The dawn of a new fantasy football season always brings it's share of questions. Who's going to have a monster year? Which players will have me pulling my out hair on Sundays? Is there someone I should target on draft day that will make me look like a genuis? With that said, Craig Ellenport, Michael Fabiano and Adam offer their takes on 10 of the most pressing fantasy questions you'll be facing before what will be another exciting season.
1. Who will have the greatest breakout season?
Ellenport:Matthew Stafford passed for 2,267 yards and 13 scores as a rookie on a team whose only serious offensive weapon, Calvin Johnson, was injured. In 2010, Stafford will have plenty of weapons - a healthy Johnson, Nate Burleson, Brandon Pettigrew, Tony Scheffler and rookie Jahvid Best. The Lions are improving but still projected for last in the NFC North, so there will still be plenty of opportunities for Stafford to air it out when his team is trailing late in games. Expect some big numbers.
Fabiano: I'm torn here between Rashard Mendenhall, Shonn Greene and Jermichael Finley, but I'll go with the Steelers running back. With Ben Roethlisberger out for at least the first four games due to a league-imposed suspension, I'm expecting the Steelers to run the football more often. That means a lot of Mendenhall, who I expect to be the centerpiece of their offensive attack. He also has a favorable schedule with games against he Browns (2), Saints, Bills, Panthers, Buccaneers, Raiders and Titans.
Rank: There was a mass hysteria of people calling Matt Ryan a breakout candidate last year. NFL Network's Jason LaCanfora was already fitting him for a Hall of Fame jacket. But it didn't work out so well. Ryan wasn't terrible, but he didn't live up to lofty expectations. I think he will his year. Michael Turner is going to be a beast again after slimming down during the offseason, and Ryan is going to flirt with 30 touchdown passes. Don't worry about those expectations; you were just one year off.
2. Who will be the most valuable sleeper in 2010?
Ellenport: Whether he's label a sleeper or a breakout candidate, Beanie Wells is ready to roll in the desert. He's got a full year of NFL experience under his belt, he plays behind a solid offensive line, and his quarterback is no longer Kurt Warner. Matt Leinart will now take over the reins of the offense, and he'll have one less weapon at his disposal thanks to the loss of Anquan Boldin. Look for the Cardinals to run the ball much more this season, and for Wells to become a top fantasy threat.
Fabiano: There are a lot of sleepers I like this season, but my top guy is Kevin Kolb. The NFL is now a passing league, and Eagles coach Andy Reid will no doubt take full advantage with his new No. 1 quarterback. Kolb, who showed flashes of potential last season, has a very accurate arm and a glut of talent around him that includes DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin and Brent Celek. Games against the Giants (2), Bears, Lions, Vikings, Jaguars, Titans and Falcons make him even more attractive as a middle-round pick.
Rank: A lot of people consider Hines Ward the Steelers top wide receiver. A lot of people are wrong. Mike Wallace is the top receiver in Pittsburgh and the best fantasy option of this duo. He had six touchdowns during his rookie season (of his 39 receptions), showing that he has a nose for the end zone. Now Wallace will see a lot more targets because of the departure of veteran Santonio Holmes, who is in New York. Look for Wallace somewhere in the sixth round. I promise, you will not be disappointed.
3. Who will be the biggest fantasy disappointment?
Ellenport: It's hard for a tight end to be a very big disappointment, assuming you don't reach and draft a member of the position higher than you should. But a lot of folks might reach for Vernon Davis based on his solid 2009 numbers. Sure, he was the top-scoring tight ends. But I still think taking him too high is a big mistake. The 49ers will not pass as much as they did last year, and when they do, they have Michael Crabtree for a full season. Davis' numbers will not reflect a Top-5 fantasy tight end.
Fabiano: I won't say that Matt Schaub is going to be the biggest disappointment in fantasy football, but I do think he has the greatest potential to fall. Prior to a breakout 2009 campaign, he had never thrown for more than 3,100 yards or 15 touchdowns. Schaub had also missed a total of 10 games since 2007 due to injuries. And let's face it - he has touch act to follow after posting 4,770 yards and 29 touchdown passes in 2009. I truly hope I'm wrong, but he has a little bit of a Marc Bulger feel to me.
Rank: So Michael Bay thinks he can find any actress to replace Megan Fox in Transformer 3? It just isn't that easy. Likewise, Andy Reid is going to find it difficult to replace Brian Westbrook. The Eagles already showed a little hesitance to use LeSean McCoy last year, ranking 28th in rushing attempts. The team will also lean on Mike Bell in short-yardage situations, hindering McCoy's value as well. He will be a decent PPR running back, but if you get him prior to the fourth round, expect disappointment.
