- Eric Karabell, ESPN.com Senior Writer
In the past, fantasy football owners kept or drafted players with pending suspensions with the hope leniency would prevail and the players wouldn't miss as much time as previously expected. That was the case a year ago with Denver Broncos wide receiver Brandon Marshall, as his three-game suspension was reduced to one game in late August. That certainly affected Marshall's draft-day viability.
Marshawn Lynch wasn't as lucky. The Buffalo Bills running back appealed his suspension for violating the league's personal conduct policy, and the NFL announced Monday that the suspension will be upheld. Lynch will not be eligible to play until Week 4 against the Miami Dolphins. He will miss games against the New England Patriots, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and New Orleans Saints.
Missing three games is a very big deal in fantasy football. Consider that most leagues have a regular season of 12 weeks, so Lynch is slated to miss a quarter of those games, at the least. Most injuries can't be planned for. But you know now that when you draft Lynch, he will not play in September. It's certainly affecting his draft status, as a player who ran for more than 1,000 yards and totaled 16 touchdowns in his first two NFL seasons is being selected No. 37 overall in the average ESPN live draft. ESPN Fantasy ranks Lynch No. 34 overall. A year ago, Lynch was the No. 9 overall player in our rankings. Surely his drop in value isn't entirely due to his suspension, but it doesn't help.
Fred Jackson and Dominic Rhodes will vie for touches in Buffalo's first three games, with Jackson heading into training camp in the lead. He saw weekly carries in 2008 but never enough to make a difference in fantasy, until Week 17, when he received 27 carries against the New England Patriots and turned them into 136 yards. Rhodes certainly didn't make friends with Joseph Addai fantasy owners last season, stealing the younger running back's carries. This should be a good training camp battle between Jackson and Rhodes, especially under the circumstances, and the winner certainly could be viable in the season's first three weeks and possibly beyond. Lynch has missed four games his first two seasons.
• New York Giants linebacker Antonio Pierce was not indicted by a New York grand jury Monday, meaning one of fantasy's top defenses hasn't lost one of its anchors and should remain exactly that. Pierce led the Giants with 95 tackles last season. If you're thinking about drafting wide receiver Plaxico Burress, be aware he was indicted, although that alone does not disqualify him from NFL action. However, it is unlikely NFL commissioner Roger Goodell will clear Burress for eligibility until Burress' legal situation plays itself out, which likely will not occur in 2009.
• Speaking of the Giants, former wide receiver Amani Toomer has found a home, as he signed with the Kansas City Chiefs on Tuesday, one day after working out with the team. The Chiefs have Dwayne Bowe ready to emerge as a star, but after that, Mark Bradley and Bobby Engram are the best options. Toomer could find work and a key role right away, although he's unlikely to warrant fantasy draft day notice unless he starts. David Terrell and D.J. Hackett are other wide receivers who worked out with the Chiefs.
• Carolina Panthers running back Jonathan Stewart dealt with injuries his rookie season, which allowed DeAngelo Williams to run wild and become fantasy's top player, but most people expect a more even timeshare this season. However, Stewart is still dealing with lingering Achilles soreness that will keep him to one practice per day during training camp. If Stewart can't prove he can stay on the field, Williams will have few obstacles to another big season.
• According to The Washington Post, Redskins backup running back Ladell Betts has been told he will see a greater role in the offense this season, mainly to ease the wear and tear on Clinton Portis. Betts had a big 2006 season, rushing for 1,154 yards and catching 54 passes, but his workload has been minor since then. Portis, on the other hand, has more than 2,000 carries in his seven-year career, so kudos to the Redskins for trying to deal with inevitable injury before it happens. Portis is being drafted in the second round so far, and this news shouldn't affect that. It's a good thing if Portis remains healthy and productive, rather than abused.
• Being the backup quarterback for Tom Brady was about the best place to be a year ago -- just ask Matt Cassel. Brady and his knee appear to be healthy these days, but it's still important who backs him up. A few days after the Patriots brought in former Dolphin Cleo Lemon for a tryout, former Raider Andrew Walter was signed to a contract. Goodbye, Matt Gutierrez. Walter didn't have much success with the Raiders, but that can't be blamed entirely on him. Maybe he's the next Cassel!