Posts Tagged ‘NFL’

Return of the Mack: Dolphins Sign Clifton Smith

Wednesday, September 8th, 2010

Hate him or love him, the Dolphins were going to miss Ted Ginn Jr.’s speed and playmaking ability on special teams (not so much in the receiving game).  Sure, he’d run out of bounds and try to avoid contact, but he also ranked fifth in kick return yards (1,296) and 14th kickoff return average (24.92) in the NFL last season.

In comes KR/PR Clifton “Batman” Smith, who could end up rivalring Brandon Marshall as the team’s most impactful and game-changing addition of the offseason.  After being waived by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Saturday, the return specialist chose to sign with Miami after also working out for the Green Bay Packers.

The 25-year-old was initially signed to the Bucs’ practice squad as an undrafted free agent in 2008, and went on to be selected to the Pro Bowl after ranking second in the NFL in punt return average (14.1) and sixth in kickoff return average (27.6).  Despite appearing in only nine games, he finished sixth in total punt return yards and (324), and scored on a 97-yard kickoff return and a 70-yard punt return.  Smith went on to improve his yards per kickoff to 29.1 (second in the league) in 2009, and his career average of 28.3 tops all active players and is the fifth-highest in NFL history.

Smith will likely take over primary punt-return duties from Davone Bess, who’s quietly been one of the worst at the position in the NFL.  Over the last two seasons, Bess has returned 49 punts, the 11th-highest total in the league, but his 8.98 yards per return rank 25th out of 35 qualified players.  Smith’s 12.09 average, on the other hand, is second behind only the New York Giants’ Dominik Hixon (12.15).

In even better news, Patrick Cobbs, who’s coming back from knee surgery, will now be relieved from handling kickoffs.  Since entering the league in 2007, he’s posted the second-lowest kickoff return average (20.48) among 72 players with at least 25 returns.  Fifth-round pick Nolan Carroll was also in contention for the job, but didn’t fare much better during the preseason by averaging 22.8 yards on nine returns.

Of course, Pro Bowl-caliber players in their prime don’t get released for no reason.  For all of his special teams contributions, Smith is virtually non-existent on offense, rushing four times for just seven yards last year.  There are legitimate concerns about his durability after a pair of concussions limited the 5-foot-8, 190-pound dynamo to 11 games in 2009 and lingering knee pain forced him to miss two 2010 preseason games.  He’s has also been extremely fumble-prone, losing the ball a whopping seven times (tied with Bess and Ginn, among others, for ninth among non-quarterbacks over the last two years) in only 20 games.

Despite the concerns, there’s no question that Smith is one of the best return specialists in the game and presents a significant upgrade for the Dolphins.  Barring injuries, he’s not likely to receive a lot of carries as the team’s fifth RB, but running behind a better offensive line in Miami should allow him to be a bigger factor on those rare occasions.

Smith will get his first test against the Buffalo Bills, who were held opponents to 21.5 yards per kickoff return (7th-best in the NFL) and 7.7 yards on punt returns (11th), on Sunday.

Phins Fantasy Football: TEs

Monday, August 9th, 2010

In 2008, with Chad Pennington at quarterback, the Dolphins’ two primary Tight Ends, Anthony Fasano and David Martin, caught a combined 65 passes for 904 yards and 10 touchdowns — half of the team’s total receiving TDs. In 2009, Martin missed the entire season with a knee injury, and Fasano and backup Joey Haynos had 50 receptions for just 504 yards and four TDs between them. Will any of the Dolphins Tight Ends regain fantasy relevance with Chad Henne under center, or is no player worth a roster spot?

Anthony Fasano, TE – Fasano’s drop in production last season was largely due to a different role in the offense, as he was asked to provide more pass protection at the expense of running routes.  While he was the second-best run-blocker in the league, his yards per catch dropped from 13.4 to 10.9, he had only two scores a year after catching seven, and he led all TEs in fumbles (3), including two in the season opener.

