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

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Published, 2/3/11

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 West I AFC North I AFC South I NFC East I NFC West I NFC North I NFC South

AFC East

Buffalo Bills

QB: HC Chan Gailey said the QB competition was wide open heading into the preseason, and Trent Edwards wound up winning the job. But he ended up starting just two games and was waived in late September. Enter Ryan Fitzpatrick, who was best known for his Harvard degree, not his skills as a passer. At times he showed himself to be an above-average QB who can make all the throws with good timing and accuracy. He was far from perfect, but he definitely helped his WRs, and his intelligence paid off and made their OL better. The Bills were clearly hanging their hat on Fitzpatrick every week, or at least were forced to at times, but the bottom line is that he put the offense on his back and was able to take advantage of beatable matchups. Fitzpatrick clicked very well with WRs Steve Johnson, Lee Evans, and Roscoe Parrish, but the chemistry between Johnson and Fitzpatrick was special, and came from their time together as backups over the last couple seasons. While the fantasy numbers were solid for most of the year, in real life, Fitzpatrick might just a back-up QB who happens to start. We won't doubt that he's improved over last season, thanks to his ability to make some throws and extend plays with his legs, but he still missed a lot of routine throws and saw his numbers inflated by the need to play catch-up. We have to admit, although his fantasy numbers decreased toward the end of the season, we were impressed with Fitzpatrick, in general, and we're legitimately starting to wonder if his future in this league is as more than a back-up QB. One of the things we really noticed is that he threw the ball almost angrily – he completed passes into tight spaces with conviction. That's not really something that can be taught because it requires a strong throwing arm and some instinct that not every QB has. Obviously, the Bills had a respectable offensive showing this past year with a clear lack of weapons at the receiver spots, and Fitzpatrick and Gailey are big reasons for that. In 13 starts, Fitzpatrick was 255/441 (57.8%) for 2992 yards, 23 TDs, and 15 INTs, while adding 271 rushing yards, which put him at a very respectable 20.7 FPG (tied for 10th among QBs). With the Bills picking at #3 in the 2010 Draft, it will be very interesting to see if they go with a QB or if they attend to the many other needs they have.
  • Fantasy situation to watch in 2011: We don’t have high expectations for Fitzpatrick, but he appears to be the starter heading into next season so we’ll have to see if he’ll have any competition from a high draft pick or if the Bills decide he’s their guy.
RBs: Despite having Marshawn Lynch and Fred Jackson on the roster and a bunch of other pressing needs, the Bills used their #9 overall pick in the 2010 Draft to select C.J. Spiller. Even with that selection, the team continued to say they wouldn’t trade Lynch, and until early October, they were telling the truth. Lynch was traded to the Seahawks after four games with the Bills, and Buffalo named Jackson their starter, which is what we believed should have been the case all along because he can do whatever the Bills ask, whether it’s running between the tackles or making plays in space. He is a solid all-around back who is a measured, methodical runner, but can also be deceptive, which is something you might not expect. As much as we like Jackson, he was tough to trust because there was no consistency to how the Bills ran the ball, and he didn't get as many checkdowns as you would have hoped because QB Ryan Fitzpatrick is a bit of a gunslinger and likes to throw the ball downfield. The opportunities weren't always there, which made Jackson a very frustrating player, especially since we knew how capable he is. So basically, what Jackson accomplished this season was fairly incredible. He was part of a three-man rotation before the Bills let Lynch go. He played for an offense that was throwing 40+ times out of necessity for most of the year. And by the end of the season, he was playing behind an offensive line that's had as few as two regular starters healthy, with one playing out of position. In 16 games (13 starts), Jackson ran for 927 yards and 5 TDs on 222 rushes (4.2 YPC) while chipping in 31/215/2 as a receiver, and that put him at 9.8 FPG. Spiller struggled to get anything going in his rookie season, but coach Chan Gailey contests that the Bills weren't doing enough in play calling or especially in blocking departments to get him in the open field. The team was definitely trying to increase Spiller's role, but they just couldn't seem to get anything going on the ground and needed to make sure Jackson still got his touches. Hamstring problems sidelined him for two games in the middle of the season, so in 14 games, he ended up with 74 rushes for 283 yards (3.8 YPC) and had 24/157/1 through the air for a measly 3.6 FPG.
