Since the NFL lockout ended and my hometown Cincinnati Bengals neglected to react to it, I now turn my attention to the only thing that will distract me from having to watch poor Andy Dalton learn the West Coast offense on the fly: fantasy football.
Last season was my first as a fantasy owner, and although I made it to the championship round, I got hosed by a girl in my league who had Dwayne Bowe, Roddy White and Michael Vick (via the waiver wire). Being my first year of fantasy, I put a lot of stock into rankings and expert (see: Matthew Berry, ESPN) opinions to carry my draft and subsequent lineup. I went blind on the waiver wire where I picked up a few key pieces to take me to the finals (thank you, Peyton Hillis and Malcom Floyd), but most of my draft picks turned out to be busts.
Whether in the truest sense of the word or because of high expectations that went unmet, here are five busts I drafted in 2010 that I believe will be fantasy boons in 2011.
I swung—and resoundingly missed—on Marion Barber in the ninth round of my draft last year. He just never got going (along with the Cowboys' pitiful offense under Wade Phillips). As a result, I waiver-wired Barber in favor of the poor man's Wes Welker, Danny Woodhead.
I didn't like Barber's situation with Dallas in 2010, but I definitely like his chances with Chicago in 2011.
Although the Bears' offensive line is suspect, Barber is in a very good position to be a centerpiece of this Chicago offense with some interesting backfield company.
Chester Taylor has never been a pass-catching running back (advantage Barber on the depth chart), and Matt Forte has been looking for a reliever. Barber is a short-yardage, goal-line back, which bodes well for his fantasy value.
If you can manage to get Forte, Barber would be the perfect handcuff scenario. Especially if you're in a PPR league, Forte will do the field-length work, and Barber can punch it in. I'm not crazy about handcuffs, but if you were to get one, this would be it.
Jay Cutler's arm is somewhat unreliable, and he just broke off his engagement with Kristin Cavallari, so I'm sure he's got a lot on his mind (such as, "I wonder what LC is doing right now?"). Plus, the Bears are going to run the ball when the mercury drops in the Windy City.
Trust me, you want Barber.
Ray Rice was my inaugural pick as a fantasy owner, so he holds a somewhat special place in the sports section of my heart. I was in a PPR league last year, so I thought Rice would be perfect to anchor my running game, especially with his pass-catching ability.
Ray-Ray wasn't a bust in the truest sense of the word, but I was expecting more out of him. I just felt he never lived up to his billing and hype.
2011 could be a different story though, as the post-lockout landscape in Baltimore looks favorable for Rice's fantasy value.
The Ravens dumped Willis McGahee and picked up Ricky Williams, who at age 34 should be filing for social security soon. Baltimore also went out and signed the best bodyguard fullback in Donta Leach. Can you imagine the running lanes Rice will get with the 255-pound Leach blocking in front of him?
On the passing side of the offense, the post-lockout frenzy again plays in Rice's fantasy value favor.
In ridding themselves of Derrick Mason and T.J. Houshmanzadeh, Anquan Boldin is now the leading receiver with...Torrey Smith as his No. 2?
This is probably the worst year to be an NFL rookie. Because of the lockout, first-year players especially haven't had access to coaches, playbooks, OTA's, etc.
Side Note: With this in mind, is it really a coincidence Mike Brown decided to rebuild the Bengals THIS year of all years? I'm skeptical.
Joe Flacco is going to rely heavily on Boldin, and expect Rice to get a few more checkdown screens than usual, especially if Smith has trouble learning the offense right away.
With all of these factors in play, Rice may finally live up to his 2010 hype a year late.
Like Rice, Vernon Davis was not a true bust in 2010 but rather another product of underwhelming results.
Between injuries and Mike Singletary's Smith complex (Alex or Troy?), Davis fell short of expectations in the tight end department.
Again, the lockout comes into play here.
Braylon Edwards is now Alex Smith's veteran wideout—and he's been with the team for a little more than a week. It's going to take Edwards a while to adjust, especially in a West Coast offense, so who is Smith going to look to?
Antonio Gates is the best tight end in the league, but Davis will not disappoint this year.
Let me clarify: DO NOT blow an early pick on this man.
Pierre Garcon was extremely underwhelming in 2010—as his former fantasy owner, my impatience reached an all-time high when I benched him during his lone breakout week (Week 14), but played him the previous underachieving 13.
However, the lockout's effects greatly increase Garcon's chances of having a potential breakout fantasy year.
With so many receivers shuffled around the league, those already established in their respective offensives will have the upper hand. This will be Garcon's fourth year with Indianapolis, and he has perhaps the best QB in the league throwing to him. The Colts also upgraded their offensive line this offseason to get Peyton Manning more time and protection, so expect his receivers to reap those benefits as well.
This may be a stretch, but I think Garcon's experience will give him a leg up on most other No. 2 receiving options in the draft. It's a gamble, but I have a good feeling about this one.
Is there any greater mismatch of personalities than Esteban teamed up with the always-deadpan Bill Belichick?
I feel like Chad's first day of Patriots practice was probably similar to Will Smith's first day at Bel-Air Academy in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air (If you're too young to know this show, turn on TBS sometime).
If Chad is willing to take this seriously (most former Bengals do when they join winning teams—looking at you, Corey Dillon), this could possibly be the biggest fantasy value turnaround of the players in this slideshow.
I drafted Chad last year, and he spent most of the season on my fantasy bench. The low point in my ownership came when he pointed out via his Facebook page that he had more commercials than touchdowns in 2010.
The Ultimate Catch has now taken his talents to Foxboro, where he'll be coached by someone who's not into flash, personality or even a new game day wardrobe. Although Belichick has less personality than Ben Stein, he has more football genius than perhaps the whole Bengals staff combined (all due respect to Mike Zimmer and Jay Gruden).
Chad is finally going to be disciplined, and when he's disciplined, he's focused.
And when he's focused, his touchdown celebrations become more abundant—as will your fantasy points.
If you don't trust Chad, trust this: Tom friggin' Brady is throwing him the ball in an offense that, up until now, lacked a deep threat post-Randy Moss and spreads the ball around more so than perhaps any other team in the NFL.
Take Ocho, and the rest of your league will be kissing the baby.