AFC Fantasy Preview

By Vidur Malik

The AFC has a great mix of veterans who are a lock to put up big numbers week in and week out, and young players who are making a name for themselves and will become the superstars of the next few years. By drafting the right mix of established studs and emerging talent, you can remain at the top of your league standings.

AFC  West

San Diego Chargers: The Chargers’ offense has been a high-scoring machine for years, and Philip Rivers and Co. should be able to put up points again this year, despite some departures and contract drama. Once the face of the Chargers, LaDainian Tomlinson is now a Jet, but the SD offense has put the emphasis on their passing game these past few years, and Rivers has grown into a number one fantasy quarterback who can start every week. Running back Ryan Matthews is an intriguing rookie, and with defenses focusing on stopping the passing game, he should be able to make up for some of the ground production they will lose. Matthews should be a number two back coming into the season. What is more concerning is the potential loss of breakout wide receiver Vincent Jackson. Jackson had become Rivers’ favorite target and put up top-10 numbers in receiving yards last year, but even if he leaves, no one should be panicking. Antonio Gates is still setting the standard at his position, and is a number one overall tight end. Rivers can also get the ball to his other big targets in Malcom Floyd and Legedu Naanee, who should both see increased production and could be number three wide outs.

Kansas City Chiefs: Even though the Chiefs only won four games last year, they do boast plenty of fantasy options. The acquisition of running back Thomas Jones was the biggest headline-maker in KC, and he should have another solid year. Don’t expect him to put up similar numbers to the 1,400 yard, 14 touchdown season he had a year ago though. He will have to split time in the backfield with Jamaal Charles, who is more of a game breaker than Jones, which makes him a better fantasy pick. Charles ran for over 1,100 yards and seven touchdowns last year, but the most impressive stat is his 5.9 yards per carry average. Charles is a number one fantasy back, and Jones can be a number two guy. It’s been a while since the Chiefs have had consistent production from a wide receiver, but Dwayne Bowe could be that kind of guy. After a down year in 2009, Bowe should get back to his earlier form. He put up solid numbers his first two seasons, and if he can go a full 16 games, he should be able to get back to the 900-1,000 yard, 5-7 touchdown range. Chris Chambers is a deep threat who can provide fantasy points as a late pick.

Denver Broncos: After Jay Cutler’s departure, the Broncos are now without another fantasy favorite. With the loss of receiver Brandon Marshall, the Broncos will have to rely on Eddie Royal, Brandon Stokley, and Jabbar Gaffney to make up for the loss of one of the best wide outs in the game. All three receivers are consistent players who can be solid third options. Second-year running back Knowshon Moreno established himself as a rushing and receiving threat last year, and should improve upon his successful rookie season and be a number one or two back. Quarterback Kyle Orton won’t put up impressive numbers, but he is more than just a game-manager, so he may be worth a shot if you’re looking for another quarterback.

Oakland Raiders: The days of woeful offense should be gone, and an unfamiliar optimism has arrived along with quarterback Jason Campbell, who replaces the disappointing JaMarcus Russell. Campbell might not be a number one fantasy quarterback, but he is definitely more reliable than Russell, and can be a number two guy. AFC West defenses can give up big plays, and with Campbell’s arm strength and a group of speedy receivers to throw to, the Raiders should have more opportunities to score. If wide receiver Chaz Schilens can stay healthy for an entire season, he should become Campbell’s number one target this year, and a smart second or third pick for a fantasy team. Louis Murphy should play well opposite Schilens and improve upon his solid 2009. Murphy would also make a good pick if you’re looking for someone to round out your group of reserve receivers. Running back Michael Bush should make use of his bigger role in the offense and his physical style to score a lot of touchdowns. Justin Fargas is another powerful Raider running back, who should be monitored throughout the season in case of a mid-season acquisition. Running back Darren McFadden has play-maker speed, but he’s inconsistent, so hold off on him.

