Fantasy Football Strategy, Advice, and Commentary
By: Mike Krueger — August 25, 2011 @ 1:08 am
Player Projections, Rankings & Cheatsheets
Change Log – 8/25
- Peyton Manning (-3) The signing of Collins doesn’t bode well for Manning’s Week 1 status.
- Tim Tebow (-6) may not even be the #2 QB when the season starts.
- Kerry Collins (#37) has little value unless Manning’s injury is long-term.
- Roy Williams (+2) has been handed a starting WR spot but isn’t making the most of the opportunity. He’s being out-played in camp by Knox.
- Mike Sims-Walker (+2) is running with the first team in St. Louis but this position still needs to shake itself out.
- Greg Olsen (+8) will likely be the team’s 2nd leading receiver.
By: Dave Stringer — August 23, 2011 @ 1:20 pm
The Cardinals expected the worst when rookie running back Ryan Williams went down in the team’s first preseason game and their fears were realized. The team’s 2nd round selection in this year’s draft suffered a ruptured patella tendon that will cause him to miss the 2011 season and he was placed on injured reserve.
Dissatisfied with the platoon of Tim Hightower and Beanie Wells, Arizona had traded up in the 2nd round to acquire Williams. The former Virginia Tech star had performed well enough in training camp that the Cardinals were comfortable enough with their running back depth chart to trade Hightower to the Redskins.
With Williams out, diminutive LaRod Stephens-Howling becomes the team’s top backup with a number of undrafted rookie free agents after him on the depth chart. That has to be a concern for Cardinals management given Wells well-documented injury history at Ohio State and last year in Arizona when he missed time due to torn meniscus in his knee.
A number of veteran free agent running backs remain unsigned and it seems likely that the Cardinals will look to replenish their running back depth chart at some point during the preseason.
Beanie: The lead man.
Wells becomes the lead man in Arizona with an outside chance of becoming one of the few workhorse backs in the league. There is little proven talent behind him and of the veteran running backs currently available in the free agent market, none are likely to come to Arizona and steal his job.
That means Beanie is likely in line for a significant workload (approaching the 300-carry mark) in 2011 provided he can stay healthy – something that’s been difficult for him to do.
He came to the NFL with the injury prone label and appeared to shake that off in his rookie season by playing in all 16 games. However, he missed three games last season and most of another contest with some reports indicating the team felt he was taking too long to get back in the line-up.
So what can we expect from Wells? A breakout season is unlikely given it is quarterback Kevin Kolb’s first year as an NFL starter as well as his first year in Arizona and the state of the team’s offensive line.
A more realistic scenario would Wells emerging as a solid RB2 but his injury history wouldn’t make this a comfortable proposition for his fantasy owners either. Consider Wells a great option as one of the first RB3’s off your draft board.
As for LaRod Stephens-Howling, he clearly gets the biggest uptick in fantasy value going from being undraftable to the top backup behind an injury prone player. That scenario plays out if the Cardinals don’t add a veteran running back.
If a draft were being held today, Stephens-Howling would be worth a late round pick given the likelihood of the Cardinals acquiring another player to challenge him. Whoever is Wells’ backup figures to get a decent amount of work considering how head coach Ken Whisenhunt has rotated the team’s running backs over the past few seasons.
By: Dave Stringer — @ 12:48 pm
QB Kevin Kolb
Entering 2010, the future looked bright for Kolb after the Eagles jettisoned Donovan McNabb in order to make room for Kolb in the starting lineup. The decision to go with Kolb was based largely on his production in a pair of 2009 starts, where he threw for 718 yards, four touchdowns, and three interceptions. That production, along with a solid supporting cast in terms of skill position players and the offensive line, made Kolb a darling for fantasy pundits, many of whom were expecting him to have a breakout season. The hype lasted two quarters into the season before Kolb went down to injury, losing his starting position to Michael Vick in the process. With his trade to the Cardinals in the offseason, Kolb gets another chance to start, albeit not with the same weapons that exist in Philadelphia. Kolb was schooled in the West Coast offense and is an accurate passer on short patterns, but he hasn’t shown the same accuracy on deep passes. With no proven starting wide receiver opposite Larry Fitzgerald and with an aging Todd Heap at tight end, expecting Kolb to be a consistent fantasy producer is a stretch. He’s a QB2 for 2011.
RB Beanie Wells
Wells has been a big disappointment for the Cardinals since they took him in the first round of the 2009 draft, but he figures to get a chance at redemption in 2011 simply because there’s nobody left to share the load with him. After using a second-round pick on Ryan Williams, the Cardinals shipped Tim Hightower to the Redskins, only to watch Williams suffer a season-ending knee injury in the preseason. That leaves Wells as the team’s starter by default, with only LaRod Stephens-Howling around to steal touches. While Wells gets a great opportunity to solidify a starting spot this season, there is little evidence to suggest that he’s capable of being productive over a full 16 games. And that’s why you can expect the Cardinals to bring in a veteran runner as insurance. Although Wells has only missed three games in two years, he has been banged up on a consistent basis, averaging 4.1 yards per carry for his career while showing little as a receiver. Even with Hightower and Williams out of the picture, Wells rates as no better than an RB3 in 2011.
