Monday, May 23, 2005

THE NFL'S QUARTERBACKS; A FANTASY REVIEW!

Fantasy football, and indeed rotisserie sports in general, have enjoyed a huge upswell in popularity in recent years. We’re talking tens of millions of participants here. The advent of the Internet, the “global community,” the markedly increased visibility of fantasy sports, and the sheer volume of fantasy sites available to enthusiasts are all contributors to this explosive growth. In turn, fantasy gaming has become a multibillion dollar industry. But when you get right down to it... fantasy gaming pits one participant’s acumen and gut instinct against another's. And therein lies the real appeal. Accordingly, most fantasy gamers have “pet theories” and strategies for drafting and setting up their respective rosters. While each rotisserie sport will require a different approach, for scoring differs dramatically between individual fantasy sports, in the end? Fantasy gaming is all about points.
And, while no roto sport will allow a single athlete to carry a team, fantasy football does permit a degree of dominance. Sure, in fantasy hoops Lebron James or Allen Iverson might put on a clinic and score enough fantasy points to put his respective owners’ teams over the top in a given week or two. But, given the fact that basketball consists of an 82 game regular season PLUS playoff games, such athletes contributions are kept in relative check. Fantasy baseball? A 162 game regular season will ensure that almost any player’s (let’s exclude Barry Bonds who’s currently shelved, and Albert Pujols, who may be the closest thing to Ted Williams or Joe DiMaggio baseball’s seen in a generation) season consists of peaks and valleys. Nope’. Fantasy football has a 16 game (plus 1 bye week) regular season, and that’s brief enough to allow for dominance as Indianapolis’ QB Peyton Manning demonstrated last season. While there’s but one Peyton Manning, there ARE several quarterbacks capable of guiding your fantasy football franchise to the post-season promised land. Let’s break it down.

The 4 STAR Quarterback.
To have an athlete of THIS caliber as part of your fantasy franchise is to have an athlete capable of single-handedly winning a week, and indeed perhaps the entire season for you. Naturally, scoring, point systems, and values will vary from league to league but there are really just two types of leagues; those that emphasize yardage and those that emphasize scoring. And, then there are some leagues that place value upon both. A solid quarterback should thrive in all three types of leagues, unlike a running back who might be either a short yardage or goal line specialist, such as Steeler Jerome Bettis, or a back who sees little of the end zone but accrues lots of yardage, like Jaguar Fred Taylor. Quarterbacks, due to the nature of the position, are a fantasy team's most crucial component. Again, points and the specific way they're tallied will vary from league to league, but a signal caller can pass for a TD, run for a TD, run or pass for a 2 point conversion, throw for "X number of yards," etc. The position's very versatility ensures it's point scoring prominence. So, while you can “cut corners” and take a #1 wide receiver later in your league's draft... best grab your franchise QB first. That's the way NFL draft days go down, and your fantasy draft should be no different!

Indianapolis Colts: Peyton Manning: 4,557 Yards, 49 TDs, 10 INTs, Passer Rating: 121.1:
Last season, the Colt QB was almost single minded in his pursuit of legendary Dolphin quarterback Dan Marino's single season TD record. Now that Manning's able to jot that particular record down on his resume (which will surely be just one of many by the time he hangs up the spikes), he can pursue his most elusive quarry to date; a Superbowl berth. With one of the NFL's deepest (if not THE deepest) receiving corps at his disposal, a swift, powerful, top 7 running back in Edgerrin James to hand off to, and a speedy, sure handed tight end in Dallas Clark, Manning couldn't ask for a more lethal, more versatile arsenal. When discussing Peyton Manning and his ability, football fans frequently lapse into fits of hyperbole. Yet, it would seem as if no amount of praise would prove too lavish when mulling Manning's accomplishments. He is, quite arguably, the best QB of this era; a paragon of passing excellence who, years from now, will evoke claims of "I saw him play." Manipulating his offense in much the same manner a great director does his cast, Peyton Manning is capable of seeing things that others cannot, much like a director can "see" things that others cannot. Thus, the already prolific QB can unmask and exploit almost any defense, even when the best defensive coordinator has done his best to camouflage its weaknesses. Last season, with unpleasant regularity, Manning would direct his team down field to a score, head to the sidelines in search of a breather and cup of Gatorade, and be forced to hop back onto the field within minutes due to the team's largely fictitious defense. So, as expected, defense, and particularly the porous secondary (The first 2 picks were spent on corners), was a draft day priority. Expect the team to make a real push towards Superbowl 39. With the bitter taste of divisional championship defeat still on his tongue and fresh in his mind, look for Manning to post another statistically absurd season. Although his TD total will probably be far closer to 40 than 50, Peyton Manning should again be fantasy football's most dangerous weapon... and its number one overall draft pick.

