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Don’t Fall Asleep During The Lockout

It’s only early June, so football would normally be off most people’s radars until training camps roll around in July. However, astute fantasy football players know that there is no offseason for our virtual game. To stay ahead of your competition, it’s important to keep up with all the developments of the NFL offseason. Of course, this offseason has been swamped by talk of the lockout and the impending doom that’s sure to follow when the season approaches. With all the coverage of the labor negotiations and courtroom brawls swirling around, it can be easy to get distracted from your normal offseason fantasy routine. Rather than getting caught up in the lockout news, you should instead proceed like it’s business as usual in the NFL world by keeping up with your research. Scour the Internet for rumors and rankings as you normally would. Once the labor issues are resolved and we all start preparing for our drafts, you will find that you are way more prepared than your opponents. Let them sleep on the NFL until the lockout is over, and in the meantime you can stash away all the little news snippets that have flown under the radar this offseason. Here are a few of the biggest fantasy-relevant stories that have been overshadowed by the lockout this offseason.

Shonn Greene set to be the bell cow – Jets offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer recently told the New York Daily News that he expects Shonn Greene to “explode” in 2011. He said that Greene is without a doubt the team’s bell cow, featured running back. Greene is slated to receive at least 300 carries this season, making him one of the most attractive breakout candidates of the season. He will likely still give way to LaDainian Tomlinson on 3rd downs since Greene is a lackluster receiver, but with 300 carries Greene should easily reach 1,200 yards and double digit touchdowns for his run-heavy team. Those numbers would make him a solid RB1 this year, yet he can be had in the third or fourth round of your draft. Snakebitten owners may still have a bad taste in their mouths after Greene’s disappointing 2010, but he’s poised for redemption in 2011.

Broncos have their eye on DeAngelo Williams – The lockout has delayed the start of free agency, so we still aren’t sure where the notable free agents will end up. One of the biggest players expected to swap teams is running back DeAngelo Williams. His former Carolina coach, John Fox, is now the head coach in Denver, and the Denver Post reported this week that the Broncos are expected to take a “long look” at DeAngelo once the lockout is over. This move would have a few ramifications. First and foremost, DeAngelo would likely take over the starting job in Denver, relegating Knowshon Moreno to 3rd down duties. The Broncos are clearly jumping off the Knowshon bandwagon, and fantasy owners should as well. DeAngelo’s value would likely stay pretty constant if he moves to Denver, considering Coach Fox’s propensity for running the ball. Perhaps more importantly, Jonathan Stewart would be left by himself in the Panthers backfield. He has immense talent, and given the opportunity to carry the load for his team, he could easily put up RB1 numbers for only a fraction of the price. Don’t be afraid of nine-man fronts either; if Cam Newton ends up starting, opposing defenses will likely have their hands full trying to keep him from running wild.

Rookie QB’s expected to start immediately – I don’t see anyway the Panthers can sit Cam Newton in favor of Jimmy Clausen after what each player accomplished last year. While that situation seems rather obvious, there are a few other teams grappling with rookie quarterback decisions. Early word from team officials and players suggests that we could be looking at a whole slew of starting rookie signal callers this upcoming season.

Coach Marvin Lewis expects Andy Dalton to start in Cincinnati, Christian Ponder is the early favorite to take over the starting role for the Vikings, and Chris Johnson himself has said that Jake Locker is essentially entrenched as the Titans starter. What are the consequences of all these rookie quarterbacks being named starters?

History shows that rookie QB’s generally don’t make reliable fantasy players, so I wouldn’t plan on drafting any of these guys this year. The exception may be Newton, whose proficient running ability could allow him to put up respectable fantasy totals similar to Vince Young from a few seasons ago, or even as a Michael Vick-ultra-lite. The real repercussions will be felt by the other skill players on these teams. We saw what happened to Chris Johnson last year when Tennessee’s quarterback position was in flux (*cough* Rusty Smith). Could he be in line for a disappointing year if defenses load the box and force Jake Locker to throw? Similarly, Adrian Peterson has shown he can run against any team, but it might be wise to scale back our expectations for him and the entire Vikings offense if Ponder takes the reins.

We see teams moving away from the sit-and-learn approach with these rookie QB’s, instead opting to throw them right into the fire. The result is that we could have a large number of rookie starters this season, and that may not be a great thing for their teammates’ fantasy prospects.

Receivers in trouble with the law – Plaxico Burress’s release from prison has received a lot of media coverage, so I won’t go into much detail there. He has been linked to the Eagles in many rumors, though I personally don’t think they need to bother bolstering their already formidable receiving corps. Who knows, maybe Andy Reid is getting a little too cocky after he worked his miracle magic with Michael Vick. The chances of Plaxico making a significant impact this year (at age 33 and straight out of prison) seem negligible.

Meanwhile, budding star Kenny Britt of the Titans was arrested earlier this week, bringing his total to six arrests since he was drafted in 2009. However, the offenses have been mostly minor and Britt isn’t expected to face any jail time. The Titans have also said they won’t cut Britt for his infractions, but don’t be fooled into thinking he’s safe. Once the lockout is over, the NFL will almost definitely try to discipline Britt for his legal troubles. New head coach Mike Munchak will also likely want to set a precedent for his team by punishing Britt and showing that misbehavior won’t be tolerated. Expect Britt to be serving a suspension once the season starts.

Your fantasy rivals may be enamored with the lockout and the potential that games could be cancelled, but you should stay focused on the more important stories. Once things return to normal and drafts get underway, you’ll be glad you stayed on top of the news while your opponents have completely missed these valuable gems.

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