The Weekly Gut Check No. 190 - Last Year's Second-Half Wonders - This Year's 2010 Sleepers and Breakouts?
By Matt Waldman
June 7th, 2010

The Weekly Gut Check examines the players, strategies and guidelines fantasy football owners use to make personnel decisions.

One way to spot players on the rise is to identify strong second-half performances from the previous season. I call these guys Second-Half Wonders. I determine who they are by looking at player productivity splits from the first and second half of the previous NFL season. If a player has at least a 20 percent increase in productivity during the second half of the season, he might be what I call a Second-Half Wonder/Next-Year Breakout Candidate.

It's not a magic formula with startling accuracy, but the process a simple exercise that yields a list of names that are worth further investigation. Last year's Second-Half Wonders/Next-Year's Breakout Candidates included Cedric Benson, Fred Jackson, Ricky Williams, Ryan Grant, Maurice Jones-Drew, Thomas Jones, Marques Colston, Jermichael Finley, Vernon Davis and Tony Gonzalez.

Most of these players would have been assets to your 2009 fantasy squads. All of the backs mentioned above had fantasy starter production and four of them ranked in the top 10. As you examine the names of players who qualify this year, see if you can draw connections to other things you're reading about them to see if this information helps you build a case for an imminent breakout.

2009 Second-Half Wonders

Quarterbacks

Player
Gms 1-9
FPts/G 1-9
Gms 10-17
FPts/G 10-17
FP/G Inc
Matt Moore
5
17.46
100%
Vince Young
4
7.19
8
17.66
59%
Matthew Stafford
6
13.61
4
19.88
32%
Chad Henne
6
10.77
8
15.06
29%
Jason Campbell
8
15.89
8
19.17
17%

Matt Moore: I would not be at all surprised if Matt Moore makes it difficult for the Panthers to pry Jimmy Clausen's hands off the clipboard. Moore completed nearly 62 percent of his passes in 5 starts, tossed 8 scores to only 2 picks, and made better use of veteran Steve Smith than Jake Delhomme could in his waning days as the team's starter. During his first three seasons, Moore has proven to be far more judicious with the football than Delhomme and last season he began to demonstrate the confidence to throw the ball downfield. What I like about Moore is his pocket mobility and inherent skill at buying time. He's no Tony Romo or Ben Roethlisberger, but I think he's coming into his own.

Moore's detractors will point to this year's draft. However, I think the addition of two quarterbacks indicates that the Panthers learned their lesson about not grooming quality prospects while Delhomme was still productive. The Packers (Mark Brunell, Matt Hasselbeck, and Aaron Rodgers), Chargers (Drew Brees and Charlie Whitehurst), and Falcons (Matt Schaub) have all profited from drafting, developing and trading quarterbacks. Tony Pike is a developmental project, but once he has a few years of grooming he could earn the Panthers a higher pick than what they used to take him. And Jimmy Clausen may be the heir apparent, but Jon Kitna and Drew Brees have proven that an incumbent who is eventually pushed out of town can still be a highly productive player.

Moore is a late-round, fantasy pick this year, but if I had a quarterback with the productivity and durability of Brees, Rodgers or Manning (or Favre) as my starter, I'd be willing to take a late-round chance on him as my bye-week option.

Vince Young: As with Moore, Young's stat splits don't mean much because his true opportunity to start came in the second half of 2009. However, his 17.66 fantasy points per game was only 2 points per game fewer than the 10th-ranked fantasy starter during that same stretch - Peyton Manning. A difference of 2 points per week is significant when comparing productivity, but the fact you can even put him in the conversation due to his career turnaround is the essence of my argument to consider Young.

The Titans quarterback showed a lot of improvement because he matured from the organization's tough love, and he decided to work at his craft. Although Young's 58.6 percent completion rate still needs improvement, his presence in the pocket was much improved. The Titans QB demonstrated a new skill at climbing the pocket under pressure and exhausting all of his receiving options before deciding to run. This off-season, Young has been working on his mechanics to improve his accuracy while moving to his left.

I am skeptical that Young can make the climb from a run-first quarterback to a 65 percent, 4000-yard, 30-TD NFL passer, but I believe Young's dedication to his job is only going to continue. If you extrapolate his 2009 stats over a 16-game stretch, he would have produced 3000 combined yards and 16 touchdowns. I think it's reasonable to expect Young to develop into a player with a 3-5 year peak of a 60 percent completion rate, a combined 3500 yards, and a combined 20-25 TDs. These fantasy totals would place within QB1 range.

The Titans didn't draft Kenny Britt, Jared Cook and Damien Williams (or acquire Nate Washington in free agency) to play super-conservative offensive football 2-3 years from now. I think it's a worthwhile option to invest in Young as a future top-10 fantasy QB in dynasty leagues.

