Undervalued assets to target, avoid
Past career suggests Brandon Marshall will rebound from 3-TD season with Miami
Good offensive line, aging LaDainian Tomlinson could make Shonn Greene a star
Jahvid Best could lose touches and goal-line carries to rookie Mikel LeShoure
Scoring undervalued assets in drafts and auctions separates the fantasy players who can sit back, relax and wait for the season to start after draft day from the ones who feel a need to start dealing after the last pick is made. Year after year, one of the best groups to target for undervalued assets is last year's bums. These guys all entered the previous season with high hopes. They could be a veteran who had established a track record or a young up-and-comer who appeared poised for a breakout season, but for one reason or another, they never got it going. Last year's bums come in all shapes in sizes and play all positions. Fantasy busts are equal opportunity busts.
Of course, that information alone won't be of a ton of use on draft day. After all, any experienced player knows he can mine last year's bums and come up with gold. The key is knowing for which guys last year was just an anomaly, and for which it was an accurate picture of who they are. Separating the accidental bums from the true bums will help you separate from the pack once the season starts.
Brandon Marshall, Dolphins -- Marshall dissenters will no doubt point to his 86 catches and three touchdowns in his first year with the Dolphins, both career lows since becoming a regular. On the other hand, the extremely talented receiver missed a pair of games and still racked up more than 1,000 yards. I'd also tell them that receiving touchdowns are among the most volatile stats year over year. Yes, Marshall's average yards after catch took a nosedive to 2.8; he never had fewer than 4.2 yards after catch in his career. He also still has to deal with Chad Henne under center. Still, Marshall is too talented a receiver to turn in back-to-back subpar seasons, and I'm willing to bet the touchdowns come back for Miami's No. 1 red zone target, especially at the expectant price.
Shonn Greene, Jets -- The fantasy community expected big things from Greene last year after he helped carry the Jets to the AFC Championship Game in the 2010 playoffs. Greene ended the '10 draft season with an ADP of 16.15, and was the 10th running back off the board in average drafts. LaDainian Tomlinson's presence curbed Greene's production early on, and Greene was never quite able to shake the venerable, one-time stud. Greene sputtered his way to just 766 yards and two touchdowns, turning in one of the more disappointing fantasy seasons of '10.
Tomlinson showed the signs of age as the season wore on, and all signs point to Greene serving as the lead back for the Jets this season. With one of the better offensive lines in the league and a passing attack that should be, at least, as good as it was a year ago, Greene is a solid bet to approach the numbers expected of him last year. He's currently the 25th-ranked back by ADP, behind such luminaries as Felix Jones and Ryan Torain. I will be shocked if he isn't a top-20 back, and could see him in the top-15.
Ryan Mathews, Chargers -- No rookie appeared to land in a better fantasy spot than Mathews last season. The 6-foot, speedy, pass-catching back stepped into a prime spot with the high-powered Chargers offense and Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates to help keep the pressure off. Mathews suffered an injury the second week of the season, and never seemed to recover until he sat out three consecutive games from Weeks 11 through 13. He finally showed the ability in Week 17 that made him a hot target last year, running for 120 yards and three touchdowns. Mathews is still the same guy he was entering last season, and now he'll have another chance to stay healthy and take over in San Diego's backfield. He's currently the 17th running back coming off the board in drafts. If that spot holds through August and early September, he'll be one of the biggest bargains this season.
Tony Romo, Cowboys -- Romo wasn't a bust in the traditional sense. Through five full games last year, he had 1,564 yards and 10 touchdowns while completing 69.4 percent of his passes. Romo fractured his left clavicle Week 7 against the Giants, sidelining him for the rest of the season. While he technically falls under the umbrella of "Last Year's Injured Stars" as opposed to "Last Year's Busts," the message is the same: Do not let Romo go overlooked. He has an elite receiver in Miles Austin, a top-tier, reliable tight end in Jason Witten and another budding star out wide in Dez Bryant. I've got Romo ranked ahead of both Philip Rivers and Tom Brady, and I don't think it's out of the question that he outperforms Drew Brees, as well.
