Criticism Deserved?
By Dan Grogan
August 17th, 2011

One of my favorite pre-draft rituals I do every year is to review players that were disappointments the season before in search of possible overlooked or undervalued gems. A terrific example of this last year was Matt Forte who had a down sophomore season (4 TDs) following a terrific rookie campaign (12). Those who were gun-shy with him (me included) at last year's draft missed out on a nine TD season.

I look for unwarranted criticisms or at least I try to understand the reasons why a player had such a down year. Sometimes you realize that the statistical drop wasn't so much the fault of the player and changes made since then give him the opportunity for a rebound season.

I make great use of mock drafts and Average Draft Position (ADP) rankings to get a sense of how fantasy minds are currently evaluating players. Sometimes selecting a guy a few spots earlier or waiting on one several picks later than what the masses think makes all the difference.

Shonn Greene, RB - New York Jets

Should you buy into the notion that this is the year for Greene? His stock is down from the 2010 draft and that's because of a hugely disappointing 2-TD performance and a very mediocre 766 yards rushing. The early mocks are showing that fantasy owners have backed off him some since he's being taken around the 17th to 20th RB spot.

Is there anything that makes me think Greene's 2011 season will be different? I think we're still going to see plenty of LaDainian Tomlinson. Greene and LT were fairly close in their workloads last year with LT getting 219 rushing attempts to Greene's 185. But even if Greene becomes the lead back, I don't think he's looking at much more than 225 carries or so from him. That would probably put him up around 900-950 yards.

It shouldn't be that difficult for Greene to eclipse last season's two TDs, but what is his true upside here? The Jets and specifically QB Mark Sanchez have to do a better job of moving the ball. Last year, New York had just eight rushing TDs inside the 10-yard line. No back, particularly one that's sharing the workload, is going to rack up a big TD total in this situation. You'll need for Sanchez and company to double those opportunities in order to give Greene a shot at 7-9 scores.

Although the mocks are showing Greene being taken around the mid-range of RB2s, I'd prefer to wait until the end of the RB2s before showing interest in him.

Chris Wells, RB - Arizona Cardinals

Fantasy owners have good reason to be skeptical of Wells. He's coming off a 2-TD 397-yard rushing season in 2010 and many are still holding a grudge. In a number of mock drafts and ADP's Wells is lasting well down into the mid to late 30s among RBs. This translates into a borderline RB3-4 pick.

I'm thinking he's undervalued and, therefore, a steal if he falls this far. It's not that he's unproven. He scored 7 times as a rookie (2009) and ran for just under 800 yards. The big difference between that performance and the one we saw last year was the effectiveness at QB. Kurt Warner was at the helm in Wells' first season and not only was he very effective in generating scoring opportunities for him, he didn't allow defenses to stack the line either. Wells ran at a 4.5 yards per carry clip in 2009 versus just 3.4 last season. No defense feared Derrick Anderson, Max Hall or John Skelton - all of who started for the Cards last season. This team scored just six rushing touchdowns inside of 10 yards in 2010 reflecting an inept offense. I know newcomer QB Kevin Kolb is still relatively unproven, but I like his upside over what Arizona had last year and I think he'll help Wells' value.

Even with Tim Hightower now with the Redskins, Wells won't have the backfield entirely to himself. Rookie Ryan Williams is highly regarded and there's a chance that he could be the starter if Wells stumbles. That's part of the risk with Wells and is likely reflected in the thinking of the early drafters. However, he will get the first crack at being the lead back here and unless things change between now and the end of camp, I think he can be an undervalued pick especially if you can land him as your third back.

Ryan Mathews, RB - San Diego Chargers

Judging from his ADP ranking of somewhere between the 17th and 24th rated RB, Mathews appears to still hold favor with many fantasy owners. His value isn't perceived to be quite as lofty as it was last year when he was a rookie, but it's still significant enough for many to think he should be part of a fantasy starting backfield.

I'm not so sure I buy it.

The worse thing Mathews did last season was get hurt in Week 2. He suffered an ankle injury that bothered him for the next several weeks, but more importantly it opened the door for FB Mike Tolbert to show his stuff and he won over the coaching staff. Tolbert not only stole carries away from Mathews, but he went on to score 11 of the Chargers' 12 short-yardage rushing TDs. There aren't many “designated scorers” any more, but Tolbert was as close as it comes to this definition. I just don't see San Diego handing the running to Mathews exclusively or dismissing Tolbert's goal line running upside.

A RB2 better deliver at least 7-9 TDs and 800-1000 yards and that could be a tall order for Mathews with Tolbert in the mix.

Brandon Marshall, WR - Miami Dolphins

Lack of scoring production (3 TDs) was the biggest drag on Marshall's fantasy value last season. His 86 catches (6th) were excellent for PPR leaguers and his 1,014 yards (16th) were OK - he topped 100 yards on four occasions. However, those 3 TDs (73rd) were terrible. Not to make excuses for him, but it's also important to note that he left one game early with a hamstring injury which kept him out of the next two contests. Some of the mock drafts show him going between the 16th and 20th WR making him a mid-level fantasy starter.