RB LaRod Stephens-Howling
Stephens-Howling was expected to be an afterthought in the Cardinals rushing attack when training camp started, but he is now suddenly the team’s top backup to Beanie Wells. With the Cardinals’ decision to trade Tim Hightower to the Redskins and with Ryan Williams’ season-ending knee injury, Stephens-Howling figures to get plenty of use as a third-down and chance-of-pace back. However, at just 5’9” and 180 pounds, he lacks the necessary size to handle the lead-back role, and it remains to be seen whether the Cardinals will bring in a veteran back to help Wells share the load. But as of now, Stephens-Howling shapes up as a sleeper pick for 2011. He is worth grabbing in all leagues.
WR Larry Fitzgerald
With a new eight-year, $120-million contract, Fitzgerald enters 2011 as the league’s highest paid wide receiver and, based on his production in 2010, he’s worth every penny. With Kurt Warner having retired and his expected replacement, Matt Leinart, released in the preseason, Fitzgerald was left to catch passes from the erratic Derek Anderson and a pair of rookies. No matter, as Fitzgerald still managed to haul in 90 passes for 1,137 and six touchdowns. While that was a far cry from his production with Warner at the controls, there is hope with Kevin Kolb at quarterback that Fitzgerald can return to the double-digit touchdown production he had in four of the five years prior to 2010. Kolb isn’t an elite deep passer, but Fitzgerald’s leaping ability, sure hands, and skill at adjusting in the air to badly thrown balls will help make up for that. He shapes up as a solid WR1 in 2011 with an outside chance of finishing the season as a top-five fantasy wideout.
WR Andre Roberts
With Steve Breaston having left for the Chiefs via free agency, the Cardinals go from having one of the top groups of wide receivers in the league in 2009 to a depth chart full of question marks behind Larry Fitzgerald. The front-runner to fill the gaping hole opposite Fitzgerald is Roberts, a 2010 third-round pick who didn’t even play major college ball. He did play reasonably well as a rookie, however, catching 24 passes for 307 yards and a pair of touchdowns, but his playing time was as much to do with injuries to other players as it was with his own performance. Roberts has better-than-average speed and decent size but his route running needs work, and he caught just 49 percent of his targets a year ago. Expecting him to step up to the 800-yard mark isn’t realistic considering how raw he was coming out of college. Look for Roberts to split time opposite Fitzgerald. He is not worth owning other than in dynasty leagues.
WR Early Doucet
Doucet has disappointed in the desert since being taken in the third round of the 2008 draft. He is a physical player with decent size at 6’0” and 212 pounds, but he has been a tease, not yet able to put together a solid season. Injuries have been the main problem, with Doucet dressing for just 26 out of a possible 48 regular-season games and never playing in more than ten in any one season. A hip injury slowed him down last year as he caught just 26 of 59 targets for 291 yards and a touchdown. He will battle with Andre Roberts and possibly Stephen Williams for a starting spot, but Doucet needs to take a big step up in production in order to be a worthy of a roster spot on your fantasy team.
WR Stephen Williams
Williams was the darling of the Cardinals’ training camp in 2010, having a great preseason and earning a roster spot as an undrafted free agent. He followed that up with a dud of a regular season, with the 6’5”, 208-pound Williams catching only nine of 21 targets for 101 yards and no touchdowns. The Cardinals like Williams, but the Toledo grad is likely a year away from being a serious contender for significant playing time. Consider him waiver wire material, but keep your eye on him to see if his playing time increases around the midseason mark.
TE Todd Heap
In what qualified as one of the first major shocks of the preseason, the Ravens unexpectedly axed both Heap and wide receiver Derrick Mason, tossing both players into the free agent pool. Despite reports indicating that the Ravens were interested in re-signing Heap at a reduced price, he signed on with Arizona and will open the season as their starter in 2011. He looked good at times in 2010, displaying some big-play potential while averaging a career-high 15.0 yards per catch. Unfortunately, he missed most of one game and all of three others when he was injured in Week 13 against Pittsburgh, bringing back the injury concerns that plagued him earlier in his career. To be fair, he has played 16 games in four of the past six seasons, so the injury issue isn’t as big as it is made out to be. In Arizona, Heap enters a great situation, playing for a quarterback in Kevin Kolb that loves to throw to the tight end and for a team that doesn’t possess a clear-cut No. 2 wide receiver. Consider Heap an upper-tier fantasy backup for the coming season.
TE Robert Housler
If you’re looking for a tight end prospect for your dynasty league, Housler just might be your man. At 6’5” and 248 pounds, the rookie out of Florida Atlantic possesses solid size and was the fastest tight end at the combine, running the 40 in 4.55 seconds. While Todd Heap was signed to start for Arizona this year, he will be 32 by the beginning of the 2012 season and is entering his tenth year in the league, having missed most of two seasons with significant injuries. The Cardinals have committed long-term to quarterback Kevin Kolb, who likes to dump it off to tight ends, making Housler an intriguing fantasy prospect.
