by Jared Smola
BUY orders: These are players you could obtain through a reasonable trade given their relatively low perceived fantasy value.
BUY Tim Tebow, QB, Broncos
With new HC John Fox naming Kyle Orton his starter, and rumors swirling that Tebow has lost support in Denver, it looks like a good time to swoop in and snag the former Florida Gator in a trade. Broncos VP of Football Operations John Elway has used the word “raw” multiple times when discussing Tebow this offseason. But he’s also made it clear that he’s a big fan of Tebow’s potential. Orton’s contract is up after the 2011 season. After that, the Tebow Era will begin in Denver. And while he’ll never be an elite drop-back passer, he doesn’t need to be. Over the final 3 games of this past season, Tebow was the top QB in fantasy football. And he did it while throwing for just 651 yards and 4 TDs. It was his 199 rush yards and 3 TDs that catapulted him to the top of the ranks. Michael Vick reminded us how valuable running QBs can be in fantasy. Tebow will be the same kind of player – although he’s nowhere near as explosive. Still, he has the potential to be a rock-solid QB1 for a long time.
BUY Matt Flynn, QB, Packers
Here’s a guy worth stashing at the end of your bench. Flynn flashed some serious ability in spot duty this past year. Starting in place of the concussed Aaron Rodgers – in a tough matchup in New England, no less – Flynn completed 24 of 37 passes for 251 yards and 3 TDs. Green Bay’s offensive scheme and weaponry make it relatively easy for a QB to succeed, but Flynn still showed impressive poise, accuracy, and arm strength in that game. To get a better idea of his upside, consider the fact that Green Bay has said that Flynn is not available in a trade this offseason. Of course, that means that his only fantasy value this season is as Rodgers’ handcuff. But Flynn will hit the free-agent market in 2011. And he’ll have an excellent chance at landing a starting job. If you can afford to be patient, get him on your roster.
BUY Beanie Wells, RB, Cardinals
Wells’ value has just about bottomed out, making him a fine “buy low” candidate. We’ve never been big fans of Beanie. He may have been in over his head when he averaged 4.5 yards per carry in his rookie year, but he’s a better player than the 3.4 he averaged this past season. He’ll likely settle in between those numbers as soon as Arizona solves its QB woes. That may take a couple years if they address the problem with a rookie in this year’s draft. But Wells is still only 22 years old with his whole career ahead of him. He’ll never be a 3-down back, but a poor man’s Michael Turner is a decent goal for him to shoot for. We wouldn’t sell the farm for him, but it’s worth checking to see if the Wells owner in your league has soured on him.
BUY Miles Austin, WR, Cowboys
It might not be a bad idea to send out some feelers to the Austin owner in your league. From Week 7 on last year, he ranked just 15th among WRs. Of course, QB Tony Romo missed all of those games. Austin just couldn’t get on the same page as QB Jon Kitna. And that may have left a bad taste in his owner’s mouth. But you’ll remember that when Romo was under center, Austin racked up 486 yards and 2 TDs in 5 games. A supremely-talented receiver playing on an elite passing attack, he has top-5 upside in 2011. WR Dez Bryant’s presence on the other side of the field will only help draw coverage away from Austin. And he’s entering his prime at 26 years old. A classic building block for your dynasty squad.
BUY Brandon Marshall, WR, Dolphins
Marshall muddled through a frustrating first season in South Beach. After posting 3 straight 100-catch seasons in Denver, he managed just 86 grabs with the Fins last year. But it was Marshall’s measly 3 TDs that really killed his fantasy value. You can try blaming his unfamiliarity with the offense. Or the hamstring injury that cost him 2 games. Or even a couple bouts with the dropsies. But let’s get real – the problem was QB Chad Henne. The Michigan product hasn’t progressed as hoped, tossing more INTs than TDs in each of the past 2 seasons. Despite the organization’s musings, we’d bet against Henne entering 2011 as Miami’s starting QB. And that’s good news for Marshall, who is still one of the most physically-gifted WRs in the league. Those 3 TDs last year were an aberration. He’s still a threat for double-digit scores on a yearly basis. Marshall’s perceived value may not get lower than it is right now. Take advantage.
BUY Michael Crabtree, WR, 49ers
He was so bad in 2010 that he earned the nickname “Craptree.” That’s when you know a guy is ripe for the picking in a trade. Let’s not beat around the bush – Crab was brutal this past year. Coming off an encouraging rookie campaign, he took a couple steps backwards in his sophomore season. Crabtree topped 65 yards in just 2 of 16 games, and found the end zone just 6 times. Drafted as a high-upside WR2 on most fantasy teams, he ended up as an inconsistent WR3. San Fran’s wretched QB situation is partly to blame, but Crabtree also caught a lot of flak for running sloppy routes. But both of those problems can be fixed. The Niners are likely to upgrade their QB position through either the draft or free-agency this offseason. A rookie like Blaine Gabbert, or a veteran like Donovan McNabb, would immediately boost Crabtree’s 2011 outlook. As for his route-running, we like what the hiring of HC Jim Harbaugh means for Crab. An energetic, offensive-minded coach, he should get the most out of the ultra-talented Crabtree. Heading into his 3rd NFL season, he’s a prime bounce-back candidate. And his owner might be willing to practically give him away after last year’s disaster.
