print 2010 Wrap-Up Report (And Early 2011 Preview)

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Published, 1/29/11

In this report, we’ll go division-by-division and offer up a quick wrap of the 2010 season, with a brief preview of what to expect in 2011 and beyond.  

Also See: AFC East I AFC West I AFC North I AFC South I NFC East I NFC West I NFC North

NFC South 

Atlanta Falcons
QBs:Matt Ryan seemed to do a good job putting it altogether, as he looked far better this season than he ever has before. He was more decisive, and the ball came out exactly where it needed to be for his receivers to make a play. He just looked sharper all around and perhaps not coincidentally, more comfortable out there. When the Falcon offense is on, as we saw often this past season, they are one of the most efficient units in the league. However, while Ryan can make some really good throws and runs the no-huddle offense well, his uneven play can be troublesome, especially because his skill set isn't elite. The Falcons didn't attack down the field that often, which tells you what they feel Ryan can and can’t handle. They pick their spots, since Ryan doesn't have a great arm, and Roddy White is the only WR they really trust. Ryan got a lot of well-deserved credit for the team's 13-3 record, but this is still a run-first offense with a vastly improved defense, and for them to take the next step, they’ll need to be more than efficient on offense. We're exactly thrilled with Ryan’s development with three years in the league, but out lack of enthusiasm could have more to do with his skill set, which is merely above average. So given Ryan's lack is elite skills, the key to stopping the Falcons is stopping the run game. If you pull that off and build a lead, you can force Ryan to throw, and that's where the Falcons struggled this year, as we saw against the Packers in the playoffs. While it sounds like we’re being hard on him, Ryan was an effective player in 2010. He was a very impressive 357/571 as part of career bests in completion percentage (62.5%), yards (3705), TDs (28), INTs (9), and 19.3 FPG (16th). We're still not sure he’ll ever develop into the consistent high-end QB (like a Drew Brees) we thought he could be after his impressive rookie season. But he's definitely taken steps forward as his career has progressed, and he's moved into reliable fantasy territory.
  • Fantasy situation to watch in 2011: Will Ryan be asked to do more in the passing game to become more than just an efficient offense?
RBs: While QB Matt Ryan gets a lot of the credit for getting this team to a 13-3 record, Michael Turner might actually be just as worthy of praise, since this offense is actually built around the run. The Falcons used the running game to set up the calculated shots they take downfield, but the key is that they need the running game to be clicking for that to succeed. If they’re able to do what they want on offense, he'll get 20+ carries and chances to score. If not, he'll be disappointing, which is why he’s not a guy we're really high on or really low on at any point in time. But you do have to understand that there will be weeks when he just doesn't come through for you. While he ran for over 100 yards six times this season, he also had five games with 50 or fewer yards, for example. His scoring seemed to come in bunches, too, considering he had TDs in just eight games. There are times when he looks a little sluggish, but he's very strong and runs through contact, which allows him to pick up extra yardage. Luckily, Turner stayed healthy all season and got a great season out of his OL, which he acknowledged was a big reason for his success. Turner is and will continue to be the focus of the Falcon offense, as they are a run-first team through-and-through. He won't score 2 TDs every week, but his role is totally defined, and that's important in today's fantasy landscape. He ended up running it 334 times for 1371 yards (4.1 YPC), 12 TDs, while catching a career-high 12/85 and averaging 13.6 FPG (11th among RBs). Jason Snelling also played a prominent role when Jerious Norwood was lost for the season. Although Snelling has the size to carry a heavy load if needed, he was used primarily as a change-of-pace back. Snelling's got the tools to be a third-down back but also contribute on the ground, which makes him very dangerous as a dual threat. The presence of Snelling as a solid pass-catcher out of the backfield will cut into Turner's touches from time to time, but mostly when the Falcons have to play from behind. Snelling had 324/2 on 87 carries (3.7 YPC) while grabbing a career-high 44/303/3 on 51 targets, good for 6.6 FPG.