*EXTRA POINTS: Last season, motivated perhaps too much by what his legacy might be, Manning was throwing the ball constantly, even in obvious run situations. Look for a more balanced red zone approach this season. Also, former safety valve and TD specialist, TE Marcus Pollard was released by the team in a salary cap move. Although Pollard notched a mere 29 receptions in '04, 6 went for TDs. Thus, the team will be unable to run their preferred 2 TE sets. Will this hamper Manning? Probably not. With an offense that boasts WRs Reggie Wayne, "Marvelous" Marvin Harrison, Brandon Stokely, and the aforementioned TE Dallas Clark, Manning has an embarrassment of riches to throw to. It could mean that when on the goal line the team will be more likely to put the rock in RB Edgerrin James' hands.

Minnesota Vikings: Daunte Culpepper: 4 STARS; 4,717 yards, 41 TDs (2 rushing), 11 INTs Passer Rating 110.9:
Daunte Culpepper, drafted in the highly-touted and largely disappointing QB class of '99, is the Vikings' unquestioned leader and locomotive. Where he goes, so go the Vikes. "C-Pepp," at 6'4" and 265 Lbs or so, is built like a Defensive End, possesses a rocket arm, better than average touch, and is surprisingly quick and nimble for such a large man. As a fantasy QB (and many would say real as well), Culpepper is second only to Peyton Manning, who currently sets the bar for passing excellence. Culpepper cannot win by himself, however, and it's unreasonable to expect any one athlete to carry a team. Last season the team's soft D put enormous pressure upon Culpepper's shoulders, consistently forcing him to play catch-up football. Nevertheless, Culpepper enjoyed a bevy of multiple-TD games, significantly cut down on his turnovers, and with the skilled wideouts (such as the emerging Nate Burleson), pass-catching backs, and a soft handed TE (Jermaine Wiggins) lining up alongside him, is nearly the fantasy equal of Manning. This season, however, the team will be without the services of the supremely talented and equally moody perennial Pro Bowl wideout, Randy Moss. The strong armed QB benefitted greatly from Moss' uncanny ability to track and high point "jump ball" end zone passes. Although the team has high hopes for first round pick WR Troy Williamson, he's a raw product who needs to polish his skills, particulalry route running. Nevertheless, the Vikings, much like the Colts, placed an off-season priority on rebuilding a shoddy defense. Acquisitions such DT Pat Williams (Bills), S Darren Sharper (Packers), and CB Fred Smoot (Redskins) make the Viking D far more formidable. And, a team that is not constantly forced to throw down field can be far less predictable. Look for Culpepper to have another tremendous season. His yardage might creep up a bit, but the absence of Moss might impact upon his TD total as well.

*EXTRA POINTS: From the “Department of the Simply Unbelievable;” Viking RB Onterrio Smith was caught with a “faux weenie” at the Twin Cities Airport on April 21st. This was not however, included with his assorted leather goods and ball gags (just kidding, the reports said NOTHING about stuff like that). What this is, is another ingenious way athletes are attempting to elude the NFL’s rigid, (please excuse the pun) and obviously effective, drug tests. Smith has previously been busted and suspended for positive drug tests; marijuana. The “Whizzinator,” as it’s called, contains dried urine that, when reconstituted, allegedly allows the athlete to provide officials with a clean drug test. What this means for Smith is unclear as of right now, but Smith does face a year long suspension from football. That would, however, clear up an already crowded backfield situation for the Vikings. The Norseman took RB Ciatrick Faison in the 4th round of this year’s draft. His best bet was to contribute on Special Teams. Now, look for Faison to be the team’s 3rd option at the position, plus Special Teams work. RBs Michael Bennett and Mewelde Moore will provide Culpepper with an exciting 1-2 running back punch, as both offer good speed and pass catching skills. Moore is a determined runner, and Bennett’s a breakaway threat.

