Who’s for real for 2009 and beyond?

The regular season’s been history for about four weeks now, and things have obviously been quiet around here. We’re still producing playoff content, but to be honest I have taken the last few weeks to recharge the batteries a little. One of our full-time employees left the company mid-season, right before Thanksgiving, and I basically had to pick up his slack. I literally worked 95 hours a week the final six weeks of the season. I think I almost died. I hope there wasn’t a serious drop-off in our content and if you didn’t notice, that means I rule because I took on about 75% of this full-time employee’s workload – and I was working about 70 hours a week to begin with. I don’t think anyone noticed, so I believe I do, in fact, rule.

Of course, I really haven’t been able to rest too much, since I’ve been addressing all the things I’ve been ignoring from August-December, and as usual I have a ton of things going on. Some personal, and some business. For one, we’re looking to hire two new full-time employees, and it’s an extremely tedious process. For every 100 people who truly believe they have what it takes to excel in this field and job, roughly 90 of them cannot. There are a lot of bright people who can, but the problem is they already have good jobs, so in a sense all of the good ones are taken. Better to do this search in January and February than June, at least. Full timers need to be in the office, here in Southern New Jersey, which can be a little limiting in the search. But I believe it’s very necessary.

As for the NFL, the 2008 season isn’t over yet, but the off-season’s begun. We’ve seen a lot of coaching changes, and there’s a lot to digest. The rookie information is starting to come in from the Senior Bowl as well, so there’s some work to get started on. I’m not exactly ready to just yet, but we’re getting close. This is the time of year when our own Adam Caplan and Greg Cosell are breaking down these rookies. Adam and Greg attend events like the Senior Bowl and the NFL Combine, and pretty soon we’ll get some of their great insight on this year’s rookie class. Free agency will be kicking off in about five weeks, and that’s always very eventful, obviously.

In short, things are already heating up, but it’s not exactly a time yet to draw too many conclusions about the upcoming NFL season. So I thought for my first official post of the 2009 season, I’ll deal with some players I think proved to be the real deal in 2008. I’m starting to work on my annual “Lessons Learned” article, and as usual that will be released the day after the Super Bowl. One of the things I’ll cover is how I think 2009 will be a tricky year because there were a lot of players who excelled, but who aren’t exactly proven commodities. Some of these guys will fail to live up to expectations in 2009, so I’ll be doing everything I can to find who who’s poised to fall short this year.

On the other hand, I’m already sold on a lot of these young players, so here’s my list of young players I think are the real deal, and who I like for 2009.

Maurice Jones-Drew (RB, Jac) – I took some flack for pushing him a little too hard this year, and I know he was a little maddening early in the season, and at times all year. But I believe we ranked him 12th at his position this summer and he did, in fact, finish 12th for the season, despite running behind a decimated OL. Had I known the line was going to be in disrepair, I wouldn’t have pushed him quite as much, but he still came through. The only reason I bring him up here is 2009 will likely be the first year he truly carries the load. If he does, I will insist he needs to be a top-5 fantasy pick. Maybe that’s too high, and maybe he’ll wear down, but I’ve seen more than enough from this guy to get behind him that strongly. He’s beyond special.

DeAngelo Williams (RB, Car) – Wow. What do we do with this guy now? I’ll admit I didn’t think he had too much of a chance when the team drafted Jonathan Stewart – a stud in his own right – in the 1st round. But I was a big Williams fan before they took Stewart. I figured his chances of securing the lead role were over, but what’s amazing is that, while I liked and even at one time loved Williams, he completely blew my most optimistic evaluation of him out of the water in 2008. He ran very hard, incredibly decisively, and with great balance, plus he really seemed to have an incredible feel for his blocking scheme and his linemen. He was obviously very explosive, and productive. Stewart is a problem, no doubt, but Williams was too impressive to ignore. Maybe he has only 2-3 great years in the NFL, but he was too great in 2008 to ignore in 2009.

