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2010 Year In Review – AFC & NFC South
Preseason Schedule Analysis

Divisions: East | North | South | West

It’s never easy for a person to admit their mistakes. It’s even harder to do so in front of a national audience. But admitting – and learning from – one’s mistakes is a vital part to growing and becoming a better person and, for the purposes of this four-part series of articles, a better fantasy prognosticator.

There are many fantasy “experts” that would not dare do what I am about to do, which is look back at their projections from late August or early September of last season and revisit their triumphs as well as their regrets. (And yes, I was as shockingly off on some of my projections just about as often as I was right on the mark.) But I believe this is a useful exercise for all parties involved and perhaps will give even more credence to my belief in the PSAs. At the very lSouth, it should allow each of us to see just how much faith I should have in my ability to “predict the schedule” and how much trust I deserve from each of you when I do so.

After much debate on how I should go about deciding whether or not I projected a player accurately, I finally settled on the system that I explain over the next few paragraphs. It didn’t make much sense to stack up my 15-game forecasts against the player’s actual 16-game numbers and with the number of teams that have essentially taken Week 17 off recently (if not most of December), it seemed prudent to measure each player on their points-per-game average. The next step was deciding how to measure accuracy. Again, a simple hit-miss system was too rigid, so I added two more categories to analyze the accuracy of my projections.

Hit: my projection was within +/- 1 FPPG (fantasy point per game)
On-Target: my projection was within +/- 1.1 and 3 FPPG
Off-Target: my projection was within +/- 3.1 and 5 FPPG
Miss: my projection missed by more than 5 FPPG

Before we dive into the heart of this walk down memory lane, I want to explain two more areas I decided to address: 1) the percentage listed next to the “hit”, “on-target”. “off-target” and “miss” and 2) the names listed after the percentage. The percentage is simply a reflection of how much each of those four standards fit into the accuracy “pie” while the names reflect the players who actually fell into that category. (So, for example, Indianapolis ended up with seven greens out of a possible 16 – eight PPR and eight non-PPR projections – so I ended up “hitting” on 62.5% of my projections for the Colts.) Finally, I will hand myself a grade at the end of each “team report”, with weight on that grade being given to the quality of player. For example, a miss on a player like Peyton Manning would send my grade down much more than a miss on Bo Scaife. Conversely, a hit on Manning would skyrocket my grade much more than a hit on Scaife.

Explanations of column headers below:

PPR Margin – The difference (plus or minus) between a player’s actual FPPG and the FPPG I projected for him prior to the start of the 2010 season in PPR leagues.

NPPR Margin – The difference (plus or minus) between a player’s actual FPPG and the FPPG I projected for him prior to the start of the 2010 season in non-PPR leagues.

Actual PPR – The amount of FPPG a player scored during the 2010 season in PPR leagues.

Actual NPPR – The amount of FPPG a player scored during the 2010 season in non-PPR leagues.

PPR Avg – The FPPG average I projected for the player prior to the start of the 2010 season in PPR leagues.

NPPR Avg – The FPPG average I projected for the player prior to the start of the 2010 season in non-PPR leagues.

 Color Codes

AFC South

 Houston Texans
Pos Player PPR Margin NPPR Margin Actual PPR Actual NPPR PPR Avg NPPR Avg
QB Matt Schaub -2.9 -2.9 18.2 18.2 21.1 21.1
RB Arian Foster 7 5.7 24.5 20.6 17.5 14.9
RB Steve Slaton -8.5 -5.5 1.1 0.9 9.6 6.4
WR Andre Johnson -0.2 -0.1 19.7 13 19.9 13.1
WR Jacoby Jones -2.4 -2.8 8.3 4.9 10.7 7.7
WR Kevin Walter -0.6 -0.4 8.9 5.8 9.5 6.2
TE Owen Daniels -4.4 -2.6 7.7 5.4 12.1 8

Hits – (28.6%) Johnson, Walter. I cannot be sure if Johnson’s high ankle sprain assisted me with this prediction or if it simply just kept his fantasy owners from winning 2-3 more games last season. Johnson showed an incredible amount of toughness last season and turned in the third-best performance of his career (in terms of FPPG) despite suffering his lingering ankle injury in Week 2 and continually aggravating it every week or two thereafter (or so it seemed). Walter is another one of those sturdy but unspectacular possession receiver types that will average about 11-12 YPC, so the accuracy of his projections usually comes down to nailing how many passes he will catch each season.