  • Fantasy situation to watch in 2011: Could the running game be diminished slightly to open up the passing game? With Snelling being a free agent, might the Falcons look for a smaller, quicker player to fill his role? Will Norwood be a factor here again?
WRs/TEs: Before the season, it looked like Roddy White would be the team’s top target, with TE Tony Gonzalez contributing as the #2 option. However, we didn’t know just how distinctive those roles would be. White ended up having a career year and was the only great contributor for fantasy purposes in this receiving corps. Gonzalez had a fine season, but he was by no means dominant or even that consistent. However, that’s all the Falcons could really rely on when it came to their passing game. There’s no doubt that when QB Matt Ryan was playing with confidence, it boosted White's value, which we weren’t sure was even possible. It really didn't matter who White matched up against because he always seemed to get it done. The chances were always there for White, since he is by far the team's most targeted option, which was good for his fantasy value, but probably bad for the team as a whole, considering how much he wore down due a knee injury he played with for much of the second half of the season. They usually do a great job moving him around to get him open, but defenses did put the clamps down on him later in the season, which limited his production. White ended with the most catches (115), 2nd-most yards (1389), 10 TDs, and had a league-high 178 targets (64.6% caught), which was good for the 6th-most FPG (12.4). Although White was one of the best WRs in the league this season according to statistics, they remained a run-first offense. They didn't ask Ryan to do too much and had no problem giving 20-25 carries to RB Michael Turner. Gonzalez wasn’t really a go-to guy this year, and he did seem to be moving slower than usual. He did have a few minor injury issues during the season and had thought about retirement, but he appears to be returning for the final year of his contract. The future Hall-of-Famer ended up with 70(4th most)/656/6 on 109 targets (4th most), but he finished with just 6.4 FPG (13th among TEs). He didn’t have his usual monster season but was pretty reliable for the most part, and that’s all you could ask for from TEs this season. WR Michael Jenkins missed the first five games of the season because of a shoulder injury, but he wasn’t considered much more than a deep threat, and that didn’t mean much in an offense that didn’t take many shots. Jenkins has good size and some speed to make some plays downfield, but until the Falcons open things up more, Jenkins’ role in this offense will continue to be secondary. In 11 games, Jenkins had 41/505/2 (12.3 YPC) on 72 targets (57% caught) for 5.7 FPG. Slot WR Harry Douglas looked like he might provide a boost after missing the entire 2009 season, but then he managed only 22/294/1 on 51 targets (43.1% caught) and 2.3 FPG playing mostly out of the slot. As you can see by the numbers of Jenkins and Douglas, the Falcons don’t have much after White and Gonzalez. While they’re still a run-first team, they may need more out of their passing game to take the team into serious contention.
  • Fantasy situation to watch in 2011: With White wearing down at the end of the season and Gonzalez approaching the end of his career, might the Falcons try to sign a WR to take the pressure off those guys?
