Is it ever too early to think about the fantasy football season? Considering we aren’t even guaranteed a season at this point, I would say maybe. Nonetheless, we will look ahead to the 2011 fantasy football season in this week’s installment of the Sports Cannon Fantasy Focus.
The 2010 NFL regular season brought some new names to the fantasy forefront, while some long-tenured fantasy all-stars fell to the wayside. As we look forward to the upcoming season, we are faced with a plethora of storylines that will dominate our offseason. Here is TheSportsCannon.com’s Way Too Early to Tell Fantasy Storylines.
The New Standard
There was once a time in fantasy football when a solid group of running backs guaranteed a fantasy football championship, but NFL teams are spreading the field and running back-by-committees are the new standard. Quarterback play will continue to increase, and the role of a fantasy quarterback will only do the same. In a world where Matt Schaub and Matt Cassel are stronger fantasy players than Chris Johnson, you have to start thinking QB sooner than later.
Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers: The Green Bay quarterback has averaged over 300 fantasy points over the last two years, and his outstanding performance in the postseason shows Rodgers is only getting stronger. Many people don’t realize it, but only Michael Vick can rival Rodgers' ability to pick up points via the run as well. Rodgers seems poised to be at the top of the quarterback list for years to come.
Philip Rivers, San Diego Chargers: I’m not crazy enough to say that Rivers is the new Peyton Manning, but we're all thinking it. So Rivers can’t win games, who cares? I don’t get points for that anyway. But if he can put up over 3,700 yards and 30 touchdowns with only Antonio Gates for the majority of the season, Rivers can be on my squad every year. The AFC West is working its way back from an "AFC Worst" mantra that followed them for years, but that won’t affect Rivers’ future as an elite quarterback. Every year Rivers gets more confident, and that is very dangerous.
Arian Foster, Houston Texans: Despite being the breakout star of the 2010 season, Foster will actually face the danger of sharing more carries in 2011. The Texans invested a high draft choice in Ben Tate and once he has fully rehabbed and is back to game weight, Tate will be given a chance to compete.
Don’t take this as me being down on Foster, however. Sharing carries didn’t seem to hurt Jamaal Charles' fantasy stock this past season and Foster is a pretty darn good running back. The chips will be stacked against Foster, as he is no longer a mystery to opposing defenses also. I would be very surprised to see a repeat performance from Foster in 2011, but I would be even more shocked if Foster had anything less than a very good season.
Hakeem Nicks, New York Giants : Nicks ended the season as one of the top wide receivers in fantasy football, putting up many of his points in chunks. Nicks had three multi-touchdown games and was even more dangerous in PPR leagues. Had Nicks stayed healthy the entire season, he would have surely ended in the top five or even three, but football is a dangerous sport.
The Giants, on paper, looked to have a very strong receiving corps, but only Nicks was able to put up consistent numbers throughout the season. Opposing defenses will know how dangerous Nicks is in 2011, but a favorable schedule against pass defenses could propel Nicks back to the apex of fantasy rankings. Nicks might not get the respect he deserves in drafts this year, so he could be very good value.
Michael Vick, Philadelphia Eagles: Vick was by far the most electric player in football, and not for the play we have become most accustomed to. Vick actually proved to be a strong passer in his first season as the starter in Philadelphia. Being the highest scoring quarterback in fantasy usually comes to a guy who doesn’t throw an interception until Week 12, but he seemed to come apart in his final five games.
In that span, Vick threw all six of his interceptions, while still scoring highly in fantasy. Nothing needs to be said about Vick's ability to tuck the ball and run, but I would be wary to go after Vick early this year. Consider me pessimistic, but I want a little more proof from a guy who has played only 13 games in the past three years.
