1. Kordell Stewart.
You owe it to yourself to remember that name before you spend a first-round pick on Michael Vick.
For you teens and 20-somethings too young to remember the "Slash" era, Stewart was a fantasy phenom who in 1997, his first year as a starter for the Steelers, threw for 3,020 yards and 21 TDs, and, more significantly, ran for 11 TDs. Entering the '98 season, Stewart was widely regarded as the top fantasy quarterback. He proceeded to belly-flop, throwing for 2,560 yards and 11 TDs, and rushing for only two TDs, despite starting all 16 games.
We've now seen the upside of Michael Vick, and it's undeniably attractive. The downside is a return to the Falcon-era Vick, who was a lot like the post-1997 Kordell Stewart: a mediocre passer with some rushing upside. Yes, Vick is operating under offensive mastermind Andy Reid. But Vick never will be a pinpoint passer, and QB rushing numbers can be fool's gold, subject to volatile year-to-year fluctuations.
Let's also remember that Vick's background is more checkered than a picnic tablecloth, and any personal slip-up is likely to draw a flag from NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, most likely resulting in a long suspension.
One can make a decent argument for drafting Vick in the first round or paying a fortune for him at auction. But if you allot vast resources to acquire Vick and end up getting a Kordell Stewart sequel, your chances of winning your league are almost nil. It's worth it to at least consider the worst-case scenario.
2. The Lions are being widely anointed as the NFL team destined to make The Leap in 2011. Pundits and analysts went bonkers over the drafting of Nick Fairley and immediately began daydreaming about Fairley and Ndamukong Suh rampaging through the league, terrorizing the countryside and eating offensive guards alive. Sure, that could happen. If Fairley is even half as good as Suh, then the middle of Detroit's defensive line will be virtually unblockable. (We'll even assume Fairley is able to shed his nasty little habit of clocking opponents after the whistle.)
Thing is, a successful NFL team also has to block opponents. And cover opponents. And tackle opponents if, heaven forbid, they manage to escape the clutches of Godzilla and Mothra at the line of scrimmage.
That's why I'm not particularly high on Matthew Stafford this year (along with the lack of definitive evidence that he can be an effective NFL passer, plus the suspicion that his shoulder is made of glass): I don't like Detroit's offensive line. Statistically, this unit was actually pretty good at preventing sacks last season. But Detroit's run blocking last year was bad. Really bad. If the Lions can't run the ball effectively (and the season-ending injury to rookie RB Mikel Leshoure is certainly a bad omen), then Stafford will face an increasingly heavy pass rush.
The Lions made no significant changes to their O-line, largely because they chose to address other areas in the draft. This is baffling, considering how important Stafford is to the Lions' rebuilding plan. They think he's their franchise quarterback, but they've done far too little to ensure his well-being. The most egregious example of this was not this year's selection of Fairley over the plethora of good offensive tackles available, but the selection of TE Brandon Pettigrew with the No. 20 pick in the 2009 draft instead of OT Michael Oher. That was the same draft in which the Lions took Stafford with the top pick. For the Lions to take a quarterback No. 1 overall and then pass on the chance to grab the guy who could have been his personal bodyguard for the next decade was mind-boggling.
Until the Lions get serious about improving their offensive line, they aren't going to be serious playoff contenders, and Stafford won't be a top-10 fantasy quarterback.
3. Don't get me wrong: I like Brandon Pettigrew (my seventh-ranked TE). I just didn't like the Lions' decision to draft him instead of Oher.
4. And the Much Ado About Nothing Award for the NFL offseason goes to … Peyton Manning's neck! (clap, clap, clap) Mr. Manning's neck couldn't be here tonight, so accepting this award on its behalf is Adam Vinatieri's ingrown toenail.
But seriously, if Manning's offseason neck issue has your competitors spooked, take advantage. This could be the rare year when Manning can be had at a discount.
5. Marques Colston's offseason microfracture surgery on his knee — now there's an offseason medical procedure that should set off alarm bells.
6. Workhorse running backs are a dying breed, which is why it's difficult to turn one's back on one of the few workhorses left. Maurice Jones-Drew has averaged more than 300 rushing attempts over the past two seasons, but he seems destined to return to the same sort of committee membership he held back in the days when Fred Taylor was his running mate.
