Fantasy Football Predictions – How to Predict NFL Draft?

Everyone has fantasy football predictions this time of the year. Fantasy owners, magazine publishers, and experts of all types have their hunches about the upcoming fantasy football season, and sometimes those hunches are backed up by statistics. Like everyone else, I have my own fantasy football  prognostications, and I’ll try to produce stats to support my claims. So here’s my lists for sleepers, busts, breakout players and comeback players for the  NFL Season.

Let’s define out terms, first. One fantasy magazine suggested drafting Kevin Kolb, Beanie Wells and Michael Crabtree as “sleepers”, and none of those guys really fall into that category for me. I could see someone argue Kevin Kolb as a sleeper QB, since he could become a major force, but wasn’t highly touted. But Chris Wells and Michael Crabtree have been on everybody’s radar since at least their senior seasons in college, so it’s hard to see players who were highly touted #1 draft picks a year ago as sleeper candidates.

Sleepers – Players who come out of nowhere to start. I may equate sleepers with “deep sleepers”, but in any case, I define these as guys whom you draft as backups, but who end up having value as a starter. Not to belabor the point, but few people are drafting Kolb, Wells and Crabtree as backups onto their team.

Busts – Players drafted in the top rounds who are an absolute train wreck for their teams. A bust is someone who ruins your entire season, or threatens to ruin the season. Since the first 4-5 rounds are the only rounds you should expect big production from your draftees, and these are the players you build your draft around, I’m limiting my fantasy busts list to these rounds.

It may seem contradictory to list a fantasy player as a projected bust, then put them anywhere near the top of the fantasy rankings. But we’re playing the odds here. I don’t have a crystal ball, but these are players I wouldn’t draft in the spots where “conventional wisdom” suggests they should be drafted. That doesn’t mean I wouldn’t take my shot on these players at a point, though I wouldn’t take that chance anywhere near where they’re going to be drafted.

Breakout Players – I consider “breakout players” what many of the fantasy magazines consider sleepers. A breakout player is someone who has shown flashes of elite play in the past, but has never been consistent enough or had the opportunity to star. For instance, Chris Johnson was the classic breakout player last year. In his rookie season, Johnson had been a star, but he had also been part of a RB rotation with Lendale White, one that gave way to an offense built around Chris Johnson in the late stages.

Still, no one knew exactly how a Titans Offense would look with Chris Johnson as the lead man, or whether he could hold up to the 16-game pounding without being a member of a platoon. On the talent he showed, he was a 1st round prospect, but generally a low-1st round prospect. When the games started, he exceeded every expectation. That’s the player we’re looking for among the breakout players: (usually) young guys who finally get their chance to be NFL stars and superstars.

Comeback Players – This one is pretty obvious. The comeback player was an elite fantasy player at some time in the past but he was a bust last year. People are writing him off, or at least downgrading his capabilities to a lower tier than he was a few short years ago. If Terrell Owens signed with someone and posted 1,200 yards and 10 touchdowns, he’d be a comeback player. If Ladainian Tomlinson, through injury or his own brilliance, suddenly rushed for 1,200 yards and 15 touchdowns with the Jets, he would be a comeback player.

They don’t all have to be LT and TO level athletes. Sometimes, they were consistent Top 5 round picks, then fell off a cliff. But later, these guys are going to recapture a measure of their former glory – at least for a year. Consider Ricky Williams to be a good example of a comeback player last year.

How to Predict NFL Draft

Predicting Fantasy Football Stars

Those are my definitions, at least. If people are going to be drafting players based on these recommendations, I at least want fantasy owners to know what I’m calling for here.

By my definition, my fantasy sleepers are going to “hit” less often than players on the NFL.com sleepers list. At the same time, you can draft these guys in the middle-to-late rounds, so you should be able to put more of them on your roster. And if they don’t hit, you can get rid of them and add top value free agents from the waiver wire.

FF Predictions – Fantasy Sleepers

Bernard Scott, RB, Cincinnati Bengals – Bernard Scott was a deep sleeper last year, and he remains so. I’m still not convinced that Cedric Benson is the long-term answer as any NFL team’s stud running back. Cedric had a big year for the Bengals last year, while Larry Johnson came in after Benson got hurt and clouded the picture somewhat.

