NBA free agency has been a looming topic for several months now, due to the quality of the players available.  Perhaps the biggest rumor is that multiple All-Stars will decide to sign with the same club, creating a new juggernaut franchise in the NBA.  The more this rumor is pushed out there, the more people seem to forget that this simply doesn’t happen in any sport.  Think back and try to remember the last time two guys took less money to play together.  Try to remember guys sacrificing money and statistics in favor of the mere chance to win a championship.  I can think of just one example in the modern sporting era.

In 2003 NHL All-Stars Paul Kariya and Teemu Selanne left their previous teams (Anaheim and San Jose respectively) to sign with the Colorado Avalanche while both taking massive pay cuts.  The two were close off-ice friends and had been teammates previously with the Anaheim Ducks.  The results didn’t match their desire, as Kariya struggled with injuries and Selanne was ineffective.  Their previous chemistry failed to re-emerge.  In the end they would play just one year together in Colorado.  Selanne would eventually win his Stanley Cup (ironically with the Ducks in 2007) while Kariya has not come close since his 2003 finals appearance with Anaheim. 

This is the only documented instance that I can remember of two star players foregoing dollars and numbers to win.  And it was unsuccessful.  Clearly one or two players can have more of an impact in the NBA than in the NHL, but across all leagues it just doesn’t happen.  It seems like every few years it’s speculated that Team X is “the favorite” to land multiple marquee free agents.  In the end, it turns out to be idle speculation.

The Chicago Bulls cleared the decks in the post-MJ era, expecting a windfall of free agents.  They settled for overpaying Ron Mercer, who played all of one and a half years in Chicago before he was traded to Indiana.  Anybody remember when Baron Davis was supposed to be joining his good friend Elton Brand in Los Angeles in the summer of 2008?  Only to have his buddy Brand sign a free agent deal with Philly only days after Davis signed on to the Clips?  If that kind of thing can go one between guys who are good friends off the floor, how are we supposed to swallow the idea that multiple franchise-level players are going to sacrifice numbers and (more importantly) dollars in order to win?

I think it’s certainly possible that we see one or more marquee free agents change teams this summer, but I don’t buy all the conspiracy theory that one club is going to land multiple players (and even coaches) due to back-room style agreements.  History shows us that just doesn’t occur, and with good reason.  Ask Joe Smith and the Minnesota Timberwolves how dangerous it can be to cut a deal in the shadows.

For two seasons or more now, the buzz around the NBA has been that LeBron James is going to lead the Cleveland Cavaliers to an NBA Championship.  There was good reason for this buzz.  He carried a downright crummy team to an NBA Finals appearance in 2007.  He had shown himself to be a dominating force both in regular season and playoff games.  He displayed a mix of talent and unselfishness that is rare in the world of basketball.

And yet while he projected an aura of invincibility… reality never caught up to that perception.  His imposing physical stature and tremendous athletic gifts made him seem at times like a man among boys.  LeBron James was so clearly great so quickly, that it seems to have taken a handful of years for observers to really figure out where he stands on the NBA landscape.

One thing is clear now as we stand in the shattered remains of Cleveland’s 2010 title hopes.  The Cavs made change after change to appease their young superstar and entice him to stay.  They resigned players like Drew Gooden and Daniel Gibson.  They added free agents like Jamario Moon and Anthony Parker.  They traded for known entities like Shaq, Mo Williams and Antawn Jamison.  What did it get them in the end?  Certainly no satisfaction.  Instead they’re left standing on the precipice, wondering what else they could have done to cement this team into a championship winning group.

While I can’t remember a team that was supposed to be so great failing quite this way, I can remember a team constructed in a similar fashion that in the end failed just as badly.  I’m talking about the Toronto Raptors.  Back at the beginning of this decade the Raptors had one of the leagues premiere young players in Vince Carter.  He was one of the most popular basketball players on the planet, known for his creative and ferocious dunks.  He carried what was quite frankly a pretty ordinary Raptors club to the seventh game of the second round against Philadelphia, where they lost when he missed a shot at the buzzer.  Carter was just 24 then, and looked to have a bright future ahead of him in Toronto.

Following the season, Vince signed a huge contract extension with the club worth over 90 million dollars.  He was told by management that the team was going to spend money and keep their good players together.  The end result of this was outrageous contracts for Antonio Davis, Alvin Williams, Chris Childs, Jerome Williams, Michael Stewart and other such NBA studs.  After two-plus disappointing seasons with the same nucleus, Vince voiced his frustration and disappointment about the team built around him.  He was ultimately traded to the New Jersey Nets in 2004.

