QB Jake Plummer – Last year in this space we advised you to stay away from Plummer, Denver being his new team. This year is a different story. Don’t be afraid to wait on your starting quarterback until the middle rounds, then take Plummer to be your guy. While Plummer has never really put it together, he’ll be in his second year on the team, and realistically for this guy, it’s now or never. Yet when we say now, take a look at his backups, Plummer will be playing if is is able to suit it up this year. Which is not to say he’s not surrounded by decent options, because he is. Though Shannon Sharpe and Clinton Portis are gone, the Broncos will always find a way to have a running attack and there are a few potentials at TE to help out Jake.
QB Other – Plummers potential backups include Mike Quinn and Danny Kannell. Rookies Bradles VanPelt and Matt Mauck are also in the running for clipboard duty. These guys don’t exactly inspire the phrase quarterback contraversy.
RB Discussion – It seems like every other year the Broncos enter camp without a true #1 RB, yet every year one emerges. Two years ago, there was a pack of players, out of which Clinton Portis emerged and had the job as his own all of last season. This year there are a number of guys vying for the coveted starter’s role. Free agent Garrison Hearst was signed in the off season, and I have my doubts as to why Denver would sign the guy if they weren’t going to use him. Or at the very least, if they weren’t going to give him every opportunity to win the job. Rookie Tatum Bell was getting a lot of early press as the next Portis, though it’s looking like for various reasons (holdout, injury, etc) that may not materialize this year. Quentin Griffin is still with the team, and he has as good a chance as those two to become the guy, especially if Hearst can’t stay on the field.
The guess here is that Hearst starts off the season as the guy, and if he stays healthy and the team does well, then he will hold onto the job. Next year, Hearst moves on and Bell emerges as the guy. All the while Griffith remains in the shadows, performing well when given the chance. In fact, Griffith will probably get most of the reps early on in pre-season and in fact may actually look good out of the gate. Don’t be fooled. Of course, Hearst’s health is always a question so there’s much risk – and yet much potential reward – with all three of these guys on draft day.
WR Rod Smith – Rod Smith followed up a disappointing 2002, with another subpar season. It is beginning to look like those types of seasons will be the norm for him. I don’t see him as being a strong fantasy play this year, his days in the top 10 of WRs, the top 20 for that matter, are probably over. However, if you are looking for a guy as your WR3, Smith would fill that roll nicely.
WR Ashly Lelie – The retirement of Ed McCaffrey has opened up a starting spot in the Denver offense. Youngster Lelie is poised to take over that role, after getting his feet wet as the third WR last season. Last year in this space we told you that Lelie would have little to no fantasy value in 2003, so hopefully you took that advice to heart and didn’t spend an early draft pick on him since others had dubbed him the sleeper of the year. I would continue that cautious optimism with Lelie this year. He’ll probably be a consistent performer, nothing great, something like a WR4 on your team that could fill in as a starter to cover a bye week.
WR Other – It seems like many people were burned by last year’s rookie sensation (Lelie) so Darius Watts isn’t getting much fantasy attention for this coming season. I see him as a near carbon copy of Lelie last year. In other words, he’ll see some action but it’s doubtful that he’ll do much in the way of fantasy production. However he is a good long term prospect for you dynasty folks out there. Really not a whole lot even worth mentioning behind Watts. A couple more rookies but Denver so rarely even goes to three wide they’ll hardly play.
TE Discussion – With the departure of Shannon Sharpe, Denver went on a TE binge. Jed Weaver, OJ Santiago, and Byron Chamberlain were all signed. I would not concern myself with any of these guys on draft day. If maybe one of them emerges as the guy in the first couple weeks of the season, then make a move in free agency. Otherwise, avoid TEBC.
K Jason Elam – Elam has been a productive fantasy kicker for many years and he should continue to be near or at the top of your kicker rankings. No challenge to his job security and in an offense that should score many touchdowns, not to mention he of the strong leg that can bang home the long fieldgoal. He deserves to be one of the first 5 kickers taken in your draft.
