As we approach the start to the regular season and roster begin to finalize, we get a better idea of where players belong based not only on talent, but on opportunity.
When Ryan Williams was lost to a torn ligament, Beanie Wells’ value doubled… not because he got so much better, but his opportunity for fantasy points changed dramatically.
Same goes for Jahvid Best… his value skyrocketed when Mikel Leshoure was lost for the season.
Some guys gain fantasy value based on other things, including pre-season games (though proceed with caution on this one), a solid camp, improved health, and just a general feeling from coaches that “this guy is doing very well”.
With that being said, here are some players whose value is going up:
Tom Brady, QB, New England — I can never rank Brady #1 overall because he’s not a runner, and as long as there are running QBs in the league comparable to Brady in the passing game, they’ll always be ahead of him. But after watching him slice up the Tampa defense and seeing what he’s doing in camp, not to mention his new weapon, I have no choice but to give one of the best QBs in the league the benefit of the doubt.
Matt Ryan, QB, Atlanta — I’m not sure why I keep getting emails telling me I’m crazy for having Matt Ryan in the top 10, but I can’t wait to email those same people back in Week 10 and ask them where they disappeared to. These are the same people who told me I was smoking crack for having Roddy White as the 2nd-ranked receiver in fantasy football last year. Ryan not only added rookie WR Julio Jones, but Harry Douglass is having a tremendous camp and if he’s able to carry that over to the regular season, Ryan should be able to better his 2010 numbers.
Kyle Orton, QB, Denver — It’s amazing to think… just last month we were talking about him going to Miami and Tim Tebow starting for Denver. Now we know Tebow is third string and Orton is Denver’s starting QB, and people are starting to remember what he did for Brandon Lloyd and the Denver offense last year. The biggest problem for Orton is the fact that there will always be that question in the back of everyone’s mind… “what about Tim Tebow?” When things go south (for even one game), Tebow’s name is going to be brought up.
Beanie Wells, RB, Arizona — No, he didn’t all-of-a-sudden get faster or stronger… but rookie Ryan Williams tore a ligament and the job was Wells’s, by default. Wells has left a bad taste in his owners’ mouths the last two years because of his poor play and injuries, but coaches around the league say that when he’s at his best, he’s one of the top 10-12 backs in the entire league. The question this year is… will he be at his best?
Ray Rice, RB, Baltimore — Okay, I realize this doesn’t make a lot of sense, considering he’s already a guaranteed first-round draft pick. But consider this… the Ravens got rid of Willis McGahee and LeRon McClain… so Rice should get his fair share of goal line carries this year. Not only that, but FB Vonta Leach was added to help open holes, much like he did for Arian Foster last year. And now the Ravens have added Bryant McKinnie as their new left tackle, which enables Michael Oher to move back to his natural position… right tackle. Everything is falling into place for Rice… and his fantasy owners are loving every minute of it.
Felix Jones, RB, Dallas — Two things have happened to really help Jones along this year. First, Marion Barber was released and signed with Chicago. Secondly, Tashard Choice and DeMarco Murray have been hurt pretty much all season, and the coaching staff hasn’t really gotten a chance to see what they can do. So Jones should hit the ground running behind an improved line in the first month of the season before we ever see Murray or Choice.
James Starks, RB, Green Bay — Some will tell you this job is Ryan Grant’s to lose, but there’s a reason he was asked to take a pay cut before the season started. There’s also a reason that story has surfaced again recently. The Packers secretly believe they can be just as good with Starks, Alex Green and Dimitri Nance as they would be with Grant on the roster, but at less cost. If Grant makes the Opening Day roster, he’s due a bonus in excess of $2 million. Green Bay figures they might be able to save that money and still succeed in the backfield. Starks would likely take the starting job, earning him more value than people are currently giving him.
