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Cleveland Browns—Worst Receivers in NFL? Yes

By: — April 7, 2010 @ 10:08 am
Filed under: Forecast

Having jettisoned their top two quarterbacks from last season, Brady Quinn and Derek Anderson, in favour of the aging Jake Delhomme and veteran Seneca Wallace, the Cleveland Browns next logical move would seem to be repairing the desperate situation at wide receiver.

Or perhaps not.

With new general manager Mike Holmgren having an offensive background, most observers felt he would focus his attention on that side of the ball in free agency and that has proven to be true.

In addition to addressing the quarterback position, the Browns went the free agency route in acquiring right offensive tackle Tony Pashos and tight end Ben Watson, as well as re-signing guard Billy Yates and tight end Greg Estandia. They also picked up fullback Peyton Hillis from the Broncos as part of the Quinn trade, and he can also fill in at running back.

However, despite having the worst passing offense in the league with a woeful 129.8 yards per game last year, the Browns have not addressed the wide receiver position in free agency. To put this in perspective, the next worst passing offense was the New York Jets with 148.8 yards per game, 19 yards a game better than the Browns. The Browns were really, really bad.

More proof of the anemic passing attack was that the Browns were the only team in the NFL to complete fewer than 50% of their passes. They averaged a league worst 5.1 yards per attempt and had the second lowest number of touchdown passes with 11. The team’s wide receivers caught only five of those touchdown passes.

And yet the current depth chart at wide receiver remains unchanged from the end of last season with second-year players Mohamed Massaquoi and Brian Robiskie accompanied by former Jet Chansi Stuckey and Josh Cribbs. Combined, they caught 80 passes last year for 1,063 yards which would be considered solid production from a team’s number one receiver, not its top four.

With the remaining free agent wide receivers consisting of aging veterans and journeyman, the Browns will be forced to address the position in the draft, barring a trade. The top wide receiver available is expected to be Oklahoma State’s Dez Bryant but his draft stock is sliding due to questions about his character and poor 40-yard time, making it unlikely the Browns will pick him with the seventh selection in the draft.

Fantasy Impact

Massaquoi is the only wide receiver on the roster that has shown the ability to develop into a productive starter. At 6’2” and 207 pounds, he has good size and displayed some big play ability as a rookie with 34 receptions for 624 yards and three touchdowns, averaging an impressive 18.4 yards per catch.

However, he was very inconsistent with a large portion of his production (407 yards and two touchdowns) coming in four games, the only games in which he topped 40 yards receiving. In addition, his average yards per catch as a rookie may be deceiving since he doesn’t possess great deep speed. Nonetheless, he projects as the Browns top wide receiver in 2010 and as a low end fantasy WR4 with limited upside.

Robiskie’s lack of production as a rookie was particularly confusing since he was considered to be the most polished wide receiver coming out of college last year. Despite being the fourth pick in the second round and possessing decent speed, he was active for only 11 games, many of which he barely played, and caught seven passes for 106 yards. He was targeted only 21 times.

Barring major improvement during the offseason together with a solid training camp, he does not currently project as a player worth drafting in all but the deepest of fantasy leagues.

Cribbs has displayed some obvious big play ability but in five years, the most yards he had from scrimmage in a season came last year when he totalled 516. In the previous four years, his combined total was 292 total yards. Although the Browns list him as a wide receiver, there is little doubt that his biggest potential for fantasy purposes lies in his ability as a running back.

With Jerome Harrison having basically a solid half-season out of four years in the league, Hillis a marginal talent and James Davis coming off a wasted rookie season, Cribbs could have surprising production as a runner in Cleveland provided there are no additions to the depth chart prior to opening day.

As for Stuckey, he was reasonably decent for one season as a third wide receiver with the Jets in 2008 as part of an offense that put up solid passing production. Last year, the Jets gave up on him after he started three of four games with minimal impact. He’s a marginal talent at best and isn’t even guaranteed a roster spot in 2010.

The Raiders, Rams and Buccaneers also possess depth charts at wide receiver that are severely lacking but those teams possess some decent veterans and a speed element, neither of which exist in Cleveland at the moment.

Add it all up and it seems clear that the Browns currently possess the worst group of wide receivers in the league.

Eagles Trade Donovan McNabb to Washington Redskins—Fantasy Impact

By: — April 5, 2010 @ 9:33 am
Filed under: Transactions

With new head coach Mike Shanahan at the controls, the Washington Redskins and their flamboyant owner Daniel Snyder promised the team’s fans that the days of wild free agent spending and veteran acquisitions were over.

