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Fantasy Bureau of Investigation: Persons of Interest
Michael Courter
June 16, 2006

When law enforcement seeks to solve a criminal case there typically are “persons of interest” who sometimes have a direct or indirect effect on the victim who are brought in for a few questions to hopefully provide the pieces to an answer that eventually cracks the case. 

In the world of fantasy football, there are numerous “persons of interest” each season who may or may not be on your pre-draft cheat sheets but nevertheless have an impact on how your season progresses and can sometimes determine if you’ll survive the minefield of your head to head playoffs at the season’s end.

Below is a compilation of those individuals who may not have been part of your initial draft strategy but an increased awareness of how they will fit in the fabric of the 2006 season just might provide the edge that elevates your team past the also-rans in more competitive leagues.

Eric Moulds

The veteran Pro Bowl wide receiver arrives in Houston with a Buffalo-sized chip on his shoulder after the organizational-wide disrespect he feels shown to him by the Bills over the last few years, culminating in a woeful 2005 that saw him fall well short of 1,000 receiving yards (816) and a quiet four touchdowns, averaging only 10.1 yards per catch, his lowest yield in 10 seasons.  After struggling through coaching upheavals and an endless procession of sub par quarterbacks in western New York, Moulds is expecting a receiving rebirth in Texas with pass-friendly new head coach Gary Kubiak, formerly the Denver Broncos offensive coordinator, calling the signals and would-be franchise quarterback David Carr welcoming the 11 year pro as the long-sought answer to complement the young and talented Andre Johnson on the other side as what could seemingly be the last piece in the Texans offensive play-maker puzzle.

Moulds presence will prevent opponents from doubling Johnson, allowing the 6-3, 220 pound wide out more room to gain steam down the field, while also providing Carr a more immediate target seven to 10 yards from the line of scrimmage, helping alleviate Carr’s well-documented sack woes. And if the passing game is thriving, not only will Domanick Davis have more room to run up the middle, but also catching passes out of the backfield, a role that Davis has thrived in since joining the Texans.  Perhaps this is why the Texans felt so confident in taking DE Mario Williams first overall rather then Reggie Bush. Time will tell if their hunch was correct. 

Not only does Moulds stand to gain statistically from his new surroundings and become a more attractive fantasy football player in his own right for 2006, but the ripple effect on Carr, Johnson and Domanick Davis will have fantasy participants taking a much closer look at Texans players come late-Summer Draft time.

Marcedes Lewis

Because an effective NFL offense must be able to attack the middle of the field, the Jaguars expect to solve their long-standing quest regarding an offensive playmaker to threaten opposing defenses over the middle with their 2006 first round selection of UCLA tight end Marcedes Lewis, the 2005 John Mackey Award winner (the top tight end in the college ranks). 

He’s the final redwood tree in an offense featuring the largest group of receivers in NFL history, adding the 6-6, 262 Lewis to existing veterans, Reggie Williams (6’4”-227), Ernest Wilford (6’3”-225) and Matt Jones (6’6”-245).  QB Byron Leftwich will be hard-pressed to overthrow this collection of former basketball players who are just starting to blossom in their vocations.

With the recent retirement of Jimmy Smith, the Jaguars need to gain yards over the middle seam looms even larger and the rookie will be expected to hit the ground running from Day One in order to allow a raw but talented group of pass-catchers the adequate room to make the necessary plays to allow the Jacksonville offense to grow from 2005, when the unit seemed to struggle to make first downs consistently.

Rod Marinelli

Who would have thought that the 33 year coaching veteran who made his NFL bones as the defensive line coach of those dominant Buccaneer defenses of the late 90’s and early 2,000’s would become such a pivotal figure in the fantasy football landscape of 2006?

Widely viewed around the league as a highly effective motivator and disciplinarian, former players rave about their experience playing for him, Pro Bowl Tampa DE Simeon Rice stated to, “When talking about Rod Marinelli, you are talking about a man, a myth and a legend. He evokes thoughts of those who have come before us. In the game of coaching, there’s nothing like him. He’s definitely one of a kind. He’s a Michelangelo, an Aristotle, a Socrates. He’s a great philosopher. He changes coaching to an art form. He understands the psyche of man and how to motivate men. He understands how to speak to men and how to lead men.”

Though Marinelli’s arrival in the Motor City should have an immediate and positive impact on a largely underperforming defensive unit the last few seasons, his ability to motivate and get his charges to play hard every down has already begun to wake up the collective sleeping giant of Lions skill position players, primarily recent first round draft picks RB Kevin Jones, WR Charles Rogers and WR Mike Williams.  Getting that group of first round talent to play to its abilities and then adding former Rams coach Mike Martz and his high scoring offensive game plan has created a potential greenhouse of fantasy football players who could yield surprising results in 2006, thanks to the new environment fostered by Marinelli.

