Six Pack of Observations: NBA All-Star Saturday

Last night, the NBA held its Shooting Stars (zzzzz), Skills Challenge (zzzz), Three-Point Shootout and Slam Dunk Contest. Here are a six random observations about the night’s events, which include some breaking news for those that missed the event.

1. It would be nice if the contestants in the Skills Challenge would actually try to win.
Devin Harris looked like he was in another gear compared to his competitors, but struggled with the passing and shooting and ultimately finished second to Derrick Rose who was just about perfect in those parts of the course. Mo Williams looked like he didn’t even want to be there and Tony Parker couldn’t make a jumper to save his life. Harris was the only one that was actually putting forth any effort during the dribbling portion. Most of these guys are more interested in looking cool than looking like they want to win, and that’s a shame.

2. Did Kenny Smith take annoying pills just before the Three-Point Shootout?
When he wasn’t declaring that the eventual champion (Daequan Cook) didn’t have a chance to win the contest, he was flip-flopping like crazy during each round. At one point, during the middle rack of balls, he said that Rashard Lewis didn’t have a chance to advance, and then when Lewis his four out of five on the final rack to advance, Smith said, “I told you so.” I was rooting for Cook just to see Smith eat crow, and he never did. On a side note, Reggie Miller and his sister have the most non-broadcast type voices. I like what Reggie has to say, so he gets a pass, but I’m not sure what Cheryl brings to the table. (To be fair, that’s probably true of any sideline reporter not named Erin Andrews.)


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Fantasy Fallout, Week 7: Free Agents

Now, for a little news about players that are probably on your league’s waiver wire…

The Browns may be looking to make a change after Derek Anderson’s shaky outing (14/37, 136 yards, TD). The Brady Quinn era could start soon…As long as Chris Chambers is out, Malcom Floyd (7-140-2 over the last two weeks) looks like a sneaky good start…With both Brandon Lloyd and Devin Hester hobbled, Rashied Davis (3-24) and Marty Booker (3-79-1) become even more important at WR…Cedric Benson (15 touches, 62 yards) is now the starting running back in Cincy, and he didn’t look too bad in the Steelers’ blowout win…Ryan Fitzpatrick (164 yards, TD) did a pretty good job filling in for Carson Palmer, who may be out a while…Kolby Smith (12 touches, 25 yards) was the main ballcarrier with Larry Johnson out and he (and the Chiefs) were ineffective against the Titans’ stout defense…Greg Camarillo (6-74) continues to post spot starter numbers in PPR leagues…Josh Morgan (5-86-1) finally had a good game. I wouldn’t run out and try to acquire him, but he’s a guy to monitor…Vernon Davis (1-5) proved that last week’s nice game was a fluke. Leave him on the waiver wire unless you’re absolutely desperate…Donnie Avery (9-138-1 over the last two weeks) is worth a pickup in bigger leagues…Kevin Smith (11 touches, 68 yards, TD) may not technically be the starter, but he sure looks like the Lions’ best RB…Mike Furrey (6-89) deserves a big upgrade (especially in PPR leagues) now that Roy Williams is gone…Ahman Green (15 touches, 65 yards, TD) looks like he’ll get considerable work as long as he’s healthy. The Texans want to avoid wearing down Steve Slaton…There was a Javon Walker (5-75-1) sighting! Is this a reason to get excited? Doubtful, but monitor the situation going forward…Jeff Garcia (310 yards, TD) is back in the saddle in Tampa and he’s roster worthy going forward.

Breaking down the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year candidates

Adrian PetersonAdrian Peterson certainly made it easy on voters last year. After rushing for 1,341 yards, 12 touchdowns and a 5.6-yard per carry average, Peterson was an easy choice for NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year.

So who is this year’s Adrian Peterson? Despite popular belief, the OROY doesn’t have to lead his team to the playoffs, as Peterson proved last year. He just has to stand out from the rest of the pack – easy, right?

Below is a look at the OROY candidates for the 2008 NFL Season. I’ve ranked the top 10 candidates based on their chances along with reasons why (and why they won’t) win the award.

1. Matt Ryan, QB, Atlanta Falcons
Ryan earned the starting quarterback job after a solid preseason, including completing 15 of 21 passes for 102 yards and a touchdown in the Falcons’ 17-3 win over Tennessee. Forget the huge contract and the fact that Atlanta wants to erase the thought of Michael Vick – Ryan can play. He looked comfortable, poised and completely in control running the Falcons’ offense and has enough weapons in Michael Turner, Jerious Norwood and Roddy White to be effective. As long as the offensive line gives him protection like it did this preseason, Ryan might be the best bet to win OROY honors. It also doesn’t hurt that he plays the quarterback position and will likely receive a ton of media attention.

2. Jonathan Stewart, RB, Carolina Panthers
Stewart has run very well so far in preseason. He rushed 10 times for 100 yards in the Panthers’ third exhibition game and even had a fantastic 50-yard touchdown run that highlighted both his power and breakaway speed. Defenses contained Carolina’s ground attack last year, but that was largely due to ineffective quarterback play. Teams knew that the Panthers were going to try and run the football and often played with eight men in the box. But now that QB Jake Delhomme is healthy again, the Panthers’ offense should be more balanced and thus defenses will have to respect both the run and the pass. He’ll split time with DeAngelo Williams, but Stewart is going to get plenty of opportunities to make plays this season. Not only that, but he looks like a solid overall player.