Key Free Agents: RBs Jason Snelling and Jerious Norwood, LG Justin Blalock, RG Harvey Dahl, RT Tyson Clabo, LB Mike Peterson, Stephen Nicholas, and Coy Wire, CB Brent Grimes, PK Matt Bryant, P Michael Koenen, PR/KR Eric Weems
Carolina Panthers
QB: The Panthers were in a surprising situation in April, when ballyhooed QB prospect Jimmy Clausen fell into their laps in the second round, allowing them to select the former Golden Domer to round out their QB position. That wasn’t the best news for Matt Moore, who entered the season as the Panther starter once they cut ties with Jake Delhomme, only to see Carolina use its first pick on a QB anyway (and then one later in the draft with Tony Pike). Moore opened the season as starter before giving way to Clausen, and he appeared in just six games before landing on IR with a shoulder injury. He averaged an abysmal 10.9 FPG in those six games, throwing 5 TDs against 10 INTs. Moore is a free agent, and given that the Panthers have the new Ron Rivera regime coming into town, our guess is that he will not be back. But does that mean Clausen is guaranteed the starting job? Hardly. Clausen appeared in 13 games (10 starts), and in those games he went 157/299 (52.5%) for 1558 yards with 3 TDs against 9 INTs. He averaged 7.4 FPG, which ranked him 55th at the QB position. Horrific. And yes, you read correctly: that’s 3 TD passes in 299 attempts. Obviously, we’re willing to give a reprieve to a young QB on a brutal team with few receiver options, but Clausen didn’t really do much to help his case to be the unquestioned starter for the new regime in 2011. The game seemed way too fast for him almost all the time, and usually we see a rookie take at least some strides in that department, regardless of how bad his team or line or whatever is. He has a troubling hitch in his delivery, and while it appears as if he mentally knows what’s going on, he still moves too fast to be effective. He doesn’t have great size, mobility, or arm strength, so he’s a limited QB playing for a team that has absolutely nothing in way of weapons outside of Steve Smith, who may be gone in 2011. That’s a major issue. Heck, Clausen was so bad at one point that the Panthers started journeyman Brian St. Pierre just days after signing him. The new coaching staff might want to bring in its own guys to try to right this ship, and Clausen certainly didn’t do enough on his own to warrant being the unquestioned starter entering 2011.
  • Fantasy situation to watch for 2011: The Panthers have the top pick in the 2011 NFL Draft, but top QB prospect Andrew Luck is staying in school. He would have been near impossible to pass up, but with no sure-fire #1 pick at this point, will the Panthers still pursue a QB, or will Clausen get his shot with the new regime? If so, will the Panthers bring in a veteran for competition?
RBs: The Panthers were a running team in 2009, and with a new QB in 2010, we expected more of the same. While that turned out to be true, Carolina got off to a slow start and its major production didn’t exactly come from where we thought it would. DeAngelo Williams, who had been a legitimate fantasy stud for two seasons, was ineffective. Playing in just six games before a foot injury landed him on IR, Williams ran for a line of 87/361/1 and caught just 11 passes for 61 yards. His 8.0 FPG tied him for a miserable 35th at the RB position, barely making him a worthy flex play. That’s not to totally knock Williams, however, because Williams actually looked very good while putting up only mediocre fantasy numbers. By Week Seven, when Williams played his final game, fellow star RB Jonathan Stewart was much worse for fantasy. Over that span, Stewart averaged just 5.8 FPG, leading some owners to cut ties with him completely, an absurd scenario considering Stewart rushed for 1100 yards just a season ago. But then something funny happened. With Williams injured, second-year back Mike Goodson got playing time in the quicker, more elusive back role and both he and Stewart stepped up their games. While neither was a big-time fantasy stud, they both held their own. Without Williams, Stewart ran for a line of 128/622/1 in eight games (he missed two with a concussion), improving his FPG output to 8.8. And Goodson became the Panthers’ jack of all trades. Assuming a prominent role with Williams injured, Goodson’s line of 97/432/3 on the ground and 30/204/0 through the air over the final 10 games of the season was good enough for 8.2 FPG. What makes things really interesting is the fact that Williams is a free agent, and even without him, the Panthers can put together a viable “thunder and lightning” RB combo. Stewart is typically more of a between-the-tackles runner, but if he's able to get outside, some damage can be done. Goodson is more of the quick, shiftier type, and he’s actually a far more effective receiver than Williams. So the balance between the two backs might have benefitted both, as opposed to a more even split between Williams and Stewart. We do know that something changed over the second half of the season, giving Stewart and Goodson each some life, at least. The disappointing OL did get better in the second half of the season, and that group will be boosted by the return of RT Jeff Otah this coming year.
·         Fantasy situation to watch for 2011: With Williams entering free agency, will the new Carolina regime let him walk and establish a two-headed monster of Stewart and Goodson?
