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Crazy Early 2011 Rankings

QB  –  Top 15

1 – Peyton Manning – We’ve yet to see his increasing age lead to any setbacks and I doubt that will start next season. Having the always consistent Reggie Wayne and getting the rest of the offense including Joseph Addai and Dallas Clark back could lead to an increase in statistical output.

2 – Aaron Rodgers – Not having the monstrous season most were predicting, but he’s still one of the best at the position, yet considerably younger. Greg Jennings is continuing to provide big plays and Jermichael Finley and Ryan Grant coming back will help.

3 – Drew Brees – Will have his full arsenal once again and hopefully a running game. Don’t underestimate how big the losses of Reggie Bush and Pierre Thomas were. Also, there are rumors swirling that Brees may have a knee injury. Being back healthy next season with additional help will lead to increased production.

4 – Philip Rivers – It doesn’t matter who is playing receiver for the Chargers, Rivers is able to lead 400 – yard passing games like a conductor to an orchestra. The development of Ryan Mathews will provide a more stable running game and an incredible check down option. Antonio Gates is by far Rivers’ biggest supporter, but he’s suffered yet another injury.

5 – Tony Romo – I understand that he’s injured and that his team is awful. But Romo has the ingredients for what could be an historic season next year. With all the injuries to Indianapolis and Green Bay, one could argue that Dallas has the best offense in terms of personnel. A healthy Romo would probably have finished in the high 20s in terms of touchdowns this season.

6 – Matt Schaub – Don’t let Arian Foster lead you to believe that the Houston offense is transitioning. Foster will provide a great offensive balance as well as a great receiving threat underneath. Having Andre Johnson never hurts either. Houston’s terrible defense actually gives him a stat boost because they’ll be playing catch up and having shootouts frequently.

7 – Michael Vick – This is under the assumption that Kevin Kolb will not be named the starter for next season in Philadelphia. Depending on how the Kolb situation transpires, Vick is set to either move up to the Top 5 or down out of the Top 10. His godlike Week 10 game aside, we still don’t know where he will be next season.

8 – Tom Brady – Tom “Terrific” has seen his best season, that is true. His best target in Randy Moss is out of town, this is also true. But Brady will be counted on to convert an incredible amount of red zone visits into passing touchdowns. And being one of the best precision passers in the game, I believe he can with amazing effectiveness.

9 – Eli Manning – Whether you like him or not is a totally different question. The New York Giants continue to move from a smash mouth running game to Manning’s impression of his brother Peyton. He has great wide receivers and a top option in Hakeem Nicks. Ahmad Bradshaw helps turn dump passes into 30 – yard touchdowns.

10 – Joe Flacco – The Balitmore Ravens were handed one of the hardest schedules this season. Next year will be a little more relaxed in terms of opponents yet he’ll still have about the same in terms of receiving options. Derrick Mason and Todd Heap could be on the outs and should be replaced with other options.

11 – Jay Cutler – There is no doubting Cutler’s talent or cannon arm. However, he needs actual receivers in Chicago to get over the hump and crack my Top 10. Track stars don’t always translate into NFL receivers. Cutler will win you half your weeks and then cause you to lose the other half.

12 – Ben Roethlisberger – Not being suspended for the first four weeks of the season should help. However, Hines Ward continues to age and Santonio Holmes is now property of the New York Jets. Mike Wallace remains a premier deep threat, but the Steelers need receiver help sooner rather than later.

13 – Matt Ryan – As solid as you can ask for. But the duo of what should be the No. 1 fantasy receiver in Roddy White and the aging Tony Gonzalez need help. Ryan targeting White for 22 times a game is a testament to both White’s ability and Ryan’s lack of options.

14 – Kyle Orton – Orton has turned below-average wide receivers into league leaders. The struggles of the running game have given Orton increased plays, and he’s capitalized. The only lingering issue is the question of what the team plans on doing with Tim Tebow?

