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:
Offenses in decline? Players returning from injury Jets offense Breakout candidates
Offenses in decline?
During the preseason it's easy to be optimistic; but if we try to be as objective and realistic as we can, we should expect roughly half the league's offenses to do worse in 2012 than they did in 2011. Which teams are the primary candidates to fall into that group? Which teams do you think have taken a step back personnel-wise?
STEPHEN HOLLOWAY: I project that both Miami and Minnesota will have worse offensive production for 2012 than they had in 2011. Even though each of these teams finished in the bottom half (Minnesota 18th in yardage and 13th in touchdowns, and Miami 22nd in yardage and 21st in touchdowns), neither of them has an abundance of offensive weapons or experience. Miami has a new head coach and a new offensive coordinator and could have a new quarterback. They have good running backs in Reggie Bush, Daniel Thomas, and Lamar Miller, but are devoid of talent at wide receiver and tight end. Unless they add to their receiving options before August, I see them facing a lot of eight-in-the-box and a continuous pass rush.
Minnesota has better options at the receiving positions with Percy Harvin, John Carlson, and Kyle Rudolph, but they still fall well short of the NFL average. They have an awesome running back in Peterson, but he may not be ready at the beginning of the season. They also have a lot of youth on offense, including Christian Ponder at quarterback. I think that both of these teams decline offensively in 2012.
WILL GRANT: I'll second Stephen's choice of Miami. They took a huge loss in giving up Brandon Marshall and did nothing on offense to replace him. Now add in a rookie quarterback in Ryan Tannehill that many people think the Dolphins reached on and have him compete against two guys who have never been impressive: David Garrard and Matt Moore. It's a formula for unimpressive performance.
RYAN HESTER: I agree: a decrease in Miami's production should be expected. They had a shaky quarterback situation with steady-but-unspectacular Matt Moore leading the way last season, and the only thing they did to address it was draft rookie Ryan Tannehill. While he may end up a nice quarterback someday, Tannehill isn't going to set the league on fire as a rookie. The team also lacks good players in pass-catching roles. Brandon Marshall was traded, leaving the wide receiver cupboard pretty bare. And they don't have a "move" tight end who can be a mismatch for opposing defenses. Look for the Dolphins to struggle.
WILL GRANT: I think the Chargers are also going to have a hard time returning to 2011 form on offense. They lost over 2,000 yards from scrimmage and 20 touchdowns with the departure of Vincent Jackson and Mike Tolbert. Not to mention almost 240 offensive touches. Ryan Matthews was dinged up last season, and probably can't add another 100 touches to his totals. Antonio Gates is entering his 10th season, and has struggled to stay healthy the last two years. Robert Meachem has never had more than 45 touches in any season. Eddie Royal had just 19 last year for Denver. Roscoe Parrish was on Injured Reserve for most of last season and hasn't played a full season since 2007. Phillip Rivers had his lowest passing touchdown total since 2007 with just 27, and had his career-worst season for interceptions with 20. Yet the Chargers still managed to finish in the Top 10 for offenses in 2012. Unless the sum is greater than its individual parts, the San Diego offense is going to slide this season.
MARK WIMER: Cleveland added rookie running back Trent Richardson, but they also saddled themselves with a 28-year old rookie quarterback in Brandon Weeden who hasn't played under center at all (as opposed to from the shotgun) during his college experience, creating a quarterback controversy with their less-than-stellar 2011 starter, Colt McCoy. This is a lose-lose proposition for the Browns passing game this year, in my opinion. Either they hand the job to Weeden, who'll struggle mightily in a Pro-style attack, or they play musical chairs all year between Weeden and McCoy, causing rhythm and timing problems between the quarterbacks and their wide receivers and tight ends. Neither scenario instills much hope for the Browns' passing game. They were 24th in the NFL last year in passing offense, with 3,090 net yards as a team, and that number has room to go down, in my opinion. We could see 2,800 yards passing as a team here, in my opinion. The poor prospects at quarterback mean that Greg Little WON'T be a breakout player this year; he'll struggle to get over 900 yards receiving in his second season, in my opinion.
RYAN HESTER: I expect the New Orleans offense to decline in production. Part of this expectation is due to the fact that they were so prolific last season, it's hard to maintain (or surpass) their production. The bigger key to me, though, is the offseason turmoil for the organization. First, Drew Brees is one of the classiest guys in sports, but even he has to be wondering why his contract situation isn't resolved yet and getting frustrated that it's not. Second, Sean Payton is among the league's best play-callers, and he'll be suspended all season long. Without Payton, the team is going with TWO interim head coaches (first choice interim Joe Vitt will be suspended six games as well). A lack of continuity can hurt a season.
JASON WOOD: The first team that comes to mind for me is the Carolina Panthers. The Panthers were the story of 2011, as Cam Newton enjoyed arguably the greatest season by an NFL rookie in history. The Panthers finished last season fifth in total points and seventh in yards. While it's rational to think Newton hasn't reached his pinnacle, I do think he'll have almost no shot at matching last year's 14 rushing touchdowns, and I still struggle to see where the viable No. 2 receiver comes from. Although I think the Panthers remain an exciting young offense with plenty of fantasy potential, I think the construct of their success last year is not one with much precedent, and we could see a year where Newton actually improves as an NFL decision maker and pocket passer, but statistically they regress across the board.
WILL GRANT: I agree about Carolina. The Panthers and Cam Newton surprised a lot of folks last season and they were a lot better than most people predicted. But there are still a ton of question marks at wide receiver after Steve Smith. In a league that clearly is favoring the pass, the Panthers seem to be bolstering their running game. Along the same lines, Detroit — another surprise from last season — could take a step back as well. Stafford had his best year as an NFL pro last season, but the Lions are hurting at running back and they did nothing to improve that for 2012. Can Stafford have another 5,000-yard passing season with no run support?
