Mason, McNabb still getting it done
Mark Twain once stated, “Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don't mind, it doesn't matter.” Unfortunately, this ethos rarely relates to the principles of pigskin, where the term “elderly” applies to any athlete over 28 and serviceable veterans are routinely exiled to make way for younger, cheaper replacements.
Yet, like Chuck Taylors and Animal House, some players survive the sands of time. While they may be referred to as “seniors” in NFL circles, the following gridiron gray-hairs will have a fantasy impact in the 2011 season:
Donovan McNabb, Vikings.
McNabb is as polarizing in fantasy as he is in real life. Critics insist McNabb has become geriatric, but the Viking QB is only nine months older than Tom Brady and eight months younger than Peyton Manning (although, perhaps the Manning comparison isn’t flattering at the moment). McNabb’s numbers from his lone-season stint in Washington appear to confirm accusations of disappointment from his detractors, as McNabb tossed for a career-high 17 picks and a 58.3 completion percentage, his lowest figure since the 2006 campaign. But McNabb wasn’t exactly dealing with a competent receiver corps, with Anthony Armstrong, who until 2010 had yet to record a reception in the NFL, serving as McNabb’s second option after Santana Moss. The former Philly field general still posted 3,377 yards in 13 games and added 151 yards on the ground.
Granted, Minnesota’s current crew at wideout isn’t exactly the reincarnation of the Vikings’ celebrated trio of Randy Moss, Cris Carter and Jake Reed. However, Percy Harvin is one of the most dangerous and explosive receivers in the NFL, and Bernard Berrian has raised some eyebrows in the preseason. It’s also worth noting that offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave prefers a two-tight end system. With two capable ends in Visanthe Shiancoe and Kyle Rudolph at his disposal, McNabb’s completion percentage and turnover ratio should improve.
McNabb is going in the 14th round of FOXSports.com fantasy drafts, making him a safe bet as a fantasy backup that could vault into a borderline starter in deeper formats.
Willis McGahee, Broncos.
Jay-Z once proclaimed that “30’s the new 20,” but as backs often age in dog years, this period typically signals retirement for rushers. Yet for fantasy owners worried about McGahee turning the big 3-0 in October, the Bronco back hasn’t experienced the typical aging process of players in his position thanks to a decreased workload (378 carries in the past three seasons) in Baltimore.
Knowshon Moreno remains the starter in Denver, but new head coach John Fox has an attraction for two-back attacks. McGahee will also be the go-to at the goal line for the Broncos, adding value as a late-round fantasy pick. And although he’s not shown any lingering effects of last season’s injuries, Moreno’s medical past makes McGahee a solid handcuff/insurance selection.
Santana Moss, Redskins.
Despite ranking third among wide receivers in receptions last season, Moss is currently slotted as a late-round pick (average draft position: 84.9). Notwithstanding rising age (Moss turned 32 over the summer), the ambiguity behind center may be devaluing Moss’ worth, but both John Beck and Rex Grossman figure to target Moss early and often during the season. He may be unable to replicate the feat of 93 catches from 2010; however, Moss averaged 70 receptions from 2007 to 2009, and the lack of attractive alternatives for Washington in the passing game (seriously, Jabar Gaffney is starting?) should provide dividends for Moss owners. Moss still has the competence and aptitude to serve as a no. 2 fantasy wideout, so don’t let him slide in your draft.
Matt Hasselbeck, Titans.
Turning 36 in September, many believe Hasselbeck will be unable to revert to his 2007 form (3,966 yards, 28 touchdowns). Indeed, the last three seasons have been unkind to the Boston College product, missing half of 2008 with various injuries, followed by two pedestrian performances in 2009 and 2010 (29 touchdowns, 34 interceptions).
Yet Hasselbeck has looked efficient in Nashville, completing 64.9 percent of his passes in the preseason. This is even more impressive when factoring in the absences of primary target Kenny Britt and backfield mates Chris Johnson and Javon Ringer. This trio, along with rising tight end Jared Cook, will give Hasselbeck enough weapons to become a practical backup in fantasy this season.
Thomas Jones, Chiefs.
The Chiefs running back has seemingly been elderly for the past five years due to the company of younger, highly-touted rushers (Cedric Benson, Shonn Greene, Jamaal Charles). But whereas Jones was reveled in Chicago and New York for his veteran presence, he has transformed into a reviled man amongst fantasy owners thanks to siphoning an unwarranted amount of opportunities from Charles in Kansas City.
Animosity aside, Jones remains a valuable asset in most fantasy formats. Although he held a lackluster 3.7 yards-per-attempt figure, Jones nearly collected 900 yards on the ground with six touchdowns last season. While his touches will decrease, Jones will likely receive 125-150 carries, ample enough time to make a 2011 fantasy impact.
Anquan Boldin, Ravens.
Boldin’s first season in Baltimore was somewhat of a disappointment, as the wideout’s 64 catches and 837 yards were his lowest totals since 2004 (a year in which Boldin suited up just 10 games). But Boldin’s dip in production should not be attributed to growing older (Boldin will be 31 in October); rather, assign the underwhelming performance to the lack of rapport between Boldin and Joe Flacco in their first season together.
The encouraging news from Ravens camp is the bond between Boldin and Flacco is better, highlighted by Boldin’s seven receptions for 100 yards and a touchdown in the preseason. This camaraderie, along with the departures of Derrick Mason, Todd Heap and T.J. Houshmandzadeh, should equate to an amplified amount of targets for Boldin this season. Speaking of Mason...
Derrick Mason, Jets.
The Jets signed the venerable Mason will little fanfare after the two-time Pro Bowler was released from Baltimore. At 37, Mason’s best years are clearly behind him, but he still managed to post 61 receptions for 802 yards and seven touchdowns in a crowded receiving corps last season.
The Jets remain a run-first squad, but the passing game will be more incorporated into the offense than in Mark Sanchez’s first two seasons under center. Santonio Holmes is the primary target in the aerial attack; however, with Plaxico Burress’ expected production a huge question mark, Mason could have a bigger role with Gang Green than originally forecasted.
Todd Heap, Cardinals.
Heap quietly strung together two respectable seasons with the Ravens in 2009 and 2010, collecting 93 receptions, 1,192 yards and 11 touchdowns in that span. But with a surfeit of serviceable tight ends in fantasy this season, Heap’s age has left him the odd man out in many drafts.
Yet with no viable second-option in the Cardinals’ passing game, this shouldn’t be the case, as Heap’s dependability over the middle should translate to a solid amount of targets. Additionally, in his limited appearances in Philadelphia, Kevin Kolb had a proclivity of checking down to the tight end. If this affinity carries over to Arizona, Heap could be a late-round steal at the position.