The 2008 NFL season was supposed to be the official death of the running back position. Wide receivers and quarterbacks were taking over the game, re-shaping the way owners draft, strategize, and in the simplest form, play fantasy football.
If there was a sign that this would not be the case, it came seven minutes into the second round of games on the first Sunday of the season. Tom Brady dropped back in Gillette Stadium, threw a ball up, took a hit, and went down.
On the other end of the play, Randy Moss caught the ball, just his third reception of the season, and fumbled it away. Back at the line of scrimmage, Tom Brady lay on the ground, writhing in the pain of a knee injury that would end his season.
The leaders of the revolution shot down any thoughts of a new era with one play, showing but a glimpse of the season that was to come.
Seventeen weeks later, three pass catchers sat among the top 15 fantasy players at the running back and wide receiver position. A year ago, there were eight.
Not one wide receiver scored top five RB/WR fantasy points. While 2007's top overall position player, Moss, broke records, 2008's leader of the pack at wideout, Larry Fitzgerald, averaged 4.7 points per game less than the top tailback, DeAngelo Williams.
There was nothing French or American about it—and certainly no one saw anything Glorious.
But what now? Are pass catchers just biding their time? That remains to be seen.
However, whether it be for a Napoleonic take over or simply another Off-Broadway production ala '08, the following will be the headliners.
He had over 100 more receiving yards than any other wide receiver in the National Football League. He led the NFL in receptions. Only one player was targeted more times.
That's production I can believe in. Houston is a rising offense, with a rising running game, more than adequate supporting receivers, and a quarterback who, could he stay healthy all year, may be one of the best in the AFC.
Andre Johnson was dominant this year, even with Matt Schaub missing five games, and I have no doubts that he will be again.
He is one of maybe a handful, more probably a pinch, of WR's who even deserve to be in the conversation of the first round.
Let us first get this out of the way: Kurt Warner will be back as a Cardinal next season. For proof, look no further than Arizona's current playoff run, a literally miraculous streak that was extended by a major upset over the Carolina Panthers just this past Saturday.
Warner is the leader. He steers the wheel. He powers Ken Whisenhunt's team to wins.
Which bodes more well to Larry Fitzgerald than anyone can possibly imagine. As long as a stud like Warner is throwing the ball, Fitzgerald will keep catching passes at an elite pace.
He is a physical beast who brings down leaping grab after leaping grab and touchdown after touchdown. And studly fantasy season after studly fantasy season.
At the time of publish, just hours after Carolina's loss to Arizona in the second round of the playoffs, people are already calling for Jake Delhomme's head. When there is that kind of reaction to a seemingly washed up 34 year old owed $5.325 million in 2009, it's not likely he'll be back.
So, with a new pass thrower most likely in the Panthers future, Steve Smith stands to gain a ton of value. He already was the fourth best wide receiver in 2008, despite missing the first two games due to suspension and having Delhomme in all his 3288, 15, and 12 glory behind center.
What he could do at this point in his career with someone adequate like Matt Cassel or Donovan McNabb throwing the passes is almost unimaginable.
Hey people, Randy Moss still doesn't have a Super Bowl ring. And he's still 6'4", 210, and a monster. If there's any player in football that I would be more scared to face next season, it's Moss. He'll be playing hungry and with a chip on his shoulder after the 2008 11-5, playoff-less Patriots season.
Matt Cassel, Tom Brady, it won't matter. Brady is obviously the better case scenario, but both know that you can only go so far on dump passes to Wes Welker. Moss remains the biggest red-zone threat on the team at any position and Bill Belichick remains not stupid.
Look for a huge bounce back year in 2009 after a meager 69 catch campaign in 2008. And yes, do hope that Brady rehabs quickly. They're both solid, but Cassel is Cassel and Brady is Brady.
I have said it before and I will say it again. A rookie quarterback has nowhere to go but up. The thing that makes Atlanta QB Matt Ryan so special is that his "up" is higher than anyone in recent history.
