Get yourself caught up on what's going on around the league. This preseason edition is a glimpse into my thoughts, visions and expectations for the upcoming season, with a fantasy spin for each team. Be sure to look for this column every week during the season.
I know Larry Fitzgerald finished as the 6th ranked WR last year, but I am still a little wary with him as my WR1. Arizona addressed WR, before OL in the draft and now LT Levi Brown is out. The question mark at quarterback behind a suspect OL seals the deal for me. Let someone else gamble with Fitzgerald, while I take Julio Jones, Andre Johnson or Brandon Marshall.
It's no secret, my interest in second year running back Jacquizz Rodgers is high. High enough that I think he'll reach 40+ receptions and take a big chunk out of Michael Turner's carries. Julio Jones is a threat. He's even more of a threat with Roddy White lined up opposite him. Expect big things from Jones this year. Tony Gonzalez is still going strong, which means the production should continue. When hasn't it? Matt Ryan is my 6th ranked quarterback. I can see him approaching 4,000 yards with 30 touchdown passes. The Falcons offense looks primed for a big year.
The Ravens are going with second year wide receiver Torrey Smith as their WR1 and so far he has done well. He is not just running deep routes, like most of last year. He's handling the entire route tree and should benefit. Don't forget about Anquan Boldin though. He's still an excellent value and can be selected a few rounds later than Smith.
Steve Johnson has 17 touchdowns in the last two years. In short, he's a reliable receiver who makes a very good WR3. Sleeper watch - look out for speedster wide receiver, TJ Graham. Johnson is good at a lot of things, but speed is not his strength. I can see Graham getting more looks in the regular season and being the team's deep threat and field stretcher. If Graham emerges, Donald Jones will see less snaps/targets.
The news of Steve Smith's infected foot is concerning, but not worrisome. In fact as of late August, he is already looking to return to practice. In my opinion, this will be a forgotten ailment. Smith is the glue to the Panthers offense, because he can stretch the field and give Cam Newton options. DeAngelo Williams is the team's starting running back and should have a 60/40 split with Jonathan Stewart in terms of carries. Stewart's ankle injury does not look to be too serious and he should be OK to play in week 1, but DeAngelo is still the main back - for now.
So far this preseason, Alshon Jeffery has shown he can pick up the offense and be productive. There is no reason to believe that will change in the regular season. Jeffery's success will open the door for Brandon Marshall and vice versa. Marshall has Top 5 written all over him this year.
A.J. Green is the Bengals primary wide receiver, by far. His numbers should mirror that as well. I can see Green raising Andy Dalton's performance, similar to how Andre Johnson elevated Matt Schaub. Jermaine Gresham should be recovered from his knee sprain and remains a comfortable and common target for Dalton. I would not be surprised to see Green and Gresham reach a combined 150 receptions this year. Gresham is entering the prime of his career and Green has reached elite status after just one year.
All eyes on Trent Richardson. Yes, the Browns are expected to run the ball a lot and use Richardson as a rusher and receiver, however don't forget about Greg Little. He is known as a wide receiver who tends to drop too many balls, but I see a different, more determined and motivated Little this year. If you're looking for a WR4 or WR5 later in your draft that will have an occasional 10-target game, Little is your guy.
Dez Bryant is a very difficult receiver to handle from a defensive perspective. He has the size to shield defenders, the hands to make difficult catches routine and the speed to be a threat after the catch. Miles Austin has injury concerns, their WR3 is up in the air, (although I think Kevin Ogletree will win that role), which leaves Bryant as the main receiving threat. I further stress that, especially with the health of Jason Witten unknown. Bryant could be a Top 6-8 WR this year and I think Dallas realizes this - hence the governing rules bestowed upon him to keep him in check.