Kansas City Chiefs
QB Trent Green – There’s nothing spectacular to write about in regards to Trent Green since he’s been solid. Though last year, he quietly finished as the third best fantasy producer at his position behind Manning and Culpepper. He should strongly be considered as your QB1 on draft day. There’s nothing to indicate that 2004 should be any different than 2003. Many of the same players are back and you have to imagine that the team is hungry to get back and make amends for last year’s first round playoff exit.
QB Other – Damon Huard was signed to be the backup and Todd Collins is still around as the third. Neither will see the field unless Green goes down.
RB Priest Holmes – Last year we made the recommendation to proceed with caution with Holmes, but not much past him being selected in the range of spots 5-8. He immediately put to rest any questions people had about his injury and was the top fantasy producer (again) in 2003. You don’t need me to tell you that Holmes should be selected as either #1 or #2 in your fantasy draft this year.
RB Other – As with most things on the Chiefs, not much has changed. Larry Johnson will be the backup to Holmes, but he will rarely see the field. He will have to wait at least another year for his chance. Keep him if you are in a dynasty situation, draft him late if you have Holmes.
WRs Johnny Morton and Eddie Kennison – Morton has had a couple of years to really break out in Kansas City, but it hasn’t happened. What you see is probably what you get with this guy – a solid contributor to the team in the real, this doesn’t translate into the fantasy world. Save him for your WR4 or even later if ever, he’s not a guy that really has a lot of upside. Same really goes for Kennison. I know that he’s not a guy that will be on my list.
WR Other – Marc Boerigter opened some eyes a couple of years ago, but he disappeared last yaer. Rookie Samie Parker comes highly touted, but I don’t see much from him in 2004 either.
TE Tony Gonzalez – Despite the slow start in 2003, TonyG finished the year as the clear #1 fantasy producer at his position. This year should be no different and any doubts that you had regarding him going into last year’s draft should be thrown aside. He deserves to be the top TE taken in the draft, in the early rounds if your league requires a tight end. The position is thinner than ever this year so don’t be afraid to pull the trigger on him this year early.
K – Morten Anderson? Whoa, he’s still around and kicking? Prolific offense translates into scoring opportunities for the kicker, enough said.
QB Discussion – 2003 was a year that the entire Raider organization would like to forget. They were coming off a loss in the Super Bowl, and in 2004 everything that could go wrong, did. Gannon was hurt, the team revolted against the coach. Bad times. There’s a new boss in town, and reports are that Gannon’s just as strong as he was, perhaps even stronger than he was before the injury. Certainly Gannon would like to come back and prove that he still belongs as an elite QB. That said, the Raiders picked up Kerry Collins. Collins has been a decent fantasy producer so there could be some competion here. The guess here is that Gannon wins the job out of camp and has a top 10 fantasy season. Though if you draft Gannon, you should seriously consider also grabbing Collins.
QB Other – Marques Tuisosopo is still in the fold and last year he pretty much proved that he is not worthy of being an NFL QB.
RB Tyrone Wheatley – With Charlie Garner out of the picture, the starting job has been handed over to Tyrone Wheatley. What Wheatley is able to do with that is anyone’s quesion, especially since there is a long list of potential suiters to the #1 job lined up behind him. My feeling is that he will be a decent RB2, but that his injury risk will be too much for him to be a high draft pick. Take him as your late second or early third and hope that he can put together a healthy campaign.
RB Other – Quite a list of “almost beens” dot the landscape here. Justin Fargas, Troy Hambrick, and Amos Zereoue are all on the roster waiting to make their play for the top spot. Not to mention Zack Crockett still in the mix to steal some goal line thunder. Spend a late pick or two on this list and see what develops with the whole situation.
