Welcome to this edition of the 2012 Footballguys Roundtable. Feel free to eavesdrop as various staff members share their views on a range of topics in discussion format. This week, they touch on the following:
Players changing teams 49ers offense Colts offense Browns offense
Players Changing Teams
We've seen a number of offseason moves with significant fantasy implications.
Peyton Manning has signed with Denver. Can Manning return to anything resembling his previous form?
WILL GRANT: Manning's health is probably the biggest question. He's proven time and again that he just makes the team better around him. If he's back to 95% by the time the season rolls around, he's going to punish some teams.
STEPHEN HOLLOWAY: I expect another very good year out of Peyton Manning, the ultimate competitor. I am not sure that would mean a return to top five QB, which is where he finished every year of his career but two.
What are your projections for Denver WRs Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker this season?
WILL GRANT: I think Thomas emerges as a legitimate WR2 because of his big play ability, but Decker also does well because Manning may not be able to get the distance he previously did. This won't turn into Indianapolis II, but expect a solid performance from Manning this season.
CECIL LAMMEY: I'll watch the battle between Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker unfold first hand from the sidelines of Dove Valley during training camp and will report here at Footballguys what I see. Thomas is the lead WR here and should be in for a career year. If he's healthy, I could see him catching 90 passes for 1,100 yards and let's say 7 TDs. Decker should have a career year too. I could see him hauling in 75 catches for 1,000 yards and around 6 TDs. I give Thomas the edge over Decker because of the big play ability Thomas has. Decker fails to get separation in his routes and will always "look" covered. It's not as big of a problem for Manning as it was for Tebow, but it will force more passes to Thomas.
JEFF HASELEY: From the sounds of it, Manning already seems to be establishing a rapport with Eric Decker than Demaryius Thomas, on the field and off. How that translates to actual production is yet to be seen, but I definitely like Decker's value more than Thomas's, considering their average draft positions. Current ADP has Decker going 10-11 WRs after Thomas, which is incredible value if you ask me.
STEPHEN HOLLOWAY: Having Manning at QB for the Broncos will translate to much improved years for Thomas and Decker at the WR position, as well as Dreessen and Tamme at TE. I can see three of those four being valuable fantasy contributors on a weekly basis.
Matt Flynn is expected to start at QB in Seattle. Is Flynn a real talent, or did the Packers offense just make him look good in week 17 last year?
COLIN DOWLING: I absolutely love Flynn going to Seattle. While Flynn isn't likely to throw 6 touchdowns in one game again anytime soon, it is foolish to think that his time in the Green Bay system hasn't taught him a LOT about playing the pro game. While Andrew Luck and RGIII have tons of talent and eventually should develop in to top-notch signal callers, put me in the camp that thinks the Seahawks got the best "new" starter in the NFL. The most impressive thing to me about Flynn is that he doesn't seem to be afraid to run the offense. Many quarterbacks who come off the bench look like they are just trying to make it from one snap to the next without doing something awful. Flynn has never looked shake-able when he gets on the field. He does something good, something bad, whatever...he carries himself on the field like a legit starter. Toss in that he can make all the throws (or at least all the ones he'll need to make to be successful) and the Seahawks may have lucked in to a quality quarterback at a reasonable price tag. Count me in as a "buyer" for the Matt Flynn era in the Pacific Northwest.
WILL GRANT: I agree with Colin's enthusiasm. Sitting as a backup in Green Bay has given Flynn some valuable experience. Being an arm-chair QB in a system like that teaches you a lot without actually even being on the field. That has to give him an advantage as he goes into Seattle. That being said, the talent around him won't be nearly as good as it was in Green Bay, and he's going to have to learn a new system with new players. He benefits from a much stronger running game than Green Bay had, however, and he also plays in a weaker division. Flynn probably won't be a starter for many fantasy teams this season, but I wouldn't cry if he was my bye week fill in.
CECIL LAMMEY: Matt Flynn's a likeable Kyle Orton. That's not a bad thing, just don't expect huge numbers from this guy (if he even wins the starting job). Seattle didn't commit a lot of money or time to him, so they're not as crazy about him as some would think. I'm an LSU fan and have seen every snap of his college and pro career. Let me just say that he is an average starter at best and could get exposed now that he's not working in the high powered Green Bay offense. I like how he's developed as a pro under Mike McCarthy, but know that his ceiling is limited.
JEFF HASELEY: I think the Packers made Matt Flynn look good in week 17 last year, but at that same time, I can see him finding success with Seattle.
Do you see Sidney Rice, Mike Williams, or Doug Baldwin as the Seahawks receiver to own this season?
WILL GRANT: You have to give them all a bump from last season. Rice probably benefits the most, simply because he has the most talent, but he'll still have to show that he wasn't a fluke in Minnesota. I like the flashes that Baldwin had last year, but need to see more out of him before I get excited.
JEFF HASELEY: As long as Sidney Rice is healthy, I see him as the WR to own in Seattle this year. Doug Baldwin intrigues me as well, but Rice is more of a red zone threat that can also be involved between the 20's. I also think we could see a rebound year from TE Zach Miller as he should be recovered from a barrage of injuries that hampered him last year.
RB Peyton Hillis has signed with Kansas City. With Jamaal Charles coming back from a knee injury, will the carries be split the way they were in 2010 (with Hillis taking Thomas Jones' place)? Or will Charles be more of a featured back, as was apparently the short-lived plan in 2011?
WILL GRANT: Last year, many guys had Charles as a top 5 fantasy performer. He was injured early and it hurt a lot of teams. But he was injured early enough to start this season completely recovered. Early indications have him ahead of schedule on his rehab and there's no reason not to expect a solid season from him in 2012. That being said, I think KC realized, like most NFL teams, that having one feature back is a liability both to the team and the player. They brought in Peyton Hillis on a one year deal to protect against Charles starting out slow or going down again. I would bet that Charles starts out a little slow from a fantasy perspective as KC tries to be a bit more conservative. Then after 3 or 4 games, I can see Charles taking over as the big feature back. Hillis is more of a power runner, so they might use him more for those 3rd-and-short type of situations just to keep Charles from taking a pounding. But expect Charles to be heavily involved in this offense and be a solid fantasy RB for 2012.
