Lately, you can’t watch more than a couple minutes of sports without hearing the oversimplified explanation of the current NFL lockout described as “billionaires fighting with millionaires over how to divide $9 billion.” Lost below the surface are the affects that the lockout is having on the $800 million per year industry of fantasy football. It only takes a stroll down the magazine aisle to notice that the normal litanies of the self-proclaimed best fantasy football magazines are absent. But what does that mean for you as a diehard fantasy football player?
The first thing the lockout means is that you will be forced to utilize different sources for your rankings and information, and I would argue that this is the best thing that could ever happen to you. The 2010 rushing leader Arian Foster was drafted in the last couple of rounds of most magazines’ mock drafts last year, but was selected in the sixth round of the league I play in … why? A lot changes between June and late August. Because the fantasy football industry has become so popular and competitive, there is a mad rush to get a product on the newsstands first.
Much of the information is incomplete or inaccurate by the time your draft rolls around. The effects of a key rookie holdout, pivotal free agent signing or a significant injury or recovery all can throw a serious wrinkle in your draft day plans. Raise your hand if you drafted Julian Edelman last year because the magazine you grabbed in late June assured you that Wes Welker wasn’t going to be back on the field until mid-season. So if you want a magazine for basic guidance and depth information, by all means get it but make sure you find some reliable website like Fantasy Sharks that stay on top of all the signings, injuries and depth chart battles and what they mean to your rankings.
The other repercussion of the NFL lockout on fantasy football is much more complex. The reason those magazines are not going to publication is that there is far too much unresolved in regards to player movement to allow them to make predictions and observations. With the normal start of training camps less than a month away we still haven’t had free agency. Worse still is that we aren’t even sure what free agency rules will be when an agreement is reached. While we can’t be sure when an agreement will be reached and what that will mean to the upcoming season, at least you can get a little relief familiarizing yourself with the players who may be on the move in the coming weeks. Here is a quick overview of the offensive skill positions, potential players on the move and a prediction on their landing spot.
Peyton Manning – Looking for a shocking prediction on where Manning lands in free agency? You’re not going to get it from me. My best prediction is that Manning is back with the Indianapolis Colts. The bigger fantasy football questions here are: Will Manning take less money to make the Colts more competitive? How do the Colts spend that money? Do those potential other signings translate into fantasy production? Oh, and let’s hope that Manning doesn’t hurt his back carrying all that money to the bank!
Michael Vick – The Philadelphia Eagles put the franchise tag on Vick and appear ready to sign him to a contract when the lockout is settled. Expect Vick to be an Eagle for the next several years. He seems to have matured as a player and is a dual threat to pass or run on every snap. He can be an injury risk and his ability to take a game over can sometimes lead to his teammates’ fantasy production suffering though.
Kevin Kolb – While he is not a free agent, Kolb has attracted a lot of potential trade attention and would likely have been a draft day trade were it not for the lockout. While Kolb was linked to the Arizona Cardinals early, the Seattle Seahawks now appear to be a likely landing spot. If Pete Carroll elects to let Matt Hasselbeck go elsewhere it is hard to imagine him handing the reigns over to Charlie Whitehurst. Unless another team steps up with a significant offer, look for Kolb to be relocating to the Pacific Northwest this fall. Until Kolb puts it together on the field for a full season it is hard to consider him much more than a solid fantasy backup with upside.
Matt Hasselbeck – I can’t see Pete Carroll re-signing Hasselbeck considering the overhaul he started making with the Seattle roster last season. Tennessee has been successful in the past with Kerry Collins by employing a veteran to hold the reigns for a couple of years while a young quarterback is groomed, so Hasselbeck could land with the Titans now that Collins has retired. It has been years since Hasselbeck has been relevant to the fantasy game, but his veteran leadership and ability to keep teams honest could help Chris Johnson until Jake Locker is ready to take over.