I was very high on Demaryius Thomas earlier this year, however Eric Decker has emerged, in my mind as the wide receiver to own on Denver in 2012. That's not to say Thomas won't produce, but I think Decker and Peyton Manning have created a trusting, bond on and off the field. Willis McGahee is a running back I am targeting after several other key names have been selected. Denver will still run the ball a lot this year and McGahee figures to be the team's primary back. He should be able to cruise past 200 carries and also have 30+ receptions. He should see plenty of GL carries as well in a Peyton Manning led offense.
There are questions at running back for Detroit, but my money is on Kevin Smith to emerge as the most productive back this season. The ankle injuries are a concern, but if he can get past that, he'll have plenty of chances to thrive in such a dynamic offense. I also think Titus Young is going to emerge as the second most productive receiver next to Calvin Johnson. Nate Burleson may be the veteran, but Young had a strong second half to the season last year and he's catching everything thrown his way this year. I think he picks up right where he left off.
There's something about playing for Green Bay that changes a player. I think we are going to see a re-birth, if you will, from Cedric Benson this year. Granted Green Bay is not a run first offense, but Benson still figures to benefit. I think we'll see more Benson and less John Kuhn at the goal line, thus resulting in more touchdowns for Benson. I like Randall Cobb as much as the next guy and he should see twice as many snaps as last year as Donald Driver is phased out, but keep in mind, he still has Jordy Nelson and Greg Jennings ahead of him. When Green Bay uses two WR formations, he'll be on the sideline. Cobb is a great stash, but I don't think you should rely on him as a starter for your lineup just yet.
Andre Johnson has seen his share of lower leg injuries lately, which isn't great news, but as long as he is healthy, he should be producing on a high level. I think we will see Lestar Jean emerge as the team's WR2 this year, but Owen Daniels and Garrett Graham will be involved in plays down the middle with rookie Keyshawn Martin making plays from the slot. Martin is someone to watch, especially for short ranged routes. Martin's emergence could also lead to less receptions for Arian Foster and Ben Tate, so keep that in mind.
Rookie, Andrew Luck has already shown the ability to grown, learn and adapt as a quarterback in this league. I am convinced he can be a strong QB2 - low end QB1 from the get go. Expect to see a lot of targets to Reggie Wayne, who I love this year as a WR3. The hype surrounding rookie tight end Coby Fleener is starting to fade a little and rise for fellow rookie tight end, Dwayne Allen. In my opinion, Allen figures to see more involvement in the long run, but both could be utilized often this year. Right now, Donald Brown is the starting running back, but look for rookie Vick Ballard to challenge him and possibly unseat the inconsistent Brown.
I originally was high on Laurent Robinson this year, because I liked his experience, maturity and veteran leadership. Plus, if you remember, rookie wide receiver, Justin Blackmon received a DUI and was scrutinized heavily, before even catching a pass in camp. However, it's becoming more and more clear that Blackmon is quickly becoming the favorite target in the Jaguars offense. He has the skills and ability to be a stud wide receiver in the league. If the regular season is anything like the preseason, we could see him emerge before our eyes.
I am really excited to see what Peyton Hillis does with his return to Brian Daboll's offense. If you remember, Daboll was the OC in Cleveland in 2010 when Hillis had his breakout year. I fully expect the Chiefs to use both Hillis and Jamaal Charles, but Hillis most likely will be the goal line back. Dwayne Bowe may be counting his days until he can get his new contract, but I still think he will be productive in Kansas City. The desire to earn the big contract will keep him motivated to perform. He is an UFA after this year.
Honestly, I don't know why Miami isn't pursuing James Jones? He would be reunited with former GB OC and now Miami Head Coach, Joe Philbin, plus - Miami NEEDS a legit WR1. Other than Reggie Bush, there is no other player on the Dolphins that I am interested in for fantasy purposes. Bush is the first, second and third best option in the passing game. I can see him lining up as a receiver while Daniel Thomas or Lamar Miller lines up in the backfield.
