Unlike last season, when I used this
piece to look at players who switched teams in the offseason
and gauged their potential production, this year I used a different
criteria. Instead of narrowing the scope to just the players who
moved via trades or free agency, I opened it up to include all players.
With the player movement the way it is in the NFL, simply staying
with the same team from one year to the next could create an entirely
new set of circumstances from a fantasy perspective. What follows
is my look at five players who I think will struggle in 2010 and
five who I think will shine. I tried to touch on players that have
triggered polarizing opinions in fantasy circles, not just those
whose productivity (or lack thereof) have become predictable.
– As if Jay Cutler needed any more help throwing
passes to the opposing team, now enters new offensive coordinator
Mike Martz and his high-risk/high-reward scheme. Every quarterback
NOT named Kurt Warner threw a career high in interceptions during
his first year with Martz as their OC. Marc Bulger. Jon Kitna.
Shaun Hill. J.T. O’Sullivan. That doesn’t bode well for a quarterback
(Cutler) who in 2009 led the league in interceptions with 21 (a
Martz once famously said he cares less about his quarterback
throwing interceptions because he believes his system will more
than make up for those mishaps. Cutler was a risk-taking passer
well before Martz; now, with Martz in the mix, his interception
total is sure to remain close to where it was last season. Keep
in mind, Chicago is not exactly a hotbed for receiving talent.
That will most assuredly continue to prevent Cutler from catapulting
himself into fantasy football stardom. If you find yourself with
Cutler as your starting quarterback this season, you’d be
best served having a season’s supply of Tums handy.
– Don’t look now, Marion Barber fans, but
the back’s fantasy relevance has seen better days. Barber has
only one 100-plus-yard game in his last 20 contests, and, although
he finished 2009 with seven TDs, he had only three over the last
nine games. And whatever explosiveness he once had looks like
it’s gone the way of the dinosaurs. But perhaps Barber’s biggest
issue is the continued emergence of Felix Jones. Sure, Jones is
an oft-injured player, but it’s plainly obvious how much more
explosive and elusive he is compared to Barber. Sometime soon,
Jones will put it all together and remain healthy and will consequently
be the bell cow in Big D—to the detriment of Barber.
While Barber enjoyed fantasy success in 2006 and 2007—scoring
a total of 28 TDs—I always thought he was nothing more than a
glorified goal-line back. That’s nothing to frown at, as I’m sure
he helped many owners win many games. But specialists like that
tend to have a short shelf life. The expiration date on Barber’s
effectiveness is approaching, and, as a result, you should be
crafty about when to spend a draft choice on him. Barber certainly
retains some value, but it’s nothing like it was a couple seasons
ago. Buyer beware.
McCoy's lack of touches in the redzone
is cause for concern.
– Conventional wisdom suggests LeSean McCoy
will, by default, become a productive fantasy running back in
Philly because of Brian Westbrook’s departure . While that may
appear on the surface to be a no-brainer, we must take into account
McCoy’s role in the offense last season. Even with Westbrook missing
eight games, McCoy wasn’t utilized as much as many of us anticipated.
It was painfully frustrating last year for McCoy owners as they
watched the rookie get taken out of games when scoring was imminent.
Between QB Michael Vick and fullback Leonard Weaver toting the
rock deep in opponents’ territory, I’m not sure which rushing-attempt
vulture was worse for McCoy owners. In fact, Weaver had more carries
in the last four games of the season than McCoy. What does that
tell you about McCoy’s prospects for success in 2010?
Too many times in ’09, McCoy seemed to get lost in the
pass-first/pass-all-the-time offense orchestrated by head coach
Andy Reid and offensive coordinator Marty Mohrningweg. McCoy did
finish the season with 40 receptions, but his production was way
too unpredictable for my liking. Ultimately, though, it’s
not that I distrust him from a talent standpoint—I actually
think he showed some skills. My issue is my distrust in Reid and
Mohrningweg, as they seem to get too cute at times when it comes
to offensive game plans. In my eyes, McCoy’s production
unfortunately won’t match his draft position in 2010, despite
the perceived numbers-generating situation in Philly’s backfield.
Keep expectations at a manageable level with McCoy.
