Not every player you'll consider in Fantasy is as safe as Peyton Manning or a lock to put up nice numbers like Adrian Peterson. Like it or not, some guys you'll look at on Draft Day will carry some risk. Some more than others, and perhaps the guys with the most risk are the ones coming off a big year without any previous success.
Granted, everyone who ultimately becomes "safe" has to have a great first year sometime. Guys like Reggie Wayne, DeAngelo Williams, Wes Welker and Drew Brees needed a few years in the league before finally breaking out and showing some stability. Now Fantasy owners are grabbing for them with little hesitation.
Every year players pop out of the woodwork and help us win Fantasy games and league titles, and then the next year they disappoint us. Not all of them, obviously, but a fair share. Wouldn't it be cool if we could pinpoint the guys who might keep up their totals from last year before the season started while pumping the brakes on the players that might disappoint us?
Let's give it a try.
Arian Foster, Texans
Before 2010: The Texans sort of buried Foster until they needed him, and even then they buried him. His first NFL start, in 2009, was marred by a first quarter fumble that led to his benching. He ended his rookie year on a productive note -- 242 total yards and three scores in his last two games, giving some optimism about his future until the Texans spent a second-round pick on Ben Tate last April.
In 2010: Foster went from unlikely starter to matchup-busting Fantasy superstar, giving the Texans the stud rusher they've missed since Steve Slaton.
One-year wonder? The Texans have historically had trouble finding stability at running back -- the likes of Domanick Davis and Steve Slaton flamed out after two productive seasons. If Foster follows suit, then he'll at least be productive this season. If he breaks from that pack, then he'll be strong for a long time. Either way, we know he has the talent to be a stat monster and the opportunity will be there for him in 2011.
Peyton Hillis, Browns
Before 2010: Hillis was a beefy afterthought. Part-time fullback, part-time third-down back and part-time bruising rusher. He never really had much of a chance to play regularly in Denver and wasn't handed the opportunity to play regularly when he arrived in Cleveland last spring.
In 2010: Injuries forced Hillis into action, and he shined. He mowed down every defense not named the Steelers he saw and went one game without a touchdown until December, when all the wear and tear caught up with him and he slowed down.
One-year wonder? There's no doubt that he's a bigger piece of the Browns offense now than he was a year ago, but at the same time the team knows they cannot possibly count on him as much as they did in 2010. His running style lends itself to injuries, and that's never a good thing. His receiving skills are great for Cleveland's new offense and he'll still be a bulldozer at the goal line, but everything else -- mainly his reps -- remain question marks. We suspect his total yardage will decline thanks to assists from Montario Hardesty and Brandon Jackson, but his touchdown production might not fall far. That means he won't match his totals from a year ago and therefore might be perceived as a bust.
BenJarvus Green-Ellis/Danny Woodhead, Patriots
Before 2010: Green-Ellis was a backup with the Pats and Woodhead was a Jets practice squadder and occasional benchwarmer. Neither player was drafted into the NFL.
In 2010: Injuries kicked down the door for Green-Ellis to start seeing playing time, and he never gave up his role thanks to not fumbling and scoring plenty of short-yardage touchdowns (13 total). The Pats picked up Woodhead off of the Jets' trash heap and he served as a great change-of-pace rusher and short-area receiver, filling in for Kevin Faulk for most of the year (six total touchdowns).
One-year wonder? Despite the success of this one-two combo, the Patriots spent a second-round pick on Shane Vereen and a third-round pick on Stevan Ridley. Granted, they effectively took the roster spots of Faulk and Fred Taylor, but they're young hungry rushers that will push Green-Ellis and Woodhead. But that said, Bill Belichick has never taken a good player off the field, and neither Green-Ellis nor Woodhead have done anything to warrant benching. So long as that continues, the impact by the Pats' rookies will be small. Green-Ellis is the safer pick to avoid being a bust of the two.
Mike Tolbert, Chargers
Before 2010: Tolbert spent two seasons toiling on the Chargers bench, mainly as a fullback. He had 38 carries, 30 catches and five touchdowns over two seasons.
In 2010: Ryan Mathews' ankle injury led to Tolbert taking on much more of the rushing workload for the Chargers. He didn't disappoint, scoring 11 touchdowns on 182 carries (735 yards) while flashing some soft hands (25 catches for 216 yards).
One-year wonder? Chances are that Tolbert will have a reduced role -- perhaps a part-time back and possible goal-line guy -- while Mathews takes the starting job. Unless Mathews gets hurt again, Tolbert's touches will sink like a rock. He could still sneak into the end zone six or seven times while picking up carries and catches here and there, but it's hard to expect Tolbert to put up numbers like he did last season given Mathews' presence.
LeGarrette Blount, Buccaneers
Before 2010: Blount was in college, known for a well-publicized post-game incident while with the Oregon Ducks. That incident overshadowed his abilities and led to him not getting drafted.
In 2010: Blount initially latched on with the Titans but was cut just before the start of the season (Tennessee tried to sneak him on to its practice squad). The Bucs jumped on him and Blount ultimately got a chance to rumble in the Bay. Despite starting only the Bucs' final seven games, Blount totaled 1,007 yards (on 201 carries!) with six touchdowns.
One-year wonder? Blount has reportedly slimmed down in an effort to be in top shape, and that can't hurt things. But the offensive line he'll run behind won't be quite as good as the one he had last season, and the passing game in Tampa Bay is expected to improve, thus taking some opportunities away. But let's put it this way: The Bucs will have some real problems if Blount doesn't deliver some stats. They're thin at running back, which suggests that Blount will have many chances to be the primary ball carrier there. That commitment is enough to appease Fantasy owners on Draft Day, but a challenging schedule (at least to start the year) could bring some headaches.
