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10 Bold Predictions for 2006
Derek Aiken
August 7, 2006

This column lists 10 things that may not seem plausible, but could very well happen in the 2006 NFL season. Some of these predictions may fly directly in the face of everything that you’ve heard so far this off-season, and some may simply reaffirm what you’ve been thinking all along. What the paragraphs below have in common, is that every item contains what may be new information or a unique perspective on 10 players that will be selected in the first five rounds of your draft. Some of the items will boost the players stock, while others may make you think twice about taking one of these players. Remember, the article is entitled “10 Bold Predictions” for a reason. These items are firmly on the limb, but not unrealistic. All or none of these items may come true, but none of them are out of the realm of possibility.

1. Peyton Manning Will Throw 50 Touchdowns

In 2004, Peyton Manning threw 49 touchdowns, breaking Dan Marino’s single-season record of 48. This year, he’s going to throw even more. Aside from 2004, Manning has never thrown more than 33 in seven NFL seasons. So, what makes 2006 different? Glad that you asked.

Let’s start with the obvious: Edgerrin James is gone. The Colts running game now consists of a rookie who never even carried a full load in college (Joseph Addai) and a career back-up (Dominic Rhodes) who hasn’t had more than 53 rushing attempts since replacing an injured Edgerrin in 2001. The Colts will definitely be relying pretty heavily on the passing game in 2006.

While the talent at running back has taken a sharp decline, the receivers have been stable. Marvin Harrisson hasn’t showed any signs of aging, Reggie Wayne is entering his prime, Dallas Clark is healthy and Brandon Stokley is the perfect slot receiver. Peyton is going to need to rely heavily on this group to win games.

Another reason that 50 is possible is that Peyton was embarrassed in the playoff game against the Steelers. You can bet that loss has been gnawing at him for the last seven months. Expect Manning to enter the 2006 season looking to make a statement. You can believe that Tony Dungy won’t be resting any starters again, which means that Manning is much less likely to take his foot of the gas.

While 50 may sound like a ridiculous number, it really is only one more than he had in 2004. While some may view that statistical production as an anomaly, why couldn’t he do it again? He has the same weapons as 2004, every one of the main components is still in their prime, he plays in a division with only one good defense, he plays eight games in a dome and Indy does not have a strong running game to rely on in 2006.

The other funny thing about 2004 is that Manning only had 497 passing attempts, compared to and average of 578 in the previous two seasons. This is largely because the Colts were so far ahead in many games, that Manning was frequently out of the game by the third quarter. While you don’t know how many more touchdowns he would have thrown with 80 more attempts, its not unreasonable to assume that he would have thrown about five, putting him at 54 or 55. 

If anybody is capable of throwing 50 touchdowns, its Manning, and 2006 could be just the year that he does it and breaks his own record.

2. Steven Jackson Will Finally Become an Elite Running Back

Whenever I hear the name “Steven Jackson” my first thought is of a play he made during his rookie season. The Rams were in San Francisco and had the ball at the goal line. Jackson got the call and went off left tackle. Waiting for the 6’2, 231 pound Jackson was 6’2 205 pound Mike Rumph. Instead of going around him, Jackson ran-over Rumph and broke his forearm from the impact. How can you not like a RB who won’t only go through someone, but can break their forearm while doing it?

Unfortunately, Jackson’s tenacious running style hasn’t been the perfect match for St. Louis’ high-powered, finesse offense. Until now. Mike Martz and “The Greatest Show on Turf” are gone and have been replaced by the more conservative Scott Linehan. The former Dolphins and Vikings coordinator likes to use multiple tight end sets and is going to pound the ball with Jackson. Where Martz would prefer to air the ball out and have his back function as a receiver and runner, Jackson will reap the benefits of playing in a more traditional offense.

Also gone is Marshall Faulk. One of the greatest running backs to ever play the game, will no longer be stealing touches from Jackson. This should add to Jackson’s receiving value as well. In 2005 he caught the ball well, totaling 43 catches for 320 yards and 2 TD’s. This total should increase even more with Faulk out of the picture. There is now no reason to believe that Steven Jackson won’t be a three-down back, who doesn’t need to leave the field in any specialty situation.

