A reminder about the special "team-game" qualities that make football particularly interesting: The unexpected retirement of Tarik Glenn, the outstanding left tackle for the Indianapolis Colts, could have an immediate and tangible affect on the fantasy stock of every Colt player.
You know the conventional wisdom about offensive linemen (left tackle is the most significant position, guards power the running game, but center is the key to a great unit) so we won't go through the logic in detail. Suffice it to say that Glenn has been the starting left tackle in every single NFL game Peyton Manning has ever played. You don't take away a passer's blindside protector without changing his rhythm. Yada yada yada.
Does that bump Manning from the top of the fantasy QB ratings? No, but it increases his injury risk and decreases expectations for the Colts' overall offensive production. RB Joseph Addai probably takes the biggest hit: fantasy owners like him as much for his role in the traditionally productive Colts offense as they do for his above-average talent, and he's routinely selected in the first half of this summer's first rounds.
There's little doubt that offensive line play is the least-understood component of fantasy football, but if you're looking for evidence of its value, look no farther than Kansas City, where a once-great offensive line is in decline. Here are the key rushing stats for the Chiefs over the past four seasons:
2003: 1,929, 4.3 ypc, 32 TDs;
2004: 2,289, 4.6 ypc, 31 TDs;
2005: 2,382, 4.6 ypc, 26 TDs;
2006: 2,143, 4.2 ypc, 17 TDs.
End of the world? No. But as a fantasy player looking at Larry Johnson's prospects for 2007, I know that Johnson was a better producer in 2005 with Will Shields at guard than he was in 2006 without him. I also know that there's not a Shields-quality guard on the Chiefs' roster for 2007, and I adjust my expectations accordingly.
What fact best predicted a decline in production for Shaun Alexander in 2006? The departure of guard Steve Hutchinson for Minnesota. Offensive line assessments are one reason to be optimistic about Thomas Jones (young Jet linemen improving) and Travis Henry (Denver's blocking scheme is proven). They're also why I'm skeptical about Steven Jackson (Orlando Pace is fading and only RT Alex Barron shows potential) and Rudi Johnson (just lost G Eric Steinbach).
Time to add Addai to that second list as well.