Saturday, January 06, 2007

Keeper League Outlook: 2007

While a few of us are hoisting championship trophies this week, most are left lamenting what could have been. Well, it is technically still the holiday season, so I have a present for the majority of folks who did not make the Big Game: Keeper Projections for next year. Consider it a consolation prize that could pay big dividends in 2007. I'm not going to include next year's rookies, nor am I going to insult your intelligence by telling you why you should keep Peyton Manning, LT, or Larry Johnson. If I honestly have to talk you into keeping those players, then do yourself a favor: stop reading this right now and quit playing fantasy football forever... Good! You're still here, so let's get rolling.

QUARTERBACKS

The "No Brainer" keepers: Peyton Manning, IND; Carson Palmer, CIN.

Drew Brees, NO. It will be interesting to see if Brees can replicate his 2006 Dream Season next year. He'll likely have the same weapons at his disposal next season, so while I expect a slight dip in his numbers, I still look for him to be a top 5-caliber QB in 2007.

Donovan McNabb, PHI. He won't run as much, but he proved earlier this season that he can accomplish great things with his arm in that system. Donovan is famous for his offseason conditioning programs, so he will surely log extra time with Donte Stallworth this spring & summer...only good things can come of that. Expect McNabb to return to Top 5 status next year...if Carson Palmer could do it, so can McNabb.

Tom Brady, NE. Brady should be a Top 5 fantasy QB, especially if the Pats score much needed weapons in either the draft or the free agent market. Regardless, Brady has proven he can get it done even if the grounds crew lines up at WR.

Matt Hasselbeck, SEA. The addition of Deion Branch earlier this season gave the Seahawks offense another dimension. As long as Alexander stays healthy, we should see Hasselbeck find Branch for scores more often...and Hasselbeck to Jackson...and Hasselbeck to the emerging D.J. Hackett...and Hasseleck to...well, you get the point.


Matt Leinart, ARI. Assuming the Cardinals replace Denny Green with an offensive-minded coach, Leinart almost belongs in the "No Brainer" category based on his unlimited upside. For the doubters, let me offer the following: Leinart has Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin to catch the rock. All he has to do is get it NEAR one of those guys with some regularity and Leinart is a top 10 QB. Now, bear in mind that this was Leinart's rookie season...and as far as rookie QB seasons go, his was very good. Leinart has nowhere to go but up, and he could realisitically be a top five fantasy QB next year...perhaps even top THREE behind Manning and Palmer in a best-case scenario.

Vince Young, TEN. When you think of Vince Young, think of a more consistent Micheal Vick with more upside. Young's not going to win fantasy games for you with his arm anytime soon, but his feet will make plenty of noise. Young has more poise in the pocket than Vick did in this stage in his career, and Young is just as capable of finding the end zone once past the line of scrimmage as Vick is now. Don't count on Young to be your savior in 2007, but he could be a monster in the seasons beyond. You'll be sorry if you let him slip through your fingers now.

Marc Bulger, STL. I wouldn't keep Bulger under most circumstances due to the depth available at the position, but if you are in a deeper keeper league (e.g. keeping 4+ players), it might be a good idea to hold onto Bulger. Orlando Pace will be back to cover Bulger's blind side, and Steven Jackson will keep defenses honest enough to allow Bulger to find Holt & co. for touchdowns-a-plenty.

Honorable Mention: Alex Smith, SF. He demonstrated a lot of growth and maturity this season, taking a team that most left for dead and keeping them in the playoff picture as we enter in Week 16. Gone is the 1 TD, 11 INT season...this season he's thrown more TDs than picks so far (15 TD, 14 INT and his raised his QB rating from 40.8 to 75.9. He's had a lot of doubters, but let's remember that most great QBs struggled in their first couple of seasons before hitting paydirt. If Vernon Davis continues to develop as projected and Antonio Bryant can keep his head out of his butt, then Alex Smith could be a borderline fantasy starter entering next season and has top 10 potential down the road.


RUNNING BACKS

The "No Brainer" keepers: LaDanian Tomlinson, SD; Larry Johnson, KC; Steven Jackson, STL; Shaun Alexander, SEA; Rudi Johnson, CIN; Frank Gore, SF; Willie Parker, PIT; Brian Westbrook, PHI.


