If you are in a keeper or dynasty league, we believe the following players will begin their descent down the rankings after this season.
Steven Jackson, RB – STL Athlon Top 280 Rank: 14
Jackson, one of the league’s last true workhorses, turned 28 in July. Even at such a young age, he’s already cracked the NFL’s top 40 in career carries with 1,878. He’s bounced back from missing a combined eight games in 2007 and ’08, but the Rams still probably won't be involving Cadillac Williams or Jerious Norwood in the game plan enough to releive pressure from Jackson.
Michael Turner, RB – ATL Athlon Top 280 Rank: 16
Turner’s YPC average dropped to a career-low 4.1 last season, and that was with a cohesive offensive line. The Falcons’ front wall could have three starters leave via free agency, and several untested youngsters would fill the holes. Add the potential deep threat of Julio Jones, and Turner may not be needed or able to roll the kinds of numbers we’re used to seeing.
Reggie Wayne, WR – IND Athlon Top 280 Rank: 27
In single-season leagues, Wayne is still elite. If you have to plan for next year, though, free agency could rear its ugly head. Wayne still produces like a top-10 receiver, but at the age of 32, will the Colts be willing to pay him like one until he’s 37 or 38?
Anquan Boldin, WR – BAL Athlon Top 280 Rank: 51
Boldin’s chemistry with QB Joe Flacco was slow to develop last season, so the two worked together as much as possible during the lockout. Even so, the Ravens will also look to get rookies Torrey Smith and Tandon Doss up to speed with Flacco. Boldin absorbs a lot of shots and will be 31 in October, so tailor your expectations when deciding what receivers to keep.
Cedric Benson, RB – CIN Athlon Top 280 Rank: 60
There's a lot of wear on these tires. Benson ranks fourth amongst running backs in touches per game over the last three seasons at 22 TPG (901 overall over 41 games). There aren't a lot of options in Cincy with rookie Andy Dalton quarterbacking the team, so the ball will find itself in Benson's hands a lot this season as well. So add another 300 touches and that's 1,200 touches on a player that will be 30 near the end of next season.
Tony Gonzalez, TE – ATL Athlon Top 280 Rank: 123
It’s not breaking news that Gonzalez is getting old (35 this season). The developing news is how the Falcons’ offense will integrate rookie Julio Jones and to what extent the deep ball will be emphasized. If Jones’ speed becomes a focal point quickly, there will be much less need for Matt Ryan to target his tight end 100-plus times.
LaDainian Tomlinson, RB – NYJ Athlon Top 280 Rank: 97
L.T. leaped off the line like a classic muscle car in 2010, averaging 106 yards from scrimmage in the first five games. From Week 6 on, the car had a flat. In the season’s last 11 games, he averaged 3.3 yards per carry. In the last five, he caught only nine passes for 53 yards. Whether he even stays in the game could be riding on how he produces this season.
Steve Smith, WR – CAR Athlon Top 280 Rank: 108
His flagging production can be blamed on bad quarterback play even more than the aging process. Still, Smith Version 1.0 has dealt with nagging injuries for years (2004 was his last 16-game season) and a nagging one already sidelined him this training camp (a finger injury).
Charles Woodson, DB – GB Athlon Top 100 IDP Rank: 31
Soon to be 35, Woodson carries the perpetual threat of retirement. Even this year’s production may be restricted by his increased use as a slot corner. He can attack running backs and force fumbles like no other CB in the game, but don’t plan on a huge interception total.
Ray Lewis, LB – BAL Athlon Top 100 IDP Rank: 34
Lewis’ continuing production is impressive. Still, his coverage ability is beginning to suffer thanks to Father Time, and it’s possible that he may continue to soldier on when his tackling begins to do the same. He remains a leader on the field, but there are better (read: younger) options for your fantasy squad.
Brian Urlacher, LB – CHI Athlon Top 100 IDP Rank: 45
Dhani Jones didn’t rate him as one of the league’s top 10 linebackers, and many might agree. Like Lewis and London Fletcher, he’s still productive despite his creeping age, and younger players are racking up comparable numbers. Draft them first.
