An NFC fantasy preview

Now that the NFL Draft and minicamps are over, it's a good time to take a first look at what teams in the NFC will take into their training camps in July. <br><br> Some old faces have changes places and some new ones should make an immediate impact. He's a team-by-team synopsis for fantasy football players:

Atlanta Falcons
No. 1 draft pick DeAngelo Hall will make an immediate impact on the team's special teams play and should be good for a couple of scores this season. The Falcons traded up into the bottom of the first round to acquire Ohio State's Michael Jenkins, a big receiver with speed. He'll push for playing time as the team's third receiver behind returnee Pearless Price and free agent signee Dez White, who comes over from Chicago. T.J. Duckett and Warrick Dunn return as the primary ball carriers, but seventh-round draft pick Quincy Wilson could be a nice sleeper since both Duckett and Dunn have had injury problems. At quarterback, the Falcons are banking on a full season from Michael Vick after an injury-shortened 2003. While Vick was out, Doug Johnson was exposed as a below-average backup, prompting the team to take Virginia QB Matt Schaub in the third round of the draft and sign veteran Ty Detmer. Alge Crumpler remains a solid tight end.

Arizona Cardinals

After taking wide receivers Bryant Johnson and Anquan Boldin, the NFL's offensive rookie of the year, in the first two rounds of the draft, the Cardinals under new coach Denny Green took Pitt's Larry Fitzgerald with the third-overall choice this year. None of the trio is exactly a burner, but they have great size. Boldin and Fitzgerald are excellent route runners with great hands, while Johnson was disappointment last season. If Fitzgerald is everything he was in college, he'll be a nice complement to Boldin. The Cardinals will need it as they break in young QB Josh McCown, who is expected to take over for departed veteran Jeff Blake. McCown got his feet wet last season, but still has a lot to learn. Shaun King was signed to back him up and could beat McCown out if he stumbles. Marcel Shipp returns after a strong season at running back and should see the majority of the carries, even though all-time rushing leader Emmitt Smith will come back for another go round. Tight end Freddie Jones remains a talented, but underachieving player.

Carolina Panthers
The defending NFC champions will have a big target on them this season. The offense remains in the steady hands of QB Jake Delhomme, who was solid, if unspectacular last season. Stephen Davis is a steady, productive runner, but is getting a lot of miles on his tires. But backup DeShaun Foster proved to be a solid backup and is nice insurance for owners who take Davis. Steve Smith emerged as a go-to receiver last season and that shouldn't change. Muhsin Muhammad had a disappointing season, prompting the team to take talented Keary Colbert in the second round of the draft. Mike Williams got all the ink at USC, but it was Colbert who was the Trojans' best receiver last year.

Chicago Bears
With a full season under his belt, better things are expected from second-year quarterback Rex Grossman. New head coach Lovie Smith has a defensive background, but comes over from the high-flying air show in St. Louis. The bet is, however, that like most defensive-minded coaches, Smith will prefer running the ball and allowing his defense to win games. Considering the team took defensive players with six of its eight draft choices this year, that's probably likely. The Bears signed Tampa Bay free agent running back Thomas Jones and also have Anthony Thomas on the roster. The Bears insist they will find a roll for them both, but it's a training camp battle that bears watching - no pun intended. At wideout, Dez White is now in Atlanta, meaning former No. 1 pick David Terrell is expected to step up into A starring role opposite steady Marty Booker.

Dallas Cowboys
Bill Parcells passed on Virginia Tech's Kevin Jones in the first round to trade down for Notre Dame's Julius Jones. Jones has good speed and cutback ability, but was injury prone early in his college career. Parcells was so sold on Jones, he cut 2003 leading rusher Troy Hambrick, who signed with Oakland. Jones could be the NFL's offensive rookie of the year. There was speculation Parcells could go after a veteran quarterback to replace Quincy Carter, but instead the team also made a deal to bring in Drew Henson, so it will be interesting camp. Terry Glenn and Antonio Bryant provide great speed on the outside, while Keyshawn Johnson comes over in a trade for Joey Galloway to provide a target over the middle. Matt Campbell is the starter at tight end, but keep an eye on talented youngster Jason Witten.