WR Jerry Rice – Rice continues to amaze and I know I won’t be counting him out as a fantasy producer this year. Every year at this time, people talk about his age, etc, etc, but every year he continues to perform. Just an amazing person to be still playing at this high of a level. He’s probably right around the 30 ranking on the WR list, worthy of a low WR2 or high WR3 position on your team.
WR Jerry Porter – The Raiders finally did it, cutting ties with Tim Brown (funny, when I initially wrote this piece, I wrote that even though Brown is the starter that he should be avoided at all costs). Finally, finally, FINALLY Jerry Porter has an open path to being a regular starter on this team. This is an excellent opportunity for him to excel. He didn’t have a great 2003, riddled with injury, but don’t ignore him on draft day, in fact I’d bump him up a few notches and look for him to have an outstanding fantasy season.
WR Other – The departure of Brown has bumped up everyone one notch. More importantly, has created some opportunity for playing time at WR3 for someone other than Jerry Porter. I’d expect Chris Cole to have an inside track on the job, though WR3 is not a position that is widely used in Oakland. Doug Gabriel and Ronald Curry are a couple other names, but probably not worth drafting.
TE – Roland Williams stepped up to become the guy last year, and produced somewhat on the fantasy scales. Doug Jolly is still in the mix. If one of them emerges, they might be worthy of being TE2 on your team. Another TEBC I am avoiding.
K Sebastian Janikowski – No real threat to Janilowski here. If he keeps out of bars and on the field, his strong leg and excellent scoring offense should have him right around the top 10 of kickers.
San Diego Chargers
QB Drew Brees – Last year we advised you to stay away from Brees. This year does not bring much change to that advice. This is the last chance Brees will have, and it may actually be a very short leash with the highly touted rookie lying in the weeds. Brees is not a guy that I will be considering on draft day, even though he will probably be the starter for most of the year.
QB Other – Philip Rivers is the future QB of this team. Brees is holding the seat warm for him for 2005 and beyond so you dynasty guys would be wise to hold onto Rivers until he plays. Unfortunately, given Rivers’ extended holdout, it doesn’t look like he’ll be worth owning in 2004.
RB Ladainian Tomlinson – No change in how people should percieve Tomlinson on the fantasy scene. He clearly deserves to be one of the top two overall players selected. Not sure how much more I can add, performed extremely well last year on a bad team. Take him and don’t worry.
RB Other – Rookie Michael Turner will probably be the backup and Jesse Chatman is also in the mix. Both have no fantasy value as long as Tomlinson is healthy.
WR Kevin Dyson – Now that the David Boston experiment is over, he’s gone. Was he really recommended as a top 10 WR last year? Wow, ouch. Dyson is a guy that will put up some fantasy numbers. He’s never been a flashy performer, but steady she goes. Take him as your WR2 and you should get some decent production from him. Let’s put it this way, I don’t see him falling flat on his face like Boston.
WR Tim Dwight – I still have trouble mentioning the words “Tim Dwight” and “fantasy producer” in the same sentence, but the opportunity is again there for him this year. Only worth a very late draft selection, look for him to be a decent WR3/WR4 on your fantasy team with the potential for bigger things as perhaps his returning kicks may boost his value slightly.
WR Other – Reche Caldwell may step in as the 3rd WR here, not much fantasy value, but worth a late round flyer and keeping an eye on during the season. Eric Parker and Kassim Osgood are is also in the mix, but no value there.
TE Antonio Gates – Sleeper alert!!! I’ve seen Gates rankes as low as the 20th, or even lower on some TE lists. Don’t be afraid to hold off on your TE and grab Gates after everyone has their starter. Gates has the potential to be a top 5 producer at the position this year, surely he’ll end up in the top 10. The days of ignoring the Charger TE are over, take Gates as your TE1 and run.
K Nate Kaeding – Not sure what to really say here, Kaeding is not a guy that I recommend on draft day. Keep an eye on him and if you need a free agent kicker to cover a bye week and the San Diego offense shows some life, then have at you.