Fantasy Football: Antonio Gates and 12 Stars Who Will Fall to Mediocrity in 2011
What makes fantasy football so exciting? Is it the draft? The competition? The way it makes you feel like an actual GM?
It's likely a combination of all of the above, but one thing is for sure, it's not because fantasy football is predictable. Many fantasy stars have tip-toed the line of mediocrity following a break-out season.
Year after year, guys who we think are proven superstars often tend to underwhelm us win the season starts.
For some stars, such as Frank Gore and Antonio Gates, the possibility of injury is always a lingering factor. It always feels risky to take them on draft day, but when you see how well they score in your league, the reward is always worth the risk.
And then there are the cases where great superstars are forced to seem average due to their lack of other stars around them, such as Larry Fitzgerald last season.
There's no doubt that Fitzgerald is one of the best receivers in the league, but having a terrible quarterback last season made him a flex option at best in the fantasy world.
With Kevin Kolb in Arizona this year, Fitzgerald should have no problem getting back into fantasy form.
So what stars are going to take a step back and be this year's Fitzgerald?
Hopefully this list will shed some light on that subject.
Peyton Manning: QB (Indianapolis Colts)
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Based on the picture for this slide, Manning is starting to look more like a coach than a player, right?
That could be due to the fact that he is 35 years old (but looks older) and he likely isn't in the best shape right now.
Manning has yet to participate in a preseason game following the neck surgery he had on May 23 in order to repair a bulging disc. This was Manning's second neck surgery in the last 15 months, and it may cost him the season opener.
He is currently on the physically unable to perform list while he continues his rehabilitation. If he were to miss the season opener, it would be his first missed start in his career.
This puts the Colts in a terrible position. There's no replacing a guy like Peyton Manning, and even though it's preseason, the truth is on the table.
In their last preseason game, the Colts lost to the miserable Washington Redskins, 16-3. Their two backup quarterbacks, Dan Orlovsky and Curtis Painter, finished the game collectively with these stats: 12-of-27 for 95 yards and one interception.
Their rushing attack wasn't much better, as six players combined for 55 yards on 17 attempts. The Colts finished the game with only seven first downs. Seven.
They need Peyton Manning, but the likelihood of him coming back from multiple neck surgeries and performing like "the old" Peyton Manning is slim.
Even though he finished last season with his career highest total passing yards, he also threw 17 interceptions, his highest total since the 2001 season.
You can never count out Manning, though. The guy has been a great QB in the league for 13 years. I just think this is the year that he takes a nose-dive into the pool of mediocrity.
Maurice Jones-Drew: RB (Jacksonville Jaguars)
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Maurice Jones-Drew has always been a scary pick for me, and I don't know why. I guess because he always seems to have some sort of injury, but the guy has only missed three games in five seasons.
In his first three seasons, Jones-Drew had to split carries with veteran Fred Taylor, which limited his total yards (941 was his best season). However, that didn't limit his touchdown opportunities.
Jones-Drew rushed for 34 touchdowns and caught four more. In his fourth year, Jones-Drew finally got the bulk of the carries as the Jaguars forfeited the "running back committee" way of life. That was the best season of his career: 1,391 yards and 16 total touchdowns.
Jones-Drew was shaping up to be something special, but then he got injured.
While he played through his injury last season, it was definitely noticeable. In his first seven games, Jones-Drew had only one 100-yard rushing game and he only had three total touchdowns. But starting in Week 8, Jones-Drew posted six straight over 100-yard rushing games.
Unfortunately, that's when his knee went out again.
Jones-Drew has yet to play in a preseason game and he will likely be out until the start of the regular season. The reports right now are that MJD is fully healthy, making sharp cuts and looks ready to play, but there's no way in telling how his "new knee" is going to react once the contact ensues.
The other problem I have with MJD is his lack of weapons around him. David Garrard and Blaine Gabbert are currently fighting for a starting QB position and Mike Thomas is the only WR on the roster worth mentioning.
Jones-Drew is going to be called upon heavily this season, so that could either work out really well for fantasy owners, or really, really bad.
I'm sticking with the latter.
DeAngelo Williams: RB (Carolina Panthers)
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DeAngelo Williams became a legitimate fantasy star in 2008 when he amassed 1,515 rushing yards and 20 total touchdowns.
