2010 Wrap-Up Report (And Early 2011 Preview)
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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 NFC East I NFC West I NFC North I NFC South
QB: A year after leading the league with 4770 passing yards, Matt Schaub took a backseat at times to the Texans’ running game and emerging star Arian Foster. Still, he attempted just nine fewer passes than a year ago, completing 63.6% for 4369 yards, 24 TDs, and 12 INTs to place him in the middle of the pack among QBs with 19.8 FPG, but in the top-8 in terms of scoring for the whole season. Schaub had an up-and-down year, with the first five games illustrating things perfectly. In those weeks, he threw for under 200 yards three times, but he also threw for 497/3 against the Redskins in Week Two. Thanks in part to an atrocious defensive backfield, the Texans were often forced to pass to keep up with opponents. Schaub ended up with big numbers based on volume alone in some weeks, like when he completed 31/62 for 393 yards against Baltimore. He had four games in a row with 300+ yards in Weeks Thirteen through Sixteen, but his season overall was pretty underwhelming, and several big passing performances came in losses, as the Texans went 2-8 in their last 10. Playing from behind means a lot of passing and that ultimately was often the case for the Texans in a disappointing season for the team. It didn’t help that star WR Andre Johnson battled an ankle injury all season, and top TE Owen Daniels made a slow recovery and wasn’t much of a factor until late in the season. Aside from Johnson, the most consistent receiving target was Foster out of the backfield, as Jacoby Jones and Kevin Walter could never be trusted on a consistent basis. But it’s almost as if Schaub is a “volume quarterback.” Clearly, QBs are going to generally put up bigger numbers when they attempt more passes. However, Schaub typically didn’t play well unless he was throwing a lot of passes. Schaub and the offense as a whole struggled to get into a rhythm at times, with the passing game failing to complement the running success of Foster consistently. It was as if Schaub just wasn’t as sharp this season, as he struggled against pressure and often had difficulty getting the passing game in sync. However, as the season progressed, he did seem to become more comfortable with a legit star runner behind him – and he still has the most talented wideout in the game at his disposal.
- Fantasy situation to watch for 2011: Schaub’s fantasy numbers in 2010 actually benefited at times from how terrible the Texan defense was. Can he get into a rhythm more consistently next year – not just in garbage time?
RBs: Congratulations to everyone who wisely got the steal of every 2010 fantasy draft. Arian Foster was the Texans’ #1 back in training camp, and he basically never gave that spot up. Not that there was tough competition there. Going into the season, he was simply a guy who played four games as a rookie in 2009, showed uncertainty as a runner, and struggled to protect the ball, and while he looked decent at the end of last season, the Texans drafted Ben Tate in the 2nd round and had a healthy Steve Slaton returning. Well, Tate broke his ankle in camp and went to IR, while Slaton was never a factor. The Texans ended up signing Derrick Ward, but he was hardly a factor, either. Instead, the show belonged to Foster, who immediately proved he belonged in Week One (we were 100% sold after the 2nd preseason game). The Texans were a trendy playoff pick heading into the season, and they looked the part when Foster ran over the Colts for 231 yards and 3 TDs on 33 carries to open the season. Of course, the Texan defense failed miserably as the season progressed and the team didn’t live up to expectations, but Foster kept going en route to a league rushing title. He finished the season averaging 20.6 FPG, rushing 326 times for 1614 yards (5 yards per carry) and 16 TDs, and catching 66 passes for 604 yards and 2 TDs on 84 targets. Foster led the league in rushing yards and rushing TDs, while he was #1 among RBs in receiving yards and #2 catches. No matter what scoring system you play in, chances are Foster came through in a big way. If you were to go back and re-draft for the 2010 season, he’d be the #1 pick. Foster rushed for 100+ yards eight times, had 100+ total yards 12 times, and had multiple TDs seven times. We could go on and on here, but you get the point. Foster was a stud fantasy player at the beginning of the season, and he didn’t slow down. At 6’1” and 229 pounds, he’s a bigger back with terrific versatility, as evidenced by his