Predicting the Top Fantasy Performer for All 32 NFL Teams

Ray TannockSenior Analyst IAugust 15, 2011

Predicting the Top Fantasy Performer for All 32 NFL Teams

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    The 2011 fantasy football season is just around the corner and it’s time to start looking at who will be the top performer for each NFL team this season.

    Some of the players mentioned will be no-brainers, but a few of them may come as a surprise to you.

    Keep in mind that just because a player is projected to be a top fantasy football player on their respective TEAM, does not always translate into being a top OVERALL fantasy football player.

    Let's begin.

DeSeason Jackson; Philadelphia Eagles

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    DeSean Jackson was top dog in the scoring department a year ago, but nothing more with LeSean McCoy leading the team in receptions and Jeremy Maclin following behind at a close second.

    With the addition of ex-Giant Steve Smith, and a heavier focus on the ground game, I don’t see defenses being able to dedicate as much coverage towards Jackson as last year, opening up the flood gates for one of the most electrifying receivers in the game.

    2011 should become a career year for Jackson.

Hakeem Nicks; New York Giants

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    I think it is safe to say that the green light has now fully been given to outside receiver Hakeem Nicks, and there is little doubt that Nicks will be the leading fantasy football star on the Giants this season.

    See that? Steve Smith’s departure helps out a lot of people.

    Nicks was already a rising superstar last season, catching 79 balls for 1,052 yards and 11 touchdowns, and he did it all in just 13 games.

    I can see Nicks easily finishing the season with 85 catches, 1,150 yards and 15 touchdowns.

Tim Hightower; Washington Redskins

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    Tim Hightower exited the desert and has traveled cross-country to a Washington team that is in rebuild mode, but it is a situation that could afford him top fantasy football player status.

    The quarterback situation is very up in the air, the receiving corp. isn’t primed to make a splash, not to mention that tight end Chris Cooley is sidelined with a knee injury and may not even be ready by opening day.

    This leaves Tim Hightower all by his lonesome self.

    The Redskins were in serious need of a pass-catching back who possessed the ability to also be a potential three-down threat, which is what Hightower is.

    With a new quarterback, and a crop of sub-par receivers, look for Hightower to be used early and often in the regular season, but just don’t run out and draft too high on him.

    Seventh round or later would be OK.

Tony Romo Dallas Cowboys

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    Tony Romo’s career was cut short last year thanks to injury, but he is as healthy as he can be this season which means one of the most consistent quarterbacks in the NFL is back and ready to go.

    Yes that’s right; Romo is one of the most consistent QBs in the NFL.

    The Cowboys are loaded with talent on the offensive side of the ball with Dez Bryant and Miles Austin leading the way, and you can be sure Romo will be a top-five QB by the end of the season, and the Cowboys' best fantasy football player.

Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers

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    In all honesty, how does one even approach this one with what the Packers have, right?

    While the Packers have a ton of weapons to offer fantasy football owners, the guy spreading the ball around is not only primed to benefit from said weapons, but also to help fantasy owners reap the rewards.

    Rodgers had a down year in 2010 when you compare it to his other seasons, but he won a Super Bowl, so who really cares?

    With Ryan Grant and Jermichael Finley back in the mix, I can see Rodgers eclipsing 4,000 yards again and perhaps even eclipsing the 30 touchdown mark.

Matt Forte; Chicago Bears

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    Matt Forte was almost a forgotten name last season despite rushing for 1,069 yards, but he will be playing for a new contract this season, and looking to get back to being that threatening runner in the backfield.

    I can see Forte actually doing better than his famous rookie season when he rushed for over 1,200 yards and eight touchdowns.

    Look for Forte to be somewhere around 250 carries for 1,300 yards and 10 touchdowns this season.

Calvin Johnson, Detroit Lions

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    Did you really expect anyone else here? Nope, I didn’t think so.

    The guy still caught 77 passes for 1,120 yards and 12 touchdowns WITHOUT his No. 1 quarterback last season.

    Now, the Lions will feature a brand new three-wide set which will make it even harder to cover Johnson, and starting QB Matt Stafford returns healthy and ready to go.

    He should be your No. 1 wide receiver target as early as possible.

Adrian Peterson; Minnesota Vikings

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    Again, did you expect anyone else?

    The offense is tailored to feature the ground game; Coach Frazier already said the offense will run through Peterson… all signs are pointing up.

    Look for Peterson to also lead all running backs this season.

Roddy White; Atlanta Falcons

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    With the addition of Julio Jones, the Falcons get exactly what they were missing last year in a speedy deep-ball threat who can also take attention away from Roddy White.