On-Target – (35.7%) Schaub, Jones; Daniels (non-PPR). In what will be a familiar refrain throughout this team’s forecast review, very few fantasy prognosticators could have foreseen Johnson’s injury in Week 2, Daniels’ continued injury woes and the arrival of Foster. This perfect storm of events basically forced the Texans to focus on the run and make Schaub much more of an observer than he had been in years past. I don’t expect a major philosophical change on offense from last year, but owners can be sure that if Schaub, Johnson and Daniels are all healthy this season, HC Gary Kubiak will be tempted to throw the ball because the offense as a whole will be more efficient with defenses needing to respect the ground game.

Off-Target – (7.1%) Daniels (PPR). Coming off a slow recovery from knee surgery last offseason, most fantasy owners knew they’d have to wait a bit on Daniels. What they weren’t hoping for was that Daniels would spend the first 13 weeks of the season finishing up with his recovery from ACL surgery only to aggravate his hamstring. There’s little question that when he is right, Daniels is an elite fantasy TE. But after two injury-ruined seasons, there’s a good chance Daniels can be had at the price of a low-end TE1, so owners will need to evaluate how much risk-reward they are willing to take on with a player like Daniels in 2011.

Misses – (28.6%) Foster, Slaton. When Ben Tate was lost for the year early in the preseason, there wasn’t much doubt that Foster would be needed to carry this backfield. What came as the biggest surprise was just how little Slaton would contribute to the Texans’ cause. Combine injuries to Johnson and Daniels, a player with a major chip on his shoulder (Foster), a great run-blocking system and you have the recipe for a season like the one the former practice squad player posted in 2010.

Not included – Derrick Ward. Ward signed with the team days before the release of my final Big Board. Owners may remember at that time, Ward had quickly earned a reputation for poor work habits and weak production in his final days with Tampa Bay. So when Ward joined Houston, it was far from a lock he would last more than a month on the roster, much less contribute like he did.

Grade: B As easy as it would be to look at this team forecast and say it was a poor effort because I logged four reds, the truth of the matter is that I could not find one fantasy analyst who suggested that Foster was mid-second-round value or top 10 RB (or that he would eclipse 1,500 total yards and 10 scores like I did). If Ward’s final numbers are placed above instead of Slaton’s, then you can add one more blue and yellow to the analysis. Foster’s dominance (as well as Johnson’s ankle injury and Daniels’ problem hamstring) contributed greatly to Schaub’s down numbers. Ultimately, I’m willing to grade this forecast a bit higher than it may have first appeared.

 Indianapolis Colts
Pos Player PPR Margin NPPR Margin Actual PPR Actual NPPR PPR Avg NPPR Avg
QB Peyton Manning -1 -1 22 22 23 23
RB Joseph Addai -1 -0.2 12.9 10.7 13.9 10.9
RB Donald Brown -2.3 -2.6 7.9 6.3 10.2 8.9
WR Reggie Wayne 0.2 -1 17.5 10.7 17.3 11.7
WR Pierre Garcon 2.8 0.9 13 8.2 10.2 7.3
WR Austin Collie 8.2 5.9 18.8 12.5 10.6 6.6
WR Anthony Gonzalez -0.8 -1.1 5.9 3.4 6.7 4.5
TE Dallas Clark -0.2 -0.9 15 8.8 15.2 9.7

Hits – (62.5%) Manning, Addai, Wayne, Clark; Gonzalez (PPR); Garcon (non-PPR). Manning is not easy to predict (especially when he throws 679 times like he did last season, the second-highest mark in NFL history), but his consistency is. He is almost certain to play every snap of every game and average somewhere between 20-23 FPPG while doing so. Addai isn’t the most durable back nor is he the flashiest back, but last year showed he is a vital cog in this offensive machine. As often as Indianapolis passes the ball, it is important that Addai keep Manning clean while also giving him an outlet in the flat. With Manning doing his usual thing under center and an influx of talent coming to the offensive line, the 28-year-old Addai should be a good bet once again in 2011. Wayne’s YPC decreased for the fourth consecutive year in 2010, although he can be forgiven a bit since he did catch a career-high 111 passes and sometimes served as the one “old reliable” Manning had on offense. Still, he did seem to drop more catchable passes than we are used to seeing from him. Clark was cruising along for another fine season through six games until a thumb injury that ultimately ended his season paved the way for Jacob Tamme to become a fantasy revelation.

