This week we discuss the following:
[Note: This discussion took place before TE Aaron Hernandez became a suspect in a homicide investigation. --Ed., 7/5/2013]
The only returning WR who caught a pass last season is Julian Edelman (and he is recovering from injury).
Does the general lack of accomplishment among this group sour you on Tom Brady's fantasy value this season? Or is Brady going to put up big numbers no matter whom he's throwing to at WR (given that the TEs will make for attractive targets)?
Andy Hicks: I still think Brady is just as relevant as ever, even with all the turnover among his receivers. Remember that Hernandez and Gronkowski missed 11 games between them last season and Brady still finished as the third-rated fantasy QB. It would be a major surprise to see him fall out of the top 5 fantasy quarterbacks and he remains a safe bet to continue his excellence.
Chad Parsons: Tom Brady does get dinged a little bit on my board with all the uncertainty surrounding him this offseason. He had a great chemistry and feel with Wes Welker that cannot be replicated in just one offseason with replacement Danny Amendola. In addition, Amendola missed more time in 2012 (five games), than Welker has in his entire eight-year career (three games). Also, Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez are both dealing with injuries that will keep them from a full slate of work with Brady in the coming months. Yes, they have all worked together in prior seasons, but that is concern to attempt to throw even the most talented pieces together all at the last minute, expecting elite connections. Finally, looking at the outside wide receivers that have been largely invisible in fantasy since the days of Randy Moss. I have firmly been on the anti-Aaron Dobson train since the pre-draft process due to his average athleticism and downright poor production. He was not able to dominate lesser competition at the college level. That screams NFL bust in terms of probability. Add to the fire that the Patriots chew up and spit out young receivers on a regular basis with high expectations and a learning curve that is nearly a straight vertical line and Dobson is the smallest of needles in a barn-sized haystack in redraft leagues.
Jason Wood: I'm dinging Brady a bit, but not enormously so. He ranks 5th among my quarterbacks currently and that's a clear reflection of the changes in his receiving corps. To my mind, it's the injuries that have me worried more than the changing names. If Hernandez and Gronkowski are on the field most of the season, Brady will be A-OK, and should vie for Top 3 honors again. But we know Gronk is facing back surgery and Hernandez continues to be banged up. If they're not on the field, I can see this offense stymied. I also think the idea that you can plug and play for a receiver that caught 100+ receptions in his sleep is lazy analysis.
Stephen Holloway: I also have tempered my expectations for Brady, primarily because of the many uncertainties with the injured tight ends and all the newcomers. I have him ranked as QB6 and he has finished 1st, 3rd, and 3rd in the three most recent seasons. There is no doubt that Brady will have success, but the injured tight ends both need to be effective from the first game for Brady to be considered a threat for the top three for the fourth consecutive season.
Matt Waldman: I'd very much like to look at the past and use it to dictate the near future when it comes to this situation, but I'm not sure it's wise. If I were to base my thoughts on the Patriots admission before the 2013 NFL Draft that they have been bad at scouting wide receiver prospects and combine that fact with uninspiring additions of Donald Jones and Michael Jenkins, then Brady is about to have a Christian Ponder-like season.
It is possible that the Patriots become a big-time running team and revert to the days of Corey Dillon's 1600-yard season in 2004. Brady passed for 3600 yards and 28 touchdowns that year, which if we placed within the scope of 2012 quarterbacks it would have meant Brady was a low-end QB1 at best. Because Belichick is such an adaptive coach when it comes to offensive and defensive styles, perhaps they reshape the offense along the lines of the 49ers. There are no proven outside receivers with true primary talent on this squad and it's something I'd say the team has in common with San Francisco.
Jeff Pasquino: Brady always seems to get his numbers, which have been good enough for a Top 3 fantasy finish the past three seasons. I see no reason why he can't be a Top 5 guy again in 2013, although it will be more challenging than in years past. Brady has had the benefit of 109 touchdown passes and eight rushing scores the last three years (a 36/3 average), but those numbers are going to be a little harder to get if the Patriots run a little more.