STEPHEN HOLLOWAY: The NFL in general and Kansas City in particular have seen the necessity of having two viable RBs working together. Folks are always looking for the right thunder and lightning combo. I think that Hillis and Charles can be that and even more. Both of these players are excellent receiving options out of the backfield. There will be no need to run certain plays for one and an altogether different set for the other. I am a big fan of Peyton Hillis and think that he and Charles can combine to produce top-five RB production, with each of them being RB2 type fantasy players. I agree with Will that the Chiefs will start Charles out slowly, but I think that they may keep the committee approach throughout the season, with close to a 50-50 split.
CECIL LAMMEY: This move was made for offensive coordinator Brian Daboll, who got the most out of Hillis when the two were together in Cleveland. Hillis and Charles will be a true RBBC with carries split fairly evenly. I'm sure we'll hear things like "hot hand" during the season and it may be difficult for fantasy owners to predict from week to week who is going to be the better play. We can't forget that Hillis is a fantastic receiver out of the backfield, so I'm sure there's going to be sets where both are on the field at the same time. Charles between the 20s, Hillis on short yardage and goalline situations. I think this is going to play out like it did for the Vikings in 1999 with FB/RB Leroy Hoard and RB Robert Smith. (See stats here.) In fact, the comparison is downright scary.
WR Vincent Jackson also has a new team this season. Is the move from San Diego to Tampa Bay good or bad for Jackson's fantasy prospects, and for those of his new teammates?
WILL GRANT: The Buccaneers really struggled last season, and Josh Freeman took a huge step backwards. While he improved on his total passing yards, his 16-22 TD to INT ratio really killed his fantasy value. The inconsistent running game led to an inconsistent passing game and everyone on the team suffered. This off-season, the Bucs have come out swinging. They hit the free agency market hard and fast, and landed some solid rookies in the draft as well. It may take a few weeks for their team to come together. Vincent Jackson is the real deal. He is a legitimate playmaker and a seasoned veteran on a team of young guys who are trying to prove themselves. That being said, Jackson isn't the most mature of individuals and he may not be the best role model for these kids either. For the season, I think Freeman will finish with between 3700 and 3900 yards passing. His passing TDs should improve, finishing north of 20 TDs. I think Vincent Jackson settles in and returns to posting starter quality numbers. He won't dominate in TD receptions like he did last season, but you can still see a 1200 yard performance out of him. Mike Williams probably posts similar stats, with maybe a slight improvement in Yards and YPC. The odd man out appears to be Arrelious Benn, who struggled again last season and could finish down in the 70s for fantasy WRs again this year.
STEPHEN HOLLOWAY: Jackson in Tampa Bay could have fewer opportunities this year than he had as a Charger. Many think that Coach Schiano may employ a run-based offense. The offense has plentiful options to focus on the passing game also with Mike Williams, Arrelious Benn, and Kellen Winslow. The addition of Jackson should help Williams, but his overall effectiveness will primarily be determined by his dedication, which has been questioned recently.
CECIL LAMMEY: New Bucs head coach Greg Schiano told me at the Scouting Combine that the team was going "back to basics." That means a big ground game with some play action passing sprinkled in. Doug Martin will be the feature back and can be a Ray Rice-like workhorse. Freeman suffered last year from a team that lost its way. While several other players were reportedly messing around (partying) from what I've gathered Freeman was having none of that. His work ethic should come through in a big way this year with a new attitude at One Buc Place. The addition of Jackson is HUGE. He'll stretch the field and keep defenses honest. Tampa will pound the rock to lull defenses to sleep then go over the top to Jackson a few times a game. The numbers for Mike Williams are going to be impacted most by the change in philosophy on offense. He'll actually see more favorable (one-on-one) coverage with the addition of Jackson.
JEFF HASELEY: Jackson thrived as a field-stretching deep threat for Philip Rivers in SD. I'm not sure how often the Bucs will utilize him in that role, simply because the new coaching staff hasn't revealed much, other than he will be a major part of the passing game. I think his presence will help Mike Williams, who struggled against double coverage last year. Teams will be focusing more on Jackson, giving Williams more of an edge than he had before. Williams is an excellent fantasy pick in the later rounds. People will forget about him, after his disappointing Sophomore season, but I expect a rebound year.
WR Brandon Marshall will be reunited with QB Jay Cutler in Chicago. Will Marshall surpass his 2011 fantasy numbers in 2012?
COLIN DOWLING: I think that being reunited with Jay Cutler and getting (another) fresh start is just what the doctor ordered. Marshall didn't fall off when he went to Miami (as many free agents do with their new teams) because his game is predicated on catching the ball and running up the field. There isn't a lot of mystery and tree-route-hand-wringing with Marshall; he is reliable enough to catch 5-10 balls a game if the quarterback is reliable enough to find him after the snap. Cutler is going to be the best quarterback that Marshall has played with since, well, since he last played with Jay Cutler. I would not be the least bit surprised to see Marshall catch 100 passes again and be a draft day bargain for fantasy owners.
WILL GRANT: Chicago had a fantastic free agent period and followed it up with a head scratcher of a draft. Cutler landed some solid weapons, and Marshall should finally get back to a WR1 status in fantasy with his old pal throwing to him and enough WR talent to keep the double teams away from him. The running game looks improved, and Cutler looks poised to come back strong, having recovered from his thumb issue that ended his season last year. The part I'm still trying to figure out is why Chicago didn't do ANYTHING to help bolster an offensive line that has given up 105 sacks over the last two seasons (3.28 per game!). If Cutler can't stay upright, it won't matter how many new additions they add to their offense. I like Marshal for a top 12 fantasy WR finish and Cutler as a high QB2 or key component to a QBBC.
