In previous weeks, we here at the blog have spotlighted some of the most notable offensive skill rookies to watch for in Fantasy Land as your drafts approach. We’ll tackle IDPs soon enough, pun intended, but first up: a look at a few players whose fortunes have changed during the offseason. Some are for the better, some are for the worse, but all six of the men below are players you need to know the score about.
Matt Cassel, QB, Chiefs – we’d obviously be remiss if we didn’t start with Cassel, who threw for 3,693 yards and 21 TDs after taking over for the injured Tom Brady, and that includes time spent needing to get adjusted to New England’s offensive schemes in game action. After being traded to our KC squad, Cassel is the unquestionable #1 QB, playing for a coach in Todd Haley who just finished presiding over a lethal aerial attack in Arizona. If the rumors of the Chiefs holding off on extending Cassel’s contract are true, then he could wind up playing for a contract if those talks drag on into the season. He doesn’t have Randy Moss anymore, but Cassel is definitely a high-upside QB1 possibility who could wind up being a bargain on draft day.
Miles Austin, WR, Cowboys – not only did the Terrell Owens trade give Buffalo a gamebreaker to go along with Lee Evans, but it opened up a lot of balls to be caught in Dallas. Can Roy Williams be a #1 receiver again? Either way, Austin has a major opportunity to step up. He’s on a one-year contract for less than $1.5 million after the Cowboys kept him following some courting from the Jets, so there will be financial motivation. At 6’3, 215, Austin has prototypical size for a WR and he’s drawn high praise for his off-season work this year.
Vernon Davis, TE, 49ers – We’ve been through this rodeo with Davis before. Once an All-World prospect coming out of Maryland, VD has given his owners nothing but frustration when they’ve wasted higher-than-necessary draft picks on his middling-at-best production. He’s yet to find his niche in San Francisco, but the athleticism is still very much there for the 25-year-old. He wasn’t a great fit in Mike Martz’ offense, which may have surprised some given Davis’ skill set, but using the TE as an offensive weapon has never been Martz’ hallmark. Now the Niners have installed Jimmy Raye as their offensive coordinator, who Chiefs fans will remember from being on the team’s staff from 1992-2000. The first years of dominance from Tony Gonzalez were in that timeframe, and even though Davis has undoubtedly made numerous enemies in the fantasy world through the years, this could FINALLY be the year that he rewards those who have somehow stuck by him or are willing to risk choosing him.
Brandon Marshall, WR, Broncos – Off-season hip surgery combined with the loss of an elite QB in Jay Cutler would be bad enough. Then there’s his offseason hip surgery and a looming suspension stemming from multiple offenses, the latest being a March 1st arrest on charges of disorderly conduct (they were dropped). Side note: he also asked for a raise after all of that. There is no questioning Marshall’s talent, but can you afford to bank a good chunk of your team’s receiving offense on his unpredictable character? He dodged a multi-game suspension to start last year, but we don’t think he’ll be so lucky. Let someone else deal with the headache and the statistical drop that will probably be attatched.
Thomas Jones, RB, Jets – the soon-to-be-31 year old wants a new contract added to the two years and $13 million remaining on his current deal. He’s at an age where running backs tend to start declining, and the Jets added a rookie in Shonn Green to a backfield that already included the electric Leon Washington with Jones, though the Jets are also in a contract dispute with the 26-year-old Washington. We’re assuming New York will lock up its playmaker, and with enough bodies to absorb whatever may happen, don’t take Jones expecting a repeat of his 2008 career year (1,519 total yards, 15 total touchdowns).
Carson Palmer, QB, Bengals – We don’t think that many of you would jump to invest in Palmer, but some fantasy players out there might see him as a potential 5th-6th round steal once the top quarterbacks are gone. All the right signals are coming out of Cincinnati as far as his health goes, but the Bengals have a weak group of receivers. An aging Lavernaues Coles was their big off-season addition, and who knows if Chad Johnson will be on the roster. Their running game is suspect, their offensive line is weak… Palmer has name value, but don’t let that sway you into hitching your wagon to him as a starting quarterback just in case that elbow of his doesn’t hold up following a non-surgical rehab of his injured right elbow (frayed ulnar collateral ligament).
QUICK HITS: If Matt Jones avoids being suspended for violating terms of a court-ordered drug program in March, watch where he lands. The 26-year-old was having a career year with Jacksonville before being suspended for a felony cocaine charge. Staying with the Jaguars, Fred Taylor is gone, meaning that Maurice Jones-Drew should dominate the backfield touches. Owners picking 5th on down in their 1st rounds should consider him…If Michael Vick somehow gets reinstated for this year and the Rams’ interest in him bears fruit, he could wind up being a serviceable QB2 off a late, late draft pick…Jets Head Coach Rex Ryan saw Todd Heap be a major weapon for Baltimore in his prime – Dustin Keller could be headed for a similar role… Don’t ignore the usual Anquan Boldin trade rumors. If he moves on, Steve Breaston moves up in the pecking order, and Arizona didn’t re-sign Kurt Warner to hand off…With Marvin Harrison no longer a Colt, Indianapolis’ Anthony Gonzalez could REALLY take off opposite Reggie Wayne, and even Dallas Clark could see his already solid numbers tick up as well.