MATCHUP OF THEWEEK
Did the Chargersmake the right choice when they cut ties with Drew Brees, who tore his rightlabrum late last season, and handed the quarterback job to inexperienced formerfirst-round pick Philip Rivers?
The Chargers'starter in 58 games from 2002 through '05, Brees has thrown for 3,000 yardsthree times and for 20 TDs twice. He was named to the Pro Bowl following the'04 season. Last year he had TD passes in 13 of 16 games, throwing for at leasttwo scores eight times. Brees is fully recovered from off-season shouldersurgery, and his favorite targets will be Joe Horn and Reggie Bush.
Rivers spent hisfirst two seasons as Brees's backup and still awaits his first NFL start. Heleft N.C. State as the second most prolific passer in major college history(13,484 yards), but in the NFL he's amassed just 148 passing yards, with one TDand one interception. He has, however, been quite sharp in leading the Chargersthis preseason. His favorite targets will be Antonio Gates and KeenanMcCardell.
VERDICT: Ifyou're drafting a No. 1 quarterback, the call should be Brees because he's aproven commodity. However, if you need a second quarterback, take a chance onRivers, who could potentially put up big numbers.
THE INSIDE MAN
So Far, SoGood
Carson Palmer is quickly rounding into form--which should send his stocksoaring
FORGET THEdiffering opinions of Bengals QB Carson Palmer and coach Marvin Lewis over whenPalmer will be ready to play this preseason. The good news coming out ofBengals camp involves the strength of Palmer's surgically repaired left knee.Right tackle Willie Anderson recently told me that Palmer has had no problemsdealing with two-a-days. Palmer hasn't had any swelling or soreness, and he hassteadily increased his workload as training camp has progressed.
The Bengals arestill being cautious about Palmer's overdoing it. On some days he has practicedwith the team in the morning, then skipped the afternoon session and worked outwith a trainer instead. But Anderson says he's confident that Palmer will beready for the season opener at Kansas City on Sept. 10. In other words, ifyou're thinking of using a high pick on Palmer, don't worry too much about hisavailability. Just monitor his progress once he takes the field--he'll mostlikely play on Monday night against Green Bay in the Bengals' third exhibitiongame--and know that he's already showing signs that he's worth a loftyselection.
Don't be surprised if the Rams' Steven Jackson becomes an elite fantasy runningback this year. New coach Scott Linehan will run the ball far more than MikeMartz did, and Jackson will be his horse. Also of significance is the newoffense the Rams will use: Linehan prefers single-back, three- receiver sets,which Jackson (right) is accustomed to from his days at Oregon State. Jacksonprefers working without a fullback because it allows him to use his vision andinstincts to make his cuts. He may not go in the top five when draft time rollsaround, but he could easily be a 1,500-yard rusher.
Considering a running back from Tennessee? Travis Henry should be your firstchoice. A team source says he's running like a new man in training camp and hasoutperformed Chris Brown and second-round pick LenDale White. The key for Henry(right) is that he's much lighter than he was a year ago, having dropped 15pounds after playing at 230 last season. Henry carried the extra bulk becausehe thought he needed it to avoid the bumps and bruises that have plagued himduring his career. Instead, it only made him an easier target for defenders.I'm told the Titans will be going back to the conservative offense that wasbuilt around Eddie George in the late 1990s and will be pounding the footballagain this season. With his new physique, Henry should be a valuable option asa third back. If you get him as your fourth running back, he'd be a steal.
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is another player who's undergone anoticeable weight loss. The 6'5" Roethlisberger dropped 15 pounds, to 235,after breaking his jaw in a July motorcycle accident. But the Steelers aren'tcomplaining about the downsizing. A team source says that the third-yearveteran is more mobile without the extra weight, and he's moving as well as hedid in his rookie season. By all indications, the crash's aftereffects won'thinder his play; the Steelers are still talking about opening up their passinggame and giving Roethlisberger more responsibility. I'm not saying he'll be thenext Peyton Manning, but if his recently injured right thumb doesn't affecthim, Roethlisberger should be a solid choice as a No. 2 quarterback.
Health concerns decrease each time he plays well.
Could win the top job if Aaron Brooks continues to struggle.
Rookie is earning a major role in Green Bay's offense.
Koren Robinson's legal woes make Williamson the top threat in Minnesota.
Will be the workhorse ballcarrier for the passing-challenged Ninersoffense.
There's been too much drama in camp for this to turn out well.
A strained quad has cost speedy rookie nearly all of a much-neededpreseason.
With Brian Griese in the wings, Grossman's on a very short leash.
Rehab from Achilles injury that kept him out all 2005 isn't going well.
Has not shown much during first two preseason games.
I THINK ...
... you shouldtake a flier on these guys late in your draft
So it's two weeksfrom the season opener, and your 20-round fantasy draft is tonight. You havethe first 15 rounds down pat, but you have no clue what schmoes to take withyour final five picks. Before I give you my late-round advice, however, keepone thing in mind: I'm the same guy who gave Danny Wuerffel a ringingendorsement in Year One of the Steve Spurrier Era in Washington, so don't takethese tips as gospel; take them as lottery tickets. In other words, one mightcome in or all five might need to be thrown in the trash come November.
Yes, he's one of Cincinnati's headline Bad Boys, but he's also a deep threatwho gets open downfield and could score eight touchdowns.
This was the 23rd-rated unit in the league last year, but there's excellentdepth on the line and Jeremiah Trotter is a man possessed at middle linebacker.It'll be a top 10 defense.
COWBOYS I just get the feeling that at some point this season, maybe soonerrather than later, Romo's going to take Drew Bledsoe's job--because ofperformance, not injury.
He benefits from Houston's lack of faith in Domanick Davis. And Gary Kubiakloves the guy.
There's no way to tell if the apple of Mike Martz's eye will produce 10touchdowns from the slot and on returns, but he's worth a shot.
Read Peter King's 10 Fantasy Things I Think I Thinkand analysis from David Sabino at SI.com/fantasy.
CHARLES SMALL/US PRESSWIRE (BREES)
SCOTT BOEHM/GETTY IMAGES (RIVERS)
DAMIAN STROHMEYER (PALMER)
HOWARD SCHATZ (CHADIHA)
AL TIELEMANS (JACKSON)
WADE PAYNE/ICON SMI (TRAVIS HENRY)
SCOTT BOEHM/GETTY IMAGES (WILLIAMSON)
DAVID DUROCHIK/SPORTPICS (PINKSTON)
JOHN SOMMERS/ICON SMI (CHRIS HENRY)