15 – Sam Bradford – No denying that what we’ve seen this season has been fantastic. Bradford has been kind of like the poor man’s version of Philip Rivers in how he spreads the ball to anyone and everyone. That being said, the Rams need some additional threats for Bradford to become a true top quarterback. Bradford with A.J. Green (University of Georgia wide receiver) would be nice pairing.

RB – Top 25

1 – Adrian Peterson – The only thing that has proven to carry over in terms of production from last season to this season for Minnesota has been the play of Peterson. There’s really no reason to believe that it won’t carry over once again. The return of Sidney Rice and departure of Brett Favre will help.

2 – Chris Johnson – He’s as explosive as DeSean Jackson except he touches the ball 25 times a game. Not sure why his receiving stats are so far down, but “CJ2K” will continue to run like crazy and find the end zone on a weekly basis.

3 – Arian Foster – You can’t ignore what he’s doing in Houston. The Texans could have a high-octane offense in the making with Foster being one of the big three. At this point, even if last year’s second-round pick Ben Tate comes back healthy, Foster will still remain an elite threat in both aspects of the offense.

4 – Ray Rice – His production is way down from where it was expected, but given his age and situation next year things look extremely promising. Willis McGahee needs to be sporting a different team’s logo next season in order for Rice to reach his full potential.

5 – Frank Gore – Gore has been the only consistent part of the struggling 49ers’ offense. Hopefully quarterback help is on the way via the draft. Gore is a huge factor as both a rusher and receiver, but needs to find the end zone more frequently.

6 – Rashard Mendenhall – Has put up great numbers and has the age to make you think that it will continue for awhile. Having Ben Roethlisberger under center for the entire season will actually increase his value. Pittsburgh is about two things  –  defense and smash mouth football.

7 – Ahmad Bradshaw – He’s a smaller version of Frank Gore, but in a much more beneficial situation. Brandon Jacobs’ role has been reduced greatly, leading to more opportunity for Bradshaw. As the Giants’ offense evolves, Bradshaw’s role and importance grows.

8 – Michael Turner – His fall in value is still continuing. We know that he can put up touchdowns in bunches, but he really hasn’t performed up to expectations for two years in a row. He’ll have the offseason to once again rest up, but unless Atlanta is planning on bringing in some new linemen then expectations for next season could mirror this season’s statistical output.

9 – Darren McFadden – Needs to make it a habit of staying on the field. Any injury to McFadden not only hurts his immediate value, but it’ll allow for Michael Bush to work his way into the fold. McFadden has been unreal this season. His age and talent offer a world of potential. It still feels weird to be ranking any Raider in the Top 10 of anything.

10 – LeSean McCoy – The Philadelphia Eagles are filled with young all-star talent. McCoy will continue to transition into Brian Westbrook’s old role as an elite receiving running back and rushing threat. He’s also shown durability by playing with broken ribs. Again, like all the other Eagles, his value hinges on the play behind center.

11 – Maurice Jones-Drew – He flirts with the Top 10 because I don’t believe in extreme value dropoffs over one single season. His workload mixed with his talent offer ample scoring chances. But Jacksonville needs to get a steadier quarterback and some other help on offense to keep defenses from keying on Jones-Drew. You better believe that no matter where Jacksonville picks in the draft that they’ll be selecting a quarterback.

12 – Steven Jackson – The unbelievable play from Sam Bradford increases Jackson’s stock. His yardage is one of the best, but yet again he seems to have trouble finding the end zone for some reason. He’s a constant injury concern as well with back and hand surgeries in 2010 alone.

13 – Jamaal Charles – He’s a top talent, but Kansas City refuses to use him the way they overused Priest Holmes and Larry Johnson. That’s great for them, but not so great for Charles’ numbers. Thomas Jones’ presence really hurts Charles. Without Jones, Charles would be a Top 5 option. Todd Haley needs to realize that he has an elite player in Charles and begin to design the offense around him and not Matt Cassel.