The new vision died a quick death with the team’s decision yesterday to trade for the Eagles’ Donovan McNabb. In order to acquire, the 33 year old quarterback, the Redskins shipped their 2010 second round pick (37th overall) and a conditional pick in 2011 that will be either their third or fourth round pick.

While the price is reasonable, the vision of the Redskins turning to the draft to reverse the team’s sagging fortunes over the past few years seems over. In that regard, the new administration is following the same philosophy as previous regimes did in Washington under Snyder – eschewing developing young players in favour of playing aging veterans in the hopes of a quick fix.

The Redskins have a solid defense, one that is perhaps worthy of contending for a championship. However, the offense is not yet ready to lead the team to a division title and it’s difficult to envision McNabb as the final piece of the puzzle that pushes them over the top in 2010. In fact, they will need to push the right buttons in free agency and the draft just to have a chance to make the playoffs in 2011.

The trade increases the likelihood of the team using the fourth overall selection in the draft to plug the hole that was created at left tackle with Chris Samuels’ retirement. It also increases the chances of incumbent starting quarterback Jason Campbell being moved before the draft, possibly to the quarterback needy Buffalo Bills.

The move is a bold one for an Eagles front office known for its conservative player personnel moves.

McNabb has been to the Super Bowl, five NFC Championship games, six Pro Bowls and holds almost all of the franchise’s career records. In trading him to a division rival, the team is signalling that they are confident that Kevin Kolb is ready to lead the franchise and that McNabb’s presence in Washington won’t push the Redskins into Super Bowl contender status.

The Eagles brain trust has a history of solid personnel moves so the odds of them being right on Kolb seem likely. However, that doesn’t lessen the shock that they were willing to trade a player of McNabb’s stature in order to clear a spot for him in the starting line-up.

Fantasy Impact

While McNabb was my fifth ranked fantasy quarterback a month ago, his fantasy stock plummets with a move to Washington. In Philadelphia, he would have been surrounded by outstanding young talent at the skill positions in wide receivers DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin and Jason Avant as well as tight end Brent Celek and second-year running back LeSean McCoy, and protected by a solid offensive line.

While Redskins tight ends Chris Cooley and Fred Davis are arguably only a notch below Celek, their wide receivers are no match for the Eagles threesome. In addition, their offensive line is in shambles and they have an aging group of running backs in Clinton Portis, Larry Johnson and Willie Parker that are well past their best before date.

McNabb becomes my 15th ranked fantasy quarterback and barring a breakout campaign from either Devin Thomas or Malcolm Kelly, it’s difficult to conclude that he has much upside from here. His risk factor also increases considering he is an aging quarterback playing behind a leaky offensive line and he has managed to stay healthy for a full season only four times in his 11 year career.

Of the Redskins wide receivers, Santana Moss figures to benefit the most but he will be 31 on opening day and has topped 1,000 yards once in the last four seasons. Plus, his small stature reduces his usefulness in the red zone.

He moves from WR5 status to being a WR4 in 10 team leagues and a marginal starter in 12 team leagues. I have him ranked 35th overall at wide receiver.

The odds of Thomas and Kelly breaking out in their third year in the league increases but predicting that is a stretch. They move from being waiver wire candidates in most leagues to potentially being worth a spot at the end of your fantasy bench depending on their play in the preseason. Keep your eye on this position battle during training camp.

Given Celek’s production over the past couple of years and Shanahan’s frequent use of the tight end position, Cooley and Davis figure to benefit from McNabb’s arrival but splitting the production is never a recipe for fantasy success at tight end.

As for the Redskins running backs, it’s best to avoid them altogether.

With the Eagles, Kolb obviously benefits the most from this move. He played reasonably well in a pair of starts last year against New Orleans and Kansas City, topping 300 yards in each game and throwing four touchdowns and three interceptions. He completed almost 65% of his passes in those games, displaying solid accuracy. Of course, the Saints were playing soft coverage because they had a big lead for most of the game and the Chiefs secondary was amongst the worst in the league.

Nonetheless, Kolb hasn’t played enough in the league to provide an accurate gauge of his fantasy prospects for the 2010 season. Fantasy owners are left to decide whether or not they trust the Eagles front office in installing him as the team’s starting quarterback on a roster that has the ability to challenge for the division title next season.

He will benefit from a solid supporting cast but young quarterbacks can be expected to throw more interceptions than veterans so expect a few more picks from Kolb than McNabb has thrown in recent seasons. Kolb figures to pass for between 3,500 and 3,800 yards with 20 plus touchdowns.