Larry Johnson is gone, so Bernard Scott looks to be the #2 guy in Cincinnati. Scott was a big disappointment for 14 of the Bengals games, but he showed flashes in Weeks 11 and 12. Bernard Scott had 21 carries for 119 yards in Week 11, then had 18 carries for 87 yards in his only start of the season, in Week 12. Granted, those two games were against the Raiders and the Browns, but the kid was also a rookie, so I’m content with him showing promise.

The 5’10”, 200-lb Bernard Scott is a change of pace from Cedric Benson, which is a plus. With the amazing year of Chris Johnson last year, I think a lot of NFL teams jump on the bandwagon and try to get their smaller, shiftier backs in the mix – the NFL is a copycat league. I think Bernard Scott is going to have value, even as a backup. But if Cedric Benson starts getting injured again, like he did towards the end of the year last year, Bernard Scott is in position to be a sleeper.

Draft Bernard Scott in: 10th-12th rounds of a 12-team league.

Michael Bush, RB, Oakland Raiders – Okay, I only suggest you take a chance on a Raider when the draft is starting to thin out. If Michael Bush is drafted by someone as a standard promising backup, be happy to move on to the next pick. But if you start to see Michael Bush slide into the second half of the draft, make a value pick on this player, who is currently listed as the Raiders “co-starter” at running back.

Think about that for a minute. After two years of trying to force Darren McFadden on the league, the Raiders have admitted that Michael Bush might be as good, and deserves to be on the field. We all know how Al Davis falls in love with certain players, then twists the arms of the coaches to see that guy stays on the field, regardless of results (see Jamarcus Russell). But we also see how Al Davis eventually turns on those players, deciding in his senile old mind that the player has “betrayed the team”. The more he likes you, the greater the betrayal will be.

I’m not convinced that Darren McFadden has what it takes to stand up in the NFL. He’s fast, no doubt. But McFadden is also slender and he runs upright, which is a deadly combination. McFadden reminds me a lot of Robert Smith of the 1990s Minnesota Vikings: capable of big plays, but likely to get injured running between the tackles. If McFadden could hook up with a solid playoff contender that played to his strengths and forced defenses to defend other star players – like Robert Smith’s later Vikings squads did (Moss, Carter) – then I could see McFadden developing into a productive, though limited, NFL star. That’s not likely to happen with the Raiders anytime soon.

Meanwhile, Michael Bush has been putting together a resume in the past year and change for the Raiders front office. In both of the last two seasons, he has come on late in the year with a big game or two. At times last year, Michael Bush was the Raiders most productive running back, and for longer stretches than any other player on that cursed team. Finally healthy from the crippling injury that ended his senior year at Louisville and pushed him from the 1st round into the 4th, Michael Bush has started to show he can be a capable NFL runner. Bush is bigger and more durable than McFadden.

He’s not as fast, but Michael Bush has done enough that the Raiders coaches consider him on a par with McFadden right now. That’s saying a lot.

With Jason Campbell instead of Jamarcus Russell on offense, and with Rolando McClain bringing a new identity to the Raiders Defense, I think there’s a chance the Oakland Raiders aren’t the absolute waste of a team they’ve been the last few years. Jason Campbell did help the Redskins into the playoffs a couple of times, so don’t be fooled into thinking he isn’t an upgrade. If the Raiders are a little better than expected, and if Michael Bush is finally getting a fair shot to beat out the more highly touted (and often-dinged) McFadden, there’s a chance he becomes the starter on a team that isn’t totally awful. That means Michael Bush could be a sleeper taken in the 2nd half of the draft, a guy who’ll fly under the radar screens of a lot of fantasy owners who assume that McFadden is the man.

And if Al Davis suddenly turns on his former 4th overall selection, Michael Bush could eventually win the starting job outright. Who can predict with the Raiders, but at a certain point in the draft, Michael Bush is definitely worth taking a flier on.

Josh Freeman, QB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers – If you’re looking to add a third QB late in the draft, you could do worse than Josh Freeman. The team is dedicated to giving Freeman the year to develop, and the team should be behind most of the year. The Bucs receiving corps is suspect, with perennial disappointments like Michael Clayton and Reggie Brown teaming up with rookie 2nd rounder Arrelious Benn. Kellen Winslow is the only proven veteran target that Josh Freeman will have, after Antonio Bryant (talented, but mercurial) left for Cincinnati in the offseason. Cadillac Williams, Derrick Ward and Earnest Graham return as the options at running back.