JASON WOOD: Oakland also comes to mind. The Raiders were a Top 10 offense last year, which might surprise people. They managed to finish seventh in rushing attempts, yards, and touchdowns, and once Carson Palmer arrived were a Top 10 team in passing yards, too. So why am I concerned? The team has a new coaching staff, a new offensive system, and a collection of wide receivers that leave my head scratching. If I had any faith that Darren McFadden could be a centerpiece for an entire season, I would temper my pessimism, but he's as fragile as any back we've seen in his four years. The team let Michael Bush walk and I'm not buying that Mike Goodson is a one-for-one replacement.
Players returning from injury
A number of players suffered injuries in 2011 that they're trying to return from this season. Among the following, which ones do you expect to come back at full strength and perform at a high level?
Peyton Manning(multiple neck surgeries)
MATT WALDMAN: I trust Manning to return to form. However, the dynamics of his surrounding environment has changed enough that I don't want to say he'll perform at the same high level of production. I think Manning will perform at a high enough level to consider him a top-10 starting quarterback. In fact, I think he'll be a top-five fantasy starter because I believe he'll do enough with the weapons in Denver against the AFC West. Manning's game has never been about high-end athleticism. Timing, precision, recognition, and decision-making are all the things he does best. I believe the combo of Eric Decker, Demaryius Thomas, Andre Caldwell, and Jason Hill have enough talent to create a productive corps of receivers that can work the entire field.
MARK WIMER: The early reports on Manning in Denver are in, and everything sounds fairly rosy. Manning is reportedly healthy and ready to start under center for the Broncos after missing all of the 2011 season due to a series of neck problems culminating in four surgical procedures on the neck. Manning has been in Denver for all of the team's voluntary workouts, however, and by all accounts has thrown the ball with impressive zip and accuracy. The concern is that Manning is just one blind-side hit away from the end of his career. The neck/nerve issue is something that has proven to be a chronic issue, and it wouldn't surprise me to see the nerve issue flare up yet again. If I draft Peyton Manning this year, it'll be at a discount to his current ADP, and I'll be sure to draft a strong Plan B shortly after I take Manning.
RYAN HESTER: I don't fully trust Manning to come back and play at a high level for much of the season. The very nature of Manning's injuries and procedures to his neck would be very scary for any individual, let alone someone being hit hard by 250-pound linebackers. If I miss out on any pieces in Denver's offense, I won't be as upset as if I had taken some and then seen them become nearly worthless fantasy assets if Manning misses significant time.
JASON WOOD: I'm not as concerned as Mark or Ryan. Maybe I'm naive, but I don't see how the Broncos would've been willing to commit their franchise to Manning if he didn't check out medically. As long as he's fine to participate in the full offseason there's no reason to think he won't be his usual elite self. Manning is a guy I would happily draft this year.
Matt Schaub (broken foot, Lisfranc injury)
MATT WALDMAN: I'm not entirely optimistic about Schaub returning to his QB1 production because I think the Texans were so good on the ground with the duo of Arian Foster and Ben Tate that I see the passing game as a complement more than a truly balanced component. I understand that Jacoby Jones didn't work out as they'd hoped, but unless Lestar Jean is fantastic, I'm not sold on any of the rookie additions. I think the best thing this offense can do through the air is to use James Casey more often as a versatile creator of mismatches. Casey was huge against the Saints early last year with a 5-catch, 126-yard, 1-touchdown game, and then he was in offensive purgatory ever after. He missed two games with a pectoral injury and was relegated to special teams. Coach Kubiak has said they intend to use more two-tight end sets and incorporate Casey. If Casey and Owen Daniels can combine to provide the aerial production that will sufficiently complement Andre Johnson, then I think Schaub has a shot at top-12 production at his position.
MARK WIMER: Schaub reported that his rehab from corrective surgery performed last November was progressing well as of mid-April. There was a surgical procedure at the beginning of April to remove hardware out of his foot. Although Schaub has expressed confidence that he'll be ready for the start of the season, head coach Gary Kubiak plans to limit Schaub's participation in the team's offseason work. He'll do individual drills and maybe some 7-on-7s, but as a matter of caution, he'll be kept out of full teamwork to avoid getting him tripped up.
As we saw over the past two seasons with Antonio Gates, foot injuries can become nagging issues that require lots of rest and tender treatment inseason. As the quarterback position at this level is so very dependent on having an adequate number of reps with your receivers, I'm worried by the possibility that Schaub might sit out practice sessions (at least early in the season) in order to baby the healing foot. As with Peyton Manning, I'd have to get Schaub at a good discount from his current ADP in order to pull the trigger on drafting him, and a high-quality backup would be a high priority in that scenario.
JASON WOOD: Like Matt Waldman, I'm more concerned about Schaub than I am about Manning. I heard an interview with the Texans GM on the NFL Sirius channel this past week and he sounded a bit non-committal about Schaub's health. He didn't come out and say Schaub was recovering slowly but he also deftly avoided the direct question of whether Schaub will be 100% for the start of camp. Even if he does look healthy in camp, I think the Texans have a recipe for success that involves a much more balanced run-pass ratio than when Schaub was a fringe fantasy QB1.
Adrian Peterson (torn ACL and MCL)
MATT WALDMAN: I don't understand the logic behind ranking Adrian Peterson among the Top 20 running backs this year. I understand the guy is as close to football's Superman as we've got, but I can't bring myself to believing he'll be truly 100 percent any time until late this year, at best. Even then, I'm stretching the bounds of my imagination to see it that way. I hope he proves me wrong, because watching a player with the kind of ability assisted off the field last year was heartbreaking. It would have been what I would have imagined if I had to watch a magnificent racehorse like Secretariat pull up lame. I think Toby Gerhart is a pretty good value although I'm sure Peterson will try so hard to return that it will cut into Gerhart's time, at least temporarily.
