Aaron Gleeman

Position Battles

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Position Battles: Christina vs. Britney

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

It’s funny how some “battles” don’t end up following anything close to the script most people expected. For instance, once upon a time there was much debate over whether Christina Aguilera or Britney Spears was better to look at. I also assume there was some debate somewhere over which one was better to listen to, but I’ve been unable to uncover any evidence of that being the case.

Anyway, Christina now looks like this (possibly NSFW) and Britney—proceed at your own risk—now looks like this (SFW, but dangerous to the eyes). Seriously. I’m proud to say that I was on the Aguilera bandwagon from Day 1—that genie in a bottle stuff was all it took—but the slightly larger point is that sometimes competitions simply don’t turn out the way everyone thought they would.

What’s that? You need another example of such a thing happening? You’re not satisfied with my brilliant Aguilera-Spears analogy as it relates to the world of fantasy football? You’re still reading this instead of clicking on that link to the Aguilera pictures? OK, fine …

Position: Broncos No. 1 Running Back
Contenders: Mike Bell, Ron Dayne, Tatum Bell

Mike Shanahan’s quest to definitively prove to the world that he can turn anyone who has ever moved briskly while clutching a football into a 1,000-yard rusher has led to him naming undrafted rookie Mike Bell the Broncos’ starting running back heading into Friday’s preseason opener. It’d be easy to write off this situation as typically meaningless training-camp fodder with any other team, but Denver is anything but conventional with its running game.

Shanahan has already made fantasy stars out of little-known backs like Terrell Davis, Reuben Droughns, Olandis Gary, and Mike Anderson, each of whom was once upon a time every bit as unheralded as Bell. Shanahan’s track record is so good that his involvement alone had millions of unsuspecting fantasy players—those outside of New York, at least—convinced that Ron Dayne was a legitimate early-round pick until this week.

The sudden emergence of Mike Bell likely signals that Tatum Bell never had much chance of gaining a bigger role in the Broncos’ offense this season, but his job should remain significant and largely unchanged from last year. Tatum is a good compliment to either Mike or Dayne—and whoever else Shanahan pulls off the street this month—and should approach the 191 touches he had splitting time with Anderson and Dayne last season

How far should Mike Bell rocket up your cheat sheet? At the very least he now has similar draft-day value as Dayne, but all that does is make neither of them more than a borderline RB3 option at this stage. Depending on how risk-averse your draft strategy is, Tatum Bell might actually be the best bet right now given that he should see 150 carries regardless of who he’s splitting time with.

Position: Jaguars No. 2 Wide Receiver
Contenders: Ernest Wilford, Reggie Williams

Despite fighting through injuries to rank just fourth on the team with 432 receiving yards as a rookie, Matt Jones enters his sophomore season with a starting job locked up. That leaves Ernest Wilford and Reggie Williams to compete for the spot starting alongside Jones. Williams is the bigger name thanks to his status as a former top-10 pick, but he’s been a huge bust thus far and doesn’t have nearly as much fantasy potential as Wilford.

Wilford out-gained Williams 681-to-445 last season and reached the end zone seven times while Williams failed to score. As if that weren’t enough, Jack Del Rio said Monday that Wilford entered training camp as a starter, giving him the inside track to pick up many of those 1,000 extra yards that the Jaguars have to dole out thanks to Jimmy Smith’s retirement. Williams is someone to stay away from, while Wilford is an excellent sleeper and breakout candidate.

Position: Jets No. 1 Running Back
Contenders: Curtis Martin, Cedric Houston, Derrick Blaylock, Leon Washington

This job is obviously Curtis Martin’s if he’s healthy, but that’s looking increasingly unlikely. Martin has yet to see the field following what was considered to be relatively routine offseason knee surgery and the rumblings about him potentially missing the entire season are growing louder. At the very least, he’s currently on the PUP list and isn’t expected to be ready for Week 1.