4. Which rookie will make the greatest fantasy impact?
Ellenport: It's almost too simple to say that Ryan Mathews will have the biggest rookie impact. But it's crazy to go in any other direction. There are a lot of rookies with a chance to make an immediate impact, but no one is in a better position than Mathews. Not by a long shot. The Chargers have a top-ranked offense and a balanced attack with Philip Rivers at the helm, and they are practically handing the starting job on a silver platter to the first-round pick out of Fresno State.
Fabiano: This one is easy - it's Ryan Mathews. Simply put, the kid is in the best position to succeed among first-year offensive skill position players. He will be the top back on the Chargers' depth chart right out of the gate, so he's almost guaranteed to see around 300 touches. Mathews will also have a high-powered pass attack to keep defenses honest, not to mention one of the most favorable schedules of any running back in the league. I'd be shocked if Mathews didn't rush for 1,000-plus yards in 2010.
Rank: You mean other than Ryan Mathews? You guys covered that so how about a nice sleeper like Toby Gerhart? Trust me, the Vikings didn't move up into the second round so he could sit the bench. Gerhart has limited value, but you could argue that being Adrian Peterson's handcuff is more appealing than being a running back for the Houston Texans. And if something happens to Peterson, Gerhart becomes a great option.
Ellenport: How can you not take Brees? It's hard to argue with his level of production and consistency over the last two years. Rodgers has certainly emerged as an elite fantasy quarterback, but there's still the concern about bad-weather games at Lambeau Field in December. Obviously you can't go wrong with either of these guys, but Brees certainly has a better shot in six games against the NFC South competition as opposed to Rodgers' six games against the NFC North competition. Brees is the pick.
Fabiano: Not only do I think Rodgers will be the top-scoring quarterback in fantasy football this season, I think he'll be the top-scoring player overall. He's been an absolute beast over the last two years, averaging an impressive 301 fantasy points on NFL.com. Rodgers also has a very favorable schedule ahead, facing the Bears (2), Lions (2), Vikings (2), Giants, Eagles, Dolphins and Falcons. Oh, and Rodgers also isn't on the cover of the new Madden 2011 video game. Brees is. There's no reason to tempt fate!
Rank: Turns out the Packers knew what they were doing when they commenced the Aaron Rodgers era. And if you have been reluctant to jump on the Rodgers bandwagon (as I told you to last year), what are you waiting for? He has become the best fantasy quarterback despite a faulty offensive line. What happens if he gets some protection? And to think, his options are getting better. Jermichael Finley is becoming a legitimate fantasy stud, meaning that he has even more weapons. Hey, I love Brees, but Rodgers is the undisputed winner.
Ellenport: Who was the nimrod that predicted a letdown season for Johnson in 2009? Oh, that's right. It was me. Doh! Sorry about that, fantasy fans. Will he have a letdown this season? I'm not ready to go down that road again, but let's just say I'm not surprised he skipped OTAs during the spring. Peterson, while overshadowed by Johnson last season, still had a big-time year - his best at the NFL level - and he'll catch more passes from Brett Favre in 2010. I just think Peterson is the better option.
Fabiano: Peterson is a beast, but how do you pass on Johnson? He's arguably the most explosive offensive player in the entire league. He also left Peterson in the dust last season, outscoring the Vikings runner by 66 fantasy points on NFL.com. C.J. also doesn't have anyone behind him on the Titans depth chart to put a major dent in his carries, especially near the goal line, and he's not a fumbler like Peterson has proven to be the last two years. It is a close call overall, but I'll still side with C.J.
Rank: Peterson is awesome, and I would not be disappointed to have him on my fantasy team. But Johnson was unbelievable in 2009 and played much better with Vince Young under center. The team also got rid of LenDale White, meaning that Johnson is the man. Unless you are worried about LeGarrette Blount stealing goal-line carries (don't be), this is a pretty obvious choice. And if you are worried about a dropoff with Johnson, rest easy knowing he missed the dread 370 attempts mark (he had only 358).
7. Which player(s) will you avoid at all costs on draft day?
Ellenport: I'll be avoiding Burleson in a prominent fantasy position. I know, I know, I listed Burleson as one of the new weapons that will help Stafford post big numbers a few paragraphs up. But he'll help the most as a speed threat who will free up some of the field for Calvin Johnson to have a monster season. I'm sure Burleson will have a big catch every now and then, but all he has ever done throughout his troubled career is infuriate fantasy owners with his inconsistency. Don't expect that to change.
Fabiano: I definitely have several players I'll be avoiding like the plague on draft day. I want nothing to do with Brandon Jacobs or Clinton Portis at the running back position. I'd also be hesitant to draft Jerome Harrison. Donald Driver and Derrick Mason are getting a lot long in the tooth and will lose targets to much younger, more talented players. I would also stay clear of any wide receiver in a Jets uniform. Greg Olsen is also someone I'd avoid. Mike Martz has basically neutered his tight ends.
