You may think these guys are playing to win the game, but they need to make sure their future is secure. Every year we see athletes play above and beyond their abilities and expectations so they can land their next big deal.
No, it’s not a fail-proof system, as injuries can derail even the most motivated men—just ask Mike Sims-Walker, Steve Smith and DeAngelo Williams who disappointed last year.
Still, when the money is on the line, these guys will go all out to showcase themselves.
Ahmad Bradshaw was one breakout stud last season who earned himself a fantastic pay day this past offseason.
This is bad news for fantasy owners.
You do not want these three potential weekly studs to receive a contract before or during the season. You desperately need them to play for your fantasy safety. Beware when drafting them.
We already know about potential first-round locks in Drew Brees, Michael Vick, Arian Foster, Adrian Peterson, Peyton Hillis, Reggie Wayne and Vincent Jackson, but who joins them on their hunt for that next big fat and juicy contract?
The following men will make you fantasy rich as they look to secure their next paycheck.
10. Visanthe Shiancoe, TE, Minnesota Vikings
The Vikings drafted elite tight end prospect Kyle Rudolph, who is already impressing in preseason, but Donovan McNabb will rely heavily on his veteran TE. Percy Harvin is the only other legitimate receiving threat in the wide receiving corps, which means Shiancoe will receive a ton of targets.
Shiancoe is just two years removed from an 11 touchdown campaign with Brett Favre. Expect the magic to resurface in Minnesota with the accurate and strong-armed McNabb in town. Visanthe is an elite red zone threat with his big body and athleticism. He creates mismatches in short yardage situations too and will be leaned on to move the chains.
9. Mike Sims-Walker, WR, St. Louis Rams
Sims-Walker will explode for the best season of his career in Josh McDaniels’ system. McDaniels is a mad scientist when it comes to creating prolific offenses. Sims-Walker caught seven touchdowns during each of the past two seasons and will set a new career high with double-digit scores this year.
Sims-Walker is still recovering from knee surgery, but will be on the field Week 1 ready to impress. With a contract on the line for the second straight season, expect his knee to be magically fine. Anything less than 60 receptions, 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns will be a disappointment for the potential No. 1 target in McDaniels’ offense.
8. Robert Meachem, WR, New Orleans Saints
All you need to know about Meachem is that Drew Brees is tossing him the rock and teammates Lance Moore and Marques Colston are usually battling injury.
Meachem is a good, underrated receiver with his knack for hauling in passes and getting the ball past the stripe. He is two years removed from scoring nine touchdowns and will set a new career high this year.
Brees is also fighting for a contract, so expect him to be airing it out as usual this season. The interceptions will decrease and the touchdowns will increase. Marques Colston is also fighting for a contract, but there is plenty to go around in Sean Payton’s high octane offense.
The key to Meachem’s season will be simply staying on the field. Moore and Colston are never safe bets to stay healthy and Meachem has played all 32 games during the past two years. He disappointed in the coveted third-year, but he will excel in his contract year.
7. Wes Welker, WR, New England Patriots
Welker is now two years removed from his devastating ACL surgery and is looking for a new contract. Do you hear that? That’s the sound of sweet fantasy music!
Welker is equipped with the best quarterback in league history, Tom Brady, who will do everything in his power to make sure his safety net receives that big pay day in New England or elsewhere.
Welker is a phenomenal receiver with elite hands, quickness, route-running and toughness. He is one of the most reliable targets in the game and will always be used early and often by Bill Belichick to move the chains.
It’s difficult to expect touchdowns to come his way with Chad Ochocinco, Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski, but triple-digit receptions and 1,000 yards are in his future.
6. Braylon Edwards, WR, San Francisco 49ers
Braylon stunned many by going to San Francisco instead of Chicago, Arizona or even staying in New York. He may have Alex Smith tossing him the rock, but he’s still the same guy who caught 16 touchdown passes from Derek Anderson in Cleveland.
Edwards is still one of the better deep threats in the league with his speed and hops. He has solid hands and will prove that he deserves that hefty contract this year for the 49ers. I expect Michael Crabtree to be healthy, which will help Braylon shed double teams. He’ll never rack up receptions, but he will gain a ton of yards and score touchdowns.
