Ladanian Tomlinson and Hakeem Nicks were sleepers of mine last year, but so was Alex Smith. You can’t get them all. These are just guys that I might go an extra couple dollars for in auctions, or a round or two earlier than they are currently valued. Don’t go nuts. There are always going to be more sleepers than busts because busts are established players who I think will fall significantly and there’s a limited supply of bust-candidates. I welcome your comments on who you think I missed, or people I picked that you can’t see busting or breaking out.
Let’s talk about sleepers first.
If you’ve read my football stuff before, you know I like Tim Tebow quite a bit. Don’t be shocked to see 40 touchdowns (passing+running). I don’t care where Kevin Kolb lands, I think he will play well. If I was the Eagles, I’d be looking to move Michael Vick and start Kolb there, but that’s not likely. I’ve always been high on Matt Ryan. He posted career highs across the board last year, and is still being ranked outside the top-10 quarterbacks in fantasy. I think that’s harsh for a guy who is coming off 3,700 yards and 28 TDs. Look for 3500 and 30 this season, with upside for 4000 and 35. After watching Joe Webb play for the Vikings last year, I was very impressed. If Webb gets a shot at some serious playing time, he has the skills to have success. He may not be worth owning in most leagues, but in deeper leagues, he’s worth a last-round flier, and definitely a guy to be watching in smaller leagues. Now, a guy I predicted would get a shot last year was Max Hall. He wasn’t very good in his shot. But the organization LOVES him. So there’s a chance he gets another shot if he has a good preseason (if there is a preseason).
Moving on to running backs, Shonn Greene has simply fallen too far. Ladanian Tomlinson is another year older, and the Jets are still a run-heavy team. Considering where he is going in drafts, I think he is one of the better value-picks available. I think Tashard Choice is in for a major breakout this year. Felix Jones can’t stay healthy, and I don’t think anyone will give Marion Barber starts again. Ahmad Bradshaw is coming off his breakout 2010, but there is still more in the tank. He could be a top-10 back this year. Montario Hardesty might have been the Browns’ leading rusher last year if he hadn’t gotten hurt. Peyton Hillis, the Madden ’12 cover man, is the starter for now, but there is potential here, especially later in the season when Hillis wears down. Mike Tolbert was a revelation when Ryan Mathews went down with an injury. I still have doubts about Mathews handling a full workload. If he gets hurt again, Tolbert could have similar success. I still think Knowshon Moreno has bigger and better things coming. Danny Woodhead is one of the most likeable players in football, and Tom Brady likes him as much as anyone. And when Brady likes someone, they tend to do well. Anthony Dixon, Mike Hart, and Ben Tate are three other non-starters who I think will be worth owning, and could produce big numbers if the people ahead of them get hurt or struggle. I also seem to like Marshawn Lynch but hesitantly.
Obviously, the league contains wideouts galore. As I was putting together my rankings, I would see names I thought could really climb this year, and scribbled them down as I went, so these are in no particular order. Brandon Marshall still has the skills, and will get plenty of targets. With Miami’s running backs somewhat of a question, Marshall could be in for even more looks than usual. Anthony Gonzalez has fallen off the map completely, but there was a time when he was a favorite for perennial Pro Bowl QB Peyton Manning. Deeper leagues, don’t dismiss him. Malcom Floyd is one of the more underrated receivers in football. I have doubts about Vincent Jackson staying healthy, but even if he does, he will get all the attention, and Floyd should carve up defenses. Jacoby Jones has a breakout year coming… someday. Pierre Garcon is under appreciated, but he is an excellent pass-catcher, and he has one of the best in the game throwing his way. Yes, there are lots of good hands in Indy, but they don’t seem to be in any danger of developing a run game. In a mock the other day, I got Randy Moss at pick #128. That seems like no-risk, all reward. He’s still Randy frikn Moss. Aj Green….. I HATE rookies. But the man is a physical beast, so there has to at least be some consideration. BUT he is probably going to be drafted wayyyyyy too early for me to ever own him. Anthony Armstrong is interesting in Washington. Someone has to catch passes there. Jacoby Ford was impressive at times last year. If Oakland had a consistent QB, he might be even more tempting to me. Danny Amendola might be his passer’s favorite target, and they have to throw a little more just to give Steven Jackson a little more room. James Jones is my pick to finish second in catches and yards in Green Bay. I see a big, big year coming for Michael Crabtree. I don’t care who is throwing to him, I just feel it coming. Three others I really like are Demaryius Thomas, Ben Obomanu, and Dexter McCluster. McCluster is just faster than anyone else on the field, which already works for Chris Johnson and Deshean Jackson. Obomanu had some success last year, and there should be targets available in Seattle for someone who steps up. Thomas is in the same place the rest of the Denver offense is, young and improving.
A few tight ends to watch… Kevin Boss and Visanthe Shiancoe always seem to be available at the end of drafts, and they are popular red-zone targets. Neither is consistent, but when they get targeted, they don’t disappoint. Brent Celek is being ranked a lot lower than I think he deserves, so you might get him at a bargain. And I like Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez to both get decent looks in New England.
Now, this thing wouldn’t be complete without some busts to go with them.
I hate rookies, and will remind you in everyone section of busts. Starting here with quarterbacks. After rookies, I don’t see Matthew Stafford staying healthy. If he could, he’d be a great fantasy QB, 4,000 yard capable. But I’ll believe it when I see it. I think Michael Vick is going to be one of the most complete busts of the decade. People, be reasonable with your expectations of Josh Freeman. He doesn’t have the weapons to jump into the Matt Ryan/Tony Romo group of passers. I’m even hesitant ranking him where I did, but I still think Tampa Bay will run a lot.
Frank Gore will not play more than 12 games. Take it to the bank, and yet he is drafted in the first round every year. Peyton Hillis wore down noticeably last season, and now that Montario Hardesty is healthy, he won’t get as many carries as he did. Ryan Grant is back from injury, but James Starks established himself as a skilled back in his own right, so they might end up splitting carries. Felix Jones might find himself supplanted by Tashard Choice as the every down back in Dallas and that might be for the better. Jones hasn’t shown his body can handle that kind of duty. Ryan Mathews is young, lost half his rookie year to injury, and has a capable backup. Cj Spiller didn’t show anything last year, when he was in. I still think Fred Jackson is one of the most underrated backs in the NFL. I hate rookies, did I mention that? And I think the Bengals offense will be a mess, including Cedric Benson.
Rookie wide receivers are the WORST! They are head cases, on top of being inexperienced, and usually poor route runners. Expectations should be tempered for Brandon Lloyd. He had a huge season last year, but Denver is still in transition, and I don’t see him repeating those numbers. Johnny Knox is ranked where he is in most lists because he is the only decent option for Jay Cutler in Chicago. That doesn’t make him good. Dez Bryant doesn’t interest me where he is ranked. People think he could be the top option in Dallas. Those people are wrong. The top option is Miles Austin and I wouldn’t blame Tony Romo for looking to his tight end Jason Witten after that. Donald Driver and Hines Ward (I know I said this last year) can’t keep performing at their age. They both have played physical careers and injuries and age will catch up with them. The Panthers’ Steve Smith isn’t what he once was.
Mercedes Lewis and Kellen Winslow will struggle from inconsistent QB play because throwing to a tight end is often in traffic and accuracy becomes all the more important. It might be time for Tony Gonzalez to start falling off. Owen Daniels has some health concerns as well as plenty of good wide receivers in town to steal targets.
That’s all I’ve got for now. Tomorrow is Q&A, and there will be Love/Hate and other preseason articles coming soon, but remember, baseball season is going, so be patient with football content.