Barring an emotional meltdown, which is something to consider with Marshall, I don't see anything preventing him from having another 80+ catch season in 2011. That helps his value significantly in PPR leagues. He can be a monster at times too as we saw last year when he caught at least 10 balls in four different games.

However, because I lack of faith in Miami's QB situation, I question if there is great upside for Marshall in the TD and yardage departments. This could change if the Dolphins make a trade, however, for Marshall to be a 10-TD receiver, QBs Chad Henne and/or Matt Moore will need to throw upwards of 25 scoring passes. I doubt we'll see that. While there are some exceptions, history shows that even the best WRs typically account for around 40% of the team's total aerial scores. I think Marshall's upside here is around seven.

While Marshall is capable of delivering a bit more yardage, there are limitations here too. It's no coincidence that the top WRs are on teams that produce upwards of 4,000 yards through the air. Even Arizona's Larry Fitzgerald (1,137 yards) couldn't overcome poor QB play last year.

Some drafters might think Marshall simply had a bad season and draft him high. But I think it's risky to draft him much higher than a mid-level WR2. He can be a solid WR2 pick, but you'll have to see him deliver 6-8 scores. That might doable in this offense if the QB play improves, but it's hardly a guarantee.

Anquan Boldin, WR - Baltimore Ravens

Mock drafters seem to like Boldin as a late WR2 pick (19th to 24th WR), but I think he could be a little undervalued here. I'm not saying you should take him as a WR1 but, I wouldn't hesitate to grab him as a higher WR2.

Boldin isn't about to put up numbers like he did in Arizona. You're only kidding yourself if you think Ravens QB Joe Flacco is even close to Kurt Warner who helped make Boldin an elite fantasy receiver. But to get numbers worthy of a solid WR2 (7-9 TDs; 800-1000 yards), there are few things in Boldin's favor. The free agent loss of Derrick Mason should propel Boldin into the go-to receiver role. That in itself should push him closer to the 80-catch mark. I view the acquisition of former Buffalo receiver Lee Evans as a plus for Boldin. It never hurts to have a downfield threat to loosen up the defensive coverage. Finally, Boldin should play a bigger role in the red zone now that TE Todd Heap signed with Arizona. Boldin only accounted for four of Flacco's 13 TD passes in this area last season while Heap and Mason combined for eight.

Flacco had strong stats last season - 25 TDs and 3,622 yards - and I think a repeat would mean that Boldin was a big reason for those numbers.

Steve Smith, WR - Carolina Panthers

Smith's struggles last season (2 TDs, 554 yards) weren't surprising given that Carolina's starting QBs were rookie Jimmy Clausen (10 games), Matt Moore (5) and Brian St. Pierre (1) and it's evident that mock drafters aren't expecting a whole lot better with Cam Newton under center. Smith's ADP ranking among WRs tends to be around 28 making him a WR3 (12 team league).

But a WR3 type of player should still deliver around six or seven scores and 700-900 yards. I believe the yardage is doable under Newton, but the TDs could be a stretch. I think Newton will have to put up 15-18 aerial scores for Smith to reach the 6-7 TD level. That might sound like much, but it is for rookie QBs. Sam Bradford threw 18 last year in his initial season, but first year guys like Colt McCoy (6 scores in 8 games) and Jimmy Clausen (3 in 9 starts) struggled.

I wouldn't go out of my way for Smith as a WR3 pick, but then again, I doubt he'll last much beyond this point either.

Jay Cutler, QB - Chicago Bears

There's good reason for fantasy owners to be down on Cutler. He was drafted as a starter in most leagues last year, but finished 13th in TD passes and 17th in yardage. Many mock drafts have him outside the range of fantasy starters this year and I think he's the most enigmatic QBs in this year's draft.

When eyeing Cutler, you're looking at a guy that had seven multi-TD performances last year (in 14 full games) and one who put up numbers against some pretty good teams: like the 3-TD performance against the Cowboys in Dallas; four scores against the Eagles, three against the Jets; six total in two games with the Vikings. It's important to note that he was also shut out by Seattle, Miami, New England and Green Bay. I think “who” a QB plays well or poorly against is very telling, but Cutler is almost unpredictable.

Good defenses, especially those with strong pass rushes, know how to get under Cutler's skin. Chicago did not do a good job of protecting him as they led the league in allowing 52 sacks. In addition, Cutler was in a number of games in which he didn't have to throw that much. While you might think that with Mike Martz as the OC here Cutler would be chucking the ball 40 times per game, but in fact, there was only one game in which he attempted 40 throws. Besides being limited by a fierce pass rush he faced every game, Cutler often didn't have to put the ball up much since the Bears' defense held half their opponents to 17 or fewer points. Fantasy owners love their QB to be in shootouts, but quite frankly, there weren't many for Chicago last season.

Cutler will be in consideration at draft time with the likes of Josh Freeman, Eli Manning, Matthew Stafford, Sam Bradford and Joe Flacco. I'd put Manning and Flacco ahead of him, but the others have question marks as well. It's close, but if you decide to draft Cutler as a late QB1, just be ready to grab a strong backup soon thereafter.

© 2011 Footballguys - All Rights Reserved