13 games. Add three more average starts to his totals and he has some fairly strong numbers. As a FS Taylor isn't likely to become an 80+ tackle guy but he should consistently land in the low to mid 70's. It's his big play ability that pushes up his value and should land him comfortably in the top 20 this season. Matt Bowen will enter training camp as the starting SS but will get a run for his money from Ryan Clark. Clark was an undrafted free agent last year who ended up starting the last 11 games at SS. In his first 6 starts alone he piled up 46 solo stops. Bowen was no slouch either. Prior to being injured in week 3, he posted a 13-2-2 mark in two games. Bowen is also very capable of playing FS if called upon and would likely take over there if Taylor were injured (or suspended). The moral of this story is that while Taylor will get all the fanfare, the winner of the SS battle may prove to have nearly as much value.

Fantasy Prospects
FS Sean Taylor - Quality #2 starter, big play guy with decent tackle numbers
SS Matt Bowen - Sleeper, could be a big surprise if he holds onto the SS job
CB Shawn Springs - Minimal value in most leagues, solid starter if you play corners
CB Walt Harris - Minimal value
CB Carlos Rogers - Sleeper if he lands a starting job at some point, rookie corner rule
SS Ryan Clark - Sleeper or injury pickup if either safety goes down


Green Bay Packers

Defensive Line
The Packers DL doesn't have any household names and they aren't going to get much respect from any analysts, but they may not be in as bad shape as they appear at a glance. KGB continues to be among the top pass rushers in the league. At only around 250 pounds, he still isn't the strongest versus the run but neither is he a liability. On the other side of the coin is run stuffing end Aaron Kampman who emerged last season as a solid and productive player, especially on early downs. Both of these players should end up on a roster in the majority of fantasy leagues though they each have their weakness that likely will keep them from being starters. KGB has racked up 49.5 sacks over the past 4 seasons, reaching double digits each year since '01. His tackle numbers are also very consistent from year to year, consistently weak that is. Gbaja-Biamila has been a starter for the past three seasons and has recorded between 33 and 35 solo stops in each of them. Last year he finished as a top 20 overall DL but he probably shouldn't be drafted as such based on his week to week inconsistencies. KGB has some big games but will also vanish at times. In fact nine times last season he recorded 2 or fewer tackles and in 7 of those games he also failed to record a sack, putting up 4 or fewer fantasy points. If your scoring is weighted toward sacks he's a sure starter, but in most leagues he's a decent #3 that you throw in there to cover a bye week and hope he has one of his big games when you need him. Keeping with the theme, Kampman is just the opposite. He tallies only 4.5 sacks last year in his first full season as the starter but also managed a solid 48 solo stops. Kampman recorded four or more solo stops in 7 games and 5 or more combined tackles and assists in 9. Its also worthy of mention that 3.5 of his sacks came over his final 8 games. The Packers matched an offer to him this off-season and believe he is a player on the verge of big things. Behind the starters the Packers have some pretty good young guys being groomed. Cullen Jenkins saw considerable action on passing downs last season and made the best of his limited playing time with 5 sacks. He will compete with '03 third round pick and converted tackle Kenny Peterson to be the #3 end. Peterson missed most of last season with an ankle sprain and the coaching staff is optimistic that he will be able to make a significant contribution somewhere. At the tackle positions veterans Grady Jackson and Cletidus Hunt are the penciled in starters but both have issues. Jackson is yet another Drew "keep me out of camp" Rosenhaus client who is threatening a contract holdout while Hunt has yet to give anyone an explanation as to why he skipped out on off-season camps. Both of these guys had better wake up and smell the coffee because the Packers staff really like what they have seen from second year players Corey Williams and Donnell Washington. What it all comes down to is that KGB and Kampman will be be starters with some fantasy value and everyone else will be battling for the tackle jobs and/or scraps.

Fantasy Prospects
DE Aaron Kampman - Decent backup with upside, good tackle production
DE Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila - Quality #3 but inconsistent
DT Grady Jackson - Minimal value
DT Cletidus Hunt - No value
DT Corey Williams - Deep sleeper, could post good tackle numbers if he wins a starting role
DT Donnell Washington - See Corey Williams
DE Cullen Jenkins - Injury sleeper, likely a starter if either end goes down
DE Kenny Peterson - Tough call, a player to watch during the pre-season

Linebacker
One problem the Packers don't have at linebacker is where to put all their talented players to get them on the field. Nick Barnett has established himself as one of the leagues better middle backers and Na'il Diggs has proven to be a good one when healthy. Beyond those two there are big questions to be answered. Green Bay learned over the past two seasons that Hannibal Navies is a good veteran backup but not a high quality starter. Accordingly they let him become a free agent this off-season and when he received little interest, resigned him to a deal suitable for a backup. Ray Thompson has bulked up over the past couple of years but remains among the smallest linebackers in the league. He's also very injury prone managing just one 16 game season in 5 years with the Cardinals, and he missed some starts even in then. He's a somewhat productive guy when healthy but he couldn't even make it through a non-contact camp without having to sit out due to a sore knee. This brings us to rookie Brady Poppinga who in my opinion has a decent shot at making a few starts before this season is over and has an outside shot at earning a starting job at WLB during camp. The Packers are in the process of rebuilding their defense and have been more than willing to start rookies in the past. If they believe Poppinga is their future we could see him early. Much like the DL position, the Packers will be looking at several options with their personnel. Barnett is the only one locked into a position. Diggs has spent his career as a strong side backer and probably stays there this year even though he did play well at WLB last season before Navies injury shuffled him back. One way or the other Diggs starts somewhere and the rest of this crew will battle for the final position. The Packers WLB position has been productive over the years and Diggs had some nice games there early in '04. Keep an eye on this situation.

Fantasy Prospects
MLB Nick Barnett - Second tier stud, good #1 starter
SLB Na'il Diggs - Quality backup or maybe #3 starter if he's moved back to WLB, no value at SLB
OLB Brady Poppinga - Sleeper, dynasty owners late pick special
WLB Ray Thompson - Injury prone sleeper with limited upside
SLB Hannibal Navies - No value

Defensive Back
Despite all the question marks in the front 7, the Packers are even more unsettled in the secondary where only #1 corner Al Harris is a sure starter. Second year corners Ahmad Carroll and Joey Thomas are locked in a battle for the other starting job. Thomas will go to camp leading the competition but its far from decided. The loser gets the consolation prize of being the nickel corner. Carroll was relatively productive playing opposite Harris last season. In 12 games he recorded 46 solo stops, 2 takeaways and a pair of sacks. Should Thomas come out on top he could be productive and sort of an extension of the rookie corner rule. It's his second season but he saw very limited action last year. He would be a first time starter and for all practical purposes a rookie. As is the case with most clubs, the real fantasy value here lies with the safeties. entering camp Arturo Freeman and Earl Little are reportedly at the top of the depth charts but don't count on it staying that way for long. The coaching staff, and particularly new defensive coordinator Jim Bates is very high on second round pick Nick Collins. This kid simply makes plays. Bates is on record stating that Collins will have a significant role and may even start. Meanwhile secondary coach Joe Baker has made no secret that he wants Collins to crack the starting lineup this season. "Do we expect him to be a starter? Yes. Do we expect him to be a good player in the league? Yes. And I think it will happen sooner than later. I think there's a good chance he'll be a starter this year and maybe right away. A very good chance." Collins is a guy I am very high on and have snapped up already in a couple of dynasty league drafts. He's a Darren Sharper clone who was drafted to play the same role that made Sharper a very productive fantasy DB for a lot of years. Besides all he has to do is beat out 3 journeymen, heck his biggest challenge may come from fellow rookie Marviel Underwood. In fact I'll go out on a limb here and predict that the '06 opening day lineup includes Underwood at SS and Collins at FS. Mark Roman is likely to be cut while Freeman and Little are no more than average players at best.

Fantasy Prospects
FS Nick Collins Strong sleeper, dynasty owners special
SS Arturo Freeman - Minimal value even if he starts
CB Joey Thomas - Not a true rookie but very inexperienced and the rule could still apply
CB Al Harris - Minimal value
CB Ahmad Carroll - Minimal value
SS Earl Little - Sleeper with limited upside, possibly solid depth
SS Mark Roman - No value, likely cap casualty
SS Marviel Underwood - Deep sleeper, dynasty owners make a note


Minnesota Vikings

Defensive Line
The Vikings have made a huge investment in their defensive line over the past three seasons with 3 first round picks and 1 fat free agent contract. They have already begun to see the fruit of their labors. The front 7 alone accounted for a whopping 34 sacks in '04 but the best for this group is yet to come. In Kevin and Pat Williams they have one of the best interior line tandems in the game. Pat is a force against the run who plays like a 350 pounder even though he checks in under 320. The free agent gem is expected to soak up blockers and help free up Kevin for more one on one match ups. This is a scary thought considering that Kevin has already taken his place among the leagues elite defensive linemen in both NFL and FF terms. With 52 solo tackles Kevin ranked 6th in the league among defensive linemen (third among tackles) and his 11 sacks were tops among the leagues interior linemen. In fact at the tackle position only Williams and Rod Coleman reached double digit sacks while La'Roi Glover came in a distant third with 7. With all the talent surrounding him it will be even tougher for offenses to get extra blockers on Kevin. All thing considered, he could be a contender for the league sack title. Pat Williams has never been more than a marginal fantasy option. Twice he's reached the 50 solo tackle mark but his combined sack total for those two yeas was .5. He hasn't made it past 2.5 sacks since 1998 and the job he will be asked to do in Minnesota won't help to change that. Even with the talent laden Vikings DL, Pat isn't likely to make much fantasy splash. As a rookie last season Kenechi Udeze wasn't the difference maker the Vikings expect him to be, but he did do a solid job for them. What killed his fantasy numbers was the time share arrangement that had pass rush specialist Lance Johnstone as well as Kenny Mixon and eventually Darrion Scott all seeing significant action. Mixon is gone and heading into his second season Udeze should receive a much bigger piece of the pie. He may even be counted on as an every down guy. Scott captured the starting role opposite Udeze late in '04 and will enter camp as the starter, however he will be hard pressed to hold off first round pick Erasmus James who has drawn rave reviews from the coaching staff, including comparisons to former Viking great Chris Doleman. James has already worked with the first team during mini camps. If he can prove the ability to stand up against the run once the pads go on, the battle will be very short. The 32 year old Johnstone will continue to make a contribution though his playing time is likely to be reduced a bit moving foreword. Johnstone tied Kevin Williams with 11 sacks last season but as a rush specialist, wasn't on the field enough to be productive in the tackle column. If Udeze shows the expected improvement, Johnstone's role could be reduced significantly.

