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Player Outlooks – Seattle Seahawks

By: — July 14, 2010 @ 9:48 am

After an uninspired 2009 campaign, Seattle let Jim Mora go after only one season as the Seahawks head coach, and USC head coach Pete Carroll was hired by rookie general manager John Schneider. The team’s new management duo has spent the offseason putting their stamp on the team’s roster with a flurry of personnel moves that have touched almost all aspects of the team’s roster.

Carroll takes over a Seahawks team that has been in serious decline over the past few seasons and is coming off a 5-11 season that many in the league consider overly flattering given their poor performances and lack of talent. Of the team’s five wins, two came against St. Louis and one against Detroit, the worst and second-worst teams in the league.

The Seahawks’ struggles on offense have been compounded by the team’s declining performance along the offensive line. Perennial Pro Bowl left tackle Walter Jones retired in the offseason, and the team used their first round pick on his replacement, Russell Okung. Seattle doesn’t lack talent across the line, but they haven’t jelled as a unit, partly due to injuries.

Matt Hasselbeck’s last two seasons have been marked by injuries and ineffective play. Charlie Whitehurst was acquired from the Chargers to challenge him and be the team’s future at the position. If Hasselbeck falters or the team drops out of playoff contention, Whitehurst will likely take over as the starter.

Ever since Shaun Alexander became ineffective at the end of his career, the Seahawks have struggled to run the ball. Julius Jones and Justin Forsett return and will battle former Jet Leon Washington, acquired in a trade, for playing time. They all have similar qualities, so it wouldn’t be a surprise if a bigger back is added to the roster before opening day.

The depth chart at wide receiver is littered with aging veterans and unproven youngsters. T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Deion Branch are on the downside of their careers and coming off disappointing seasons in 2009. Rookie second-round pick Golden Tate and 2009 third-round pick Deon Butler will challenge them. The team also signed former USC product and Lion first-round pick Mike Williams, a reclamation project if there ever was one.

At USC, Carroll’s offenses were noted for their dynamic playmakers and outstanding offensive production. However, the Seahawks lack a true difference-maker on offense, and none of the team’s skill position players are talents that opposing defensive coordinators need to game plan for. Barring a breakout performance by a young player or a career renaissance by one of the team’s veterans, Seattle’s lack of playmakers is likely to cause them to finish amongst the league’s worst offenses in 2010.

QB Matt Hasselbeck
Hasselbeck is coming off a horrendous two-year run of injuries and poor play. He has missed 11 games due to injury and has been largely ineffective when in the lineup, especially against solid defenses. In his last 21 games, he has averaged a little over 200 yards passing per game while throwing 21 touchdowns against 27 interceptions. At thirty-four years of age (thirty-five in September), there are legitimate questions regarding how much Hasselbeck has left. With the Seahawks in rebuilding mode, the running game full of question marks, the team’s wide receivers a mixed bag of aging veterans and unproven young players, and the new management regime trading to get Charlie Whitehurst as the team’s quarterback of the future, Hasselbeck can hardly be considered a quality fantasy option. He’s likely keeping the position warm for Whitehurst and could be on the bench by mid-season.

QB Charlie Whitehurst
Whitehurst was acquired to be the Seahawks quarterback of the future, picked up from the Chargers for a swap of 2010 second-round picks plus the Seahawks third-round selection in the 2011 draft. The Seahawks apparently love his size, arm strength, and athleticism, but some offseason reports indicated that retread J.P. Losman was pushing him to be the team’s backup. Given his lack of playing time during his four NFL seasons (no pass attempts), there’s no way of knowing how Whitehurst would perform even if he were to replace Matt Hasselbeck at some point during the season. Given that, it’s hard to even recommend him for dynasty leagues.

RB Julius Jones
With a new coach in Seattle and Jones coming off two largely disappointing seasons, there was a strong possibility entering the offseason that Jones would be looking for a new team in 2010. When Pete Carroll traded for veteran running backs LenDale White and Leon Washington, Jones’ situation became even more precarious. He got a reprieve when White was released, but Seattle’s new management is clearly looking for better options at the position. It doesn’t help that Justin Forsett is a similar player with a much lower salary. Rumors abound that Marshawn Lynch will be in a Seattle uniform before long, and if that happens, Jones and his $2.5 million base salary will likely be on the street. Jones’ fantasy prospects for 2010 should be classified in the long-shot category.

RB Justin Forsett
Forsett is coming off a quality season in 2009 where he established himself as a solid change-of-pace back due to his speed and ability to make tacklers miss in the open field. Starting in week 10, Forsett received extensive playing time and had surprisingly solid production with 496 yards rushing, 210 receiving yards, and 5 touchdowns in eight games. He averaged 12.5 fantasy points per game during that stretch, which, over a full season, would translate into RB2 status. However, given his size, Forsett’s durability is a bit of a question mark and could impact his ability to play a full season. In addition, his touches are likely to decrease once Leon Washington returns to full health. Both of those uncertainties increase Forsett’s risk factor. He should be drafted as a fantasy backup or low-end RB2.

RB Leon Washington
Washington’s trade to Seattle revives his fantasy value after last season’s horrific knee injury, the emergence of Shonn Greene, and the Jets signing of LaDainian Tomlinson to replace Thomas Jones left him off the fantasy landscape in New York. While it’s hard to count on a pass-catching running back coming off a knee injury playing in what figures to be a bad offense, the Seahawks new management team invested a fifth-round draft pick to acquire Washington, and they figure to give their acquisition an opportunity to strut his stuff once he is fully healthy. However, he may not be ready on opening day, and if that happens, he will need to supplant Justin Forsett or Julius Jones once he returns. Monitor Washington’s injury status—if healthy, he’s worth a low-round draft pick in standard leagues and worth taking a flier on in dynasty leagues, especially in PPR formats.

