Ben Roethlisberger and Mike Wallace. Not sure if you had heard, but Roethlisberger missed the first four games of this season. But he still threw for 3,200 yards and 17 touchdowns with just five interceptions. The Steelers’ signal caller was fantastic, running the offense judiciously. Part of his success is due to Wallace. Previously thought of solely as a deep threat, Wallace worked on his route running and hands. In doing so, he blew up this year en route to 1,257 yards and 10 touchdowns. In his last nine games this year, he really got in a groove with Roethlisberger, racking up 860 yards and six scores. They hooked up for 100-plus yards and a score Sunday. This connection is just getting started, and each should be Top 10 at their position next year.
Matt Ryan and Roddy White. I was not a “believer” in Ryan. I thought him an adequate quarterback, one who needed a big running game to support him. While he has that running game, Ryan did much more this year than I thought he would. Ryan threw for 3,705 yards and 28 touchdowns with just nine interceptions. He’s careful with the ball and makes good decisions. His primary target, White, has developed into a top wide receiver and will be my No. 1 wideout next season. White had a huge season, catching 115 balls for 1,389 yards and 10 scores. His production is consistent and his quarterback loves him. And so do fantasy owners.
Matt Cassel and Dwayne Bowe. Who saw that coming? I said preseason that Cassel would have a good season, but I didn’t see that. His rapport with Bowe was obviously key to his success, as was the Chiefs’ dominant running game. Cassel put up 3,116 yards, 27 touchdowns, threw just seven interceptions and blew out an appendix. He was phenomenal for Kansas City. As was his go-to receiver, Bowe, who scored 15 touchdowns and had 1,162 yards. The tandem was nearly unstoppable at times this season, and their numbers are even more impressive when you consider that Bowe didn’t really start performing at that elite level until Week 6 or so. The duo should continue their strong play and look to be valuable commodities to fantasy players next year.
Tim Tebow and Brandon Lloyd. Tebow is a legitimate fantasy quarterback next season. The only thing that can stand in his way is if his new coach isn’t a fan of his. He showed enough over the last few weeks that he can be a viable play, at least depending on matchups. His ability to run the ball is what makes him intriguing, in a Vince Young sort of way. I wouldn’t reach for him, but if you miss out on the top guys, I could easily see pairing him with a Matthew Stafford. Lloyd was fantastic this season, frustrating everyone who once owned him. He was the primary target, whether it was Kyle Orton or Tebow at the helm. His 1,448 yards led the league in receiving, and he added 11 touchdowns, many of them coming on big plays. Lloyd is a Top 10 guy, but there will be plenty of skeptics out there.
Aaron Rodgers and whoever he wants to throw to. Rodgers has an incredible receiving corps, with Greg Jennings, Donald Driver, James Jones and Jermichael Finley (injured). He threw for 3,922 yards and 28 touchdowns this year, while getting knocked out early a few times and missing a game. He is probably the top fantasy signal caller, even with Michael Vick putting on his show. What makes things interesting is that he should have Ryan Grant back next season, which should open things up a little more for the passing game.
BenJarvus Green-Ellis. Green-Ellis was great for the Patriots, and he was great for fantasy owners. “The Law Firm” topped 1,000 yards and scored 13 times, meaning the lucky owner in your league who drafted him got third-round production for a 10th-round pick. He’s the first viable rushing threat the Patriots have had in years, providing much needed balance for the explosive offense. He’ll end up a Top 15 guy next year, with tremendous upside potential.
Ryan Mathews. Mathews’ rookie year didn’t give us what we were hoping for. There were some who had him slated for Rookie of the Year numbers. Injuries throughout the season and then a crowded backfield with Mike Tolbert meant fewer touches. He finished with 678 yards and seven touchdowns, but his numbers to end the year were impressive. Over his last four games, he averaged 4.2 yards a carry and scored five times. As a third- or fourth-round selection next year, he’s a great upside play for players who go quarterback or receiver early.
Arian Foster. Wow. I was one person who was high on Foster in the preseason, but I wasn’t expecting him to lead the league in rushing. With 1,616 yards and 16 touchdowns, he was a fantasy stud from day one. He also added 600-plus yards receiving. The offense is perfect for a talented back, as the threat of Matt Schaub throwing it all over the place is enough to put defenses on their heels. The concern is that the Texans fell behind so often that the running game couldn’t get going, which makes Foster’s numbers even more impressive. I expect him to be a Top 3 pick next season and he’ll be in consideration for No. 1.
Jamaal Charles. Charles was another running back who got some preseason attention, but owners were frustrated early when Kansas City Chiefs’ coach Todd Haley seemed to opt for Thomas Jones the majority of the time. Eventually, he came to his senses, and got 1,467 yards and five scores on the ground, to go with 468 yards receiving and another three scores. I expect those numbers to increase next year as he gets more time. He’s a game breaker, and should be a Top 5 back.
Jason Witten. Witten is a guy who was available in the middle rounds this past season. I ended up with him on three of my teams, and he didn’t disappoint. After starting slow, Witten came on late with Jon Kitna under center, finishing the year with 94 catches for 1,002 yards and nine touchdowns. Witten has no preference, as he eats up linebackers and defensive backs just the same. He should be ranked second at tight end next year, behind only Antonio Gates.
Enjoy the playoffs, good luck in any fantasy playoff tournaments and have a fantastic 2011.
Drew Magyar is a FantasySharks.com staff writer and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.