Fantasy Prospects
DE Kenechi Udeze - Sleeper with good upside
DE Erasmus James - Strong sleeper, could go large right out of the gate
DT Kevin Williams - Stud! top 5
DT Pat Williams - Minimal value at best
DE Darrion Scott - No value
DE Lance Johnstone - Injury sleeper or decent backup in leagues that favor sacks over tackle production

Linebacker
Minnesota made major changes at linebacker over the off-season and seriously improved the talent level of the unit. They remain however, unsettled about how their now highly talented linebackers will line up. It's almost a given that former Raider Napoleon Harris will get the call at the strong side position. Harris's combination of size and power make him well suited for the job. In the past decade or so the Vikings have treated the SLB position as an afterthought and have made little effort to fill it with any semblance of a talented player. Recent starters include guys like Henri Crockett, Patrick Chukwurah and a few other very forgettable players. With Harris all but certain to step into the position, the string of ineptitude comes to an end and the Vikings finally have a guy who will make a difference on the field. While Harris is a big addition for Minnesota, he isn't a guy who is going to be of much use to fantasy owners. Like the vast majority of the leagues strong side linebackers, he won't be able to overcome the limitations of the scheme to be productive in the box scores. He isn't great in coverage so even if he lands in the middle, he won't see much action on passing downs. Heading into training camp, all we know for sure about the other two LB positions is that free agent addition Sam Cowart will be playing one of them. The coaching staff plans to take a look at several different combinations of Harris, Cowart and either E.J. Henderson or Dontarrious Thomas. The two most likely combinations are Harris at SLB, Cowart in the middle and Thomas weak, or Cowart at WLB and Henderson in the middle. I look at it like this, Henderson is a very solid player whose strength is against the run, while Thomas is likely their second best coverage linebacker. Cowart is very versatile and can be just as effective from either position. All things considered, my guess would be that they end up with Henderson in the middle and have Cowart and Thomas work together on passing downs. With so much in question it's tough to get a good read on the fantasy slant. There is a ton of box score potential here but none of these guys come without risk. The top prospect of the group is unquestionably Cowart. Some people will consider him too injury prone, and at a glance there is good reason. Cowart has missed 28 total games since '00 and has played only 1 full schedule since '99. A closer look at his injury history reveals that it may not be quite so ugly. Cowart was lost for the entire '01 season with a torn Achilles but returned to play a full schedule in '02. He missed just 1 game in '03 with a thigh bruise before skipping several last season with a sprained knee. The point being, the Achilles remains the only serious injury of his 7 year career and he's proven to be recovered from it. On the other hand, a closer look at his production shows that he is certainly worth the risk. In '00 he started 12 games for Buffalo recording a mark of 88-42-5.5, and was on pace for a top 3 finish when a high ankle sprain claimed his final 4 starts. Coming back from the Achilles injury Cowart totaled 198 solo tackles making 32 starts in 33 games for the Jets before last years knee sprain cost him the job. There is a risk but there is also a chance that Cowart could be the steal of the draft in many leagues this year. Henderson and Thomas were each second round picks of the Vikings in '03 and '04 respectively, and are both good football players. Chances are each will have significant roles to play which means they are likely to ruin each others fantasy value. Its safe to say I will be watching as many Minnesota pre-season games as I can get my eyes on in August. I suggest you do the same. To sum it all up, any of these 4 guys could be productive depending on how they are played. If you have to draft before anything is decided, go with Cowart and/or maybe grab one of them late as a flier.

Fantasy Prospects
MLB Sam Cowart - Top 10 potential with injury concerns
WLB Dontarrious Thomas - Sleeper with upside/injury sleeper
SLB Napoleon Harris - No value unless he changes position
MLB E.J. Henderson - Sleeper with upside/injury sleeper

Defensive Back
After ending the '04 season ranked 29th in pass defense and 28th in interceptions caught, changes were imminent. All the club did was to go out and get the two best available free agents in CB Fred Smoot and FS Darren Sharper. Compared to the guys they are replacing, the Vikings traded in a couple of Chevy's for a pair of Mercedes. Smoot is one of the leagues best cover men and teamed with last years free agent gem Antoine Winfield, gives the Vikings one of the best corner tandems in the game. With last year's starter Brian Williams handling the nickel duties, corner has gone from questionable to a team strength. Winfield is one of the few corners who is a consistently productive fantasy option. He's averaged nearly 5 tackles a game over his entire career and recorded 162 over the past two seasons despite missing a couple of games. He's not real big at only '5 "9 and 180 pounds, but Winfield is all heart and loves contact. The knock against him in the past was a lack of big plays but it's noteworthy that he posted a career high 3 interceptions last season. Smoot has put up 50+ solo stops in each of the past two seasons. Not bad production for a corner but not enough to make a good backup in most leagues. There's no reason to believe his numbers will improve in Minnesota. The Smoot addition got more attention but the Sharper addition should have every bit as big an impact. The Vikings secondary produced only 11 interceptions last season and only one from the FS position. Meanwhile Sharper has averaged 6+ over the past 5 seasons. He's a leader and an impact player on the field and a solid fantasy prospect in the box scores. Sharper is a solid every week starter in any fantasy league but there is a down side. He's fought nagging injuries over the past three seasons which have led to a decline in tackle production. He's a tough guy who will play through injuries, and while you may not notice it on the field, his numbers will let you know when he's not healthy. None of his recent problems have been serious and he could very well play all 16 games and have a stellar season, however he is entering his 9th year and it just may be starting to catch up with him. If he can stay out of the trainers room Sharper is very capable of 75 solo tackles and 6-7 interceptions. Don't count on him as your #1 DB but don't hesitate to spend a late-middle round pick on him as your #2. Strong safety Corey Chavous is a student of the game and a very smart player but he's not the most gifted of athletes. In fact he's a marginal player who probably wouldn't start for most teams. Looking at his career production you see the perfect example of a "one year wonder" when in '03 Chavous tallied career highs in tackles with 75 and interceptions with 8. Unfortunately he has just 9 picks to show for the other 7 years of his career and hasn't come close to 70 tackles in any other season. Don't be surprised to see him lose the job to Willie Offord at some point this year. Rookie Dustin Fox will make the transition from corner to safety and backup Sharper. He's a fairly talented player though rather small for the position. That said, if Sharper goes down for any length of time, Fox should be productive in his place.

Fantasy Prospects
FS Darren Sharper - Good #2 starter with some injury concerns
SS Corey Chavous - Depth in large leagues at best
CB Antione Winfield - Good #3 starter or excellent depth
CB Fred Smoot - Has some value in leagues that start corners
CB Brian Williams - No vaue
FS Dustin Fox - Injury Sleeper
SS Willie Offord - Sleeper with marginal upside


Chicago Bears

Defensive Line
The Bears don't have a lot of well known players along their DL. What they do have is a collection quality young guys who are on the verge of coming together to be a very good defensive line. The talent is in place and the unit should get noting but better with experience. Adewale Ogunleye and Alex Brown have the starting DE positions locked up but Ogunleye has struggled with injuries since joining the Bears and missed 4 games last season. Last year's nagging injuries also get the blame for the below expectations production in the other 12. Ogunleye came off a 15 sacks season in '03 for Miami to post just 5.5 for the Bears. Give him the benefit of the doubt but don't discount the possibility that he's not quite the player those lofty Miami stats would have you believe. There is no Jason Taylor on the other end in Chicago and Ogunleye misses him. I believe a healthy Ogunleye can reach double digit sacks but I don't see him in the 15 range again anytime soon. He's not a big run stuffer either and will likely struggle to break the 40 tackle mark. Brown is a very good every down end who is maturing into a complete player. Despite being a bit undersized, he's always been a strong run defender and his pass rush skill have steadily improved over his 3 years with the team. A repeat of last years 41-10-7 would make him deserving of a roster spot as a backup but I believe he will continue to improve on those numbers as the team improves. The Bears spent the 14th overall pick of the '03 draft on Michael Haynes and so far have been a little disappointed with their returns. He hasn't been a complete bust and has contributed, but they were counting on him for a lot more than the 4 sacks he's put up in two years. The combination of Brown's continued improvement and Haynes slow development will keep anything from changing this season at the DE position but the coaching staff still considers Haynes a quality young player and a good pass rusher. With that thought in mind they plan to use him at tackle on passing downs in order to get their 3 best pass rushing linemen on the field together. Haynes is a guy I was high on as a rookie but at this point I'm taking a "show me" position on him. Ian Scott and Tommy Harris are the starters on the interior with Tank Johnson working as the top backup for both. These guys are almost completely interchangeable. They are all strong but mobile 300 pounders who can cover ground if need be or hold it if asked to. Unfortunately none of them are likely to reach either 40 tackles or 5 sacks thus don't have much fantasy potential. Scott was the most productive of the trio in '04 with only a 34-10-2 mark.

Fantasy Prospects
DE Adewale Ogunleye - Solid starter but there is some risk
DE Alex Brown - Sleeper, rising young player who could make a strong #3
DE Michael Haynes - Deep sleeper with upside, grab him if there is an injury
DT Ian Scott - Minimal value in most leagues
DT Tommy Harris- Deep sleeper, cold emerge in second season, more potential than Scott or Johnson
DT Tank Johnson - Injury sleeper at best

Linebacker
No matter what spin anyone tries to put on it, Brian Urlacher is the heart of the Chicago defense. Give them credit for playing fairly well last season even when he was out but the Bears are a different team with Urlacher in the game. Not only is he a tackling machine who makes plays all over the field, but he's their playmaker as well. In just 9 games last season he totaled 5 sacks 2 forced fumbles and an interception to go along with the 52 solo tackles. Calf and hamstring injuries bothered him all last season and ultimately landed him on IR. This following a '03 season in which he missed no games but was bothered by a series of nagging minor injuries and didn't perform to anywhere near his ability. Heading into camp he received a clean bill of health and should be good to go. Calf injuries don't usually create long term issues however hamstring problems can harass a player for years. That and the fact that he's had problems two years in a row are enough to create some concern. Urlacher has been doing all the right things to safeguard against a reoccurrence of the injury so there is a good chance he will be fine. A healthy Urlacher is a top 10 fantasy LB for sure with the potential to land in the top 5. Don't hesitate to pick him up as your #1 but if you do be sure to come away from your draft with some quality depth at the position. Weak side backer Lance Briggs led the charge with an impressive 102 solo tackles in '04 but don't over over value him on draft day. This is not the first time a Bears WLB has gone large during the Urlacher era. Warrick Holdman performed a similar feat back in '01 but was injured early in '02 and never came close again. In fact Briggs was the first linebacker other than Urlacher to reach the 80 tackle mark since '01. There is no doubt Briggs numbers got a boost last year from the absence of Urlacher, but it would be unfair to say that they were solely because of it. Briggs had some very strong games while both were on the field. The two things that scare me about Briggs are a healthy Urlacher, and a lack of big plays. In two seasons as a starter Briggs has 2 interceptions and half a sack. I expect tackle numbers in the 80's but without a few more big plays, see him as no better than quality depth. On the other hand he's one hamstring twinge away from a triple digit repeat. Draft him for depth or maybe a decent #3 with strong upside. Hunter Hillenmeyer should hang onto the starting strong side job where he made several starts and played very well in '04. So well in fact that he may actually have some fantasy value despite the position. Here are a some things to think about. Hillenmeyer is the backup to Urlacher in the middle. Playing in that position last season he averaged about 6 tackles a game. Then take a look back to the '01 & '02 seasons when Rosevelt Colvin racked up back to back seasons with 55+ tackles and 10.5 sacks. Hillenmeyer only had two sacks last year but he didn't get a great deal of opportunity, when he did get the call he showed a lot of potential. He might be worthy of a real late pick but at the least he's a guy to keep an eye on as a potential free agent pickup. Joe Odom and Marcus Reese are battling to be the first backup at the outside LB positions. Rumor has it that one of them may not make the final roster.

Fantasy Prospects
MLB Brian Urlacher - Top 5 potential with injury concerns
WLB Lance Briggs - Quality depth at worst with potential to be solid #2
SLB Hunter Hillenmeyer - Deep sleeper to keep an eye on
SLB Marcus Reese - No value
WLB Joe Odom - No value

Defensive Back
There is a strong history of quality fantasy production from the Bears secondary. Their strong safety position in particular has been a goldmine for fantasy owners dating back to Tony Parrish's 91 solo tackles in '99, and has produced at least 83 in five of the past six seasons. Mike Green has been starting at the SS position over the past few year but that will come to an end with the announcement that he and Mike Brown will trade positions for '05. The coaching staff believes this will be a better fit for both players and its hard to argue their logic. Green is '6"0 195 pounds with good speed while Brown at '5"10 207, is a more physical player and is not quite as fast. He's also coming off an Achilles injury which may slow him down a tad. On paper this is an excellent move for the most part. The only thing that may cause a problem is that Green doesn't make many big plays, which is what a free safety is supposed to excel at. In fact Green has just 3 interceptions over 5 years as a starter. Brown on the other hand has 11 in 4 seasons including 3 returned for scores. Brown insists the injury is behind him and that he'll be 100% for the season. He's been a go for workouts and isn't expected to miss any time during camp, so all the signs say he's healthy. He's a player who will be widely overlooked on draft day and could be a steal in the later rounds. At FS Green isn't void of value by any stretch, though he certainly doesn't pack the potential he has in the past. Chicago's FS position, while not as productive as the SS, has also provided somewhat useful numbers over recent years. In Brown's three years prior to the injury he averaged just under 70 solo stops and over 4 takeaways a year. Green is a good player and should manage similar numbers. Between '01 and '03 the Bears were using a lot of cover 2 in their secondary which keeps both safeties off the line of scrimmage more and asks the corners to take on more run support duties. This is why during those years, Bears corners were among the top tacklers at the position. In '03 both Charles Tillman and Jerry Azumah reached the 70 solo plateau with Tillman falling only 1 short of 80. Last season however the Bears used the cover 2 much less which resulted in Azumah leading the clubs corners with just 55 tackles. Tillman missed half the season with a knee injury but was on pace for only a 66-14-0 mark. Tillman is the clubs top corner and will not be challenged for that role but there is a battle to be fought between Azumah and Nathan Vasher for the other job. Either of the Bears starts could be of use in league that start corners but for most of us its Mike Brown or bust.