WR T.J. Houshmandzadeh
Last year’s most overhyped wide receiver free agent signing was a bust in his first year with Seattle, failing to top 1,000 yards for the second year in a row and complaining about his lack of touches. He claimed during last offseason that his lack of production was partially due to a rib injury, which apparently hampered him for the first six weeks of 2009. With an unproven offensive line, issues at quarterback, and Nate Burleson now in Detroit, Houshmandzadeh has much to overcome to get back to the solid production that he posted between 2005 and 2007. However, the Seahawks lack talent at wide receiver, he is clearly their top player at the position, and he figures to put up plenty of garbage-time fantasy points in 2010 on a team that will almost certainly struggle. Look for a slight increase on his 2009 production, which should translate into mid-tier WR2 status.

WR Golden Tate
Tate goes to a great situation in Seattle, where the second-round pick will battle veteran retread Deion Branch, 2009 third-round pick Deon Butler, and reclamation project Mike Williams for the starting spot opposite T.J. Houshmandzadeh. Seattle is clearly in rebuilding mode, and given Branch’s injury history and salary, Tate could be starting on opening day. His offseason wasn’t without incident due to his doughnut caper, and that lack of maturity makes him more of a question mark than previously thought. However, he figures to get extensive playing time as a rookie, and his ability to make tacklers miss and gain yards after the catch are traits that were sorely lacking in Seattle in 2009. The quarterback situation isn’t optimal, which makes Tate a better target in dynasty leagues than in redraft formats.

WR Deion Branch
Branch has been a bust for the Seahawks since they traded their 2006 first-round pick to acquire him. During his four years in Seattle, Branch has averaged 558 yards receiving and three and a half touchdowns, hardly justifying his acquisition. With the team in a rebuilding mode and having acquired T.J. Houshmandzadeh in free agency last offseason, and also wanting to find playing time for 2010 second-round pick Golden Tate and 2009 third-round pick Deon Butler, Branch will need to have a strong preseason to make the roster. It doesn’t help matters that he is scheduled to make $5.5 million and that the team is also trying to resurrect the career of former first-round bust Mike Williams. The Seahawks are going to be behind plenty and somebody has to catch some balls, but Branch might not be around on opening day to make the most of that opportunity.

TE John Carlson
Carlson is coming off a mildly disappointing sophomore season in which he failed to improve upon a promising rookie campaign. He has a new head coach in Pete Carroll, who figures to be more imaginative on offense. However, the offensive line remains a question mark, and if he has to pass protect as much as he did last season, his production will be impacted. Look for Carlson to post better numbers in 2010, but he will likely be a borderline fantasy starter. There is some breakout potential, though, given the team’s lack of proven talent at wide receiver.

Cheatsheet Compiler & Draft Buddy Live Chat

By: — July 13, 2010 @ 1:16 pm

Welcome to the Cheatsheet Compiler & Draft Buddy live chat discussion with CC/DB developer Mike MacGregor.

This chat gives all FF Today users an opportunity to talk (type) directly with Mike to get answers to questions about the Compiler, Buddy, Projection Pal, or just anything fantasy football related for the upcoming season.

The chat is scheduled to begin at 9:00pm Eastern on Thursday July 15th.

Click Here (new window will open)

Player Outlooks – Arizona Cardinals

By: — July 12, 2010 @ 12:52 pm

The Cardinals have had a successful three-year run since hiring head coach Ken Whisenhunt, winning eight, nine, and ten games and going to the 2008 Super Bowl, only to lose to the Steelers on a last-minute touchdown.

The road gets decidedly tougher in 2010, however, as retirement and free agency have robbed the team of many of their key performers.

Topping the list is the loss of Kurt Warner to retirement. The future Hall of Fame quarterback enjoyed a career renaissance in Arizona, playing at a Pro Bowl level and providing the franchise with a swagger they never had before. Based on the 2009 performances of Matt Leinart and free agent acquisition Derek Anderson, the Cardinals are likely to experience a large dropoff at the quarterback position.

The Cardinals also lost pass-rushing linebacker Bertrand Berry to retirement and defensive stalwarts Karlos Dansby and Antrel Rolle to free agency. Anquan Boldin, who was one half of the league’s top receiving duo, was traded away, as was starting cornerback Bryant McFadden.

On offense, the Cardinals are likely to turn to the running game far more frequently in 2010, relying on the impressive young tandem of Beanie Wells and Tim Hightower. Wells is a punishing, downhill runner with enough speed to get outside, but he had ball security issues as a rookie in 2009. Hightower is an excellent receiver and, while lacking speed, is an above-average runner with an ability to make tacklers miss.

Despite the loss of Boldin, the Cardinals are well-stocked at wide receiver. They feature perhaps the league’s most talented wide receiver in Larry Fitzgerald, as well as Steve Breaston, who topped 1,000 yards in a backup role in 2008. Early Doucet is a promising player who came on late last season and in the playoffs. His game is much like Boldin’s; built on power, toughness, and an ability to get open on short and intermediate routes.

As in prior years, the Cardinals depth chart at tight end is a black hole in terms of what it brings to the passing game. None of their tight ends offer much upside, and all are more adept at blocking.

With Whisenhunt at the controls, the Cardinals have reached a new level of respect not previously experienced by the franchise. Expectations are deservedly lower in 2010 than in prior years, but they could surprise if Leinart proves he has matured and the defense can hold up its end of the bargain.