If that doesn’t look very exciting to you, you’re not the only one. But Josh Freeman showed flashes, and the players around him are virtually the same (switch Bryant for Benn). Don’t get me wrong: Josh Freeman showed he belonged last year, and there are worse things than having a quarterback forced to throw most of the year. If he can stay upright, Josh Freeman could be a good fantasy backup. If you have nowhere else to turn, take him in the final round of your draft.

Arian Foster, RB, Houston Texans – This is one to keep your eye on, but if you had Arian Foster on your roster last year during playoff time, you’re probably not going to want to hear this. Let’s give quick recap.

The Houston Texans running back position was in flux, to say the least. Steve Slaton was a 1st or 2nd round draft pick in most leagues, coming off a promising rookie season. But fumbles and ineffectiveness displeased the coaches, and the Texans used a variety of other backs. Ryan Moats had a stretch where he had 23, 16, 12, 13 and 10, with a couple of 0s sandwiched in-between. By the end of the season, HC Gary Kubiak decided to give Arian Foster a try, after he looked promising with a few carries in Week 14. The coaches talked up the 6’1″, 222 lb rookie out of Tennessee, saying he might be the future and he was definitely their guy heading into a matchup against the horrible St. Louis Rams. Fantasy football experts made Arian Foster a trendy weekly sleeper, and some playoff teams desperate from injuries or Steve Slaton’s disappointment rolled the dice.

Arian Foster’s stat line was 2 carries for 7 yards, after an opening drive fumble caused Kubiak, a disciple of fantasy bane Mike Shanahan, to bench Foster. Playoff contenders nationwide had egg on their face, because starting an unproven rookie looks doubly-dumb, when he gets benched after two carries. It was little consolation that Arian Foster averaged 20 carries and 108 yards over the next two weeks (against Dolphins & Patriots), along with scoring 3 touchdowns.

When the Houston Texans drafted Ben Tate, a 5’11”, 220 lb rookie out of Auburn in the 2nd round, the Arian Foster debacle seemed like a distant memory. The Texans finally had their runner of the future, Steve Slaton, Ryan Moats, and especially Arian Foster be damned. That all changed after OTAs, though, when the Houston Texans running backs coach stated that Arian Foster was the team’s starter heading into training camp. Whispers out of the Texans camp indicate that Foster might be in the teams’ plans in the future.

Now don’t run out and grab Arian Foster anywhere near the front end of the draft. But if your draft comes and owners are asleep on the Texans running back corps, keep Foster in the back of your mind. If Ben Tate goes quickly, or owners still drunk off of Steve Slaton’s rookie season draft him, and Arian Foster remains on the board, at a point you pull the trigger and stash him on your bench as a sleeper candidate. Do the same with Ben Tate, if he’s the one who falls. Assume the team’s inclusion of Foster and Tate in their plans spells the end for Steve Slaton, though you can stash him in the final round of the draft.

The fact is, you probably don’t want any part of the Texans running game, except as a guy you stash on your bench in the hopes he’s the one who breaks out. Gary Kubiak is far too unpredictable to be starting his RBs, unless one does like Steve Slaton and suddenly becomes the unquestioned starter. As a sleeper, though, the Texans running game has a lot of potential. With Matt Schaub throwing to Andre Johnson and maybe a recovered Owen Daniels, the runner is likely to face 7-man fronts all year. So you have a 220-pound young runner on a high-powered offense. If the Texans ever got a legitimate pounder, they might be able to save their defense an extra drive a game and finish ballgames. Maybe Arian Foster is that guy.

Busts

Cedric Benson, RB, Cincinnati Bengals – I’ve noticed that Cedric Benson is going towards the end of the 1st round or beginning of the 2nd round in most fantasy football mock drafts. Before you jump on that bandwagon, let me remind you of something: he’s freaking Cedric Benson! And before you assume the Bengals are going to match last year’s playoff success, where they went 6-0 in a division with the Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers, let me remind you of something else: it’s the freaking Cincinnati Bengals!

There’s no way I would touch Cedric Benson in the 1st or 2nd round of draft. He’s a bust waiting to happen. I don’t think Benson is a solid foundation to build a fantasy team around, and I don’t think the Bengals are a team I bet on consistent success. Sure, I’d draft Cedric Benson in the 3rd as a complimentary player, add Bernard Scott later on to hedge my bets, then cross my fingers – but I wouldn’t like it.