MARK WIMER: A lot of people are reading the spring hype pieces about Peterson running well just five months removed from a torn ACL (and only four months and one week removed from reconstructive surgery), and thinking that he'll be ready for regular season, Week 1. Well, I'm listening to what the Vikings training staff has said so far, and it isn't nearly so optimistic. Team trainer Eric Sugarman said a few weeks ago that he loves Adrian Peterson, but he's not going to be quoted as saying that Peterson will play in the first game. He'll play in week one only if it's functionally safe for him to play, and that's an unknown at this point.
Additionally, I look back at Wes Welker's first season back from a similar injury: Welker tore his left ACL and MCL during Week 17 of the 2009 season. He too swore to be back for Week 1 of the following season, and he did make it back by then — but his numbers were down significantly from the seasons before and after that.
The general rule about a torn ACL is that it takes 12 months or more before the injury is fully recovered. Even if Peterson returns for week one, I expect to see a drop-off in his touches, yards, and touchdowns during 2012. (And Peterson returning for Week 1 is a very rosy scenario.)
COLIN DOWLING: I'm not nearly as skeptical as Mark. If there is one player that can come back from a big knee injury in a relatively short amount of time, it's Adrian Peterson. Put me in the camp that thinks Peterson at 80% is still one of the 10-15 best rushers in the league. His current ADP is fitting with the performance I think he'll give the first month of the season. And as he gets better and finishes the season in near-completely-healed form, more and more discussion will center on how a player of his talent fell so far on draft day.
RYAN HESTER: Adrian Peterson may miss the first few games of the season and perhaps take a full month to get back to being himself. The team will be careful with him so once he reaches that point, I expect him to be at or close to the typical Adrian Peterson.
JASON WOOD: I completely agree with Matt and Mark about Adrian Peterson: he scares me to death. I know our Dr. Jene Bramel believes Peterson can make a full recovery, and his powerful straight ahead style lends itself to a more likely return to form than the dancing, lateral style of Jamaal Charles, but I still struggle to believe that Peterson will return to form in 2012 (if ever). He's already got a huge cumulative workload to deal with, and it's not just a torn ACL but also a torn MCL. I just can't fathom betting my fantasy season on a guy that tore multiple ligaments so late in the 2011 season, particularly when we know the Vikings have no choice but to rely on him. It's not as though the passing game is going to allow Peterson to play a different style of play, defenses are not going to stop stacking the line against him.
Darren McFadden (Lisfranc injury)
MATT WALDMAN: Darren McFadden hasn't yet been able to stay healthy for an entire year, but what I saw last year convinced me that McFadden is one of those exceptions to the rule when it comes to a player with a somewhat limited skill set that is so unbelievably good that it compensates for what he can't do. I'll gladly take McFadden as a low-end RB1 or solid RB2 this year. But if I do, you best believe backup Mike Goodson will be on my radar and Taiwan Jones will be a late-round pick. If I take McFadden, I'll probably be taking a lot of running backs a little higher than usual.
MARK WIMER: Much like Matt Schaub, McFadden is coming off a serious foot injury that never quite got right during 2011 (he only played weeks 1-7 last year, and then was sidelined). McFadden has had a longer time to rehab than Schaub, however, and has declared himself 100% healthy as of mid-May. The new blocking scheme in Oakland would seem to favor his talents. McFadden said his goal is to run for 1,800 yards this season, and I think that's realistic. I'm optimistic that McFadden is set to go full bore in training camp and the regular season, and he's a guy I'm targeting in 2012.
DAVE LARKIN: McFadden should take to the new offensive system being installed in Oakland like a duck takes to water. Under former Houston offensive coordinator Greg Knapp, the Texans offense took off based on the zone blocking scheme that Knapp will now bring to Oakland. McFadden's ability to cut on a dime and maintain his speed, combined with his cat-like quickness and vision, should lead to great things for him in 2012. By all accounts, he is suffering no ill effects from his Lisfranc injury. Although Taiwan Jones showcased some of his potential in the preseason last year, he will be a complement to McFadden. The former Razorback is due for a comeback season.
JASON WOOD: Darren McFadden is a guy I see a lot of people touting as a value pick. Really? Thirteen games, 12 games, 13 games, and 7 games; 113 or fewer carries in three of four seasons. Yet this guy is going to come back from a Lisfranc and be a top-10 fantasy back? Thanks but no thanks.
RYAN HESTER: I don't know, Jason, I think I'm with Matt, Mark, and Dave on this one. Unlike Peterson, Darren McFadden has had a significant amount of time to heal. While I reserve the right to change this opinion after I hear some training camp reports in August, I believe McFadden will begin the season at 100% and be productive.
Jamaal Charles (torn ACL)
MATT WALDMAN: I'm more optimistic about Jamaal Charles than I am about Adrian Peterson because Charles has had a full year to recover. However, ranking the Chiefs' back somewhere in the 20s is reaching the upper limits of my optimism. The addition of Peyton Hillis and Cyrus Gray to fortify the depth chart tells me that the Chiefs' optimism is also cautious at best. Charles is a great runner, but I'd rather get him as a flex when I know my best shot is to land him as an RB2 and hope my later running back picks are good enough to offset the potential downside of this risky pick.
MARK WIMER: Charles' ACL injury occurred early last season, so he should be very close to 100% recovered by the opening of this season. But with the signing of Peyton Hillis during the offseason (and given that Hillis has just a one-year deal and will be VERY motivated to earn his next contract), I think Charles is in a clear time-share arrangement as well, and that he'll likely lose goal-line touches to Hillis. In other words, I'm not as worried about Charles' recovery from injury as I am about his heavy competition for touches.