Mark Wimer: I think Chad has nailed the laundry-list of reasons to be skeptical about the Patriots' passing game as a whole this year. There is a lot of chemistry that needs to develop in a short period of time here, and Brady has been clear at his chagrin over the Patriots allowing Welker to leave town. While one has to be bullish on Gronkowski (if healthy) because he's one of the few remaining familiar pieces to this puzzle, his injury woes during offseason are still a reason for pause even on his part. Like Chad notes, Gronkowski and Hernandez won't have a lot of reps to cement their timing during OTAs this year. I'm not a big believer in the stable of wide receivers, either, and Danny Woodhead (92 receptions over three seasons during his two stints with the Patriots) is now a Charger.
Bottom line here -- a lot of valuable players have left the Patriots' fold entering this season, and the remaining players are banged up and/or brand new to the team. A slow start out of this offense in September would be no surprise to me, significantly degrading Brady's fantasy value during 2013.
Sigmund Bloom: Brady can probably overcome a lot, but the fact that this is even a shadow on his outlook is enough to pass on him at his current ADP. Quarterback is deep enough that you can get at worst 80-90% of Brady's production 3-5 rounds after he is going off of the board. So even if Brady is good enough to make do with Michael Jenkins and Donald Jones, there's no need to even risk that this nightmare scenario for Patriots fans unfolds on your fantasy roster this year.
What do you see as Amendola's most likely role? Is he going to be used the same way that Wes Welker was, and if not, how will his role differ?
Jason Wood: Amendola can be effective, but I don't believe for a second he'll be AS effective as Welker has been. Add to that Amendola's ridiculously scary injury history (the dude is tiny and can't stay on the field) and I see no reason to get caught up in the hype. I suspect Amendola will be getting drafted as a mid-level WR2 in PPR leagues once the preseason gets underway, and I want zero part of that.
Stephen Holloway: I agree with Jason about not trusting Danny Amendola to step into Wes Welker's role or be able to remain healthy so that also increases the opportunity for the rookies. I agree with everyone that Amendola will get the first shot, but they definitely need someone to play well on the outside.
Matt Waldman: I think Amendola is capable from a skills/fit scenario to handle the Welker role.
Jeff Pasquino: Amendola has been in Welker's virtual shadow before (both went to Texas Tech, with Welker leaving just as Amendola arrived). Amendola knows the comparisons to Welker, and he can step up and perform. Amendola was hurt by a broken collar bone last year, and that's a relatively easy fix. I think Amendola will finish with about 90 catches this year and put up 1,200 yards, but few touchdowns as those targets will likely go to the tight ends. Of course, that all depends on how healthy Gronkowski and Hernandez stay.
Sigmund Bloom: Amendola is a carbon copy of Welker's skillset and he can also run routes outside. I would expect him to borderline WR1 value in PPR leagues, with at least 5-7 catches in any game he starts and finishes. He's a terrific upside pick if you can tolerate the bright red injury risk flag.
Who else excites you from this group in redraft leagues?
Andy Hicks: Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez excite me when I am looking for New England receivers. Danny Amendola would be the next one I'd want. Because he is the only certainty to get serious playing time among the receivers, I suspect his draft slot will creep up and with good reason. Even if he is a poor Wes Welker clone he still should be a WR2, barring injury, which is something that has plagued Amendola throughout his career. I can imagine the Patriots trying to use him like Welker. It remains to be seen if they have to adjust accordingly or if he just steps into Welker's shoes easily. No matter what, he'll get his and the offense will tick along.
For the other players we've seen before, Michael Jenkins is a known commodity. He'll do enough to tease the fantasy community, but never more. It would be a major shock to see Jenkins break out in his tenth year in the NFL and I wouldn't bother considering him as an option for your fantasy squad. Donald Jones, on the other hand, is more intriguing. Bill Belichick will have seen plenty of him in the twice yearly matchups with Buffalo and he could easily take that quantum leap in his fourth year in the NFL. If the rookies are not ready, and given the Patriots record of drafting receivers that is a real possibility, then I like Jones to contribute and be underrated in fantasy circles. If the rookies are ready though, then Jones goes back to being a fantasy irrelevance.
If we see Josh Boyce and Aaron Dobson during Training Camp and preseason, then we may be able to digest reports about their progress. With Gronkowski, Hernandez and Amendola ahead of them on the target list though, their upside is limited.