By: Dave Stringer — August 22, 2011 @ 8:45 am
QB Alex Smith
Smith gets yet another lease on his NFL career with new head coach Jim Harbaugh now leading the 49ers. Not wanting to trust the offense to a rookie and not willing to risk acquiring a high-profile veteran, Harbaugh saw the tape of Smith and decided that he could work with him. Reminds me of all those people who think they can turn around a struggling business. What are you adding to the mix? Why are you so smart? Jim, how are you going to make Alex what he has yet to be—a solid NFL quarterback? Smith’s strength is his ability to move in the pocket and extend plays, but that doesn’t mean much because his accuracy isn’t very good, particularly on deep passes. Look for him to hold off rookie second-round pick Colin Kaepernick in the battle to be the opening-day starter, but there’s no guarantee Smith will hold onto the job for the entire year. He’s a low-end fantasy backup, at best.
QB Colin Kaepernick
The 49ers used a 2011 second-round pick on Kaepernick, making him their quarterback of the future. Or maybe that’s quarterback of 2011. While Kaepernick is a bit raw, he has good arm strength and athleticism, and incumbent starter Alex Smith has done little during his six years in the league to prove that he is an NFL starter. Not so encouraging, however, was the team’s decision to sign veteran retread Josh McCown in mid-August. Kaepernick may emerge as bye-week filler by midseason, but he is not worth drafting in redraft leagues. Although he does make for a decent prospect in dynasty leagues.
RB Frank Gore
Gore is coming off an injury-marred 2010 season in which he saw action in just ten games because of a hip injury in Week 12 that put him on injured reserve. Prior to the injury, he was well on his way to another solid season, with 853 rushing yards, 452 receiving yards, and five touchdowns in eleven games. Looking at the sad state of San Francisco’s offense, that should be considered good production. Gore remains the focal point of the San Francisco offense—equally effective at running the ball and as a receiver. He remains a workhorse back as he enters his seventh year in the league, averaging 21.4 touches, 113.7 yards, and 0.6 touchdowns per game since taking over as the team’s starting running back in 2006. That’s consistency. While Gore hasn’t played a full 16-game slate since 2006, he generally only misses a game or two per season. That’s not a bad trade-off to have such a highly consistent, workhorse back in your fantasy lineup.
RB Anthony Dixon
The 49ers’ sixth-round pick in the 2010 draft, Dixon was pressed into action as a rookie when Frank Gore suffered a hip injury in Week 12. Splitting time with Brian Westbrook, Dixon largely disappointed, as his lack of speed and his inability to make tacklers miss were apparent. Over his final six games, Dixon had 219 rushing yards and one touchdown on 60 carries, averaging just 3.7 yards per carry. He also doesn’t bring much to the table in the passing game, averaging one reception per game over that stretch. Dixon will need to beat out rookie fourth-round pick Kendall Hunter to remain the team’s top backup; furthermore, and Gore rarely comes off the field. Even though Gore generally misses a game or two each season, there’s no need to handcuff him with Dixon unless Dixon beats out Hunter. Even then, it might not be worth it.
RB Kendall Hunter
Having watched Anthony Dixon struggle in trying to replace Frank Gore last season, the team used a fourth-round pick on Hunter. While Dixon is a big back who lacks speed, Hunter is the polar opposite, a smaller player defenders don’t want to face in the open field. At 5’7” and 199 pounds, there are some doubts as to whether Hunter could handle a lead role in the NFL, concerns backed up by his injury issues in college. However, he clearly has more upside than Dixon, and that makes him worth grabbing as Gore’s handcuff if he wins the backup job.
WR Braylon Edwards
After his 2007 breakout season in Cleveland in which he caught 80 passes for 1,289 yards and 16 touchdowns, Edwards struggled mightily over the next two seasons, catching just 90 passes for 1,557 yards and seven touchdowns. Despite his inconsistent hands, he had a bit of renaissance season in 2010, becoming a big-play threat for the Jets while making 53 receptions for 904 yards and seven touchdowns. With the free-agent market for his services drying up, Edwards signed a one-year deal with the 49ers in the hope of having a big season and cashing out as a free agent in 2012. The issue for Edwards in San Francisco is that starting quarterback Alex Smith has never proven capable of connecting with his wide receivers on deep patterns. His preferred option on those plays is tight end Vernon Davis, and that is not expected to change in 2011. Edwards’ upside in 2011 is similar to what he produced in 2010, making him a WR3. The more likely scenario, however, is that Edwards sees a reduction in his big plays and touchdowns. Grab him as a low-end WR3 if you have to, but get more comfortable with using him off your bench as a bye-week fill-in or an injury replacement.
WR Michael Crabtree
Crabtree enters his third year in the league coming off a disappointing 2010 season. He never seemed to get on the same page with quarterback Alex Smith, finishing the year with 55 receptions for 741 yards and six touchdowns and catching just 54.5 percent of his targets. And how is that going to get better with Crabtree expected to miss most, if not all, of the preseason with a foot injury? Also not helping Crabtree’s fantasy appeal is Smith’s reliance on tight end Vernon Davis, the team’s addition of Braylon Edwards, and the play of Ted Ginn in training camp (okay, we’ve heard that story before). Keep your expectations realistic. Crabtree is clearly a talented player, but he remains an enigma, and you have to wonder if the light will ever go on for him. He is almost certainly going to be drafted before he should be, but if he does get pushed to the late rounds of your draft, he is worth grabbing as a WR5.
