December 5, 2011

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Where Will Donovan McNabb End Up?

By: Anson Whaley

With news that Minnesota Vikings’ quarterback Donovan McNabb was released by the team, several teams could be looking to add the potential future Hall of Famer to their rosters. No NFL team claimed the veteran through waivers, but that could have actually been the best thing to happen to him. McNabb will now be able to select his own destination (assuming there are interested teams, of course) and pick what he feels is the best opportunity.

Retirement, of course, is an option. Every NFL team could decide that they’ve seen enough of the 35-year old quarterback, and if he’s unable to find a suitable offer, his career could be over. But the chance clearly exists that he could end up with another franchise before that happens, and McNabb believes he still has plenty of good football left.

So where could Donovan go?

  • Houston Texans: Thinking short term, this is an NFL team that could potentially use McNabb’s services. The Texans sit atop their division at 9-3, but recently lost starting quarterback Matt Schaub to injury. They turned to T.J. Yates as their starter, but while Yates has done a reasonable job thus far, it’s hard to imagine how he might do as the season winds down and the pressure builds. With Schaub on injured reserve, a return for him isn’t likely. The Texans could get into the playoffs, but does Yates give them the best chance to win the AFC and get to the Super Bowl? And with proven weapons such as wideout Andre Johnson and running back Arian Foster, McNabb wouldn’t even need to carry the team.
  • Chicago Bears: Chicago’s playoff footing isn’t quite as good as the Texans’ right now, but at 7-5, they’re tied for a Wild Card spot. The Bears didn’t get great play this weekend from backup Caleb Hanie, who’s filled in for starter Jay Cutler, who went down with a thumb injury. Playing against the Chiefs, Hanie completed only 11 of his 24 passes and threw a whopping three interceptions in a loss, showing his inexperience a bit.  The Bears had little offense and even worse is that star running back Matt Forte sustained a knee injury in the game. If Forte is out for any extended period of time, then it could be even more important that they get good quarterback play and McNabb might be able to provide that. He’s also played in Philadelphia and wouldn’t be affected by the cold weather in Chicago, meaning he could be an even more ideal fit.
  • Dallas Cowboys: The Cowboys wouldn’t be looking at McNabb as a starter with Tony Romo firmly entrenched there, but he could be a suitable backup in case something happens to the star. Current backup Jon Kitna has had back issues and if you need further proof that Dallas is looking for another quarterback, look no further than the fact that they reportedly tried to make a claim on Kyle Orton, who was eventually taken by the Kansas City Chiefs. With Orton now out of play, the Cowboys didn’t put a claim on McNabb. But that doesn’t mean Dallas won’t still consider him if Kitna doesn’t seem like a viable option.
  • Buffalo Bills: This one’s a bit less likely, but McNabb could potentially end up in Buffalo. The Bills are still only two games out of playoff contention even with this weekend’s loss to Tennessee and could be looking for another quarterback. The Bills are only 5-7, but still aren’t out of the hunt and current starter Ryan Fitzpatrick hasn’t helped the team with his play over the last five weeks (six touchdowns to seven interceptions). The only thing is that McNabb’s made it clear that his goal is to win a championship this season. And it would be hard to envision him going into Buffalo and learning a playbook this quickly … all for the slight possibility of even reaching the postseason. But the fact is that the Bills have now lost five games in a row and may turn to the veteran to help them salvage their season.

November 2, 2011

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An Interview with Fran Tarkenton

By: Anson Whaley

(Editor’s note:  One lucky reader will WIN an autographed Fran Tarkenton Fathead!  Just leave a comment–along with a legit email address–on this article for your chance.  We’ll randomly select a winner at the end of the week.  Good luck!)

In the past decade, athletic quarterbacks like Michael Vick and Donovan McNabb have gotten a lot of press, but before any of them, there was Fran Tarkenton. In the 1960s and 1970s, Tarkenton was arguably the best quarterback in the NFL. He led the Minnesota Vikings to three Super Bowl appearances over his career, and he retired as the NFL’s all-time leader in completions, yardage, and touchdowns. We recently had a chance to catch up to Fran to ask him about a variety of topics including Tim Tebow, Monday Night Football, and his new fantasy football website FantasyFran.com.