Cedric Benson had been a career disappointment heading. Granted, Cedric put up great numbers and helped a lot of teams make their playoffs, but that doesn’t mean you go back to that well again. Keep in mind that Cedric Benson got injured later in the season and was no help when your league playoffs started.

The history of fantasy football is rife with running backs that looked great for a month, or even for a half-season. A lot of those guys were never heard from again. I remember getting desperate and adding Chris Fu’amatu Ma’afala to my fantasy roster one year, and he had 1 month of sustained production that helped me win my main league. That didn’t mean I was drafting Fu the next year. Avoid Cedric Benson.

Brandon Marshall, WR, Miami Dolphins – Don’t get my wrong; I think Brandon Marshall is about as talented as they come at wide receiver these days. But who besides me thinks that Brandon Marshall to the Dolphins makes for ill-fitting parts? While Marshall could post big numbers any given week in Miami, I just wonder if he’s going to put up the kind of numbers that justify his being listed among the Top 5-6 receivers in fantasy football this year.

Consider that the Dolphins have been a run-first team in the last few years, with Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams running the Wildcat Offense at times. Are we certain that the era where the Dolphins QB isn’t on the field for significant parts of the game is over? Do you think Brandon Marshall is the type to get enthusiastic about blocking downfield, while he has no chance of being thrown the ball? Something about this pairing doesn’t seem to fit to me.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m aware that Bill Parcells has taken in troubled players and big personalities before. Parcells and Tony Spurano might get Brandon Marshall to buy into the concept. Or maybe the Dolphins turn Chad Henne and Brandon Marshall loose, and the two develop into one of the best combos in fantasy football. But for where you have to draft Brandon Marshall, I don’t think it’s a good bet. You can find players with similar upside who aren’t entering such a questionable situation.

Matt Schaub, QB, Houston Texans – Schaub is another player that I don’t question can get it down, but whom I wouldn’t draft where he’s going in the ADPs. Matt Schaub was a great addition to fantasy rosters last year, because his injury history meant you were probably drafting him as one of the last fantasy football starters among 12-team leagues. That meant you had a chance to stock up at other positions, then draft a quarterback who matched or exceeded most all of the other fantasy starters at the position.

But after a great season, Matt Schaub is ranked so high, that you’re drafting him in the 4th or 5th round – maybe higher. I’ve seen Matt Schaub listed as the 3rd or 4th quarterback overall, in the company with Peyton Manning and Aaron Rodgers. That’s another move I wouldn’t make.

Sure, Matt Schaub has Andre Johnson, probably the best receiver in the NFL right now. Sure, he put up huge fantasy stats, and he’s always been productive, when he’s been healthy. But the “health factor” is where I balk on Matt Schaub. Consistently over the years, Matt Schaub has missed time and starts, which has kept him from being an elite fantasy quarterback over the past few years. Now Matt Schaub is listed among the absolute elite of the game, but he appears to be so much more of an injury risk than any of the other QBs being drafted around him. Some guys are just more likely to get hurt.

Anquan Boldin, WR, Baltimore Ravens – Anquan Boldin defines the talented fantasy player who can’t be trusted to stay healthy. You have to admire the fact that Anquan Boldin is tough and he makes the gritty catches that moves the chains. When he’s on the field, Boldin makes a lot of those catches. But when you draft Anquan Boldin, you have to pencil him in to miss a few games along the way. Maybe you can draft a team to make up for that loss, knowing he’s such a difference maker all the other weeks. But you can’t depend on having the guy.

Also, Anquan Boldin’s injury history came in Arizona, where the team has always played on grass, where a player is less likely to get injured. Now that he’s 29 (or 30, come October), Anquan Boldin is moving to a turf field. While he’s a fascinating addition to a Ravens team with a talented young quarterback and a long need for a star wide receiver, Boldin is more of an injury risk than he ever was before. There are two other factors to consider.

The Cardinals were always a passing team, even after Ken Whisenhunt came over from the Steelers. The Baltimore Ravens are about defense and rushing the ball, and about passing as a secondary option. Sure, Joe Flacco has shown he can get the job done throwing it, but I don’t know that the Ravens want to give Anquan Boldin the number of looks he received in Arizona.

