Preseason Matchup Analysis
Every once in a while, it is nice to break routine and just let
yourself go (at least as much as the boss or family will allow…).
At any rate, the end of the preseason and the beginning of “real
football” gives each of us in the fantasy industry the opportunity
to relax a bit and pretend we can see the future.
All kidding aside, I’d like to think I’ve established
myself as a bold, outside-the-box thinker in the midst of my seventh
season writing for FF Today. In that time, I have created several
different column ideas that attempted – among other things
– to give readers a unique yet unfiltered way to think about
how the various idiosyncrasies of the NFL game and how they can
lead to success playing fantasy football.
After actually nailing many of my
predictions last season, I decided I wanted to be bold and
helpful with this year’s column. While I cannot say
for certain that all my predictions or observations below are
incredibly bold, I am quite sure there will be several that surprise
you. In any event, take these predictions the way they were meant
to be taken: opinions designed to provoke deeper thought.
So, you must be asking yourself: where is the helpful part of
this column? Keep reading and it will become obvious…
Note: In an effort to avoid answering the questions I know
I will get if I don’t issue this disclaimer, my
Big Board 3.0 supersedes any of these predictions. My predictions
below are occurrences I believe could happen, but I wouldn’t
bet my season on them.
Third-string rookie QB Ryan Lindley will start at least four
games, which will leave the team in position to draft USC QB Matt
Barkley next spring.
Let’s be brutally honest: the Cardinals’ QB situation
is awful and, to make matters worse, the offensive line is borderline
pathetic. Regardless of whether or not John Skelton manages to
start the first few games of the season, it is likely only a matter
of time before ineffectiveness or injuries forces Kevin Kolb into
action. And given his track record for durability and how quickly
he leaves the pocket, it is only a matter of time before he breaks
down as well. Enter the rookie Lindley, who is a raw player that
had talent evaluators shaking their head this spring. Most front
office personnel saw a quarterback who could make all the throws
a NFL signal-caller needs to make but lacked proper footwork,
which led to his struggles with his accuracy in college. Either
way, this porous offensive line will, in all likelihood, get Skelton
and Kolb hurt and be one of the main reasons why Arizona will
finish last in the NFC West. Ultimately, I believe Arizona will
be one of the NFL’s worst teams, which should leave it with
a shot to grab Barkley – a player the fan base will love
since they will have seen many of his games on the West Coast.
Jacquizz Rodgers will be a more consistent PPR player than
I’m not exactly sure why Atlanta is even pretending Turner is
still a bellcow RB. When he first joined the Falcons, he very
much lived up to his “Burner” nickname. However, the incredible
size-speed combination he used to possess is just about gone,
almost to the point where you feel bad for him when you watch
him run. Turner will still be the unquestioned goal-line runner
and the Falcons will do their best to make sure he is involved
in the passing game (like they have in the preseason), but the
big-play ability he once possessed is a thing of the past. In
order for OC Dirk Koetter’s new aerial attack to maximize its
potential, Atlanta may have no choice to lean more and more on
Rodgers as the season progresses. Besides of their diminutive
nature and proximity to each other (same division), Rodgers will
get compared to Darren
Sproles more than he should, even though they are different
types of runners. With that said, I suspect the Falcons will use
him in much the same way, so 45 receptions and 700-900 total yards
is a realistic goal for him. If he manages to add about five touchdowns
to that stat line, it is not a stretch to believe Rodgers will
be the more consistent of the two Atlanta running backs since
Turner’s value will be tied heavily into whether he scores touchdowns
The Flacco bandwagon is picking up steam.
Joe Flacco will enjoy his first 4,000-yard season and finish
as a top-10 fantasy QB.