As he rises, so will his go to guy, Roddy White. The 27 year old was fourth in the league in receiving yards in 2008 and with an increasing reliance on the passing game only likely as Ryan continues to develop, that stat will, like a lot of things in Atlanta, only go up.
The only possible way that a wide receiver catching balls from Dan Orlovsky and a 93 year old Daunte Culpepper could be the second highest scoring fantasy wideout is that said wideout is one of the most physically gifted players to touch a football field.
Calvin Johnson is one of the most physically gifted players to touch a football field. Regardless of who is added by the Lions in the offseason at the quarterback position, and regardless of who is hired as head coach, Johnson will be a beast.
I have two pieces of evidence to back up this claim. 6'5'' and 4.35.
Watch his offseason situation to see how things change around him, but really, all you need to know are those two little key notes.
I know what I saw.
In the Ed Hochuli-tarnished Week Two matchup between the San Diego Chargers and the Denver Broncos, I know that i saw my Bolts team get crushed by an elite NFL wide receiver.
Don't remember anything other than the botched call? Before the infamous final minutes, Marshall was putting together an 18-catch game. 18. Read that. It was one of the most dominant wide receiver performances I have ever seen.
It's unbelievable that Marshall only finished the season with six touchdown catches, unfathomable that, despite having 13 more targets than any other wide receiver, six other players had more receiving yards. This is what they like to call a fluke.
I do have some idea though that Denver will not look the same way next year. A lot of things depend on the coaching staff brought on, but I can confidently say that the Broncos will not lose 3942817 running backs to injury again.
The young guns, Cutler and Marshall, will lead their offense and they will continue to develop into stars.
When Marshall puts up near top-five numbers in '09, it won't be a fluke.
If he can still healthy, if he can stay healthy, if he can stay healthy...
Man I'm tired of saying it, but it must be said. If Anquan Boldin can stay healthy, he's one of the best wide receivers in the NFL. But geez, Anquan, just do it! Stay healthy!
Boldin has only played in every regular season game once in the past five years, only twice in his entire career. With Warner likely to be back and Fitzgerald on the other side of the field, there's no denying that if Boldlin is there, he has all the making of a marquee fantasy pass catcher. He averaged over a catch more per game this season than Fitzgerald did.
The reward part of the high risk-high reward is as high as anyone in the NFL, but man that pesky little risk part...
In a mediocre season by his standards, Peyton Manning threw just 27 touchdowns and a wee bit over 4,000 yards. Wayne suffered, falling out of the top 10 at his position.
The last time Manning had a second straight year with less than 30 scores was 2003. Undoubtedly, the reigning MVP will "bounce back" in 2009, eager to avenge the early playoff exit to the Chargers.
The uber-consistent Wayne will benefit the most. With new motivation and hopefully a somewhat new looking running game, Wayne will again be one of the elite wide receivers in the game next season.
The fact that Marques Colston has dealt with injuries in two of his first three NFL seasons make me a bit afraid. However, the 12 points per game that the second-half King averaged after he returned from his '08 injury and the near record breaking quarterback throwing the balls in Colston's offense make me a bit giddy.
Obviously, Brees will recess, but in a full year with his two greatest receiving weapons, Colston and Reggie Bush, back healthy, there is no limit as to what the New Orleans Saints offense, along with Colston, can do in 2009.
I would expect him to be a little bit undervalued in drafts, but he's a guy who has No. 1 overall potential. Ya.
Before I pimp myself, let me address some of the things I'm sure will be raged about in the comment section.
I don't buy Greg Jennings or Antonio Bryant. I love Philip Rivers, his future, and the Chargers, but I can't like Vincent Jackson's 59 catches. And I do not want to touch Terrell Owens. I don't want to touch Terrell Owens's neighbors. I don't want to touch anything TO; I'm not real into drama.
Now, if you haven't seen 'em, here are some other dumb, preliminary top 10's at other positions:
More rankings are coming soon.
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