Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
They were afterthoughts in 2008, barely on any fantasy owner's radar and certainly not at the top of anyone's list. Yet they produced well above expectations and were among the best bargains last season.
Now, much is expected of DeAngelo Williams, Chris Johnson, Steve Slaton, Eddie Royal and Pierre Thomas and every fantasy owner is asking themselves whether they can repeat their performance.
According to the latest "RapidDraft ADP" numbers, two of them (Williams, Johnson) will be first-round draft choices and four of the five will be gone by the end of the fourth round.
DeAngelo Williams, RB, Carolina - Williams was the 2008 TSN Fantasy Football Player of the Year after posting 1,515 yards on the ground and a total of 20 touchdowns. He posted 382 rushing yards and seven touchdowns during Weeks 14-16 - the fantasy playoffs. Can he repeat those numbers in 2009?
Everything went perfectly for Williams and his owners and though he'll be good again in 2009, I think his numbers could stagnate or even fall back a bit. Not many players have ever posted back-to-back 20 TD seasons and if Jonathan Stewart stays healthy, the distribution of carries might be more balanced than in 2008 (Williams 274 carries, Stewart 184 carries). Williams is definitely a first-round quality talent, he just won't be the "steal" he was last year when he had a 91 ADP.
Chris Johnson, RB, Tennessee - Like Williams, Johnson was in a split backfield situation in 2008 and again like Williams, he was the better half. Johnson (1,228 yards, 9 TDs) and LenDale White (773 yards, 15 TDs) led a great Tennessee running attack. But as you can see by the numbers, if Johnson didn't score from distance, White was the man at the goal line. In fact, Johnson's average TD run was from 22 yards out. It will still be the case in 2009 and given that fact, I think his 10.8 RapidDraft ADP is a little too high for me to pull the trigger.
Steve Slaton, RB, Texas - Slaton is getting all kinds of attention after a solid effort in 2008 (1,282 rushing yards, 50 catches for 377 yards, 10 TDs). Given the fact that he is the only healthy option to run the ball in 2009 (Chris Brown always seems to be hurt) and the potent Texans' passing game should keep defenses from stacking the line, Slaton could easily reach the lofty expectations of a middle-of-the-second round pick (RapidDraft ADP - 14.6). That is, as long as quarterback Matt Schaub can stay on the field. Schaub has missed five games in each of the last two seasons and now his backup is Rex Grossman instead of Sage Rosenfels.
Pierre Thomas, RB, New Orleans - Thomas came out of nowhere to become a fantasy star over the final weeks of 2008. He was behind both Reggie Bush and Deuce McAllister on the depth chart at the start of 2008 and not "draft-worthy." But after both running backs went down with injuries, Thomas posted 597 yards from scrimmage and nine touchdowns between Weeks 11-16.
In 2009, McAllister is gone and the team didn't use any top draft choices on a running back. With Bush limited in the number of carries he will take, and injury prone, Thomas will likely carry the running game for the Saints. He won't catch the ball as much in 2009 as long as Bush is healthy, but he'll likely get all the red zone carries.
Eddie Royal, WR, Denver - Royal was the No.10 wide receiver in fantasy scoring last season, but he's being selected as the 22nd wideout and 62nd overall in early drafts. Royal didn't suddenly get slower in the offseason and start dropping balls, it's all about who will be throwing the rock. Kyle Orton isn't Jay Cutler and both Marshall and Royal are suffering for it. The change in head coach and quarterback is a legitimate concern for fantasy owners and I'd have to shy away from Royal unless Marshall gets traded and the second-year receiver from Virginia Tech becomes the team's No.1 option.
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