If my Tweets, e-mail messages and Facebook statuses are to be believed, fantasy owners went into their respective bunkers this past weekend to participate in their drafts.
Given the amount of money reportedly being spent on the fantasy universe in its entirety, can I be the first to propose that we establish a national Fantasy Football holiday?
Seriously, I’m already working to design a line of greeting cards, merchandise and novelty items. We’ll cover the traditional greeting card playground. There will be congratulatory notes to celebrate those “ninja” (formerly termed “sleepers”) picks that panned out or for championships. There will be cards to send your condolences for injured players, beat-downs and failed draft picks. Of course, there will also be opportunities to mock, deride, chastise and berate owners throughout the season.
I digress. I’ll work on that extra revenue stream on the side.
Let’s return to the crystal ball and trot out my leaders in the receiving touchdown column. I’ll begin in New England, where the Patriots are already subjecting defenses to a game of “Moss and Toss.”
1. Randy Moss, New England
Tom Brady and Moss are looking for new deals as we approach the 2010 campaign. They demonstrated a bit of the magic last Thursday night with a 65-yard touchdown hook-up against the Rams. Moss slipped behind coverage and caught the ball with outstretched arms on a deep middle route. In three years as a member of the Patriots, Moss has amassed 47 touchdown receptions. He’s set to log the 10th double-digit touchdown total of his career in 2010.
Gates has been one of the most consistent receiving targets in the game since his 2004 breakthrough campaign. In the past six seasons, Gates has averaged 9.5 touchdown receptions per season. He’s the clear-cut No. 1 option for Philip Rivers, although the absence of Vincent Jackson does leave me somewhat concerned about a slowdown in the passing game. Still, you’re not stopping him in the red zone.
Wayne and Peyton Manning appear to have their timing down to midseason form already, as evidenced by the easy touchdown hook-up in last Thursday’s exhibition contest. Wayne has caught nine or more touchdown passes in four of the past six seasons. I have no reason to expect a downturn in production with a loaded offense returning for 2010.
Davis put his past issues with Mike Singletary and the team in the rearview mirror and positively dominated opposing defenses in 2009. Davis is now looking forward to a contract year with a re-tooled and fortified San Francisco offense. I expect to see the San Francisco offense take a huge step forward this season, but for Alex Smith to spread the ball around to his other weapons. Davis had scored nine touchdowns in his first three seasons combined. I anticipate a moderate regression in his overall production, but opposing defenders will not be able to thwart him altogether.
You simply can’t stop Johnson. Whatever coverage is put forth against the eighth-year receiver, Johnson delivers. He’s caught a total of 25 touchdown passes in his past 41 games. Fantasy owners are hoping that his production gets spread out a bit more than it was in 2009. He had three multi-touchdown games. For the purpose of this category, it doesn’t matter when they occur.
There are numerous questions surrounding the all-world receiver as we approach the 2010 campaign. Fitzgerald sustained a knee injury early this preseason, his tag-team partner is gone, and the quarterback position is up for grabs. Fitzgerald has logged a double-digit touchdown total in four of the past five seasons. I’m concerned about the quarterback issue and the unit’s performance overall. However, talent wins out, and Fitzgerald will still get his targets.
Expectations are high for Matthew Stafford and the revamped Detroit offense for 2010. As such, fantasy owners are putting a huge bet on Johnson in anticipation of a return to his glorious 2008 campaign. Johnson caught 13 touchdown passes in 2008, and there were points where he and Stafford started to get on track before injuries derailed their efforts.
Whether you like or hate his attitude and antics, Ochocinco gets it done. Ochocinco has scored seven or more touchdowns in six of his past seven seasons. He’s averaged eight touchdowns per season in the past seven years (his lowest touchdown total was four in 2008). Carson Palmer is in his second year back from injury, and Terrell Owens, Jordan Shipley and Jermaine Gresham help bolster the passing attack to free Ochocinco up for more quality looks.
White’s touchdown total has risen in three consecutive years, and the presence of Tony Gonzalez made him an absolute terror in 2009. This dynamic duo returns for third-year quarterback Matt Ryan. A healthy return from Michael Turner changes the complexion of this attack. With that said, I’m a tad concerned about the loss of Michael Jenkins (Don’t laugh. He delivered as a solid No. 2 option last year.), but Harry Douglas is stepping up into the role. Atlanta is a sexy pick for a run to Dallas and the Super Bowl. White will need to post big numbers for that to happen.
Austin set the fantasy world on fire in 2009, catching deep ball after deep ball en route to a Man-Crush Award title. He caught touchdown passes in eight of his final 12 appearances last year. The arrival of Dez Bryant (once he returns from injury) gives Tony Romo a better, more complete, No. 2 option opposite Austin, and we can always expect Jason Witten to pile up catches. Backed by a strong defense, Austin and the Dallas offense should have ample scoring opportunities once again.
Throw it deep and let the speedster run under it. That was the theory in Philadelphia during the 2009 season, and the second-year receiver out of Cal made it work. Jackson caught touchdown passes in nine different games and established himself as one of the game’s premiere big-play threats. He and Kevin Kolb exhibited a tremendous connection during Kolb’s brief starting run last year. Let it go!
Nicks’ touchdown pace slowed down in the second half of his rookie season, but he maintained a big role in the passing game. He’ll assume a larger role in his sophomore season as Eli Manning’s premiere deep threat. Nicks recorded a catch of at least 29 yards in nine different games last season. Improvement in the running game should afford Nicks more space downfield.
Marshall leaves Denver after posting the highest touchdown total of his career in support of Kyle Orton. He’ll be counted upon to bring Chad Henne’s game to another level in Miami. This offense is definitely intriguing, as the dual-headed backfield and Henne’s growth should yield red zone opportunities. We know that Marshall has the athleticism to erase errant throws.
Wallace leapt onto the fantasy radar as a rookie against the Bengals last season in Week 3 (seven catches for 102 yards). He would finish the year with 39 catches, including six touchdown grabs. Wallace assumes the No. 2 role in 2010 following the departure of Santonio Holmes. He’s a tremendous downfield threat who worked tirelessly this off-season to improve his route-running. The Steelers’ passing game may start out slowly, so prospective owners need to be patient as they await Ben Roethlisberger’s return.
It took some time, but the former first-round pick of the Saints finally broke through in his third year. Meachem is a big-time deep threat for Drew Brees in the high-octane New Orleans attack. Brees spreads the ball around brilliantly, so there’s always the risk that the ball gets moved to another option (as he moved in for Lance Moore in 2009). However, there are plenty of balls to go around in this offense.