WRs/TEs: As we break down every team position by position for these semi-brief reviews, we had a discussion about the worst single skill position in the NFL. One of the options we considered was the brutal Carolina WR situation, which saw Steve Smith do absolutely nothing and rookies Brandon LaFell and David Gettis typically do less than nothing (in comparison to other NFL receivers, at least). Obviously, the horrendous QB situation with Jimmy Clausen didn’t help matters, but this was a veritable black hole of fantasy grime into which no self-respecting owner would have dared to wade. Let’s start with Smith, who was once again drafted too high based on past performances and really killed owners with his lack of production. Smith’s line of 46/554/2 was enough to lead the Panthers in catches and yards, but he was under 50% on his conversion rate on 96 targets. His 4.9 FPG ranked him 80th in the NFL (that’s a #7 fantasy receiver in a 12-team league). Plus, knee, pectoral, and calf injuries limited Smith to 14 games. He’s now 32, and is nearing the twilight of his career, so the Panthers absolutely must consider moving him while he still has some semblance of value. So we guess in comparison to Smith, LaFell and Gettis actually did enough to show some promise. We think of LaFell as kind of a lower-case Dwayne Bowe, and like Bowe, he needs to have some chemistry with his QB to make an impact. Like Smith, Bowe wasn’t able to catch even 50% of his targets (38/77), but he did finish with a respectable 38/468/1 line for a rookie possession receiver. His 4.2 FPG wasn’t turning any heads, but he at least looks like he can be dependable for the future. That brings us to Gettis, a sixth-round pick who was pleasantly surprising. He was the only one of the top three Panther WRs to catch more than 50% of his targets (37/66) and he was actually a viable field-stretching option. Gettis finished his rookie campaign with a 37/508/3 line (13.7 YPC) in 15 games, and his 6’3” frame means he could be a guy who sticks in the league. He’s a long strider and a big target, and you can be worse things in the NFL. Speaking of worse things, how about those Panther TEs? Dante Rosario and Jeff King combined for a 51/385/2 line, and their combined 3.3 FPG would have ranked 34th at the TE position. By themselves, they were utterly useless and the butt of jokes all season for fantasy purposes. Now, they’re free agents. Oh, and speaking of jokes (you like these segues?), the Panthers traded their 2011 second-round pick (which turns out to be the #33 overall pick) to the Patriots for the right to draft Armanti Edwards last April. Edwards didn’t have a single reception as he struggled to convert from college QB to pro WR. New OC Rob Chudzinski has his work cut out for him in 2011, especially since he’s a guy who loves to get the TE involved in the offense.
  • Fantasy situation to watch for 2011: There is a lot of work to do here. We consider Smith almost certainly a trade candidate, but that will eliminate what precious little depth the Panthers already have. That said will a (hopefully) more stable QB situation with new coach Ron Rivera help LaFell and Gettis develop? Will the Panthers look to draft or add a potential #1 threat, and will they finally find a way to let the TE to be part of their passing game under TE guru Rob Chudzinski?
Key Free Agents: QB Matt Moore, RB DeAngelo Williams, TE Jeff King, TE Dante Rosario, C Ryan Kalil, DE Charles Johnson, DT Derek Landri, LB James Anderson, LB Thomas Davis, LB Jamar Williams, LB Jordan Senn, CB Richard Marshall
New Orleans Saints
QB: It’s pretty difficult to follow a memorable Super Bowl season, but Drew Brees had a solid year in 2010 and ended up setting a career high in pass attempts (658), although he also set a career high in interceptions (22). The turnovers were the biggest problem, as he threw at least 1 INT in each of the last 12 games, but the worst games were in bad losses to the Cardinals (3 INTs) and Browns (4 INTs). Brees finished the year ranked 12th in QB rating (90.9), 3rd in yards (4620), 2nd in TDs (33), 2nd in most INTs (22), 1st in completion rate (68.1%), and 4th in FPG among QBs (22.7). While the INTs were certainly a problem at times, Brees settled down in the second half of the year and played as his usual methodical and accurate self. Few quarterbacks are better when given time to throw, and Brees was sacked just 26 times all season. The problem for the Saints at times was they had to rely too heavily on Brees, as the run game struggled to get going much of the way because of injuries. Brees attempted 40+ passes in half of the team’s games in the regular season and threw a ridiculous 60 passes in the Wild Card loss to the Seahawks. But he consistently produced, hitting 300 yards seven times and joining Tom Brady as the only two QBs to throw at least 1 TD pass in every regular season game. Expectations were extremely high for Brees, considering he was often a first-round pick in fantasy drafts, so it’s tough to call his season a complete success. However, there’s something to be said for a guy who consistently throws for a lot of yards, gets in the endzone every game, and never misses a game because of injury. Speaking of injury, Brees was clearly limited this year with a knee issue, and that was also a factor in his unusually uneven season. The occasional lapses in judgment as a passer – particularly toward the middle of the season – hurt and were unexpected, but Brees remained one of the top fantasy QBs in the 2010 season.
