May 4, 2009
by Adam Caplan
If you read my blog posts last year, I periodically posted sleepers/breakout/undervalued players throughout the season. Here’s my initial list of breakout/undervalued players for 2009 which I’ll update again as we get closer to the opening of training camps.
Matt Ryan/Atlanta Falcons – After posting a decent 17 TD passes as a rookie, the second-year pro will now have the best tight in the NFL to throw to this season. Lets face it, the missing factor for this offense was at the tight end position. Now with Tony Gonzalez in the fold, it will be very hard for defenses to key on any one facet of Atlanta’s offense. Ryan should be a pretty good value for fantasy owners in the middle rounds and you can get him as your starter there.
Pierre Thomas/New Orleans Saints – Thomas was a big surprise for the Saints last season considering his role wasn’t clearly defined coming into the season. However, once veteran RB Deuce McAllister’s role was reduced and Reggie Bush started struggling with knee problems, Thomas saw an increased role. While handling just under 9 carries/game, he posted a very solid 4.8 yards per carry average to go along with a whopping 12 combined TDs (9 rushing/3 receiving). McAllister is gone and Bush is coming off of major knee surgery, so Thomas should post at least 12-15 touches/game this season. That makes him a breakout candidate for 2009.
Jonathan Stewart/Carolina Panthers – The Panthers drafted him to be the main ball carrier, but Stewart dealt with a nagging toe problem last season which limited his effectiveness. Now 100 percent, he should give veteran RB DeAngelo Williams a run in training camp to be the team’s main back. Stewart is being drafted close to the middle rounds and you can steal him as your third RB.
Anthony Gonzalez/Indianapolis Colts – With veteran WR Marvin Harrison released, Gonzalez will now be a starter. Gonzalez posted very solid numbers last season (57/664/4) despite only starting two games. He clearly has the trust of Peyton Manning and his role should increase this season.
Devin Hester/Chicago Bears – Hester made the full conversion to receiver last season and posted decent numbers (51-665-3) and started eight games. He’ll essentially be their top receiver this season and he’ll now have one of the NFL’s best young quarterbacks in Jay Cutler throwing to him. Expect Hester’s yards per catch to grow this season as well as his TD numbers. He’s looking like a solid #3 WR with upside.
Donnie Avery/St. Louis Rams – Avery was one of the biggest surprise rookie receivers last season, but faded down the stretch. The good thing is he’ll work with the first-team offense all off-season and will be expected to be their top receiver this season. He has excellent upside for fantasy owners in the second half of drafts.
Miles Austin/Dallas Cowboys – With the release of Terrell Owens, a starting job has opened up opposite Roy Williams. The expectation is that Austin, who has good size and speed, will win it. Austin, if he starts, will be expected to be the third passing option and that carries good late round value for depth or better.
John Carlson/Seattle Seahawks – He had a very underrated rookie season (55-627-5) last year. Carlson’s role will expand this season with starting QB Matt Hasselbeck in the lineup. While the team added T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Carlson should still be no worse than their third passing option, and he might even be the second–especially in the red zone area. He’s worth drafting as your starter and you can get him in rounds 9-10.
Greg Olsen/Chicago Bears – With no true second passing option at this point, Olsen’s role should expand this season. With Jay Cutler throwing to him, Olsen should approach 60 receptions or more this season (he posted 54 last season).
Brent Celek/Philadelphia Eagles – The coaching staff, after reviewing last year’s game tape, believes Celek is going to be their starting tight end this season. Celek’s impressive post-season run (19-151-3) opened a lot of eyes and the team believes his role will expand this season. He’s worth taking a shot on late in your draft as a low-end starter.