5. Ryan Grant, RB, Green Bay Packers
Personally, I have never been a fan of Ryan Grant, but he will make a fantasy impact. He is being drafted outside the top 20 of fantasy runners, but he will cement himself throughout the season as a top 20 or 15 fantasy back.
The Packers offensive line is much improved from last year and Grant looks much better this year as well. He is a good downhill runner and will be fed the rock early and often to keep defenses honest.
Do not fear second-year stud James Starks, as Mike McCarthy is best served saving him for the postseason and beyond. He has an opportunity to run down Grant to add a new dimension to his offense and allow his former stud to cash in next offseason. He’ll take advantage and so should you.
4. Jermichael Finley, Green Bay Packers
Finley lost a lot of bandwagon fans as he suffered a knee injury last season and has yet to play in 16 games during his three-year career.
Still, Finley will excel and emerge as a top-three fantasy tight end. He has remarkable size, strength, speed and leaping ability for a tight end. He will rival Vernon Davis and Jared Cook as the most physically gifted tight ends in the game right now.
Finely is the ideal red zone threat for elite quarterback Aaron Rodgers. He will steal looks from Greg Jennings as he emerges a touchdown machine in 2011.
You may have reason to fear his injury history, but don’t. If there was ever a year to draft him, this is it.
3. Plaxico Burress, WR, New York Jets
Plaxico Burress may be the most determined and motivated man in the NFL. He is recently back from prison, but when you see him on the field it looks like he never left. He just grabbed three receptions for 66 yards and a touchdown in his preseason debut.
Mark Sanchez is expected to air it out more and Plax will be his primary target in any and all situations. He is one of the more clutch receivers in the league and has the envious rare combination of size, strength and leaping ability. He is a matchup nightmare for defensive coordinators because he will haul in any pass thrown his way.
Plax will return to mega-stardom as he leads fantasy owners and the New York Jets to the promised land.
2. Mario Manningham, WR, New York Giants
Mario Manningham broke out last season, but will be the apple of Eli Manning’s eye this season. Without Steve Smith and Kevin Boss, Manning will rely heavily on his two studs Manningham and Hakeem Nicks.
Nicks is another breakout superstar candidate, but defenses will be forced to shift his way leaving Manningham to work one-on-one to abuse cornerbacks. Manningham has fantastic strength and foot work to go along with his solid speed, hands and route-running.
“Super Mario” will eclipse 80 receptions, 1,000 yards and double-digit touchdowns after posting a 2010 campaign with 60 receptions for 944 yards and nine touchdowns.
1. Marshawn Lynch, RB, Seattle Seahawks
“Beast Mode” will be in effect all season. With Tom Cable as the new offensive line coach and a host of highly-touted young linemen, Pete Carroll is looking to wear down defenses with some ol’ fashioned smash mouth football.
Lynch is a former first-round fantasy pick who will regain his status this season in Seattle. He can do everything a coach wants on the field, from catching out of the backfield to demolishing defenders with his brute strength to juking defenders out of their shoes with his quickness.
Given the ineffectiveness quarterback duo of Tarvaris Jackson and Charlie Whitehurst, Carroll will have no choice but to continue feeding this beast.
More Contract-Year Players to Keep Your Eye On
Roy Williams, WR, Chicago Bears
He’s comfortable in Mike Martz’s offense and will be Jay Cutler’s No. 1 target. He will dominate Cutler’s attention as the most skilled and trusted receiver in Chicago.
Pierre Garcon, WR, Indianapolis Colts
Garcon is always good for a weekly circus catch, but he will finally put it all together with a contract on the line.
BenJarvus Green-Ellis, RB, New England Patriots
Green-Ellis proved last year he can handle the workload. He may cede touches to the host of other running backs, but he will be the focal point of the offense in the final two months of the season.
Mike Tolbert, RB, San Diego Chargers
Tolbert will split carries with Ryan Mathews, but will receive goal-line and third-down duties. Solid receiver and phenomenal downhill runner.
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