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Let me be the first to welcome you to the boring doldrums of the sports calendar. Hoops are on hiatus, pucks are on ice, and even baseball’s now at their mid-summer snooze. Unless you’re a raging WNBA fan, there’s just very little action to feast your eyes on these days. (And hey, all you WNBA fans, all 7 of you, you can save time and stop reading now, there’s nothing here for you.)
And so instead of focusing on the sports world on the fields, courts, and ice across this great country, what better time than now to turn your attention to the fantasy sports world…namely, fantasy football. You know, the hobby that warms your heart and rejuvenates your soul. Or, more likely, the hobby that kicks the crap out of you, your wallet, and your manhood (or womanhood, ladies are welcome, I don’t mind beating them too, their cash money looks just as good in my wallet as cash money from a dude does).
So for this week’s fantasy football appetizer, we turn our focus to the new kids on the block. No, not Donny, Joey, Danny, Jordan, and Jonathan (I swear I had to look up their names, I swear I didn’t know them by heart…ok, maybe I did.). I’m talking about the players who changed zip codes in the offseason. Guys with new teammates, new contracts, new lockers, and new, heightened expectations.
Heading into last season, really the only player who fit into this category that made any impact on the fantasy football world was Atlanta’s Michael Turner, who now, after a breakout year last season, will most likely be picked within the top two or three selections of your draft. While none of the gents I’ll mention below are worthy of a pick quite that early, there are definitely more faces in new places who will make fantasy fireworks this season.
And so now, I present to you the second installment (first installment right here) of “The Starting 11,” highlighting the top eleven fantasy players on new teams. Bon apetit!
Housh may be 32 years old this season, but his relocation to the Pacific Northwest will undoubtedly provide the spark that will rekindle the former Bengal’s flame. T.J. is coming off a bust of a season last year in Cincy, where his 904 receiving yards and 4 touchdowns probably had you pulling your hair out if you had Housh in your lineup. With QB Carson Palmer sidelined much of last year, and Chad Ochenta y Cinco (if he’s changing his last name, let’s at least get it right, “85” in Spanish isn’t “Ochocinco,” you dope!) virtually nonexistent last season, T.J.’s production suffered, as backup Ryan Fitzpatrick just couldn’t deliver the ball to Housh as he should have. This year, Houshmandzadeh will be pretty much the only offensive show in town. The only other skill players on the Seahawks’ roster are the likes of Julius Jones and Deion Branch, names that don’t scare anyone. Look for Matt Hasselbeck to rely on T.J.’s down-the-field abilities, especially late in games playing from behind, and watch Houshmandzadeh rebound with a monster year for you in fantasy land.
There will be drama. We all know that. We all expect that. But T.O. can still produce, and will produce, in his new home up in Buffalo. After a year where he was one of only seven players with double-digit touchdown catches, you’ve got to believe his production will continue up north. Being on a one-year deal doesn’t hurt the cause either, as T.O. generally has his best seasons when in the last year of his contract. Look for Owens to thrive with Trent Edwards behind center, and watch his teammate Lee Evans also light it up on the fantasy scoresheet as well.
After twelve uber-productive seasons in Kansas City, the future Hall of Famer takes his talents to Hotlanta to fly with Matt Ryan and the Falcons this coming season. While Gonzalez won’t be Ryan’s primary target on offense, with the likes of Roddy White and Michael Turner as younger and more talented options, Gonzalez will likely see more red zone chances than in previous years, and will surely continue to be a top-3 fantasy tight end at least for one more year.
Derrick Ward made the most of his contract year with the Giants last season, racking up over 1000 yards on the ground in a backup role to Brandon Jacobs. This season, Ward will run wild in the Tampa Bay backfield as the Bucs’ feature back, likely earning the majority of touches over incumbents Earnest Graham and Cadillac Williams. Graham may steal a few red zone touches away from the speedy Ward throughout the year, but Ward should have no problem putting up another 1000-yard season for Tampa this coming season. Ward will make the Giants very sorry they let him go.