  • Fantasy situation to watch in 2011: Jackson should remain the unquestioned starter heading into next season, but we have to believe Spiller’s role will increase significantly.
WRs/TEs: With Terrell Owens gone after just one season, we wondered who would step up to start opposite Lee Evans. Little did we know that Evans would become an afterthought in this offense because of the breakout season by Steve Johnson. Johnson became the go-to guy in an offense that wasn’t shy about throwing the ball, whether they were in a game or trying to get back in it. Johnson showed good hands and has a big body (6’2’’), which he used to shield defenders when catching the ball. He also moved well for his size, and that made him a threat all over the field, but he was especially active in the red zone. His rapport with Fitzpatrick continued to improve, and the targets seemed to always be there. The chemistry between Johnson and Fitzpatrick stemmed from their time together as backups, and Johnson has said that he and the team fully trusted Fitzpatrick because he gave all of his receivers opportunities to make plays. Fitzpatrick said Johnson was able to get open against any coverage, which makes sense, considering he's a bigger guy who used his body and physicality to get open and pick up YAC. Johnson said the presence of Evans on the other side led to more openings on his side of the field. Johnson ended up with 82/1073/10 (13.1 YPC) on 136 targets (60.1% caught), which was good for 10.5 FPG (17th among WRs). Evans turned into (or remained) an all-or-nothing receiver for this team, mostly because Johnson got the majority of targets, thanks to his good rapport with Fitzpatrick. We knew Evans had a nice downfield rapport with Fitzpatrick based on their play in 2009, but Evans became the king of the “just missed it” big play, and in reality, he's was worthless for the Bills and fantasy. He finished the year with 37/578/4 on 82 targets (45.1% caught) and that put him at 6.8 FPG. Evans missed the last three games of the season with a high ankle sprain, which opened the door for guys like David Nelson. Nelson also got increased opportunities because Roscoe Parrish, who had developed in a speedy, slot receiver and reliable target for Fitzpatrick, landed on the IR in early November with a wrist injury. Parrish ended the season with 33/392/2 on 53 targets (62.7% caught) and 6.7 FPG in 8 games. Nelson played in 14 games and put up 31/353/3 on 46 targets (67.4% caught) and 3.8 FPG. The TE position was almost a complete non-factor, as Jonathan Stupar led all Bill TEs with 12/111 on 13 targets in 16 games.
  • Fantasy situation to watch in 2011: Can Johnson continue to be a force in the passing game? Will Evans bounce back, or is he destined to be a mediocre receiver? Will IR’d 2010 rookie Marcus Easley be a factor in 2011?
Key Free Agents: QB Brian Brohm, RT Mansfield Wrotto, LBs Paul Posluszny, Akin Ayodele, and Keith Ellison, SS Donte Whitner, and CB Drayton Florence.
Miami Dolphins
QB: We entered the 2010 season with relatively high hopes for third-year QB Chad Henne, but unfortunately things didn’t work out. After taking over from Chad Pennington in Week Three of 2009 and finishing the year strongly, Henne simply didn’t make much progress in 2010, despite the addition of Brandon Marshall to the receiving corps. He was benched in Week Ten in favor of Pennington, but Pennington suffered a season-ending shoulder injury in the game, and Henne retook the job. Henne injured his knee in the same game and gave way to Tyler Thigpen, although Henne surprisingly missed only one start and returned in Week Twelve. In 15 games, Henne completed 61.5% of his throws for 3298 yards, 15 TDs, and 18 INTs with an average of 15.3 FPG. Henne did put up numbers at times, but mostly that was because of the volume of throws. The Dolphins often unexpectedly went away from the run and relied on Henne, but he had just four games with multiple TD passes – only one of which came after Week Six. He had the chance to make plays, but he was so inconsistent all season, struggling with poor decisions and making them worse with poor throws on top of them. Henne rarely looked confident in the pocket, and a lack of confidence plus poor decision-making is a recipe for disaster at quarterback. He also had some completely awful games, like when he completed 5/18 for 55 yards and a TD against the Jets (yet still somehow won), or when he completed 16/32 for 174 yards, 1 TD, and 3 INTs against the Browns. The bottom line is that when a quarterback is in his third year in the league and second year as a starter, there should be clear signs of progress. That is simply not the case with Henne, who has one year left on his contract, and the Dolphins have serious concerns about the position heading into 2011. Pennington has played in four games in the last two seasons and is a free agent, while Thigpen attempted 62 passes in 2010 and is also a free agent. The team hasn’t ruled out giving Henne another chance in 2011 – they may not have much of a choice – and after watching them abandon the running game in 2010, committing to it should be a priority this coming season.
