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2004 IDP Season Review
2/3/05

As a wrap to the weekly IDP Notes column, here's a review of the fantasy season from the IDP perspective. I've put together the obligatory all-star team, handed out some awards, and then wrote down my stream of consciousness that came, position-by-position, as I perused the final rankings (well, an edited, or maybe semi-stream of consciousness, anyway, as I took some time to fact check or verify the accuracy of some of the thoughts that occurred to me).

Fantasy rankings are based on FFToday Default Scoring

2004 FFToday IDP Fantasy All-Pro Team
No end (or even mid-point) of a regular season for any sport is complete without compiling who were the best players at their position, and then assembling them as some kind of dream team.

DE: Julius Peppers (CAR), Charles Grant (NO)
DT: Kevin Williams (MIN)
NT: Rod Coleman (ATL)
ILB: Donnie Edwards (SD), James Farrior (PIT)
OLB: Takeo Spikes (BUF), Keith Bulluck (TEN)
CB: Dunta Robinson (HOU), Ronde Barber (TB)
SS: Rodney Harrison (NE)
FS: Ed Reed (BAL)

Linebackers - Stats

Top Producer: Donnie Edwards (SD)
Breakout Player of the Year: Steve Foley (SD)
Rookie of the Year: Jonathan Vilma (NYJ)
Biggest Bust, Non Injury-Related: Chris Draft (ATL)
Biggest Bust, Injury-Related: Lavar Arrington (WAS)

Reshuffling the Deck at the Top
Consistently one of the top producing LBs the last couple of years, Donnie Edwards (SD) faced the challenges in 2004 of switching to a 3-4 in San Diego and entering an age where production tends to decline. Instead of an off-year, he ended the top scoring fantasy LB in the league. However, it's important to note the reality is he had mostly solid, but unspectacular, performance through much of the season, before a five week explosion at the end of the year vaulted him into the top slot. In Weeks 12-16 he scored significantly more (100) than he did in the other 11 weeks combined, averaging 20 points per game for that span. The rest of the season, he averaged 7.5 points per game. Of course, any way you slice it, he's still worthy of being the LB MVP in most leagues, because that outburst came during the fantasy playoffs. Despite a career low in tackles, Takeo Spikes (BUF) set career highs in passes defended, forced fumbles and interceptions. With a big second half of the season, he propelled himself into the second slot. Turning in the big plays also moved James Farrior (NYJ) into elite status. Farrior's actual accomplishments on the field were duly noted, as well, as he was the runner-up for the NFL Defensive Player of the Year award. Rounding out the top five were a couple players expected to be there, Jamie Sharper (HOU) and Keith Bulluck (TEN) with their standard exceptional production.

They've Fallen, but They Can Get Back Up
Lack of big plays resulted in a bit of a disappointing season for IDP owners of Ray Lewis (BAL), who posted his worst fantasy season since his rookie year. Still, he was the tenth ranked LB, so concerns about the beginning of a decline would be sorely premature. Expect Lewis back at home among the Top 5 LBs next year. Similarly, Keith Brooking (ATL) fell to the lower half of the Top 20 with a season that was, relatively speaking, a bit disappointing. While the move from the middle to weakside LB was expected to lower his total tackle numbers a bit, and it did, the promise of more use as a pass rusher and potential for big plays was expected to keep his numbers in the same place. However, most of his games provided mediocre numbers and his final ranking was bailed out by a couple big games at the end of the year (much to the delight of his previously frustrated fantasy owners who were in the playoffs, as they came in Week 15 and 16). Part of the lack of use with Brookings more as a pass rusher was the lack of consistency in the middle of Chris Draft. If the Falcons can resolve their MLB situation, including if they move Brooking back there, there is no reason to expect he can't be back in the Top 10.

