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And the Winner Is
Steve Gallo
September 7, 2007

Many pundits say that the preseason is to long.  There are veterans that despise both training camp and the preseason, for some this is a very important time of year.  A player’s performance during training camp and the preseason can be the difference between winning and losing a starting job.  Here is a look at some camp battles along with their fantasy impact.

Indianapolis Colts WLB battle:  Freddie Keiaho vs. Clint Sessions vs. Tyuan Hagler

And the winner is: Freddie Keiaho
Early in July Hagler moved to SLB making it a two horse race for the WLB position.
At that point, Freddie Keiaho a third round pick in 2006 (94th overall) had the inside track to the job and in the end; he is the one that will be starting at WLB for the Colts this year.  Both Hagler and Sessions will be backup linebackers.

Fantasy Impact:  Historically the WLB position for the Colts has been golden.  From 2002 thru 2006, the WLB for the Colts has ranked 10th, 2nd, 17th, 13th & 10th in points per game. Barring injury Keiaho is a good bet to be a top 10-15 linebacker in the Colt’s Tampa 2 scheme.  His dynasty league value is very good so get him if you can. 

Buffalo Bills MLB battle:  Paul Posluszny vs. John DiGiorgio

And the winner is: Paul Posluszny
On paper, this should not have been much of a battle.  In truth, it really was not.  DiGiorgio went undrafted last year but still was able to make the Bills team where he earned his keep on special teams.  The Bills took Posluszny in the second round of the NFL Draft this year where he was the fourth overall linebacker taken.  Early in camp, DiGiorgio was listed number one on the depth chart at MLB.  Some feel that the Bills simply did not want to hand the starting job to Posluszny.  Well, Posluszny earned it but DiGiorgio has no reason to hang his head.

Fantasy Impact:  Posluszny inherits the MLB position that was fantasy gold for London Fletcher-Baker owners in recent years.  Posluszny should be in for an extremely productive year.  However, do not expect a season like DeMeco Ryans had last year.    Posluszny should have no problem finishing as a top 25 linebacker this year with an outside shot to finish in the top 15.  He holds little risk and very nice upside.  If you are in a dynasty league just sit back and enjoy the ride.

Philadelphia Eagles MLB battle:  Jeremiah Trotter vs. Omar Gaither

And the winner is:  Omar Gaither
The writing for this was on the wall.  "I like Omar as a MIKE," Johnson said.  "I think he can be a good MIKE linebacker in the future. He'll play a lot in our nickel like Shawn Barber did. We won't play Trotter every down. And he'll keep pushing Trotter, too.  It'll be good competition."   Evidently, Johnson the Eagles Defensive Coordinator feels that the future is now. Gaither was a fifth round selection in the 2006 NFL draft from Tennessee where he was a SLB.  Trotter will not be easy to replace, especially his fire and leadership but the Eagles have done very well when deciding to let veterans go off into the sunset.  Trotter’s sunset is going to be as a backup MLB with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Fantasy Impact:  Gaither will be a three down linebacker that very well could sneak in as a top 15-20 linebacker this year.  The scheme in Philadelphia really benefits the MLB and in the final 7 games last year Gaither compiled 41 solo tackles and 11 assists from the WLB position.  Extrapolated out you would have been looking at 94 solos and 25 assists.  Do not sleep on Gaither as he is eyeing up a very realistic shot at 100+ solo tackles this year.  Unfortunately, Trotter after ranking 21st last yr and 11th in 2005 among linebackers falls completely out of fantasy relevance.  From a dynasty perspective, Gaither holds excellent value while he is playing MLB in Jimmy Johnson’s aggressive 4-3 defense.  He is a young talented player and the coaching staff believes in him and so should you.

Carolina Panthers MLB battle:  DAN MORGAN vs. Concussion/PCS

And the winner is:  Dan Morgan
For the most part when Morgan plays, he has been a stud.  However, concussions have been his nemesis and last year ended his season.  Morgan is a tough “SOB” that truly loves the game and did what he could to return to the starting lineup.  There were many doubters but he has persevered and will be the Panthers starting MLB this season.  Make no mistake Morgan is taking a risk, one that many think is a bad risk by returning to football.  We can only hope this story ends on a good note.

Fantasy Impact:  When Morgan plays, he should put up very solid numbers.  Just how many games he is able to play before suffering another concussion is the question.  Odds are not good that Morgan will play a full 16 games.  Due to those concerns you should be able to get Morgan cheap just make sure you understand the risks.  In dynasty leagues, Morgan’s days are numbered and odds are he will not finish the season and his career will most likely be finished.

Green Bay Packers SS battle:  Atari Bigby vs. Marquand Manuel vs. Aaron Rouse

And the winner is:  Atari Bigby
Early reports in camp had Manuel as the SS for the Packers this year, which was not music to Packer fans ears.  The Packers had spent a third round pick in this years draft on Aaron Rouse and I am sure that many Packer fans expected him to be the starting strong safety this year but it was Bigby that won the job.  As Rouse continues to learn, his playing time should increase and he could eventually unseat Bigby as the starter but for now Bigby is the SS and should be for most of the season.

Fantasy Impact:  Temper your fantasy expectations for Bigby as Manuel was just barely able to crack the top 50 defensive backs last year while FS Nick Collins ranked 19th.  Normally a FS is not going to out produce a SS but make no mistake Collins is the playmaker in the Packers secondary.  Bigby probably has upside as a number 3 DB at the very best.

