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Player Outlooks – Cincinnati Bengals

By: — July 22, 2010 @ 10:31 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

The Bengals were one of the surprising success stories in 2009, managing to win ten games and capture the division title in the tough AFC North. Even more surprising was that they accomplished the feat behind the impressive running ability of former Bear Cedric Benson and a passing attack that barely topped 3,100 yards.

A defeat at home against the Jets in the first round of the playoffs was the only blight—other than the unexpected death of wide receiver Chris Henry—on an otherwise successful season for Cincinnati

Head coach Marvin Lewis returns and so will a reliance on a power rushing attack and a solid defense that is equally effective at stopping the run and pass. With defensive end Antwan Odom healthy after posting eight sacks in just six games, the Bengals defense might be even better in 2010.

Coming off an elbow injury suffered in 2009, Palmer struggled with his accuracy, and the Bengals turned to the run more often than during any of his other seasons as the team’s starter. Given the success the Bengals enjoyed with their running game in 2009, it is unlikely that Palmer will return to posting the gaudy passing statistics he put up from 2005 to 2007.

Benson was the heart of the Bengals offensive engine last season and should remain so in 2010. He had a breakout season and proved that he could produce if given the ball on a consistent basis. Bernard Scott, who showed flashes as a rookie, may be needed if Benson is suspended as a result of an altercation at a bar over the summer. If Benson is suspended, it is expected to be a short one spanning one to three games.

At wide receiver, the Bengals struggled to replace the production that T.J. Houshmandzadeh could be counted on for, as Laveranues Coles was disappointing in his only season in Cincinnati. Former Bucs wide receiver Antonio Bryant was signed to start opposite Chad Ochocinco, and that tandem provides the Bengals with a pair of receivers capable of making big plays.

Andre Caldwell will man the slot position again this season, unless rookie third-round pick Jordan Shipley is able to supplant him. Matt Jones will battle 2008 second-round bust Jerome Simpson along with Quan Cosby for the remaining wide receiver spots on the team’s depth chart.

After going several seasons without a receiving threat at tight end, the Bengals used their first-round selection in this year’s draft on Jermaine Gresham. The Oklahoma product has excellent size (6’5, 260 pounds) and speed. He totaled nearly 1,000 receiving yards in 2008 while averaging over 14 yards per reception (he missed last season with a knee injury).

The Bengals abandoned their pass-heavy approach from previous seasons in 2009 and were rewarded for it with their first playoff berth since 2005. While Palmer has impressive credentials in the passing game, there is little chance the Bengals will return to their pass-happy ways in 2010.

QB Carson Palmer
Without question, Palmer was a fantasy disappointment in 2009, suffering through his worst year in the NFL since struggling as a first-year starter during his second year in the league. In 2009, he was recovering from an elbow injury that ruined his 2008 season, but the bigger issue was the team’s reliance on Cedric Benson and the lack of a big-play threat once they lost Chris Henry. Palmer had seven games with under 200 yards passing, surpassed 300 yards only once, and had only five games with multiple touchdown passes. In fact, he ranked 18th among fantasy quarterbacks, courtesy of a five-touchdown performance against the Bears along with three rushing touchdowns on the season. Although the Bengals added Antonio Bryant to play opposite Chad Ochocinco and selected tight end Jermaine Gresham in the first round of the rookie draft, Palmer’s outlook for 2010 is not promising. He is a fantasy backup at this point in his career, and that won’t change until the Bengals part with their run-heavy offense. The Bengals are going to run a lot again in 2010, and Palmer will almost certainly be drafted before he should be, based on his name recognition and past fantasy achievements.

RB Cedric Benson
Benson followed up a productive 2008 campaign by becoming one of the league’s better inside runners in 2009, finishing with 1,251 rushing yards and six touchdowns despite not playing in three games. He displayed an ability to cut once past the hole and get outside, breaking several reasonably long runs in the process. In 2010, Benson enters the season as one the league’s true workhorse backs and will get plenty of touches in the Bengals run-based offense. It’s hard to expect him to average close to the 25 touches per game he had in 2009, but an improvement on his six touchdowns is likely if he can remain healthy. His availability for a portion of the entire season is in question as a result of an incident at a bar where he is accused of assaulting an employee. Because of the Bengals’ offensive philosophy and lack of a proven backup running back, Benson is a low-risk option as a high-end RB2 with upside, provided he can avoid a league suspension. Hard to believe after his disappointing tenure in Chicago.

RB Bernard Scott
Scott will enter the season as Cedric Benson’s top backup, and the second-year player has a chance to put up decent numbers on a Bengals squad that likes to run. He lacks the size to challenge Benson but managed a respectable 4.3 yards per carry while showing an ability to make tacklers miss in the return game. If he can carry that over to the base offense, he could be a low-end flex play, but , either way, he is definitely a worthy handcuff for Benson owners.

WR Chad Ochocinco
Ochocinco is coming off a solid comeback season in 2009, where he finished with 1,047 yards and nine touchdowns. However, his age (thirty-two) is becoming a bit of a concern—as is the Bengals offense, which struggled mightily in 2009. The team did sign Antonio Bryant, who should be an improvement over Laveranues Coles and whose presence may free up Ochocinco with more single coverage. Nonetheless, it is unrealistic to expect Ochocinco to return to his glory days from 2002–2007 when he averaged 1,339 receiving yards per season. Expect him to match his production from a year ago, with a number of low-production games due to a lack of targets.

WR Antonio Bryant
Bryant is a talented receiver coming off a disappointing season with the lowly Buccaneers in 2009, where he finished with 600 receiving yards and four touchdowns. Injuries and inconsistent play at quarterback contributed to Bryant’s lack of production, but don’t be deluded into thinking he has an opportunity to match his 2008 Buccaneers season in Cincinnati this year. In fact, Bryant’s fantasy prospects were likely better served had he stayed in Tampa Bay. In Cincinnati, Bryant will be the second most talented receiver on a team that doesn’t throw a lot. Keep your expectations realistic.

WR Andre Caldwell
Quarterback Carson Palmer trumpeted Caldwell’s ability during his rookie campaign, and there was some hope that he would develop into a receiver capable of moving into the starting lineup at some point. However, after a pair of largely nondescript seasons, Caldwell’s future appears to be in the slot; and he has shown little ability in making tacklers miss, averaging just 8.2 yards per reception. He will battle rookie third-round pick Jordan Shipley for playing time and, should he win the job outright, could be a decent flex play in a pinch, given his 52 receptions from a year ago. Not much upside here.

WR Jordan Shipley
Chad Ochocinco isn’t getting any younger, Antonio Bryant and Matt Jones aren’t getting any smarter, Andre Caldwell’s best suited as a backup, and Jerome Simpson will be starting his second career soon. Shipley’s got an opportunity, just not this year. Keep Shipley in mind in your keeper leagues, but avoid him in your redraft leagues.

TE Jermaine Gresham
Forecasting solid production from rookie tight ends is kind of like expecting to win the lottery. It’s very rare, especially when that tight end plays in an offense that’s going to run, and run a lot. While Gresham may be a solid receiving prospect, the Bengals have a decent slot receiver in Andre Caldwell to go along with three big wide receivers in Chad Ochocinco, Antonio Bryant, and Matt Jones.

