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NFL Offenses on the Decline in 2007
Paul Sandy
July 18, 2007

It’s often said that rats will flee a sinking ship. When an NFL offense shows signs of taking on water, fantasy owners would be wise to pursue a similar course of action.

Witness the 2006 Oakland Raiders offense. During training camp it became abundantly clear that this was a dysfunctional bunch. Players disrespecting coaches. Coaches complaining about belligerent players. Players calling out other players. All of it in living color 24/7 on NFL Network and other media outlets.

Fantasy owners should’ve known better to spend early draft picks on the likes of LaMont Jordan and Randy Moss . . . but many didn’t know better. And it cost them dearly.

Sure, the Raiders are an extreme example. The point is that when an NFL offense starts on a downward trend, it’s a slippery slope. The fortunes of one player are tied to his teammates’ and his coaches’. That’s why it’s often best to avoid players from teams that are teetering on the edge of an offensive abyss. Which squads are living on that edge in 2007? Here are a few to take note of:

Atlanta Falcons

Michael VickThe biggest headlines in Atlanta this offseason didn’t have anything to do with transactions made in the draft or free agency. Instead, it was Michael Vick who garnered all the media attention. Vick allegedly is a major player in a dog fighting ring and is now the subject in a federal investigation. It remains to be seen whether he can escape unscathed (and without being suspended). Even if he does, there’s the question of how Vick fits under his new head coach’s offensive scheme.

I love the Bobby Petrino hire and think he’ll be an outstanding NFL head coach. He has a history of leading high-octane offenses. So why then am I speculating the Falcons are an offense on the decline? Petrino’s system is a drastic change from the offense Atlanta is accustomed to running. It will require Vick to pass more and run less. He’ll need to learn how to become a pocket QB, something that’s plagued him his entire career. It will take time and, frankly, may never happen.

The wide receiver position finally gained some credibility this offseason when the team inked veteran Joe Horn to a deal. Horn will certainly be the first Falcons wideout off the board in fantasy drafts. But at 34 years of age, his injuries are becoming more frequent and they’re taking longer to heal. Be careful not to reach for Horn based on his name recognition. He’s a WR3 at best and more likely a reserve. The rest of the Atlanta receiving unit is long on potential and short on real productivity. Michael Jenkins and Roddy White are both former first-round draft picks but have failed to live up to expectations. Neither player will have much value unless Vick can become a more accurate thrower.

The Falcons top receiver over the past few years has actually been TE Alge Crumpler. Crumpler will continue to be a factor in the offense, but fantasy owners should expect a slight downturn in his stats. The new offense will be more wide open and rely heavily on speed, which means the days of Vick throwing to Crumpler 7, 8, or 9 times per game a probably long gone.

Petrino wants to bring more balance to an offense that led the NFL in rushing attempts last year. That will mean fewer opportunities for Warrick Dunn and Jerious Norwood, who will form a committee backfield along with rookie short-yardage specialist Jason Snelling. With Dunn past his prime, Norwood is the most attractive pick for fantasy owners. Norwood looks like the real deal, but may struggle until Petrino can re-tool his offensive line, which was built for the zone blocking scheme the team abandoned. GM Rich McKay says it’s not a quick fix. "We want to change the body type of our linemen but we have to do that over time” said McKay. “You can't do that overnight.”

Bottom line: 2007 will be a year of transition for the Falcons, deflating the stats of many of the team’s top players.

Draft Day Outlook

Michael Vick – He won’t rush for 1,000 yards this season, which hurts his chances of being a legitimate fantasy starter.

Jerious Norwood – Probably won’t be a reliable starter until after Week 10; draft him accordingly.

Warrick Dunn – A decent RB3 or flex player.

Alge Crumpler – Still a fantasy starter but Petrino’s playbook won’t help.

Joe Horn – The Falcons best WR but don’t trust him as your #2 wideout.

Jason Snelling – Worth a look in TD-weighted leagues.

Roddy White and Michael Jenkins – Late-round sleepers who will probably disappoint (again).

Joey Harrington – May have value if Vick gets prosecuted.

Kansas City Chiefs

Although Trent Green would never be confused with one of the NFL’s elite quarterbacks, the trade that sent him to Miami was a tremendous blow to the Kansas City offense. Green passed for 4,000+ yards in three straight seasons. Brodie Croyle and Damon Huard will complete for the starting spot. Huard was impressive when Green went down with a concussion last year, but this team is on a youth movement. Expect Croyle to get the nod. His youthfulness and inexperience will likely siphon off the production of the players around him — talented though they may be.

