Decision time: Impact of Vick, rookies among issues in '11 drafts
The 2010 fantasy football season was an emotional roller coaster. There were pleasant surprises like Raiders RB Darren McFadden finally fulfilling his potential (I got his 1,664 total yards and 10 TDs in the 13th round). There were unexpected breakouts by Texans RB Arian Foster (he finished first overall in rushing yards and TDs) and Broncos WR Brandon Lloyd (his 1,448 receiving yards and 11 TDs nearly doubled his previous career-highs of 733 and 6). And there were thrilling performances, like Dwayne Bowe catching 13 TDs in a phenomenal seven-game stretch.
Yet there were also dreadful disappointments like the season-ending injuries to Packers RB Ryan Grant and Cowboys QB Tony Romo, the disappearance of Patriots/Vikings/Titans WR Randy Moss, the late scratch of Vikings RB Adrian Peterson on a snowy Monday night in the crucial Week 15 and a two-game stretch of ineptitude by Bowe in which he caught just one pass for three yards.
Still, we all love a good roller coaster, so let's take a quick peek into what we can expect in 2011:
Patriots QB Tom Brady will probably win the MVP award in '10 but no quarterback was more valuable in fantasy leagues than Vick. Largely undrafted back when Kevin Kolb was the Eagles' starter, Vick rewarded savvy owners who nabbed him after Kolb suffered a concussion in Week 1 (in three of my leagues, each team that had Vick went on to win the championship).
Vick was remarkable considering he missed two full seasons while in prison and playing sparingly last year, as he finished with career highs in nearly every passing category. Sure, some of those stats weren't spectacular, like 251.5 passing yards per game (ranked 9th), 21 passing TDs (16th) and a 62.6 completion percentage (tied for 10th). But what separated Vick from his quarterback brethren was his ability to scramble. By averaging 56.3 yards per game with nine rushing TDs, he easily surpassed all QBs on the ground, including many running backs.
Going into next year's draft, Vick should be considered among the elite QBs. But remember, he is more prone to injury because of his tendency to run. While I wouldn't take Vick ahead of traditional pocket passers such as Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Brady or Peyton Manning, I'd consider him on par with Philip Rivers and ahead of Joe Flacco and Matt Schaub.
Both young running backs were hyped in the preseason as first or second-round fantasy talent yet both fell flat on their faces. For most of his rookie campaign, Mathews dealt with minor injuries and was outplayed by Mike Tolbert. He finished with 678 rushing yards and seven rushing TDs. Compare that to the guy he replaced -- a "washed up" LaDainian Tomlinson, who had 914 rushing yards and six TDs for the Jets.
Of course, Tomlinson couldn't have excelled in New York without some help. The sophomore back Greene struggled from the beginning, fumbling twice in Week 1, and eventually he lost his job to the veteran. Greene's rushing averaged dropped from 5.0 yards per carry in '09 to 4.1 YPC this season, as he tallied one 100-yard rushing game and only scored twice. Even as L.T. tailed off toward season's end, Greene failed to prove he deserved more carries and finished with a modest 766 rushing yards.
Both Mathews and Greene will be devalued going into next season, but the Chargers back has the most upside. Mathews was consistent his last four games and he finished the season on a high note with 120 rushing yards and three TDs against Denver. At the very least, he won't have Tomlinson around to overshadow him like Greene will.
Surprisingly, T.O. had the least tumultuous and most productive season among these firecrackers. Owens led the Bengals with 72 receptions for 983 yards and nine TDs, yet his season ended prematurely with a knee injury and he likely won't return to Cincy. His sidekick Ochocinco played second fiddle to T.O. most of the year and finished with 67 receptions for 831 yards and four TDs, his worst statistical output since '08. He will have to have ankle surgery and also may not come back to the Bengals if they decline his hefty $6 million option.
As for Moss, the season was a disaster, especially for fantasy owners that wasted an early pick on him. The 33-year-old receiver asked to be traded out of New England, briefly landed in Minnesota with an imploding team before getting waived, and then fully evaporated in Tennessee. In eight games with the Titans, Moss had six catches with zero TDs and he failed to record a catch in four of them (not exactly the numbers owners expect from their No. 1 receiver).
There are a handful of bad teams (Browns, Jaguars, Raiders, Seahawks, Panthers, Redskins, Broncos, Titans and Bills) that could use a veteran receiver, albeit a volatile one. Ochocinco should stay in Cincy, as he's been the face of that franchise for 10 years. I'd like to see Moss or Owens team up with a promising young quarterback like the Rams' Sam Bradford or the Bucs' Josh Freeman, but there's no guarantee either franchise will take the bait.
Many newbies get overhyped because fantasy owners think they'll immediately have the same success in the NFL as they did in college. The '10 rookie class had many bright moments (Sam Bradford, Dez Bryant, Jahvid Best, Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez, Tony Moeaki, LeGarrette Blount, Chris Ivory) but many duds (Ryan Mathews, C.J. Spiller, DeMaryius Thomas, Toby Gerhart, Tim Tebow, Dexter McCluster, Arrelious Benn, Jimmy Clausen, Ben Tate, Montario Hardesty, Golden Tate).
The '11 class will be heavy on quarterbacks, light on running backs and filled with a few impact receivers. Here's the top eight based on potential impact and possible landing sites:
Finally, here's a first crack at ranking the top fantasy running backs, wide receivers and quarterbacks going into 2011. Naturally, we can expect more changes from now until draft day:
1. Adrian Peterson (Vikings)
1. Roddy White (Falcons)
1. Aaron Rodgers (Packers)
1. Antonio Gates (Chargers)