14 – Ryan Mathews – This season is pretty much a wash at this point, but next season offers just as much potential as he had going into his rookie year. Philip Rivers’ MVP type of play should offer tons of yardage and scoring chances for the first running back selected in the 2010 NFL draft. Hopefully the new coach of the Chargers next season likes to have a run-heavy offense. (Bill Cowher, has your phone rang yet?)

15 – DeAngelo Williams – He’s still not too far removed for a 17-touchdown campaign. Either he sticks with the Panthers and we say, “Things can’t get any worse than they were this season,” or he goes to a needy team where expectations get loftier. Given his recent trip to Injured Reserve, I doubt that Carolina is willing to Franchise tag him, giving him the average salary of the Top 5 highest paid running backs in the NFL.

16 – Peyton Hillis – He reminds me of a John Riggins type of running back. He may not be the fastest back, but he’s strong and determined. Cleveland remains an elephant graveyard for fantasy value, but Hillis has shown he can do it this season. What makes next year any worse? The only issue could be the return of he highly touted Montario Hardesty.

17 – Chris “Beanie” Wells – Drafted as many teams’ No. 2 back, Wells hasn’t had the production you’d expect. For one, he’s been hurt with a knee injury that actually required in-season surgery. And Tim Hightower has been sniping scoring chances. Let’s hope both of those factors change next season.

18 – Knowshon Moreno – I’ve never heard of a running back pulling three hamstrings in one season, but Moreno found a way to do it. When healthy, he’s the team’s best option at running back and he’s a receiving and touchdown threat. He needs to condition better and avoid early season, nagging injuries. Tim Tebow’s role as a red zone weapon does cause for some concern.

19 – Jahvid Best – Like Chris “Beanie” Wells and Knowshon Moreno, Best is a highly productive running back when healthy. But health wasn’t at the forefront of Best’s 2010 season. He’s still very young and athletic, and the offense in Detroit is starting to take shape. Don’t forget about that first portion of the season with all those yards and touchdowns.

20 – Matt Forte – Like Jahvid Best, Forte is a premier threat in both the passing and running game. But Chester Taylor lingers and steals valuable carries. Another year in Mike Martz’s system should help Forte take a step towards becoming a premier option. But he will not turn into the second coming of Marshall Faulk.

21 – Cedric Benson – Until he’s either re-signed by the Bengals or finds a good fitting team, you have to rank Benson further down the list than you normally would. Depending on his free agent status he could move up or fall way down. Like Steven Jackson, his total touchdowns seem odd when compared to his workload.

22 – Jonathan Stewart – His value swings on a lot of other players’ situations. Will DeAngelo Williams stay? Will Jimmy Clausen produce? Can Steve Smith remain productive? We’ve seen both the high points and low points of Stewart within the last two seasons. Hopefully next season things will work out for him.

23 – LeGarrette Blount – I really like what we’ve seen so far from this kid. He’s got an awful lot to prove. The offense is growing with productive youthful talent. The Buccaneers need to figure out how Carnell “Cadillac” Williams fits into their future plans, if he does at all.

24 – Ronnie Brown Ricky Williams ruins what could be respectable numbers from Brown. Brown is an injury concern and hasn’t produced up to his draft positioning. Something needs to change drastically in Miami for Brown to be shocked back to life.

25 – LaDainian Tomlinson and Shonn Greene – Greene was a borderline first-round pick this season in many drafts. However, Tomlinson is the one that is putting up the big numbers. Tomlinson’s not asked to carry the offense and in doing so has revived his production. Tomlinson is still an elite third down and red zone option. But Greene’s playoff performance from last year still shouldn’t go unnoticed. If one gets hurt then the other would move up 12 spots. Tomlinson’s age keeps his ranking down and Green’s situation keeps his ranking down.