– Wow. The man-love that’s being hurled
at Jamaal Charles this summer is mind-boggling. The guy ripped
it up late last year, sure enough. But some of the analysis on
this site, as well as a handful of fantasy magazines, would have
many believe that Charles is a sure thing. Step into the way-back
machine and look at what was said about Houston running back Steve
Slaton during last summer. He, too, ended the prior season with
four of his last seven games with over 100 yards rushing—just
like Charles. Many believed Slaton was in one of the top offenses
in the league and that a repeat of his 2008 season was a given.
Slaton struggled mightily in 2009 and is a RB3—at best—in 2010.
There’s an eerie similarity between these two, and as a Slaton
owner in 2009, I want no parts of anything resembling that scenario
Many pundits are touting Charles as a solid #2 fantasy back.
I’m not so confident. The Chiefs tried to solidify their
offensive line by picking up former Indianapolis Colt Ryan Lilja,
but when’s the last time a player left the Colts and made
a splash elsewhere? Indy GM Bill Polian knows when to rid the
team of once-productive players, so I’m not sold on the
addition of Lilja. Also, some are poo-pooing the acquisition of
running back Thomas Jones and the effect it will have on Charles.
Jones is a solid NFL running back and will most certainly dampen
the enthusiasm of those singing the praises of Charles. Jones
will get his touches and should get his share of those precious
goal line carries. The hype surrounding Charles is setting his
owners up for a huge letdown. Just hope that that doesn’t
end up being you.
– Since his breakout season in 2003 (his
missed 2004 season notwithstanding), Steve Smith has been the
primary cog in Carolina’s passing game. He enters 2010 with similar
expectations but with three glaring challenges: first, a broken
forearm sustained during the offseason; second, a supporting cast
at receiver that ranks among the league’s worst (Dwayne Jarrett
is the #2 WR?); third, a dreadful quarterback situation. Any one
of these challenges alone could make things difficult for a player,
but when dumped at the feet of a player all at once, the situation
makes fantasy owners quiver in their collective boots.
Outside of Carolina’s two stud running backs, the Panthers
will prove to be a fantasy wasteland in 2010. There are simply
too many holes to fill with too many unproven parts. I do believe
Smith can get it done, but it will have to be in the proper situation.
Perhaps Smith was right and saw the writing on the wall when,
during this past offseason, he hinted about how he’d be
better suited being a team’s #2 wide receiver. He’s
probably correct. Assuming Smith returns healthy from his injured
forearm, opposing defenses will look to stop him. It’s been
said that the receiving position is the easiest position on the
field for defenses to take out of a game plan. There’s no
one else for the opposition to concern themselves with outside
of Smith. He will have the occasional above-average game in 2010,
but certainly nothing that would warrant a weekly, no-brainer
starting spot on your roster.
– On the surface, Chad Henne’s career numbers
so far don’t trigger immediate excitement from fantasy geeks.
Besides, he did throw 10 INTs in the last six games of 2009, so
what’s all the buzz about? It might have something to do with
getting one of the top fantasy wide receivers in Brandon Marshall.
Henne is one of those classic low-risk/high-reward fantasy prospects.
He has a great running game to complement the aerial attack—a
running game, by the way, that had runners stopped at the line
of scrimmage less often than any other team in ’09. Henne can
make all the necessary throws, and with Marshall on board to garner
the lion’s share of attention from opposing defenses, things will
open up for Davone Bess and Greg Camarillo, which will only make
Henne an even better quarterback option.
Granted, Miami plays a fairly tough schedule regarding pass defenses—New
York Jets twice, plus Green Bay, Pittsburgh, and Baltimore—but
my take is that Henne will develop at a pace that will make him
a solid #2 fantasy option. Remember Joe Flacco’s first six
games last season, in which he threw for 11 TDs? Henne should
put up similar numbers this year and keep it up for the entire
season. Keep in mind, Flacco put up those numbers with no wide
receiver on the Ravens’ roster near the quality of Marshall.
So keep that poker face during your draft and nab Henne at the
– After being unable to work out after
the ’09 draft due to an injured foot, and subsequently holding
out because of a contract dispute, Crabtree didn’t play his first
game until the last Sunday in October. He didn’t exactly rip it
up during his rookie season, but his abilities—especially his
run-after-the-catch skills—were obvious and made those watching
begin to expect big things from Crabtree. And if anybody will
benefit from the 2009 breakout campaign of tight end Vernon Davis,
it’s going to be Crabtree. Davis’s 13 touchdown receptions led
all tight ends and will predictably be the reason behind the double-teams
he will see, leaving Crabtree one-on-one on most occasions.