Fantasy Prospects
SS Mike Brown - Sleeper with big potential, coming off a serious injury
FS Mike Green - Likely no better than a solid backup
CB Charles Tillman - Starter in leagues that use corners
CB Jerry Azumah - Could have value in leagues that use corners
CB Nathan Vasher - Could have value in leagues that use corners
S Todd Johnson - Injury sleeper


Detroit Lions

Defensive Line
The Lions are another NFC Norse club that has been patiently assembling a good young defense over the past few years, and looks to be on the verge of putting it all together. Improvement in the front 7 last year went a long way toward the club finishing in the top half of the league against the run for the first time in a long while, and the DL alone accounted for 31 of the team's 38 sacks. They seem to have a rising young star in DE James Hall who recorded a meager 4.5 sacks in '03 and then exploded for 11.5 last year. Hall is a complete every down player who is actually stronger against the run even though he is the first Lion to reach double digits sacks since Robert Porcher in '01. The only thing for fantasy owners to be concerned about is that he's only had one big year and there is always the danger that he was a one year wonder. Somehow I just don't see that, and believe he can/will be a 40+ tackle and double digit sack guy for the next several years. The one foreseeable problem for Hall is that he needs a strong counterpart somewhere along the line to keep offenses honest. The team's second leading sacker in '04 was tackle Shaun Rogers with only 4.5. If they can't get some consistent pressure from the other end, teams will find a way to handle Hall. Cory Redding started on the other end last season and is a very good running down player, but he's a very average pass rusher. Backup end Kalimba Edwards is actually the clubs second best pass rusher and tallied 4 sacks on limited playing time in '04. Unfortunately he continues to be a soft spot against the run and probably won't gain much more playing time this year. On the inside the Lions have a pair of wide loads in 335 pound Dan Wilkinson and 345 pound Shaun Rogers. These two are the anchors of the run defense and do a very good job of keeping the linebackers clean. Wilkinson does the dirty work well but is not a guy who will make any box score splash at all. As mentioned however, Rogers was the team's second leading sack producer which proves the big man can move for his size. He is an exceptional run defender who gets off blocks to make plays as well as any interior lineman in the league. Three times in his 4 pro seasons Rogers has totaled over 40 solo stops with his career high of 60 coming as a rookie in '01. 40+ tackles and 4 sacks makes him a marginal option for most leagues but those of you who start tackles as a separate position should have him high on your draft list. The wildcard in the mix this year is rookie Shaun Cody. He's a very versatile kid who has the potential to be that "other guy" to help Hall. The problem is no one knows where he will end up playing. He's currently listed at tackle which will probably be his official position but don't be surprised to see him line up at end on some early downs. He has talent and a ton of potential but right now Cody needs to improve against the run to have a shot at playing full time. Initially the coaching staff intends to have him replace Wilkinson at tackle on passing downs. If they do that and bring in Edwards on the end the Lions DL may even be able to improve on last years solid marks. In fantasy terms there is too much left to speculation at this point to consider anyone besides Hall. Both Edwards and Cody have upside and could eventually emerge but spending even a late draft pick on either of them might be a stretch.

Fantasy Prospects
DE James Hall - Solid starter, needs to prove that he's not a 1 year wonder
DE Cory Redding - No value
DE Kalimba Edwards - Deep sleeper or injury pickup
DT Dan Wilkinson - No value
DT Shaun Rogers - Starter in leagues that use tackles
DT Shaun Cody - Wildcard, dynasty sleeper with upside

Linebacker
There are a lot of opinions swirling about who will or should be the Lions starters and LB this fall and how they will or should lineup. This is a situation that could change several times between now and the opener as the club looks at different options throughout camp and well into the pre-season. In the end it will all come down to two factors. Is Boss Bailey healthy, and is the unit better with Earl Holmes or James Davis on the field? If Bailey is healthy he plays SLB and that part is resolved. There is currently a good news bad news scenario with Bailey. Good news is he's healthy enough to take part in training camp activities, bad news is he limited and only participating in one practice session a day. We won't know much more until we get into the preseason and see if he's on the field or on the bench. Since his first snap at SLB there has been a raging debate about Bailey's suitability to play the strong side. I'll just say that his particular strengths don't match the description of those generally associated with the typical strong side linebacker. Bailey is a speed and finesse player who is better at avoiding contact with blockers than initiating it. He's a very talented player and could be a strong fantasy option if he ever gets healthy and is moved to WLB where I believe he belongs. Unlike most strong side backers, Bailey has excellent speed and good cover skills. Unless the club limits his plays due to the knee, he should stay on the field in passing situations. The extra snaps could be enough to make him worthy of a roster spot as a decent backup. There are no sure things in football but if I were a betting man I would be willing to bet a few green backs that Teddy Lehman will not only start but be an every down player. There are some who will claim he could end up as the top backup to all three positions but to those people I say HOG WASH! Don't believe it for a second. Lehman is the clubs best linebacker period. Yes he's versatile enough to play any position but he's also good enough to be the team's best option at any of them. He has a year of full time experience under his belt and is well on his way to becoming a very good player. Lehman started in place of Bailey all last season and managed some good box score production for a strong side backer, including 8 games with 6 or more solo stops over the final 13 weeks. Lehman was drafted to play in the middle and will eventually land there but he could end up anywhere this season. Drafting him too high is risky but don't be scared away by the unknown position. At very worst he lands back at SLB, plays on passing downs and is a decent third starter or excellent backup. At best he lands in the middle, is a candidate for triple digit solo tackles and pushes for a top 10 finish. Earl Holmes and James Davis are each capable football players but are at opposite ends of the spectrum. Holmes is a big tough run stuffing MLB who is excellent between the tackles but not very fleet of foot, and is a liability in coverage situations. He put up 78 solo stops last year which about his limit at this point in his career and in this situation. He has virtually no big play ability (11.5 sacks and 1 pick in 10 years) and even less of a shot at being an every down player. He could very well end up playing only in short yardage situations. Davis on the other hand isn't as physical but is much faster and a more complete linebacker in general. The problem for him in fantasy terms is that if Bailey and Lehman stay healthy, he comes off the field at the first sign of an extra receiver coming on. If everyone is healthy I believe the lineup will include Bailey on the strong side, Davis weak and Lehman in the middle. Since I am sitting on Lehman in a couple of dynasty leagues, I for one, will be keeping close tabs on the Lions training camp.

Fantasy Prospects
MLB Teddy Lehman - Decent #3 starter at worst, potential top 10 at best, it all depends on where he lands
WLB James Davis - minimal value at best
SLB Boss Bailey - Big potential but likely limited by the position and/or injury
MLB Earl Holmes - Depth in large leagues at best

Defensive Back
The secondary is one place the Lions don't have a lot of unanswered questions. Though there is always competition for jobs, they are basically set on who will be starting. Terrence Holt has been patiently awaiting his opportunity and will finally get the call at FS. As a rookie in '03 he saw extensive action due to injuries, and really turned some heads. For some reason the club was hesitant to give him a significant role last season. Holt has good size, speed, Instincts and a head for the game, which points toward his being a very strong addition to the starting lineup. The club spent some free agent dollars to land the best SS the free agent market had to offer in Kenoy Kennedy. The 215 pounder has a reputation for laying the lumber on receivers and ball carriers. He's brings a physical presence that the Lions have been without for many moons and adds an intimidation factor that has been long absent. When it comes to fantasy outlook however, the Lions safeties don't jump out at all. Its not a lack of talent but rather the clubs extensive use of a cover 2 zone. This puts the safeties too far from the line to make many run support tackles. The only statistic you need to know here is that Brock Marion's 66 solo stops last year was the highest total for a Detroit safety in at least 5 years. That said, Kennedy is a better player and has the potential to reach the low 70's, but don't expect any more than that. He's not been a big play guy in the past either, and has never recorded more than 1 interception in any of his 5 pro seasons. At the corner position the Lions aren't terrible by any stretch, however they do lack a real stud cover man. Dre' Bly is their #1 and is a quality corner but not in the same league with the Champ Bailey, Fred Smoot types. Fernando Bryant gets the starting nod opposite Bly and is a good #2, but has never really lived up to the expectations that come with being a first round pick. The rest of the roster is filled with decent #2 corners and/or solid nickel back types. What they lack in quality they do make up for in quantity with veterans Chris Cash, R.W. McQuarters and last years third round pick Keith Smith all fighting for their spot in the pecking order. The bright side for the Lions is that an injury or two won't hurt them nearly so bad as it would most teams. One of the effects of a cover 2 is that the corners usually have much better than average tackle numbers. Last years totals wouldn't prove this fact but they are misleading considering that their top 4 corners all missed at least 4 games with injury. Look back a little further to '03 when Bly and Bryant were both right around the 60 mark, or '02 when Chris Cash was the team's second leading tackler with 79. Unless the club moves away from the cover 2, we can expect both starting corners near the 60 solo tackle mark again in '05

Fantasy Prospects
FS Terrence Holt - Sleeper but not in a great situation
SS Kenoy Kennedy - Decent depth in most leagues
CB Fernando Bryant - Starter in leagues that use corners
CB Dre' Bly - starter in leagues that use corners
CB Chris Cash - Injury sleeper in leagues that use corners
CB Keith Smith - See Cash
CB R.W. McQuarters - See Cash


San Francisco 49ers

Defensive Line
The Niners are yet another club that is turning to a 3-4 base defense in '05. This could be a very good move for them considering they are in a complete rebuilding mode anyway and some of their best players would seem to fit the 3-4 mold. Bryant Young was built to play end in this scheme, He's big enough at 290, nasty enough and unselfish enough to fit right in, that said, the 33 year old has never been the same after suffering a nasty broken leg a few years back. Young should do a more than adequate job for the next year or two but is nearing the end of his career and is not the long term answer. The club went out and got former Ravens starter Marques Douglas to handle the other end. Douglas had been very successful at the position over the past two seasons and was the highest ranked defensive lineman to play in a 3-4 last year, checking in at around #23. He doesn't have the same talent around him that he did at his previous stop and will be hard pressed to reach the 40 tackle mark for the third straight season. In Anthony Adams the Niners may have another long term piece of the puzzle to team with Douglas. He could prove a good fit at nose tackle though even at 300 pounds he could use to bulk up a little for the long haul. On the other hand he might be a better fit at end if second year man Isaac Sopoaga steps up at NT. As with all the other 3-4 groups, and especially the ones on teams that are in the first year of the transition, the Niners DL doesn't provide us much in the way of fantasy options. Douglas might make decent depth in large leagues but the rest aren't worth much consideration at all.

Fantasy Prospects
DE Bryant Young - Minimal value at best
DE Marques Douglas - Could be a solid backup in large leagues
NT Anthony Adams - Minimal value at best
NT Isaac Sopoaga - Minimal value at best

Linebacker
There is sufficient talent among the 4 starters to make this the strength of a rebuilding defense. Unfortunately there are injury concerns already. OLB Julian Peterson is a pro bowl talent who should be a perfect fit at OLB in a 3-4, unfortunately he is fighting his way back from an Achilles injury and still has a way to go. He was reported to be at about 75% in mid June and has not been cleared to practice when camp opens. Chances are Peterson will be in uniform when the season opens but don't expect him to be anywhere near 100%. When/if he does get healthy, Peterson has the talent to be a 50+ tackle and 10+ sack guy in this scheme. Jamie Winborn has shown flashes of brilliance over his 4 year career but has lost 24 games to injury and has never played a full schedule. If healthy his skills should also fit the mould of a very good 3-4 OLB. Winborn played in a career high 14 games last season and was able to post 4.5 sacks so there is some potential. Neither Derek Smith nor Jeff Ulbrich are pro-bowl caliber players but both are very solid contributors who should perform well on the inside. Smith is their most dependable LB both from performance and health perspectives. He's missed just two starts over the past 3 seasons and has led the club in tackles for 4 straight years. He'll be an every down player in what is generally the most productive fantasy position that a 3-4 provides, so there is no reason to believe he won't make it five. Ulbrich has had his share of struggles to stay healthy as well. While he's been inactive for just 5 games over his 4 years, he has missed several other starts and/or played injured often. He'll play the Jay Foreman role to Smith's Jamie Sharper but as bad as this team projects to be, both could end up with 90+ solo stops. In Andre Carter and Saleem Rasheed the Niners potentially have a pair of quality backups. Unfortunately when it comes to Carter the injury story continues. He played in just 7 games last year because of a back injury and there are concerns that the problem could become chronic. That said, he has been working with the team since the June mini camps and is looking good. The coaching staff wants to convert Carter into an outside linebacker but he simply doesn't fit that role. Rumor has it that he was being shopped at the same time the Niners were shopping John Engelberger who they eventually traded to Denver. With the recent shooting of Jerome McDougle, Philly may be on the horn with the Niners about Carter already. San Francisco spent a third round pick on andrew Williams in '03 but he has been slow to develop and doesn't exactly fit the mould either. In short the Niners might have decent depth and then again they might not. One thing they don't have is many backup players on the roster who were picked up with a 3-4 in mind.

