The most important part of the NFL offseason has finally passed, with the free-agency frenzy and the NFL draft concluding last week. Critical personnel movement can drastically affect the fantasy value of NFL players. The loss of one player to a team can create a domino effect that may cause a bench-warmer to go from virtual unknown to fantasy stud in one offseason, i.e. Terrell Owens’ release from Dallas and Miles Austin’s subsequent stardom. So without further adieu, here’s a look at the biggest fantasy winners and losers for the 2010 NFL offseason:
Matt Leinart, QB – Arizona: Leinart gets the keys to the big fancy car that is the Cards’ offense, now that Ol’ Pops (aka Kurt Warner) has finally decided to leave the job to him. Leinart seemed to be the heir apparent four years ago, but now will have had the benefit of maturing on the bench. With weapons like Larry Fitzgerald, Steve Breaston and Early Doucet at his disposal, Leinart takes a big jump in fantasy value.
Kevin Kolb, QB – Philadelphia: Kolb’s day has come with the Eagles’ trading of QB Donovan McNabb to Washington. In his spot-starting duties last year, Kolb was very effective. With young weapons like WRs DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin, plus emerging TE Brent Celek, his success should continue in 2010.
Shonn Greene, RB – New York Jets: With the departure of RBs Thomas Jones and Leon Washington, Greene will not have to worry about last year’s RBBC slowing him down. Greene’s playoff run last season for the Jets has proven he can be their staring RB. Greene had over 300 rushing yards and two TDs combined in three playoff games (an average of over 14 fantasy points per game), with Jones playing hurt and Washington sidelined. Greene will now have to contend with LaDainian Tomlinson and rookie Joe McKnight as his backfield mates. LT has the name recognition, but his paltry 3.3 ypc average with the Chargers in 2009 shows he is slowing down. Greene is a lock to get 10-15 touches every game in 2010. Consider that in his rookie season last year, Greene had only 5 games with over 10 carries. In those games he combined for over 50 fantasy points. If Green can hold off LT for the goal-line work, he could be a fantasy monster.
Rashard Mendenhall, RB – Pittsburgh: The off-season departure of RB Willie Parker has virtually cemented Mendenhall as the Steelers’ RB starter for 2010. With the departure of Santonio Holmes and the early-season loss of QB Ben Roethlisberger to a suspension, Pittsburgh’s offense will rely heavily on Mendenhall in the early part of next season. If Mendenhall responds, he could be a big-time fantasy player in 2010.
Ryan Matthews, RB – San Diego: It’s pretty rare to have a rookie in the offseason winners category, but the Fresno State grad has the table set for him with the Chargers. They cut LT, then traded up 16 spots in the first round of the 2010 NFL Draft to get him. All indications are that Matthews is their man, with Darren Sproles coming in on passing downs to relieve him. Chargers HC Norv Turner was recently quoted that he expects Matthews to get 250 carries and 40 receptions next year. With the juggernaut Charger offense, Matthews’ bruising style could result in a huge TD total for his Fantasy owners.
LeSean McCoy, RB – Philadelphia: McCoy will get starting duties for the Eagles with the release of veteran RB Brian Westbrook. It’s a new regime in Philly with the departure of QB Donovan McNabb, and McCoy will be a big part of the re-tooling plan. I expect McCoy to shake off the prospect of a RBBC with Leonard Weaver and accomplish big things in 2010.
LenDale White, RB – Seattle: White has gotten his wish to be traded out of Tennessee, and has landed in a good situation with the Seahawks. His ex-USC coach Pete Carroll is running the show, and White looks to be his main man. With the Titans, White never had the chance to get decent carries with Chris Johnson emerging as perhaps the NFL’s best rusher. The Seattle offensive line is still in disarray, but at least they got a great left tackle in Russell Okung at #6 overall in the NFL draft. There still looks to be a RBBC with White, Leon Washington, Justin Forsett, Quinton Ganther and (for now) Julius Jones making a crowded backfield. White is the safest choice among them because he is certain to get the red-zone carries, with the opportunity to snag regular duties as well. With 200 carries, White is a decent threat to get 850 rushing yards and 10 TDs.
Mike Wallace, WR – Pittsburgh: With WR Santonio Holmes’ exit, last year’s rookie sensation in Steeltown will get the chance to start. Wallace is a deep threat that reminds me of Dallas’ WR Miles Austin, and even without Big Ben the first four (or six)? Games of 2010, Wallace is a great breakout candidate for next season.
Frank Gore, RB – San Francisco: Gore was at risk of the 49ers picking up another RB in free agency or the NFL Draft. It didn’t happen, so Gore doesn’t have to worry much about anybody eating into his carries next season. In fact, the Niners used two first-round selections to shore up their offensive line: OT Anthony Davis of Rutgers and OG Mike Iupati of Idaho. Gore should have some bigger holes to run into next season.
