QB Josh Freeman
The fantasy world seems to be banking on Matt Ryan as the next stud quarterback, but the smart money is riding on the Buccaneers’ Josh Freeman. While Ryan’s Falcons may have better overall talent at the skill positions, Freeman’s Bucs use a more pass-based offense and Freeman is a far more capable rusher. He made huge strides in his second season in the league, throwing for nearly 3,500 yards with 25 touchdowns and just six interceptions. In addition, he finished second to Michael Vick in rushing yards for quarterbacks with 364, but he inexplicably failed to find the end zone. Expect even more improvement in 2011, and if you’re still not convinced of Freeman’s fantasy potential, consider that he has stayed healthy (25 consecutive starts) and is a remarkably consistent fantasy producer for such a young player (only one sub-14-point game in 2010). Don’t be late to the Freeman parade. This guy’s going to be value on draft day—bank on it.
RB LeGarrette Blount
Undrafted and then cast aside by the Tennessee Titans, Blount signed with Tampa Bay and became a revelation at running back partway through the 2010 season. He started out as Cadillac Williams’ backup, ascended to the starter’s role, and made teams regret passing on him as he gained 977 rushing yards and scored five touchdowns over the final 11 games of the season. Blount’s checkered past scared teams away from drafting him, but he displayed excellent athleticism for a 250-pound runner, as he had a number of highlight reel runs. He is getting a lot of love in the fantasy world, but there are some red flags. His maturity level is one of them, as is the fact that many running backs with fresh legs look good over the latter part of a season. In addition, he contributes almost nothing to the passing game, leaving the field in those situations. Despite earning significant playing time, he caught just five passes last season. There’s a lot to like about Blount, but he’s not a player you want to reach for—and certainly not a good option in PPR leagues.
RB Kregg Lumpkin
With the departure of Cadillac Williams to the Rams, there is a significant void at the backup running back spot behind LeGarrette Blount. Even though Lumpkin has done little during his time in Green Bay and Tampa Bay, the Bucs like his hard-running, one-cut style. When your lead back has the checkered history that Blount has and your team is on the verge of making a playoff run, a proven backup is generally in order, and unfortunately Lumpkin doesn’t fit the bill. He might be Blount’s backup at the moment, but that moment doesn’t seem to be a lasting one.
RB Earnest Graham
While Graham is campaigning to be LeGarrette Blount’s backup and has been productive in the past when given a steady dose of playing time, the Bucs seem to have cast him in the lead fullback/emergency backup role. Look no further than the miniscule 64 touches they have given him over the past two years combined. If your league drafts early and you’re looking to grab Blount’s handcuff, don’t bank on Graham’s nabbing that role.
WR Mike Williams
Williams overcame the baggage he accumulated in college to have an outstanding rookie season in Tampa. He dropped to the fourth round of last year’s rookie draft as teams cast a wary eye on his problems at Syracuse. The Bucs took a chance on him, however, and he was easily the most productive rookie receiver in 2010. Williams quickly ascended to the top wide receiver role in Tampa, catching 65 passes for 964 yards and 11 touchdowns. That production was good enough to finish as the 11th-ranked fantasy wide receiver. Williams may have his skeptics, but he figures to remain highly productive if he can stay out of trouble. He has solid size at 6’1” and 220 pounds to go along with good hands, excellent speed, and the ability to adjust in the air for the ball. Throw in the fact that he’s the top wideout on an up-and-coming Bucs offense, and Williams makes for an outstanding prospect in dynasty leagues. While another 11-touchdown season may not be in the cards, he figures to top 1,000 yards and ranks as a mid-tier WR2 with upside in 2011.
WR Arrelious Benn
Benn enters this year coming off a disappointing rookie season that was cut short when he suffered a torn ACL in Week 16. The Bucs’ second-round pick last season struggled for most of the year as he watched fellow rookie Mike Williams emerge as the team’s No. 1 wide receiver. Reports indicate that Benn’s rehabilitation is ahead of schedule and that he is the favorite to start opposite Williams. While that bodes for well for his fantasy prospects, the bottom line is that most players struggle in the year following an ACL injury, particularly when the injury occurs late in the season. In addition, he is now clearly a distant fourth in the team’s pecking order in terms of getting touches, behind Williams, tight end Kellen Winslow, and running back LeGarrette Blount. Benn makes for a decent dynasty prospect but is waiver wire material in redraft leagues.
WR Sammie Stroughter
Stroughter played reasonably well as a rookie in 2009, only to watch the Bucs use their 2010 second- and fourth-round picks on wide receivers Arrelious Benn and Mike Williams. That should have told us all we need to know about Stroughter. If your team doesn’t think you’re good enough, your fantasy prospects can’t be all that great. He won a spot in the starting lineup last season as Benn struggled out of the gate, but he just as quickly lost it. Stroughter is destined to be a slot receiver, he’s been injured at the conclusion of each of his years in the league, he’s not likely to get many looks, and there’s no reason to have him on your fantasy roster.
TE Kellen Winslow
On the plus side, Winslow has stayed healthy for the past two years, playing 16 games each season. While he is a productive tight end when healthy, the odds of him fulfilling his immense potential after seven seasons in the league are remote. He enters 2011 coming off a solid yet unspectacular 2010 campaign where he caught 66 passes for 730 yards and five touchdowns. Winslow’s fantasy prospects are brighter since he’ll be playing in an improved Tampa Bay offense, but he remains a bit of an enigma in the red zone despite his size and athleticism, as he’s failed to top five touchdown passes in any season. With a plethora of mid-tier tight ends available, there is definitely no reason to reach for Winslow.