Speaking of fantasies, here is a clearly relevant picture of Marissa Miller.
I've listed a few offensive sleepers at each position that I think will break out this season. Each players' value heading into the season, I feel, are vastly underrated. At each position group, I've also included a Bonus Nugget, which is just a thought on each position group.
Have at it, community...tell me why I'm an idiot. We'll see once the season ends.
Matt Schaub, QB, Houston Texans
The Texans have been a sexy sleeper pick as a team for the past couple of seasons, and I think this is finally the season that the team delivers with a real push for the playoffs. Head of that committee will be the former Mike Vick back-up and third-year Texan quarterback. Injuries have limited Schaub to 22 of the team’s 32 regular-season games over that period, but he seems to be healthy headed into the season. Last year, he averaged 8.0 yards per catch and totaled over 3,600 yards, alongside of 27 scores. Andre Johnson is one of the top wideouts in the league, Owen Daniel is a more than capable tight end, and Steve Slaton is one of the next big things at running back in this league. The weapons are in place for Schuab to have a standout season, as soon as he stays healthy for an entire campaign.
Trent Edwards, QB, Buffalo Bills
I’ll be the first to admit it: Edwards is going to be a boom or a bust this year, probably right alongside of Buffalo’s record. Edwards is not a No. 1 fantasy quarterback but is a great value and has the potential to really burst onto the scene after a lackluster and quite-average start to his career. The third-year signal caller turns 26 this year and has the most weapons he has ever had in Western New York. He boasts one of the AFC’s most lethal combination of wideouts in controversial, but productive pariah, Terrell Owens and sixth-year speedster Lee Evans. Owens has scored more touchdowns than any other wideout over the past three years and Evans has shown the potential to develop into a star, but has been the Bills’ only outside threat for much of his career. Marshawn Lynch, Fred Jackson, and possible breakout rookie tight end Shawn Nelson also figure to be a part of Edwards’ quest to break Buffalo’s long playoff drought.
The Bonus Nugget: Top Five Quarterbacks for 2009
1. Drew Brees
Will continue his assault on passing marks. Has favorable non-conference slate again AFC East.
2. Peyton Manning
Marvin Harrison is gone but the field general still has plenty of talented options and will continue his piling up Hall of Fame credentials.
3. Tom Brady
I hate to say it, but one of the most successful quarterbacks in league history will bounce back from injury and probably lead one of the best teams in football. Having Randy Moss and Wes Welker doesn’t hurt.
4. Aaron Rodgers
The man that replaced the legendary Brett Favre produced some impressive statistics last year, although it resulted in only a 6-10 record. Expect his second year as starter to translate into more wins and even better stats than last year: 4,008 yards and 33 touchdowns.
5. Philip Rivers
Sorry, Kurt Warner. The NC State alum edges out the geezer with all the weapons every quarterback envies. Rivers’ backfield-mate LaDanian Tomlinson took this offseason criticism personally and wants to produce. Antonio Gates is still the best tight end in the game and Rivers also has fifth-year wideout Vincent Jackson, who very quietly put up 59 catches for 1,098 yards and seven scores in his second year as a full-time starter.
Ronnie Brown, RB, Miami Dolphins
Ronnie Brown is a legitimate No. 1 fantasy back that can be had far below his value due to last year. Although he was a key part of the Dolphins’ AFC East Championship, his individual numbers suffered early on last year, due to his 2007 ACL tear. That said, he still finished with 214 carries for 916 yards and 10 scores. He is entering a contract year, benefits from being the Wildcat quarterback, and should see more carries as Ricky Williams’ role continues to diminish. If Brown is around after the first few rounds, scoop him up, because if he can play all 16 games for the first time in his NFL career, he’ll be producing more like a No. 1 back than what he has shown in the past two years.
Darren McFadden, Raiders, RB
If the fourth pick of the 2008 draft beats out Justin Fargas and Michael Bush for the starting spot in Oakland, I expect big things out of the second-year back. After a disappointing stat line as a rookie (113 carries, 499 yards, 4 TD), McFadden was atrocious as a fantasy back. He should be helped by the Raiders’ more dangerous wide receiving core, the development of JaMarcus Russell and an offensive line that is making improvements. I’m not saying he can produce like Adrian Peterson, but he did score 43 touchdowns in three seasons at Arkansas and he must start producing to avoid the damaging ‘bust’ label.
Ray Rice, RB, Baltimore Ravens
Ray Rice did not disappoint as a rookie out of Rutgers last year, but he was the victim of Le’Ron McClain’s ascent and 900 yard rushing season. Willis McGahee going down is something that fans can set their clocks to, and the Ravens look comfortable with Rice as the main back-up, while McClain switches back to fullback. McClain might steal some red zone carries, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see Rice thrive in McGahee’s absence (whenever it happens) and make a push to keep the job when the former Miami star returns. Rice averaged 4.2 yards per carry last year and totaled 454 rushing yards while also hauling in 33 receptions for 273 yards (8.3 average). The second-year back has yet to score a touchdown in the NFL but has shown he can hang onto the rock, fumbling only once last year. He could provide to be a great late-round pick-up and valuable option to have during your regular starters’ bye weeks.