In 2005, his first season as the starting running back, Jackson had only 254 carries, but managed 1,054 yards (4.4 average) and 8 touchdowns. With an additional 80-100 carries, Jackson should catapult himself into elite status among fantasy football running backs. Jackson suffered some minor injuries, but nothing major. He shouldn’t be considered injury-prone and should hold-up well to the pounding of becoming an every-down back.

And then there is the fact that Jackson plays in the NFC West and has one of the easiest rushing schedules in the league. The only thing that even remotely resembles a run defense in the NFC West is Seattle, and even their defense is not that intimidating. Jackson will get to face Arizona and San Francisco a combined four times. His schedule outside of the division is just as good, featuring: Detroit, Green Bay, Minnesota, Oakland and Kansas City. Jackson only has to face five solid run defenses in 2006 (Chicago, Washington, San Diego, Denver and Carolina).

Jackson should be valued within the top seven backs and could easily climb even further up the charts, as the season progresses. In dynasty leagues, he is even more valuable and should be considered a top five running back. Some owners may have been disappointed in Jackson’s 2005 production, so he should be able to outplay his draft position this year and make you glad that you took him.

3. Andrew Walter Will Be the Starting Quarterback in Oakland

While his name isn’t that prominent in the world of fantasy football, it soon will be. It seems only a matter of time before he takes over as quarterback for the Raiders. Who is he? Walter is the reason the Raiders didn’t feel the need to draft Matt Leinart, when he slipped to the 10th position in the 2006 draft.

Had he not injured his throwing shoulder, Walter likely would have been taken ahead of Alex Smith in the 2005 draft, instead of slipping to the 3rd round. Walter’s statistics as a senior were extremely impressive: 3,150 yards, 30 TD’s, and a 95.3 passer rating.

While Aaron Brooks will open the season as the Raiders starting quarterback, it seems only a matter of time before Walter takes the reins. Why? Raiders coach Art Shell said in a recent NFL Network interview that he wants his quarterback to be able to throw the ball downfield and not turn the ball over. Do either of those criteria really sound like Aaron Brooks? Definitely not. Brooks’ statistics are deceptive and aren’t a true indication of his performance. Brooks is often erratic, throws plenty of interceptions, and doesn’t exactly have a cannon for an arm.

The only reason that Brooks has the statistics that he does, is “garbage time.” Playing for the Saints, he was often behind and padded his stats against prevent defenses. In the world of fantasy football, there are no quality points, but those type of mistakes will land you firmly on the bench. The Raiders aren’t expected to be very good in 2006, so don’t think that Art Shell will hesitate to go to Walter if things go badly. Brooks played so badly in 2005, that he was benched for Todd Bouman. The odds are that he won’t be much better in Oakland.

It has recently been reported that Al Davis is a fan of Walter as well. Even Randy Moss has been quoted as saying how much he likes Walter and his upside. At 6’6, 234 pounds, with a cannon arm, he is the prototypical quarterback that can get the ball downfield to Randy. And we all know how much Al Davis likes the ball going downfield.

Walter is an excellent late-round pick in annual drafts, and a must-have sleeper in dynasty leagues. If he’s available, pick him up. If he’s not available, try to trade for him while his value is still low. He’s already beaten out Marques Tuiasosopo and Aaron Brooks is next.

4. Larry Johnson Will Not Be a Top 3 Running Back

Of the 10 predictions listed, this one of the boldest. Everyone has LJ atop their list of running backs. Johnson had an amazing 2005 season, amassing 1,750 yards and 20 touchdowns, despite sharing carries with Priest Holmes for a portion of the year.