Fathead Blog:  Many younger fans aren’t familiar with the AFL, but you were drafted in both the NFL Draft and the AFL Draft in 1961. Can you explain a bit how that happened and how you ended up signing with the Vikings instead of going to the AFL?

Fran Tarkenton:  There were two separate drafts for the two leagues, and you had to choose which league you were going to play in. I was drafted by the Minnesota Vikings, an expansion franchise, in the NFL, and the Boston Patriots in the AFL draft. Minnesota offered me a $12,500 salary with a $3,500 bonus, while the Patriots offered me $15,000 with a $5,000 bonus. But I chose the Vikings because I had to prove to myself that I could make it in the big league. The NFL was certainly considered the dominant league at that time.

Fathead Blog: Soon after that, you played your first game. Most rookie quarterbacks struggle miserably, but you came out and threw four touchdown passes in your initial contest. We’re seeing a bit of that type of success with Cam Newton this season. How were you able to drastically shorten the adjustment period and become a contributor immediately? What’s the key to succeeding early on as a rookie quarterback?

Fran Tarkenton:  I had a coach who was a former quarterback himself in Norm Van Brocklin (who still holds the single game passing yardage record, and had won the NFL Championship with the Eagles as a player the year before). He was a brilliant offensive mind, and I learned from him. I listened to him, and I worked hard, and I used my brain. I learned and came to understand what I was supposed to be doing, and that helped me succeed right out of the gate.

Fathead Blog You were one of the first scrambling quarterbacks to have major success in the league. As the years have gone on, we’ve seen quite a few others – Randall Cunningham, Michael Vick, and Steve Young, to name a few. Since you retired, who’s been the best you’ve seen?

Fran Tarkenton:  Michael Vick by far. He’s an athletic freak. The way he can just take off and run is amazing, and there’s nobody else really like him. Never in a million years would I expect the fastest player on the field in an NFL game to be a quarterback, but he is. When I scrambled, it was mainly to buy time to throw the ball downfield. Vick recently set the new record for rushing yards by a quarterback, and he’s only 31, because he’s able to pull the ball down and just take off.

Fathead Blog: Along those lines, Broncos’ QB Tim Tebow has been one of the most polarizing players in the league since he was drafted. Have you watched him play? Do you have any thoughts on him yet or is it still too early to tell in your opinion?

Fran Tarkenton:  I think Tim Tebow was a great college quarterback. But I’m not sure that he’ll be able to make it in the NFL. From what I’ve seen from his first few games, his ability to throw the ball is very questionable. Now that doesn’t mean he won’t succeed. He can prove me wrong and improve on his passing skills. He has all the other intangible things that you want from a quarterback, and I know he’s an incredibly hard worker. He’ll do everything he can to succeed, and I’m very curious to watch his career and see if he can do it.

Fathead Blog: Even as a great scrambler, you still were an incredible passer. Your 47,003 yards still rank 6th all-time. After you had some success it was probably easy to sell the idea of being a mobile quarterback, but was it ever difficult trying to convince coaches and other football personnel that it was possible to succeed with your style of play early in your career?

Fran Tarkenton:  All coaches want their quarterbacks to be able to make plays, put points on the board, and make first downs. Those are the measuring sticks. From the first game that I played, I was able to do that, and it’s like anything else: if you produce, you can play, but if you don’t they’ll get rid of you. My style of play drove the establishment nuts at the time, but the results were undeniable. The standard mold for a quarterback at the time was a big guy with a big arm who delivered the ball from the pocket. The scouting report on me was that I was small but slow, which, needless to say, didn’t fit the prototype. But football has always been measured by results, and people eventually learned to accept my style of play.

Fathead Blog: You once played in 71 consecutive games, spanning several seasons. It’s hard to do that at any position, but to do it as a quarterback is even more remarkable, in my opinion, because defenders are trying to knock them out of the game on every single passing play. What do you remember about that streak? Do you recall any of the injuries you played through to keep that streak going?