Forgive me for jumping on the Flacco bandwagon a bit late, but
if I’m going to start believing in quarterback based on offseason
reports and preseason action when I didn’t before, I need to see
a player who is sharp and in total command of the offense. Flacco
has generated nothing but glowing reports all offseason and was
borderline amazing whenever I watched him this preseason. But
it isn’t just Flacco I’ve been impressed with recently; I’m also
thrilled by what I saw from Torrey
Smith. And let’s face it, whatever no-huddle Baltimore ends
up running will lead to more plays, which will create more opportunities
for Flacco and Smith. I’m not prepared to view Flacco as a fantasy
QB1 in drafts, but with two capable tight ends and receivers along
with a skilled pass-catching RB like Ray
Rice, he no longer has any excuses as he plays for a big contract
extension in 2012.
Ryan Fitzpatrick will struggle to be a top 20 fantasy QB.
My colleague Jonathan Bales is high on the bearded one, but I
don’t see it. He cites Fitzpatrick’s rib injury as
one of the reasons Fitzpatrick’s play declined, but two
straight seasons of fading in the second half tell a different
story. Additionally, he didn’t suffer his rib injury until
Week 8 against Washington, at which time Fitzpatrick had turned
five straight average-at-best fantasy performances. HC Chan Gailey’s
willingness to spread things out will help Fitzpatrick try to
make me look bad here, but I feel that Gailey will play more to
his running game and improved defense and not lean as much on
Fitzpatrick’s arm. Furthermore, Buffalo’s schedule
isn’t exactly favorable when it comes to potentially soft
Cam Newton will see his rushing touchdowns cut in half, but
will more than maintain his 2011 fantasy value by making up for
it in the passing game.
History suggests that Newton won’t rush for more than about
four TDs, so the bold part of this prediction could very well
be the fact that he’ll finish with seven. I’ve talked
a number of times about how I feel Mike Tolbert will steal a few
of those scores, so I’ll get right back to Newton and suggest
that he’ll find a way to throw for about 4,200 yards and
about 25 touchdowns. In leagues that give six points for all touchdowns,
those stats – along with 500+ rushing yards and seven more
scores – are good enough to give him around 400 fantasy
points, which is right at the number he hit last season.
Michael Bush will be a thorn in the side of Matt Forte’s
We already know that Bush will replace Forte when the Bears get
close to the goal line. But I’ve got a real bad feeling
that while Forte’s new contract says he is the unquestioned
lead back, he isn’t going to get nearly as much work outside
the red zone as people seem to think. Bush is getting paid a fair
amount of money himself and is too versatile to be used just as
a red-zone hammer. I have no doubt Forte will be the better fantasy
RB of the two, but I don’t see any way he will deliver the
first-round value that a number of owners believe he possesses.
BenJarvus Green-Ellis will finish as the team’s best
fantasy RB, but won’t come close to justifying his current
4.9 ADP in PPR formats or 4.11 ADP in standard leagues.
First of all, explain to me how a player with 26 career receptions
in 53 games has a slightly higher ADP in standard leagues than
he does in PPR. Back to the subject at hand, “Law Firm”
needs a lot going in his favor in order to be a productive fantasy
player. He won’t hurt you much (he has yet to fumble in
his NFL career), but offers very little in the passing game and
isn’t all that explosive. Moreover, Cincinnati’s interior
line is already decimated (LG Travelle Wharton is on IR and C
Kyle Cook is out indefinitely) or struggling (rookie RG Kevin
Zeitler). Seeing as how Green-Ellis is an inside runner, the collapse
of Cincinnati’s offensive line and the move away from the
Patriots’ explosive offense will be enough to sink his fantasy
By the end of the year, Jordan Cameron will be a player you
want on your fantasy team (at least in deeper leagues).
For those of you who don’t know him, Cameron is a former
BYU basketball player who impressed at the 2011 NFL Combine and
has wowed the Browns coaches this offseason. Part-timer Evan Moore
was released in part due to the emergence of Cameron, who will
likely assume his role as the “move” TE. Unlike Moore,
don’t expect Cleveland to limit his snaps. Cameron isn’t
quite the same athlete that other former basketball-players-turned-tight-ends
Antonio Gates and Jimmy Graham are (nor does he have their quarterbacks),
but HC Pat Shurmur is willing to play him in the slot. Young quarterbacks
typically love their tight ends, so with Cameron showing improved
blocking skills this summer, he could take over the starting job
from Ben Watson before the end of the year.