Detroit Lions
The Lions grabbed Texas receiver Roy Williams with the seventh-overall pick and traded up to take Virginia Tech running back Kevin Jones with the 30th pick, acquired in a trade up. Talk about an immediate upgrade on offense. Williams will join 2003 No. 1 draft pick Charles Rogers to give the Lions two talented - albeit young - wideouts. Rogers was having a productive rookie season until suffering a broken arm in practice midway through the season. Tai Streets was also brought in from San Francisco to give the Lions three quality receivers. Quarterback Joey Harrington should be the beneficiary of a much better offensive unit. The key will be Jones. Some have questioned his toughness and receiving skills, but he's the best runner the Lions have had since Barry Sanders retired and will make Detroit fans forget all about James Stewart, who was released. Az-Zahir Hakim remains a dangerous return man and can return to that role with the addition of Willams and Streets.

Green Bay Packers
Any offense that features running back Ahman Green and quarterback Brett Favre is going to be good. But it was somewhat surprising the Packers didn't take a single offensive player in the draft until center Scott Wells was selected in the seventh round. Favre is getting up in age and the Packers have to start thinking about a long-term replacement. Now that Cleveland has released quarterback Tim Couch, look for him to sign with the Packers for at least a couple of years to possibly follow in Favre's footsteps. Donald Driver didn't have the kind of season in 2003 had in the previous two seasons, but could rebound in 2004. Youngsters Javon Walker and Robert Ferguson showed flashes, but need to become more consistent. Walker was a top threat in the red zone, catching nine TD passes. Tight end Bubba Franks saw some of touches taken away by the addition of veteran Wesley Walls. But Franks is in a contract year, so expect a big season. Najeh Davenport showed good skills backing up Green and is a must-have player if you own Green.

Minnesota Vikings
What does a team that already has Michael Bennett, Moe Williams and Onterrio Smith need with Mewelde Moore? That was the question on draft day. Moore was considered the best third-down back prospect available and the Vikings grabbed the former Tulane star in the fourth round. Bennett spent much of last season out with a broken leg, but returned late in the season and played well. He'll likely be the starter in 2004. Smith and Williams took turns having big games with Bennett out and you can bet more than one team will be watching to see which back doesn't make it out of training camp. Daunte Culpepper finally took care of the ball in 2003, throwing just 11 interceptions, compared to 25 touchdown passes. He also rushed for more than 400 yards and scored four rushing touchdowns. Culpepper is officially a fantasy stud. Obviously so is wide receiver Randy Moss. Moss averaged 100 yards receiving and a touchdown per game to go along with 111 catches, his best season yet. There were some rumors the Vikings wanted to deal him in the offseason, Moss and coach Mike Tice kissed and made up. Williams was the team's second-leading receiver, with tight Jim Kleinsasser finishing third. The Vikings need another threat on the outside to help out Moss, which is why Marcus Robinson was brought in from Baltimore. Robinson seems to be totally recovered from the injury problems that plagued him when he was with the Bears and had some big games late in the year for the Ravens.

New Orleans Saints
While he's erratic in real life, Aaron Brooks is an above-average fantasy quarterback. And why not, he's got plenty of weapons. Running back Deuce McAllister proved his rookie season wasn't a fluke, putting up big numbers again in 2003. Joe Horn didn't have the kind of year in 2003 he did in previous years, and with Horn getting up in age, the team decided to take LSU's Devery Henderson in the second round of the draft. How he fits into an offense that already has veterans Jerome Pathon and Donte Stallworth remains to be seen. Germaine Crowell, a former 1,000-yard receiver with Detroit, was also signed, but it's questionable if he can make the team. Boo Williams emerged as a solid tight end during his rookie season and could be better in 2004. Return man Michael Lewis remains one of the league's best and makes the Saints' special teams special.

New York Giants
Let the Eli Manning era begin. OK, maybe not just quite yet. The Giants shipped a boatload of draft picks and the rights to QB Phillip Rivers to San Diego to acquire the younger brother of Peyton and son of Archie on draft day. Veteran Kerry Collins, whom new head coach Tom Coughlin didn't want because he quit on the Carolina Panthers a few years ago, was released and signed with Oakland. But former NFL MVP Kurt Warner was signed after his release by the Rams and will serve as Manning's mentor. He certainly has the weapons in tight end Jeremy Shockey, wide receivers Ike Hilliard and Amani Toomer, and running back Tiki Barber. But it was the offensive line that was the Giants' downfall last season and unless that's settled, Warner and Manning could spend a lot of time running for their lives instead of firing passes downfield. Shockey missed a large part of 2003, but should be back strong in 2004.