Conveniently forgotten during Carter’s exodus was that he was the one demanding a competitive roster in the first place.  His demands for a competitive team placed the Raptors in the position of having to put a lot of money into questionable assets.  Even with Vince Carter on the roster, Toronto was not a free agent hot spot.  They felt that they had to shell out the cash needed to keep their existing core intact, and in the end that cost them long-term flexibility and made it impossible to build a true contender around Carter.  Cleveland seems to have reached a similar place with LeBron.  He signed that three-year extension a few years back with the intent on winning a title in Cleveland.  The Cavs tried to appease him by bringing in a variety of veterans and signing big extensions with the likes of Anderson Varejao and Booby Gibson.

They have now amassed a collection of veterans with clear limitations, and yet at the same time have removed almost all flexibility from their roster.  They seem to have finally realized that during this season when they refused to send J.J. Hickson out of town to bring in more high-priced talent.   Unfortunately for Cleveland fans, they may have realized it too late.  The Cavs are financially tapped out, unless they can get a team to take Jamison or Williams off their hands.  They gave up their #1 pick in the Jamison trade.  The ways for them to improve for 2010-2011 are extremely limited.  It would appear to be trade or bust, and that’s simply going to lead to them taking on contracts that are just as bad as the ones they already have, or perhaps even worse.  I’d love to be in the room to hear Danny Ferry pitch the Cavs to LeBron come July 1st, because on the surface it would seem that their biggest addition this offseason will be the subtraction of Shaq and Z.

Perhaps the Cavs have learned their lesson.  They are clearly at their best as a running team with athletes and shooters and defenders on the floor.  Now the question for the Cavs is how can they build that kind of team with no cap space, and a limited window of opportunity before LeBron can breeze right out of town.  At least in Toronto the fans had already long turned on Vince before he was traded to New Jersey for a ham sandwich.  The mistakes the Cavs have made could cost them Ohio’s most beloved sports hero since Jim Brown.

Tonight is the night.  The 2010 NHL Playoffs start in just a few hours as four series get underway tonight, three tomorrow and the eighth and final first-round set starts on Friday.  For the next two months it’ll be pretty much impossible to avoid hockey on TV, at least if you live up here in Canada like I do.  Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins embark on the defense of their Stanley Cup Championship from a year ago.

The Penguins open up their playoffs tonight, hosting the Ottawa Senators in a series where they are clear favorites.  But the Penguins aren’t close to the top seed in the East (they finished 20 points behind Washington) nor are they the hottest team entering the playoffs (that would be Detroit who have won 8 of 10).  Once again Pittsburgh will be forced to prove that they’re more than the Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin showcase.  Marc-Andre Fleury has struggled at times this year and he has yet to really cement himself as the dominant presence in goal he was expected to be.

This playoff has a lot of great stories tied into it.  The resurrection of the Los Angeles Kings as a legitimate contender.  Phoenix coming from the dregs of the league to become a 50-win team that nobody predicted.  Buffalo riding the greatness of Ryan Miller to a third seed in the Eastern Conference.  The old veterans in Detroit clawing their way back into the Stanley Cup chase after being discarded earlier this season.

Given time constraints, I can’t dive in and provide pages of analysis as I normally would love to, but here’s a quick and dirty batch of first-round playoff predictions.

Eastern Conference

(1) Washington Capitals vs. (8) Montreal Canadiens – Capitals win in five games.

Washington just has too much star power.  Even their questions in goal can’t prevent the powers of Ovechkin, Backstrom et al from controlling this match-up.  Sad because there are few things more fun than Montreal on a Stanley Cup run.

(2) New Jersey Devils vs. (7) Philadelphia Flyers – Devils win in five games.

The Flyers had to go to a shootout just to get in.  Marty Brodeur is the keystone, but this Devils team has some great talent all over the ice.  They’re not going to get rattled by the Flyers physical play, and Philly has too many questions in goal.

(3) Buffalo Sabres vs. (6) Boston Bruins – Buffalo wins in six games.

They might only need to score 6 goals to do it, the way these two teams put the puck in the net (note:  poorly).  The Bruins will need Tuuka Rask to match Ryan Miller save for save to stay in this one.  Rask has been superb, but it’s tough to say a rookie can pick up and drag a team into the second round.