WR Josh Morgan
Over his past two years in the 49ers’ starting lineup, Morgan has been a serviceable performer but nothing more. Despite Michael Crabtree struggling and the 49ers often playing from behind, Morgan had just 80 targets, catching 44 of those for 698 yards and a pair of touchdowns. With Braylon Edwards joining the team, there is a solid chance that Morgan will lose his starting job when (or if) Michael Crabtree returns to health. Even if Crabtree remains injured, it’s hard to project Morgan outperforming his 2010 production, which translated into just 5.1 fantasy points per game. While new head coach Jim Harbaugh may see something in Morgan that his predecessors didn’t, that seems unlikely. Morgan is a WR5 at best in 2011.
WR Ted Ginn Jr.
Reports out of San Francisco indicate that Ginn was lighting it up in training camp. Kind of how he lit it up at Ohio State and impressed NFL scouts at the 2007 rookie combine? Was he lighting it up against the team’s starting cornerbacks or the 90th man on the roster? Or maybe it was the water boy? Do I sound skeptical? Read this: 12 receptions for 163 yards and a touchdown in 2010. Enough said.
TE Vernon Davis
Outside of Frank Gore, there’s only one 49er worth having on your fantasy roster, and that is Davis. While he wasn’t nearly as dynamic last year as he was in 2009—when he caught 78 passes for 956 yards and 13 touchdowns—Davis still finished 2010 as the third-ranked fantasy tight end, chalking up 56 receptions for 914 yards and seven touchdowns. There is a good chance he improves on those numbers in 2011 with new head coach Jim Harbaugh bringing his version of the West Coast offense to San Francisco. Look for Harbaugh to feature Davis, using him on more short and intermediate patterns than he’s seen in previous years. Davis also remains the league’s premier tight end on deep passes. If only the 49ers could get some more consistent play from the quarterback position! Davis ranks in the top tier at tight end and could emerge as the top-ranked at his position if quarterback Alex Smith can turn in a career year in 2011.
By: Dave Stringer — August 21, 2011 @ 9:25 am
QB Tarvaris Jackson
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. If you’re looking for a reason why the Seahawks signed Jackson and gave him the keys to the team’s offense, that’s the only reason I can give you. If you’re looking for a quarterback who can scramble and make people miss, Jackson isn’t a bad option. If you’re looking for one who can make plays with his arm, you can surely do better. In a nutshell, Jackson has done nothing to prove that he’s capable of being an NFL starting quarterback, but that’s what he will be in Seattle in 2011.
QB Charlie Whitehurst
NFL personnel don’t like to admit to their mistakes, especially after just one year, but Whitehurst appears to have been a big front-office mistake. Despite long-time starter Matt Hasselbeck having left town for Tennessee and the Seahawks having swapped second-round picks and given up a third-round pick to acquire Whitehurst, they have no intention of handing over control of the team’s offense to him. And you should have no intention of wasting roster space on a player who has shown no natural instinct for the game whatsoever.
RB Marshawn Lynch
With the Bills having given up on him, Lynch got a new lease on his NFL career when Buffalo shipped him off to Seattle early in 2010. Since his arrival in the Pacific Northwest, Lynch has averaged a solid 8.9 fantasy points per game on 573 rushing yards, 138 receiving yards, and six touchdowns over 12 games. The numbers are a bit deceiving, however, and his performance can best be described as mediocre, as he has averaged just 3.5 yards per carry as a Seahawk. In addition, of his 107 fantasy points in Seattle, 28 came in one game over the lowly Panthers. The case could be made that Lynch will resurrect his career with the Seahawks given his young age (just 25) and that his struggles last year had more to do with the team’s offensive line than his own talent. But I’m not buying it. He’s a RB3 heading into 2011, and just as likely to bust as he is to break out.
RB Justin Forsett
Given the state of the team’s rushing attack, the Seahawks have had ample reasons to give Forsett a chance to take over as the starter, but it hasn’t happened. Last year, it took them just four games to realize that he wasn’t the answer, and the odds are that Seattle views him as nothing more than a third-down, change-of-pace back. He averaged a respectable 7.9 points per game in 2009, but that dropped to just 5.6 last season, as he finished with just 772 total yards and a pair of touchdowns. On the plus side, current starter Marshawn Lynch remains an enigma, so Forsett has a decent chance to start a handful of games in 2011. He is best served as a flex option in deep leagues and is worth using a low-end draft pick on in redraft leagues.
RB Leon Washington
After Seattle acquired Washington prior to the 2010 season, the assumption was that he would take over as the primary returner and get worked into the offense by midseason as he recovered from a gruesome leg injury. Although he performed well as a returner, Washington never got much of a chance in the team’s base offense, getting just 36 touches for the year. And there’s little chance of that changing in 2011.
