1. Eli Manning
Manning has already taken over the reins of the Giants offense. The way he handled his business prior to the 2004 draft has many owners pegging Manning as a prima donna. However, you can’t argue with his pedigree. He’s worthy of a roster spot in dynasty and deep keeper leagues and could end up being the player you build your franchise around.
2. Drew Henson
Before the 2004 season is over, fantasy football owners will get a good look at Drew Henson. Until that happens, any hype surrounding Henson is just that – hype. If Henson shows any signs that he is capable of leading the Cowboys offense, clear out a roster spot for him. He’s a former Michigan Wolverine, a school that has produced some quality fantasy QBs, including Tom Brady, Elvis Grbac and Jim Harbaugh.
3. David Garrard
Byron Leftwich’s knee injury has given back-up QB David Garrard an opportunity to showcase his talents. I’ve read reports that some scouts feel Garrard may be even more talented and a better leader than Leftwich. Garrard is scheduled to become a restricted free agent following the 2004 season. If another team makes him an offer and the Jags decide not to match it, Garrard could compete for a starting job next season. His mobility and rushing skills give him a lot of upside for fantasy football owners. Possible destinations include Arizona, Miami, Washington or Oakland.
4. Phillip Rivers
If the Chargers make the wrong decision and decide to let Drew Brees walk out the door after this season, Phillip Rivers would assume control of one of the highest scoring offenses in the NFL. Granted, such a move might very well cause San Diego’s offense to collapse. But the talent surrounding Rivers is infallible. LaDainian Tomlinson is the best RB in the league. Keenan McCardell brings leadership to the passing game. And Antonio Gates is a rising star. With those weapons, it wouldn’t take much for Rivers to become a 20-touchdown QB and an every-week fantasy contributor.
5. J.T. O’Sullivan
The Packers landed O’Sullivan as part of the trade that sent disgruntled cornerback Mike McKenzie to New Orleans. O’Sullivan would be the leading candidate to replace Brett Favre if he retires this offseason. That’s a long shot, but then dynasty leagues are all about long-shots.
1. Maurice Morris
All-Pro RB Shaun Alexander is scheduled to become a free agent following the 2004 season. Several other key Seahawks will join Alexander among the ranks of free agency. Many who follow the NFL believe there is simply no way that Seattle’s management can fit all their players under the salary cap. If Alexander isn’t re-signed, it will open up the door for the more cap-friendly Maurice Morris to become a starter. If he’s given the starting gig, Morris instantly merits consideration as a Top 10-15 running back.
2. Ricky Williams
The dope on Ricky Williams is that he’s been filing all the proper paperwork to re-join the NFL. Many experts feel Williams can avoid suspension, but if the league does crack down on him, it would likely only be for four games. Possible destinations for Williams include Oakland or Dallas.
3. Dominic Rhodes
Edgerrin James is another high-profile running back who is due to become a free agent this offeseason. Like Alexander’s situation in Seattle, James could be a cap casualty because Marvin Harrison also needs a new contract. James has already made it clear that he wouldn’t mind a job in Miami. If Peyton Manning gets a say in whether it’s Harrison or James who gets re-signed, the guess here is Manning will be firmly in his Pro Bowl receiver’s corner. That’d leave Rhodes, a former 1,100 yard rusher, as the frontrunner to start in 2005.
4. Lamont Jordan
I’ve never been a big supporter of Jordan. It seems like fantasy owners have been wasting late-round draft picks on this guy for the past five seasons. Jordan may have talent, but he doesn’t have the opportunity. Well, it looks like maybe next season that could change. Jordan wants out of New York and he will get his wish when he becomes a free agent. I think he’ll find life is much more difficult when you’re a starter versus a change-of-pace back. Nonetheless, Jordan deserves a roster spot if you’re rebuilding your dynasty or keeper team.
5. Larry Johnson
John son has made no secret that he wants out of Kansas City. He’s been treated pretty poorly by the current coaching staff. Penn State running backs like Johnson have had a history of futility in the NFL, but he’s is a former 2,000-yard NCAA running back and will get plenty of attention this offseason if he is released. Expect Johnson to end up with another team and be promised the chance to compete for a starting role.
6. Kenny Watson / Chris Perry
Rudi Johnson wasn’t offered a new contract this past summer. The Bengals apparently wanted to see if he was capable of being a featured RB. He hasn’t exactly wowed the current administration and coaching staff, so there remains the possibility that there could be a changing of the guard in Cincinnati’s backfield. Conventional thought would have 2004 draft pick Chris Perry starting if Johnson departs. However, the coaching staff has been unimpressed with Perry’s nonchalant attitude. I expect Kenny Watson, who was with head coach Marvin Lewis while he was a defensive coordinator in Washington, to be given a look. Both players are roster-worthy.
