The longer the lockout, the greater the likelihood that the Tim Tebow experience in Denver will be put on hold in favor of another season of Kyle Orton. (Doug Pensinger/Getty)
Coming off a breakout season in which he rushed for 1,616 yards and 16 touchdowns, Texans running back Arian Foster is likely going to be the No. 1-overall selection in your upcoming fantasy football draft.
Before the start of last year, Foster was nothing more than an undrafted free agent out of Tennessee with 257 yards under his belt for his career, and many figured the primary ball carrier in Houston would be either former fantasy darling Steve Slaton or second-round pick Ben Tate. However, it was Foster going crazy in a 34-24 upset of the Colts in Week 1 with 33 carries for 231 yards and three scores, setting the tone for what has to be one of the most unexpected rushing titles in NFL history.
And the 6-1, 227-pounder did more than just run the rock, as evidenced by his 66 receptions for 604 yards and an additional two TDs. Eight times he ran for 100-plus yards in a game, and seven times he found the end zone at least twice. Chris Johnson of the Titans, Adrian Peterson of the Vikings, Maurice Jones-Drew of the Jaguars, Michael Turner of the Falcons, Steven Jackson of the Rams -- Foster put all of these renowned fantasy studs to shame.
Whomever is lucky enough to get the top choice in your fantasy draft is sure to call Foster's name, provided your fantasy draft actually happens, of course. Yes, sports fans, even fantasy football is starting to feel the ever-widening collateral damage left in the wake of the current labor impasse between players and owners.
Foster, for example, is a restricted free agent, but because he and the Texans did not come to any contractual agreement before the CBA deadline passed a few weeks ago -- Houston did tender him, obviously -- he's currently in limbo.
Perhaps a tailback-starved franchise like the Dolphins would be willing to part with a draft pick or two and sign him to an offer sheet instead of rolling the dice with a rookie, or maybe the Texans have seen enough to ink him to a lucrative deal and give him the security every athlete desires. Odds for the former scenario are growing longer by the minute with the real draft starting four weeks from today, while the latter idea must be put on the back burner even if both parties want it to happen, as teams aren't allowed to so much as contact their players during the lockout.
No collective bargaining agreement means no offseason workouts like minicamp and OTAs, which means less time for, say, the Lions to put the finishing touches on what could be the most dangerous quarterback-to-receiver delivery in the entire league: Matthew Stafford to Calvin Johnson. Stafford, who was the No. 1 pick in the draft two Aprils ago but has been plagued by injuries, is coming off a recent shoulder surgery yet can't spend time at Detroit's facility -- be it to rehab or to work out -- in Allen Park. Even if Stafford and Johnson got together on their own to improve their chances of being the next Montana-to-Rice, they won't be able to do so under the supervision and tutelage of offensive coordinator Scott Linehan, quarterbacks coach Todd Downing or receivers coach Shawn Jefferson.
As a result, fantasy players may be less inclined to bet on Stafford's upside and instead opt for another ho-hum year of Jacksonville's David Garrard. Johnson is still a late first- or early second-round pick in any draft because he's as gifted physically as any pass catcher out there, but don't be surprised if he ends up less productive statistically than Kansas City's Dwayne Bowe, who can probably be had in Round 3 or 4.
Somewhat surprisingly, new Broncos coach John Fox announced in February at the Scouting Combine that Kyle Orton, not Tim Tebow, would be his starting quarterback, which could have less to do with trusting the veteran Orton and more to do with not having enough time to develop Tebow.
Starting the final three games of the 2011 campaign, which are the playoffs in most fantasy leagues, the former Heisman Trophy winner was credited with 24, 25 and 33 points in standard-scoring formats. He may not have looked pretty doing it, plus Denver was 1-2 with Tebow at the controls, but those numbers are enough to win any fantasy matchup -- every stat counts, even in garbage time -- more often than not.
No lockout, and Tebow is surely a sound selection as a second quarterback and worthy of sleeper status should he indeed turn out to be Jesus in Shoulder Pads one day. But because of the lockout, he's nothing more than a late-round flyer and might not even be worth drafting at all, especially since Orton has played the best football of his career in Mile High and Fox has a history of being loyal to aging QBs (see Jake Delhomme). If he had an offseason's worth of activity at team headquarters to fall in love with Tebow the way departed Broncos coach Josh McDaniels did, then Fox may have been more willing to put his hand on his heart and pledge allegiance to No. 15.
While four preseason games is too many for casual football fans, those exhibition affairs are critical for fantasy owners, as they comb over box scores to see which late-round runners and receivers have the most upside. Should the labor negotiations extend well into the summer, it's possible teams will play no more than one preseason contest, or maybe none at all, which again bodes well for proven fantasy performers but stunts the growth of potential new stars.
In other words, don't look for another rags-to-rushing title story like we saw from Foster this past season, at least not when you're finally on the clock.
|John Crist is an NFL analyst for Scout.com, a voter for the Heisman Trophy and a member of the Professional Football Writers of America.|