LeSean McCoy, RB, Philadelphia Eagles
It seems that every year, a rookie running back is billed as the next break-out performer and then doesn’t produce, but McCoy could really put up impressive numbers in Philadelphia. Star runner Brian Westbrook is approaching old age for an NFL back (30) and the diminutive back has taken a lot of punishment in his career as Philly’s only offensive weapon on most occasions. Westbrook’s total yardage slipped a little bit last year but he still had a stellar season. I’m sure the front office wants to see Westbrook continue to produce so look for McCoy to help shoulder some of the load. The 197-pound rookie out of Pittsburgh totaled 2,731 yards and 37 touchdowns on the ground in just two seasons with the Panthers. Expect McCoy to develop as a two-headed monster with Westbrook as a rookie who can be had for cheap and put up some numbers when his carries increase.
The Bonus Nugget: Stay away from Joseph Addai, Ernest Graham (or whoever wins the Tampa Bay job) and Marion Barber…or at least be realistic in your expectations.
Each of the aforementioned backs will produce to an extent, but I am fairly confident none will be a No. 1 fantasy back this year. Addai is far more than a depth player on most fantasy rosters now, though, with his recent lack of production and the Colts’ recent draft selections of Mike Hart and Donald Brown.
Graham should still be a viable No. 2 fantasy option at RB, but the loaded Tampa Bay backfield will hurt his fantasy numbers. Expect more than last year’s 563 yards and four touchdowns, but Derrick Ward and Cadillac Williams are getting paid to produce.
Meanwhile, Barber is still one of the top No. 2 backs in fantasy football, but a healthy Felix Jones is going to eat away more carries than you think, dropping Barber out of the top 15 backs in my mind. Due to a pulled hamstring and torn toe ligament, Jones only totaled 30 carries but he racked up an astounding 266 yards on the ground (8.9/carry). Even with Jones seeing only limited playing time, Marion the Barbarian totaled 885 rushing yards and nine total scores but I think that is about the top end of Barber’s production. Jones is always a home run threat and should improve on his 30 carries and three scores as a rookie. Georgia Tech standout Tashard Choice impressed at least me last year and I think he could turn into a real factor in the backfield, further taking away time from Barber.
Dwayne Bowe, WR, Kansas City Chiefs
I’ve been on the Dwayne Bowe bandwagon since the Chiefs drafted the LSU standout in 2007. As a rookie, he pulled in 70 receptions for 995 yards and five scores. Last year, he improved to 86 catches, 1,022 yards and seven touchdowns. This year, Bowe will be a top five receiver with Matt Cassel under center. The 6-2, 221-pounder will really benefit from the Chief’s new offensive gameplan under former Cardinals guru Todd Haley and the Chief’s absence of a real red zone threat, such as Tony Gonzalez. Bowe will be one of the top fantasy wide outs in the game this year, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him breakout as a top five wideout.
Ted Ginn, Jr., WR, Miami Dolphins
I was on the over-drafted Ohio State product last year and it didn’t pay off, but I think Ginn will really shine in his third season. Chad Pennington is underrated as a quarterback (although his arm cannot keep up with Ginn’s speed) and Chad Henne could develop into a really good NFL quarterback. Regardless, Ginn will be the No. 1 receiving threat in Miami. Ginn caught 56 balls for 790 yards (14.1 average) but only two scores. After scoring only twice in each of his first two seasons, Ginn should really see a spike in both yards and a huge increase in scores this year. The Dolphins were obviously high on him coming out of college and he should become a consistent WR that can be had late in most fantasy leagues. Ginn has yet to play all 16 games in either of his NFL seasons, as well.
Lee Evans, WR, Buffalo Bills
With the no huddle spawning again in Buffalo (maybe) and defenses having to worry about Terrell Owens, Lee Evans should come to the forefront of wide receivers this season and develop into a consistent No. 1 guy. After averaging eight touchdowns per year in his first three years, his scoring average has dipped to only four scores per season in the last two years. He did pull down 63 catches for 1,017 yards and should become a huge factor in an expanded passing offense for the Bills, especially during Marshawn Lynch’s three game suspension to open the season. T.O may take some of the red zone balls away from the 5' 10" Evans, but the burner is an exciting player, once the ball is in his hands and if Trent Edwards can stay as Buffalo’s unquestioned leader for the entire season, Evans should really blossom for his third career 1,000 yard season.
Lance Moore, WR, New Orleans Saints
Thanks to Marques Colston’s injury last season, Moore really thrived last year, while Colston was limited to six starts. Someone has to catch Drew Brees’ spirals and Moore stepped up as the Saint’s top receiver last year in Colston’s absence and expect both to produce, a la a poor man’s Larry Fitzgerald-Anquan Boldin tandem. Although Moore had offseason shoulder surgery, expect the former training camp tryout slot receiver to produce again like last year: 79 catches for 928 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Anthony Gonzalez, Indianapolis Colts
Now that the former Ohio State standout is entering his third NFL season, and Marvin Harrison is out of the picture, expect the sure-handed wide out to become Peyton Manning’s best second-option while Reggie Wayne learns to deal with the double team. Despite only 11 career starts, Gonzalez has totaled 1,240 yards and seven touchdowns in his career while averaging 13.2 yards as the Colts’ main slot man. Gonzalez went over 100 yards, receiving only once last year, but had six catches for 97 yards in the Colts’ opening postseason game, a loss to the Chargers. Expect Gonzalez to really develop into a 1,000 yard receiver after Harrison’s departure and Wayne facing the challenge of producing as the No. 1 man.
