Last week, just 4 days after Superbowl XLV, I posted my preliminary 2011 player projections. I then spent the last week or so tweaking them so that I could begin feeling out my sleepers and busts for next season. Sure, it’s only mid-February and the rookie draft/Free Agency will do a number on the projections/rankings, but there’s still plenty worth investigating at this point in the year. Here is 1 name at each position that jumped out at me after yesterday’s update:
*Rankings assume PPR scoring
Mark Sanchez – Jets – 29th ranked quarterback – Sanchez helped the Jets to back-to-back AFC Championship games in his first 2 NFL seasons, but he hasn’t been much help to his fantasy football owners. The main culprit here is the Jets playcalling. The Jets did pass the ball more often in 2010 than they did in 2009, but that’s not saying much considering that the 2009 Jets were the run-heaviest team of the last three years. The logical question is, how often will they throw in 2011? The wide receiver unit will be taking a step back with Braylon Edwards and Santonio Holmes both headed for unrestricted free agency. One of them, most likely Holmes, will probably be resigned, but it’s unlikely that Sanchez will have as much of an impact receiver on the other side of the field. Additionally, the running back unit should be about the same, if not better. 3rd year back Shonn Greene should be expected to take on a slightly larger role, while aging, but fairly effective LaDainian Tomlinson is likely to return in a lesser role. An improved and more involved Joe McKnight would give the Jets a deep unit at the position and potentially a more effective one.
It’s worth noting that the Jets averaged 4 fewer offensive plays per game in their 6 losses than in their 13 wins in 2010. They also ran the ball 10% less often in losses. If you expect the team to take a step back, it’s good news for Sanchez’s fantasy stock. If not, it will be more of the same. For now, I’m projecting the team to remain run-heavy at 51% pass/49% run. Assuming Sanchez’s Yardage/Touchdown/etc. rates stay relatively consistent to his 2010 numbers, he’s left with a 2011 projection in the range of 279-of-501 for 3,270 yards, 20 TD, 15 INT. He’s a back-end QB2 at best.
Adrian Peterson – Vikings – 10th ranked running back – Although 10th still qualifies Peterson as a “starter” at his fantasy position, it’s awfully low when you consider that he’s been a top 2-3 overall pick each of the last few years. A major reason for the drop in PPR formats is his low reception total, but the expected increase in workload for Toby Gerhart is also a factor. After seeing just 33 total snaps from weeks 1-6, Gerhart, entering his 2nd season, played 19+ in 7 of the team’s final 11 games. Additionally, it was no secret that he was giving Peterson additional breathers on passing downs. Expect Peterson to still see near 10% of the team’s targets, but Gerhart won’t be far behind. Compared to the top 20 backs in my projections, Peterson ranks 17th in receptions with 32. 6 of the 9 backs ranked ahead of him are projected for 58+.
Targets aside, a questionable quarterback situation is also an issue. Peterson makes up for the lost receptions with his yardage and especially his touchdowns, both of which will be tough to accrue if the offense struggles again. The 13 rushing scores I have him projected for actually would tie for the league lead, but were talking about a guy that punched it in 21 times in 2009. The Vikings are unlikely to have an impact quarterback like they did in 2009, so expect Peterson’ TD rate to end up where it was in 2008 and 2010. Peterson is among the most reliable and impactful backs in fantasy, making him a no-brainer top 10 pick, but try to avoid him if you pick early in the first round, especially in PPR.
Austin Collie – Colts – #2 ranked Wide Receiver – About this time last year, I had Wes Welker in this position. Although he didn’t end up as a top-5 PPR wide receiver, I was high enough on him that I was able to steal him in rounds 4-5 of most drafts. Collie is in a similar boat in 2011. He has plenty of time to recover from his concussions, a recovery that should allow him to be 100% by the season opener, which was not the case for aforementioned Welker. Also, although I have him as a top 5 wide receiver, most people won’t. It’s too early to know his Average Draft Position, but it’s unlikely to fall earlier than round 4. For what it’s worth, I just got him early in round 5 in an expert’s mock draft.
There are a handful of obvious reasons why he grades out so well, including his clear abilities, the effectiveness and pass-heavy nature of the offense he plays in, and, of course, the fact that he has arguably the league’s greatest all-time quarterback throwing him the ball. What separates him from teammates Reggie Wayne and Pierre Garcon, however, is Manning’s heavy reliance on him (and the slot position as a whole), especially near the goal line. Manning threw Collie’s direction 6+ times in 5 of the 6 games he played prior to concussion 1, including a 15-target game in week 3. Thank that was all a fluke? Collie ran just 9 routes in week 11 and was targeted a whopping 6 times before leaving the game. In his final game before calling it a season, he was targeted 10 more times on just 27 pass routes. Collie should easily reach 20% of the team’s targets if he makes it a full season, which is currently the basis for my projection.
Collie caught 83% of his 70 targets last season, which is an incredible mark for any receiver. His 13.8% TD rate is very high, especially for a slot receiver averaging 11.2 YPR, but considering the offense he plays in and his 11.7% TD mark on 111 targets in 2009, there’s little reason to expect it to drop below 11-12%. My 2011 projection shows an 11.0 YPR, 12% TD rate, and 80% catch rate. Those figures are pretty conservative considering the past 2 seasons and still add up to a top 5 fantasy wide receiver.
Jared Cook – Titans – 19th ranked Tight End – If you weren’t following the Titans very closely late in the year, this one might jump out at you as a clear sleeper for 2011. Although you’d be 100% right in that regard, Cook actually ended up ranking worse than I originally anticipated he might. The good news is that Bo Scaife is out the door and Jared Cook clearly took over as the team’s top receiving tight end late in the season. After running a total of just 35 pass routes from weeks 1-11, Cook ran 18+ in 5 of the team’s final 6 games. That run was highlighted by a combined 19 targets over weeks 16 and 17.
The potentially bad news, however, is that, although the Titans have thrown to the tight end quite often over the last few years, it’s been a committee attack. That could change, though, after the team made changes at both Head Coach and Offensive Coordinator. It’s too early to tell exactly how Cook and blocking tight end Craig Stevens will be used, but for now I’m presuming that Stevens will continue to see a target or 2 every week. Meanwhile, Cook should see 5-6 looks a week. Although I’d like to give him a larger share of the workload, the Titans are a run heavy team and have too many mouths to feed when they finally decide to throw. Kenny Britt will be in line for the largest chunk of the looks, while Nate Washington, Damian Williams, Chris Johnson, and even Justin Gage will see a handful of their own. More concrete bad news is the Titans questionable quarterback situation, which means the Titans are likely to remain as one of the league’s run heavy teams, limiting Cook’s targets.
The Titans certainly could make a change to a more balanced offensive attack and pass distribution figures could change once we get a better idea of Mike Munchak/Chris Palmer’s offense, but, for now, it’s hard to expect more than solid TE2 numbers from Cook. Still, the upside here is very high. Last year, we saw a talented tight end in Marcedes Lewis break out despite playing in the league’s 2nd run heaviest team thanks to 10 touchdowns on just 58 receptions. It’s hard to imagine this offense being good enough to support more than 5-6 scores for Cook, but he’s certainly worth a look as your backup tight end. Just don’t reach too early.