Fantasy Football Players to Keep an Eye on this Summer


The NFL lockout has put a halt on offseason moves for the time being, but at some point the lockout will end and player movement will begin. When it does, there will be a number of moves, both free agent signings and trades, that will impact fantasy player’s values.

Instead of just listing off free agents and players who are expected to be moved this offseason, I will give you players to keep an eye on throughout the summer.

By: Justin Mertes-Mistretta

Right now everything is speculation, and gauging a free agent’s value is difficult and, to a certain extent, pointless. We should be looking at the players who are currently on rosters, who will be affected by possible moves. For instance, if a talented backup like Kevin Kolb is traded to the Cardinals, how does that effect a receiver like Larry Fitzgerald?

As a matter of fact, the first player to keep an eye on this summer is none other than…..

Larry Fitzgerald: Wide Receiver – Arizona Cardinals

Last year we saw Fitzgerald’s floor (90 recs, 1137 yds, 6 tds), which is incredible given his situation. Last season alone, he played with four different below average quarterbacks (Matt Leinart, Derek Anderson, Max Hall and John Skelton), yet Fitz was still able to muster top-15 WR numbers. Look at it this way, his numbers can’t get any worse and we have seen the kind of numbers he will put up with a competent QB. Right now, the Cards are the favorites to acquire Kevin Kolb, who averaged just over 285 yards and has a 10:9 TD:INT ratio in six career NFL starts. While he is no Kurt Warner, Kolb has shown high upside in his limited action.

Plan B for the Cards would be to trade for Kyle Orton, who has put together two straight seasons of 3,600-plus passing yards and 20-plus touchdowns. If the cards could get one of these QBs, Fitz would instantly become a top-five WR, and a case could be made for the top WR, especially in a point-per-reception league. The best part is that you will be able to get the stud wideout a round or two later than Andre, Megatron and Roddy.

Best-Case Scenario: Cards acquire Kevin Kolb from Eagles via trade.

2011 Projection: 95 rec, 1300 rec yds, 10 tds

Brandon Marshall: Wide Receiver – Miami Dolphins

Marshall broke the 1,000 yard milestone for the fourth-straight season despite inconsistency and shaky quarterbacking from Chad Henne. Just like Fitzgerald, we saw Marshall’s floor (86 rec, 1014 rec yds, 3 tds). Yes, he was very hit-or-miss game-by-game in 2011, but much of that can be blamed on nagging injuries, adjusting to a new offensive/quarterback and frankly a bad quarterback in general. That could all change this summer if the Dolphins are able to acquire Kyle Orton from the Broncos. Just two years ago in Denver, the Orton and Marshall combo connected 101 times for 1,120 yards and 10 touchdowns.

It’s a shame Marshall can’t stay away from trouble off the field, since he has about as much talent as any receiver in the league. In April, the much-maligned wideout was stabbed in the abdomen by his ex-girlfriend. Marshall could avoid suspension, since he was not arrested in the incident. However, his checkered history doesn’t exactly help his case.

Make sure to keep an eye on the acquisition of a QB in Miami and the avoidance of a suspension before bumping Marshall up your draft boards.

Best-Case Scenario: Dolphins acquire Kyle Orton from Broncos via trade

2011 Projection: 100 catches, 1200 rec yds, 7 tds

Jonathan Stewart: Running Back – Carolina Panthers

Could this finally be the year we see the Daily Show get the majority of the carries in Carolina? DeAngelo Williams is a free agent this summer and rumor has it that Williams’ former coach, John Fox, wants the stud back in Denver. Since then, coach Ron Rivera has indicated that he wants to keep the electric back.

One thing is certain, the Panthers are going to run the ball a ton this year with young QBs behind center. The question is will it be a two-headed monster or not? It’s fairly simple: if Williams stays, it’s hard to get overly excited about Stewart. If Williams leaves, Stewart becomes an instant top-10 running back.

Best-Case Scenario: DeAngelo Williams leaves the Panthers

2011 Projection: 310 car, 1300 rush yds, 8 tds

Bernard Scott: Running Back – Cincinnati Bengals

Cedric Benson wants a big contract and prefers to stay in Cincy. Coach Marvin Lewis has even gone as far as saying resigning Benson is the team’s top priority. However, every team has its limits and given that the Bengals are clearly looking to rebuild, it wouldn’t be surprising to see them let go of Benson, who averaged a pedestrian 3.5 yards per carry last season.

Even if they resign Benson, his chances of breaking down are fairly high. The man has been given 300-plus carries two years in a row and has seen his ypc drop by nearly 20 percent (4.2 to 3.5). Look for the Bengals to give more and more carries to their version of Jamaal Charles/Chris Johnson in Bernard Scott, who has a career 4.6 ypc. Scott is absolutely electric and can turn a missed tackle into a touchdown from anywhere on the field. If Benson leaves, Scott is a huge upside mid-round pick. Even if Benson stays, grab him late in drafts and thank me when you strike gold.

Best-Case Scenario: Cedric Benson leaves in free agency

2011 Projection: 230 car, 1100 rush yds, 6 tds

Daniel Thomas: Running Back – Miami Dolphins

Opportunity is everything at running back. A perfect example of this was Arian Foster last year. An injury to Ben Tate opened the door for him to become the starter and he ran with it. Although the extent to which Foster succeeded is hard to repeat by anyone, a similar situation could present itself in Miami this season.

Recent reports suggest that Ronnie Brown is expected to sign with a team other than the Dolphins this summer. This would leave Thomas and Ricky Williams to share carries in the backfield. However, Williams is also a free agent, who the Chiefs have been rumored to be interested in. Look, I haven’t seen much of the rookie and who knows how he will translate from college to the pros, but if I’ve learned one thing it’s that opportunity trumps talent more often than not at running back. “Great moments are born from great opportunity and that’s what you have here tonight, boys.” (to quote the “Miracle” speech).

Best-Case Scenario: Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams leave the Dolphins

2011 Projection: 250 car, 1050 rush yds, 10 tds

As the dog days of summer approach, and hopefully the lockout nears an end, make sure to keep close tabs on these players (Fitzgerald, Marshall, Stewart, Scott, Thomas). If the chips fall in the right places, you could cash in on some serious value.

The best thing about talking fantasy football in the offseason is that everyone has their own opinions and no one is wrong. So, let me know who else I should have included on this list. Comment below.

Justin Mertes-Mistretta is a senior fantasy football writer for Follow him on Twitter at MertesMist_tsb or read his blog here.

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