Chad Parsons: Josh Boyce interests me more than Dobson, but I am very skeptical of rookie receivers as a whole. T.J. Moe was a dark horse if or when Amendola missed time, but unfortunately tore his Achilles this offseason. Honestly, I could see Michael Jenkins or Donald Jones seeing more snaps on the outside than either of the rookies, assuming Amendola works out of the slot. Neither is sexy from a fantasy perspective, but they are at least average blockers, and Jenkins has been decent as a possession target, which could be all New England is looking for out of that spot.
Stephen Holloway: As a general rule, new Patriot wide receivers have not been productive and even more so for their rookies. However, this season there aren't any returning regulars other than the two tight ends, so the two rookie wide receivers are more interesting to me this year. Depending on their ability to grasp the offense, they could break the trend and start earlier than the norm in New England.
Matt Waldman: Talent-wise Dobson, Boyce, and undrafted free agents Mark Harrison and Kenbrell Thompkins have the most talent. In fact, I'd say the level of potential might be in reverse order of the way I listed them. This isn't an insult to either Dobson or Boyce, but I think Harrison's size-speed combo is a nice mismatch and Thompkins is a fantastic talent, but a late bloomer due to and extensive backstory that includes a late start, a crime ridden lifestyle he overcame, and Tennessee taking an extraordinarily obstinate view about letting him leave his scholarship after Lane Kiffin left Knoxville for USC.
Brady has enough skill for Jones and Jenkins to earn 500-800 yards apiece. Dobson has potential to deliver 700-800 yards and I think one of Boyce, Harrison, or Thompkins has similar potential in year one if they shine in camp and earn a starting job. I'm excited about these three, but not optimistic that one of them becomes a rookie sensation until we learn something definitive. I may study rookies, but I have learned to have tamer expectations.
Jeff Pasquino: When everyone is healthy, the pecking order for targets goes to slot receiver Danny Amendola and then tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. After that, the Patriots are going to be more of a ground team this year. Looking at 2012 numbers is extremely risky when it comes to New England (and honestly, they tend to change every year). Last season, Wes Welker (gone to Denver) had 188 targets while Brandon Lloyd (also gone) had 140. The next three? Hernandez (92), Gronkowski (80) and RB Danny Woodhead (55, and now gone to San Diego). So what does that tell you? Bill Belichick and Tom Brady will be revamping the offense once again, and working with both big tight ends and Amendola as their top three targets.
For me, if Amendola will replace Welker, the bigger question is who replaces Lloyd? I fully expect a committee here with the two rookies (Aaron Dobson, Josh Boyce). Dobson fits the role a little better, but I see the downside in his evaluation and Belichick is not exactly stellar at drafting wide receivers. There are two sleepers to mention here, especially at running back, with one having value in the passing game. Danny Woodhead is gone, which opens the door for Shane Vereen, who I think will have a breakout season. Not quite a Reggie Bush-type 70+ catch year, but he could be a much bigger contributor than many expect. The other sleeper is LeGarrette Blount, but that's tough as he will be third on the depth chart behind Stevan Ridley and Vereen.
Will Grant: Like everyone else here, I think Amendola is the smart play. But if you've got a roster spot or two at the end of your draft and you're looking for a sleeper, I'd grab one of the two rookies just to see what happens. I love Amendola, but he's had trouble staying healthy the last two seasons. Even if he steps in to take a big portion of Welker's targets, there's a good chance he might not play a full 16 games. Brady has already proven that he gets everyone involved, and while Welker has been the clear 'go-to' guy, there is plenty of offense to go around.
Sigmund Bloom: I like Josh Boyce's speed-based game a lot better than Aaron Dobson's, which can produce circus catches and bad drops in similar frequencies. Boyce is also more ready-made to fit in the slot if Amendola and Edelman aren't available. I wouldn't draft Boyce in redraft leagues, but he would be on my waiver wire speed dial list. Edelman is an obvious pickup if Amendola goes down, but he isn't a true handcuff because he might not even make the team. Edelman had a setback with a broken foot, and he needs to be healthy for camp to assure his spot. If Edelman doesn't make the team, watching the winner of the three-way veteran free agent battle will become more important. Donald Jones flashed against the Patriots last year, but has been otherwise unimpressive. Michael Jenkins is a better blocker than receiver. Lavelle Hawkins is a name to remember because the Patriots actually give him a signing bonus (unlike the others), and they signed him quickly after he was released even though that just drafted and signed four receivers in total.
