Sunday, September 5, 2010

Squad Predictions!

Here are all the fantasy predictions from ESPN on the football players that I drafted (my team only).

Maurice Jones-Drew: MJD makes for a heck of a bronze medal. He's tiny, but all he did in his first season as the Jaguars' lead back was exceed 200 carries in a season for the first time (he had 312), eclipse the 1,000-yard mark for the first time (he had 1,391), and score 15 rushing touchdowns, second in the NFL, behind only Adrian Peterson. Heck, Jones-Drew actually improved his per-carry average from 4.2 in his final year as a tandem back with Fred Taylor to 4.5 in 2009. He led the league in red zone carries last season, and was third in carries inside the 10 and inside the 5; in short (pun intended), he's a touchdown machine. Plus, becoming the Jags' full-time halfback didn't affect his receiving numbers (in '09, he finished sixth in running back targets). MJD doesn't have Chris Johnson's top speed or Peterson's bruising size, but he's about as safe as they get.

Yds: 0/1302/439, TDs: 14 (305)

Frank Gore: Gore had a mixed 2009 season. He scored double-digit touchdowns for the first time in his career, finished 11th in the NFL in rushing yards, and was third in running back targets and fifth in receptions. But he also missed two more games with an ankle injury, meaning he hasn't made it through a full season since '06, and more significantly he went through a 10-game stretch in which he carried the ball more than 20 times just once. The 49ers went shotgun with Alex Smith in the middle of the season, and that isn't Gore's strength. Heck, take away three rushing touchdowns of at least 64 yards (two of which occurred in the same game), and Gore winds up with 897 rush yards and less than 4 yards per carry. We believe the Niners will get back to a more balanced attack that takes advantage of Gore's strengths in '10. But his incredible '06 season just doesn't seem likely to repeat.

Yds: 0/1178/405, TDs: 10 (261)

Tom Brady: Yup, that's what we were worried about. Brady returned from his 2008 knee-ligament injury and didn't produce anything close to his spectacular '07 numbers. Some folks will tell you it was because he still felt the lingering effects of his injuries well into the season, and maybe he did. But from our perspective, Brady's 50-touchdown '07 looks like the same kind of unsustainable career anomaly as Peyton Manning's 49-TD '04. We don't think either guy will ever approach those numbers again. That's not to say Brady can't be a valuable fantasy commodity. Of course he can. Even as the Patriots' offense disappointed, Brady had his second-best passing yardage season, tied his second-highest single-season passing TD output, and completed a stellar 65.7 percent of his throws. He's terrific. But he's not that guy you remember from '07. Don't draft him that way.

Yds: 4458/24/0, TDs: 31 (340)

Steve Smith: The "other" Steve Smith broke the Giants' single-season receptions record in 2009, plus became the franchise's first Pro Bowl representative at wideout since 1968. His impressive numbers were good enough to put him 11th in fantasy points among receivers last season, and like his more famous Panthers' namesake, he's erased concerns about being too small to line up outside the slot. The Giants were a pass-first team in '09, and should be again in '10. So why aren't we even higher on Smith? Despite all the glowing things we just wrote about him, he isn't really a deep threat; he had two plays of 40-plus yards last year and his 11.4 yards-per-catch average is reminiscent more of Wes Welker than Randy Moss. Simply put, there are bigger, faster receivers on this team: Hakeem Nicks to name one. Smith will work the middle and be extremely steady, but probably not explosive.

Yds: 0/0/1188, TDs: 6 (252)

Beanie Wells: Let's face it, most rankings of Cardinals players post-Kurt Warner are contingent. Ken Whisenhunt says he plans on keeping his same offensive system with Matt Leinart running the show, but color us skeptical. Given how good an impersonation Beanie Wells did of a bulldozer toward the end of 2009 -- and how mediocre Leinart has looked when he's gotten chances to play -- we find it hard to believe Arizona will feature the league's second-most pass-heavy offense again in '10. In his rookie year, Wells shrugged off widespread concerns about his durability and scored six touchdowns in the season's final eight games, often using his 240-pound frame to simply crush defenders. Tim Hightower will likely remain the Cardinals' primary pass catcher out of the backfield, but we think Beanie is ready to be the touchdown maker right now. That entire Arizona offense is risky, but Wells has serious breakout potential.

Yds: 0/1138/97, TDs: 9 (187)

Michael Crabtree: Crabtree held out for the first five games of 2009, and it shows in his final rookie numbers. They're nothing special. It would be foolish to proclaim that, with a full training camp, Crabtree will suddenly be ready to become All-Pro. His quarterback, after all, will still be Alex Smith. Nevertheless, there were parts of Crabtree's game we loved in '09. While he didn't always seem to know what defense he was looking at, his instincts and ball skills are tremendous, and he's just really, really big. The 49ers still don't really have a true burner, but between Crabtree, Vernon Davis and Josh Morgan, they've got some electric athletes with the ball in their hands. It's fair to salivate over Crabtree's upside, while understanding that he's played all of 11 NFL games, and had all of four red-zone targets last season. There's still work to be done.

Yds: 0/0/938, TDs: 7 (203)

Chris Cooley: Cooley is psyched that Donovan McNabb is coming to Washington. After all, Donnie Football has made a living checking down to his tight ends, and he's probably never had as polished a receiving tight end as Cooley. But let's inject a bit of reality. Cooley is coming off a broken ankle that limited him to seven games in 2009, and while he amassed a career-high 849 receiving yards in '08, he scored just once that year. Add the fact that Fred Davis played exceptionally well in Cooley's absence last season, and it's fair to say Cooley has a lot of risk associated with him. He could ascend back to elite fantasy levels, but he also could find himself in a rotation.