The 3 STAR Quarterback: An athlete capable of fits of excellence... and spurts of inconsistency. QBs such as Tom Brady will qualify as 3 STAR QBs, but not because they want for ability. Signal callers such as Brady and McNabb steward systems that lack tremendously talented playmakers, thus the more conservative rating. Sure, Eagle WR Terrell Owens is a certifiable stud, he’s also a certifiable jackass. But, T.O’s contract situation is murky at best, and who lines up opposite him? The fact of the matter is, T.O is the most talented athlete, next to McNabb, on the Eagle offense. There’s no other pass catcher really worthy of mention on that team. Likewise, the Patriots and Tom “Terrific” have some skilled wideouts, but no one that’ll take your breath away. Nor, for that matter, a defensive coordinator’s. So, let’s take a look at the “3 STAR QBs.” When appropriate, I have added a 1/2 STAR. It simply implies that the signal caller possesses a greater level of talent... or greater talent to work with.

New England Patriots: Tom Brady: 3 1/2 STARS; 3,692 yards, 28 TDs, 14 INTs Passer Rating 92.6:
Although he heads the list of 3 STAR QBs, Brady has as much talent as Culpepper, certainly, and probably approaches Manning’s football intellect. Nevertheless, Brady remains a tier below Peyton Manning and Daunte Culpepper. Not so much due to a lack of talent, as few NFL signal callers possess Brady’s poise, touch, or football IQ. Rather, the Patriot offensive philosophy and pass catching talent dictates 3 STARS. As a fantasy weapon Brady is solid. This past season there was but one game wherein Brady did not throw at least one TD pass, and he really had only one poor game, against the Miami Dolphins and their skilled secondary. Also, keep in mind that the Patriots were unable to field a full and healthy contingent of receivers last season. One of the things that makes Brady such a great QB is the regard in which he holds himself. At age 27 Brady has accomplished what few have; 3 Superbowl rings in a safety deposit box somewhere. And yet the guy’s as humble as can be. When he signed his contract, 6 seasons at $60 million, he didn’t extort the franchise as many athletes do. In fact, Brady was quoted as saying, “...what’s a million after taxes? It’s half a million.” And then there was this heretofore unheard of athletic utterance; “... that money could be better spent elsewhere, on players capable of helping us win football games.” While the latter is not a direct quote, you get the drift. The Patriot QB is a team player, a team leader, and that filters down to his teammates. For cryin’ out loud, even former malcontent RB Corey Dillon seems to be emulating his QB’s quiet, confident style. Brady spreads the ball around “smooth as butter,” and is arguable a better yardage league QB then scoring league athlete for that reason. Still, a fantasy franchise could do FAR worse than Tom Brady. Look for yet another year of 25+ TDs and 3,500+ yards.

*EXTRA POINTS: The team signed WRs Tim Dwight and David Terrell during the off-season, and 20 of 22 starters return to defend New England’s title. That’s all well and good, but the greatest challenge to face the Pats in years is how they will overcome the loss of both head coordinators. Defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel now has his own NFL team to coach (he’ll try and pull the hapless Cleveland franchise off the mat), and offensive coordinator Charlie Weiss is in South Bend, Indiana, attempting to return the luster to Notre Dame’s blue and gold. Look for the Patriots to land on their feet, but the loss of BOTH resident geniuses may well be too much for the franchise to surmount. It could well be that the team will be watching Superbowl 39 on television.

