Predictions, prognostications and more for the 2010 fantasy season

Miles Austin, who opened last season as a reserve in Dallas and on the waiver wire in most fantasy leagues, finished with more points than Larry Fitzgerald and Reggie Wayne. Jamaal Charles, also a reserve player to open 2009, outscored superstars like Michael Turner and LaDainian Tomlinson. Brett Favre, at the ripe old age of 40, posted the fourth-most fantasy points (274) among all players.

Yes, the NFL can be unpredictable to say the very least.

As we bid a fond farewell to the 2009 fantasy football season and start looking ahead to 2010, NFL.com senior editor Craig Ellenport, NFL.com associate editor Adam Rank and I broke out their thinking caps in an attempt to predict the often-times unpredictable. Here's our look at the top-five players at the major fantasy positions, including a look at some of our favorite sleepers, rookies and more.

Ellenport

One thing that makes Manning and Brees great for fantasy players is that they are prolific regardless of what's happening with their receiving corps. Manning broke in two inexperienced receivers in Pierre Garcon and Austin Collie this season and didn't miss a beat, and Brees spreads the football around to what seems like 75 different guys. On the other hand, Tom Brady put up less-than-stellar numbers when he wasn't getting top performances from Randy Moss. Coming off his best season, Schaub could really take it to the next level in 2010 with Owen Daniels back and an upgrade at the No. 2 wide receiver spot.

Top five running backs
1. Chris Johnson, Titans
2. Adrian Peterson, Vikings
3. Ray Rice, Ravens
4. Frank Gore, 49er
5. Steven Jackson, Rams

Here's the scary thing about Chris Johnson: With Kerry Collins starting the first six games in 2009, C.J. averaged 99 rushing yards per game. After Vince Young took over at the offense -- giving the defense something else to think about -- Johnson exploded for 140 rushing yards per game. With Young firmly planted as the starter, ponder those numbers and start figuring out how you're going to finagle your league's top pick. Rice still has to deal with the specter of Willis McGahee stealing carries in Baltimore, but he showed enough last season to prove he can carry the Ravens' ground game and post consistently big numbers.

It's amazing that Andre Johnson continued to post big numbers even after Owen Daniels got hurt and despite the fact that the Texans' ground game never got going. He's the rare big-play threat who also catches a ton of passes (he's posted a combined 216 receptions over the last two seasons), so there's no downside whatsoever. He's clearly the top wideout in fantasy leagues now. Fitzgerald's fantasy value is largely tied to Kurt Warner's future, which at this point is very much up in the air, but he's actually going to benefit from the attention that upstart running back Beanie Wells might command out of the backfield.

Top five tight ends
1. Antonio Gates, Chargers
2. Dallas Clark, Colts
3. Jermichael Finley, Packers
4. Vernon Davis, 49ers
5. Dustin Keller, Jets

What, no Jason Witten on this list? I know, you're thinking that's just crazy, right? But Gates and Clark are locked into the top five at the position, and Davis slowly became the dependable go-to guy for Alex Smith (and Smith started the on the bench). He also led all tight ends in fantasy points on NFL.com in 2009. Keller, the sleeper in my top five, has a year under his belt with Mark Sanchez, who will look for him often. As for Finley, he has the makings of a matchup nightmare, and the confidence he gained in the playoff loss to Arizona might propel him to scary heights. I think he's going to put up huge numbers in 2010.

2010 top sleeper
Beanie Wells, RB, Cardinals: Yes, Tim Hightower is still there. And yes, all the Cardinals offensive players could take a hit if Warner retires. But Wells showed flashes, and something tells me Ken Whisenhunt would like to run the ball more next season. The offensive line is solid, and if Wells shows improvement in his second year -- particularly when it comes to ball control -- he could have a breakout season.

2010 top rookie
Toby Gerhart, RB, Stanford: Don't get me wrong, Gerhart doesn't look to have the speed and explosiveness to put up the kind of rushing numbers in the NFL that he had in his final season as a collegiate athlete. But he certainly has a proven nose for the end zone, and I could see him being used as a team's goal-line back from Week 1. And in fantasy football (as you know), it's all about the touchdowns.

2010 top fantasy scorer
Adrian Peterson, RB, Vikings: He had more than 1,800 all-purpose yards and 18 touchdowns in 2009, and that was while he was being overshadowed by Favre. Even if Favre returns to lead the Vikings again next season, Peterson should only improve on those numbers. Peterson set a career-high in catches this season, and if Favre returns, he should catch have just as many receptions next year, if not more.