Then the injuries set in. Williams was forced to miss three games during the 2009 season, but he was still able to rack up 1,117 yards. Unfortunately, his touchdowns slipped from 20 to seven.
Fellow teammate and backfield friend Jonathan Stewart really took advantage of Williams going down, but in three more games, Stewart only finished with 16 more yards and four more touchdowns.
Last season, both Williams and Stewart had to miss time due to injuries, but Williams was out for 10 games as opposed to Stewart's two.
Williams has always been the electric back in Carolina's RB committee, while Stewart has provided the size and power.
In the past, Williams and Stewart have proved to be the best RB committee in the fantasy world because both backs have been relevant, but this could be the year where both take a dip in production.
Williams is currently the only RB that is fully healthy that figures to see any playing time. Both Stewart and Mike Goodson have Achilles injuries, but should be ready to play come the season opener.
This year, the carries will likely be split amongst all three backs just depending on the situation. While Williams is likely in line to see the most carries, his opportunities might be limited.
Carolina is also in a heated QB battle. Cam Newton figures to be the starter this season, as he has more tools and ability than Jimmy Clausen, but it will take time for Newton to adapt to the NFL. This adaptation coupled with a poor offensive line and a lack of weapons at WR could seriously hurt the value of Williams, Stewart and Goodson.
When healthy, Williams has been a great fantasy RB, I just don't think he can live up to his potential this season.
Cedric Benson: RB (Cincinnati Bengals)
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Cincinnati is going to be an absolute mess this season. Cedric Benson is the one shining light for the Bengals, but with the players he has around him, that light is sure to flicker this season.
Here is how the Bengals' skill positions are divvied up:
QB: Andy Dalton, Rookie
WR: A.J. Green, Rookie
WR: Jerome Simpson, 21 receptions for 279 yards (career stats)
TE: Jermaine Gresham, 52 receptions for 471 yards (career stats)
RB: Cedric Benson, 1,256 carries for 4,702 yards (career stats)
Obviously, Benson is going to be the leader of their offense. In the last two seasons, Benson has averaged 1,181 yards and seven total touchdowns. The touchdowns could be better, sure, but these are better numbers than Benson has had in his entire career.
The Bengals tried their hand at a "super squad," with both Chad Ochocinco and Terrell Owens starting at WR, but that didn't work out too well.
It's rebuilding time in Cincinnati, and I'm not sure Benson will be able to benefit from this at all. Dalton is going to take a lot of time to get comfortable, and Benson will attract the most attention from defenses.
This season, Benson will be lucky to gain 1,000 yards. My bet is that he will be around the 700-800 area with five touchdowns.
Cedric Benson, welcome to mediocrity.
Matt Forte: RB (Chicago Bears)
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I actually like Matt Forte. I think he has a ton of potential, so that's why it's hard for me to put him on this list.
In three seasons, Forte has produced great stats. He is already up 3,236 rushing yards and he has proved to be a more than adequate receiver out of the backfield (171 receptions).
The Bears even helped Forte out by signing WR Roy Williams. The former Cowboy should take some pressure off of Forte and the Bears' run game, while opening up the field for QB Jay Cutler and fellow wide receivers Johnny Knox and Devin Hester.
So, what's wrong with Forte this season? Unfortunately, Williams wasn't the only Cowboy the Bears signed.
The Bears seemed like one of the last teams in the NFL to feature only one RB. This is likely why Forte's production has been so great in his first three seasons. Well, they've gone and messed that up.
The Bears have signed Marion "The Barbarian" Barber to a two-year deal. While this is a great move for the Bears and their championship hopes, it's a terrible move for Forte's fantasy stock.
While in Dallas, Barber was always either under-performing or stealing touchdowns away from more explosive guys like Felix Jones or Tashard Choice.
Barber's bruising running style is perfect for a situational third-down or goal-line RB. Forte only had six rushing touchdowns last season; that number will be reduced this season.
So, while I like the move for the Bears, I hate the move for Forte and all the fantasy owners who have already drafted him.
BenJarvus Green-Ellis: RB (New England Patriots)
BenJarvus Green-Ellis, who is also known as "The Law Firm" due to his incredibly professional sounding name, is coming off of a great and surprising fantasy season.
Green-Ellis had 229 carries for 1,008 yards and 13 touchdowns last season. This was a vast leap from his previous best season in 2008: 74 carries for 275 yards and five touchdowns.