JASON WOOD: Jamaal Charles is one of those players that burned me last year. Psychologically that makes me a bit more reluctant to bet on him in 2012, but logically, like Matt, I have fewer concerns about Charles than I do Peterson. Charles is further along in his recovery and doesn't need as many touches to be productive, particularly in PPR leagues. That said, no matter what his health, I am concerned about the addition of Peyton Hillis and new offensive coordinator Brian Daboll, who I think is among the worst coordinators in the league. I'll be passing on Charles at his current ADP but won't be shocked if he returns to form.
RYAN HESTER: Yeah, I agree with the other comments. Charles' injury was significant, but he's had plenty of time to recover. Nonetheless, the acquisition of Peyton Hillis gives the Chiefs a bit more leeway to wait and be sure that Charles is 100% before cutting him loose.
Fred Jackson (broken leg)
MATT WALDMAN: Fred Jackson is a stud. I'm not worried about the injury, but his situation has changed because C.J. Spiller is finally beginning to make decisions like an NFL runner. I see a bigger split of opportunities coming Spiller's way, which makes Jackson a mid-range RB2 in fantasy football as long as this timeshare works out as expected.
MARK WIMER: Generally speaking, broken legs actually heal stronger than they were before the injury due to the calcification along the break, which knits the bone. So I have no reservations about Jackson going forwards due to last year's injury. However, as Matt hinted at, he is likely to be in a 50-50 timeshare with C.J. Spiller this year, making both backs much less likely to put up elite numbers or to exceed their ADP by much.
DAVE LARKIN: Fred Jackson is a silky smooth running back who can really do it all. Jackson put the Bills' offense on his back in 2011 before his injury, almost reaching the 1,000 yard rushing mark with only 10 games played. With the Bills' defense ostensibly improved dramatically with the additions of Mario Williams, Stephon Gilmore, and a switch to a 4-3 under Dave Wannstedt, Jackson's reduced opportunity to take part in high scoring contests may limit his upside to more of a high-end RB2. The Bills must also have been heartened by C.J. Spiller's performance towards the end of last year, so a more even split in the carries is imminent.
RYAN HESTER: Fred Jackson's injury was not as serious as a torn ACL like Charles and Peterson suffered. He recently signed a contract extension — confirmation that his team feels he will return to form.
Ryan Williams (torn patella tendon and damage to meniscus cartilage)
MATT WALDMAN: Speaking of Spiller getting a bigger split, I think Cardinals runner Ryan Williams will be a poor man's Spiller to Chris Wells' Fred Jackson. This means I see Williams as a low-end flex option. Ruptured tendons are nasty injuries, and Williams has a violent running style in terms of stop-starts and hard cuts. I love his skill, but I need to see him last the year before I'm confident about him as more than a quasi-situational, lottery pick after the 10th round.
MARK WIMER: Williams suffered a very nasty injury during the preseason last year, but is already running and cutting on his surgically repaired knee. He seems to be ahead of schedule in his rehab and has expressed optimism that he'll be 100% by the start of the season. Williams has had ample time to recover from his injury, and he is a young player whose recuperative powers are much better than an older player would exhibit. I think he'll be fine for the 2012 regular season. If he plays up to potential, he should end up the lead back in front of oft-dinged Chris Wells sooner rather than later.
RYAN HESTER: Ryan Williams in a bit of a mystery. We have never seen him against NFL competition. His skills while at Virginia Tech, however, made Arizona very enamored with him. That likely hasn't changed. With what will have been a full year to heal by mid-preseason, Williams should play well. And the guy in front of him (Chris Wells) isn't the toughest player in the league, either.
Matt Forte (sprained MCL)
MATT WALDMAN: Matt Forte's health is no concern to me, but if he doesn't enter training camp within the first week then I'll begin to sink on my draft board. Football shape is harder to get into when a player is not in training camp. Michael Bush is also good enough to carry the load without Forte. Even if Forte returns on time, I can't endorse him as a top-12 running back this year unless Bush gets hurt in camp. I also expect fewer passing targets for Forte due to the influx of receiving talent that better matches Jay Cutler's skill at throwing the ball into tight coverage.
MARK WIMER: Forte has a double-whammy against him this year: First of all, Forte suffered a knee injury at the end of the 2011 season, but was recovered enough to be medically cleared to play in the 2012 Pro Bowl. His contract situation, however, is becoming ugly and he may be a holdout from OTA's and training camp this season. While Forte sits out reps, the Bears will turn to multi-dimensional Michael Bush to install their new offense under Mike Tice. I think there's a real chance that if Forte's holdout extends into training camp, he'll end up the junior partner in a running back by committee with Bush. I'm staying away from Forte at all costs this year.
DAVE LARKIN: Matt Forte and the Chicago Bears' standoff could end amicably, but the smart move right now is to downgrade Forte and assume that the Bears will continue to refuse to pay him as Forte continues to hold out. As Matt and Mark explained so well, Michael Bush was a target of the Bears, and they have belief in him to take the reins of the offense if Forte is not in game shape come the regular season. The new offense under Mike Tice will not ask of Forte the same things that Martz' offense asked of him. Translation: he will no longer be the center piece of the offense. The time to bail on Matt Forte is approaching, I fear.
RYAN HESTER: I expect Matt Forte's yardage numbers to decrease this season, but that's just as much a function of his uglier-by-the-moment contract situation and the team's acquisition of Michael Bush to spell him.
JASON WOOD: Going against the grain again here, I'm okay with Forte. I'm much less concerned about a guy being out of shape due to missing camp than I am some of these other backs coming back from major injuries.