On-Target – (25%) Brown; Garcon (PPR); Gonzalez (non-PPR). In two years, Brown has went from a player tabbed as Addai’s explosive, more-physical complement to a player who fell behind Dominic Rhodes and Javarris James at times and in certain packages last season. Perhaps he’ll be able to run a bit better and stay healthier behind the Colts’ new offensive line, but it is clear Manning trusts Addai behind him more than he does Brown. In a passing offense such as this one, that’s a pretty big deal. Among many things that a fantasy owner should be able to assume is the notion that any WR in the Colts’ offense will catch Manning’s passes at a high rate. Even though Garcon’s connect rate improved greatly once he was past his injuries and able to practice regularly, the fact of the matter is Garcon was one of the least efficient receivers in the NFL through Week 9, catching a lackluster 23-of-51 (45%) passes thrown his way. This is especially notable because of the carryover from the 2009 season, when he hauled in just 47 of the 92 (51%) attempts his way. To his credit, he did finish the 2010 season strong, catching 44 of 67 (66%) passes from Week 10 on.

Off-Target – (0%) None.

Miss – (12.5%) Collie. Some fantasy owners may recall that Collie entered last season likely to share slot duties with Gonzalez. To no one’s surprise, Gonzo couldn’t stay healthy and Manning ultimately decided Collie was Wayne’s best running mate after all. I thought I was bold by rating Collie ahead of Garcon, but as it turned out, Collie made it nearly impossible for the team to keep him locked into slot duties. Ultimately, Garcon is likely to remain a starter for the foreseeable future because he is the team’s best deep threat, but as it relates to fantasy football, Collie has established himself as the clear WR2 in this offense – assuming he can avoid any further concussions.

Grade: A- Of course this is going to be a good grade. With 10 greens and four blues projecting one of fantasy’s best offenses year in and year out, it’s hard to not be happy. A pair of reds on Collie keep this forecast from being one of my best-ever, but it is hard for me not to like what I was able to do with everyone else.

 Jacksonville Jaguars
Pos Player PPR Margin NPPR Margin Actual PPR Actual NPPR PPR Avg NPPR Avg
QB David Garrard 1.7 1.7 19.1 19.1 17.4 17.4
RB Maurice Jones-Drew -7 -4.9 16.9 14.7 23.9 19.6
RB Rashad Jennings 5.7 4.4 9.1 7.1 3.4 2.7
WR Mike Sims-Walker -5.1 -3 9.9 7 15 10
WR Mike Thomas 0.5 0 11.1 6.6 10.6 6.6
TE Marcedes Lewis 5.6 4.7 11.5 8.1 5.9 3.4
TE Zach Miller -1.3 -1 3.2 1.8 4.5 2.8

Hits – (21.4%) Thomas; Miller (non-PPR). It was clear Thomas would see more action entering the 2010 season. What we didn’t know was just how quickly Sims-Walker would fall off the map, which allowed Thomas and Lewis to become important PPR properties last season. Thomas isn’t a great bet to make the same 18-catch jump in 2011 that he made from his rookie to second season, but he certainly has the ability to be a 70-catch WR for several years, making him a fine WR3 in 12-team PPR leagues for the foreseeable future.

On-Target – (28.6%) Garrard; Miller (PPR); Sims-Walker (non-PPR). Just when we thought we had Garrard pegged as an inconsistent QB that Jacksonville needed to replace, he showed us that he wasn’t quite ready to be shown the door with a top-12 finish at his position in fantasy (FPPG). The Jags responded by trading up for what some draftniks thought was the top QB prospect in the draft, so one has to wonder how long Garrard will remain the starter and, for fantasy purposes, whether or not he’s even a QB2 option in 2011.

Off-Target – (21.4%) Jones-Drew, Jennings, Lewis (all non-PPR). A number of elite fantasy backs entering last season fell short of my expectations in 2010, but only one had a physical explanation for his disappointing (if 1,600 total yards in 14 games can ever be considered poor). As it turned out, a preseason knee injury that MJD and the team denied was bothering him ended up cutting his season short just in time for most owners’ fantasy championship week. As a MJD owner in multiple important leagues, I found myself rather aggravated each time Jennings scored inside the red zone (three times inside 11 yards). There has been some recent speculation Jennings may have carved himself out a more-than-occasional workload with his impressive 5.5 YPC last season in relief of MJD, but that is highly doubtful unless Jones-Drew’s knee (reportedly bone-on-bone at the end of last season) does not hold up well after his January surgery.