Maurice Jones-Drew, JAX. If you have him and none of the other RBs listed above, you have to hold onto MoJoDrew. The kid is a bowling ball and turns opposing tacklers into pins. With Fred Taylor getting older and more frail (if that's possible), Jones-Drew looks like a first or second round pick in most fantasy drafts next season.

Joseph Addai, IND. If you need to be reminded of his abilities, rewind to the Monday night game in which he shredded the Eagles defense for 200+ total yards and FOUR...count 'em, FOUR...touchdowns. Addai figures to be "the man" for the Colts next season and should make Colts fans forget about Edgerrin James once and for all.

Laurence Maroney, NE. If Dillon is gone next year, Maroney will be a top 10 fantasy back, stamp it. If Dillon is still around, Maroney will STILL be a productive fantasy back as long as he stays healthy. If you have Maroney, you are lucky. If not, see if you can trade for him this offseason. You won't be sorry.

Marion Barber III, DAL. Barber is a tough runner with quickness, vision, and a burst, and he has (for all intents and purposes) single-handedly sealed Julius Jones' long-term fate with the Cowboys. Barber will be a top 10 back next year, assuming the Cowboys do the smart thing and make Barber their every-down back.

Brandon Jacobs, NYG. Some feel he's not an every-down back. I beg to disagree, and as long as Tiki Barber stays retired, I will go so far as to GUARANTEE that Jacobs finishes next year as a top 15 fantasy RB, possibly top 10.

Reggie Bush, NO. We all know the kid is phenomenal with a limitless ceiling. However, the presence and resurgence of Deuce McAllister limits Bush's prospects in 2007. Therefore, don't bank on potential when it comes to Bush next season...keep the reality of the situation in mind.

Willis McGahee, BUF. Whatchewtalkinbout Willis played with busted ribs much of the season, but the interesting thing about the Bills is that J.P. Losman actually improved this season. That should help take the pressure off a healthy McGahee next season, which should help Willis return to Top 10 RB status.

Edgerrin James, ARI. I know he was also a bust earlier this year, but he's finding his niche in that offense. As Leinart improves, that only means good things for James, and you have to think the Cards' O-line will improve in '07. They can't get much worse.

Ronnie Brown, MIA. Brown was a bit of a bust this year due to injury, but, I look for Brown to have a bounce back season. I am tempering my enthusiasm until I see who the Dolphins lanbd as their new head coach. Meanwhile, Miami-area pot peddlers, rejoice: Ricky Williams will likely return next year! Believe it or not, this is actually good news for Brown if it happens, as Williams will keep Brown fresh, and should be even more effective than Morris was in this role.

Jamal Lewis, BAL. He's still got something left in the tank, as proven by the fact that he seemed to get stronger and better as the season progressed this year. Look for him to be an excellent #2 fantasy RB in 2007.

DeAngelo Williams, CAR. Just when you thought the handwriting was on the wall for DeShawn Foster, the Panthers let him tote the rock as the primary ball carrier once the playoffs were out of reach. Perhaps they were trying to showcase him for trade; that would be the logical thought process. However, logic went out the window this past spring when Carolina selected the ultra-talented Williams in the first round just a month after signing Foster to a 3-year, $14.5 million deal. I have to believe that Williams projects to be the primary running back for the Panthers next year since he's got all the tools to be a superstar: mad speed, good vision, and great cutback skills. Foster, meanwhile, did little to distinguish himself this year, and the Panthers have to be asking themselves if Foster will be worth the coin he'll be getting the next two years.

Jerious Norwood, ATL. He showed flashes of brilliance and explosiveness this season, so it will be interesting to see what the Falcons do with Warrick Dunn. Norwood could very well carry the load for in Hotlanta for years to come.

Deuce McAllister, NO. As his former dynasty league owner, I was the biggest Deuce McAllister fan this side of the Mississippi, and I thought he had no shot at a productive season due to that knee injury. Boy, was I wrong...McAllister was back with a vengeance and will be even stronger in '07.

Clinton Portis, WAS. Portis should be a top 15-20 RB next season, but the emergence of Ladell Betts this season could make the Redskins spell Portis early and often in order to preserve his fragile health. That said, Portis is still a gamebreaker and has value in most leagues as a 2nd RB. Depending on what happens with Betts, Portis could go anywhere from rounds 1-6 in redraft leagues next season...there's too much uncertainty there to count on Portis as your #1 RB in '07.