(4) Pittsburgh Penguins vs. (5) Ottawa Senators – Pittsburgh wins in six games.

Crosby and Malkin are going to make Ottawa miserable.  The Sens will miss Kovalev because they just don’t have a lot of scoring depth.  Even having an off year I’d take Marc-Andre Fleury over Brian Elliot.

Western Conference

(1) San Jose Sharks vs.  (8) Colorado Avalanche – Sharks win in five games.

The Sharks can’t choke this fast… right?  They got rolling late in the year after some struggles, but the questions are the same as always.  Can Thornton and Nabokov elevate their game and lead this team like they should?  The Avalanche are just outclassed talent-wise.

(2) Chicago Black Hawks vs. (7) Nashville Predators – Chicago wins in seven games.

The ‘Hawks just have a boatload of balance and depth.  Nine guys scored at least 17 goals for Chicago.  It’s always nice when you can score even if Kane or Toews has an off night.  Pekka Rinne could turn this series for Nashville, but I’m not sure they can score enough goals to win four of seven.

(3) Vancouver Canucks vs. (6) Los Angeles Kings – Vancouver wins in six games.

The Kings are young and hungry… but not quite ready yet.  Luongo will outplay Jonny Quick in goal and the Canucks have finally found the offensive depth they’ve been missing for the past several seasons.  The Kings could swing this series with their young guns but unless Drew Doughty and Jack Johnson just crush the Canucks forwards, they’re in tough.

(4) Phoenix Coyotes vs. (5) Detroit Red Wings – Detroit wins in six games.

Poor Phoenix.  A great, great season and they drew a real bear of a match-up here.  These aren’t the dominating winged-wheel teams of the past, but they’re a veteran club with a ton of playoff moxie and a hot young goalie to boot.  Phoenix needs Ilya Bryzgalov to be great to win, just like the regular season.  This could be a real dog fight, but the Wings have been rolling as of late and are primed for a post-season run.

Some startlingly vanilla picks pretty much ensure that I missed the call on at least a couple of these series.  But it’s playoff hockey and everybody knows what that means:  a hot goalie can swing any playoff series.  Even the entire playoffs, if the goalie is good enough (see:  Roy ’93, Hasek ’99).  So it’ll be interesting to see if a new face emerges to add to the group of goalies who stand out come spring… or if it’s an old favorite like Marty Brodeur who does it again.

It’s not the way you’re going to see it worded by most observers.  The Pittsburgh Steelers are well known for their reputation as a classy and upstanding organization.  In recent seasons they have struggled with negative public relations through various transgressions from Ben Roethlisberger, Plaxico Burress and now Santonio Holmes as well.  Now the Steelers have made a statement by trading Santonio Holmes to the New York Jets for a pittance.  When you trade a Super Bowl MVP (and Holmes won the award just a year ago) for a fifth-round draft pick, you’re sending a message.

That message appears to be that the Steelers are prepared to pass on productive and talented players if they prove that they can not uphold the image the organization is seeking to project.  I suspect Big Ben Roethlisberger will be watching this very closely.  He would be advised to tread wisely after his own off the field problems.  No, Pittsburgh isn’t going to trade their franchise quarterback for a fifth-round pick.  But the fact that they’d be willing to deal a player who was integral to their recent success indicates that they place a very high value on optics and on a commitment to certain values.  While Santonio Holmes makes an interesting test case, Big Ben will be the true test of this.

I can see the reasoning behind this deal from the Steelers point of view, but were I a Steelers fan I’d be questioning the return.  Even missing four games due to a suspension this season, he could threaten the 1,000 yard barrier.  Have no doubt that the former first-round pick will make plenty of big plays in an offense that also boasts young QB Mark Sanchez and fellow deep threat Braylon Edwards.  In return for giving up a guy who can stretch the field, the Black and Gold got back a 5th round pick.  While it is possible to pull a valuable asset in the 5th round (Chicago nabbed Johnny Knox there last year) it is not what you would call likely.

You can’t argue the value of Santonio Holmes on the field and I doubt the Steelers would try.  From a pure football perspective, this trade stinks to high heaven.  But when you’re trying to build a certain kind of team and you have a certain image to uphold in your town… sometimes other factors override that.  Steelers fans just have to hope that Mike Wallace is ready for prime-time, and that Hines Ward can give them one more season as a starting-caliber wide receiver.    Jets fans on the other hand are no doubt crowing about the fact that they have added another weapon to an impressive offense and at a value price.