QB Matt Leinart
Now that Kurt Warner has decided to retire, the Cardinals offense could see a change in philosophy, switching to a ground game featuring Beanie Wells and Tim Hightower. The Cardinals passed the ball almost 62% of the time in 2009, ranking 12th in passing (251 yards per game) and 28th in rushing (93.4 yards per game). With Leinart at the helm, you have to figure the passing numbers will decrease in 2010. Warner’s accuracy, ability to read defenses, and decision-making allowed him to succeed in the desert. Those are all qualities that Leinart has not displayed during his time under center. He does have at his disposal one of the best targets in the game in Larry Fitzgerald, which makes Leinart a great upside pick as your backup fantasy QB.

RB Beanie Wells
Although Wells did become the feature back down the stretch in 2009, he split carries with Tim Hightower for most of last season. Consequently, he’ll be a nice upside pick in 2010, but you’ll likely overpay for his true value. Hightower will continue to receive carries on first and second down and will play extensively on third downs. While there is some concern that Hightower will get the goal line work, it’s worth noting that during the final four games of last season Wells had 14 red zone touches and Hightower had only 6. The addition of Alan Faneca on the line doesn’t hurt and should lead to improved numbers for the Cardinals running game as a whole.

RB Tim Hightower
Hightower heads into training camp as the starter based on experience, but expect him to share carries with Beanie Wells. While there are no guarantees that Hightower will open the season as the team’s starter, he will receive extensive playing time both as a change-of-pace back and as a target in the passing game. With Matt Leinart rather than Kurt Warner starting at quarterback, both Arizona running backs should see a significant amount of work in 2010. Hightower’s fantasy value shines in PPR leagues—his 63 catches out of the backfield a year ago was second only to Ray Rice, and he has 96 receptions over his first two years in the league. If the Arizona offense doesn’t experience a large dropoff with Leinart under center, Hightower shapes up as an excellent flex option in leagues that employ the position.

WR Larry Fitzgerald
Despite finishing with just 1,092 yards last season, Fitzgerald finished fourth in points among fantasy wide receivers thanks to his 13 touchdowns. The loss of Warner may not impact Fitzgerald as much as you might think. Warner very rarely threw deep balls last season, and while Leinart’s accuracy remains a question mark, it’s likely that Fitzgerald will see more deep opportunities with Leinart under center. He’s still a feared weapon in the league and the Cardinals will use him as such. Expect Fitzgerald to once again finish in the top five among fantasy wideouts.

WR Steve Breaston
In 2010 Breaston will have a chance to improve upon his 55 catches for 712 yards and 3 touchdowns of a year ago as he moves into the starting lineup opposite Larry Fitzgerald. Breaston has put up solid production in Arizona’s pass-based offense over the last two years, where he benefitted from the attention that Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin received. However, there is some concern Breaston may struggle against starting cornerbacks, and his production will also be impacted if the Cardinals shift to a more run-focused offense, as expected. His value is no better than a WR3 in most fantasy formats.

WR Early Doucet
The loss off Anquan Boldin has opened the door for Doucet. He has struggled through most of his first two years in the league, finding it hard to gain playing time in a talented Cardinals wide receiver rotation. He finished with two solid games during the playoffs last season and will fill the third-wideout role in the Cardinals passing attack. However, with Breaston holding down a starting spot, it’s tough to project Doucet as anything better than a fantasy WR4. Still, monitor his status in training camp. There is a possibility he could unseat Breaston for Boldin’s old starting position given that, of the two players, his game more closely resembles Boldin’s.

TE Ben Patrick
You have better options. Arizona rarely uses the tight end in their passing game; Patrick led all Cardinal tight ends with a mere 146 yards and two touchdowns. Unless Matt Leinart becomes a check-down king, Patrick will be useless for fantasy purposes. Stay away…very far away.

IDP Overvalued, Undervalued

By: — July 10, 2010 @ 11:41 am


  • DL Chris Long, STL – he’s proven he isn’t much of a pass rush threat. Don’t hold out hope he’ll ever post double-digit sacks.
  • DL Dwight Freeney, IND – back-to-back years with double-digit sacks, but more one-dimensional than ever and an injury-prone 30-year old who hasn’t played all 16 games since 2006. His replacement (Jerry Hughes) was drafted this year and should steal snaps.
  • DL Randy Starks, MIA – after a career high 7 sacks last year, he moves to NT for at least the first 8 games to replace the suspended Jason Ferguson. He’ll be lucky to get half as many sacks this year.
  • LB London Fletcher, WAS – a Fantasy Hall of Famer for his consistent stellar production, but he’s 35 and moving to a 3-4 defense this year.
  • LB Brian Cushing, HOU – hurts fantasy owners with his four-game suspension and let’s see him repeat his numbers off the juice.
  • LB Thomas Howard, OAK – appears to be the odd man out after the addition of Kamerion Wimbley. Wimbley and Trevor Scott have been working as the starters on the outside.
  • LB A.J. Hawk, GB – his numbers have gone the wrong way fast after an outstanding rookie year in 2006, which some rank as if they think he can achieve again. Not a good fit in the 3-4.
  • DB Charles Woodson, GB – he put up ridiculous numbers last year, no way he can repeat them, especially since he’s remained uncharacteristically healthy for the two years now and turns 34 this year.


