Well Sharks, it’s that time of the year. We no longer need to stay up until midnight to see if we pulled off a victory or wait anxiously while sites compile their stat changes for the week. We no longer need to monitor injury statuses at all times of the day or try to guess which reports are accurate and which ones are meaningless. We begin to take a look back at what was and what could have been.
But as I have advised all season long, it is wise to take a look ahead and begin to think about the implications that 2010 will have on 2011. I believe it to be extremely helpful to map out your own personal player rankings. You rate who you think will perform the best and as things in the NFL change you can begin to move players up and down your board. If you list Philip Rivers at six as of now and then the Chargers bring in Terrell Owens and Randy Moss in June you may want to move Rivers up your board.
It’s very important to have a preliminary ranking system set up to work with. Throw out most of the preexisting injuries that don’t have career implications. Dez Bryant’s ankle is obviously a factor in his ranking for 2010 but not for his future rankings. Injuries shouldn’t be taken as highly into consideration as situation. An example of that would be that as of this moment Kevin Kolb serves as potentially the best backup in football, but not really draft worthy. You need to go through each position and rank each player accordingly. I started back in Week 6 with my player rankings. Here is my end of the season Top 10 rankings that reflect clean slates in 2011.
1 – Aaron Rodgers – Rodgers’ ability to throw and run get seemingly lost in the Michael Vick hype. Rodgers is a threat to surpass 30 touchdowns and run for an additional six or more every season. While Vick may provide more flash with his speed, please don’t underestimate Rodgers’ ability to burn defenses with his legs too. The return of a healthy Jermichael Finley and a running game will also benefit Rodgers in 2011. Hopefully Donald Driver will return to provide that veteran, sure-handed presence to go along with Greg Jennings‘ big-play ability. The presence of a run game will help bring balance on offense.
2 – Drew Brees – Much like Rodgers, Brees’ numbers will increase next season with the return of a running game. Brees’ yardage and touchdowns will continue to be Top 3 totals for the foreseeable future. Robert Meachem provides Brees with a homerun threat while Marques Colston provides first-down conversions and a red zone target. The combination of coach and quarterback in New Orleans may only be second to the combination found in New England. Staying competitive in a division that features the successful Atlanta Falcons ensures that Brees is more likely than not to be playing during your fantasy playoffs.
3 – Peyton Manning – Don’t let the interceptions make you think that Manning is in a downward spiral. Manning lost a lot of his primary options for a large portion of the season and still managed to turn some no name guys into solid options. How do you think Jacob Tamme and Blair White would have performed with Matt Hasselbeck? Manning will have Austin Collie and Dallas Clark back next season to turn some of these completions into additional yards and scores. Manning will remain the most frustrating player to be matched up against given his incredible red zone efficiency. We should continue to expect more than 4,000 yards and in the mid-30s for touchdowns.
4 – Tom Brady – Does anyone have any more doubts about Brady’s ability to be a top fantasy option? Brady went through a season where the New England Patriots transitioned a new running back, two rookie tight ends, a rehabbing wide receiver, a disgruntled wide receiver and the comeback of a departed wide receiver. The Patriots saw Deion Branch return and Randy Moss depart all while Wes Welker was still finding his legs. The Patriots’ offense will continue to hit their stride as the mismatches on offense continue to grow. The wide receivers are too shifty to be covered by one defender. The tight ends are too big for cornerbacks and too fast for linebackers. Brady can destroy defenses with one mismatch, never mind five mismatch options at once. Brady will continue to be one of the most efficient and effective passers in 2011.
5 – Philip Rivers – He’s kind of gone through a little bit of a slump over the second half of the season but he showed plenty over the first half to make up for it. Rivers’ numbers are right where everyone was expecting in 2010 even though he’s lost Antonio Gates for long periods of time and he only had Vincent Jackson available for five games. With both Jackson and Gates on board for the 2011 campaign, Rivers’ numbers should increase. If Ryan Mathews becomes the player that the Chargers were hoping they were getting in the 2010 draft, Rivers will have above-average options at every skill position. Getting matched up against the Denver Broncos’ defense a few times a season doesn’t hurt either.
6 – Michael Vick – This isn’t meant to be a slight toward Vick in the least. He’s definitely a powerhouse in terms of fantasy scoring. With his newfound accuracy, added to his always apparent arm cannon, mixed with his ability to cook defenses with his legs he may be the best red zone quarterback in the NFL. His offensive crew of DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, Brent Celek and LeSean McCoy are one of the best units in the league. Vick’s rush yardage is what sets him apart from the other quarterbacks. If your league is a run-heavy reward league than you may want to consider moving Vick up the board. Don’t forget that there was a season not too long ago where Vick had more than 1,000 rushing yards. You could end up with a stud quarterback and an extra running back each week in 2011 by drafting Vick.
7 – Tony Romo – Before his collar bone injury, Romo was off to a solid 2010 season. Though the Cowboys as a team struggled, Romo was still posting good stats. As of this moment Romo will have Jason Witten, Dez Bryant and Miles Austin to spread the ball to in 2011. I’m guessing that due to the amount of money that Roy Williams is due, added to the amount of complaining he did, I expect Williams to be wearing a new uniform in 2011. Even so, Bryant has shown that he’s ready to excel in the pro league. It would be nice to see Dallas find a starting running back, but Romo will be a top option nonetheless. If the offensive line can keep defenders out of his face he could provide the stats some were expecting for 2010 in 2011.
8 – Matt Schaub – I’ve seen this type of scenario before in 2009. Don’t be surprised when right after the Texans’ season is over that Schaub has surgery. You can see it in his play just like Tom Brady in 2009. Whether it’s on the injury report or not you can tell that something isn’t quite right. I’m a firm believer that the Houston Texans will need to put up big points to win games next season and the trifecta of Schaub, Andre Johnson and Arian Foster will be up to the challenge. Schaub will be 100 percent next season and again be a 4,000-plus yard and 30 touchdown threat. The personnel that Houston has on offense added to the personnel they don’t have on defense could lead to big shootout games. And playing Indianapolis, Tennessee and Jacksonville a collective six times provides a third of the season with great matchups.
9 – Joe Flacco – He may not have posted the numbers that some were expecting when Baltimore signed three new wide receivers this offseason, but there is a simple reason as to why. Baltimore was handed one of the hardest schedules in terms of opposing defenses in the NFL in 2010. One would believe that with all the major personnel returning in 2011 on top of what will undoubtedly be an easier schedule, Flacco should have an increased stat line. Look for Flacco to build on his first-year chemistry with Anquan Boldin in a big way in 2011. The large dependency that Baltimore has placed on their running game over the years places a road block in front of Flacco. But I would expect him to throw in the high 20s in terms of passing touchdowns, which would be the most the franchise has seen in a very long time.
10 – Ben Roethlisberger – The No. 10 spot pretty much came down to a three-way tie between Matt Ryan, Eli Manning and Ben Roethlisberger. A full season of “Big Ben” complete with Heath Miller, Mike Wallace and the probable return of Hines Ward could provide a stat line similar to that of his 2009 season. Manning has had a good season even with the large amount of interceptions but we may see a coaching change in New York. Maybe even a change of offensive focus. Ryan has been great too but if Roddy White were to miss any significant time Ryan would suffer greatly. All could arguably crack the Top 10, but a full year from Roethlisberger could provide No. 1 quarterback yardage and scores. Don’t forget that Roethlisberger was the first quarterback to throw for more than 4,000 yards in the franchise history when he did it in 2009.