The Bonus Nuggets: Whoever emerges as Eli Manning’s favorite target between Domenik Hickson, Mario Manningham or Hakeem Nicks will be someone to keep an eye on.
Hixon led the Giants last year with 596 yards and added two scores and the 6' 2" fifth-year man out of Akron could become Eli’s favorite target. I like Hixon’s ability but I think Eli’s go-to man will either be second-year wide out Mario Manningham (who had only four catches for 26 yards as a rookie) or rookie Hakeem Nicks, the 29th overall pick this year. Steve Smith or Sinorce Moss could even develop as Eli’s favorite target, I think it’s a crap shoot to call the winner but someone will have to catch the second-highest paid quarterback’s spirals and will breakout this year. Which will be anybody’s guess, but I like Nicks really developing as a rookie and becoming a steady contributor.
Greg Olsen, TE, Chicago Bears
While it is hard to take the place of every year’s top four tight ends (Tony Gonzalez, Antonio Gates, Jason Witten and Dallas Clark), Olsen may be the one in the next tier that makes the elite group a fivesome. Nobody benefited more than Olsen when Jay Cutler arrived in Chicago, and the former Miami standout should be on the receiving end of many of the gun slinger’s bombs, perhaps emerging as the favorite. Olsen managed 54 receptions for 574 yards and five scores last year with a much-lesser quarterback and will need to really produce to vault ahead of the other similar tight ends like Chris Cooley of the Redskins, Owen Daniels of the Texans and Zach Miller of the Raiders. If someone is capable, though, it is Olsen, especially with Da Bears’ new signal caller.
Kevin Boss, TE, New York Giants
With Eli now possessing the second-highest paid arm in the NFL and Plaxico Burgess, the Giant’s main red zone threat over the past few seasons, now off the roster, Kevin Boss is the only proven red zone receiver on the Giants. Boss only hauled in 34 receptions for 384 yards last year, but was a scoring machine: finding pay dirt six times. Only Antonio Gates and Tony Gonzalez scored more than Boss and expect the 6' "6, 25 year old to really begin coming into his own during his third NFL season. In the playoffs, Boss only had three catches and Eli will have to find the large tight end more if he wants to prove the Giants made the right choice in paying him more than $15 million per year.
Zach Miller, TE, Oakland Raiders
Despite playing with JaMarcus Russell at quarterback last year, Miller put up 778 receiving yards and a 13.9 average yards per catch. Although he only scored once, Miller could really take the steps forward to become one of the NFL’s top tight ends in just his third year out of Arizona State. The 6' 5", 255 pound Miller has 100 receptions in his young NFL career and has really improved in his first two seasons. With a much better season expected in Oakland, the offense should finally start to produce with Russell and fellow highly-touted draftee Darren McFadden in the tool shed. Miller finished last year sixth in tight end receiving yards and eighth in receptions for his position, but could also be the one to break into the top five while he develops alongside his young offensive teammates.
The Bonus Nugget: Stay away from Tennessee’s crowded tight end crop. Bo Scaife is their No. 1 option who pulled in 58 balls for 561 yards and two scores last year. I’d expect his production to slightly dip in the Titan’s now crowded tight end group; the Titans front office must have felt the need to upgrade so I don’t see him getting a huge bulk of the playing time or significantly more focus than the others, unless he really heats up early. Scaife is still only 28, though, and still has a few years of productive seasons left in the gas tank.
Alge Crumpler and second-rounder Jared Cook are also both capable tight ends of helping any team in the NFL. Crumpler is the ninth-year, 6' 2", 262-pound monster that is still weird to not see in an Atlanta Falcons uniform. After seeing his production slip to 444 yards and fives scores in 2007, Crumpler came to Tennessee and grabbed a career-low 24 balls for 257 yards and one touchdown. Crumpler will continue to be a serviceable tight end, but his days as a fantasy producer are behind him and now he is just taking away points from Scaife owners.
As Crumpler's NFL career begins to fade, Cook is just starting his NFL career as a promising rookie out of South Carolina. Cook was an absolute steal in the third round and I’m sure he will impress until he passes Crumpler on the depth chart, at least in passing situations, which I expect to happen before the end of this year. Cook was said to have impressed in camp and is a 6’ 5", 246 pound monster with solid hands. Despite only 37 catches for 573 yards and three scores as a senior, he was named as the first-team SEC tight end. He is a freak athlete (4.37 40 yard dash) known to possess great hands and while he will be far from a worthy draft pick in this year’s fantasy draft, he is someone to keep an eye on for the future and, like Crumpler, will just cause headaches for Scaife fantasy owners this year. In the event of an injury or ineffectiveness, though, he is a worth a look on the waiver wire.