This waiver-wire pickup is expected to see the bulk of New England's carries once again, but will he improve or forever be a one-hit wonder?
I tend to like Green-Ellis's potential, but I don't like it in New England. There are just too many options weighing against him.
Fellow RB Danny Woodhead is sure to play a bigger role in the offense this season, so Green-Ellis is already forfeiting carries.
Tom Brady is completely healthy and looking like the best QB in the NFL again, and with the arrival of Chad Ochocinco and a healthy Wes Welker and Deion Branch, Brady is going to throw more this season than last.
Green-Ellis was able to get so many carries and yards last season due to the fact that New England held a lot of large leads. They were more prone to run the ball in order to eat up the clock.
This may be the case again this season, as New England is shaping up to be one of the best teams in the NFL.
But with everything else going against him, I'd say Green-Ellis is a shoo-in to have a mediocre season.
Marques Colston: WR (New Orleans Saints)
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Marques Colston has been the best WR in New Orleans since his arrival in 2006.
In his five seasons with the Saints, Colston has gained over 1,000 yards receiving in four of them and was injured for five games in the other.
While he's been healthy, Colston has averaged just under nine touchdowns per season. He also plays in a pass-first offense with one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL, making him a great candidate for fantasy points week in and week out.
So, what's the knock on Colston this year? Everybody around him is finally catching up.
The Saints now have too many options for Colston to garner superstar fantasy potential.
Fellow wide receivers Lance Moore and Robert Meachem are both extremely talented. Moore was Brees's second favorite target last season, and with Colston receiving the most attention from defenses, it's an easy bet that Moore and Meachem will be receiving more opportunities this season.
Also, the Saints now have a slew of running backs that they can use at any given moment. Pierre Thomas is the current starter, but rookie Mark Ingram is likely to give him a run for his money. At the least, the two will split carries this season.
They also signed the exciting Darren Sproles, who is seemingly a more productive version of Reggie Bush. Not to mention, they still have Chris Ivory looming in the background.
All these weapons are a good thing for the Saints in the regular season, but for Colston and the rest of the Saints, their fantasy team is going to be pretty average.
Dwayne Bowe: WR (Kansas City Chiefs)
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In terms of fantasy production, Dwayne Bowe is certainly coming off of his best season.
Bowe was finally able to get on the same page as Chiefs' QB Matt Cassel, and the former LSU star racked up 72 receptions for 1,162 yards and 15 touchdowns.
This was Bowe's second season to bring in over 1,000 yards receiving. He is starting to play up to his potential, and the Chiefs are actually putting together a decent team.
Running back Jamaal Charles is expected to be a top-five fantasy option this season. His ability to create out of the backfield will open up the passing game for Cassel and Bowe.
The Chiefs made a huge acquisition after the lockout was over in signing Steve Breaston to a five-year deal.
Breaston was always a great receiver in Arizona, but he had to play second and sometimes third fiddle to Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin. Breaston should be a great fit in KC and should take some of the coverage away from Bowe.
But is this too good to be true? Bowe has been blasted for his drops and attitude in the past, and Matt Cassel is anything but a reliable QB.
My guess is that Bowe will benefit from both Breaston and Charles's production, but, like in Colston's situation, it's likely to diminish his stats in the process.
I have a lot of faith in Dwayne Bowe, I really do. I just don't have enough faith in Matt Cassel.
Mike Wallace: WR (Pittsburgh Steelers)
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Mike Wallace is another guy with gobs of fantasy potential. Aside from the fantasy world, Wallace is actually becoming a star in his own right.
He has taken over the No. 1 WR role on the Steelers and he will likely hold that position for as long as he is there.
Hines Ward is getting older, but as everyone saw on Dancing with the Stars, Ward can still move. The big help to the Steelers came when they signed Jerricho Cotchery to a one-year deal.
Cotchery has always been a great No. 2 WR, and he will certainly rival Ward for that position in Pittsburgh.
Also, Rashard Mendenhall is really coming into his own as the Steelers feature RB. He is destined to have a break-out season, and the Steelers have enough weapons to make it deep into the playoffs.
The only knock on Wallace is his lack of versatility. He's a speedster who runs a 4.33 40, and because of this he is QB Ben Roethlisberger's primary deep-threat candidate.