    And what happens when you take coverage AWAY from a guy who caught 115 balls for 1,359 yards and 10 touchdowns?

    EXACTLY!

Drew Brees; New Orleans Saints

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    Yup, you guessed it!

    The thing here is that the Saints have more weapons to work with than last season, which will be enough to catapult Bree ahead of everyone on this team in regard to fantasy points.

    But then, you already knew that, didn't you?

Kellen Winslow; Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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    The Buccaneers look extremely sharp right now, and Kellen Winslow is said to be having one of his best camps ever, which is great news.

    The Tampa beat writers all believe that Winslow will have a bounce-back campaign, and so do I. Such a campaign would also lead to Winslow leading the team in fantasy points.

    Winslow's best season was in 2007 where he caught 82 balls for 1,106 yards and 5 touchdowns, and while i don't see Winslow quite catching those figures, I do see him catching 75 balls for 890 yards and six to seven touchdowns this season.

    For a guy who is currently projected as an 11th-round tight end, that's a freaking steal!

Steve Smith; Carolina Panthers

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    Smith is not on the decline, just to clear the air here.

    The last two seasons, Smith has put up horrible numbers, and has otherwise been a fantasy disappointment.

    but what you have to remember is that the Panthers had all sorts of issues at QB the past two years, forcing the team to change direction offensively, which in turn, put Smith in more blocking situations than down-field ones.

    Expect all of that to change this season, with a return to fantasy dominance for Smith.

Larry Fitzgerald; Arizona Cardinals

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    Larry Fitzgerald finally has a quarterback!!!

    Fitz had one of his worst fantasy seasons since 2006 and STILL caught 90 balls for 1,137 yards and six touchdowns.

    With Kevin Kolb in town, you can expect Fitzgerald to return to the top-three range for receivers, and return to double digits in touchdown totals.

Zach Miller; Seattle Seahawks

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    The Raiders weren’t able to keep Zach Miller, which worked out real well for a Seattle team that did make a nice push in the postseason last year.

    But issues in the backfield and a suspect quarterback situation should be just enough to push Miller over the top as the team’s leading fantasy football player.

Vernon Davis; San Francisco 49ers

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    Another obvious mention for Vernon Davis, but there is an additional element some of you may not know.

    The team is switching to the West Coast Offense, and Davis himself has already said this system will be very tight end-friendly.

    Davis could go over 1,000 receiving yards this season, and should also put up double-digit numbers in the touchdown department.

Sam Bradford; St. Louis Rams

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    I think with everything Sam Bradford did, with what he had to work with in 2010 it is safe to say this kid has talent.

    The Rams added elemental pieces to their growing puzzle, rather than big-name players in search of hefty contracts.

    The idea was to give Bradford as many options to explore as possible, which is how he excels.

    Look for another banner season this year, which should also elevate him to QB No. 1 status on a more permanent basis.

Antonio Gates; San Diego Chargers

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    Some may disagree here with Vincent Jackson returning to the team, but hear me out.

    The Chargers retain their intimidating three-wide set attack, and will feature a newly designed backfield that should be better than the 2010 version.

    Antonio Gates returns with a full bill of health and will inevitably become “player X’ with his ability as a deep-ball threat.

    But seriously, how do you account for all these players?

    I think defense will be more concerned with the receivers, leaving the gate wide open for Gets this year.

Kyle Orton; Denver Broncos

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    Kyle Orton is the unquestioned leader of this team for at LEAST another year, and the 2011 season will be no different.

    Orton will no doubt be the top fantasy football player on the Broncos, and should see another year of over 3,500 passing yards and 20 touchdowns.

    Question is just where he’ll play next year.

Jamaal Charles; Kansas City Chiefs

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    Jamaal Charles made his presence known last year by rushing for over 1,400 yards, in a RBBC approach.

    But fantasy owners weren’t exactly tickled pink with his five touchdowns, which many feel could be a concern this season.

    Not true.

    The receiver corp. is more balanced this season, which could lead to the ball being spread more, which in turn should open the ground game and allow the Chiefs to get Charles in to the end-zone more, which is something they want to happen.

    Could be a career year for Charles.

Jacoby Ford; Oakland Raiders

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    I am calling it now, Jacoby ford finishes the year as the leading fantasy football player.

    The ground game hasn’t been able to stay healthy for a full season or I would otherwise list McFadden, and the other receivers are just too unreliable to mention.

    But Ford impressed so much in such a short amount of time that the coaching staff not only felt it was proper to put him in the starting lineup, but also feature him on the outside.

    He’s a speedy target with good hands and excellent size, and should also figure to be one of the best value picks this season.

Peyton Hillis; Cleveland Browns

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    Peyton Hillis led this team last season in fantasy points and you can expect more of the same this season.

