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Fantasy Roundtable - Week 6

Various staff members will share their views on a range of topics each week in discussion format. Feel free to eavesdrop.

Quick Links to Topics:

Rams without Martz
Miami RBs
Denver RBs
Laveranues Coles
Antowain Smith
Josh McCown
49er WRs

Rams without Martz

Maurile Tremblay: What changes do you expect in Saint Louis without Martz calling the plays? Is this bad news (fantasy-wise) for Marc Bulger and Torry Holt if the Rams turn to a more balanced offensive attack instead of throwing the ball 40+ times a game?

Cecil Lammey: First off, I want to extend our thoughts and prayers out to Martz and his family. Sometimes football has to take a back seat. To answer the question, though, I think that the Rams will stick with the plan. Bulger and the WR corps will be fine.

Jason Wood: Love or hate Mike Martz as an NFL head coach, you have to respect his ability to scheme dynamic passing attacks. Much like departed Pats coach Charlie Weis, what makes Martz so productive is his aggressiveness. Steve Fairchild has learned from Martz, certainly, but will he have the same pacing, the innate sense for when to gamble in exploiting a mismatch? I don't see how anyone can believe losing Martz is a good thing for the Rams’ passing attack. The running game, on the other hand, may actually get a significant bump up, and I would be looking to acquire Steven Jackson if you can find an owner who may be reading the situation incorrectly.

Marc Levin: I think it is great news for Stephen Jackson owners, but won't tremendously affect Bulger or Holt. With the Rams struggling so much on defense, they are going to have to keep throwing the ball on offense. That said, the play-calling could become more conservative inside the red zone, and that Bulger's passing numbers inside the 20 will suffer while RB Jackson's and PK Wilkins' opportunities will increase. On the other hand, if he can come back after six weeks, a rested and rejuvenated Mike Martz could be very good for Bulger owners in the FF playoffs.

Will Grant: From what I've been reading, it looks as if Martz might be out for a significant amount of time. To go from missing a couple practices to a two week stay in the hospital is pretty bad. Six weeks seems to be conservative at this point. We could be looking at him being out for the season. As for the passing attack, I think I'd have to agree with Marc. You'll see a slight dip in passing and increase in running, but not a huge amount. They're not going to throw out the playbook. Why expect a significant change? Jason's point is well taken: the crunch time play calling may not be the same. But I am not sure it's enough to make me want sell Holt and Bulger just yet. One interesting note in this: Martz is a 'run the play that I call' coach. If Bulger is allowed to audible now, will that improve or hurt the passing game?

Dave Baker: I personally don't see much of change, at least for the next five weeks or so. If it appears as that time arrives that Martz will be out for an extended time beyond that, then all bets are off, but the team is built around that passing game and I think it will continue to be so.

David Yudkin: I tend to agree with Dave. I don't see a radical departure in the Rams' attack. There may be some situational changes and a couple plays different here and there, but I don't see the Rams turning into the Falcons. As Jason pointed out, Martz has been a master of the aerial assault. Maybe Fairchild can match that success in play calling, maybe not. But I don't see a lot of experimenting the next few weeks. The Rams are generally in almost every game, so they are at the very least a competitive team. Normally, competitive teams don't make radical departures.

Miami RBs

Maurile Tremblay: Ronnie Brown averaged better than five yards a carry for the second consecutive game now. Has he shown enough to be considered the featured runner in Miami, or are we going to see a heavy dose of Ricky Williams?

Will Grant: I'll believe that Ricky Williams is the number one back on this team when he's touching the ball 20 times a game. Until then, Ronnie Brown is going to be the feature back. He has to be. The Dolphins took him as the number one running back in this draft, number two overall. I don't see them making that kind of commitment to Brown and then turning the job over to Williams the minute his suspension is over.

Jason Wood: Brown certainly seems to have gotten his sea legs. To suggest any of us really know how Ricky Williams is going to perform upon his return would be misleading. Sure, he's looked good in practice and gotten praise from his coaches. Yes, we know that if he's in game shape and motivated he's capable of being a stud (because he's done it before). But let's not forget that his return was largely driven by financial necessity, and I'm not sure any player can excel without a real passion for the game; at least not for an extended period of time. If I had to crawl around Nick Saban's brain and hazard a guess, I’d say that the Dolphins would like to run the ball a lot and get both guys some carries, but Brown will remain the starter until his play warrants giving Ricky a look.