Dez Bryant will find a way to stay on the field for 16 games
this season and, as a result, will fulfill his promise as a top-five
fantasy WR in PPR and standard formats.
This is a bold prediction on a couple of levels. Even the most
casual fans know the headcase Bryant has been so far off the field
(although that has typically been more of an offseason concern),
but Bryant hasn’t been able to stay healthy for an entire
season yet either. Dallas recently addressed the part it could
control when it had him agree to a strict set of rules regarding
his conduct away from the field. Bryant – up until the point
where he was facing possible domestic abuse charges – was
enjoying the finest offseason of his three-year NFL career. While
the fantasy world goes crazy over Julio Jones, Bryant is on par
with Jones in terms of talent and he’s available roughly
10-15 picks later than the Falcons’ wideout. Even with the
full-time security detail, owners need to recognize the risk.
With that said, the reward is a top-five fantasy receiver.
Willis McGahee will turn the clock back to 2007 (minus the
40+ receptions) before giving way to Knowshon Moreno and Ronnie
Hillman next season.
McGahee gets an unfair rap for not being much of a receiver who
is only good at the goal line due in part to his days in Baltimore,
but he has spent much of his career in run-heavy offenses. For
the first time in recent memory, McGahee has the backfield mostly
to himself (thanks to rookie Ronnie Hillman being hampered by
a hamstring injury) in an offense where Peyton Manning and his
receivers will receive most of the attention. Denver is going
to run the ball more than the general fan would expect a Manning-led
team to and the team has the offensive line to make it work. Of
course, if you’ve been reading my Big Board articles lately,
you already know I have him rated as a late fourth-round value,
rushing for just over 1,000 yards rushing and 10 touchdowns. I
do fear that he will start declining near the end of the season
(he turns 31 in late October), but like Fred Jackson, he’s
an older back with much less mileage than a runner his age typically
has at this point of his career.
Titus Young will surpass 1,000 receiving yards and score
Young certainly doesn’t lack for confidence, suggesting
earlier this offseason that he felt when Barry Sanders announced
his name on draft day last season the Lions’ legend was
passing the torch to him. He’s also a bit of a wildcard
as he showed this offseason when he punched teammate Louis Delmas,
which resulted in a short “suspension”. But the most
important thing to fantasy owners is that he has been “almost
impossible to stop during practices” and that HC Jim Schwartz
believes Young is “an important part” of the coaching
staff’s plans this season. Working opposite Calvin Johnson
means that Young will probably never see a safety over the top,
meaning the deep ball (and single coverage) will be available
about as much as the Lions want to exploit it. At the very least,
Young is a fantasy WR3 who will provide “splash” games.
More likely, he’ll post 60+ receptions for over 1,000 yards
and push the double-digit mark in touchdowns.
Green Bay Packers
James Jones will be traded to Miami and still struggle to
be the third-best fantasy receiver currently on the Packers’
This prediction suggests that Jones has no chance at being a
better fantasy wideout than Greg Jennings or Jordy Nelson wherever
he ends up, but will also struggle to be more productive than
second-year breakout candidate Randall Cobb even if he is traded
to Miami. Of course, this prediction is assuming former OC (and
current HC) Joe Philbin will attempt to trade for his former pupil.
Cobb probably won’t meet the “sleeper” expectations
some optimistic owners have set for him as he shares time with
team favorite Donald Driver, but he’ll have his share of
explosive games, just as Jones probably will. Good luck predicting
when they happen…
Lestar Jean will be more than just a late-round flyer.
