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An Eye On The Future – Vol. VII (Off-Season Edition)
Dynasty League Updates

This space will be a semi-regular feature at FF Today and will look to explore, speculate, and keep people interested in up and comers in the NFL who may be or may not be well known in dynasty league circles. I’m not guaranteeing anyone to become the next star, but merely helping the reader to keep abreast of developments that could affect your dynasty league rosters this season and beyond and perhaps even help you discover unknowns who could become known quantities down the road.

As dynasty owners look forward to the 2009 season, we become quite impressed with our “shiny new toys” – the new rookie class. In the same way we tossed aside and forgot about all the great “shiny new toys” we got in Christmases past as children, we make way for our rookies by cutting young “underachievers”. The waiver wire is likely littered with plenty of potentially valuable young players that were tossed aside after not producing during their first or second years in the league. In this column we’ll try and find a few young players that have yet to produce significantly, but who could help your dynasty team a lot quicker than most of this year’s rookie class. Just like in life, patience is a virtue in dynasty leagues. Treasure becomes trash rather quickly in this fickle hobby (but sometimes it turns back to treasure again). If you can manage to pick up the trash before it turns back into treasure you’ll be ahead of the game.

The Passers

With the drafting of Josh Freeman in Round 1, itís hard to call veteran Luke McCown the future at QB for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. However a strong showing by the younger McCown brother in 2009 Ė his brother Josh has been a journeyman QB that has had moderate success in some really poor situations Ė could keep the unpolished Freeman on the bench for longer than just his rookie season. Of course Luke needs to hold off fellow veteran Byron Leftwhich, who was signed this off-season by Tampa Bay as a free agent, but my guess is that he has the inside track for the starting gig. McCown played during the last four games of the 2007 season and looked pretty good while amassing 1,009 yards and five TDs during that stretch, highlighted by a 313 yard and 2 TD performance against New Orleans. McCown is an athletic QB with an adequate arm, who will play behind a solid o-line and will be supported by some solid skill players in Antonio Bryant, Kellen Winslow, Jr., and Derrick Ward. While no dynasty owner wants to build their team around him, he can be useful during bye weeks and perhaps trade bait if he performs well above expectations.

The Redskins openly tried to upgrade from Jason Campbell this off-season by going after Jay Cutler and by also letting the world know their love for rookie Mark Sanchez. Can the next potential upgrade come from within the organization? Colt Brennan put up eye popping stats during his tenure at the University of Hawaii, and while people are quick to label him as a system QB, a closer look at his game shows a QB that has decent arm strength and unbelievable accuracy. His frail frame could make him an injury risk, but the Skins have a better than average o-line to protect him. If Campbell struggles, Brennan may get a chance to see if Jim Zornís system fits his game as well as June Jonesí system did while he was in the NCAA. Anyone with a roster spot and a need for a QB of the future may want to take a chance on Brennan.

The Runners

Kenneth Darby spent most of his rookie season on the Tampa Bay practice squad before eventually being released. Last October he was signed by St. Louis off of Atlantaís practice squad to add some depth to a Ram team that had lost Brian Leonard to injury. While his performance may have gone unnoticed by most casual owners, he looked like he found a home in St. Louis. He eventually passed Antonio Pittman on the depth chart and earned a start in Week 10 after Steven Jackson was also lost to injury. In week 11 he managed to grab 8 balls out of the backfield for 83 yards and finished the season gaining 140 yards on the ground and 183 yards through the air. Darby is a quick, compact runner who heads into this season looking like heíll have a role as the 3rd down back for the Rams. As most fantasy owners know Steven Jackson hasnít exactly been Favresque stringing full seasons together, so by adding Darby you could have a useful player (especially in point per reception leagues) who has a chance to be a starting back at some point this season.

Speaking of the former Scarlet Knight, Brian Leonard, moves over to Cincinnati where heíll provide depth behind the rejuvenated Cedric Benson and will likely secure the role of the third down back and perhaps play some fullback. Leonard is the type of hardworking player that should always at least have some role on an NFL team. At Rutgers he was a star HB who volunteered to move to FB for his senior season in order to get Ray Rice on the field. Leonard did manage a 100 yard game during his rookie season while filling in for Steven Jackson, but lost most of his sophomore season to injury and is therefore not on most peopleís radar right now. As most of you are aware Cedric Benson isnít the most dependable player to don an NFL jersey and sixth round rookie Bernard Scott has had a trouble plagued college experience to say the least Ė so filling a roster space with Leonard could pay dividends at some point this season and in the future.

Fantasy football message board posters have been incorrectly predicting Clinton Portisí decline for the last couple of seasons due to his heavy career workload. Iím not going to join in on that discussion necessarily but will say to keep an eye on two youngsters in Redskin camp that may contribute in 2009 even if Portis remains healthy all season and could develop a solid niche for themselves in the NFL. Marcus Mason created a small buzz after leading the NFL in rushing last preseason for the Redskins and bounced around to Baltimoreís practice squad before being signed by the Jets for depth after Jesse Chatman was suspended. Heís back in camp with the Redskins and has good size (5í9Ē, 215 lbs) to go along with his speed and shiftiness. Anthony Aldridge was signed as an undrafted free agent by Denver last off-season who was unable to stick on the roster despite an impressive camp. While small in stature (5í9, 180 lbs.), he had a very productive senior year at Houston, rushing for 1,597 yards and 14 TDs. He has a good chance of sticking as the ďspeedĒ back in Washington this season and could be quite productive as a third down back in Zornís version of the WCO. If heís able to catch the ball in open space he has the ability to break a few long plays and open some eyes.