Honorable Mention: Chester Taylor, MIN. Artose Pinner positively lit it up in a purple uniform, and in the two weeks that followed, Taylor laid eggs against the Jets and Packers with the playoffs on the line. This has me convinced that Taylor is a more a product of the system than anything else. Sure, Chet's got some talent, but he's got one heck of an offensive line in front of him that made him look better than he really is earlier this season. And to think some were comparing his situation to that of Priest Holmes back in August. When I think of Chester Taylor, I think of Olandis Gary.

Honorable Mention: Cedric Benson, CHI. It will be interesting to see what the Bears do with Thomas Jones next season. The Bears have invested a lot in Benson, and next year will be his make-or-break season.

Honorable Mention: Travis Henry, TEN. Henry played very well on a team without a lot of firepower on offense. The Titans have a crowded backfield with high draft pick LenDale White and the talented but oft-injured Chris Brown around. The Titans may be tempted to deal Henry this offseason since he now has trade value, so stay tuned in case that happens.

Honorable Mention: Ladell Betts, WAS. It will be very interesting to see what the Redskins do with their RB situation this offseason. Betts was extremely productive in Clinton Portis' stead, and the Redskins rewarded him by inking him to a 5 year, $11 million deal earlier this month. If something should happen to Portis, Betts becomes and immediate fantasy commodity in 2007.

Honorable Mention: Sammy Morris, MIA. I doubt he'll be back with the Fish in '07, but surprisingly enough, he may have played himself into a featured back role elsewhere next year, and he'll likely get at least a share of the load no matter where he lands. Keep tabs on him this offseason to see where he lands.

Dishonorable Mention: Cadillac Williams, TB. It's hard to think of a bigger fantasy bust this season. Perhaps I'm snake-bitten after trading up to get him in the 2006 draft, but I can't recommend keeping him for next year given the state of the Bucs offense right now and Caddy's lack of production in spite of it.

WIDE RECIEVER

The "No Brainer" keepers: Steve Smith, CAR; Torry Holt, STL; Larry Fitzgerald, ARI; Chad Johnson, CIN; Reggie Wayne, IND; A. Boldin, ARI; Marvin Harrison, IND.


Lee Evans, BUF. This dude is about to explode. He's got sick talent, and on a more prolific offense, he'd be in the "No Brainer" section. That said, Losman has shown signs of life lately, so expect to see continued growth from Evans next year...which means you can put him at the bottom end of your Top 10 fantasy WR list in 2007.

Marques Colston, NO. Wow. This seventh-round rookie was the proverbial needle-in-the-haystack from this past April's draft. Colston made big play after big play and proved he can get it done on the short and intermediate routes as well. As long as Colston is on the field, he will produce.

Javon Walker, DEN. He's got mad skills and an up-and-coming QB who should be targeting him early and often. Without question, Walker is a top 10 fantasy WR in 2007.

Andre Johnson, HOU. If David Carr would only take the next step in his development, Andre Johnson would be a top 5 WR. That said, Johnson leads the league in receptions and was a fringe top 10 guy, even in that woeful Texans offense. Unless you only keep 2 or fewer players, you almost have to keep Johnson based on his obvious, tremendous upside.

Darrell Jackson, SEA. Not the sexiest pick out there, but the guy just keeps producing. D-Jax needs 68 yards for a 1,000 yard/10 TD season...and did so in a Supe Bowl Hangover year when the wheels fell off the Seahawks offense for much of the season.

Plaxico Burress, NYG. He has a good repoire with Eli Manning, and as the young signal caller improves, so should Burress' fantasy prospects. If Eli blossoms like some believe, Burress will become a top 10 fantasy WR.

Terrell Owens, DAL. The ticking time bomb that is T.O. is overdue for another off-field explosion on coaches and the organization that feeds him, but you can't ignore his talent. Just don't depend on him and his assorted baggage to fill your #1 WR slot or you'll be sorry.

T.J. Houshmanzadeh, CIN. Whether or not you hold onto TJ depends on how many keepers your league has, but Whosyourmama has been solid all year for the Bearcats. A number two reciever ofhis caliber in this offense is better than a #1 reciever on half of the teams in the NFL.

Braylon Edwards, CLE. Edwards is pushing 1,000 yards this season, and that's an accomplishment considering he's young, he's coming off a major injury, and he's stuck in a dreadful offense. The latter of that trifecta is the only thing limiting his upside, and even in spite of that constraint, I think Edwards will bust out in a big way next season.