Titan RB Chris Johnson proved in 2008 that he is, in fact, the real deal.

Titan RB Chris Johnson proved in 2008 that he is, in fact, the real deal.

Chris Johnson (RB, Ten) – He was obviously very good, but so was Julius Jones in Dallas in his rookie season in 2004. Thing is, Johnson is 100% for real and if healthy will continue to perform at an elite level. We did a great job scouting Johnson in 2008, but more impressive was how Johnson totally displayed what was evident to us on tape in his first foray in the NFL, and he did so consistently. He’s dynamic, and explosive, yet physical and willing to absorb contact. He’s incredible. I actually think he’s a very safe #1 pick in fantasy. Granted, he probably won’t ever have the type of monster season we’ve seen in the recent past from guys like LT, LJ, and Steven Jackson, but I don’t see any downside. None.

Matt Forte (RB, Chi) – He’s not Adrian Peterson or LaDainian Tomlinson, but who really is? Maybe 10 guys in the history of the league? Bottom line, while Forte won’t bust off too many long TDs in his career, he is totally the real deal. He’s physical enough to excel between the tackles, but I love his run instincts and vision, and mot of all his ability to make people miss, even unblocked people. He’s smooth as hell, and he’ll get better. Love him.

Aaron Rodgers (QB, GB) – One of the most underreported stories in the NFL in 2008 was the play of Rodgers, who people seemed to forget was a first-year starter for the Packers. I couldn’t care less what Packer fans think of him due to their love affair with (the annoying) Brett Favre, and while I do understand he struggled to lead his team to victory in some winnable games, I thought Rodgers was sensational. I don’t think you can ask for more than what he did in ’08. In fact, I know you can’t. His line needs some tweaking, but I cannot envision him failing in 2009, so I think he’s a terrific fantasy option. It’ll be very interesting to see where he’s being drafted in a few months.

Steve Slaton (RB, Hou) – I got on his guy’s bandwagon fairly early last summer, after I saw his preseason debut, but it didn’t take a Fantasy Guru to figure he had a chance in Houston with guys like Ahman Green and Chris Brown on the roster last summer. I personally like the Brian Westbrook comparison we’ve made, but when I ran that by Slaton on the radio, he said he feels he’s more like Marshall Faulk. Either way, you can’t go wrong. Now, I do have some concerns with him holding up still, but as long as the team is smart with how they use him, he should continue to impress. But overall, he’s the real deal, there is no doubt.

Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco (QBs, Atl and Bal) – They’re both the real deal, no question. I personally like Flacco better, but while both are in run-heavy offenses, I do give the fantasy nod to Ryan, at least for now. Ryan has a legit #1 NFL wideout, and Flacco really does not. Ryan does not have nearly as strong of an arm, but I basically think he’s the next Drew Brees. He’s more athletic than Brees, too. As for Flacco, he reminds me of Carson Palmer; a big pocket passer with a rocket for an arm and a willingness to stare down the gun barrel. He’s also more athletic than Palmer. Problem is, when Palmer was putting up big numbers, he did so throwing to a terrific trio of receivers. Flacco needs a stud. But I am totally “Whacko for Flacco.”

Eddie Royal (WR, Den) – Totally the real deal. He runs sharp and crisp routes, is elusive as hell, and his hands and concentration are solid. He’s a very smart football player. He’s not a burner, but he can accelerate and get deep. He’ll be a staple as the #2 alongside Brandon Marshall for years to come, and he’ll be a 70+ catch guy every year.

Dustin Keller (TE, NYJ) – Although he faded down the stretch, I saw enough from Keller in 2008 to believe he’s probably the real deal. I do say “probably” because I’d like to see him excel in a role as a #1 TE in terms of blocking, etc. But when you have a TE who can move like Keller, you have to believe in him. When I asked him this past year who he compares himself to, he told me Dallas Clark, and I see the comparison. I actually think, if Keller had the luxury of playing with Peyton Manning for a few years, he might even have more upside than Clark.

