Heading into 2010 fantasy drafts, identifying the undervalued players that disappointed owners in 2009 will be a key step to ensuring that you are hoisting your league's version of the Lombardi trophy by season's end. In this article we discuss players that were selected in the early rounds last season but failed to produce elite numbers due to injuries, poor play or an ineffective surrounding cast. Those that got burned last year by injuries to RB Michael Turner or WR Calvin Johnson might have these fantasy studs on their blackballed list, making them ideal targets as they could slip below their projected value in 2010 (both appear to be close to 100% healthy according to early reports from training camp). We have also dug a little deeper to point out some players that could be high end backups / potential starters that can be had much later in drafts due to below average 2009 stat lines (Matt Cassel and Chris Cooley fall into this category).
In this piece you will find two quarterbacks ranked outside the top 10 who could become starter worthy in 12 team leagues depending on weekly matchups. We also profile a RB that should re-emerge as a top 5 back and two receivers (Jennings and Megatron) that I fully expect will finish in the top 10, possibly top 5 at their position.
Matt Cassel replaced an injured Tom Brady in 2008 and parlayed his breakout 2008 season (3,700 passing yards, 21 TDs, 11 INTs) into a 6-year $63 contract with Kansas City. Needless to say the Chiefs are expecting a better return on the investment in year two as Cassel's 2009 campaign was very disappointing. He finished his first year in KC by averaging less than 200 yards per game, with 16 touchdowns and 16 INTs. Cassel ranked among the league's bottom five in completion percentage and yards per pass. Despite the pedestrian production in 2009, there are signs for optimism for the Chiefs' signal caller heading into 2010. The offensive line struggled in the early part of last season and finished ranked toward the bottom of the NFL in sacks allowed (45). However, the line did show signs of improvement as the season progressed -- Cassel was only sacked eight times in the last six games. The nucleus of RT Ryan O'Callaghan, LT Branden Albert and LG Brian Waters should continue to improve as they become more familiar with each other. New OC Charlie Weiss has a strong history of quarterback development and he'll likely employ an offense that relies heavily on the passing game. Emerging fantasy stud RB Jamaal Charles averaged 6 yards per catch in the final eight games and provides Cassel with an outlet when he's under pressure. Second round pick Dexter McCluster has game breaking speed and has a good chance at winning the #3 receiver job behind Bowe and the 32 year old Chris Chambers (who enjoyed a career rebirth in KC last season). With an improving offensive line, an emerging Jamal Charles in the backfield and an expected bounce back from WR Dwayne Bowe, the pieces are in place for Cassel to become a high end QB2 with the potential to be starter worthy depending on weekly matchups.
Despite leading the league in interceptions in 2009, Cutler did manage to throw for 3,600 yards and 27 touchdowns and ended the season ranked 12th in fantasy points. He finished with five more passing attempts than Tony Romo and one more touchdown pass than Kurt Warner and Ben Roethlisberger.
The big difference comes with pass rating as Cutler finished with a 76.8 rating ranking -- among the league's worst (in a class with Matt Hasselbeck). He has the talent to post elite fantasy numbers as evidenced by his 2008 season in Denver when Cutler finished with 4,500 yards and 26 touchdowns (albeit with Brandon Marshall on the receiving end of a majority of his passes and playing behind one of the league's better offensive lines). Heading into 2010, Cutler needs an attitude adjustment as well as improvement in mechanics, decision making and red-zone management. If he's able to grasp the pass happy Martz offense, a return to numbers slightly below his 2008 production are not out of the question. His current ADP -- 83rd overall (QB11) -- makes him a borderline starter in 12 team leagues. Under Martz, I believe the upside is worth the gamble and would select him ahead of Matt Ryan and Donovan McNabb.