WR Sidney Rice
In 2009, Rice flashed the potential the Vikings felt he had when they used a second-round pick in 2007 to draft him. Unfortunately, Rice suffered a hip injury that caused him to miss the majority of 2010, and he never really seemed to get on track once he returned to the lineup. In six games, he caught just 17 passes for 280 yards and a pair of touchdowns. To be fair, Brett Favre only saw meaningful action for Rice’s first two games, so part of his lack of productivity was due to the team’s quarterback issues. It’s all about risk, however, and the bottom line is that he has been productive for only one season out of four. Consider him a WR3 with upside until he solidifies his role in Seattle.
WR Mike Williams
All it took was six years, but Mike Williams finally arrived last season, catching 65 passes for 751 yards and two touchdowns in 14 games with Seattle. The tenth pick in the 2005 draft, Williams was out of the league for the 2008 and 2009 seasons and was given little to no chance to earn a roster spot with the Seahawks during the 2010 preseason. He surprised, however, and ended up spending most of the year as the team’s No. 1 wide receiver. That won’t be the case in 2011. With Williams lacking the speed to get deep and being more of a possession receiver, the Seahawks signed unrestricted free agent Sidney Rice to fill the lead receiver role. While that’s not a death knell for Williams’ fantasy value, it does mean his upside is likely what he produced in 2010. It also doesn’t help that Matt Hasselbeck has been replaced by the erratic Tarvaris Jackson, and that the team wants to develop some of their younger receivers. Don’t expect this comeback story to have another great chapter in 2011.
WR Golden Tate
The Seahawks’ 2010 second-round pick dropped into a great situation in Seattle last season, with the expectation that he would assume a big role in an offense severely lacking talent at wide receiver. There was an offseason incident prior to training camp that caused some to doubt his maturity, but he was considered perhaps the most NFL-ready rookie wideout, given his pedigree at Notre Dame. After a rookie season in which he caught just 21 passes for 227 yards and failed to find the end zone, Tate’s situation entering 2011 isn’t looking quite so rosy. Look for him to enter the season as the team’s slot receiver, which is hardly a ticket to success given the state of the offense. He figures to take a step forward in 2011, but he’s not worthy of a spot on your roster.
WR Ben Obomanu
Obomanu proved last year that he could be a decent player when given an opportunity, catching 19 passes for 371 yards and a pair of touchdowns—all career highs for him—over a six-game stretch in the starting lineup. His reward was the team signing Sidney Rice and relegating Obomanu to fourth on the depth chart, given that he is not suited to play out of the slot. That means he has no fantasy value unless injuries strike Rice or Mike Williams.
WR Kris Durham
The Seahawks like big receivers, further evidenced by their choosing Durham in the fourth round of this year’s draft. Unfortunately for Durham, the team already has three proven wide receivers with solid size ahead of him on the depth chart. His draft status means he will make the team, but he’s not likely to dress on game day unless he earns a spot on special teams or beats out Ben Obomanu. He’s for dynasty leaguers only.
TE Zach Miller
You have to feel for Zach Miller. One of the most underrated players in the NFL—not just at tight end, but of all players—he spent the first five years of his career suffering from substandard quarterback play in Oakland. Then as a free agent he signs with Seattle, a team that likely has the worst quarterback situation in the league, with no proven starter and no young quarterback with a strong pedigree waiting to take over. Of course, he chose to sign with Seattle, so maybe he’s a glutton for punishment. At least in Oakland, Darren McFadden helped take some heat off the team’s receivers by forcing opponents to play eight men in the box. That’s not the case in Seattle. And to make matters worse, John Carlson is arguably the finest backup tight end in the league, deserving of a decent amount of playing time. Miller goes from a lower-tier fantasy starter in Oakland to a low-end fantasy backup in Seattle.
TE John Carlson
You have to love Seattle’s management team. They don’t have a quarterback but they spend big money on Zach Miller to give them two starting tight ends. Of course, Carlson didn’t help matters by having the worst year of his three-year career in 2010, and his numbers have now dropped in two straight seasons (from 627 receiving yards as a rookie, to 574, to 318 last year). Look for the Seahawks to utilize more double-tight-end sets to get Carlson on the field, but the bottom line is that his fantasy value is nil unless he is traded to another team.
By: Dave Stringer — August 20, 2011 @ 3:22 pm
QB Sam Bradford
The first overall pick in 2010 proved last season that he is the real deal, leading the Rams to within a game of the playoffs. Bradford displayed veteran poise throughout his rookie season and appears to have the Rams ready to make a run at the playoffs in 2011. Missing the team’s top two wide receivers in Mark Clayton and Donnie Avery and having marginal talent at tight end, Bradford spread the ball around, throwing for 3,210 yards with 18 touchdowns and 15 interceptions, making him the 19th-ranked fantasy quarterback. Look for more this coming season. He had a solid six-game stretch at midseason, throwing for 1,307 yards with 11 touchdowns and only a single interception. However, he fell off over the final five games, a stretch where he passed for 1,046 yards with six interceptions and only one touchdown as defenses began to focus on shutting down slot receiver Danny Amendola. With new offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels running the show, look for improvement in Bradford this coming season. However, the team failed to address its needs for a true No. 1 wide receiver, and while there is talent at tight end, it is largely unproven. Bradford enters 2011 as a mid-tier fantasy backup with upside, and he is a great option in dynasty leagues.