Rank: I don't have many rules for draft day, but I do tend to avoid running backs that recently had back surgery like Steven Jackson. Listen, there is no such thing as minor back surgery. Tell that to Bob Sacamano (for you Seinfeld fans). You have many choices in the first round, so why take a risk? He is tempting because he's a featured back, but defensive coordinators realize this and will be doing everything to limit him. Take a quarterback or Andre Johnson instead.
8. Which projected first-round pick will become a bust?
Ellenport:Tom Brady has gone from a guaranteed first-round fantasy pick to a borderline first-round pick, which probably tells you all you need to know about his future: the days of automatic gaudy numbers for Mr. Brady are over. And if Wes Welker is nowhere near 100 percent, and if Julian Edelman can't be a top possession receiver, and if Torry Holt becomes the next in what has become a long line of shaky veteran free-agent signings ... well, Brady could actually be a borderline second-round pick.
Fabiano: I have to go with Steven Jackson. While he does have an incredibly favorable schedule, the fact that he's coming off back surgery is certainly a cause for concern. The veteran runner has never been overly durable - he's only started 16 games once since 2006 - and there are still more than a few questions around him on offense. Sure, Sam Bradford is an upgrade, but how much of an impact can the rookie quarterback truly have in 2010? I'd rather take Rodgers or Brees ahead of Jackson in Round 1.
Rank: Let's stick with Steven Jackson here. He topped 300 attempts for the second time in his NFL career last season. Jackson previously topped 300 attempts in 2006. He ended up missing four games the following season due to injuries. Oh, and he wasn't coming off back surgery that year, either. The talent is there and the schedule appears to be favorable, but there is just too much risk with Jackson to warrant taking him with one of the first 10 or 12 picks in your draft. I'd pass on him if at all possible.
9. Which player on a new team will post the best numbers?
Ellenport: I am not ready to buy into the hype that the Baltimore Ravens suddenly have a deep and dangerous receiving corps and will change their offense altogether. This team has almost always been built around a run-first game plan, and I don't think that's going to change after the explosive, breakout season from Ray Rice. There's no denying that Anquan Boldin will finish with excellent numbers, but his presence alone isn't going to make the Ravens alter their offensive philosophy this season.
Fabiano: I think Donovan McNabb's numbers will fall a bit with the Redskins, and I'm not expecting major changes in the production of Jason Campbell, Anquan Boldin or Brandon Marshall. I'm going out of the box and will pick a rookie, Jahvid Best, since I listed Mathews as the top-first year fantasy player. He's a versatile and explosive athlete with a ton of upside, and he'll be like lightning on that Ford Field turf. Though he does face a tough schedule, I think Best can make a real impact.
Rank: The quarterbacks seem to change every season for Brandon Marshall, but one thing stays the same - he continues to rack up 100-reception seasons without much trouble. He is gunning for a fourth consecutive season with at least 100 catches while playing for his third different quarterback, Chad Henne. Thankfully, I do not have a similar credo (compared to Steven Jackson) about avoiding receivers who had minor hip surgery. Look for Marshall to put up great numbers while wearing teal and orange.
10. Who is your top-rated, under-the-radar fantasy player?
Ellenport: Don't forget that a "deep" sleeper is best added to your roster after the draft. It would be crazy to think anybody - unless your draft is 25 rounds - would draft Andre Brown. But remember the name. The Giants drafted him in 2009 as a replacement for Derrick Ward in their "Earth, Wind and Fire" backfield. They loved what they saw from him last summer before he suffered a season-ending injury. Now that he's back, Brown could see some work if Brandon Jacobs and/or Ahmad Bradshaw struggle.
Fabiano: There are a number of deep sleepers I like this season, but my favorite is Michael Bush (Matt Moore is a close second). I know that Darren McFadden is the more valuable of the two backs, but Bush has shown much more potential at the NFL level. In fact, I think he has a chance to start ahead of McFadden in what will be a much improved Raiders offense. Based on the fact that he also has a very favorable slate of games ahead of him, I think Bush will be a terrific late-round bargain on draft day.
Rank: Some might reason that Dolphins wideout Davone Bess will see a decline in production because of the arrival of Marshall. But Marshall should actually help Bess become a more prolific fantasy receiver. Just think of Eddie Royal's first season with the Broncos when he caught close to 100 passes. Not to say that Bess will reach that sort of threshold, but Marshall should create more opportunities for him by drawing double-teams and the opposition's No. 1 cornerback (like Jets CB Darrelle Revis).