San Diego Chargers SS battle:  Clinton Hart vs. Eric Weddle

And the winner is:  Clinton Hart
The Chargers gave up their second, third & fifth round picks, this past NFL Draft and a third round pick next year to move up and draft Weddle early in the second round (37th overall).  One would have to think that Weddle was going to start with what the Chargers paid to get him but Hart made the most of his opportunity won the starting SS job to start the season.  As the season progresses it would not be surprising for Weddle to get more playing time and possibly end up starting too.

Fantasy Impact:  Hart will mainly be viable as a bye cover or injury fill in.  The increased number of snaps that Weddle should get as the season progresses limits Harts upside.  In dynasty leagues, Weddle is still the one to have.   Be patient if you can and reap the rewards later.

New York Giants SS battle:  Will Demps vs. James Butler

And the winner is:  James Butler
Wait, what happened to Gibril Wilson you ask.  Well the Giants have a new Defensive Coordinator, Steve Spagnuolo (former Eagles linebacker & defensive backs coach).  Wilson has been moved to the FS position (think Brian Dawkins like production) thusly leaving a battle for the starting SS position.  Butler was working with the first team early in camp and seemed to have the job won but when Demps dislocated his elbow versus Baltimore in week two it solidified Butler the starting job.

Fantasy Impact:  Gibril Wilson will still most likely be the top producing DB for the Giants this year but Butler should still post starting numbers for IDP owners.  Do not forget that Spagnuolo spent 1999-2006 as a coach on the defensive side of the ball for the Eagles where Michael Lewis playing SS ranked 11th, 13th, & 5th (2003-2005) among defensive backs.  Dynasty wise Butler makes an interesting acquisition considering that Wilson is in the last year of his contract and may not be a Giant next year.  If you can still get Butler cheap, you should do so as he could be the surprise DB of the year from a fantasy perspective.

Arizona Cardinals CB battle:  Roderick Hood vs. Eric Green

And the winner is:  Roderick Hood & Eric Green
Hood and Green initially were in a battle to see who would start opposite of Antrel Rolle.  However, Rolle is the one that ended up with a reserve role (he will also be the nickel back). Early in camp Hood looked like he was the one that was going to be the nickel back but between his hard work and the errors Rolle was making he was able to secure a starting CB position for the Cardinals.  Hood is a free agent acquisition this year that previously played for the Eagles.  He was one of the free agents who Coach Whisenhunt felt could win a starting job with the Cardinals.  Unfortunately, for Rolle the former regime selected him eighth overall in the 2005 NFL Draft not Whisenhunt. 

Fantasy Impact:  Rolle falls out of fantasy relevance by losing his starting job. Neither Hood nor Green holds much value either.  At best, both are waiver wire fodder.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers FS battle:  Will Allen vs. Tanard Jackson

And the winner is:  Tanard Jackson
Rookie fourth round selection Jackson was able to parlay an impressive training camp and preseason into a starting FS position.  Allen a former fourth rounder too now finds himself in a backup role as the Buccaneers third safety. 

Fantasy Impact:  The FS position for the Buccaneers does not produce productive fantasy players.  If you are in need of help at the DB position, you should look elsewhere for help.  With the rookie, winning the starting FS position there is a ripple effect concerning the SS position too (see Phillips vs. Piscitelli).

Tampa Bay Buccaneers SS battle:  Jermaine Phillips vs. Sabby Piscitelli

And the winner is:  Jermaine Phillips
Phillips was in danger of losing his job last season so when the Buccaneers drafted Piscitelli at the end of the second round in the NFL Draft this year many thought for sure that Phillips was on his way to the bench.  However, that is why NFL teams have training camp and preseason games.  Phillips so far has been able to hold off Piscitelli to retain his starting SS position but Phillips will more then likely be looking over his shoulder all season long.  Along with Phillips, play and the fact that rookie Tanard Jackson won the starting FS position it is possible that the Buccaneers did not want to start the season with two rookies starting at the safety positions.  Piscitelli will get his chance just not to start the season.

Fantasy Impact:  Jermaine Phillips ranked 6th among defensive backs last year and should retain some value while he is still starting.  Do not expect a repeat of last year’s performance because Phillips will more then likely lose some playing time to Piscitelli.  Phillips could be a very good sell high candidate should he post a couple of solid performances early.  In dynasty leagues if you are able to land Piscitelli for a song and a dance then you should.  If you are a Piscitelli owner, you should stash him away and wait for him to pay dividends down the line.

NFL Personal Conduct Policy battle:  Adam Pacman Jones vs. Roger Goodell

And the winner is:  Roger Goodell
The “rookie” Commissioner sent the following letter to Pacman:  “Your conduct has brought embarrassment and ridicule upon yourself, your club and the NFL, and has damaged the reputation of players throughout the league.  You have put in jeopardy an otherwise promising NFL career, and have risked both your own safety and the safety of others through your off-field actions.  In each of these respects, you have engaged in conduct detrimental to the NFL and failed to live up to the standards expected of NFL players.  Taken as a whole, this conduct warrants significant sanction.”  A condition of his suspension is no more run-ins with law enforcement.  Goodell may be in his “rookie” year as NFL Commissioner but he is handling his office like a seasoned pro.

Fantasy Impact:  If you think that Pacman can stay out of trouble then he may present some future value to people in dynasty leagues.  However, the bigger impact is the message the commissioner is sending.  Now when building your fantasy teams you will have to think twice about players that have questionable character (Pacman, Odell Thurman & Leonard Little to name a few).  The risk part of the risk reward ratio just got much larger with the new Sherriff in town.

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