    But Hillis may also have better PPR value with the installment of the WCO—and that projection is on top of his 61 catches from a year ago.

    Finals projections should look very similar to this:

    Rushing: 260 carries for 1,235 yards and 12 TD.
    Receiving: 70 catches for 565 yards and 4 TD.

Jermaine Gresham; Cincinnati Bengals

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    Jermaine Gresham is the only real player to even speak of offensively in Cincinnati right now.

    I like what Andy Dalton brings to the table, and I feel the ground game is still very serviceable, but it will be Gresham who will be the main offensive focal point this season.

    This is not to say he has tremendous value in fantasy, only that he will be the top fantasy football player on this team.

Ray Rice; Baltimore Ravens

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    This one was kind of hard with Joe Flacco back there throwing the football, but I believe the Ravens are going to try and mix in more offensive conservatism this year.

    The ground game is where this will come from, particularly in the red-zone and end-zone play which could mean big things for Ray Rice and company.

    I think the passing game will be more of a setup than anything else, which if true, would be a solid offensive plan, considering how this team is built.

Mike Wallace; Pittsburgh Steelers

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    Make no mistake about it, Mike Wallace WILL be the leading fantasy football player in Pittsburgh, and will also finish as a top-10 fantasy receiver by the end of the year.

    This guy had 1,257 receiving yards on just 60 catches with 10 touchdowns in 2010, and is the primary deep-ball threat in Steel-town.

    Wallace himself has publicly set a goal for 2,000 receiving yards, which is a noble thought, but a more realistic accomplishment would be 85 catches for 1,500 plus yards, and 15 touchdowns.

Chris Johnson; Tennessee Titans

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    Chris Johnson, nuff said!

Andre Johnson; Houston Texans

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    Andre Johnson, nuff said!

    Honestly, I don’t mean for the short slides here, but you guys do not need me to tell you this.

Mike Thomas; Jacksonville Jaguars

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    Mike Thomas enjoyed a modest season in 2010 but will enter this year as not only the No. 1 receiver in town, but ALSO the No. 1 punt returner.

    Another Percy Harvin?

    Thomas caught 66 balls for 820 yards and four touchdowns while adding 358 return yards for a single touchdown.

    This season, with the addition of the return stats, there is no question that Thomas will be the leading fantasy player on this team and you can expect those numbers to increase straight across the board.

Peyton Manning; Indianapolis Colts

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    Peyton Manning should enjoy a healthier crop of receivers this season, which should return him to top three QB status by the end of the year.

    But look for Austin Collie—if healthy for 16 games—to overtake the No. 1 receiver job by year’s end.

    You can make a case you Collie too; I just like the reliability of Manning.

Brandon Marshall; Miami Dolphins

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    2010 was a down season for wide receiver Brandon Marshall, but that should all change this season.

    The transition period always interferes, even with a player of Marshall’s caliber. So the added year should work in his favor, and fantasy owners as well.

    Look for Marshall to return to a 10-touchdown season, with 90 catches for 1,100 plus yards.

Shonn Greene; New York Jets

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    The Jets have so many players on their team that are sure to give fantasy owners plenty to smile about, but trying to figure out who will be the leader on this team is a little tricky.

    This year, I am going with Shonn Greene.

    Coach Rex Ryan has already said that the Jets will feature a heavy dose of Greene this year, and given the fact that the Jets are already a run-first team, the potential here is just sick.

    Greene should surpass 1,000 rushing yards, and come close to six or seven touchdowns.

Ryan Fitzpatrick; Buffalo Bills

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    Ryan Fitzpatrick has finally gotten a full voters confidence from the Buffalo Bills which is nice to hear considering the guy put up 3,000 yards and 23 touchdowns in just 13 games last season.

    This year, he’ll get a full 16 games to work with, and you should expect Fitzpatrick to be the No. 1 fantasy player in Buffalo.

    He’s still a QB2 when compared to the other options out there.

Tom Brady; New England Patriots

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    Who else, right?

    You can make a case for Ochocinco, and I’ll take that debate any day, but we already know what Brady can do as a Patriot; we don’t know what Ocho will do which is the preliminary basis for Brady’s mention.

    Brady is highly efficient, can work with whatever tools are available to him, and the Patriots are STILL looking to possibly add another big target at wide receiver.

    Brady is poised to have another solid year thanks to a dangerously talented team that should make it to the Super Bowl.

    Fantasy owners can’t go wrong with Brady.

    I hope you guys enjoyed, and if you’re interested, come check out my current fantasy football rankings, along with other great advice pieces at Fantasyknuckleheads.com.