Fantasy Football: Applaud or a Fraud?

We’re going to play another one of our site games here as we continue our fantasy football preparation. In this post, we’re going to look at several of the breakout players from 2008 and see whether we should applaud them or consider them fantasy frauds for 2009. These are judgments of fantasy football value, not of a player’s ability or contribution to his NFL team. Feel free to leave comments with other guys you’d like included in this post, and we’ll update it as we go forward.

Note: Some guys who fit this category have been analyzed elsewhere. For example, you can read about Steve Slaton, DeAngelo Williams, and Chris Johnson in this post. You can find that and all of our other ’09 fantasy football coverage  through this category link.

QB Matt Cassel, Chiefs – After taking over for Tom Brady last year, Cassel had a supersolid year, throwing for nearly 3,700 yards and 21 touchdowns, with two rushing TDs added in for good measure. Cassel is moving on to Kansas City, which at first seems like a recipe for fantasy irrelevance. He’s a fantasy sleeper, though, because he has a top-flight receiver in Dwayne Bowe, and the Chiefs’ new head coach Todd Haley proved he could put together a pass-happy offense in Arizona last year. Cassel isn’t a fantasy starter, so we can’t clap for him, but he’s an intriguing backup option in most leagues. We give this verdict with our fingers crossed. Verdict: A fraud

QB Philip Rivers, Chargers – Rivers had been a so-so fantasy quarterback for two seasons before exploding last year with 4,000 yards and 34 touchdowns. Those are elite numbers, and the fact that he did it for the first time leads to the question of whether he can do it again. Here’s why we say yes. First, he continues to build experience with coach Norv Turner, who has his faults as a head coach but is money tutoring quarterbacks. Secondly, Rivers finally got an elite receiver last year because Vincent Jackson emerged as a true No. 1 threat. With Jackson, TE Antonio Gates, and RBs LaDanian Tomlinson and Darren Sproles, Rivers has plenty of places to throw the ball. With all that going for him, Rivers should be a top-8 fantasy quarterback yet again. Verdict: Applaud

QB Aaron Rodgers, Packers – Rodgers waited and waited and waited his turn in Green Bay while Brett Favre changed and unchanged and changed his mind again. Finally, the Packers went with Rodgers, and he delivered with 4,000 yards, 28 passing TDs, and 4 rushing TDs. Rodgers has an elite target in Greg Jennings, and there’s a lot of receiver depth in Green Bay as well. Rodgers might not be a top-5 fantasy quarterback, but he’s definitely a top-10 guy at his position. That’s worth a hand clap. Verdict: Applaud

RB Cedric Benson, Bengals – Benson was a bust with the Bears after being a top-5 pick in the NFL draft, but after signing with Cincinnati during the ’08 season, he finished with 747 yards and two touchdowns in 12 games. That projects to a 1,000-yard season and begs the question of whether Benson is back as a fantasy consideration. He’s certainly not a top-20 back, but the RB crop drops off so quickly that Benson becomes a consideration rather quickly. For a guy who was completely off the radar in last year’s draft, Benson has put himself back on the list. So while we’re not giving him a standing ovation, we can muster at least a golf clap for him. Verdict: Applaud

RB T.J. Duckett, Seahawks – Duckett only had 172 rushing yards last year, but in his short-yardage role he scored a whopping eight touchdowns. That role is very unpredictable, and so predicting another eight touchdowns in ’09 is flatly unwise. Draft Duckett at your own risk. Verdict: A fraud

RB Tim Hightower, Cardinals – Hightower broke out as a fantasy back last year, beating out Edgerrin James for a primary back role. But after winning the job, he ended up struggling, and he finished with just 399 rushing yards. He did score 10 touchdowns on the season. Hightower doesn’t have to contend with James anymore, but he will have to outman Chris “Beanie” Wells for carries. The guess here is that Wells will win that race and that Hightower’s touchdown total takes a significant dip in ’09. Verdict: A fraud

RB Le’Ron McClain, Ravens – The Ravens’ backfield was a mess from a fantasy perspective, as McClain, Willis McGahee, and Ray Rice all had games in which they were the primary ball carrier. McClain, who entered the year as a backup fullback, ended up with the best fantasy numbers after piling up 902 rushing yards and 10 total touchdowns. But in ’09, I wouldn’t want to rely on McClain as a fantasy starter or even as my primary backup at the position, because it’s much more likely that Rice ends up as Baltimore’s best fantasy producer at running back. So while McClain has some skills and might be a good guy in the locker room, I don’t think I want him on my fantasy team. Verdict: A fraud

