Fantasy 2011 Surprises: McCoy improving

Published Jan. 7, 2011 12:00 a.m. ET

I’m going to call out some potential surprises for the 2011 campaign.

In some cases, the players already surprised us with their 2010 efforts. I’m merely suggesting that there’s another level to be attained.

Let’s start in Cleveland. That’s right. My first surprise for 2011 is also a member of the All-Name team.

Quarterback: Colt McCoy, Cleveland

McCoy was uneven in his introduction to the NFL, although one couldn’t have anticipated dominance out of the gate given his dearth of top-notch receiving options. Mohamed Massaquoi, Brian Robiskie and Ben Watson have their moments (and Peyton Hillis is a tremendous check-down option), but none represents that game-changing, go-to option that allows an offense to flow. The key factor here is the selection of the head coach. Will Mike Holmgren bring in a quarterback guru to mentor him and bring him to the next level, or will the Browns decide to focus on defense in the black-and-blue AFC North?

Either way, I saw enough from McCoy to say that I’m intrigued, and a West Coast-type offense could elevate his game quickly.

Quarterback: Sam Bradford, St. Louis

Bradford posted an impressive rookie season in St. Louis. He passed for 3,512 yards with 18 touchdowns and 17 turnovers (15 interceptions) despite the lack of a true No. 1 receiver and countless dropped passes. Bradford did throw only one touchdown pass in the Rams’ final five games, with missed targets and dropped passes thwarting the team’s efforts toward a playoff berth. Still, there were times when Bradford resembled a season veteran, and his poise, even during pressure-packed situations, could not be denied.

The Rams will undoubtedly work to upgrade the receiving corps in 2011. Rookie tight end Michael Hoomanawanui showed promise, and Laurent Robinson and Danario Alexander had their moments, but the overall support given to Bradford was inconsistent, at best. On one positive note, Donnie Avery will return to action in 2011.

Quarterback: Matthew Stafford, Detroit

You know the drill. For the second straight season, Stafford sustained a significant injury and missed the vast majority of the season. Shaun Hill excelled in his absence, and the late-season surge by the Lions gave fans hope for a breakthrough 2011 campaign. Stafford averaged 178.3 passing yards with six touchdown strikes in his three appearances.

He returns to an exciting offense in 2011. Calvin Johnson is obviously an all-world receiver, Nate Burleson proved a capable No. 2 option, and Brandon Pettigrew established himself as one of the top pass-catching tight ends in the game. The onus is on Stafford’s body to absorb hits and stay upright. The talent is there. The touch is there.

Obviously, the skeptics will be everywhere in 2011. Most owners will wait on Stafford until the late-QB2 or “emergency” quarterback slot. He’ll be a great QB2 option to draft late for those owners who lock the position down with the normally Teflon-coated, injury-free heroes.

Quarterback: Vince Young, Tennessee

Might a change of scenery be just what Young needs to elevate his game and become a more consistent option? Young’s rift with Jeff Fisher has been highly-publicized, so I shan’t rehash the history here. His work ethic has been called into question, so he’ll certainly have to win over potential suitors and teammates. In the right situation and with the right receivers (Arizona?), Young still has the physical tools to make plays downfield. Where does his next opportunity come?

Running back: Michael Bush, Oakland

Bush scored eight touchdowns and amassed 849 total yards on 176 touches (4.8 yards per touch). So, what’s the surprise? Following the departure of Tom Cable, there’s ample speculation that the former Louisville standout will follow suit and get his chance at a more consistent role elsewhere.

Running back: Mike Goodson, Carolina

Goodson stepped up and became a weekly flex-worthy (or better) candidate for a period in the second half of the season following DeAngelo Williams’ season-ending injury. With Williams likely to join a new team in 2011, Goodson will assume the second half of the workload split with Jonathan Stewart. He’s a strong receiver out of the backfield (40 receptions) and averaged 4.4 yards per carry (two 100-yard games).

Goodson finished the season with 762 total yards on 143 touches (5.3 yards per touch). He’ll continue to be counted on in the return game, barring a complete shift in personnel once a new staff is installed.

Running back: Bernard Scott, Cincinnati

Cedric Benson’s contract in Cincinnati is up, and given his inconsistent 2010 season and battles with the coaching staff, it’s unlikely that he returns to the fold in 2011. I suspect that the Bengals exact a complete overall, save the retention of quarterback Carson Palmer. Enter Scott, who was on the radar as a late-round handcuff option this summer. He averaged 4.9 yards per carry in limited work last year.

