Last year, as your fantasy draft approached, you were the king of
preparation. You had watched every televised pre-season game, munching
on bags of Doritos at midnight as Ron Powlus took over in the fourth
quarter and fired wide and high on every pass thrown to unknown
rookies from Southern North Carolina Atlantic College. You had participated
in 65 mock drafts, selecting 4th in 33 of them because that was
your pick in your money league. You had compiled a cheatsheet for
your re-draft league that included Adrian Peterson, Trevor Gaylor
and David Garrard as viable selections.
You were ready!
While all of the above is admirable, many of us who play fantasy
football forget one of the most valuable tools out there -- watching
what is happening in various NFL camps throughout the country, and
listening to what coaches and players are saying. With the advent
of the Internet and ESPN's interest in reporting everything that
is football, there is daily information from coaches and players
which will be valuable in helping to evaluate where to rank your
players. Obviously, you can learn about hold-outs and injuries,
but there is so much more to learn just by watching who is getting
reps, who the coaches are hyping, and which players are grumbling.
Below are 10 teams to which I will be paying particular attention
as camps open this year:
10. Cincinnati Bengals (July 27)
A good core of young offensive talent at the skill positions,
and a new coach who will stress defense make the Bengals an interesting
study. What new offensive schemes will the coaching staff employ?
Is the defense going to be improved under Lewis such that the
offense will be able to control the clock? Will these schemes
mean great numbers for Corey Dillon? Is Chad Johnson really ready
to emerge or is it just fantasy football hype? From an IDP standpoint,
who is likely to step up and take all of those tackles that have
been piled up by Takeo Spikes in the last few years? And what
about that Carson Palmer guy -- what's he doing?
9. San Diego Chargers (July 25)
The Chargers have cleaned house on the defensive side of the ball,
getting rid of former stars Junior Seau and Rodney Harrison, and
also dumping Rogers Beckett, who many see as a promising safety.
On the offensive side, stud David Boston has been brought in to
replace the aging Curtis Conway as a primary target for Drew Brees.
Camp will tell a lot about this team. Is Boston fully recovered
from his injury? Will one of the young receivers such as Reche
Caldwell be ready to step up and perform like Peerless Price last
year in Buffalo? Is Brees simply going to hand the ball to LT2
and let him go? Is the defense good enough to allow Marty to play
ball control? Is Donnie Edwards the answer to everyone's IDP hopes?
8. Chicago Bears (July 24)
Kordell Stewart takes over the reigns, and A-Train tries to get
back on track. Watch how many reps Thomas gets in pre-season.
He is supposed to be fully recovered, but is that an Edgerrin-type
of "fully" recovered? Also, look to see how the team
takes to Slash as a leader. Listen to the interviews of the offensive
linemen. If there are no signs in camp of respect for Kordell's
leadership, it could be another long year for FF owners who draft
Marty Booker, Kordell and A-Train. I would have ranked the Bears
as a more important team to watch except that their defense really
needs no observation in camp -- they should be solid again with
Urlacher as their anchor.
7. Dallas Cowboys (July 25)
Two words: Bill Parcells.
6. Kansas City Chiefs (July 19)
The health of Priest Holmes is a question mark in every fantasy
football owner's mind. In mock drafts, the top player from last
year has been the 5th or 6th running back taken due to his late-season
injury. I doubt that Priest will see a lot of game-time in the
pre-season, so it will be important to track how he is practicing
at camp. Is he participating in contact drills? How is his endurance?
Is he missing time? Other than Priest, watch for the Chiefs to
employ some new multi-receiver sets in their pre-season scheme.
Vermeil is continuing in his attempt to mold them into the Rams,
so it will be important to watch the health and productivity of
WRs in camp.
5. Green Bay Packers (July 20)
The Pack opens camp a little earlier than most teams, but it will
never be too early to watch the WR battles in DePere, Wisconsin.
Brett Favre is a talker. It's important to listen to him during
camp, as he will provide insight as to which receivers are progressing
in his eyes. Ahman Green has become a little less productive from
nagging injury problems. Pay attention to his health and his participation
in practices. On the defensive side of the ball, the Packers lost
some valuable guys in their front 7, so pay attention to how their
young defenders are reacting in camp. If the defense is weak,
there may be more demand for scoring, and it could be a big year
for Favre and the WRs of his choosing, bumping them on your draft
4. Jacksonville Jaguars (July 25)
The enthusiastic, tough, and positive-minded Jack Del Rio replaces
the dictatorial Tom Couglin, and this could mean a big turn towards
prosperity for the Jags franchise. However, since Del Rio has
no head coaching experience, it is vital to watch camp and pre-season
games to evaluate his impact from a fantasy perspective. Mark
Brunell was once a top 5 fantasy QB, but he had no confidence
under Coughlin and his legs have begun to wobble. Is he done?
Is Byron Leftwich the answer? Probably not this year, but watch
him in pre-season -- he may change your mind. There is no Stacey
Mack to steal goal line carries away from Fred Taylor, but does
Del Rio have another plan in mind? Will Taylor be 100% going into
the season? Does the addition of JJ Stokes help Jimmy Smith? From
an IDP perspective, is Hugh Douglas still going to be a force
with Henderson and Stroud next to him? Will Mike Peterson be a
tackling machine in a new scheme? Watch how these guys handle
what should be a tough camp under Del Rio.
3. Denver Broncos (July 24)
Jake Plummer's arrival to a Mike Shanahan coached team means either
great numbers for Plummer or statistical disaster for Rod Smith,
Ed McCaffrey and Ashley Lelie. Despite all of his failures in
Arizona, I am a Plummer fan. He is durable, tough-minded and has
a decent pro arm. Other than David Boston, the supporting cast
of Cardinals was woeful for his entire tenure. Now, he will be
surrounded by a great offensive line, Clinton Portis and a flock
of talented receivers. Listen to what Plummer's supporting cast
has to say about him in camp. Watch his throws and his timing.
Don't listen to Shanahan -- he lies all the time. Watch Ashley
Lelie in camp. If he's healthy, his performance in camp will tell
a lot as to where Ed McCaffrey should be drafted.
2. Carolina Panthers (July 25)
Stephen Davis has the potential to be a monster in the conservative
system being run by John Fox. But, in order to prevent teams from
stacking 8 in the box to stuff Davis, the coaches at Carolina
are going to have to figure out ways to move the ball in the air
occasionally. Muhsin Muhammed is still a threat when healthy,
but everything else that Carolina has in its passing game, including
its quarterback is a question mark. Is Jake Delhomme the answer,
will Randy Fasani step up, or will the Panther turn to Rodney
Peete, the modern day Vince Evans? These questions will be answered
in camp. If you are in an IDP league, watch the health of Dan
1. Washington Redskins (July 27)
Trung Canidate, Kenny Watson or Ladell Betts? Patrick Ramsey ---
is he really Spurrier's guy? Laveranues Coles or Rod Gardner as
a main target? Will Spurrier continue to spread the ball around?
Is Taylor Jacobs going to see significant action as a rookie?
Does special teams really matter as much as Spurrier apparently
thinks? Does Marvin Lewis' departure mean anything? Will Daniel
Snyder meddle too much? All of these questions make the Redskins'
camp the most intriguing to watch. However, I think the real question
on which to focus is Ramsey. Watch him and Spurrier closely in
August. If Ramsey has a good camp, he could be a top 5 QB at season's
end from a fantasy perspective. I'll guaranty you that few fantasy
football owners will have him ranked so highly before July 27th.
:: comments to chris