Matthew Stafford: Unlike Young, Stafford's four starts in the second half of 2009 literally put his fantasy points per game production on par with Peyton Manning. Stafford averaged 19.88 per start - just .06 fewer per game than the Colts star. Mind you, he did it as a rookie without a viable ground game, a balky Calvin Johnson, no true secondary receiver and an offense that coach Jim Schwartz says he put the governor on due to a lack of surrounding talent for Stafford's skills.

You don't often hear from a coach that the rookie was further ahead of the surrounding talent. True, this statement is an indictment of the state of the team due to the recently ousted Millen regime, but it still remains a testament to Stafford's skills. The second-year passer has a Favre-like arm and underrated mobility, which gives him the talent to put balls into tight coverage that we see from elite passers in this league. However Stafford's talent was wasted last year, because Calvin Johnson was the only receiver on the roster with the proven athleticism to get open and consistently catch pinpoint bullets in tight coverage - and he was gimpy and triple-covered.

If Nate Burleson, Tony Scheffler and Jahvid Best do their jobs as hoped, you're looking at my 2010 breakout candidate at the quarterback. Stafford just needed a little more time in the pocket and a lot more quality targets. If one of the three players shows up as expected to take some pressure off Calvin Johnson, Stafford's numbers will improve. If all three play consistent, productive football, look for the second-year quarterback to be a borderline QB1 with weeks of elite production. I believe Stafford is worth taking just after the established fantasy starters are off the board with the initial plan of pairing him in a fantasy QBBC situation.

Chad Henne: Henne improved his production substantially down the stretch of 2009 for three reasons. First, the Ronnie Brown-Wildcat component of the ground game was sidelined with a broken foot. Second, Ted Ginn, Jr. was relegated to special teams after continuing to drop passes. Third, Henne continued to improve as a passer despite lacking a true primary threat.

Nonetheless, Henne's points per game average among QBs with at least three starts during the second half of the 2009 season was still a less than inspiring 23rd overall. Adding Brandon Marshall to the mix this year should help Henne become a worthwhile fantasy QB2 with some QB1 moments, because he's the complete receiver the Dolphins have been lacking since the Dan Marino era.

If you temper your expectations of Henne and think of his ceiling in terms of Kyle Orton's production last year (16th among fantasy QBs), then you have an option to pair with a player like Stafford or David Garrard in a QBBC.

Jason Campbell: The Redskins '09 starter improved his points per game stats in the second half of last season because this team could not run the ball after Clinton Portis went down. Campbell was forced to drop back and take a beating between completions. His 43 sacks taken last year don't approach David Carr's epic beating of 76 with the Texans, but only Aaron Rodgers and Ben Roethlisberger were sacked more often and they were far more productive.

His 39 sacks the year before weren't much better and because of this consistent punishment, I wouldn't be surprised if Campbell looks better in practice than he will during games. If Campbell displays the toughness to work from the pocket despite last season's gruesome ending, Oakland has some young weapons with potential in Louis Murphy, Chaz Schilens, and Zach Miller. If Darren McFadden and Darrius Heyward-Bey refine their technical skills to match their athleticism, Oakland could be dangerous. Although the Redskins also had young weapons with potential, the Raiders seem to have a clue about pass protection, which is why we'll see quickly if Campbell is shell-shocked from his Redskins' experience.

I would much rather take my chances with a Matt Moore or Vince Young due to their playmaking upside. However, Campbell's 2009 production was only a point per game off the pace of performing as a top-10 fantasy QB. I just worry that the Raiders could opt for Bruce Gradkowski if Campbell struggles early, because the young veteran showed he could lead this team despite playing with two rookie receivers as starters. It's why I would rather take my chances on an RB or WR at the point I would be considering Campbell in a re-draft league.

Running Backs

Player
Gms 1-9
FPts/G 1-9
Gms 10-17
FPts/G 10-17
FP/G Inc
Arian Foster
0
0.00
4
13.25
100%
Bernard Scott
5
1.52
4
7.80
81%
Jamaal Charles
7
4.16
8
20.08
79%
Justin Forsett
8
3.29
8
12.58
74%
Jerome Harrison
7
5.21
6
18.95
72%
Chris Wells
8
4.84
8
12.11
60%
Jason Snelling
6
4.70
8
11.13
58%
Jerious Norwood
4
3.33
6
6.08
45%
Laurence Maroney
8
7.04
7
11.90
41%
Jonathan Stewart
8
9.09
8
15.06
40%
LaDainian Tomlinson
6
8.48
8
13.69
38%
Knowshon Moreno
8
8.34
8
12.91
35%
Fred Jackson
8
8.53
8
12.39
31%
Leonard Weaver
7
3.99
8
5.30
25%
Chris Johnson
8
19.26
8
24.10
20%

Late Round Backups/Premium Waiver Wire Picks

Jason Snelling, Jerious Norwood, Leonard Weaver, and Bernard Scott have all shown the skills to produce when healthy and called upon to do so. Norwood and Scott are the most dynamic, but the least likely to be asked to hold down the featured role on their own due to their size and running style. Weaver and Snelling are 'tweeners that can pull that duty, but lack the consistent game breaking ability to do more than serve as stop gaps.