Joe Flacco, QB – Baltimore: With the Ravens’ acquisition of WR Anquan Boldin, Flacco finally has a true #1 wideout. Baltimore will never be a big-time passing offense, but at least now their young QB has a bona fide TD target to work with.
Chad Henne, QB – Miami: Like Flacco, Henne will benefit greatly from getting a true #1 receiver with the Dolphins’ trade to get WR Brandon Marshall from Denver. Davone Bess and Greg Camarillo can finally stop pretending to be #1 targets and ease into better-suited roles as secondary receivers. Say goodbye to the Wildcat offense, South Florida!
Mark Sanchez, QB – New York Jets: With a rookie season under his belt, Sanchez goes into 2010 with more weapons at his disposal. He will have WR Braylon Edwards for a full season, and he will have WR Santonio Holmes as well. Consider that in his rookie training camp, Sanchez started out with Jerricho Cotchery as his #1 target. Now Cotchery is not even a starter on the Jets’ offense. The Jets will not pass often with a strong running game, but when they do, Sanchez will have the chance for big things.
Darren McFadden, RB – Oakland: With the release of veteran RB Justin Fargas, things got a lot clearer for McFadden. He will be the Raiders’ unquestioned starter at RB in 2010. He may still share some work with RB Michael Bush, but if McFadden can stay healthy, he has a great opportunity to realize his first-round potential of two seasons ago.
Jason Campbell, QB – Oakland: Getting out of Washington was the best thing that could happen to Campbell, who was selected by the Redskins one slot after Aaron Rodgers in the first round of the 2005 NFL draft. Since then it’s been all downhill for him, with new coaches and new systems every season in D.C. Not that Oakland is a signal-caller’s paradise, but Campbell has decent weapons to work with in TE Zach Miller, WRs Louis Murphy and Chaz Schilens, and the aforementioned McFadden at RB. His offensive line is a vast improvement over Washington’s. And not playing the Eagles, Cowboys and Giants defenses twice a year can’t hurt Campbell’s numbers either.
Jammal Charles, RB – Kansas City: After a breakout second half of 2009 where he was one of the top fantasy RBs, the Chiefs went out and rewarded Charles by picking up free agent RB Thomas Jones, and spending a second-round pick on RB Dexter McCluster. This smells like a RBBC in the making, and it’s particularly bad for Charles, as Jones figures to get goal-line carries in that scenario.
Ben Roethlisberger, QB – Pittsburgh: “Big Ben” had a brutal offseason. His scandal down in Georgia brought him unwanted attention and scrutiny of his personal life, and it landed him a minimum four-game suspension to start 2010. He also lost his #1 target, Santonio Holmes, in a trade to the Jets. Obviously Big Ben’s stats will take a hit by missing a minimum of four games. The bigger question is, how will the two-time Super Bowl winner respond to the personal pressure after he returns to the Steelers in October?
Marshawn Lynch, RB – Buffalo: As if losing his starting job to RB Fred Jackson wasn’t bad enough, the Bills went out and spent their first-round pick on RB C.J. Spiller of Clemson. Now the best Lynch can hope for is that the Bills trade him to a team that might give him a chance to save his fledgling career.
Justin Forsett, RB – Seattle: Just when Forsett looked like a great sleeper for my 2010 draft board, new ‘Hawks coach Pete Carroll went out and re-tooled his backfield, acquiring LenDale White and Leon Washington in trades, plus Quinton Ganther as a free agent. Forsett looked like he was taking over starting duties with a strong end to 2009, with 97.6 fantasy points over Seattle’s last eight games. But Seattle’s offseason moves paint a picture that says Carroll does not plan to use Forsett as his go-to back. Ex-Jet Washington provides a similar skill-set to Forsett, catching balls out of the backfield and using his quickness to elude defenders. And the power-running White could be a TD machine with red zone duties coming his way. Considering Carroll would know Forsett well from his Pac-10 days coaching USC annually against Forsett and his Cal teammates, it’s pretty fair to say he has made his call on Forsett – and it’s not going to be good for Forsett’s fantasy value.
Kevin Smith, RB – Detroit: The Lions traded back up into the end of the first round of the NFL draft to get RB Jahvid Best of Cal; not good if you’re Kevin Smith coming off a season-ending knee injury last year. The best Smith can hope for now is a RBBC in 2010.
Donovan McNabb, QB – Washington: There is no doubt McNabb will be one of the most interesting fantasy QBs next year. After his ousting after eleven seasons in Philly, how will McNabb respond to his new surroundings? I think he takes a step back in D.C., with much less-talented receivers and a porous offensive line to work with. McNabb will no longer have DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, Kevin Curtis and Brent Celek running routes. Instead, he will be looking to Santana Moss, Devin Thomas, Malcolm Kelly, and Chris Cooley. That’s a big downgrade.
<i>Tom is from Toronto, Ontario, Canada and attended Ryerson University's Journalism School. After two years working for Hockey Night in Canada after graduation, he decided to go into the private sector for employment. He still has a passion for sports, and he's completely hooked on Fantasy Football.</i>
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