If you look closely, the Vikings mainly have three to four weapons on offense and not much else after that. Adrian Peterson, Percy Harvin, Kyle Rudolph and Jerome Simpson. Simpson will be suspended for the first three weeks, which leaves three main weapons - and that's if Peterson is healthy. Harvin and Rudolph could essentially be 1a and 1b for the Vikings passing game this year. I expect to see Rudolph breakout this year, as a result.
There seems to be two camps - one that believes Brandon Lloyd will be the next coming of the 2007 Randy Moss and the other that believes he'll be just another receiver on a team loaded with receivers. I fall somewhere in the middle. I can see him reaching 10 touchdowns with less than 60 receptions. I would not be surprised to see Aaron Hernandez have better stats (especially in PPR leagues) than Rob Gronkowski, but the safe estimate is that both will be highly productive, once again.
Jimmy Graham is the glue for the Saints passing game. Marques Colston will have his numbers as well and I believe another receiver will emerge as a startable fantasy receiver this year. Lance Moore has been a great red zone presence for Drew Brees, but then he disappears for quarters at a time. If he can be more consistent, he'll be the missing piece left vacant by Robert Meachem. I see Moore as more of a short - intermediate ranged route runner though. Devery Henderson or possibly Joseph Morgan could emerge as the next deep threat. If you're looking for a late round flier, take a stab at RB Chris Ivory. The Saints are very impressed with rookie RB Travaris Cadet, which makes Ivory expendable. Plus Cadet can play special teams. Ivory could be traded or released and immediately picked up. Teams that could use his services include the Jets, Lions and possibly the Packers, if they think James Starks turf toe injury is too worrisome to keep him active. One other note - Darren Sproles is still....Darren Sproles. We may even see more from the "Diminutive One" this year.
I am excited to see how quickly David Wilson will progress into the Giants starting running back. It's only a matter of time, before he supplants Ahmad Bradshaw for the role. He is an excellent RB4 or RB5 that you stash on your bench until his time comes. After watching Victor Cruz this preseason, he looks to be in mid-season form. I have no concerns about a down year unless it's due to something out of his control.
I don't think there was a worse place for Stephen Hill to wind up than the Jets. Hill still needs to work on his route running, but he also knows how to adapt to his quarterback's needs. If the Jets can figure out their offense, Hill would benefit from playing the Plaxico Burress role. Santonio Holmes looks like he is recovered from a rib injury he suffered early on in preseason. He is a veteran presence for the Jets and some are looking at him as a WR4, but he won't consistently catch more than four balls a game.
It's no secret, when Darren McFadden is healthy, the Raiders offense is a completely different team. Last year, he tore up the league, before getting injured. I expect to see more of the same this year. The Raiders wide receiver corps is a puzzle, however the pieces are coming together as the season nears. Oakland believes Denarius Moore (hamstring) will be ready for week 1. He and Darrius Heyward-Bey will be the two starting wide receivers and figure to see the most production. Also, Rod Streater has emerged as a favorable target for Carson Palmer. If there is anyone who can pull a Victor Cruz, my vote is for Streater. Taiwan Jones looks like the backup to McFadden. Mike Goodson's fumble woes probably were too much to hold onto the job.
I like the move of selecting Michael Vick as your starting fantasy quarterback and then backing him up with a high upside QB2 like Andrew Luck or Ben Roethlisberger. If you really want to catch lightning in a bottle, you can opt for Russell Wilson, but his ADP is soaring right now. I'd advise a third quarterback, if you go the Wilson backup route. Philadelphia has a potent offense with only a few big names - LeSean McCoy, Jeremy Maclin, DeSean Jackson and Brent Celek. Maclin and/or Celek could be nice fantasy plays, especially in PPR. I really don't see a guy like Jason Avant or Riley Cooper entering the fray as a consistent week to week fantasy start. All the more reason to look for a big year from Maclin or Celek - we know McCoy is going to get his.