receiving numbers. He proved to be a perfect fit for the team’s one-cut, zone blocking scheme. Even when the team was forced to throw a lot because the defense played poorly, Foster stayed heavily involved because he was the team’s 2nd best receiver behind Andre Johnson. His ball protection wasn’t a huge issue with 3 fumbles, and unlike many other successful young backs, he stayed patient, ran with great balance, and didn’t always look to make a big play. QB Matt Schaub had an inconsistent season and struggled to find a rhythm much of the time, but the team put its faith in Foster on offense. While the Texans still finished as the league’s #4 passing offense and the #7 rushing offense, they were a more run-oriented team when they didn’t fall behind, and Foster had the 3rd-most carries in the league. Given Foster’s significant workload and the significant volume of the passing game, there weren’t many other touches to go around for the other backs. Slaton surprisingly had no role in the passing game, as he caught 3 passes for 11 yards on 4 targets all season, in addition to running for 93 yards on 19 carries. As for Ward, he had 51 carries for 317 yards and 4 TDs, proving to be a solid reserve. In addition, he even started in Week Four and put up 12/80/1, causing a widespread fantasy panic when Foster was unexpectedly benched for the first half after missing a team meeting. Naturally, Foster still managed to put up 16/131 rushing and 3/56/1 receiving, with a 74-yard TD run in that game.
- Fantasy situation to watch for 2011: Well, if 2011 fantasy drafts were held now, Foster would be the favorite for the #1 pick. So, after getting 392 touches, can he stay healthy and again produce at such a high level? Also, it will be interesting to see if Tate can get healthy and work his way into some touches after a lost rookie season.
WRs/TEs: The Texan passing offense lacked rhythm all season, the team rode RB Arian Foster when it could, and Andre Johnson battled an ankle injury for most of the season. Despite so many things working against him, one thing remained clear: Johnson is as good a receiver as there is in the NFL. He ended up missing three games and playing through pain in many others, yet he still caught 86 passes on 136 targets (63.2%) for 1216 yards and 8 TDs – an average of 13.1 FPG, just 0.1 behind 2009. Johnson is a physical beast at WR, and that was still true even when he was essentially playing on one ankle. All the ankle did was help even the playing field a bit, but he still finished 6th in receiving yards, despite playing a 13-game season. The only negative thing to point at was his nasty fight with Titan CB Cortland Finnegan that resulted in an ejection, but Johnson wasn’t even suspended for it. When on the field, he was the only consistent WR the Texans had, and despite the injuries and an out-of-sync Matt Schaub, he performed at an elite level, with six 100-yard games and eight games with 6+ catches. Now, the same thing couldn’t be said about the rest of the receiving corps. WRs Jacoby Jones and Kevin Walter both proved capable of putting up big numbers on occasion, including 11/144/1 from Walter in Week Two and 5/115 from Jones in Week Fifteen. But both contributed to the passing game’s lack of consistency by being completely inconsistent themselves. Jones clearly has talent and started to look good late in the season, yet he also had 2 catches or fewer seven times and had 1 TD in the first 12 weeks. Meanwhile, Walter can be a solid player when he can get into space and make catches as an intermediate receiver, but he was often at the mercy of the Texans’ offense as a whole. He had fewer than 50 yards in nine of his 14 games, and neither he nor Jones could be trusted as a fantasy player – even when Johnson was out – because of inconsistency. Another problem for the passing offense was the health of TE Owen Daniels, who has elite talent but was rarely 100%. After a strong start to the 2009 season, Daniels tore his ACL, and he was not fully healthy at the start of the 2010 season, despite taking the field in Week One. He was slowly integrated into the offense but also missed time because of a hamstring injury, limiting him to just 11 games (a total of 19 in the last two years). The good news is he came on strong after returning in the last four weeks with 22/271/2, and he was reportedly 100% by December, so that’s a great sign going forward. For the season, he caught 38 passes for 471 yards and 2 TDs on 68 yards, while backup Joel Dreessen ended up filling in nicely. Dreessen had 36/517/4 on 55 targets, highlighted by 4/106/1 against the Jets in Week Eleven.
