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Struggle Or Shine

Part of the intrigue of fantasy football is being able to accurately forecast the production of those players who switch teams during the off-season. As fantasy owners, we know how much simpler it is to project players’ success—or lack thereof—when they return to their team the following year. But the ability to gauge the production of players who pack their bags and head to other NFL destinations is the foundation of building and managing a successful fantasy team. Here’s my list of five players who will shine in their new situation and five players who will struggle.

  1. WR Terrell Owens, DAL: We can call Terrell Owens many things—team chemistry killer, quarterback agitator, prima donna. But one description that must be included is Owens is one of the best wide receivers of his generation. He arrives in Buffalo this year amid the same type of skepticism that followed him to his previous two stops in Dallas and Philadelphia. Many bDamoneve Owens is a time bomb ready to detonate. That may be true. Others bDamoneve his overbearing personality will be too much for the Bills to handle—specifically QB Trent Edwards. And that may be true. But from a fantasy perspective, we owners can find comfort in the fact that Owens produces like crazy during the first season with a new team. His first season in both Dallas and Philly produced a total of 162 receptions and 27 TDs. Granted, he’s much older now, but I saw nothing last year in Dallas that led me to bDamoneve that he’s taken a noticeable dip physically.

    Lee Evans is a solid #2 NFL WR, but Owens has proven that it doesn’t matter who’s playing opposite him. The fact that Evans is a solid complement, however, makes it all the more interesting to watch how this season unfolds for Buffalo’s newest weapon. Owens is coming into 2009 with a huge chip on his shoulder, ready to prove to the Cowboys and the NFL world at-large that he was not the sole source of Dallas’ dysfunction last season. Owens is primarily being drafted in the third or fourth round in most mocks I have seen. If that holds true during your draft, snatch him up and watch T.O. heat up Western New York like it hasn’t been since the Super Bowl gaffes of the early 1990s.

  2. TE Tony Gonzalez, ATL: What do you get when you combine a Hall of Fame tight end with an Atlanta offense that already has a budding superstar at QB, an absolute stud at RB, and a blossoming talent at WR? You get a tight end that will help fuel your fantasy team to ultimate success, that’s what you get. Gonzalez has seemingly been around forever, yet he’s only 32 years old and last year in Kansas City had one of his best seasons, despite the below-average play at the QB position. Now he takes his talent to Atlanta, giving second-year signal-caller Matt Ryan the threat at TE that he didn’t have last year. In fact, the TE position in Atlanta had a combined 19 catches and two TDs in 2008. Gonzalez alone could have those totals by week three.

    There’s enough talent on offense for the Falcons that defenses can’t focus on Gonzalez. Roddy White on the outside and battering ram RB Michael Turner provide the necessary versatility that will allow Gonzalez to successfully roam the middle of defenses with regularity. And as Ryan continues to develop his Pro Bowl skills, Gonzalez will be the beneficiary of those short dump-off passes and those key third-and-shorts that keep drives going. Gonzalez has two or three good years left, and 2009 will simply be a continuation of what has been one of the best TE careers in NFL history.

  3. QB Kyle Orton, DEN: Kyle Orton won’t shine in the traditional since, i.e., putting up Pro Bowl-caliber numbers while torching defenses week after week. No. I don’t think he’s that kind of player. But the situation in which he finds himself makes him a solid fantasy contributor as a #2 QB. New head coach Josh McDaniels will no doubt implement the same offense that helped propel Matt Cassell into an inexplicable multi-million dollar contract with the Chiefs. For my money, Orton is every bit the QB that Cassell is, and he’s garnered success with far less talent around him than Cassell. But I digress. More on Cassell later.

    Some have questioned his ability to keep the job all season. Who’s going to take the starting spot from him? Chris Simms? Really? Sure Orton has limitations at QB. But he provides the Denver Broncos offense with a steady QB that is perfect for the controlled passing attack McDaniels wants to install. And with outside weapons such as Brandon Marshall and Eddie Royal, plus multi-dimensional rookie RB Knowshon Moreno, Orton has the tools at his disposal to be as big a surprise in 2009 as he was during the first half of 2008.