Daniel Thomas has disappointed throughout his entire young career thus far. Lamar Miller showcased enough promise last year that it should be obvious to Miami coaching and management that his ceiling is far higher than that of Thomas.
Miller only had 51 carries, but he averaged five yards per tote on those carries. In an offense that should be predicated on young playmakers with the arrival of Mike Wallace, potential emergence of Ryan Tannehill, and departure of "safe and steady" receiver Davone Bess, Miller should fit in very nicely. I see Miller as a mid-to-low RB2 in 12-team fantasy leagues this season.
The guy to watch out for, though, is Mike Gillislee. A rookie fifth round selection in this year's draft, Gillislee performed admirably last season against SEC defenses and may already be ahead of Thomas in the Miami pecking order. Should Miller prove unable to carry the bulk of the load, it's likely that Gillislee would get the next look before Thomas.
Andy Hicks: This seems like a pretty open situation to me. I know most people think that Lamar Miller is the clear starter right now, but with competition not only from Daniel Thomas and Gillislee, but also from Jonas Gray and Marcus Thigpen, I don't think anything is very clear cut. Miller has only 51 career carries, and Daniel Thomas had almost twice as many last year. The most likely outcome, in my opinion, is a messy situation where all backs get opportunities but none stand out. If the free-agent signing of Mike Wallace can break open the field, that will help whoever wins the starting job at running back, but I'm not as confident as a lot of people seem to be that it will be Lamar Miller.
Jason Wood: Lamar Miller for the win. Miami wouldn't have let Reggie Bush walk if they had serious concerns about Miller. And while Mike Gillislee is a good story, neither his collegiate film nor what I've seen and heard from the Miami coaches argues that he's in line for anything more than a possible spot as the RB2 if Daniel Thomas completely flops.
Chad Parsons: This is an easy situation to handicap from a dynasty perspective. Lamar Miller was thought to be a second-round pick prior to the NFL draft last year. He fell because of injury concerns and largely sat behind soon-to-be free agent Reggie Bush and unimpressive former second-round pick Daniel Thomas as a rookie. Miller quickly received a ton of hype this offseason because after Bush signed with Detroit, Miller was by far the most dynamic option left in Miami. The Dolphins gave Miller another boost by not really addressing the position in free agency or with a high pick in the NFL draft (Mike Gillislee was fifth-rounder). Miller is it. Fantasy owners can like him or not, but the job will be Miller's at the outset on a progressing offense with Mike Wallace keeping safeties deep and Ryan Tannehill coming off a respectable rookie season. Miller's average draft position of RB22 is attractive for those that wait on their RB2. The formula I have found to earmark a breakout RB1 is young and talented, was efficient the previous year, lacks serious competition for carries, and has a non-elite fantasy quarterback.
That list describes Miller exactly. If I were betting on a single running back as my breakout candidate for 2013, I would choose Miller without hesitation.
Will Grant: Like Jason, I think this is a pretty easy one. Miller wins by default. I'm not quite as optimistic as Chad, but I wouldn't mind drafting Miller as a low-end fantasy RB2 this year. Maybe take a flyer on Mike Gillislee late in the draft if you like handcuffs, but Gillislee isn't seeing a lot of love in dynasty leagues. His value in redraft leagues is pretty low.
Jeff Pasquino: The Dolphins want Lamar Miller to be their top guy this year, with either Thomas or rookie Mike Gillislee to push Miller to step up his game. The Dolphins have been really talking Miller up as the feature tailback guy, but with so little NFL experience (and not showing much on those chances) I hesitate to believe in him at this point. I do know that Daniel Thomas is not the answer, this year or in the future, so I have an eye on Gillislee for a sleeper late pick or waiver-wire move. Miami will have some value at tailback this year, as I have Ryan Tannehill circled as a sleeper quarterback with upside and that improved passing game should open the door for running back value. I will say this: if I draft Miller (late) in deep drafts, I would target Gillislee with one of my last picks.
