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JL’s Pre-Preseason Observations

Undoubtedly, my favorite aspect of writing a July article before camps have even started is discussing a few over-looked players, dispelling a few myths and commenting on fantasy players and issues that have gained hype over the offseason. You might look at this as a random collection of thoughts, but I see it as tidbits of essential information any fantasy manager who is serious about winning needs to know before they start drafting before camps have even begun.

First, let’s start with Jamaal Charles. And of course, when speaking of Charles, Thomas Jones‘ name come up often. Some people just cannot grasp the fact that Charles is a first-round selection in fantasy drafts. Well, I am here to tell you that he should be. Jones had a remarkably productive season last year with the New York Jets, but in all honesty, watching him run, I was not impressed. Jones carried 55 times in the red zone in 2009, reaching the end zone on only 11 of them. He had 14 rushing touchdowns, and the other three were on 34 carries outside the 20. In the last 11 games of 2009, even with a dominant offensive line, Jones managed only 3.6 yards per carry, while catching only six passes. He is nowhere near the talent of Charles at this point in his career, and the notion that he is a goal-line specialist is overplayed. Charles averaged an amazing 5.9 yards per carry. His 190 carries on the season is almost surely to increase. Charles had more than 1,400 total yards on only 230 touches. I also expect his yards per catch to increase from 7.4. The Kansas City Chiefs know how dangerous Charles is when he touches the ball on a regular basis. In games Charles touched the ball 20-plus times, he averaged 170 total yards per game. And, for someone whose size is often questioned, he grew stronger as games were on, averaging an astounding 6.7 yards per carry in the fourth quarter.

The Chiefs’ runningbacks as a team carried the ball 377 times and caught 77 passes. If you see a 60-40 split between Charles and Jones, then that would give Charles 226 carries, assuming he catches about 50 of those 77 balls, is not unreasonable either. A potential 226 carries with an average of 5.5 yards per carry and 50 balls at eight yards per catch and that is 1,643 total yards, people. Throw in 8-10 touchdowns, which he could easily exceed, and you are looking at a rock solid first-round selection.

Another runningback whose value is greatly being misplaced is Marion Barber III. I have often seen him go in the seventh round in standard leagues. You do not have many opportunities in fantasy football to draft a potential 10-12 touchdown player in this position. I still see Barber in the same role he was when Julius Jones was the ‘starter.’ Now Felix Jones, one of the league’s top 5 most explosive players, becomes the starter. And, while I do believe Jones is the true starter, the Cowboys know he cannot carry the load. Barber was dinged up all of last season and it showed. Fact remains though, he still averaged 4.4 yards per carry, up 0.7 from 2008. It was also the first time in four years he failed to record a touchdown reception. Barber still finished at RB21 and is only 27 years old. He obviously runs with a reckless punishing style, but early word out of camp is that his explosive quickness is back. This man is the goal-line back on possibly the best offense in the NFL. There are so many weapons to defend against, Barber is an afterthought. And while I only expect around 175 carries, I expect his yards per carry to return to the 4.8 range as it was in both 2006 and 2007. He will take advantage of his limited chances to touch the rock in 2010 and post around 12 touchdowns. The Cowboys offense will move into the red zone as much as any team in the league and the few games Jones does miss, watch out.  Jones has not carried the football 20 times in a game since high school, and do not expect that to change this year. With the Dallas runningbacks total touches in 2009 exceeding 450, Barber will still be featured as a touchdown scoring machine. This will boost him into the Top 20 runningbacks, a great value when you consider he is being drafted around RB26.

Let’s shift our focus to the wide receiver position for a bit. I will touch on three who are overvalued and three who are undervalued. You must remember: I do not factor in points per receptions into this, so adjust accordingly.

OVERVALUED:

Reggie Wayne – His average draft position ranges from 13-15 overall. In the second round, I am looking for consistency and potential first-round value.