Breakdown
Several of the usual suspects who were not among the top scoring LBs had their seasons were partially or totally lost due to injury. Headlining the list is Brian Urlacher (CHI), with hamstring problems that caused him to not only miss his first career game due to injury, but caused an injury-plagued season that ended on the IR. When he did play, it's significant to note he was producing well in Lovie's more aggressive D, averaging 10.7 points per game, third among LBs. He was back to getting sacks and turnovers, after their absence made for a disappointing 2003. After an injury-plagued season followed an off-year, he is likely to be a bargain in drafts next year or a good off-season trade target in dynasty leagues. Usually a lock for around a hundred tackles and a handful of sacks, Michael Barrow (WAS) never saw the field due to injury in 2004. He turns 35 before next season and if the Redskins don't give up on him, it might be time for IDP players to. However, the biggest injury-related bust was Barrow's teammate, Lavar Arrington (WAS). A knee kept him off the field until the last two weeks of the season and he continues to be a guy who keeps finding ways to not reach his enormous potential, in real or fantasy football. Wasted potential also continues to follow Kendrell Bell (PIT) around. He seems to be on the every other year plan, posting a promising rookie campaign, before missing 2002 due to injury, then bouncing back in 2003, before a lost 2004. Just as detrimental as his actual absence were the setbacks and failed comebacks that kept his fantasy owners from adequately replacing him, figuring he'd eventually be productive this past season. An injury cost Sam Cowart (NYJ) most of the season, Jonathan Vilma's emergence cost him the rest. Cowart is a good guy to keep an eye on this off-season, he could be a cap casualty that bounces back big with a fresh start somewhere else in 2005. Anthony Simmons (SEA) and Julian Peterson (SF) were two other strong producers who had their seasons cut short due to injury, but should be back among the top producing LBs next year. Even ironman Zach Thomas (MIA) had his typical Top 5 production dragged down by missing a handful of games. However, he still finished 19th among LBs, with 127 points for the season. After establishing himself as a solid 100+ tackle producer, Jay Foreman (HOU) had his season cut short by injury. However, the formerly underrated player was no where near the level of production he had been the last two years, even before the injury.

Some other players who carried high expectations in new roles or on new teams also disappointed due to injury. Inconsistency and lingering injuries resulted in an overall poor season for Chris Claiborne (MIN), despite a strong finish. Teammate E.J. Henderson (MIN) was set to for a big season at MLB, after inheriting the job when Greg Biekert retired. While he posted some decent tackle numbers, he was a liability in pass defense and didn't turn in many big plays. Missing a few games due to injury contributed to a season that was a let down. He's still young and learning, but it doesn't look like his upside is tremendous. Expectations were high for Nate Webster (CIN) after coming to the Bengals as a free agent and finally being slated for a starting role, after being unable to crack the starting lineup in Tampa Bay. He got off to a good start, his 9.8 ppg were good for sixth, but a season-ending injury cut short a potential breakout season. After finally taking sole control of the MLB job in Cleveland, Andra Davis (CLE) had a huge season in 2003. He got off to a slow start, before a knee injury washed out the rest of his year.

Breakout
Raise your hand if you knew who Steve Foley (SD) was before this year. Even if you are a Cincinnati or Houston fan (his former teams), you likely might have referred to him as "that other guy" when discussing the teams LBs anytime in the previous 6 years. He made himself a household name among IDP players this year, jumping from anonymity to waiver wire wonder, and finishing just shy of being a Top 10 LB for 2004. His 10 sacks, 5 forced fumbles, and 2 picks at least doubled his CAREER totals in all those categories. Another nobody to near ff stud in 2004 was Danny Clark (OAK). Mostly a back-up in Jacksonville, he moved to Oakland, where tinkering with a 3-4 opened the door for a starting job and injuries secured it for him, resulting in a breakout season. He doesn't turn in many big plays, but his 130 tackles were Top 10 in the league. Sell high, dynasty leaguers. The opening created by the absence of their top two LBs in Washington allowed a couple of career back-ups, Antonio Pierce (WAS) and Lemar Marshall (WAS), an opportunity. Marshall showed why he was just a back-up, but Pierce took full advantage of the chance, posting a huge season as their MLB and looking like he needs a place somewhere in a starting lineup. As a RFA, he's likely to get it, perhaps at the expense of Michael Barrow, who could be a cap casualty. The improvement of Lance Briggs (CHI) wasn't as much of a surprise after putting in a promising rookie season in 2003, but he really took a big leap forward this past season. With Brian Urlacher injured a good portion the season, he not only led the Bears in tackles, but was second in the NFC. He has stepped in were Warrick Holdman left off for the team a few years ago, a tackle machine on the strongside that doesn't produce many big plays. Young player continuing to developed, stepped up in absence of team's stud MLB…the same story line applies to Will Witherspoon (CAR). This guy is the complete package and hasn't peaked yet. Strong buy in dynasty leagues. Teammates and coaches always spoke highly of the potential of Adalius Thomas (BAL). The loss of Peter Boulware for the season finally gave him an opportunity and he capitalized on it. While it wasn't to the level of his predecessor, Cato June (IND) posted good numbers, as expected, after moving into the starting weakside job for the Colts. Although he was unable to win the starting job at the beginning of the season, injuries gave him another chance, and Kawika Mitchell (KC) played well enough down the stretch that the job should be his to lose in 2005.