Mark Wimer: I agree with Jason Wood that Lamar Miller looks like the favorite to win the starting job in Miami, and to handle the lion's share of carries for the Dolphins this year. Daniel Thomas is a 3.5-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust type big back at this level, so he'll see some work as a short-yardage and change-of-pace back, but with only four TDs in two years of NFL play, I don't see him as a big threat to steal goal line work from Miller. Miller is one of the guys I'm targeting for my second or third fantasy back on my teams this year, and I think there is definitely upside potential for him from there.
Percy Harvin in Seattle
Now that he's with the Seahawks, how comfortable would you be drafting Percy Harvin as your WR1?
Ryan Hester: Under the right circumstances, I'd be more than happy going into 2013 with Harvin as my WR1. Harvin's current ADP is around the 26 overall range. If I had a top-three pick in a 12-team league and started out RB-RB (with something like Arian Foster at two and Chris Johnson, Maurice Jones-Drew, or Stevan Ridley at 23), Harvin would be a very logical pick at the top of the third round.
He's currently the seventh wide receiver going off the board, so there are many who are gladly making him their top receiver. In PPR leagues, I'd be even more comfortable with him as my WR1.
Matt Waldman: I'd be pretty comfortable because I believe Russell Wilson is about to take another step forward. Some people have the view that Wilson's success was a great marriage between player and system. While this is true, I don't think it's the type of relationship most assume it is.
Wilson has always been a good downfield thrower with the ability to beat the blitz with his arm and quick decisions as often as his legs. What you saw early last year was a less aggressive rookie who did something exceedingly rare among first-year signal callers: He executed his coach's conceptual approach to the letter and played a conservative brand of football that was as low risk as I've ever seen.
This year, I expect Wilson to prove he can handle more freedom as a field general and take risks that he was asked not to try for much of the year. Percy Harvin will be on the receiving end of many of these plays in 2013. I don't expect Harvin to be the top-five receiver he was on track to be before injury last year. However, I do expect low-end WR1 totals at year's end.
Andy Hicks: I have to disagree with Ryan and Matt. I would not be comfortable at all. Percy Harvin is the new guy having to fit into the existing system with established players. He cost a lot of money and draft picks, but Seattle has more options in their offense than Minnesota did, and Harvin, despite all his multi-skilled ability, does not get the receptions a WR1 normally would, nor does he accumulate the touchdowns of an elite receiver. Harvin is a yardage guy and unless he can replicate his 2011 season, I doubt he can make it this year as a WR1.
Another doubt is his ability to stay healthy for a season. Once again, the 2011 season is the only one of his 4 years in the NFL where he has played every game. Harvin is not the biggest guy around and despite his agility, he takes punishment.
I'm sure he'll be on his best behavior in his first year in Seattle, but Minnesota wasn't that excited to keep him around. His reported confrontations with coaching staff are something you need to keep in mind. Who's to say he doesn't throw a tantrum when he doesn't get the ball like he is used to?
Harvin is an exciting player and a rare receiver who'll be good for rushing yardage, but I want to see how Seattle use him first before I would be comfortable using him as my WR1
Jason Wood: I wouldn't feel great with Harvin as my WR1. New setting, a run heavy offense, and credible alternatives for targets make it hard for me to see Harvin as much more than WR8-10. While that's still a fantasy WR1, I would want that kind of production as my WR2 if I'm going to be vying for a league title.
Jeff Pasquino: Seattle acquired Percy Harvin because they are making a Super Bowl run, and what better way to build up their offense than to add a legitimate fantasy WR1? Harvin becomes the immediate favorite target for Russell Wilson, who will get Harvin the ball 8-10 times a game either as a receiver or a rusher just to keep the defenses honest. Harvin is a playmaker with excellent speed and field vision, and he is a threat to score every time he touches the ball. As long as he remains healthy this year he should finish amongst the Top 12 fantasy wide receivers on a team that is a Super Bowl favorite. All that said, and I know I am backtracking here, I can't pick Harvin as one of the first 7-8 wide receivers in my fantasy draft. Where is the upside in that? I think Harvin is a classic high risk, high reward type of player, and I try to avoid high risk players in the first 3-4 rounds in my fantasy drafts. I would be far more comfortable with Harvin as my WR2, but odds are that he will not be on any of my teams this year.