Peyton Hillis, Cleveland Browns: Peyton Hillis put the stamp on Josh McDaniels' miserable attempt at a head coaching career. The Browns had the deal of a century when they acquired Peyton Hillis from the Broncos in exchange for Brady Quinn. Hillis didn’t challenge the rushing record by a long run (1,177 rushing yards), but he did provide 11 touchdowns on the ground and an additional two as a receiver.
His ability to catch the ball out of the backfield is really what helped to propel him to the top of the leaderboard. Considering the lack of receiving threats in Cleveland and a young quarterback at the helm, Hillis was the fifth-most targeted running back in football.
The Browns will want to see Montario Hardesty run the ball next year, and Colt McCoy will have another year under his belt. Combine those with the fact Hillis has a terrible schedule against the run, and you could be looking at a serious letdown.
Josh Freeman, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Overnight, the NFC South appears to have taken the reigns as the division with the best quarterbacks, with the exception of Carolina that is. Freeman was actually a better option than the NFC South champion quarterback, Matt Ryan, and he did it with an incredibly young receiving corps. The key to Freeman’s 2010 was his decision making. Freeman threw only six interceptions, none coming in the final four games of the season. Freeman has serious potential, as he and his young group of receivers build on their rapport.
Jamaal Charles, Kansas City Chiefs: Despite sharing carries with touchdown vulture Thomas Jones, Charles was one of fantasy football’s best weapons. Charles broke 16 carries only four times this season, yet ended with nearly 1,500 yards rushing.
The Chiefs had the easiest schedule against the run in 2010, and they will still have a favorable schedule in 2011 with the 10th easiest schedule. Jones’ role in the offense won’t expand, and it will be hard for the Chiefs to ignore Charles' superb rushing average (6.4 yards). Charles will make a case for best running back in football in 2011, write that down.
Sam Bradford, St. Louis Rams: The young Oklahoma product will try to avoid the “sophomore slump” with Josh McDaniels coaching him through 2011. Despite playing with a new group of receivers just about every game, Bradford ended the season in the middle of the pack, which is pretty darn good considering what he had around him in St. Louis. Bradford, at best, is a very solid backup next year, but it will take strong wide receiver play to propel him to the next level. I like Bradford’s chances if the Rams can find a real playmaker either via the draft or free agency.
Mike Wallace, Pittsburgh Steelers: I will be honest in saying I was not as high on Wallace pre-2010. Not that I had any doubts about Wallace’s abilities, but I was skeptical of his situation. Trying to fill the shoes of Santonio Holmes in your second season is tough enough, but to start the season with only Hines Ward as a compliment at the wide receiver position made it even tougher.
Wallace couldn’t be touched if given time to get down the field, and the heady play of some young rookies helped make that a more common occurrence. Having Big Ben at the helm for a full 16-game season (Please, let there be one) can only help Wallace.
Randy Moss, Tennessee Titans/New England Patriots/ Dancing with the Stars: Wherever Moss ends up, it doesn’t look good for his 2011 projection. Despite being 34 years old, Moss can still challenge even the likes of Darrelle Revis (with varying results), and he will no doubt get a chance with some team. Moss will likely go the T.O. route and sign a short contract with whoever gives him the chance, and who knows to what success.
T.O. had a pretty solid campaign in Cincinnati, but Moss’ work ethic has been in question, while T.O.’s seemed to be stronger than usual. I think we’ve seen the end of the Randy Moss era and I advise all to jump ship.
Jay Cutler, Chicago Bears: Caleb Hanie is the fan favorite in Chicago right now, but that won’t mean much come the start of the season. Cutler is obviously talented, but seems to lack a winning attitude. The Bears will be good enough to compete again in 2011, and Cutler is a few steps ahead of Rex Grossman, so the Bears will keep him going all season as they work towards the postseason, so Cutler will get the chances.
Cutler didn’t seem to improve under Mike Martz’ offense and the Bears still lack a receiving threat. Cutler isn’t the same quarterback he was in his best years as the starter for the Broncos, and he won’t ever live up to the hype those seasons gave him.
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