STEPHEN HOLLOWAY: Marshall being united with Cutler is great news for each of them. In the two years that Cutler started in Denver, Marshall had 206 receptions 2,590 yards and 13 TDs. I expect that Marshall will be much closer to those numbers this year than the 84 for 1,100 yards and 4.5 TDs he averaged in Miami.
CECIL LAMMEY: Marshall will surpass his 2011 numbers if he can stay out of trouble. Cutler had a laser lock on Marshall in Denver, and it should be no different in Chicago. He could catch over 100 passes again and get back to the form we were used to when he was with the Broncos. The addition of Alshon Jeffery will also keep coverage honest.
JEFF HASELEY: I definitely see Marshall being a big part of the Bears offense and we know Cutler knows how to get him the ball. Even a down year from Marshall will be an improvement over the Bears leading WRs of years past. I believe he will improve on his 13th place finish last year. If rookie Alshon Jeffery can adapt quickly, it will only help Marshall be an even more dominant WR.
Pierre Garcon goes to Washington. With rookie QB Robert Griffin III throwing to him, what is WR Garcon's upside potential in 2012?
WILL GRANT: Garcon basically had a rookie QB throwing to him last season, so I don't think that matters too much. I think RGIII will be an upgrade at QB for Garcon. The problem that I see for Garcon is that he is now the No. 1 receiving option on a team that is in a division that made significant upgrades in their passing defenses. Philadelphia was already a top 10 passing defense. Dallas signed the best free-agent CB and added the best rookie CB in the draft. The Giants were not great and could be the weak link, but their pass rush is rock solid and can rattle a rookie QB. Garcon will draw all of the double teams now and the motley crew of WRs that will line up on the opposite side of the field won't draw attention like Reggie Wayne and Austin Collie did last year. I think Garcon struggles this season and will probably be drafted well before he deserves in most fantasy leagues.
STEPHEN HOLLOWAY: Garcon will not be a high priority for my 2012 drafts. His production a year ago in Indianapolis was solid with 70 catches for 947 yards and 6 TDs. In Washington, he will be in a new system and, with his contract, expectations will be much greater for him as a WR1. The future for the Redskins is bright with Robert Griffin III, but with so many options, Garcon will probably not match his 2011 production, even though his QB play will likely be improved.
CECIL LAMMEY: Garcon needs to stay healthy, but if he does it could be a big year for him. He plays most like Robert Griffin III's favorite WR from Baylor, Kendall Wright. Garcon's long speed won't be a problem for RG3. Not only did he have arguably the strongest arm in this draft class, he also has excellent downfield "bucket" accuracy. Expect Mike Shanahan to go crazy with bootleg, play action, DEEP passing plays all season long.
WR Robert Meachem isn't expected to fill Vincent Jackson's shoes in San Diego, but most people consider him the Chargers' new WR1 ahead of Malcom Floyd (and Vincent Brown). How will things play out in San Diego this season?
WILL GRANT: Phillip Rivers struggled last season and Vincent Jackson still finished with over 1100 yards and nine TDs. Assuming that Rivers can bounce back and have a more productive season, you can expect that Rivers will flirt with 5,000 yards and 30 TDs again this year. Meachem will probably get a significant portion of that offense, but so will Floyd. Brown will probably see an increase as well. Look for Meachem to approach 1,000 yards and 6 or 7 TDs. Floyd should be right behind him with 900 yards and 5-6 TDs.
STEPHEN HOLLOWAY: I expect Meachem, like Pierre Garcon, to fall short of anticipated production. Even while in one of the NFL's most efficient passing offenses thus far in his career, he has never caught more than 45 passes in a season. He should do slightly better than that in San Diego, but will do no better than producing fantasy WR2 numbers. I would not be surprised if all three of the Chargers' WRs produce similar numbers in the range of 50 receptions for 750 yards and 5 TDs, leaving fantasy owners exasperated with whether to start them or not.
CECIL LAMMEY: Chargers GM A.J. Smith is trying to replace Vincent Jackson with Robert Meachem, but it's not going to work. It's not even close, and this will end up blowing up in the face of the Chargers. Meachem isn't the same talent level as Jackson and won't command the double coverage like Jackson did. It will mean more targets for TE Antonio Gates if he's healthy.
JEFF HASELEY: I am torn on Meachem this year. On one hand, I can see him producing good numbers in San Diego, benefiting from the playmaking ability of Philip Rivers. On the other hand, Meachem primarily was a deep threat, behind the coverage type of WR with the Saints who may struggle to perform well in a wide variety of routes and underneath plays. In order for Meachem to be a big producer, he will have to be more of a clutch, possession type of WR and I'm not sure I see him being that kind of player. I will probably be cautious when it comes to selecting him in drafts.
Brandon Lloyd follows offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels to New England. How do Lloyd's skills complement those of Tom Brady, Wes Welker, Rob Gronkowski, and Aaron Hernandez in the passing game? What will Lloyd's role in the offense be, and what round would you consider drafting him in (12-team league, PPR or non-PPR)?
WILL GRANT: I am a bit higher on Lloyd that most of the other guys are, but I personally think that Lloyd and New England just might be a perfect match. Lloyd tore it up in Denver just two seasons ago with Kyle Orton throwing to him. I still can't believe he's the same guy that played for Chicago back in 2008. He revived his career from a near death experience, and I think the combination of Tom Brady throwing him the ball and Wes Welker, Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski keeping defenses honest means Lloyd is going to return to his top form with ease. I don't expect him to become the next Randy Moss in New England, but a top 20 finish would not be out of the question. He's easily a fantasy WR2.
STEPHEN HOLLOWAY: I like Brandon Lloyd as a player, but consider him the fourth option at best in New England. With the success of Gronkowski, Welker and Hernandez, I am not sure that Lloyd can be featured often enough to be a consistent weekly producer. His addition will definitely help Tom Brady and that is a scary thought for Patriot opponents. Brady has averaged or 4,500 yards and 34 TDs this past three seasons and could improve on that this year.