Adam Harstad: I'd be very happy with Harvin as my fantasy WR1. In his last 16 games, Percy Harvin has 112 receptions, 1492 offensive yards, 11 offensive touchdowns, and a kickoff return for another TD. Those are top 3 WR numbers. I suspect the Seahawks will use him differently than Minnesota (who basically just threw him nothing but an unending series of screen passes), but differently doesn't necessarily mean worse. Maybe they give him fewer targets, but use him more down the field, giving him more value per target. Maybe they keep going to the screen game and give him 100 dump-offs again. I don't really know what Seattle is going to do with him, and I suspect they'll be unveiling new surprises and wrinkles all season long to keep me on my toes. What I do know is that Harvin is an elite talent with a recent history of elite production. He was generating buzz as a legitimate midseason MVP candidate before his injury last year. I know that Pete Carroll has been salivating over what he could do with Harvin for nearly a decade, ever since Harvin was the #1 high school recruit in the nation back in 2005-2006. I also know that Seattle gave up a small fortune in terms of draft value and cap space to secure Harvin's services and keep him happy. I can't help but think that as well-run of an organization as the Seattle Seahawks wouldn't make an investment like that unless they had a clear plan in place to use their newest asset. I think Russell Wilson will continue to grow, I think the passing game will become the focal point of the offense, and I think Percy Harvin will be the focal point of the passing game.
Chris Ivory in New York
Ryan Hester: Ivory lacks the collegiate pedigree, but he has shown that he runs harder, tougher, and more dynamically than Greene. The lack of overall skill in the Jets offense will lower Ivory's ceiling, but he's a more talented player than Greene (who finished as the 15th best running back in standard scoring leagues in 2012) and will be running with a chip on his shoulder to prove that he was worthy of being an NFL starter all along. He's definitely an upgrade over Greene, whose running style was rather uninspired.
Matt Waldman: As a runner, yes. Yet, it remains to be seen if the Jets are a substantial upgrade to Ivory's opportunity to shine. This offense was horrible last year the line was a potent factor in begriming the running game. It might not matter who the running back is if you're seeking a huge difference.
Then again, I happen to believe that the running back can make the line look better. Ivory breaks tackles early in runs and has the quick feet and aggressive tendencies that Greene lacks. The real question might be the play calling. I though the type of runs the Jets used were predictable and the way the team used substitutions with the backs disrupted any bit of rhythm the unit was achieving.
There is a rhythm and feel to executing a good running game in terms of line/back execution and play calling and it was notably missing last year. If the Jets don't find it this year, I don't care how much I like Ivory the running back, I'm going to be disappointed with the Jets running game. That said, Ivory is a nice 5th-round pick right now and I'd still invest a late-round option in Mike Goodson.
Chad Parsons: Chris Ivory is a much better runner than Shonn Greene. That being said, I do not see a big change in the fantasy value of the Jets lead back this season. Ivory has a ceiling of a low RB2 in my eyes, much the same as Greene in years past. Ivory has yet to put together a decent stretch of health and a high workload, which is what fantasy owners would be looking for. Another knock is that Chris Ivory just does not catch passes. Everyone catches a ton of passes in the Saints offense. Not Chris Ivory. There is something to that in my opinion. Now, that puts Ivory in the mold of Michael Turner or Alfred Morris. He needs 300+ carries and plenty of goal line love to grace the top-15 in fantasy production. That requires a long stretch of health and a significant uptick for the Jets offense as a whole. I will bet against both of those things in 2013.
Jason Wood: My gut instinct says that Ivory is a substantial upgrade over Greene, but we need to be very careful about sample size here. Lots of running backs flash a high per-attempt average in limited work and we think it's safe to extrapolate that over a full number of carries -- which rarely equates. Why? Because a situational back benefits from his situation. It's a lot easier to average 5 yards per carry if you're only getting a few carries per game in obvious passing situations (e.g., 3rd and longs, etc...) and not getting carries in short yardage. Now that said, I like what we've seen of Chris Ivory. He's averaged well north of 3 yards after initial contact in his career and has the build (6', 200 lbs.) to be take a pounding. The Jets line is better than we give it credit for and I suspect the new offensive coaches will create plenty of running room with scheme. What we're not sure about is whether Ivory can stay healthy. He's played less than 25% of the Saints snaps and is more familiar with the trainer's room than the end zone. Ultimately I like Ivory at his current ADP because he could be the work horse on a run-heavy offense, BUT there are a ton of ways this story could end badly. So if NY beat writers start talking up Ivory as the lead guy, or Mike Goodson is released because of his legal woes, and Ivory's ADP creeps higher, I'll probably avoid him.