AFC North

Baltimore Ravens: Baltimore Ravens football has always been defined by a hard-hitting and dominant defense, and an equally physical running game. The Ravens are still the bruising team we are accustomed to seeing, but their passing attack will be the reason for another playoff run in 2010. Quarterback Joe Flacco is entering his third year, and is the leader of the pack. He doesn’t make as many mistakes or questionable passes as other quarterbacks with his amount of experience, and he will have plenty of weapons to throw to in 2010. Wide receiver Derrick Mason, whose reliability and toughness make him extremely valuable to a young quarterback like Flacco, is back for another year. Picking up Anquan Boldin was a great move. He’s a great possession receiver who has the ability to break tackles and extend plays. Both guys might not put up big numbers every week, but they are consistent targets, and can be great number two receivers for fantasy teams. Tight end Todd Heap isn’t the receiving threat he used to be, but can still be a good number two tight end. Running back Ray Rice showed his speed and ability to catch the ball out of the backfield last year, and is without question a number one fantasy running back. Willis McGahee and Le’ron McClain should each score a good amount of touchdowns in short-yardage situations, and will make good number two or three running backs.

Cincinnati Bengals: The Bengals of the recent past have been a playoff team if everyone is healthy.  With a greater assortment of weapons for quarterback Carson Palmer to choose from, the Bengals should contribute to wins for fantasy owners. Last year, Palmer had a down year by his standards, but was coming off of an injury which forced him to sit out most of 2008. Look for Palmer to get back to the elite-level numbers he records when he is healthy. Receiver Chad Ochocinco should continue to put up over 1,000 yards receiving and 7-9 touchdowns. Antonio Bryant is another option for Palmer, and a strong number three receiver. Look out for rookie receiver Jordan Shipley. If he has a good start to the season, he should be available for a mid-season pick up. One of last year’s biggest surprises was running back Cedric Benson. After struggling in Chicago for the first few years of his career, Benson ran for over 1,200 yards and six touchdowns last year. With a healthier Palmer leading the passing game, look for Benson to have another great year as the leader of the Bengals’ rushing attack.

Cleveland Browns: The Browns are a team that has a few proven fantasy producers, with some younger players who may be worth taking a chance on. Joshua Cribbs has provided points as a kick returner and receiver for a few years now, and can be a number three receiver. Tight end Benjamin Watson would make a great number two tight end, and could be a starter. Kicker Phil Dawson has been one of the best in the business, and can be a great source of points if the Browns’ offense struggles to score touchdowns. Receiver Mohammed Massaquoi had a good rookie year, with over 600 receiving yards and three touchdowns, and would make a good number two or three receiver. Running back Jerome Harrison, who finished last season on a great note, and rushed for 286 yards against the Chiefs in week 15, could move up the ranks of fantasy teams if he picks up where he left off last year.

Pittsburgh Steelers: Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s suspension and the loss of receiver Santonio Holmes will affect the fantasy production of the Steelers by giving other players more opportunities. Running back Rashard Mendenhall will be a great player in the league, and is a number one running back. With Holmes gone, second year receiver Mike Wallace should get more opportunities, and looks like a good number three receiver. Tight end Heath Miller will have another great season, and receiver Hines Ward should have no problem continuing to be a tough and dependable target. Both guys can take a number two spot for their positions. The off-the-field controversies might cause some chaos for the Steelers, but there should be a good amount of players who can deliver for fantasy owners.

AFC South:

Indianapolis Colts: The consistency the Colts are known for translates perfectly to fantasy. Quarterback Peyton Manning is a sure thing, along with wide receiver Reggie Wayne and tight end Dallas Clark. Running back Joseph Addai is also a consistent producer, and a good number two back. Along with these players is a group of young and budding stars who will continue the Colts’ legacy of consistency. Receivers Austin Collie and Pierre Garcon gave Manning two more targets throughout last season, and should be great picks for a number two receiver spot. Running back Donald Brown should split time with Addai, and is also a solid number two back. Backup tight end Tom Santi could be a surprise producer as a reserve tight end.

Tennessee Titans: Though he probably won’t rush for 2,000 yards again, running back Chris Johnson will use his speed to score touchdowns on the ground and through the air for another terrific season next year. His contract dispute is a concern, but if he’s on the field, he can score at anytime. Quarterback Vince Young showed signs of maturity on the field last year, but his playing time might be affected by his recent off-the-field altercation, if the Commissioner feels it is worth a suspension. If Young can play an entire season, he can be a good backup quarterback because of his mobility. His numbers aren’t great, but if you are looking for another quarterback, he should do. Wide receiver Kenny Britt was a pleasant surprise last year, and should make a good number two or three option. If Britt can force defenses to focus on him, tight end Bo Scaife can improve upon his already solid 2009 numbers. Nate Washington, who caught six touchdown passes last year, is worth a look for a number three receiver spot.