  • Fantasy situation to watch for 2011: Brees is still Brees, so there’s not much concern here. The only question is whether or not he can stay healthy again, as he hasn’t missed a game since 2003 (aside from sitting out a meaningless Week Seventeen in 2009).
RBs: Aside from maybe the Charger receiving corps, no position group had as much bad luck with injuries as the Saint backfield. The Saints entered the season expecting another rotation at RB, with the versatile Reggie Bush, an all-around solid back in Pierre Thomas, and an undetermined power back to take the place of Mike Bell, who went to Philadelphia in the off-season. The man who ended up stealing the show for the Saints at RB was undrafted rookie Chris Ivory, who made some noise in the preseason and stepped up with a few big games as the lead back. Ladell Betts and Julius Jones also saw action, but this all came after a pair of power backs in P.J. Hill and Lynell Hamilton was lost to injuries in the preseason. Ivory struggled to earn the trust of coaches early because of ball protection issues, but he had just 1 fumble in the second half of the season, although he also missed a pair of games because of injury late. Ivory runs hard downhill, and while he doesn’t have a lot of speed, he has some quickness and is an effective goal-line back. He ended up averaging 5.2 yards per carry, rushing 137 times for 716 yards and 5 TDs, and he had two 100-yard games (along with a 99-yarder). But if he’s to factor into this running game going forward, he has to lean to keep the ball off the ground, and fumbles were a pretty serious issue. The next best Saint RB was Thomas, who had 83/269/2 (3.2 average per carry) in just six games. He went down with an ankle injury in Week Three and seemingly fell out of favor as he struggled to return to action, and reports indicated that he was nearly dealt to New England before the trade deadline. He finally returned in Week Fourteen and played in the last three games before he and Ivory were both placed on IR heading into the playoffs. That left Jones and Bush as the lead backs in the loss to Seattle in the Wild Card round. Bush played in eight regular season games, missing most of the season because of a fractured fibula he suffered in Week Two. When he returned to the lineup, he struggled to make an impact in the offense, and he finished the season with 36/150 rushing and 34/208/1 receiving on 42 targets. Injured or not, Bush has not developed into the consistent big-play threat that the Saints had hoped, but he’s still an asset to the Saint offense as a sort of decoy. The team moves him around on offense, and defenses always have to pay attention to him because he does have the ability to make big plays. He can make plays in space, so defenses are forced to respect that, therefore opening up things for the rest of the offense. He did show signs of progress at the end of the season, rushing for 70 yards in Week Seventeen and catching 5 passes in that game and in the playoff game at Seattle. But at this point, Bush is what he is, and that’s far from spectacular. As for Jones, he failed to make much of an impact all season, until he inexplicably rushed for 59 yards and 2 TDs in the Wild Card game. Prior to that, he rushed for 223 yards and 0 TDs on 60 carries in the regular season, including two games with Seattle to start the season before joining the Saints. In the last four games of the regular season that he played, he totaled 11 carries for 22 yards.