Player Outlooks – Baltimore Ravens

By: — July 21, 2010 @ 9:03 am

Expectations are high in Baltimore this season as the Ravens attempt to make the playoffs for the third year in a row during head coach John Harbaugh’s tenure with the team. With a collection of improving young players at key positions and aging but still-productive veterans, the Ravens roster is built to go deep into the playoffs in 2010.

On offense, the Ravens added veteran wide receivers Anquan Boldin and Donte’ Stallworth and drafted two tight ends to give quarterback Joe Flacco more weapons to work with. The team used its first two draft picks on defense (nose tackle Terrence Cody and linebacker Sergio Kindle).
They also chose to hold on to veteran left tackle Jared Gaither and running back Willis McGahee, despite their hefty salaries and their potential replacements already on the roster.

Flacco took a step forward at quarterback last year, but the team’s breakout offensive player was running back Ray Rice. Rice burst out of the gates and never looked back, amassing over 2,000 total yards and proving to be equally effective as a runner and a pass catcher. Entering his third year, Rice figures to be the centerpiece of the Ravens offense for the next several years.

With Bolden on board and Derrick Mason back for another season, the Ravens possess a pair of superb possession receivers and excellent route runners. Bolden also remains a threat after the catch. Look for Stallworth, Mark Clayton, and Demetrius Williams to be utilized mainly on deep plays.

Todd Heap had a nice comeback season in 2009 after a pair of down years in 2007 and 2008. He finished the year with 593 receiving yards and six touchdowns. With Heap turning thirty, the Ravens drafted Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta as his eventual replacements.

With a solid defense and outstanding running game, the Ravens snuck into the playoffs last year with a 9-7 record. However, more is expected in 2010. The defense and running game figure to be solid once again, so the onus is on Flacco to develop a more dynamic passing attack with his new weapons if the Ravens expect to go deep into the playoffs.

QB Joe Flacco
Flacco started out on fire in 2009 with 131 fantasy points over his first six games. However, he came back down to earth soon after, averaging under 14 points per game over the balance of the season on his way to finishing as the 17th-ranked fantasy quarterback. The question with Flacco is, Is he the player we saw for the first part of 2009 or the one who struggled to produce over the season’s final ten games? With the addition of Anquan Boldin and Donte’ Stallworth—as well as Derrick Mason’s return—the easy answer is that he’s the guy we saw early in 2009. However, the Ravens remain a team that is dedicated to running the ball, and they return their top three running backs from last year. Look for Flacco to improve upon his 17th-place ranking in 2009 but to remain a fantasy backup in 2010.

RB Ray Rice
Rice literally took the ball and ran with it in 2009, bursting onto the fantasy scene with 2,041 total yards and eight touchdowns. His 78 receptions were an added bonus in PPR leagues. The consensus for 2009 seems to be that the diminutive Rice is the fourth-ranked running back, though in a tier (perhaps by himself) behind Chris Johnson, Adrian Peterson, and Maurice Jones-Drew. Here’s a little tip to consider: During the last 12 weeks of the 2009 season, Rice had 42 red zone touches while Willis McGahee had 16.

RB Willis McGahee
Somewhat surprisingly, the Ravens decided to bring McGahee back this year. While he played extremely well early in 2009—looking as good as he did when he was at his peak with the Bills—the Ravens oddly jettisoned him to the bench in favor of Ray Rice. That decision proved to be the correct move. While McGahee had 146 fantasy points last year, which is very respectable for a backup, 113 of those points came in five games. He doesn’t fulfill the role as third-down back, so he isn’t an option in flex leagues; but Rice owners certainly will want to get McGahee as a handcuff.

RB Le’Ron McClain
McClain is caught in a numbers game in Baltimore, stuck behind Ray Rice and Willis McGahee. Unless he can beat out McGahee, his fantasy stock in 2010 should be considered worthless. Provided you have a roster spot to stash him, he might be useful in dynasty leagues beginning in 2011, since McGahee isn’t expected back after this season. While some may draft McClain hoping for a return to his solid production in 2008, the bottom line is that he had only 67 touches last year and remains third on the depth chart.

WR Anquan Boldin
Boldin qualifies as one of the more perplexing players to predict in 2010. While he escapes Larry Fitzgerald’s shadow in Arizona, moving to the run-heavy offense of the Ravens can hardly be considered an elixir for his fantasy production. To make matters worse, the Ravens utilize Ray Rice heavily in a pass-catching role out of the backfield, tight end Todd Heap is coming off a bounce back season, and the ever-reliable Derrick Mason returns to go along with deep threats Donte Stallworth and Mark Clatyon. It’s hard to predict more than 1,000 yards from Boldin, which means he’s going to need to rely on touchdowns to be a solid WR2 in 2010. Don’t expect that to happen—Boldin should be viewed as a low-end WR2 or high-end WR3.

WR Derrick Mason
Mason is back in Baltimore for another season, but now he will be playing second fiddle to Boldin. Basically, there’s no reason to think he will reprise his role from previous seasons. Mason and Boldin are similar players, except Boldin is bigger, stronger, and faster. In addition, the team is four deep at wide receiver and Ray Rice and Todd Heap are also solid receivers who will eat into Mason’s targets in 2010. He is a low-end WR3 without much upside.

WR Mark Clayton
After Clayton had 67 receptions for 939 yards and five touchdowns during his second year in the league in 2006, it appeared that he was on his way to eventually replacing Derrick Mason as the Ravens top wide receiver. However, after three consecutive disappointing seasons, Clayton is now likely to be relegated to the fourth wide receiver role in Baltimore—or even with a new team in 2010. He is coming off a season in which he finished with 34 receptions for 480 yards and a pair of touchdowns, and he is facing a diminished role. Stay away.

WR Donte’ Stallworth
Stallworth returns to the league after serving a season long suspension as the result of a traffic accident that took a man’s life after the 2008 season. He is a one-dimensional burner—a player who makes the occasional spectacular play but has been unable to perform well consistently or remain healthy for extended periods. There’s no reason to expect that to change in Baltimore in 2010. He’s not draftable.

TE Todd Heap
Heap had a surprisingly solid season in 2009. On the downside, he’s about to turn thirty, he’s injury prone, and the Ravens added two tight ends in the rookie draft. However, the rookies aren’t expected to be ready to contribute early in 2010, which gives Heap plenty of time to solidify his starting status. Look for Heap to ride the coattails of a solid Ravens offense to decent fantasy production in 2010.

Player Outlooks – Tennessee Titans

By: — July 20, 2010 @ 9:52 am

The Titans are coming off a roller-coaster 2009 season that included a number of ups and downs. Despite starting the season with a six-game losing streak, the Titans managed to claw their way back to an 8-8 finish by finishing on a 8-2 run that coincided with quarterback Vince Young’s insertion into the starting lineup.

The season’s highlight was running back Chris Johnson having an outstanding sophomore season, becoming only the sixth player in NFL history to surpass 2,000 yards (finishing with 2,006). Young’s development as a pocket passer was also impressive. Although he struggled in some games, his accuracy seemed to be better than in prior years, even if his completion percentage failed to reflect that.

The lowlight of the season may have been the performance of the Titans defense. The usually stellar unit was not able to overcome the loss of defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth to free agency or the three-game absence of cornerback Cortland Finnegan. The defense stumbled to a 31st ranking in pass defense while giving up over 25 points per game.