  • DL Will Smith, NO – always a good tackle producer, he quietly posted a career-high 13.5 sacks last year. An exceptional athlete and just 28, looks like a late bloomer as a pass rusher and is under the radar.
  • DL Aaron Kampman, JAX – returns to 4-3 DE after a failed experiment in converting to 3-4 OLB with Green Bay. A double-digit sack season is likely if his knee is OK.
  • DL Kroy Biermann, ATL – former first-round pick Jamaal Anderson is officially a bust and now moves inside to make room for Biermann to start opposite John Abraham.
  • DL Chris Clemons, SEA – the only pass rush threat on a team anorexic at the position.
  • LB Jonathan Goff, NYG – looks to have the inside track to being their new full-time MLB and has impressed in spring.
  • LB Derrick Johnson, KC – after a year in the doghouse of a new regime, he remains their most talented linebacker and was back with the first team in spring workouts.
  • LB Geno Hayes, TB – a year ago the team was ready to move a safety to WLB instead of giving him a chance. Now he’s a top-20 LB who should post better numbers this year. Look for SLB Quincy Black to breakout this year, as well.
  • DB Charles Tillman, CHI – numbers were a bit down last year. The addition of Julius Peppers to help the pass rush will create more opportunities for the secondary and Tillman is already one of the best players in the league at creating turnovers.

Player Outlooks – Tampa Bay Buccaneers

By: — @ 9:43 am

The Bucs retained general manager Mark Dominik and head coach Raheem Morris, despite a rather underwhelming first year. The rookie duo made many poor decisions in 2009, from firing offensive coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski prior to the season, to relieving defensive coordinator Jim Bates ten games into the season. However, the Bucs salvaged a bit of respectability by winning two of their final three games to finish 3-13 on the season.

In 2010, the rebuilding project continues. Gone are veterans Antonio Bryant, Byron Leftwich, Will Allen, and Arron Sears. The most significant veteran acquisition has been wide receiver Reggie Brown, picked up in a trade with the Eagles. However, Brown was benched in Philadelphia and is coming off the worst year of his career.

Clearly, the Bucs are relying heavily on the draft. It remains to be seen whether the club will risk the future of second-year quarterback Josh Freeman by not providing him with a veteran, top-tier wide receiver to work with.

Tight end Kellen Winslow is a solid receiver, but his long-term future is a question mark given the numerous knee surgeries he has undergone. The depth chart at wide receiver features a pair of talented rookies in Arrelious Benn and Mike Williams, veteran underachievers in Michael Clayton, Maurice Stovall, and Reggie Brown, as well as Sammie Stroughter, whose future may be in the slot.

Given the questions marks in the passing game, look for offensive coordinator Greg Olson to run a ball-control offense featuring a heavy dose of running plays. Cadillac Williams had a compelling comeback season in 2009, but he lacked explosiveness, averaging just 3.9 yards per carry. Derrick Ward was a bust in his first season in Tampa Bay but will be given an opportunity to earn more playing time in 2010.

While the Bucs have added some talented youngsters on the offensive side of the ball, they lack proven playmakers on offense and will struggle to move the ball on a consistent basis. Unless they get some major contributions from Williams and Ward, look for them to be among the league’s worst offensive teams in 2010.

QB Josh Freeman
The Bucs love Freeman’s potential and he is coming off a reasonably solid rookie season that was marked by some inconsistent play. Over his nine starts, he had three multi-touchdown games that were offset by five games with multiple interceptions, including a game in which he threw five picks against Carolina. He showed he has a strong arm, an ability to escape the rush, and the resourcefulness to take off running when plays break down. In 2010, he gains a pair of rookie wide receivers in Arrelious Benn and Mike Williams but loses Antonio Bryant. Quarterbacks generally need reliable receivers to be productive, and that’s not likely to happen for Freeman this year. He has the potential to be a fantasy starter in 2011. This year, not so much. Consider him as a prospect for dynasty leagues, but he isn’t worth drafting in most re-draft leagues

RB Cadillac Williams
Williams was surprisingly healthy in 2009, displaying a solid burst in many games. However, the Bucs were not able to generate much rushing offense against the league’s better run defenses. While Williams’ comeback story was a compelling one, there is likely little hope of him reaching the potential he showed early in his career given his injury issues. Despite his lengthy injury history, he managed to rank 28th among running backs last year, which is a solid accomplishment given the Bucs struggles on offense. However, while the Bucs offense can’t be as bad as it was last year and the young offensive line should improve, it is doubtful the improvement will be strong enough to propel Williams into fantasy starter status. Consider him as a potential low-end RB2, though he really should be drafted as a backup running back considering the Bucs prospects on offense.

RB Derrick Ward
Ward was a big flop last year after coming over from the Giants. In New York, he looked like a solid back with an ability to make tacklers miss and gain tough yards running inside. In Tampa Bay, he looked tentative and was brought down too easily by defenders. He finished the year with 559 total yards and three touchdowns, a far cry from his production in New York as a backup. Ward is now clearly stuck behind Cadillac Williams, although he is only a Williams injury away from significant playing time. And we all know Cadillac’s injury history well. Unless he gets consistent touches (which didn’t happen last year), he has little fantasy use, and handcuffing Williams may not be worthwhile given the Bucs anemic offense.

Arrelious Benn
The Bucs second round pick has the size, speed, and run-after-the-catch ability to be a number one wide receiver in the league. However, he is a little raw and needs time to refine his game. In 2010, given the Bucs lack of wide receiver depth, he is virtually guaranteed a spot in the starting lineup on opening day. He’s also virtually guaranteed to be average, with Josh Freeman leading a Bucs offense that relies on young talent. With Freeman entering his second year, Benn won’t be a starting caliber fantasy receiver this year; but does have upside next year. Check back in 2011.