  • Fantasy situation to watch for 2011: Thomas, Jones, and FB Heath Evans are all free agents, so the Saints face an uncertain future in the backfield. Did Ivory show enough to earn the job alongside Bush full-time? If so, can he recover from foot surgery and stay healthy? Also, is Bush willing to take a pay cut? Nearly $12 million is a bit much for someone often described as a “decoy.”
WRs/TEs: Coming into the season, we knew that few position groups were more frustrating for fantasy purposes than the Saint receivers. The Saints throw the ball a lot, but QB Drew Brees spreads the ball around, and players like Devery Henderson and Robert Meachem occasionally make big plays but often disappear. To make things worse, three players were involved at the TE position, with Jimmy Graham emerging ahead of Jeremy Shockey and David Thomas late in the season. However, despite how difficult it is to predict how Saint receivers will perform, Marques Colston and Lance Moore emerged as fairly reliable players. Colston is the obvious star of the group, and following a slow start, he had a big run in the middle of the season and finished with strong numbers. In five games in Weeks Seven through Twelve, Colston had three 100-yard games and 4 TDs. For the season, he had a solid 84 catches for 1023 yards and 7 targets on 131 targets (64%). The numbers were comparable to 2009, and he averaged 9.6 FPG for the second time in three years. Colston remains the Saints’ clear top WR in a crowded receiving corps, and he’s a guy who the team can move around on offense and use as a sustaining element of the passing offense. The one question with Colston is health, as he will likely have knee and wrist scopes and could miss OTAs. The only other WR on the team who can consistently help sustain drives is Moore, but unlike Colston, he’s not someone who will be moved around much. Moore was very solid from the slot all season, and he stepped up as an underneath receiver with RB Reggie Bush injured for much of the season. Moore finished 2nd on the team with an impressive 66 catches on 92 targets (71.7%) for 763 yards, and he led the team with 8 TD catches. He was a solid PPR receiver all season, capable of finding holes on short and intermediate routes and moving the chains. He’s a quick player who is dangerous in space, and he had 5+ catches nine times with a non-PPR average of 8.3 FPG – just behind Wes Welker’s 8.5. As for the other WRs, Meachem was more valuable than Henderson as the #2 WR on the outside, and he made big plays more often. Meachem had two 100-yard games and finished with 44/638/5 on 65 targets (67.7%), while Henderson had 34/464/1 on 58 targets (58.6%). The problem was that the two each had nine games with 2 catches or fewer, so they’re both completely hit or miss if you actually choose to put one in your lineup. At tight end, Shockey led the way with 41/409/3 on 58 targets (70.7%), but the rookie Graham worked his way into the lineup, with the help of injuries that forced Shockey to miss three games. Graham didn’t put up huge numbers, but he had 4 TDs in the last three games to end the season on a strong note for fantasy. He had 31/356/5 on 44 targets (70.5%), and Thomas saw occasional red-zone action and had 30/219/2 on 46 targets (65.2%). Graham clearly has a lot of upside, and he can stretch the field in addition to being a terrific red-zone threat at 6’6”. Graham may not be ready to be “The Guy” in 2011, but he should continue to see more time as the Saints’ TE of the future. And even though he’ll still be learning in 2011, he’s very capable of putting up top-12 numbers at the position, and that’s even if the team keeps Shockey around for one more year.
  • Fantasy situation to watch for 2011: The only question at WR is whether or not Moore will re-sign, but he has indicated he’d like to return. The most interesting player going forward will be Graham to see if he can take another step toward becoming an elite TE.