In 2010, Young returns as the starting quarterback, although there are questions about his availability early in the season due to his involvement in a night club incident that occurred in June. At his best, Young is an improvisational quarterback able to make plays with his legs when his receivers are covered. He has a knack for making plays late in close games, but he needs to develop more consistency as a pocket passer.

With Johnson in tow, the Titans figure to once again be among the league leaders in rushing yards. The only concern is whether the Titans can find a viable backup to Johnson to reduce the injury risk associated with using him too much. Javon Ringer will battle a pair of undrafted free agents (LaGarrette Blunt and Stafon Johnson) for what little playing time Johnson leaves behind.

The Titans feature a trio of wide receivers who each bring differing strengths to the offense. Nate Washington is the team’s top deep threat but needs to improve his route running on short and intermediate routes. Justin Gage is a big receiver who is best used on intermediate patterns and in the red zone. Second-year player Kenny Britt offers the most upside at the position given his size and speed, but he is coming off a disappointing offseason in which he was told to sit out OTAs due to his poor conditioning.

Bo Scaife returns at tight end. Although he is a favorite of Young’s, the Titans want more from the position, and Scaife seems to have reached his potential. Ideally, Jared Cook would show enough in the preseason to earn the starting nod, with Scaife moving to the bench.

Over the years, the Titans have been a team focused on playing solid defense and with the ability to run the ball on offense. However, they failed to add any key pieces on defense, so improvement will have to come from within. On offense, they will remain focused on running the ball, given the dynamic talent that Johnson possesses.

QB Vince Young
Young enters 2010 as the unchallenged starting quarterback for the Titans, though it’s debatable whether that’s a good or bad thing. Although he played well last year, he remains a work in progress both on and off the field. His maturity has been questioned in the past, and his involvement in another incident this offseason had to be disappointing for the Titans. Young has been the quintessential boom-or-bust fantasy quarterback, but he did display more consistency last year. Temper your enthusiasm, however, since the Titans will rely heavily on Chris Johnson running the ball and, although Damian Williams was added at wide receiver through the draft, the team figures to rely once again on Nate Washington, Justin Gage, and an out-of-shape Kenny Britt in 2010. Expect Young to be drafted before he should be; his true value is as a low-end fantasy backup with upside.

RB Chris Johnson
Johnson is coming off a monstrous 2009 season in which he became only the sixth running back in NFL history to top 2,000 yards rushing (finishing with a total of 2,006). He also added 503 receiving yards, and his 2,509 combined total was the most yards from scrimmage in NFL history. The Titans return four of five starters along the offensive line, and the trade of LenDale White makes Johnson a sure workhorse back in 2010. However, if history is any indication, Johnson’s 2010 production will not approach what he accomplished last year. None of the previous five running backs to top 2,000 yards came close to hitting the milestone in the following season. However, look for Johnson to top 2,000 total yards and maintain a touchdown–per-game pace, which should please any of his fantasy owners. He will enter the season as the near-unanimous choice as the top fantasy running back.

RB Javon Ringer
With Lendale White having been traded, Ringer will compete with undrafted rookie free agents LaGarrette Blunt and Stafon Johnson for the backup role behind Chris Johnson. Ringer has been working as the team’s starter with Chris Johnson absent from offseason workouts, so he is in position to win the job. He was a workhorse back in college, and Johnson owners will want to use a late-round pick on Ringer for use as a handcuff.

WR Kenny Britt
Britt is coming off a nice rookie season with over 700 yards, although his three touchdowns were a bit of a disappointment considering his 6’3”, 220 pound frame. But the Titans are a well-coached team, so expect Britt’s red zone targets to increase in 2010, and look for him to become more assertive in going after balls. Expectations of a breakout season were dampened when reports out of Tennessee indicated that he was so out of shape that the Titans refused to let him practice at OTAs. Apparently his rookie production has gone to his head. Add that as a risk factor to this second-year player. Britt is unlikely to be a worthy fantasy starter in 2010 in most leagues, but he does have upside for keeper leagues.

WR Nate Washington
Washington is coming off a disappointing first season in Tennessee where he was bothered with injuries and never seemed to be on the same page with Vince Young. Washington will compete with Justin Gage for a spot in the starting lineup, but with Kenny Britt at one starting spot, it makes more sense to have the explosive Washington in the starting lineup ahead of Gage. Washington has always been an inconsistent performer, but expect him to top his 2009 production this season. He is a backup for fantasy purposes but is worth starting if the weekly matchup is right.

WR Justin Gage
The Titans were hopeful that Gage, after having a solid first year with the team, could continue to improve and solidify his role in the starting lineup. However, he has been a bit of a disappointment since that 2007 campaign, missing four games in each of the last two seasons. He suffered a spine injury last year that he set him back, and it now appears that he will be relegated to a backup role in 2010. There is some hope for Gage, however, given the offseason maturity issues second-year player Kenny Britt has shown. However, Britt and 2010 second-round pick Damian Williams are the future at the position for the Titans, and Gage is unlikely to earn enough playing time to be relevant for fantasy purposes in 2010.

TE Bo Scaife
A few years ago, Scaife seemed to be a promising player, but it now appears that he is stuck in journeyman status. Scaife figures to open the season as the Titans starting tight end, but second-year player Jared Cook will be breathing down his neck during the preseason. Although Scaife has 149 receptions over the last three years, his fantasy production has been muted by his 9.5 yards per reception average over that span, along with his lack of touchdowns (four in three years). If Scaife holds onto the job, expect 30-40 yards per game and one or two touchdowns on the season. Why bother?

TE Jared Cook
Cook is talented and Bo Scaife has shown his limitations over his five-year career, so Cook’s playing time should increase. In fact, it won’t be a surprise if Cook wrestles away the starting position at some point in 2010. The Titans are high on him, and , given Vince Young’s propensity for throwing to the tight end position, he could surprise if he can beat out Scaife and assume the full-time role.

Where are the Workhorse Running Backs?

By: — July 19, 2010 @ 12:51 am

With the proliferation of NFL teams utilizing time-shares and running backs-by-committee, there are now fewer teams than ever before employing a single workhorse running back.

In fact, there are now only 13 teams likely to employ a single player for a healthy majority of their team’s plays on first and second down. Of those 13, only Baltimore’s Ray Rice is unlikely to take the goal line responsibilities.

With committees being the norm, finding a productive workhorse running back is a key factor in achieving success in your fantasy football league, especially in non-PPR leagues and in leagues that don’t utilize a flex position player.

Let’s analyze the backfields and rank the workhorses and the committees.

The Workhorses I Like

1. Chris Johnson, TennesseeJavon Ringer and undrafted rookie free agents Stafon Johnson and LaGarrette Blount are no threat to fantasy football’s top 2009 performer.

2. Adrian Peterson, Minnesota – Rookie second round pick Toby Gerhart has some ability, but he is a similar player to Peterson, which makes him no threat to earn significant playing time.

3. Maurice Jones-Drew, Jacksonville – The Jaguars like second-year player Rashad Jennings, but MJD proved in 2009 that he is well suited to carry a big load despite his 5’7” height.

4. Ray Rice, Baltimore – While the Ravens have three quality running backs in Rice, Willis McGahee, and Le’Ron McClain, Rice is clearly the top dog. If only he were to get more of the goal-line work.

