We rank enough players at each position to appease everyone from those in 8-team leagues to 16-team leagues, those that can start two QBs, two TEs, three RBs and four WRs. We cut out the rest, because if you're looking at who the 50th-best running back or the 17th-best kicker is for that week, you need more help than any Website can give you. Click here for all of our fantasy football rankings each week.
Can Aaron Rodgers add a league MVP trophy to the Super Bowl XLV MVP he won in February?
The 2011 NFL season kicks off with a Thursday night showdown between the last two Super Bowl champions, as Super Bowl XLIV MVP quarterback Drew Brees and the Saints march to Lambeau Field to take on Super Bowl XLV MVP quarterback Aaron Rodgers and the Packers — in the first of 256 regular season games that span from Sept. 8 until Jan. 1, 2012.
Before a snap has been taken, Athlon Sports looks into our crystal ball in an attempt to predict who will be award-worthy after the dust settles this season.
Making a Case for the New Class ...
Three young quarterbacks have quickly ascended into the top half of fantasy QBs to own. Here’s why you shouldn’t shy away from them this year.
Sam Bradford, St. Louis Rams
Bradford was thrown into the fire as a rookie and threw the third-most passes (590) in the league last year while finishing as the No. 20 fantasy quarterback. The Rams used the draft to upgrade the weapons around him, and they hired Josh McDaniels to coordinate the offense. McDaniels has called the plays for some of the top fantasy offenses in recent seasons, which is good news for Bradford. Throw in an enhanced group of weapons, and Bradford is set to improve his numbers from last year. Bradford still has room to grow, but Steven Jackson is getting older, and the offense will be shifting more toward the pass. As long as the Rams protect him, Bradford will grow into an every-week fantasy starter.
Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions
The eyeball test is where it starts with Stafford, as there may not be a stronger arm on the planet. The Georgia product can make every throw in the book and has elite options to target with Calvin Johnson, Jahvid Best, Brandon Pettigrew and a slew of stellar rookie talents. Stafford certainly has health concerns, but when healthy, he has produced big numbers. He was averaging 20.2 fantasy points through three games last season, which would have landed the rocket-armed passer as the No. 8 fantasy quarterback in the league had he kept that pace — and remained healthy — all year long. With the weapons around him and the continued progress of the defense, Stafford has a chance to be the next elite fantasy option under center — if he can stay healthy.
Josh Freeman, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
He’s one of football’s up-and-comers at the quarterback position, and he should move his way into fantasy starting consideration this year. After a tough rookie season, Freeman blossomed in 2010, throwing 25 touchdown passes against only six interceptions in an impressive sophomore campaign. Freeman’s play got even better down the stretch, with 15 TD passes and only one pick in Tampa Bay’s last eight games. He also added 364 rushing yards on the season — a total that ranked second among quarterbacks. The future looks bright for the Buccaneers’ offense, with a solid offensive line and another emerging star in running back LeGarrette Blount. Freeman achieved his efficient statline without much experience at receiver. Rookie Mike Williams became his favorite target, catching 11 touchdowns. Those two should be even better in their second year together, and the Bucs have other young, athletic targets in Arrelious Benn and Dezmon Briscoe. Add in tight end Kellen Winslow, and Freeman will have plenty of weapons to work with as he piles up numbers in the wide-open NFC South.
Here's five NFL teams that will take a step forward this year, and five that will take a step back.
By RALPH VACCHIANO
No one has ever won an NFL championship in the spring and summer, and no one has ever lost one either. That’s not for lack of trying, of course.
Just ask the “Dream Team” in Philadelphia, or any of the up-and-comers pumping up their chests and thinking about a Super Bowl run. There are probably 32 teams thinking that way at the moment, even though a few of them are clearly braced for a fall.
An in-depth look at the Lions offense, defense and special teams this year.
The streaks are almost all gone now, which means the Detroit Lions finally are ready to put their past behind them. The Matt Millen era is a fading memory, along with the historically awful 0–16 season that capped it in 2008. In the span of two weeks last December, the Lions ended both a 19-game losing streak in the NFC North and a 26-game losing streak on the road. And by winning four in a row to finish the season — even without their franchise quarterback — the Lions have suddenly offered tangible evidence that they’re a team on the rise.
• Inside the Locker Room
With John Niyo of the Detroit News
Can Matt Stafford finally put his injury issues behind him and start a full season?
There’s a misconception that the Lions’ offensive line is directly responsible for Stafford’s injuries, though it was a Julius Peppers sack that got 2010 started off on the wrong shoulder. Still, there’s no mistaking Stafford’s offseason determination to put an end to all that idle time, opting for surgery and an intense rehab on his throwing shoulder. By strengthening the muscles around his joints, the expectation is he’ll be better equipped to withstand punishment. He’s also now well aware of the value of throwing it away to avoid a sack. But really, the best medicine might be an offense with more playmakers and quick-read outlets that allows Stafford to dictate the tempo and avoid the kind of desperate situations that lead to problems.
Can Brandon Pettigrew develop a relationship with Matt Stafford like he did with Shaun Hill?
Pettigrew has the ability to be any quarterback’s best friend, as long as he figures out a way to hang on to the football. And while he had a breakout year with 71 catches — most of them without Stafford — his yards per reception, downfield targets and touchdowns go way up when the No. 1 quarterback is in the game.
How soon will Titus Young beat out Nate Burleson for a starting spot?
Young wasn’t drafted to replace Burleson. He was drafted because the Lions’ No. 3 wideouts — Bryant Johnson and Derrick Williams — were so ineffective in 2010. The Lions wanted another receiver who could get separation and threaten defenses with deep speed to take away defenders over the top for Calvin Johnson, Burleson and Brandon Pettigrew.
• Fantasy Playoff Run — Weeks 14-16: MIN, @OAK, SD
Let’s be honest — we’re all looking at the Lions as a passing team. With that said, the playoff schedule is not friendly. All three opponents were in the top 10 against the pass last season — in fact, San Diego and Oakland were first and second vs. the pass, respectively. So maybe the Lions can run. Well, the Chargers (fourth) and Vikings (ninth) possessed top-10 rush defenses last year.
• Athlon Best Bets
Sleeper: Brandon Pettigrew, TE Deep-Sleeper: Jerome Harrison, RB Overvalued: Nate Burleson, WR Top Rookie: Titus Young, WR Bounce-Back: Matthew Stafford, QB Top IDP: Ndamukong Suh, DL
• Try to Avoid
Nate Burleson, WR
With Titus Young joining the fantasy ranks, and Jahvid Best, Brandon Pettigrew and Calvin Johnson combining to command high target totals, Burleson’s time on fantasy rosters may be ending. WAIT UNTIL: 19th RD
• Draft Class Fantasy Impact
The Lions should be a good source of fantasy value this season, and more weapons were added through the draft. Young will help take away some of the pressure on Calvin Johnson and tight end Brandon Pettigrew. Don’t expect Young to make much of a fantasy impact in 2011, but he should be targeted in keeper formats. Even though Jahvid Best was solid as a rookie, adding a bigger, complementary back was necessary. Leshoure could have fit that mold and passed Best for the team lead in rushing yards. But with Leshoure's season-ending Achilles injury, it is hard to tell what the Lions' running game will look like.