Brandon Lloyd, Broncos
Before 2010: Lloyd was considered a massive bust, an underachiever. He was blessed with solid hands but he found himself getting booted from every opportunity he had for various reasons. In seven seasons he had 164 catches for 2,370 yards and 15 touchdowns.
In 2010: According to Lloyd, he was told by then-head coach Josh McDaniels that he was a special talent. McDaniels apparently loved Lloyd coming out of Illinois back in 2003. So McDaniels gave Lloyd a chance to play and Lloyd came through with one of the best receiving seasons in Broncos history: 77 grabs for 1,448 yards and 11 touchdowns, dwarfing all of his previous career-highs. Not bad for a receiver in his eighth NFL season.
One-year wonder? Most of what's happened to Lloyd since last season suggests that he will struggle in 2011. For starters, McDaniels' pass-heavy attack is gone and the coaching staff in Denver, led by the conservative John Fox, might opt to play closer to the vest. That could limit Lloyd's targets a bit and deep balls a lot. There is also the potential for Kyle Orton, the quarterback who helped establish Lloyd, to get moved and for Tim Tebow to start. Tebow isn't as good as Orton, and that means the passes to Lloyd might not be as sharp (though it is worth noting here that Tebow and Lloyd connected for two touchdowns and 263 yards in three games late last season). But Lloyd's track record is what might make him the most untrustworthy of all, and the potential of spending a fourth- or fifth-round pick on a receiver who might deliver 700 yards and five touchdowns is enough to scare owners into another direction. And finally, defensive coordinators spent time this spring and summer going over Lloyd's film and finding his weaknesses (they had plenty of time to do it!). So despite him being in a contract year and motivated to prove people like us wrong, Fantasy owners shouldn't stand in line to draft Lloyd.
Steve Johnson, Bills
Before 2010: Johnson wasn't on the map in Buffalo, even with their receiving corps pretty much as thin as it's always been. In 16 games he had 12 catches for 112 yards and two scores, both coming late in his rookie season.
In 2010: Chan Gailey showed up in Buffalo and liked what he saw in Johnson. Though it took all of the preseason and a couple of weeks into the regular season for him to show up, Johnson caught fire starting in Week 3 and caught touchdowns in five consecutive games. He finished 2010 with 10 scores, and it could have been more if not for some ill-timed drops or a poor finish. Tacking on 1,073 yards on a whopping 82 grabs didn't hurt his cause either. Johnson became popular not only for his play, but for his charismatic style off the field too.
One-year wonder? If Johnson falters in 2011, it won't be because of a change in offensive philosophy or change in quarterback. Everything's the same in Buffalo in that regard. Perhaps defenses will catch up with Johnson, just as they did in 2010 when he finished his last six games with one touchdown and no outings with more than 75 yards. He could very easily become a pedestrian receiver just as he could explode again, and that volatility should make owners think twice before drafting him.
Mike Williams, Buccaneers
Before 2010: Williams was a suspended collegiate athlete, taken off the field in Syracuse for improper violations. That knocked his NFL Draft stock down some; the Bucs swiped him in the fourth round.
In 2010: With a ton of hype surrounding him in the preseason, Williams instantly became a sensation for the Tampa Bay offense, establishing himself as a dynamic threat for Josh Freeman to latch onto. He scored in all but six games and finished with touchdowns in three straight.
One-year wonder? The last Bucs receiver to play big as a rookie was Michael Clayton, and now he's out of the league. But Williams has looked the part of a top-flight receiver since he stepped on the field at training camp last year. The Tampa Bay offense made strides last season and should continue to thanks to young talent like Williams and Freeman. We think Williams might become a special receiver in the pros and wouldn't hesitate on him this season.
Mike Williams, Seahawks
Before 2010: Where to begin? He was a former first-round pick that wore out his welcome in numerous NFL cities thanks to weight issues and effort. He was out of the league until head coach Pete Carroll brought him back and got him in shape.
In 2010: Williams met some of the potential he had when he was drafted out of USC back in 2005. He caught 65 passes for 751 yards and two touchdowns, though that was on 110 targets. That was enough to make him the Seahawks' top receiving threat.
One-year wonder? Chances are he will struggle. The Seahawks added Sidney Rice this summer to give a boost to their passing game, which as of now will be commanded by either Charlie Whitehurst or Tarvaris Jackson. That's a double dose of bad news for Williams. Owners shouldn't invest much, if anything, in him on Draft Day.
Rob Gronkowski/Aaron Hernandez, Patriots
Before 2010: Both were in college: Gronkowski at Arizona and Hernandez in Florida. Gronkowski was a second-round pick of the Patriots while Hernandez was a fourth-round choice.
In 2010: Hernandez burst onto the scene first with some nice outings, then Gronkowski settled in and started to carve out a regular role for himself in the Patriots offense. Gronkowski finished with 10 touchdowns, Hernandez with six.
One-year wonder? Hernandez has the bigger chance of being a bust than Gronkowski, but both could underwhelm in the wake of Chad Ochocinco's arrival in New England. With another pair of very good hands for Tom Brady to throw to in Ochocinco, the targets for both Gronkowski and Hernandez could dip. Hernandez's playing time might especially drop since he typically lined up as a receiver and that's a spot Ochocinco could take over. Gronkowski, however, is a do-it-all tight end that worked as a goal-line threat off of play-action and also converted plenty of third downs. He didn't come off the field much for New England late last season, and the belief here is that he'll continue to play a lot in 2011 -- which means he should still see a fair amount of passes come his way.
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