Fantasy Prospects
OLB Julian Peterson - Health is too big a concern, let someone else take the chance
OLB Jamie Winborn - Sleeper in leagues that emphasize sacks
ILB Derek Smith - Strong #3 starter
ILB Jeff Ulbrich - Should provide decent depth at worst
OLB Andre Carter - Best shot at being productive would come via a trade
ILB Saleem Rasheed - In jury sleeper
OLB Andrew Williams - Deep sleeper, may get the call if Peterson can't go

Defensive Back
There is some talent in the Niners secondary but like the other positions there are plenty of questions to be answered and some potentially large holes to fill. Both FS Mike Rumph and corner Ahmed Plummer spent much of last season on IR. Rumph should have no lingering effects of his broken forearm but the news may not be so bright for Plummer who continues to recover from a neck injury. He was cleared to participate in most of the teams off-season conditioning program but all has been quiet out of Niners camp about his progress heading into training camp. While he insists he'll be able to return full speed, there is a chance the injury could be career ending. the fact that the team traded for Willie Middlebrooks to add depth could speak volumes. Middlebrooks had been a first round bust for Denver but then this is the same team that decided to make a receiver out of former pro-bowler Deltha O'Neal a couple of years back. It will be interesting to see if he's that bad or if Shanahan is a bone head. The jury is still out on that one. In Tony Parrish the Niners have one of the leagues better strong safeties. He's an intimidating hitter as well as a play maker with 20 interceptions, 3 forced fumbles and 4 recoveries over the past 3 seasons. Parrish usually doesn't post great tackle numbers but is good for 60+ solos and the numerous big plays add a lot of value. He's been dinged over the past two season but is a tough guy who plays with pain. Considering the state of the club, if he can stay healthy Parrish should be a top 20 fantasy DB. The loss of Ronnie Heard left the Niners short at FS. Their answer, at least for now, was to move former corner Mike Rumph to the position and hope he can make a successful transition. Only time will tell but one thing we do know is that its been a long dry spell since a San Francisco FS has held much fantasy value. You have to look back somewhere beyond '98 to find the last FS to record 60 tackles for this club. The Niners expect Shawntae Spencer step into the starting corner role opposite Plummer (or maybe Middlebrooks). He led the club's defensive backs with 61 solo stops last season and should finish in that area again.

Fantasy Prospects
SS Tony Parrish - Solid #3 starter, little inconsistent on the tackle production but plenty of big plays to make it up
FS Mike Rumph - Unknown commodity in a historically unproductive position
CB Ahmed Plummer - Injury issues all but rule him out
CB Shawntae Spencer - Strong consideration in leagues using corners
CB Willie Middlebrooks - Deep injury sleeper, heck he's hardly played in 4 years


St. Louis Rams

Defensive Line
If there were one word to describe the Rams DL "thin" might fit best. The interior positions aren't quite so bad with a trio of former first round picks in projected starters Ryan Pickett, Jimmy Kennedy and backup Damione Lewis. Yet despite the high expectations heaped on first round picks, none of these guys have been standouts since coming to the NFL. Kennedy is projected as a starter for the first time in '05. He's a wide body and a anchor against the run who does a good job of holding his ground and forcing runners wide but doesn't shed blockers well or make enough plays himself. He's also had injury issues and has missed 10 games over his two pro seasons. He's not been tagged a bust just yet but Kennedy sure needs to show something early and often in '05. When the club drafted Ryan Pickett in the first round 5 years ago the draft analysts called it a reach and said he was too raw. That just goes to show you why they are in the booth and not working as scouts. Of the three Rams number ones, Pickett has been the most consistent contributor. He earned a starting role in his second year and has a lock on the job heading into the new season. Twice in the past three years Pickett has reached the 40 tackle mark but he isn't much of a pass rusher. Three seasons as a starter have yielded just 3.5 sacks though his career high of 2 did come last year. Pickett may be useful as a backup in leagues that require tackles but most of us should pass. Lewis found his way into the coaches dog house last season and was yanked from the starting lineup after week 10. This was yet another strange move by the Rams coaching staff as his demotion came on the heals of a game against the Patriots in which Lewis recorded 6 tackles and a sack. In fact Lewis's 5 sacks was good enough to land him third on the team in '04. The way this will likely play out is that Kennedy will get the early downs with Lewis replacing him in passing situations, which basically ruins any small shot either of them may have had at making a fantasy impact. The club let DE Grant Wistrom leave via free agency before the '04 season and it cost them dearly. Bryce Fisher did an admirable job in Wistrom's place producing a team high 8.5 sacks but he didn't provide the same presence and offenses were able to turn their attention to shutting down stud pass rusher Leonard Little. As a result the Rams finished last season with just 34 sacks, 8 short of their '03 total of 42. After three straight seasons of 12 or more sacks, Little saw his production fall to just 6.5 last year. In just 12 games the year before he had produced a mark of 41-6-12.5, while last years 16 game totals were just 36-10-6.5. Fisher parlayed his 8.5 sacks into a fat new free agent deal with the Seahawks so the question heading into the new season is, can second year man Tony Hargrove fill the hole opposite Little? The Rams sure must think he can, because if he doesn't, there is no plan B. The Rams go to camp with just 6 defensive ends on the roster. The only backup with any game experience is Toyoka Jackson and the next two are undrafted free agent rookies Clifford Dukes and Vontrell Jamison. Jackson will likely be the #3 guy but keep an eye on Dukes. Off field issues undoubtedly contributed to his being passed over but it was still a surprise he wasn't taken on the second day. Dukes is a pretty good player who has some potential and there is little doubt he will see some action. The club will likely be looking to add some veteran depth when cuts start coming but teams just don't release decent ends.

Fantasy Prospects
DE Leonard Little - Ton of potential but don't count on him for more than depth at this point
DE Tony Hargrove - Sleeper, has upside and they have no choice but to play him on all downs
DT Ryan Pickett - Possible backup depending on your scoring
DT Jimmy Kennedy - No value
DT Daimone Lewis - Minimal value at best
DE Clifford Dukes - Deep sleeper/injury sleeper

Linebacker
The Rams spent all last season searching for the right combination of players and positions at linebacker. It seemed that every week the players were shuffled into different positions until by the end of the year one had to wonder if the top 4 guys were simply drawing lots in the locker room to see who played where that week. The bottom line when it was all done... they didn't like any of their options. Thus this off-season brought a major facelift to the roster. Tommy Polley is gone while both Brandon Chillar and Robert Thomas have been bumped down the depth chart by new starters Dexter Coakley and Chris Claiborne. what remains to be seen is if they have actually improved or simply added new names to the draw hat. Claiborne has not been the answer for either Detroit or Minnesota and he probably isn't going to be the answer here either. He's a very over rated player who has been fighting injuries for most of the past 2 years. Claiborne is an average player who never stepped up to take advantage of a golden opportunity in Detroit and then wore out his welcome very quickly in Minnesota. He's never reached 80 solo tackles despite playing in some of the fantasy games most target rich environments. The club added Dexter Coakley with the original intent to play him on the weak side. Unfortunately when the scatterbrained plan to make a safety out of Pisa Tinoisamoa fell through, they found themselves with a problem. They had paid good money for Coakley's services but Tinoisamoa was still their best weak side linebacker. Thus the move to strong side for Coakley. The next problem they will have is the realization that Coakley isn't a strong side linebacker. Heck the reason Dallas let him go is that he's not physical enough to play even the weak side for Parcells. All things considered this is a situation that should be avoided like the plague. But if you just have to take a shot at one of these guys Tinoisamoa is the best target. He has the potential to be a very productive player if he lands and stays at WLB. Tino was the team's leading tackler last year though the musical linebackers game held him to under 80 tackles. The way I see it, he's the only one of the group likely to start all 16 games.

Fantasy Prospects
MLB Chris Claiborne - Decent depth at best
WLB Pisa Tinoisamoa - Sleeper, could make a solid #3
SLB Dexter Coakley - Minimal value unless/until he changes positions
MLB Robert Thomas - Injury replacement
OLB Brandon Chillar - Injury sleeper at best

Defensive Back
The St. Louis secondary is somewhat short on experience but not in bad shape talent wise. Jerametrius Butler and Travis Fisher are a pair of quality veteran starters at corner. Neither of them will need a winter home in Honolulu anytime soon but they were good enough last year to help the Rams to a top 12 finish in total pass defense. St. Louis doesn't use a lot of cover 2 yet for some reason their corners tend to put up good tackle number on a regular basis. Butler totaled 73 solos last year which combined with his 5 interceptions and a fumble recovery, landed him 7th among corners and 15th among all DBs in fantasy terms. In '03 his totals were 65-9-2 with 4 picks and a pair of fumble recoveries. He's a little inconsistent which is the curse of a corner from the fantasy perspective, but all in all is a decent option for depth in any league and a sure starter in those leagues that require corners. Fisher is the lesser of the two when it comes to box score numbers but he is also a solid prospect for those who use corners. He totaled 56 tackles and 5 takeaways in '03 and managed 32 last season in a little over 8 games of action. Behind the starter the Rams have very little experience with rookie second round pick Ronald Bartell expected to compete with third year players Kevin Garrett and DeJuan Groce for the next 3 corner slots. At safety the club has a lot of questions to answer. The first being what the heck they are thinking in moving Adam Archuleta to FS? Talk about your square peg in a round hole. After being a linebacker in college, Archuleta has basically played as an extra linebacker for his entire pro career at SS. Though he's not really slow, he's certainly not the most fleet of foot. Nor is he a serious big play threat with just 2 interception over his 4 year career. The club lost Aeneas Williams to retirement and may be looking to move Archuleta out to center field partly to relieve some of the pounding that he's taken since joining the team. He's been fighting a bad back that caused him to miss some time last year and bothered him much of the off season. Its a long camp and I fully expect to see Adam line up at SS come September but if he stays at the new position his fantasy value drops like a rock. There is a major camp battle brewing for the other safety position where rookie 4th round pick Jerome Carter will enter camp as the starter at SS. He's a big hitter in the Archuleta mould and has impressed the coaching staff during off-season workouts. The Rams list several guys as being "in the thick of the battle" but in reality the war will be won by either Carter or fellow rookie Oshiomogo Atogwe. I for one am puling for Carter, Not only would he make a very good fantasy option in this situation, but his name is much easier to spell. At any rate, no matter what spin you put on it, the club is not strong at LB so who ever comes away from camp with the SS job is going to be an excellent fantasy option.