DeAngelo Williams – Williams is on record saying that he would like to stay with the Carolina Panthers but as a 28-year-old free agent this offseason will be his best (and last) chance to cash in on a big contract. The Panthers will push to keep him, but will not overpay with Jonathan Stewart, Tyrell Sutton and Mike Goodson on the roster. Look for Williams to land in Miami if money wins out over loyalty. With the Dolphins, Williams would be a virtual lock for 1,100 yards and 6-8 touchdowns.
Ahmad Bradshaw – Bradshaw blossomed last year when the New York Giants gave him a heavier workload over Brandon Jacobs. Jacobs was outspoken over his diminished role, but at this stage Bradshaw is clearly the more productive back. Expect the Giants to re-sign Bradshaw and have him split time with Danny Ware and rookie Da’Rel Scott. If Bradshaw can do a better job taking care of the ball, (he lost six fumbles in 2010) he has all the makings of a solid fantasy running back.
Joseph Addai – Addai has been rather underwhelming of late for the Indianapolis Colts. He is constantly banged up and should not be expected for more than 12-13 games per season. Addai could benefit from a change of scenery and may fit in well in the Denver backfield alongside Knowshon Moreno. Expect Mike Hart and Donald Brown to battle for the starting job in Indianapolis.
Michael Bush – Darren McFadden’s breakout season will likely result in the departure of Bush from Oakland. The Raiders may wish to retain Bush due to McFadden’s injury history, but expect Bush to seek a starting job elsewhere. Washington could benefit from a big, bruising back, and Bush could step right in and take over for Clinton Portis. Ryan Torain performed well last year in spot duty, but Bush has the better toolset of the two.
Mike Tolbert – Tolbert stepped in admirably last year for banged up rookie Ryan Mathews. He is set to be a restricted free agent, and San Diego has been very clear that they intend on seeing him lining up in their backfield next season. Tolbert and Mathews could team up to be a strong split backfield in San Diego … the kind that fantasy players hate.
Cedric Benson – Benson resurrected his career in Cincinnati and appears to be a solid team leader now. His yards per carry aren’t pretty, but given the state of the Bengals offense he may be leaned upon heavily and pile up yards anyway. I expect Benson will be back with the Bengals, but with all of their unanswered questions he is no longer a week-to-week reliable fantasy back.
Sidney Rice – Rice rebounded from a hip injury last season and put up solid numbers after he returned to the Minnesota lineup. Minnesota would be well served to re-sign Rice but I expect him to move onto to St. Louis and pair with Sam Bradford as a formidable fantasy duo.
Vincent Jackson – San Diego put up with Jackson’s holdout last year and after he returned he put up solid numbers. The Chargers have said all the right things since the season and appear to be likely to give Jackson a hefty payday to remain the team’s No. 1 target for Phillip Rivers.
Santonio Holmes – The New York Jets have some real questions at the receiver position, and Holmes is clearly the most reliable target and top priority. Holmes is a solid route runner, has good speed and great hands. Also, he is far too valuable to the Jets for them to let him land elsewhere.
Braylon Edwards – I fully expect Edwards to spend the 2011 season somewhere other than New York, but it is difficult to pair him up with a specific team at this point. Some suggest he may land in Carolina, and while picking up a solid veteran offensive threat would go a long way to appease Steve Smith, a long standing feud with Panthers cornerback Chris Gamble and the team’s need to develop Cam Newton without the drama and distraction a player like Edwards can provide will likely be enough to keep him from becoming a Panther.
Mike Sims-Walker – Have a conversation about frustrating fantasy football wideouts and it is hard to not start with Sims-Walker. He has the tools and body to be a solid receiver but has proven to be very inconsistent. Jacksonville doesn’t have much else and would like to keep him, but I would not be surprised to see Sims-Walker land in Kansas City and team up beside Dwayne Bowe. The ability to play the role of the No. 2 target would take a lot of pressure off of Sims-Walker and would likely temper fantasy football expectations for him.
Hopefully the NFL lockout gets sorted out in the coming days and then we can all hold on for the free agent frenzy and get those cheatsheets cleaned up!