Saturday, August 13, 2011

First Read: Hightower traded to Washington, and other RB moves

The Arizona Cardinals dealt running back Tim Hightower to Washington on Sunday in exchange for 35-year-old defensive end Vonnie Holliday and a sixth-round pick. This swap impacts the fantasy community in at least two ways: 1) Arizona's backfield gets a bit less crowded, as Beanie Wells is restored to relevance behind rookie Ryan Williams, and 2) Washington's RB depth chart becomes a thing that only Mike Shanahan could truly love. (Assuming he's capable of love, or any human emotion).

Most of us were already assuming that Williams would be one of the more useful rookies for fantasy purposes, and this trade certainly doesn't hurt his value in the fake game. His PPR outlook improves, though it's worth noting that he didn't actually catch a ton of passes at Virginia Tech (26 in two seasons). Wells might have been an afterthought in fantasy leagues of standard size, but it's tough to leave him off the board following this deal, even if he burned you in 2010.

But the Arizona angle is easy, because it's a shrinking committee. Washington's backfield is now an ugly pileup of rookies and one-hit wonders, a dangerous place to look for fantasy assets.

Hightower is great in blitz pickup and he's clearly an effective receiver, so he figures to earn plenty of snaps. (He's also very good at fumbling, a skill he needs to lose). I'm not ready to downgrade rookie fourth-rounder Roy Helu just yet; he never figured to be a full workload RB anyway, and Hightower seems like a nice complement. Helu was involved in a job-share situation at Nebraska last year, finishing the season with only five receptions. Ryan Torain remains the presumptive starter for Washington, coming off an injury-shortened season in which he averaged 4.5 yards per carry, topping the 100-yard mark three times. And Keiland Williams is lurking, too. And then there's rookie sixth-rounder Evan Royster.

So it's complicated in Washington, and all the names are scary. Classic Shanahan. But there's an entire preseason ahead in which players can injure and/or disgrace themselves. This backfield will sort itself out. Remain patient, gamer.

? If you're a Ray Rice owner, this has just been a delightful off-season. First, Baltimore released Willis McGahee, the dude who'd been poaching red zone opportunities. Then the Ravens signed All-Pro fullback Vonta Leach to a three-year deal, presumably removing Le'Ron McClain from the equation. Leach is hardly a threat to steal workload from Rice; in fact, he only carried the ball three times over his four seasons in Houston. He's just a badass blocker, and he'll be clearing lanes for Rice this year, not Arian Foster. Big win.

? Speaking of McGahee, he signed a four-year deal with the Broncos, giving John Fox the second back he'd been threatening to add. This shouldn't necessarily be considered bad news for Knowshon Moreno; we knew Denver would bring a new name into the backfield mix. Here's Coach Fox, via the Denver Post:

"Contrary to what people say, it's no indictment on Knowshon," Fox said. "If you've followed my coaching history, you know I've had two first-rounders at running back, and I believe you have to have two backs to be a successful run team, just to keep them fresh and energized and to get through 16 games running as much as we want to run it."

? The Bears added another former Cowboy, as Marion Barber signed a two-year, $5 million deal. Matt Forte might be annoyed by the move, since he's expecting a contract extension any day now, but Chester Taylor should be panicked. Barber was a disappointment last season, no doubt, but he still seems like an upgrade as a short-yardage/rotational back.

? Arizona inked veteran tight end Todd Heap to a two-year deal over the weekend, giving Kevin Kolb another semi-significant weapon. The Cards are reportedly "talking seriously" with Braylon Edwards, too. According to the Arizona Republic's Kent Somers, several of Edwards' former teammates are lobbying in favor of the add.

? And last but never least, Cedric Benson signed a one-year deal with the Bengals, the only team that wanted him. He was lousy on a per-carry basis last season (3.5 YPC), but he overcame the inefficiency by carrying a million times. (OK, 321 times). Cincinnati has a few interesting weapons in its receiving corps, despite the departure of Chad Ochocinco, but the quarterback battle ain't pretty. Tough to feel good about any investment in that offense right now.


Photos via US Presswire

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