Breakout/Undervalued Players For 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.

Running Back

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.

Wide Receiver

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.

Tight End

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.

Category: Fantasy Guru Daily


25 Responses

  1. JBeau says:

    Good Stuff Cap. Right there with you on the TEs and the WRs. I think Austin beats Crayton out and puts up solid numbers. Wanna throw one more player out there. Carson Palmer…very undervalued in my recent mock drafts. I love Anthony Gonzalez this year.

  2. Adam Caplan says:

    Crayton is a slot WR, so I can’t see how Austin can’t win that job. Palmer is really dropping this year based on his injury and the loss of TJH. Carlson and Gonzalez are undervalued so far, especially Carlson. Celek isn’t getting drafted.

  3. Anth says:

    Adam, do you think both Stewart/DeAngelo could possibly be top-10 RBs for 2009? Also, with Celek, dont have faith in the rookie TE they drafted to take some touches away from Celek?

  4. Adam Caplan says:

    Ingram didn’t play last season and it’s his first year there so lets see how it plays out. They do expect Celek to be on the field quite a bit this season. As for the two CAR backs, I don’t see Williams doing as well if Stewart is 100%. They drafted Stewart to be their main ball carrier, so the pressure will be on Williams again to post big numbers. Not sure if he can repeat that success again. They are a true power running team. Other than Steve Smith, they have no threats at WR.

  5. Stretch says:


    I have another TE who is a starter that you can add to your BUPs. He is V. Shiancoe. He will at least get you 6-8 TDs this year. You can get him around the 10th rd or later. Defenses will stack the box because of A.Peterson and Shiancoe will be wide open. Trust me.

  6. Idiot Savant says:

    Thanks Cap… I had listed Ryan higher in my QB projections..but adjusted him down a tad. I think he will get more opportunity too.

    J Stewart is an interesting case. He is the epitome of a Carolina runner…but if D Williams keeps running as well as he did last year…you have to find a way to get him the rock too. Its a dangerous situation to rank either too high…I prefer the guy ranked lower (Stewart) so you get the possibility of upside.

    I also have D Avery as a possible emerging WR..

    Hester I will be watching for myself…to see if I agree that he’s made the leap to being a full on WR. I don’t like that they are using him on special teams as well…(I don’t get those pts), and he is exposed to injury risk. IF they thought he was valuable enough at WR might they want to protect him and only use him in the playoffs or in special situations in KR, PR duties. He’s still more of a game changer in kicking duties than at WR that tells me.

  7. JBeau says:

    I am surprised Celek isn’t getting drafted as a backup at least. Reid doesn’t like playing Rookies, so I doubt that rookie TE takes too much from Celek. Celek proved to be very reliable in the clutch in the playoffs and towards the end of the season.

    Stretch, I like Schiancoe too and if Mr. Favre comes back for more, this guy will really benefit.

  8. austin says:

    I like the list and would add Mendenhall to the list. I think at the very least his style will dictate a 50/50% split and if anything happens to Parker Mendenhall becomes a must start.

    I like the mention of Stewart who might be a top 5 talent at the position right now.

  9. Adam Caplan says:

    I’m very interested to see how that RB battle between Mendenhall and Parker turns out.

  10. mk says:

    Maybe this is digging too deep, but how do you feel about Brad Cottam in KC now that Gonzalez is in Atlanta. Who would you rather have as a long term option between he and Celek? Love the posts keep up the good work!

  11. Adam Caplan says:

    Cottam will be KC’s new starting TE. He’s huge (close to 6-8) and runs well for his size. Upside as a #2 TE at this point. Like Celek more at this point, but we’re only in May.

  12. austin says:

    Adam who do you take first in a ppr: Peterson or MJD? We play in a ppr league but also reward bonus points for 100,150 yds rushing so its a tough call.

  13. Adam Caplan says:

    I don’t take fantasy questions here. If you want to discuss the list of players that I submitted above, go for it.

  14. Adam Caplan says:

    BTW, on Hester, you’ll recall we wrote last year the team thought he could be a 70-catch/season WR. I didn’t believe it at the time because of who was throwing to him, but he has Cutler now. I’ll be very interested to see how quickly they can develop timing etc.

  15. austin says:

    Hester’s strengths should be maximized with Cutler and vice versa. I wasn’t high on Hester last year but I think he makes a great #3 with upside.

  16. Adam Caplan says:

    I think he could be better than that. I think at the very least he’ll be a solid #3 WR for fantasy. Cutler will throw deep in this scheme and Hester is their best deep threat.

  17. Mike says:

    I have been seeing P Thomas going in the 3rd and 4th round of drafts, to me that seems alittle high right now. I am in the camp of thinking R Bush could be undervalued in the 3rd especially in a ppr. What are your thoughts on the NO backfield and how those 2 will be used.

  18. Adam Caplan says:

    Pretty much a RBBC between the two of them, but a realistic chance that Thomas gets more carries than Bush overall. Total touches should go to Bush, but both catch the ball well. The fact that they haven’t sign a veteran RB like E. James is a good sign.

  19. FFRich says:

    Adam, like your list and can see everyone but Carlson. Last year, with all the WR injuries in Seattle he was the #1 option some weeks, and still averaged barely 10 ppg. Obviously, he was a rookie and Hasselbeck missed some time; but with TJ and if Branch and Burleson are healthy (I know…a BIG if) along with the rookie they drafted to play in the slot (Butler), I can’t see Carlson topping last year’s numbers and believe he will have a tough time even matching them.

  20. Adam Caplan says:

    You’re not going to do well every week when you’re a rookie and you have inferior QBs throwing to you. It’s amazing he did as well as he did and keep in mind they really have no physical presence in their passing game other than him. It’s also impressive that he had at least 7 games of 4 catches or more. TJH will get his, but keep in mind this is going to be the WCO and the TE will be featured. It’s also a good thing that Cosell is high on him based on his game tape.

  21. austin says:

    What do you see happening in Carolina with their backfield? I think Stewart could easily put up the same numbers as DWill this year and possibly better as it could be a 50/50 split and Stewart should get more goal line work. It was a more even workload before Stewart got hurt last year and it seems to transition back to that in the playoff’s as well. I would rather take Stewart in the 5th then DWill in the first or early second.

  22. Adam Caplan says:

    Here’s what I wrote for the Guru Mag: The Panthers drafted Stewart last year with the belief that he would eventually take over the starting job at running back. However, he dealt with a lingering toe injury for most of 2008 and Williams took advantage of his increased role. Williams wound up having a monster season last year (20 combined TDs and over 1,600 combined yards). With Stewart now healthy, look for a RBBC with Stewart handling a little more than half of the carries.

  23. strikeforce says:

    adam, im back with you guys for a long time, went away last year, mistake, missed you and the staff, will be a here for life now, glad to be back and really out of all the sites you and your staff rule fantasy football !!!!! strikeforce , aka strikey

  24. Chuck Anderson says:

    Hi Adam,

    Nice list of sleepers. I especially like Donnie Avery. He looks like the clear #1 target and he should have a healthy Bulger…for a while anyway. According to the ADP from Dom Korbel, Avery is the #27 WR off the board going after the likes of Chris Cooley. I like Avery as a #2 WR and especially love him as my #3 WR….and the St Louis defense doesn’t look any better. I think you nailed this one.

  25. Adam Caplan says:

    I’d draft Avery as my #3 WR, he’s going a lot higher than expected, like 7th round area. Just lower your expectations a bit. After his hot start, he he faded badly and their passing game is pretty shaky. He has great speed and upside, just be realistic.

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