Johnson’s breakout season in 2005 left a lot of people wondering, “What could he do with a full season?” Many even thought he would have taken the rushing title from Shaun Alexander, if he had a full year. Take a closer look, and you’ll see that the perception that Larry Johnson did so much more, with less time to do it, really isn’t accurate. Johnson had the seventh most rushing attempts (336) in the NFL. He had only 34 fewer than Alexander (370), despite “starting“ only nine games. Johnson averaged 21 carries per game, to Alexander’s 23.

There are also a few things working against Johnson in 2006. Willie Roaf, one of the best lineman in the NFL, has retired. There might suddenly be a lot less room on the left side of that line. Secondly, Johnson no longer has the element of surprise. Nobody expected his 2005 performance, so defenses weren’t necessarily prepared for him. Every time a team plays Kansas City, you can bet that the number one focus of each defensive coordinator will be how to stop Larry Johnson. Coordinators will be able to throw 8-9 men in the box because there really aren’t any other weapons to worry about. Eddie Kennison certainly doesn’t scare anyone and Tony Gonzalez is likely to be doing a lot more blocking this year. 

The point is not to diminish the accomplishments of LJ in 2005, just to take his potential with a grain of salt. It’s a dangerous thing to take statistics from half of a season, and extrapolate them into a full season. Another thing to remember is that Johnson has never played a 16 game season, as a starting running back. In his first three seasons, Johnson has only started 12 games. Of course, he had Priest Holmes ahead of him so the lack of starts aren’t a criticism, but he does not have a proven track record of being able to carry a 16 game load.

If you need another reason to be skeptical about Johnson’s 2006 prospects, consider that he will have both a new head coach and a new offensive coordinator. The tandem of Vermeil and Saunders is gone. While Herman Edwards likes to run the ball, don’t expect him to give Johnson the amount of carries he received in his nine starts in 2005. Any change in coaching, usually requires an adjustment period, that can be detrimental to fantasy value.

Nobody is going to call you crazy or criticize you for taking LJ #1 overall. Just remember, that there is some downside to this guy, not just the crazy upside that you saw in 2006. He isn’t a no-brainer for #1 overall.

5. Deangelo Williams Will Be the 2006 Offensive Rookie of the Year

All, and I do mean ALL, of the hype for 2006 rookies surrounds the Saints’ Reggie Bush. The Saints spent the #2 pick of the draft on the ultra-talented rookie. As good as Bush is, he will not be the 2006 Offense Rookie of the Year. That title will belong to Carolina’s top pick, Deangelo Williams.

Don’t get me wrong, Bush has some absolutely sick moves and physical skills, but that doesn’t necessarily translate to immediate success in the NFL. In fact, Bush has never had to carry the full load, yielding multiple carries per game to LenDale White. Williams, on the other hand, has carried the full load and even had a better 2005 than Reggie Bush (Williams: 1,964 yards 18 TD’s Bush: 1,740 yards 16 TD’s).

As good as his 2005 season was, it wasn’t even his best year. In 2004, Williams had an even better season with 1,948 yards and 22 touchdowns. 2003 wasn’t that bad either with 1,430 yards and 10 TD’s. In fact, Williams likely would have been picked among 2004’s best backs, had he not broken his leg in a bowl game that year.

While Reggie Bush makes plays that look like they’re straight out of a video game or from the lead-in to Sportscenter, Williams is almost as elusive, and more of a straight-ahead runner. Unless your name is Barry Sanders, East-West runners don’t fare well in the NFL. While Bush does have Barry Sanders talent, it remains to be seen how much he will get to use that talent this year. The speed of the NFL is obviously a lot quicker than the PAC-10, so don’t expect to see as many of those breathtaking misdirections this year. Bush will also be splitting-time with Deuce McAllister, as he continues to recover from his ACL injury. Deuce is ahead of schedule in his rehab, and this will likely eat significantly into Bush’s touches. You can expect to see Bush used a lot more in the passing game, than in the running game.

Deangelo Williams, on the other hand, is in a great situation. He’s on a very good team that likes to run the ball and sits only behind DeShaun Foster on the depth chart. Being behind Foster on the depth chart is almost a guarantee to see carries. As talented as Foster is, he is hardly durable and not capable of carrying the full load. This leaves Williams in a situation where he will be splitting carries immediately, and taking the full load when Foster inevitably gets hurt.