CECIL LAMMEY: It's Lloyd and McDaniels 3.0 here. New England has a lot of places to go with the football, so it will mean more favorable coverage opportunities for Lloyd as he's not the number one target. He'll still be a fantasy force, and I would be comfortable having him as a WR2 on my fantasy team.
JEFF HASELEY: When looking at Lloyd's role in the Patriots' offense this year, the first thing that comes to mind is how often he was a part of the attack in a Josh McDaniel's led offense. New England has plenty of weapons on offense, which likely means Lloyd will not have to be involved as much as he was in prior teams coordinated by McDaniels. I still see production from Lloyd in what could be a very potent offensive system. He may not surpass 65 receptions this year, but the yardage totals could reach 1,000 with 7-9 TDs.
The 49ers flirted with signing a veteran quarterback to replace Alex Smith this offseason, but ultimately stayed with Smith - and brought in a slew of weapons to surround him with.
The 49ers relied on the running game in 2011, throwing fewer passes than every time except the Broncos. In particular, the WRs as a group were seldom targeted. With the offseason acquisitions of Mario Manningham, Randy Moss, and first-round pick A.J. Jenkins at WR, does it look like that plan will change? Will coach Harbaugh turn Alex Smith loose and try to attack defenses down the field more this season?
RYAN HESTER: While the Niners did bring in some weapons, the possibility of Jim Harbaugh changing his style significantly after such a successful first season seems like a strange idea. While Manningham, Moss, and Jenkins are new weapons, there isn't a true No. 1 WR among them. Manningham may be the best of the bunch, and no one has ever considered him an elite player. Moss isn't even a lock to make the team (look at his low salary, place on the depth chart, the fact that three teams threw him away TWO seasons ago, and his lack of presence on special teams as reason why that claim can be made). A.J. Jenkins is a player that not many people graded out as a first-round talent. In fact, there were many stories about the Niners brass having his name written in an envelope before the draft started. While it's nice to get "your guy," the Niners picked at 30 - meaning Jenkins wasn't anyone else's guy. Perhaps there's a reason for that.
WILL GRANT: I see this as the 49ers embracing the NFL of today - where passing is the key to winning. By upgrading their receiving corps, they pick up enough pieces to hopefully take them over the top this year since they fell JUST short of their quest for the Super Bowl last year.
MATT WALDMAN: I think the 49ers are looking to the future and making plans to do different things with the offense. I think it's premature to say the 49ers will completely revamp their system, but I think a more sensible description for what they're doing is letting it 'evolve.' With the rules changes that favor offensive football, teams are incorporating more spread concepts into their offensive game because they have discovered that they can find favorable match ups to exploit against defenses when they spread the field. I think the 49ers draft picks and free agent acquisitions indicate a possibility that they will attempt to incorporate more of these concepts into their offensive game plan.
Although San Francisco had success with its game plan last year, let's remember that the labor situation limited the offseason activities for all teams and the 49ers had a new coaching staff. How much exactly was Jim Harbaugh going to try to accomplish his first year? Looking back, it's clear that his decision to use a run-based offense where the concepts were simplified in comparison to what they did in previous years in the Bay area was the basis for the team's success. The conservative approach complemented everything they did on both sides of the ball because the offense didn't put the defense in as many binds, which allowed that defense to be more aggressive in spots it couldn't in the past.
However, the 49ers know they have to develop an explosive element to its passing game if they want to compete with the best teams in football. This was apparent in their win against the Saints in the playoffs when the seesaw battle that made great football TV had to scare the hell out of them from a tactical standpoint. They know that quarterback sweeps are only going to work when there's an element of surprise and that element came and went in that game. I think the 49ers look to the Saints ability to control tempo, spread the defense, and generate big plays, and that's something they would like. If they can get ahead early and allow the defense to play aggressive football, San Francisco becomes a lot more dangerous. I think Jim Harbaugh looks at the Saints offense and thinks about Oregon's success with an offense that controlled tempo, spread the defense, and generated big plays in the Pac-10 when he was at Stanford.
Do you think the kind of change you're talking about is signaled by the team's personnel moves this offseason?
MATT WALDMAN: Yes. Look at the team's draft and free agent acquisitions. Kendall Hunter and LaMichael James are both spread system runners. Their bread-and-butter runs come on draws, delays, screens, swing passes, and belly plays. Neither is physically equipped to grind between the tackles 18-25 times a game, 16 games a year. With Frank Gore getting older and expected to see fewer carries - according to the team this spring - and Brandon Jacobs not much younger and definitely not as talented, I think the 49ers added the speed element to its game the past two years to build in some of these changes.
They may not go whole hog into a Saints-style or Oregon style system in 2012, but I think the fact that they fortified the receiver position with players that can stretch the field (Manningham, Jenkins, and Moss)is a good indication that they know that they at least have to scare teams with the possibility of play action so they can effectively run the football. They also know that there are situations where they need to pass every down and Ted Ginn and Josh Morgan weren't going to take the focus off Vernon Davis and Michael Crabtree in critical situations. Crabtree isn't a vertical threat and Davis can't be the only reliable vertical option for the team to have success with the deep ball.
WILL GRANT: Unlike Ryan, I think Moss will make the team and contribute well for the 49ers. His presence keeps defenses honest, and guys like Crabtree, Davis and Manningham will make the offense look more like the Patriots than anyone will like. By that I mean you might see an even mix of stats among each guy with a different player emerging each week as the Top fantasy WR.
So the bottom line is that you think the 49ers will stretch the field a bit more with the passing game this year?
MATT WALDMAN: Yes, I think Harbaugh is going to incorporate more vertical concepts into the passing game. I don't think they are going to incorporate a spread system as their base offense this year unless Moss, Manningham, and Jenkins all look so good that the team just can't imagine keeping any of them off the field. I believe the decision to acquire these guys was to make sure they have depth. Moss has no guarantee of making the roster - I believe he will, because the motivation to win a Super Bowl is too strong for him to do things halfway this year and I think he knows this is his last chance. That said, the 49ers know Moss' history and realize he's a gamble. Manningham is also a gamble because he's too inconsistent as a route runner for a veteran of his talent. It's clear by his on-field play that he doesn't work like he should.