Houston Texans: The Texans are a team that is ready for a playoff run, and they have the talent to get there. Quarterback Matt Schaub led the league with over 4,700 passing yards last year, and wide receiver Andre Johnson was number one in the NFL with over 1,500 receiving yards. Both players should finish 2010 with similar numbers. Jacoby Jones should make for a good number three receiver. He scored six touchdowns last year, and with defenses focusing on stopping Johnson, look for Jones to get more involved in the Texans’ passing game. Tight end Owen Daniels will have a great 2010 if he can be back to 100% after a knee injury cut short his 2009 season, which was still a good one.  Rookie running back Ben Tate is expected to impress in his first year, and he should be a smart mid-round draft pick. Steve Slaton and Arian Foster can be good picks for a number three or fourth spot.

Jacksonville Jaguars: There aren’t many fantasy options in Jacksonville. Maurice Jones-Drew is the standout fantasy player from the Jaguars. A running and receiving threat, he is a top-10 fantasy running back who will put up double-digit touchdowns. Wide receiver Mike Sims-Walker came out of nowhere to have a big year in 2009, and if he can get help from the other Jags receivers, he may be able to record 1,000 yards receiving next year. There aren’t any other receivers that are good fantasy options besides Sims-Walker, but tight end Marcedes Lewis has put up good numbers in the past, and can fill in as a number two tight end. Quarterback David Garrard doesn’t throw many touchdowns, but doesn’t throw that many interceptions either. He can also run if he needs to, and could be a helpful number two quarterback.

AFC East:

New England Patriots: The Patriots are an aging team, but their fantasy options should be able to get the job done for the next few years. Quarterback Tom Brady will always have a spot on this team, amid the controversy that seems to happen with every other Patriots player when the front office considers not keeping them around. There has been talk that wide receiver Randy Moss is reaching this point, but there shouldn’t be any doubt as to how he will do this year. He seems to be mature enough to give his all despite the controversy, and will probably record another 1,000 yard, double-digit touchdown season. Reports indicate that wide receiver Wes Welker is quickly getting back to full strength after tearing his ACL late last season, and his production should be monitored throughout this year. Julian Edelman, who replaced Welker last year, could make a good number three pick. The Patriots don’t have much at running back, but Laurence Maroney can be a number three player if you’re looking for a back late in your draft.

Buffalo Bills: The Bills have under rated fantasy options that can help out your team. Wide receiver Lee Evans is a great number three receiver, who could be a number two into the season. Evans had over 600 yards and seven touchdowns last year, and those numbers should go up now that Terrell Owens is gone. The Bills don’t have a proven starter at quarterback, which could hurt the offense, but Evans should be a focal point regardless of who is throwing him the ball.  Running back Fred Jackson had over 1,000 yards last year, and added over 300 receiving yards. He will have to split time with rookie C.J. Spiller, but he should be a good backup. If Spiller is able to produce in his first year, he will also be worth a pick as a backup.

Miami Dolphins: The Dolphins will get an offensive boost with newly-acquired Brandon Marshall on the field, and they have plenty of number two and three options as well. Marshall comes with baggage and controversy regarding his recent hip surgery, but he is still a number one receiver. Running backs Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams will put up good stats for a number two spot on a fantasy team. Davone Bess, Greg Camarillo, and Brian Hartline will all make good number three receivers. All three had pretty good numbers last year, and should get more opportunities with defenders focusing on Marshall. Tight end Anthony Fasano should be a good reserve tight end who will probably be available in later rounds.

New York Jets: After getting to the AFC championship game with the proven combination of defense and a good rushing attack, the Jets will probably have to rely on those parts of their team again in 2010. Quarterback Mark Sanchez looks like he is still a few years away from becoming the leader of the team, but he does have several players who can help out. The loss of running backs Thomas Jones and Leon Washington makes Shonn Greene the leader of the Jet backfield. He is a quick back who complemented Jones’ more hard-nosed running style. Look for him to showcase his speed this year and be a number one running back. The arrival of wide receiver Santonio Holmes will help Sanchez. Holmes should be a number two receiver, and can benefit from lining up with other solid receivers who can free up space for him. Jerricho Cotchery and Braylon Edwards are good number three guys, and David Clowney might be a number three option if he can get some reps. Tight end Dustin Keller, who should be a number two tight end, will also help Sanchez grow.


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