Key Free Agents: RB Pierre Thomas, RB Julius Jones, RB Ladell Betts, RB DeShawn Wynn, FB Heath Evans, WR Lance Moore, TE David Thomas, OT Jermon Bushrod, G Carl Nicks, C Jonathan Goodwin, DT Remi Ayodele, LB Scott Shanle, LB Kawika Mitchell, S Roman Harper, S Darren Sharper
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
QB: The Buccaneers have found their franchise QB. The improvements young Josh Freeman made were very real, and the Bucs have a hell of a lot to look forward to in the future. Although his occasional mechanical issues continued to show up, Freeman managed to finish 13th among QBs with 10 or more starts at 19.3 FPG. He threw for 3451 yards on 291/474 passing (61.4%), with just 6 INTs to 25 TDs, a fantastic ratio for such a young QB. Freeman was also plus in the mobility department, running for 364 yards on 58 carries. In many ways, he compares favorably to Ben Roethlisberger. He’s absolutely massive at 6’6” and is pushing 250 pounds, so he’s able to shake free of tacklers, and he has a naturally big throwing arm that allows him to make plays while on the move. Yes, we would like to see more consistency from his mechanics, but for the most part, he showed us everything we look for in a QB who’s still developing but on the right track. Perhaps the most impressive thing about Freeman was the fact that he didn’t rely on his outstanding athletic ability to improvise and make plays outside of the playbook. From everything we understand, he’s a film-room junkie, and it shows on the field. He simply doesn’t make many mistakes, and that bodes well for his future. What's been amazing about Freeman has been his maturity. We viewed him as the rawest of the three first-round QBs from the 2009 draft, but he's actually shown the most confidence and best decision making of the three over their limited NFL experience. That deserves to be commended. In many ways, he's a brainier version of Roethlisberger with slightly less natural physical ability, and that's just fine for what the Bucs want to do. He can throw on the run, but he won't make a dumb play just because he has the gifts to do it. That's great restraint, so while he hasn't been elite for fantasy purposes just yet, he's still making enough plays to own him and give him big hope for keeper leagues. He's throwing to a future/current star in WR Mike Williams, and the two hooked up enough times this past year to view it as a legitimate threat for the next half decade, at least. We don’t want to go overboard with Freeman, but the Bucs have done a great job building a cast around him from his weapons to his line, and Freeman has made the commitment to getting better. We like him a lot, and see very little downside.
  • Fantasy situation to watch for 2011: The only question here surrounds how much better Freeman is going to get. He was essentially a low-end starter in 2010, so can he move up a few spots in 2011?
RBs: Going into the 2010 season, we didn’t feel as if Cadillac Williams had enough left in the tank to be anything close to an average NFL starting RB. In that department, we were right. Williams consistently struggled to get his feet under him, and the more touches he received, the less effective he became. He was still a solid receiver and a good blocker for his position, but ultimately Williams was a part-time player, at best. In all, he finished with 125/437/2 on the ground and 46/355/1 through the air, ranking him 49th at the RB position with 6.1 FPG in standard-scoring leagues. In addition to projecting Williams correctly, we also were right about Derrick Ward, who was a major bust in Tampa last season and ended up getting cut before the 2010 season. What we didn’t predict in the preseason, however, was the emergence of LeGarrette Blount, an undrafted rookie who was cut by the Titans and claimed by the Bucs before the campaign. We had singled out young Kareem Huggins based on an impressive preseason, but injuries plagued Huggins’ season and forced him to land on IR. But once that happened, we did immediately isolate Blount, who wound up establishing himself as a fantastic Waiver Wire pickup for both Tampa Bay and fantasy owners, pushing Cadillac to an ancillary role in the process. In all, Blount finished with a 201/1007/6 line on the ground in 13 games, and although he caught just 5 passes for 14 yards, he did enough to finish 23rd at the RB position in standard leagues. There's no doubt that Blount was the team's bell cow back, but he doesn't have much upside. He's a pretty straight-forward (downhill) guy who can run people over and always falls forward. However, he doesn't have quick feet and won't really make anyone miss or find his way through small cracks. He's big and physical, but sometimes he shies away from contact and doesn't use his size to his advantage, a la Brandon Jacobs. But he's also not nearly as quick on his feet as Jacobs was in his prime, so we have a guy in Blount who falls forward and picks up yards and can occasionally bust a big one. We're not saying he's terrible, but he's a limited player. He’s a great athlete with some burst (he’s been known to leap over defenders), and certainly has a future in the league, but with Williams becoming a free agent our guess is the Buccaneers will attempt to upgrade the complementary slot beside Blount.