It’s official.  The Philadelphia Eagles have traded Donovan McNabb to the Washington Redskins.  It’s a little surreal to write.  Even in the NFL world where almost anyone can be traded or even cut, it’s tough to believe that Philadelphia would trade their long-time franchise quarterback to their division rival.  The Eagles are slated to receive Washington’s second round pick in this 2010 draft, as well as another third or fourth round pick in 2011.  Not only did the Eagles trade McNabb within the division, but they traded him simply for draft picks.  If nothing else that indicates how serious the Eagles became about turning the page from the McNabb era.

Donovan McNabb has never been the kind of beloved figure that most franchise quarterbacks become.  Especially not when they lead their team to eight playoff appearances, five division titles, five NFC Championship games and one Super Bowl appearance over eleven seasons.  Maybe it comes down to just playing in Philadelphia, but for whatever reason McNabb was never accepted by local fans wholeheartedly.  Instead he was often called into question for not elevating the team further or leading them to a championship.  As often happens with NFL quarterbacks, championships become the final measuring stick.

After being a pair for their entire NFL run, Eagles head coach Andy Reid will now have to work without McNabb.  Kevin Kolb has been anointed as the replacement in Philadelphia, although Mike Vick might beg to differ.  For the first time in over a decade, the Eagles yearly quarterback controversy won’t include Donovan McNabb.  That in itself will take some getting used to.  McNabb departs the Eagles with a career 83-45-1 record, the third-best winning percentage among active quarterbacks (behind Peyton Manning and Tom Brady) at .647.

So with McNabb off to Washington to join new Redskins coach Mike Shanahan, the Eagles are left to install third-year pro Kevin Kolb as their new starter.  Kolb was a second-round draft pick out of Houston in 2007, and has played sparingly since.  He did make a pair of starts in 2009, putting up some impressive numbers.  Whether that means that the 25 year-old is ready to run the offense full-time on a contending team remains to be seen.  He’s obviously unproven, but the Eagles must have seen something to warrant trading a player which they (specifically Andy Reid) steadfastly refused to part ways with over the years.

Eagles fans, you got your wish.  Donovan McNabb is gone.  Now you get to wonder if he’s going to come back to haunt you twice a season as a Washington Redskin.

About an hour ago I completed my biggest draft of the year.  It’s a long-running Yahoo league (2000-present) and it’s also my deepest league.  16 teams, 25 roster spots including 8 IDP spots.  We start 1 QB, 2 RB, 2 WR 1 TE and 2 Flex (RB/WR and RB/WR/TE).  We also use specialized PPR scoring.  QBs get 6 points per TD, but are also penalized more for sacks (-1) and INTs (-2).  IDPs get more points for sacks (4) and INTs (5) to give them higher value.  All this makes for some pretty crazy rankings and selections, and if a few guys aren’t prepared it results in a lot of laughs.  I had the #3 pick, thanks to finishing in third place last season.  Here’s a breakdown of my draft.

Round 1, Pick 3.  RB LaDainian Tomlinson, San Diego Chargers.

Forte and Fitz went 1-2.  I contemplated Peterson, but with the PPR factor I couldn’t pass up LT.  He hurt me a few times last year (I picked first last season in this same league) but overall was mostly solid.  With a healthier O-line and a better defense the Chargers will run it more.  I am expecting an uptick from him to 60 catches, 1,700 yards and 18 TDs.  AP, Brees, Turner and MJD all went directly after him.

Round 2, Pick 30.  WR Marques Colston, New Orleans Saints.

Yeah, some early rebound risk in the first two picks.  Colston’s young and still growing though.  He looked great coming back last season, and should break 90 catches again.  I was wrestling with Colston vs. Roddy White, who went at pick 29.  Took him over Welker and Bowe.  Also over the Rodgers/Rivers pair which went on the turn coming back to me.  I was also thrilled and surprised to see Addai go at #34 leading to…

Round 3, Pick 35.  WR T.J. Houshmanzedah, Seattle Seahawks.

Housh caught 90 balls last year with a less than healthy Carson Palmer and a less than good Ryan Fitzpatrick delivering the ball.  Considering that Fitzpatrick started most of the season, I would say it’s a good bet for Housh to rebound in an offense with Matt Hasslebeck and a handful of other solid weapons.  He hasn’t had less than 90 catches since 05, so I’m banking on 95-100 balls with 1000 yards and 7-10 TDs.  Took him ahead of Bowe mostly on the strength of his PPR powers.

