I know. I know. You’ve barely pushed yourself away from the computer after experiencing the thrill of victory or agony of defeat for the 2009 season. You’re still wondering about the injuries, sit-downs and highs and lows that made you a champion or an also-ran.
Still, I’m calling on you to start building a picture for 2010. It’s an ever-growing puzzle, and more than a few pieces will change shape before we complete things coming into September. We’ll roll through the playoffs and Super Bowl and into the NFL Draft evaluation period. Before you know it, we’ll be back in the draft rooms and getting ourselves prepared for another wild ride.
As such, it’s time to start marinating the term “sleeper” and some of those players who might just fit the tab for 2010. Some received extended runs in the national spotlight (like Matt Moore), while others never received the opportunity to shine. Michael Crabtree and LeSean McCoy are known quantities and don’t count in this analysis. Let’s dig a little deeper.
James Davis, RB, CLE
Jerome Harrison claimed the top spot in Cleveland following Jamal Lewis’ injury and clearly comes into 2010 as the presumed starter. Eric Mangini spoke of being impressed with the fourth-year tailback’s efforts down the stretch and will have the opportunity to coach the Browns in 2010. Still, I can’t help but put Davis (and to a lesser extent, Chris Jennings) on the radar. Harrison had been an afterthought in the Cleveland offense for years when he wasn’t injured. Davis appeared to be the heir apparent behind Lewis before sustaining a controversial shoulder injury. We’ll watch this situation closely during the summer.
Michael Bush, RB, OAK
The Raiders came into 2009 with a three-headed backfield. I don’t know that the contestants necessarily change for 2010, although I do suspect that Bush showed enough to warrant a bigger role. We know what Justin Fargas is all about. He runs hard, shows promise and gets hurt … every single year. Darren McFadden appears better suited to take on a Reggie Bush-like role and be pushed out wide as a receiver. But Michael Bush demonstrated great power and burst when given an opportunity to take on a bigger workload. He’s a darkhorse candidate for a breakthrough 2010.
Justin Forsett, RB, SEA
The Seahawks fired Jim Mora after one year as the head coach, and the new boss will inherit some huge question marks. Is Matt Hasselbeck the right quarterback? Which receivers will pair with T.J. Houshmandzadeh and John Carlson in the new world order? How much money will the Seahawks spend on offensive linemen in free agency, and how many new pieces will be drafted?
I could do this all day.
There’s also a question mark in the backfield, as Mora turned to veteran Julius Jones for a heavy workload down the stretch. As such, we’re not quite sure what to expect from Forsett. He’s clearly an explosive option if he gets to the edge (5.4 yards per carry) and demonstrated the ability to catch the ball out of the backfield (41 receptions). I don’t believe Forsett’s a 20-carry back for a full season, but he holds significant Fantasy value if he sees 10-12 touches per game.
Chad Henne, QB, MIA
Henne assumed the starting role following Chad Pennington’s injury and demonstrated a big arm in leading the Dolphins into the playoff chase. He averaged 205.6 passing yards in 14 appearances, including three 300-yard games in his final five starts. The running game remains front and center in Miami, but Henne certainly displayed an ability and willingness to air it out. He averaged 32.2 pass attempts per game while completing 60.8 percent of his attempts.
Ryan Fitzpatrick, QB, BUF
Trent Edwards appeared on this list for 2009, but now he’ll need to battle for his job in 2010. Is Fitzpatrick necessarily a big-time weekly producer? No, I’m not going to say that by any stretch. However, he proved to be a solid plug-in contributor to fantasy lineups down the stretch. Like Henne above, Fitzpatrick exhibited a willingness to throw downfield to Terrell Owens and Lee Evans. He takes his chances, but that was the major strike against Edwards in many eyes. Edwards was famously tabbed “Captain Check Down” by a frequent caller on our FOX Fantasy Football show this season. There are obviously changes afoot in Buffalo, with a new coach set to be named and Owens possibly (likely?) skipping out of town.
