Fantasy Football: NFC West

Many fans play fantasy football, but few take the time necessary to dominate. Here, get an expert's look at the breakout players and where they've landed now that the smoke has cleared from the offseason.

Arizona: The Cardinals made one of the biggest splashes in free agency by signing running back Edgerrin James away from Indianapolis. James provides the Cardinals with a running game the team hasn't had in more than a decade, even if Arizona's offensive line is below average. With wide receivers Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald keeping defenses honest, James should put up solid numbers in the desert. James may not match what he did in the Colts' explosive offense, but coach Dennis Green does like to run the ball when he has a stud running back. He has one now. James' presence should also take some pressure off quarterback Kurt Warner, though the team selected quarterback of the future Matt Leinart in the draft. Leinart won't beat Warner out for the starting job, but given Warner's injury history, Leinart's not a bad sleeper to take given the weapons the Cardinals boast. Third-round pick Leonard Pope, a 6-7 tight end, could also break the starting lineup. With his size and ability, he could be a nice pickup on draft day.

St. Louis: The biggest losses of the offseason in terms of fantasy football were head coach Mike Martz and his wide-open offense, and the news that running back Marshall Faulk will miss the season because of a knee injury. Martz's pass-happy offense thrilled owners of the team's quarterbacks and wide receivers in years past, but the new regime should feature running back Steven Jackson, especially with Faulk sidelined. The Rams traded tight end Brandon Manumaleuna to the Chargers, opening the door for second-round draft pick Joe Klopfenstein to start right away. Klopfenstein is an excellent receiver, so he's a nice sleeper pick at tight end given the offensive talent around him. The draft also brought former Virginia quarterback Marques Hagans, who'll be converted into a wide receiver/return man. The Rams signed Gus Frerotte to back up injury-prone quarterback Marc Bulger. If you draft Bulger, you'd better take Frerotte as well.

San Francisco: Unhappy with their production at wide receiver last season, the 49ers traded Brandon Lloyd to Washington and signed Antonio Bryant, late of Cleveland. He'll start and could end up being second-year quarterback Alex Smith's security blanket if he can keep his head on straight. Arnaz Battle takes over the other spot, though veteran Johnnie Morton and third-round draft pick Brandon Williams also figure into the mix. The draft yielded speedy tight end Vernon Davis, who at 6-3, 256 pounds with 4.4-second speed will be expected to cause mismatch problems all over the field. Davis will be a solid tight end pick this year. The 49ers also selected quarterback Michael Robinson of Penn State and will convert him to running back, causing further matchup problems if he can win a job as a third-down back.

Seattle: The Seahawks signed restricted free agent Nate Burleson away from Minnesota as revenge for the Vikings signing guard Steve Hutchinson. Burleson will try to shake off an injury-plagued 2005 season and could thrive in the northwest opposite Darrell Jackson. Some owners may still be down on him after expecting a breakout season in 2005. Don't be one of them as Burleson should thrive in this offense.

(Dale Lolley appears courtesy of the Observer-Reporter)


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