  4. WR Laveranues Coles, CIN – Laveranues Coles has never wowed us with supreme athletic talent. Nor has he ever been a player who we could rely on to bring us fantasy championships. But Coles is the consummate complementary fantasy player, a gem at the #3 WR position. His possession receiver-type skills are what every fantasy team should have, and this year in Cincinnati, with a healthy Carson Palmer returning to the line-up, Coles should benefit from an offense that many anticipate to be much improved over last season.

    Coles replaces the departed TJ Houshmandzadeh, the league’s best possession receiver. While Coles is far from the player that Houshmandzadeh is, he gives Palmer a rDamonable target in clutch third down situations in much the same way #84 did. And with the always-volatile, never-predictable, falling-in-value motor-mouth Tweeter that is Chad Ochocinco on the other side, Coles has a great chance of getting the lion’s share of Palmer’s attention. He has never been huge with scoring TDs, but Coles will prove solid in PPR leagues.

  5. Tony Gonzalez

    Fred Taylor: The best pure running back on the Patriots roster.

    RB Fred Taylor, NE – Predicting that Fred Taylor will shine in his new surroundings in New England is a relative phrase. Could he be the afterthought that many predict as a RB on the wrong side of 30 years old? Maybe. Could he get lost in the crowded and often unpredictable Patriot backfield? With head coach Bill BDamonchick calling the shots, absolutely. But here’s all the clarification I need to include Taylor on this side of the bracket. Even at 33 years of age, he remains the best pure RB on New England’s roster. Other RBs on the squad, Sammy Morris, Kevin Faulk, Laurence Maroney and BenJarvus Green-Ellis, all do things well in their own right, but Taylor is the total package compared to this bunch. Also, New England may attempt to protect prized QB Tom Brady with the running game this year—especially early in the season—and get away from throwing the ball 586 times the way they did in 2007. Taylor could see a spike in his value if that’s the case.

    Taylor hasn’t had more than 18 carries in a game since week three last year, so certainly he won’t be called upon to be New England’s bell cow. But with the abundant red zone opportunities he’s sure to get in that prolific offense, coupled with the Patriots’ ability to rotate their RBs, Taylor’s abbreviated, yet productive touches, should keep him fresh while adding depth to any fantasy squad in the process.


  1. QB Matt Cassell, KC – It never ceases to amaze me how desperate NFL teams are for quality QB play. So much so that they often overpay anyone with a pulse who puts up a couple great games in a row. Derek Anderson. Scott Mitchell. David Garrard. The league’s history is littered with such blunders. Matt Cassell is now the latest to turn his good fortune into a life-altering contract. I’m still baffled why so many were so high on Cassell. Seriously. He took over a 16-0 team with one of the best offenses in league history; plus he had a ready-made championship team around him. And sure Cassell became only the fifth QB to throw for more than 400 yards in consecutive games (Dan Marino, Phil Simms, Dan Fouts, Billy Volek are the others), but again, look at the surrounding cast. Randy Moss won’t accompany him to Kansas City. Neither will Wes Welker. Neither will Bill BDamonchick. Neither will the overall structure of the Patriot organization.

    Who will he have in Kansas City? A Swiss cheese offensive line. Little quality at WR outside of Dwayne Bowe. A seemingly disinterested RB in Larry Johnson. A departed Hall of Fame TE in Tony Gonzalez. A first-time head coach in Todd Haley. Ouch. Let’s see how he does with that. And for all the hullabaloo about Cassell, a quick glance at his numbers from 2008 reveals nothing overly impressive. He threw for just under 3,700 yards, with 21 TDs and 11 INTs. Not dramatically better than Kyle Orton’s just-under-3,000 yards, 18 TDs and 12 INTs, despite Orton’s below-average supporting cast and ankle injury suffered in week nine. Bottom line, Cassell is fool’s gold in 2009. Look at him as nothing more than a low #2/high #3 fantasy QB.

