Matt Williamson of ESPN/Scouts Inc. was kind enough to (virtually) sit down with us and discuss the 2011 Free Agency frenzy of this past week. Matt is an ex-NFL scout, the host of ESPN’s Football Today podcast, and has a blog on ESPN . You can also follow Matt on twitter at @MattWilliamsonNFL. Matt recently did a great interview with Matt Waldman where you can find out a lot about Matt’s history and his perspective on trends in the NFL. Today we’ll focus more on a fantasy football perspective of the 2011 NFL free agency period.
DLF: Hey Matt, how long have you been playing fantasy football?
Williamson: I have been in a good league with my buddies for probably about a dozen years. But last year was the first season that I took on a second team/league-which was with you guys in the Dynasty Experts League. I was intrigued with IDPs and the entire Dynasty format. It was a blast… and of course, I won the Championship.
DLF: Yeah, nice job there. Must have been sweet to beat out a bunch of fantasy experts in the first year of the league, especially being the only non “fantasy” guy in the bunch. Are you going to repeat there?
Williamson: I must say, this free agency period did not do me a lot of favors. I have both Sidney Rice and Mike Williams (SEA)-which doesn’t excite me. I had high hopes for Mike Goodson, but DeAngelo Williams resigned-which I didn’t agree with. But yes, I feel like my team lead by Drew Brees, Jamaal Charles and LeSean McCoy (& a pretty crafty owner when it comes to trades) is set up very well for this season and beyond. So yeah, I plan on repeating.
DLF: How many other fantasy leagues are you currently in?
Williamson: I picked up a third league this year-that will be my limit though. This one is interesting in that it too is an Expert League with really strong owners. But this one (http://football.myfantasyleague.com/2011/home/65781) was designed with a very unique scoring system that values IDPs and TEs extremely high. Jene Bramel created it. The draft is going on now. Check it out – quite interesting.
DLF: How many fantasy titles have you won?
Williamson: More than I remember… but just one last year (out of two)!
DLF: Your win in the Dynasty Experts League really shows just how important it is for any fantasy player to really understand the NFL, keep track of player moves, and really know what it all means. So let’s take a broad look at the recent free agency activity. Which 2-3 teams so far do you think have been the biggest winners in free agency?
Williamson: Philadelphia by far. What they did was extraordinary. I think Atlanta and New Orleans each have had very strong off seasons and I expect that to be the tightest divisional race. I also think that we all need to remember that right now, this point of the year, is when every team looks it’s absolute best. Optimism!
DLF: Which 2-3 teams have been the biggest losers, or have missed critical opportunities?
Williamson: San Fran sticks out immediately. I haven’t been overly impressed with Buffalo or Tampa Bay either. And the Bucs had a ton of money to spend.
DLF: If you had to pick one free agent acquisition that will have the biggest fantasy impact, which one would you choose? Kolb? Ocho? How about Vonta Leach in Baltimore?
Williamson: Leach is a killer and it surely raises Ray Rice’s value. Not a huge believer in those other two though. No one really sticks out to me there.
DLF: Which team stands out to you as being a team who could best address their needs by signing a few of the remaining free agents?
Williamson: There isn’t all that much to pick from, but Oakland must sign Zach Miller.
DLF: Which moves have set up the most interesting competitions to watch as the season progresses?
Williamson: I have high hopes for Matt Moore actually. And I am not yet ready to totally discount Chad Henne. That might be a much better battle than many tend to realize. And I am very high on the rest of the Dolphins’ team-especially that defense, which will be elite.
DLF: Since we can’t cover every single player move, let’s just focus on some of the most impactful moves from a fantasy perspective. How do you think Kevin Kolb will do in Arizona?
Williamson: Certainly will be an upgrade, but that isn’t saying much. But just being able to get first downs and stay on the field some will help the running game and defense as well. I don’t see Pro Bowls in his near future though.
DLF: Do you think Larry Fitgerald’s value goes up now?
Williamson: No question. I was fortunate enough to help recruit Larry to Pitt. I watched him through high school, every Pitt practice and game and of course with the Cardinals. He doesn’t need a great QB to be an elite player. Very special.
DLF: What impact do you think a better passing game will have on the running game in Arizona, and who do you see emerging as the best fantasy back to have there? Do you think Beanie Wells will hold on the starting RB role?
Williamson: Real torn on which RB to target for fantasy reasons. Both have a lot of talent. And the drafting of Williams could really light a fire under Wells’ ass… which he needs. When it comes down to it, I will probably let other fantasy owners deal with that situation – at least with what we know now. The preseason could change my mind drastically, as it could with many of these questions.
DLF: Clearly Ochocinco going to New England is a high profile move which has a lot of people talking. But really, how much of an impact do you see Ocho having there? Do you think he’s a viable fantasy starting WR?
Williamson: Not for one of my teams. I think the Pats will continue to spread the ball around extremely effectively and yes, 85 will have a role. But can he be the Randy Moss and scare defenses deep any more? I tend to doubt it. He was never great after the catch and doesn’t like to go over the middle. I don’t see his mindset of playing the game meshing with Tom Brady’s and Bill Belichick’s.
DLF: And on the topic of high profile but potentially underwhelming WR moves, what are the prospects for Plaxico on the Jets? Do you think he can come back after two seasons in the can and actually make a difference?
Williamson: Maybe in time, but baby steps. I really can’t say that being locked up in prison for two years is good for an athlete’s development! But, Burress was big when he went into jail and is big now. So he does have his greatest asset still going for him.
DLF: How about the Darren Sproles move, do you think he will fill a similar role as Reggie Bush in New Orleans?
Williamson: Yes and No. I think Sproles can handle more carries-especially between the tackles. He is more physical, built lower and is tougher than Bush. But, while Sproles also is a very good receiving RB, no one is really like Bush. Bush is as much WR as he is RB and his ability to run a full WR route tree is unmatched. Still-not a bad replacement! The Saints are stacked.
DLF: How do you see the running game playing out in Miami? Was Bush a good pickup for the Dolphins?
Williamson: In order to use Bush properly, he needs to be in an offense like New Orleans or Indy where the QB is extremely cerebral and in charge and the offensive play caller is very adept and creative. I don’t see either in Miami. So I think much of what Bush does well will not be utilized as well as it was with the Saints.
DLF: Will Sidney Rice have any chance for a successful fantasy season with one of the current trio of questionable QB’s in Seattle throwing to him?
Williamson: Yes. Seattle obviously is looking for huge WRs with giant catching radius. That can help inaccurate QBs-think of Derek Anderson in Cleveland a few years ago throwing to Braylon Edwards and Kellen Winslow. This offensive system features the WR position quite a bit and Rice will get plenty of opportunities.
DLF: Finally, toss out two or three teams each from the AFC and NFC who you think are the most likely to be there at the end of the season and in the hunt for the title.
Williamson: Some of the usual suspects. In the NFC, I see four powerhouses: New Orleans, Atlanta, Green Bay and Philly. In the AFC, again more of the same: New England, Pittsburgh, Indy. But the AFC is a little cloudier to me than the NFC with playoff predictions…which you don’t get quite yet! Thanks for everything.
DLF: Thanks a ton Matt!
Be sure to hear much more from Matt as well as ESPN analyst and ex-NFL player Ross Tucker on the ESPN Football Today podcast. It’s not a fantasy podcast, but like we said earlier, you can’t expect to succeed in fantasy football without understanding the NFL, and this is one of the best pure NFL podcasts you’ll download! You can follow Matt on Twitter at @MattWilliamsonNFL, and also be sure to follow DLF as well at @DLFootball.
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