The fantasy football season is winding down to its last couple of weeks, or perhaps your season is already over and you are here trying to figure out what went wrong. It is never too early to start preparing for next year. Coaches, offensive systems and roles will certainly change and could have a minor effect on players, but here are some names that I think you will want to remember this offseason and next year on draft day.
One of the quickest ways to catapult your fantasy football team to the top of the standings is to fill your roster with emerging stars that are poised to build on the success of the previous season. Here are some names that I think are positioned to do very well and help your team. Whether you are in a redraft league or are facing the challenges of identifying your "keepers," these guys deserve your consideration.
Andrew Luck has no doubt been a pleasant surprise for many owners this season. Rookie quarterbacks are threatening to dispel many of the stereotypes they have earned, and Luck is leading the way this season. Fellow rookie T.Y. Hilton continues to improve, and with savvy veteran Reggie Wayne around to show him the ropes, the Colts receivers are positioned to be an even bigger asset next season.
Luck has already emerged as a nice fill-in option at quarterback who will do little to hurt you week-to-week. His poise, understanding and leadership are well beyond his years. With a season under his belt and another draft to allow the Colts to address some deficiencies, I expect Luck to take another big step forward. Luck will be an excellent option for owners who miss out on the first wave of elite quarterbacks and need to plug in a reliable signal caller.
Every season, a key free agent addition is made mid-season that greatly helps a team fill a hole. This season Danario Alexander burst on the scene, not just from the fantasy football waiver wire but literally from the scrap heap. The often injured, former St. Louis Ram was picked up as a free agent in mid-October by the San Diego Chargers. With Vincent Jackson jettisoned to Tampa Bay and Vincent Brown shelved with a foot injury, the Chargers turned to Alexander to help when offseason signees Robert Meachem and Eddie Royal continually disappointed. Alexander instantly stepped in and has been a key addition for teams with holes at receiver.
Alexander will still carry an injury reputation into next season and he can disappear occasionally, as he did Sunday against the Carolina Panthers. Don't let these things scare you away from adding him to your team late in the draft. Value is the name of the game here, and few players will offer a greater return if you are able to snag him late as a fourth or fifth wide receiver option.
C.J. Spiller has been a regular contributor for fantasy owners this season, but next season should be the season he steps up and claims the Buffalo Bills' running back job outright and becomes a weekly starter. For the second straight season, Fred Jackson will end the season injured. Spiller is showing the league and the Bills' coaches that he benefits from an expanded role and finds his rhythm when he gets regular work. Spiller is a receiving threat as well and possesses breakaway speed that allows him to make any play a big play.
Fred Jackson will enter next season as a 32-year-old back. Though he does have relatively low miles, the carries have accumulated over the last several seasons for Jackson and the injuries are a concern. I expect the Bills to feature Spiller next season. Spiller was a first-round draft pick who was drafted to be a feature back. The Bills will want to see what they have as they decide whether to re-sign him after his rookie contract expires. I project Spiller to be a high-end RB2 with the huge upside that you need to claim a championship.
It looks like Michael Crabtree may have finally grown up and is delivering on the promising talent he showed coming out of Texas Tech. After a solid season last year, Crabtree has taken the next step and has really excelled with Colin Kaepernick at quarterback. With two weeks left in the season, Crabtree has already matched his stats from last year. The biggest difference for fantasy owners this season has been Crabtree's ability to get in to the end zone. Last season he only registered four touchdowns, and through Week 15 this season he has logged seven touchdowns.
The outlook is strong for Crabtree. With Kaepernick under center he has performed at his best. In the last three weeks Crabtree has at least seven catches and 90 yards each week. Many owners will be scared off by San Francisco's plodding offense, but the 49ers appear to be a different team. Look for Crabtree to reward his owners with another step up in production next season. Don't overpay, but if you can get him as a WR3 or lower snatch him up.
Next season will be here before you know it, and a lot can change. Having a well thought out game plan and some upside targets will position you to challenge for your league's championship.