  • Fantasy situation to watch for 2011: Are the Dolphins willing to put their faith in Henne for another season? With one year left on his contract, the team could opt to draft a quarterback, bring in a veteran, or both.
RBs: In terms of fantasy, few players are as indistinguishable from one another as Ricky Williams and Ronnie Brown. Brown ended up having a better season than Williams, but that was largely due to the slight advantage he had in touches. The similarity was perfectly fine in 2009, when Brown averaged 13.6 FPG in nine games before getting hurt, and Williams averaged 13.5 for the season. However, the production of both backs dropped off significantly, and the Dolphins frequently abandoned the run, despite the poor play of QB Chad Henne. Brown carried 200 times for 734 yards (3.7 average) and 5 TDs with 33 catches for 242 yards. Williams carried 159 times for 673 yards (4.2) and 2 TDs with 19 catches for 141 yards and 1 TD. Both averaged more than half a yard less per carry than 2009, and both struggled to get into the endzone, making them frustrating players for fantasy owners. As a team, the Dolphins fell from 4th in the league in rushing in 2009 (139.4 YPG) to 21st (102.7 YPG), with 64 fewer attempts, despite having a healthy Brown for the whole season. With all that and the struggles of Henne, it’s not surprising that OC Dan Henning won’t be back in Miami in 2011. The biggest thing that distinguishes Brown from Williams is the use of Brown in the Wildcat, but that fad has seemingly faded a bit already, and the Dolphins didn’t have much success with it this season. Brown was also technically the starter and received more carries, but Williams generally looked a little better, and the average per carry shows that. Williams appeared to be the best choice to sustain offense. Again, however, the Dolphins didn’t consistently commit to the run, leaving both players as tough plays for fantasy because you could never count on them, especially with limited scoring chances. Neither rushed for 100 yards in a game by himself this season, and there’s just nothing to hang your hat on with either. They were two mediocre options all season and decent bets to get 50-60 yards each without a TD. So with that, there’s one piece of good news for fantasy owners: Both Brown and Williams are free agents, so it’s unlikely that they’ll be sharing the same backfield in 2011.
  • Fantasy situation to watch for 2011: The two-headed Brown/Williams backfield appears done, as both guys are free agents. Neither is likely to return, meaning the Dolphins are faced with decisions to make, and like at QB, they could bring in a veteran and draft someone.