Scott Linehan

A show of hands how many FFL’ers who would like to see Marc Bulger stay healthy for an entire season so he can utilize weapons like Torry Holt, Kevin Curtis, Isaac Bruce and Stephen Jackson for a full 16 games and mitigate the chances of a repeat of the late season debacle of ‘05 with the carousel of ineffective backups Jamie Martin and Ryan Fitzpatrick subbing for the injured Bulger for four to five agonizingly slow weeks, sucking the life out of the other Rams players in your fantasy lineup whose fate was tied to the production of the quarterback position?

The 6-3, 212 pound frame of Rams starter Marc Bulger was not designed to take the punishment it has endured over the last few seasons under the Mike Martz fun and gun offense, that more times than not would send five receivers into pass patterns leaving Bulger exposed, without any backfield blockers or tight end help, to the naked aggression of blitzing defenses, who treated the St. Louis signal caller as if he were an underperforming office worker in a “Terry Tate- Office Linebacker” Reebok commercial.
Enter former Vikings and Dolphins offensive coordinator and new Rams head coach Scott Linehan.  Linehan’s successful offensive scheme did wonders for Daunte Culpepper and Randy Moss during his time with the Vikings and Chris Chambers during last season’s offensive turnaround in Miami.  The first year head coach plans to employ a much more extensive use of the tight end, both in protection and in the passing game, than his predecessor did, use of the no huddle offense for at least a portion of every game, more audible discretion handed over to the quarterback and fewer seven step drops and four wide receiver sets, all quarterback-friendly tweaks that could possibly keep Bulger’s fragile shoulder-collarbone area intact for an entire season, increasing the potential for Bulger to reach 25 or more passing scores, which would be a career first.

Anthony Wright

With the Joey Harrington option off the board after the Detroit Lions consummated their May 12th trade with Miami, the Bengals remain a team still searching for dependable quarterback insurance this off season, as Cincinnati appears to be still uncomfortable with their backup plan for a quarterback position made tenuous by Carson Palmer’s ambitious recovery plan from major knee surgery.

The Bengals QB depth chart lists Doug Johnson, Craig Krenzel and Erik Meyer sitting behind the veteran Wright, should he falter in his role of immediate backup to franchise quarterback Carson Palmer as he struggles to comeback from the devastating hit to his knee from Kimo von Olehoffen in last year’s playoff game against Pittsburgh.  Palmer had surgery to repair the trifecta of cartilage tears (ACL, MCL, PCL) in January of this year and though the Bengals organization maintains he’ll be ready come early September, it’s highly unrealistic to assume he’ll make it through the 2006 season without any hitches.

Cincinnati might not need Harrington as much as they originally thought with the reliable Wright playing second fiddle.  In 2003, Wright started the last seven games for Baltimore’s AFC North Championship team, guiding the team to a 5-2 record and also started the Ravens postseason game against Tennessee that year.  Last year, he played in nine games with seven starts filling in for the injured Kyle Boller, completing career highs in passing yards (1,582), attempts (266) and completions (164) and completion percentage (61.7).  If  Palmer goes down for any extended length of time, Chad Johnson owners may have less to worry about too, as Wright boasts a strong arm, sporting 43 career completions of over 20 yards or more.   

Jeff Jagodzinski

Ahman Green went from a career highs in rushing yards (1,883) and touchdowns (15) in 2003 only to fall precipitously the next two seasons from 1,163 yards and seven touchdowns in 2004 to last year’s abysmal 255 rushing yards and zero touchdowns on 77 carries in five games started in a season halted by a torn tendon in his right leg.  The late season heroics of Nigerian newcomer Samkon Gado won the hearts of the Lambeau faithful and heightened the sentiment that the oft-injured Green heading into free agency after the season, who also became embroiled in several domestic issues, had worked his way out of the organization and the Green Bay community.

If not for Gado’s fumblitis at the end of last year, the only blight on a wonderful performance by the first year back, Green would probably not have been retained. Nevertheless, the Packers chose to re-sign the nine year pro, extending Green on a one year, incentive-filled offer.

After spending five seasons with the Packers as the tight ends coach, Jeff Jagodzinski went to Atlanta on a two year mentorship under well-known offensive line sensei, Alex Gibbs, of the infamous zone blocking reputation, which involves controversial cut-blocking at defensive linemen’s legs to create lanes.  Jagodzinski proved a bright student, helping the Falcons lead the NFL in rushing yards per game and yards per carry in both 2004 and 2005, and he will now import his running lane-creation wisdom to Wisconsin, this time in the capacity of offensive coordinator under new Green Bay head coach Mike McCarthy.

After years of frustration stemming from nagging injuries and off-field turmoil, Ahman Green might finally have fate smiling upon him in 2006 as his explosive running style is perfectly suited to manufacture long gains through Jagodzinski’s blocking lanes.  Green has already been slated as the starter going into this year’s camp and it is his job to lose.  Barring another long term injury, the table is set, thanks to Jagodzinski, for Green to re-emerge as a force in the fantasy football world after a multiple season hiatus.      