- Fantasy situation to watch for 2011: The Texans’ receiving corps is loaded with uncertainty. Johnson and Daniels are two of the most talented players in the league at their positions, but health remains a question mark. Plus, Daniels will be a free agent, although the team has said it absolutely wants him back in Houston. Aside from them, the question is the inconsistent but talented Jones, who is also due to hit free agency.
QB: By Peyton Manning standards, 2010 was somewhat of a rough year, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t put up fantasy numbers for owners. With a lackluster running game, injuries to the receiving corps, and an inconsistent offensive line, the entire Colt team was put on the shoulders of Manning, and at times he made uncharacteristic mistakes. Despite all the problems, he still led Indianapolis to an AFC South title, and he finished 3rd among QBs with an average of 23 FPG. His fantasy numbers were as good as any other of his seasons with the exception of his ridiculous 53-TD season in 2004, as he completed 66.2% for 4700 yards, 33 TDs, and 17 INTs. The ugly part of the season came in Weeks Eleven through Thirteen, when he threw a total of 11 INTs in a three-game span against New England, San Diego, and Dallas. But he threw just 2 picks in the last four games, and his 17 for the season were only one more than 2009. He passed for 300 yards seven times and had multiple TDs 13 times, including in each of the last seven games. Even when he had the three-game span with 11 INTs, he threw for 396/4, 285/2, and 365/2 in those three games. So, even a shaky Peyton Manning is still typically fine for fantasy, especially because the Colts abandoned the run so often. With Joseph Addai hurt most of the season, the Colts were forced to rely on Donald Brown a lot, and he simply hasn’t lived up to what the Colts hoped when they drafted him in the 1st round in 2009. Manning attempted a career-high 680 passes, topping his previous high by 89 (591 in 2002). The 680 attempts led the league, and Manning finished 2nd in passing yards and tied for 2nd in TD passes. But he struggled to get on the same page with receivers at times – particularly Pierre Garcon – and Austin Collie, who had become a reliable target, played just half the season as he struggled to stay healthy. Manning managed to get undrafted rookie Blair White involved in place of Collie, but the drop-off was significant. Fortunately for the Colts, the drop-off at TE was not nearly as significant, as Jacob Tamme stepped in for Dallas Clark in Week Eight and proceeded to catch 67 passes in 10 games. While the Colts allowed the 2nd fewest sacks in the league, Manning was still an uncomfortable player behind the shaky offensive line. The line might have been as good as it was in 2009, but Manning lacked chemistry with the receivers, causing him to be uncomfortable delivering the ball into tight windows and hold onto the ball longer than usual. That magnified the issues up front, and even a quarterback as good as Manning looked human at times when forced to try to do too much. At this late stage of his career, it’s not healthy asking him to do so much, so the Colts need to help him more going forward.
- Fantasy situation to watch for 2011: The Colts need a steadier run game to help take some pressure of Manning, and it would help if Collie can return healthy and give Manning another reliable target.
RBs: With Joseph Addai missing eight games because of a neck injury, the Colts hoped that 2009 1st-round pick Donald Brown would be able to step up and carry the run game. The Colt offense revolves around QB Peyton Manning and the passing game, but they still needed a reliable running game to give the offense some balance and take pressure off Manning and an injury-depleted receiving corps. Well, Brown couldn’t provide that, as he looked sluggish all season. As a runner, he generally looked robotic, moving too slowly and showing indecisiveness. To make things worse, he went down too easily, and the team often opted to turn to Javarris James in short-yardage and goal-line situations. Brown played in 13 games, carrying 129 times for 497 yards and 2 TDs with 20 catches for 205 yards. A significant portion of that production came in Week Fifteen against Jacksonville, when he made a couple of big plays and put up 14/129/1 on the ground. Addai put up comparable numbers to Brown, despite missing half the season, as he had 116 carries for 495 yards and 4 TDs and caught 19 passes for 124 yards. His neck injury caused him sit out Weeks Seven through Fifteen, and he averaged 10.7 FPG in his half season of action. When Addai returned, we saw our biggest indictment of Brown yet, as the Colts signed Dominic Rhodes again following a stint in the UFL. Rhodes played in three games and surprisingly contributed, rushing 37 times for 172 yards – including 17/98 in Week Sixteen. And that wasn’t all for the backfield rotation. When healthy, Mike Hart provided more juice than Brown, as while he’s undersized and lacks speed, he manages to pick up yards consistently and move the chains. But Hart battled an ankle injury and played in just six games, putting up 43/185/1. Finally, James saw action as a short-yardage back and was effective at times, with 46 carries for 112 yards and a team-high 6 rushing TDs. So in total, five Colt running backs contributed, but Addai and Hart were sidelined much of the way, and Brown completely failed to live up to expectations. The result was an inconsistent running game that ranked 29th in the league (92.7 YPG), and it failed to take pressure off Manning – forcing him to attempt a career-high 680 passes. The only player’s who’s a lock to be back in 2011 is Brown, so he could possibly get another chance to prove he can produce for the Colts.