The other good thing about Williams, is that you will be able to get him a lot later in your draft than Reggie Bush. While Bush will be taken in the first 3-5 rounds, Williams will probably be around when the Chester Taylor’s of the world are being drafted.

Bush is a better long-term prospect than Williams, but expect better results and a certain trophy for Deangelo Williams in 2006.

6. Clinton Portis Will Win the Rushing Title

It may not seem like an overly bold prediction to say that the guy who finished 4th in rushing in 2005 (364 yards behind Alexander) will win the rushing title, but when you consider who he has to beat to do it, Portis winning the rushing title would seem unlikely at first glance.

Portis was very impressive in 2005, with 1,516 yards rushing and 11 touchdowns, to bounce back from a disappointing 2004 campaign. Even though Portis averaged a very respectable 4.3 yards per carry, this wasn’t even close to his best season averages (2002 and 2003) with 5.5 yards per carry. If Portis can regain his 5.5 yard per carry average, there is no reason he couldn’t win the rushing title.

How can he regain that average? Enter Al Saunders. The former Kansas City offensive coordinator was responsible for creating the blocking schemes that turned Priest Holmes and Larry Johnson into superstars. Portis has just as much, if not more, physical talent than either of those running backs. While Washington’s offensive line isn’t considered to be as dominant as the Kansas City O-Line, Washington returns its entire 2005 line in tact. With another year to gel, and one of the best blocking schemes in football, Washington’s line should make a name for itself in 2006, with Portis reaping the benefits.

So, how is Portis going to finish ahead of backs like LJ, Tomlinson, Alexander, James and Barber? Simple: He is in the best situation of any of these backs listed. He is only 25, returns an entire O-Line, is durable, surrounded by a multitude of offensive weapons and has a great offensive coordinator. Johnson has lost his best lineman and O-coordinator; Tomlinson will get all of the attention with Rivers at QB and tailed-off at the end of 2005; Alexander lost his second best lineman and has the Madden Jinx to deal with; James now runs behind a terrible line in the desert and has no defense; and Barber is another year older and has an inferior offensive line.

And then there are the weapons, and there are plenty of weapons, including an embarrassment of riches at wide receiver. 2005 Breakout star Santana Moss returns as the #1 receiver, and the team has added Brandon Lloyd and Antwaan Randle El. The Redskins also have one of the best young tight ends in the league with Chris Cooley. All of these weapons will make it impossible for opposing defenses to stack the line of scrimmage with eight or nine defenders, giving Portis plenty of room to run.

Some may worry if all of these aerial weapons will keep Portis from getting enough carries to make a serious run at the rushing title. Don’t make that mistake. Al Saunders isn’t somebody who likes to air the ball out, and instead prefers to run the ball. If you need any more assurance that Washington won’t turn into the ‘99 Rams, take solace in the fact that Mark Brunnell is still the quarterback. At 34, he can’t be expected to be capable of sustaining that type of attack.

Furthering Portis’ chances is that he has a very favorable schedule. The NFC East only has one good rush defense (Dallas) and Portis was even able to gouge that defense for 112 yards in December of 2005. With six division games against soft run defenses, Portis also gets to face such porous run defenses as: Houston, Minnesota, New Orleans and St. Louis.

It will be hard not to root for Portis to win the rushing title in 2006, if for no other reason than to see what kind of costume he comes up with to celebrate the occasion.

7. Ronnie Brown Will Be the Breakout Player of 2006

Expect big things from Ronnie Brown in 2006. Last year, Brown had a solid, but not spectacular rookie season. Brown posted solid rushing stats with 907 yards and 4 touchdowns, averaging a very respectable 4.4 yards per carry. He also contributed in the receiving game with 32 catches for 232 yards and a TD.

