Every season there are NFL players who bust onto the fantasy football scene after being relatively obscure players the prior season.
Players sometimes struggle because of youth, injury, holdouts or suspension, but with another year of development or different circumstances, the stars align and an unexpected quality season is produced.
Each season, the Maniaxs identify a list of 10 players that are going to do much better a year after finishing low in the rankings. All 2009 fantasy rankings for this article are from profootballreference.com
1) RB Felix Jones (Dallas Cowboys) - He had 685 yards rushing and three rushing touchdowns despite only playing in 14 games and having only one start. He averages 6.5 yards per carry for his career and is just explosive when he touches the ball.
He was 39th among fantasy running backs last year, and he will be a major disappointment if he does not finish in the top 15 this year. All indications are that he will be the starter, and I think he is poised for a huge season and could be the breakout star of the 2010 season...
2) RB LenDale White (Seattle Seahawks) - White had the best change of scenery possible. He was never going to find time in Tennessee backing up RB Chris Johnson, and not only does he go to a team where he can start, he also goes to a team that is coached by his former college coach, Pete Carroll.
White had great success with Carroll at USC, and all indications are that White has slimmed down and is in shape. I think White is going to do very well in Seattle this year; do not be surprised if he breaks the 1,000-yard mark and is close to seven to nine touchdowns. I have him ranked 23rd right now; I might increase that ranking if he shows well in training camp and is announced as the definitive starter over Justin Forsett.
3) WR Devin Aromashodu (Chicago Bears) - In his final four games of the season, he had 22 receptions for 282 yards and four touchdowns. All indications are that new offensive coordinator Mike Martz loves his receivers, and I think this young man will be the major beneficiary of the new offense. It says something that they chose not to pursue a veteran like Torry Holt or Terrell Owens this offseason and have decided to go with what they have in place.
I have him ranked 26th, and I think he could finish a lot higher if the Bears' offensive line gives QB Jay Cutler some time to throw the ball. Aromashodu is a star receiver in the making that could really reward fantasy owners that take a gamble on him having success this year.
4) RB Pierre Thomas (New Orleans Saints) - He is a player that people were optimistic for last year that just never really delivered. He suffered an injury in training camp, started the season slow and just never recovered, rushing for 793 yards and six touchdowns and catching 39 passes for 302 yards and two touchdowns.
He lost a lot of fantasy points to Mike Bell, who rushed for 654 yards and five touchdowns. Bell is now a Philadelphia Eagle, and the Saints are expecting Thomas to carry the load in 2010. I finally expect this perennial fantasy sleeper to have a big year.
5) QB Joe Flacco (Baltimore Ravens) - He really is not a breakout player in terms of NFL fame, because he has already played in an AFC Championship Game and made the playoffs in both his rookie and second seasons. This is the year his credentials as a NFL quarterback mesh with his credentials as a fantasy quarterback.
He was 19th and 17th in fantasy points scored by a quarterback, and this year the Ravens added WR Anquan Boldin and WR Donte' Stallworth to the mix. The Ravens should be an improved passing offense, and I have Flacco ranked ninth among fantasy quarterbacks this year. I expect him to make a huge jump in his third year.
6) RB Michael Bush (Oakland Raiders) - The big winner of the trade for QB Jason Campbell is Bush, who will finally have a viable NFL quarterback handing the ball off to him. Defenses must at least respect Campbell to throw quality passes. Campbell has not been a superstar in the NFL, but he is light years ahead of last year's starter, JaMarcus Russell. There was a lot of talk about the Raiders trying to trade Darren McFadden, and Justin Fargas is no longer with the team. That would seem to indicate Bush is their man.
Bush looks to be the No. 1 back, and he did have 123 carries for 589 yards and three touchdowns in seven starts last year. I think if the Raiders will commit to him, he could be a candidate for a 1,000-yard season. If he earns the starting job, I will definitely bump him up from the 34 spot. The dysfunctional nature of the Raiders franchise is what scares me more than anything, but I think Bush will deliver in 2010.
7) QB Alex Smith (San Francisco 49ers) - To say he was a bust his first four years would be an understatement, but the game finally seemed to slow down for him, and he had 18 touchdowns and 12 picks in 11 games played and 10 starts. The 49ers drafted two offensive linemen in the first round, which should give him better pass protection, and an improved running game, led by RB Frank Gore.
He is also going to have the benefit of a training camp with WR Michael Crabtree, and he has TE Vernon Davis, who led all tight ends in fantasy points last year. I expect Smith to be one of the top 15 fantasy quarterbacks, and he should be poised for an impressive year.
8) WR Julian Edelman (New England Patriots) - All indications are that WR Wes Welker is not going to be ready to start the season and may take until Thanksgiving before he sees the field. If that is the case, the Patriots will need a receiver to play opposite WR Randy Moss, and Edelman played big when Welker went down, catching 10 passes for 103 yards against the Houston Texans and following that up with six receptions for 44 yards and two touchdowns in the playoff loss to the Baltimore Ravens.
If Welker is not ready to go, Edelman should emerge as the second receiver. I have him ranked 42nd right now, but as training camp approaches and there is more clarity about when Welker will return, I will probably bump Edelman up the rankings. He could be poised for a big year playing with QB Tom Brady and opposite of Moss.
9) WR Hakeem Nicks (New York Giants) - He has some positives and negatives working for him. The positive is that he plays with a Pro Bowl-caliber QB in Eli Manning, but the negative is that he has to compete for touches with WR Steve Smith and WR Mario Manningham. The Giants also like to run the ball, which takes more opportunities away. I still like Nicks this year; I have him ranked 24th and I would not be surprised if he finishes higher than that.
He only had three catches for 72 yards and one touchdown in the first four games, but he had 44 receptions for 718 yards and five touchdowns in the final 12 games. He should come close to breaking the 1,000-yard barrier this year and will emerge as the second receiver for the Giants over Manningham.
10) WR Michael Crabtree (San Francisco 49ers) - He really hurt his rookie season by holding out and missing not only an entire training camp, but also the first five games of the regular season. In 11 games, he averaged 56.8 yards receiving per game and had two receiving touchdowns. Had he done that for an entire season, he would have had 908 yards receiving and three touchdowns, which is not bad for a rookie.
I expect that Crabtree and Smith playing together for a full training camp, combined with the improved offensive line of the 49ers, will elevate him from 65th in fantasy points into the 20s.
By Derek Lofland, analyst at Fantasy Football Maniaxs