Potential Mid-to-Late Round Steals

Arian Foster: Foster reminded me of Eddie George when he was at Tennessee. He's big runner with a smooth-striding, upright style, but he knows how to lower his pads into contact and he has the quick feet avoid direction collisions. His maturity was the only real question mark coming out of college, but his rookie production and subsequent off-season conditioning heading into 2010 demonstrate that Foster wants to maximize his talents.

Foster's 29 carries for 216 yards in Houston's final two games against the Dolphins and Patriots were enough for him to gain the attention of the Texans organization. Ben Tate might be the new name in town and Steve Slaton is still around hoping to rebound after reporting to mini camp at his rookie weight. However, we've seen very clearly that Gary Kubiak values productivity over draft status when it comes to running backs.

The problem for the Texans is that they have failed to develop a good depth chart in the last three years. When Ahman Green, Chris Brown, and Ryan Moats are your more productive options, it reflects its effort was misdirected in acquiring veterans that were used-up or (never fulfilled their potential). I contend Steve Slaton's rookie year was more lucky than good. Rarely would I attribute a player's productivity to luck but as I said last year, Slaton's big gains frequently resulted from poor tackling or the defense losing sight of the diminutive runner in a pile. The fact that Slaton was more of a feast or famine, producer from a carry-to-carry standpoint as a rookie supports this notion.

2010 draft pick Ben Tate is a better athlete than Foster, but he lacks the instinctive interior skills and versatility of the second-year runner. At best, I think Tate becomes the third back in a Cowboys-like committee situation with Foster and Slaton getting the majority of the carries. I also believe Foster will continue to prove he can keep the Texans offense on a good down and distance schedule, which will earn him more opportunities to stay on the field.

At the current ADP of 13.06, Foster will likely remain a bargain available between rounds 7-10 even if the press makes him the darling of the Texans preseason. Considering that there are backs getting drafted after Tate and Slaton with less competition for touches, Foster is the better bargain in this horse race.

Justin Forsett: I can see the comparisons of Forsett's game to Brian Westbrook, although he lacks the top-shelf athleticism to approach that level of production on a consistent basis. Forsett's balance, burst and receiving skills makes him the type of player that will have big yardage days against bad teams, but his lack of great speed and power will make him average against tougher competition. Not bad for a potential RB2 in 2010 at a current ADP (10.02) of an RB4-RB5.

With LenDale White blowing his second chance and Leon Washington likely to start the preseason on the PUP list, Forsett has a great opportunity start for a Pete Carroll regime that seems to know how to maximize productivity from a scat back. He'll still be a worthwhile pick if his stock creeps a few rounds skyward with Seattle's recent depth chart adjustments.

Laurence Maroney: When a back produces fantasy RB2 stats down the stretch of the 2009 season and he has no new (or viable) competition for the 2010 starting gig, but his ADP is 11.03 you need to take notice. This is Maroney's situation heading into the preseason because fantasy owners have soured on the physically talented, but underachieving first-round pick after injuries and lackluster play. Personally, I think Maroney showed signs that he can turn the corner, which I will profile in more detail in a future column. All you need to know right now is that he's worth further investigation because his situation and ceiling of talent belie his ADP.

LaDainian Tomlinson: The venerable Charger was an RB1 (12th among RBs) for the last 8 games of the 2009 season despite dealing with a lingering injury that may or may not have limited his burst. We're about to find out if this was the case with Tomlinson behind a very good Jets offensive line. Head coach Rex Ryan stated from the beginning that Tomlinson would share carries with second-year back Shonn Greene and there would be games where he expects Tomlinson to get more carries than Greene.

Chase Stuart's player points on Greene is a great analysis on why one should be skeptical of Greene having an RB1-type of fantasy season in 2010. The main thrust of Stuart's point is that Greene is not a good receiver and this will limit his opportunities enough not to reach RB1 production, especially with the presence of a strong receiving back like Tomlinson.

