Recently, I profiled several players in danger of plummeting from
the top 10 ranks at their respective positions this coming season.
It was a fun little exercise,
for sure, especially for a confirmed disparager such as myself.
Nevertheless, no sooner had the ink dried on that column, than readers
were clamoring for a companion piece. If those guys are dropping
out, they wondered, who’s taking their place?
It’s a fair enough question, I suppose—and I can certainly
wax optimistic when challenged—so let’s flip the script
and turn our attention toward those men poised to emerge as the
2011 crop of favored fantasy studs. We already know there’s
likely to be more than the nine examined below, but I only have
so much time (we’re less than two weeks away) and a finite
number of interesting things to say (or so I’ve been told).
Without further ado, allow me to introduce the next wave of elite
fantasy prospects likely to rise into the top ten.
All rankings are based on FFToday’s default standard scoring.
A quick reminder of the Top 10 fantasy RBs from last season...
Rice is currently being drafted, on average, with
the fourth pick in standard leagues. That puts him, from an ADP
standpoint, behind only Arian Foster and Adrian Peterson. Pretty
heady company, wouldn’t you say? Here’s the thing, though: depending
on your league’s scoring format that might be too low! The former
Scarlet Knight has been the head rock-toter in Baltimore for just
two seasons and, in both of those seasons, has leaked over 100 carries
(and most of the goal-line touches) to Willis McGahee. He’s also
lost a considerable number of looks to Le’Ron McClain, the hybrid
fullback-tailback who filled the role of primary ball-carrier in
Rice’s rookie season, 2008.
McGahee has since been replaced by Ricky Williams and McClain by
premier fullback, Vonta Leach. Though Williams certainly could fill
the exact same role McGahee did the past two seasons, it sounds
like the Baltimore coaching staff envisions something different.
Offensive coordinator, Cam Cameron, recently indicated Rice’s
touches will only be limited by…Rice. In other words, Williams
gets a look when Rice taps his helmet. (Note: backs don’t
typically tap their helmets near the goal-line.) As for Leach, here’s
how many times he’s carried a football the last two seasons:
So, Rice stands to earn more overall touches, more critical money-zone
looks, and was already a whisker away from the top 10 last season,
Need any further convincing? He’s caught more passes for more
yards than any other running back in the league since he assumed
the starting role. He’s also entering his all-important contract
year. Bottom line, folks: I’d draft him no later than third
in standard leagues and I’d give him a long, hard look at
#1 in PPR leagues. No fooling.
I doubt many Duck fans forget where they were when
Blount sucker-punched Byron Hout on the Smurf turf in Boise two
years ago. I was in San Francisco, hanging with Little Bro. As it
turns out, though, we were both blissfully unaware of the punch
until the following morning. You see, we were so disgusted by the
game, we left the sports bar and went…to a whole bunch of other
bars. When we discovered what we’d missed, two thoughts immediately
went through my mind. First, Blount had ruined a very promising
Ducks season (wrong). Second, he’d also ruined a potentially promising
pro career (wrong again).
Bullish on Blount: Get ready for a heavy
workload in 2011.
LGB’s draft stock certainly sank (he wasn’t), but he
eventually found his way to Tampa Bay, via Tennessee, where he proceeded
to take the NFL by storm about halfway through last season. Despite
just a handful of starts, Blount managed to surpass the 1,000-yard
mark, average a robust five yards per tote, and score six touchdowns.
He also exhibited uncommon athleticism for a man his size (6’0”,
247 pounds), even executing his trademark hurdle in a Week 8 win
over Arizona (YouTube it). Simply put, he’s a huge man who
can either avoid defenders or flatten them depending on what the
Another reason to be bullish on Blount in 2011 is this: he has almost
no competition for carries in Tampa. The primary backup, Kregg Lumpkin,
has precisely TWO career carries. The next in line, rookie Allen
Bradford, has none. Sure, Earnest Graham could slide over from the
fullback position and poach a few touches but, all told, I doubt
there’s a back in the league in line to garner a higher percentage
of running back looks. For this reason alone, I think he’s
a top 10 guy when it’s all said and done.
Unlike Blount, Jones-Drew has almost always
shared carries, first with Fred Taylor earlier in his career and
more recently with Rashad
Jennings. He also lines up in the same backfield with one of
the more frequently scampering quarterbacks, David Garrard. Nevertheless,
the UCLA product has still managed, in five NFL seasons, to average
over 100 total yards/game and 12 touchdowns per year, elite enough
numbers that a return to the top 10 seems fairly safe to predict.
Jones-Drew is almost a spitting image of the first back on this
list, Ray Rice. Though he lacks prototypical height (5’7”),
he packs a lot of mass on that smallish frame, weighing in north
of 200 pounds. Doubtless, this lower center of gravity allows him
to withstand more punishment than men his size usually do and, in
fact, he’s only missed three games his first five years. How
many other backs can say that? It surprises me, actually, that there
are “injury concerns” heading into this season, but
I suppose that just proves fantasy GMs have very short memories.
If there’s a red flag for MJD at all, it’s probably
the continued development of the Blount-like Jennings, a change-of-pace
bulldozer who, according to the Jags’ coaching staff, will
see even more action in 2011. I sure hope so (because I drafted
him late), but Jones-Drew will still be the main man and even when
he’s been part of a committee, he’s been a highly productive
back. If he gets 250-275 carries and ups his TD total from last
year (his lowest output ever), there’s no reason to think
he shouldn’t crack the top 10 once again.
Next: Wide Receivers