Ah, memories.  Fasano runs into the end zone in a 38-13 Dolphins victory in Foxborough on Sept. 21, 2008.
Ah, memories. Fasano runs into the end zone in a 38-13 Dolphins victory over the New England Patriots in Foxborough on Sept. 21, 2008.

Although he doesn’t possess the downfield receiving ability of the elite TEs, with an improved offensive line and the addition of star wide receiver Brandon Marshall, Fasano should see more opportunities to work the middle of the field and get open in the end zone.  He’s being drafted in only 2.7% of ESPN leagues as the 25th player at his position, but makes for a solid second TE who should be in for a nice bounce-back season in 2010.

2009 Statistics:  31 catches, 339 yards, 2 TDs
2010 Prediction:  33 catches, 414 yards, 5 TDs

Joey Haynos, TE – After catching only two passes in seven games in 2008, Haynos was used in more two tight end sets and played 51 percent of Miami’s offensive snaps in 2009.  But while the 6’8, 270-pound TE showed flashes of future potential, he was far too inconsistent and had only three total receptions for 17 yards in the two games that Fasano missed with a hip injury.  Although he’s an intregral cog in the Dolphins’ offense, Haynos isn’t likely to see a significantly increased pass-catching role or threaten Fasano for the starting job anytime soon, making him largely irrelevant in all but the deepest of fantasy leagues.

2009 Statistics:  19 catches, 162 yards, 2 TDs
2010 Prediction:  24 catches, 203 yards, 2 TDs

Does the addition of the Martin mean the end of the Kory Sperry Era?
Does the addition of Martin mean the end of the Kory Sperry Era?

David Martin, TE -Martin, an eight-year veteran who’s familiar with the Dolphins’ system after spending two seasons in Miami, was unexpectedly re-signed last Friday.  While he averaged 14.5 yards per catch in 2008, it’s hard to imagine the 31-year-old has much left after spending last year on Injured Reserve.  If he’s fully healthy, Martin would allow Fasano to catch more passes by taking over some blocking duties, and could prove to be an effective situational downfield threat.  His signing means very little in fantasy cirticles, but certainly signals the coaching staff’s unhappines with the progress of their young Tight Ends.

2009 Statistics: None – missed season (knee injury)
2010 Prediction:  12 catches, 180 yards, 1 TD

John Nalbone / Kory Sperry, TE – Both Nalbone, a fifth-round pick in 2009, and Sperry, who was signed as an undrafted free agent after attending the San Diego Chargers’ training camp, spent most of the 2009 season on the practice squad.  While Nalbone didn’t play a single snap in the regular season, Sperry made the most of his lone start, catching three passes for 31 yards and a TD in a win against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.  The more-experienced Martin likely has the  inside track on the third (and perhaps final) TE spot, and barring an injury, Nablone and Sperry would only provide blocking and special teams help.

Phins Fantasy Football: RBs

Monday, August 2nd, 2010

The addition of Brandon Marshall should help open the run game for the Dolphins, who ranked fourth in the NFL in rushing yards in 2009 and sport a strong offensive line.  The big question is whether Ronnie Brown, who’ll be motivated to earn a new contract, or the ageless Ricky Williams will reap the most benefits this season.

Ronnie Brown, RB – Brown has been feast-or-famine over the last four years, capable of single-handedly winning any game  or crushing your season.  In 2006, he had his only 1,000-yard rushing campaign (1,008 in 13 games), and in 2008, he made the Pro Bowl while amassing 1,170 yards from scrimmage and 10 rushing TDs (eighth in the league).  But in 2007, Brown suffered a knee injury that cost him the final eight games of the season, right as he was leading the NFL in yards from scrimmage.  Last year, he was fourth in the league in rushing TDs (8) and 11th in rushing yards until a Lisfranc fracture ended his season in Week 10.  Consider that the last star running back who suffered a similar foot injury was Larry Johnson in 2007, who made the Pro Bowl the previous year but hasn’t been the same since (3.3 yards per carry in 2009).

