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An Eye On The Future – Vol. VI (Off-Season Edition)
Dynasty League Updates

This space will be a semi-regular feature at FF Today and will look to explore, speculate, and keep people interested in up and comers in the NFL who may be or may not be well known in dynasty league circles. I’m not guaranteeing anyone to become the next star, but merely helping the reader to keep abreast of developments that could affect your dynasty league rosters this season and beyond and perhaps even help you discover unknowns who could become known quantities down the road.

There’s been a lot of player movement this off-season and not all of those players changing teams are as well known to fantasy footballers as Julius Jones, Isaac Bruce, Michael Turner, Javon Walker, Warrick Dunn, Bernard Berrian, Jason Elam or even Jerry Porter. Some lesser known players who have changed addresses could land in significant roles and should be looked at as late round flyers in start up dynasty drafts or snatched up in the final rounds of rookie/free agent drafts in established leagues. At the very least these lesser-known players should be watched with a careful eye until the waiver wire runs once the season starts. This off-season edition of An Eye on the Future will mostly concentrate on those players making a fresh start with a new team, but will have a few lesser heralded rookies and incumbent veterans that have fallen off the fantasy radar sprinkled in as well.

The Passers

With Josh McCown being signed as a free-agent and former Michigan quarterback Chad Henne being drafted by the new regime in Miami, it’s easy to dismiss second year passer John Beck, but one would be foolish to do so as a dynasty owner. He didn’t look all that impressive last season, but let’s not forget most rookie signal callers struggle in year one and being thrown to the wolves against the blitz happy Philadelphia Eagles was a tough way to start a career. FFToday’s Matt Waldman had Beck as his highest rated QB in the 2007 draft class and the intelligent leader has a great chance to beat out the aforementioned new comers in camp and lead his young team into respectability. Beck is an accurate thrower and has good field vision to find the open target. His mobility also gives him a decent shot behind a still sub-par o-line in Miami. He’s a great buy low guy to target in dynasty leagues.

While Alex Smith is a former No. 1 pick, and therefore should be given an advantage to win the starting job in camp, from all indications it will be an open battle to see who will be the one to man the fantasy goldmine spot of a quarterback in a Martz offense. Shaun Hill had some mild success last season after taking over for Smith, but the wildcard in the mix is J.T. O’Sullivan, a quarterback that Mad Mike was high enough on to bring with him to the Bay area from Detroit and already knows Martz’ complex playbook. While he’s a 29 year old career backup, he has looked good in the preseason for teams like Green Bay and Detroit and it wouldn’t be unprecedented for a journeyman backup to get a new life later in his career and become and effective starting quarterback – see Rich Gannon. This situation should be followed closely this offseason.

The Runners

Lorenzo Booker who followed Leon Washington at Florida State didn’t see much action as a rookie with the Dolphins, but after being talked up by new Dolphins’ coach Tony Sparano, he was promptly sent to Philadelphia in a pre-draft trade. Booker will now back up Brian Westbrook, who is 29 and has at times struggled to stay healthy, so he’s worth a roster spot as a short term and long term investment. While he’s not as dynamic as Westbrook he is similar in stature and style and should find success in the Eagle offense that has made Westbrook a legitimate star when he sees the field.

Brian Calhoun has spent two injury plagued seasons with the Detroit Lions, but has been singled out with praise from head coach Rod Marinelli this offseason for being “healthy”, showing “good vision”, and being able to “cut well”. Marinelli also described Calhoun as “not just a third-down back, he’s a back”. Calhoun had an impressive career in Wisconsin and if Kevin Smith takes time adjusting to the NFL, Calhoun could get a chance to see the field. Smith isn’t known for his pass catching abilities – and neither is Tatum Bell - so perhaps Calhoun will land a significant role in the passing game, and even if he is “just a third down back”, that gives him some value in point per reception leagues.