Rashard Mendenhall

The Steelers will run plenty in 2010.

5. Rashard Mendenhall, Pittsburgh – With Ben Roethlisberger facing a four to six game suspension and Santonio Holmes now in New York, the Steelers will run plenty in 2010—and there isn’t much talent on the roster behind Mendenhall. Mewelde Moore is a decent receiver, but Frank Summers and 2010 sixth-round pick Jonathan Dwyer are no threat to Mendenhall.

6. Ryan Mathews, San Diego – You can debate Mathews’ presence on this list, but the fact is the Chargers don’t view Darren Sproles as a lead back, which is the reason they traded up to get Mathews.

7. Steven Jackson, St. Louis – The good news is that the Rams have the worst collection of backup running backs in the league. The bad news is that the Rams offense is putrid.

8. Frank Gore, San FranciscoGlen Coffee looked like a future stud in the preseason, but he completely disappeared once the season started. Gore is the lead back in a San Francisco offense loaded with young studs, which means he could have a monster year in 2010.

9. Michael Turner, Atlanta – While Jason Snelling and Jerious Norwood each bring different attributes to the Falcons rushing attack, Turner is a true workhorse back capable of close to 400 touches a year.

10. Ryan Grant, Green Bay – While Grant has proven to be a solid performer for the Packers, it is somewhat surprising that the team has never brought in much competition for him. He is a solid player but is no threat to be considered among the upper echelon of the league’s top running backs.

11. Cedric Benson, Cincinnati – Benson had a huge year in 2009, but his past deficiencies are certainly cause for concern. His situation helps matters, however, since Bernard Scott is unlikely to take carries away from Benson and is not an accomplished receiver.

The Workhorses I’m Afraid Of

12. Cadillac Williams, Tampa Bay – While Williams was clearly the lead dog in Tampa last year, he managed a pedestrian 1,035 total yards to go along with seven touchdowns. Although improved play at quarterback from Josh Freeman is likely, the team’s group of receivers is raw, so there are no guarantees the offense will be much better in 2010.

13. Clinton Portis, Washington – The Redskins situation is unique in that none of the three players fighting for the starting job have the ability to assume a third-down, pass-catching role. Portis will likely beat out Larry Johnson and Willie Parker to earn the starting job, but LJ and Parker are hardly excellent third-down options.

The Committees I Like

While it’s easy to rank the workhorses because there is only a single player to look at, the task is a little more difficult for the committees. Backfields that feature stronger rushing attacks with clearly defined roles are ranked ahead of those that are weak and have uncertainty regarding roles.

1. DeAngelo Williams / Jonathan Stewart, Carolina – The Panthers have proven over the last two years that it is possible to have two quality fantasy running backs in one backfield.

2. Shonn Greene / LaDainian Tomlinson, New York Jets – Greene’s play as a rookie down the stretch of the 2009 season was good enough to allow the team’s management to release Thomas Jones . LT comes on board to provide a steady presence, and both players benefit from outstanding blocking up front.

3. Ronnie Brown / Ricky Williams, Miami – There are plenty enough carries to go around in Miami that Brown and Williams should both be useful fantasy options this year. With Brandon Marshall on board, the team’s running backs should get more goal-line opportunities in 2010.

4. Jamaal Charles / Thomas Jones, Kansas City – Heading into the offseason, Charles looked like a potential top 10 running back in 2010. However, the Chiefs signed Jones, and all indications are that he will get plenty of carries as a change-of-pace and goal-line option.

5. Beanie Wells / Tim Hightower, Arizona – This might be the ultimate backfield in PPR leagues. Wells gets the rushing yards and likely the goal-line work, whereas Hightower is an excellent pass catcher who should get 50 receptions in a backup role.

6. Joseph Addai / Donald Brown, Indianapolis – While the Colts offense is consistently among the league’s best, the same can’t be said for their rushing attack. Brown was a disappointment as a rookie and Addai is hurt too much, as well as underutilized.

7. Marion Barber / Felix Jones / Tashard Choice, Dallas – The Cowboys featured a strong rushing attack in 2009, but there are concerns the loss of Flozell Adams will impact that negatively. It also doesn’t help that neither Barber nor Jones can stay healthy.

8. Brandon Jacobs / Ahmad Bradshaw / Andre Brown, New York Giants – Ditto for the Giants—minus the Flozell Adams factor, of course.

9. Pierre Thomas / Reggie Bush, New Orleans – Thomas is more of a rushing threat while Bush is more of a receiving threat. Lynell Hamilton could steal some goal-line carries, but if Thomas assumes that role, he is a breakout candidate for 2010.

10. Knowshon Moreno / Correll Buckhalter, Denver – Moreno showed glimpses of his talent last year but not enough to satisfy Broncos fans or his fantasy football owners. With uncertainty at quarterback and a collection of aging and young, unproven wide receivers, the Broncos offense could struggle in 2010.

11. LeSean McCoy / Mike Bell, Philadelphia – McCoy played reasonably well as a rookie, but he may not have the speed or ability to make tacklers miss to become a top-tier running back. Look for Bell to get the goal-line and short-yardage work.

12. Matt Forte / Chester Taylor, Chicago – Taylor’s signing by the Bears was certainly curious given that he is a carbon copy of Forte, only older. Both players are slightly above-average runners who are also solid receivers. Forte will likely win the starting job, and his value increases if he gets the goal line work.

13. Jahvid Best / Kevin Smith, Detroit – Smith failed to provide enough big plays over his first two years in Detroit, and, with his coming off a torn ACL, the team traded up to get the electrifying Best at the end of the first round of the draft. The Lions have gained some young talent on offense, solidified the second receiver position with the signing of Nate Burleson, and—dare I say it—may be decent offensively in 2010.

The Committees to Stay Away From

14. Ben Tate / Steve Slaton / Arian Foster, Houston – The Texans backfield was looking like a fantasy mess before Tate missed organized team activities with hamstring issues. Here’s the situation: a rookie quickly finding his way to the dog house, a player who excelled as a rookie but had the dreaded sophomore jinx and is coming off a neck injury, and an unheralded player who played reasonably well as a rookie. Might be a good idea to move on from this mess.

15. Darren McFadden / Michael Bush, Oakland – McFadden was supposed to be the big stud, but he has been mostly a bust for two years while Bush has consistently performed better—though he is used in a maddeningly inconsistent manner. Sounds like Raiderland to me.

16. C.J. Spiller / Fred Jackson / Marshawn Lynch, Buffalo – I expect Lynch will open the season elsewhere, but even if that transpires, the Bills offense is unlikely to perform well in 2010 given its numerous holes. With Spiller and Jackson likely to split the job, neither player’s fantasy prospects are good for 2010.

17. Montario Hardesty / Jerome Harrison, Cleveland – First off, I was never sold on Harrison entering the season as the undisputed starter. It says here that the job is Hardesty’s either on opening day or early in the season if he remains healthy, with Harrison assuming the pass-catching role. But we’re talking about the Browns offense with Jake Delhomme at quarterback, so whoever wins the job won’t be useful anyways.