WR – Top 20

1 – Andre Johnson – He has the ability to outscore running backs. He was a consensus Top 6 pick this past season. Matt Schaub’s struggles and Johnson’s early-season high ankle sprain have limited his production. Even limited, Johnson is currently fourth in receiving although he’s played in a game less due to injury. Move this season’s expectations to next season.

2 – Roddy White – We knew as soon at Matt Ryan targeted him 22 times in the season opener that White would be a top option at the receiver position. He’s still young and is consistent in terms of production. As long as Michael Turner keeps defenses honest and Ryan remains upright, White will remain a top option.

3 – Calvin Johnson – Has put together a fantastic season without a solid quarterback. Next season we’ll hope and pray that Matthew Stafford will stay healthy, but either way Johnson will get his stats in. He remains the best red zone wide receiver in the league. Imagine what Johnson could do if Stafford could stay on the field?

4  – Hakeem Nicks – He’s building a great year to add to his impressive rookie campaign. Depending on how the rest of the season plays out, Nicks could actually find himself in the Top 3. Eli Manning has no problem airing it out to Nicks and hoping for him to make a play. And more often than not, Nicks will make the play.

5 – DeSean Jackson – It doesn’t matter if it’s Kevin Kolb or Michael Vick, Jackson has proven that he can produce. He’s a homerun hitter and virtually impossible to cover. Andy Reid finds ways to get the ball into his lead playmakers’ hands whether it be punt returning, receiving or end around rushes. The only downfall is Jackson’s size may lead to a higher risk of injury and missed time.

6 – Miles Austin – Has still managed to put up notable receiving yardage even though Tony Romo has been sidelined. Next season Romo will be healthy once again and will continue to target Austin frequently with great results. Jon Kitna may not be targeting Austin now, but next season Romo will be.

7 – Greg Jennings Donald Driver seems to have finally hit the dropoff age. Jennings is the only solid performer left in that receiving crew. Injuries to Jermichael Finley and Driver have opened the doors for chemistry to build between Jennings and Aaron Rodgers. This season is just an appetizer for what’s to come next year.

8 – Reggie Wayne – He’ll be 32-years-old next season, and I couldn’t care less. Until we see the drop off happen keep expectations around 1,200 yards and seven touchdowns. Any friend of Peyton Manning’s is a friend of mine. There may be a revolving door at the No. 2 wide receiver spot but there is no questioning who No. 1 is.

9 – Anquan Boldin – Has proven to be worth the free agent money spent on bringing him in. Joe Flacco looks for him frequently within the 20. A full year with the offense and a year’s worth of chemistry with Flacco should translate into even higher numbers for next season.

10 – Brandon Marshall – The Dolphins’ future was supposed to be Chad Henne, but the recent move to bench him in favor of Chad Pennington (and now Tyler Thigpen) raises an eyebrow. We’ll have to wait and see, but Marshall has shown that he can pretty much play with nothing at quarterback and still produce. That’s good to know because nothing is exactly the word I’d use to describe Pennington. Nothing.

11 – Mike Wallace – His numbers would be huge if Ben Roethlisberger had been playing since Week 1. I expect Hines Ward to come back again next season, but his role will be that of a first down type of receiver. Meaning Wallace will be the big play, game breaker and Ward will be the first down conversion security blanket. Roethlisberger’s arm mixed with Wallace’s speed may be only second to Michael Vick and DeSean Jackson.

12 – Larry Fitzgerald – One would hope that the Arizona Cardinals will be selecting a quarterback early in the 2011 NFL draft. Any personnel changes made at the quarterback position would be an upgrade and immediately boost Fitzgerald’s production. Rookie quarterbacks tend to lean heavily on the No. 1 receiver. Maybe once Philadelphia makes up their mind at the quarterback position Arizona can have the leftovers.

13 – Jeremy Maclin Michael Vick seems as though he won’t be playing favorites with his wide receivers. Both DeSean Jackson and Maclin will be weekly threats for more than 100 yards and a score as long as Vick stays in Philadelphia. Maclin has the larger build so he could be the more active wide receiver in scoring territory.