Michael "the Burner" Turner burned many fantasy owners that used a first round pick on him in 2009 as he was slowed by a high ankle sprain that cost him most of the 2nd half of last season. Early word in OTA's is that Turner appears to be about 90% and looks to be in great condition, making him an ideal pick in the 2nd half of the first round in 2010 fantasy drafts. He is a touchdown machine (has scored 27 TDs in 27 games with Atlanta) and with QB Matt Ryan under center and WR Roddy White and TE Tony Gonzalez stretching the field, the pieces are in place for the Falcons to improve on an offense that averaged 23 pts/game in 2009. I agree with Michael Turner at #5 (slightly ahead of Frank Gore) as he will be a workhorse again as long as he proves to be healthy (missed 5 games due to ankle injury). The Falcons gave backup Jason Snelling a ton of red zone touches in 2009, which will fall on Turner's shoulders if he can stay on the field. Turner averaged 5 yards per carry from Weeks 1 through 10 and was one of the more consistent fantasy producers as he had a touchdown and/or 100 rush yards in all but one game. He benefits from playing behind a solid O-line (allowed only 27 sacks last season) and is surrounded by a very capable passing offense, which will keep defensive coordinators guessing. The Falcons want to keep Turner healthy and plan to limit their franchise back to less than 300 carries in 2010. Stats similar to his 2008 breakout campaign (377 carries, 1,700 yards and 17 touchdowns) are unlikely, but a 1,400 yard season with 12-15 touchdowns is very attainable as long as he stays healthy.
Bowe saw his 2008 numbers (86 catches for 1,077 yards, 7 TDs) cut in half last season -- some of that can be blamed on a 4-game suspension (weeks 11-14). Despite disappointing stats, Bowe had four games with double digit fantasy points in the first seven weeks of 2009, including four touchdowns. There are a few reasons why I fully expect the 25 year old Bowe to return to a stat line similar to his first two seasons in the NFL (when he totaled 156 catches for 2,017 yards and 12 touchdowns). New offensive coordinator Charlie Weiss is known for his pass happy attack, which should bode well for bounce back seasons for QB Matt Cassel and Dwayne Bowe. The Kansas City defense (ranked 30th -- allowed 27pts/game) will have the Chiefs playing from behind in a lot of games. Bowe's current ADP of 58 overall (WR20) makes him a strong WR2 worth drafting later in round 5 / early round 6 as I'm expecting another 1,000 yard season (provided he can stay out of head coach Todd Haley's doghouse).
A consensus top 10 WR entering most 2009 drafts, Jennings struggled out of the gates and failed to reward owners that used a 3rd or 4th round pick on the Packers deep threat. His touchdown total dropped considerably in 2009 (only four) after he reached pay dirt an average of 10 times per season in 2007/2008. He still topped 1,000 yards and makes for an ideal buy low candidate this season as I fully expect Jennings to re-emerge as an elite fantasy receiver with WR1 potential. QB Aaron Rodgers sits atop most rankings and should remain there for the foreseeable future now that the offensive line appears to be healthy. Chad Clifton and Mark Tauscher returned to health late last season, allowing Rodgers more time to deliver the ball downfield. In Green Bay's final four games, Jennings averaged 97 yards and scored two touchdowns. The Packers will likely give first round pick Bryan Bulaga a chance to beat out the 34 year old Chad Clifton for the starting left tackle job (at the very least the rookie provides much needed insurance for an offensive line that allowed a league worst 51 sacks in 2009).
In 2009, Greg Jennings posted career bests in drop rate (4.7%) and yards after catch (6.5 avg.). He remains one of the most explosive receivers in the NFL as evidenced by his 11 catches of 20+ yards in the final six games of last season. Despite Donald Driver 's sixth consecutive 1,000 yard season, I fully expect a drop off as the 35 year old had arthroscopic surgery on both knees after last season. Greg Jennings is in line to see a greater share of the passing go his way this season, making him a candidate for a career year in 2010. I'm expecting 1,300-1,400 yards receiving and at least 10 TDs as the Packers' passing offense continues to excel behind the Rodgers to Jennings connection. The 26 year old could very well finish as a top 5 receiver by season's end, making him a wise selection in the 3rd round of fantasy drafts.