Round 4, Pick 62.  WR Vincent Jackson, San Diego Chargers.

My first pick that I don’t love.  Not that I don’t love Jackson, I do.  But I felt like I could wait four picks to take Ray Rice.  I was wrong.  He went two picks after this.  Jackson has taken big strides two straight years and is Rivers’ favorite downfield target.  He should be in that 60 catch/1100 yard/7 TD range again this year.   It’s been a while since I’ve had wideouts carry my team.  Looks like that might be the case this year.

Round 5, Pick 67.  WR Braylon Edwards, Cleveland Browns.

Yep.  With Ray Rice off the board I was just not sold on any remaining running back (top remaining guys included Derrick Ward, Willie Parker, Jamal Lewis) so I filled out my second flex spot with another wideout.  Braylon is the wildcard of my group.  Two years ago he was the best fantasy wideout in the game.  Last year he was a drops machine who had only a handful of good weeks all year.  I am betting on him splitting the difference this season.  He’ll catch 65-70 balls for 1000+ yards and at least 6-7 TDs.  If he can regain his old form, who knows.  The Browns have NOBODY else to throw it to, so we’ll have to see how much room he has.

Round 6, Pick 94.  TE Zach Miller, Oakland Raiders.

Some crazy TE selections early in the draft including Dustin Keller going 43rd Overall while Owen Daniels dropped to 80th and Cooley to 66th.  No reason to take Keller there.  Even if he breaks out you waste his production by selecting him two-three rounds early (or more).  Miller and Carlson were the only TE’s left in my top 12.  I hated the RBs left and didn’t think I needed to handcuff Sproles this early.  Miller should be good for 70-80 catches with 800+ yards and 4-6 TDs.  Maybe more if Russell isn’t terrible.

Round 7, Pick 99.  RB Julius Jones, Seattle Seahawks.

Turns out I was wrong about Sproles.  He went with pick 98 and nice value wideouts Driver and Mason went 95 and 96.  Given that I still needed a second back and the pickings were getting very slim, I grabbed Jones and will at least get something out of him when they play the Rams or Cards hopefully.  I felt better about this pick when people started taking IDPs soon after (too early IMO) so I knew I could shore up my RB depth yet.

Round 8, Pick 126.  RB Fred Jackson, Buffalo Bills.

I was happy Jackson made it back to me here.  He looked good in three starts last year and will start the first three games of this season, but he also produced as a reserve.  In 12 games off the bench he ran for almost 400 yards and caught 28 passes for 280 more.  Not bad for your #3 back in a 16-teamer.  I expect him to keep getting 10-15 touches when Lynch is back.  Who knows what he can do for me before then.


Round 9, Pick 131.  WR Chris Henry, Cincinnati Bengals.

I try to avoid the trendy sleepers, but Henry is just too much of a talent to ignore.  If he’s even coming close to fulfilling his potential he could have a monster season as Palmer’s #1 (or #2) target.  The only way he doesn’t finish with 50/800/6 TDs is a suspension.  If it was anyone else, I’d imagine he’d have gone a round earlier.  Picking him means that I may end up trading one of my top four receivers, although I am usually not an avid fantasy trader.  I’m more of a draft em and be patient player, although I do use the waiver wire heavily.

Round 10, Pick 158.  RB Fred Taylor, New England Patriots.

Haven’t heard a lot about the Mayor of Jacksonville, but he’s the kind of #1 back the Patriots like.  He’s a veteran who knows what to do and knows it isn’t about him.  He can run, catch passes and block competently.  Yes he’s old, but he’s two years removed from 1200 rushing yards.  I took him here a good two rounds after Chester Taylor and three rounds after James Davis went.  Even Cadillac Williams (who I like too) went ahead of Taylor.  I’m hoping to see 600 rush yards and 900 total yards from Taylor, but we’ll see.

Round 11, Pick 163.  QB Matt Hasslebeck, Seattle Seahawks.

And here’s where we address the biggest hole in my roster.  I missed out on all the top QBs, as they went in a hurry.  The last QB I really liked was Cutler and he went 85th, well after guys like Matt Ryan and Donovan McNabb.  Normally QB is a position I don’t worry about.  This year I kind of wanted to get a top 6-8 guy, but it wasn’t in the cards.  My second strategy also got blown out of the water when Joe Flacco went at pick 159.  I had been planning to take Flacco and Hasslebeck on the turn here, but Taylor tantalized me and I fell victim to the old “maybe he’ll fall” trick.  Yeah… we all know how that usually goes.  So with Flacco gone I grabbed Hasslebeck and I will now pray he can stay healthy.