WR Sammie Stroughter
Stroughter played well as a rookie in 2009, notching 31 receptions for 334 yards and a touchdown before breaking his foot late in the season. He played mostly out of the slot last year but is competing for a starting spot outside in 2010. Given the Bucs lack of proven playmakers at the position, it’s possible he could start outside and work out of the slot in multiple receiver sets. While he may end up starting, his future will likely be as a slot receiver and a returner. He’s worth keeping your eye on in the preseason but is likely waiver wire material in 2010.

WR Mike Williams
Talent-wise, the Bucs got a steal in the fourth round of this year’s draft when Williams was on the board when they selected. However, there is a reason first-round talent is available in the fourth round, and it has everything to do with maturity. If the light goes on for Williams, he could have a solid career in the league. Given his off-the-field problems, the odds of Williams showing the maturity and dedication to produce during his rookie season are pretty low. At 6’1” and 220 pounds, Williams has excellent size to go along with excellent speed, and that makes him worth taking a flier on in dynasty leagues. Barring an excellent preseason, he isn’t worth drafting in re-draft leagues.

WR Michael Clayton
Remarkably, the Buccaneers signed Clayton to a five-year, $25 million contract prior to the 2009 season—this for a player coming off a 38-reception, 484-yard, one-touchdown season. In return, Clayton gave the Bucs the worst year of his career, producing 16 receptions for 230 yards and a score. With the team having used its first and fourth round draft picks on Arrelious Benn and Mike Williams, and having acquired former Eagle Reggie Brown in a trade, there are clear signs that the Bucs plan on revamping their wide receiver corps. Holdovers Sammie Stroughter and Maurice Stovall also remain on the roster. With Benn, Williams, and Stroughter guaranteed roster spots, and Stovall showing some promise last year as a receiver and also as a strong special teams contributor, Clayton’s roster spot is clearly in jeopardy.

TE Kellen Winslow
Winslow had a solid season in 2009, maintaining his status as a starting tight end for his fantasy owners. However, his offseason has been hit-and-miss with the departure of Antonio Bryant to the Bengals and another knee surgery, the fifth of his six-year career. Bryant’s loss means Winslow is clearly at the top of the pecking order among the team’s wide receivers, but that advantage may be offset by the extra attention he will receive from opposing defenses, given the Bucs’ weak group of wide receivers. Winslow racks up the yardage totals when healthy but has never topped five touchdown receptions in a year. Which begs the question: Why should anyone bank on that happening in 2010, considering the team’s young, raw talent on offense? They shouldn’t, and neither should you. Winslow will remain a starting caliber tight end, but it would be a total shock if he were to somehow sneak into the top five.

Player Outlooks – New Orleans Saints

By: — July 9, 2010 @ 1:16 pm

The Saints are coming off a magical Super Bowl championship season and have the potential to get back to the big game in 2010. Their 31-17 defeat of the Colts showcased their significant offensive talents as well as an opportunistic, play-making defense with its own scoring ability.

As with all Super Bowl champions, the Saints were faced with the prospect of losing several key pieces, and gone from last year’s squad are Jamaal Brown, Scott Fujita, Mike Bell, and Charles Grant. On offense, Jermon Bushrod played well with Brown injured for all of 2009, and Bell will be replaced by a promising young power runner in Lynell Hamilton.

While Saints head coach Sean Payton’s reputation is that of a play-caller who likes to feature the pass, the team finished sixth in the league in rushing last year while running the ball over 46 percent of the time.

Expect more of the same in 2010 with Drew Brees leading an offensive attack that is almost unstoppable. The Saints have a diverse group of skill-position players on offense, and Payton has shown a knack for creating mismatches with various formations and by spreading the ball around.

At running back, despite lacking game-breaking ability, Pierre Thomas has proven to be an above-average player in almost all aspects of the game, although his short-yardage running leaves something to be desired. Despite Reggie Bush’s inability to fulfill the potential most thought he had coming out of college, he has been productive when healthy, although he is not as durable as the team would like.

In the passing game, Marques Colston has proven to be a solid, consistent performer despite lacking top-end speed. Robert Meachem emerged from his slumber to be a key performer last year and could be ready to step it up a notch in 2010. Devery Henderson provides a deep threat, and the team is hopeful that Lance Moore can return to the form he showed in 2008.

With the team returning all of its key skill-position players except for Bell, the Saints should once again be the top offensive team in the league.

QB Drew Brees
Welcome to land of 2010’s top-ranked fantasy quarterback: The land of numerous, talented wide receivers; of tight end depth charts that run three deep; of running backs that excel in all areas of the game; and of offensive lines that, due to their incredible depth, can afford to trade former first-round picks coming off injury. Maybe that is a bit of an exaggeration—but not much of one. The Saints seem to find talented players in the draft, but they also have an ability to unearth players that weren’t drafted (Pierre Thomas, Lance Moore, etc.), all to Brees’ good fortune. With Peyton Manning and Tom Brady advancing in age, Brees might be the surest thing at the quarterback position in fantasy football. All of the team’s skill-position players return, save for Mike Bell, who will be replaced by Lynell Hamilton. Brees is at the top of his game, playing in an offense that creates mismatches all over the field due to the talents of the players and the coaching of Sean Payton. Not much should change in 2010. The icing on the cake is that Brees is remarkably consistent (13 games with over 250 yards passing to go along with 12 games with multiple passing touchdowns). The Saints failed to take a running back in the draft, and the offensive line returns all five starters, so they figure to match their passing production from a year ago. That will make Brees the equivalent of fantasy gold. Think middle of the first round in re-draft leagues.