WRs/TEs: The Dolphins had high hopes for their passing game with Chad Henne entering his second year as a starter and with the addition of former Bronco star Brandon Marshall to the receiving corps. With one of the game’s best slot receivers in Davone Bess already in town, Miami had the pieces for a strong supporting cast around Henne. However, despite the Dolphins’ surprising inclination to pass the ball, things never really worked out consistently. Henne struggled all season with poor decisions, and while Marshall’s numbers were still pretty good, he wasn’t the impact fantasy player that owners would have hoped. He caught 86 passes on 143 targets (60.1%) for 1,014 yards, giving him his fourth straight 1000-yard season, but he had just 3 TDs all season after scoring 10 times in 2009. He had four 100-yard games, and he had just 1 TD in the first 13 weeks before returning from injury in Week Fourteen and scoring in back-to-back games. A hamstring injury caused him to miss two games, and the big differences between 2009 and 2010 were catches (101 to 86) and TDs (10 to 3). For much of the season, he was simply a good bet to get 4-6 catches for around 60 yards, making him a disappointment for those who saw him as a #1 fantasy option. Of course, much of the blame can be placed on Henne, who simply did not develop as expected and struggled with decisions and accuracy all season, and Marshall ended up averaging 8.6 FPG. Aside from Marshall, the Dolphins got another strong season from Bess as a possession receiver out of the slot. He had developed into one of the best slot receivers in the league, and the presence of Marshall certainly helped open things up a bit for Bess underneath and over the middle. After catching 76 passes in 2009, Bess caught 80 passes on 126 targets (63.5%) for 817 yards and 5 TDs. He had 11 games with 5+ catches, and he was a pretty consistent PPR guy, which is exactly what owners had hoped. Unlike Marshall, he wasn’t being drafted as a top receiver. He fulfilled his role, living up to expectations, despite the season-long struggles of Henne. Really, he was a product of how much the Dolphins chose to throw the ball, as he’ll almost always get catches if the volume is there. The #3 option in the passing game was Brian Hartline, who had a few good games but is far from an exciting fantasy player. He had 43 catches on 70 targets (61.4%) for 615 yards and a TD, giving him an average of 5.9 FPG (similar to Robert Meachem and James Jones). Talent-wise, Hartline is pretty much mediocre across the board, offering no distinguishing skills to set him apart from anyone else. He’s a decent all-around player who’s a good blocker at WR, meaning he has value to the team but isn’t much of a fantasy player – particularly since he scored only once all year before missing the final four games because of finger surgery. He had several good games toward the end of the year, with 4/85, 5/98, and 5/70, among others, yet he didn’t score after Week Two. Finally, at tight end, the Dolphins had the Brian Hartline of TEs in Anthony Fasano. Fasano occasionally makes a play or two, but perhaps more than any player in the league we like to refer to him as “just a guy.” He doesn’t have great athleticism and he struggled with drops at times, finishing the season with 39 catches on 60 targets (65%) for 528 yards and 4 TDs. He ran into a knee problem at the end of the season, but he was healthy for the fantasy portion of the season, which is more than you could say for a lot of TEs. Fasano’s biggest moment came in Week Ten against Tennessee, when he put up 5/107/1 and earned himself a three-year contract extension. Naturally, in the two games after that, he caught a total of 3 passes for 26 yards.
  • Fantasy situation to watch for 2011: The entire Dolphin receiving corps will be back, with Fasano and Bess both earning mid-season extensions. So the question here goes back to the quarterback situation, as Marshall in particular is capable of putting up big numbers with steady QB play.
Key Free Agents: RB Ronnie Brown, RB Ricky Williams, RB Patrick Cobbs, QB Chad Pennington, QB Tyler Thigpen, C Richie Incognito, G Cory Procter, NT Paul Soliai
New England Patriots
QB: It’s New England, and it’s the QB position, so it can only mean one thing: Tom Brady. Although it’s not official yet, we’d think Brady did enough to wrap up the 2010 NFL MVP award after his remarkable season (he’s already won offensive player of the year). For fantasy purposes, Brady was strong all season, throwing for 3900 yards with 36 TDs against an incredible 4 INTs. Until the Divisional Round loss against the Jets, Brady hadn’t thrown an interception since Week Six. That was a streak of eleven games with 26 TDs and no interceptions to end the season. Unbelievable. And remember that Brady weathered a storm of the Patriots completely changing their offense in the middle of the season. After the trade of Randy Moss following the Patriots’ Week Four game with the Dolphins, Brady had four mediocre fantasy games until exploding against the Steelers in Week Ten. In all, he finished 6th at the QB position with 21.8 FPG, and he was even more valuable than that in leagues that dock points for turning the ball over. In fact, we’d go so far as to say that, despite the disappointing finish to the 2010 season for New England, this was Brady’s most impressive performance of his season. There are very few QBs who could withstand a complete change in offensive philosophy, let alone in the middle of the season. Brady did it, and led his team to a 14-2 record in the process. Brady made throws that most QBs wouldn’t even attempt, plus he understood and believed in the scheme that resulted in guys like Wes Welker and Deion Branch getting open. And as if we needed any more reasons to be impressed with Brady’s performance, consider that he played for most of the season with a fracture in his foot that required off-season surgery. With Brady already rehabbing from the surgery and having signed a contract extension with the Patriots a few months ago, we figure he will be ready to step up for an impressive 2011 season. He’ll get those young TEs involved in 2011, but it would be nice
·         Fantasy situation to watch for 2011: Will Brady’s fantasy performance become more consistent in 2011, especially if his off-season foot surgery proves to be a success?