Laverneus Coles, NYJ. Coles is in his prime, and lately he's been showing why he's as solid a #2 fantasy WR as you can get.

Donald Driver, GB. See "Coles, Laverneus."

Santana Moss, WAS. See "Coles, Laverneus."

Roy Williams, DET. Has the talent to be a top 5 WR, but the Lions will STINK next year, Limberger-style. Kevin Jones also looks to be out for much (if not all) of the '07 season, making Williams the only Lion worth owning. Detriot's list of draft needs is veritable block of Swiss...lots of holes that really can't be filled. Therefore, Williams will likely be overvalued in most drafts next year, but I'd still love to have him as my #2 WR in '07.

Hines Ward, PIT. Ward had an injury-plagued off-year this season...that said, he needs just 76 yards this weekend to cap yet another 1,000 yard season. They aren't many WRs more dependable than Ward.

Devery Henderson, NO. At worst, he'll be an excellent #3 fantasy WR next season, and will be a very good #2 fantasy wideout once he eclipses Joe Horn on the depth chart...an event that should take place in August, if not sooner.

Greg Jennings, GB. This kid has lots of talent, and if he can stay healthy, will post big numbers next year.

Donte Stallworth, PHI. If he can stay healthy, he could be an excellent #2 fantasy WR next year.

Reggie Brown, PHI. If he can limit his drops, he could be a very solid #2 fantasy WR next year.

Vincent Jackson, SD. This guy has freakish talent and will undoubtedly open lots of eyes next season. Target Jackson in the early portion of the late rounds of your draft next season.

Honorable Mention: Demetrius Williams, BAL. The kid flashed tremendous talent at times this season, as evidenced by his 19.1 yards-per-catch average heading into the final week of the season. In his last 2 games, the rookie has caught a TD in each contest while posting the first 100-yard day of his career. I would look for Williams to play a more prominent role in the offense next year, but the Ravens...yes the RAVENS...are suddenly looking stacked at WR with the brick-solid veteran Derrick Mason and up-and-coming Mark Clayton on the roster. If you smell a bold statement coming, your nose is keen: Williams has the raw talent to beat them all out for the #1 WR job by the end of next season.

Dishonorable Mention: Randy Moss, OAK. IF Moss can find a team to take him along with his considerable baggage...and IF that team is a contender with a proven, prolific offense...you MIGHT want to kick yourself for not holding onto Moss. In the meantime, as the addage goes: fool me once, shame on you...fool me twice, shame on me. With so many talented young receivers with upside in the NFL today, only a fool would hold onto Moss after his latest First-Team All-Bust season.

Dishonorable Mention: Chris Chambers, MIA. In a word: DOG. No, he's not my dog. He IS a dog. Chambers was arguably the biggest fantasy WR bust this side of Randy Moss, as journeyman Marty Booker claimed the #1 WR role from him. Avoid Chambers until the latter portion of the middle rounds next season.

TIGHT END

The only TE worth keeping is Antonio Gates. Period. Therefore, I'll modify my approach here...I'll skip the Tony Gonzalezes, Todd Heaps, Jason Wittens, and Ben Watsons of the world so I can go beyond the Top 10 TEs and highlight a few lesser-known ones who'll make noise next year.


Vernon Davis, SF. Lots of raw skills; a physical specimen with an unlimited ceiling. Has the potential to be a Gates/Gonzalez type of player someday, but he's still learning the TE position right now. Keep him on your radar in the middle rounds of your draft next year.

Tony Scheffler, DEN. This kid is emerging as one of Cutler's favorite targets, and I am starting him this week in my championship game. I can't think of a better endorsement for his 2007 outlook.

Jerramy Stevens. SEA. He's a prick and everyone hates him. But he's got talent. Consider him a poor man's Jeremy Shockey, and Stevens should put up similar numbers and be available several rounds later.

Owen Daniels, HOU. Quiety, Daniels has caught as many TD passes as Tony Gonzalez and Heath Miller and logged more end zone grabs than better-known TEs Kellen Winslow, Jason Witten, Randy McMicheal, and Dallas Clark.

Honorable Mention: Alex Smith, TB. Could be the only Buccaneer worth owning next year, but I still don't see him as a fantasy starter next year.

KICKER/DEFENSE

Rule #1: NEVER keep a kicker or defense. EVER.
Rule #2: If you are thinking about keeping a kicker or defense, see Rule #1.