Teasers and Pleasers
By: paul.hickey | 6/7/10, 1:00 AM EDT
In a never-ending quest to find sleepers, fantasy owners sometimes look at players who finished the previous year on a high note and try to anticipate which ones might carry that success over to the next season. A year ago, those who targeted Cedric Benson (462 total yards and a touchdown in the final three weeks of 2008) and Brent Celek (19 catches, 151 yards and three scores in three playoff games following the 2008 season) certainly reaped the benefits.
But it can be a risky proposition, too. Tyler Thigpen, Dominic Rhodes, Johnnie Lee Higgins and Chris Redman are among players who finished in the top 10 at their positions over the final four weeks of recent seasons but failed to even come close to an encore performance.
So, which of the guys who stepped up late in 2009 are the real deal? And which are impostors?
THE REAL DEAL
Shonn Greene, RB, Jets
The Michael Turner-esque runner managed to gain 540 yards on only 108 carries (5.0-yard average) as a rookie, thanks mostly due to the 144 yards and two touchdowns he produced against Oakland in Week 7. He finished the regular season strong, gaining 157 yards on 29 carries during Weeks 16 and 17, but really broke out with three strong performances in the playoffs: 135 yards and a touchdown on 21 carries against the Bengals, 128 yards and a TD on 23 carries against the Chargers, and 41 yards on only 10 carries against the Colts.
Prognosis: Showing that he could rush for more than five yards per carry consistently was huge, and the Jets were convinced enough by his play to let Thomas Jones go. The Jets signed free agent LaDainian Tomlinson, but Greene is expected to be the starter. Considering that he runs behind one of the strongest lines in the NFL, and that coach Rex Ryan will continue to pound the rock while quarterback Mark Sanchez comes into his own, Greene is primed for a huge season. He’s a strong RB2 and solid third-rounder. Dynasty owners should consider him a future cornerstone of their franchise.
Mike Wallace, WR, Steelers
The 2009 third-rounder from Ole Miss had a nice rookie season and blossomed in the final three weeks, catching two touchdown passes against Green Bay in Week 15, three balls for 83 yards in Week 16 against Baltimore and two passes for 64 yards and a score against Miami. Wallace has a ton of promise and finds himself in one of the league’s most potent passing offenses, at least when Ben Roethlisberger returns from suspension.
Prognosis: With Santonio Holmes in New York, Wallace will start opposite Hines Ward and become a legit fantasy WR3.
Jonathan Stewart, RB, Panthers
The Panthers’ “1B” running back rushed for 1,133 yards and 10 scores in 2010, but most of those yards came in Weeks 13, 16 and 17 while starter DeAngelo Williams was out and in Week 15 when Williams was limited. Stewart pounded the Bucs for 120 yards on 26 carries, the Vikings for 109 yards on 25 carries, the Giants for 206 yards on 28 carries and the Saints for 125 yards on 16 carries while scoring in each game.
Prognosis: While Stewart certainly has proved he can light up the stat column despite his shared role in the Carolina backfield, the concern remains that Williams will be the starter again. Other than those four late games, Stewart rushed for more than 100 yards and a score only once. As long as Williams is around, don’t pay too high a price for Stewart. But his big-game potential would make him a steal toward the end of the third round or early in the fourth.
COULD COME CLOSE
Devin Aromashodu, WR, Bears
Aromasho-WHO? This former practice squad player stepped up at the end of the season after being inactive for most of the first half of the season. He hauled in eight passes for 76 yards and a score in Week 14 against Green Bay, seven balls for 150 yards and a score in Week 16 against Minnesota and five catches for 46 yards and two TDs against Detroit in Week 17.
Prognosis: After Aromashodu’s breakout performances, word surfaced that quarterback Jay Cutler had been lobbying for him to be on the field all year long. The chemistry between Cutler and Aromashodu, a large target at 6'2", 201, was immediately obvious. While he’s in prime position to take a huge step and have a breakout season, there’s definitely an element of risk. He has had only three solid games in four years as a pro, and he still needs to win over new offensive coordinator Mike Martz while competing with Devin Hester, Earl Bennett and Johnny Knox for snaps. Consider him a late-round deep sleeper with upside.
Jamaal Charles, RB, Chiefs
After taking over as the Chiefs’ starter in Week 9, Charles had only one 100-yard rushing game prior to Week 14, when he went on an absolute tear to finish the year. He gained a whopping 658 rushing yards over the final four weeks of the season, including 259 yards and two touchdowns in Week 17, and finished the year with 1,120 yards on 190 carries.
Prognosis: While some postseason mock drafts had Charles going in the first round, his value took a tumble when the Chiefs signed Thomas Jones in March. New offensive coordinator Charlie Weis should improve the entire offense, and there’s no denying Charles’ Chris Johnson-like playmaking ability, but sharing carries could put a damper on his ability to fill the stat column consistently. Don’t reach earlier than Round 4 to add Charles to your roster.
Jerome Harrison, RB, Browns
In Weeks 15, 6 and 17, Harrison averaged 35 carries, racking up 561 yards and five touchdowns on the ground — absolutely sick digits that caused his keeper owners to salivate thinking about the possibilities heading into 2010.
Prognosis: It will be interesting to see how the return of 2009 sixth-round draft pick James Davis goes. He looked like the sure-fire heir apparent to Jamal Lewis last preseason prior to a shoulder injury that landed him on injured reserve. But the most likely scenario is that rookie Montario Hardesty will win the starting gig by midseason. Harrison certainly has a shot at fantasy glory, but Hardesty could well stand in his way.
Dustin Keller, TE, Jets
Keller disappointed in 2009, becoming an afterthought at times in the Jets’ run-first offense. But he re-emerged in the postseason, linking up with Mark Sanchez for a score in each of the Jets’ three playoff games while averaging four catches for 60.3 yards.
Prognosis: While he might be a long way from being a consistent option, Keller’s solid postseason keeps him on the radar. He has a ton of talent and is a seam-stretching receiver in the mold of Dallas Clark. He’s a seasonal backup with a very high ceiling.
DON’T GET TOO EXCITED
Arian Foster, RB, Texans
The undrafted rookie from Tennessee stepped into a lead role in Weeks 16 and 17 and took advantage of his opportunity, rushing for 97 yards and a score against Miami and 119 yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries against New England.
Prognosis: These performances led more than a few fantasy owners to believe he has a shot to start in 2010, but it’s unlikely, especially with second-round pick Ben Tate in town. Many a random running back has had a solid game or two under Gary Kubiak in Houston, including Ron Dayne, Wali Lundy, Ryan Moats and Ahman Green. Look for Tate to earn the Texans’ starting job early in the season.
Jabar Gaffney, WR, Broncos
In Weeks 1-15 last season, Gaffney recorded 33 catches for 450 yards and zero TDs. In Weeks 16 and 17, he caught 21 balls for 282 yards and two scores.
Prognosis: Don’t get too excited about the Josh McDaniels favorite. Gaffney simply doesn’t have the ability to put together 16 straight weeks of high production, and rookies Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker have far greater upside. Consider Gaffney no more than a waiver wire injury fill-in.
This article originally appeared in the Athlon Sports 2010 Fantasy Football magazine. Buy your copy now at newsstands and bookstores or by clicking here.
Paul Hickey is the lead contributor for Athlon Fantasy Football and operates the website NoOffseason.com, a 365-day resource for obsessive fantasy owners who eat, breathe and sleep fantasy football. While the site appeals to all fantasy heads, there is a special emphasis on dynasty formats and individual defensive player leagues.
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