- Fantasy situation to watch for 2011: Brown didn’t even see a snap in the Colts’ playoff game against the Jets, and it seems clear the Colts can’t rely on him as the featured back – yet we know he will be back. Not only was Addai banged up for half the season, but he’s also a free agent, so the Colts face plenty of uncertainty at the position.
WRs/TEs: No one in the Colt receiving corps really matched expectations in 2010, and the most positive story for the group was the impressive emergence of TE Jacob Tamme in the wake of a season-ending hand injury to Dallas Clark. After catching a total of 6 passes in his first two seasons and not catching a pass while Clark was healthy this year, Tamme led the NFL with 67 catches from Week Eight on. He had 67 catches on 92 targets (72.8%) for 631 yards and 4 TDs, an average of 8.7 FPG. Tamme is a similar player to Clark in that he is athletic and can be moved around the formation, and he became Peyton Manning’s most reliable target. His red-zone targets dropped off as the season progressed, but Tamme caught 6+ passes in eight of 10 games with 4 catches in the other two, and his top game was 11/108/1 at Philadelphia in Week Two. Meanwhile, top WR Reggie Wayne was 2nd to Tamme in the NFL in catches in the last 10 weeks, and for the season, he finished 2nd with 111 catches on 173 targets (64.2%) for 1355 yards and 6 TDs. Wayne averaged a solid 10.7 FPG in standard scoring, but while his numbers were good, he was often unable to stretch the field and get behind defenses, and he also struggled with dropped passes at times. He had a few complete dud games, but he also had 15/196 in Week Four and 14/200/1 in Week Thirteen, with a total of nine games with 6+ catches. Clearly, Wayne wasn’t as consistently good as usual, although he still had some big games and generally put up strong fantasy numbers. The rest of the receiving corps was the problem area. Pierre Garcon was very inconsistent, and he and Manning often couldn’t get on the same page. He had a few games and became especially relevant for fantasy purposes when he scored 5 TDs in five games to end the season. That helped ease the pain of a down season, but Garcon couldn’t provide the vertical element to the passing game that he did in 2009, as he struggled to get off the line at times, and the timing with Manning just wasn’t there. For the season, he played 14 games and caught 67 passes on 117 targets (57.3%) for 784 yards and 6 targets – an average of 8.2 FPG. The biggest problem for the Colt receiving corps may have been the absence of Austin Collie, as unlike with Clark, they could never adequately replace him. Collie played in just nine games, missing time with a foot injury before dealing with multiple concussions in the second half of the season. When on the field, he was an extremely reliable target for Manning, catching an impressive 57 passes on 71 targets (80.3%) for 617 yards and 8 targets. While Garcon and Manning struggled to get on the same page, it seems like Collie and Manning were always on the same page. That reliability allowed Collie to provide a sustaining element to the offense, a role that ended up falling to Tamme much of the time. But at least Collie played half the season, as Anthony Gonzalez played in just two games (Weeks One and Eight) and ended up on IR because of a knee injury. The injuries to Gonzalez and Collie forced undrafted rookie Blair White into action, and he provided some relief to the offense with 36/355/5 on 56 targets (64.3%). He didn’t make a consistent impact, but he wasn’t expected to, so random strong efforts like his 5/42/2 in Week Eleven were pleasant surprises. Still, the fact that the receiving corps was relying on an unproven player like White just speaks to the inconsistency of the group as a whole all season.
