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.
Note: All rankings are based on FFToday’s default standard
A quick reminder of the Top 10 fantasy QBs from last season...
I already predicted a return to the top 10 for Romo
in my Top Ten Dropouts
piece so it would be a tad sloppy, not to mention hypocritical,
to suggest otherwise at this point. Here’s why he does it, though:
he’s never been anything but a top 10 quarterback since he assumed
the full-time, full-season gig as the Dallas triggerman. Romo ranked
2nd, 10th, and 5th in total fantasy points from 2007 to 2009 and
only dropped out last year because he sat the final 10 games. Even
including last year (and a slightly shortened 2008), he’s ranked
2nd, 5th, 6th, and 8th in fantasy points per game at the position,
a more accurate predictor of future success. Seems like a pretty
safe bet to reclaim top 10 status this year, yes?
Nod your heads while also considering Romo still possesses an embarrassment
of weapons to throw the football around with. Miles Austin, a former
top 10 receiver, seems likely to reclaim that status this season
(more on him later). Dez Bryant, a freakishly talented youngster,
is already one of the best second fiddles in football. Jason Witten,
Romo’s security blanket, is fresh off (yet) another 1,000-yard
season. Finally, Felix Jones and DeMarco Murray, two above-average
receivers, are set to man the tailback position. In short, if Romo
can’t find someone to hook up with in 2011, it’ll most
likely be due to the fact he’s laying on his back.
No discussion of Romo’s prospects would be complete without
a mention of the suddenly abominable Dallas D. This unit, a top
five group as recently as 2009, couldn’t stop anybody last
year, one reason Romo and his successor, Jon Kitna, achieved at
such a high level. After all, had Dallas not needed to score 30+
points to stay in ballgames—and even that wasn’t always
enough—it’s unlikely they’d have been asked to
throw the pigskin around so often. If Jon Kitna can rack up 18.5
fantasy points per game (look it up), I’m quite confident
the franchise’s meal ticket can do even better. By the way,
that defense returns most of the same bodies and is also being tasked
with learning a new system under new coordinator, Rob Ryan.
Roethlisberger has been almost as consistent
as Romo the past four years, notching top 10 numbers in points/game
three of those seasons (he dropped to 19th in 2008). His 2010 was
obviously marred by an early suspension but once he and the Steelers
got rolling, they didn’t stop until they’d reached Super Bowl XLV
in Big D, something few had predicted before the season began.
A top ten fantasy finish is on the horizon
Big Ben has really blossomed under the tutelage of offensive coordinator,
Bruce Arians, who’s been on board since 2007. During that time,
the Steelers’ offense has also transformed from a conservative,
ground-based attack to one built around a dynamic and sophisticated
passing game. In fact, I’d argue Pittsburgh, the very picture of
smash-mouth football for decades, serves as exhibit 1A for a more
general, league-wide transformation from run-first to pass-first
offenses we’ve witnessed this decade. Consider that from 2001 through
2005, there was an average of three 4,000-yard passers per season.
That average has jumped to over six since 2006—peaking in 2009 with
ten—and there was even another 5,000-yard passer (Drew Brees in
2008) for the first time since 1984. Clearly, the pendulum has swung
once again and, with it, the prospects of the league’s best signal-callers.
And make no mistake about it: Roethlisberger is certainly one of
those. Yeah, he’ll throw the occasional bad pick but he still
sports a stellar 92.5 quarterback rating in seven seasons. That’s
good for eighth all-time and probably explains why his career winning
percentage is also north of .700. I think he easily cracks the top
10 in fantasy points this coming season.
Say what you want about Josh McDaniels (and plenty
has already) but the fact of the matter remains his QBs have, on
average, consistently ranked in the top 10 as fantasy performers.
Sure, he had the luxury of one Tom Brady in New England, but even
when Tom Terrific went down almost immediately in 2008, McDaniels
turned Matt Cassel into an elite fantasy performer. This would be
the same Matt Cassel who hadn’t started a game since high school!
Upon moving to Denver, McDaniels continued working his magic with
Kyle Orton who, if not always an elite QB, was at least a damned
serviceable one. Indeed, Orton ranked ninth in points/game last
year, right behind…the two guys we just talked about.
Mr. Fantasy-Friendly has resurfaced as the new offensive coordinator
in St. Louis for 2011, where he inherits one of the best young quarterback
prospects in the game, Sam Bradford. The pride of Cherokee Nation
(neat!) was predictably up and down in his first full year under
center but still managed to throw for over 3,500 yards despite playing
for a crummy team with one of the worst groups of receivers in the
league. His rookie numbers, apples to apples, actually compared
quite favorably with those of another youngster (and 2010 top 10
achiever), Matt Ryan.
Almost from day one, Bradford has looked poised in the pocket and
has demonstrated an ability to make all the throws. During a six-game,
midseason stretch last year, he even managed to avoid the momentum-killing
turnovers rookies are historically prone to. Yes, he’ll be
asked to learn a new offense this season but, as we’ve already
discussed, it’s an offense clearly worth learning. If he gets
a little help from his muddled and mediocre receiving corps, you’re
probably looking at this year’s version of Josh Freeman.
Next: Running Backs