I picked only three more offensive position guys the rest of the way.  WR Josh Morgan (Round 12, 190), RB Michael Bush (Round 13, 195) and QB Shaun Hill (Round 17, 259).  They join Fred Jackson, Fred Taylor and Chris Henry to form the majority of my bench.

The rest of my picks were spent on defensive players and of course, that last round kicker.  Given that we start 8 IDPs (2 D, 2 LB, 2 DL, 1 DB, 1 CB) every week and the players were flying off the board as early as Round 5, one might wonder what was left for me.  Here’s what I managed to end up with using picks from round 14 and beyond;  DB Adrian Wilson, DL Shaun Rogers, LB Adalius Thomas, LB Lawrence Timmons, DL Dwight Freeney, DB Kerry Rhodes, DB Carlos Rogers, LB Nick Barnett, DL Aaron Schobel, DB Richard Marshall and of course, K Jeff Reed.  Not a bad haul.  Not elite, but there are plenty of playmakers there.

All in all I’m happy with the way my draft went.  I wanted to be deep at wideout and running back and I am.  The quality of my depth at RB isn’t great, but in a 16-team league where you can play as many as four backs at a time, that will happen.  My wideouts are so good that I’m a bit giddy.  I may end up dealing one for a running back, but we will see how the early season plays out.  I’m usually a guy who likes to sit on my team unless I see a fatal flaw.  On this team the most likely flaw is QB, obviously.  Hopefully a healthy Hasslebeck will team with TJ and put up some old-school Hasslebeck totals this year.

Fantasy football season is upon us.  To be fair, it’s been upon us for a month or two now.  I know that I personally have been doing ESPN and Yahoo mock drafts for six-plus weeks, as well as real drafts in some of my early-drafting leagues.   But the period from the last weekend in August through the first weekend before the start of the NFL season is always a draft crunch for tens of thousands (or more) of us from all over the world.

As I do more and more drafts during a particular year, I find myself gravitating towards and away from certain players.  Sometimes there’s a valid reason (injury, PT concern) and sometimes it’s just your spidey-sense tingling.  Here’s a compilation of some guys I have been targeting and avoiding throughout the summer, heading into three big drafts for me this weekend.

Tort’s Trendy Targets

RB Steve Slaton, Houston Texans -  Slaton came out of nowhere last year to surpass 1600 total yards and finish with 10 TDs.  He doesn’t get a lot of buzz among the top backs because he plays for a team that’s never gone anywhere and he wasn’t a name guy coming out in the draft.  To me anybody who gets him in the second round (anywhere after pick 12) has to be ecstatic.   Last year he ran big against teams like Pittsburgh, Tennessee and Chicago.  He’s also a great value in any PPR leagues (my preferred format) because he catches passes well and gets a decent amount of targets.

QB David Garrard, Jacksonville Jaguars – I don’t love their line, but then I didn’t love it last year either and Garrard had a solid fantasy season.  I think he can be a borderline #1 QB in smaller leagues (10-12 teams) and a solid second-level #1 in bigger leagues (14+ teams).    He’s finally got a veteran wideout like he hasn’t had since Jimmy Smith was there in Torry Holt.   His Yards Per Catch and Yards After Catch remained very similar last season, despite the fact that the Rams lacked weapons (not to mention an offensive line or reliable QB).  While I don’t think Holt will return to his old 1300/8-10 TDs form, I do think he’ll break 1000 yards and be good for 6-7 TDs.  That can only help Garrard, who also has MJD around to carry a big load.

WR Steve Smith, Carolina Panthers – He’s not what you’d call a “sleeper” by any stretch, but Smith does seem to be sliding in drafts despite having his second-best season last year.  Unnoticed thanks to the ridiculous emergence of DeAngelo Williams is the fact that Smith had more than 100 yards in five of the last six games last season, including two games over 150 yards.  He might miss a game or two most seasons, but this guy is unrivaled in my mind when it comes to the ability to win you a week from the wide receiver spot.  Even with Williams and Stewart taking a lot of the TD work, Smith is a good bet for 1400 yards and 6+ TDs again.  How many guys going in the third round can say that?