- Fantasy situation to watch for 2011: Can Collie return to the field after his bout with concussions in the second half of the season? He has become such an important part of the offense because of his chemistry with Manning, and his absence really threw the passing game out of sync at times.
Key Free Agents: QB Peyton Manning, RB Joseph Addai, RB Dominic Rhodes, RB Mike Hart, OT Charlie Johnson, DT Daniel Muir, DE Eric Foster, LB Clint Session, LB Tyjuan Hagler, S Melvin Bullitt, PK Adam Vinatieri
QB: Once again, the Jaguars got just enough production out of QB David Garrard to be in the playoff hunt until late in the season, and once again they fell just short of the postseason. Based on how they always manage to be competitive, we guess we can understand their inclination to stick with Garrard at starting QB, but once again, we’re left wondering just how far Garrard can take the Jaguars. In other words, are the last two seasons essentially the limit for what Garrard can give an NFL team? It’s hard to find a good QB in the NFL (just ask about half the teams), so watching Garrard string together a couple of nice games at a time can certainly encourage a team. But he’s so inconsistent and is pretty much incapable of taking a game over, and he’s always going to be that guy. Still, once again, he was able to be useful for fantasy if you owned him. He completed 64.5% of his passes for 2734 yards with 23 TDs and 15 INTs, and his 5 rushing TDs helped him put up a line of 20.4 FPG, which finished 11th among QBs with 10 or more starts. Perhaps that’s an indication of just how bad the QB position is in the NFL nowadays, or perhaps we’re underrating Garrard a bit. Either way, he hasn’t done enough to make us feel truly secure with him as a fantasy starter, and we doubt he ever will. If Garrard has a clean pocket, he can do some good things, but he's so hard to evaluate because of his wildly up-and-down play on a week-to-week basis. Perhaps discouraged by this, the Jags signed Trent Edwards when the Bills cut him earlier in the season, although it appears as if Edwards has completely lost his game or his willingness to throw the football. That, plus injuries (to Garrard, Edwards, and Luke McCown), led the Jags to actually pull Todd Bouman off his couch and used him as a starter in the middle of the season (he actually played well in one game, throwing for 222 yards with 2 TDs and 2 INTs, for 19.9 FP). So it looks like more of the same moving forward for the Jags. Garrard is what he is, and the Jags will have to either draft or sign back-up QBs with everyone else entering free agency.
· Fantasy situation to watch for 2011: It looks as if Garrard is the clear starter, barring a major change, so will the Jags draft or sign anyone to challenge him?
RBs: The Jags were in the playoff hunt all season, and the big reason for that was the performance of stud RB Maurice Jones-Drew, who continues to be one of the most reliable workhorse RBs in the league. MJD finished with 299/1324/5 line on the ground, and a solid 34/317/2 line through the air, tying him for 6th among RBs with 14.7 FPG. From Weeks Eight through Fourteen, Jones-Drew had seven consecutive 100-yard rushing games (and had eight total on the year), and he carried the ball at least 12 times in every game he played in this season. Unfortunately, Jones-Drew entered the season with a knee ailment, and it progressively got worse throughout the season. With the Jags still in the playoff hunt, MJD had no choice but to sit out the final two weeks of the season, and it was a supremely disappointing finish for both Jag fans and MJD owners who had ridden him deep into the fantasy season. Jones-Drew ran hard all year, but his knee just deteriorated, and he was unable to play in most fantasy title games (and the Jags missed the playoffs, to boot). Fortunately for the Jags, they do have a solid backup RB in second-year guy Rashad Jennings. Jennings contributed all year, with 84/459/4 and 26/223/0 in 12 games to average 7.7 FPG, ranking him as a viable low-end flex at the RB position. Unfortunately, the biggest disappointment for Jennings came in Week Sixteen, when he was filling in for an injured MJD in fantasy championship week. He ran for just 15/32 against a bad Redskin run defense, costing a lot of MJD owners a championship. In Week Seventeen, he rebounded to post 22/108/1, but that was too late for a lot of owners who used him the week before. We think Jennings is a fine complementary back, for sure, and he's effective around the goal line, but we cannot be fooled by some of the long runs he busted off during the season. He has good short-area burst but can't sustain long-range runs like that on a regular basis, and he has very little side-to-side agility. So he’s in the perfect role right now: as the clear backup. An intriguing guy the Jags used this year was rookie Deji Karim, who is more of a swing type of back. Karim had 160 yards on 35 carries in limited action, but he did show promise for the future as a third-down back.
