Fantasy Football Rising Values: Players on the Edge of Elite Status in 2011
Success in fantasy football is about scouting players, teams, and surrounding circumstances and making educated guesses about which player will out-perform initial expectations, and which player will under-perform initial expectations.
Success is about not always getting the best player in the entire league, but choosing the player with the greatest value as available to complement your team as a whole. Just because you get to draft first and select Adrian Peterson or Arian Foster doesn't determine whether you will win your league. It is about making sound choices on quality value picks that will consistently deliver a return on investment.
Any average Joe could list for you the top picks at every position. Instead, I would submit to you my favorite picks for value: fantasy picks that will out-perform their projections for 2011.
Sam Bradford, St. Louis Rams, QB14
Sam Bradford immediately answered his critics in his rookie season by turning around a 1-15 team in 2009 into a team that barely missed the playoffs. In the offseason, the Rams hired head coach castoff Josh McDaniels to work with the offense, especially the young, developing Sam Bradford.
It's a very good sign for Bradford to be learning under Josh McDaniels. McDaniels is responsible for the Patriots' great, Tom Brady developing into the amazing quarterback he is today and also had outstanding results with less-than-stellar quarterbacks such as Kyle Orton in 2009-2010 and Matt Cassel in 2008.
Bradford is definitely a cut above Orton and Cassel in his skill set and aptitude for the game. His production will drastically improve this season with McDaniels' coaching.
Although figuring out who his targets will be in 2011 is a trickier task, Bradford looks to have a group of quality receivers young and old to move the chains.
Bradford is ranked as the 14th QB for 2011, and I believe he will finish the season as a top 10 QB.
Felix Jones, Dallas Cowboys, RB23
When the regime changed mid-season for the Dallas Cowboys, one of the players whose careers received the biggest boost was Felix Jones.
Jason Garrett got the Cowboys back to a heavy dose of running the football. The Cowboys also utilized Jones more and more in the passing game out of the backfield. Although most of his gains on the ground were minimal, Jones' started making huge gains on screen passes. Corners and safeties were busy chasing Miles Austin and Dez Bryant deep down the field, opening up the sidelines for Jones to get out in open space and make the slower linebackers miss.
Jones has sole possession of the starting running back position in Dallas, challenged only by rookie DeMarco Murray. Jones will get some great chances receiving out of the backfield and will receive the bulk of the carries.
Jones is ranked 23rd among running backs, but I believe he will barely be outside of top 10 among running backs in 2011.
Mike Williams, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, WR14
Mike Williams has elite talent in the NFL. Despite college trouble before entering the draft last season, Williams came into the NFL ready to play. Early on, he developed a distinct chemistry with his quarterback, the rising star Josh Freeman, and he was running precise routes like a seasoned veteran.
The Bucs love this guy and use him in all sorts of packages and situations. He is especially productive in the red zone. He has great hands and can out-jump the best of them.
A limitation of his skill set is his speed. He won't burn you deep on a fly route, but he will catch anything you toss in his general direction.
Wide receiver is one of the most difficult positions to predict in fantasy football. I would say picking a top receiver is the greatest risk vs. reward gamble you can make. Therefore, pick for value when you draft a wide receiver. Don't get the best available receiver in the top rounds, go for a dependable guy you can count on like Williams.
Williams is ranked 14th among wide receivers; I believe he will consistently produce and slide into the top 10.
Jared Cook, Tennessee Titans, TE18
Similar to wide receiver, the tight end position in fantasy football can be one of the most frustrating positions to find a quality player who will consistently produce. Unless you have a Hall of Fame tight end on your team like Antonio Gates or Dallas Clark, who knows how your tight end will do week to week?
Because of the inconsistency of the position, don't draft a tight end in the early rounds of your fantasy draft, and if he's available at the end of the draft because no one has heard of him, roll the dice on him. I would submit that Jared Cook of the Tennessee Titans is an up-and-coming tight end with a huge upside.
In the two games he started at the end of last season, Cook caught 12 passes for 154 yards and a touchdown. His play made Bo Scaife obsolete in Tennessee when the team decided to promote him to the starting tight end.
Cook should be a great target for the Titans' new quarterback Matt Hasselbeck. Hasselbeck is an accurate short yardage passer with lots of experience. He should look for Cook often in 2011.
Cook is ranked 18th among tight ends, and if you have one of the last picks in the draft, you may be able to snatch him up, but I believe his obscurity won't last for long.
If he was undrafted in your league, he will be picked up on the waiver wire week 1 after lighting up the scoreboard. Cook will break the top 10 in 2011.
Alex Henery, Philadelphia Eagles, K9
I am going against my better judgment here in selecting a rookie without any NFL experience as a fantasy riser in 2011. In 2010, the Eagles parted with their longtime kicker, David Akers, and drafted Alex Henery out of Nebraska in the fourth round. He is the highest drafted kicker in the NFL since Stephen Gostkowski in 2006.
The Eagles generate a ton of field goal attempts, which is not expected to change in 2011, and Henery can kick.
At Nebraska, Henery ended his career as the school's all-time scoring leader with 397 points. He also set new records for accuracy among kickers in his NCAA career, hitting 68 of 76 field goals giving him a career accuracy percentage of 89.5 percent for field goals and a combined accuracy of 96.7 percent. Henery was 5-11 on attempts over 50 yards, with his longest field goal topping out at 57 yards.
Henery is ranked ninth among kickers, but I think he will be a top three kicker in 2011.
Detroit Lions, DST12
The Detroit Lions defense is stacked in 2011. Led by the bone-shattering Ndamukong Suh, the Lions' frontline is one of the most formidable in the entire league. Suh is joined by Corey Williams, Cliff Avril, rehabbing Kyle Vanden Bosch, and rookie Nick Fairley.
Suh's intensity is the catalyst for this young, maturing defensive unit, which has a lot of upside. The Lions made a gamble signing Stephen Tulloch in free agency and also added Justin Durant at the other outside linebacker position.
The defensive secondary is marked by inexperience, and it may take the Lions a few real games to work out the chemistry on defense. I know they will, and they will put up monster numbers.
The Lions' defense is ranked 12th among defenses, and I project them to round out the top five in 2011.