TE John Carlson, Seattle Seahawks – I understand the ‘Hawks want to run first, but given Walter Jones’ health and the fact that they’ve got Julius Jones and an aging Edge James at RB, I think they’ll figure out they have the personnel to move the ball through the air.  Carlson was a godsend for an offense that couldn’t keep anyone healthy last season and with T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Deion Branch and Nate Burleson all healthy Carlson should have plenty of room to work with.   He won’t match what the big seven can do at TE, but for a guy you can get much later in the draft he’s got the ability to hit 60/650/7  quite easily.

Deep Sleeper Pick:  RB Cadillac Williams, Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Maybe I’m crazy, but this guy always looks like the real deal to me and I’m just not convinced that Ward and Graham (who I think are both solid backs) can keep the ball out of his hands.  His health is obviously a huge red flag, but if you can grab him in the last round or two in 12-plus teams leagues I would jump on him frankly.  He’s got blue-chip talent.

Tort’s Anxious Avoids

RB Michael Turner, Atlanta Falcons – I’m not one of those people who believe in “The Curse of 370″ or anything like that, but I have big issues with drafting Turner anywhere in my top 5.  His numbers last season were too dependant on a VERY heavy workload (25+ carries 8 times) and weak opponents.  He had 671 rushing yards and 6 TDs  in four games against DET, KC, OAK, STL.  (167.75 YPG).  In six games against his divisional foes (CAR, ATL, NO) he totaled 524 yards, with 6 TDs (four in one game against Carolina).  I don’t see any way he tops 320 carries this year with the improvements of Matt Ryan and coaching concerns about his workload.  He also won’t face creampuffs on the level of Detroit and St. Louis to bookend his season.  And yes those 208 yards against STL helped very few fantasy owners coming in week 17.   I think Turner is a 1200 yard/10 TD back.  He’s a first round pick, but not a top 5 guy by any stretch to me.  His value drops even further in PPR leagues.

QB Matt Schaub, Houston Texans – “They called me Mr. Glass.” I do not necessarily doubt Schaub’s talents.  He seems like a guy who can be a top ten fantasy QB.  My problem with Schaub is two-fold.  First, he’s never actually DONE that.  He’s been a starter for two seasons, playing 22 out of 32 games and managing 24 touchdowns against 19 interceptions.  Here’s what we know about Schaub.  He gets banged up and has had exactly two-thirds of a good fantasy season in his career.  And yet I’m supposed to get excited about a 28 year-old QB who will probably miss a month of the year and draft him over Garrard or Big Ben or Matt Ryan or Jay Cutler?  Heck, I’d be hard-pressed to take him over Cassel or Carson Palmer who have their own health concerns.  I’m just not drinking the Kool-Aid on this guy I guess.

WR Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona Cardinals – Don’t get me wrong, Fitz is a phenomenal talent and a lock as a top 5 wideout, but I don’t get the universal #1 ranking.  He scored 10 TDs last year and that was with Boldin out for a handful of games and no reliable running game.  Assuming Hightower/Wells is better than James/Hightower (and I think that’ll be the case) and Boldin is back to his usual levels, I would look for Fitz to be closer to 8 TDs than the 12-plus he needs to be fantasy’s #1 wideout.  I can’t justify taking him ahead of Andre Johnson or Calvin “Megatron” Johnson.  I would rank him in a lump with Randy Moss and Steve Smith, which ain’t bad company either.

TE Jeremy Shockey, New Orleans Saints – Okay I admit, it was tough to find a tight end I didn’t like.  I think there are 12-15 very nice tight end options this year.  Shockey isn’t the guy I want.  He has durability issues that are obvious and known.  He has attitude issues that are obvious and known.  But mostly I just don’t think Brees would rather throw the ball his way than to hit Colston, Bush, Moore, Thomas and even Meachem.  Too many other weapons.  Shockey will be around 500 yards with a couple of TDs at most.  He’s getting some sleeper buzz.  I say “zzzzzz” to that buzz.

Crazy Stay-Away Notice:  RB Steven Jackson, St. Louis Rams – This guy is an amazing talent.  He’s the total package as a back, and when he’s healthy there are few to match him.  My problem is that he’s been banged up for two years and the Rams offensive line isn’t going to scare anyone.  Neither is their passing game so Jackson is going to take a pounding.  I predict we’ll get 12-13 games of elite production… but that’s not enough for me to spend a top 8 pick on.  Stay away!

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