RBs: The Patriots opened the 2010 season with two former first-round picks and an eleven-year veteran in their backfield. They ended it with a 1,000-yard rusher and one of the most versatile and exciting players in the game. And if you know the way the Patriots operate, you know that these groups are mutually exclusive. Yes, Laurence Maroney (traded to Denver), Fred Taylor (injured – surprise!), and Kevin Faulk (also injured) made way in 2010 for BenJarvus Green-Ellis (UDFA in 2008 out of Ole Miss) and Danny Woodhead (UDFA in 2008 out of Chadron State), and the Patriots benefitted from it. If there are any more questions about the level this front office operates on, they should probably stop getting asked. Let’s start with BJGE, who powered his way to a 229/1008/13 line and an 18th-place finish at the RB position with 11.7 FPG. Green-Ellis ran for 100 yards in a game just twice, but he received double-digit carries in all but three of the Patriots’ games, and he scored multiple TDs on three separate occasions. When the Patriots were blowing teams out late in the season or getting close to the goal line, he was the guy, and he provided consistent fantasy value because of it. In fact, he finished the season with seven double-digit fantasy games over the last eight weeks, remarkably consistent for the RB position in a changing league. And what else can you say about The Law Firm other than “He runs hard, and he goes forward”? Is that the biggest complement you can pay the guy, based on his role? We think so, and that’s fine because we could never say that about Maroney. He fills his spot, and he does it well. And his role is limited because of the addition of Woodhead, who quickly became one of the most popular fan favorites in New England. Remember, the Pats picked this guy up before they played the Jets in Week Two, and many speculated that they picked him up simply to get insight into the Jet offense (Woodhead was released by the Jets after the preseason to make room for rookie RB Joe McKnight). Well, they were wrong. All Woodhead did was become a human flex player, a Wes Welker-type of mover and a complete mismatch against LBs coming out of the backfield. With a 97/547/5 line on the ground and 34/379/1 through the air in 14 games, Woodhead averaged 9.2 FPG in a non-PPR league, ranking him 29th at the RB position and making him a high-end flex (he was even more valuable in PPR leagues, obviously). Woodhead received double-digit touches or scored a TD in all but three games he played in (including Week Seventeen, when he suffered a concussion), and he was a constant home-run threat, averaging a spectacular 7.1 yards per touch on his 131 touches. Really, the only thing that makes Woodhead a RB is the number on his jersey and where the Patriots typically line him up because otherwise he might be indistinguishable from Welker or the myriad other morphing playmakers they have. And with no dominant player in this short-passing, condensed offense, he's at least got a role as the team's go-to guy on 3rd down. He assumed Faulk’s role and then some, turning himself into a damn good fantasy back in the process. Pretty awesome for a guy thought to be brought in to give the Pats insight into the Jets, isn’t it? Oh, before we forget, the Pats also dedicated 27 touches to Sammy Morris. Yeah…
·         Fantasy situation to watch for 2011: With four free agents at the position (Green-Ellis, Taylor, Faulk, Morris), what will happen in the Patriot backfield? Will Taylor and/or Faulk retire? Will Woodhead, who signed an extension during the season, have an expanded role expand in 2011? Will the Patriots have to rebuild the left side of their line with both LT Matt Light and LG Logan Mankins hitting free agency?