Philadelphia Eagles: Donovan McNabb 3 1/2 STARS: 3,875 yards, 34 TDs (3 rushing), 8 INTs Passer Rating 104.7:
McNabb’s Eagles soared through the NFC Title game, but got their wings clipped in the Superbowl. McNabb WAS the reason the team got as far as it did, however. His “leadership by example” mentality, his unselfish style of play, and brilliant athleticism, all combined for a record setting season in which he became the first NFL passer to record a 30+ TD season with fewer than 10 INTs. Did “Chunky Soup” also play a role? Probably not. But the team IS stewing over star wide receiver, Terrell Owens’ latest antics. But, more on that in a minute. McNabb, like Viking QB Daunte Culpepper, was drafted in ‘99. Last season, though, was McNabb’s finest to date. Which makes sense, as a QB improves as he matures. McNabb can now read opposing defenses quickly, looks off his receivers, doesn’t try and force passes into openings not much larger than throw pillows, and no longer has “happy feet.” While not your model pocket passer, Donovan has a strong arm and possesses nice touch. He enjoyed 5 300+ yard passing days in ‘04, including an inspired 464 yard, 5 TD week 13 effort. Philly’s
“phinest” also threw TD passes in every game except one, multiple TD passes in 7 contests, and is “thisclose” to joining Culpepper and Manning. Only the Eagles’ lack of receiving talent will keep him from joining such elite company. Again, a great chef can do only so much with the ingredients at hand.

*EXTRA POINTS: In terms of NFL talent, the Eagle pass catchers are an average bunch... without the “Me-nificent One,” Terrell Owens. The team, in an ugly custody battle that involved the Baltimore Ravens who felt that THEY had a trade with the 49’ers in place for Owens, took on the frequently disguntled pass catcher, taking him at his word that he “wouldn’t become a distraction.” Well, Owens enjoyed a Pro Bowl caliber season... and then went down with a broken leg. In heroic fashion, and despite the numerous NFL talking heads and league observers who stated that he’d be unable to, Owens returned to the gridiron for Superbowl action. Much to the delight of the Philly’ faithful, Owens proved to be far more than just a “live body.” Owens recorded a lights-out, 11 reception, 133 yard Superbowl effort, and was the topic of Sports Talk radio for weeks to follow. However, Owens has returned to his selfish, self-centered, egocentric ways. He ditched his low profile agent, engaged the services of the high-powered (some would call him snake) Drew Rosenhaus... anathema to owners in every sport, and is refusing to report to camp despite the contract he inked just last season. This action, coupled with remarks that are widely believed to be shots at Eagle QB McNabb, have sparked outrage within, and without the organization. Will T.O stand by his promise to sit out the entire season in his quest for an even bigger dollar deal? Quite possibly. The team would be foolish to re-negotiate with Owens, for the message it would send to his teammates would be horrifying. Should Owens sit out, look for a degree of immediacy to be placed upon 2nd round pick, wide receiver Reggie Brown. Brown was probably going to see action anyway as the team sent loudmouth WR Freddie Mitchell packing. Look for the Eagles, and McNabb, to rely even more heavily upon RB Brian Westbrook, and rookie RB Ryan Moats. A “Westbrook clone,” Moats has excellent pass catching skills and at 5’ 8” and 210 Lbs, is built like a fireplug.

Kansas City Chiefs: Trent Green 3 1/2 STARS; 4,591 yards, 27 TDs, 17 INTs Passer Rating 95.2:
Trent Green is the epitome of the pocket passer, and if forced to scramble … well, a lawn gnome is probably more nimble than the statue-esque quarterback. An explosive run game has made Green a far more dangerous signal caller, and he posted some eye-popping yardage totals last season. In this instance we have a pro QB who’s probably a better fantasy QB than NFL passer. Green’s a true #1 fantasy player, and If you’re fortunate enough to have him on your roster … you’d better keep him. The Chief running game sets up the passing game and is in capable hands. Incumbent RB Priest Holmes is a proven (if slow to heal) weapon. Capable of toting the ball between the tackles or bouncing it outside, Priest is as happy to run over defenders as he is around them. And, when Penn State product RB Larry “Baby J.” Johnson finally got his chance to display his wares, he proved to be a very capable stand-in for Holmes, providing the team with 3 consecutive 100 yard games. A pass catching troika of Johnny Morton, Eddie Kennison, and TE Tony Gonzalez is somewhat less than formidable, however. Taking nothing away from Gonzalez, who set an NFL record for receptions for a tight end with 102 last season, the team MUST develop a vertical threat. Green will need to get SOMETHING out of WRs Marc Boerigter or Samie Parker. If Parker or Boerigter step it up, Green’s totals could inch up a bit. This might be overly optimistic however. Look for Trent Green to again be a nice fantasy weapon, but it’s not inconceivable that his totals could inch down as well.

