Fitz's Four-Course Fantasy Feast

Posted Aug. 11, 2010 @ 1:25 p.m.
Posted By Pat Fitzmaurice

Updated Aug. 13, 2010 @ 10:57 a.m. ET

Pat Fitzmaurice is addicted to competitive cooking shows ("Top Chef," "Chopped," Hell's Kitchen," etc.), and he also loves to eat. Since he isn't much of a cook, he's channeling his chef obsession into Fitz's Four-Course Fantasy Feast, a regular column featuring an appetizer, salad, entrée and dessert. Bon appétit.

Appetizer: Tebow tartare

Tim Tebow demonstrated his good nature the other day by graciously accepting a monk-style haircut from veteran members of the Denver Broncos that left him looking like Friar Tuck — or, more appropriately, Friar Tuck It In And Run. By being a good sport about rookie hazing, Tebow stood in stark contrast to Cowboys WR Dez Bryant, who initially refused a request to carry Roy Williams' pads. "I feel like I was drafted to play football, not carry another player's pads," Bryant said at the time. "I'm here to try to help win a championship, not carry someone's pads."

If the ability to contribute to a championship is the criterion, then Tebow was wise to accept his new hairdo; he won't be leading the Broncos to the Super Bowl this season. But is this raw rookie quarterback worthy of consideration in fantasy drafts?

Barring injury to Kyle Orton or Brady Quinn, Tebow will be the Broncos' No. 3 quarterback when the team breaks camp. Orton will start, Quinn will back him up. Orton is a serviceable starting quarterback, but he has reached his ceiling and is not hiding any untapped potential. Quinn was a bust in Cleveland and may have more upside than he's demonstrated so far, though you probably won't find many NFL observers willing to bet on that. Tebow, on the other hand, is seen by many Broncos fans as a potential franchise quarterback, though even the most bullish Tebow supporters acknowledge that it will take ample time to transform the former University of Florida star into a functional NFL quarterback.

While Tebow is being groomed, he'll no doubt make cameo appearances in gadget packages that attempt to put his extraordinary running ability to use. There's no chance that Tebow will be productive enough in this limited role to help fantasy teams.

Thing is, if the Broncos struggle, the timetable on Project Tebow may well be accelerated. And at the moment, it's hard to envision the Broncos as a playoff contender. Their skill-position talent is weak. Their best offensive player, OLT Ryan Clady, is still recovering from offseason knee surgery. Their defense, not good to begin with, will be without star LB Elvis Dumervil for perhaps the entire season. Dumervil is somewhat overrated — he is to the running game as snow is to a plow — but there's no denying that he's an elite pass rusher, and the Broncos surely will miss him.

Even in a weak division, Denver is looking like a five- or six-win team, and that may be optimistic. If Denver gets off to a slow start and falls out of the playoff race by November, there will be little incentive to stick with Orton when the team could be giving Tebow on-the-job training. And make no mistake: The Broncos' coaching staff won't let Quinn stand in Tebow's way.

If Tebow becomes the starter, he won't offer fantasy owners much in the way of passing numbers, but his rushing numbers could more than make up for it. The bottom line from a fantasy perspective is that it's worth handcuffing Tebow to Orton in deeper leagues. In shallower leagues, be prepared to stake a free-agent claim on Tebow if the Broncos take a nosedive.

 

Salad: Hearts of Palmer with elbow macaroni

In recent weeks I've heard several people speak highly about Carson Palmer's fantasy prospects. Luckily, a few of these people are rival owners in my fantasy leagues.

On the surface, the supporting cast appears capable of helping Palmer have a whiz-bang season. The recent signing of Terrell Owens gives the Bengals insurance in case Antonio Bryant's knee is balky all season. The tandem of T.O. and Chad Ochocinco should ensure that Palmer has ample talent (and ample loquaciousness) at wide receiver. Rookie Jermaine Gresham could finally give Palmer a legitimate pass-catching threat at tight end. Cedric Benson and Bernard Scott should give Cincy a capable ground game. The offensive line should remain solid and could conceivably get a boost if second-year OT Andre Smith can overcome a foot injury and weight issues. And Cincinnati's defense is now good enough to ensure that Palmer doesn't idle on the bench for long stretches of games.