RB Kevin Smith, Lions – As a fourth-round NFL draft pick last year, Smith emerged as Detroit’s top running back. He started 12 games and rushed for 976 yards and 8 touchdowns. Those aren’t great fantasy numbers, but given how pathetic the Lions were around him, they’re an acceptable rookie showing. The question is whether Smith can take a step forward this year. The Lions might not be completely sold on him, but given the other running back options around Detroit this year, Smith is still the one Lions back you should consider. Plus, the offensive line got a lot of veteran help in the offseason, which should bode well for Smith’s numbers. Smith should end up as a top-25 back, and we’ll give him a bit of a clap for that. Verdict: Applaud

RB Jonathan Stewart, Panthers – Stewart had a strong rookie year, rushing for 836 yards and 10 touchdowns even though he was clearly the No. 2 option behind DeAngelo Williams. It’s hard to see the Panthers ending up with 30-plus rushing touchdowns again in ’09, but Stewart should still be a productive fantasy back. He’s not going to pile up a lot of yardage numbers – that’s more of Williams’ forte – but he is the better short-yardage option, and that should pad his touchdown total. We can see him accumulating 800 rushing yards and 8 TDs again, and that makes him a legitimate fantasy back. Verdict: Applaud

RB Pierre Thomas, Saints – Thomas, an undrafted free agent a few years back, has slowly estabished himself as a legitimate NFL back. In 2007, he beat out draft pick Antonio Pittman to make the Saints, and in 2008 he surpassed long-time Saint Deuce McAllister to become the Saints’ primary back. Now Thomas pairs with Reggie Bush to form the Saints backfield. Thomas finished the year with 625 rushing yards and 12 total touchdowns, and he’s being listed as a top-20 fantasy running back going into 2009. But it would be a mistake to take Thomas that high. His yardage total should tick upward, perhaps to 800 yards or so, but his touchdown number looks suspicious. I think he’s much more likely to score 6 times than he is to score 10-12 times. I don’t see Thomas as a regular fantasy starter. Verdict: A fraud

RB Derrick Ward, Buccaneers – Ward was part of the Giants’ Earth, Wind, and Fire backfield last year, and thanks to a late-season injury to Brandon Jacobs, he surpassed 1,000 rushing yards. But he only had two touchdowns, and in the offseason he moved to Tampa Bay to team with Earnest Graham. It seems to me that Ward and Graham are basically equal partners in the RB tandem in Tampa, and if Cadillac Williams can get healthy – and that’s a monstrous if – Ward’s carries will decline a bit more. Ward may be the best fantasy back in Tampa this year, but he’s not a fantasy starter. I smell a 700-yard, 4-TD season. So from a fantasy perspective, we have a verdict. Verdict: A fraud

WR Steve Breaston, Cardinals – Breaston, Arizona’s third receiver, exploded last year with 77 catches for 1,006 yards. He also had three touchdowns. But those numbers were padded during the 2 1/2 games when Anquan Boldin was out last year. So we can expect a step back from Breaston to more of the 700-yard range. So while he’s draftable in fantasy leagues, he’s not even a strong backup option in most leagues. He will not match his ’08 numbers in ’09. Verdict: A fraud

WR Antonio Bryant, Buccaneers – Bryant had gone through a star-crossed career and had missed the entire 2007 season before Tampa gave him a chance last season. That gamble paid off big time, as Bryant totaled 83 catches for 1,248 yards and 7 touchdowns. The Bucs then slapped the franchise tag, paying more than $8 million on Bryant to keep him for 2009. Bryant enters the season as Tampa’s No. 1 receiver option. However, it would be crazy to expect another monster season from him. Bryant has talent, but his reliability is still a question. Plus, the Bucs have a new quarterback situation, and so Bryant will be catching balls from Byron Leftwich or perhaps rookie Josh Freeman. And there’s a new coaching staff too. All that makes a repeat of Bryant’s breakout especially unlikely. Verdict: A fraud

WR DeSean Jackson, Eagles – Jackson broke through the usual rookie receiver wall, catching 65 passes for 912 yards and scoring four total touchdowns. Now he is Philly’s No. 1 receiving option, with rookies Jeremy Maclin and TE Cornelius Ingram likely to support. That means Jackson will get his chances, and when he gets his hands on the ball, he’ll take advantage. Don’t rate Jackson too highly, but he’s between 20 and 25 on the fantasy WR list. That makes him a starter in most leagues and causes us to give him a hand. Verdict: Applaud