Dave Baker: Ronnie Brown is the man in Miami. Ricky Williams might get some playing time, but it won't be too significant. Unless Brown really stumbles, I think it's his job to lose from here on out.

Maurile Tremblay: As Jason mentioned, it's hard to predict how Williams will do after having been out of football for over a year. But when he's in football shape, he's one of the top RBs in the league. I don't think the same can be said for Ronnie Brown at this point. In my opinion, except when it comes to franchise QBs, coaches play the guys who give them the best chance to win right now, without regard to developing rookies for the future or other more amorphous considerations. If Ricky Williams is a more effective running back than Brown right now, I think Williams will get the majority of the carries. That's a huge if, though, since it's hard to know if he's still the same RB he was a couple years ago -- or if he'll ever be the same again.

Marc Levin: From my understanding of Saban's recent comments in the Miami Herald, the team is planning to line both guys up in the same backfield. They’ll probably start in that formation, and then swing Brown into the slot and leaving Williams behind the QB. They are also putting them both in the backfield and using Brown as a fullback for Ricky since he is such a good blocker. Brown also has excellent hands, so the Dolphins may look to get him into the pattern on passing downs while using Williams to pick up the blitz. It is way too early to say that Brown has earned the feature role. The Dolphins have to outstanding RBs, and will figure out ways to get them both on the field.

Here’s how I see things breaking down over the next few weeks. This weekend, I think you can expect it to be a Ronnie Brown versus Cadillac Williams show, with Ricky just getting a few plays to get his feet wet. Next week against the Chiefs, you will see the team bust out the full arsenal and get both RBs a lot of work. In week 8, the Dolphins face New Orleans, who really can not stop anyone, I would expect Ricky to run hog wild over the Saints (his old team). After that, it really is anyone's guess. But I think both guys will be used too much to call either one of them the “feature back.”

Cecil Lammey: Nick Saban will want to showcase what Ricky can do so that he may trade him in the offseason. Ronnie may have gotten his sea legs now, but if he falters, Ricky will be there to carry the rock. Saban is a no-nonsense coach and will do whatever it takes to win.

David Yudkin: Maybe I'm reading into this too much, but Williams had the job and resigned, then a year and a drug suspension later shows up looking for his job back. I envision this as Williams slowly getting a chance to show what he can do but he will have to earn his way into the lineup. I think the suspension helped mitigate some of the ill will towards RW, and in some ways the damage control on the surface looked good. Williams was trying hard and was motivated, the team took him back, the coach encouraged him, etc. But behind closed doors, there may not be so much harmony and unity, and I expect that Ricky Williams will have to work very hard to get a chance to be a contributor again. I've followed this situation for quite a while, and I am not sure if the Dolphins want to keep Williams beyond this year or trade him, as the rumors have blown both ways. I suspect he'll be a bye week fill-in or flex player for fantasy purposes unless he really goes off or Brown totally tanks, neither of which I see happening.

Dave Baker: I think the overall sentiment here is incorrect. Despite the fact that Saban was not here last year when Ricky hurt the team so badly, I believe there remains a feeling that the team can not trust Williams. Given that the team spent such a high pick on Brown, I don't think the Dolphins need to "showcase" Williams in order to trade him. Unless Brown stumbles, I think he'll remain the main man from here on out.

Denver RBs

Maurile Tremblay: Should Mike Anderson owners worry? Tatum Bell was extremely impressive in last week's win over the Redskins (a very tough defense to run on). Has he earned a large role -- perhaps even the main role -- in the Broncos' rushing attack going forward?

Dave Baker: I think Anderson owners should be very worried, but hopefully they understood this when they acquired Anderson in the first place. Anderson is much older and the Broncos spent a high draft pick on Bell. So as Bell gets his chances and succeeds with them, it should definitely cause concern for Anderson owners. Anything can still happen and all it takes is an untimely fumble or missed block to make Shanahan remove Bell, but Bell's speed and skills are too tantalizing for Shanahan to ignore much longer.

Marc Levin: Yes, Mike Anderson owners should be extremely worried. Anderson was a “sell high” commodity a couple of weeks ago, and I hope some folks cashed in on that one. Bell has definitely earned a larger role in the offense and I think he is now winning the race that started in the preseason to earn the feature role, if that role will exist on the Broncos this year. Mike Shanahan could keep Anderson in the starting role to motivate Bell (keeping that starting back role just inches away from his nose), but give Bell the majority of the carries later in the game. That said, Bell is the fantasy option you will want come fantasy playoff time -- not Anderson -- regardless of whether Bell is the starter or the guy coming in to punch the defense when it is wearing down.