It all looks good on paper, but the supporting cast won't be able to help Palmer put up elite numbers if Palmer hasn't completely recovered from the 2008 elbow injury that seemed to make him a lesser quarterback in 2009.

Palmer emerged as a premier quarterback in '05, when he threw for 3,836 yards and 32 TDs. He followed that up with consecutive 4,000-yard seasons in '06 and '07. Last year, he only threw for 3,094 yards and 21 TDs in 16 regular-season starts (although his Week 17 start was more of a cameo). But forget about the numbers. Palmer's problem last season was evident to anyone who watched Bengals games: He had morphed into Kyle Orton. Palmer was fine on the short stuff, but he didn't throw downfield with any authority.

The question is whether Palmer's elbow will ever be right again. If he's completely healthy, another 4,000-yard season could be in the offing. Palmer is only 30, so age isn't the problem. But if Palmer's elbow is still affecting his throws, his fantasy owners are going to be bitterly disappointed. I've seen too many MLB pitchers sustain elbow injuries and then fail to fully regain their original effectiveness. I'm not betting that Palmer will return to past form.

 

Entrée: Walleye and waffles

Chicken and waffles are an unlikely but scrumptious combination. If battered, deep-fried chicken can work so well beside golden, flaky waffles, why not a waffle-and-walleye pairing? In Minnesota, the Land of 10,000 Lakes, there's no shortage of delicious walleye just waiting to be battered and deep-fried.

Leave the other half of the dish to Brett Favre, the Waffle King.

Is he in? Is he out? Is his ankle OK? Does he want to come back and risk more punishment? Who'll mow his lawn if he comes back for another season? The uncertainty is almost too much to bear. (Yawn.)

But what if Favre still hasn't announced his decision by the day of your fantasy draft? Then, things get interesting. Let's take this on a case-by-case basis and examine what "Decision 2010: Minnesota Held Hostage" means to some individual Vikings ...

Adrian Peterson — His one season with Favre was his best to date. Peterson ran for a career-high 18 TDs last year and, as an unexpected bonus, added 43 receptions for 436 yards. Peterson was a star before Favre came aboard, but without Favre, some of that receiving yardage dries up, and the going will get tougher in the red zone. If Favre commits to playing, Peterson will be the No. 1 or No. 2 pick in most leagues. If Favre is uncommitted or officially retired by the time of your fantasy draft, you'd be wise to move Peterson behind Chris Johnson and Ray Rice, and possibly behind Maurice Jones-Drew, on your board.

Sidney Rice — Never mind Favre; Rice's ailing hip is the greater concern. The unspecified injury has kept Rice from practicing, and there have been no indications of when he'll be ready. Then there's the matter of Rice's contract, which will pay him a base salary of $550,000 this season. In terms of providing incentive to get back to work, that contract is right up there with a hammock and a pitcher of lemonade. So, there's a lot to decipher here. Best-case scenario: Rice's hip isn't a big deal, and he returns to action at about the same time that Favre announces he's coming back. If that happens, he's a top-10 receiver. Worst-case scenario: Rice's hip is seriously messed up, but not so messed up that he goes on I.R. Favre retires. Now it's a gimpy Rice catching passes (or not) from Tarvaris Jackson. Ugh. Adjust your ranking of Rice accordingly as draft day draws closer.

Percy Harvin — Tarvaris Jackson has yet to throw Harvin a pass in a meaningful game. If Favre retires or remains on the fence, Harvin's value takes a big hit. With Favre, Harvin merits consideration as a top-20 wide receiver. Without Favre, Harvin might not belong in the top 30. These scenarios presume that Harvin is able to overcome the migraine headaches that bothered him last season and have become an issue again this offseason. The Vikings have been granted a roster exemption for Harvin, who has recently been on leave from practice while he copes with the migraines.