WRs/TEs: By Week Six in the 2010 season, the Patriot receiver position was both shocking for whom it had on the field (Wes Welker and Deion Branch) and for whom it didn’t (Randy Moss). Yes, Welker made a miraculous recovery from a significant knee injury to play at a high level from Week One through the season, and the Pats made the stunning trade of Moss to Minnesota after a Week Four win over the Dolphins. And among all that drama, Bill Belichick and Company managed to turn Branch into a useful player yet again, something he hadn’t really been since leaving the Pats for the Seahawks after the 2005 season. There are a hundred reasons the Pats could have traded Moss (probably starting with the fact that he wasn’t very good anymore), but the point we want to get to for this review is that the Patriots completely changed their offense over their Week Five bye, and they ended up putting together a complete 14-2 powerhouse. Without Moss and with Brandon Tate still developing (he had a line of 24/432/3), the Pats didn’t really have an effective vertical element to their pass game, so they instead focused on a sustaining offense that limited turnovers and moved the chains. Welker and Branch were perfect for this attack, but so were rookie TEs Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, both of whom had big seasons. But it all started with Welker, who had his “worst” season as a Patriot. His line of 86/848/7 (on 122 targets, a 70.5% conversion rate) ranked him just 30th at the WR position in PPR leagues, and it was the first time in four seasons with New England that Welker failed to catch 112 balls or more. But as a moveable chess piece, he was still incredibly effective. He showed few ill effects from his devastating knee injury, and his ability to play both inside and outside made opposing defenses either move their top CBs to the inside, or risk having a precise route runner matched up on a LB or safety. And if Welker was well-covered, there was usually a window for QB Tom Brady to get the ball to Branch, who typically played outside the hashes but was extremely effective within the context of the offense. From Week Six on (when Branch was a member of the Patriots), he actually ranked ahead of Welker in fantasy value, with a 48/706/5 line in eleven games. He converted 64.9% of his 74 targets with the Pats, and averaged 9.1 FPG in standard-scoring leagues. Extremely impressive for a guy who was cast off as washed up and was readily available in trades. There’s a comfort level with Brady throwing the ball to Branch outside the hashes, and given how much Branch improved in a Patriot uniform, that can’t really be understated. What’s incredible is that the biggest field-stretching elements of the Patriot passing game may have been the rookie TEs, both of whom played big-time roles. Gronkowski, a better blocker and red-zone threat, was more consistent, putting up a line of 42/546/10 on just 58 targets, an impressive 72.4% conversion rate. His 7.2 FPG were enough to rank him 8th at the TE position, one spot ahead of – you guessed it! – Hernandez, whose 45/563/6 line on 63 targets (71.4%) gave him a 6.9 FPG average. Hernandez was a lot more inconsistent than Gronkowski. He started off on a much stronger foot, playing multiple roles while Gronkowski was strictly a short-yardage and goal-line TE. But between Weeks Nine and Sixteen, Hernandez had three games of double-digit fantasy points, but also had three games with fewer than 2.0 FP. Gronkowski, meanwhile, finished the season in a flurry, with three of his final four games resulting in double-digit FP. The point is that both of these guys are legit NFL TEs. We’re particularly excited about Hernandez, who is essentially a big WR. He beat CBs one-on-one off the ball on occasion, and was frankly scary when running down the seam. Should he improve, he could become an Antonio Gates-type of threat from the position. That’s not at all to discount the efforts of Gronkowski, who was a prototypical complete TE, a guy who can block and release from the line of scrimmage, while also flexing out and providing a big target for Brady in the slot. Both Gronkowski and Hernandez were used out of the backfield on occasion, and you’d have to think that could be an important part of their roles moving forward.
·         Fantasy situation to watch for 2011: Will the Pats look to add a vertical threat to their offense, or do they think Tate and/or Taylor Price can develop into that guy? Will blocking TE Alge Crumpler return to the fold, or will the roles of Gronkowski and Hernandez increase?