Tomlinson's 9 rushing touchdowns in the final 8 games combined with his receiving could make him a viable red zone candidate for the Jets, which could limit Greene even more than many imagine because Greene makes the Jets offense more predictable with a shortened field. With a current ADP of 9.01, Tomlinson can be acquired as an RB4-RB5 with likely RB3 production and strong RB2 upside. Yes, he's older and his production could continue to falter, but Tomlinson has long proven he's been the exception to many rules regarding running backs. If his decline last year was slow recovery from injury (this happens with age) and poor offensive line play, Tomlinson could have another year or two of decent fantasy production left. This late in a draft it's worth considering.

Not Worth The Hype

Jerome Harrison: What the Cleveland Browns runner proved in 2009 is that if made the focal point of the ground game, he can be very productive. However, he did most of it against some of the worst rush defenses in football at the end of the season and the Browns lack the confidence in his pass protection skills to make him the feature back, drafting Montario Hardesty and acquiring Peyton Hillis. Add preseason wunderkind James Davis to the list now that he has recovered from shoulder surgery, and Harrison has a lot of competition for playing time in 2010.

Harrison can hold his own against any of these backs as a runner, but at an ADP of 6.02, I think he's a little too pricey until we see how Cleveland will use him. If injuries decimate the Browns depth chart in camp, Harrison will be a bargain - maybe a steal - but if Hardesty, Hillis and Davis all play to their potential, Harrison could be the odd man out.

This upside-downside potential has too severe of a swing to take him as anything more than an RB4 and in the sixth round, I'm probably focused on other positions with greater value if I'm drafting with a more traditional approach. If I am thinking about using a mid-round RB sleeper strategy, Harrison's competition for playing time makes him too risky for my taste at his current ADP.

Fred Jackson: Jackson may have been a better fantasy producer than Cedric Benson last year when looking at total points, but his game-to-game consistency wasn't worth the highs and lows.

Fred Jackson's 2009 Season

Opp
Week
RushAtt
RushYds
Rec
RecYds
TotTDs
FPts
NE
1
15
57
5
83
1
20.0
TB
2
28
163
6
25
0
19.0
NO
3
18
71
4
26
0
9.7
Mia
4
9
42
3
26
0
6.8
Cle
5
13
30
2
17
0
4.7
NYJ
6
15
52
0
0
0
5.2
Car
7
5
2
0
0
0
0.2
Hou
8
9
28
0
0
0
2.8
Ten
10
8
48
3
23
0
7.1
Jac
11
8
35
4
20
0
5.5
Mia
12
15
73
5
43
2
24.0
NYJ
13
13
31
3
24
0
5.5
KC
14
20
99
3
23
0
12.0
NE
15
15
80
4
32
0
11.0
Atl
16
13
39
2
14
0
5.3
Ind
17
33
212
2
15
1
29.0

Jackson was wedged between DeAngelo Williams and Cedric Benson as the 15th-ranked fantasy scorer at RB last year, but he played more games than these two backs. His productivity slump from weeks 4-11 was a rough ride for most fantasy owners. Although the first 3-4 weeks of this production decrease can be attributed to Marshawn Lynch's return from suspension, Lynch's output dropped off soon after.

Add rookie C.J. Spiller to the mix this year and a new offensive system under Chan Gailey, and the situation in Buffalo is too unpredictable for my taste. Despite Marshawn Lynch's poor 2009, he is still a highly talented back. If he remains with the team and proves he can become a reliable professional, Jackson could be competing for his carries with favorite new toy Spiller.

With a current ADP of 8.03 and Ahmad Bradshaw, Cadillac Williams, Ladainian Tomlinson and Michael Bush drafted behind him, I can't be "Billish" on Jackson until the Lynch situation is settled.

Worth The Hype

Knowshon Moreno: There's a lot of discussion in the Shark Pool about Moreno's prospects due to what most considered a disappointing rookie campaign and beat writer Mike Klis' prediction that Moreno would be much improved after he saw the second-year runner look more decisive and explosive this spring. The situation remains clouded for most fantasy owners because Moreno is an average physical talent at the position and the loss of Brandon Marshall combined with injury concerns at offensive line make the Denver offense look weaker on paper heading into 2010.

Before we delve into those issues, let's address the fact that Moreno's production in the second half of 2009 was 13th among all fantasy runners. Moreno and his 3.9 yards per carry average was a borderline RB1 for the last half of his rookie year. As I have noted before, LaDainian Tomlinson had a 3.6 YPC as a rookie and in subsequent years. Eddie George, Ricky Watters and Emmitt Smith also had sub-4.0 ypc averages for various seasons throughout their productive fantasy careers and they weren't "run into the ground."

If Moreno demonstrates more decisiveness due to a greater understanding of the offense and how to physically prepare for the NFL, which is fair to take into account with any player beginning his second season, then it's reasonable to presume his production will only improve. I have little doubt that if Ray Rice were in Moreno's place, he would have had similar production (and criticism) because Denver lacked the RB talent of the Ravens and Rice would have been given an early chance as a rookie.