Breakout that Brokedown
Every year, any preseason evaluation of Dan Morgan (CAR) includes the caveat "if he can stay healthy for the whole season". Obviously, this applies to any player, but it's necessary to emphasize when projecting the beyond-injury-prone Morgan. Through the first half of 2004, it looked like we might get to see the elusive "whole season", and the results were impressive, but injury problems struck again, and he missed four games (on the bright side, that is the LEAST he's ever missed in his career). Still, he equaled or exceeded career highs in every category, so he's teased us into, once again, waiting for next year.

Bust
After a breakout 2003 in his first year as a full-time starter, all the stars appeared to be aligned for an even bigger season for Chris Draft (ATL). When it was announced the Falcons were not only moving to a 4-3, but it would be Draft, and not Keith Brooking, in the middle, his stock soared. The results were, he still produced like a back-up and missed some time due to injury. Nearly as disappointing was Clark Haggans (PIT). After flashing some pass rush ability as a back-up, many expected a big year as the next successful plug-and-produce LB in the Steelers system, replacing Jason Gildon. A huge Week One only raised expectations for him, which he didn't come close to meeting, before injury ended his season. Across from Haggans, Joey Porter (PIT) looked to rebound after getting shot in the ass last year, but his bounce back was not to his previous levels. One huge game skewed his final ranking, as, overall, it was a very sub-par year for the formerly ferocious pass rusher, who had his lowest tackle total since becoming a starter. Most predicted a switch from weakside to strongside for David Thornton (IND) would sap his production…it did. Once valuable as a stud pass rusher, Kevin Hardy (CIN) can barely find a QB with a map anymore. Due to a slow rehab from a career threatening hip injury, expectations were not high for Rosevelt Colvin (NE). The former stud pass rusher played every game, but his snaps were limited and he finished with just 4.5 sacks and a handful of tackles as a situational blitzer. While it is good to see him back, it is unlikely he returns to his prior level of production. A knee injury in the preseason cost Napoleon Harris (OAK) two games and plagued him throughout the season. Even once healthy, he was not productive. New DC Rob Ryan expected to move him around to capitalize on his athleticism in 2004, but the injury problems and struggles grasping the system contributed to a lost season. After the free agent addition of Mark Simoneau (PHI) made Jeremiah Trotter (PHI) expendable a year earlier, the prodigal son returned to the Eagles and it looked like a MLBBC was in the works. After a vote of confidence for Simoneau as the starter from HC Andy Reid, Simoneau did indeed start and receive most of the playing time in the middle to start the season. Unfortunately for his fantasy owners, his numbers didn't reflect it. After inconsistency and injury removed Nate Wayne (PHI) from the weakside spot, Simoneau slid over and Trotter returned to the middle. Trotter looked solid and is likely to retain the spot heading into next year, but the result for 2004 was inadequate production from all three.

Flat
The most consistent top fantasy producing LB the last five years? London Fletcher (BUF). Another season, another 100+ tackles and assortment of big plays, making him a regular among the Top 20, all the way up to 9th this past season. Although he had another strong season and no sophomore slump, Nick Barnett (GB) showed no improvement, posting almost identical numbers. Some believe he's a better fit for an outside spot. He's a tremendous young player, but we may already have seen the best he can do in the middle. While he showed improvement in his second year as a MLB, Mike Peterson (JAX) still isn't posting the huge tackle numbers he did on the weakside in Indianapolis. He compensated for it with a career-high five sacks, putting him back in the range we've seen from him before. He's not a huge tackle numbers guy, and Brian Simmons (CIN) hasn't repeated the success as a pass rusher he showed his first full season as a starter when he had 6.5 sacks, but he does enough to consistently remain in the 20-40 range each year.

