|08-10-2007, 10:16 AM||#1|
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Breakout Player Article
PFW's top-10 list of players who will be household names by midseason
By Chris Neubauer
Aug. 10, 2007
Fantasy football is a lot like the stock market. Owners are constantly trying to stay ahead of the curve and project which players (stocks) will provide the most bang for the buck.
Every owner is hoping his or her countless hours of research in the spring and summer months yield the next Frank Gore, who broke out with an NFC-leading 1,695 rushing yards and eight touchdowns last season for the 49ers after an injury-plagued rookie campaign.
Or the next Philip Rivers, who threw for 3,388 yards and 22 touchdowns last season in his first year as the Chargers' starting quarterback.
Or the next Bears WR Bernard Berrian, whose 775 receiving yards and six touchdown catches in 2006 more than tripled his previous season high in each category.
Or the next Browns TE Kellen Winslow, who overcame injuries (he was limited to just two games in his first two NFL seasons) and inconsistent QB play to lead all tight ends in receptions with 89 for 875 yards and three touchdowns.
We polled the Pro Football Weekly editors to determine the top 10 breakout players for the 2007 season in order to make your life as a fantasy owner a little bit easier.
Here’s the list in descending order, to add some suspense.
10. Saints TE Eric Johnson — If he can stay healthy, Johnson should flourish in Sean Payton’s TE-friendly offense. The Saints led the league in passing offense last season despite getting just 411 yards and one touchdown from a hodgepodge of five tight ends. Since leaving Antonio Gates behind in San Diego, QB Drew Brees has been looking for a legitimate pass-catching tight end like Johnson, who totaled 82 catches for the 49ers in 2004.
9. Ravens WR Mark Clayton — Clayton made huge strides from his rookie year to his second season, nearly doubling his receiving yards from 471 in 2005 to a team-high 939 last season. Clayton replaced veteran WR Derrick Mason and Pro Bowl TE Todd Heap as the Ravens’ top big-play threat in the passing game, and he seems primed to crack the 1,000-yard barrier this season.
8. Cowboys RB Marion Barber — After a 16-touchdown campaign while playing second fiddle to starter Julius Jones last season, Barber has whet the Cowboys’ appetite to see what he can do in an expanded role. Barber has decent size and a short-area speed burst, and some observers believe he is a more natural runner than Jones. The main concern with Barber is that he has always worked in a tandem backfield dating back to his college days at Minnesota and there is a question as to whether he can handle the workload of a featured back.
7. 49ers TE Vernon Davis — A hairline fracture in his left leg ruined much of the first half of Davis’ rookie campaign. But when he got on the field later in the season, Davis showed glimpses of the big-play potential the 49ers expected when they drafted him with the sixth overall pick. The 49ers are expanding Davis’ role in the offense this season, and the addition of veteran WRs Darrell Jackson and Ashley Lelie should take some pressure off him.
6. Dolphins RB Ronnie Brown — With Ricky Williams out of the picture, Brown is expected to get the majority of Miami’s carries as he fills a LaDainian Tomlinson-type role in new head coach Cam Cameron's offense. Cameron and the new coaching staff apparently love the way Brown catches the ball and want to get him 60-65 catches this season in addition to giving him the bulk of the carries.
5. Patriots RB Laurence Maroney — Lost in the whirlwind of additions at the WR position has been the changes the Patriots made in the backfield. They acquiesced to RB Corey Dillon’s request for his release and promoted second-year tailback Maroney to the starting lineup. As long as Maroney’s surgically repaired shoulder holds up, he's in position to build on his 939 total yards and seven touchdowns as a rookie, with tons of receiving weapons drawing defensive attention and giving him big lanes to run through.
4. Eagles WR Reggie Brown — Brown enters his third season, the year in which many talented receivers have broken out in the past, as the Eagles’ undisputed No. 1 receiver. They let last year’s No. 1 target, WR Donté Stallworth, walk in free agency without much of a fight because of their confidence in Brown, who recorded 446 receiving yards and four touchdowns in the five games Stallworth missed last season. The Eagles added former Rams WR Kevin Curtis in free agency, but he is more of a complementary part.
3. Broncos QB Jay Cutler — Cutler tossed two touchdown passes in four of his five starts as a rookie and completed 59.1 percent of his passes. He has the patience, poise, smarts and big arm to take his game to the next level, but he needs to do a better job of protecting the ball. Cutler developed a solid rapport with fellow rookies WR Brandon Marshall and TE Tony Scheffler late last season, and the Broncos added two dependable veterans, WR Brandon Stokley and TE Daniel Graham, in the offseason.
2. Colts RB Joseph Addai — Addai had only two 100-yard games en route to his 1,081 rushing yards as a rookie. But he was sharing time during the Colts’ Super Bowl campaign with veteran Dominic Rhodes, who rushed for 641 yards and five scores. With Rhodes hitting the road for Oakland and being replaced by seldom-used second-year player DeDe Dorsey, Addai figures to get an increased workload, which could propel his fantasy numbers skyward.
1. Bears RB Cedric Benson — The No. 4 overall pick in 2005 finally gets a chance to prove his mettle as an every-down back in ’07 with the departure of starter Thomas Jones, who was traded to the Jets. Benson was a workhorse while setting numerous records at Texas, and he should have no problem handling an increased workload in the Windy City. Benson should benefit from running behind a solid offensive line that helped propel Jones to 1,210 rushing yards and six touchdowns last season and Benson to 647 yards and six TDs.