BUY Jimmy Graham, TE, Saints
It might be too late for this one. The Jimmy Graham Hype Train is picking up steam. And the release of Jeremy Shockey only added fuel to the fire. The Graham owner in your league might be hanging on with a white-knuckle grip. But don’t be afraid to “wow” him with a big offer. Graham’s upside is virtually limitless. The former basketball player is still learning the intricacies of the NFL game. He posted 356 yards and 5 TDs last year with his athleticism and raw talent alone. Once he really gets comfortable in New Orleans’ high-octane passing game, look out! There are only a handful of TEs we’d rather have on a dynasty roster right now.
SELL orders: These are hot or big-name players that could net you more than they are actually worth.
SELL Matt Cassel, QB, Chiefs
A prime “sell high” candidate. Cassel is coming off a borderline brilliant 2010 season. Aided by WR Dwayne Bowe’s breakout year, Cassel racked up 3,116 yards with 27 TDs and just 7 INTs. He finished 15th among QBs in fantasy points. In dynasty circles, the 28-year-old Cassel is generally viewed as a viable QB1 to build a team around. But there are plenty of reasons to believe that his numbers will move in the wrong direction in 2011. First, he faced a ridiculously easy schedule this past year. The Chargers were the only top-10 defense against QBs he played against. And 9 of his 16 opponents ranked 20th or worse. The going will definitely get tougher this coming season. But perhaps more damaging to Cassel’s outlook is the loss of OC Charlie Weis. An aggressive, pass-first offensive mind, Weis was a huge reason for Cassel’s success in 2010. But he left for the University of Florida, and HC Todd Haley now wants to revert back to a “meat and potatoes” offense. That means less sauce for Cassel and the passing game. See if you can sell him off for a guy with more upside – like Joe Flacco or Jay Cutler.
SELL Peyton Hillis, RB, Browns
Last year’s waiver wire darling may be this year’s overvalued bust. OK – maybe that’s going a little overboard. But Hillis’ value figures to be at its peak right now. He distinguished himself as Cleveland’s best runner right off the bat last season. By Week 3, he was the clear lead back. Scoring 13 times in his first 11 games, Hillis was the #2 fantasy RB through 12 weeks. But the pounding took its toll, and he faded a bit down the stretch. From Week 13 on, Hillis averaged just 3.8 yards per carry and failed to find the end zone. That has the Browns – and us – wondering whether or not Hillis can continue to be a weekly 20-touch back. While he goes 6’2, 250 pounds, Hillis runs a bit high and never shies away from contact. That’s not a good recipe for sustained success. RB Montario Hardesty – last year’s 2nd-round pick – figures to play a sizeable role in Cleveland’s backfield this year after suffering a torn ACL last August. In fact, it wouldn’t shock us if this turned into an even timeshare by midseason. You may still be able to pawn Hillis off at an inflated price.
SELL Michael Turner, RB, Falcons
The cliff is steep for RBs. And Turner is getting close to the edge. Now 29 years old, he’s been worked like a dog since arriving in Atlanta 3 years ago. He carried an NFL-high 377 times in 2008, and then received another 178 carries in ’09 before an ankle injury forced him out of 5 games. Atlanta saddled him right back up this past year, giving him another 334 carries. That’s an average of 21 carries per game over the past 3 seasons – a career-shortening workload. Turner started to show signs of wearing down last year, averaging a career-worst 4.1 yards per carry. It’s possible that he still has a season or two of productive football left in his legs, but we’d rather sell a year early than a year too late.
SELL Steven Jackson, RB, Rams
Take almost everything you just read about Turner and apply it to Jackson. Two-fold. You gotta give Steve Jax some credit. We rag on him a lot – naming him our First Round Bust each of the past 2 years – but he’s put together a pretty nice career. Through 7 seasons, he’s rushed for close to 8,000 yards and tacked on 2,670 receiving yards. But it’s taken him well over 2,000 touches to get there. That 2,000 number is usually where we start to see RBs break down. And it doesn’t look like Steve Jax is immune to that. His 3.8 yards-per-carry average last season was the worst mark of his career. Never a durable guy to begin with, the injuries figure to start coming a bit more frequently now. He finished 14th among RBs in fantasy points last year, so he should still have some value on the market. See if you can flip him for an up-and-coming guy like LeGarrette Blount or Jahvid Best.
SELL Reggie Wayne, WR, Colts
Here’s another guy who’s nearing the end of an impressive career. At a quick glance, it looks like Wayne’s 2010 campaign was same old, same old. He caught 111 balls for 1,355 yards and 6 TDs – finishing 7th among WRs in fantasy points. But a closer examination reveals a few alarming trends. First, his 12.2 yards-per-catch average was the lowest mark of his career. That number has now dipped in 4 straight seasons. Perhaps even more worrisome is Wayne’s catch rate – his receptions divided by targets. That number was at just 63% in 2010 – his worst since 2006. Optimists could lay the blame on an “off” season for QB Peyton Manning. But the more likely culprit is old Father Time. Wayne is 32 years old now and has lost a few steps. Manning has the ability to get an extra year or two out of his WRs, so Wayne still has a shot to be a valuable fantasy asset for another 3 or 4 seasons. But we’re guessing that his days as a top-10 guy are over. Now’s the time to sell.
