Knowshon Moreno, RB, DEN – Moreno has yet to live up his pedigree – to be fair, he was hardly the only player Josh McDaniels overdrafted – so there was talk that new head coach John Fox would bring in one of his former Panthers, DeAngelo Williams, to be the Broncos’ top running back. However, Moreno gets a reprieve, at least for now, with Williams heading back to Carolina. It remains to be seen if Denver will bring in another running back, but Williams was the one potential target that would have definitely sent Moreno to a backup role. Fox will implement a run-heavy offense in 2011 with Tim Tebow the likely starter at QB, and if Moreno is the lead ball carrier, he won’t have to be special (although he will have to stay healthy) to be plenty productive in fantasy leagues.
Santonio Holmes, WR, NYJ – Holmes has played his entire career for run-first teams, and he will continue to do so after re-signing with the Jets. However, he’s been a favorite of both scouts and advanced metrics for some time thanks to some impressive YPT marks throughout his career. Holmes is just one season removed from a 1,248-yard campaign, and he scored six touchdowns over 12 games a year ago in his first year in New York. Holmes will not only be more familiar with the Jets’ system in 2011, he should see a big increase in targets with Braylon Edwards likely gone and Mark Sanchez now entering his third year in the league. Holmes will still be in a run-heavy environment, but with his skills, and the likelihood that he will be the primary target in the Jets’ passing game, he will open the season as a viable second receiver option in most formats.
Brandon Marshall, WR, MIA – Marshall remains something of an enigma, but if Kyle Orton joins the Dolphins as expected, his value will get a boost. Orton not only had a much better season last year (7.3 YPA, 20:9 TD:INT ratio) than projected Dolphins starter Chad Henne (6.7 YPA, 15:19 TD:INT ratio), he also has a rapport with Marshall from their time spent in Denver as teammates. Last time the duo played together, in 2009-10, Marshall posted 1,120 receiving yards and a career-high 10 touchdowns.
Tarvaris Jackson, QB, SEA – Jackson is yet another reason to wait on quarterbacks in fantasy leagues. I’m not saying I’d rely on him as a QB1, and of course I wouldn’t feel comfortable with him starting for my favorite NFL team, but he puts up decent rushing totals (23.2 rushing yards per game as a starter), is moving to football’s easiest division, and is also bringing Sidney Rice with him. Jackson, who averaged 7.4 YPA and put up a 10:2 TD:INT ratio over limited work in 2008-2009, should have little trouble beating out Charlie Whitehurst for the starting job in Seattle. Jackson will almost certainly be a below average QB for the Seahawks, but he’s a former second-round pick with just 20 career starts under his belt at age 28. Some improvement should still be expected, especially since his learning curve will be minimal with former Vikings offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell (who clearly must see something in him) now in Seattle. Jackson can run, plays in the NFC West and has a bona fide WR1 at his disposal, so he’s a worthwhile late round flier.
Ed Dickson, TE, BAL – Dickson produced modest results as a rookie last year, but with Todd Heap’s release, he should see a nice uptick in targets in a run-oriented offense that doesn’t rely heavily on its receivers. Dickson is a sleeper who will likely be available late given the multitude of tight end options this year.
Jonathan Stewart, RB, CAR – What is Carolina thinking spending all that money ($21 million guaranteed) on DeAngelo Williams? I consider Williams one of the five best running backs in football, but Stewart isn’t far behind (if at all), so why is a team that just finished 2-14 (or any, for that matter) tying up so much money into the most fungible position on the field? Running backs get hurt, fine, but Mike Goodson is on the roster as well. What a mind blowing, awful use of resources. While some of Stewart’s fantasy owners will hold out hope, pointing to his 1,133-rushing yard, 10-TD season in 2009, realize he totaled 39% of those rushing yards (and four touchdowns) over the final three games of the year when Williams was sidelined. He was essentially unusable on a weekly basis beforehand, and Carolina currently fields a much poorer team than they did in 2008-2009. While Stewart no doubt has top-10 upside (if not higher), it’s going to take another Williams injury for him to be playable (and this is coming from someone who owns Stewart in a dynast league).
Carson Palmer, QB, CIN – It really looks like Palmer might be headed for permanent retirement. Got to love owner Mike Brown’s stubbornness. What a sad ending to a career that once looked so promising. What would have happened had Palmer not suffered a torn knee during his lone pass (that was a 66-yard completion!) in a playoff game in which they were favored against the Steelers (who ended up winning the Super Bowl) in 2005?
Chris Johnson, RB, TEN – This is pure speculation, but any player who is a real threat to hold out until the regular season needs to be downgraded. Especially one who will cost a possible top-three pick. Johnson is after a huge contract after not getting one last year, so this could get ugly.
DeSean Jackson, WR, PHI – Jackson, who is entering the final year of his rookie deal, is scheduled to make $565,000 this season, making him another possible holdout. He’s clearly underpaid, and with the Eagles playing to win in 2011, expect a resolution before Week 1. Still, this is added risk to an injury-prone wide out who will cost a high draft pick.
Frank Gore, RB, SF – Yet another holdout risk, Gore doesn’t plan on reporting to 49ers camp without a new or restructured contract. Gore has been a health risk, but as one of the most productive running backs when on the field, and underpaid at age 28, it’s no surprise he wants at least one more big contract. Gore has some leverage - San Francisco will rely on him heavily in 2011 with new coach Jim Harbaugh in town and Alex Smith and rookie Colin Kaepernick the only options at quarterback – so expect some sort of agreement soon.
Mike Williams, WR, SEA – Although I called Tarvaris Jackson a sleeper QB, Williams would have benefitted more with a more pass-heavy signal caller like Matt Hasselbeck, especially since they had already built a rapport. Moreover, Williams, who put up an abnormal amount of his production last year in two games against the Cardinals, now has to compete with Sidney Rice for targets. As a result, don’t count on Williams as anything more than a WR4 in fantasy terms.