Running back: Jahvid Best, Detroit

Fantasy owners will likely avoid Best and push him down the draft board a few pegs following his injury-impacted rookie campaign. Best appeared as a second-team “All-Flop” candidate for many, as he was affected by the turf toe injury all season but never actually sat down.

I’ll try to spin the positives out of the matter. Best demonstrated a willingness to play through pain, although his effectiveness was certainly limited. He finished the season with 1,042 total yards with six touchdowns (including five of which were scored in the Lions’ first two games). The Lions finished the season with a flurry and will undoubtedly upgrade the offense to help Best improve on his dismal 3.2 yards per carry output.

Wide receiver: Andre Caldwell, Cincinnati

Caldwell posted solid numbers as a rookie in 2009. With Terrell Owens onboard for 2010, he didn’t get much of a chance to make an impact until the final quarter of the season. Caldwell caught a total of 15 passes for 270 yards with a touchdown in the Bengals’ final three games of the season (87 or more in each game). Neither Owens nor Ochocinco is expected to return to the team at this time, so Caldwell’s starting opportunity appears to be just around the corner.

Wide receiver: Mike Williams, Seattle

I don’t know how much of a surprise Williams will be for 2011, as I’m sure fantasy owners will bid him up in drafts following his 65-reception, 751-yard comeback season. However, there will still be skeptics along the way given Williams’ history and, depending on your league, he may still drift down the draft board. After all, he scored twice this season and most of his production came in three games. Lest we forget, there’s also a huge question mark about the quarterbacking situation.

Wide receiver: Brandon LaFell, Carolina

Like Williams, LaFell’s upside is clearly dependent on the organizational and personnel changes to be made in Carolina. He finished his rookie season with 38 receptions and 468 receiving yards while working opposite Steve Smith. LaFell caught three or more passes in seven games. Alas, he won’t have the opportunity to work with Andrew Luck in his sophomore season.

Wide receiver: Donnie Avery, St. Louis

Avery was on the radar for a breakthrough season in 2010. Alas, he sustained an injury in the preseason and never hit the field for rookie Sam Bradford. Bradford’s growth during the season was obvious, even if the numbers didn’t necessarily translate to the box score, and I can’t wait to see his sophomore effort once St. Louis upgrades his receivers and Avery returns to the mix. Hang a start on his off-season progress. If he checks out fine in his rehabilitation efforts, I’m certainly intrigued.

Avery caught 47 passes for 589 yards with five touchdowns in 2009.

Wide receiver: Arrelious Benn, Tampa Bay

Mike Williams was the breakthrough receiver in Tampa Bay with 11 touchdowns. I’m putting the spotlight on fellow rookie Benn, who had started to emerge as a target for Josh Freeman before sustaining a season-ending knee injury. Obviously, we’ll need to keep tabs on his rehabilitation efforts, but his big-play potential makes him a deep sleeper for the youthful Buccaneers offense in 2011.

Tight end: Jared Cook, Tennessee

Cook was on my tab as a deep sleeper for 2010 based on his athleticism, size and Young’s propensity to utilize the tight end. He didn’t get a chance to dominate, nor did he see many red zone looks, but Cook finished the season with a nice six-game stretch. Cook logged 24 catches in the final six games while averaging 48.7 receiving yards (one touchdown).

Tight end: Jimmy Graham, New Orleans

Graham emerged down the stretch as an important red zone target for Drew Brees while subbing for the injured Jeremy Shockey. The rookie from Miami shone brightly in the second half of the season, catching 26 passes for 307 yards (38.4 yards per game) and five touchdowns. Given Drew Brees’ propensity to spread the ball around, Graham’s reception count will vary on a week-to-week basis. Although it should be noted that he did catch at least three passes in six straight games. I’m encouraged by his quick integration into the red zone playbook and you can’t teach size (6-foot-6).

D/ST: Detroit Lions

The secondary was dismal for much, if not all, of the 2010 season. However, the efforts of the front seven cannot be denied. Led by rookie Ndamukong Suh, the Lions surged to 44 sacks, good for sixth in the NFL. Detroit produced 30 turnovers, including 14 interceptions (two defensive touchdowns). Suh underwent off-season surgery in short order to allow ample time for recovery.

D/ST: Houston Texans

I believe in Wade Phillips … as a defensive coordinator. Phillips was hired to overhaul the dismal Houston defense in 2011. He’ll already be up one important piece with DeMeco Ryans’ return to action. Lest we forget, the Texans also played without linebacker Brian Cushing for the first quarter of the season following his suspension. Cornerback Glover Quin played well at times, but the shocking total of 33 passing touchdowns allowed will be the number most contemplated by Phillips as reshapes the secondary.