Yds: 0/0/910, TDs: 5 (197)

Dwayne Bowe: We were sold a bill of goods with Bowe last year. Matt Cassel plus Todd Haley's offense was going to turn Bowe into Anquan Boldin (without Larry Fitzgerald around to steal all those targets). What we got instead was an undisciplined guy who came to training camp overweight, didn't score a touchdown after Week 7, led the NFL in dropped passes and earned a four-week suspension for using a banned substance. Awesome. There's no doubting Bowe's athletic abilities: he's an insane leaper and a difficult guy to bring down. But his commitment is in question. Charlie Weis is the Chiefs' new offensive coordinator, and he has a reputation for making offensive stars. But we're concerned about the offensive line in Kansas City, and we're also not ready to be burned by Bowe's brain again. We acknowledge he could be a value pick, but he scares us.

Yds: 0/0/980, TDs: 6 (208)

Arian Foster: Foster made our preseason list of deep sleepers in 2009, and then took 14 weeks to even see the field. When he did finally start in the season's final two games, he gained 216 yards and scored three touchdowns on 39 carries. With Ben Tate's injury clearing the way, Foster will get a shot at being the team's featured back, with Steve Slaton the only legitimate threat to his carries.

Yds: 0/1020/158, TDs: 8 (186)

Malcom Floyd: Floyd ascended to the Chargers' starting lineup when the team released Chris Chambers around midseason last year. He wound up averaging an impressive 17.2 yards per catch and 10.5 yards per target. Unfortunately, if you remove a garbage-time contest in Week 17, he also never caught more than four passes in a game. He'll be behind Vincent Jackson and Antonio Gates for aerial looks, but Philip Rivers does like to use Floyd's insane wingspan in the red zone, and Jackson is suspended for the first three games of the season, giving Floyd some quality 1-on-1 time with his quarterback.

Yds: 0/0/901, TDs: 3 (149)

Visanthe Shiancoe: Shiancoe finished second in touchdowns among tight ends in 2009 with 11, so you're forgiven for thinking we have him ranked a bit low here. After all, he came from relative obscurity to finish sixth in fantasy points at his position. But while Shank makes an excellent close-in receiver, he doesn't get nearly the same number of looks overall as his counterparts on this list. He had 79 targets in '09, good for only 14th in the NFL. Accordingly, his receiving yardage ranked just 17th. The Vikings don't use Shiancoe down the field, primarily because they have so many excellent wideouts, so he's a touchdown-dependent player, and we all know touchdowns can vary wildly from season to season. Thus, if you're planning on grabbing him to be your starter, be sure to draft a solid backup, too.

Yds: 0/0/589, TDs: 8 (160)

Matthew Stafford: The fact that we've got a sophomore quarterback with 10 starts and a whopping 20 interceptions even this high on our list speaks more to the troubled depth in NFL quarterbacking than to Stafford's excellence. Yes, he's got potential. Yes, he led the Lions to a heroic and improbable November win over the Browns with a separated non-throwing shoulder. But Detroit still has a subpar offensive line and big questions at running back, and we can't be sure Nate Burleson's presence will be enough to free up Calvin Johnson. Still, Stafford threw the ball a ton in his rookie campaign (at least 36 attempts in seven different games), which augurs a pass-first offense in 2010. He'll make mistakes, but the Lions are committed to Stafford and his growing pains.

Yds: 3710/93/0, TDs: 22 (243)

49ers D/ST: The 49ers finished 2009 as fantasy's No. 1 defense, but they didn't really have that kind of season. Take away their 39-point effort in Week 4 against the Rams (the highest total any defense registered all season), and suddenly they're seventh in fantasy. Still, this is an ascending unit, boosted by its switch to a 3-4 scheme last season and the corresponding stardom of nose man Aubrayo Franklin. Patrick Willis is amazing, Justin Smith didn't miss a beat adjusting to his 3-4 duties as a defensive end, '07 fourth-rounder Dashon Goldson looks like a fixture at free safety, and Shawntae Spencer came back from ACL surgery to be the Niners' best corner. But Nate Clements looks washed up, Michael Lewis keeps getting concussed (though he'll be backed up by rookie Taylor Mays in 2010), and nobody stands out as truly excellent among the outside linebackers.

YA: 4904, PA: 312 (117)

Mason Crosby: A fringe benefit of an offense that can move the ball is a kicker who gets lots of attempts. Crosby is no exception; he's tied with David Akers for the most field-goal tries over the past three seasons combined. Unfortunately, Crosby made only 75 percent of his kicks in 2009, but that average looks better when his 2-of-6 from beyond 50 is removed. He should continue to be a high-volume fantasy performer.


Laurent Robinson: The Falcons gave up on Robinson too easily, shipping him to St. Louis for a late draft pick, and he ascended to the Rams' No. 1 receiving role in training camp. The former third-rounder is 6-foot-2, has 4.38 speed and is a natural pass-catcher, but he broke his fibula in Week 3 of the 2009 season and went on injured reserve. That's consecutive seasons cut short by injury, but he has more upside than any Rams receiver for '10.

Yds: 0/0/832, TDs: 5

Mewelde Moore: Moore rushed for 588 yards in 2008, as Willie Parker and Rashard Mendenhall were injured. So is he a viable handcuff to Mendenhall in '10, with Parker out of Pittsburgh? We don't think so. The Steelers' offensive line isn't what it was just two seasons ago, and even in a situational role in '09, Moore's yards per carry dropped to 3.4. We're betting the work would get split between Moore and rookie Jonathan Dwyer should Mendenhall get injured.

Yds: 0/315/186, TDs: 4 (98)

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