Fantasy Prospects
FS Adam Archuleta Very solid in the past but production will plummet if he stays at FS.
SS Jerome Carter - Strong sleeper, will be very productive if he starts at SS
CB Jerametrius Butler - Good depth in any league, sure starter in leagues that use corners
CB Travis Fisher - Depth in leagues using corners
CB Ronald Bartell - Injury sleeper
S Oshiomogho Atogwe - Sleeper with outside shot at SS job


Arizona Cardinals

Defensive Line
Bert Berry single handedly put the Arizona defensive line back on the map in '04 by finishing second in the league with 14.5 sacks. It was the first time since 1999 that a Cardinal had reached double digits in sacks. Unfortunately no other lineman could muster more than 4. The addition of Chike Okeafor who recorded 9 sacks for Seattle in '04, should resolve that issue and give the Cards a formidable pass rush combo from the ends. The downside here is that the club has not addressed its deficiencies versus the run where they finished 27th a year ago. Both Berry at 250 pounds and Okeafor at 265 are undersized to be every down ends. That said, both of these guys will play full time for the Cardinals and deserve to be considered starters in any fantasy league. After all a tackle 5 yards down field counts the same as one in the backfield as far as we are concerned. Okeafor is a particularly interesting prospect because both his tackle and sack numbers have improved in each of his 6 previous seasons. He totaled 41-12-9 last year so if the trend continues this fall he will join the exclusive 40+ tackle and double digit sack club. Berry's 39-10-14.5 in '04 was a career high for him as well. He's reached double digits in sacks two years in a row but the '04 tackle numbers were a huge improvement over his previous career high of just 24. Not many teams can boast two players in the 40-10 club, but the Cardinals may in '05. Neither Russell Davis nor Darnell Dockett can be considered dominating interior linemen though both are solid players. Davis reached the 40 solo mark in '04 but only contributed a pair of sacks and doesn't have much upside. Dockett on the other hand could make some noise. He is a very good young player who finished last season at 34-5-4 with an interception and a fumble recovery. He has a way to go but is the first Cardinal interior lineman with any real potential since Eric Swann. Arizona spent a first round pick on Calvin Pace two years ago. He played a significant role early last season before finding his way into the coaches dog house. Pace managed 4 sacks in the three games prior to the teams week 6 bye but was never heard from again. Peppi Zellner spent 14 games last season as the starter opposite Berry but was completely ineffective (23 tackles and 2 sacks), leaving many scratching their heads as to why he was even in the lineup while Pace sat. In '02 the Cards used their 1st round pick on Wendell Bryant who has been all but a complete bust. At one point he was even tried at end in a desperate attempt to get some return on their investment. That didn't work either and Bryant saw action in just 3 games all last season. Kenny King is an unknown commodity in that he was a second day draft pick in '03 who played on a limited basis as a rookie and missed the entire '04 season with a wrist injury. In short the Cardinals are unproven if not very thin when it comes to depth along the DL.

Fantasy Prospects
DE Bert Berry - Strong #2 starter, could use a boost in tackle production
DE Chike Okeafor - Decent #2 starter with upside
DT Darnell Dockett - Sleeper, may be worthy of a late round flyer especially in leagues that start tackles
DT Russell Davis - Minimal value
DE Calvin Pace - Injury sleeper at best

Linebacker
There is a changing of the guard in progress at the Cardinals linebacker positions. Former starters Ronald McKinnon and Reynoch Thompson along with backups LeVar Woods and LeVar Fisher are all out the door either being released or simply not offered new contracts. The strong side position belongs to last year's second round pick Karlos Dansby but the rest of the lineup is wide open heading into training camp. For that matter there is no assurance that Dansby will stay put, but he will be a starter none the less. Veteran James Darling, '03 third rounder Gerald Hayes, free agent addition Orlando Huff and rookie fifth round pick Lance Mitchell are supposedly all in the running for the other 2 starting jobs. This is how I see the whole situation breaking down. You can count Huff out right from the start. He's no more than an experienced veteran backup at best. Just consider the fact that he lost his job in Seattle late last year to rookie Niko Koutouvides and was not pursued for a new contract by the linebacker needy Seahawks. That takes us down to three contenders. Darling was a career backup for seven years prior to joining the Cardinals. Last season was his first as a starter and though he did an adequate job, Darling has no upside. He is a decent player and could end up keeping the seat warm for one more year. That leaves just Hayes and Mitchell to battle for the last job. Hayes is a left over from the previous coaching staff and has done nothing to endear himself to the new regime. The Cards struggled to find an identity at linebacker last season and Hayes never stepped to the forefront. If he were their man we would have know about it long before now. Mitchell was a fifth round pick who may have been a major steal. He suffered a knee injury two years ago at Oklahoma and his production last year was down a little. Prior to the injury he had been considered one of the top young linebacker in the college ranks and a potential first round pick. We all know that it often takes two years for a player to fully recover from a knee injury so Mitchell should be back to 100% now. I believe he will blow the doors off the competition and not only earn a starting job at MLB but be very fantasy productive as a rookie. After all this is the same position that a very average Ronald McKinnon prospered in for several years. Dansby was impressive as a rookie though playing on the strong side, his numbers don't tell that story. He did manage to finish second on the club with 5 sacks but the limitations of the position were too much drain on his tackle numbers. There is a wild card in the deck here. The club rolled the dice on Darryl Blackstock in the third round and plan to groom him to play at SLB behind Dansby. If however Blackstock can step up earlier than expected it might free up Dansby for a move to WLB. Its a long shot but if Dansby gets away from the strong side position he could be a fantasy goldmine. Blackstock was projected by most as an OLB for a 3-4 scheme because of his pass rush skills and his questionable ability against the run. One pro scout dubbed him a "one trick pony". He's probably a two or three year project for the club but they could look for a way to get him involved in the pass rush early.

Fantasy Prospects
MLB Lance Mitchell - Sleeper with big potential
WLB James Darling - Possibly a decent third starter or quality backup
SLB Karlos Dansby - Sleeper, needs to escape the SLB position
MLB Gerald Hayes - Deep sleeper, need an impressive camp or he's a backup again
OLB Orlando Huff - No value
SLB Darryl Blackstock -Deep sleeper with limited potential

Defensive Back
Antrell Rolle was hands down the top corner in this years draft and no one was in more dire need of his services than the Cardinals. Rolle will be an immediate starter and gives the Cards a potential shutdown corner for the first time since the departure of Aeneas Williams. It seems like every year at least one Arizona corner reaches the 60 tackle mark and a few have pushed the 70 plateau in recent years. That and the consideration of the rookie corner rule point toward Rolle having a strong fantasy season as a rook. Use him while you can but trade him before next year. His numbers will tumble as he gains respect. With Rolle in the picture David Macklin can return to the role of #2 corner where he should be a solid contributor and could also reach the 60 tackle mark. Look for third round pick Eric Green to contribute right away as well. He will contend and is the odds on favorite to win the nickel job. Green will likely displace Macklin at some point though that may not happen before next year. There aren't many coaches out there with big enough gonads to start a pair of rookies at corner but Green could do it. There is a ton more experience at the safety positions. Maybe too much experience in fact, considering that 35 year old Robert Griffith will line up at FS for the first time in eons. What are they thinking there? Not only is he not a good fit at FS but he is clearly not the same player he was earlier in his career. Griffith was never considered fast even in his youth and isn't a ball hawk at all with just 23 interceptions over his 11 NFL seasons. Don't be surprised if Ifeanyi Ohalete ends up the starting FS at some point in the season. Adrian Wilson will again get the call at SS and is the clubs most reliable fantasy option. Every season for what seems like the past decade a Cardinal safety has been in the top 15 at the end of the year. Wilson has been there twice in three years and should add to his growing legacy. He's a big bruising 223 pounder who not only hits like a train but runs well and makes big plays. Don't hesitate to count on him as your #1 DB. Rhett Nelson and Robert Tate will battle Green for the nickel duties and likely end up the #4 & 5 corners. The Cards had just 4 corners on their roster heading into the draft and could still spend some free agent money on veteran depth once some players become available through camp cuts. Griffith could be another in a long line of free agent busts for the Cardinals but fortunately there is some depth at the safety positions. Ohalete joined the club during the '04 season after being released by the Redskins and made a solid contribution. While not a pro bowl caliber player, he is a solid and versatile veteran who can play either safety position. His presence behind Griffith and Wilson allows the club to turn its attention to other more pressing needs throughout the pre-season.

Fantasy Prospects
SS Adrian Wilson - Solid #1 starter
FS Robert Griffith - Potential bust, 35 years old and playing out of position
CB David Macklin - Could have some value in leagues that start corners
CB Antrell Rolle - Sleeper, rookie corner rule
FS Ifeanyi Ohalete - Injury (or bust) sleeper, snap him up if he gets the call
CB Eric Green - Deep sleeper but only if he lands a starting job


Seattle Seahawks

Defensive Line
There are no names on the Seattle DL depth chart that strike fear into offensive coordinators but this group is not without potential. What they give away in quality at the tackle positions, they make up for in quantity. Rashad Moore and Cedric Woodard will enter camp as the starters but Rocky Bernard and/or Marcus Tubbs could hold those jobs by the time it ends. If history repeats itself, all of them will be needed during the season as last year DE Chike Okeafor was the only Seahawks lineman to play in all 16 games. Moore, Woodard and Tubbs are all 320+ pounders that the club is counting on to plug up the running lanes. It didn't happen last season as the Seahawks ended up 23rd in the league versus the run. They spent their first round pick last April on Tubbs but he has been slow to develop and saw very limited action as a rookie. The coaching staff is turning up the heat on him this summer with expectations that he will pose a serious challenge for one of the starting jobs. Any way it goes the Seattle interior line probably won't offer us much in terms of fantasy value. They like to rotate a lot of bodies to keep everyone fresh thus no one is really full time. To throw some statistics at the situation, only once since the '00 season has a Seattle DT broken the 40 tackle mark and their only interior lineman to post more than 4 sacks in this decade was John Randle back in '02 when he went just 13-2-7. The only player in this group with a slight shot at making a fantasy roster is Rocky Bernard. At 293 he's the pipsqueak of the group but is also the biggest pass rush threat. That said, the best numbers of his 3 year career are the 34-15-4 he put up as a rookie in '02. If the position gets thinned by injuries he could step up but beyond that possibility we should look elsewhere for production. Here's a pop quiz for you, name the last Seahawk DE to reach double digit sacks... If you said Michael Sinclair in 1998 you go to the head of the class. It's been a long drought to say the least. Okeafor is the only one to even come close with 9 last season and he's no longer with the club. Grant Wistrom and Bryce Fisher are as good a pair of ends as this club has had in a long time but between them they have 11 pro seasons with just 1 that includes 10 or more sacks. That belongs to Wistrom who put up 11 way back in '00. Wistrom is a solid fantasy option when healthy but missed 7 games last season with a sore knee and has been plagued with nagging injuries for the past three seasons. He claims to be healthy heading into his second campaign with the club and is on a mission to rebound strongly. He's not a guy who will challenge for the sack title but Wistrom is an excellent every down end and a well above average pass rusher. Despite the bumps and bruises, over the 4 seasons prior to last he recorded 187 solo stops and 32 sacks with at least 44 solo tackles in each season. When healthy he is both productive and consistent in fantasy terms and is deserving of a #2 spot in most leagues. Fisher could also be a good fantasy option but needs to prove his team leading 8.5 sacks in St. Louis last season was not a one year wonder. Physically he is a very similar player to Okeafor and may even be a bit of an upgrade for the run defense. He's a guy who will be available in the very late rounds and should make for strong depth in most leagues. Antonio Cochran is an interesting prospect. He put up 27-9-6.5 last year despite limited playing time. If one of the starters goes down, don't hesitate to pluck him off the streets and stash him on your roster.