This is why I think the team drafted A.J. Jenkins at the end of the first round. I disagree with Ryan's sentiment about Jenkins. This is a deep class of wide receivers, perhaps the deepest rookie class in recent memory. I'm not as enamored with Jenkins as others, but I understand why he could be graded as a first-round talent and there are often players drafted in the third round with first-round grades. Jenkins is a chance to build continuity with its depth chart talent.
What do you see as the upside potential this season for Alex Smith, Michael Crabtree, Mario Manningham, Randy Moss, Vernon Davis, and A.J. Jenkins?
RYAN HESTER: I see the ceilings of these guys like so:
Smith - 3,600 yards, 24 touchdowns Crabtree - 90 catches, 1,000 yards, 8 touchdowns Manningham - 70 catches, 900 yards, 6 touchdowns Moss - 35 catches, 550 yards, 6 touchdowns (remember, I'm of the mind that he may not make the team or last all season) Davis - 75 catches, 1,050 yards, 11 touchdowns Jenkins - 45 catches, 650 yards, 4 touchdowns
These are "upsides," so I don't expect them all to happen. In fact, it's probably more likely that none happen than all. If I had to pick one about which I feel strongest, it might actually be Moss - just because those totals are so low. Once again, he'd have to make it out of camp though. Davis' numbers are the highest of course, but he's the most talented (and targeted) player on the bunch.
MATT WALDMAN: I think Smith has 4,000-yard, 30-touchdown upside this year. This is how I see the receiver upside shaking out, provided that each player stays healthy and on the field. If not, you can bump those numbers to the healthy guys:
Crabtree - 60 catches, 700 yards, 5 touchdowns Manningham - 50 catches, 800 yards, 5 touchdowns Moss - 60 catches, 1,000 yards, 8 touchdowns Jenkins - 40 catches, 500 yards, 2 touchdowns Davis - 50 catches, 700 yards, 7 touchdowns RBs/other TEs - 300 yards, 3 touchdowns
Will Frank Gore beat his 2011 fantasy numbers in 2012, or fall short of them?
RYAN HESTER: Gore ran for 1,211 yards and 8 TDs last season. He only tacked on 114 receiving yards and no TDs in the passing game. I don't see Gore matching these numbers. First of all, he's starting to show some tread on the tires. Secondly, the Niners consider themselves a team with a chance to be playing into February (and rightfully so). Because of this, they may spare Gore the heavy workload he has received for much of his career in an effort to keep him fresh for a postseason run. Most importantly, Jacobs is functional, Hunter is a very nice player, and James could be the 3rd down back and take what little receiving numbers Gore had in 2011.
MATT WALDMAN: I think Gore sees fewer carries because it's just a natural by-product of using more passing concepts and having success in the vertical game. If San Francisco has success throwing the ball deep, they'll be more inclined to spread the field in run situations, bait the team into thinking pass and run draws, screens, and delays. This means more use of backs like James and Hunter. Jacobs can be used in the red zone and depth to run out the clock when they have leads and don't want to lean too hard on Gore so they can keep him fresh.
WILL GRANT: The current trend in the NFL is to move away from the solo back to more of a RBBC, and I think that's what the 49ers are doing by picking up additional running backs. Gore will probably see a drop in stats, but not as much as you might think. He's still going to be a big part of the offense, but Kendall Hunter will probably steal more 3rd down and passing down touches and Brandon Jacobs will probably see more goal line carries. As Ryan mentioned, the SF backfield is probably something to avoid this season, although Gore will probably put up stats for a RB2.
Who is Gore's handcuff: Brandon Jacobs, Kendall Hunter, or LaMichael James?
RYAN HESTER: This is a backfield that I'd stay away from as much as I could. As said above, I think Gore's workload will be limited by Jacobs and - as the year progresses - James. When Gore plays, that could be a 60-30-10 type of arrangement. If Gore misses extended time, though, I actually believe that Hunter will get the starting role with Jacobs remaining in the No. 2 spot, and the split would be more like 50-40-10. With this predictions considered, I don't believe that there is a true handcuff among these guys. Jacobs has shown that he can't carry the full load, but his presence also takes away from Hunter's handcuff value because they didn't sign him to sit on the bench.
CECIL LAMMEY: I'll stubbornly stick with Hunter here. We know at this point in his career Jacobs is a big back, mostly a plodder, and doesn't run with as much authority as he should for a man his size. James is a fantastic addition as a change of pace RB, but he's what I call a "space runner." He needs room to maneuver, and is not an "inside/out" runner who can take it between the tackles then burst to the outside at the second level. James ran through huge holes at Oregon and is more quick than fast. If Gore is hurt he'll still be a part-time guy.
Hunter is the answer because he is the most complete of any of the RBs on the roster behind Gore. He is an "inside/out" runner who shows patience to press the hole and wait for his blocks to develop. When he gets a crease he can turn on the speed and get to the second level in the blink of an eye. Hunter is also a capable receiver out of the backfield. If Gore gets hurt, it will be an RBBC featuring Hunter as the lead back, Jacobs as the banger, and James as the change of pace back.
The Colts were pretty much a fantasy wasteland in 2011, but they'll sport a completely new look on offense this year. They'll be the youngest offense in the league, as they spent six of their first seven draft picks on offensive skill-position players who could all make an immediate impact (along with former Ram WR Donnie Avery).
QB Andrew Luck, TE Coby Fleener, TE Dwayne Allen, WR T.Y. Hilton, RB Vick Ballard, WR LaVon Brazill.
The rookies will be counted on to help fill the gaps left by the departures of Peyton Manning, Pierre Garcon, Jacob Tamme, and possibly Joseph Addai and Dallas Clark.
Pretty much a complete overhaul.
What's the short-term and long-term outlook for the Colts' offense in 2012?
DAVE LARKIN: The youth movement has officially taken off in Indianapolis! I think the new Colts GM Ryan Grigson has approached this draft in a very smart way by placing a priority on acquiring offensive talent to surround Andrew Luck. Luck is an elite prospect at the position and should make everyone around him better, but I would be wary of expecting too much, too soon.