RB Pierre Thomas
While Thomas isn’t going to be confused with the most talented running backs in the league, his situation is about as good as it gets for fantasy purposes. He is the lead back on perhaps the league’s best offense that returns with all of its key pieces. In addition, his top backup (Mike Bell) left town and the team’s other backup (Reggie Bush) is an injury-prone player best suited in a receiving role. The committee backfield keeps the status of Thomas at RB2, but he has huge upside. The Saints lost Mike Bell but ignored the position in the draft, and Lynell Hamilton is no threat to eat into Thomas’s carries, other than perhaps taking some goal-line work. Low risk, high reward, great offense. What’s not to like? If he can win the short-yardage job, look out.

RB Reggie Bush
On the positive side, Bush matched his career high in touchdowns last year, and the Saints decided to keep him despite his outrageous salary. On the negative side, his touches have declined through three straight years, hitting 117 last year—and the Saints offense has not missed a beat. Granted, that trend of declining touches may reverse in 2010 with the departure of Mike Bell. Given that Bush has failed to live up to his lofty draft status and is coming off his worst year in the league, 2010 will be the first year in which he will not be drafted before he should be. That gives him the potential to be a value pick, especially in PPR leagues. While Bush has been injury-prone, he has produced when in the lineup (career average of 10.7 fantasy points per game). While he is worth taking a flier on in the mid-rounds, don’t reach too much given the risk his declining use in New Orleans presents.

RB Lynell Hamilton
Pierre Thomas owners better take note of Lynell Hamilton. With Reggie Bush better suited to take limited rushing touches out of the backfield, Hamilton figures to receive most of the team’s rushing attempts if Thomas were to get injured. The Saints thought enough of Hamilton to not match the modest restricted-free-agent offer sheet Mike Bell received from the Eagles, so expect Hamilton to carve out a role with the team in 2010. While he may not approach Bell’s 2009 production, he may eat into Thomas’s goal line work, and he is worth taking a flier on in the later rounds of re-draft leagues.

WR Marques Colston
Colston is a dynamite talent who suffers fantasy-wise from playing on a team with so many solid offensive skill-position players. On a lesser team, he would likely be in the top 10 in the league in targets, but playing for New Orleans he ranked 26th in that category. Despite the lack of targets, he has been productive when healthy, topping 1,000 yards three times in four years, only missing the mark in 2008 when he missed five games due to injury. He has also been a touchdown machine with 33 scores in only 57 career games. Colston’s solid, consistent production makes him a borderline WR1 in most leagues but leaves him with a lack of upside given the team’s other talented offensive skill-position players. It’s easy to like him, but hard to like him a lot due to his limited opportunities.

WR Robert Meachem
Meachem is coming off a solid year after struggling during his first two years in the league. The 2007 first-round pick proved to be a big play threat with 45 receptions for 722 yards and 9 touchdowns. He has all the tools and a major upside playing in the Saints offense but needs to be more consistent (eight games with five or fewer fantasy points last year) so that the coaches gain the confidence to make him a bigger part of the game. Entering his fourth season, maybe the light will stay on more frequently. He underwent surgery in May to repair torn cartilage on the second toe of his left foot, so that situation should be monitored, although he is expected to be ready for the start of training camp. Look for an increased role for Meachem at the expense of Devery Henderson.

WR Devery Henderson
With Henderson, what you see is what you get. He’s fast and he plays on one of the best passing offenses in the league, but he doesn’t go over the middle. Because of that, his fantasy upside is dependent on touchdowns, and he doesn’t score many of those. He had two scores last year and has eight over the last three years. In six years, his highest fantasy points per game is 8.0. With Robert Meachem an emerging threat and Lance Moore and Reggie Bush both healthy, there’s no reason for him to surpass those numbers in 2010, but plenty of reasons why he won’t.

TE Jeremy Shockey
Shockey put up solid production when he was healthy, finishing with 48 receptions for 569 yards and 3 touchdowns despite battling injuries (missing two games and playing hurt in a number of others). It was a nice bounce-back season for Shockey, who was a disappointment during his first year with the team in 2008. Even though Shockey played well, the Saints chose to use their third-round pick on Miami University tight end Jimmy Graham. In addition, the Saints have former Patriot David Thomas who played well last season in his first chance at extended playing time. With a $3.8 million salary, it wouldn’t be a complete surprise if the Saints decide that Shockey’s production can be replaced by Thomas and Graham. If he remains in New Orleans, he shapes up as no better than a fantasy backup.

TE David Thomas
Thomas showed surprising receiving ability last year in limited opportunities despite being a bust earlier in his career in New England. Thomas is a player that could be useful if given an opportunity. If the Saints were to save costs by chopping salary and going with Thomas and rookie James Graham, Thomas has the potential to be a useful fantasy option in 2010. On the flip side, if the Saints keep all three of their tight ends, Thomas’s playing time may decrease due to the presence of Graham and Shockey. The sword cuts both ways.

Player Outlooks – Carolina

By: — July 8, 2010 @ 9:38 am

The Panthers were one of the most disappointing teams in the league last season, finishing with an 8-8 record after capturing the NFC South title in 2008. Head coach John Fox is squarely on the hot seat, and general manager Marty Hurney joins him there courtesy of some questionable personnel moves.

Faced with salary cap issues after the 2008 season, Hurney made the disastrous decision to sign Jake Delhomme to a long-term contract extension that included $20 million in guarantees. After a miserable 2009 season, Delhomme was released.

After Hurney signed Delhomme, he used the team’s available salary cap space to place the franchise tag on defensive end Julius Peppers. When the Panthers were unable to work out a long-term contract with Peppers, they were hamstrung by the salary cap and unable to sign any free agents. This offseason, Peppers left the Panthers to sign with the Bears, robbing the team of their best defensive player.