Cecil Lammey: Bell is the guy that Shanny has wanted in there all along. Mike Anderson was the "safe" choice to start the season. He entered training camp as the starter, and did nothing to lose the job throughout camp and the preseason. But Bell’s game-breaking is a threat every time he touches the ball. The bigger concerns are whether Bell can hold onto the ball and pick up the blitz. He won’t be the full-time back unless he can do those two things. But yes, Mike Anderson owners should worry – unless they’ve got Tatum Bell on their roster as well.

Will Grant: Frustrated Tatum Bell Owner here . . . in a couple leagues. The thing that scares me the most is that even though Bell has shown flashes of explosion, it doesn't seem as if he's a 25-touches-per-game kind of back. I don't think he's even had a game where he's touched the ball more than 20 times... For whatever reason, it seems he's much more effective in limited use or as a change-of-pace guy. To answer the question, I'd be very worried if I were a Mike Anderson owner who didn't have Bell on my roster as well.

Jason Wood: Not only should Anderson’s fantasy owners have expected this, but I think Anderson himself was probably prepared for it. He’s stuck around through the last few years as his role progressively diminished, which tells me he's got the veteran maturity to know that “things change.” Anderson is a team player who wants to see the Broncos win. If getting Bell more of the carries helps the team win games, I don’t think we’ll see Anderson sulking over it.

Marc Levin: I fully agree with Jason that Mike Anderson is mature enough, and has been around the team long enough, to know that there is a great chance he will be replaced over the next few weeks by Tatum Bell -- and that he could just as easily see himself back in the starter role three weeks later.

Laveranues Coles

Maurile Tremblay: Vinny Testaverde didn't have great stats last week, but he did enough to get the Jets their second win of the season, and he got Laveranues Coles six catches for 89 yards. Is Coles going to end up having a productive season with Vinny at the helm?

Jason Wood: I expected Coles to have a great season as long as his toe was OK. The guy was highly productive (1,200+ yards) in two different offenses, on two teams with different QBs, coaches and supporting casts; he's not without talent. Obviously the whole Jets offense has been a disappointment to date, and while I don't expect Vinny to recapture the magic of old, I do think he'll be steady enough to get Coles (by far their best pass catcher, it's not even close) back to a top 30 fantasy option week in, week out.

Dave Baker: Testaverde might not be what he once was, but he's good enough and smart enough to get the ball to Coles as much as possible. That might be limited in this version of the Jets’ offense, but nonetheless, I think that Coles will see enough targets from here out (or as long as Testaverde is at the helm) to make him a viable option as a fantasy WR2 or WR3.

Marc Levin: I agree with Jason. Coles' production will depend on Coles, not whoever is pitching him the ball. When healthy, Coles is so good at getting separation, that it doesn't really matter who the passer is so long as the passer leads him a bit. I do not believe you will see overwhelming stats from Coles, but he may be a great "buy low" candidate right now from an owner nervous about Testaverde.

Cecil Lammey: Coles does have more value with Vinny at the helm. There is no glass slipper that will make him into a fantasy stud, but Laveranues can become a consistent playmaker that gets a few TDs here and there.

David Yudkin: My Cousin Vinny still has a strong arm and can still deliver the ball accurately and with some zip on it, two things that Chad Pennington was going to have problems with this year. So all in all, Testaverde likely does help Coles over the long haul, even if Vinny has a lot of rust to shake off. It remains to be seen whether defenses will identify this and start to change their coverage schemes to thwart Coles as a bigger threat. Curtis Martin could also help Coles by picking his game up a notch or two.

Will Grant: The biggest factor with Coles isn't which QB is throwing him the ball, but who else on the Jets is catching it. Coles leads the team with 22 receptions. Chris Baker opened the season with seven catches and a TD. He's had eight receptions and a fumble since then. Justin McCareins has 12 receptions for the first five games, but five of them came in week two. Curtis Martin has just 10 receptions over the first five games. With no clear #2 target to draw defensive attention, Coles is going to see a lot of double coverage. If that continues, Coles will struggle to reach 80 receptions this season. Top 40 WR? Probably. Top 30? Probably not.