In the short-term, this offense will need time to bed in and blossom into the behemoth it could eventually become with Luck at the wheel, so expecting miracles in 2012 is unrealistic. However, Indianapolis has one of the poorest defensive units in the league on paper. There are a few above average starters like FS Antoine Bethea and now pass rushing outside linebacker tandem Robert Mathis and Dwight Freeney, but there is little depth. The Colts, therefore, will yield a lot of points to opposing offenses. Step up, Andrew Luck and company. Luck's statistical production - and that of Fleener, Allen, Hilton, Wayne et al - should spike in those games. Playing from behind is conducive to more passing and more fantasy production. So, while I don't foresee a major improvement from last season, the opportunity is there for Luck and his offensive skill players to be somewhere in the Top 20 offenses in the league.
MATT WALDMAN: Dave breaks down the defensive issues and new offensive talent well, so let me address how I envision the offensive strategy and how these rookies will fit into it.
Andrew Luck ran a two-tight end offense as its base personnel at Stanford. This gave the team the flexibility to come to the line in a variety of formations and then adjust to the dictates of the defense. For example, there are plenty of times I saw Stanford use Fleener as the slot receiver or flanker split away from the formation in what looked like a standard, 1-RB, 3-WR formation, but when Luck saw the defense he'd shift the personnel to a two-tight end set with two receivers and throw or run from that new look. They would also do the opposite - approach the line in a multiple tight end formation and then split Fleener away from the set. Just like the Patriots, Stanford was doing this to spot the potential mismatch either with a specific defender or shift the formation to run the play to a side of the field where there were fewer defenders.
It makes total sense that Indianapolis would take what Luck has proven he can do well and build and offensive system around it. Especially when the Patriots are having success with the same strategy. This means having two tight ends capable of making plays in the passing game. It's a bonus that Coby Fleener and Luck already have a rapport from Stanford and understand the concepts. It's a further bonus that they were able to land the best, all-around tight end in this draft after Fleener in Dwayne Allen, who will play the Gronkowski role in this offensive system to Fleener's version of Hernandez. Neither are as talented as the Patriots duo, but the drop-off isn't so big that it will limit the success of this tactical strategy.
So you think the two rookie tight ends will give the Colts' offense a lot of flexibility?
MATT WALDMAN: Yes, and that's another positive about Allen in particular: he is used to shifting around the formation at Clemson. They used him as an in-line tight end to pass protect defensive ends and linebackers as well as run-block or run pass patterns. However they also used him on the wing to motion across the formation as a lead blocker for the ground game or as a glorified fullback to pick up the DB blitzes off the edge. Then they also split Allen away from the formation to target him down field. He's not as explosive as Fleener, but I think he's a more flexible athlete and just as good of a receiver - perhaps better in tight coverage.
Moreover, the Stanford Cardinals also like to use three-tight end sets, and the both Fleener and Allen complement current Colts tight end Brody Eldridge, who is more of a blocker, short-yardage receiver. Luck is adept at passing from this set, but as one can imagine, it's also a good run formation. I'm not ready to pronounce a winner of the Colts running back competition on the depth chart, but I can say the ground game will improve overall because they have a young quarterback capable of taking what the defense gives him and I can't say the non-Manning era quarterbacks from last year were as adept. Despite a non-committal stance on the individual running backs, I do think the ground game will be a good mid-to-late round value and a likely target in my Upside Down Draft Strategy.
What will that mean for the wide receivers in the passing game?
MATT WALDMAN: Generally positive things. Luck excels with his decision-making and accuracy and this bodes well for Reggie Wayne and Austin Collie who thrive off quick decisions and balls thrown into tight windows. Collie will remain a risk to those that think about his 2010 concussion-filled season, but if Luck had success with Ryan Whalen, Griff Whalen, and Doug Baldwin, Collie is a solid 2-3 steps better than these three receivers and capable of providing great value after round four.
Wayne is the old hand here, but I have to imagine that he has another two years of strong production in him and I think he's a safe pick in the second round, and a value many will find in the third or later. Donnie Avery might finally look like the player the Rams over-drafted - they have a history of over-drafting receivers, in my opinion - but if he couldn't get on the field with the Titans and produce, I wouldn't count on him. Before I get to the rookie receivers, let's not forget two intriguing depth chart players worth monitoring this summer: Jarred Fayson and Jeremy Ross. Both are second-year players that played the hybrid-RB/WR role for their respective college teams. They have NFL physical talent and could very well blossom in a year or two.
What's the long-term outlook for this year's rookies?
DAVE LARKIN: This draft class looks promising enough in the long-term. Coby Fleener was a fantastic addition at TE. The Colts will line him up all over the formation, splitting him out in the slot as they used to with Dallas Clark. Fleener's superb hands and smooth, athletic build will be a consistent outlet for Luck in the short to intermediate range of the field - the area he is most comfortable with. Fleener will not be a Rob Gronkowski type, but I believe he will be a top ten tight end in time. T.Y. Hilton is an intriguing kid. His nickname in college was "Good Bye" thanks to his ability to run away from defenses. Hilton has great suddenness and possesses the moves and speed to take a short pass the distance. His greatest strength may be his pass-catching prowess in the short to intermediate range of the field on slants, drags and curls. He is a perfect slot receiver; here, he won't need to worry too much about bigger defensive backs pushing him out of his stride and will be able to get to top speed in a flash. LaVon Brazill, a favorite of our Matt Waldman, projects as a third or fourth option in the passing game.
MATT WALDMAN: I like the rookie receivers the Colts picked. T.Y. Hilton has the makings of a dynamic slot presence that can stretch the field and I like the physicality that he brings to the game. He's a smaller player, but he handles physical play well. I can't say Donnie Avery had that quality at Houston and this is one of several reasons I always questioned him as a first-round pick in the NFL Draft. I think Hilton is an late-round flier, at best this year. LaVon Brazill is more of dynasty stash. I think he has top-notch receiving skills that come natural to him: hands, adjusting to the ball, skill at physical play, and clutch tendencies. However, he's still raw with his routes and he needs to catch on when it comes to the conceptual side of the game. I think Reggie Wayne is a perfect player for Brazill to learn from. Hopefully he takes advantage of this opportunity. If he does, he's in a great situation to develop into one of Andrew Luck's favorite weapons - just don't expect it this year.