· Fantasy situation to watch for 2011: Will MJD enter the season healthy? Do the Jags feel comfortable with Jennings and Karim backing him up?
WRs/TEs: The Jags actually had more at the receiver position than we thought they did this season, but it still wasn’t enough to be an above-average unit, in general. Yes, Mike Sims-Walker broke out last year, but he actually finished third in receiving on his own team this year. Instead, two breakout players topped the Jag receiving chart. The leader was second-year guy Mike Thomas, who kind of broke free of his mold as an exclusive slot receiver with a solid 66/820/4 line on just 99 targets, a very nice 66.7% conversion rate on his targets. The lack of TDs meant he averaged just 7.3 FPG in standard-scoring leagues, which barely made him a #3 receiver, but he was a lot better in PPR leagues. Of course, his 2010 season will be remembered for that miracle TD catch to beat the Texans, but he really was a solid option all year. But that’s the issue: he’s solid. He will continue to have a spot in the NFL, but what is his upside? Maybe this year was it. He can move around and play multiple spots, but ultimately Thomas is a #2 receiver, at maximum. The problem is that MSW, ideally, is as well. Sims-Walker played in 14 games this year (missing two with an ankle injury), and he finished with a mediocre 43/562/7 line on 80 targets (53.8%). His 7.0 FPG ranked him in the mid-40s at the WR position, and behind Thomas even in standard-scoring leagues. But for whatever reason, the Jaguars struggled to pound it in from short yardage, despite being a run-first team, and that led to a lot of goal-line and red-zone targets for Sims-Walker. He’s a big guy who can present himself as an effective possession target, but he doesn’t move exceptionally well and is limited in his upside. Remember that he finished last season very slowly as well, so perhaps this is the real MSW we’re seeing now. And injuries have certainly always been a problem with him, something we’ll certainly discuss in the coming months. With MSW banged up and occasionally ineffective, the Jags tried to add a viable third WR from the likes of Tiquan Underwoodor Jason Hill, but neither made anything close to a significant impact.Fortunately for the Jags, they were able to get a true breakout performance from TE Marcedes Lewis, who was “just a guy” for most of his career before coming out of his shell this season. Lewis finished with 58/700/10 on 88 targets (65.9%), 15 of which came inside the red zone. His 8.1 FPG average ranked him 5th among TEs with 10 games played or more, which was pretty damn good for a guy who was available on a lot of Waiver Wires at the start of the season. He's become a great target for David Garrard in the red zone and maybe the most consistent receiver the team has. He doesn't run particularly well and the Jags like to limit their passing game, which limits his upside so we never expect him to go off. However, we have a great appreciation for consistent producers at the TE position after the way this season went, and Lewis is a true complete TE. He’s a physical specimen who blocks well and has fantastic hands, so we’re willing to guess that this season was not a fluke for him. However, he’s a free agent, so the Jags have a decision to make.
· Fantasy situation to watch for 2011: Will the Jags acquire a receiver to supplant Thomas and Sims-Walker as the #1, or will they at least add some much-needed depth? Will the Jags re-sign Sims-Walker? Can Lewis parlay his breakout year into a big contract and stronger 2011, or will the Jags feel comfortable going with the talented young Zachary Miller?