What scares people off Moreno in addition to the Broncos offseason changes is his current ADP of 3.10. Fantasy owners are always bargain conscious and Moreno's ADP is a fair reflection of his second-half production last year, which makes him less enticing to some. With three starters on the offensive line still recovering from injuries in May, its not likely Moreno's stock will rise during the preseason. However, all three are projected to be healthy for the regular season and this unit also had an adjustment year in 2009.

Although his situation makes him one of the riskier players I am recommending, I believe the offseason preparation heading into year two will be the difference maker.

Jonathan Stewart: Blessed with a rare combination of size, speed and agility, Stewart might be the most physically talented runner in the league at this stage of his career. He and DeAngelo Williams are by far the best 1-2 punch in the NFL and both players were top-15 fantasy backs last year, despite poor quarterback play. I underscore the point that the quarterback play actually hurt them because Jake Delhomme's penchant for poor decisions cost this team several drives. Although DeAngelo Williams missing three games last year aided Stewart's numbers, it's not a stretch to believe that these backs can combine for 2200-2500 yards once again.

With a current ADP of 4.08, Stewart is picked just after Ronnie Brown but I expect this to change with the recent news of Brown's injured foot only 80 percent healed in May. The fact that Stewart is still getting drafted behind the less-proven LeSean McCoy, who will have to compete with Leonard Weaver and Mike Bell for opportunities in a pass-first offense, should tell you that Stewart remains a bargain at this high of a price. I see Stewart and his situation as a more talented Larry Johnson to Williams' Priest Holmes. Although he's a bit of risk as an RB2 due to Williams, his upside as an elite RB1 if Williams gets hurt makes Stewart too attractive to pass up when you can get backs I mentioned earlier much cheaper.

Chris Wells: The second-year back from Ohio State is currently behind Tim Hightower on the Cardinals depth chart, but his second-half production should indicate that Wells is the immediate future. The light came on for Wells towards the middle of last year, and this combo of size and speed saw a 60 percent increase in fantasy output down the stretch. With the Cardinals opting for a more run-oriented offense in 2010 so Matt Leinart can utilize his play action skills, Wells should see anywhere between 40-60 percent of the carries that should be an increased workload for the Cardinals backs even if Hightower retains the starting label due to his versatility.

Unless we find out Wells isn't starting has to do with some level of emotional immaturity that is impacting his work ethic, I full expect the Cardinals' pick to become the starter early in the season and post low-end RB1 stats. At an ADP of 3.12, Wells is actually a little riskier than Moreno because at least Moreno performed like a near-RB1 down the stretch with a banged up offensive line. Wells wasn't far behind, but his production was less consistent game-to-game and the fact he hasn't earned the starting job in his coach's eyes bumps him down the list a bit. Right now these are minor concerns, but worth monitoring if you have the luxury of time before your draft.

Worth The Premium

Chris Johnson: Just call me Captain Obvious. Even the penny-pinching Titans seem to understand Johnson is worth every penny they will have to spend soon to upgrade his rookie contract. However, did you realize that Johnson's final eight games were 20 percent better than his first eight? Vince Young's play obviously prevented defenses from keying on Johnson. Chris Wells and Knowshon Moreno combined only beat Johnson's fantasy points per game average by a point last year. That's the difference between the top-ranked fantasy producers and the 13th and 14th ranked backs.

It obviously pays to have an elite runner. It's just difficult to find players that retain this level of production from one year to the next. I think Chris Johnson has a good chance to be that kind of player. The loss of C Kevin Mawae's leadership will be an issue, but most of his offensive line is still intact and Tennessee is known for its run blocking. Johnson's 2000-yard season came in his second year, which at age 24 matches him with the same time Eric Dickerson and Jamal Lewis accomplished this feat. Of the backs that have rushed for over 2000 yards, Johnson is the fastest and shiftiest with a running style that helps him avoid the same amount of punishment that a Terrell Davis or Jamal Lewis took. Barry Sanders was more elusive than Johnson, but he was also 29 years old when he rushed for 2053 yards.

Unless this contact situation turns ugly, I believe Johnson is worth the top pick in this draft and has the best chance to produce as an elite player even if his numbers regress.