Brown’s 2005 stats weren’t what they could have been, since he spent most of the season splitting carries with Ricky Williams. Brown had only 207 carries, about 130 less than most NFL running backs. To think that Brown would have kept that pace with 130 more carries is not necessarily a guarantee, but it is safe to say that Brown’s statistics would have been much more impressive with a full workload. To think that Brown, with a full workload, could have been capable of 1,400 and 10 touchdowns is not at all ridiculous.

As much promise as Brown showed last year, he looks even more promising this year. Ricky Williams has gone to Canada and has been suspended from the team for the entire season. Since there is no other viable running back on the roster, Brown will now handle the entire workload. Travis Minor and K.J. Harris won’t be eating into his carries at all. For a while, it seemed as if Miami may trade for Michael Bennett. Instead, he went to Kansas City, meaning Brown will now also be a big part of the passing game. Especially in point-per-catch leagues, Brown should be an absolute steal as the 7-10th back off of the board.

The Dolphins, for the first time since Dan Marino’s prime, have a real quarterback. Once healthy, Daunte Culpepper should breathe some much needed life into Miami’s consistently anemic passing game. With the blossoming Chris Chambers, impressive tight end Randy McMichael, solid veteran Marty Booker and the emerging Derek Hagan, Miami’s passing game will provide enough of a threat to keep defenses from stacking the line of scrimmage against Brown.

Brown should be taken as the fifth back of your draft, behind only Tomlinson, Alexander, LJ and Portis. To say that Brown could have the fifth best season of any running back, is not at all a stretch. The odds are somebody in the Top 5 will get injured, propelling Brown even further up the rankings. Brown is young and fresh, after being spared excessive work in 2005.

With Miami’s offensive upgrades, the return of the entire offensive line, and the addition of solid fullback Fred Beasley, it isn’t unreasonable to think that Ronnie Brown can put up these type of stats: 1,400 yards; 11 TD’s; 55 catches; 4 receiving TD’s. If you don’t draft him, you’re going to wish that you did.

8. Steve Smith Will Not Be a Top 10 Receiver

This is, by far, the boldest of the 10 predictions listed here today. Some would even consider this type of statement to be blasphemy, but its actually a lot closer to the truth than the absurd. Returning from a broken leg in 2004, Steve Smith posted a monstrous 2005 season with 103 catches for 1,563 yards and 12 touchdowns. For most games in 2005, Smith was the entire Carolina offense.

But as you have often seen in fantasy football, don’t make the mistake of thinking that success from the previous season will necessarily translate into the next season. While Smith was a nice mid-round steal in 2005, many sources list him as the #1 receiver for 2006. Spending a second round pick on Smith in 2006 would be a huge mistake.

So, how is it that somebody who was far and away the best receiver in the NFL won’t even finish in this year’s Top 10? There are three reasons:

First, Smith is already hurt. On July 28, Smith had to be carted off of the field with a hamstring injury. All of the news out of Carolina is that this injury is really no big deal and that he should be fine to return soon enough. However, Smith has still yet to return to the field. While its normal for teams to be a overly-cautious with a player of Smith’s caliber, there is another reason to be concerned about this injury. This is the same hamstring that prevented Smith from finishing-out the team’s June mini-camp. The fact that the same hamstring is still problematic after two months, has to be a little bit concerning, especially since Smith’s game is predicated entirely on quickness.

Anyone who has watched the NFL for a few years knows that the kind of success that Smith had in 2005 can rarely be duplicated because defensive coordinators will spend the entire off-season watching tape of Smith and trying to figure out how to stop him. That means, even if the hamstring heals, Smith will face a ton of double and triple-teams in 2006. While he faced the same attention in 2005, coordinators have now had a several months, as opposed to days, to fine-tune their defensive schemes. Much like Larry Johnson, any team playing Carolina will be focused on stopping Smith as their first priority.