Devin Hester (WR, Chi) – Caplan was all over him this summer as an emerging player, and I thought he was going to need another year. I was right, but so was he. Granted, he didn’t do too much, but I saw flashes for sure. He’s not as physical as Steve Smith, but he reminds me a little of Smith early in his career. I love the route-running improvement and if he continues to master the nuances of the position, I think he has a chance to be special. He needs a new QB, however, because Kyle Orton will never be even an above average passer.

John Carlson (Sea) – You have to say he is the real deal, after he basically carried the Seahawk passing game on his back down the stretch. I do not think he’ll be special, however, since he’s not a freak athlete or anything. But you have to be impressed with how he stepped up and produced in five of his last six games of the season. He looks like a viable starter this year, but I do have to say I’m not 100% sold on him. Still, all he needs is consistent looks in the red zone and he’ll be more than fine.

Zach Miller (TE, Oak) – We created a lot of Miller hype this year, and he disappointed overall. But did he? In just his second year, and in a train wreck of an offense with a raw QB, Miller finished 8th in the league at TE in catches, and 6th in yardage. With any luck at all, he could have actually been a borderline stud at the position. He’s not a elite talent and athlete, but he moves better than a guy like Chris Cooley (whose bandwagon I am officially off). Miller projects as a guy who can be a legit go-to receiver at the TE position, as opposed to more of a secondary receiver for his team. He just needs his offense to have a plan, more balance, and he needs improved and more consistent play from JaMarcus Russell, who still has a chance to be a stud.

Mark Clayton (WR, Bal) – He’s not a freak talent, but I like him a lot. He projects best as an NFL #2, but I think he’s a terrific #2. He can get deep and make big plays, but he’s more of a run-after-the-catch guy. I obviously love the QB, which helps. In fact, I’ve said for two months that Joe Flacco has saved Clayton’s career.

Jordy Nelson (WR, GB) – We didn’t see a lot of this guy, but trust me on this one: if you want a breakout receiver top stash on your roster, Nelson’s the guy. He will, however, likely need another two years, but this guy’s got some serious game. I like his size, speed, and run-after-the-catch ability. He’s Ed McCaffrey. Love him.

Notable on the fence selection:

Kevin Smith (RB, Det) – I think I finally nailed a Lion RB. I said over and over again last summer how this guy was far from special, but that he had an uncanny ability to sustain offense by running the ball despite his limited lateral agility and movement skills. We saw both points come into play in 2008. Production is production is production, and Smith found a way to produce in a horrendous situation. That bodes well, but I do tend to gravitate toward players with a little more juice, and Smith doesn’t have too much. Ultimately, I probably won’t give him a ton of love, but if the situation in Detroit somehow improves greatly, and it can only get better, I’m definitely going to give this guy the respect he deserves. He can grind it out, but I would also like to see him do it over the course of a full season. As you likely recall, the moronic Lion coaching staff felt the need to feature Rudi Johnson for a decent spell. Jeez, even I knew he was done when they handed the “starting” job to him over Smith.

On the Cusp:

Tyler Thigpen (QB, KC), Donnie Avery (WR, Stl), Pierre Thomas (RB, NO), Tim Hightower (RB, Ari), Derrick Ward (RB, NYG/FA), Rashard Mendenhall (RB, Pit),

Steve Breaston (WR, Ari), Tashard Choice (RB, Dal), Darren Sproles (RB, SD/FA), Kevin Boss (TE, NYG).

Category: Fantasy Football, FantasyGuru.com News


13 Responses

  1. JJ Dennning says:

    Brent Celek PHI T/E looks for real too with Smith becoming a free agent this year!

  2. Tom says:

    Good article, and it gives reassurance to some of the 1st year players and new starters.