I’m not sure how bold of a prediction this really is, given Andre
Johnson’s extensive injury history and the likelihood that
Jean will step into his spot if/when he goes down. But even if
Johnson somehow manages to play 14 games, I think HC Gary Kubiak
will be tempted to get another solid receiving threat out on the
field to replace the unspectacular Kevin
Walter. Skeptics will suggest that Houston is too run-heavy
to support two receivers in fantasy, but I maintain two of the
reasons the team ran so much last season (52.2%) was due to injuries
Schaub, Johnson, etc.) and the lack of quality options in
the passing game (Jacoby
Jones and Walter started when Johnson was out). Even if the
Texans split their runs and passes evenly this season, it should
be enough to get someone like Jean into the 40-catch range, especially
if Johnson is forced to miss significant time again with injuries.
Vick Ballard will end up as the team’s best fantasy
This prediction isn’t exactly a surprise to those of you
who followed my Big Board series. Although I have Donald Brown
ranked higher, I would be mildly surprised if Ballard isn’t
at least splitting carries right down the middle with Brown by
midseason. Brown’s big-play ability will make sure he remains
a big part of the offense, but Ballard’s physical running
style will eventually win the day as the weather turns colder.
He’s also the Colts’ back to own in dynasty formats.
Justin Blackmon will catch 60 passes and finish as a top
30 WR in PPR leagues.
I have no desire to predict when/where Maurice Jones-Drew will
pull his hamstring (as often happens with players who try to do
too much too soon, especially after a holdout), so I’m opting
to roll the dice on a rookie receiver that has done nothing but
impress me all preseason. Blaine Gabbert is already looking like
a completely different quarterback with the benefit of a full
training camp, an emphasis on the short passing game and an improved
receiving corps, which is where Blackmon comes in. The No. 5 overall
pick in April’s draft is playing the Roddy White role in
new HC Mike Mularkey’s offense and is doing something I
don’t see a lot of young receivers do – catch the
ball with his hands. Blackmon (6-1, 215) is built similar to Andre
Johnson (6-3, 225), so while his upside isn’t quite that
high, he is a tough player for a cornerback to defend simply because
he is so strong. And while he doesn’t have Johnson’s
run-after-catch abilities, Blackmon will typically get more yards
than the play is designed to get. Blackmon’s floor should
be as a low-end fantasy WR3.
Kansas City Chiefs
Peyton Hillis will be the RB to own in the Chiefs’
backfield and Dexter McCluster will cause the most arguments about
position eligibility in fantasy football since Marques Colston.
OK, so I threw the line in there about McCluster and Colston
to amuse myself, I guess. However, I don’t think it is too
far-fetched to believe both of these things have a realistic shot
at happening. Hillis is playing for the same OC (Brian Daboll)
who helped engineer his breakout 2010 campaign and the healthier
of two pretty good backs running behind one of the league’s
best run-blocking offensive lines. What’s more is that Kansas
City will probably run the ball about as much as any team in the
league and plan to give each back a similar amount of touches.
While Hillis – who should be the unquestioned goal-line
back – will never beat Charles in a footrace, the former
is the better bet to be getting the ball late in games as the
Chiefs try to hold on to slim leads. I believe if Hillis begins
the season well, Kansas City could decide to preserve Charles
to give him even more time to completely work his way back from
his ACL surgery. As for McCluster, he appears destined to be a
slot receiver for the Chiefs but is a RB in most fantasy leagues.
I get that we aren’t talking about Wes Welker-like production
here, but 40-50 catch potential from a running back on most league’s
waiver wire may be attractive to an owner looking for a capable
Reggie Bush will play 14 games and still lead the team in
receptions, allowing him to be a top 15 RB in PPR leagues.
