Fantasy Breakouts, Sleepers, and Busts

It is almost time for Fantasy Football for most die-hard football fans. And if you’re like me, you probably have your local deli on speed dial. But in the meantime, you and I, like serious Fantasy Football owners tend to do, are doing our “scouting” to ensure a successful campaign this season.

As successful owners already know, the difference between a Fantasy Football championship and the first-round pick in next year’s draft could come down to finding the right breakout players and sleepers and avoiding potential busts. Last year is a good example. Were you lucky enough to draft Drew Brees or Philip Rivers? Maybe Frank Gore or Chester Taylor? How about Javon Walker or Lee Evans? (Yes, Lee Evans!) If you drafted any of these players, then chances are that your Fantasy team was pretty good because these players did better than expected. Maybe your team went a different direction. We’re you the unfortunate one to draft Edgerrin James or Cadillac Williams? Trent Green or Kurt Warner? Joe Horn or Santana Moss? Underachievers, indeed.

It is usually a good idea to target certain players on Draft Day as guys who fall into the breakout and sleeper category, and if they land in your lap in the middle or late rounds snatch them up and hope you were right. You might also want to make a list of guys you wouldn’t touch unless the price is right. Because if you draft a bust early — someone like LaMont Jordan or Kevin Jones — it will definitely make for a long season. Naturally, it takes some luck to avoid having your first-round pick become a dud, but here’s a list of some potential breakouts, sleepers and busts to help you prepare for the upcoming draft:

(Disclaimer – these recommendations do not necessarily reflect those of NFL GRIDIRON GAB)

Cedric Benson, RB, Bears
2006 stats: 647 yards rushing and six TDs; eight catches for 54 yards
Thomas Jones is now running for the Jets, so Benson by default becomes the starter for the Bears. Last year the two shared carries and rushed for a combined 1,857 yards and 12 touchdowns. Benson should be a candidate for 1,300 yards rushing and 10 touchdowns (assuming he stays healthy). He averaged about 11 carries a game last year, so expect close to 25 carries a game this year and consider him a solid No. 2 Fantasy RB.

Reggie Brown, WR, Eagles
2006 stats: 46 catches for 816 yards and eight TDs
Brown is entering his third year in the NFL, which is typically the breakout season for standout wide receivers. Some excellent examples include Roy Williams, Javon Walker, Chad Johnson, Terrell Owens and Steve Smith — and Brown has the potential to join that group. Assuming that Donovan McNabb (knee rehab) is able to start the season as expected, Brown will thrive. 60-65 catches for 1,000 yards w/9 TD’s is certainly within reach. Consider Brown a No. 2 Fantasy WR with room to grow.

Jay Cutler, QB, Broncos
2006 stats: 1,001 yards passing, nine TDs and five INTs; 18 yards rushing
Cutler started the final five games last season and showed why the Broncos traded up to draft him in the first round. He has the potential to be a star and a No. 1 Fantasy QB. Cutler has a plethora of weapons with Javon Walker, Rod Smith, Brandon Stokley, Brandon Marshall and Tony Scheffler. Oh yeah, did I mention Travis Henry? Expect around 3,600 yards, 28 TD’s and probably 10-12 INT’s.

Vernon Davis, TE, 49ers
2006 stats: 20 catches for 265 yards and three TDs
Davis showed his skills after coming back from a broken leg with 14 catches for 217 yards and two touchdowns in the final five games last year. He hopes to pick up where he left off this year, and should do just fine. QB Alex Smith is expected to improve this season, and Davis should benefit from the addition of WR Darrell Jackson. If he stays healthy, expect Alge Crumpler-like stats (55 catches, 650 yards, 6 TD’s).

Joseph Addai, RB, Colts
2006 stats: 1,081 yards rushing and 7 TD’s; 40 catches for 325 yards and 1 TD
As those of you who read NFL GRIDIRON GAB on a regular basis know, I am an unabashed Colts fan. And as such I tend to look for blue-chippers on the Colts roster. Addai is as close to a blue-chipper as there is. He will only get better (you would too if Manning was your QB) as this is only his second season. The 3-headed monster (Manning/Harrison/Wayne) will produce their usual numbers, and Addai will reap the benefits. Expect around 1,300 yards, 8-10 TD’s, 55-58 catches for around 500 yards.

Marshawn Lynch, RB, Bills
2006 stats: College
Adrian Peterson was the first rookie RB drafted, but Lynch will be in the better situation. Peterson will have to share carries with Chester Taylor in Minnesota, but Lynch appears to be the starter in Buffalo and only has to worry about Anthony Thomas (What? He worry? Anthony Thomas?). During the Bills final minicamp in June, Lynch was working with the first team and is trying to improve his receiving skills. Consider him a No. 2 Fantasy RB. He’s looking that good already. Look for around 950 yards rushing w/6 TD’s, 400-420 yards receiving with 2-4 TD’s.