Hate him or love him, Brown has scored 5 rushing TDs in 9 career games against the rival Jets.
Hate him or love him, Brown has scored 5 TDs in 9 career games against the rival Jets.

A consensus second-round pick in 2009, Brown is being drafted as the 22rd RB and 45th overall (10 spots ahead of Williams) in ESPN leagues.  While he can no longer be counted upon as a number one RB, he’s a solid second back or flex option because he’s always a threat score out of the Wildcat.  He could even end up being the steal of the draft if he can manage to stay healthy — the key word, of course, being “if.”  As someone who’s been burned by Brown, who will turn 29 in December, on two occasions, I’m leaving him on the board for the bigger risk-takers anywhere before the fifth round.

2009 Statistics:  648 rushing yards, 98 receiving yards, 8 TDs (9 games)
2010 Prediction:  893 rushing yards, 135 receiving yards, 7 TDs

Ricky Williams, RB – Last season, Williams improbably rushed for 1,121 yards, setting an NFL record for longest time-span between 1,000-yard seasons (6 years), and totaled 13 TDs.  With Brown out of the picture, he averaged 99.8 rushing yards per game in Weeks 10 through 15 before getting slowed down by minor injuries.  Yes, he’s 33 years old, but thanks to Ricky’s “extra-curricular activities,” he has only 575 carries in the NFL over the last five years – about a third as many as Ladanian Thomlinson, Clinton Portis, Steven Jackson, and Thomas Jones.

Still, expectations need to be held in check.  In 2005 and 2008, his previous two full seasons, Williams had 168 and 160 carries, respectively, and isn’t likely to approach the 241 he had on a heavily run-oriented Dolphins team in 2009.  He’s won’t reach 1,000 yards in what’s supposedly his final NFL season, but given Brown’s injury history, it’ll be impossible for Miami to not give Williams significant work all year long. It wouldn’t be a stretch to take Ricky as the first Dolphins RB off the board, and ahead far less consistent players such as Pierre Thomas, Matt Forte, and Joseph Addai.

2009 Statistics:  1,121 rushing yards, 264 receiving yards, 13 TDs
2010 Prediction:  906 rushing yards, 211 receiving yards, 9 TDs

Get used to the WildCobb...
Get used to the WildCobb...

Patrick Cobbs, RB – Cobbs began the season as Miami’s third running back, but suffered a knee injury in Week 5 that cost him the rest of the season.  In 2008, Cobbs averaged an impressive 7.3 yards per carry and caught 19 passes for 275 yards and two TDs, and is a deep sleeper in 2010 if he’s fully healthy.  Cobbs could replace Pat White in Wildcat formations, giving him more scoring opportunities, and has even more value in leagues that count punt and kickoff return yards since he’ll see increased special teams work with Ted Ginn Jr. in San Francisco.  Cobbs is worth a late-round flier, especially as a handcuff for owners of either Brown or Williams (or both).

2009 Statistics:  36 rushing yards, 23 receiving yards, 0 TDs (5 games)
2010 Prediction:  319 rushing yards, 295 receiving yards, 3 TDs

Lex Hilliard, RB - As Williams’ primary backup, Hilliard totaled more than twice as many receiving yards (158) than rushing yards (89), catching a team-high nine passes for 74 yards in Week 16, and vultured a couple of goal-line TDs.  But as the team’s number four RB, his role in the offense will be far too limited to justify a fantasy roster spot.

2009 Statistics:  89 rushing yards, 158 receiving yards, 3 TDs
2010 Prediction:  56 rushing yards, 91 receiving yards, 1 TDs

Kory Sheets, RB – Both the Dolphins and your fantasy team are in serious trouble if they’re counting on fifth-stringer Sheets, who had one carry for five yards last season and should only be a factor on special teams in 2010.

Coming soon:  The biggest fantasy question of the year: which Dolphins’ Tight End is worth drafting as your team’s backup?

Miami Drops Ginn

Monday, April 19th, 2010

I bought a Ted Ginn, Jr. jersey before the start of the 2009 season and targeted him in the middle rounds of my fantasy football drafts.