RB Steven Jackson
What to make of Steven Jackson… On the one hand, he’s only 27 years old and is a true workhorse back in a league full of timeshares; he rarely comes off the field, gets the goal line work, and can catch the ball. That’s why it’s no surprise he’s had at least 1,273 total yards every year since taking over as the team’s starter at the beginning of the 2005 season. On the other hand, he’s been used heavily (averaging 25.1 touches per game over the last five years), is coming off a career worst 3.8 ypc season, and has trouble finding the end zone. In fact, since scoring 16 touchdowns during his career year in 2006, Jackson hasn’t scored double-digit touchdowns in any one season, averaging just six scores per season over his last four years. By adding Cadillac Williams and Jerious Norwood to the fold, the Rams have given SJax his best backups since, well, Marshall Faulk. While Jackson has earned a reputation as a player who often gets hurt, the bottom line is that he has missed just ten games over the last six years and has a willingness to play through pain. He enters 2011 as a reliable, low-end RB1 with some upside if he can start finding the end zone again. With the Rams on the upswing, that just might happen.
After years of having a black hole behind Steven Jackson, the Rams may have finally found a decent backup in former Buccaneer Cadillac Williams. Williams was relegated to a backup role in 2010 after losing his job at midseason to LeGarrette Blount. His prospects for playing time were actually better in Tampa Bay than in St. Louis, however, given Blount’s poor blocking and receiving ability—areas in which Jackson has proven capable. At this point in his career, Williams is clearly a backup, but one who has played reasonably well in most games since his resurgence in 2009. However, he has not been able to produce against the league’s top defenses. He shapes up as a worthy handcuff on your fantasy roster.
RB Jerious Norwood
Norwood comes to the Rams after a pair of injury-plagued seasons in Atlanta. He suffered a torn ACL in Week 2 last year and has missed 20 games over the last two seasons. Prior to that, he enjoyed a career year in 2008, rushing for 489 yards, gaining 338 receiving yards, and scoring six touchdowns. At that point, Norwood looked like a player who just might emerge as a solid time-share back, but the Falcons signed Michael Turner and Norwood couldn’t stay healthy. Norwood will fight with Cadillac Williams for the few scraps Steven Jackson leaves behind, but his main role will be on third downs. He’s only worth grabbing if SJax or Williams gets injured.
WR Danny Amendola
After the 2010 rookie draft, the Rams boasted about how they got a steal in selecting slot receiver Mardy Gilyard with the first pick in the fourth round. Turns out that was a wasted pick since they got a steal when they plucked Amendola off the Eagles practice squad two years ago. Amendola’s willingness (bordering on reckless) to go over the middle and ability to convert third downs helped him develop into Sam Bradford’s go-to receiver. Bradford targeted him 123 times, with Amendola catching 85 passes for 689 yards and three touchdowns. The nifty 69.1 completion percentage pretty much ensures Amendola doesn’t have to worry about Gilyard. Clearly Amendola is a better option in PPR leagues, where he ranks as a lower-tier WR2 or upper-tier WR3. In non-PPR leagues, consider him a WR3. New offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels helped make Wes Welker a star in New England, and the same might just happen with Amendola in St. Louis.
WR Mike Sims-Walker
Conventional wisdom is that the Rams are desperate for a No. 1 wide receiver and Sims-Walker is the player most likely to fulfill that role, given his size-speed combination and his accomplishments in Jacksonville. The only hiccup with that theory is his production in 2010, where he caught just 43 receptions for 562 yards and seven touchdowns. That’s not No. 1 wide receiver production to most folks. More likely, the Rams will spread the ball around among several wide receivers because, while they don’t have a true No. 1, they have several that are NFL caliber. Sims-Walker is worth taking on as a WR4 or WR5, but he’s not a player you want to rely on in your starting lineup until he proves otherwise.
WR Danario Alexander
While Mike Sims-Walker is getting all the pub as the Rams receiver most likely to replicate Brandon Lloyd’s breakout season in Denver with Josh McDaniels running the offense, Alexander has far more potential if he can stay healthy. However, the odds of that happening cannot be considered good. Alexander is a solid 6’5”, but he went undrafted due to his numerous knee injuries. Although he joined the Rams near the end of preseason last year, he quickly picked up the offense and had three double-digit fantasy point games despite playing in just eight contests. Unfortunately, he was in and out of the lineup with those same knee problems. Alexander has the potential to be one of the top receivers in the league if his knees would just hold up. He’s worth a late-round flier in larger leagues.
WR Donnie Avery
The Rams made Avery the first wide receiver taken in the 2008 draft, using the first pick in the second round to acquire him. With DeSean Jackson still on the board at that point, let’s just say St. Louis may regret that one. In three years, Avery has proven injury-prone and inconsistent, missing all of last season with a knee injury. He’s a burner but his route running doesn’t seem to have improved much since he entered the league. While the Rams are stacked at wide receiver with no clear-cut No. 1, Avery’s size and poor route running don’t bode well for his becoming quarterback Sam Bradford’s go-to guy in 2011. He’s far more likely to be used as a deep threat. See what Avery does in the preseason before wasting a roster spot on him.