Wide Receivers

Late Round Backups/Premium Waiver Wire Picks

Player
Gms 1-9
FPts/G 1-9
Gms 10-17
FPts/G 10-17
FP/G Inc
Demetrius Williams
1
1.70
3
6.17
72%
Deon Butler
4
0.95
5
2.74
65%
Josh Cribbs
8
2.39
8
5.56
57%
Davone Bess
8
3.41
8
7.70
56%
Justin Gage
7
5.17
2
10.05
49%
Brian Hartline
6
3.90
8
6.76
42%
Jason Avant
6
4.30
7
7.27
41%
Julian Edelman
5
3.86
4
5.78
33%
Greg Camarillo
8
3.25
7
4.17
22%
Deion Branch
6
3.45
8
4.28
19%
Jacoby Jones
7
6.29
5
7.58
17%

In contrast to the QBs and RBs mentioned above, many of the receivers in this table are worth a draft pick. Davone Bess, Brian Hartline and Greg Camarillo are all competing for the No. 2 spot alongside Brandon Marshall in Miami. I think the up tick in their production in the second half of 2009 has a lot to do with the improvement of QB Chad Henne. Although Miami will remain a run-first team, the winner of the second starting job could post numbers worthy of a top tier, bye-week option.

Deon Butler and Deion Branch are similar players heading in opposite directions in their careers with the Seahawks. I believe Butler's best fit will be in the slot with Golden Tate and T.J. Houshmandzadeh on the outside. If Branch can prove he's healthy, he could push Tate to the slot. So could Mike Williams if the mini camp hype proves to have substance when the pads come on. If either scenario happens, Butler is relatively worthless this year.

Jason Avant, Julian Edelman and Justin Gage are three players capable of big games for their respective NFL teams, but none of them are projected to be more than role players for their teams. Some people think Edelman could man the Wes Welker slot role in New England's offense for the first half of the 2010 season. It's possible, but I think rookie TE Aaron Hernandez and second-year WR Brandon Tate have enough upside to limit Edelman All three are nice waiver wire options if players ahead of them on the depth chart encounter obstacles.

Josh Cribbs, Jacoby Jones and Demetrius Williams are great athletes, but only Jones and Cribbs will likely see enough playing time this year to warrant a late-round pick. If Derrick Mason or Anquan Boldin can't stay healthy, Williams could be a premium free agent acquisition if he can finally remain in one piece.

Mid-to-Late Round Targets With Potential

Player
Gms 1-9
FPts/G 1-9
Gms 10-17
FPts/G 10-17
FP/G Inc
Devin Aromashodu
6
8.97
100%
Chaz Schilens
8
6.06
100%
Dwayne Jarrett
5
1.56
3
5.93
74%
Devin Thomas
5
2.66
5
7.40
64%
Jabar Gaffney
8
3.64
6
9.35
61%
Darrius Heyward-Bey
5
1.86
3
3.67
49%
Brian Robiskie
1
2.30
2
4.15
45%
Louis Murphy
7
4.24
7
7.07
40%
Roy Williams
7
6.34
6
9.53
33%
Terrell Owens
7
6.56
6
9.53
33%
Mohamed Massaquoi
7
4.69
8
5.91
21%

Devin Aromashodu's name continues to grace my columns because Mike Martz's offense is known for supporting three fantasy starters at the WR position regardless of who earns the titles of starter.

To teams to monitor for depth chart developments at receiver will be the Browns and Raiders. Brian Robiskie and Mohamed Massaquoi will have the first shot at earning the starting nod with a veteran quarterback throwing them the football. Massaquoi has the big-play potential, but his consistency is a huge concern for me. It's an issue that stretches back to his days at Georgia.

I much prefer playing the speculation game with the Raiders, because their fantasy production was a step up from the Browns receivers even with some instability at quarterback. Louis Murphy showed the perimeter skills and deep speed to make big plays and Chaz Schilens just needs to stay healthy to become a premier, "possession receiver-plus" along the lines of Mike Sims-Walker. The wildcard is Darrius Heyward-Bey. If he can learn to hang onto the football, he has the athleticism to make the same leap as Robert Meachem and Sidney Rice, who had similar issues when they first entered the league. Murphy, Schilens and Heyward-Bey all have ADPs in the 14th round - at least one of them will likely perform as a fantasy WR3 and with Jason Campbell in the fold, I'm thinking it's likely another will be a fantasy WR4. Great bargains this late.

The oft-maligned Roy Williams with an ADP of 12.05 is a bargain this late, because most of us expect Miles Austin and Dez Bryant to be the starters in Dallas. I agree, but there let's not confuse Williams' disappointing turn as a Cowboy with a lack of talent. Williams has WR1 skill potential. When you have a player with this kind of upside in a good offense, taking him as your WR5-WR6 can be a smart move.

Terrell Owens at 11.03 is another nice ADP. No, he isn't signed with anyone yet but to get a player this late with the potential to perform as a solid WR2-WR3, you have to take the chance.