This proved to be true last season, as Wallace averaged a ridiculous 21 yards per reception. Wallace had seven over 100-yard games last season, but of those seven, only three were at least five reception games.
It certainly worked out fine for Wallace last year, but people will start to catch on. It's unlikely that Wallace can keep averaging three receptions per game for over 100 yards, and with more options this year, Wallace may take a major hit in yards and touchdowns.
DeSean Jackson: WR (Philadelphia Eagles)
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Did I say Mike Wallace was a great deep-threat option? Well, clearly I forgot to mention DeSean Jackson, the best deep-threat WR in the NFL.
Jackson is a bit of an anomaly. He only had 47 receptions last season, but that was still good enough for 1,056 yards, six touchdowns and 152 fantasy points.
Jeremy Maclin, the No. 2 WR on the Eagles roster, had 70 receptions last season and still finished almost 100 yards behind Jackson in totals.
This is due to Jackson's incredible speed, big play ability and his 22.5 yards per reception average. He's a dynamic player with great hands who also shines in the return game, an underrated aspect to fantasy football.
But, like Wallace, it's going to be difficult to keep this low-catches, high-yards trend going. One thing that Jackson has going for him, though, is QB Michael Vick's ability to move out of the pocket and throw on the run. This allows Jackson to break free from one-on-one coverage and speed away.
But with Maclin steadily improving every year, the signing of Steve Smith from the NY Giants and LeSean McCoy's ability to receive out of the backfield, Jackson may be more limited this season than in season's past.
Jackson should still be a good option on what is going to be a potent Philadelphia Eagles offense, but I would take the more safer play in Maclin this year.
Jason Witten: TE (Dallas Cowboys)
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Jason Witten has been a solid tight end for the Cowboys and the fantasy world for quite some time.
He has great hands, runs great routes and is usually a shoo-in for at least five receptions per game if not more.
Last season, Witten finished as the No. 1 fantasy TE. He brought in 94 receptions for 1,002 yards and nine touchdowns. This is a solid year for a WR, let alone a TE. He only missed leading the Cowboys in reception yards by 40 yards; this title belonged to Miles Austin.
But with all the success Witten had last year, how much of it needs to be taken with a grain of salt?
Sure, Witten finished as the No.1 fantasy TE, but that was also because Antonio Gates, Dallas Clark and Jermichael Finley all suffered season-ending injuries.
Also, Witten clearly saw more looks and had better production after QB Tony Romo was sidelined following his Week 7 injury.
Miles Austin suffered the most from Romo's injury, as his receptions and reception yards per game went way down, but Witten had a good thing going with backup QB Jon Kitna.
Witten has the opportunity to produce well again this season with Romo back in the lineup, but I doubt he has as many opportunities this year.
Romo will once again have a great connection with Austin, Dez Bryant is sure to improve on his rookie season and Felix Jones finally has the opportunity to have a huge year.
Witten is still a good option as a TE in the fantasy world, but he won't have the same kind of season as the year before.
Antonio Gates: TE (San Diego Chargers)
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Could this be the year that Gates' superstar reign takes a slide down into a level of mediocrity he has never seen before?
I think so, and it's quite unfortunate. Gates is still the best tight end in the NFL, no question, but there is very little doubt that he will be spending some time on the IR this season.
Last season, Gates got off to a fantastic start as he scored seven touchdowns in his first five games. He continued to play really well up until Week 8 when he tore the plantar fascia in his right foot. He only played in two games the rest of the season and was utterly useless for the most part.
This makes four of the last five years that Gates has had a foot problem. The good news is that he didn't need surgery on it, but the bad news is that it's still giving him problems.
Gates has yet to play in a preseason game, so hopefully he'll be ready by the time the season actually starts.
What's crazy about Gates, though, is that even with the six games that he missed last season, he still finished first in receiving yards and second in looks on the entire team.
That speaks a lot for Gates' ability, but it was also likely due to Vincent Jackson being out.
Jackson is now back and healthy. He looked good in their first preseason game, and he is likely to pan out to be at least a top 10 WR in the league if not better.
Chargers QB Philip Rivers will have more options this year, which should reduce Gates' stats a little, anyway. But if Gates can stay healthy, he's still the best available TE no matter the situation.
Unfortunately, I'm not sure how long he'll stay healthy, and he'll just become an average TE this season.