Matt Moore, QB, CAR
Moore certainly put his best foot forward when Jake Delhomme was sidelined by an injury. It could be argued that he should’ve been inserted into the lineup earlier in the season to stop the turnover barrage, but that’s neither here nor there. Moore threw eight touchdowns with no interceptions in his final four appearances. He averaged 207.3 passing yards, completed 61.3 percent of his attempts and demonstrated a willingness to throw the ball downfield, connecting frequently with Steve Smith prior to his injury, but wasn’t reckless.
Devin Thomas, WR, WAS
Thomas had started to assume a larger role in the Washington offense down the stretch before sustaining an ankle injury that sidelined him for the final two games. The second-year receiver averaged 3.6 receptions and 50.8 yards in the five games prior to getting injured. New coach Mike Shanahan will evaluate all personnel and adjust the offense accordingly. It has to get better in 2010 by default, doesn’t it? Thomas, a former second-round pick, will likely assume a much more prevalent role in the new world order.
Brandon Gibson, WR, STL
Gibson came over to the Rams in the midseason trade that sent Will Witherspoon to the Eagles. Injuries moved him into the starting lineup quickly, and he performed quite well alongside Donnie Avery. He caught multiple passes in each of the final eight games of the year, including four games of at least five receptions. He was also learning on the fly after coming over from Philadelphia, and there were multiple opportunities where timing issues came into play (and a few dropped passes along the way). Those should get ironed out this offseason.
Obviously, there are numerous pieces in play for the St. Louis offense in 2010. The quarterback position is the biggest question mark, as the Rams will need to decide whether Kyle Boller or Keith Null can reasonably begin the year as the starter. Also, Gibson’s initial value depends on the availability of Laurent Robinson, who showed promise before sustaining a season-ending injury. Gibson’s last-round or waiver wire fodder to start, but depending on the changes in St. Louis, he could become a valued addition.
Devin Aromashodu, WR, CHI
Aromashodu performed well during the 2009 preseason, but an injury kept him from cracking the receiver rotation. He finally started to see the field in the second half of the year and flourished down the stretch, catching 22 passes for 282 yards and four touchdowns in the final four games. Standing 6-foot-2 with an ability to stretch the field and willingness to fight for balls (a key ingredient to a Cutler-led offense), Aromashodu should challenge for a starting role in 2010.
Chaz Schilens, WR, OAK
Schilens impressed everyone during training camp and started to creep into the final “flier” rounds of drafts in 2009. A broken bone in his foot and the trials and tribulations of JaMarcus Russell made his midseason return an afterthought. He performed well following his return, though, averaging 3.6 receptions and 45.6 yards per game. He finished the season with a 99-yard effort against the Ravens in the Raiders’ near upset bid. The Oakland offense is certainly in flux, and the race to be the next starting quarterback has begun. Will Tom Cable, or whomever occupies the spot, be forced to start Russell, or will a new signal caller take over?
Zach Miller, TE, JAC
Marcedes Lewis was expected to become a big-time pass-catching receiver in the Jacksonville system and has appeared on this list in the past. Now Miller, a sixth-round pick in 2009, has risen up to challenge Lewis for the role. Miller caught 10 passes for 81 yards in the final two games of the season and scored twice in the disappointing season-ending loss to Cleveland. At 6-foot-4, he has the ability to become a red zone target at a minimum. Let’s face it, there’s not much in this receiving corps beyond Mike Sims-Walker in 2010.
Brandon Pettigrew, TE, DET
Pettigrew had started to assert himself and become a fixture in the Detroit offense when he sustained a season-ending knee injury. We’ll obviously monitor his progress and reports out of Detroit, but I remain enamored with the potential of this 6-foot-5 red zone monster. He’d caught multiple passes in eight of the 11 games in which he appeared while averaging 34.6 yards per game. He scored in two of his final four games before leaving the Thanksgiving Day game against Green Bay.