Jeff Pasquino: Chris Ivory finally got out from under the depth chart woes he could never seem to escape while in New Orleans. Now a New York Jet, Ivory is poised to become their feature tailback in 2013 and for the next several seasons. Shonn Greene, arguably a lesser talented runner, managed to finish as a fantasy RB2 last year - so Ivory clearly has RB2 value with upside in 2013. Ivory is more explosive and a better playmaker, averaging over five yards per carry for his limited NFL career (256-1307-8 in three seasons in New Orleans). I like Ivory's prospects this season if the Jets can muster any sort of passing game to compliment Ivory out of the backfield.
Mark Wimer: This is a wait-and-see situation for me. Can Geno Smith revive the Jets' passing attack, or will he turn out to be another JaMarcus Russell (a highly touted prima donna who busted in the NFL)? Will Mike Goodson get canned due to his legal issues, and if not, how long will he be suspended? What about Bilal Powell? He hasn't been explosive so far, but he is a veteran with the Jets and will at least get a shot at sharing the workload this year. There is so much up in the air with the Jets that I'm not going to draft any of these guys unless they fall way down the board in a particular draft. The mix at running back is not clearly defined as of early June, to say the least.
Ryan Hester: With a new head coach in Bruce Arians, Arizona's situation is as up-in-the-air as any in the NFL. When new head coaches come in, there's usually little to no allegiance to a player already on the roster that he has inherited. In Arizona's case, there's only one such player (Ryan Williams).
With no allegiance to Williams and the other two candidates being rookies, it would seem that Rashard Mendenhall would be first in line to get the bulk of the touches in the Arizona backfield. When we consider that Mendenhall has played in Arians' offense before when he was Pittsburgh's Offensive Coordinator, that points in his direction even more.
The Arizona situation will be among the hardest in the NFL to read. Combine that with an offensive line that is unproven at best and sub-par at worst, and you have a very limited ceiling with any of the Arizona runners.
Matt Waldman: Coach Arians knows Mendenhall and is fitting the back to a style of running that should give the Cardinals a fighting chance at a productive ground game, especially with rookie guard Jonathan Cooper, who is as athletic as it gets at the position. I'm not a huge Mendenhall fan, but when he plays to his ability he can deliver RB2 production even if the Cardinals line underwhelms. The most talented back on the team is Ryan Williams. If he can stay healthy, he reminds me of DeAngelo Williams with a more physical running style. Both players are good values this year. Stepfan Taylor is a solid late-round pick because he is a match for the system and he's a quicker than fast back. I'm don't think we're going to see Alfred Morris Part II with a desert setting in 2013, but he's good enough to deliver starter production if the top of the depth chart succumbs to another wave of injuries. I think Ellington has been cast as a C.J. Spiller type of back, but I think he lacks the physicality Spiller has to pull it off. I'm not touching Ellington in most leagues. I think Mendenhall will be the most productive. I'd give him a moderate edge over Williams, with Taylor a distant third. If Williams does win the starting job, though, I think his upside potential is higher than Mendenhall's.
Andy Hicks: I am comfortably discounting Ryan Williams. He has played 5 games in first 2 years due to injury and in those 5 games averaged 2.8 yards a carry.
Find me a productive back in the history of the NFL with that record and I'll reconsider. He admitted to running scared last year due to his injury worries and I'm going to need to see massive improvement before he is anywhere near my fantasy roster.
The rest have my full attention. Mendenhall has the history with Bruce Arians, but signing a lukewarm one year contract as a free agent means either Arians persuaded him to come as "his" guy, or no one else was interested. If Mendenhall is over his injuries then he has proved to be a RB2 quality back. Behind this line, that is a stretch. More intriguing though are the 2 rookies in Stepfan Taylor and Andre Ellington. Taylor has been described as a solid all round back, without dominating in any particular area. These backs can do well behind good lines and strong passing games, although Arizona is still a work in progress in those areas.
This is one situation where you have to give the edge to Mendenhall as a Flex/RB2 option, but that could change rapidly.
