Tony Romo(notes): Romo's per game fantasy average in the five games prior to his collarbone injury last season was good enough to rank him third among all quarterbacks. Romo's weapons remain elite heading into '11. And his Strength of Schedule, based upon '10 numbers, ranks as the second easiest in fantasy at QB. In my mind, there are seven quarterbacks with the upside to finish No. 1 in fantasy scoring among quarterbacks, and Romo is one of them – the cheapest of them, going at least a round later than the others.
Matt Ryan(notes): I don't count Ryan among the seven with No. 1 potential, but that's only because Atlanta is a bit too run heavy. Ryan certainly has the talent (his and supporting) to move into that mix, though. According to ESPN's Total Quarterback Rating, a new and much improved way to judge a QB compared to the traditional QB Rating, Ryan was third behind Tom Brady(notes) and Peyton Manning(notes) in '10. With complementary rookie weapons Julio Jones(notes) and Jaquizz Rodgers added to what was the fifth-best scoring offense in '10, there's no question in my mind that Ryan can reach 30 TD passes and 4,000-plus yards.
Matt Cassel(notes): Here's an end-game QB pick that could net top 10 returns. KC was mostly a one-trick-pony (read: Dwayne Bowe(notes)) passing game last season. So it was impressive that Cassel still managed 27 TD passes (and only 7 INTs). But the Chiefs brought in Steve Breaston(notes), who has a history with head coach Todd Haley, and drafted physical freak Jonathan Baldwin(notes) to give the passing game some new looks. Said Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc., "The Chiefs are really doing it the New England way. They have varied receivers. Everyone is different. Many teams have similar receivers, but the Patriots don't and Kansas City is doing that." If variety is the spice of life, Cassel should make for a zesty backup QB in fantasy.
LeSean McCoy(notes): My love for McCoy is shared by friend of the Yahoo! family, Dalton Del Don, who summed up the case for Shady in a recent Mostly NFL Notes column. As Del Don points out, McCoy was third among backs in total snaps (837) and his 78 receptions led all RBs – to that point, I play in very few non-PPR leagues. I was a McCoy owner last season and, frankly, that's a ride I hope to take again.
Marshawn Lynch(notes): In Tom Cable I trust. In his five seasons as either an NFL offensive line coach or head coach, Cable's squads have finished in the top 10 in rushing four times. Only one of those years was outside of Oakland (Atlanta in '06) which makes his track record even more impressive – think about it, when has a defense ever had to worry about a Raiders passing game? Lynch, who came to camp 10 pounds lighter, should benefit greatly from Cable's influence on those tasked to clear his path. With Lynch's setup, it's easy to accept that he can post the kind of numbers that Cedric Benson(notes) did a season ago (1,111 rushing yards and 8 total TDs). And those numbers landed Benson at No. 16 among fantasy RBs.
Ryan Williams(notes): No running back in this year's NFL draft class had a better looking highlight reel than Williams. His ability to make cuts at full speed is something special. And despite being on the smaller side by featured back standards, his technique, balance and determination more than make up for it. Williams is a high-effort back with home run ability. I'm taking head coach Ken Whisenhunt's declaration that Beanie Wells(notes) is the Cardinals starter with a grain of salt. At this point, I feel like I have a pretty good read on who Wells is. And I'll take Williams instead, thank you.
Brandon Marshall(notes): For my money, there wasn't a more poorly run offense than Miami in '10. And I'm not laying that all at the feet of QB Chad Henne(notes), who was forced to run a Dan Henning attack that did little to cater to Henne's strengths, especially his arm strength – Henne averaged a meager 6.7 yards per attempt. New OC Brian Daboll has installed a much more QB-friendly system, and Henne and Marshall have produced encouraging early returns, hooking up for three TDs in the team's first scrimmage. The offense is also using Marshall's talents more effectively. "It’s all about how the offense is using him," said Miami corner Sean Smith(notes). "They’re putting him in different spots now. So he's able to use his mitts and his size against small defenders to make plays." Even if Marshall, the fifth-most targeted WR in '10, puts up his same yardage total (1,014) but Miami finds a better way to use his talents in the red zone – resulting in a jump from 3 TDs to, say, 7-8 TDs – that's the difference between him finishing outside the top 25 at WR or inside the top 15. Just as Scott Pianowski warns to not chase TD totals at WR, the opposite is also true. Let Greg Jennings''09(notes) season be a cautionary tale.
Kenny Britt(notes): Instead of begrudging Britt’s off-the-field issues, be thankful for what those indiscretions have done to his fantasy value. A top 10 WR in fantasy points per game in his second season in ’10, Britt can be had, on average, outside the top 20 WRs on draft day. He has rare big-play ability, ranking among the top six in the NFL in yards per catch (min. 40 receptions) each of his first two seasons. If the NFL follows Tennessee's lead and decides not to suspend Britt for his offseason troubles – I'm probably in the minority in thinking it won't – his third season in the league lines up to be a true breakout campaign.
Mike Thomas(notes): He may not be the sexiest go-to guy in the league, but Thomas is Jacksonville's No. 1 target in the passing game, nonetheless. And even though the Jaguars are a sub-par passing offense, Thomas, the 29th-most targeted WR in '10, deserves attention 2-3 rounds earlier than where he is going in average Yahoo! drafts (Round 13).
Jared Cook(notes): JerMichael Finley(notes) is a name that comes up when describing Cook's talents, but former college head coach Steve Spurrier went as far as to compare Cook to Calvin Johnson(notes). Sure, that's Brad Evans-level hyperbole, but it certainly helps hammer home the message here that Cook offers unique athleticism from the tight end position. And new offensive coordinator Chris Palmer went out of his way to call out Cook's name in last February's introductory press conference, saying, "The Cook guy, I want to get my hands around him right away and find out what he is all about because I think he is a special talent." Cook also made an immediate impression on new QB Matt Hasselbeck(notes). Cook finished last season with 40-plus receiving yards in five of his final six games, and he produced top 10 fantasy totals at the TE position over the final five weeks. For '11, Cook represents top 10 upside despite going, on average, outside the top 20 tight ends.