This year, the team will go with the quarterback tandem of Matt Moore and rookie Jimmy Clausen, but the team’s offense will rise and fall on the play of running backs DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart. If the offensive line returns to its 2008 form, the Panthers have the potential to have the best rushing attack in the league.

However, with Steve Smith a year older and the team relying on 2007 second-round bust Dwayne Jarrett and three rookies to play opposite Smith, Moore or Clausen will be challenged to get the passing game going. That means the Panthers offense will depend on its ability to run the ball—and that tells you which Panthers you should focus on in your fantasy draft.

QB Matt Moore
Moore’s prospects got a lot less exciting due to the presence of rookie second-round pick Jimmy Clausen. Frankly speaking, Moore’s prospects weren’t that great to begin with. His role seems to be that of a caretaker quarterback in a run-based offense, and he was up to the task in 2009. In five starts, he passed for 990 yards and eight touchdowns with only one interception, averaging a healthy 16 fantasy points per game. However, that average was helped along by the eight touchdown passes, which projects to 26 on the season. You won’t find a forecast with that many touchdown passes for Moore in 2010. To sum it up, Moore’s value is that of a quarterback who plays low-risk football on a team that loves to run and has a single proven wide receiver who will miss part of training camp with a broken arm. Not to mention he’s likely keeping the seat warm for Clausen. You have better options.

QB Jimmy Clausen
While Clausen’s college production is undeniable and he has the measurables to succeed at the next level, the question of why he fell to the middle of the second round in the draft remains unanswered. The rest of the NFL may not have been sold on Clausen, but the Panthers obviously were, choosing to use their first pick in the draft (they didn’t have a selection in the first round) on him. With Matt Moore better suited to backup duty, look for Clausen to emerge as the Panthers starting quarterback sometime in 2010. He is a decent prospect in keeper leagues, but his future value is somewhat limited given the Panthers outstanding running back duo.

RB DeAngelo Williams
Injuries held Williams back in 2009, otherwise he would have been in the top 10 of fantasy running backs for the second year in a row. His production last year didn’t match his breakout season of 2008 when he finished with 1,639 total yards and 20 touchdowns, but that can hardly be blamed entirely on Williams. The Panthers suffered through poor quarterback play for much of 2009, and the offensive line, though still a solid unit, suffered a bit of a dropoff. For some reason, Williams fantasy status has taken a hit, perhaps more than it should have. He missed three games with an ankle injury last year after playing 16 games in 2007 and 2008. Although Williams has done nothing to lose his starting role, the consensus seems to be that standout backup Jonathan Stewart has a solid chance of supplanting Williams in 2010. Look for Williams to hold off Stewart and challenge for top 10 fantasy status again this year.

RB Jonathan Stewart
Stewart has proven to be a capable back over his first two years in the league and will challenge DeAngelo Williams for the Panthers starting job in 2010. Even if he doesn’t earn it, he will still receive significant touches, and the potential is there for the Panthers to have two 1000-yard backs again this year. Although Stewart hasn’t missed a game during his two years in the league, he has dealt with various injuries and has proven to be durable in the backup role. Consistency has been an issue, but it’s hard to blame that on a backup running back that can be subject to limited carries based on game situations. Williams owners will need to spend a pick in the fourth or fifth round to get Stewart. Draft him as a fantasy backup with huge upside should Williams suffer a season-ending injury.

WR Steve Smith
Smith salvaged his fantasy reputation with some nice games at the end of the 2009 season. In 2010, his production hinges on his ability to recover from the arm he broke playing flag football in June and on the play of quarterback Matt Moore or rookie Jimmy Clausen. No matter who is under center, the quarterback situation in Carolina adds to the risk of having Smith on your fantasy roster, as does the team’s lack of a proven threat playing opposite him. While Smith’s production declined in 2009, he is still a big play threat, as his 14.8 yards per catch average from last season proves. It’s also worth noting that Smith put up big numbers even with a very inconsistent Jake Delhomme. At this point in his career, Smith should be drafted as a WR2 with both risk and upside.

WR Dwayne Jarrett
Since being selected in the second round of the 2007 NFL draft, the former University of Southern California product has managed just 33 receptions for 388 yards and a touchdown. Jarrett’s speed was a concern coming out of college, and he has displayed little ability to gain separation at the NFL level. The Panthers have also not been happy that he refuses to use his big frame to shield defenders while making the catch. During the draft, the Panthers used third round picks on Brandon LaFell and converted quarterback Armanti Edwards, as well a sixth round pick on David Gettis. Both LaFell and Gettis are big receivers who have the size to replace Jarrett. The Panthers aren’t sold on Jarrett and you shouldn’t be either.

WR Brandon LaFell
Fantasy football is all about opportunity; and in Carolina, Steve Smith isn’t getting any younger and Dwayne Jarrett isn’t getting any better. While the Panthers haven’t historically been a great passing team, LaFell enters a situation where he can be expected to earn significant playing time. Look for him to supplant Jarrett in the starting lineup at some point during the season, if not by opening day. He possesses good size and enough speed to succeed at the position at the NFL level. Don’t expect big things from LaFell during his rookie season, but keep your eye on him on the waiver wire, and keep him up for consideration in keeper leagues.

TE Dante Rosario
Looks like Tarzan, plays like Jane. Although he has improved his production in each of his three years in the league, Rosario is a woefully inconsistent player who has failed to earn a significant role in a Panthers offense that has been devoid of a solid #2 receiver or quality tight end the entire time he has been with the team. He has the talent to be successful but should be considered a deep sleeper at best in 2010.

Player Outlooks – Atlanta Falcons

By: — July 7, 2010 @ 1:26 pm

Atlanta enters 2010 coming off back-to-back winning seasons for the first time in franchise history. It is no coincidence that the Falcons resurgence began the moment the team turned to general manager Thomas Dimitroff and head coach Mike Smith after the 2007 season.