Fran Tarkenton:  I only missed 5 games my entire career because of injury. That was because I broke my leg against the Bengals in 1976. The other games I missed were because in the early years, we were so far out of the race that late in the season they would put in my backups to get them some playing time. I was able to avoid injury because I never took direct hits outside of the pocket. When I scrambled and ran, I had to learn to avoid big hits, because I got hit a lot early in my career playing for an expansion team. You have to avoid those hits to stay on the field, and I managed to avoid most of the big shots that knock players out of the game.

Fathead Blog: As a former Monday Night commentator, I’m curious about what you think of the current product. It’s obviously a different situation since the average consumer has hundreds of channels to pick from, but the broadcasting crew has changed so much over the years with guys like Dennis Miller, Tony Kornheiser, and Rush Limbaugh having come and gone fairly recently. It’s hard to build up a brand when the key personnel change so frequency. What are your thoughts on the show as it’s evolved over the years?

Fran Tarkenton:  I think Ron Jaworski, Jon Gruden, and Mike Tirico are great. This particular team has been together for a few years now, and I expect this team to stay together for a few more years. They work well together. It’s nice to have stability. Technology has changed so much, and the finished product is so much more polished and professional than when I was a part of Monday Night Football. They’re able to do things now that we couldn’t dream of doing then!

Fathead Blog: After retiring, you’ve had a number of successful ventures. Many athletes throw their names behind things, but you’ve been actively involved in those companies, including the recently launched fantasy football site, FantasyFran.com. Was going into business something you actively had your eye on as a player or did that desire come later?

Fran Tarkenton:  I didn’t wait until after I’d retired from football to go into business. I was starting up and running businesses the whole time I played. I actually got my first license to sell life insurance in 1959 for the Franklin Life Insurance Company. During my career, I did everything from life insurance to starting fast food chains to an industrial janitorial cleaning service!

Currently, I’m running a wide range of businesses, but my main focus is working with small business entrepreneurs and insurance professionals to make sure that they have all the tools they need to succeed. If anyone is interested in seeing what I have been up to, they can visit www.FranTarkenton.com.  FantasyFran.com is something we started doing for fun, because of how much I still love and watch football. We then realized that there was no place on the web for fantasy football players to get advice from people who’d been on the arena themselves! All the former players on the networks only give game analysis, not fantasy football. It’s something unique I could do, and have a lot of fun doing it! For 18 years, football was my profession, and it’s been my hobby ever since then. My outlook on the games and the players is one that I think is unique among all the voices out there.

September 28, 2011

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NFL Predictions: Week 4 Surprise Fantasy Studs

By: Rick Jarrell

Man, was Week 3 for the NFL exciting. A total of ten underdogs took home wins, the highlight being the Buffalo Bills, who survived Tom Brady’s New England Patriots to take the early division lead. The Oakland Raiders mostly dominated the New York Jets, the Cleveland Browns scored a game winning touchdown in the last two minutes, and Michael Vick somehow managed to start, but got knocked out, again. All around entertaining week.

My NFL fantasy predictions, however, were a mixed bag. Rex Grossman had a decent game against the Dallas Cowboys, but failed to put up significant numbers. The San Diego Chargers were a huge disappointment, not blowing out the hobbled Kansas City Chiefs as they should. Vick started, but Mike Kafka did get some playing time, but did not impress.

The bright spot was Rob Gronkowski, who again, scored two touchdowns in a high scoring battle against the Bills. Ochocinco should have had a good game, as well, but dropped a sure fire 50 yard touchdown pass. It slipped right through his hands. Stunning. Still can’t believe it. While I continue to try to digest that, on to Week 4 NFL predictions.

Tony Romo

A lot of people have been down on Romo. Sure, he screwed up in Week 1 against the New York Jets. But he’s still a Top 10 quarterback, and whether or not he’s a true leader, he’ll still give you NFL fantasy points. I’ll admit, his performance Monday was less than stellar. I expected much more. But he is playing with broken ribs and a pierced lung, so he deserves some slack.

Another week to recover should be good for him. Although it’s a short week and recover time isn’t normal, expect him to have a big game against the Detroit Lions. The Lions secondary is sub-par, and with a high scoring offense led by Matt Stafford, I see this being a shootout. If Romo can’t go, Jon Kitna wouldn’t be the worst pick up for those desperate.