Before the knee injury last year, Rashard Mendenhall was ineffective for the Steelers. I can see someone emerging as the go-to rushing threat and the list is small - either Isaac Redman or Jonathan Dwyer. My gut says Redman, if he can stay healthy. Several people believe Mike Wallace will come in with his red cape and be the receiver he was last year. I'm not buying it. Antonio Brown has a new found confidence and swagger about him that leads me to believe he'll be the wide receiver to own in Pittsburgh this year. Wallace has not had time to learn Todd Haley's offense yet and he doesn't come across as someone who will put in the extra time to get caught up. I can see him "learning on the fly." and getting passed by Antonio Brown.
The guy nobody is talking about is Eddie Royal, who has been out with a groin injury. I think he fits in well with San Diego's offense and could be someone to watch this year. San Diego doesn't have a true go-to wide receiver, unless you count Antonio Gates - but he can't do everything. You could say Malcolm Floyd, but we thought he would emerge last year. Robert Meachem doesn't strike me as a receiver who can run the whole route tree and Vincent Brown is out until at least week 8. That leaves Royal as someone who has an opportunity. He won't be wearing #19 anymore, it's retired in San Diego (Lance Alworth). Instead, he'll be wearing #11 his number from High School. As for Ryan Mathews - I am fine with him wanting to come back and play week 1, but please make sure your fractured clavicle won't re-fracture after taking a jarring hit. Heal first, then play.
Russell Wilson is the talk of the team right now. If you're wondering what kind of ceiling he has, I'd take a look at Doug Flutie's 1999 season with the Bills Flutie finished as the 7th ranked quarterback that year in terms of fantasy points. 7th in 1999 would've equaled 14th in 2011. I see Wilson as a high end QB2 already, provided he can continue to put up similar numbers. Sidney Rice figures to be a key player in the Seahawks offense. If he can stay healthy, he'll be a weekly fantasy WR3 or flex option, if not higher. I firmly believe that.
Frank Gore struggled last year and I believe we will see more of the same this year. His decline will open the door for Kendall Hunter, who is a great running back to draft as your RB4 or RB5. I believe his time is coming and it could be sooner rather than later. Vernon Davis was a beast for the 49ers in the playoffs. Don't ruin a good thing. Use what works. Davis could be a Top 2-3 tight end if he's used like he was in the post season.
Steven Jackson just keeps on pounding. I believe he'll be the Rams bell cow running back until an injury derails him. Isaiah Pead is waiting in the wings, but I don't see him contributing much until his time comes. When that will be is anyone's guess. Danny Amendola has 24 red zone targets in 2010 - ten more than any other receiver. He'll get 50+ receptions and 5+ touchdowns. He's a great WR4 or WR5.
I am convinced that new Head Coach Greg Schiano wants Doug Martin to be his "Ray Rice" from his days at Rutgers. Martin has shown that he can handle the load and capitalize on goal line carries. He's a legit starting fantasy running back. His success will lead to a much improved Buccaneers offense. Vincent Jackson also figures to be heavily involved, which will open things up for Mike Williams. The Buccaneers are a team not to be taken lightly, but the verdict isn't out yet on their defense.
I have been impressed by the Titans in the preseason, even without Kenny Britt, who is expected to be suspended for at least two games, maybe more. From the sounds of it, Britt's knees are healing well. Don't be surprised to see rookie wide receiver, Kendall Wright eventually outperform Nate Washington in fantasy value. Wright is a gritty, hard-nosed receiver who has been practicing at the X, Y and Z positions throughout camp and preseason. He's a great WR4 or WR5 who could develop into a weekly fantasy start.
The news of Chris Cooley's release is music to the ears of those who own Fred Davis. Pierre Garçon is expected to be the team's leading receiver, but Davis isn't that far behind. After that, it steadily gets muddier. Santana Moss has the veteran leadership and game knowledge to be an effective target for Robert Griffin III and don't shy away from Leonard Hankerson either. The running game is anyone's guess. All four backs Roy Helu, Tim Hightower, Evan Royster and Alfred Morris will compete for the starting job, that may change hands multiple times this year. You can bet one or more of those backs will be waiver wire darlings at some point this year.
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