I know some of you out there relish the offseason for nothing more than the absence of fantasy football-related discussions. I am not one of those people. While I am not making my mind up yet at this point in time, I am starting to try and build some consensus among all the voices in my head. To that end, please provide your feedback on where this looks right and where this horribly misguided. After all, when we hit August, money is on the line!
Fantasy Stud: Donovan McNabb, QB
It is pretty customary for a quarterback to be the fantasy standout on any NFL roster. In rare cases a running back or wide receiver outshines all teammates and ends up being not only the best fantasy performer but also the best fantasy value. For the 2010 Washington Redskins, Donovan McNabb will undoubtedly be both the best value as well as the top performer for fantasy owners. The new offense in D.C. will be choreographed by Kyle Shanahan. Mike Shanahan has entrusted his son to import the offense he employed in Houston, and has imported Donovan McNabb to entrust that offense to in 2010. Last season, Matt Schaub (quarterback in Houston) led the league in passing yards (4,770) and finished 5th during the regular season with 29 touchdown passes. Schaub finished with the 2nd highest total of 40+ yard pass plays, as well as the 2nd highest total of 20+ yard pass plays. It does not hurt that the Texans boast one of the league's best wide receivers in Andre Johnson, but Schaub's numbers indicate more than a reliance on just a single target. While Schaub's star seems to be on the rise (as long as he can remain healthy), conventional wisdom would suggest that the more polished McNabb could perform similarly in the same offense. Surely, he will drive the Redskins offense, and it is expected that he will be asked to do more than Jason Campbell was asked to do in recent years. As for McNabb in Philadelphia in 2009, he bested Schaub's total number of 40+ yard pass plays, but fell short of Schaub's lofty passing yardage (McNabb finished 2009 with 3,553 passing yards) while throwing fewer interceptions. Worth noting--Schaub attempted 140 more passes on the season.
The Redskins will be using McNabb this season to find out what they have in receivers Devin Thomas and Malcolm Kelly, while still trying to maximize the value of veteran Santana Moss. Chris Cooley and Fred Davis combine for one of the better tight end duos in the league, and McNabb has proven his effectiveness using the tight end over the years. The additions of veteran running backs Larry Johnson and Willie Parker add legitimacy to the ground game, which should help McNabb throughout the season. The great equalizer in all of fantasy football is injuries, but if McNabb can avoid the injury bug, he should make his fantasy owners very happy in 2010.
Fantasy Sleeper: Devin Thomas, WR
As all seasoned fantasy veterans know, the 3rd year is the breakout year for a lot of receivers in the NFL. Last season, players like Mike Sims-Walker, Steve Smith (NYG), Sidney Rice and Robert Meachem all emerged as viable fantasy options in their 3rd year. The 2010 Washington Redskins will be sporting two receivers entering their 3rd season--both of which were 2nd round draft picks. Devin Thomas and Malcolm Kelly both enter the upcoming season with high expectations, but it says here that it will be Devin Thomas who has the "breakout" season. Both Thomas and Kelly had 25 receptions each last season for roughly the same amount of yards, with Thomas being the only one of them to record a touchdown (he had three.) When you talk to players on the current Washington roster about these two young receivers, they talk about Malcolm Kelly as the guy with all the "ooooh" and "ahhhh" potential. Yet it has been Devin Thomas who has seemed to improve the most on Sundays since his rookie campaign. With Donovan McNabb under center, and Santana Moss on the opposite side, Devin Thomas has an opportunity to prove he is capable of dominating his man off the line of scrimmage. He is built a little thicker than Kelly and seems to be faster as well, giving him more yards-after-catch potential. If the Redskin offense is going to move the chains more consistently and find the end zone more regularly, it will most likely be thanks to a breakout season from Devin Thomas. Fantasy owners should target him in the middle rounds and should receive exceptional value for this pick.
Overrated/Underrated Fantasy Performers
Overrated: Clinton Portis
There have been few fantasy players over the last six seasons that have done more in a Washington uniform than Clinton Portis. When your offense averages 17 or less points per game though over the same period, it is hard to get excited about anyone from a fantasy perspective. When healthy, Portis has shown an ability to rack up yards, and on occasion, cross the goal line. It would be unfair to say Portis has been injury-prone throughout his career, leading to decreased stats--after all, in 8 seasons, he has rushed for almost 10,000 yards and scored nearly 80 touchdowns. However, he has only played in 8 games twice in the last four seasons, and last year was one of those seasons. The Redskins have brought in some legitimate competition at the running back position with the additions of Larry Johnson and Willie Parker, leading many to believe Mike Shanahan will proceed with a committee at the running back spot. While this should succeed in helping Portis stretch out his career, it will also succeed in driving down his fantasy value. At the outset of the season, Portis should be the clear favorite to start, but once he gets dinged a little, the playing field evens out considerably in the Washington backfield. Portis is still worth owning in all fantasy formats, but he should be viewed as a #2 fantasy running back at best, as opposed to the #1 back he has been considered to be in recent years.
Underrated: Washington Defense
How can a defense that has consistently finished in the top five or ten in the league in total yards be considered an underrated unit heading into 2010? When it also consistently posts very undesirable totals in the turnover and sack departments. In 2009, only four teams hauled in fewer interceptions, and only one team recovered less fumbles. The Redskins did do a better job in the sack category, finishing in the top ten, but they have been very inconsistent from year to year in getting to the quarterback. Another reason the Redskins defense will fall in fantasy value is that they will be installing a brand new scheme under new coordinator Jim Haslett. Typically it takes a season to not only learn a new scheme, but to staff it properly (see 2008 offense under Jim Zorn.) That said, the Redskins may very well be switching to a scheme that favors some of its current personnel, especially if they can convince Albert Haynesworth that it is okay to play Nose Tackle when you are getting paid tens of millions of dollars. I expect increased production in the turnover department coupled with continued success getting to the quarterback in 2010. For fantasy owners, the Redskins defense is a value play, given that they should be available in later rounds on draft day. If you need a defense late in the draft, don't be afraid to add the Washington defense.