7. Ron Dayne
Yes, Dayne has a reputation as being soft. But there are plenty of GMs out there who were high on this guy when he came into the league a few years ago. He will get a chance to compete for a starting job somewhere. Judging by his inspired preseason effort this year, he may actually have an outside shot to enter the season as a starter next year for a team that favors the power running game – perhaps Miami. Another team that figures to give him a look is Oakland. After all, owner Al Davis has always had a thing for Heisman Trophy winners.
1. Antwaan Randle El
Plaxico Burress will be the top wideout in free agency this offseason. Based on his recent performance and his shiner, happier attitude, he is expected to command a huge contract. Hines Ward also wants a new deal. Pittsburgh may not be able to afford both players without setting themselves up for salary cap hell. If Burress is shown the door, Antwaan Randle El would likely be the favorite to earn a starting role. With Ben Roethlisberger throwing the pigskin, Randle El could become an instant fantasy starter.
2. Charles Rodgers
Rodgers has had two seasons in a row shortened because of a broken collar bone. His injury history has the fantasy football world skeptical that he can become a reliable player. Many have already written him off as this decade’s Michael Westbrook. The one thing Rodgers has going for him is a good attitude. Look for him to come back strong in 2005 and make some noise opposite Roy Williams.
3. Michael Jenkins
Sure, Michael Vick has struggled to pick up the nuances of the West Coast Offense. But given another full offseason of studying, he should begin to grasp it a bit more. He’s already looking more comfortable. If Vick does master the offense, rookie Michael Jenkins could make a huge leap in 2005. Jenkins figures to be a starter next season. And don’t forget, he hails from Ohio State, a school that has produced big-time wideouts like David Boston, Terry Glenn, Joey Galloway and Cris Carter.
4. David Boston
Boston ’s first season in Miami was over before it started. Maybe it was a blessing in disguise. The Dolphins don’t have anything resembling a starting NFL quarterback. That should change in 2005. Look for Miami to take a similar path to the one the New York Giants followed this offseason. They will likely draft a rookie passer and sign a veteran like Brad Johnson to hold down the fort. Boston could do some damage with an experienced signal caller under center – something he’s never really had throughout his topsy-turvy career.
5. Chris Horn
If the Chiefs fail to make the playoffs in 2004, and it looks like that will happen, they may shake some things up during the offseason. While defense is the main area of weakness, the wide receiving corps may undergo an overhaul as well. Chris Horn has impressed the current coaching staff and could compete for a starting job in 2005 if Johnnie Morton and/or Eddie Kennison are given their walking papers.
6. Justin McCareins
McCareins has been a bit of a bust in his first season in New York. That’s not exactly a surprise. Most wideouts struggle in their first year with a new team (Terrell Owens being one obvious exception). With a year under his belt, McCareins could be poised for a bounce-back type season in 2005. Consider him as a nice dynasty-league sleeper.
7. Bethel Johnson
Javon Walker is just the latest example of a wideout who has proven that there’s some validity to the third-year WR theory. Looking ahead to 2005, Bethel Johnson is one second-year receiver who could breakout next year and may be available on your waiver wire today. The Patriots receiving unit is crowded, but there could be some cap casualties among the ranks of Troy Brown, David Givens, Deion Branch and David Patten. Johnson offers something many of the aforementioned receivers do not: prototypical size and speed.
8. Justin Gage
Gage is another wideout who’s currently in his second year and could be poised for a breakout season in 2005. The Bears QB situation is in a state of flux. Nothing new there. Chicago hasn’t had stability at the position since Jim McMahon left. If the Bears can sign a decent, veteran QB next year like Drew Brees or even Kurt Warner, Gage could emerge as a reliable fantasy receiver.
9. Travis Taylor
Is Taylor a victim of circumstance? We’ll likely find out in 2005. He’s scheduled to become a free agent and will likely flee the run-oriented Baltimore offense for greener pastures. Taylor looked like a promising young WR a couple seasons ago when he broke out with 850+ yards and six TDs. A change of venue could kick-start his career.
1. Marcus Pollard / Dallas Clark
If the Colts don’t make it to the Super Bowl this season, they could make some minor personnel moves. One expendable player who could be shown the door is TE Marcus Pollard. Indianapolis has second-year TE Dallas Clark waiting in the wings. Pollard will likely earn a starting role someplace else. Clark would be elevated to #1. Both players could be Top 5-7 tight ends in 2005.
2. David Martin
Bubba Franks will become an unrestricted free agent after the 2004 season. He hasn’t been a major disappointment during his tenure in Green Bay, but the Packers certainly would’ve like to have seen more from their former first round draft pick. If Franks isn’t inked to a new deal, David Martin, who will also be a free agent, could become the #1 TE on the depth chart. Brett Favre favors the tight end position in the redzone, so Martin has some value.