A large part of Smith’s success in 2005 was that he was pretty much Carolina’s only receiver and Jake Delhomme looked to him on almost every passing play. This year, the receiving corps has been vastly improved, meaning less looks for Smith. Expect possession receiver Keyshawn Johnson to eat most heavily into Smith’s catches. Johnson is a big target who knows how to get open and catch the ball in traffic. Drew Carter and Keary Colbert have also been having outstanding camps. Colbert was expected to be the second receiver in 2005, but was limited by ankle injuries. Carter also proved himself by making some big catches in the postseason. The development of these receivers, means more balls thrown their way, and less to Steve Smith.

Smith has amazing talent and should, if healthy, remain a very productive receiver. But taking him with one of your top two or three picks, could spell disaster for your fantasy team. Part of the reason that Smith’s 2005 season was such a pleasant surprise for owners, was that he was often drafted as a WR2 and available as a value in middle rounds. To get Smith this year, you’re going to have to take him pretty early. You’re better off taking names like Chad Johnson, Torry Holt, Chris Chambers, Larry Fitzgerald and Reggie Wayne at least one round later.

9. Matt Jones Won’t Live Up to the Hype

There is something about this guy that people love to talk about him so much. Last year, all of the buzz surrounding the NFL draft was when a team would take a chance on the converted quarterback. This year, he is being mentioned as a #1 receiver with huge breakout potential. Several sources have even compared his physical skills to that of Randy Moss.

Selected by Jacksonville with the 21st pick of the 2005 draft, Jones enjoyed good success in his rookie season. Jones quickly established a rapport with Byron Leftwich and put-up some very respectable rookie number (36 catches, 432 yards and 5 TD’s). It could be said that Jones would have had an even better season, had Leftwich not been injured and missed the last 5 games of the regular season. Jones’ receptions tailed-off sharply after David Garrard replaced the injured Leftwich.

What is fueling a lot of these lofty expectations is the surprising retirement of Jimmy Smith. With Smith’s departure, Jones is now expected to fill-in Smith’s role as the X receiver and #1 option in the Jacksonville passing game. Of course, having those sick physical skills doesn’t really hurt either. When you make some of the catches that Jones made in 2005, your team’s #1 receiver retires, there are no other star receivers on the roster, its easy to see how people can get excited about his potential. But that type of A + B=C logic does not always equal success in the NFL.

Jones has already suffered an ankle sprain, that is keeping him off the field and has him wearing a protective boot. Normally, a minor camp injury isn’t anything to erode a player’s value, but keep in mind that Jones is in the process of trying to learn an entirely new position. Missing a couple weeks of practice, certainly won’t help Jones learn the X-position any more quickly, and could definitely impact his value. The time away from the field could also impact the burgeoning chemistry between Leftwich and Jones, in his new position.

Even if then ankle heals fine and Jones gets acclimated to his new position, there is still the matter of the health of Byron Leftwich. For all of his talent and intangibles, Leftwich has shown an inability to stay healthy in his first three seasons. It was clear in 2005, that Jones’ stats took a big hit when backup David Garrard entered the lineup. Garrard is talented, but in different ways than Leftwich. Garrard is more of a running quarterback and the passing game takes a hit when he is the quarterback, thus impacting Jones‘ stats.

Jones has also never had to bear the burden of being the #1 receiver before. In 2005, he came into games as the 3rd receiver and became the big-play threat. This year, he will face the opponent’s best corner and is likely to see a ton of double-teams. Jacksonville also spent its first round pick on the ultra-talented Marcedes Lewis, who is having an excellent camp and will see his fair share of catches. Ernest Wilford is expected to beat-out 1st round bust Reggie Williams for the team’s WR2 position, and will continue to see most of the red zone passes.

Matt Jones really has some nice upside this year. He has a ton of physical talent, he’s the best receiver on his team and the starting quarterback likes to throw to him. Just don’t make the mistake of thinking that all of these intangibles make him a solid WR1 or WR2 for your team, he‘s not a proven receiver yet. He should be selected about midway through your draft, but the hype and Randy Moss comparisons are going to have him off the board long before that time. It’s a big leap to go from being a situational playmaker, to a bona fide #1 receiver, don’t expect Jones to make that leap just yet.