MJD has been trying to brush off public concern about his surgically right knee, and if his knee were the only concern, I might be apt to take a leap of faith and once again rank him as a top-five running back. But there's also the little matter of his backup, Rashad Jennings, being good. This isn't another Greg Jones or LaBrandon Toefield; Jennings actually can get it done. In light of MJD's recent surgery and the presence of an effective No. 2 option, it doesn't make sense for the Jaguars to let MJD carry the mail 300 times this season. Spending an early draft pick on MJD with the expectation that he will slide right back into a heavy-duty role could be the sort of mistake that can wreck a fantasy season.
7. Needless to say, I'm high on the aforementioned Rashad Jennings. He has gained 5.4 yards per carry over his two NFL seasons, albeit in only 123 carries. But seeing is believing. This is one fast, elusive dude, and it's not like he's just a speed merchant — he's 6-1, 228 pounds. He's also a pretty fair pass catcher.
8. Some people think Peyton Hillis is being undervalued after his watershed season. Others think Montario Hardesty, whose rookie season was wiped out by a knee injury, will be a significant factor in the Browns' running game. What worries me about both Hillis and Hardesty is the Browns' sneaky offseason signing of Brandon Jackson.
While not particularly inspiring as a runner, Jackson is a handy utility back. In four years with the Packers, Jackson didn't lose a fumble or commit a penalty. He excels at picking up the blitz, and he's a good pass catcher. (In the NFC championship game, Jackson sustained the Packers' second TD drive by catching a little dump-off pass on 3rd-and-long, then making a move that faked Bears MLB Brian Urlacher out of his jockstrap.) The Browns could end up leaving Jackson on the field more often than some fantasy owners are anticipating, thus cutting into the value of Hillis and Hardesty.
9. There has been some interesting training-camp buzz generated by rookie receivers not named A.J. Green or Julio Jones. Among those making a strong early impression are Tandon Doss, Denarius Moore and Randall Cobb.
There's ample opportunity for a rookie receiver to become a factor in Baltimore, and though Torrey Smith was a second-rounder and Doss was a fourth-rounder, I prefer Doss. Joe Flacco might, too. Before this year's draft, Flacco was asked to watch tape of a half-dozen receivers the Ravens were considering in the middle rounds, and Flacco pegged Doss as his favorite of the group. As a connoisseur of Big Ten football, I came to appreciate Doss during his career at Indiana.
Moore comes with some baggage, but do the Raiders care about baggage? That team handles so much baggage, employees come to work dressed as skycaps. If Moore can play — and early word is that he can — he shouldn't have much problem passing the much-maligned Darrius Heyward-Bey and the oft-injured Chaz Schilens on the depth chart.
The Packers flat-out stole Cobb at the end of the second round. Green Bay is flush with wide receivers, and Jermichael Finley is a superb pass-catching tight end, but I have to believe that an offensive innovator of Mike McCarthy's caliber is going to find ways to get a dynamic, high-effort player like Cobb involved.
10. Speaking of rookie receivers ...
Larry Fitzgerald's rookie stat line: 58-780-8
Calvin Johnson's rookie stat line: 48-756-4
Combine those numbers and divide by two, and you get 53-768-6. That's a good baseline expectation for A.J. Green.
I don't think it's worth lowering that estimate just because Green figures to spend much of the season working with rookie QB Andy Dalton. Fitzgerald's quarterback in his rookie year was Josh McCown, and while Johnson spent his rookie season catching passes from the more accomplished Jon Kitna, he was forced to play in Mike Martz's multiple-receiver sets.
Is it fair to compare Green to Fitzgerald and Johnson? Yeah, I think he's going to be that good.
11. Congratulations to a pair of friends on the news that "Desperate Housewives" will be discontinued after its upcoming season. These friends, whose names are being withheld to protect their fragile dignity, have long been subjected to regularly scheduled Sunday-night inanity, watching "Housewives" with their own wives in exchange for being permitted to spend Sunday afternoons watching the NFL. This has been no small concession. The show was a mildly entertaining novelty in its first season (yes, mea culpa, I watched it back then with my own wife, but on DVR a day or two after the original airing). It quickly devolved into unwatchable dreck. I can't imagine how torturous it would have been to watch such pap every Sunday night, knowing that a professional football game was raging on while someone was sleeping with someone else's husband on Wisteria Lane.