Rex Tucker

A nasty, tough son-of-a-gun from legendary Midland Lee High School from Midland, TX, the 6-5, 315 pound guard will become a utility infielder for the Lions offensive line after having played left guard, right guard and right tackle for new Detroit offensive coordinator Mike Martz in St. Louis last season.  Tucker’s versatility should play a key role in Martz’s high octane attack, one that will frequently leave his offensive line without any fullback or tight end to help pickup blitzes.

Martz’s offensive game plan tends to demand a lot of his offensive lineman, resulting in a high level of injuries to different players throughout the year and the addition of Tucker helps insure against any setbacks along the offensive front that might try to slow the new Detroit offense from taking flight under Martz, quietly serving fantasy owners of key Lions Kevin Jones, Roy Williams and possibly Josh McCown or Jon Kitna.   

Floyd "Porkchop" Womack 

After All Pro guard Steve Hutchinson, widely believed to be the best interior guard in the game, signed his controversial offer sheet with the Minnesota Vikings this past off season, Seattle’s vaunted offensive line, considered one of the top lines in football and one of the biggest reason’s why Shaun Alexander has now emerged as the best running back in fantasy football, was left searching for answers to repair the loss.  Resident backup OT Floyd “Porkchop” Womack has been chosen to step into the breach left by the perennial Pro Bowler’s departure.

Womack has been the Seahawks resident security blanket for years, filling in at left tackle, right guard and right tackle, when called upon. The six year veteran was slated to be the opening day starter at right tackle last season before injuring his triceps in the preseason giving way to Sean Locklear who would play well enough to keep Womack on the bench all season. 

Womack has battled the injury bug throughout his career in Seattle, suffering a hyper-extended big toe in 2003 and a broken right hand in 2002, prompting Seattle brass to sign free agent offensive line insurance in the form of 6-6, 305 pound OT Tom Ashworth from New England this Spring, who the Seahawks have currently learning both guard spots. 

Nevertheless, the 6-4, 330 pound Womack will play a large role, both figuratively and literally, in whether the continued elite production of NFL MVP Shaun Alexander over the last few seasons is sustained in the 2006 campaign.         

Joey Harrington  

After Gus Frerotte’s exit and failing to secure one of several tier two free agent quarterbacks that were in play this off season (Jon Kitna, Josh McCown, Jamie Martin, etc.), the Dolphins were painted into a corner and had to pull off a May trade for Lions castoff Joey Harrington after the former Detroit first round bust realized he couldn’t remain under Mike Martz’s thumb in Detroit and insisted on a trade out of town. 

When staring at a quarterback depth chart behind still-recovering starter Daunte Culpepper that reads Brock Berlin, Cleo Lemond and Justin Holland, the Dolphins trade of an undisclosed draft pick for Harrington was clearly the lesser-of-two-evils choice.  Harrington’s career 54.7% completion rate with 60 touchdowns against 62 interceptions paints a mural of disappointing mediocrity for the former No.3 overall pick of the 2002 Draft and does not bode well for Miami should Culpepper need to sit for any length of time during the 2006 season. 

As Culpepper attempts to recover from the unholy trinity of knee tears (ACL, MCL & PCL), the rehabilitation from an ACL injury alone can take 18 months to two years before an athlete makes a full physical and mental recovery, the Dolphins insist he’ll be ready by the September 7th NFL opener in Pittsburgh. Should he not be able to fulfill the aggressive schedule mapped out for him, Harrington’s play, for better or for worse, will render a significant impact on the 2006 fantasy fortunes of his Dolphin teammates carrying much higher scoring expectations, including RB Ronnie Brown and WR Chris Chambers.

Chester Taylor

Could lightning strike another talented, but underused running back forced to leave the Baltimore Ravens in an effort to earn more playing time?  The little-used, five year NFL veteran arrives in Minnesota this season, after spending the majority of his career in the shadow of Ravens power back, Jamal Lewis, hoping to emulate the career path of another former Raven halfback named Priest Holmes, who would become the face of fantasy football while playing with the Kansas City Chiefs from 2001-2003, after departing from Baltimore as a relative unknown.

Former Eagles offensive coordinator and new Vikings head coach Brad Childress envisions a Brian Westbrook–type role for Taylor, a 5-11, 213 pound slasher who was kept under wraps in Baltimore (playing in 62 total games but starting only eight in his four year stint as a Raven) behind starter Jamal Lewis.  And despite the crowded backfield competition that he will encounter with the Vikings, including holdover Mewelde Moore and second year back Ciatrick Fason, there is no clear cut favorite to stop Taylor from claiming the starter’s job as his own.

With the new head coach’s public endorsement, the import of Priest Holmes’ former blocking back from Kansas City, Tony Richardson, considered to be one of the best in the business, and the addition of perennial Pro Bowl guard Steve Hutchinson from Seattle to an across-the-board massive offensive line that will also welcome back All Pro center Matt Birk (who missed all of 2005 on the IR), Chester Taylor has enough leading indicators to be one of this season’s most pleasant surprises in the fantasy football landscape.