Then there’s the Larry Fitzgerald Factor. Besides his rookie season (101 catches, admittedly), Anquan Boldin has always had Larry Fitzgerald to take the coverages off of him. Anquan Boldin has spend the bulk of his career operating against defenses that focused on Larry Fitzgerald, or at least had to consider stopping another great receiver. While Derrick Mason has been a solid player over the year, no one is going to confuse a 36-year old Derrick Mason with Fitz. Anquan Boldin is likely to see the most double-teams of his career.

Again, I like Anquan Boldin. I just think he’s a bigger risk where he’s being drafted, than many of the fantasy players being drafted at his point in the draft. If you want to play the odds, avoid Anquan Boldin.

Joseph Addai, RB, Indianapolis Colts – Maybe my fear of Joseph Addai is from the fact I had the misfortune of having the guy on my roster, when Addai wrecked a whole lot of fantasy seasons. I said at the time that Joseph Addai was a more devastating addition than Tom Brady (on I.R. Week 1), because at least you knew you needed a Plan B with Brady (and may have got one in Matt Cassell). With Joseph Addai, you waited week after week for a turn-around, and it simply never came.

That meant Joseph Addai slid down draft boards last year. Eventually, someone took a chance that the Colts runner would stay healthy and keep his starting job, even though the Colts drafted RB Donald Brooks in the 1st round of the NFL Draft. Owners who took that leap of faith were rewarded handsomely, as Joseph Addai gave them playoff-level production, at through Week 15 of the NFL season.

So Joseph Addai inches back up the rankings. Don’t do it; don’t draft Joseph Addai. He may well be a fantasy stud again, but all of the questions marks that Addai had swirling around him in  remain. Donald Brown is likelier to make a contribution than he did, when he got injured once or twice and hardly made a contribution most weeks. Second-year runners have a history of coming on. There are other guys to be had in the rounds you’ll be drafting Joseph Addai, so don’t expect a repeat.

Breakout Players

Jonathan Stewart, RB, Carolina Panthers – Jonathan Stewart had off-season foot surgery to rid himself of the pain he’s played through his first two seasons in the NFL. That’s right; we get to see Jonathan Stewart play free of Achilles pain for the first time since college. Those who faced Jonathan Stewart in the fantasy football playoffs were feeling their own pain, and they know how dangerous this runner has been, even as the backup in Carolina.

The only thing holding Stewart back is a guy named Deangelo Williams. It’s hard to see Stewart becoming that consistent, dominant force in fantasy football, until he gets a chance to be the #1 runner for the Panthers or somebody else. Few NFL teams are so consistently dominant on the ground that two RBs can have Top 15 fantasy stats, and it’s not like the Panthers led by either Matt Moore or rookie Jimmy Clausen are likely to turn into one of those teams, especially with Julius Peppers out of town.

But Deangelo Williams started to show wear-and-tear from his huge  season, when Stewart only made sporadic contributions. There’s a chance that the smaller Williams may wear down further, giving Jonathan Stewart the opportunity to carry the ball even more than he did in 2009. And John Fox has shown over the years that he trusts veterans more than young guys. We saw it when everyone thought Deangelo Williams would beat out Deshaun Foster. We saw it when everyone thought Deshaun Foster would beat out an aging Stephen Davis. With Jonathan Stewart in his 3rd season, healthier than ever, and behind a smaller back who’s starting to show the first signs of wear, there’s a good chance that Jonathan Stewart is drafted as the 1st backup RB, but produces like a stud fantasy starter.

Felix Jones, RB, Dallas Cowboys – Felix Jones is inching closer to becoming the Dallas Cowboys #1 rb. Marion Barber is still in the mix, and no one in Dallas has confirmed that Felix is the opening day starter as the Cowboys runner. Some in Dallas lobby for Tashard Choice to get the carries, but Choice doesn’t have the breakaway speed of Felix Jones, and the coaches don’t trust Tashard to pick up the blitz in situations he might otherwise warrant playing time.

Felix Jones definitely came on in the final stretch and the playoffs. In fact, when the games mattered most, Felix Jones received the lions share of the carries. Jerry Jones drafted this kid out of Arkansas, and he’s had a crush on Felix Jones since way back in his days with the Razorbacks. Jerry Jones wants Felix Jones to be the starter, and experience has shown he adds something to the offense that the chronically injured Marion Barber doesn’t.

It’s easy to see why the team wants Felix Jones to be the man. He gives them speed they haven’t had at running back in forever, and he’s an extra weapon for the defense to account for. He also showed an ability to break tackles at times late in the season, which was not his specialty in the first year-and-a-half of his NFL career – and the big concern about him coming into the NFL. Finally, Felix Jones has a career yard-per-carry average up in the 6.0 range, which is remarkable.