WR Brandon Gibson
What’s a guy have to do to get some respect? After being plucked off the Eagles practice roster in 2009, Gibson stepped into the lineup and caught 34 passes for 348 yards and a touchdown in ten games, including three starts. Last season, he was the Rams’ most consistent outside threat with 53 receptions for 620 yards and two touchdowns. Unfortunately, the Rams weren’t impressed, bringing in Mike Sims-Walker and drafting two wide receivers in the middle rounds of the draft.
WR Mardy Gilyard
Gilyard was considered a steal when the Rams used the first pick in the fourth round of the 2010 draft to acquire him. A few picks later the Bucs grabbed Mike Williams. You don’t need a degree in rocket science to figure out who got the real steal. With a plethora of wide receivers worthy of roster spots and Danny Amendola having cemented his position as the team’s slot receiver, Gilyard has no chance of making the Rams roster. He’s trade bait for the Rams and not worthy of a roster spot in your dynasty league.
TE Michael Hoomanawanui
The Rams’ 2010 fifth-round pick had an up-and-down rookie season. He performed well in training camp and appeared to be on the verge of claiming the starting position by midseason, only to suffer a high ankle sprain to his left ankle on opening day. He returned in Week 6 and had 12 receptions for 138 yards and three touchdowns over the next six games before suffering a right high ankle sprain. Hoomanawanui will battle rookie second-round pick Lance Hendricks for playing time but has the edge to open the season as the team’s starter given his superior blocking ability. Monitor the situation and consider Hoomanawanui a low-tier backup with upside, provided he beats out Kendricks.
The Rams haven’t gotten much out of their tight ends in recent years, and new offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels’ system calls for a tight end with the ability to get downfield. Hence, the selection of Hendricks in the second round of this year’s draft. More receiver than blocker, Hendricks will likely spend his rookie season playing mostly on passing downs, but he could be a solid fantasy backup if he can win the starting position, which just might happen considering his play in training camp. If it doesn’t happen, he isn’t worth owning in redraft formats but is still a decent option in dynasty leagues.
By: Dave Stringer — August 19, 2011 @ 12:20 pm
QB Philip Rivers
How do you know when a quarterback has made it to the elite level? There are many ways to measure that, but I consider a quarterback elite when he can still produce while key receivers are out of the lineup. That’s what Rivers did last season. Despite having the league’s top tight end Antonio Gates for only ten games, his top wide receiver Vincent Jackson for just five games, and Malcom Floyd for 11 games, Rivers enjoyed a career year throwing to the likes of Legedu Naanee, Buster Davis, Seyi Ajirotutu, and Patrick Crayton. He topped 4,000 yards and 28 touchdowns for the third consecutive season, throwing for 4,710 yards, 30 touchdowns and only 13 interceptions. Imagine what’s in store if the he can get full seasons out of Jackson, Floyd, and Gates. With running back Ryan Mathews showing up out of shape, there certainly isn’t much worry of the Chargers running it more in 2011. All signs are pointing up for Rivers heading into 2011, and that’s saying something considering that he has finished as the fourth-, ninth-, and fifth-ranked fantasy quarterback over the past three seasons. He’s definitely in the top tier of fantasy quarterbacks.
RB Ryan Mathews
After the Chargers moved up in the first round of the 2010 draft to acquire him, it looked as though Mathews had stumbled into an excellent situation for a rookie running back. With LaDainian Tomlinson having been released and with no evident replacement on the roster, Mathews had a clear path to a starting spot on one of the league’s most high-powered offenses. He looked like fantasy gold. But that was then. His rookie season was subpar, marred by a recurring ankle injury and bad luck. In the 12 games Mathews played, he often lost time to Mike Tolbert or Darren Sproles based on game situations. Of course, had he earned more playing time, he would have had more touches. Rookie running backs often struggle, however, so more was expected from Mathews in 2011. Unfortunately, he showed up at training camp out of shape and promptly suffered a toe injury. Even if he does return to full health, Tolbert is all but certain to get the team’s short-yardage and closer work, so that limits Mathews’ upside. In addition, the team added Jordan Todman in the sixth round of the draft in hopes that he could replace the departed Darren Sproles as a pass-receiving threat. On the plus side, Mathews was solid during the final four games of 2010, averaging 16.2 fantasy points per game on 296 rushing yards, 53 receiving yards, and five touchdowns. The guy is talented. The question is whether he can put it together. He is a lower tier RB2 with upside in 2011.
RB Mike Tolbert
Hands up if you saw Tolbert as an RB2 heading into 2010. Yeah, didn’t think so. With rookie hotshot Ryan Mathews expected to replace LaDainian Tomlinson in the starting lineup and with Darren Sproles in line to reprise his role as the team’s third-down back, Tolbert was basically an afterthought—and that’s being polite. No matter, as the 243-pound bowling ball rolled past both Mathews and Sproles on the depth chart in Week 2 and earned more rushing attempts than both players over the course of the season. He was a touchdown machine with 11 scores on his 207 touches to go along with his 735 rushing yards and 216 receiving yards. With the team having invested so heavily in Mathews, he is expected to get first crack at the starting spot in 2011, but make no mistake that the Chargers will quickly turn to Tolbert if Mathews struggles once again. At worst, Tolbert shapes up as the team’s short-yardage back and fourth-quarter closer, likely spelling Mathews every third series or so. That makes him a great flex option for the coming season, and one who just might steal away a starting spot on one of the league’s top offenses.