So celebrate, my henpecked pals. One more season and you're free of your bonds! (At least until another Sunday-night chick show comes along.)
12. Brandon Marshall's average draft position (ADP) is awfully low for a man of such prodigious talent. Bad QB situation? Yes. Checkered past? Yeah, that too. But this is one of the few receivers out there for whom a 1,600-yard, 12-TD season isn't a stretch.
13. The Redskins' RB situation is intriguing, but only in the way that the situation in the Middle East is intriguing: It's interesting to read about, but I wouldn't want to visit the West Bank.
14. If you want to maximize the odds of acing your draft or auction, you owe it to yourself to watch as much of the preseason as possible.
In a Buccaneers preseason game last year, rookie WR Mike Williams made the most incredible two-yard reception I've ever seen. On a quick out, Williams leaped for a poorly thrown ball that seemed destined to sail well over his head, snared it with one hand, brought it back into his body and somehow managed to get both feet inbounds. That two-yard catch did little for Williams' stat line but spoke volumes about his ability. He continued to impress throughout the rest of the preseason, but I'm not sure I would have drafted him in multiple leagues and reaped the benefits of his fine rookie season if I hadn't seen that play.
Talent reveals itself in the preseason. It's worth the time to look for it.
15. This has to be the year that Cedric Benson loses his starting job, right? Perhaps not. Bernard Scott, whose lengthy wait for the throne is starting to rival that of Prince Charles, is now dealing with a balky hamstring. As little excitement as Benson generates among fantasy owners at this stage of his career, it could end up being more of the same old, same old in the Bengals' backfield.
16. Mike Martz's offense might not be especially TE-friendly, but it's hard to believe that Greg Olsen's fantasy prospects are any better now, in a new system, with a rookie QB throwing him the ball and Jeremy Shockey vying with him for snaps, than they were in Chicago with Olsen's buddy Jay Cutler at quarterback.
17. A few of the guys I'm most anxious to see in the first week of the preseason, in no particular order (bearing in mind that front-line players might not see a lot of action): Vince Young, Colin Kaepernick, C.J. Spiller, Johnny White, Greg Little, Kevin Ogletree, Bilal Powell, Jacquizz Rogers, Taiwan Jones, Jason Hill and Lance Kendricks.
18. I just can't envision Mark Ingram consistently getting 18-20 carries a game. Over the past four seasons, no Saints running back has run for even 800 yards in a single season. Maybe Ingram is so good that Saints head coach Sean Payton will be forced to amend his tactics, but Pierre Thomas, Darren Sproles and Chris Ivory could potentially steal snaps from the rookie. It's also difficult to envision Payton de-emphasizing the pass when he has Drew Brees at quarterback.
19. It's interesting that a lot of fantasy owners are writing off BenJarvus Green-Ellis more quickly than they're willing to write off Beanie Wells, considering that Green-Ellis (a) has accomplished more in the NFL; (b) is less injury-prone; and (c) plays on a far better team.
20. I also like Cardinals rookie Ryan Williams more than Patriots rookie Shane Vereen, which is also another reason to like Green-Ellis more than Wells.
21. In an early episode of "The Simpsons," Lisa conducts a science experiment in which she wires a cupcake with an electrical charge, then looks on as slow-witted brother Bart repeatedly reaches for the cupcake despite receiving a painful series of shocks.
Sometimes I feel as if I'm Bart Simpson, and Mike Sims-Walker is the electrically charged cupcake.
As much of a tease as he has been, Sims-Walker could take flight in St. Louis under new Rams offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels in much the same way that Brandon Lloyd did under McDaniels in Denver. Sam Bradford needs a go-to receiver, and Sims-Walker has the talent to be the guy. Think back to how well Bradford and Mark Clayton clicked during their all-too-brief run together last season.
There are other intriguing receivers on the Rams' roster. Donnie Avery has potential but is returning from a major knee injury. Danario Alexander is a potential sleeper, but he has an extensive history of knee problems. Clayton might yet re-sign with the Rams, but he, too, is returning from a serious knee injury. Veteran Danny Amendola and rookies Austin Pettis and Greg Salas have fully functioning knees, but I don't think they can match Sims-Walker's talent.
I think I'm going to end up reaching for that damn cupcake again.