  • Fantasy situation to watch for 2011: With Williams a free agent, will he return in the same third-down capacity? If not, will the Bucs add a more versatile pass-catching option to complement Blount? Will Blount’s limitations show up in 2011, or will he improve? Will Huggins return from his major knee injury?
WRs/TEs: Despite the Bucs missing out on the postseason, they won 10 games and were able to put together a fantastic core for the near future. Not only did they have the NFL’s leading rookie rusher in LeGarrette Blount, but they also had the NFL’s top rookie receiver in Mike Williams, and we’re batty about his future with maturing QB Josh Freeman. Williams’ 64/955/11 line on 126 targets (a low 50.8% conversion rate) was good enough for 10.6 FPG, tying him with Miles Austin for 16th in standard leagues at the position. Not bad for a 4th-round pick, eh? But Williams was ready to go from the outset. Plagued with off-field troubles that hurt his draft stock, Williams understood he had the ability to excel, and he became the first rookie in the NFL to sign his contract and get to work. He parlayed his commitment into one of the most memorable rookie seasons at his position in quite some time (he was the first rook to post double-digit TD catches since Randy Moss in 1998), and fantasy owners have a legitimate budding star for years to come. He’s not a burner, but he has deceptive speed and can beat defenders downfield. He has good size and toughness and does a good job of making himself an available target, and his hands are solid. He clicked with Freeman from Day One, and the rest was history. What people might forget is that fellow rookie Arrelious Benn was actually drafted two rounds before Williams. But Benn didn’t grasp the offense as quickly, and he battled an ankle injury in training camp and wasn’t able to crack the lineup as the “Z” receiver until midway through the season. Benn finished with a 25/395/2 line on 38 targets (65.8%), but the torn ACL he suffered just one week before the end of the year could inhibit his development as we move into 2011. Physically, Benn compares favorably to an Anquan Boldintype of receiver based on his size/strength combination, but he needs reps, and if he’s rehabbing a serious knee injury, those will be hard to find this off-season. Aside from the two rookies, the only other reliable option for Freeman was TE Kellen Winslow, who actually led the team with 66 catches (on 97 targets, 68.0%). Winslow went for 730 yards and 5 TDs, good enough to rank him 11th among TEs with 10 or more games played at the position. For the second straight year, Winslow struggled to get into the endzone consistently, and he doesn't have a lot of upside because of his chronic knee issues. But he still remains an important part of this offense and is always a threat to do some damage when the matchup favors him. In fact, teams could have a very difficult time bracketing Winslow and Williams in the future, especially if Williams can turn more of his targets into catches. What the Bucs truly lacked was a reliable slot receiver, as Sammie Stroughter (25/248/0, 62.5%) regressed from last season, and they may want to attack that spot in free agency. But across the board, there’s a lot to like here.
  • Fantasy situation to watch for 2011: Can Williams take the next step and turn more of his targets into catches? How badly will Benn’s late-season ACL tear inhibit his development? Can Winslow continue to produce despite his chronic knee problems? Will youngsters like Dezmon Briscoe (6/93/1) and Preston Parker (4/42/0), who emerged late in the season, be part of the plan here next year?

Key Free Agents: RB Cadillac Williams, RB Kareem Huggins, WR Micheal Spurlock, WR Maurice Stovall, TE John Gilmore, RT Jeremy Trueblood, RT James Lee, RG Davin Joseph, DE Stylez G. White, DE Tim Crowder, DT Frank Okam, MLB Barrett Ruud, LB Quincy Black, LB Niko Koutouvides, CB Ronde Barber, CB Elbert Mack, FS Corey Lynch, K Connor Barth


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