A Season Of Uncertainty?
By Kelly Grogan
August 12th, 2011

Unlike most NFL seasons, this upcoming one may be even more difficult to predict, especially when it comes to individual fantasy performances. Due to the lockout, players missed OTAs, all mini camps and organized workouts. As a matter of fact, many players did not even receive their playbooks until the lockout was lifted in mid-July. Imagine a rock and roll band that adds a new lead singer, drummer, base player, manager and producer; then practices for just three or four weeks; and then heads out on the road playing for the next 16 weeks. You can bet that their familiarity with each other and material will be limited - especially early on in the tour. I think might be seeing a similar situation for many NFL teams in the early going of the 2011 season.

Some Of the Changes

Let's start at the top and look at the teams that have changed head coaches:

  • Carolina - Ron Rivera
  • Cleveland - Pat Shurmur
  • Dallas - Jason Garrett (interim designation removed)
  • Denver Broncos - John Fox
  • Minnesota - Leslie Frazier
  • Oakland Raiders - Hue Jackson
  • San Francisco - Jim Harbaugh
  • Tennessee - Mike Munchak
  • Getting use to a new head coach can take time, but this year players don't have that luxury.

    To go along with the changes at the top, 12 teams have new offensive coordinators:

  • Carolina - Rob Chudzinski
  • Cincinnati - Jay Gruden
  • Cleveland - HC Pat Shurmur
  • Kansas City - Bill Muir
  • Miami - Brian Daboll
  • Minnesota - Bill Musgrave
  • New England - Bill O'Brien
  • Oakland - Al Saunders
  • St. Louis - Josh McDaniels
  • San Francisco - Greg Roman
  • Seattle - Darrell Bevell
  • Tennessee - Chris Palmer
  • We've often heard over the years how defenses usually run a little head of the offense, especially early in camp. Will that be the case this year? Thirteen teams have changed defensive coordinators going into the season:

  • Arizona - Ray Horton
  • Baltimore - Chuck Pagano
  • Carolina - Sean McDermott
  • Cleveland - Dick Jauron
  • Dallas - Rob Ryan
  • Denver - Dennis Allen
  • Houston - Wade Phillips
  • Minnesota - Fred Pagac
  • Oakland - Chuck Bresnahan
  • Philadelphia - Juan Castillo
  • San Diego - Greg Manusky
  • San Francisco - Vic Fangio
  • Tennessee - Jerry Gray
  • At least seven teams will be starting new quarterbacks (Arizona, Cincinnati, Carolina, Minnesota, Seattle, Tennessee and Washington) and with a condensed free agent signing period, getting a good gauge on the chemistry between players may not be realized right away.

    How To Approach Your 2011 Fantasy Draft

    We were once told by former All-Pro defensive end Alfred Williams that coaches like to approach an NFL season in four game increments. This year will be no different. Fantasy players can take a cue from this approach too. It may take the first four weeks of the regular season for player roles to be defined. There will be teams, especially those with a lot of "newness" that will struggle more than others early on with their offense. Those teams that did not see major overhauls at critical positions may really have an advantage in the early going.

    The first five or six rounds of a fantasy draft are always critical as you assemble the core of your team, but this might be the year to avoid taking unnecessary risks. Remember, the key is production. Look for players, especially in the early rounds, that are on teams with more stable situations. This is probably not the season to gamble much early in the draft. I think you can assess the risk by estimating the stability of each team. Teams in Tier 1 appear to be in the lower risk category. This isn't to say that you shouldn't draft players from the Tier 2 category, but you don't want to load up on too many from uncertain situations.

    Tier 1
    Atlanta
    Houston
    NY Jets
    Baltimore
    Indianapolis
    NY Giants
    Buffalo
    Jacksonville
    Philadelphia
    Chicago
    Kansas City
    Pittsburgh
    Dallas
    Minnesota
    San Diego
    Detroit
    New England
    St. Louis
    Green Bay
    New Orleans
    Tampa Bay
    Tier 2
    Arizona
    Denver
    Seattle
    Carolina
    Miami
    Tennessee
    Cincinnati
    Oakland
    Washington
    Cleveland
    San Francisco

    Looking at Tier 2, here are some draft options within the first six to seven rounds that still should not be overlooked...

    Arizona

  • Kevin Kolb - QB2
  • Chris Wells - RB 3
  • Ryan Williams - RB4
  • Larry Fitzgerald - WR1
  • Carolina

  • DeAngelo Williams - RB2/3
  • Steve Smith - WR3/4
  • Cincinnati

  • Cedric Benson - RB2/3
  • A.J. Green- WR 4
  • Cleveland

  • Peyton Hillis - RB2/3
  • Denver

  • Kyle Orton - QB2/3
  • Willis McGahee - RB2/3
  • Knowshon Moreno - RB3
  • Brandon Lloyd - WR2/3
  • Miami

  • Reggie Bush - RB3/4
  • Daniel Thomas - RB4
  • Brandon Marshall - WR2/3
  • Oakland

  • Darren McFadden - RB 2/3
  • San Francisco

  • Frank Gore - RB1
  • Michael Crabtree - WR 2/3
  • Vernon Davis - TE1
  • Seattle

  • Marshawn Lynch - RB3
  • Sidney Rice - WR3
  • Tennessee

  • Matt Hasselbeck - QB2
  • Chris Johnson - RB1
  • Kenny Britt - WR3
  • Washington

  • Ryan Torain - RB3
  • Santana Moss - WR3/4
  • Chris Cooley - TE1
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