14 – Percy Harvin – Having Sidney Rice back will help Harvin out greatly. Rice will draw the No. 1 cornerback coverage and Harvin should embarrass No. 2 corner coverage. His migraines and ankle issues are a concern, but he seems to be able to pull through on Sundays. With Brett Favre most likely gone next season, I would expect the new quarterback to turn Harvin into Wes Welker the sequel. 

15 – Santonio Holmes – With a season of New York Jets play under his belt next season should provide ample yardage and scoring chances. Braylon Edwards’ multiple disciplinary issues may force him out of town and make Holmes the top target on a well-balanced team.

16 – Mike Williams (Tampa Bay) – Josh Freeman’s favorite target has already surpassed fourth-round selection, rookie expectations and then some. Williams is a tall, fast receiver that has developed favorable chemistry with Freeman in one preseason. Imagine what this chemistry could lead to next year.

17 – Dez Bryant – There’s two reasons as to why Bryant shouldn’t be ranked too high for next year. 1) Tony Romo will be back calling the shots and it’s written in stone that Miles Austin and Jason Witten get the most looks; and 2) He’s third on the depth chart on his own team. Austin will cut into his yardage potential while Roy Williams cuts into his touchdown potential.

18 – Austin Collie – Before his injury he was on pace to put up extraordinary numbers. He seems to have become a favorite of Peyton Manning. But who doesn’t seem to be a favorite of Manning? Pierre Garcon will still be on the roster, Dallas Clark will be back from injury and Reggie Wayne is still Manning’s go-to guy.

19 – Randy Moss – Again, these rankings are being done before we know where Moss even plays next season. Moss’ value could range anywhere from a borderline Top 10 to outside the Top 20. His size and speed alone can still lead to elite numbers when he wants to. The question isn’t necessarily where he plays. It’s does he want to?

20 – Brandon Lloyd – Start your complaining. “How can you rank the top yardage receiver at No. 20?!” Because you don’t win next season based on this season’s stat line. Do you honestly think that Lloyd will ever come close to the yards he’s putting up this season ever again? He’s too late in his career to be considered a Miles Austin type of break out player. And Demaryius Thomas was drafted for a reason.

The “Unrankables” – UR

These guys have way too much going on around them at the current time to possibly begin to put rankings onto them. Whether it comes down to age, contract issues or injuries, these guys could range wildly from Top 5 production to bottom of the barrel. These Wild Card players are best suited to be gambled on later in the draft or allowed to become some other owner’s issue.

UR –  Terrell Owens – Could be a complete steal next season. Or he could be the player we saw last season in Buffalo. It all depends on what happens to the Cincinnati Bengals this offseason. Carson Palmer could be out, Cedric Benson could be out and Owens himself could be out. The Bengals need to start planning for the future and a 36-year-old wide receiver does not play into that mentality.

UR – Sidney Rice – Rice’s numbers weren’t spectacular before Brett Favre got to Minnesota. Was that due to poor quarterback play or is that on Rice? Then Rice puts up a huge season with Favre tossing the ball. Is that due to  Favre making Rice look good or is that on Rice himself? He will be back at full strength next season, but it may not be with Minnesota. Favre said that he himself won’t return next season, Brad Childress will be gone next season and on top of it all Rice may be gone next season due to his free agent status. At this point, he remains impossible to rank.

UR – Vincent Jackson – Imagine what his numbers with Philip Rivers would resemble this season. He could already be up over 1,000 yards with close to double-digit scores. But Jackson tried to earn his contract by sitting out instead of showcasing himself. That will prove to be a costly decision. Depending on where he ends up next season, he could turn out to be a No. 2 drafted wide receiver that outperforms your No. 1 wide receiver. But there is too much unknown surrounding Jackson at the current time to place an accurate number on him.

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