Bernard Berrian — Here's the one skill-position guy on the Vikings who may be immune to the Favre Effect. Berrian's receptions, yardage and TDs all dropped in 2009. With or with Favre, Berrian has become a fantasy afterthought due to the emergence of Rice and Harvin.

Visanthe Shiancoe — Remember Bubba Franks? (You should; he was playing as late as 2008, though just barely.) Franks, whose best years were spent with the Packers earlier this decade, was a good blocker and mediocre pass catcher who had a way of catching Favre's eye in the red zone. Although there was only one season in which Franks had more than 400 receiving yards, there were three seasons in which he caught seven or more TD passes. Shiancoe is a slightly more gifted pass catcher than Franks. In 2008, before Favre arrived, Shiancoe played over his head, finishing with 596 receiving yards and seven TDs. Last year, with Favre giving him the Bubba Franks treatment, Shiancoe had 566 receiving yards and 11 TDs. With Favre back, Shiancoe is a good bet to score seven TDs or more. Without Favre, the TDs will drop precipitously, and Shiancoe probably won't be a top-10 tight end.

Ryan Longwell — Hard to tell how Favre's presence/absence would influence Longwell's point totals. No doubt the Minnesota offense would be a higher-scoring unit with Favre on board, but without Favre, the Vikings would probably be less efficient in scoring territory, possibly leading to more FG opportunities.

 

Dessert: Forté torte

Matt Forté hasn't been getting much love in the fantasy rankings and mock drafts I've seen. This lack of enthusiasm for a player whose disappointing performance in 2009 really wasn't all that bad could mean a buying opportunity for you.

Operating behind one of the worst offensive lines in the NFL, Forté had 929 rushing yards last season, but add his 471 receiving yards — he ranked fourth among running backs in receiving yardage — and Forte finished with a respectable 1,400 combined yards. That's only 315 yards short of Forté's combined-yardage total from what was considered a successful rookie campaign in 2008, and it should be noted that Forte had 58 fewer carries last season than he had as a rookie.

The bigger drop-off was in Forté's TD total. He had 12 TDs in his rookie campaign and only four last year. Much of the blame for the slippage goes to an offensive line that couldn't get any sort of push close to the goal line.

Mike Martz is the Bears' new offensive coordinator, and Martz's arrival should bode well for Forté. Martz likes running backs with pass-catching ability, and Forte has 120 receptions over his first two seasons. Chester Taylor joined the Bears as a free agent in the offseason, but Taylor shouldn't subtract from the number of touches Forté receives. The Bears haven't had an adequate backup since Forté came into the league, and the pursuit of Taylor should be interpreted as the vital plugging of a gaping hole rather than as any sort of dissatisfaction with Forté.

When Martz was the 49ers' offensive coordinator in 2008, Frank Gore produced 1,036 rushing yards, 373 receiving yards and eight TDs — numbers similar to what Gore compiled in the season before Martz's arrival in San Francisco and the season after his departure. But back in 2006, when Martz took over as Detroit's offensive coordinator, Kevin Jones averaged more than 100 combined yards per game (689 rushing yards and 520 receiving yards in 12 games) before going down with a Lisfranc injury. He also scored eight TDs, and it should be noted that the Lions' offensive line was terrible. The following year, with Jones making only 10 starts as he struggled to return from Lisfranc surgery, he still managed to produce 778 combined yards and another eight TDs.

It's reasonable to say that Forté compares favorably to even the pre-injury version of Kevin Jones. With a season of good health, Forté could put up the sort of numbers that not only atone for the perceived disappointment of his 2009 campaign but also exceed his fine rookie totals.

 

Next Wednesday: Fitz's updated draft board

 

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