Rookies
Former University of Miami teammates Jonathan Vilma (NYJ) and D.J. Williams (DEN) were viewed as the two best LBs coming out of the draft, and ended up the first and second, respectively, top producing fantasy rookie LBs. Vilma benefited from an early knee injury to Sam Cowart, to which Vilma came on like Lou Gehrig to Cowart's Wally Pipp. Vilma impressed with not only his play, but handling calling the defense, and looks to be a long-time stud in the middle. Williams had a solid year, but didn't demonstrate as much play-making ability as his athleticism and collegiate performance dictates he has. The Broncos might have been conservative with what they asked of the rookie, so watch for this to develop, and Williams to improve his stock with more big plays, in the future. Two other highly-touted former college (Auburn) teammates, Karlos Dansby (ARI) and Dontarrious Thomas (MIN) had their seasons go in opposite directions. Thomas earned the starting strongside job out of camp, but quickly lost it due to inconsistency and missing assignments. When he was sent to the bench Week Three, MLB E.J. Henderson got hurt and Thomas had a huge game filling in for him. As the season went on, he was back in the doghouse, relegated to special teams and coming off the bench, despite lingering injuries to WLB Chris Claiborne. Meanwhile, Dansby started slow while Denny Green evaluated talent. By mid-season, he was locked in as the starter and ended up with the most sacks (five) by a rookie LB. The loss of Nate Webster created a hole in the middle for the Bengals and launched a revolving door between Caleb Miller (CIN) and Landon Johnson (CIN) in trying to fill it. As Miller battled injury, Johnson finally locked down the job late in the year. While Webster should be back next year, Johnson showed he has a bright future. Teddy Lehman (DET) was the third highest producing rookie LB and had a solid season earning a starting job right out of the gate. His future could be at MLB, where his production should increase, because his upside as a playmaker on the outside seems limited. Due to injuries, Lehman's fellow rookie teammate, Alex Lewis (DET), was a pleasant surprise. He got some starts and made some plays, but his upside is limited by his size and the return of Boss Bailey next year. Undersized, but an explosive edge rusher in college, the buzz around Demorrio Williams (ATL) increased as the year went on. He could end up being a huge steal out of the 4th Round, and should compete for a starting role next season. Courtney Watson (NO) won the MLB job in camp and after the first month of the season, he was looking like a strong Rookie of the Year candidate. However, a knee injury and getting in the HC Jim Haslett's doghouse left him an inconsistent role player the rest of the year, as Orlando Ruff took over the middle. Darryl Smith (JAX) won a starting job, but it was on the strongside. Along with limited athleticism, his potential doesn't look great. He had limited action most of the season, but Niko Koutouvides (SEA) was starting in the middle for Seattle by the end of the season, including in their playoff game.

Defensive Linemen - Stats

Top Producer: Julius Peppers (CAR)
Breakout Player of the Year: James Hall (DET)
Rookie of the Year: Will Smith (NO)
Biggest Bust, Non Injury-Related: Mike Rucker (CAR)
Biggest Bust, Injury-Related: Michael Strahan (NYG)

Changing of the Guard
The first thing that jumps out about the DL final rankings is the absence of Strahan and Rice, even Little and Rucker, near the top. While Jason Taylor (MIA) finished with enough points to be rated fifth, he had a terribly inconsistent year and was saved by a few huge games. The absence of Adewale Ogunleye and loss of Tim Bowens to injury allowed defenses to focus on him. Depending on what Miami does to rectify the situation up front, he will continue to struggle and be challenged to remain among the elite fantasy ends. After ending his rookie season early with a substance abuse violation and then going through a sophomore slump, Julius Peppers (CAR) is finally at the level most expected him to achieve, the top producing DE in the league. He was unaffected by some terrific problems with injury and inconsistency among the other standout members of the Panthers DLine, and produced fantastically despite being the biggest threat in the front four all season. If he keeps his nose clean, he's a lock to be among the Top 5 for a while. The other guy that looks like he's moved into the elite to stay is Charles Grant (NO). After a solid rookie season, he went to sleeper last year, and continued to improve this past season. He cooled down around mid-season, but between strong starts and finishes, he put it all together in 2004.