Ted Ginn, Jr. catches a TD pass against New York Jets (Hector Gabino/El Nuevo Herald/MCT)
Ted Ginn, Jr. catches a TD pass against New York Jets (Hector Gabino/El Nuevo Herald/MCT)

It’s easy to forget now, but after Ginn’s terrific sophomore campaign, he had “third-year breakout” written all over him.  In 2008 — when the Dolphins went 11-5 and won the AFC East — he led the team in catches (56), receiving yards (790), return yards (711), and all-purpose yards (1,574; 18th in NFL), while scoring four touchdowns (two receiving and two rushing).  Those numbers may not jump off the page, but they stacked up very favorably to several All-Pro wide receivers who blossomed after their second seasons, including Steve Smith (1.0) and Santana Moss (not to mention, Steve Smith (2.0) and Sidney Rice last season).

Of course, Ginn didn’t come close to living up to the expectations thrust upon him as the Dolphins number one WR, taking a major step backwards to the point of being benched in favor of rookie Brian Hartline.  Ginn had only 38 receptions on the year, tied for 69th among WRs, and his 11.95 yards per reception tied him for 68th with 74-year-old 32-year-old Laveranues Coles.  He dropped nine passes — Dolphins fans would argue that’s actually being generous — which tied him for fourth in the league behind Dwayne Bowe (11), Vernon Davis (11), and Santonio Holmes (10).

Despite his struggles on offense, however, Ginn was sensational on special teams.  While his critics often lamented him for avoiding contact by running to the sidelines, Ginn led the league in yards per touch (17.9), ranked fifth in kickoff return yards (1,296), fifth in yards per return (24.92), 10th in all-purpose yards (1,826), and tied for fourth in non-offensive touchdowns (2).

He single-handedly led the Dolphins to a road victory against the New York Jets on November 1, 2009, becoming the first player in NFL history to record two 100-yard return TDs in the same game (and in one quarter, no less), on a day when the Dolphins mustered just 104 total yards on offense.  I proudly wore my Ginn jersey, just as I did on every other game day, and heard his name praised for perhaps the only time that season.

The very next week, the Dolfans’ love-hate relationship with Ginn was right back on, as he was yet again getting blamed for a loss to the New England Patriots.  He managed just one catch for seven yards, dropping several passes late in the game, and wasn’t as dramatically effective in the return game.

Once the Dolphins acquired Brandon Marshall from the Denver Broncos last week, Ginn became immediately expendable.  The San Francisco 49ers acquired him for a fifth-round pick (145th overall), hoping to use him as a situational deep threat while reviving one of the league’s worst return games.  Still only 25 years old and among the fastest and most athletic players in the league, he leaves Miami with 128 catches for 1,664 yards, a modest 34.7 receiving yards per game average, and five receiving touchdowns over three seasons.

For Ginn, it’s a fresh start in a place where he doesn’t have to deal with the giant shadow of being selected ninth overall in 2007, and hearing the boos that have haunted him since draft day, when fans were hoping to land Brady Quinn (how did that one turn out?).   While he certainly didn’t produce as well as expected, he was routinely forced to play a role that wasn’t suited to his strengths and became the scapegoat for the team’s offensive struggles.

Could Ginn have been better utilized in the slot and opposite Marshall, a true number one possession receiver?  Could he have stretched the field and found himself wide open down the field when Marshall faced double teams?  At the very least, could a proven return specialist, whose role will now need to be filled by the undoubtedly slower Davone Bess, Patrick Cobbs, and Brian Hartline, have made the offense more productive and dangerous than any player the Dolphins can draft in the fifth round?

“I wouldn’t say a sense of relief, but it’s always good to have a new start,” Ginn said. “Leaving Miami, I don’t hold any grudges, no bad feelings about anything. My time was up there. I enjoyed it there, and now it’s time to move on.”

I truly hope that he does well in San Fransisco, and while I’ll always cheer for Miami, I’ll be sure sure to wear my Ginn jersey the next time he plays against the Dolphins.

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