Donovan McNabb / Percy Harvin

I’m very surprised to be saying this, but I think McNabb is poised for a good week. Perceived by many to be well past his prime, and Week 1’s performance was nothing short of proof, McNabb has played decently the past two weeks. The Vikings would have won Sunday if not for their aversion from Adrian Peterson in the second half, which was strange to say the least.

A match up against Kansas City, a team down a Pro Bowl safety in Eric Berry, and a team I predicted to get slaughtered last week, should be favorable, despite my incorrect prediction. Without deep protection, McNabb’s top deep threat, Percy Harvin, should be able to get some space.

Tim Hightower/Roy Helo

The running back by committee is a fantasy owner’s worst enemy. Washington Redskin’s coach Mike Shanahan is a notorious offender. But their Week 4 match up against the St. Louis Rams’ – the worst running defense in the league – should have one, if not both, poised for a big game.

Historically, Shanahan’s “no-name” backs have exploded randomly a few times a season, but never stuck as top of the depth chart guys. I like what Hightower does as a blocking back, and Helu certainly has potential, so hopefully they do stick. But expect an offensive explosion from one of them sometime this season, likely this week being their best shot.

September 21, 2011

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Predicting the NFL Week 3 Fantasy Studs

By: Rick Jarrell

Like many media personalities, I’m going to take a stab at predicting which NFL players will have spectacular statistical performances this upcoming weekend. But unlike many media personalities, I’m going to predict the top five players in the league – Tom Brady, Adrian Peterson, Andre Johnson, etc – will have a great week. That’s a cop out. Anyone can do that. The following are my somewhat bold predictions for NFL Week 3 fantasy studs.

Rex Grossman

I’m still surprised the Washington Redskins didn’t decide to go with Jon Beck as their starting quarterback, but I digress. Grossman has shown flashes of the good and bad we saw during his Chicago Bears days. Mike Shanahan may be reeling in the gun slinger, creating a reliable starter, and the suspect Dallas Cowboys’ secondary provides a solid match up. Where Dallas’s secondary lacks, it’s run defense makes up for it, with playmakers on the defensive line, which leads me to believe the Skins will be even more inclined to take it to the air as much as possible. But I caution you, as always, Grossman will throw a pick or two on his way to a 400 yard game.

Rob Gronkowski & Chad Ochocinco

Gronkowski has already been tearing it up this year, with three touchdowns in two games, even while splitting time with fellow tight end Aaron Hernandez (often in two tight end formations). But now that Hernandez will be out the next 2-4 weeks, Gronkowski should benefit even more by being additionally targeted by Tom Brady.

But one man can only do so much. There has to be another benefactor, someone who hasn’t tallied as many receptions as normal on the team. Someone who’s very vocal, but strangely not the last two weeks. That man, of course, is Ochocinco. He’s crowded behind the aforementioned athletic tight ends and very Patriot-minded players Deion Branch, Wes Welker, and Julian Edelman. Even with Brady throwing for 500 yards a game, that’s a lot of love to spread around. Expect Ocho to benefit from Hernandez’s absence, possibly more than Gronkowski will.

The Entire San Diego Chargers Team

The Kansas City Chiefs surprised everyone last year by winning the division handily but have stumbled out of the gate this year. They lost their Pro Bowl safety Eric Berry in Week 1, and Pro Bowl running back Jamaal Charles in Week 2. Both to ACL injuries. Both are out for the year. Couple that with the wide perception the team would take a step back this NFL season, it will likely be a very long year for the team and their fans.

The beneficiary of the Chief’s misfortunes this week will be the division rival Chargers. Moving the opposite direction of the Chiefs, as they are widely perceived to have underperformed last year, stud quarterback Phillip Rivers should have a huge game against the depleted secondary. Who catches the ball the most – Vincent Jackson, Malcolm Floyd, Antonio Gates – is irrelevant, as it’s probable all three will have very favorable games for their fantasy owners.