Misses – (28.6%) Jones-Drew, Jennings, Sims-Walker, Lewis (all PPR). Sims-Walker was already pretty well known in fantasy circles for his lack of dependability, but he made solidified that status with another injury-riddled, lackluster campaign in which he likely complained his way out of Jacksonville. In fact, midseason pickup Jason Hill impressed the team and made the decision not to keep MSW around an easy one for Jags’ management. Lewis, already considered one of the better blocking TEs entering last season, finally put it all together last season and was able to make a big difference in the areas he was drafted in the first round for back in 2006, namely catching the ball and making his mark in the red zone.

Grade: C- I’m not going to try to gloss over the fact that I missed on Lewis, but I challenge my readers to find anyone else who had Lewis forecasted as 40-catch, usable TE in fantasy leagues. With that said, the misses on this team were glaring, so the fact that more than 50% of my projections were green or blue means less here than it has in other team forecasts.

 Tennessee Titans
Pos Player PPR Margin NPPR Margin Actual PPR Actual NPPR PPR Avg NPPR Avg
QB Vince Young -0.8 -0.8 12.1 12.1 12.9 12.9
RB Chris Johnson -6.7 -5.4 17.1 14.6 23.8 20
RB Javon Ringer -1.2 -0.8 2.9 2.5 4.1 3.3
WR Nate Washington 1.3 1.2 9.1 6.5 7.8 5.3
WR Justin Gage -2.3 -1.3 4.8 3 7.1 4.3
WR Kenny Britt 3.4 5 12.4 11 9 6
TE Bo Scaife -1.5 -0.4 6.4 4 7.9 4.4
TE Jared Cook 0.5 -0.1 4.4 2.6 3.9 2.7

Hits – (37.5%) Young, Cook; Ringer, Scaife (both non-PPR). QBs that have the ability to run like Young are among the toughest to predict each year. Is this the year they use their running prowess to complement the running game or do they tuck it in when their first option in the passing game is covered because they don’t trust the rest of their options? Or do they decide – like just about every mobile QB does at some point – they want to prove they are more than just a running QB? For Young, it was a slow process to show he was maturing as an all-around QB on the field, until he showed once again that he doesn’t handle himself well when his play doesn’t match his talent. Late in the 2010 season, the light came on for Cook (26-303-1 over the final eight games). Already one of the most physically gifted players at his position in the NFL, Cook has drawn praise from just about everyone associated with the Titans over the last few months from Kerry Collins to new OC Chris Palmer. Expect a Jermichael Finley-hype-train push if/when the labor situation gets rectified this summer.

On-Target – (37.5%) Washington, Gage; Ringer, Scaife (both PPR). Each of the two years Washington has been a Titan, he teases owners with enough fantasy potential to make roster-worthy and scores often enough to make owners believe he can fill a WR3 slot for them. However, we may have seen his last significant contribution to fantasy owners in 2010 as Britt began to emerge as the clear WR1 on this team. Add in Cook’s potential going forward and the beginning of the Jake Locker era and there is enough reason to believe that the former Steeler is a fringe fantasy player at best, even in deeper leagues. Gage appeared to be a favorite of former HC Jeff Fisher, but he is unlikely to return. We were given every indication Ringer would see more work in relief of Johnson following CJ’s 408-touch season in 2009 and Ringer performed about as much as any back could be expected to with 58 touches.

Off-Target – (12.5%) Britt. This is one of the few examples where using a player’s FPPG isn’t the greatest way to measure accuracy. One huge game in Week 7 (7-225-3) against Philadelphia basically threw my projection off the track and, just one week later, he was lost for six weeks to a hamstring injury which basically eliminated any chance for what some people in the stock and fantasy industries call market correction. Still, Britt gave every indication in Week 7 and then again after his return that he certainly has the goods to be a WR1 in this league provided that he can ever mature enough off-the-field to stay out of trouble for an entire season.