Andre Johnson (hamstring)
MATT WALDMAN: I'm not worried at all about Andre Johnson. He'll be back.
MARK WIMER: The lack of OTAs/offseason workouts last season reared their ugly head in Houston when Johnson went down to a series of nagging hamstring problems. Johnson missed time during 2011 (nine games) due to a hamstring injury, but he played well during the playoffs and appears to be past the nagging injury as of mid-May 2012. The shortened prep necessitated by the lockout last season probably played a role in Johnson's struggles, in my opinion. That isn't the case this year, and I think he'll be back to his usual dominant self. I'm 0% worried about him.
RYAN HESTER: I have no qualms with drafting Andre Johnson. Johnson returned multiple times from his hamstring injury and racked up 13 catches for 201 yards and a touchdown in the team's two playoff games. If he was fine then, he's likely still fine now, and he'll be fine when the season begins.
Kenny Britt (torn ACL)
MATT WALDMAN: I'm not completely comfortable with Kenny Britt. I know that the swelling can be a routine thing, and it has been said that the surgery won't be so invasive that it will hinder his progress. I'll believe it when I see it. Britt will probably remain in a reasonably high tier for me, but he'll be at the lowest end of those available starters where I rank him, which is likely a high-end WR3, at best. Receivers take such a pounding on their knees that I'm reconsidering him as an option this year.
MARK WIMER: I consider Britt radioactive at this point. After injuring his knee in Week 3 last year, and missing the rest of the season rehabbing, he had to have another arthroscopic procedure on the same just a week ago. When I see a series of operations which includes follow-ups to address swelling or loose bodies in a previously injured joint, that screams degenerative/chronic injury to me. I plan to avoid Britt in all my drafts this season.
COLIN DOWLING: I absolutely love Kenny Britt as a player, but those thinking he'll return in 2012 and pick up on his sensational start in 2011 are fooling themselves. It's not just that this recent knee injury was very serious and may still require another surgery. Britt hasn't been able to stay healthy since entering the league. He was hurt in 2010 as well and seems to live in the trainers' room. As a Titans fan, I would be ecstatic if he could put together a full season. That said, there is a reason the team took a receiver in the first round when they needed a cornerback and interior line help.
RYAN HESTER: I'm not as concerned as the other guys. Britt's injury was much more serious than Andre Johnson's, but he suffered it early enough in the year that he should be able to return healthy and beastly once again.
Tony Moeaki (torn ACL).
MARK WIMER: Moeaki suffered a torn ACL and was placed on Injured Reserve in early September of last year. Reconstructive knee surgery was performed. Chiefs' general manager Scott Pioli said that Moeaki should be healthy by the start of the regular season, and in fact Moeaki says he'll be back in action in time for training camp. He'll have had over a full year to heal when the regular season opens, so unless I hear about a setback for him, I'm not terribly worried about him from a rehabilitation standpoint. However, he's not high on my draft list with three versatile pass-catching RBs on the roster (Charles, Hillis, McCluster). There aren't enough flare passes to go around on this offense to have a top-shelf fantasy tight end from Kansas City, in my opinion.
RYAN HESTER: I agree with Mark. Even if Moeaki is healthy, he's still just a backup fantasy TE at best.
Let's start with the quarterback situation. Does Tim Tebow's presence make Mark Sanchez undraftable except in leagues that start two quarterbacks?
STEPHEN HOLLOWAY: The presence of Tebow will definitely push the ADP for Sanchez to near the bottom of starting quarterbacks. In my opinion, he should not be drafted unless you play in start-two quarterback leagues. Part of that consideration is the Tebow uncertainty — basically, will Tebow take away enough plays to remove the opportunity for Sanchez to produce starting fantasy numbers? The second and even more important factor for me is the Jets' early schedule. They face four very good defenses in their first five games. including Buffalo, at Pittsburgh, at Miami, San Francisco and Houston. If you believe in Sanchez halfway through that stretch, he should be available on the waiver wire.
DAVE LARKIN: I wouldn't go so far as to say Sanchez is undraftable in leagues that start one quarterback. He is by no means an upper-echelon passer in the NFL, but he is worthy of being a low-end QB2 who can post a respectable 200-yard, one-touchdown and one-pick line in a pinch. Initially, Tebow will be used exactly as he should be used: as a backup quarterback and special teams contributor. I, for one, believe Tebow can be a very competent punt protector.
MARK WIMER: “A very competent punt protector?" I'm chuckling here. Talk about damning someone with faint praise.
DAVE LARKIN: Hey, it was a compliment. Seriously, though, I feel like this situation will be ever-changing and ultimately Tebow's snap count will increase. Tony Sparano will lobby to use Tebow as a multi-faceted weapon near the goal line if the offense begins to hiccup in the red zone. I don't think he will get a majority (i.e. over 50%) of the goal-line work, but I could see anywhere between 30-35% of the Jets' goal line offense being a Tebow package.
MARK WIMER: I think that competition will be a good thing for Sanchez. Sanchez was a rich young man in the media capital of the world and enjoyed the lime light perhaps a little too much since arriving as the Jets' purported savior three years ago. And let's give him some credit: Sanchez went from 12 TDs with 20 interceptions in 2009 to 17 TDs and 13 interceptions in 2010 to 26 TDs with 18 interceptions in 2011. He's gone from 2,444 yards passing in '09 to 3,474 yards passing in 2011, a steady improvement during his time there.
With Tebow waiting in the wings, putting some pressure on Sanchez, I think we see another career-best season out of Sanchez during 2012. He's been getting progressively better, and now he has additional motivation to become a solid, respectable NFL starter. I've got him down for between 3,600 and 3,800 yards passing with 28-30 TDs and 15-16 interceptions this year. That's not elite territory, but it's far better than Blaine Gabbert's probable showing. Tebow may siphon off a rushing TD here and there, but he'll be mostly a gadget player/distraction on game days, in my opinion.