London Fletcher, LB – WAS Athlon Top 100 IDP Rank: 99
A linebacker playing in 208 straight games is an incredible feat. Fletcher is 36 years old and still producing, but the linebacker position has a fresh jolt of talent on the rise. Even if London keeps calling on opposing ballcarriers, it’s hard to draft him over guys like Lawrence Timmons or A.J. Hawk.
We look at the Rams chances of making the playoffs this year.
The Rams haven’t had a winning season since 2003, and haven’t made the playoffs since 2004, when they squeaked in as an 8–8 wild card. Is this the year the team finally gets over the hump? In a still-weak NFC West, 9–7 almost surely wins the division; even 8–8 might do. Heck, Seattle became the first 7–9 division champion in NFL history a year ago.
• Inside the Locker Room
With Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Outside of Steven Jackson and Sam Bradford, we can’t differentiate which Rams WRs and TEs to draft. Help.*
I don’t think there’s any doubt that Danny Amendola and Mark Clayton (if re-signed, as expected) will be the top two targets, especially since the rookies (WRs Austin Pettis and Greg Salas, and TE Lance Kendricks) may be slowly integrated into the offense because of the lockout. New offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels is said to like Amendola a lot, and Clayton — before his early season knee injury — had established a quick chemistry with Sam Bradford. *Editor's Note: The Rams acquired Mike Sims-Walker after Thomas was asked about the WRs
Josh McDaniels calling the plays with the Patriots excited fantasy owners. Josh McDaniels calling the plays with the Broncos excited fantasy owners. Any reason to think it will stop here? And who’s in line to be the hidden gem for him this year?
Well, as good as Bradford is and can be, he’s not Tom Brady. At least not yet. And the Rams don’t have a surefire No. 1 receiver entering 2011. But I do think the offense will be more creative, more aggressive, and more productive than it was under Pat Shurmur. A hidden gem could be tight end Michael Hoomanawanui. He was surprisingly effective last season, showing the best hands on the team and deceptive speed. But he played only about half the season because of two severe ankle injuries (suffered at different times of the season). If he’s healthy, the player called “Oh-oh” could cause opposing defenses to say “Uh-oh” every time the ball comes his way.
What’s the most intriguing question regarding fantasy football and this team in your opinion?
I think the most intriguing question is the McDaniels offense. Will it spread the ball around? How good can it be in year one? Will RB Steven Jackson’s role change (more receptions/fewer carries?)
• Fantasy Playoff Run — Weeks 14-16: @SEA, CIN, @PIT
Something to consider when deciding whether to gamble on Steven Jackson: He draws the Steelers in Pittsburgh in the fantasy title game. You know, the defense that surrendered 63 yards per game on the ground in 2010 and rarely gives up a 100-yard game. Seattle gave up the third-most points to QBs (21.1 ppg) and sixth most to RBs (24 ppg) and WRs (30.4 ppg). The Bengals were middle of the road in most categories.
• Athlon Best Bets
Sleeper: Sam Bradford, QB Deep-Sleeper: Danario Alexander, WR Overvalued: Chris Long, DL Top Rookie: Lance Kendricks, TE Bounce-Back: Mark Clayton, WR Top IDP: James Laurinaitis, LB
• Try to Avoid
There’s a lot of quality talent there for Sam Bradford, but it’s a total crapshoot as to who will be the featured receiver. Danny Amendola is the safest bet but the least talented. WAIT UNTIL: 13th RD
• Draft Class Fantasy Impact
The Rams battled injuries and inconsistency from their pass-catchers last year, but those issues were addressed with the addition of Pettis, Salas and Kendricks. All three players should contribute this season, but how much remains uncertain. The Rams have a crowded receiving corps, which makes this a situation fantasy players will want to watch early in the year to see who emerges as the go-to option for quarterback Sam Bradford.