RB Jordan Todman
With Darren Sproles approaching free agency, the Chargers used a sixth-round pick to acquire a similar player in Todman. Smart move. Sproles bolted from the Chargers, as expected, for the Saints. That leaves Todman with a clear path to a roster spot. What he doesn’t have is a clear path to enough playing time to make him a solid fantasy option in 2011. He’s not worth owning in redraft leagues but is worth taking a flier on in dynasty formats that employ a flex position.
WR Vincent Jackson
After a wasted 2010 season in which a holdout, suspension, and injuries caused him to miss 11 games, Jackson is back in San Diego as the Chargers’ franchise player. That means he should be good for 16 games, barring injury, and there’s a decent chance that Jackson emerges as an upper-tier WR1 in 2011. When both players are healthy, the Chargers offense runs through Jackson and tight end Antonio Gates, who are quarterback Philip Rivers’ preferred options in the passing game. Jackson has been a touchdown machine for the Chargers with 19 scores in his last 36 games, and the team is expecting him to become a more consistent threat in 2011. The fantasy knock on Jackson has been that he doesn’t catch a lot of balls, reaching a career-high of 68 in 2009. Look for that to change this year as he attempts to earn himself the lucrative long-term contract he’s been after for the past few seasons. Add it all up and a breakout season might just be in the cards, with Jackson establishing himself as one of the top receivers in the league.
WR Malcom Floyd
Throughout Vincent Jackson’s 2010 holdout, Floyd was consistently mentioned as a potential breakout candidate. However, a midseason hamstring injury prevented that from happening. With Jackson back and Antonio Gates at full health, Floyd will probably be the third wheel in the team’s passing game in 2011. He is at his best as a deep option, given his size and above-average speed. He has compiled a healthy 18.0 yards per reception over the past three years, but his career-high reception total is just 45, and he has only found the end zone 11 times since 2008. Given Gates’ injury history and Jackson’s DUI history, Floyd could emerge as the go-to guy in the Chargers passing attack. Even if that doesn’t happen, he is definitely worth grabbing in the middle rounds of your redraft leagues.
WR Vincent Brown
On the one hand, Chargers general manager A.J. Smith has a stellar reputation for finding NFL-caliber talent. On the other, it’s awfully hard to get excited about a smallish third-round pick who will line up in the slot and doesn’t possess good speed. Brown is not built to play outside, he’s not fast enough to be dynamic in the slot, and the Chargers aren’t going to give him many targets as long as Antonio Gates and Vincent Jackson are healthy. Brown is a fringe prospect in dynasty leagues, and one who will not be on any of my rosters.
WR Patrick Crayton
Sure, he plays for the Chargers and he’s got the upper hand on rookie Vincent Brown to be the team’s slot receiver, but Crayton has never topped 7.4 points per game (his average from way back in 2007). And if Vincent Jackson or Malcom Floyd go down, it’s unlikely the Chargers would move Crayton outside. No fantasy value here, folks.
TE Antonio Gates
Every year, we read about three or four tight ends that supposedly have the talent to reach the level of production that Gates achieves. And yet, every year the tight end rankings have Gates alone at the top in his own tier. There’s a reason for that. He’s unstoppable. He either beats defenders deep with his speed or he beats them on short and intermediate routes with his quick cuts and by shielding them from the ball. Oh yeah, his quarterback is one of the best in the league, as is the Chargers offense. Last year, Gates was the second-highest-scoring tight end, averaging 13.8 points per game, despite playing in just ten games. The highest-scoring was Jason Witten, who averaged 9.6 points per game. That makes Gates worth paying for. He is apparently healthy now and it’s worth noting that, although he is regularly banged up, he missed just three games over the first seven years of his career prior to 2010.
By: Mike Krueger — August 18, 2011 @ 11:13 am
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Player Projections, Rankings & Cheatsheets
Change Log – 8/18
- Matt Ryan (+2) Perhaps a little more passing than running for the Falcons in 2011.
- Michael Turner (-4) Perhaps a little more passing than running for the Falcons in 2011.
- Jahvid Best (+1) just some housecleaning. I prefer Best’s upside over Fred Jackson’s.
- LeGarrette Blount (+1) just some housecleaning. I prefer Blount’s upside over Fred Jackson’s.
- Roddy White (+2) moves up a couple spots within Tier 1. The Falcons are giving the impression their days of pounding the rock with Michael Turner are fading away.
- Donald Jones (+36) is expected to land a starting spot in Buffalo opposite Steve Johnson.
- Brandon Gibson (+7) is running with the first team in St. Louis but this position still needs to shake itself out.
- Denarius Moore (+29) has been the best receiver in Oakland’s camp to date.
- Lance Kendricks (+2) is turning heads in camp. He’s close to landing the starting TE job as a rookie.
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