This is a good time to review where we are at on offenses as a whole, and the possible downstream effects on the players within those offenses. The height of draft season is upon us and sometimes the level of quality and risk in an offense can be a good tiebreaker between similar players when you are making decisions on the clock.
Falcon fever is sweeping through the fantasy football world. Julio Jones is rarely falling out of the second round after putting up good full-game numbers in a half (or quarter) during the preseason. I can't blame you if you take the bait, assuming you go running back in the first and third.
Matt Ryan is the clear QB6, and you may have to pull the trigger in the 4th (or even 3rd in 6 per pass touchdown leagues). Ryan is a cerebral enough quarterback to make a Matthew Stafford-esque leap this year, and he has the personnel and team offensive philosophy to pull it off. He is the sweet spot quarterback between the elite options and QBBC if you can land him in the 5th.
Roddy White shouldn't be forgotten, as he looks as good as ever. White put up numbers that would easily be top 10 over the course of a season when Jones was healthy late last year, and the more aggressive pass offense will only benefit him. I'm still not going wide receiver in the third because of depth at the position, but if White is staring you in the face and you can't say no, I understand, especially if you started RB-RB in your draft.
The new look pass offense plus Michael Turner's appearing to lose yet another step this preseason leaves the door open for Jacquizz Rodgers to be the breakout running back of 2012. Head coach Mike Smith has been saying for months that Rodgers is an every-down back, and defenses are going to be geared to stop the pass. Reserve your 9th round pick for Rodgers and stay far away from Turner. I wouldn't be surprised to see Jason Snelling get some of Turner's touches between the tackles as the year goes on.
Tony Gonzalez is a boring 7th/8th round pick, but we might be sleeping on him if the Falcons decide to pass a lot more this season. The middle of the field should be cleared out for Gonzalez, and he is still a good redzone target. I prefer Fred Davis in that range, but if Gonzalez is neglected in your draft and he's still there in the 9th/10th, he's worth a pick as your TE1.
What is there to say about Cam Newton? I would rather go Brady/Rodgers in the first than Newton/Stafford in the second, but if he is there in the third and my running back targets are gone, I might think about it. He should take a step forward as a passer enough to offset any lost goal line opportunities as a runner.
I'm not bothered by Steve Smith's foot problem, in part because I think Newton will be more effective finding him downfield this year. Brandon LaFell also becomes a good late round sleeper as the unquestioned number two receiver.
There is a movement that is backing Greg Olsen as a sleeper tight end under a similar theory about Jeremy Shockey being released. I can't get behind that. Olsen is one of those players that make me think "if he was going to do it, it would have happened already". His chemistry and trust with Newton got worse, not better, as the season went on, and we shouldn't discount Mike Tolbert's use in this offense as a "move TE/H-back" type. Tolbert's hands, goal line prowess and injury value if Jonathan Stewart or DeAngelo Williams go down give him sneaky value this year.
Stewart is still the most valuable back on the Panthers roster in fantasy leagues. His steady involvement in the passing game make him a viable RB2 in PPR leagues in a pinch, and he has been more durable than DeAngelo Williams over the course of his career. Taking DeAngelo Williams in the 8th round seems like a bet on Stewart to get hurt. Otherwise, you have a matchup/what the heck flex type player, and you should be aiming higher in that round.
New Orleans Saints
My worries about Drew Brees being affected by the absence of Sean Payton are diminishing. I still think he has shown less ability to be at that uber-elite level in the past than Aaron Rodgers or Tom Brady, but if you can pair him with a top 3 running back in the late second, it's hard to say no.
Jimmy Graham could be even better than he was last year. In fact, I expect him to be better. He's only entering his third pro season, and he was primarily a basketball player before that. I won't discourage you from taking him in the late first round in PPR leagues. Darren Sproles might not be better than last year, but I can't come up with a reason that he won't be as good, which equaled strong RB1 production in PPR leagues. Consider it a gift if you get him in the third round.
Robert Meachem is gone, which frees up some targets for Graham, Marques Colston, and Devery Henderson downfield. I don't see Lance Moore getting a huge bump from Meachem moving on because he doesn't run Meachem's deep routes. Moore could be the Saints version of Wes Welker if Sproles goes down, but otherwise, he's just an upside flex play from week to week.
Pierre Thomas is worth his 10th round ADP in PPR leagues as a solid bye week/injury flex play. Thomas has just as much injury upside as backs like Michael Bush, Toby Gerhart, and DeAngelo Williams, who are all going earlier... and Mark Ingram is much less durable than Matt Forte, Adrian Peterson, and Jonathan Stewart based on early indications.
If he makes the team, remember the name Travaris Cadet. He has a mix of Thomas/Sproles pass catching skills and Ingram's ability to run inside. I have no doubt that he can put up solid RB2/flex numbers if injuries get him on the field this year.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
This will be a huge year in determining exactly what we have in Josh Freeman. In 2010, he looked like a future star, with terrific arm talent, athleticism, and mental toughness. In 2011, he was a captain of a sinking ship, trying to save what he could. He might still be a QB1 in fantasy, but the philosophy of Greg Schiano could cap his upside. He's an excellent QB2 in the 11th.
Doug Martin has staked his claim to the feature back job, which should make you feel better about grabbing him in the late third. He is a welcome sight in the fourth round if you only have one running back on your roster at that point. He's a solid all-around back, but the loss of Davin Joseph will hurt. I see Martin with high RB2 upside, but probably not RB1 because this team will likely be behind a lot.
Vincent Jackson might do better with Freeman than he did with Philip Rivers, as crazy as that sounds. Freeman can keep plays alive better than Rivers can, he has more deep arm strength, and the Bucs offense will likely feature a liberal amount of play action longballs to Jackson. I'm happy to snap him up in the fifth round, and you should be too.
As always, thanks for reading. Questions, comments and suggestions are always welcome to firstname.lastname@example.org.