The reason everyone in Dallas is holding their breath is that Felix Jones appeared fragile in his first season and change with Dallas. He would break off a long run, then be out for 1 or more games with injury. That’s been frustrating to fantasy owners, and frustrating to the Cowboys Offensive staff. The team seems perpetually on Felix Jones Watch, hoping he turns into their next great back. Fantasy owners like myself are the same way. You’ll be able to get Felix Jones later than most other likely starting RBs in fantasy football, so that mitigates your concerns somewhat, as you can draft him as a supplementary player, instead of a centerpiece. Felix Jones is one of the big wild cards in fantasy football  – a big play back on one of the league’s best offenses.

Lesean McCoy, RB, Philadelphia Eagles – Lesean McCoy appears to be a 2nd round draft pick in most formats. With Brian Westbrook out of Philly, Lesean McCoy has the chance to seize the Eagles starting job and carry on the tradition that Westbrook started. When the Eagles drafted LeSean McCoy, everyone noted the similar size and skill set the two players had. It was natural to think LeSean McCoy was Brian Westbrook 2.0.

It didn’t happen that way. While McCoy played as the starter most of the year, he wasn’t what you would term a fantasy difference maker. McCoy didn’t catch nearly as many passes as Brian Westbrook used to, and he wasn’t prone to break off big plays and long runs. While there were worse options at the running back position, most LeSean McCoy owners were expected a little bit more Westbrook in the package.

There are a few things to keep in mind, though. First of all, LeSean McCoy was a rookie. Brian Westbrook wasn’t Brian Westbrook, either, in his rookie season. So McCoy could catch up to the game, learn the NFL game a little better, get a little stronger, gain some confidence and be ready to break out in 2010. While Mike Bell was brought in to be the primary backup, LeSean McCoy is the starter, and that should breed a confidence all its own, instead of having Westbrook watching from the sidelines all season.

Second, the Eagles are a different team than they were when Brian Westbrook was an elite fantasy stud. The Eagles have Desean Jackson, Brent Celek and Jeremy Maclin to spread the ball to, when it was players like Hank Baskett, Todd Pinkston and L.J. Smith during Westbrook’s biggest years of production. So you may never see Lesean McCoy put up the receptions totals Westbrook used to, because the Eagles offense is multifaceted. That means you shouldn’t expect to draft Lesean McCoy as a Top 3 running back candidate.

Once you realize you’re instead drafting a solid NFL starter on a Top 10 NFL offense, that puts things in better perspective. In fact, Kolb may dump the ball off more than McNabb did, if he’s tested by defenses with blitzes in his first full season as a starter. Draft Lesean McCoy as a solid 2nd rounder, hopefully as a good 2nd back, and expect to see him put up better touchdown totals, rushing yardage and (somewhat better) reception numbers than.

Kevin Kolb, QB, Philadelphia Eagles – Let’s stay in Philadelphia. Remember when everyone was shocked and dumbfounded, when the Eagles drafted Kevin Kolb early in the 2nd round a few years ago? We all see now what the plan was, despite what the Eagles said at the time. Part of the plan may have been to have McNabb move on a year early, and have Kolb starting last year. But when the Eagles got wise and stocked the offensive tool kit for McNabb with Jackson, Maclin and Celek, suddenly McNabb had a career renaissance.

Kevin Kolb is the recipient of that offensive build-up. Suddenly, this 4th year NFL veteran inherits one of the best offensive set-ups in the NFL. The Eagles have young weapons to match any team in the National Football League, and Kevin Kolb has what he needs to emerge as an instant fantasy starter with unlimited upside. While he’s had limited play, Kevin Kolb excelled in his limited chances and showed he could hook up with the star targets he’ll be throwing to. There’s no need to worry about chemistry issues. I compare Kevin Kolb to Aaron Rodgers two years ago: he’s replacing an All-Pro QB, but’s he has everything he needs to light it up. Let others use 2nd rounders to pick Brees and Manning, and take a shot on this kid.

I’ve seen Kolb listed as a sleeper candidate, and I can see the argument being made, since he’s never been an NFL starter going into a season. But everyone who keeps track of the NFL has seen this one coming for the past six months – maybe even since Week 3 of last year – so I hardly consider this to be one that everyone in your league is going to be sleeping on. Kevin Kolb should have elite QB numbers, though, so I list him as a breakout player.