Slow Starts and Fast Finishes Skew Final Rankings
Their solid final rankings prevent the seasons of any of these guys from being considered an overall bust, but a trio of top ends gave owners some headaches this season. The speed Dwight Freeney (IND) and Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila (GB) bring to the table, specifically as pass rushers, have resulted in them being put in everydown roles, despite being undersized. The result is, if they aren't getting sacks, they aren't producing, and that was the situation in the first half of the season for both. Despite finishing 13th among DLs, KGB was an overall disappointment. His final ranking was salvaged by a 26 point day in Week 17, which benefited few of his IDP owners, as most fantasy seasons were complete the prior week. Freeney had 4 sacks over the first 8 weeks and 12 the rest of the season. Although he led the league with a career-high 16 sacks, lower tackle and forced fumble numbers resulted in it not being his best fantasy season. While Simeon Rice (TB) brings the complete package to the table, the questions about his effort every game, much less every down, resurfaced this year. Those questions that hung over his career in AZ didn't follow him after his first season in TB, where he became an elite end year in and year out from that point. However, the loss of two key leaders on defense (John Lynch and Warren Sapp), as well as a down year for the team, seemed to have his focus waning. The result was an inconsistent and disappointing season, with concerns about his motivation for next year.

Busts Galore
The toughest choice among award (or in this case, anti-award) winners was most disappointing defensive lineman. There were a lot to choose from, but one really stands out. After coming out of nowhere to become one of the elite ends in the league, Mike Rucker (CAR) simply disappeared in 2004. The team struggled early and injuries, particularly the loss of Kris Jenkins, impacted the DLine, but Julius Peppers overcame them to have a career year. Rucker, on the other hand, never seemed to get his season started. Two close runner-ups were former teammates Grant Wistrom (SEA) and Leonard Little (STL). Early in the season, Wistrom wasn't looking like the high motor producer the Seahawks expected when they gave him a big free agent deal, but a broken leg and subsequent reinjury kept him off the field for more than half the season. Little played like his lingering legal problems were on his mind more than getting to the QB. Another undersized speedster, like Freeney and KGB, his value relies on sacks. When he doesn't pile them up, as was the case in 2004, he's a liability in your lineup. We've all been waiting for age to finally catch up to Michael Strahan (NYG), and while he had only one big game early in the season, injury struck and he missed the second half of the season. Another victim of the injury bug was John Abraham (NYJ). After ending 2003 with healthy problems, Abraham appeared to have adjusted easily to new DC Donnie Henderson's scheme, and was back to top end production. However, injury problems returned, and he didn't do much in a few games before missing the last quarter of the season. A few huge games propped him up enough to finish the season ranked 23rd, but he was out for both the fantasy and real playoffs, when his fantasy and real owners needed him most. In a classic case of his real value exceeding his fantasy production, Jevon Kearse (PHI) was an important part of the Eagles defense, but injuries were again a problem, and his numbers were hardly "freakish". He killed his IDP owners with a brutal second half. Expectations were tempered for Adewale Ogunleye (CHI) after joining the Bears and no longer having Jason Taylor diverting the focus of blockers on the other end, as well as not being in shape after holding out all preseason, but a mysterious and lingering leg injury were most responsible for his sporadic and low production. A new team and scheme weren't the concern for Warren Sapp (OAK) so much as his age and declining production. Those concerns were validated. A lot of observers (well, me, at least) thought Marcellus Wiley (DAL) was put in a situation on the Cowboys where he was set up to revive his career. Instead, he looked worse than ever and was a tremendous flop. If not for the moderate expectations because of his last few underachieving years, he would have been my Bust of the Year. Remember just a couple of years ago when Gary Walker (HOU) was emerging as an exciting two-way threat, a stout run defender with some pass rush ability, who was suppose to be the lynchpin up front of the expansion Texans 3-4 scheme? Yeah, neither do I. Courtney Brown (CLE), what more can you say, he makes Dan Morgan look like Brett Favre. Meanwhile, Andre Carter (SF) is looking like the next Courtney Brown.