JASON WOOD: In a logical world, Mark Sanchez wouldn't be threatened by Tim Tebow. But we don't live in a logical world all the time. My experience tells me that the quarterbacks who have the most to worry about are the ones whose teams struggle to win games, and I think Sanchez could be the victim of his team's failings. This team from the outside seems capable of a complete collapse. You've got their star defensive back griping about his contract AGAIN. You've got the one semi-proven wide receiver acting the fool and coming off an uninspired season. You've got a running back that should pound opposing defenses into submission but instead tries to dance in the backfield. You've got an offensive line that has a few great pieces, but then replacement level options at the other spots. You've got a backup quarterback openly questioning the team's focus and leadership. You've got unnamed players throwing Sanchez and others under the bus. None of that really sounds like a recipe for success.
Is there a realistic chance (say, greater than 20%) that Tebow ends up stealing the starting job at some point during the season?
STEPHEN HOLLOWAY: I actually think that Tebow has about a 50-50 chance of starting at some point, primarily because of that brutal opening schedule. I think that Tebow will begin by being used primarily in a specialty role and his opportunity to take over will be totally dependent on Sanchez's mental toughness and the success that he and the Jets are able to sustain early in the season.
DAVE LARKIN: In a big market like New York where the chatter about the starting quarterback is endless, there will always be a chance. As Stephen correctly pointed out, the opening half of the season for the Jets is not the most generous. The early games — at Pittsburgh, at Miami, against San Francisco, and against Houston — will test the entire team, but especially the offense. Tebow could become the starter, but will Rex Ryan have the cojones to make the move, considering that once he makes it he may never be able to go back to Sanchez?
JASON WOOD: Ultimately I think Mark Sanchez is a significantly better quarterback than Tim Tebow, but he's not a good enough quarterback to overcome the hurdles he faces, and he's certainly not good enough to avoid a potential benching. For that reason, I absolutely put more than a 20% chance on Tebow getting a chance to start this year. Whether he fails so miserably as to cede the job back to Sanchez is another matter.
At running back, will Shonn Greene come into his own this season as a feature runner, or will he split time with Joe McKnight or Terrence Ganaway?
STEPHEN HOLLOWAY: I think that Shonn Greene is the best running back on their roster and will have ample opportunity to produce for the Jets. He must prove himself, however, against some very tough defenses out of the gate. He, much like Sanchez, must be mentally tough to make it through that early challenge.
DAVE LARKIN: By virtue of Tebow's presence as a goal line Swiss army knife of sorts, I don't believe Shonn Greene has much upside as a touchdown scorer. I am not a fan of his and rate him as a pedestrian back. A timeshare at running back is possible, but Greene is the best back on the roster and should get the majority of the carries.
MARK WIMER: Shonn Greene will be a lunch-pail running back who is good enough to set up play-action passing for Sanchez. Arian Foster, he isn't; but Greene is sufficient for the Jets' scheme. He'll be the clear-cut starter with 60-65% of the touches from his position this year, in my opinion.
Should fantasy owners be worried about the relationship between Santonio Holmes and Mark Sanchez, or is that overplayed in the media?
STEPHEN HOLLOWAY: The rift between Holmes and Sanchez will be forgotten if the Jets and particularly these two can have success early in the year. Holmes and Keller are undoubtedly the best receiving options, and they all will have ample targets and chances to produce early. I would not trust any other receivers to be consistently productive. If the Jets start off with a couple of losses and the offense struggles, the New York media circus could explode and strain all relationships, especially those already on edge. The opening game against Buffalo at home is a huge game for the Jets to get a win and establish some confidence before going on the road against Pittsburgh and Miami.
DAVE LARKIN: Fantasy owners should be concerned about their relationship. If a quarterback and receiver, like in any job that requires communication, cannot communicate and cannot co-exist, trouble is afoot. Holmes is a volatile personality at the best of times; he could be only a few bad games away from giving up on Sanchez completely. This is a situation to monitor closely as the Jets enter training camp and the regular season. It is slightly overplayed in the media, but there is clearly a rift there as evidenced by the public comments.
MARK WIMER: Holmes let his big contract get to his head. Hopefully the coaching staff will get his ego shrunk back down to size this year in OTAs and training camp. I think the additional reps during early summer will go a long way to reestablishing the chemistry between Sanchez and Holmes.
Do any Jets wide receivers other than Holmes have fantasy value in redraft leagues?
DAVE LARKIN: Stephen Hill lacks the experience and appreciation of a pro offense to make an immediate contribution in redraft leagues, in my opinion. He is worth taking a shot on in deep redraft leagues if you have the roster room at the bottom of your bench, but after Holmes, no Jets receiver other than Hill should entice fantasy owners.
MARK WIMER: We'll see if Stephen Hill can start from day one. If so, he may be worth a late-round flyer given the weak, injury-prone field of receivers behind Holmes this season. Free agent import Chaz Schilens is not the answer, in my opinion.
Every season, there are players who perform above expectations. Some of them far exceed their draft position, and those are the players who propel good fantasy teams into championship seasons. Who are some of the better breakout candidates for 2012?
Let's start with quarterbacks.
MATT WALDMAN: I'll take Alex Smith as my breakout quarterback. I'm not expecting top-12 fantasy stats from the 49ers quarterback, but I believe top-15 is likely. Let's remember that Smith played in an offense last year that had a new head coach without a full offseason to get fancy with the passing system. I don't expect a full-blown spread attack like the Saints in 2012, but I do believe if at least one of Mario Manningham, Randy Moss, A.J. Jenkins, or even undrafted free agent Chris Owusu can provide a vertical presence this team has lacked outside that Smith and the 49ers can have more room to throw the ball as well as create optimal rushing lanes. Urban Meyer commented last year that Smith was the type of player that didn't feel comfortable until he knew every aspect of the offense. Considering he's had more offensive systems in San Francisco than most pro quarterbacks have in their careers, he's been slow to develop. Last year, Smith demonstrated an enhanced skill at making aggressive plays off pre-snap reads. I think we'll see more of that this year.
