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NFC West preview

Arizona Cardinals

Matt Leinart: Third-year pro has already been named the starter even though coming off a broken collarbone. Must prove off the field issues are not distractions and has shown in OTA’s he is ready to lead this team. Positives include: soft schedule, great receiving corps, no running threat and most likely playing from behind. Negatives include: lack of game experience and viable backup in Warner.

Kurt Warner: will start as the backup but proved last year he can still play if called upon. If Leinart is ineffective or injured, Warner is better than most No. 2 QB’s in the league and could be relied upon if needed in fantasy formats.

Edgerrin James: turns the dreaded 30 in early August, which is not good. Of course, he’s been playing as if he were 30 for the last two seasons. Whether it’s the O-line or age, James will continue this trend in 2008. Keep expectations in check when drafting him as a low end No. 2.

Tim Hightower: could be a sleeper candidate this year due to goal-line carries. James hasn’t been effective at all near the goal line and Hightower has the running style Whisenhunt could use to punch it across.

Larry Fitzgerald: has averaged 90 catches, 1,200 yards, and nine TD’s the last three seasons. Expect similar numbers again for this season. Has all the skills to be a top 5 wideout. Potential concerns are signing a big offseason contract and lower number of targeted passes with Leinart versus Warner.

Anquan Boldin: injury issues are his biggest concern. Has missed games in three of the last five seasons. Even when he is healthy he lacks consistency. Seems to fit in perfectly with the rest of the Cardinals – high risk/high reward caliber player.

Jerheme Urban: will battle as third WR now that Bryant Johnson has left for San Francisco. Had an opportunity to play last year but didn’t capitalize on it. Will most likely split time with rookie Early Doucet.

Early Doucet: rarely do rookie WR’s make immediate impacts in the NFL. Doucet is no different. Hel’ll see the field but mostly as a returner and occasional three receiver set. Late round flier at best.

Leonard Pope: showed promise in the second half of 2007 before suffering an injury. Could turn into a big red zone target in 2008 and be a potential No. 1 tight end. Look for Pope to start as a No. 2 tight end with potential.

Neil Rackers: had a disappointing 2007 after a great 2006. Shows again why drafting a kicker can be a crapshoot. Look for a rebounding year this year and should get back into the top 10.


San Francisco 49ers

Alex Smith: career completion percentage + Mike Martz system = another poor year for Smith. This is a complex offense and Smith has not shown the ability to be a fit for it. He has the weapons around him but will most likely struggle. Not worth consideration on any fantasy team.

Shaun Hill: played well in backup role when Smith and Dilfer went down. If he wins the starting job could potentially put up decent numbers. Should be available via waiver wire in most leagues.

Frank Gore: after a disappointing 2007, Gore looks to return to elite RB status using Mike Martz’s system. It is difficult to predict 2008 because he has huge upside but the QB position is so inadequate. The 49ers were 27th in rushing and last in total offense in 2007. That should make Gore an improvement this year,  but not back to 2006 numbers.

DeShaun Foster: never really became the back everyone hoped in Carolina. It certainly isn’t going to happen in San Francisco either. He is not only a backup but a backup on a team that had eight rushing touchdowns last year. Pass.

Bryant Johnson: after being in the shadows in Arizona, Johnson will get an opportunity to shine for the 49ers. The 49ers must have confidence he will as they released Darrell Jackson. Johnson should produce average numbers but be considered nothing better than a No. 3 receiver on any fantasy team.

Isaac Bruce: re-united with Martz, Bruce will step in and contribute to the offense. Unfortunately, he is showing his age so that contribution won’t be much. Bruce will provide veteran leadership and a solid No. 2 receiver in San Francisco but not much in the way of fantasy value.

Arnaz Battle: will be battling for the No. 3 receiver spot with Ashley Lelie. Hhhmm… No. 3 receiver on a team that averaged 145 passing yards per game? Doesn’t sound like a winning combination to me.

Ashley Lelie: has become the textbook definition of journeyman receiver since leaving Denver. At this point it is even a possibility he might not even make the team. Even if he does he shouldn’t be considered for yours.

Vernon Davis: has yet to live up to his sixth overall pick two years ago. Albeit he was injured last year, he still showed signs of improvement. This third-year pro will have a much improved season if the 49ers make an effort to get him the ball.  No tight end in Martz’s system has had an outstanding year but he has never had a tight end with Davis’s abilities either.