18. Justin Forsett / Leon Washington / Julius Jones, Seattle – One is too small, one is coming off a devastating leg injury, and the other has been a non-factor for two consecutive years. And they all play in an offense that may feature by midseason (if not earlier) a quarterback in his first year as a starter. Oh, did I mention the offensive line has some major question marks?

19. Laurence Maroney / Sammy Morris / Fred Taylor, New England – If you can gaze into your crystal ball each week and figure out who is going to get the running back work, then you are better at this than I am. Of course, you’re probably using that ability to win the lottery rather than for fantasy football purposes.

Player Outlooks – Jacksonville Jaguars

By: — July 18, 2010 @ 12:16 pm

The Jaguars enter a pivotal year in 2010, with club ownership on the brink of making major changes to the team’s management and roster unless there is an improvement over the disappointing 2009 season.

The futures of general manager Gene Smith, head coach Jack Del Rio, and quarterback David Garrard hinge on the Jaguars at least contending for a playoff spot this season. If that doesn’t transpire, expect a major shake-up in Jacksonville, with new management put in place and a new quarterback leading the squad in 2011.

Garrard had a disappointing season in 2009, failing in close games to make plays at key times like he had in 2008. Although his numbers were similar in each season, he failed to make the improvements expected and, despite a better group of receivers, his production in the passing game remained steady. His accuracy remains a concern, and he needs to improve if the Jaguars are to make a playoff run in 2010.

While the passing game struggled under Garrard, there are no concerns about the Jaguars rushing attack. Maurice Jones-Drew excelled during his first year as the team’s starter, with 1,765 total yards and 16 touchdowns. In doing so, he expelled all concerns about his ability to handle the lead rushing role. With no proven backup, he is expected once again to be the team’s offensive engine in 2010.

Mike Sims-Walker enjoyed a breakout season at wide receiver, harnessing his natural ability into solid production during his third year in the league. Despite missing a game due to suspension and being an afterthought in week one, he totaled 869 receiving yards and seven touchdowns. However, he struggled in road games with just 19 receptions for 232 yards and one touchdown.

Torry Holt was released in the offseason, and the team failed to acquire a replacement. That leaves three second-year players to battle for the starting spot opposite Sims-Walker. Mike Thomas and Jarett Dillard are the frontrunners entering training camp, with Tiquan Underwood also in the mix. Troy Williamson remains on the roster but will need a strong showing in the preseason to retain his roster spot.

The tight end spot will be manned by Marcedes Lewis and promising receiving prospect Zach Miller. Lewis has been a tease during his four years in the league, failing on a consistent basis to showcase his natural ability. He enters 2010 at a crossroads. Miller is a solid receiving option, catching 21 passes for 212 yards and a pair of touchdowns as a rookie. He may get a shot at the starting spot sometime this season.

For the Jaguars to remain in the playoff hunt this season, the passing attack will need to step up its production. However, little was added to the mix, and there are concerns about getting quality play at the second wide receiver position, as well as at tight end. Although the offensive line features some young performers who should improve this season, there remain too many question marks on offense for the Jaguars to make a big leap forward in 2010.

QB David Garrard
Garrard enters 2010 with something to prove to the Jaguars management, who thought he took a step back in 2009. Unfortunately for Garrard, the Jaguars ignored wide receivers in the draft, so he has to hope either Mike Thomas, Jarett Dillard, or Tiquan Underwood develops opposite Sims-Walker. Garrard has put up 3,620 and 3,597 passing yards over the last two years with 15 touchdowns in each year—steady but not spectacular production. Without the addition of a proven threat at wide receiver, it’s safe to assume he will approximate those numbers once again in 2009. Garrard should be considered a fantasy backup with little upside.

RB Maurice Jones-Drew
With Fred Taylor having signed with New England, the concern for the Jaguars entering 2009 was whether Jones-Drew would be able to shoulder the lead back role without a proven backup. He removed those concerns by remaining injury-free over 16 games despite accumulating 365 touches. There were some rumors that the Jaguars would use the tenth pick in the draft on C.J. Spiller, but that didn’t happen; so Jones-Drew will remain a workhorse runner in 2010. Look for Jones-Drew to top 1,700 total yards and average a touchdown per game again this year. He is a top three selection in standard leagues and worthy of consideration as the first overall pick in PPR leagues.

RB Rashad Jennings
The consensus was that the Jaguars received good value when they took Jennings in the sixth round of last year’s draft. However, he failed to make the most of the opportunity in Jacksonville and, despite Greg Jones being ineffective and missing part of the season with an injury, Jennings had only 55 touches on the year. But the Jaguars may decide that the 365 touches Maurice Jones-Drew had last year are too many to ensure his long-term viability, so Jennings has a chance to get more touches in 2010. He will have to beat out rookie sixth-round pick Deji Karim for the role. Jones-Drew owners should monitor this battle and grab as his handcuff whoever wins the role.

WR Mike Sims-Walker
Sims-Walker is a talented player coming off a breakout season, but there is room for improvement in 2010. While he posted solid numbers with 869 receiving yards and six touchdowns, he disappeared at times and missed one game as a result of a team suspension for missing curfew. Considering he barely played in week one, his production came in just 14 games, all the more impressive. However, the Jaguars expect more improvement in 2010, and it’s likely that Sims-Walker will provide it. He is a solid WR2 with upside and little risk given that he is clearly the top wide receiver in Jacksonville.

WR Mike Thomas
Thomas flashed some playmaking ability as a rookie, but his 9.4 yards per reception average left something to be desired. He will compete with Jarett Dillard and Tiquan Underwood to start opposite Mike Sims-Walker. At just 5’8”, however, it’s possible the Jaguars will use Thomas out of the slot, which would put a serious damper on his fantasy potential for 2010. While Thomas is worth monitoring during preseason, he will likely enter the season as a waiver wire candidate, given the Jaguars weak passing attack.

WR Jarett Dillard
Dillard enters 2010 coming off a disappointing rookie campaign in which he finished with just six receptions for 106 yards, despite the team’s lack of talent at the position. He gets a break this year, however, as the Jaguars inexplicably ignored the wide receiver position during free agency and through the draft. Dillard doesn’t possess great size at 5’10, 187 pounds, but he is a candidate to win the starting spot outside or to play out of the slot. He needs to beat out Mike Thomas and Tiquan Underwood first, however. Don’t expect Dillard to do much in 2010.

TE Marcedes Lewis
Lewis is a reasonably talented tight end, but his development has been slow and there is little reason to think he’s ready to break out in 2010. While his yardage total has increased in each of his four years in the league, he has failed to top two touchdowns in a season. So why should you expect more than that in 2010? You shouldn’t. Lewis is a fantasy backup with little upside. He might prove useful as waiver wire fodder, but that’s about it.

Player Outlooks – Indianapolis Colts

By: — July 16, 2010 @ 9:19 am

The Colts enter 2010 coming off a heartbreaking loss in the Super Bowl in which the team’s usually potent offense went AWOL in the second half, a rare occurrence throughout much of Peyton Manning’s career in Indianapolis. The team returns this year with its core players back for what figures to be another successful season.

Although the Colts disappointed in the Super Bowl, they had another outstanding season in 2009, finishing 14-2 and winning the AFC South for the sixth time in seven seasons. Rookie head coach Jim Caldwell made a seamless transition to the team’s top job, helping the Colts to a record-setting seventh consecutive 12-win season.