Last year, I made the argument that one of the reasons Miami
traded for Bush was because it thought he would hold up better
on natural grass than turf. I’m not going to claim the playing
surface was the only thing that helped keep Bush healthy for 15
games last year, but if he manages to put together another 14-15
game season, we may need to look at this prediction again at the
end of the year. Regardless, Bush is pretty much the only offensive
“weapon” the Dolphins possess at the moment. In my
mind, his new role with Miami will be a lot like Pierre Thomas
before Darren Sproles and Mark Ingram arrived in New Orleans.
I expect Bush’s totals will be very similar to Thomas’
with roughly 60 receptions instead of the 35+ Thomas usually had.
While Davone Bess will give him a run for his money in the reception
department and Daniel Thomas will likely knock off about 300 yards
from his 2011 rushing total, a healthy Bush will still be an every-week
start in PPR leagues once again.
Adrian Peterson will cause the most lineup-decision headaches
on Sundays since Brian Westbrook.
I understand there is probably no standard by which to measure
a prediction like this, but I simply cannot imagine drafting a
running back coming off a serious knee injury in the second round
of a fantasy draft when his coaches still have not let him be
tackled in practice. Furthermore, if the team was ready to consider
him a game-time decision last week, it suggests to me they don’t
have much of an idea when he will be cleared to play. But it doesn’t
stop there. When Peterson finally makes it back to the playing
field, can we honestly expect that his knee will not bother him
on a weekly basis? That’s why I believe that AD will cause
more owners to pound their head against the table or wall on Sunday
mornings this season than any player since Brian Westbrook, who
was a regular game-time decision call back in his heyday with
New England Patriots
Tom Brady will throw for over 5,000+ yards again and, in
the process, put four receivers over the 1,000-yard mark.
This is the kind of prediction that would not only to be difficult
to achieve in a Madden video game, but considered next to impossible
to accomplish in the real game prior to 2011. However, the only
obstacles that will keep it from happening this year are: 1) injury
and 2) OC Josh McDaniels deciding to use the run game more often
than Bill O’Brien, even though the personnel suggests the
team should pass all game long. Imagining Wes Welker and Rob Gronkowski
breaking the 1,000-yard barrier isn’t hard to do, but in
order for Aaron Hernandez to do it, he’ll need to turn in
his first 16-game season. Brandon Lloyd is also a bit of a projection
to go over 1,000 yards with all the other weapons in this offense,
but as a deep threat who has already earned the trust of Brady
and McDaniels, he probably won’t need more than 60 catches
to do it.
New Orleans Saints
Graham will be more valuable in fantasy leagues than Calvin
This prediction may not be all that bold when you consider that
both are being considered first-round picks. But re-read the prediction:
he will be more valuable. What does that mean? In short, while
Johnson is a significantly better fantasy option than the rest
of the WR field, there are more players at WR closer to him than
TEs to rival Graham, meaning that Graham should give his owners
a significant advantage at TE in just about every game where his
team isn’t facing the team with Rob
Gronkowski or a healthy Antonio
Gates. Calvin Johnson was rarely the top WR scorer in a given
week last year (twice) and finished in the top three four times
while Graham was the No. 1 scorer at TE three times and finished
in the top three seven times. For the record, I expect Graham’s
final numbers this season will rival Johnson’s, with Megatron
holding a slight edge in the yardage category at season’s end.
New York Giants
Ahmad Bradshaw will outscore David Wilson by more than 50
fantasy points in PPR leagues, but the two will essentially match
each other’s production over the second half of the season.
There seems to be an awful lot of contrasting opinions on how
the Giants’ backfield is going to shake out in 2011 –
and for good reason. With 15-18 consistent touches each week,
a healthy Bradshaw could perform like a low-end fantasy RB1. Others
believe Wilson is so explosive that he will force the hand of
OC Kevin Gilbride and make him the lead back. I tend to believe
Bradshaw will get a sizable head start on the rookie (based on
fantasy points) since he is trusted more as a receiver, blocker
and goal-line specialist. But come about Week 6 or Week 8 –
assuming Bradshaw is still healthy at that point – Wilson
will probably have produced enough big plays and earned his stripes
to the point where the Giants will simply ride the “hot
hand” (oh, how I despise that term in football).