Key Free Agents: RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis, RB Sammy Morris, RB Fred Taylor, RB Kevin Faulk, LT Matt Light, LG Logan Mankins, DE Gerard Warren, S Jarrad Page, K Shayne Graham
New York Jets
QB: As a former top-5 pick playing quarterback for a New York team that’s reached back-to-back AFC title games, Mark Sanchez has been in the spotlight for all of his short two-year career in the league. For some reason, that spotlight involves propping him up anytime he does something noteworthy and often exaggerating his role in the Jets’ success. He has absolutely shown the ability to play well and make big throws, but he’s probably received too much praise and too much credit as the QB of a team that relies on defense and the running game and needs him to avoid making mistakes. The Jets are loaded with talent around Sanchez, including a deep receiving corps and a strong offensive line, and they’re not winning because of Sanchez. For example, yes, the Jets beat the Colts in the Wild Card round, but Sanchez played poorly until he made one big throw late to help the team win. For the season, his numbers certainly showed improvement from his rookie campaign, as he completed 54.8% for 3291 yards, 17 TDs, and 13 INTs in the regular season. He avoided throwing a pick in each of the first five games, but he threw for under 200 yards seven times and fell into a terrible funk late in the season. That included 3 INTs in the Week Thirteen debacle at New England and completing 17/44 in a bad loss to the Dolphins the next week. Sanchez plays his best when the offense is simplified, like when Titans had success with Vince Young, as he succeeds when he doesn’t have to make a lot of reads and can work off the run game. The Jets need him to simply be comfortable and help sustain offense. Hopefully over time he’ll become comfortable more consistently, as he became overwhelmed at times this season and can lose confidence. When he loses confidence, he has a tendency to push the ball out of his hand when he throws it, and he also tends to overreact to any pressure he sees. To his credit, Sanchez had some very nice games, including a terrific second half at Pittsburgh in the AFC title game that saw him almost lead the team to a huge comeback win. Still, he’s a long way from being an elite NFL quarterback, and just because he’s been the quarterback for a successful team doesn’t mean he’s consistently played well. The biggest question mark in the immediate future is Sanchez’s health, as he battled a right shoulder injury toward the end of the season, and there’s a chance he could face surgery.
  • Fantasy situation to watch for 2011: Entering his third season as the Jets’ starter, can Sanchez become a more comfortable quarterback? Will the Jets be able to put more trust in him on a regular basis?
RBs: It’s no secret that the Jets prefer to win with stout defense and a strong running game, and they pretty much did that, ranking 4th in rushing offense and 3rd in total defense. In his first season since coming over from San Diego, LaDainian Tomlinson showed he still had some juice left with a torrid start, but ultimately he slowed down and was difficult to trust for fantasy in the second half of the season. In the first six games, LT averaged 81.7 rushing YPG and 15 FPG and had 5 TDs. In his last nine games, he averaged 47.1 rushing YPG and 8.3 FPG and had just 1 TD. Obviously, that represents a steep decline, and Tomlinson went from being a top fantasy back to a shaky play who was good for about 50 rushing yards a game and didn’t have more than 2 catches in any of the last five regular season contests. He did show some juice again in the postseason with 16/82/2 against the Colts in the Wild Card, but he rushed for a total of 59 yards in the last two games. Still, it’s hard to call Tomlinson a disappointment. His production after the first several weeks was more what the Jets expected, as he still has some lateral explosiveness but doesn’t have the speed he once did. The early-season production was an added bonus, and he at least helped get fantasy owners a few wins with his unexpectedly stellar play to start the year. Meanwhile, Tomlinson’s backfield mate Shonn Greene was a mediocre option most of the season and never consistently put up numbers. The Jets had three 100-yard rushing performances all season, and two of those came in Week Four against Buffalo when Tomlinson had 133/2 and Greene had 117 yards. Greene had 34 fewer carries and 36 fewer catches than Tomlinson, rushing 185 times for 766 yards and just 2 TDs with 16 catches for 120 yards. The lack of touchdowns was a killer, but it wasn’t as if Tomlinson was scoring often, either. The plan all along was to get Greene more carries as the season progressed, and that’s exactly what happened, but he never became involved as a receiver. Plus, he had little red zone involvement, as after getting 10 red-zone carries in the first four games, he had just 8 red-zone carries the rest of the way. Last, it must be mentioned that athletic rookie Joe McKnight stepped in as the starter in Week Seventeen and gave the Jets their third 100-yard game of the season (all against the Bills), as he rushed for 32/158 after doing nothing all year up to that point. His improvement could prompt the team to actually let LT walk in 2011.