Antowain Smith

Maurile Tremblay: With Deuce McAllister done for the season, it looks like Antowain Smith moves into the starting role, but Aaron Stecker will likely get a lot of playing time as well. What do these guys bring to the table? Do you see either one having much fantasy value for the remainder of the season?

Jason Wood: I'm very close to abandoning the Saints entirely. Aaron Brooks and Donte Stallworth are the most maddening players at their respective positions, and the team is now dangerously close to falling over a precipice I don't think the coaching staff can survive. With Deuce out for the season, one has to wonder whether Smith and/or Stecker will bring much to the table on a consistent basis. I know I wouldn't look forward to having to start either one of them regardless of the matchup.

Will Grant: I've picked up Stecker and Smith in the league where McAllister was my regular starter, but I'm not convinced they're going to see my starting lineup much. Stecker filled in nicely for McAllister last season, but this is not the same Saints team. Deuce is averaging just 3.6 YPC. Can you expect any better from Smith or Stecker? Highly doubtful. I agree with Jason: Stallworth and possibly Horn if he recovers are about all that is left of this team for 2005.

Dave Baker: I think Smith represents decent value. He should get the bulk of the carries from here on out. Stecker admittedly might get the ball on third downs and in passing situations, but he's not a viable play in my opinion. The wildcard is Jesse Chatman, for whom the Saints just traded a late-round draft pick in 2006 to the Dolphins.

Maurile Tremblay: Chatman is formerly LaDainian Tomlinson's backup. He rushed 65 times for 392 yards (6.1 YPC) last year in relief of Tomlinson, but he's often had trouble keeping his weight under control. Chatman's running style is similar to Antowain Smith's. He's got decent quickness for a big back, decent power, and great balance. He doesn't have great speed (although he did break a few long runs last year), and I don't know how he'd do on 25 touches instead of 5. His stamina is an issue. But if he's in shape he could contribute.

Marc Levin: I do not believe either Smith or Stecker will have a lot of use, but if you are in a point-per-reception league, Stecker could be the better play of the two. With the news that the team also traded for Jesse Chatman, it could become a REAL mess down there as far as predicting who gets the carries, who gets the catches, etc. I say avoid this at all costs. If you are desperate to replace Deuce with one of these guys and are not in a PPR league, I guess Antowain Smith is the one you want. I believe he will ultimately be the one who earns the "start" every week. But I wouldn’t expect the Saints’ RBs to put up any better numbers than the 49ers’ RBs.

Cecil Lammey: The Saints are struggling mightily and it will be hard to get on track in 2005. Antowain Smith represents value because he is more than likely available in most every league. He is a power runner with limited moves/vision/speed. But he can lower his head and bull for some extra yardage. I like the signing of Jesse Chatman. He was surprisingly productive last season for the Chargers and kept Michael “the Burner” Turner on the bench. We could see a full blown RBBC with Chatman/Smith/Stecker. Both Stecker and Smith have had some injury problems, and Chatman has had issues with his weight. I think the Saints were smart to go get another veteran back, but I feel that none of these guys will be the true feature back. The real question is, can the Saints stay in a game where they don't have to pass all day long to catch up? Getting behind by 21 at the half certainly limits the running game. As Marc mentioned, Stecker has the most value for a PPR league.

David Yudkin: The Saints were having a tough enough time as it was, given their 16 game road schedule and aftermath of the hurricane. The running game wasn’t doing all that well even with Deuce, so I doubt any of the other guys (all much inferior to Deuce in talent) are going to produce worthwhile fantasy numbers. We saw a similar situation in Miami last year after Ricky Williams retired – it’s probably best to avoid the whole thing.

Josh McCown

Maurile Tremblay: Denny Green praised Josh McCown for his physical talent before the 2004 season, comparing his size, arm strength, and overall athleticism to Daunte Culpepper's. McCown didn't come close to living up to that hype last year, but he's put up some crazy numbers in his two starts this season. What's his outlook for the rest of the year? If you're Denny Green, do you start McCown again next week against the Titans even if Kurt Warner is available? (The Cardinals have a bye this week.)