SELL Marcedes Lewis, TE, Jaguars
You should always be wary of guys who post breakout seasons on the strength of TD binges. Take a look at Vikings TE Visanthe Shiancoe as a recent example. Thanks to a career-high 11 TDs, he finished 6th among TEs in 2009, despite catching just 56 balls for 566 yards. This past year, his TD production plummeted to just 2 scores. Even though the rest of his production went relatively unchanged – 47 catches for 531 yards – Shank slipped all the way out of the top-20 TEs. TDs are a volatile stat that can’t be relied upon from season to season. And that brings us back to Lewis. After 4 middling seasons to begin his NFL career, he exploded for a career-high 10 TDs this past year. He’d only found the end zone 7 times total in his previous 4 seasons. Lewis is a more talented player than Shiancoe, but he’s not immune to a big drop in TD production in 2011, especially considering he plays on a below-average passing game that’s losing its #1 WR to free-agency. If the rest of Lewis’ production stays the same, but his TD production is cut in half, we’re looking at a low-end TE1. Keep that in mind and see if you can get top-5 TE value out of Lewis in a trade.
HOLD orders: These players might or might not be performing, but you should keep them rostered unless your squad needs fresh names.
HOLD Kevin Kolb, QB, Eagles
At this point, Kolb is still just a big bowl of potential. While his playing time has been limited through 4 NFL seasons, his numbers are rather mediocre. Kolb has tossed 11 TDs, 14 INTs, and has a checkdown-ish yards-per-attempt average of just 6.5. That being said, we still like his odds of emerging as an above average NFL QB – and a valuable fantasy asset. That, of course, is heavily dependent on where he ends up playing his football. Michael Vick is locked-in as Philly’s QB, while Kolb waits to be shipped away in a trade. The odds of that happening increase exponentially if a new CBA is in place before the NFL Draft. If not, Kolb may spend another season holding a clipboard. But patient dynasty owners would be wise to hang tight. You’d be selling low in a trade right now.
HOLD Jonathan Stewart, RB, Panthers
We have a feeling that J-Stew is about to unleash some serious fury on the entire NFL. He’s been caged up in a timeshare over the past 3 seasons, never carrying more than 221 times in a season. That hasn’t stopped Stewart from flashing his elite ability though. His career yards-per-carry average sits at a stellar 4.7. But as a 5’10, 235-pounder, he’s a guy who excels with bigger workloads. In fact, in the 5 games he’s received 20+ carries, Stewart has averaged 133 yards per game with 4 TDs. And you can expect quite a few more 20-carry games in 2011. RB DeAngelo Williams is set to hit the free-agent market, and we’d be shocked if he ended up back in Carolina. That’ll open the door for Stewart to take over as the uncontested feature back. We’d list him as a BUY, but his price is probably sky high. If you’re lucky enough to have him rostered already, though, don’t let go. You’ve got a perennial top-10 back on your hands.
HOLD Kenny Britt, WR, Titans
Sure – Britt can be a headache to own. He’s not exactly a model citizen off the field, and his on-field work ethic has been questioned since he entered the league back in 2009. And then there’s the fact that Tennessee’s QB situation is in flux. But all of that doesn’t even come close to washing out Britt’s monumental upside. In just 10 games this past year, the 6’3, 218-pound gazelle racked up 775 yards and 9 TDs. Extrapolated out over a 16-game season, that’s a 1,240-yard, 14-TD campaign. Studly. And remember that he did it with a combination of Vince Young and Kerry Collins at QB. So the fact that Tennessee’ QB picture is murky may not impact Britt much. He has the pure ability to produce regardless of who’s tossing him the rock. And you can file it under “we’ll believe it when we see it,” but Britt says he’s spending his offseason focusing on his conditioning and diet. If he applies himself to his craft, he could develop into one of the top WRs in the game. Like Jonathan Stewart, Britt could easily be listed as a BUY. But the rest of Fantasy Nation seems to be on to him, so the price to acquire him figures to be through the roof.
HOLD Brent Celek, TE, Eagles
Celek’s a tough guy to figure out right now. We have no doubts about his talent. He’s still the same player that posted 971 yards and 8 TDs back in 2009. But we can’t ignore the fact that his numbers were practically sliced in half this past season. Celek was left out of QB Michael Vick’s fantasy point bonanza. After being targeted 112 times in ’09, Celek saw just 80 looks in 2010. That ranked 13th among TEs and isn’t enough for a guy with top-5 aspirations. Part of the problem is that there are just too many mouths to feed in Philly – DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, LeSean McCoy. But it’s still hard to believe that an athletic, seam-stretching TE like Celek won’t regain a bigger piece of the pie. Now’s not the time to give up on him, with his value at rock-bottom. Hang tight and hope for a bounce-back in 2011.