At running back, Larry Johnson remains a fearsome threat for any opposing team. However, a number of circumstances have many experts doubting whether Johnson can repeat his lofty stats from the past two years. His contract situation is of utmost concern. Johnson is the most underpaid player in the NFL and deserves more money. If the Chiefs don’t bring an offer to the table soon, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Johnson walk out of camp. Then there’s the offensive line that lost Will Shields (retirement) and Jordan Black (free agency). Did the team add enough depth to cobble together a decent line? Questions like these might cause anyone who owns the #2 or #3 draft pick to throw a fistful of antacid tablets down their gullet on draft day.

Kansas City’s wide receiver squad continues to lack star power. Eddie Kennison is serviceable, but won’t make any defensive back in the NFL sweat. Samie Morris drops too many passes. Rookie Dwayne Bowe could develop into something special but it’s not likely to happen this year with Croyle or Huard at the helm.

The most stable position on the team is tight end. Veteran Tony Gonzalez has been a perennial Pro Bowler and fantasy stud for many years. He will continue to be a quality player for fantasy owners, but don’t be surprised if he has a very un-Gonzalez like season.

Bottom line: Larry Johnson, Tony Gonzalez and Eddie Kennison are all viable players for any fantasy squad, but will likely under-perform when compared to the draft pick you’ll need to spend to get them.

Draft Day Outlook

Larry Johnson – Still a stud but might not live up to his top 3 draft position.

Tony Gonzalez – No longer the #2 TE in the NFL, maybe not even top 5.

Eddie Kennison – Production will be greatly diminished without Green.

Michael Bennett – Value will be on the rise at the first sign of a Johnson holdout.

Brodie Croyle or Damon Huard – Neither will be worth a draft pick unless you’re in a 14-team league or keeper league.

Dwayne Bowe – Could be a future star, but he’s probably a year or two away.

Samie Parker – Limited upside with the state of the QB position.

New York Giants

Any conversation about the Giants offense must begin with measuring the impact of the loss of Tiki Barber. Barber not only was a 1,600 yard rusher, but he was also an excellent receiver, pass protector and decoy in play action passing. He was a player who the defense had to account for on every play.

Barber’s retirement will likely hit QB Eli Manning the hardest. Manning often had a deer-in-the-headlights look even with Barber beside him. One can only imagine how frazzled he’ll be without an All-Pro RB blocking for him, catching dump-off passes and keeping defenses honest. It’s difficult to imagine a scenario in which Manning actually out-produces his 2006 statistics. That makes him no better than a backup fantasy QB.

Brandon Jacobs looks like the frontrunner to fill Barber’s shoes. However, he’ll have to beat out veteran Reuben Droughns, who the team signed to compete for the spot. Neither player can come close to matching Barber’s pass-catching ability, on which the team relied so heavily over the past 3-4 seasons, nor do they have his explosive speed and shiftiness. The team ranked seventh in rushing offense last year (134.8 ypg). Look for a radical decline in production with Jacobs and Droughns splitting carries in a futile running-back-by-committee system.

New York’s pass catchers don’t lack talent, but there’s not exactly a shortage of ego and attitude either. It doesn’t always play well with Tom Coughlin, who’s a notorious drill-sergeant. You get the feeling that if things go sour early in the season WR Plaxico Burress and/or TE Jeremy Shockey could start pouting and end up in the doghouse. Even if they do play nice, they’ll have a difficult time matching last year’s productivity if opposing defenses don’t respect the run and if Manning doesn’t mature. Amani Toomer was having a nice 2006 campaign before he injured his knee. At his age, recovery from surgery could be slow.

Bottom line: The loss of Barber will diminish the value of the entire Giants offense in 2007.     

Draft Day Outlook

Plaxico Burress – Too flaky to be a reliable WR1, but will have some good games.

Brandon Jacobs – Risky choice as a RB2 who will probably give up too many carries to Droughns.

Jeremy Shockey – Under-utilized by Manning but remains a good starting TE.

Eli Manning – Still has upside but don’t make him your starter.

Reuben Droughns – Will provide roster depth if you can get him late.

Amani Toomer – Injury questions limit his value; may go undrafted in some leagues.

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