    I’ll be interested to see how MJD handles a full load without Fred Taylor

    Chris Johnson looked awesome and he’s in a good situation.

    Rodgers looks like a good Fantasy QB.

  3. Johann says:

    Jon, great article. I’d find it valuable to get your outlook as to the future upside of ALL last years touted skill position rookies. You covered a few in the article, such as Jordy Nelson and the 2 QB’s, but I’d like your insight into which ones you see as future stars in the league? Even the ones who had to sit the bench last year, or were injured too early to get a good sense of their potential (Mendenhall, etc..).

  4. Len "Southern Patriot" says:

    I agree with Johann above, good strong article Jon.

    A lot to think about as we head into off-season, especially in keeper leagues. Maybe now, more than ever if we feel strong about any of these guys, is the time we should take a leap of off-season faith in attempt to make a trade for them. Possible buy low and sell high opportunities.

    I just have a few brief player comments:

    Devin Hester: I don’t believe the guy will ever be special on offense or even a player you can consider as a weekly starter – not even at a flex position. You compare him to Steve Smith, without the physicality, take away Smith being physical and what do you have….you have a WR that no longer stands out. Please do not get me wrong, Deven Hester will go down possibly as one of the greatest return men ever in the history of the NFL – but please let’s do not anoint him as a WR who is up and coming. Let’s remember the team he is on and let’s remember all the WR’s they traded or let go this past off season. I mean they only had Brandon Llyod & Rashied Davis as other real WR options.

    Let’s also remember Donte Hall who’s best receiving total was 40 (2003) and receiving TD toals was 3 (2005) during his prime as a returner who converted to WR. I personally do not think Hester will ever eclipse 65 receptions in a single season or exceed more than 5 receiving TD’s in a single seaon.

    DeAngelo Williams: This past Summer I did an extensive renovation project at Bank of America Stadium. So I largely spent from Mid-May to late July at the Stadium on a weekly basis. Although I am a die hard Patriots Fan, I became really fond of DW, and it was very evident how the drafting of Stewart motivated him. Changed him. Did I think he would do what he did, absolutely not, do I think he can repeat those stats again this season….doubt it. Realistically, 10-12 TD’s in 2009 versus 20 TD’s in 2008.

    But I say that to say this, DW you are my boy. I remember standing at his locker one night and talking about DW, and the Bank of America employee chimmed in and pointed to the locker beside his (James Stewart’s)saying “yeah, but we have the rookie of the year right here”. I am proud of what you did this year and I will repeat what I said to those all of those at Bank of America Stadium this past year who cast you aside once Stewart was drafted – “do not doubt him”.

    Remember DW, “never mind what haters say, ignore them until they fade away”…….

    In closing, Jon, if I lived up North….it would be an honor and joy of a lifetime to earn a previledge of working with your team. After all I have followed you now for about 6 years. Good luck in 2009 and best of luck in filling your current vacancy.

  5. MikaelB says:

    Jon I would like to thank you and your staff for a great year of insight.
    I am looking forward to a great 2009 season.I have been participating in the same FFL Keeper league for the last 23 years.Same original 10 FFL owners guys and 4 rotating owners.Our set up for a starting line every week is QB/2RB/2WR/1 TE/1 K/1D.And the same format in keeping players as starters for the next season.We are also allowed two slots to keep Rookies that can play or stay benched for 2 years.I actually won the season in 1988 and had made the playoffs about 12 times ,but its been a long dry spell in winning the championship.In 2008 I decided to draft good potential rookies that will make my 2009 season a sweet one.Here is the list of players I drafted in September,Here are my Gems ,Chris Johnson Rb ,Titans ,Eddie Royal Wr Broncos,Steve Slaton Rb Texans and in the season gave up a third round pick in 2009 for Joe Flacco Qb Ravens(rookie).These studs will be the nuculus of my team consisting of Big Ben,A.Gonzalez Wr Colts,Dallas Defense,Michael Bush Rb Raiders (Rookie),Dan Carpenter K Dolfins,B.Scaife Te Titans .So I am looking forward to drafting Jay Cutler with the number one pick in the 2009 draft, which I obtained as I traded Rivers at trade deadline when my season was over.Looking forward to drafting P.Thomas RB Saints,Mark Clayton Wr Ravens,B Pettigrow Te who most probably be a Bill? and a veteran kicker.

