International Men of Mystery

As I’ve been preparing my power rankings this season, I’ve noticed a few names that I’ve had a lot of difficulty placing amongst the lists. For example, how can you decide between Marvin Harrison and Wes Welker? You know Welker will do well, but do you have a clue how Harrison will do? Neither do I. Players like this I’ve deemed the International Men of Mystery and I figured I’d write an article documenting my random thoughts on a few of them. This is by no means a comprehensive list, as knowing how any player will do in a given season is really a guess anyway. So, without further ado, here are your mystery men…

Quarterbacks

Aaron Rodgers (GB): I guess by putting Rodgers on this list, you have to also consider his mentor Brett Favre as a mystery at this point in the year (until he and the Packers figure out what the hell to do with him). Anyways, Rodgers has been riding the pine for years now, racking up a whopping 329 passing yards over the past three seasons. He is now the apparent starter in Green Bay with some big shoes to fill. Considering the weapons that Green Bay has on the offensive side of the ball with Greg Jennings, Donald Driver, James Jones and Ryan Grant, it’s easy to believe that Rodgers could have a great fantasy season (similar to Favre’s 2007 season). However, people might forget that while he was a pupil to one of the all-time greats for these past years, he still has very little experience and there’s a good chance that he’ll go through some growing pains over the course of the season. The good part is that you won’t have to use a high draft pick on him, so you can take him as your second quarterback and only use him on your starters bye week if  necessary. (Risk: Low, Reward: High)

Matt Leinart (ARI): As with Rodgers, Leinart has the weapons at his disposal to have a great fantasy year (Larry Fitzgerald, Anquan Boldin and Edgerrin James)…but Leinart also has an old man (Kurt Warner) looking over his shoulder, ready to pounce on the starting job if the opportunity presents itself. Leinart will get his chance to prove himself again this year, but if he falters and the team still looks like it has a chance, Warner could get sent in there. If that happens, don’t expect Leinart’s tenure in Arizona to last a whole lot longer. If Leinart can prove that he’s matured and can focus on football, he could have a great year and would be a big sleeper at the quarterback position. You’ll get Leinart even lower in the draft than Rodgers, so there’s really no risk to taking him with one of your last picks (assuming you already have a competant starter). (Risk: Very Low, Reward: Medium to High)

Runner Up: JaMarcus Russell, OAK (Risk: Low, Reward: Medium)

Running Backs

Michael Turner (ATL): As a backup to the top running back in the NFL over the past few years, Turner has shown flashes of greatness, but has had very little opportunity to show it on a consistent basis. In the four years he’s been in the league, he averaged 5.5 yards a carry and when he’s in the open field…forget about it (skip to 2:20)! He’s finally a starter though, even if it is in Atlanta, so you won’t be picking this guy up as a handcuff in the second to last round any more. Turner is going as early as the third round in some leagues, meaning that there is some serious risk, even if the reward is worth it. I mean honestly, we don’t even know if the guy can handle the beatings that a full season of tailback can offer…and you’re taking him as your RB2? (Risk: Medium, Reward: High to Very High)

Darren McFadden (OAK): McFadden comes into this season with a lot of hype to live up to, with many saying that he is this year’s Adrian Peterson. He’s actually going in drafts much earlier than Peterson did last season, so even if he does have a break out year, it won’t be as big of a surprise as Peterson was. This means though that when you draft him in the third round (? seems a bit early to me), you are banking on the fact that the following will happen: Oakland will immediately designate him the starting running back, even though they had a 1000 yard rusher last year in Justin Fargas. You are also assuming that it will not be a 50/50 split in the backfield and that McFadden will get around 60%+ of the carries. This seems a lot to expect from a rookie, but if you really think he’s the next Peterson, you gotta take the chance, right? (Risk: Medium, Reward: Very High)

Ronnie Brown (MIA): There a couple issues with Brown that make him a hard guy to draft: 1) you aren’t positive that his injury is fully healed going into this season, and 2) you have no clue what Ricky Williams status is and how the team intends to utilize him if he is at all effective. Before his injury, Brown was one of the top running backs in the league, with nearly 1,000 combined yards and 5 touchdowns in only seven games. However, he suffered a serious ACL injury last year and it’s a mystery what his status will be at the start of the season. Other players that have experienced similar injuries are warning him to take it slow, while Brown is saying that he’d be happy to rush for 1,400 yards this season. If he indeed rushes for that many yards, he’ll have plenty of yards receiving as well and will finish as one of the top fantasy RB’s in the league…but that’s a big IF. Right now he’s going in the late second, early third round of drafts. (Risk: Medium; Reward: Very High)

Runner Up: Rudi Johnson, CIN (Risk: Medium; Reward: Medium to High)

Wide Receivers

Marvin Harrison (IND): From all the talk about Marvin Harrison being on the downside of his career (we might have even mentioned it!), you’d think that he should be retiring instead of attempting another season. The truth though, is that he is only one season removed from one of the best years of his career, where he had over 1,300 yards and 12 touchdowns. In drafts that I’ve seen, he is dropping way down and you could likely pick him up as a WR2 or WR3 depending on how you draft. If you see him in the 6th round of your draft, you should put some good, hard thought into grabbing him, as he has the potential to be a semi-sleeper this year…if you can say that about a guy like Marvin Harrison. (Risk: Medium; Reward: High)

Steve Smith (CAR): Again, we have another receiver that my co-blogger Matt is not fond of on the mystery men list in Steve Smith. Last year Smith had a hodge-podge of some of the worst quarterbacks the league has to offer throwing to him…and he still put up over 1,000 yards and 7 touchdowns…granted, he only had four really good games and Delhomme was the quarterback for a few of them. It appears that as long as Delhomme is behind center, Smith is a top tier wide receiver…so that’s really the gamble you’re taking this year when drafting Smith in the third or fourth round. It appears that Delhomme is recovering nicely from his elbow surgery though, so that has to make you feel a little better when you take Steve Smith as your WR1 or WR2. (Risk: Medium; Reward: Very High)

Javon Walker (OAK): Your guess on what Javon Walker will do this year is as good as mine. Let’s be honest, we really have no clue about 1) if Walker will be 100% from his Las Vegas mugging when the season starts, 2) if the Raiders plan to throw the ball at all this year with all that talent in the backfield (see: Darren McFadden, Justin Fargas, etc), and 3) if JaMarcus Russell will even take a liking to Walker as a receiver (maybe he likes Ronald Curry more or something). The good part with Walker is that everyone knows that the odds of him having a great, similar-to-2004 (or even 2006) season is pretty slim. He’s only played 16 games in a season three out of six seasons he’s been in the league, mainly because of knee injuries. I already own Walker in a public Yahoo! league, picking him up in the eight round as my WR3/WR4, so for my own sake, I hope he defies the odds and lives up to his talented potential. (Risk: Low; Reward: High)

Runner Up: Bernard Berrian, MIN (Risk: Low; Reward: Medium to High)

So there you have it, an overview of some of the more mysterious players that you will see pop up on your cheat sheet come draft day. Will you have the courage to take the risk on them and reap the rewards? Or will you settle for a safer, but less rewarding player? For the most part, I find myself staying away from players like this (and regretting it a lot as well!), but if you want to go for the gold, sometimes you gotta take the risks. So if you do, good luck!