In redraft leagues, what rounds would you start thinking about drafting some of the Colts offensive players?
DAVE LARKIN: Assuming this is a 12-team format, I would trust Andrew Luck as my backup QB in the mid-to-late rounds. He can be a very productive player if the Colts have to claw back a deficit in many games - a likely scenario. Luck has the upside to be a top 15 QB.
TE Coby Fleener will be Luck's pacifier or safety blanket, if you will. Their existing relationship will allow them to make checks at the line of scrimmage and exploit mismatches that they see. In the long term, Fleener is an exciting prospect. This year, I expect him to be a presence but he cannot be relied on to be anything more than a second tight end in a committee or strictly a back-up. Fleener is a high upside late round selection.
Even in a horrific season for the Colts' offense, WR Reggie Wayne caught 75 balls for almost a 1,000 yards and was a top 30 receiver according to FBG's scoring system. I expect Wayne to better that this season. He should see well over 100 targets and go over the 1,000 yard mark with Luck under center. I would take Wayne as my WR3 in the middle rounds; if he falls further, snatch him up. His upside is very good indeed.
RB Donald Brown has shown steady improvement in his numbers from season to season these past three years, but we are yet to see a breakout. We may not have to wait much longer. This season represents Brown's best chance to seize the starting job and keep it. Not an explosive back, Brown will have to rely on his patience and good decision making at the line of scrimmage to be a consistent back. I believe Brown, if he reaches the 250 carry mark, can be a 1,000 yard back. Caveat emptor: Delone Carter has a chance to steal some of his goal line work and the presence of new signing Deji Karim somewhat limits his upside.
MATT WALDMAN: I think Luck will have a top-15 fantasy season at his position for the reasons Dave said about the defense as well as the fact that I think he's more NFL-ready than any QB since Peyton Manning. He may throw his share of interceptions, but I wouldn't be surprised if he has season that puts him in range of Cam Newton's passing statistics. If you subtracted Newton's rushing totals from his fantasy points, you're looking at a QB still in the top-15 last year, so my projection isn't unreasonable at all. It makes Luck a solid pick after round eight.
WILL GRANT: I agree with Dave that Luck probably will be a backup fantasy QB this season, but don't expect a 4000 yard season from him just yet. The Colts aren't in a division like the AFC North or East, so he should have a little easier time adjusting to the speed of the game. A quick signing where he can be at all of the OTAs will only help. Look for Wayne to lead the receivers again, with his consistent performance from week to week.
The guy that I'm really looking forward to seeing is Donald Brown. This guy has been given plenty of opportunity to push Joseph Addai out of the way and has never been able to grab control. Now he's the No. 1 guy with limited experience behind him. He'll have every opportunity to become a solid RB#2. If he continues to be an 'average' guy though, look for Delone Carter to step in and take over the role as primary back.
JEFF HASELEY: The success of the Colts offense squarely lies on the ability of Andrew Luck to pick up the offense and execute. Luck has several alarmingly good attributes, but what might be the most important this year is his ability to be a student of the game first and learn from it. His natural ability and playmaking skills will take over, but if he can process the speed of the game, distinguish the intricacies of disguised coverage packages and execute a play for positive yardage, he could more productive than we all expect.
The Colts fantasy production will stem from Luck's success. With such a young team, Reggie Wayne will be asked to do a lot and should be involved each and every week. I see him as a very good WR2 that possibly could be drafted as a WR3. The 5th round may be a little too high to acquire Wayne, but don't let him go past the 8th round, because he'll be gone. I'd say the 7th round would be an ideal time to draft him.
The general understanding of first year TEs is to stay away, however the case for Coby Fleener may just buck that trend. Fleener and Luck know each other well, which will allow Fleener to see more snaps and stay on the field. The offense is relatively young, especially the TE position. With only Fleener and Dwayne Allen leading the way (Brody Eldridge is more of an H-back), there is no veteran TE who deserves more playing time, thus giving Fleener plenty of snaps. I've seen Fleener go as high as the 8th round or as low as round 14 in mock drafts. I would entertain drafting Fleener after the Top 10 TEs are off the board. That's about where I see him. A Top 15 TE with the chance to make the Top 12 and possibly Top 10.
Like the Colts, the Browns offense will also have a new look this season as they try to improve on a fairly dismal 2011.
Rookies QB Brandon Weeden and RB Trent Richardson should start right away.
With the likely change at QB, do WRs Greg Little or Mohamed Massaquoi have decent upside potential? Or will Weeden take a while before he's comfortable throwing to his outside receivers?
RYAN HESTER: Despite Weeden's advanced age, he doesn't strike me as the kind of prospect who can thrive from Day 1. He will have some growing pains because experience - not age - gets a player used to NFL speed. Greg Little will most likely be the more attractive Cleveland receiving option because of his ability to work the middle of the field and make things happen on the shorter, easier throws. Saying "the more attractive Cleveland receiving option," though, is like saying "the most exciting Cleveland sports team." Sure, they have a few, but none really excel at the criteria.
WILL GRANT: I find it very difficult to get excited about Brandon Weeden as the QB of the Browns. I can't help thinking about Chris Weinke and how he struggled as a 29 year old rookie QB and he had Steve Smith and Muhsin Muhammad catching the ball. The Cleveland receiving corps is a FAR cry from that. And that's assuming that Colt McCoy doesn't challenge him for the starting job at any point in the season. I expect more of the same from guys like Greg Little and Mohamed Massaquoi this season, with Josh Cribbs being in the mix as well. Nobody is going to crack more than 750 yards receiving and probably no more than 3-4 TDs.
