Contract-year players (cont.)
9. Rashad Jennings, 27, Jaguars -- He got a raw deal last season, landing on the preseason IR and sitting out the year, despite proving healthy enough to play by Week 5. With MJD a holdout and in needing of a running mate to take some of the workload, Jennings is positioned to have a surprising season. He is an outstanding handcuff, and not just for MJD owners. Jennings will open the season as the Jags' starter, even if MJD reports to camp before Week 1.
This is a position that seems to have loads of talent on the verge of big contracts. They have to be careful, though, because play-calling and a QB's preference for targets can change their fortunes in a hurry. The team's commitment to a contract-year wideout is something to watch, because if a team feels the player is on the way out, it can easily just not gameplan them in. There are some real big names here:
1. Wes Welker, 31, Patriots -- With the huge years he has already had, it will be improbable for him to post a career season, but a contentious negotiation certainly has left him motivated. If the Pats place the franchise tag on him again, he will earn a nifty $11.4 million for 2013. "That's a great situation," he told the Boston Herald. Yeah, we'd say so.
2. Greg Jennings, 28, Packers -- He showed some signs of aging a year ago, but there should still be plenty of production to come. He is most likely headed for a franchise tag, but taking back some of the numbers that have gone Jordy Nelson's way can earn him a long-term deal.
3. Dwayne Bowe, 27, Chiefs -- He was franchise tagged this past offseason, but he could go through the process all over again. A healthy Matt Cassel should mean big numbers for Bowe.
4. Mike Wallace, 26, Steelers -- He warrants a long-term contract the Steelers don't seem inclined to offer him since they have him on a first-round tender as a restricted free agent this season. This reeks of a DeSean Jackson situation, but Wallace has a more consistent QB and achievable expectations.
5. Victor Cruz (restricted), 25, Giants -- His smashing breakthrough a year ago is probably not repeatable, particularly when you consider all the long touchdowns, but the third-year receiver is at least motivated to come close and make good on his top-10 WR position. "Whenever the contract comes, it comes," Cruz said in July. "I'm not going to be sitting back, waiting for it, thinking about it, because then I won't be focused on football."
6. Danny Amendola, 26, Rams -- As long as preseason hype doesn't ruin him from being more than a late-round sleeper, he should be a good value, particularly in PPR leagues. Sam Bradford should have a bounce-back Year 3, which might mean a 100-catch season for this possession receiver. The overachiever stands to earn himself a lot of money in that event.
7. Malcom Floyd, 30, Chargers -- While he has been fairly consistent -- as in just off the fantasy radar -- he does have the potential to be Philip Rivers' No. 1 wideout with Vincent Jackson having signed with Tampa Bay. Floyd should be entering the twilight of his career, but his contract status just might make this a breakthrough year.
8. Brandon Tate, 24, Bengals -- He started camp as a starter opposite A.J. Green, which should mean a lot of targets when Green gets overemphasized by defenses. Roughly in his third season, because of a redshirt rookie year due to recovery from ACL surgery, Tate is a deep out-of-nowhere sleeper.
9. Mohamed Massaquoi, 25, Browns -- He is having a good camp and might finally have a capable QB. He is at least slated to start opposite Greg Little and ahead of supplemental draft pick Josh Gordon.
10. Austin Collie, 26, Colts -- He wasn't the same without Peyton Manning, but perhaps Andrew Luck can revive him. The departure of Pierre Garcon helps.
11. Devery Henderson, 30, Saints -- He never really amounted to much, but the loss of Robert Meachem will at least give Henderson a steadier role behind Marques Colston and Lance Moore.
12. Ramses Barden, 26, Giants -- Rookie Rueben Randle (LSU) and second-year Jerrel Jernigan have more speed, but Barden has the size you can't develop, or defend. "It's time; It was time last year; It's time," coach Tom Coughlin said in camp. "The guy is going to make a mark in the league. He's smart; he's been around long enough."
13. Brandon Gibson, 24, Rams -- Like Amendola, Gibson opened camp as a starter as an incumbent. He doesn't have the ceiling of some of the Rams' young WR talents, but he does have experience and that might get him an opportunity.
14. Anthony Armstrong (RFA), 29, Redskins -- He fell off after a surprising 2010, but if he makes the team, perhaps he can improve with Robert Griffin III's QB play.
If you miss out on one of the few monsters at this position like Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham, the best strategy would be to wait a long time to pick your starter. The names below are a part of the reason for this. There is a lot of potential here and they certainly look capable of posting a career year, especially when you consider their ages and development paths:
1. Fred Davis, 26, Redskins -- He picked up for Chris Cooley well enough last season to look like a future gem at the position. Now, he will need to prove he is RGIII's go-to man long term.
2. Dustin Keller, 27, Jets -- With no Plaxico Burress and a new commitment to the running game, Keller could become a legit red zone target. Many will be looking to Tim Tebow. Fantasy owners looking for a tight end should look to Keller.
3. Jared Cook, 25, Titans -- Regardless of whom starts at QB, Cook is expected to take a significant step forward, continuing on his progress of late last year.
4. Ed Dickson (RFA), 25, Ravens -- If Flacco takes the expected step forward, it will be because of his targets. Torrey Smith is rising and Dickson should, too.
5. Heath Miller, 29, Steelers -- Ben Roethlisberger is going to be relied upon more than ever in a more open passing attack, so Miller can quietly have a career year.
6. Martellus Bennett, 25, Giants -- Bennett gets a lot of credit for being a physical talent that was stuck behind Jason Witten in Dallas. We will see in New York, which needs a TE option.
7. Travis Beckum, 25, Giants -- Beckum is coming off an ACL torn in the Super Bowl, so he won't be ready early, but he might emerge late if Bennett doesn't.
It is hard to imagine a kicker being jacked up about his contract status, but in case you need a reason to select your kicker after the first few sure-things are off the board:
1. Nate Kaeding, 30, Chargers -- He is coming off injury and has to prove more valuable than Nick Novak. With that team, this can be a career year.
2. Mike Nugent, 30, Bengals -- He is not your first choice at the position, but his team can position him for plenty of field-goal opportunities.
3. Rob Bironas, 34, Titans -- He has had some huge fantasy seasons and his team figures to be better at running this season.
4. Neil Rackers, 35, Redskins -- Another former No. 1 fantasy kicker, but the Redskins offense is in the hands of a rookie QB, so there is a bit of an unknown there. Also, he has to beat out Graham Gano.
5. Lawrence Tynes, 34, Giants -- He has made huge kicks in the postseason, but Eli Manning is good in the red zone and the running game figures to be better finishing than a year ago.
6. Phil Dawson, 37, Browns -- Not only is his offense in the hands of a rookie QB, but also a rookie RB, too. He probably should be off the fantasy radar.
Eric Mack writes fantasy for SI.com. You find him on Twitter, where you can mock him, rip him and (doubtful) praise him before asking him for fantasy advice @EricMackFantasy. He reads all the messages there (guaranteed) and takes them very, very personally (not really).
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