The quarterback situation in ‘Frisco gives me pause, but
Alex Smith should be serviceable enough whereby Crabtree puts
up respectable numbers. Head coach Mike Singletary’s DNA
points to this team being a smashmouth squad, as the team’s
first two draft choices in 2010 being offensive linemen would
prove. But Crabtree should be a solid selection as a low #2, high
– One criterion that I use when determining
sleepers at receiver is the receiving options of some of the top
quarterbacks. Aaron Rodgers is becoming—if he hasn’t already become—one
of the top three or four fantasy quarterbacks. If he throws 30
TDs in 2010, somebody has to catch ‘em, right? Wide receiver Greg
Jennings will get his share, as will the aging but still productive
Donald Driver. At some point, though, I think Jermichael Finley
will take over the second receiving option behind Jennings. Driver
is thirty-five years old; Finley is twenty-three and an emerging
star at tight end. Finley should be able to exploit the middle
of the defense while Jennings and Driver take aim at the edges.
Donald Lee was the starter until midway through last season when
Finley came off the bench. Those roles will be reversed this season,
giving Finley the playing time necessary to reach the lofty expectations
I and many others have placed on him. He’s a top seven tight
end in-waiting and a solid #1 tight end. Consider this tidbit:
Even though Finley missed three games and started only ten in
2009, he still finished fourth among tight ends in red zone targets.
Remain mindful of that stat when you’re considering taking
someone else at the position over him.
– Rookie Ryan Mathews is walking into an
outstanding situation in San Diego. Gone is future Hall of Famer
LaDainian Tomlinson, but the need for a dynamic running attack
to complement the superb passing game in Chargerland remains.
Enter Mathews, who, along with holdover Darren Sproles, gives
San Diego a great contrast of styles in their running game. With
the rookie’s between-the-tackles game and Sproles’ receiving skills,
Mathews’ arrival should round out an offense that was already
one of the best in the league in 2009.
The one caveat I will share is that the price for Mathews may
be too steep for some. There are magazines and Web sites (including
this one) that have Mathews as an undisputed #1 fantasy running
back, essentially saying it’s okay to use a first round draft
choice on the rookie. It’d take a large set of clock weights to
make that call, but stranger things have happened. The hype surrounding
Mathews, though, will certainly have him off the board by the
middle of the second round. The best scenario would have him as
a solid #2 running back if you’re picking at the end of the first
round. There are worse players you can take at that point of the
draft, that’s for sure. Suffice it to say, however, that Mathews
will have a very productive season and should battle all year
long for offensive ROY award.
Circumstances make Forsett the back to
have in Seattle.
– Simply put, I think Justin Forsett will
emerge as the top running back in Seattle. Former Tennessee Titan
running back LenDale White was traded to Seattle during the offseason
but found himself off the roster after only a few weeks. Running
back Leon Washington is coming off an ugly broken leg while playing
for the Jets last year; how well he recovers remains a question.
And former starter Julius Jones will be lucky to have a roster
spot come Week 1. Things set up nicely for Forsett, who could
be the Week 1 starter by default. I’m not saying that’s why Forsett
will get the nod; in fact, I think he showed enough last year
to win the job outright. But the circumstances surrounding the
other backs on the roster almost make Forsett the no-brainer pick
as starter. Plus, with rookie O-lineman Russell Okung fortifying
the unit up front and new O-line coach Alex Gibbs hammering home
the concepts of the zone-blocking scheme, Forsett can be a clever
The one concern that simply won’t go away is the question
of how new head coach Pete Carroll will utilize his running backs.
Going back to look at Carroll’s philosophy from his previous
stops in the NFL is useless; that was a lifetime ago by NFL standards.
The most recent example of how he chooses to use his stable of
running backs shows him platooning LenDale White and Reggie Bush
at USC. In that scenario, White was the battering ram while Bush
played the role of the homerun hitter. Neither Forsett nor Washington
would ever be mistaken for a between-the-tackle bruiser, but it
is my contention that Washington is less an every-down running
back and more a return guy who needs space to make things happen.
In this case, I see Forsett as the first- and second-down back,
with Washington playing the role of third-down specialist. By
virtue of his getting at least twice as many cracks at carrying
the rock than Washington, Forsett is poised to surprise some people