    Thanks for all the insights from your website ,Looking forward to the input for the 2009 pre-preseason.Enjoy the SuperBowl as the Steelers will previal and clip the wings of the great cinderella story, Cardinals as we see a great man and player ,Kurt Warner playing his last football game.While Big Ben plays a better Super Bowl than his win against the Seahawks.Steeler Defense will dominate.All the best

  6. JOOCE says:

    Great article.

    A few comments on the comments…

    It’s a little premature to say that MJD will carry the load and that Fred Taylor will not be a Jaguar in 2009. What if he takes a pay cut to end his career in Jax?

    Smitty minus physicality does not equal a WR that doesn’t stand out.

    Smitty – physicality = a blazing fast receiver with great hands, concentration, body control, toughness, competitiveness, fire, etc, etc.

    Finally, may I ask who said that Kurt Warner was going to retire after the Super Bowl??

  7. John Hansen says:

    We will soon be covering more players, but I recently updated the keeper league rankings and comments, so you can check those out.

    I understand why people are skeptical on Hester, but we are, in fact, going to promote Hester as an up-and-comer. The team is VERY high on him as a receiver, and he’s standing out on tape in terms of his route-running and the like. He’s also explosive and deadly in the open field, so especially if they get a better QB and with a full year at receiver under his belt, we are going to “go there.”

  8. ChuckSteelerFan says:

    Jon, always love the articles. I’ve been playing fanatsy for over 12 years. I’ve been a website member for a couple years now, but start listening to you and Adam on Sirius for four years and your fantasy analysis is unmatched.
    All I wanted to say was thanks for the Chris Johnson push. Picked him up in every league I was in and he certainly paid off, especially two of my keeper leagues where we keep two rookies along with players. All the people that laugh when I took him somewhat “high” wish they picked him.
    Oh yeah, Eddie Royal was pretty good for my team also.

    Look me up if there is a vacancy…

  9. Bobby Herbert says:

    These two were mentioned as on the cusp players, as you probably want to see more from them. However Pierre Thomas & Donnie Avery really stand out here. Avery was hurt and on a terrible Ram’s offense yet showed sick skils, and Thomas just flat out does it all every time he gets a shot. Obviously any FF team needs week in and week out consitent players, but I will live and die by those playmakers that can on any given play stick that dagger in an opponent.

  10. JBeau says:

    Good to see you blogging again John. I agree with most of your assessments, I guess pretty much all of them. Zach Miller pissed me off, but if Jamarcus ever gets things straight, I can see Miller panning out. I agree with Bobby…Thomas is the real deal and probably will be the starter. Regardless if Bush is there or not, I think he will be a real productive guy. Not so sure about Avery, but he is pretty decent. I would love to see a “these guys are done article”. A couple to start with, Deuce, LJ, Holt….you know guys who you shouldn’t waste a pick on. haha. Enjoy the SuperBowl.

  11. Carl from Buffalo says:

    Hey John! Thank you for helping me win my league (20th year) and finishing second in my other!Because of you and Adam I went after Cutler,Chris Johnson,MJD,Roddy White!
    Tell Adam/Sam Carl from Buffalo says hey (fantasy football convention in Minny).

  12. Anthony says:

    John, what do you think of Pierre Thomas? I know you have it on the cusp. Can you elaborate on why you’re not truly sold on him? thanks.

  13. Very nice Baltimore Ravens information. I hope to be in Baltimore for a game this fall.

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