Miss – (12.5%) Johnson. CJ’s reduced workload in 2010 wasn’t a surprise, but the complete collapse of the Titans’ offensive line and pass efficiency was. Need proof? Johnson led the league with 111 yards on negative plays last season. One year after being declared as the top RB in the league, fantasy owners had to question themselves for a short stretch of last season whether or not he was worth starting in shallow two-RB leagues. While the offensive line has yet to be addressed (no lineman was selected in the draft and free agency has obviously been stalled due to the lockout), Palmer and new HC Mike Munchak have both stated how important it will be to get Johnson out in space moving forward. Tennessee may not be Super Bowl relevant for a little while, but Johnson will remain a premier playmaker for a while. So, if anyone could ever bounce back from a 1,600-yard, 12-TD season, it would be him.

Not included – Randy Moss.

Grade: C The color coding above and high hit/on-target percentages would lead one to believe this would be a high grade, but scoring yellows and reds with the two Titans players who were actually fantasy relevant drives this grade down in a big way. Johnson’s fall from 2,500 total yards was inevitable, but I don’t think any forecaster expected Tennessee’s offense to fall flat to the degree it did, so I’ll cut myself a bit of slack there.

NFC South

 Atlanta Falcons
Pos Player PPR Margin NPPR Margin Actual PPR Actual NPPR PPR Avg NPPR Avg
QB Matt Ryan 1.2 1.2 19 19 17.8 17.8
RB Michael Turner -2.9 -2.4 14.1 13.6 17 16
RB Jason Snelling 4.4 2.7 9.8 6.6 5.4 3.9
RB Jerious Norwood -3.5 -2.6 1.4 0.9 4.9 3.5
WR Roddy White 1 -0.5 19.5 12.4 18.5 12.9
WR Michael Jenkins 2.3 1.2 9.4 5.7 7.1 4.5
WR Harry Douglas -4.1 -2.4 3.5 2.2 7.6 4.6
WR Brian Finneran 1.7 1.3 3.4 2.2 1.7 0.9
TE Tony Gonzalez -4.2 -3 10.7 6.4 14.9 9.4

Hit – (11.1%) White. If there was one Falcons’ player that a prognosticator wanted to get right last season, it was White. I remember speaking of White’s dynamic offseason in my Early Observations – NFC piece. Ultimately, one of the best situations fantasy owners can hope for a top-notch WR is the one that existed in Atlanta last year – a good QB who can trust his top receiver implicitly, a second reliable option (like a TE) that means a defense cannot focus all of its attention on the star WR, a solid ground game and no other viable WR threats. This isn’t exactly the best situation for the team, however, which is why the Falcons drafted Julio Jones. While 2010 might end up being a career year for White, he isn’t going to fall far. Jones will command attention and make defenses pay in a way Jenkins rarely ever did.

On-Target – (66.7%) Ryan, Turner, Jenkins, Finneran; Snelling, Norwood, Douglas, Gonzalez (the last four in non-PPR). Ryan deserves a ton of credit for becoming a top QB so quickly, but most fantasy owners were ready to assume he was ready to take the next step when the coaching staff said for the second straight offseason they were planning on reducing Turner’s workload. But the one part that made Ryan’s emergence into every-week fantasy starter most surprising to me was Turner’s 4.1 YPC, which meant that more of the responsibility for moving the offense fell onto Ryan’s lap. With Jones now in tow, Ryan may be ready to make yet another step up into the top 6-8 players at his position in the league. Much like other elite RBs last season, Turner didn’t exactly fall off the map, but his final FPPG left his owners wanting more. At 29 and feeling the effects of a heavy workload in two of the past three years, it’s likely we’ve already seen the best of Turner, although he should remain the team’s bellcow RB for at least another two years.

Off-Target – (22.2%) Snelling, Norwood, Douglas, Gonzalez (all PPR). Considering his production when given the chance, Snelling has certainly earned the right to move on from Atlanta in search of more playing time as a free agent this offseason. While some of his production can certainly be attributed to the Falcons’ offensive line, the fact is that the fourth-year back has provided more than solid fantasy numbers each time he has needed to start or relieve Turner because of injury. Despite not being considered the team’s third-down back going into either of the last two seasons, he has logged 74 receptions and allowed the team to move on from Norwood, although rookie Jacquizz Rodgers figures to be Turner’s complementary RB going forward. Gonzalez finally started to show signs of slowdown last year (as if a 70-656-6 line could ever be considered a poor year for most TEs). Gonzo’s YPC was a career-low 9.4 and he recorded just one 100-yard game. There appears to be some doubt if he will return if the 35-year-old will return for a 15th season, but more decline should be expected considering his age and the surplus of offensive weapons Atlanta possesses now.

Misses – (0%) None.