Joe Nedney: has been a quality kicker when it comes to field goal percentage but is on a team that flat out doesn’t provide chances. The swirling winds of San Francisco don’t help either. This year doesn’t look much different so look elsewhere when drafting a kicker.


Seattle Seahawks

Matt Hasselbeck: had a quiet but solid year in 2007. Will be expected to carry this offense but has a new quarterback coach (Jim Zorn left), new running back (Julius Jones), and wide receiver issues (Deion Branch and Bobby Engram hurt). All things considered Hasselbeck will once again produce and should be considered a low end No. 1 in Holmgren’s final year.

Seneca Wallace: has seen more time at wide receiver than quarterback. Limited value unless Hasselbeck becomes injured again.

Julius Jones: has been a good running back when given the opportunities. He will be an upgrade over the departed Shaun Alexander. May lose out on goal-line carries. Don’t look for Maurice Morris to be a factor other than to spell Jones. Jones will surprise people with his numbers this year because of the increased carries and receptions.

T.J. Duckett: signed as a free agent, Duckett will most likely be the goal-line back to start the season. He has the running style Holmgren likes near the endzone and has shown he can get the job done. This high-powered offense should provide him with a decent number of touchdown chances.

Maurice Morris: had a chance last year with Alexander out and didn’t take advantage. If Seattle thought he was the answer why would they sign not one but two free agent running backs? ‘Nough said.

Deion Branch: still rehabbing ACL surgery and will most likely miss part of the regular season. History tells us players don’t bounce back immediately after ACL injuries so consider Branch a high risk/medium reward player when draft day approaches.

Nate Burleson: with Branch and Engram injured and Hackett gone, Burleson will have an opportunity to see significant increases in playing time and production. He has gained chemistry with Hasselbeck and is a great deep threat. Expect Burleson to have a surprisingly good year and reap the rewards when drafting him.

Bobby Engram: his threatend holdout didn’t happen, but a cracked shoulder did. He is expected to miss 6-8 weeks. Engram is Hasselbeck’s most reliable receiver but is 35 years old so recovery time may be longer.  No question his value drops on draft day. If you can grab him late do so especially in PPR leagues. 

John Carlson: will battle Will Heller for starting tight end duties. Holmgren has never started a rookie tight end but may this year out of necessity. Provides substantial upside but will be available via waiver wire after draft day.

Olindo Mare: was brought in to compete for the kicking job since the Seahawks drafted Brandon Coutu as well. Monitor who is named starter as the Seahawks offense will score enough points to warrant either kicker.


St. Louis Rams

Marc Bulger: missed four games in 2007 and played injured in several others. He will be a good candidate for comeback player of the year with the renewed health of the offensive line and running backs. The Rams used draft picks to bolster their offensive line depth and bring in wide receiver help. He will return to form and be a top 10 quarterback this year.

Trent Green: unbelievable he is still playing but provides the Rams with a veteran backup should Bulger become injured again. Should be available via free agency and not drafted unless Bulger goes down.

Steven Jackson: if it weren’t for his continued holdout he would no doubt be a top 5 pick in every redraft. Jackson is in a contract year and is healthy once again. I expect this to do get done before the season begins and Jackson to be the workhorse of this offense. Expect big things from Jackson this year. The Rams do.

Travis Minor: only be used to spell Jackson occasionally but won’t see enough touches to warrant consideration.

Brian Leonard: is a very versatile NFL player but that doesn’t equate to much fantasy-wise. His only value is if Jackson becomes injured again.

Torry Holt: has had an offseason  to rest a sore knee. He will remain a low end No.1 wide receiver now that he has a healthy offense around him. His age is a concern and the lack of another quality receiver will mean more double teams. Look for a solid year but reserve expectations for a great one.

Drew Bennett: steps in as a starting wideout with the departure of Isaac Bruce. He is a solid NFL receiver and will be average but nothing spectacular. Look for him to be drafted as a No. 3 WR at best.

Dane Looker: will battle rookie Donnie Avery for No. 3 WR duties. Looker has the experience but Avery has the speed. Neither will provide much fantasy value this year.

Randy McMichael: has been a disappointment for the Rams so far but this is the year he produces. Look for Linehan to increase his role and be a big red zone target to complement Jackson and Holt. McMichael should be a surprise in 2008.

Josh Brown: a great free agent signing with the retiring of Jeff Wilkins, Brown will do well in 2008. Playing in a dome and in an offense capable of scoring points will ensure Brown finishes as a top kicker this year.  

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