  2. WR Roy Williams, DAL – Even though Roy Williams was traded during the season last year, I still feel this is a new environment for him, and thus his inclusion in this article. Living in Detroit, I witnessed for four-plus years how Roy Williams tantalized fans and teammates with his talent and athletic ability. Unfortunately, those glimpses were few and far between, as Williams often seemed more interested in providing the local media with witty one-liners than becoming the All-Pro WR he’s capable of becoming. Now the spotlight gets more intense on Williams, who returns to his home state to play for his favorite team as a child.

    Many Dallas supporters hate the trade that brought Williams to Big D, including former QB Troy Aikman. Aikman went so far as to say it’d be one of the league’s worst trades if Williams doesn’t perform up to his capabilities. While I wouldn’t go that far, it must be noted that Williams is two years removed from his best season. In order for his addition to the Cowboys to be viewed as anything other than a total flop, the 27-year-old Williams must at least match the 2008 production of the 35-year-old Terrell Owens. Can he do that? Can he withstand the nonstop pressure to produce and become the playmaker on the league’s most marketed team? I say he falls woefully short.

  3. QB Brett Favre, MIN? – I’m going out on a limb here and predicting that Brett Favre will return to the league and play for the Minnesota Vikings. What more should we expect from an attention-loving guy? The first question is why. Why the haste to sign a soon-to-be 40-year-old QB who’s clearly on his last leg? And all those Favre apologists who point to the arm injury as the cause of his late-season struggles last year? Spare me. He tossed 10 TDs while throwing 18 INTs during the Jets’ last 12 games. Those same apologists say he’s the last piece for the Vikings to ascend to NFC supremacy; that he’d provide stability at the QB position; that he’d ignite the passing game in Minnesota and help its WRs perform better. Well, those are the same claims that were made last year when he signed with the Jets.

    Favre’s best days are behind him. He’s a shell of his former MVP self, and his retire/unretire charade year after year is getting old. That aside, Favre’s a turnover waiting to happen, and that’s a pain in the neck from a fantasy perspective. And if his injury were anywhere other than his throwing arm, I’d say it’d be inconsequential. But the location of the injury, coupled with his advancing age and proneness to turning the ball over give me great pause putting Favre anywhere near my team this year. Don’t get swept away by all the fluff surrounding a triumphant return by Favre. Buyer beware.

    Kellen Winslow

    Kellen Winslow: Playing in a fantasy deadzone?

  4. TE Kellen Winslow, TB – I want to preface this prediction by saying I like Kellen Winslow. I like his attitude and I like how he plays. But a few things worry me about him going into 2009, not the least of which is the dearth of experience/talent at the QB position in Tampa. Winslow’s production will be adversely affected by the potential struggles at QB. Even though veteran Byron Leftwich is the odds-on favorite to at least begin the season as the starter, he’s not a QB that’s going to help fuel the production of a TE.

    Plus, WRs Michael Clayton and Antonio Bryant have been career underachievers, Bryant’s 2008 season notwithstanding. Neither strike fear in opposing defenses, leaving Winslow as perhaps the most widely respected receiving threat for the Buccaneers. Those views of Winslow will undoubtedly bring more attention from defenses and thus less production. Under most other circumstances, I’d say Winslow doesn’t make this list. But the Bucs will be a fantasy dead zone in 2009, so temper your expectations if you’re drafting anyone on this team.

  5. WR Bryant Johnson, DET – Ok, I’ll admit. Putting Bryant Johnson on this list isn’t exactly stretching the limits of possibilities. After all, he’s done next to nothing to justify the first round selection Arizona used on him back in 2003. He’s on this list for one reason only. Fantasy owners will assume that the Detroit Lions will be behind in many of their games and will have to throw simply to stay in the game. Conventional wisdom says with all the attention that fantasy stud Calvin Johnson will receive, Bryant Johnson and the other Lions receivers should get opportunities to produce. Well, Bryant Johnson found it tough to produce in Arizona under similar conditions when he played with TWO fantasy stud receivers in Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin. Johnson is what he is: an average NFL receiver whose place on your fantasy roster should be scrutinized each week.