QB: The QB situation in Tennessee was and still is one of the worst in the league. They opened the season with the much-maligned Vince Young under center, but wouldn’t finish that way. Young had more issues in the off-season, but managed to keep his job, mostly because the Titans were trying to avoid going back to Kerry Collins. That didn’t last very long, as Collins was called into action when Young was absolutely abused by the Steelers in Week Two. That was our first taste of the volatility of the QB position in Tennessee, and it only got worse. Young dealt with knee and ankle issues for most of the season, which hurt his ability to run, one of the few advantages he has over other QBs. Young's threat to run helped spread out defenses and defined throws for him, so when that was limited, he struggled. As we’ve seen for most of his career, Young showed he’s pretty much incapable of playing well while injured. That was never more apparent than the team’s Week Eleven loss to the Redskins, which saw Young tear the flexor tendon in the thumb of his throwing hand. HC Jeff Fisher was not confident in Young's ability to deliver the ball with accuracy after he was warming up on the sidelines. Young was offended by this apparent lack of faith, and he reportedly entered a shouting match with his coach and stormed out of the locker room post game, but not before throwing his jersey and pads into the crowd upon leaving the field. Fisher said in his press conference that Young had lost his job, which ended up going to rookie Rusty Smith because Collins was also banged up. Young went on the IR soon after and isn’t expected to return to the team in 2011. While he's still shaky and probably will continue to be, Young has shown signs of maturing and allowing things to develop down the field, where he can use his arm strength. He ended starting in eight of his appearances, throwing for just 1255 yards, 10 TDs, 3 INT on 93/156 passing (59.6%) while adding 125 rushing yards, good for 12.8 FPG. After getting over a torn tendon in his throwing hand and calf issues, Collins took the starting job over from Smith for the final five games. He did a fine job stepping into the starter's role once again, but still showed to be a week-to-week guy, which is why we are always very careful about talking him up too much. In ten games (seven starts), Collins went 160/278 (57.6%) for 1823 yards, 14 TD, 8 INT, which put him at 14.7 FPG. With Young not in the team’s plans for 2011 and Smith showing he’s nowhere near ready for the starting job, the Titans have a decision to make on Collins, who just turned 38 and is a free agent. Most likely, he’ll be back for the next 1-2 years, but the Titans could be looking at a QB in the 1st round of this year’s draft.
- Fantasy situation to watch in 2011: Who is playing QB for this team? Will they bring back Collins or look to a younger veteran QB, who may give them a better chance to win?
RBs: Chris Johnson was the consensus #1 fantasy pick this season and was openly talking about running for 2500 yards. The problem with that idea was his reliance on big plays in 2009. Those big plays weren’t always there in 2010, yet Johnson never really adjusted his style when the holes weren’t there. The reason for his poor performances, outside of strong defensive play, was Johnson's tendency to search for the cutback and the long TD run, and it really hindered his consistency. Now there's nothing wrong with Johnson's big-play ability because it's so unique to him, but the issue with it this past year was the fact that he looked specifically for them and has been a fantasy dud without them. He's still so unbelievably gifted that he can break long TDs, but given that it seemed you had to count on them, he was somewhat frustrating for fantasy. Johnson was almost too patient at times this season, but if the holes were there, he made plays. He's not a tough, grind-it-out runner, and he can be bottled up, as we saw too often. Not that a player of his caliber should be totally limited by an opposing defense keying on him because of the terrible QB situation, but it was pretty obvious opponents wanted to stop Johnson and force the Titans to make plays with their offense. That was tough to do with a shaky QB situation, especially when the rookie Rusty Smith was under center. Obviously, Johnson is talented enough to overcome tough matchups, but when the team struggled to throw it or the matchup was somewhat tough, expectations had to be lowered. At the end of the season, he was running harder and took what the defense gave him a lot more often instead of always looking to bust off a big play. It's helped that the Titans got back their only dangerous receiving threat in Kenny Britt to help stretch the defense out. Johnson didn’t really have any help in the backfield, as his backup Javon Ringer had just 51 carries for 239 yards and 2 TDs. Johnson fell well short of his goal, but still ended up with 1364 yards and 11 TDs on 316 carries (4.3 YPC). His lack of action in the passing game (44/245/1) was disappointing, but he managed to finish at 14.6 FPG (8th among RBs). The Titans seemed to be figuring things out with their offense at the end of the season, but with uncertainty at QB and a coaching change coming, it does complicate things just a bit for Johnson, who is at least already talking about bouncing back with a huge 2011 campaign.
