Chad Ochocinco: Chris Graythen/Getty Images
Usually, name recognition keeps a player like Chad Ochocinco trending too high when you look at average draft position, even when he's coming off a subpar season. However, people seem to have taken last year's flop as a death knell, rather than a bump in the statistical road, as he's going as late as the sixth round in some leagues.
Admittedly, last season was rough to watch. Ochocinco missed three games due to a suspension and hammy injury, the first time he missed action since playing 12 games as a rookie. And even worse, he averaged 41.5 yards per game, which is far less than half what he averaged the previous five seasons (he averaged 90 ypg in '07). And even though he's never been a touchdown hawk (career-high 10 TDs in '03), he had at least seven TDs the previous five campaigns but pulled in just four in '08.
What happened? Well, he underwent ankle surgery in June, skipped the offseason in a contract holdout and lost Carson Palmer after just four games. That's pretty much a recipe for disaster no matter who you are.
How do things look entering this season? Ochocinco had a healthy summer, took part in offseason programs and Palmer is healthy (relatively, at least -- so long as he makes a quick return from his high-ankle sprain). He also got lucky that the Bengals replaced T.J. Houshmanzadeh with the capable Laveranues Coles, who can still keep defenses from constantly doubling up 85.
Considering he was a no-brainer second- or third-round pick a year ago and there's a reasonably good chance he will return to his previous production, Ochocinco makes for a great option as your second receiver. You don't have to take much risk to get him -- and he might put up WR1 stats.
I've found it difficult to place Tony Gonzalez in the tight end rankings this season. He's been the most reliable stud tight end for a decade now, but he's not in Kansas City for the first time in his career, and there's a lot of depth at TE this year.
We know he doesn't miss games (two in his 12-year career) and his upside is 100 catches, 1000+ yards and double-digit TDs, which is why we want to draft him alongside Jason Witten and Antonio Gates. But he's 33 years old and in a new system. Those uncertainties make us think about drafting him alongside Greg Olsen and Owen Daniels.
What really has me thinking about rolling the dice on Gonzalez alongside Witten and Gates is when I compare his "old" system and his "new" system. In Kansas City, he had no quarterback to speak of and an offense that couldn't score points. In Atlanta, he has one of the best young QBs in the NFL and an offense which can rack up a ton of points.
He also has a stud WR in Roddy White and a great rushing threat in Michael Turner keeping defenses honest. I'm not concerned about his age, either, because of his history of health and the fact that he's in terrific shape right now.
There is a lot of depth at tight end this year, so I won't reach for Gonzo. However, I expect him to have about 85 catches, 975 yards and at least 6 TDs, which means if I want a tight end after Witten and Gates are off the board, I'll take Gonzo.
I'm targeting Felix Jones, whether or not I have Marion Barber, in Points Per Reception leagues. We got a small taste of his explosiveness as a rookie last season when he cranked off 266 yards on just 30 carries -- a clip of nearly nine yards per attempt. Unfortunately, he didn't play after Week 6 due to toe and hamstring injuries.
Jones enters this season healthy and flashed his skills again Friday against the Titans with a dump-off pass that he ran for 42 yards. While he's bulked up a bit and converted a touchdown at the goal line Friday, Barber's likely to get most of that work in the regular season.
Still, I expect Jones to catch a few passes out of the backfield and break a big play or two each game, which means he's a guy you can use as bye-week filler. And should Barber get hurt -- with his smashmouth approach, something that could realistically happen -- Jones could be a solid RB2 or better.
In PPR leagues, I'm targeting him as a prime option to fill out my RB3 slot.
Roy Williams: Greg Nelson/SI
I've mentioned the woes of watching pro football in southeast Michigan ad nauseam, so I feel it's only right to come to the defense of former Lions wideout Roy Williams this preseason. People are down on him for myriad reasons -- he's not Terrell Owens; he whined his way out of Detroit; he hasn't put out enough effort; he doesn't care; he was awful after being traded to Dallas.
Ok, he's not T.O. So what? Only a few players in the last decade could even be in the discussion of who is equal to T.O. Williams is, however, one of the more gifted WRs in the league and has been since the Lions drafted him in '04.
Which brings me to the most important point: He spent four full seasons with the Lions. This is the same team that killed the joy of playing football in arguably the greatest running back in history, Barry Sanders (this is the tenth anniversary of Barry giving up on football and the Lions just prior to training camp). This is the same team that failed to win a game last year and had Matt Millen failing every year to improve the team.
Have you ever had a job where you knew your boss was incompetent and you knew that your horrible work environment was never going to change? How long did you last before you stopped caring either?
Well, Williams is in a new place now. A place where the owner does care very much about winning and very much believes in Williams as a key piece of winning. He proved it with a big trade and a big contract. Williams also has had the offseason to learn the Cowboys' system, so forget about last year's post-trade dud.
What can we really expect from Williams this year? Well, his career-best season was '06, when he caught 82 balls for 1,310 yards and seven touchdowns. Owens' best run in Dallas was '07, when he caught 81 balls for 1,355 yards and 15 touchdowns. Williams doesn't have the insane breakaway speed that T.O. possesses, which is why you can't expect Williams to match that TD total. But if he can match the other production on a lousy team, why can't we expect Williams to come up with 80+ catches, 1,300+ yards and maybe 10-11 TDs with the potent Dallas offense?
Like Ochocinco, I see Williams as an ideal WR2, who could finish the season among the top 10 fantasy wide receivers.