After a tumultous offseason, the winds of change have blown Jay Cutler to the Windy City. After being swapped from Denver to Chicago for Kyle Orton and a sack full of draft picks, the former Pro Bowler comes to a Bears team that doesn’t have the same weapons as his Broncos team had last year. However, Cutler’s talent can’t go unnoticed. Watch for the new Bears’ franchise passer to take some pressure off second-year rusher Matt Forte, while making wideout Devin Hester a bona fide top-10 fantasy receiver. Don’t draft Cutler too high, but he’s still a great low-end #1 option at the QB spot.
While one AFC West quarterback hit the road, another one entered the division with a pile of hype alongside him. Matt Cassel, the wonderboy who kept the Pats’ ship afloat last season after Tommy Boy’s knee injury 7 minutes into last season, leaves New England to become the Chief of the Chiefs, a young team in the middle of retooling under new GM Scott Pioli. Cassel, now fresh off signing a lucrative contract, will aim to prove the world he’s worth his new $63 million deal, so look for Cassel to air it out whenever he can for KC. The Chiefs did lose All-Pro Tony Gonzalez, but they still have several weapons in their arsenal, led by youngster Dwayne Bowe. So, Cassel could have a repeat performance of last season. Like Cutler, don’t draft Cassel too high. He’s still relatively inexperienced after all, but Cassel could start for your fantasy team and not hurt you.
After two straight seasons with 94 catches, Holt’s production took a big nose dive last season in St. Louis, dropping to just 64 grabs for the Rams. Now he moves to the Jags, hardly considered to be a passing offense. But Maurice Jones-Drew can’t handle the ball every play (or can he?), so when David Garrard drops back to pass, Holt will be on his mind first, for lack of a better option. Temper your expectations on him this year, but the veteran receiver could act as a great sleeper pick and bye-week fill-in during the later rounds of your draft.
In past years, I would fill my roster with as many Bengals as I could. The same can’t be said lately though, especially after last year’s stinker of a season from Carson Palmer, T.J. Houshmandzadeh, and Chad #85. It’s sad when Cedric Benson is your team’s shining star. So drafting Laveranues Coles this season, in his first year with Cincy, comes with huge risk involved. Coles matched his career high last season with seven touchdowns in New York, and if Mr. Ochocinco mentally checks out on the Bengals again, Coles could have a big year in store with Palmer back under center. Key word: could. Take a chance on him if he’s still on the board in the later rounds as a #3 WR option.
Marshawn Lynch’s 3-game suspension to open the upcoming season gives new addition Dominic Rhodes added value in your fantasy draft right from the start. While Lynch is on the shelf, look for Rhodes to split time with third-year rusher Fred Jackson. Rhodes won’t be shoved to the side come Week 4 either, as his hands in the receiving game should play well into Buffalo’s offensive game plan this year. After a solid year backing up Joseph Addai in Indy, look for Rhodes to put up similar numbers this season in Buffalo behind Lynch.
I usually stay away from drafting Patriots running backs because what Bill Belichick does with them from game to game is anyone’s guess. But no one can deny the potential impact veteran Fred Taylor brings to the New England backfield. The Pats are loaded with rushing options, with Laurence Maroney and Sammy Morris returning from injury, Kevin Faulk back for his 11th season, and the young BenJarvus Green-Ellis hoping to get more work this season. But the 33-year-old Taylor has history on his side, and he’s hungry to make a real impact here on a potential Super Bowl contender. The Patriot offense may not turn to the running game come red zone time, but if it’s yardage and carries that tickle your fancy, Taylor could be worth a shot in the late rounds.
We all know what we’re in for here… days or weeks from now, everyone’s favorite Southern Mississippi hillbilly is going to announce his return to the NFL, this time wearing the purple and gold of the Minnesota Vikings. Whether Brett Favre does come back or not, whichever new QB takes the reigns on this playoff squad from a year ago has the potential to rock your fantasy world. Even if Favre’s comeback is just a tease (here’s hoping), the Vikes brought in another viable option in Sage Rosenfels. Rosenfels did a nice job in relief of Matt Schaub last season and is more of a pocket passer than Favre or last year’s starter Tarvaris Jackson. Keep your eye on this situation, as whichever guy earns the starting job could be worth a pickup in the late rounds as your fantasy team’s backup signal caller.