COLIN DOWLING: I agree with Matt about Alex Smith. He's not far from being a big time quarterback. His numbers last year were actually pretty good (particularly his 17:5 touchdown to interception ratio), and he's still not old enough to be considered in his prime. With Harbaugh and some stability in the locker room, we should expect to see an uptick in is performance. Then add in that he has a slew of new targets (Moss, Manningham, Jenkins) and it's not a long leap to see him as a possible QB1.
RYAN HESTER: I like Josh Freeman to break out this season. Last year, Freeman regressed from his fabulous 2010 campaign. The regression is likely from multiple factors. First, the team had a poor coaching situation. The players around Freeman stopped respecting Raheem Morris' player's coach, laissez-faire attitude that seemed to work so well the year prior. Second, Freeman's top wide receiver — Mike Williams — was out of shape and didn't exert the level of effort expected of him. Freeman was slightly out of shape as well. This season, Freeman gets a new No. 1 WR in Vincent Jackson and has been shedding weight and getting in better shape. Williams is now a very above-average No. 2 WR if he can get his head on straight. Freeman won't be a top-5 quarterback, but top-10 isn't out of the question.
JASON WOOD: I like Freeman as well. Freeman was already a high level fantasy performer in 2010, but he regressed miserably in 2011. Yet by all accounts he's a super high caliber kid, a strong locker room presence, and remains in great shape. I think he'll flourish in a new system built around structure where his locker room mates will finally be held accountable for their actions. He COULD deliver Top 5 numbers this year, particularly with the Bucs defense likely to struggle. I'm not saying he WILL, but I wouldn't be at all surprised by it and would love to roster him as my QB2 in any league I could.
COLIN DOWLING: I agree with Ryan and Jason. I think Josh Freeman may be the ultimate buy-low quarterback this season, particularly in dynasty. He was terrible last season, but he wasn't exactly working with the best talent in the best situation. A fresh start for everyone with Greg Schiano and an influx of offensive talent should make 2011 a distant memory for Freeman fans and owners.
JASON WOOD: Matt Flynn is another guy I love this year. The focus on his free agency and the Dolphins decision to pass on him, then his signing a modest contract with Seattle has people shying away from him. That's GREAT news because Flynn now wont' get caught up in the hype cycle that comes from a deluge of sleeper articles around the interwebz. I still say that when the dust settles, Flynn is (a) the clear starter there over Wilson and Jackson, (b) a great fit in that scheme, and (c) more than capable of executing with that underrated receiving corps.
Moving on to running backs…
WILL GRANT: I feel like many people are undervaluing Felix Jones because of the massive success of DeMarco Murray in Dallas last season. People assume that Murray will become the primary back and take the bulk of the carries into a top-10 fantasy running back finish, leaving Jones in the dust around RB44. While I agree that Murray should perform very well this season, I don't think Felix Jones is going away. In fact, a healthy Murray might allow Dallas to give Jones the 12-15 touches per game that they have always wanted to, and let him work his magic to turn those few carries into serious fantasy points. Unless you're in a PPR league, I wouldn't target Jones as anything more than a RB3, but I still think he's going to be a quality backup or spot starter where most folks have him as a long-shot. Let's not forget that Murray also missed time due to injury last season, and Dallas will want to make sure that Murray is splitting time with Jones each game to make sure he stays healthy for the duration.
COLIN DOWLING: I think Shonn Greene is primed for a breakout season. Tim Tebow will be the Jets starting quarterback by Halloween, if I had to guess. And while I don't think the team will run the same offense Denver ran that utilized Tebow as a rusher on most every down, I do think that the Jets will use his rushing ability quite a bit. As such, I think Greene will benefit a great deal. Did any of you see what Willis McGahee did in 2011? McGahee may as well have a fork stuck in his back yet went bananas with Tebow under center.
JASON WOOD: If I can pick two at running back, I like both Stevan Ridley and Isaac Redman. Regarding Ridley, anyone that claims to know what Bill Belichick and his staff are going to do are fooling themselves, in as much as he's no creature of habit. If Belichick thinks a change will improve the team's chances, he's more willing than any other NFL coach to dramatically alter his game plan. I believe too many people have been lulled into thinking the Patriots will forever use a multi-RB committee approach, and that we could be surprised this season by the reliance on a lead back — and I'm betting on Ridley as that guy. Ridley is a 5'10" and 225-pound powerhouse who made the most of his opportunities behind BenJarvus Green-Ellis last season, averaging an impressive 5.1 yards per rush and generating yards after initial contact. Ridley isn't a great receiver, so he probably won't play in all downs and distances, but I believe he could provide the same double-digit touchdown potential that Green-Ellis did and accumulate a larger chunk of the yardage, as well. On to Isaac Redman, he is a bit of an easier picture to paint. Rashard Mendenhall is going to miss a large chunk of the 2012 season, and the Steelers did little this offseason to bolster the running back depth chart. That speaks volumes about their confidence in Redman to handle the load. While new offensive coordinator Todd Haley may alter that run-pass tendencies a bit, let's remember that the Steelers ownership pushed Bruce Arians out of the picture because they wanted to return to a more power-run, ball control system. Redman should be given every opportunity to be a bell cow in a league that features fewer and fewer workhorse running backs.
MATT WALDMAN: Can a rookie qualify as a breakout player?