Mike Kafka

That’s right, I said it – Mike Kafka. League rules state Michael Vick has to sit out at least one game after his concussion (at least I think those are still the rules). So unless they change the rules specifically for him, Kafka is the man for Philadelphia this Sunday. The former Northwestern quarterback is highly unknown, but I can tell you this – it seems no matter who the Eagles put in at quarterback, they still win. Donovan McNabb, AJ Feely, Kevin Kolb, Vick, and now Kafka, who went 7-9 after Vick’s departure this past weekend.

Don’t expect Kafka to turn into Drew Brees. Not even close. They’ll probably try to establish the run, with LeSean McCoy having a breakout season so far. But the Giants have a strong defensive line. They’re weak in the secondary. So in a situation where you’d think Andy Reid would limit pass attempts to below 20, it may actually eclipse 30.

I hope none of you drafted Peyton Manning and David Garrard and are already hounding the waiver wire. But for the few that exist, Kafka is a decent option. Assuming Grossman is unavailable, that is.

August 31, 2011

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Most Inspiring Sports Comeback Stories in Recent Years

By: Rick Jarrell

This week, Michael Vick signed a six year, $100 million extension with the Philadelphia Eagles. The electrifying quarterback definitely deserved a pay raise from the two year, $16 million he signed in 2010, despite his injury risk. This is the second $100 million contract signed by Vick, the previous with the Atlanta Falcons. But the real story here is Vick’s rise to extremely public rise and fall, only to rise again. The improbable nature of his comeback brings a few other sports icons that have climbed from rock bottom to stardom in recent years.

Michael Vick

If you watch Vick on the football field, it’s no wonder there is so much fuss over his talent. The speed of a receiver combined with the arm of a quarterback creates a dynamic one two punch never seen in the NFL. In retrospect, there should be no reason he would not rise to Pro Bowl status again after being sent to prison for conducting a dog fighting ring. His public image was severely damaged by his actions, but we’ve seen sports fans overlook person misconduct in exchange for performance on the field – why not Vick?

The more surprising aspect of Vick’s comeback was the roadblocks on the team he signed with. At the time he joined the Eagles, Vick was behind Donovan McNabb, the franchise quarterback for the past decade who lead the team to four straight NFC Championship games and one Super Bowl, and Kevin Kolb, a proven back up who was able to step up in McNabb’s absence, so well that he created a QB controversy in the city. But McNabb was shipped to the Washington Redskins before the 2010 season, and Kevin Kolb manage to get hurt. Vick stepped in, put up huge numbers, and Kolb as sent to the Arizona Cardinals this offseason. The wall he had to climb, even after he got out of prison, was immense.

Josh Hamilton

Hamilton was a top tier prospect drafted by the Tampa Bay Rays in 1999. The hot commodity signed a deal with a $4 million signing bonus, but ran into trouble in 2003. He began showing up late to practice and games in 2003, and was suspended at the beginning of 2004 for violating the league’s drug policy. Suffering from various drug addictions, Hamilton entered rehab and did not play professionally again until 2006. After being bought by the Chicago Cubs in the Rule 5 Draft, and sent to the Cincinnati Reds, Hamilton blew up – in a good way.

Hamilton had a great rookie year, losing out to only Ryan Braun for the Rookie of the Year award. The Reds traded him to the Texas Rangers before the 2008 season, and has been an All-Star caliber player ever since. Not to mention an inspiration for those who have battled drug addictions.

Chris Andersen

Although Andersen’s plot has been less chronicled than the above athletes, it is nonetheless remarkable. After going undrafted in 1999, Andersen began his career in the Chinese Basketball Association. He climbed his way to the NBA, joining the Denver Nuggets and appearing in the NBA Dunk Contest in 2004 and 2005. The high flying forward was then suspended by the league in 2006 for violating the substance abuse rules, citing “drugs of abuse” as the reason.

After nearly two years away, Andersen came back in 2008 to rejoin the Nuggets, helping the team reach the playoffs each year since then. The defensive stalwart, with his electrifying blocks and reliable rebounding, has become a fan favorite in Denver, getting loud cheers when he enters the game and commonly being referred to his nickname, the Birdman. Another encouraging comeback story.