New York Jets
Bilal Powell will be the Jets’ RB to own in PPR leagues
by the end of the season.
Owners find themselves almost obligated to take Shonn Greene
in the later part of the sixth round in fantasy drafts because
“he’ll at least get the majority of his backfield’s
touches”. There seems to be a lot of belief the Jets will
not fare well this season – perhaps some of that was based
on preseason action, although one look at their talent on offense
might be a better indication – meaning New York may be doing
some garbage-time passing. It’s no secret Greene struggles
as a receiver, but he’s also just a marginal NFL runner
who was forced to carry the load last year because the coaching
staff simply didn’t trust Powell or Joe McKnight. Powell
is now locked in as the third-down back, which means he should
get some opportunity to post some solid receiving totals late
in games on an offense that isn’t exactly loaded with quality
receivers. But more than that, Powell is simply a better playmaker
than Greene, something that will come into play as Greene is still
averaging 3.8 YPC around Week 6 and the Jets are stuck on a handful
of five offensive touchdowns.
Mike Goodson will be worth starting in fantasy at least four
times this season.
Unsurprisingly, this prediction deals with the likelihood that
Darren McFadden will get hurt at some point. The prevailing thought
in/around Oakland seems to be that Taiwan Jones has locked up
the backup job, but I don’t see how that could be the case.
While Jones is supremely talented, he is built like a receiver
at 6-0 and 195 pounds. I have my doubts about him holding up in
pass protection regardless of his size and, furthermore, he hasn’t
displayed much durability. Goodson, on the other hand, is 17 pounds
heavier and the same height. While he sat out most of last season
with a hamstring injury and has been sidelined by a shoulder injury
this preseason, Goodson has proven he can carry the load –
albeit for a short time – in the NFL, back in 2010 as a
Panther. He’s also very capable as a receiver, all of which
leads me to believe he is the more likely handcuff to McFadden.
Jeremy Maclin will finish among the top 10 receivers in PPR
leagues while DeSean Jackson will have his most productive fantasy
season since 2009.
Once again, regular readers already know how high I am on Maclin,
who Michael Vick said reminded him of Michael Irvin during the
summer. Maclin, who dealt with a mysterious illness last offseason
that – among other things – caused him to lose considerable
weight and miss most of the preseason, was still on an 88-catch,
1,212-yard, eight-touchdown pace in 2011 despite contributing
almost next to nothing in the season opener, only to suffer hamstring
and shoulder injuries that robbed him of reaching those numbers.
This season, he is up to 205 pounds and has impressed just about
everyone that has watched him on the practice field, with several
respected sources suggesting he will enjoy a Pro Bowl-caliber
year. Jackson has been something of a disappointment the last
two year amid concerns over his contract, but with his long-term
deal signed over the summer, he has little excuse not to return
to his 60-catch days from three seasons ago. Better yet, should
Vick suffer another injury, the Eagles look to be in good hands
with rookie QB Nick Foles, who has the arm strength to make sure
Maclin and Jackson don’t fall off the fantasy map.
Jonathan Dwyer will be the team’s best fantasy RB in
PPR and standard leagues.
This is one that appears bold on the surface, but probably isn’t
after you take a look at the state of the Pittsburgh backfield.
Isaac Redman is dealing with ankle and hip injuries – both
of which could easily hamper him for most of the season –
while Rashard Mendenhall is going to be slowed all season long
as he continues to recover from the ACL injury he suffered on
New Year’s Day. Dwyer is lighter and more explosive than
I have ever seen him, giving him the best combination of athleticism
and power the Steelers have at the position.
San Diego Chargers
Gates will put together his healthiest and most productive
fantasy season since 2009.