MATT WALDMAN: I believe Doug Martin has an instant impact as a rookie starter for the Buccaneers. LaGarrette Blount is already publicly pouting that the team selected a first-round back, but after last year's effort and his issues both on and off the field, he should have no sense of entitlement. It's too bad, because Blount is a talent capable of becoming a top-15 fantasy runner. Blount might contribute and play the Brandon Jacobs role to Martin's more powerful Ahmad Bradshaw, but it is clear Blount doesn't understand the business of the NFL the way he should. However, the reason I like Martin has nothing to do with Blount's attitude. The former Boise State runner is a true, three-down back capable of pass protection, catching the ball, and grinding out 100 yards between the tackles week-to-week. Coach Greg Schiano knows a thing or two about running backs - he recruited Ray Rice at Rutgers and rode the current Ravens back like a favorite mode of transportation to the end zone. Doug Martin is stylistically a cross between Rice and Frank Gore. I believe Martin wins the job as the lead back, earns a feature role no later than October, and Blount is looking for a new team no later than March of 2013.
RYAN HESTER: Then I'll add the rookie out of Virginia Tech; David Wilson flashed great skills during his Hokie career. Those skills will allow him to get on the field even despite the presence of Ahmad Bradshaw. Speaking of Bradshaw, let's not forget all of the foot problems he has had in the past couple seasons. Even if Bradshaw can remain healthy, this offense has shown its ability to support two fantasy RBs in recent years. If Wilson can run in an inside-to-out fashion and avoid fumbling, he'll be given a nearly equal share of carries.
How about some wide receivers?
MATT WALDMAN: Eric Decker was a top-12 fantasy receiver during the first five weeks of the season when he was catching passes from Kyle Orton. Then Tim Tebow took over and Decker faded into anonymity because Tebow lacks this level of refined skill as a pro passer. Decker won't have that problem with Peyton Manning, whose talents are diametrically opposed to Tebow's. Look for Decker to become Manning's most trusted receiver this year and maintain his standing in the top-12 throughout the year.
COLIN DOWLING: Admittedly, Eric Decker is getting tons of love right now. People seem to think that he fits as Manning's go-to guy for Denver by virtue of his high reception totals in the past and his steady play during the Broncos last few seasons. Fair enough. But Demaryius Thomas is, in my view, the better deep threat with big play ability. While I suspect Decker will reward his owners this year with a nice season, it is Thomas who will be the true breakout player as Peyton Manning's primary downfield pass-catcher.
MARK WIMER: I've heard nothing but good things about Houston wide receiver Lestar Jean. He was a camp sensation last year but went down to a shoulder injury. However, the team remains high on him despite not seeing him play in regular season last year. Jean was the first one that head coach Gary Kubiak mentioned recently when talking about the wide receivers the team has added this season, saying that he thinks a lot of Jean. There is an obvious void at the No. 2 wide receiver spot for the Texans (I don't think Kevin Walter is a true NFL starter), and given that opposing defenses will key on Andre Johnson, the No. 2 guy could find lots of room to operate. Jean is a guy I plan to add to my team often this year, expecting him to post numbers WAY in excess of his probable draft position at the very end of fantasy drafts.
RYAN HESTER: I'm very high on Torrey Smith this season. As a Steelers fan, it pains me to say this, but Smith has fantasy gold mine written all over him. As much as any die-hard black-and-golder will rip Joe Flacco, he does one thing incredibly well: throw deep passes that accurately drop in the bucket. Smith's elite talent matches up with Flacco's perfectly. Add to that the typical improvements in route-running and mental sharpness for a receiver entering his second year, and Smith's arrow is pointing in a very upward direction.
JASON WOOD: When the Chargers signed Robert Meachem to a big contract as Vincent Jackson's replacement, I was initially dubious. It seemed to me like Meachem spent his first four years in New Orleans teasing potential but rarely putting it all together. But the more I think about the free agent move, the more I'm beginning to like the fit. Meachem has yet to be a star, but he did catch 129 receptions for 1,980 yards and 20 touchdowns in a part-time role over the last three seasons, and now he clearly becomes a full-time player in San Diego. Meanwhile Philip Rivers, like Drew Brees, is hyper accurate and can make any throw in the route tree, and has managed to deliver 4,000-yard, 30-touchdown seasons with the likes of Malcom Floyd. I think Meachem could easily push for 1,000+ yards and 8-10 touchdowns with the Chargers as long as he can stay healthy.
And some tight ends?
MATT WALDMAN: I mentioned him earlier, but the first guy on my list is tight end James Casey. He's been a Bloom and Lammey favorite for a few years now but failed to distinguish himself as a fantasy option. But as I said, there were signs of life last year when he compiled a 126-yard, 5-catch, 1-touchdown performance against the New Orleans Saints that looked like the Texans were ready to adapt some of the Patriots' offensive shenanigans to their system. Casey strained a pectoral muscle, however, and was relegated to special teams. Coach Kubiak has said they plan to use Casey more often as that Aaron Hernandez-like, moveable chess piece. Casey is the closest athlete to what Hernandez can do who is currently in the NFL. If I'm going to gamble on a tight end at the end of the draft, Casey will be that guy.
RYAN HESTER: Greg Olsen produced decent fantasy numbers last season but was part of a tight-end timeshare with Jeremy Shockey. Couple that with the fact that defenses will be playing a step or two further back to respect the Cam Newton-to-Steve Smith deep combo, and Olsen will have more opportunity. Now that Shockey is gone and Olsen will be less of a focal point for opposing defenses, look for Olsen to replace most of Shockey's production and become a low-end fantasy starter at tight end this season.
That will do it for this third of five preseason editions of the 2012 Roundtable. We'll see you back here next week!