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Scout's Honor
Joe Levit
August 21, 2007

If you have ever played the popular strategy game Stratego, which pits two opposing armies against one another on a board of squares, you quickly come to realize an important fact – a fact that can be related to fantasy football and help you make some smart selections in your upcoming drafts.

The top-rated piece on the board for each Stratego team (the Marshal, at #1) has a major flaw. The weakest piece overall, the Scout, can eliminate the Marshal if the Scout strikes first in a battle between the two.

This vulnerability at the top makes the second-rated piece for each team (the General at #2) the most powerful piece in reality.  In fantasy football terms, we can consider the Marshals of our teams the top player at each position on our fantasy squad. Overall, that would be the top 12 players (in a standard-sized league) at each position. This is the top tier of talent, even if you choose to subdivide the groups of 12 players into smaller tiers for your personal rankings.

Though most of the pro football “Marshals” don’t have a tragic flaw quite like the Marshal in Stratego, their counterparts do exist in the NFL – second backs and backup quarterbacks, third receivers and throwaway tight ends that will end up playing like a first-slot talent.

Going into this fantasy season, there are a few guys rated as Generals by the majority of fantasy owners that have the skill and opportunity to perform like Marshals. Having your supporting role players come through in this way gets you into the playoffs with a shot at the championship. Take some time to think about the players presented below, and see if you agree that one or more of them are a player you should target soon.

Quarterbacks

Philip Rivers – Considered a borderline fantasy starter by many, Rivers can easily move into the top 12 of fantasy quarterbacks, perhaps the top eight. He has more than a few factors going for him. First, after a successful “rookie” season last year, head coach Norv Turner will willingly open up the playbook for Rivers, giving him more opportunities to take advantage of defenses on the fly. Second, his receivers are stronger this year. Vincent Jackson is ready to excel and the team used a top pick on former LSU star Craig Davis. The team’s defense gives the ball back to Rivers with regularity, so he will simply have more chances to produce points for fantasy owners. Lastly, please consider that he shares the offense with the TOP running back and receiving tight end in football! That will keep defenses honest, giving Rivers time in the pocket to pick apart secondaries.

Jay CutlerJay Cutler – Cutler is expected to have a fine second season in Denver, so it isn’t really a surprise to see his name on this list. The backfield addition of Travis Henry will keep the defensive focus divided. This gives Cutler chances to gun passes to a variety of talent. Tight ends Tony Scheffler and Daniel Graham will work the underneath routes and crossing patterns while Javon Walker and Brandon Marshall stretch the field vertically. Fully healthy again, Walker in particular will make Cutler a fine fantasy football commodity.  

Rex Grossman – Though he had a roller coaster campaign last year, Grossman did pass for 23 touchdowns and lead his team the Super Bowl. The defense retained Lance Briggs, which means it will once again be good enough to give Grossman lots of shots at the open field. Receivers Bernard Berrian and Mark Bradley are still improving, so they can make Grossman more prolific. Chicago drafted rookie tight end Greg Olsen to get more receiving production from the position, and the team retained Desmond Clark, who was surprisingly productive in the role last year.

Ben Roethlisberger – Big Ben has a new lease on health this training camp, a year removed from a motorcycle crash and an emergency appendectomy. He has right-hand man Hines Ward around, an improving Santonio Holmes, deep threat Cedrick Wilson and a tight end with good hands (Heath Miller). The Steelers, though historically a run-oriented team, will pass more this season because they have the personnel present to succeed winning in that way.

Running Backs

Edgerrin James – Most fantasy owners remember James sputtering in the heat of Arizona last season. What they forget is that he got into a groove during the last month of the season, repeatedly surpassing 100 yards during December. The Cardinals brought in coaches committed to and able to implement an effective run game. The team also invested in the offensive line, something it has been unwilling to do in years. Tackle Levi Brown from Penn State will help everyone, especially James. Matt Leinart and the team’s two stud receivers must be accounted for this year, so defenses will not be able to stack the line like they did all last season.

Thomas Jones – Jones learned in Chicago what it takes to excel in the NFL. He produced stellar back-to-back seasons for the Bears and will do so this year for the Jets. What will make Jones very valuable is that he will not be giving up goal-line carries to a player like Cedric Benson. Backup Leon Washington does not have the frame for that type of duty. I fully expect Jones to take advantage of his set of circumstances, scoring at least 10 times over the course of the season. The fact that Chad Pennington and his receivers in New York are above average is a boon for Jones.

Ronnie BrownRonnie Brown – Brown disappointed fantasy owners last year, but did not play in two full games and dealt with craziness at the quarterback position. Trent Green, though aging, should at the least provide stability behind center, and can actually constitute a threat to defenses if rookie Ted Ginn Jr. can play some deep ball this year. Cam Cameron will get the most out of Brown, and has been on his case this off-season to drop some weight and get ready to play. The guess here is that Brown finally scores more than the five touchdowns he logged during each of his first two seasons in the league, and goes well over 1,000 yards rushing.

Kevin Jones – Do I have some insider knowledge about the status of Jones’ foot? No. Am I willing to roll the dice on him anyway? Absolutely, and here’s why. Jones got very involved in the passing game last year under Mike Martz. That makes him valuable in point-per-reception leagues, which are becoming much more common. You can grab him and backup Tatum Bell generally after the fifth round of a draft, meaning you don’t use prime picks to acquire him/them. The Lions passing game IS going to be tough to defend this year. Picture having the guy who caught the second-most passes in the NFL last year in the slot as the team’s third-best receiver this year. If you gamble on Jones and his foot is ready to roll, you’ll have a distinct leg up on your competition.

Wide Receivers

Randy Moss – So what if the Patriots have not had a receiver grab 10 touchdowns in their system in recent years. Moss is motivated, maybe for the first time ever as he realizes his window of good production is closing quickly. Laurence Maroney is not the designated scorer that Corey Dillon was, so the team will need to find new ways to finish the job. I see a number of jump balls for Moss in the end zone.

Anquan Boldin – The problem with Boldin is the lack of touchdowns. He has never scored more than the eight times he logged as a rookie. I do think Boldin can do at least that this year though, which would double his output from last season and place him near the top of the wide receiver rankings in 2007. Matt Leinart will come out with a lot more confidence this year, something he did not lack last year anyway. It will mean a ton of passes to Boldin, who always does good things with the ball after the catch.

Plaxico BurressPlaxico Burress – Burress became Eli Manning’s undisputed top target last year, and grabbed 10 touchdowns. Unfortunately, he did not top 1,000 yards receiving, finishing with 988. That will change this year when the team will need to lean on him more. Brandon Jacobs and Reuben Droughns are not going to catch all of Tiki Barber’s former passes. Burress will get a lot of them.

Tight Ends

Heath Miller – Miller was not a fantasy factor last year, compiling only 299 receiving yards and a pedestrian three scores. I expect a lot to change for Miller this season. Roethlisberger will be ready for increased airtime, and the team is going to be able to make a lot more happen in the passing game. Miller could conceivably double his yardage and touchdown totals, making him a true value pick this year.

Bo Scaife – When both Erron Kinney and Ben Troupe got hurt last year, the Titans went to Scaife a lot. Since Troupe is the type of talent who has proven himself injury prone, I think Scaife is a lock to be important in Tennessee this season. Consider too that the team needs all the receiving threats it can muster. Quarterback Vince Young, who will be looking earnestly for connections he can count on, is familiar with Scaife, who was his tight end in college.

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