The key here is the combination of the two – health and
production. Gates was lights out for the first half of 2010 (50
catches, 782 yards and 10 TDs in 10 games) but foot injuries ended
what could have been one of the best fantasy seasons ever by a
TE. Prior to his foot troubles in 2010, Gates was an iron man
of sorts in terms of his durability and, while I don’t expect
him to be that ever again, his foot issues are reportedly a thing
of the past. In an effort to squeeze a few more quality seasons
out of his body, the 32-year-old Gates has lost weight and is
quicker than I have seen him in years. During the 2009 season,
Gates posted a 79-1,157-8 line, which is the kind of pace a spry
Gates could manage this season as the unquestioned top option
for Philip Rivers in the Chargers’ passing game.
The mere mention of Robert Turbin’s name will upset
Marshawn Lynch’s owners by the end of the season.
Let me be clear, I am not predicting a committee backfield here.
But those owners who believe Lynch will simply pick right back
up where he left off last season may be fooling themselves. Seattle
had Justin Forsett and Leon Washington in reserve last year –
not exactly rugged powerhouse-types – so the fact the “Turbinator”
is a 5-10, 222-pound muscle-bound back who has thrived so far
in the Seahawks’ one-cut running game means he will be taking
some carries away from Lynch. Sure, it may be no more than 5-8
per game, but part of Lynch’s appeal as a fantasy property
this year is the expectation that he will received the same high
volume of touches he did in 2011. Lynch has yet to exceed 4.2
YPC in his career, meaning a repeat of his 1,204-yard, 12-touchdown
season last year is probably not attainable.
San Francisco 49ers
Kendall Hunter will be worthy of a weekly flex start in PPR
leagues by the second half of the season.
Frank Gore faded in the second half of last season and a repeat
should probably be expected. Furthermore, the 2011 season was
just the second time in Gore’s seven-year NFL career he
played in all 16 games. When healthy, the Niners’ backfield
will probably be a mess for fantasy owners, but even in this powerful
four-headed running attack, Hunter will likely force his way onto
the field as he is more explosive than both Gore and Brandon Jacobs
and a better bet to hold up than rookie LaMichael James. Whether
Gore suffers a multi-game injury or sees his skills erode as the
season progresses, I like Hunter to improve on his rookie numbers
pretty much across the board – despite the crowded backfield.
St. Louis Rams
Steven Jackson will finish among the top five rushers for
the first time since 2009 and third time in his career.
Take one look at Jackson’s
player page. When you consider how little talent Jackson has
played with over the last few years, it is amazing he has not
only eclipsed 1,000 yards rushing in seven straight seasons, but
that he’s been held below 4.0 YPC just once in that time. The
Rams’ offensive line is still a work in progress, but it should
be improved over last season and the passing game will have more
weapons than it has enjoyed in some time. Best of all, Jackson
should be handed another huge workload. While a dramatic falloff
is probably around the corner for the 29-year-old, I doubt it
will happen this year or next as he looks the same to me physically
now as he did about five years ago. Jackson won’t surpass the
1,424 yards he rushed for in 2009, but he could come close after
posting 1,145 last season with virtually no help.
Tampa Bay Bucs
Doug Martin will rush for over 1,000 yards, record 40+ catches
and be considered a borderline first-round fantasy pick next season.
Another unsurprising pick for my regular readers. No, I’m
not saying fantasy owners should consider him a first-rounder
now, I’m just suggesting that regardless of whether the
Bucs improve substantially on offense (they should) or not, Martin
is going to be involved heavily because he is already an all-purpose
back. Tampa Bay wants to run the ball and that will be Martin’s
biggest contribution to owners, but the rare time he sees a stout
run defense on the schedule this year will be the game where he’ll
catch 5-6 passes and make his impact through the air. When it
is all said and done, I expect Martin will be one of the most
consistent backs in fantasy this year.
Chris Johnson will finish among the top three RBs in PPR
and standard formats.