Will Grant: San Francisco has the worst pass defense in the NFL. Carolina was ranked 23rd going into the game against Arizona. Huge numbers against both of those teams should be taken with a grain of salt. That said, Dennis Green is going to go with the guy he thinks is going to give him a win. Warner, McCown, Davey or whoever. Right now that's McCown and I think that's who Green is going to stick with. Furthermore, Arizona has no running game. McCown is the number two rusher on the team right now. He led the team in rushing this week with just 29 yards! His ability to run makes him more valuable to the Cardinals now that Warner is.

Maurile Tremblay: Just as a side note, Kurt Warner actually led the team in rushing in week one with 11 yards.

Dave Baker: One reason people were excited about Warner heading into this season was the weapons he had to work with in Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald. With Warner hurt, McCown has those weapons and they proved to be valuable the last couple of weeks. But those were against weak pass defenses and I actually don't like the fact that the running game is so inept. For McCown to have a lot of success the rest of the year, I think a decent running game is a must. But the mere fact that he has those WRs gives McCown some decent fantasy potential.

Marc Levin: Yes, I start McCown against the Titans if I am Denny Green. That does not preclude me from letting Warner come into the game late if McCown is struggling. Maybe I put in Warner to simply mop up, which would also cut into McCown's numbers as garbage time numbers are a key to a fantasy QBs' success. But, I definitely start McCown against the Titans over a gimpy Warner just returning from injury. Warner's return, however, means McCown gets a short leash -- fantasy aside, this game is about winning and McCown is 1-1. If the Cards lose against the Titans, regardless of McCown's stats, we could see Green making the switch.

Cecil Lammey: McCown has good athletic ability and has been known to string together some good games from time to time. As Levin said, it's all about winning and if Denny Green believes that Warner gives them a better chance to win then he will be in there. I think that McCown should get a full chance to shine. Last year he was very inconsistent, but the kid can make plays. Unfortunately, I believe that Green will pull him at the slightest hint of trouble.

David Yudkin: McCown has totaled 778 passing yards and 4 TDs in his two starts. I don't care if he played my son's Pop Warner football team. Those are some head-turning numbers. Even though the Cards lost this week, I can't see how you can bench someone who almost had back-to-back games of 400 yards. I don't have the data in front of me, but if you asked me how many QB have had that many passing yards over a two week stretch, I would fathom a guess of "Not Many."

49er WRs

Maurile Tremblay: With rookie Alex Smith at QB last week, the 49er WRs as a group caught a grand total of one pass for 13 yards. (RBs had 7 catches, TEs had 1.) Are the 49er wide receivers going to be fairly worthless for the rest of this year with a rookie QB at the helm like the Giants' wide receivers were last year?

Will Grant: While worthless is a pretty strong word, it's probably an accurate statement for the SF WRs this season. Last season Brandon Lloyd was the top SF receiver with just 565 yards and 6 TDs (47th fantasy WR). He's over half way there now and should be able to beat that total this season. But will he finish top 30? Probably not. Top 40? Maybe. That makes him a backup WR in most leagues. Battle was on his way to a nice season before his injury, but I don't see him finishing in the top 40 for a WR either.

Dave Baker: First of all, we're not exactly dealing with Randy Moss and Terrell Owens there in San Francisco. It's unlikely that Lloyd or Battle would be starting on any other NFL team. Then you mix in an unsettled offensive line. Sprinkle in a generally ineffective running game and add a pinch of a rookie QB, and you definitely have a recipe for disaster. With Tim Rattay at the helm, the 49er WRs had some promise. With Smith, I think they're generally worthless.

Marc Levin: I agree with Will and Dave. If the team is committed to having Alex Smith learn by fire (a mistake, in my opinion), then the San Francisco receivers will be an extremely shaky group. The analogy to the Giants' receivers in 2004 is apt.

Cecil Lammey: I agree as well. Brandon Lloyd and Arnaz Battle are both going to suffer due to the fact that Alex Smith has a big learning curve. The biggest problem with San Francisco is their porous offensive line. Smith has absolutely zero time to throw, and when he does have time he is not adept at making the right reads.

David Yudkin: I think "worthless" may be a little strong. Smith should take his lumps and might have a couple of decent games if he starts the rest of the way, so Lloyd and Battle may have another decent week or two -- but certainly these two are not Fitzgerald and Boldin. If you are in a deep league that starts 3-4 WRs, Lloyd and Battle may still be decent bye week options. I wouldn’t totally write them off, but I wouldn’t jump to acquire or start them either.


Maurile Tremblay: And that will wrap it up for this edition of the Roundtable. Thanks, guys. See you next week.

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