*EXTRA POINTS: The truth is, if this team had fielded any kind of defense last season they wouldn’t have missed the playoffs. They could have been- unstoppable. With an offense virtually able to score at will, an awful KC D has ensured that opponents were able to do the same. In particular, poor play from the secondary kept this team from achieving any real success. Enter former Dolphin CBs, Patrick Surtain and Sammy Knight. Those 2 should bolster the league’s worst pass defense. In addition, former Titan DE Carlos Hall and Pittsburgh LB Kendrell Bell were added to the mix, they should help strengthen the team’s anemic run defense. But the most significant addition could be the team’s first round draft pick, LB Derrick Johnson. He was the best ‘backer in the draft, has sideline to sideline play making ability, and is a sure tackler... something this defense definitely did NOT possess last season. Look for the defensive unit to be vastly improved over last year’s model. That could decrease some of Green’s gaudy passing numbers. If the team is out in front... a luxury they rarely enjoyed in ‘04, the emphasis will be on the run, and running down the clock.

San Diego Chargers: QB Drew Brees 3 1/2 STARS; 3,159 yards, 29 TDs (2 rushing), 7 INTs Passer Rating 104.8:
Last season, operating out of a simplified West Coast offensive and with nothing to lose, Brees played smart, good football. He secured a Pro Bowl berth, the “Comeback Player of the Year” award, and his position as Charger QB for the ‘05 season. Several factors played a role in Brees’ reemergence: a vastly improved O-line, wide receivers who could actually catch the ball and make things happen after the catch, the out-of-nowhere emergence of TE and fellow Pro Bowler Antonio Gates, and an improved Bolt D that put far less pressure on the offense to score with each possession. Brees proved to be very accurate and unflappable last season, and more importantly- he stepped up as a team leader. To his credit, the guy could have packed it in. Brees already had a nice nut in the bank, and his franchise sent him a clear “no confidence” vote when they expended a high first-round investment on QB Philip Rivers in last April’s draft. A tough, gritty competitor who obviously relishes a challenge, Brees is playing on a 1 year contract. Look for him bust his hindquarters to be a top dollar free agent QB in ‘06. Brees’ draftmate always does HIS best to keep opposing Ds from focusing on the passing game. With stud RB LaDanian Tomlinson carrying San Diego’s mail, woe is the opponent who drops into coverage. And, should they creep up and stack the box to stop Tomlinson? Pro Bowl TE Antonio Gates, WR Keenan “I’m not quite dead yet” McCardell, and emergent Eric Parker afford Brees with a wealth of targets.

*EXTRA POINTS: It wouldn’t be a great surprise if Brees’ numbers increase with a healthy Reche Caldwell returning to the fold. Caldwell is, however, returning from a serious knee injury. Also, huge (6’ 5”) but raw rookie wideout Vincent Jackson provides the Charger QB with tight end size and wideout speed. If you DO draft or afford Brees with “Keeper” status, it might be wise to draft a capable backup as well... just in case. While last season might well prove to be anything BUT an aberration for Brees, a smart fantasy owner will cover his bases. The fact of the matter is, the Chargers will have a much, much tougher schedule in ‘06 with 7 games against playoff teams. San Diego went 1-5 against ‘04 playoff teams last season... draw your own conclusions.