The Newark Star-Ledger reported Monday that Martin went so far as to tell the Jets they should spend a first-day pick on his eventual replacement in April, which now looks like advice the team should have followed. Instead, the Jets grabbed Leon Washington in the fourth round. The prospect of Washington competing for snaps with Cedric Houston and Derrick Blaylock in Martin’s absence has caused New York to reportedly inquire about Thomas Jones and Chris Brown, among other veteran backs.

If the Jets stick with an in-house replacement for Martin, Houston appears to have the inside track. He looked competent in four late-season starts when Martin was on the shelf last year, while Blaylock spent most of the season on the sidelines with a foot injury. What hurts Houston is that he’s not much of a receiver, while Blaylock and Washington are both legit third-down options. Still, if someone is going to emerge from this group to take the bulk of Martin’s carries, bet on it being Houston.

Position: Jets No. 1 Quarterback
Contenders: Chad Pennington, Patrick Ramsey, Kellen Clemens

Much like with Curtis Martin at running back, this is Chad Pennington’s job if he’s healthy. And unlike Martin, Pennington has both stepped foot on a field in training camp and actually looked good while doing so. Of course, Pennington was “recovered” enough from offseason rotator-cuff surgery to start Week 1 last year and then proceeded to lob velocity-challenged, cringe-inducing throws for three weeks before re-injuring the shoulder with more season-ending damage.

The Jets showed how nervous they were about Pennington’s never-been-done-before return from back-to-back rotator-cuff surgeries by giving up a sixth-round pick for Patrick Ramsey and using a second-round pick on Kellen Clemens. There was some early talk of Clemens potentially being giving a chance to start right off the bat, but that quickly quieted down as Pennington calmed the team’s fears with improved velocity at the beginning of camp.

Not only does Pennington have the starting job nailed down if he can simply stay healthy, he could be a major sleeper after scaring off many fantasy players with his weak-armed performance and second straight major injury. Those are obviously both legitimate reasons to be scared off a quarterback, but I like Pennington’s odds of being a good value as a mid-level QB2 or top-notch QB3. You’ll have to take on some heavy risk in drafting him though, so keep tabs on his throwing during the first couple preseason games.

Position: Vikings No. 2 Wide Receiver
Contenders: Troy Williamson, Travis Taylor

With Randy Moss in Oakland, Nate Burleson failing miserably in his attempt to replace him, and Daunte Culpepper going down with a season-ending knee injury, Minnesota’s passing game was a mess last year. Brad Johnson took over in the second half, as the Vikings went to a low-risk, ball-control offense and ended up ranking 20th in the league with fewer than 200 passing yards per game. The team leader in receiving yards? Travis Taylor with 604. Exactly.

Culpepper is in Miami now, but Minnesota hopes Brad Childress can improve things by importing his pass-friendly offense from Philadelphia. Koren Robinson has been tabbed the new No. 1 receiver despite spending most of last season limited to returning kicks and running fly patterns, but there’s some question as to who will line up alongside him. The top candidate is Troy Williamson, who the Vikings drafted last year with the No. 7 overall pick they received from the Raiders in the Moss deal.

Inconsistent route-running and nagging injuries led to Williamson quickly falling out of favor with Mike Tice, but Childress and the new coaching staff have given him a clean slate. He’s taken advantage, running with the first-team offense in training camp and emerging as a fantasy sleeper based on his elite speed and flashes of potential while playing sporadically last season. However, even if Robinson and Williamson enter the year as starters, Taylor should get plenty of action as the No. 3 option.

Because both Robinson and Williamson are primarily deep threats, the Vikings will need someone to run the intermediate, middle-of-the-field routes that Johnson tends to look for. Taylor is perfect for that role and actually seems excited about assuming it, telling reporters earlier this week: “This is a great offense for me … there is a lot of stuff across the middle, a lot of driver routes, a lot of crossing routes.” In other words, while Williamson has the potential to break out, Taylor could easily reach 600-700 yards again.

Aaron Gleeman is Rotoworld's senior baseball editor and contributes to NBCSports.com's Hardball Talk blog. Also find him at AaronGleeman.com and on Twitter.
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