Jason Wood: Unless I can get Rashard Mendenhall late, I'm passing on this situation. Not only can I make the case for all four backs to play, but you have a head coach that's already gone out of his way to say he doesn't believe in throwing to running backs much. When you get two/three/four backs vying for touches and NOT getting targeted in the passing game, it's nearly impossible for one to be more than a flex player in most leagues. Add to that a patchwork offensive line and a quarterback I'm not completely sold on (but is better than what Arizona had in recent years), and I just don't see many paths to significant upside for any of these guys.
Chad Parsons: Rashard Mendenhall is the clear-cut leader for the starting job. While I am definitely not excited about it from a fantasy perspective, claiming that role has at least top-30 fantasy value by sheer volume alone. Andy makes a great point about Ryan Williams, he has missed a ton of time and even when he has seen the field, has done little with it. In all likelihood, this is also Mendenhall's best chance to get a long-term deal. The yearly churn at the running back position in the NFL is not a sympathetic one. (Ask Michael Turner and Ahmad Bradshaw, who had lead roles in 2012 and are still without contracts in early June.) Mendenhall is on a one-year deal that will decide the next few seasons that could be remaining in his career. I like to bet on guys in that situation. On the flip side, the Arizona offense and Mendenhall's skill set give him quite a bit of pause that his upside is anything more than just inside the top-20, which is not the type of risk-reward I am looking for in the RB3-RB4 range of drafts. Williams would need to fall below his ADP (RB45) to give him a look and Stepfan Taylor is such an uninspiring choice to me that even with a majority of the carries, he would be a matchup play at best.
Jeff Pasquino: I am a Ryan Williams fan, and he gets a bad rap because of his knee injury. I get it: he missed a lot of time because of getting hurt, but are we going to hold that against him forever? I think the new head coach for the Cardinals is a good thing for Williams, as he needed a fresh start, but his contract leaves him tied to Arizona. A new coaching staff is the next best thing. Williams has had to fight for a starting job in the past, and he is more than capable of earning it again. Mendenhall is next for me (and the ties with Bruce Arians are obviously there) but there's a reason that he is no longer in Pittsburgh: his average per carry speaks loudly towards that. The rookies are rookies, and will need time to develop. There are a ton of ifs here (the offensive line, Carson Palmer, the split on touches) so I am not buying heavily into any of these guys, but I would certainly take a later flier on Williams. This is definitely a camp battle to watch.
Mark Wimer: I think that Wood is right to worry about a running-back-by-committee mess. I have Rashard Mendenhall down as a mid-range fantasy RB #3 (31st in PPR scoring) with Ryan Williams landing at #41 in the PPR scoring paradigm. Though there is potential for improvement in that offensive line thanks to the draft (as Matt Waldman detailed), it is still just potential until we see the rookie linemen either jell or struggle during preseason. Right now, I'm avoiding drafting Arizona backs until we get some clarity on how the entire offense down there functions.
Sigmund Bloom: Rashard Mendenhall dances too much to be successful behind a line that is a work in progress like Arizona's. Ryan Williams has said that his knee was only 80% last year, and that his season-ending shoulder injury was a blessing in disguise. He should be a more effective back than Mendenhall, but I don't think the starter in this backfield is one to seek as more than a bye-week or injury fill-in in any scenario.
Cecil Lammey: Mendenhall is going to get the first crack at proving himself as the starter. If he can stay healthy and impress then he'll be the best fantasy back here. Mendenhall's current ADP is RB29, which makes him a slight value pick at this time. He could put up top 25 RB numbers if he stays healthy for the entire season. Ryan Williams is the most talented back here. I talked to Bruce Arians at the Scouting Combine earlier this year and he told me Williams impressed him when he came out of Virginia Tech. Durability is a huge concern with Williams, but if healthy he may make it difficult for Mendenhall to win the starting job. Per Arians comments, this is unlikely to be a RBBC. Arians wants one back to be the workhorse. Taylor is my favorite rookie RB on their roster. He proved to me at the Senior Bowl that he had enough juice to get to the edge consistently. On film he's an all-purpose back with a smooth running style and good receiving ability. Ellington is a speed back but is not creative or elusive enough for me to get excited about. He'll need to show better patience in order to play up to his potential as a pro.
That will do it for this edition of the Footballguys Roundtable. Please join us again next time.