Not Flukes
While there were plenty of promising DL names to be disappointed about in 2004, a few proved their breakout 2003 was no fluke, and took the step to the next level. Aside from the previously discussed Charles Grant, Bert Berry (AZ) and Aaron Schobel (BUF) were two other players who look like they can be counted on to be top producers for years to come. The concerns with Berry were magnified by his moves to both a full-time role and a new team with less support, but he came through with an even bigger season. A double-digit sack season for a DT is unusual. After posting one as rookie, while getting the advantage of some work at DE, it seemed unlikely Kevin Williams (MIN), sequestered to the interior with the addition of rookie Kenechi Udeze, would repeat. Instead, he did even better things this past season and replaces Warren Sapp as the rare DT capable of elite production and claims the crown from Kris Jenkins, in real football terms, as the best DT in the game. While he didn't repeat his record-breaking 2003 performance, Shaun Ellis (NYJ) had another solid season. Another slow starter, he ended strong and finished with 9.5 sacks, showing he is a legit pass rush threat as an anchor end.

Flukeness TBD in 2005
With all the busts, injuries, and cold streaks among the usual top producers, this was the Year of the Waiver Wire for DLinemen. A lot of guys who may not even had a home at the start of the year on average-sized dynasty rosters exploded in 2004. Leading the way was James Hall (DET). Lost in a collection of has-beens and never-wases at end for the Lions, Hall stepped up and had the first double-digit sack season for the team since back when Robert Porcher was still really good. Drafted in 2003 to be the elusive consistent compliment to Michael Strahan on the other side, sophomore Osi Umenyiora (NYG) was looking like just another disappointment. However When Strahan went down, Umenyiora blew up. He finished 11th overall, among DLinemen, on the year, despite not having a starting job until almost mid-season. Lack of a starting job didn't stop Robert Mathis (IND), who finished right behind Umenyiora, despite only being a situational pass rusher. Dynasty leaguers beware Mathis really is a one-trick pony. He could bulk up and get a regular job down the line, but, a la an N.D. Kalu, it would probably cost him sacks, as he'd be tired out taking a beating playing everydown. In his first full season as a starter in 2003, Alex Brown (CHI) proved better against the run than expected, but didn't display the pass rush talent he did in college. This past season, Brown took a step forward as a pass rusher, but still only finished with 7 sacks. His numbers were inflated by a fluke 4 sack game, as well. With the DLine looking much improved for next season, Brown will have the opportunity to prove he is for real.

Just Justin
It's time to lower the expectations for Justin Smith (CIN) and realize while he'll never be the elite pass rusher he was drafted so highly to become, he is a solid and consistent player.

Rookies
With two top ends in place, the ETA for Will Smith (NO) looked to be a year or two down the line. However, after an impressive camp, there was immediately talk he would be worked to the rotation regularly, including put in situations like rush LB on passing downs to immediately utilize his talents. The hype proved worth it, as Smith had 8 sacks and has already forced the Saints to find way to get him into the lineup more. Like Grant before him, he's on the fast track to studdom. The book on Darnell Dockett (AZ) was he had 1st round talent, but too much baggage, causing him to fall to the third round. Never scared off by this type of player, HC Denny Green appears to have found another undervalued gem, as Dockett kept his nose clean, attitude in check, and excelled on the field. Dockett saw some time at DE, but as long as his eligibility remains at DT, he has the upside to be a top producer as an interior lineman. The surprise among rookies was Jared Allen (KC), who was an undrafted rookie free agent from Idaho State. He led all rookies with 9 sacks. As a situational pass rusher, he excelled, but when moved into the starting lineup, his production declined while he adjusted. Immediately installed as the starting right end, Kenechi Udeze (MIN) had an inconsistent year and was a bit of a disappointment for those hoping he'd be a stud pass rusher out of the box, but his future is bright.


Defensive Backs - Stats

Top Producer: Ed Reed (BAL)
Breakout Player of the Year: Terrence McGee (BUF)
Rookie of the Year: Dunta Robinson (HOU)
Biggest Bust, Non Injury-Related: Greg Wesley (KC)
Biggest Bust, Injury-Related: Adam Archuleta (STL)

A Tale of Two Safeties
Heading into the 2002 Draft, all the buzz was about how a playmaking safety from Oklahoma would revolutionize the position. The Ravens coveted him, but he was drafted with the 9th pick overall. After missing out on some other players they rated higher, they settled for the allegedly next best safety with the 24th pick. Fast forward to 2004 and it is Ed Reed (BAL) who is no longer the red-headed stepchild in the shadow of Roy Williams (DAL), but it is Reed who is the best real and fantasy defensive back in the NFL, while Williams, no doubt still a fine safety, hasn't replicated the statistical success of his rookie season.

