Can Eddie Royal re-emerge as a valuable fantasy wide receiver?
Royal caught 91 passes for 980 yards and scored five touchdowns as a rookie in 2008. Unfortunately for fantasy owners who took him last season, he had just 37 catches for 345 yards and no touchdowns (10 catches and 90 yards came in one week against New England).
So is Royal as good a fantasy option as he was in his first season? Or as poor a fantasy option as he was in his second season? The reality, as usual, is somewhere in between.
Trouble is, that's a lot of "in between" - there's less divide between the Drudge Report and the Huffington Post. But we think Royal will skew closer to his 2008 numbers than his 2009 numbers.
The obvious offseason development that works in Royal's favor is the trade that sent Brandon Marshall to Miami. After all, someone has to make up for at least part of Marshall's 101 catches from last season.
That someone could be Jabar Gaffney, a former second-round pick of the Texans who had a monster game in Marshall's absence in the 2009 season finale. Or it could be 2010 first-round pick Demaryius Thomas, a possible Kickoff Weekend starter upon whom Denver is counting on immediately. It even could be under-the-radar third-rounder Eric Decker.
Gaffney didn't prove he could cut it as a starter in either Houston or New England, though. Thomas has loads of potential but faces the usual first-year learning curve and is more likely to emerge as a home-run threat early on than a consistent producer. As for Decker, he figures to be a year or two away from being a fantasy contributor.
That leaves Royal.
It's more than just process of elimination, though. With Gaffney and Thomas expected to start wide and stretch the defense, Royal probably moves to the slot, where he can better take advantage of his talents by working the middle of the field. PPR owners are likely to be happy with Royal's considerably higher catch total in 2010, even if the yardage figure is not Marshall-esque.
It helps, too, that in the offseason both coach Josh McDaniel and quarterback Kyle Orton have expressed their disappointment at not working Royal into the offense more last season. That means it shouldn't be long into 2010 before fantasy owners find out if they have the Royal circa 2008 or the Royal circa 2009.
Bottom line: Royal will regain much of the fantasy value that he lost in 2009, but don't expect him to produce Marshall-like numbers.