Atlanta Falcons: Michael Vick: 2,313 Yards (902 rushing yards), 17 TDs (3 Rushing), 12 INTs Passer Rating 78.1:
Watching Vick play football is reminiscent of the scene from the classic film Rocky, where the plodding pugilist attempts to improve his speed and reaction time by catching a chicken with his bare hands. Every time Rocky thinks his prey is bottled up, the pesky poultry darts away and leaves the fighter grasping at air and gasping for breath. The Falcons’ QB is no less elusive, and much like Rocky’s chicken, Vick can make defenders look downright silly, often forcing them to the sidelines in search of an available oxygen mask. But the debate continues to rage: is Vick a quarterback, a running back, or simply a gifted athlete playing the QB position? There are no easy answers, and assigning a fantasy value to Vick is almost as challenging as getting a hand on him. But as Vick’s owners can attest, at this stage of his career, he’s a better NFL QB than fantasy signal-caller. And for our purposes, that’s a crucial distinction. Let’s try to simplify things a bit. In no game, last season, did Vick throw for more than two scores, though he did have three three-TD games (with one rushing TD in each). Vick threw for a season-high of 258 yards in week 8. His next-highest passing total was 218 yards. There were three contests in which Vick threw for a paltry 115 yards, and the week 17 game against Seattle saw Vick rack up an awe-inspiring 35 passing yards. So for those of you who belong to yardage leagues- note that Vick averaged just 136 passing yards per game. On the flip side of the coin, Vick did rush for 902 yards and had three 100-yard rushing games. That’s the third-highest rushing total for a QB in league history, and Vick was the league’s 11th-ranked rusher. The truth is, Vick’s still maturing as a passer and learning the nuances of his position. And much like a great chef who’s been asked to whip up a four-star meal with canned vegetables and Spam (apologies to all Spam aficionados), Vick can do only so much with the “ingredients” at his disposal. While Vick’s three-star ranking for the upcoming ‘05 season is based more on potential than performance, he possesses uncanny vision, can throw a football through a brick wall, and the team hopes Vick’s completion percentage will rise this season. The team made it to the NFC Championship game primarily due to Vick’s legs and a vastly improved defense, but lost, thanks to an essentially one-dimensional offense. This season, the team is aspiring to far more. And this season rests squarely upon Vick’s shoulder pads.

*EXTRA POINTS: Last year, the team traded up in the draft to get WR Michael Jenkins. But, with a grand total of seven receptions, Jenkins has thus far been a pricey disappointment and must make some big strides this season. This year, the team gladly snatched-up WR Roddy White with their first round pick. A tall, speedy receiver, White should be more productive as a rookie then Jenkins was last season. In a nutshell? Until the receivers prove otherwise, the team will capitalize on their “thunder and lightning” running back combo of T.J Duckett and Warrick Dunn. Owners can look for improved numbers from Vick... but don’t expect miracles. Tight end Alge Crumpler should again be a top option at his position as well.

Green Bay Packers: Brett Favre: 3 STARS: 4,088 yards, 30 TDs, 17 INTs Passer Rating 92.4:
The Packers have lost much of their mystique. Favre, aging, has proven himself to be both human and fallible. His poor games are occurring with alarming regularity, and he has discussed the dreaded “R-word:":retirement, with increasing frequency as well. Facing painful obstacles such as his wife and best friend’s battle against breast cancer, his father passing away at a relatively young age from a heart attack, and a lifelong battle against substance abuse that fans may have forgotten about but will remain an issue for Brett as it does all those forced to contend with such demons, what’s left for Favre to prove as a football player? Increasing hints of grey hair aside, Favre remains football’s fiercest competitor, still seems to be enjoying the game, and so long as he’s upright, the Pack should never be counted out of any game. Favre’s play entered a slight decline over the second half of this past season, but he still remained a very productive fantasy QB. The bottom line for his owners last season were Favre’s 30 TDs, and the excellent corps of pass-catchers who’d run through a brick wall for him if need be. The team’s down field attack averaged almost 280 passing yards per game last season, outstanding digits if you’re in a yardage league. Favre also threw TD passes in all but one game. The counter to Favre is RB Ahman Green (when healthy and not putting the ball on the ground), who kept the chains moving with a 4.7 yards per carry average. Although Green may be slowing down as well, he’s a strong runner, ideally suited to Green Bay’s arctic venue. In addition, the team has jumbo-sized Najeh Davenport in the RB stable as well. Davenport offers decent speed, and once that boy gathers a head of steam... be thankful you’re not the safety in his sights. As for the receiving corps, WR Javon Walker positively blew up last season, is a true vertical threat, and is particularly dangerous along the sidelines. Fellow pass catchers Donald Driver and Robert Ferguson are nearly Walker’s equal. When Walker began to attract the opposing team’s top cover corner, Donald Driver stepped in and did yeoman’s work, helping to keep the team moving down field. Look for Favre to post solid, but unspectacular numbers this coming season. The O-line is going through changes for the first time since the ‘00 season, and Favre could find himself running for his very life. The teams of the NFC North have all bolstered their defenses, and there are no more “pattycake” squads. Keep Favre for another season if you belong to a Keeper league, or take him after the previously listed signal callers have been pulled off your league’s draft board. At worst, Brett will be a capable steward for your franchise, and at best? Well, perhaps the league’s great magician... the man who can always make something from nothing, has one more trick up his green and gold sleeve.