He becomes my 12th ranked fantasy quarterback but with upside and is an excellent option in dynasty leagues. Move him a couple of notches lower in leagues that penalize interceptions.

At wide receiver, Jackson, Maclin and Avant figure to move down slightly but not significantly. Jackson moves from sixth to eighth in the wide receiver rankings while Maclin moves from 25th to 30th. Avant remains worthy of owning in deep leagues and is a solid waiver wire candidate in shallower leagues if Jackson or Maclin is injured.

It’s worth noting that Celek caught 16 passes for 208 yards and a touchdown in Kolb’s two starts last season so there is plenty of reason for optimism with regards to his fantasy prospects.

However, in moving him from my second ranked tight end to fourth, I’m choosing to ignore that rather important statistic in putting Celek behind Antonio Gates, Vernon Davis and Dallas Clark. He remains an excellent player to own in dynasty leagues and could benefit from this move but he slides as his projected number of touchdowns is reduced with Kolb at the controls.

The Eagles running back tandem of McCoy and Mike Bell doesn’t see a material change in their fantasy prospects as a result of this trade.

Suspension Looming for Steelers’ Ben Roethlisberger, Fantasy Impact

By: — April 1, 2010 @ 8:25 am
Filed under: Transactions

With NFL commissioner Roger Goodell’s announcement that he plans to meet Ben Roethlisberger at the appropriate time to discuss his recent off the field issues, there is a growing sense that the league will suspend the Steelers quarterback for a portion of the 2010 season.

Roethlisberger was involved in a second sexual assault investigation since last July when, in early March, a 20 year old college student accused him of assaulting her in a bathroom of a bar in Midgeville, Georgia. Previously, Roethlisberger was accused of raping a hotel employee at Lake Tahoe in Nevada. He still faces civil proceedings related to that incident.

In Pittsburgh, fans largely supported him after the Lake Tahoe incident but that support seems to have eroded since the second allegation, as the number of troubling incidents regarding his behaviour seems to have reached a breaking point.

Fans in Pittsburgh are well aware of his penchant for the town’s night life and his refusal to acquiesce to the teams request that he wear a helmet when riding his motorcycle as well as the sexual assault allegations.

It seems clear that the NFL, the Steelers organization and its fans are troubled by aspects of the star quarterback’s behaviour and his seeming inability to avoid situations that could bring him, the league and the team into disrepute.

With Roethlisberger not attending the team’s offseason conditioning program, Steelers management is tacitly acknowledging that his presence would be a distraction to the team. They have not commented on when he will return to the team.

Possible Suspension

The league’s personal conduct policy allows Goodell to suspend players before they are convicted of any criminal offences. Due to the serious nature of a sexual assault allegation and the fact that Roethlisberger has been accused of sexual misconduct twice within a nine-month period, Goodell’s announcement that he was monitoring Roethlisberger’s situation and intends to meet him should come as no surprise.

If the investigation into the early March incident results in charges being filed, the chances of Goodell suspending Roethlisberger increase. If Roethlisberger is charged but not convicted, Goodell could decide against suspending him if he determines the charges were largely unfounded. Alternatively, he could determine that a one or two game suspension is warranted given the pattern of Roethlisberger putting himself in troubling situations.

If Roethlisberger is convicted of sexual assault, he will likely face time in prison as well as a lengthy league suspension. However, given the slow moving nature of criminal proceedings, a conviction during the 2010 season seems unlikely.

Fantasy Impact

Roethlisberger is coming off his best season as a pro and finished as the eighth ranked fantasy quarterback in 2009. With the Steelers moving to more of a pass based offense and possessing three solid wide receivers in Hines Ward, Santonio Holmes and second year speedster Mike Wallace, Roethlisberger was expected to meet or exceed his production from a year ago.

However, his fantasy prospects for 2010 are clearly diminished with the threat of a suspension looming and the obvious distraction of criminal and civil proceedings. His fantasy value is negatively impacted due to the increased risk he carries.

Roethlisberger owners in dynasty leagues may want to gauge his trade value and move him if another owner isn’t asking for a discount due to his current situation.

The biggest fantasy issue arising from Roethlisberger’s predicament resides with the team’s wide receivers and tight end Heath Miller. With the aging Charlie Batch and unproven Dennis Dixon in reserve, there is a huge dropoff at the quarterback position.

Keep abreast of Roethlisberger’s situation if you’re considering any of his receiving options for your fantasy roster in 2010.

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