The Packers did not draft a RB this year showing some faith in incumbent starter Ryan Grant (a player this space told you to keep an eye on prior to his breakout two seasons ago) and former second round pick Brandon Jackson. Grant started the year slowly due to missing camp on a holdout and a slow healing hamstring injury but played reasonably well in the second half of the season. Still, while Grant is a hard, decisive runner and a good fit for the Packer zone blocking scheme, very few people would argue that he is a tremendously talented back. Former Georgia Bulldog Kregg Lumpkin has excellent vision and runs with good power also making him a good fit for the Packer scheme should the opportunity arise. If not for an ACL tear while at Georgia, Lumpkin would have been a much higher rated prospect heading into the NFL draft. Keep an eye on him.

The Pass Catchers

Earl Bennett definitely disappointed those who drafted him in rookie drafts last season as he barely saw the field and did not make one catch during his rookie season. As many reading this article likely know, Bennett will be reunited with his former college teammate Jay Cutler this year, so like a BMW the potential to go from zero to sixty quickly is there in 2009. Cutler lobbied hard for the Broncos to draft his favorite college pass catcher last off-season and now he gets his wish for a reunion. Bennett has the opportunity factor working in his favor and could very well line up as a starter on opening day. Bennett is tough in traffic, in that he has sticky hands and can break tackles. He has enough burst to get open at the NFL level and is very polished in his route running. He could end up as the Bears top wide receiver in 2009 when all is said and done. Now is the time to acquire the former Vanderbilt wide-out, especially if he is owned by one of more casual owners in your league or was dropped because hid did nothing last season.

Hakeem Nicks and Ramses Barden are the new pass catchers who will be in Giants camp this season and the ones receiving the most hype in the fantasy football community right now. Steve Smith is entering his third year and has some buzz attached to his name (rightfully so in my opinion) and most people have Dominek Hixon on their radar as well after his decent run filling in for Plaxico Burris last season. However two forgotten young WRs in New York were also once highly coveted by dynasty owners before becoming afterthoughts. Third year WR Sinorice Moss and second year player Mario Manningham should have expanded roles for the Giants and have something the heralded rookies do not, experience in the system and experience with Eli Manning. During OTAs, in three WR sets, starter Steve Smith was moved to the slot while Moss lined up at flanker. Moss has shown some big play abilities in very limited action during his first two seasons and could surprise some if he takes the next step and advantage of his opportunity Ė there arenít any veterans in this WR mix after all. Early word is more is expected out of Manningham as well and we know he was a very productive college player in a major conference. Admittedly these guys are long shots, but I just want to remind people that WRs donít always burst on the scene and make an impact. Itsí a good idea to not just ignore pass catchers who havenít done much in their early careers, as sometimes they take that next step.

After a stunning preseason, and a pretty good rookie season, James Jones was on most avid fantasy playerís radar, but after an injury plagued sophomore season and Jordy Nelson being the new rookie darling, Jones fell off that radar. Picking him up cheaply could pay long term dividends. Donald Driver while still effective, isnít getting any younger, and a Jones/Jennings starting tandem in 2010 is just as likely as a Nelson/Jennings starting duo. Jonesí game is in the same vein as Anquan Boldinís in that heís a big strong target that is effective after the catch despite not having elite top end speed. Jonesí big body and ability to go over the middle compliments the deep threat Jennings perfectly. If Jones has another nice season as the #3 WR in the Packer offense this season his price tag is only going to go up.

The Jets drafted Marcus Henry in the sixth round out of Kansas last season. While his rookie season was rather non-descript, Henry gets a clean slate with a new coaching staff and a new QB - whether itís the rookie Mark Sanchez or veteran Kellen Clemens. At 6í4Ē, Henry gives the Jet receiving corp. the height it is otherwise lacking. After Jerricho Cotchery the Jets lack any real experience at the position so while everyone chases Stuckey and Clowney at more expensive prices, why not pick up Henry on the cheap and see what develops?

I have brought Jason Avant, to your attention before in this space as a player who came into the NFL without much fanfare but could become a solid possession receiver at the professional level. While he may be more known now in fantasy circles, heís still below the radar. With the Eagles drafting Jeremy Maclin in Round 1 this off-season and Desean Jackson emerging last year itís easy to dismiss Avant as a prospect. Yes itís a crowded unit when you also consider that Kevin Curtis and Hank Basket are also still around, but recently one Eagles executive called Avant ďthe best slot receiver in the NFL.Ē Obviously thatís not really true, but with the way McNabb likes to spread the ball around and with Jackson/Curtis/Maclin taking the pass coverage deep, Avant can live underneath and grab 40-60 balls this year which will help in your ppr leagues. The organization believes in him and so should you.