Grade: B+ As I mentioned under White’s write-up, if there was one Atlanta player that I wanted to score a pair of greens with last season, it was him. Combine that with a near pair of greens on Ryan’s huge season and I feel comfortable turning a slightly blind eye to my optimism in regards to Gonzalez and, to a lesser extent, Turner. The icing on the cake to this team forecast is the absence of red, so this should be considered one of my better projections from last summer.

 Carolina Panthers
Pos Player PPR Margin NPPR Margin Actual PPR Actual NPPR PPR Avg NPPR Avg
QB Matt Moore -7.8 -7.8 7.1 7.1 14.9 14.9
RB DeAngelo Williams -6.9 -6.6 9.5 8 16.4 14.6
RB Jonathan Stewart -6.4 -5 7.5 7.5 13.9 12.5
WR Steve Smith -9.4 -7.3 8.1 4.8 17.5 12.1
WR Brandon LaFell -3.2 -2.4 6.5 3.8 9.7 6.2
WR Armanti Edwards -5 -3.2 0 0 5 3.2
WR Dwayne Jarrett -1.3 -0.7 2 1.3 3.3 2
TE Dante Rosario -2 -2 3.6 1.7 5.6 3.7

Hit – (6.25%) Jarrett (non-PPR). There’s not much to say here – two catches for a receiver who was given opportunity after opportunity to claim a starting job over his career before the team waived him in early October. Because Jarrett suffered another off-field transgression (two DWI’s in three years), it may be a while before he gets another real shot to even make a NFL roster.

On-Target – (25%) Rosario; Jarrett (PPR); LaFell (non-PPR). I suppose it is the story of Rosario’s pro career the one time in his career the coach (new HC Ron Rivera) declares he will make the tight end an important of his offense would be the one time the front office would bring in formidable competition for his spot on the roster (Jeremy Shockey). We all know about Shockey’s inability to stay healthy, but as a strict pass-catcher in a run-oriented offense, Rosario may need Carolina to resort to a plethora of two-TE sets to have any fantasy value going forward.

Off-Target – (12.5%) LaFell (PPR); Edwards (non-PPR). As is the case with most rookies, we saw glimpses of what LaFell was capable of in 2010. A two-week stretch in which he posted a combined 10-131-1 line provided roughly about a third of his fantasy contributions last season. Still, if anyone in Carolina is going to step up at WR in Carolina once Smith is gone – which is looking like a distinct possibility for the 2011 season – it could easily be LaFell with David Gettis coming in a close second. But even if LaFell takes a giant step up this offseason (and Smith is traded), this has to be one of the worst receiving situations for any QB to work with, much less a rookie QB like Cam Newton who has been knocked repeatedly for inaccuracy. I didn’t have high expectations for Edwards in his rookie season because he was making the shift from small-school college QB to pro WR, but he didn’t do himself any favors by showing up to camp out of shape either. My projection for him in 2011 will likely be similar to the one above, in part because the player I thought he reminded me of coming out of the draft in 2010 was Joshua Cribbs. It just so happens that Carolina’s new OC (Rob Chudzinski) is the same play-caller Cribbs had when he burst onto the scene in Cleveland a few years ago as he was making the transition from a college QB.

Misses – (56.25%) Moore, Williams, Stewart, Smith; Edwards (PPR). What did the first four names in this category all have in common last season? Injuries. Moore and Williams each played just six games while Stewart and Smith missed two apiece. Add in bookend tackles Jordan Gross (missed Week 11 on) and mauling run-blocker Jeff Otah (entire season) and it is easy to see how this potent running attack fell apart so quickly. With Moore looking nothing like the player that helped the Panthers close out 2009 and the running game operating so poorly by Carolina’s standards, Smith had next to no shot to compete on a regular basis. Now, Moore is unlikely to start again anytime soon for the Panthers, Williams seems likely to go to the highest bidder that needs a RB in free agency and Smith wants a trade to a contender.

Grade: F Much like the team’s season in 2010, my Panthers’ team forecast was a disaster. It’s not difficult to see a forecaster break out in cold sweats when he logs one green on a player who caught a total of two passes. I suppose one of many lessons to learn here is that professional teams often don’t respond well to coaches they know are in lame-duck status in regards to their contracts, as John Fox was last season. Either way, we are only concerned about results at the end of the day here, and, on this team projection, I didn’t get the job done.