Kevin Kolb, Cardinals -- The members of the NFC East weren't the only ones to have the season railroaded by the Michael Vick reunion tour. Kolb, anointed the starter by Andy Reid heading into last season, lost his job after suffering an injury in Week 1. His return coincided with an injury to Vick, but he would have had to become a Dan Marino/Steve Young hybrid to keep Vick on the bench was he was ready. Now Kolb has a new home in Arizona and the pass-friendly NFC West, and a shiny new target in Larry Fitzgerald. The Cardinals also went out and added Todd Heap, whom Kolb is already praising early in camp. Right now, he's the 21st quarterback selected. Of course that is sure to rise, but I've got Kolb down as a top-10 option this season.
Owen Daniels, Texans -- After an injury-shortened '09 season in which the former Wisconsin Badger piled up 519 yards and five touchdowns in just eight games, Daniels entered '10 healthy and looked ready to join the elite tight end class in the NFL. Somehow, things didn't click last year, as Daniels topped 70 yards just once before suffering another injury in Week 8, which knocked him out for the next five games. Upon his return, he looked like his '09 self, catching 22 passes for 271 yards and two touchdowns. Houston's offense remains as potent as ever, and the middle of the field should remain open for one of the league's best pass-catching tight ends. Daniels is my fifth tight end, as I have him ahead of Vernon Davis.
Sidney Rice, Seahawks -- No one cashed in more on the Brett Favre experience in Minnesota than Rice. After looking like a bust, even for a second-round pick, the first two years of his career, Rice exploded to the tune of 1,312 yards and eight touchdowns in '09. Offseason surgery kept him out until Week 11, but think of Rice as the anti-Romo. He's a guy who suffered an injury but shouldn't be given a hall pass. While Rice managed to get himself out of Minnesota, he also managed to keep himself tied to Tarvaris Jackson. He may one day become a competent quarterback, but I won't believe it until I see it. And no receiver no matter how talented can succeed without someone capable under center. Just ask Steve Smith.
Jahvid Best, Lions -- The fantasy community felt much the same about Best as it did about Mathews, although Best wasn't in quite so good a fantasy environment and he came with lingering durability questions. A lot of us looked smart after Best's 232-total-yard, three-touchdown effort in Week 2. Unfortunately, for those of us who invested in Best (guilty), he scored once more all season and put up just another 774 combined rushing and receiving yards. A turf toe injury bothered him all year, and the Lions added Illinois product Mikel LeShoure in the second round of last April's draft. The Lions' likely plan to use LeShoure as the thunder to Best's lightning, meaning LeShoure will almost certainly handle goal-line duties. Best is the superior pass catcher, but odds are LeShoure ends up being the more featured of the two. He's the Lion you want.
Chris Cooley, Redskins -- Both the ineptitude of Washington's offense and the influx of talent at the tight end position have conspired to knock Cooley way down cheat sheets. With John Beck at the helm of the Redskins offense and Jabar Gaffney topping the depth chart at wide receiver, it doesn't appear Cooley is going to get much help this season. Don't let the name brand fool you. Cooley is not a starter in 12-team leagues.
Donovan McNabb, Vikings -- Speaking of Washington, wasn't McNabb supposed to be the savior for the Redskins? Now he's being asked to prop Minnesota's window open for a few years before they hand the keys to Christian Ponder. Just like Cooley, don't be fooled by the McNabb brand. What we saw in Washington last year, including a 58.3 completion percentage and a 14/15 TD/INT ratio, wasn't simply the product of a poor offense. Not only are McNabb's best days behind him, his days of fantasy relevance have passed. He won't sniff a starting spot on a fantasy roster this year. At least not on a good fantasy roster.
ORDER NOW: Sports Illustrated's Fantasy Football 2011 issue tells you where all the free agents landed and what their fantasy impact will be, along with the critical draft strategy and stats analysis you need to win your league. Available in mid-August.
Swim Daily, Elsa Benitez in Montauk
Bears and Cowboys fighting to gain ground in their divisions