Fantasy Prospects
DE Grant Wistrom - Solid #2 but has injury concerns
DE Bryce Fisher - Quality depth with a little upside
DT Rashad Moore - No value
DT Cedric Woodard - No value in most leagues
DT Marcus Tubbs - Deep sleeper, let him show us something first
DT Rocky Bernard - Depth in leagues that start tackles as a position
DE Antonio Cochran - Injury sleeper

Linebacker
No NFL club has fought through more injuries at linebacker over the past couple of seasons than the Seahawks and no club has been less prepared to deal with them. One time is a fluke but two is a trend so before they reached three the club decided to overhaul the position. Gone are long time starters Anthony Simmons and Chad Brown, along with last years opening day starter at MLB Orlando Huff. Star free agent catch Jamie Sharper will replace Simmons at the strong side position. Many fantasy owners have downgraded Sharper too far based on the title of strong side linebacker. While he should be downgraded a bit, don't over react here. Keep in mind that twice before being injured Simmons broke triple digits in solo tackles from this position and Sharper is every bit as good a player. Seattle doesn't play a typical 4-3 alignment in that their "SLB" moves around the formation and often doesn't line up as a typical strong side backer would. Granted Sharper will be hard pressed to keep up the fantasy pace he set while in Houston but don't hesitate to grab him as an excellent #3 or even a solid #2 starter. After Sharper the rest of Seattle's LB situation is unsettled. Then rookie Niko Koutouvides shared time with Huff at MLB most of last season and displaced him completely late in the year. Koutouvides is a player who I am very high on. He's not a stellar athlete but is a big bruising hitter who plays very smart, misses very few tackles, has decent speed, is fundamentally sound in general and has never had a serious injury. Exactly the kind of player the Seahawks need at MLB. His overall numbers last season weren't impressive in general but considering he started just 3 regular season games, his 49-13-1 mark is commendable. It's also noteworthy that in the games he did start, Koutouvides went 8-2-0 against the Jets in week 15 and 7-1-0 versus the Falcons in week 17. There are some news sources reporting that Isaiah Kacyvenski has all but locked up the starting WLB job heading into camp. I'll believe that when I see it. Kacyvenski is a versatile player who has started at all three LB positions over the past three years. He replaced Simmons at SLB most of last season and did an adequate job. He will be in the mix at the WLB position heading into camp but the favorite to win that job is D.D. Lewis. The Seattle coaching staff has been high on Lewis for a long time. They expected him to have a very significant role last season before he was lost to a shoulder injury in August. He's healthy now and will enter camp as the starter. The wild card in the mix is second round pick Lofa Tatupu. Draft experts everywhere fell off their chairs when Tatupu's name was called in the second round. Even Tatupu himself would later say that his highest hope entering the draft was to go in round three. A middle linebacker in college, the Seahawks believe he is capable of changing positions if needed and see him as a future starter. He will have to come a long way to break the lineup this year.

Fantasy Prospects
MLB Niko Koutouvides - Strong sleeper, could make a quality #2 starter, excellent depth at the least
WLB Isaiah Kacyvenski - Sleeper, keep an eye on the training camp battle
SLB Jamie Sharper - Quality #3 starter at worst
WLB D.D. Lewis - See Kacyvenski
MLB Lofa Tatupu - Deep sleeper or dynasty prospect, good taxi squad prospect

Defensive Back
Seattle will miss Ken Lucas at corner but they brought in a couple of pretty good replacements in Andre Dyson and Kelly Herndon. Neither are exactly studs but both are solid #2 guys. They will compete for the starting job with the loser handling the nickel duties. Best of all for the team, they covered two very important positions for what it would have cost them to keep Lucas. Marcus Trufant is one of the very few players ever to defy the rookie corner rule. His numbers actually improved significantly in season number two. In '04 Trufant not only led the Seahawks in tackles with 86, but led all corners as well. That's all fine and dandy but when slotting him on your draft list keep in mind that he was still the team's #2 corner last year playing opposite Lucas, this year he will step into the lead role. It may be Dyson or Herndon who reach the 70 tackle plateau this season. In Ken Hamlin and Michael Boulware the Seahawks may have the best young safety tandem in the league. Both guys are play makers who run well, hit hard and have a nose for the ball. Hamlin started 14 games as a rookie in '03 and put up an impressive 78-20-0 with a couple of forced fumbles and a pair of takeaways. He was shifted to FS last year where his tackle numbers slipped into the 60's but he made up for it with more big plays. He's a little inconsistent as a free safety with 2 or fewer solo stops in 5 games last season but recorded a pick in 2 of those games. Consider him a good #3 starter or excellent depth. Boulware is a converted college linebacker who takes a LB mentality to the secondary. At 223 pounds he could probably be the team's best linebacker if they wanted to play him there. Scary thought if your a 190 pound WR going across the middle to catch a pass. He is an instinctive player who anticipates well. He can cover a lot of ground in a hurry and arrives at the ball with a major attitude. So what does all that mean in the box scores? As a rookie he started just 4 regular season games yet tied for the club lead with 5 interceptions, recorded a sack, forced a fumble and scored a TD. Most of which happened while splitting time. In the final 4 games he started and played full time going 26-5-1. Project those numbers over a full season and you have one major stud. This kid will be #1 on my DB list when I draft this year. I believe Boulware is the heir to the crown that Rodney Harrison has worn for the past several years, and could claim his place as the fantasy game's top DB in '05.

Fantasy Prospects
SS Michael Boulware - Stud! Stud! Stud! and young to boot
FS Ken Hamlin - Quality #3 starter at worst
CB Marcus Trufant - Worthy of strong consideration but there is always risk with corners
CB Andre Dyson - Sleeper, keep an eye on the battle during camp
CB Kelly Herndon - See Dyson


Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Defensive Line
When the Bucks made the decision to part ways with Warren Sapp before last season they didn't envision their once stingy run defense fading all the way to 19th. Obviously the loss of Sapp wasn't the whole problem but it certainly contributed. The plan was to have Anthony "Booger" McFarland slide over into Sapp's role where they thought he would take off. It was a sound plan but then the injury bug hit. McFarland was active for just 8 games and his play was limited in most of those. Over the off-season the Bucks set about making sure they weren't caught with their jocks around their ankles again. They picked up former Vikings first rounder Chris Hovan via free agency and then spent a second day draft pick on Anthony Bryant. Hovan fell out of grace in Minnesota where he just wasn't producing like the organization thought he should. He had lost his starting job and was in need of a fresh start. If McFarland can stay healthy he and Hovan will get the starting nods. Neither of them have ever produced in fantasy terms though to their defense, they have both played the "under tackle" role for most of their careers. Under tackles generally lineup in a gap between the tackle and guard and are nearly always double teamed on running plays. It's doubtful that either of these guys are capable of the numbers Sapp once put up from the position but McFarland will once again get the chance to do so. Owners in leagues that use tackles might want to take a late flier on him just in case. The wild card in the mix is the rookie. He was only a 6th round pick but has already made a strong impression. He's 337 pounds and strong as an ox. Just the kind of wide body they need to put in front of their rookie MLB Barrett Ruud. Ellis Wyms and Chidi Ahonotu helped fill the hole at tackle last season, but so impressed are they with the rookie that there is talk of moving Wyms into a backup role at end (Ahonotu is gone). Regardless of who plays where, don't count on anything from Tampa interior linemen until we see one of them step up. At defensive end the Bucks had long been searching for someone to compliment Simeon Rice. They may finally have found that player in Greg Spires. I'll admit to being a little hard headed about him last year, but the guy had previously been a journeyman type backup worthy of no consideration at all. Heck before last season his career highs were 27 tackles in '02 and 6 sacks back in '00. By the time the '04 campaign had come to an end Spires had racked up a very useful 47-14-7.5 with a couple of fumble recoveries to boot. Not stellar production but well worthy of a roster spot in any league and a starting job in many. I'm not sure however, that he will repeat the production this season. When McFarland went down last year one of the things the Bucks did to fill the hole was to have '03 second round pick Dewayne White slide inside and play some tackle. With that position addressed, he will be looking for playing time at end again. Simeon Rice is entering his 10th season but doesn't seem to be slowing down a bit. In his previous 9 years Rice has reached double digit sacks 7 times including all 4 of his seasons in Tampa Bay. He's not a sure bet to reach 40 solo tackles, having achieved that mark just 3 times previously, but usually finishes in the upper 30's. Another big plus for Rice is durability. He's missed just one game over his entire career. Rice may not be the top fantasy option at the position but he's certainly a very strong and dependable one.

Fantasy Prospects
DE Simeon Rice - Solid #1 starter
DE Greg Spires - Quality #3 providing last year was no fluke
DE Dewayne White - Injury sleeper
DT Booger McFarland - Minimal value and an injury risk
DT Chris Hovan - No value until proven different

Linebacker
Another contributing factor to last year's weakness against the run was the lack of a physical middle linebacker. In prior seasons Nate Webster saw a lot of time in short yardage and sure running situations, but without Webster the club was forced to go with speed and finesse guy Shelton Quarles full time. Playing behind Sapp and McFarland over the past few seasons Quarles was pretty effective, but without those guys up front to protect him last year he struggled. There are some safeties in the league bigger than Quarles who is only 6'1" and 225 and will turn 34 in September. In short his days as the Bucks starter are numbered, especially with the club spending their second round pick on Barrett Ruud this April. There is a good chance Quarles won't be the starter come November, if he even lasts that long. Quarles has never amounted to much in fantasy terms with his career best of only 74-39-1 coming back in '02, and he's sure not going to get any better now. At 6'2" and 241, Ruud is exactly what the doctor ordered for club. He's faster and better in coverage than Webster was and is much more stout at the point of attack than Quarles. He may not be the opening day starter but will have a significant role right from the start. There has even been some noise that Ruud could move to the strong side just to get him on the field earlier. This is a possibility for the short term but he was drafted to be their MLB of the future and I believe he will land there at some point this season. Jeff Gooch is in line to be the strong side starter this season. Being under 230 himself, Gooch is much smaller than the typical SLB but then the Bucks played smallish Ian Gold at the position all last season. Gooch is a 10 year veteran who has spent the majority of his career as a backup but then Quarles didn't become a starter until 3 years ago either, so don't count Gooch out. Over the past 5 years we have watched Derrick Brooks got from riches to gags and back to riches again. Between 1996 and 2000 Brooks averaged well over 100 solo tackles per season. Then the Bucks D got real good for a few years and from '01 to '03 he averaged less than 80. Last year the Tampa defense slumped and Brooks bounced back with 109 solo stops again. So the question that goes with him for '05 is, will the team be good or bad this year? Good for the Bucks, bad for the owner who drafts Brooks. He's 32 years old and has a lot of miles on him (and they aren't highway miles) but Brooks still has the heart of a champion and some gas left in the tank. Taking him as your #1 LB is risky but if you can get him at a bargain price, take the chance.

Fantasy Prospects
WLB Derrick Brooks- Solid starter either way but tough to tell which Brooks you will get this year
MLB Barrett Ruud - Strong sleeper and possible future stud for dynasty owners
SLB Jeff Gooch - Minimal value at best
MLB Shelton Quarles - Minimal value even if he starts all season

Defensive Back
The Tampa Bay pass defense may has also made its contribution to the running game deficiencies; after all if you can't pass, you have to move the ball some way. The Bucks defense ranked #1 in the NFL last season, giving up just 161.2 yards per game. In a copy cat league when a team is successful other fall right in line and the Bucks cover 2 base defense it the blue print that a lot more clubs are starting to look at. The usual results of this defense is that the corners are much more involved in the running game and the safeties much less. There's no exception here as Ronde Barber was the league's second leading tackler at the corner position and Brian Kelly finished fourth on the club. Barber is the team's playmaker in the secondary as well. Along with the impressive 84 solo tackles he forced 2 fumbles, recovered 2 fumbles, picked off 3 passed, tallied 3 sacks and scored twice. All that landed him squarely among the top 10 defensive backs in nearly any scoring system and inside the top 5 in many. The thing that sets Barber apart from nearly all the other corners is that we know his big numbers weren't a fluke. While the 84 tackles were a career high, Barber has recorded 61 or more in 6 of his 7 pro seasons and 70+ in 3 of the past 5. He may not finish in the top 10 again in '05 but he probably won't be too far out of it. Kelly doesn't have nearly the value that Barber carries but he should make quality depth for owners who start corners. At quit tidbit about the cover 2; the reason Barber makes more tackles is that he plays on the strong side of the offensive formation most of the time, thus has the job of supporting the SLB against the run. The linebacker takes out the blockers and there is Barber where the strong safety would be in most defenses. In Jermaine Phillips and Dexter Jackson the club has a pair of quality safeties... if they are healthy that is. Phillips suffered a broken fore arm and missed the final 7 games last season, while Jackson fought a hamstring problem all year and was active only 6 times. These two are expected to go to camp as the starters but may feel some heat from second year man Will Allen or even rookie Donte Nicholson who the staff really likes. As with most clubs that play a lot of cover 2, the safeties lineup way off the ball which makes it though to make it big in the box scores. Phillips was off on a pace to go 60-22-0 before he was injured and the FS position accounted for even fewer tackles spread between several players. The moral of the story here is, it's pretty much Barber or bust as far as fantasy production goes.