2010 biggest bust
Jerome Harrison, RB, Browns: He was the NFL's best running back in December. In fact, he was so impressive that fantasy owners will be all over him in 2010. But don't forget, these are the Browns we're talking about. It's not uncommon for lightly-regarded players like this to make a splash, but it's rare for them to maintain that level of success. Don't believe the hype.

Fabiano

Rodgers has scored a combined 602 fantasy points over the last two seasons, which leads all quarterbacks on NFL.com. He has a ton of weapons on offense and will continue to produce monster numbers (as long as the Packers stabilize their offensive line). Brees and Manning are consistent, productive and reliable. I think both warrant a first-round pick in 2010. Brady wasn't the same quarterback who put up 52 scores in 2007, but he still posted over 4,300 passing yards and 28 touchdowns last season. It was a close call between Rivers and Matt Schaub at No. 5, but the Chargers quarterback is a safer choice.

Ellenport makes a great point about Johnson and his increased production once Young became the Titans quarterback. While I am always one to be cautious of the "magical" season effect -- look at the drop in numbers of Shaun Alexander, LaDainian Tomlinson and Tom Brady after their "magical" years -- it's still going to be tough to pass on Johnson with the top pick in 2010. I don't think Rice's success was a fluke, and he'll continue to thrive for fantasy owners. Charles' spot in my top five might be a surprise, but I've always seen him as having Chris Johnson-type talent. I also love the fact that his schedule for 2010 is a virtual cake walk.

Top five wide receivers
1. Andre Johnson, Texans
2. Larry Fitzgerald, Cardinals
3. Randy Moss, Patriots
4. Reggie Wayne, Colts
5. Calvin Johnson, Lions

It's a tough call between Andre Johnson and Fitzgerald, but I'm not sure Kurt Warner is coming back in 2010. That would hurt Fitzgerald's value. Johnson has also been an absolute beast in recent seasons, both in standard and PPR formats. I think Moss has at least one more good season left in the tank. Remember, he was second in fantasy points behind Andre Johnson in 2009. Wayne had a few down weeks during the season, but overall he still put up great numbers for the Colts. He also has Peyton Manning, which is a huge advantage. I'm also expecting Calvin Johnson to rebound and make a major impact in 2010.

Top five tight ends
1. Dallas Clark, Colts
2. Antonio Gates, Chargers
3. Vernon Davis, 49ers
4. Brent Celek, PHI
5. Jason Witten, DAL

Davis was the top-scoring tight end in fantasy football in 2009, but can he duplicate the impressive 13 touchdowns he scored? I'm not so sure. He's still a top-five option at his position, but I'd rather have Clark or Gates in 2010. Both of these veterans have long resumes of fantasy success and will continue to be prominent options in their respective pass attacks. Celek was a breakout tight end in 2009 and is close in draft value to Witten and Tony Gonzalez. Witten put up great reception and yardage totals, and his touchdown production will increase in 2010. Gonzalez would come in as the sixth-best tight end.

2010 top sleeper
Shonn Greene, RB, Jets: The rookie out of Iowa proved he can make an impact during the postseason, and I think his rise in carries could be a passing of the torch. Yes, Thomas Jones is still a productive back. But he'll be 32 at the start of next season, and there are no guarantees that he'll even be back with the Jets in 2010. If Greene does emerge as the top back, he'll be worth an early-round selection in drafts.

2010 top rookie
C.J. Spiller, RB, Clemson: The top fantasy rookie is almost always a running back, and the best runner to come out of the 2010 NFL Draft could be Spiller. The ACC's leader in all-purpose yards, Spiller has a similar skill set to Reggie Bush and could be a low-end fantasy starter as a rookie. The best fit could be Seattle, where the Seahawks could use some backfield help and an explosive playmaker on offense.

2010 top fantasy scorer
Aaron Rodgers, QB, Packers: The top quarterback in fantasy football heading into 2010, Rodgers has proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that he's one of the elite players in the league. In an offense that will continue to throw the football a ton and includes a pile of lethal weapons in the pass attack, Rodgers should once again put up the sort of numbers that help fantasy owners win a league title.

2010 biggest bust
Brandon Jacobs, RB, Giants: The Giants appear to have joined the countless number of NFL teams that have gone to a more pass-laden offense, so Jacobs isn't going to see the same sort of opportunities as in season's past. He's also going to lose carries to the more explosive Ahmad Bradshaw, and his proneness to injuries continues to be a cause for concern. Don't expect this bruising back to have a rebound season in 2010.