STEPHEN HOLLOWAY: Massaquoi already has three seasons under his belt and he has yet to make 40 catches. With a rookie QB, I do not expect much more than that from him. Greg Little is only entering his second year and I anticipate continued growth and a potential late value draft pick. Weeden should be able to improve the Browns' passing attack some as McCoy only completed 57% of his passes last season for a pathetic 5.96 yards per attempt.
CECIL LAMMEY: Little has Anquan Boldin like ability but last year as a rookie it looked like he was allergic to the ball. Too many dropped passes from the rookie will have to be cleaned up in his second year. Weeden is a gunslinger and will throw into tight windows, but his ball placement leaves a lot to be desired. He's not going to throw Little open, and the WR will have to get used to catching some passes on his back hip instead of on his numbers. The other WR to watch is Jordan Norwood as a relief valve WR. Weeden is FANTASTIC when his first WR is open as the play is designed. However, he crumbles when a WR is re-routed and he's forced to go elsewhere in his progressions. This could lead to a lot of "dump off" passes to Norwood as a safety valve for the rookie. Also, Carlton Mitchell won't be able to outrun Weeden's arm the way that he did with Colt McCoy. Mitchell has an impressive size/speed combination and could be the team's big deep threat.
JEFF HASELEY: Provided Weeden will be the starter (I'm not quite sure he will beginning week 1) I do not see him opening the throttle to his WRs on a consistent basis. Mohamed Massaquoi and especially Greg Little should show some improvement this year simply due to experience, however rookie QBs tend to play a more conservative style of offense that does not translate to a lot of big throws. If anything, we could see a lot of involvement from the RBs and TEs in the passing game. Among WRs I would not be surprised to see a big contribution from rookie and expected slot WR Travis Benjamin.
JEFF HASELEY: I agree with Ryan, in that CLE will focus on their strengths, which by far is Trent Richardson. I would not be surprised to see Richardson have a similar rookie season to Adrian Peterson's first year. He probably won't reach 5.6 YPC, but like Peterson in MIN, Richardson will be the focal point for a team that doesn't have a prominent receiving threat. The similarities continue when you realize Brad Childress was the HC for MIN in Peterson's first year and is now the OC for Pat Shurmur in CLE. Factoring in that a rookie could be the QB of the Browns this year, the chances of a pass-oriented attacking offense with marginal WR talent will take a back seat to a running game that has one of the best RB prospects in the last decade. The ratio of run to pass should be in favor of the run, but depending on how the offense produces will determine how much the run will dominate the pass. Ultimately I see a run-dominated offensive game plan with a moderately conservative passing compliment that could provide big dividends for both Richardson and WRs and TEs that run a lot of short to mid-ranged routes.
The Browns had a fairly high pass-run ratio last season (570-415). Do you see a big shift toward the running game in 2012, or will they still be playing from behind often enough to have to put the ball in the air a fair amount?
RYAN HESTER: I would call it my "Lock of the Year" to say that this ratio will not hold up. Say what you will about Brad Childress, but as the new offensive coordinator in Cleveland, he won't allow that to happen. He'll utilize his best assets and attempt to neutralize the weaknesses. The team's strength will be its running game.
WILL GRANT: I have to agree with Ryan. With a guy like Trent Richardson in the backfield now, you can expect them to feed him the ball a lot more. Like Ryan said, you need to play to your offensive strength. The one drawback will be that I can see the Browns playing from behind a lot this year, and they may be forced to pass more often than run.
STEPHEN HOLLOWAY: I agree with Ryan and Will and expect the Browns to run more often in 2012. For one thing, their offensive line had a lot of injuries last year. Tony Pashos missed four games and was not healthy a lot of the time he was playing and Eric Steinbach missed the entire season. Steinbach has since been released, but could return to the Browns. They drafted Mitchell Schwartz 37th overall and Mike Mayock expects him to be a plug and play guy. Combine a potentially improved offensive line with Trent Richardson and the running game should be much improved and greater used.
CECIL LAMMEY: The Browns don't have a bad defense and their pass/run ratio should be about the same. Trent Richardson is the best RB to come out of college since Adrian Peterson. He's big, fast, elusive, and runs angry. They don't take him at 3rd overall to put the ball into the hands of the incredibly immobile rookie QB Brandon Weeden. Feed Richardson the rock 22+ times a game and good things will happen.
What are your realistic projections for Trent Richardson as a rookie?
RYAN HESTER: Richardson - already, right now - is this team's best offensive skill player. Montario Hardesty is still there, but his career hasn't shown the promise that would suggest the team has any allegiance to him. Richardson will get 65+% of the carries - a number that should be around the 500 mark this season. I could see him getting 300 carries / 1,200 yards / 9 TDs. Those projections are skewed a bit towards the "upside potential," but they're not out of reach by any means.
WILL GRANT: The RBBC in Cleveland averaged just 3.7 Yards per carry last season. That was as much due to the lack of credible passing game at it was a poor overall offense and lack of opportunity. Richardson is a HUGE upgrade from last year and you can expect the Browns to run him a lot. The challenge for him will be dealing with the sub 4.0 YPC that he's probably going to have. Not to mention the fact that Baltimore, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati all have top 10 rushing defenses. Look for Richardson to be a solid RB2 in most fantasy leagues, finishing with 1200 or so yards from scrimmage and 8-9 TDS total.
STEPHEN HOLLOWAY: I definitely see Richardson as one of the NFL's rare bell-cow RBs this year. I would not be surprised to see 280 rushes for 1150 yards (4.1 YPC) and 35 catches for another 280 yards, with 8 total TDs.
CECIL LAMMEY: I expect him to be a top 10 fantasy RB this year. Low RB1 production puts him around 1,200 yards rushing and 300 yards receiving with 7TDs.
JEFF HASELEY: I forecast 260 carries for 1,144 yards (4.4 YPC) and 40 receptions for 276 yards (6.9 YPC) and 9 total TDs.
That will do it for this first of five preseason editions of the 2012 Roundtable. We'll see you back here next week!