The Colts will feature a potent offensive attack again this season with Manning at the controls, maximizing the production of the team’s numerous, talented skill position players.

Joseph Addai enjoyed a solid comeback season in 2009, holding off first-round pick Donald Brown from taking over as the team’s feature back. Addai is a solid runner and receiver, but he is unlikely to reach the upper echelon of backs, partly because of his injury issues. Brown had some big plays as a rookie but was inconsistent and had his own injury problems. Entering training camp, Addai is the odds-on favorite to retain the starting position.

The team’s passing attack features the excellent receiving talents of wideout Reggie Wayne and tight end Dallas Clark. Wayne had a Pro Bowl year in 2009 but struggled down the stretch, while Clark had a career year. Despite Wayne’s lack of production in the second half of last season, the consensus opinion is that he will have another solid year in 2010, even at thirty-one years of age.

The trio of Pierre Garcon, Austin Collie, and Anthony Gonzalez will battle for the team’s starting spot opposite Wayne, as well for as the slot back role. Garcon came out of nowhere to have a solid season, and Collie excelled as a rookie, becoming Manning’s security blanket (along with Clark) over the season’s second half. Gonzalez was considered a promising player before missing all but a handful of plays in 2009.

With Manning under center, the Colts offense has been in the league’s top five year in and year out, and there’s no reason for that to change in 2010. If the offensive line improves from the off year it had last season, the Colts could lead the league in offense in their march for another AFC South crown.

QB Peyton Manning
Fantasy owners are looking for solid production on a consistent basis, and no other player has displayed those traits more than Peyton Manning has since entering the league. Over the past 12 years, Manning has topped 4,000 yards ten times and has averaged over 30 passing touchdowns per season. In 2010, playing without Marvin Harrison for the first time, Manning finished as the 4th-ranked fantasy quarterback and may have finished 2nd had he not been benched for parts of the Colts final two games. Look for Manning to have another exceptional season in 2010 as the Colts return all of the key parts of their offense, including Anthony Gonzalez, who will be back from the knee injury that ruined all but the first quarter of the opening game of his 2009 season. Given his history of production and his ability to avoid injury, having never missed a start, Manning is the safest pick at the quarterback position. The only risk Manning presents is with the Colts wrapping up home-field advantage early and leaving fantasy owners to ponder how much he will play over the season’s final few games.

RB Joseph Addai
Addai rebounded from a miserable 2008 campaign to finish with 1,164 total yards and 13 touchdowns in 2009. That production allowed him to sneak into the top 10 last year. However, he will never be a bell-cow runner, and predicting 13 touchdowns for Addai and more injury problems for backup Donald Brown (11 games and 90 touches as a rookie) in 2010 may not be the safest of bets. Addai will need to hold off Brown to remain fantasy relevant—and he is likely to do so. However, while he may match his yardage totals from a year ago, expect fewer touchdowns, which drops him down to low-end RB2 status.

RB Donald Brown
Brown suffered through a 2009 season of unmet expectations, as the Colts first-round pick failed to stay healthy or provide much competition to Joseph Addai for the starting spot at running back. However, look for an increased role for Brown in his second year, provided he can remain healthy. He displayed some big-play ability as a rookie and may be the Colts future at the position given that Addai is entering a contract year. Brown is a must-have handcuff for Addai owners; but he is one that will have to be taken with a mid-round pick, given his potential to earn the starting role at some point during the season. If Brown can stay healthy, look for him to approach 1,000 total yards and 5-6 touchdowns while splitting time with Addai.

WR Reggie Wayne
The thirty-one-year-old Wayne enters his tenth season as the Colts’ top receiver as he comes off another solid season in 2009. Wayne has been a remarkably consistent performer, topping 1,000 yards in each of the last six seasons and averaging 1,249 yards and almost nine touchdowns per year over that period. He was exceptional for the first nine games of 2009 but trailed off badly during the last seven (with a mere 385 yards and two touchdowns), which begs the question, Is he finally wearing down? The emergence of Pierre Garcon and Austin Collie, coupled with the return of Anthony Gonzalez, figures to impact Wayne’s production in 2010. Still, he remains a top fantasy wide receiver, and another top 5 fantasy season seems likely.

WR Anthony Gonzalez
Gonzalez is back in Indy after a wasted 2009 campaign, but he may not resume his previous role as a starter on the outside. Pierre Garcon has earned playing time there, and Austin Collie deserves playing time in the slot, so Gonzalez will have to fight for a spot in the starting lineup. However, he’s a solid option for Manning, since he has caught 71.8% of the passes thrown his way during his first three years in the league. While others are clamoring for Garcon and Collie, fantasy owners will be able to get Gonzalez on the cheap in the final rounds of most drafts.

WR Pierre Garcon
Garcon is coming off a solid season in which he emerged as a big-play threat for the Colts after languishing on the bench as a rookie in 2008. The former sixth-round pick finished the year with 765 receiving yards and four touchdowns and improved on those numbers with 251 yards and two touchdowns in the playoffs. Despite all the euphoria regarding Garcon’s production, there should be some concern that he and Peyton Manning were clearly not always on the same page, hence his completion rate of 51%, as opposed to Manning’s overall rate of 68.8%. The Colts prefer reliability, and Anthony Gonzalez may bring more of that to the position, limiting Garcon’s upside unless he hits the playbook hard. Based on his 2009 season, Garcon will be drafted as a fantasy starter in leagues that feature three wide receivers, but he carries significant risk as a top 30 wide receiver. Let others take a shine to Garcon.

WR Austin Collie
Collie enters 2010 coming off a solid rookie season in which he finished with 60 receptions for 676 yards and seven touchdowns. He performed well out of the slot, displaying excellent hands as the season progressed. Collie was exceptional during the playoffs, finishing with 241 yards and two touchdowns through three games. In 2010, He will face competition for playing time from Anthony Gonzalez, who missed much of 2009 with a torn ACL. Look for Collie to hold off Gonzalez and increase his yardage total from last season while remaining a solid option in the red zone, as opposing defenses focus on Reggie Wayne and Dallas Clark. However, don’t expect him to match his touchdown total of a year ago. He should be a fantasy backup in most leagues.

TE Dallas Clark
Clark is coming off a career year in 2009, where he benefited from the absence of a solid threat opposite Reggie Wayne early in the season. With Anthony Gonzalez injured in the opening game, quarterback Peyton Manning fed the ball to Clark, who finished the season with 132 targets, topping his previous high of 107 in 2008. Clark made the most of his opportunities, finishing the year with 100 receptions for 1,106 yards and ten touchdowns. However, Gonzalez returns from injury and Pierre Garcon and Austin Collie have earned significant roles in the team’s offense, so Clark’s opportunities will likely be reduced in 2010. Although he remains a top 5 fantasy tight end, don’t expect him to match his 2009 production in 2010.

Player Outlooks – Houston Texans

By: — July 15, 2010 @ 10:09 am

With their first winning season under their belts, the Texans are hoping to build on their 2009 success by securing the franchise’s first playoff berth in 2010.

With a middle-of-the-pack defense and a running game that struggled for most of the season, the Texans rode the coattails of the team’s passing attack to a 9-7 record, narrowly missing the playoffs. Despite losing tight end Owen Daniels in mid-season, quarterback Matt Schaub threw for just under 4,800 yards, with wide receiver Andre Johnson amassing 1,569 receiving yards.