I'd much prefer Owens or Williams to a player like Massaquoi, Robiskie or the Panthers' Dwayne Jarrett. The third-year receiver from USC lacks primary receiver upside even if he finally turns the corner in Carolina. If you're looking for a receiver to take his game up a notch, Devin Thomas with an ADP of 13.04, and now paired with an upper echelon quarterback, is the kind of risk you should be considering. Thomas has the athleticism to make big plays with the ball in his hands and his second-half production reflected a change in work habits that the Redskins coaching staff said occurred earlier in the season after they demoted him. Malcolm Kelly? Dwayne Jarrett. Similar guy.

The most intriguing player on this list just might be Jabar Gaffney and his 9.35 fantasy points per game in six games during the second half of the 2009 season. With Brandon Marshall gone, Eddie Royal slated to work the slot and DeMaryius Thomas a raw player I wouldn't consider this year unless you spotted me the league entry fee, Gaffney has a chance to earn the starting nod. Granted, his final two games were a big reason for him becoming a Second-Half Wonder. I wouldn't draft the 30 year-old Gaffney until the final round, because I envision Thomas or Eric Decker eventually earning a chance. However, stranger things have happened with teams in transition and Gaffney was once a hotshot prospect in his own right.

Worth The Hype?

Player
Gms 1-9
FPts/G 1-9
Gms 10-17
FPts/G 10-17
FP/G Inc
Kenny Britt
6
4.93
8
7.31
33%
Pierre Garcon
8
6.13
6
8.75
30%
Santonio Holmes
8
8.23
8
11.20
27%
Percy Harvin
8
7.35
7
9.96
26%
Michael Crabtree
3
5.57
8
7.23
23%

It's a mixed bag here. Kenny Britt had a reputation for not working hard at Rutgers and he reported to Titans mini camp out of shape. Bad sign. If Britt suffers a preseason injury I would stay far away from him this year, because it's a sign he allowed his conditioning to drop too far below NFL standards. He's a player to monitor closely during camp. I think rookie Damian Williams is more polished as a rookie than Britt was, and Vince Young is talking up his rapport with Nate Washington. If Britt struggles due to his lack of discipline, the Titans might not need to force him into the starting lineup.

Santonio Holmes is such a talented player that despite his off-field issues, I fully expect him to come into New York after his suspension and become an impact player. Holmes has Braylon Edwards' explosiveness and Jerricho Cotchery's reliability. With an ADP of 7.08 and a range of 5.02-9.11, its clear that fantasy owners are all over the board with him right now. If he falls past round seven, he's worth drafting and stashing - especially with owners picking Mike Wallace (without Roethlisberger for 6 games) and Julian Edelman (who people are giving way too much Wes Welker 2.0 love) in a similar range.

The only things that were able to stop Percy Harvin last year were a migraine or a shutdown corner like Charles Woodson. It's not often that you see an opposing defense take its best DB and put him on an island with a rookie slot receiver, especially when the Vikings also had a top-tier producer like Sidney Rice running wild. Harvin was nearly three points per game better down the stretch of his rookie year. With Bernard Berrian healthy, all the Vikings need is Brett Favre to come back for Harvin to be a beast.

In an oddly impressive way, Michael Crabtree demonstrated his talent was not overhyped when he missed all of training camp, the entire preseason and the first five games of the regular season, but he still made an impact - especially during the final eight games with a 7.23 fantasy point per game average - averaging nearly 8 targets per game. Give Crabtree a full offseason with the team and the 49ers some offensive continuity with Alex Smith as the starter for the offseason, and the promise for Crabtree to develop into a strong WR3 with upside is very high.

Pierre Garcon might seem like the most risky pick because Peyton Manning spreads the ball around and both Austin Collie and Anthony Gonzalez figure to be in the mix for targets this year. However, there is speculation that Gonzalez might not be 100 percent ready by training camp and Collie seems to be a perfect fit as a productive slot player. Production-wise, Garcon and Collie were Manning's best targets during the playoffs, but Garcon has more big-play potential. I find it more likely that Garcon and Collie carry over their postseason momentum and Gonzalez is left out in the cold.

Worth The Premium?

Player
Gms 1-9
FPts/G 1-9
Gms 10-17
FPts/G 10-17
FP/G Inc
Anquan Boldin
7
6.73
8
10.81
38%
Brandon Marshall
8
9.16
7
14.66
37%
Sidney Rice
8
8.81
8
13.59
35%
Calvin Johnson
6
7.48
8
11.35
34%
Robert Meachem
6
8.43
8
10.48
19%
Antonio Bryant
6
5.82
7
7.01
17%

Boldin and Marshall are studs in new situations. Like Terrell Owens and Randy Moss when they moved onto new climes, I think both players will perform as well, if not better than they did with their original teams. Both are strong runners after the catch and find themselves with solid, young quarterbacks with productive ground games. Boldin has the least risk, because he has the luxury of working with Derrick Mason and Donte Stallworth. Marshall isn't as fortunate, but he's used to be a one-man gang in Denver.