CJ Spiller, RB, Buffalo — I’m surprised to even be listing him here because I was not a big proponent of his last year, but circumstances have changed in Buffalo and, therefore, Spiller’s value has gone up. I still have a lot of faith in Fred Jackson, but apparently Chan Gailey doesn’t. Spiller started pre-season Game #2 over Jackson and is expected to start over him again in Game #3. Spiller isn’t the biggest back in the world, but he has a skill set that can help make up for his lack of size. While he likely won’t have a breakout season, he should exceed his ADP.
Brandon Lloyd, WR, Denver — If I have Orton listed here, chances are one of his receivers is going to have an increased value as well, wouldn’t you think? As it becomes more and more obvious that Kyle Orton is the guy in Denver, Lloyd’s value continues to climb higher and higher. Although I don’t put a lot of stock in the pre-season, as you know, I couldn’t help but notice another “sick” catch made in his last pre-season game. This guy has impressed me since early last season and hasn’t quit. Consider him a strong WR2 with upside to be a possible WR1.
Plaxico Burress, WR, NY Jets — He’s big, physical, athletic, and doesn’t appear to have lost much during his time in the pokey. With Braylon Edwards on the other coast now, Burress fills a big need the Jets had. In his first pre-season action of the year, Burress caught a 20-yard pass from Mark Sanchez on the very first play from scrimmage. Later, in the second quarter, Burress did what Burress does, catching a 26-yard fade pattern for a TD, and he made it look easier than it was. 66 yards and a TD on three catches is absolutely perfect for a receiver considered nothing more than a flex player right now.
Nate Burleson, WR, Detroit — All the talk in Detroit surrounds Matthew Stafford, Jahvid Best and Calvin Johnson. Very seldom do you hear much about Nate Burleson, unless he keeps making acrobatic catches like he did last week in their pre-season game. Burleson draws comparisons to Denver’s Brandon Lloyd, though some say he’s actually faster than Lloyd. With Calvin Johnson drawing double- and triple-teams, Burleson should get one-on-one coverage most times. He and Stafford actually worked together in the off-season and seem to have a very good rapport with one another.
Brandon Gibson, WR, St. Louis — With all the receivers the Rams have in camp, it’s difficult to tell which ones will emerge and which ones won’t. Mike Sims-Walker seems to be the front-runner for the #1 job, but he needs to get healthy first. In the meantime, Brandon Gibson has quietly put together a nice, healthy pre-season and camp and could find himself as the starting split end opposite Sims-Walker. Gibson isn’t a huge upside guy, but in this offense anything is possible.
Denarius Moore, WR, Oakland — If you’ve been with me more than a day or two, I know you’ve heard me talk about this guy. The folks in the Bay Area are raving about this rookie from Tennessee like he’s the next coming of Tim Brown. He has tremendous speed and seems to be picking up the offense quite well. With Louis Murphy already OUT for Week 1 and Jacoby Ford coming off a hand injury, someone needs to step up because we all know Derrius Heyward-Bey isn’t the answer. Moore could be an every-week starter if he comes out of the gate on fire.
Greg Olsen, TE, Carolina — You gotta love when a guy of his talent level goes from an offense where the TE is an afterthought to an offense coached by a guy who has spent his last five years with Antonio Gates. While it’s still to early to know how the Panthers will use Steve Smith in this new offense, it’s fairly clear that Olsen will be a focal point. Granted, Jeremy Shockey’s presence could complicate things a little, I still believe Olsen is a top-end TE2 with upside to be a legit TE1.
Jared Cook, TE, Tennessee — In my mind he has never been anything more than a TE2, but as the pre-season goes on I’m starting to like this guy a whole lot. I’ve talked to two sources in Nashville that tell me with Bo Scaife gone, Cook is the clear-cut #1 TE and that this offense will go through him… especially considering Chris Johnson might not be there to bail to bail them out. Some are actually starting to draft him as a low-end TE1, so don’t be surprised by the time you draft his ADP won’t allow you to get him in the 12th round or later.