Despite the team’s success last year passing the ball, head coach Gary Kubiak has spent the offseason emphasizing the team’s need to run the ball and move to a more balanced approach on offense. While the Texans finished 1st in passing offense, they struggled to run the ball, ranking 30th in the league and averaging 3.5 yards per carry (also 30th).

With that in mind, the Texans used a second-round pick on running back Ben Tate, who will compete with Arian Foster and Steve Slaton to be the team’s starter. While a running-back-by-committee approach may be the final option, Kubiak would prefer for one of the three to emerge and carry the load running the ball.

While Johnson has sat out some of the team’s OTAs as a way of showing his displeasure with his current contract, he is a solid citizen who is unlikely to let the situation affect his production this coming season. He is perhaps the league’s top receiver, able to use his speed to beat defenders deep and his size to shield them from passes on short and intermediate routes.

Kevin Walter will battle Jacoby Jones for the starting spot opposite Johnson, with Walter’s experience likely to win that battle. Whoever wins the role figures to benefit from the constant double teams that Johnson faces. At tight end, there is concern that Daniels will not be fully recovered on opening day from the torn ACL that ended his 2009 campaign. Daniels was one of the league’s top receiving tight ends before getting hurt.

With Kubiak guiding the team and entering his fifth season as head coach, the Texans are solid playoff contenders in 2010. However, the team’s rushing attack and defense are going to need to step up for that to finally happen for Texans fans.

QB Matt Schaub
Schaub is coming off a season in which he led the NFL in passing yards and was the 3rd-ranked fantasy quarterback. However, he will have difficulty matching his 2009 production in 2010. The team drafted running back Ben Tate in the second round, and he figures to fulfill the lead back role and be the inside runner the team has lacked in recent seasons. In addition, there are concerns about tight end Owen Daniels as he recovers from a torn ACL. Both factors could lead to the Texans having a more balanced run-pass ratio and lead to more running plays in the red zone. Look for Schaub to top 4,000 yards once again, but expect his touchdown passes to decline from the 29 he had in 2009.

RB Ben Tate
The Texans used a second-round pick on Tate with the expectation the rookie will carry the load as the team’s lack back. Look for Tate to get the goal-line work and to be spelled by Arian Foster on early downs, with Steve Slaton being used on passing downs. Tate could be a fantasy surprise if he can earn a significant role in the Texans powerful offense. However, for that to happen he will need to beat out Foster and earn the goal line work, and the Texans will need to avoid playing from behind. While Tate has an opportunity for fantasy success, there is likely too much competition for touches in the Texans offense for him to breakout in 2010. Expect a solid rookie season, but don’t expect him to lead you to fantasy glory.

RB Arian Foster
Reports out of Houston suggest that Foster is having a solid offseason and has earned the right to compete for the starting role in 2010. In fact, he has earned more starting reps during the offseason than any of the team’s other running backs. While your fellow fantasy owners gravitate toward rookie Ben Tate and toward Steve Slaton, it’s possible that a low round pick on Foster could turn into fantasy gold in 2010. It’s worth noting that in the Texans final two games of 2009 against the Dolphins and Patriots, Foster had 216 rushing yards to go along with 26 receiving yards and 3 touchdowns, and that Tate missed extensive time during OTAs due to a hamstring injury. At 6’1” and 222 pounds, Foster has the size to be a feature back and be an effective inside runner. He is definitely worth monitoring during the preseason and worth taking a flier on.

RB Steve Slaton
Slaton suffered a sophomore slump during a 2009 in which he had fumbling problems and then a neck injury, which resulted in his being placed on injured reserve. Coming off an exceptional rookie season in which he had 1,282 rushing yards, 377 receiving yards, and 10 total touchdowns, the hope was that Slaton would solidify himself as one of the league’s top backs. However, that failed to materialize, as Slaton seemed to run tentatively, especially between the tackles. Entering 2010, the Texans plan is to use Arian Foster and rookie second-round pick Ben Tate in the lead back role, while using Slaton on passing downs. Slaton is a bit of a risk due to his neck injury but, if healthy, he should be solid as a change-of-pace and receiving option for the Texans. He’s more attractive in PPR leagues and could even reclaim his role as the team’s starter, although that seems doubtful at the moment.

WR Andre Johnson
Johnson will enter 2010 as the consensus number one ranked fantasy wide receiver courtesy of his exceptional and consistent production during 2008 and 2009. He has topped 1,500 yards and eight touchdowns in each of the last two seasons, and he should match that again in 2010. He is a big, strong, fast wide receiver with excellent hands who excels in every facet of the game. While the Texans will likely be more effective on the ground this year, Johnson will continue to get his fair share of targets and should lead the league in this category for the third year in a row (341 targets combined over the last two years). In redraft leagues, Johnson could be taken as high as fifth overall, after the consensus top four running backs are taken.

WR Kevin Walter
Walter is coming off a disappointing campaign in 2009 in which he finished with 53 receptions for 611 yards and two touchdowns. There were hopes he would build on his 2008 production of 899 yards and eight touchdowns, but he missed two games with a hamstring injury and never really seemed to get into a groove, even when tight end Owen Daniels was lost for the season. The Texans figure to run more in 2010, and Walter will compete for touches in the passing game with Andre Johnson, Owen Daniels, and Steve Slaton—and for a starting spot with Jacoby Jones. He signed a long-term contract extension in the offseason, so he figures to hold off Jones and could benefit if Daniels is slow to recover from a torn ACL. However, a breakout season is unlikely at this point in his career.

WR Jacoby Jones
Texans head coach Gary Kubiak says he loves Jones’ potential; but if that’s the case, why did they sign Kevin Walter to a lucrative long-term contract? This is another case of a team putting a solid spin on a player who has failed to develop as they had hoped. Jones possesses blazing speed and certainly showed substantial improvement in 2009, but his upside seems to be that of a deep threat, given the other options on short and intermediate routes. Jones is a talented young wide receiver, but there are better breakout options at the position.

TE Owen Daniels
Daniels was having a phenomenal run in 2009 before he was lost for the season with a torn ACL. He had averaged 11.4 fantasy points per game during the first seven weeks, and he may have finished as the top-ranked fantasy tight end if he had not been injured in Week 8. He is clearly an injury risk heading into 2010, but the Texans figure to have a solid offense again in 2010, with Daniels getting plenty of opportunities in the passing game. Clearly there is some risk here given the injury occurred at the halfway point of last season, but if Daniels is fully recovered by Week 1, he will be in the top 5 in 2010. However, a full recovery by opening day seems unlikely, so fantasy owners should temper their enthusiasm.

TE James Casey
Casey showed some ability with the Texans as a rookie last year and could get some opportunities if Owen Daniels is slow to recover from a torn ACL. While Casey may be only somewhat useful in 2010, he is a decent option in deep keeper leagues given Daniels’ injury history and the fact the Texans have been slow to sign him to a long-term contract extension.

Third-Year Wide Receivers Ready To Bust Out

By: — July 14, 2010 @ 11:36 am

There is a theory in fantasy football that wide receivers are ready to break out during their third year in the league. At that point in their careers, they have fine-tuned their route running, developed chemistry with their quarterback, mastered the playbook, and added the muscle necessary to fight off jams at the line of scrimmage and fight for balls with NFL cornerbacks.

