Fantasy enthusiasts can have short memories. We remember the heroics of Michael Vick, Arian Foster and Dwayne Bowe last season, but we tend to forget about formerly prominent players that had down seasons because of injuries or other intangibles. Rather than pass on such players, clever owners should target them instead. That's right, in certain cases, these forgotten men can turn into some of the best draft values on the board. With that in mind, here are 10 players who faltered last season but are primed to produce improved numbers in 2011:
Ben Roethlisberger, QB, Steelers: Despite missing four games to suspension in 2010, Roethlisberger amassed 3,200 passing yards and 19 total touchdowns in 12 games. If you project the numbers over a full season, he would have scored more fantasy points than Drew Brees. A durable quarterback who has proven that he'll play (and play well) even when injured, Big Ben is somewhat underrated in fantasy circles but is a legitimate starting option. He'll be a great bargain pick in the middle rounds.
Tony Romo, QB, Cowboys: Romo was on pace to record some of the best numbers of his career in 2010, but a fractured collarbone cost him the final 10 games and a chance to join the elite players at his position. The future is still bright, as he expects to be back at 100 percent and could emerge into a tremendous draft bargain. Not only does Romo have a number of playmakers around him, none more exciting than Dez Bryant, but he also faces the most favorable schedule among quarterbacks.
Frank Gore, RB, 49ers: Gore is one of the most productive running backs in the NFL, but he almost always misses time because of injuries. He was sidelined for the final five games last season and has averaged 13 starts over the last four years. Regardless, that he's a featured back in an offense that will lean on him makes Gore valuable. Furthermore, he has one of the easiest schedules among running backs. Although he is a risk, Gore's statistical upside is immense.
Ray Rice, RB, Ravens: Despite the fact that he rushed for a career-best 1,339 yards, Rice was still considered a disappointment in fantasy leagues last season. That was due to a lack of consistent production: Rice recorded 13 or more fantasy points six times and produced close to 30 percent of his points in two games. Things should improve in 2011, as the Ravens will focus on improving their ground attack. Rice could also see goal-line work without Willis McGahee.
Ryan Mathews, RB, Chargers: Mathews failed to meet expectations in his first NFL season, missing four games because of ankle troubles and losing work to Mike Tolbert. The future is still promising for Mathews, as he showed flashes of potential while on the field. He's also in a terrific offense that will eliminate stacked fronts as long as Philip Rivers is at the helm. Although he will continue to lose some work to Tolbert, Mathews is still a No. 2 fantasy option.
Miles Austin, WR, Cowboys: In the five full starts Romo made last season, Austin was on pace to record more than 1,500 yards. It was only when Jon Kitna took over when his production started to slide. So while Dez Bryant gets a lot of the attention in fantasy land, it's Austin who has the rapport with Romo -- and it's Austin who has the tools to be a No. 1 fantasy wideout in 2011. If he slides into the third or fourth round, he'll be an absolute steal.
Vincent Jackson, WR, Chargers: Jackson missed most of the 2010 campaign because of a contractual holdout, so his fantasy impact was limited. Still, the athletic veteran had recorded successive seasons with 1,000-plus yards and 16 touchdowns in 2008-2009, and at 28 he's still in the prime of his career. With a star quarterback in Rivers at the helm of an offense that can put points on the board, Jackson is in a good position to become a No. 1 fantasy wideout.
Brandon Marshall, WR, Dolphins: After putting up huge numbers with the Broncos, Marshall went to Miami and saw his numbers fall across the board. The most glaring stat that fell was in his number of end-zone visits, which went from 10 in 2009 to a mere three in 2010. Marshall did finish strong, however, and new OC Brian Daboll is certain to get him the ball more often in the offense. Don't be surprised to see the veteran wideout rise back up in 2011.
Wes Welker, WR, Patriots: Welker is coming off his worst statistical season since joining the Patriots, but his 86 receptions and seven touchdowns were still impressive when you consider how quickly he returned from major knee reconstruction. With a full season under his belt since the procedure, there's no reason he can't reclaim his status as one of the league's top fantasy wideouts. In an offense that will throw the football, Welker should be seen as a high-end No. 2 fantasy wideout.
Owen Daniels, TE, Texans: Daniels failed to make an impact for most of 2010 because of leg injuries, but he enjoyed a strong finish. In fact, he was the third-highest-scoring tight end based on fantasy points over the final four weeks. He also was tied for the third-most targets in that time. Although his lack of durability is a cause for concern, Daniels has the physical tools and rapport with Matt Schaub to once again become an attractive No. 1 fantasy tight end across the board.