Fantasy Prospects
SS Jermaine Phillips - Possible depth in large leagues
FS Dexter Jackson - Minimal value even if healthy
CB Brian Kelly - Depth in leagues that start corners
CB Ronde Barber -Quality #2 starter with big play upside
FS Will Allen - Injury sleeper with minimal potential
SS Donte Nicholson - Injury sleeper with limited potential


Atlanta Falcons

Defensive Line
Even as an end in a 3-4 Patrick Kerney managed to be fairly productive for a couple of years, but no one benefited more from the Falcons return to a 4-3 last season. All it did for him was to double his sack total from '03 and nearly double his solo tackles. Kerney is one of the best every down ends in the NFL and as long as he stays in a 4-3 scheme he'll be one of the best defensive linemen in the fantasy game. Last season Kerney finished 4th in tackles among defensive linemen, 4th in the league in sacks and in the top 5 in nearly any conceivable scoring system. He's a perfect fit for the Falcons pressure scheme and we may not have seen his best yet. Unfortunately for the Falcons Kerney is the only stable point of their front 4 heading into camp. Brady Smith is a good compliment to Kerney but is recovering from a neck injury that required surgery. Word is Smith is ahead of schedule but will still not play in any pre-season games. We all know how many times neck injuries have ended careers. Even when healthy Smith is a very marginal fantasy option. He's a blue collar guy who will contribute 5-6 sacks a season consistently but has never totaled more than 28 tackles. Then there is the off field issue with stud DT Rod Coleman that has the potential to end up in some sort of suspension. Coleman is the guy who takes a lot of the pressure of Kerney. He's one of the best inside pass rushers in the league, reaching double digits in sacks twice over the past three seasons. The only potential downside with Coleman is the less than stellar tackle production. A look at his career numbers can be a little deceiving though. Up until the '03 season Coleman had not been a full time player for the Raiders who would shuffle him in and out of the lineup and use him mostly in passing situations. In his first season as a full time player Coleman turned in a career high 44 solo stops. If he manages to avoid suspension, Coleman should be good for at least 35 tackles and 10 or so sacks. Consider him an excellent #3 with the potential to be a very good #2 starter. Last year's fifth round pick Chad Lavalias is penciled in at tackle next to Coleman. He started 6 games last season and played well but was nothing special and is no lock to hold onto the starting job, especially with rookie second rounder Jonathan Babineaux on his heals. Babineaux is a Rod Coleman clone. In his senior season at Iowa all he did was lead the Big-10 conference with 11 sacks and set a school record with 25 of his 41 solo tackles being behind the line of scrimmage. The acolytes go on and on but the important point is that the kid isn't a stump who will do nothing but suck up blockers. He's a very agile 281 pounder who will make things happen, and is an excellent fit in the Falcons quickness first scheme. The interesting thing to watch as the Falcons go through camp, is what they do to replace Smith. Initially they are talking about how much promise youngsters Chauncy Davis and Khaleed Vaughn have but keep this in mind. Coleman is a very versatile player who was productive when lining up as an end while in Oakland. If Smith's recovery carries over into the regular season don't be surprised to see Babineaux and Lavalias at tackle with Kerney and Coleman on the ends.

Fantasy Prospects
DE Patrick Kerney - Stud! strong #1 starter
DE Brady Smith - Major injury risk with minimal reward potential
DT Rod Coleman - Excellent #3 with upside
DT Chad Lavalias - Minimal potential
DT Jonathan Babineaux - Sleeper, especially for leagues that use tackles
DE Chauncy Davis - Deep sleeper, keep an eye on the Smith situation
DE Khaleed Vaughn - Deep sleeper, keep an eye on the Smith situation

Linebacker
Long time star Keith Brooking is the only player to survive the complete and thorough face lift that's taken place at linebacker in Atlanta since the Mora coaching staff took over. From a talent perspective this unit is much improved to say the least. The new look Falcons sport arguably the top free agent prize at the position in MLB Ed Hartwell. Being tucked safely into the shadows of the great Ray Lewis, most people have no idea how good Hartwell can be. He's made some plays here and there and dropped hints over the past few seasons, but to get the full spectrum we have to look back to '02 when Lewis went down early with a shoulder injury and everyone thought the Ravens D would fold up like a wet paper bag. Instead Hartwell stepped up and did an outstanding job in Lewis's place, recording a whopping 109-39-3 and finishing as a top 10 fantasy LB. Though not in the same class as Lewis, Brooking is an excellent player in his own right. After switching to WLB in '04 his tackle numbers dipped below triple digits for the first time since his injury shortened '00 season. However he made up for it by putting up 2.5 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, a recovery and a career high 3 interceptions. These two will contend for the team tackle crown and will undoubtedly put a damper on each other's box score value. However I believe they are both likely to land in the 85 solo tackle range and should both make quality starters for us. If forced to chose one over the other, toss a coin. Demorrio Williams was an excellent addition as the team's 4th round pick last season and has already proven to be a quality addition to the starting lineup. Unfortunately for those dynasty owners who grabbed him last season looking for future production, his banishment to the strong side position all but ruins any potential he may have had. Barring injury, Brooking and Hartwell are going to remain fixtures at their respective positions for some time to come. If your stuck holding the bag with Williams, let him go and cut your losses. The Falcons have not only addressed the starting positions but have also greatly improved their depth by drafting Jordan Beck and Michael Boley in the 3rd and 5th rounds respectively this past April. They will not see the light of day unless there is an injury but could be productive if the opportunity arises.

Fantasy Prospects
WLB Keith Brooking - Solid #2 starter at worst
MLB Ed Hartwell Qualiry #2 starter
SLB Demorrio Williams - Minimal value unless he changes position
MLB Jordan Beck - Injury Sleeper
WLB Michael Boley - Injury Sleeper

Defensive Back
There have been some very strange and (I believe) completely unfounded reports floating around some unmentionable news bloggers over the off-season, suggesting that Bryan Scott will play the FS position when/if he is finally healthy enough to join the action. If your a dynasty owner sitting on Scott (as I am) don't be concerned about some phantom position change. What we do need to be concerned about is the slow healing shoulder surgery that has kept Scott out of action nearly the entire off season and now threatens to extend into the regular season. When Healthy Scott is one of the leagues hardest hitting and surest tackling strong safeties who has speed and big play potential as well. However a strong safety with a bum shoulder is about as useful as a one armed receiver. The shoulder injury isn't the only thing we need to consider here. Last season Scott put up his solid 86-11-2.5 while playing behind a far less talented group of linebackers. He no longer has the luxury of cleaning up after guys like Chris Draft and will likely find the Falcons secondary to a be far less target rich environment in '05. He's still an excellent player and will likely be a major contributor at some point before mid season but there is a great deal of risk involved here. Dynasty owners can try to trade him but shouldn't give him away if the value is not there. Sit on him and be patient, he'll be back. Career backup Keion Carpenter currently sits atop the teams depth chart at free safety but don't count on his being there for the opener, and even if he is, don't think for a second that he is a fantasy option. He's been healthy for an entire season only once in his 6 year career and has has never held onto a starting job for more than about half a season even when healthy. He's a decent NFL backup at best. I look for former Niners starter Ronnie Heard to bump him from the lineup before the end of camp. In my 14 years of experience I can't remember a Falcons FS ever having any fantasy potential at all, so it probably doesn't make much difference what name is on the jersey. If Scott can't go look for Rich Coady to make a strong run at the SS job. He's not the complete player that Scott is, but he is a stout run defender who has shown a little fantasy potential in brief stints throughout his career. If Jason Webster can get healthy the Falcons pass defense will get a major boost. It could sure use one after finishing 22nd in the league in '04. Webster is an excellent corner but has now missed 17 games over the past two seasons with injuries. The last time he was healthy he totaled 71 solo stops for the Niners in '02. Webster could hold some value for owners who are required to start corners but drafting him would be a complete shot in the dark. And then there is the other reason the Falcons pass defense ranked so low. DeAngelo Hall was supposed to be a "rookie sensation" last season but the 8th overall pick in the draft was injured and didn't see the field until week 8. Hall was able to help improve Atlanta's defense down the stretch but even as a rook he failed to make a splash in fantasy circles. His 29 tackles in 9 games is a pretty strong indicator that Hall should be avoided on draft day.

Fantasy Prospects
SS Bryan Scott - Solid #2 starter if healthy, keep an eye on his progress throughout camp
FS Keion Carpenter - No value no matter what role he lands
CB Jason Webster - Some potential in leagues using corners
CB DeAngelo Hall - Minimal potential, offenses will avoid him this year
CB Kevin Mathis - Injury sleeper with minimal potential
FS Ronnie Heard - Deep sleeper, watch the situation when the season opens
SS Rich Coady - Deep sleeper with limited upside


Carolina Panthers

Defensive Line
There are virtually no new faces along the Panthers defensive line but the club is counting on a lot of change anyway. Their front 4 recorded a middle of the pack 23 sacks in '04, a far cry from the 31.5 the group put up the previous year. There were two major contributing factors to the slump. Tackle Kris Jenkins missed nearly the entire season with a torn Labrum, and Mike Rucker wasn't his normal productive self. Jenkins doesn't get a lot of notoriety but has become one of the leagues best interior linemen. His box score production was solid prior to the injury with tackle number in the upper 30's and a total of 12 sacks over the course of '02 and '03. While he isn't a highlight reel guy very often, he certainly is a contributor and a player offenses have to give some attention to. His numbers have fallen a little short of providing a lot of value in most scoring systems and the shoulder injury is a little bit of a concern, but owners who start tackles as a separate position should be all over him. Rucker's '04 numbers actually did more than just slump, they crashed. This is a guy who posted a meager 36-3-3 after going 43-12-9 in '01, 57-9-10 in '02 and 46-12-12 in '03. He didn't suddenly become an average talent so something else had to have happened. Rucker is not a guy who will offer excuses and there was not a lot of publicity given to his slacking numbers during the season but he had a problem with an irregular heartbeat that I believe may have had more of an effect on him than anyone is considering. Regardless of last year's issues, Rucker got his reality check and is healthy heading into training camp. Last year's numbers will push him way down most owners draft boards so he will fall like a rock in most drafts. He's a very good player in an excellent situation and will rebound strong. Don't hesitate to grab this guy as your second or third DL and smile all the way to the bank. As a rookie in '02 Julius Peppers established himself as one of the leagues most talented pass rushers. He played nearly full time but was not a complete player as he struggled against the run at times. Peppers has put a lot of effort into becoming one of the leagues best on any down, and arrived at his destination last season. He's put on a lot of muscle since his rookie campaign and is now one of the best every down ends in the game. Last season his box score production sky rocketed to 52-12-11 landing him soundly among the top 3 fantasy defensive linemen and #1 in most scoring systems. Peppers is just entering the prime of his career and there is no reason to expect less from him in '05. Brentson Buckner is a quality NFL starter and one of those guys who does the dirty work but gets little credit. He's never been a fantasy factor and won't start now. Kendal Morehead filled in for Jenkins most of last season and is a serviceable backup will little upside. Atiyyah Ellison however is a kid the coaching staff is excited about. He has good size and strength but is also quick and agile for a big man. The club believes he will eventually pair with Jenkins and give them an even more athletic front 4.

Fantasy Prospects
DE Julius Peppers - Stud! tops at the position
DE Mike Rucker - Come back player of the ear? Draft him as a #3 but he'll likely make a quality #2 or better
DT Brentson Buckner - Minimal value
DT Kris Jenkins - Starter in leagues that use tackles, decent depth for the rest of us, shoulder injury is some concern
DE Al Wallace - Injury sleeper
DT Kendal Moorehead - No value
DT Atiyyah Ellison - Potential dynasty sleeper

Linebacker
The Panthers starting trio of linebackers is as solid a group as any in the league when they are all healthy. The problem is MLB Dan Morgan just can't stay on the field. Morgan is hands down the fantasy games biggest IDP tease. Here is a guy who has averaged more than 6 solo tackles per start over his 4 years in the league but has never played more than 12 games in any season. In just a dozen appearances last year Morgan produced 6 or more solo stops an impressive 10 times and was on pace to put up a mark of 105-30-3, 3 picks and 3 fumble recoveries. Good enough numbers to land him among the fantasy elite. All the history aside, when considering Morgan I can't help but to think about a very similar situation that took place in Atlanta during the late 90's with Keith Brooking. At one point I had personally nick named him "Keith Broken". That story had a happy ending as he finally beat the injury bug and hasn't missed a game in 4 years. If Morgan can stay on the field, he could start a string of 100+ tackle seasons just like Brooking did. However, until it happens he has to be considered a major risk. If you draft Morgan the best insurance policy you can have is Will Witherspoon. Spooney is a very good player himself but is overshadowed to a large extent when Morgan is in the lineup. Whenever Morgan goes down, Witherspoon steps up and is just as productive. Over the span of games that Morgan missed last season Witherspoon averaged 7 solo stops, picked off 3 passes and recorded 2 sacks. He ended the season with a very strong stat line of 84-19-3 with 5 takeaways. Even with a healthy Morgan on the field Witherspoon would make a solid #3 starter at LB in almost any league. Brandon Short steps in for Mark Fields who continues to fight a serious illness. He's a quality strong side linebacker but lacks the quickness and play making ability that Fields brought to the unit. There is a wild card in this mix and he isn't even a linebacker. Rookie Thomas Davis is officially a strong safety but the club plans to use his skills in various ways. In college Thomas lined up as a safety in the base defense but crept up into a linebackers position on passing downs. Rumor has is he will be used in a similar fashion by the Panthers this year. The question we need answered is who will he be bumping from the lineup on third downs? Witherspoon is a very good coverage LB and the coaching staff may very well team him with Thomas in those situations. Not only would it give them two strong coverage linebackers but it would reduce the wear on their fragile stud in the middle. This is a very interesting dilemma and we almost need to see some preseason action to get any read at all.