While the debate may rage whether the theory is real or not, the 2010 year certainly offers little hope in proving that it is correct.

That is partially because the 2008 draft did not yield a single wide receiver worthy of being taken in the first round. In addition, of the ten receivers taken in the second round of the draft, only DeSean Jackson has performed well above expectations.

Of the other nine second-round selections, one will spend 2010 on injured reserve, two are unlikely to be on the roster of their current teams, two are approaching bust status, and one will likely be fourth on his team’s depth chart.

Clearly, the prospects of this group of players collectively achieving solid fantasy production in 2010 is marginal at best. In fact, it would not be a total surprise if all of these players, other than Jackson, fail to bust out in 2010.

Here are the rankings with each player’s original team and draft position.

Tier One – Already There

1. DeSean Jackson, Philadelphia (2nd) – Remarkably, Jackson was the seventh wide receiver taken in the 2008 draft. If he doesn’t top a third-year wide receiver list, then stop reading.

Tier Two – Opportunity plus Ability

2. Mario Manningham, New York Giants (3rd) – Manningham was a flop as a rookie but came on strong in 2009 with 47 receptions for 882 yards and 5 touchdowns in only 14 games. He’s competing with Hakeem Nicks and Steve Smith for playing time, but the Giants have a healthy passing game so he should see plenty of targets.

3. Pierre Garcon, Indianapolis (6th) – Garcon clearly has ability but only caught 51% of his targets last year, in comparison with Peyton Manning’s overall rate of 68.8%. He will compete with Anthony Gonzalez and Austin Collie for opportunities in 2010.

4. Earl Bennett, Chicago (3rd) – Gets the opportunity to play in a Mike Martz offense but is not a dynamic player, lacking speed and not suited to the slot. He’s here based on his projected stats, but there are lower-ranked players with much more upside.

5. Chaz Schilens, Oakland (7th) – Finally gets a decent quarterback in Jason Campbell but will have to fight off Darius Heyward-Bey and Louis Murphy for playing time. Again, another solid player who figures to produce but lacks upside.

6. Early Doucet, Arizona (3rd) – Doucet played well in the playoffs subbing for an injured Anquan Boldin and now gets an opportunity to replace him in the desert. It won’t be a surprise if he assumes Boldin’s role, with Steve Breaston maintaining his role from past seasons. Unfortunately, Matt Leinart is no Kurt Warner, which limits Doucet’s upside.

7. Eddie Royal, Denver (2nd) – Royal was a complete non-factor in his sophomore year after displaying plenty of potential as a rookie in 2008. With questions at quarterback and a pair of rookies in Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker, Royal will have to fight to earn playing time in Denver in 2010. He appears to be headed for a role in the slot, which limits his upside.

8. Devin Thomas, Washington (2nd) – With questions swirling around the availability of Santana Moss, due to his connection with a Canadian doctor charged with smuggling and distributing human growth hormone, there is a greater likelihood of a bigger role for Thomas in 2010. Unfortunately, he hasn’t done much when given an opportunity, with only 40 receptions for 445 yards and 3 touchdowns in two years.

9. Donnie Avery, St. Louis (2nd) – Avery has struggled with injuries, inconsistent route running, and poor quarterback play during his two years with the Rams. At this point, he doesn’t appear to have the ability to develop into a true number one receiver, and his likeliest role is that of a deep threat in St. Louis. With rookie Sam Bradford at quarterback, Avery’s prospects of a breakout season appear remote at best.

Tier Three – Fighting for Opportunity, Hasn’t Shown Much

10. Josh Morgan, San Francisco (6th) – Morgan burst onto the scene during training camp of his rookie year but appears to be the perfect example of a great practice player who fails to produce on game day. With Michael Crabtree and Vernon Davis expected to get plenty of targets in 2010, Morgan lacks upside and likely opportunity.

11. Malcolm Kelly, Washington (2nd) – Kelly gets a fresh start with Mike Shanahan, but he’s basically done nothing to suggest that he’s going to develop in 2010, and he plays soft for his size.

12. Jordy Nelson, Green Bay (2nd) – While Nelson hasn’t justified his lofty draft status, he is a quality player caught up in a numbers game in Green Bay. With Greg Jennings and Donald Driver holding down the starting spots, and James Jones having solidified his role as the third receiver, Nelson is left fighting for targets with the other Packers.

13. Steve Johnson, Buffalo (7th) – With Terrell Owens and Josh Reed out of the picture, Johnson is fighting with James Hardy to earn a starting role. Don’t be surprised if he earns it. Unfortunately, the Bills passing offense is pathetic.

14. James Hardy Buffalo (2nd) – Hardy has been a complete non-factor for two years in Buffalo and is behind in his development due to missing all of last offseason, in addition to part of the regular season, with an injury. Fortunately for Hardy, the Bills have little depth at wide receiver; otherwise he might be in danger of being released by Buffalo’s new management.

Tier Four – On the Roster, Fulfilling Marginal Role

15. Davone Bess, Miami (Undrafted) – He’s been productive for two years, but with Brandon Marshall on board, Bess will likely be moved to the slot exclusively in 2010. He’s shifty but not fast and has produced almost no big plays.

16. Harry Douglas, Atlanta (3rd) – Douglas made some dynamic plays as a rookie, but a torn ACL during training camp ended his 2009 season. He’s strictly a slot receiver in a run-based offense, which means he has no fantasy value.

17. Andre Caldwell, Cincinnati (3rd) – Caldwell is another player best suited to the slot in a run-based offense. There’s too much competition in Cincinnati to expect Caldwell to bust out in 2010.

18. Jaymar Johnson, Minnesota (6th) – A special teams player who is buried on the depth chart.

19. Brett Swain, Green Bay (7th) – Mostly a special teams player and clearly no better than fifth on the depth chart.

Hanging on to Roster Spots

Jerome Simpson, Cincinnati (2nd) – This Bengals second-round pick has been a complete bust. Might not earn a roster spot in 2010.

Limas Sweed, Pittsburgh (2nd) – Former second-round pick would have been fighting for his roster spot, but a knee injury landed him on injured reserve for 2010.

Dexter Jackson, Tampa Bay (2nd) – Sense a pattern here? Another former second-round pick who has been a total bust, now in Carolina.

Lavelle Hawkins, Tennessee (4th) – Titans have plenty of depth at wide receiver; fortunately for Hawkins none of it is spectacular.

Keenan Burton, St. Louis (4th) – Can’t stay healthy and will likely have to beat out 2009 fifth-round pick Brooks Foster to earn a spot on the roster.

Kenneth Moore, Carolina (5th) – Six catches in two years and now facing a logjam at wide receiver in Carolina.

Adrian Arrington, New Orleans (7th) – Can’t seem to get off the practice squad.

Matt Slater, New England (5th) – Will be fighting with Sam Aiken, Brandon Tate, and rookie Taylor Price to keep his roster spot in 2010.

Lance Long, Kansas City (undrafted) – Caught some balls in 2010, but the Chiefs brought in the more proven Jerheme Urban, who will likely steal Long’s role.

Nate Hughes, Jacksonville (undrafted) – He runs fast in a straight line. There isn’t much else to add.

Likely Out of the League

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