- Fantasy situation to watch in 2011: With the Titans openly looking for a better backup than Ringer, could we see Johnson’s role change at all? Can the Titans find a QB who can take some of the pressure of Johnson?
WRs/TEs: Trusting the Titan receivers for fantasy purposes has always been a risky proposition with QB Vince Young under center, and that continued to be the case this season. Kenny Britt was so tempting to like coming into the 2010 season, but off-field issues and reports of his being out of shape, killed any momentum he built in his rookie season. A slow start for Britt was the result of being in the doghouse and the limitations of Young as a passer. After having what looked to be his breakout performance against the Eagles in Week Seven (7/225/3), Britt ended up missing extensive time because of a hamstring injury. He returned for the final four games of the season, and finished the year on a high note, with 19/341/2 during that stretch. The return of Britt was just what the doctor ordered for this struggling offense because of his size, physicality, and ability to run. Some stability at the QB position is going to be needed for him to truly emerge as a top-flight fantasy WR, but we loved what we saw of him at the end of the season. He was fortunate enough to get some bounces to go his way over the last couple of weeks of the year, but he was the clear #1 guy and got enough targets, so good things were bound to happen. He ended up starting in seven of 12 games, grabbing 42/775/9 (18.5 YPC) on 73 targets (57.5% caught), which landed him at a very solid 12 FPG. We think Britt has potentially elite talent at this level, so we're really bullish on him and hope the team can find a consistent option at the QB position. Nate Washington actually had a pretty nice year for a guy who bounced around the Waiver Wire because owners got fed up with him, and we think he's an underrated player who really hasn't gotten his due because of the inconsistency of the passing offense he's a part of. We know the team had confidence in him because he was seeing the field more than Randy Moss, who was a complete bust, catching just 6/80 in 8 games with the Titans. Washington is the definition of a solid WR, but he was definitely the victim of the Titans “tiering” their WRs one higher than ideal. In other words, he should have been a #3, but he was a #2 in Tennessee, and Justin Gage should have been a #2, but he was considered a #1 early in the season. Gage was decent enough, but his combination of size and speed should have lent itself to his being a better player. Unfortunately for Gage, the combination of bad QB play and a hamstring injury really hurt his season, which was limited to just 11 games and 4 starts. Gage finished with 20/2661/ on 43 targets (46.5% caught) and 3 FPG, while Washington grabbed 42/687/6 (16.4 YPC) on 90 targets (46.7% caught) and 6.5 FPG. He’s a decent player and his best trait is getting downfield, but he can’t do much unless he’s got more help from his QB. The addition of Moss didn’t free up Washington, as we thought it would, but that’s because Moss can’t run anymore. Tennessee appears to have a decent receiving corps for whomever ends up playing QB next season, especially if TE Jared Cook can build on his solid finish to the season. Cook has been someone we've kept our eye on because of his natural, raw ability that's comparable to someone like Jermichael Finley. Unfortunately for Cook, that light bulb in his head hasn't been switched on yet, although we're sensing there is a finger on the switch. The Titans made an effort to use him more in specific packages to spread things out because he's got the physical tools to be a moveable chess piece. That came at the expense of free agent Bo Scaife, who doesn’t have much upside and was a non-factor down the stretch with the team in evaluation mode. Cook’s maturation on and off the field was noticeable to the coaching staff down the stretch and helped him gain a larger role. This team’s offense may not be built around the pass, but they certainly have the pieces to go in that direction if the want to in 2011.
- Fantasy situation to watch in 2011: Can Britt take his game to the next level and be that consistently dominating #1 WR he has the talent to become? Will Washington and Gage see their roles change and/or could we see more of Damian Williams? Will Cook realize his potential and become a reliable fantasy TE?
Key Free Agents: QB Kerry Collins, WR Randy Moss, TE Bo Scaife, FB Ahmard Hall, LG Leroy Harris, DEs Jason Babin and Dave Ball, LB Stephen Tulloch
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