3. Matt Forte, RB, Chicago Bears
The Bears parted with twinkle-toes Cedric Benson this offseason after multiple off-field incidents. The team drafted Forte in the second round and after Benson was released, and the rookie immediately became the starter. Forte has good size, runs hard between the tackles and shows some decent burst when he gets into the open field. But Chicago’s line has to hold up. Center Olin Kreutz, right guard Roberto Garza and right tackle John St. Clair are all decent run blockers, but there are major question marks on the left side of the line. Even so, Forte is going to have plenty of opportunities to make plays this season, especially if backup Kevin Jones can’t stay healthy.


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Fantasy Football Impact Rookies

In the realm of fantasy football, using early picks on rookies is usually a dicey proposition. It’s not often that a rookie comes into the league and is able to quickly establish fantasy relevance, though a few players do break through every season. Typically, a few running backs make an immediate impact, as that is the easiest position to transition to from college. In 2007, Adrian Peterson and Marshawn Lynch were drafted for the sole purpose of taking over their team’s running game, and they both went on to have successful seasons. Even an undrafted rookie like Ryan Grant can have an impact if he finds the right situation. (I was lucky enough to snatch him off the waiver wire before he went on his 10-game train ride to fantasy stardom. I went on to win the title in that league despite disappointing performances from two of my keepers – Shaun Alexander and Marvin Harrison.)

Last year’s wide receiver crop was a bit thinner. Dwayne Bowe was the top rookie, finishing in the top 20 in most scoring formats. This was an upset considering all the fantasy owners that were drooling over Calvin Johnson’s intangibles before the season started. James Jones and Anthony Gonzalez flirted with fantasy relevance, but otherwise rookie wideouts didn’t make much of an impact in 2007. But every year, it seems like there’s one or two that become starter-worthy. (Who can forget Marques Colston’s 2006 campagin?)

So let’s take a look at this year’s top fantasy rookies and see who’s likely to make an impact.

RUNNING BACKS

1. Jonathan Stewart, Panthers (pictured)
Stewart is a power back and that’s the Panthers’ style. DeAngelo Williams has been something of a disappointment, so if Stewart runs well during the rest of the preseason, it’s not inconceivable that he could earn a starting role. However, durability is a concern with Stewart, so it is more likely that the Panthers will split carries to keep him fresh and injury-free.

2. Darren McFadden, Raiders
Due to his combination of strength and speed, some compare the #4 overall pick to Adrian Peterson. McFadden joins Justin Fargas and Michael Bush in the Raider backfield. Fargas had something of a breakout season in 2007 and Bush is running very well in camp, but McFadden will still get his touches. The team has said they’d like to use McFadden like the Saints used Reggie Bush in his rookie season. Oakland won’t want to wear him out, so this looks like a RBBC for the time being.

3. Matt Forte, Bears
The Bears drafted Forte in the second round to shore up a struggling running game. Cedric Benson was a bust, but the offensive line has been suspect for a couple of years now, so there’s no telling just how much Forte will help Chicago’s ground game. He has looked solid in the preseason, and should be a solid RB3 in most fantasy leagues.

4. Kevin Smith, Lions
Smith is one of the more promising rookies simply because the Lions don’t have any other good options at tailback. Tatum Bell and Brian Calhoun haven’t made their mark, so it’s Smith’s job to lose. He has had durability and character issues during his career, so there is some question as to whether or not he can hold up to the wear-and-tear of a 16-game season. Still, given the lack of competition, he’s an intriguing middle-round fantasy pick.

5. Chris Johnson, Titans
The diminutive speedster seems to be earning a bigger and bigger role as the preseason wears on. LenDale White will get most of the work between the tackles (and, presumably, around the goal line), but Johnson will see a lot of work in the passing game and as a change-of-pace back.

6. Ray Rice, Ravens (pictured)
With Willis McGahee coming off of knee surgery, and Rice impressing in camp, there’s a real possibility that the rookie starts at tailback in Week 1. There are rumblings that the team is none too happy with McGahee’s (lack of a) work ethic, so Rice’s value is enhanced in keeper or dynasty leagues.

7. Rashard Mendenhall, Steelers
The Steelers raised some eyebrows (including Willie Parker’s) when they drafted Mendenhall in the first round. For now, they see him as a complement to “Fast” Willie, but he should eventually turn into an every-down back. The writing is on the wall for Parker; it’s just a matter of time before Mendenhall takes over as the Steelers’ feature back.

8. Steve Slaton, Texans
Ahman Green is hurt. Big surprise. Chris Brown is hurt. Big surprise. Somebody has to carry the ball in Houston and Slaton is second in line after Chris Taylor. Slaton has better speed, but Taylor is a little more physical. If Green and Brown continue to miss time, we might be looking at a Taylor/Slaton RBBC in Houston.

9. Felix Jones, Cowboys
Jones is the “lightning” to Marion Barber’s “thunder,” but this isn’t a timeshare. Barber is the main back, and Jones will be used to spell him and to add some punch out of the backfield in the passing game. Barber owners should definitely target Jones as a handcuff in the late-middle rounds.


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