In 2008, the team narrowly missed winning the NFC South crown, finishing 11-5, only to lose in the first round of the playoffs. Last year they overcame key injuries to quarterback Matt Ryan and running back Michael Turner to finish 9-7, although they failed to win a wild card spot.

Despite being without Ryan for two games and Turner for five, the Falcons managed 340.4 yards of offense per game with offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey calling the plays. Mularkey’s offenses have featured a power running attack and a healthy dose of trick plays.

With Ryan and Turner healthy and slot receiver Harry Douglas back after missing all of last season with a torn ACL, the Falcons offense figures to be more explosive in 2010.

Look for Turner to return to his 2008 form, when he rushed for 1,699 yards and 16 touchdowns. He has admitted that his conditioning left something to be desired last year and that he was well over his playing weight of 244 pounds.

Entering his third year in the league, Ryan may be ready to enter the elite category of NFL quarterbacks, but for fantasy purposes he is constrained by the Falcons reliance on the run. With excellent targets in wide receiver Roddy White and tight end Tony Gonzalez, Ryan has the ingredients for a breakout fantasy season, but he will need Mularkey’s cooperation in the play-calling department.

QB Matt Ryan
Ryan’s completion percentage fell to 58.3% in 2009, and although he threw 22 touchdowns, he failed to pass for over 3,000 yards, making him a mediocre fantasy play most of last season. He also suffered a nagging toe injury that seemed to hamper his abilities during the second half of the year. According to coaches, he’s running at full strength this offseason. The draft brought precious little to the Falcons passing game, meaning they will once again rely on Michael Jenkins at one starting position with Harry Douglas returning from injury to fulfill the slot receiver role. Adding a vertical threat in the draft would have enhanced Ryan’s fantasy prospects (fifth-round pick Kerry Meier is unlikely to fill that role), but we still expect a bounce-back fantasy performance for Ryan in 2010. Unfortunately, he remains a borderline fantasy starter.

RB Michael Turner
After a superb run in 2008, Turner fell back to earth in 2009. Poor conditioning and an ankle injury that forced him to miss five games and likely hampered his ability in three more were the often-cited reasons for his dropoff. He’s dropped fifteen pounds this offseason and expects to get out of the gate strong—something he failed to do in 2009. However, don’t expect the Falcons to stick the ball in his gut 376 times like they did two seasons ago. Reports out of Atlanta indicate that the Falcons plan to monitor his touches, and with quality backups in Jason Snelling and Jerious Norwood, expect that to happen. Nonetheless, don’t be shocked if Turner is a top ten fantasy runner in 2010. Knock him down a notch in PPR leagues given his utter lack of ability in the passing game (22 receptions in six years).

RB Jason Snelling
Snelling had a surprisingly productive season in 2009 due to injuries to Michael Turner and Jerious Norwood. He proved himself to be a solid inside runner with some ability to make tacklers miss at the second level, as evidenced by his 613 rushing yards, 4.3 yards per carry average, and 4 rushing touchdowns. He was also solid as a receiver, catching 30 passes for 259 yards. Snelling is no threat to unseat Michael Turner as the Falcons starter, but he does figure to get the lion’s share of the work if Turner is injured. He is clearly more of a feature back than Jerious Norwood and the player you want as Turner’s handcuff.

RB Jerious Norwood
Coming off a mildly disappointing 2008 campaign where he lost touches due to the arrival of Michael Turner, Norwood was expected to regain his form in 2009. A hip injury prevented that from happening, and Norwood enters 2010 having to fight with Jason Snelling for the scraps that Turner leaves behind. Falcons coaches have stated that they want to involve all three of the team’s running backs, and if that happens, Norwood figures to benefit given that he is the team’s best receiver out of the backfield. However, promises of additional touches have been made before to Norwood and he’s yet to top 140 in a season. With Snelling having earned a role in the Falcons backfield, Norwood is unlikely to hit a career-high in touches in 2010.

WR Roddy White
White has averaged 85 catches, 1,245 yards, and 8 touchdowns over the last three years, making him one of the more consistent fantasy wideouts in the biz. He managed 11 touchdowns a year ago, finishing sixth among fantasy wide receivers, and I see no reason for any decline in his numbers heading into 2010. The Falcons failed to upgrade the slot receiver position this offseason, but with one of the best pass-catching tight ends in the game causing the defense concern, White should continue to see his fair share of single coverage outside the numbers.

WR Michael Jenkins
After four largely unproductive seasons, Jenkins came to life in 2008, topping 700 receiving yards for the first time while averaging a healthy 15.5 yards per catch. He seemed ready to take another step up in 2009, but that failed to materialize even though the Falcons lost slot receiver Harry Douglas early in the season and were forced to rely on veterans Marty Booker and Brian Finneran as replacements. Rather than increase Jenkins’ targets, the coaches turned to tight end Tony Gonzalez. With Douglas back and the team three deep at the running back position, look for Jenkins’ role to be even more marginalized in 2010.

TE Tony Gonzalez
Gonzalez had an off year in 2009 after making the jump from Kansas City to Atlanta. And what exactly is an “off year” for Gonzalez? How about 83 catches, 867 yards and 6 touchdowns—good for fifth among all fantasy tight ends. Despite quarterback Matt Ryan’s toe injury during the second half of the season, Gonzalez turned out to be a focal point of the Falcons passing game and should continue to see plenty of targets this season. Look for similar or better numbers from Gonzalez in 2010 if Ryan and running back Michael Turner can remain out of the training room.

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