Matt Schaub, QB, Texans
2006 stats: 208 yards passing, 1 TD, 2 INT’s, 21 yards rushing
I know you’re probably chuckling and saying, “You’re kidding, right? Matt Schaub? Texans?” Understand that Schaub was on the Falcons behind Michael Vick from 2004-06. And in 2005, he played while Vick was hurt (495 yards passing, 4 TD’s, and ZERO INT’s). So we’re not exactly talking about Ty Detmer here. Why Schaub, you say? Consider this: A new team (which contrary to most people’s beliefs is getting better), an offensive line in Houston that is getting better (this coming from a Colts fan), and he has an All-Star in Andre Johnson. Factor in Ahman Green at RB, and Schaub will make Texans fans say, “David who?” Factoring in growing pains, look for around 3,000 yards passing, and between 22-25 TD’s. He’s a good #3 QB and if your league is a keeper league, latch onto him. Lots of upside.

Vernand Morency, RB, Packers
2006 stats: 434 yards rushing and two TDs; 17 catches for 118 yards
Twice last year Morency had two games with over 10 carries, and he averaged 100 yards in those two games. He should get plenty of opportunities to carry the ball this year with Ahman Green now in Houston. Morency will compete with rookie Brandon Jackson for the starting job, but Morency has the inside edge. He should be considered a No. 3 Fantasy RB with the chance to be in your starting lineup before the year ends. Expect something to the tune of 950-975 yards rushing, 6 TD’s, 35-40 receptions w/2 TD’s.

Alex Smith, QB, 49ers
2006 stats: 2,890 yards passing, 16 TDs and 16 INTs; 147 yards rushing and two TDs
This could be the year Smith either shines or is considered a bust. My bet is he shines because of the talent he has around him. With the addition of Darrell Jackson from Seattle, Smith now has a solid WR, TE (Vernon Davis) and RB (Frank Gore). He also can make plays with his legs, which adds to his Fantasy value. Draft him as a No. 2 Fantasy QB, but don’t be surprised if you end up starting him for a couple of weeks, depending on who your #1 QB is. Look for around 3,600 yards passing, 27-29 TD’s, w/225-240 yards rushing.

Greg Olsen, TE, Bears
2006 stats: College
This stud from University of Miami, in my opinion, will surprise a lot of folks. Consider that he came from a NFL-type program, which alone gives him a leg up. He should be a big target for Rex Grossman as the Bears’ WR’s don’t exactly scare people these days (think of Alge Crumpler and the Falcons). Draft him as a #3 TE as there’s LOTS of upside to this dude. Look for around 50 catches, 480-500 yards, w/4 TD’s.

Maurice Jones-Drew, RB, Jaguars
2006 stats: 941 yards rushing and 13 TDs; 46 catches for 436 yards and two TDs
Jones-Drew had an outstanding rookie season last year, all while sharing carries with Fred Taylor. He will share carries with Taylor again this year, unfortunately for him Greg Jones is now in the mix after missing last year with a knee injury. Jones is expected to get the short-yardage touches, so Jones-Drew could lose some touchdowns. He will still be able to produce, but consider him more of a No. 3 Fantasy RB than a No. 2 option. Expect around 650-680 yards rushing and 5 TD’s, 35-38 catches for around 300-320 yards and 3 TD’s.

Eli Manning, QB, Giants

2006 stats: 3,244 yards passing, 24 TDs and 18 INTs; 21 yards rushing
Manning has now posted back-to-back years with 24 touchdown passes. But the loss of Tiki Barber, the injury status of Amani Toomer (knee) and a diminished offensive line will hurt Manning this year. Brandon Jacobs and Reuben Droughns should do well in Barber’s absence, but Barber was a huge factor in the passing game. If you draft Manning as a No. 2 Fantasy QB, he will be fine, but don’t count on him as a solid starter.

Alge Crumpler, TE, Falcons
2006 stats: 56 catches for 780 yards, 8 TD’s
Any year but this one, Crumpler would be a #1 TE. But thanks to the Michael Vick situation and the prospect of Joey Harrington possibly taking over at QB, that seems to signal a drop in the important receiving stats for Crumpler. Also keep in mind that he has been playing on a bum knee for 2 seasons. Factor in everything and expect Crumpler to regress, statistically. Something around 45-48 catches, 480-520 yards receiving, w/5 TD’s. I don’t want to say bust here, but more a blip (at least until the Falcons get a REAL QB). Draft him as a #2 TE as he’s not #1 material (not this year anyways).

Chester Taylor, RB, Vikings
2006 stats: 1,216 yards and six TDs; 42 catches for 288 yards
Taylor had a breakthrough season last year in his first as a starter. But he started to break down as the season went on, and the Vikings decided to draft Adrian Peterson this year. Taylor will still get plenty of carries, but he goes from a No. 2 Fantasy RB to perhaps a No. 3 or 4 option now. He still has the potential to help your Fantasy team, but because of Peterson his value will take a tremendous hit. That’s what happens when teams share carries.

Marques Colston, WR, Saints
2006 stats: 70 catches for 1,038 yards and eight TDs
Comment: Colston had one of the best rookie seasons for a WR in the history of the NFL last year, but he has to live up to unrealistic expectations of duplicating that performance. And he now assumes the role of No. 1 WR for New Orleans with no proven WR playing across from him, which makes him a marked man. He still has a stud QB in Drew Brees and proved he could be successful, but don’t be surprised when his numbers slip this year. Look for around 950-975 yard receiving w/6 TD’s. Bust is a harsh word regarding Colston – more like a downtick in the important stats.

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