Former Indiana Hoosier Chris Taylor seems to be a media and fan favorite in Houston despite not see much playing time during his young career due to injury and a crowded backfield. It has been suggested that the Texans did not draft a RB early in 2008 because they have faith that Taylor could contend for significant playing time, as the coaching staff thinks he’s the ideal fit for their zone blocking system at 220 pounds. Ahman Green looks to be near the end, Chris Brown has had issues staying healthy and Darius Walker and Steve Slaton look best suited for third down work so Taylor could see a cracked door at some point this season. If he kicks it open, it would be nice to already have him stashed on your bench.

A rookie RB not getting much buzz in 2008 that could very well get a shot at significant playing time as early as this season is Jalen Parmele of the Miami Dolphins. He’s a sturdy 221 lb. back that is a very effective downhill runner who hits the hole hard. His powerful running style suits what Bill Parcells and Tony Sparano will want to do in Miami this year and going forward. I’d expect Ronnie Brown to be eased into 2008 coming off an ACL tear and while I am a big fan of Ricky Williams, it’s tough for any team to fully commit to the 31 year old back with a history of flakiness (to put it mildly). Williams will be a free agent following 2008 and likely not resigned so Parmele could take on an even bigger role in 2009, as Brown hasn’t been the picture of health during his young career.

The Pass Catchers

Devard Darling has been mostly unnoticed during his four years in the NFL out of Washington State, but made a little noise down the stretch for the Baltimore Ravens, highlighted by a 107 yard with a TD performance against the Cleveland Browns in Week 11. His productive second half must have caught the eye of the Kansas City Chiefs who signed him as a free agent and made him the pre-season favorite to replace the departed Eddie Kennison in the starting line-up across from Dwayne Bowe. Darling’s speed should help open the field for Bowe and TE Tony Gonzalez to work underneath, but only if Brodie Croyle is able to connect on a couple of deep throws per game to the former Raven. The last unheralded player to sign with Kansas City after being underused in Baltimore was a player named Priest Homes. Just saying.

Bryant Johnson

Can Mike Martz make Bryant Johnson a fantasy stud?

Former first round pick Bryant Johnson has long toiled in the shadows of Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald in the desert sun, but has now signed a one year deal to show his stuff in the Bay area in an offense run by Mike Martz. If guys like Shaun McDonald, Az-Zahir Hakim, and Mike Furrey were able to land on the fantasy map playing under Mad Mike, just think what the talented and speedy Johnson could do across the field from steady Ike Bruce. Also for a deeper roster spot, keep an eye on Jason Hill. The second year wide-out is a complete package at wide-receiver and just may be the break-out guy in that potentially productive passing game if Johnson falters and Bruce shows his age.

TE Anthony Fasano was a highly rated talent at Notre Dame and a Bill Parcells’ type player - many compared him to Mark Bavaro - who played well in limited action behind Jason Witten in Dallas. The Big Tuna made sure to bring Fasano to Miami with him by trading a draft pick – which is quite the commodity for a re-building team - for the big TE right before the NFL draft. Fasano should start right away and be one of the better targets in the Miami passing game, as he gets good separation and has steady hands. Whoever wins the training camp battle in Miami - journey-man Josh McCown or youngsters John Beck or Chad Henne - will likely make Fasano their best friend in the passing game since the Miami wide-outs are nothing more than adequate at best.

Chansi Stuckey was a late round pick out of Clemson that impressed the Jets last pre-season with his speed and reliable hands, before injury forced him to spend his rookie season on the IR. He has shone in OTAs this off-season and word is he could supplant Brad Smith as the slot receiver in the Jets’ passing attack. The New York offense should be much improved with off-season help on the OL and Kellen Clemens likely growth, perhaps giving Stuckey some fantasy relevance from deep on your bench.

While Donnie Avery was the first wide receiver drafted this year as a second rounder for the St. Louis Rams and is therefore the one going much higher in rookie drafts, fourth round pick Keenan Burton may make a bigger impact with the Rams this season and in future years. Sources are indicating that while both played well during OTAs, Burton has made the bigger impression with the coaching staff. The Kentucky product is going un-drafted or very late in rookie drafts while Avery is going in the second round in most drafts, making Burton a potential steal.