Wayne
delivered neither last year. In his last 10 games, including the playoffs, he only reached the end zone in three of them, only reached 90 yards one time and scored less than six fantasy points in six of the final 10 contests. His first half of the season was very good, but as we all know, titles are won down the stretch. Last year, if you were counting on

Wayne
, you were disappointed. I am not saying he will be a bust, just reconsider when drafting in the early second round, his upside looked awfully limited the second half of 2009.

Mike Sims-Walker – Another player here who really faded down the stretch. This time it is even more worrisome when taking into consideration that Sims-Walker is really the only receiving threat on the Jaguars. His consistency has always been lacking and his injury history has to be noted for a man being drafted as WR18. In the Jaguars’ last six contests,

Walker
only reached 60 yards one time, failing to reach 20 yards in three of them. It is hard to imagine a No. 1 wide receiver on any team being that unproductive.

Walker
managed to catch two or less balls on six different occasions in 2009, not what I am looking for out of my fifth-round pick.

Percy Harvin – Don’t get me wrong here, this guy is ultra talented. Problem is, the role he has on the Vikings I do not see growing much larger in 2010. With the emergence of Sidney Rice, and the return to health of Benard Berrian, the only touches Harvin could get were some left over by Chester Taylor. Fact is though, he is being drafted as WR21 in front of No. 1 wideouts Dwayne Bowe and Hines Ward. That just can’t happen. His upside is somewhat limited due to all the weapons the Vikings have. I think a slight uptick in total touches from 85 to about 95 is a reasonable estimate, but 6-7 touchdowns is probably what he will end up with again. His consistency is lacking as well – after three big games from Weeks 11-13, Harvin failed to reach the end zone, averaging just over 40 yards per game the last five games he played in.

UNDERVALUED :

Anquan Boldin – Seems like the consensus on Boldin is that without Kurt Warner and the spread offense his stats will never return to elite levels. And, while they might not again this season, his expected performance by many does not match up with what is actually going to happen. He is playing with a bit of a chip on his shoulder this year. He feels like he was brought in to win a championship, and whether or not Baltimore is a run-first team, fact remains, they still threw the ball 508 times in 2009, running it only 418, which was 100 less than in 2008.

Baltimore
is giving this team over to Joe Flacco slowly but surely, and this year he will be greatly improved. With all due respect to Derrick Mason, his 134 targets from last year are about to be greatly reduced. Expect Boldin to receive around 125 targets and 75 grabs minimum. Ray Rice and Derrick Mason himself will keep teams from doubling Boldin. If Mason can finish as WR17, just think what this man is capable of.

Devin Hester – Call me crazy, but Hester being drafted as WR44 is one of the top 5 mistakes of the drafts I have seen thus far. He is the only for-sure starter in Mike Martz’s high-octane passing system. And, while even I would argue he is not truly the best wide receiver on his team, he is in the best situation. His stats were unimpressive last season but he did show strides as a wide receiver. Fact remains, he finished as the WR44 last season and that was in 13 games without Martz. Also, in his first eight games of 2009, Hester caught 41 balls for 548 yards and three scores; that production again this season, over the whole season, and he finishes around WR16.

Lee Evans – What a joke. I feel so sick about Evans. As far as wide receiver skills and instincts, he is a star. Too bad he plays in

Buffalo
with some of the worst collection of quarterbacks the NFL has ever seen. There is some hope, though. Lee had a career-low 44 catches, only being targeted 96 times the whole season with Terrell Owens around. Despite that, Evans caught seven touchdowns, and finished as WR36, yet is being drafted now as WR39. His targets and catches are almost guaranteed to increase as the Bills play from behind a lot, as well. I expect yardage totals very similar to 2008 – 1,017 yards – and if he can reach the end zone seven times again, which is likely with his playmaking ability, you got yourself a steal.

In conclusion, I must say sometimes drafting early around this time of the year can be beneficial if you can identify values you might not find one month from now. I would recommend doing at least one draft before the preseason. If you are as skilled a manager as I, then knowing as much information in the summer time can lead you to dominate a draft.

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