  • Fantasy situation to watch for 2011: The 31-year-old Tomlinson showed he had something left in the tank at the beginning of the season, but his production dropped significantly as the season went on. Will we see more of Greene and less of a timeshare in 2011?
WRs/TEs: The Jets had an interesting season with their receiving corps, with TE Dustin Keller getting off to a hot start before WR Santonio Holmes joined the receiving corps after a four-game suspension. Keller served as a perfect outlet for QB Mark Sanchez early on when Sanchez avoided mistakes. In Weeks Two through Four, Keller had 17 catches and 5 TDs, but he failed to score for the rest of the season and became an afterthought among fantasy TEs after being as good as anyone aside from Antonio Gates to start the year. Keller still led the Jets in catches for the year, with 55 grabs on 101 targets (54.5%) for 687 yards and 5 TDs – an average of 6.6 FPG. The addition of Holmes to a deep WR corps, the offense’s heavy reliance on the running game, and the erratic play by Sanchez all contributed to Keller’s declining involvement, which saw him catch around 3 balls per game until he had 7/79 in Week Sixteen. He has the size and speed to create matchup problems, but like with RB LaDainian Tomlinson, a strong start created false hope in terms of fantasy. Holmes put up solid numbers given the circumstances (12 games and a shaky QB), as he caught 52 passes on 95 targets (54.7%) for 746 yards and 6 TDs, with an average of 9.4 FPG fallings lightly behind 2009 in Pittsburgh (9.7). He had a pair of 100-yard games in the regular season and scored in the last two playoff games, although his overall numbers tailed off a bit toward the end. Still, Holmes is one of the most talented receivers in the league, and his numbers will likely make a jump forward if he decides to stay in New York. The big-play guy for the Jets ended up being Braylon Edwards, who caught 53 passes on 99 targets (53.5%) for 904 yards and 7 TDs, averaging 17.1 yards per catch and 8.3 FPG. He had just one 100-yard game (8/100) in Week Fifteen, and while he averaged just 3.3 catches per game, he was generally good for a big play or two. Given Sanchez’s struggles for a good portion of the season, Edwards rather quietly put up decent numbers. The least involved of the receivers was Jerricho Cotchery, who finished 5th on the team, with just 41 catches on 86 targets (47.7%) for 433 yards and 2 TDs in 14 games. His average of just 3.9 FPG was just more than half of his 2009 production, and he had more than 50 yards just twice all season. The addition of Holmes moved Cotchery mostly into the slot, and while he can still make plays underneath, the #3 WR in a running offense with a struggling QB is not always going to see a lot of action. He’s a solid move-the-chains type of receiver who is tough to trust for fantasy, although he’s the only one of the three WRs under contract for 2011. In addition, special teams ace and Wildcat QB Brad Smith will hit free agency, leaving the Jets with plenty of questions at the position.
  • Fantasy situation to watch for 2011: Who will return in 2011? Holmes, Edwards, and Smith will all hit free agency, and while the Jets would like to keep them all, it may not be financially feasible. The Jets may have to choose between Holmes and Edwards, with Patrick Turner possibly seeing an increased role next season.

Key Free Agents: QB Kellen Clemens, FB Tony Richardson, WR Santonio Holmes, WR Braylon Edwards, WR Brad Smith, DE Shaun Ellis, DT Trevor Pryce, LB David Harris, CB Antonio Cromartie, CB Drew Coleman, S Brodney Pool, S Eric Smith, S James Ihedigbo

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