Fantasy Prospects
MLB Dan Morgan - Stud potential but a major risk
WLB Will Witherspoon - Solid third starter at worst
SLB Brandon Short

Defensive Back
The Panthers secondary has come a long way since last year when heading into the season Ricky Manning was their number one corner, they had a rookie starting opposite him, Artrell Hawkins was slated to be the nickel back and journeyman Travares Tillman was listed as the starting FS. The rookie was Chris Gamble who turned out to be a very good gamble for the club. He was considered by many to be a raw talent but landed in a starting role and played well. Gamble now has a full season of experience and will get nothing but better as he matures. The club landed one of free agencies top prizes in former Seahawk Ken Lucas to take over the other corner job. With the addition and experience gained, the corner position has gone from famine to feast in very short order. The talent improvement at safety could be even bigger as rookie SS Thomas Davis may well prove to be the best defensive player in the '05 draft class. He has linebacker size and mentality with defensive back speed and a great head for the game. His presence allows the club to move Mike Minter to FS. Or at least that was the plan. As I am writing this there is a fresh report out of Carolina that Minter was carted off the field with a knee injury. From the description it sounds as if it could be serious and the club may have lost him for the season. This would be a major blow for the Panthers but only serves to solidify Davis's role even more. It's been a long time since Minter lined up at FS and its not his best position but if he is able to return he will still be a huge improvement over anyone the Panthers have fielded at that position in several years. In the brief history of the club there has never been a FS with any serious fantasy value so anyone sitting on Minter in a dynasty league may as well free up the roster space even if the knee is not serious. If Minter is out Colin Branch would likely beat out Idrees Bashir for the FS job. Carolina's corners have a history of fairly decent production but its a tough call. Both Gamble and Lucas tallied well over 60 solo stops last season, but Gamble is no longer the rookie with the bulls eye on his jersey, and Lucas is no longer lining up opposite Marcus Trufant. Both starting gus have proven big play ability so if you are in a league that starts corners, either of them are worthy of late round consideration. As for Davis, this kid has all the tools to be a top 5 fantasy DB right from the start, especially if the club follows through with their plan to move him up to linebacker once in a while.

Fantasy Prospects
SS Thomas Davis Unproven but nearly limitless potential
FS Mike Minter - Minimal value at best
CB Chris Gamble - Possible starter in leagues that use corners
CB Ken Lucas Potential starter in leagues that use corners
FS Colin Branch - Deep sleeper if Minter is lost
CB Ricky Manning - Minimal value unless there is an injury


New Orleans Saints

Defensive Line
The Saints were one of just 4 clubs that produced two players with double digit sacks in '04. They also produced the most consistent fantasy option at the DL position in Charles Grant who led the leagues defensive linemen with 67 solo stops. Grant totaled 4 or more tackles in 11 games and recorded a sack or a takeaway in 9 on the way to a top 3 finish in nearly any scoring system and the #1 spot in some. Grant is entering his 4th season and has shown box score improvement in each of the first three. At 6'3" and 290, he has an uncanny combination of size, strength and quickness that will make him one of the NFL's best for years to come. The other double digit guy in New Orleans last year was Darren Howard who followed three injury plagued seasons with a team leading 11.5 sacks despite missing three games early in the year. Howard is obviously a high potential player and can be a perennial 40 tackle 10 sack guy if he can stay healthy and hang onto the job full time. Both could be problems for him though. He's not played a full season since his rookie campaign in '00 and he will have to contend with Will Smith who's play as a rookie last year should earn him considerable action. Watching Howard struggle with the injuries for so long undoubtedly had a lot to do with the club spending the 18th over all pick last year on Smith. Maybe the move was meant as a message to Howard but more likely the club was preparing to move in another direction. The Saints used their franchise tag on Howard this off-season with the intention to trade him, but could not find a suitor willing to meet the asking price. Howard signed his tender offer and will not only be with the club in '05 but the two parties are now reportedly working toward a long term deal. The question now is what will they do with three stud defensive ends? Smith was impressive as a rookie going 32-10-7.5 in a part time role. He certainly proved himself deserving of more playing time which makes me think we could see some sort of a rotation situation. Howard will remain the starter and will be a very solid fantasy option if he can stay healthy. Meanwhile Smith should put up numbers similar to last years. That makes him a marginal prospect at the moment but he's a hamstring twinge away from fantasy stardom. You may want to tuck him away on your roster as depth, especially considering Howard's injury history. In seasons past the Saints have gotten a great deal of production from their interior linemen. La'Roi Glover was the last (and maybe only) tackle to lead the league in sacks from the tackle position back in '00. That was a long time ago however and last years group on the inside weren't very impressive at all. The club spent some early round picks in defensive tackles over the past 5 years but none of them have panned out. At this point the starting tackles are former free agents Brian Young and Howard Green. The coaching staff has been very disappointed with '03 first round pick Johnathan Sullivan who currently resides third on the depth chart behind converted defensive end Willie Whitehead. None of the interior guys have much upside in most scoring systems but if your league starts tackles you may want to consider Young for depth. He reached the 40 tackle mark last year and has a career high of 6.5 sacks so there is a little potential.

Fantasy Prospects
DE Charles Grant Stud! top 3 DL
DE Darren Howard - Quality #2 if he can stay healthy
DE Will Smith - Super injury sleeper, worthy as depth in most leagues even as the Saints #3 end
DT Brian Young - Depth in leagues that start tackles
DT Howard Green - No value until proven different
DT Willie Whitehead - Injury sleeper for tackle required leagues

Linebacker
The Saints have had some terrible luck at the linebacker position over the past couple of years, though many of their wounds have been self inflicted. Between injuries and bad personnel decisions the Saints haven't been strong at linebacker since the days of Sam Mills, Mark Fields and maybe even Winfred Tubbs. That's a long drought to say the least. The problem is they haven't been willing to make a strong commitment to bring in LB talent. Instead of spending good money or high draft picks on quality players the organization continues to try and fill huge holes with bandaids like past free agent busts Derrick Rodgers, Orlando Ruff or this years additions Levar Fisher and Ronald McKinnon. There are several of their own draft picks in the mix but only starting MLB Courtney Watson was taken before the third round. Some clubs are able to find gems in the middle rounds but so far in this decade the Saints have found mostly lumps of coal. Cie Grant, Sedrick Hodge and James Allen are all third round picks that have struggled with injuries and/or inconsistency. None of them has been the least bit impressive though Allen did do an adequate job at SLB for 10 starts in '04. Sticking with the idea that if a blindfolded man throws enough darts he will eventually hit the board, the club spent yet another third round pick on Alfred Fincher in this years draft. While Fincher is a player I like, he is a middle linebacker which is the LB position the team probably least needed to address. Despite being a rookie, Courtney Watson opened last season as the starter in the middle. Through the first 4 games he played well putting up 22-6-1 and was on his way to a solid season when he suffered a sprained knee. The injury only landed Watson on the inactive list for a few games but he was bothered for the rest of the season and didn't return to the lineup until mid December. The knee is fine entering camp but the club has to be holding their breath with Watson who is already nursing a quad strain. If he can stay healthy Watson will be a good player and is in an excellent situation to be a high quality fantasy option. Only time will tell on this one. Fincher adds an interesting ingredient to the whole recipe. While he was a middle backer in college, the coaching staff has hinted that he could get a serious look at WLB. This guy was a tackling machine for Connecticut last year and could be a very productive fantasy guy if he gets the chance. Heading into camp last year's 7th round pick Colby Bockwoldt sits on top of the depth chart at at WLB but he is far from having a lock on that job. This is yet another training camp situation to be watched closely.

Fantasy Prospects
MLB Courtney Watson - Unproven but should make a good #3 at worst
WLB Colby Bockwoldt - Sleeper, could produce if he can hang onto the job
SLB James Allen - No value
MLB Alfred Fincher - Sleeper with big upside, could land starting WLB job

Defensive Back
It's a very good thing the Saints have an excellent pass rush because they are sure hurting at the corner positions. Mike McKenzie is a quality cover guy but he's not a shut down corner and may be best suited as a #2. Opposite him will be Fakhir Brown who is a marginal starter at best. Brown made 10 starts last season after spending most of his first 5 years as a backup. Jason Craft and Fred Thomas will also be competing for slots in the pecking order but neither of them would provide much of an improvement over Brown. Craft has some starting experience over his 7 pro seasons but has held onto a starting job for a full season just once in his career. He would make an adequate nickel corner on most rosters and is the favorite to serve that role with the Saints this season. Fred Thomas is a 10 year veteran and is still a decent corner with plenty of experience, but even in the prime of his career he was basically no more than a decent #2 corner. That said, it would come as no surprise to see him make his way into a starting job at some point even without someone being injured. From a fantasy perspective Brown probably has the most potential of the corners. There is a big talent difference between he and McKenzie, and offenses are always looking to pick on the weak link. Brown managed 55 solo stops last season despite starting only 10 games. In those starts he posted 5 or more tackles 5 times. Not impressive necessarily but possibly useful to owners in leagues that require corners. The real fantasy value in the Saints secondary will come from the SS position. The problem is that we don't know for sure at this point who will be playing it. It's been Jay Bellamy's position for the past several seasons and he will be fighting to hold onto it for one more go around. Unfortunately for Jay the time has probably come for him to move on. Two years ago the club planned to replace him with Mel Mitchell before Mitchell blew out his knee. This time around Bellamy will have to fight off either free agent addition Dwight Smith or rookie second round pick Josh Bullocks. Smith has been working with the first team early in training camp and the reports coming from there are very interesting. Apparently Saints DC Rick Venturi sees Smith as a man of many talents and plans to use him as a rover. During camp Smith is lining up all over the field. He's in a traditional SS position on one play, at linebacker on another and then deep in center field on the next play. Smith was a starter at safety for the Bucks last season and recorded a mark of 75-11-0 with three interceptions. At a glance these aren't stellar numbers but considering he was in a cover 2 scheme they are actually rather impressive. All things considered, including the situation at linebacker, Smith could explode onto the fantasy scene this year and could even lead the club in tackles. He'll slide in a lot of drafts and could be a late round steal. Bullocks is another very interesting prospect who has been going high in most of the dynasty rookie drafts I have seen. He has all the tools to be a very good NFL player and very possibly a quality fantasy option as well. His value however is largely contingent on where he lands in the lineup. If he play SS he could be a top 10 player down the road while at FS his potential would be much less. I believe he will be the opening day starter at FS beside Smith. If this comes to pass Bullocks upside potential would drop but he should still be a productive fantasy contributor.

Fantasy Prospects
SS Dwight Smith - Strong sleeper with big potential
FS Josh Bullocks - Sleeper with a lot of upside, especially in dynasty circles
CB Mike McKenzie - Minimal value at best
CB Fred Thomas - Could be of use in leagues that start corners
CB Jason Craft - Minimal potential
CB Fakhir Brown - Possible starter for owners who must start corners
SS Jay Bellamy - Injury sleeper with limited potential
FS Mel Mitchell - Injury sleeper

That about does it for the preseason edition of the EOTG. Hope everyone found something of use and will be back for the in season weekly column that starts in week 1.

Best of luck to everyone and as my hero Al Davis says, Just Win Baby!!

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