*EXTRA POINTS: The Pack’ have been roundly criticized for doing nothing to aid the team in winning now. Accordingly, Favre’s in a tough position. If anything, a line that was somewhat suspect last season has been further weakened, and although RB Ahman Green is only 28, there are a lot of miles on those wheels. The team took California QB Aaron Rodgers with their 1st round pick. Interestingly, the 49’ers had considered taking him with their 1st overall pick, but ultimately decided upon former Utah QB Alex Smith. That precipitated a drop for Rodgers, who went from being the potential 1st overall pick (and banking the millions upon millions of dollars that go along with it) to the 24th pick. Damn, that kid dropped faster than a New York City elevator! Still, Rodgers is ideally positioned to learn from one of the best quarterbacks of this (or any for that matter) generation. The Packers took WR Terrence Murphy with their 2nd- 2nd rounder. Given the fact that Green Bay’s receivers, 1 through 3 are practically set in stone, Terrence Murphy was a curious selection. The team did a poor job drafting for need, and aside from Rodgers, an odd job drafting for the future as well.

St. Louis Rams: Marc Bulger: 3 STARS: 3,964 yards, 24 TDs, 14 INTs Passer Rating 93.7:
Bulger benefits from as deep a pool of pass catching talent as exists anywhere in the league. WR Isaac Bruce is a physical specimen, and he’s altered his game to suit his team and it’s talents. The supremely conditioned Bruce is an ideal possession man, unafraid to go over the middle. In addition, Bruce still has “another gear,” and is capable of turning on the jets. Fellow pass catcher Torry Holt, a ‘99 draft pick, has been picking Bruce’s brain since his rookie season and is savvy beyond his years. The two combined for 183 grabs and an amazing 2,664 yards. In conjunction, the Rams field speedy #3 and #4 receivers (Kevin Curtis and Shaun McDonald) who are similar to Colt pass catchers, Reggie Wayne and Brandon Stokely. Both Curtis and McDonald averaged over 13 yards per reception last season, and both are good enough to be #2 receivers on most other teams. Bulger also has an excellent run game to turn to as well. Although Marshall Faulk is deep into the twilight of his illustrious career, ‘04 draft pick Steven Jackson has emerged as a very tough and capable heir to the throne. Jackson runs with good pad level, has a second gear, can deliver a pop and put a linebacker on his duff, and will keep opposing Ds honest; he just has to remain healthy in order to do so. As for Bulger’s fantasy value? Look for it to increase this season. Bulger’s accuracy was startling last season, he completed 66.2% of his passes. His decision making improved as well, for he cut his interceptions from 22 to 14, and he has learned to take only what opposing defenses give him. Bulger enjoyed a pair of 445+ yard passing days, and threw for less than 225 yards only twice. Again, in case that didn’t register, there were 14 games in which Bulger threw for at least 225+ yards! Also, there was but 1 game wherein the Ram QB didn’t toss a TD pass. In short, Bulger looks to be a top fantasy QB for the next decade or so.

*EXTRA POINTS: The Rams took Florida State OT Alex Barron with their 1st round pick. At 6’ 8” and 320 Lbs, Barron is a huge man, possesses a 90” wingspan (the equivalent of a 7+ footer), and should be the ideal “Yin” to Ram right tackle Orlando Pace’s “Yang.” The team allowed an unacceptable 50 Sacks last season, the hope is that Barron will help diminish that number. Curiously, Barron is more of a “finesse” tackle then “power” tackle, and an iffy work ethic resulted in a draft day drop. Based purely upon measureables alone, Barron should have been a top 10 pick. It will be up to the Ram coaching staff to both coach him up and help him realize his considerable potential.

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