10. Heath Miller Will Have a Better Year than Tony Gonzalez

The days of Tony Gonzalez being the most dominant tight end in football are long gone. Not only has Antonio Gates assumed that role but, in 2005, Gonzalez didn’t even finish in the Top 5 for Tight Ends. Gonzalez’s 2005 numbers (78 receptions, 905 yards, 2 TD’s) don’t look that bad. They are actually pretty impressive for a tight end. The real problem with these numbers is only two touchdowns. Two!

Considering that Gonzo is being drafted at about the same time as players like Chambers, Wayne, Hasselbeck and Kevin Jones, the lack of production can be a little bit concerning. The bad news is that you shouldn’t expect Gonzo’s numbers to get any better in 2006. In fact, he’s receiving totals are likely to go down this year. Even though he is likely to catch more than two touchdowns this season, it shouldn’t be a very dramatic increase.

The surprise retirement of Willie Roaf means that Gonzo will have to spend more time blocking than ever before. In games that Roaf missed in 2005, Gonzo’s receiving totals dipped significantly. Even though Roaf missed only a handful of games in 2005, Gonzo slipped all the way to 6th for tight ends. How much of an impact will an entire season without Roaf have on Gonzo’s stats? Probably a significant one.

Then there is Herman Edwards. The former Jets coach favors a ground attack and will not hesitate to use Gonzo’s talents as a blocker, in order to create more room for Larry Johnson. While coaching the Jets, Edwards had a stud running back in Curtis Martin, but never once had an impact tight end. This isn’t to say that Gonzo isn’t worth drafting, he is still one of the most talented tight ends in the league, and worth a starting roster spot in virtually any format. The problem is that as soon as somebody picks Antonio Gates, Gonzo will be picked shortly thereafter. Taking Gonzalez this high would be missing out on a more productive player, when you can take a tight end with better numbers, several rounds later.

That tight end is Heath Miller. Last year, Miller enjoyed and outstanding season, posting 39 receptions for 459 yards and 6 touchdowns. Miller also established himself as the team’s premier aerial red zone threat. Miller started to heat-up in Week 4 and enjoyed four superior weeks, before quarterback Ben Roethlisberger injured his knee. Once Roethlisberger was injured, Miller’s production fell-off sharply.

Miller’s 2006 potential dodged a huge bullet when Roethlisberger’s motorcycle injuries weren’t as severe as initially feared. With no viable back-up option at quarterback, Miller’s value would have taken a significant hit if Roethlisberger was not able to return to the field for Week 1. Roethlisberger is healing much faster than expected and will be ready to go for the preseason.

Miller’s 2005 receiving numbers were about half of Gonzo’s, so can he really make-up that much of a disparity in one season? Yes. Miller’s receiving numbers should drastically improve in 2005. The Steelers lack a proven running game and Miller has had a full season to mature and become more familiar with the offense. Expect Miller to have about 60 catches for about 700 yards and, more importantly, double-digit touchdowns. Even if Miller’s total fantasy points don’t equal Gonzo’s, they will be close and Miller can be had several rounds later.

While these predictions may seem bold and unlikely, every year the unlikely happens in the NFL. The great thing about the game is that there are always surprises. Before 2004, you would have thought it was crazy to say that a quarterback would throw 49 touchdowns. Before last season, who would have thought that Tom Brady would have more passing yards than Peyton Manning or that Carson Palmer would blow-up the way that he did. Who could have predicted Santana Moss or Steve Smith’s massive seasons in 2005. Two years ago, hardly anyone had ever heard of Antonio Gates and Joey Galloway’s career was considered over. Who would have thought that Donte Stallworth would have more fantasy points last year than Randy Moss? Last preseason, Kerry Collins was considered a Top 5 quarterback, until he got benched and is still without a team. And then there is the poster boy for fantasy Cinderella stories: Kurt Warner. The point is that, while the predictions above are improbable, every single NFL season, the improbable happens. By looking closely at the situations and reading the warning signs, you can be the lucky owner to reap the benefits or avoid the pitfalls of the improbable.