Philadelphia Eagles
Fantasy owners have long lamented Donovan McNabb's lack of a go-to receiver. They won't have to do that any longer as Terrell Owens comes over from San Francisco. Will Owens be any happier in Philadelphia than he was in San Francisco? Only he knows, but McNabb owners certainly will be knowing that their star QB has someone better than James Thrash or Todd Pinkston to throw to. Thrash is now in Washington, while running back Duce Staley, one part of the team's three-headed receiving monster last season, is now with Pittsburgh. That leaves Correll Buckhalter and Bryan Westbrook as the primary backs and both should prove to be worth having. Second-year tight end L.J. Smith could step up as a big-time player this season with opponents focusing on Owens.

San Francisco 49ers
Talk about tearing things down and starting over. Gone are quarterback Jeff Garcia, wide receivers Terrell Ownes and Tai Streets, and running back Garrison Hearst. Tim Rattay will get the first shot at replacing Garcia after doing an admirable job last season when Garcia missed time with injuries. But that was with Owens and Streets in the lineup. His main targets this season will be No. 1 draft pick Rashaun Woods, Cedrick Wilson and Brandon Lloyd. Watch out for third-round draft pick Derrick Hamilton, who could also figure into the wide receiver mix. Kevin Barlow, meanwhile, finally takes over at running back after sharing time with Hearst the past few years. The 49ers likely won't be able to run the ball like they did in the past unless the receivers show they can be downfield threats, but Barlow should be a solid performer in 2004.

Seattle Seahawks
The offense will remain largely unchanged from 2003 and that's a good thing. Quarterback Matt Hasselbeck had a solid season, while running back Shaun Alexander was much more consistent. They are solid No. 1 quarterback and running back options. When he wasn't dropping passes, wide receiver Darrell Jackson proved to be solid No. 2 fantasy receiver, but Koren Robinson was something of a disappointment and needs to bounce back. No. 3 receiver Bobby Engram is still a capable player and worth a roster spot in deep leagues. Tight end Itula Mili is one of the best-kept secrets of the northwest and caught 46 passes last season for nearly 500 yards and four touchdowns.

St. Louis Rams
Last season will be remembered as the year Torry Holt finally became the star of the St. Louis offense. With Marshall Faulk hurting, Holt caught 117 passes for just under 1,700 yards and 12 touchdowns, placing him among Terrell Owens, Randy Moss and Marvin Harrison as one the best at his craft. The Rams needed every catch as Faulk had only 1,100 yards of total offense because of various injuries. The team is so concerned about its aging star it selected Oregon State running back Steven Jackson in the first round of the draft. Jackson isn't nearly the player Faulk is, but was considered the best back in the draft and is an excellent receiver. With Faulk's injury history, Jackson is a must-have player. With Kurt Warner gone, Marc Bulger no longer has anyone looking over his shoulder. Bulger threw for over 3,800 yards after taking over for Warner, but matched his 22 touchdown passes with 22 interceptions. The Rams, however, are set to part ways with Warner and hand Bulger the starting job again, making Bulger a solid fantasy QB. Isaac Bruce failed to top 1,000 yards last season, but is a solid N0. 3 fantasy receiver, while astute fantasy owners will watch the training camp battle between Dane Looker and Shaun McDonald for productive No. 3 spot in St. Louis.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Bucs traded Keyshawn Johnson for Joey Galloway and added receiver Michael Clayton in the first round of the draft, seriously upgrading their speed on the outside. Jon Gruden favorite Charlie Garner was signed away from Oakland as another speed upgrade, but the 32-year-old may not have a lot left in the tank. Wide receiver Keenan McCardell was tremendous last season, but is also on the wrong side of 30, so buyer beware. Brad Johnson remains the starting quarterback, but Brian Griese was signed as a free agent to be the backup. Running back Michael Pittman is also back, but will spend 30 days in prison for assaulting his wife. Fullback Mike Alstott will also get carries after missing much of 2003 with injuries.

Washington Redskins
Second-year quarterback Patrick Ramsey took a beating in 2003 in former coach Steve Spurrier's offense and for his trouble he was shown the bench by new/old coach Joe Gibbs. The Redskins traded for Jacksonville starter Mark Brunell and he should be good in an offense that includes talented receivers Laveraneus Coles and Rod Gardner. The trade of cornerback Champ Bailey to Denver for running back Clinton Portis gives the Redskins one of the league's better offenses, even if it remains to be seen how Portis will hold up in Gibbs' power offense. Receiver James Thrash was also acquired in a trade with Philadelphia, giving the Redskins a solid backup and No. 3 option. Rookie tight end Chris Cooley, the team's third-round draft pick, could help out immediately.

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