Jermichael Finley, TE, Green Bay Packers – You could say that Jermichael Finley broke out in his rookie season. If you added Finley to your team at a point, you know what I’m talking about. A knee injury kept Jermichael Finley from ascending to that consciousness of the NFL broadcasting world – that, and the fact that the Packers season was overshadowed by Brett Favre and the Minnesota Vikings playoff run.

Knee concerns still swirl around Jermichael Finley, but they appear to be on the way to clearing up. Word has it that Finley’s knee was still giving him some trouble in the recent OTAs, but he was able to practice and the latest is that they appear to be going better. Monitor these lingering concerns, and if everything goes well in training camp, wait until the early run on tight ends happens (Clark, Gates, Witten, Davis) and take Jermichael Finley. When he was healthy last year, Jermichael Finley’s numbers compared with any TE in fantasy football – excepting Dallas Clark’s freakish numbers.

Comeback Player

Michael Turner, RB, Atlanta Falcons – Some people label Michael Turner’s a fluke, due to the fact he failed to live up to his high first round expectations. Others wonder if Michael Turner will ever be the same, after he carried the ball 370+ times. The 370-carry plateau is considered the beginning of the end for many fantasy running backs, since their bodies don’t bounce back from that kind of pounding.

But Michael Turner is still only 28, and I think that’s a young 28, since he’s only been an NFL starter for 2 years. Most of his career, he was backing up Ladainian Tomlinson in San Diego. While Turner looked sluggish to start the year, his biggest problem was that he rushed back from a high ankle sprain. Any veteran fantasy football owner knows that a high ankle sprain means a solid month of (almost automatic) sketchy production from a runner, before they can be considered truly healthy. But Michael Turner rushed back after missing one week, and therefore made his situation worse. That was to be expected, since the Falcons were in a playoff chase and the season was going down the tubes at the time. Let’s applaud Turner for trying to make it work.

In the offseason, everyone at Falcons Camp has raved about the improvement in how Turner looks. Though he still says he’s only 90% entering OTAs, the word is that he’s in the best shape of his life (conditioning-wise) and that Turner looks better than he has as a Falcon. Coach Mike White says that he’s going to be smarter about limiting Turner’s touches. While coaches often say that, I’m betting the Falcons have learned their lesson and understand the importance of stretching Michael Turner’s production out over a long season.

Remember that the Falcons were coming off a horrible season when Matt Ryan, Michael Turner and Mike Smith showed up in the offseason, completely turning around the franchise. But don’t be mistaken: even then, the Falcons were playing with a talent gap. They had the deck stacked against them and, despite having a core of playoff-worthy stars, are only now starting to catch up with the rest of the NFC’s playoff contenders. Matt Ryan is entering his 3rd year with the team, so there are a lot of reasons to believe the Atlanta Falcons have the roster to compete with the other contenders on a more equal footing.

If so, Michael Turner stands to return to his form. Expect something approaching the touchdown total, though you’ll never get many catching stats from Michael Turner. I would feel comfortable drafting Michael Turner near the end of the 1st round, which is much higher than his final numbers would suggest he should go. At 28, I think Michael Turner still has one more hugely productive year in him, and with his lack of NFL starts, I don’t think he’s any more of an injury risk than any of the other RBs being drafted at that spot.

Predicting Fantasy Football

Fantasy football predictions are a dicey subject. I don’t pretend to have fantasy football all figured out, except that it’s a lot like playing poker. What you hope to do is to have the odds in your favor when the chips are in the pot, then hope for a little luck. That’s what I’m doing when I’m predicting fantasy football busts, sleepers, breakout players, and even the occasional comeback player. I’m finding the players who I think have a good chance of being better than their draft status, or much worse than their draft slot, and then draft accordingly.

I’m not saying all the fantasy football predictions for are going to come true. For the sleepers, breakout predictions, and comeback player options, that doesn’t mean that I’m in a fever to select these guys or would pull the trigger on them, until the price was right. With the fantasy football bust predictions, that doesn’t mean those guys don’t become enticing options, at a point. But where the ADP lists and odds have them at the moment, the fantasy bust projections are the players I would avoid. Read my reasons behind each of my fantasy football predictions and decide for yourself if you think I’m right.

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