 New Orleans Saints
Pos Player PPR Margin NPPR Margin Actual PPR Actual NPPR PPR Avg NPPR Avg
QB Drew Brees -2.9 -2.9 20.9 20.9 23.8 23.8
RB Pierre Thomas -1.2 -3.7 14.6 9.8 15.8 13.5
RB Reggie Bush -4.9 -5.6 9.5 5.2 14.4 10.8
WR Marques Colston -2.1 -2.5 15.2 9.6 17.3 12.1
WR Robert Meachem -2.2 -1.7 8.7 5.9 10.9 7.6
WR Devery Henderson -0.8 -1.1 5.4 3.3 6.2 4.4
WR Lance Moore 2.7 2.1 11.8 7.8 9.1 5.7
TE Jeremy Shockey -0.1 -0.4 7.7 4.5 7.8 4.9

Hits – (18.75%) Shockey; Henderson (PPR). Again, not much to see here. Shockey’s durability has long been one of his biggest shortcomings, but it was the quicker-than-expected emergence of former University of Miami basketball player Jimmy Graham that made Shockey irrelevant and, ultimately, expendable. As I have stated a time or two already in this series of forecasting reviews, it’s not too hard to predict receivers who are one-trick ponies like Henderson. Their usefulness in fantasy on a weekly basis is often only good for those owners who own a reliable crystal ball, but from a forecasting perspective, they will often end up with around 40 catches and 2-3 scores, which means deciding how they finish the season often comes down to whether a prognosticator can come close on the receiver’s YPC.

On-Target – (62.5%) Brees, Colston, Meachem, Moore; Thomas (PPR); Henderson (non-PPR). By just about any other QB’s standards, Brees had another fine fantasy season. However, Brees is not just your average get-by starter at the position and one look at his final line (most notably, the 22 INTs and career-high 658 pass attempts) will tell one or two things weren’t quite right in New Orleans last season. First off, HC Sean Payton revealed that his QB played with a “low-grade” MCL sprain for the majority of the season. Secondly, the projected tag-team RB tandem of Thomas and Bush played a combined 420 snaps, which obviously helped contribute to the overabundance of pass attempts. Following his fifth known knee surgery since becoming a pro, Colston should return again as the WR1 in a passing game that doesn’t always seem to have a top receiver at times. He is entering a contract year, but the high number of surgeries and emergence of Graham (not to mention the way Brees often spreads the ball around) may all be enough to push Colston down into WR2 territory for 2011. On the topic of WRs undergoing surgery prior to their contract year, Meachem underwent his third since joining the Saints on an ankle injury that he felt greatly hampered any chance he had to reproduce the breakout season he enjoyed in 2009.

Off-Target – (12.5%) Bush (PPR); Thomas (non-PPR). In four pro seasons, Thomas has yet to play a full regular season schedule, so his lack of durability wasn’t a question for owners who used a third- or fourth-round choice on him last summer. What owners probably didn’t see coming was a six-game contribution in which he suited up in the first three and final three contests of the fantasy season, barely contributing in half of those games. Like his aforementioned receiving brethren, Thomas underwent offseason surgery to correct the ankle issue that caused him to miss so much time in 2010. However, while he got his long-awaited contract extension, his role is much less clear with Mark Ingram joining the team via the draft. It wouldn’t be surprising to see a healthy Thomas re-establish his role as the lead back with Ingram playing the Deuce McAllister/Mike Bell role, but it is more likely that the rookie assumes the veteran’s old role with Thomas serving in the “relief” role.

Miss – (6.25%) Bush (non-PPR). Much like the rest of his teammates, Bush was saddled with injuries that slowed down this dynamic offense. The difference with Bush is that the injury bug has been a familiar refrain throughout his career, as he has yet to duplicate the success he enjoyed as a rookie. And with Ingram now added to the RB stable, one must wonder if Bush will manage the 10-12 touches/game he had been accustomed to over the past few years, and that is assuming he remains a Saint. Amazingly, the 26-year-old Bush should just be entering his prime years, but with his track record, we must wonder as fantasy owners if we can squeeze another 1-2 useful years out of him.

Not included – Chris Ivory, Julius Jones.

Grade: B- The preponderance of blue and lack of red coloring above allows me to breathe a bit easier about the Saints’ team projection, although it is hard to feel overly great about scoring greens on Shockey and Henderson. To my credit, it is not as if I could have known Brees would play most of the season with a significant knee injury or that a plethora of injuries would strike at RB and WR, which led to an inordinate number of interceptions for Brees. The injuries to the running game also gave me little chance for success either, so I suppose I should feel fortunate I garnered as much blue as I did.

 Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Pos Player PPR Margin NPPR Margin Actual PPR Actual NPPR PPR Avg NPPR Avg
QB Josh Freeman 4.3 4.3 19.2 19.2 14.9 14.9
RB Cadillac Williams -4.9 -5.3 8.8 6.1 13.7 11.4
RB Kareem Huggins -7.6 -6.1 0.9 0.6 8.5 6.7
WR Sammie Stroughter -4.1 -3.3 4.2 2.1 8.3 5.4
WR Mike Williams 2.1 2 13.8 10.1 11.7 8.1
WR Arrelious Benn -2.4 -1.2 5.1 3.4 7.5 4.6
WR Maurice Stovall -3.3 -1.9 1.8 1.2 5.1 3.1
TE Kellen Winslow -1.5 -0.5 10.6 6.4 12.1 6.9

Hit – (6.25%) Winslow (non-PPR). With the exception of an injury-shortened 2008 with Cleveland, Winslow has been a high-volume pass catcher that hasn’t turned many of those catches into touchdowns. Granted, the Browns and Bucs haven’t exactly fielded the most dynamic offenses while employing the gifted pass-catcher, but one would think Winslow would have broken through the five-TD ceiling by now strictly based on his athletic ability. Nevertheless, it will be interesting to see if he can return to his 80-catch days in his age-28 season with a WR like Williams drawing coverage and attention away from him.

On-Target – (37.5%) Mike Williams, Benn; Winslow (PPR); Stovall (non-PPR). I was probably slower than I should have been about believing all the reports coming out of Tampa last summer about how Williams was easily the best receiver in camp. For most of the summer, I was convinced Benn would end up being the best WR to own as he is a physical WR in the mold of Anquan Boldin. I reasoned this because Benn’s “Z” position in OC Greg Olson’s offense is conducive to more run-and-catch opportunities than Williams’ “X”, but as the season neared, more and more reports surfaced that Benn hadn’t picked up the intricacies of his position yet (which was to be expected because of the complexity of the responsibilities it entails). Ultimately, Benn four-catch, 122-yard outburst in Week 14 showed he was capable of living up to my early expectations, but an ACL injury two weeks later closed the book on a rougher-than-expected first season. His recovery has been reportedly well ahead of schedule, so perhaps he may be able to provide a longer glimpse of his promise in 2011. As for Williams, it is possible he set the bar so ridiculously high for himself that he may disappoint in his sophomore campaign. More likely, however, is that he will receive enough support from the running game as well as Benn and Winslow that he’ll find a way to improve on his 65-964-11 line from a season ago.

Off-Target – (37.5%) Freeman, Stroughter; Cadillac Williams, Stovall (both PPR). I thought I was putting myself out there with my prediction that Freeman would throw for over 3,600 yards and account for 22 scores in 15 games to a pair of rookie receivers. It turns out I needed to get a little more crazy, because the second-year QB threw for 25 scores and performed like a savvy veteran in the clutch as well. Expectations figure to be sky-high for Freeman in 2011, so while he will face a more difficult schedule than he did last season, the K-State product has the talent and weapons necessary to at least match what did a year ago.

Misses – (18.75%) Huggins; Cadillac Williams (non-PPR). Just about any fantasy owner would have been willing to bet Williams wasn’t going to be able to duplicate his 2009 numbers. As the preseason wore on, it appeared Huggins (and not Derrick Ward) would be the RB most likely to move Caddy into a part-time role. The problem with that scenario was Huggins could not stay healthy long enough to make it a reality, first injuring his groin in September and then completely blowing out his right knee a month later, which paved the way for waiver-wire pickup LeGarrette Blount to burst upon the scene.

Not included – Blount.

Grade: C- While it wasn’t a surprise that some other RB besides Williams emerged as the bellcow runner from the Bucs’ backfield to end the season, it was surprising the back was Blount, who was claimed off waivers from the Titans on September 6. Since my final Big Board had been submitted by that date, I feel justified leaving him out of the grading process. The lack of green is upsetting, so while I did a fine job predicting Mike Williams’ potential impact, the fact I was so far off on Cadillac Williams and Freeman makes this a subpar grade.

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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 in Washington, D.C. this past season. He is also a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association. You can also follow him on Twitter.