Rank

Rodgers has become an elite fantasy quarterback, as I predicted last year. He and Rivers are the new breed of top fantasy quarterbacks. Both have big talented receivers to utilize. Whether it's good weather or bad weather, Rodgers also excels. He's especially productive at the end of the season, when it is most important to owners. The Chargers will be a pass-first offense if LaDainian Tomlinson moves on, as expected. Brees or Manning will end up falling victim to the post-Super Bowl jinx. Probably both. I would penalize Brady for losing Wes Welker, but Julian Edelman proved that he could fill that role.

Top five running backs
1. Adrian Peterson, Vikings
2. Chris Johnson, Titans
3. Frank Gore, 49ers
4. Maurice Jones-Drew, Jaguars
5. Michael Turner, Falcons

People will be fired up about drafting Johnson, and rightfully so. He did manage to avoid 370 rushing attempts, the number that kills running backs the following year. But running 358 times to reach 2,000 yards seems like something that will taunt the fantasy gods. I do not like that. Don't underestimate how much Vernon Davis opens up the 49ers offense, which means a big year from Gore. Expect a bounce-back season from Turner. The NFC South is filled with teams that flounder one year and rebound the next. While the Falcons did not exactly flounder, they'll be a force next year, and Turner will be a major reason.

Top five wide receivers
1. Andre Johnson, Texans
2. Miles Austin, Cowboys
3. Larry Fitzgerald, Cardinals
4. Vincent Jackson, Chargers
5. Randy Moss, Patriots

Fitzgerald shook off the Madden curse with another fine season, but he will not be able to shake off the curse of Matt Leinart -- that is, if Warner retires. And there is a possibility that the Cardinals could end up drafting a rookie quarterback (if Bucky Brooks is right), meaning an even bigger hit for Fitzgerald. He is still a top-five wideout, but Johnson and Austin leap ahead of him. Jackson should have a monster year in San Diego. Yeah, people believe that the Patriots dynasty is dead, and it might be. But that could mean more throwing (much of it to Moss) if the Patriots are playing in close games or from behind.

Top five tight ends
1. Vernon Davis, 49ers
2. Antonio Gates, Chargers
3. Dallas Clark, Colts
4. Tony Gonzalez, Falcons
5. Brent Celek, Eagles

Davis became the top fantasy tight in the business, and I think he keeps the title. He is nearly unstoppable over the middle and a key for the 49ers offense. The NFC West could be very weak as well. The Rams will be a bad team again, the Seahawks have a lot of work to do, and the Cardinals could be without Warner, if he decides to retire. Gates will benefit from the new direction of the Chargers offense. Gonzalez could be poised for a big season. I expect the Falcons to have the year that many expected from them in 2009, when Jason La Canfora was ready to put Matt Ryan in the Hall of Fame after his outstanding 2008 rookie season.

2010 top sleeper
Matt Forte, RB, Bears:
The firing of Ron Turner could greatly help Forte in 2010. An innovative coach with an improved offensive line could make him a great sleeper. Another great running back -- though he is hard to be considered a sleeper with the postseason he is having -- is Shonn Greene. Do not be surprised if he is the Jets' starting running back in 2010.

2010 top rookie
Dexter McCluster, RB, Mississippi:The comparisons to Chris Johnson will be inevitable, but this guy has the speed to be a great one. If the Chargers draft a running back in the first round and decide to take McCluster to replace the aging Tomlinson, look for him to become the sleeper of the year. I think this kid is that good. He'll be a name to remember in all fantasy football drafts.

2010 top fantasy scorer
Aaron Rodgers, QB, Packers: Rodgers will be the top fantasy point scorer in 2010, even in leagues that reward only four points for passing touchdowns in its basic scoring system. His number of scoring strikes continues to go up each season, while his interception totals dwindle. And Rodgers could be even better if the Packers get some consistency on the offensive line to protect him.

2010 biggest bust
Ray Rice, RB, Ravens: I am still upset that Willis McGahee took all of his fantasy points in Week 17, costing me a title in my fantasy league with my former Orange County Register compatriots! But I am telling you, John Harbaugh is a fantasy killer. Do not trust this guy with your fantasy players. Of course, all of this becomes null if the Ravens release McGahee. But until that time, you are on notice Mr. Rice.

Michael Fabiano is an award-winning fantasy football analyst on NFL.com. Have a burning question for Michael on anything fantasy football related? Leave it in our comments section or send it to AskFabiano@nfl.com!

This article has been reproduced in a new format and may be missing content or contain faulty links. Please use the Contact Us link in our site footer to report an issue.
Gamepass_vert_web_r

See all the Action

Replay every game all season.