CJ2K had a 2,000-yard rushing season. In all likelihood, it’s
probably not going to happen again for him, but let’s also
not hold him against that impossible standard either. His line
could be better, he doesn’t care as much now since he received
his big contract…I’ve heard it all. In a bad year
last season, Johnson still almost broke 1,500 total yards! I get
it, he was as inconsistent as they come in 2011, but his speed,
burst and decisiveness are all where they need to be based on
his limited preseason action. He has yet to catch fewer than 43
passes (his rookie season) and scored nine or more times in his
first three seasons. Jake Locker’s mobility will open up
cutback lanes for Johnson and the receiving weapons the Titans
now possess won’t allow teams to crowd the line of scrimmage
as much. I’ll suggest a 1,750-total-yard, 8-10 TD season
is probably in his immediate future.
Evan Royster will be named the starter at RB but lose the
job twice during the season only to emerge as a fantasy playoff
The only sure thing in the Redskins’ backfield seems to
be that Roy Helu will be the passing-down back, although many
owners are projecting rookie Alfred Morris to be named the “starter”.
However, I’ve been the most impressed by what I’ve
seen from Royster as he always seems to make the right cut at
the right time, is hard to tackle and a capable receiver. But
with this being a team coached by Mike Shanahan, Royster will
suffer at least one injury, get pulled from another game and probably
be a waiver-wire afterthought come by the middle of the season.
It will be about that time when Shanny will turn back to him with
Morris and Helu hurt, when he’ll find a way to run for 80-100
yards each in three of the team’s final four fantasy games.
The Search for the Next Victor Cruz
Every year, multiple players come out of the woodwork to help
owners win fantasy championships. While I doubt any of these players
below will explode like Cruz did, I thought I would end this bold
prediction column by giving you a list of players that owners
would be wise to keep an eye on throughout the season. In short,
what you will find below is a player on each team that will be
drafted very late or go undrafted in just about all leagues. Each
of these players needs a/the player(s) ahead of them on the depth
chart to underperform or miss time, but have shown me enough to
be useful in fantasy if they get their shot. In other cases, some
of these players have just flown under the radar for whatever
reason. In the interest of time and space, I will merely list
each player next to his team and invite my readers to e-mail
or tweet me if they
want an explanation on a player or two from the list.
Arizona – William Powell, RB
Atlanta – Dominique Davis, QB
Baltimore – Bobby Rainey, RB
Buffalo – T.J. Graham, WR
Carolina – Gary Barnidge, TE
Chicago – Kellen Davis, TE
Cincinnati – Marvin Jones, WR
Cleveland – Jordan Cameron, TE
Dallas – Andre Holmes, WR
Denver – Joel Dreessen, TE
Detroit – Stefan Logan, RB
Green Bay – D.J. Williams, TE
Houston – James Casey, FB/TE
Indianapolis – LaVon Brazill, WR
Jacksonville – Mike Thomas, WR
Kansas City – Dexter McCluster, WR/RB
Miami – Charles Clay, RB/TE
Minnesota – Matt Asiata, RB
New England – Greg Salas, WR
New Orleans – Travaris Cadet, RB
NY Giants – Ramses Barden, WR
NY Jets – Bilal Powell, RB
Oakland – Rod Streater, WR
Philadelphia – Nick Foles, QB
Pittsburgh – Jonathan Dwyer, RB
St. Louis – Steve Smith, WR
San Diego – Eddie Royal, WR
San Francisco – Mario Manningham, WR
Seattle – Braylon Edwards, WR
Tampa Bay – Michael Smith, RB
Tennessee – Darius Reynaud, RB
Washington – Niles Paul, TE
Suggestions, comments, musings about the article
or fantasy football in general? E-mail
me or follow me on Twitter.
Doug Orth has written for FF Today since 2006, appeared in USA
Today’s Fantasy Football Preview magazine in each of the last
two seasons and served as a weekly fantasy football analyst for
106.7 The Fan (WJFK – Washington, D.C). He is also a member
of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association.