WR Vincent Jackson, Chargers – Jackson didn’t get a lot of pub last year, but he had a terrific season, emerging as Rivers’ No. 1 option and totalling almost 1,100 yards and seven touchdowns. He only had 59 catches, which is a little low for a No. 1 wideout, especially on a pass-happy team like the Chargers. I expect that catch number to increase to 65-70 this year, and if that happens, Jackson’s numbers could actually go up. He’s a top-20 receiver for fantasy owners this fall. Verdict: Applaud

WR Lance Moore, Saints – Moore emerged as an all-world slot receiver last year, piling up 79 catches for 928 yards and 10 touchdowns in the Saints’ pass-happy offense. Some may look at those numbers and wonder if Marques Colston’s injury problems opened the door for Moore, but the fact that Moore plays inside and Colston plays outsider mitigates that concern. The bottom line is that Moore is in an incredibly potent offense, and he’s going to get his numbers. You can expect a minimum of 60 catches, 800 yards, and 8 touchdowns from him, and that’s reason to cheer. Verdict: Applaud

WR Eddie Royal, Broncos – Royal was another rookie who had a huge rookie season, finishing with 91 catches for 980 yards and 5 scores. He’s a small, shifty guy who can play out of the slot or outside, and he is the perfect complement to Brandon Marshall. But expecting 90 catches or 1,000 yards this season is foolhardy, because the Broncos have downgraded at quarterback from Jay Cutler to Kyle Orton. Marshall’s holdout talk and trade demand are troubling as well. So while Royal will be productive, he’ll end up looking like an imposter when compared to his ’08 numbers. Verdict: A fraud

TE John Carlson, Seahawks – As a rookie, Carlson finished ninth among all tight ends in terms of both catches (with 55) and yards (with 627). Combine those numbers with his 5 touchdowns, and you have a starting tight end for fantasy teams. Can he earn starter status again? The signs are good. QB Matt Hasselbeck should return to provide a more reliable passing offense, and that will help Carlson’s numbers significantly. And while the arrival of WR T.J. Houshmandzadeh may take a few receptions off Carlson’s plate, the fact that there’s no true second option should give Carlson plenty of room to perform well again. Fantasy starting lineups, here he comes. Verdict: Applaud

TE Anthony Fasano, Dolphins – Only four tight ends had at least seven receiving touchdowns last year. You’d guess the first two – Antonio Gates and Tony Gonazalez. But you’d be hard pressed to name Visanthe Shiancoe and Fasano as the other two. Fasano, who Bill Parcells brought over from Dallas when he arrived in Miami, isn’t a great pass catcher – he had just 34 total catches. That kind of catch-to-TD ratio always makes me nervous, because it generally indicates that the TD total is out of whack. So while it’s safe to expect 30 catches and 400 yards from Fasano again, my guess is that the touchdown total will be 3 or 4, not seven. That makes Fasano a fraudulent fantasy starter in ’09. Verdict: A fraud

TE Zach Miller, Raiders – Miller had 56 catches for 778 yards in ’08, piling up an impressive 14 yards per catch. He scored just one touchdown, but he still announced himself as one of the better pass-catching tight ends in the league. That emergence should continue in ’08 as Miller and his quarterback JaMarcus Russell both emerge. While Miller isn’t a top-5 fantasy tight end, he’s good enough to earn a spot in the top 10 – and to earn a round of applause. Verdict: Applaud

TE Visanthe Shiancoe, Vikings – No veteran tight end had a bigger breakout in 2008 than Shiancoe, who had 42 catches for 596 yards and 7 TDs. That doubled the yardage total he had in his first five seasons, nearly doubled his catch total, and took his career TD tally from four to 11. So is Shiancoe a legitimate fantasy threat? It’s hard to say right now, given the Vikings’ unstable quarterback situation. But the fact that the Vikings only have one real starting-quality receiver (Bernard Berrian), and given the fact that struggling quarterbacks tend to look at the tight end more often, we’ll pencil Shiancoe in as a top-12 fantasy tight end. That’s enough for us to give a very light round of applause. Verdict: Applaud

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5 Comments

Filed under Applaud/A Fraud, Fantasy Football, Football Relativity

5 responses to “Fantasy Football: Applaud or a Fraud?

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