Welcome Back
He hasn't come close to double-digit picks again (although his 3 this past season were the second highest season total of his career), but Ronde Barber (TB) returned to the fantasy elite with nice stats across the board. After down years in 2003, Adrian Wilson (AZ) and Mike Green (CHI) were back among the top producers.

Where Did You Go?
After 16 interceptions in the previous two years Tony Parrish (SF), once known only for his hard-hitting, was looking like a fixture among the top fantasy DBs. However, deficiencies and injuries in the San Francisco secondary had him not focusing on just his job, but worrying about others, spreading him too thin and putting him back in the second tier. While he technically did not miss a game, a variety of injuries plagued Adam Archuleta (STL) limiting him to certain packages and lowering his playing time and effectiveness. He still finished in the Top 50, but was not the playmaking every week starter he had been establishing himself as. After a career year, Greg Wesley (KC) was the classic fantasy trap. His numbers returned almost exactly to the range he had been at the prior several years.

Change of Scenery
Already one of the top tackling CBs in the league in Buffalo, the knock on Antoine Winfield (MIN) was his ability to get the ball at his size. A high-powered Viking offense was the answer, as he posted a career-high 3 picks with opponents having to go to the air often. Labeled a first round bust in New England, a new address led to a breakout season for Tebucky Jones (NO), shattering his previous top tackle total for a season. After coming out of college with plenty of hype, Shawn Springs (WAS) had an erratic and injury-prone career with Seattle. The move to the Redskins has revitalized his career, where they capitalized on his athleticism in the pass rush, resulting in 6 sacks, quadrupling his career total of 1.5 (all in 2003). He also was back to picking off passes, grabbing 5, the most he had in a season since 1999. While his reputation exceeds his achievement on the actual football field, Champ Bailey (DEN) remained consistent as usual in fantasy production. His early season involvement on offense teased fantasy owners with the potential of some unexpected extra points, but it was just more Shannanigans, as he only caught 1 pass on the season.

Stacked Secondaries
The Eagles made the right choice in letting Bobby Taylor (SEA) and Troy Vincent (BUF) go. Both had injury-plagued seasons (although Vincent came on strong when healthy at the end of the year after moving to FS). Their young corners Sheldon Brown and Lito Sheppard were playmakers in their first full season as starters. FS Brian Dawkins returned from injury to Pro Bowl form and Michael Lewis quietly remains one of the bright young SS in the league. All four were in the Top 40.

The Seahawks had all four of their starters in the Top 50. Corners Marcus Trufant and Ken Lucas were in the Top 15, one and two (tied) in the NFC in picks, while hard-hitting FS Ken Hamlin was in the Top 30. Rookie Michael Boulware showed no problems transitioning to the NFL, much less a new position, as he was a playmaker before he even took over the starting job. The man he replaced, Terreal Bierria, was doing a nice job and ended the season in the Top 100.

Rookies
It took him a few weeks to get acclimated, but Sean Taylor (WAS) gave plenty of glimpses he will live up to huge his potential. Dunta Robinson (HOU) is already the real deal. Unfortunately, that means teams will be less likely to test him, impacting his picks, but he is also strong in run support, so tackle numbers should still be strong. The team is not done exploring his potential, and he began to get more involved as a pass rusher late in the year. This guy is a playmaker with excellent fantasy potential even if he doesn't see as many passes his way next year. A real steal later in the draft for the Bengals, Madieu Williams (CIN) excelled wherever they lined him up, and they lined him up at every secondary position. His tremendous versatility makes his future that much more promising. The Jets rotated their free safeties most of the season, but Erik Coleman (NYJ) emerged as the top fantasy producer. Nathan Vashar (CHI) maybe too small to be a standout starter, but his playmaking ability makes him the ideal third corner. Chris Gamble (CAR) is still learning to play corner, but his tremendous athleticism led to six picks, tying him for the rookie lead.

 



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