Sidney Rice really upped his game with Brett Favre under center. His postseason was even better. If Favre returns, I don't expect Rice to do much better than he did in '09, but more consistency of production is a possibility. On the other hand, Calvin Johnson looks like a player primed to leap back into the elite now that he has the help I discussed when I profile Stafford.

Two other players that just fell short of qualifying as Second-Half Wonders, but are worth mentioning include Robert Meachem and Antonio Bryant. Meachem showed great improvement with his consistency as a pass catcher. He also became a favored red zone option for Drew Brees. If his recovery from a toe surgery limits him in training camp, Brees will have no problem working with what he's got - just remember Lance Moore's 2008-2009. At an ADP of 6.12, Meachem is worth the price as long as you have a handle on the solid values below him.

Bryant's early dip in production was due to injury and a rotation of inexperienced and/or ineffective quarterback play. Once rookie Josh Freeman got the initial grasp of the speed of the NFL game, he and Bryant began to develop a little more of a connection. The adjustment between Bryant and Carson Palmer should be much smoother. Bryant has produced as a Cowboy, Brown, 49er and Buccaneer, I don't think learning a new system will hinder him - especially with Chad Ochocinco giving Bryant more single coverage. With an ADP at 9.03, you might as well thank your opposition for giving away a strong WR2.

Tight Ends

Late Round Backups/Premium Waiver Wire Picks

Player
Gms 1-9
FPts/G 1-9
Gms 10-17
FPts/G 10-17
FP/G Inc
Evan Moore
5
3.16
100%
David Thomas
5
1.56
7
4.83
68%
Desmond Clark
5
1.68
4
4.53
63%
James Casey
1
1.40
2
2.50
44%
Martellus Bennett
6
1.50
3
2.30
35%

There are some viable players to know about here, but none are worth a pick in re-draft leagues unless injuries occur in camp. Evan Moore flashed some ability and with Alex Smith and Ben Watson as career underachievers, Moore could surprise in training camp.

The most talented receivers on this list are David Thomas, Desmond Clark, James Casey and Martellus Bennett. Although Jeremy Shockey's spring camp seizure isn't seen as serious, I'm not convinced he'll make it through another season, the way NFL players are grinded up and spitted out. Brees showed an increased trust in Thomas last year and if Jimmy Graham needs a year to develop, Thomas could be a decent bye-week player for fantasy owners in need. We know Clark can produced when called upon, but even if Mike Martz runs Greg Olsen out of town, Clark will likely be a victim of the system. Casey gets a shot this summer with Owen Daniels still recuperating from an ACL, but Garrett Graham is a better in-line blocker and Joel Dreessen is a wily veteran that Kubiak can rely upon. Bennett might have the most upside, but he's biding his time to replace Jason Witten or free agency (whichever comes first).

Fantasy Starters

Player
Gms 1-9
FPts/G 1-9
Gms 10-17
FPts/G 10-17
FP/G Inc
Fred Davis
7
2.99
8
8.25
64%
Anthony Fasano
7
2.47
5
5.72
57%
Kevin Boss
8
5.04
6
8.00
37%
Jason Witten
8
5.64
8
8.74
35%
Jermichael Finley
5
6.40
7
9.37
32%
Bo Scaife
5
3.30
7
4.79
31%
Antonio Gates
8
8.88
8
11.59
23%

I'm not sure if we've ever seen two tight ends from the same team produce as fantasy starters, but I could see Fred Davis and Chris Cooley doing it if one of the Redskins WRs fails to live up to his potential. Personally, I'd still rather have Cooley but Davis has the hands and athleticism to push the veteran for more looks.

Anthony Fasano is not as dynamic, but he's steady enough as a spot-start. I don't see him ever developing into more than what he is. However, Kevin Boss just might hold off a player like Travis Beckum with his second half in 2009. With the Giants trio of receivers, don't be surprised if Boss continues to see mismatches that make him a sneaky good fantasy play in 2010.

Bo Scaife can be a reliable weapon when healthy, but the Titans like to mix and match its tight ends as it hopes for second-year player Jared Cook to improve and take over. The player the Titans hope Cook can emulate is Jermichael Finley, who became Aaron Rodgers' favorite target down the stretch. Opposing defenses won't be caught by surprise this year, but Finley should continue to get the benefit of schemes that put him in win-win situations.

Jason Witten had a slow start, but he got back on track as the year progressed. I expect it won't happen again in 2010. Gates was coming off a foot injury, but still put up strong stats, including a fine stretch run. Expect more of the same for both players this year - especially with this position experiencing less historical turnover at the top than other fantasy positions.

Questions, suggestions and comments are always welcome to waldman@footballguys.com.