The preseason is front and center and dynasty owners have been restless ever since the NFL draft analysis from May subsided. Preseason is great because there will be football on. Real live football will be in front of our very eyes with officials, commercials between the extra point and the kickoff and then again before the next possession, and everything that we missed from last season. With that excitement comes with it the danger to overanalyze everything. I remember Colt McCoy and the Browns offense looking unstoppable in their tune-up games only to turn back into a pumpkin when Week 1 rolled around a few years ago. Teams approach the preseason very differently and most of four weeks are filled with third-stringers pitted against fellow back of the roster or soon-to-be-cut players. There are jobs on the line in some cases and others were they are auditioning for practice squad roles on another team.
Some of the smoke equals fire like the case of Victor Cruz being one of the standouts before busting onto the regular season star stage. However, many times we plain create storylines from dust. One thing that definitely has merit for dynasty owners in August is the ability to finally watch the rookies and second-year players with limited NFL tape up to this point. Over the next few weeks, this article will breakdown some of the moving pieces with young players that may serve as a keyhole view into what may be coming down the road. This week’s edition will outline the burning dynasty question for each NFC team for 2013.
Will Carson Palmer fuel a rebound of the passing game?
The assumption in the dynasty community is that Palmer can revive the lost fantasy soul formerly known as Larry Fitzgerald as well as fuel second-year potential star Michael Floyd. With two talented assets on the line, the play of Palmer and the offensive line will be one to watch, especially with three of the better pass rushing defenses in Arizona’s division. The presence of question marks in the backfield with Rashard Mendenhall and Ryan Williams puts even more pressure on the passing game to be a success right out of the gate.
How much short-term pop will the 30-year-old Steven Jackson provide?
Jackson was a dynasty afterthought as he finished up a poor season in St.Louis in 2012. Free agency brought a major uptick back to top-60 startup value as owners believe the situation is ripe for Jackson to enjoy huge holes and more goal line opportunities than with the Rams. I will point out that running backs Jackson’s age to be in RB1 territory is rather rare. In fact, the closest comparable backs to Jackson totaled just one season of 15 or more PPR points-per-game from that age forward. Dynasty owners are banking on one or two impact seasons from Jackson and the current season is of vital importance for older veterans with each passing year. I elaborate on Steven Jackson as a dynasty asset at the 14:20 mark of my July 26 dynasty podcast episode as well.
What is the smart play at running back?
For much of his career, Jonathan Stewart has been a ‘what if’ kind of dynasty commodity. He has been a top-50 startup value for a number of years with the production not following suit. That speaks to his talent and potential, but dynasty owners are finally losing patience. Stewart had a startup ADP in the 70-to-75 range back in May and the news leading up to training camp has not been positive. Also, Stewart’s high level of efficiency fell off in 2012 with his lowest yards-after-contact mark and red zone conversion rate of his NFL career. DeAngelo Williams is a cheap option, as he should be considering he turned 30 years old a few months ago. Williams has been efficient over the years with a reduced workload, seeing less than 500 touches over the past three seasons combined. Mike Tolbert is a dark horse in the Carolina backfield as another efficient player over his career. He was solid after contact, in the red zone, and in the passing game with Carolina last season. With Cam Newton a significant presence at the goal, tempered expectations are in effect across the board with this trio. That said, the palatable price tag of Williams and especially Tolbert could provide short-term value.
Is this Marc Trestman offense going to turn around Jay Cutler?
The storyline of the Trestman offense has been well-covered this offseason and I took the time to look at his history in writing the player spotlight on Martellus Bennett for Footballguys as well. It has been two full seasons since Jay Cutler was even average in terms of efficiency. This season does mark his best set of weapons with Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery, and Martellus Bennett. While I referenced liking Jeffery’s development in the Trestman offense in the Martellus Bennett article, as a whole I do not believe Cutler will grow into a QB1-level fantasy performer. On the flip side, Cutler has the arm talent and physical targets that match his ‘stick it in there’ boldness to prove my expectations wrong.
Can Demarco Murray piece together a string of health and production?
Murray surprised as a rookie in 2011 and then averaged 15 points-per-game in 10 games as a sophomore when the expectations were raised. This article from 2011 outlines the injury history for Murray that dates back long before his drafting by the Cowboys. His efficiency has been solid through 23 NFL games, but a high rate of dropped passes and a drop of more than half yard per carry after contact in just his second season is a bit of a metric flag. Joseph Randle and the rest of the backup options are of little threat to Murray’s workload, so health is the absolute factor for Murray going forward. Like Darren McFadden, Jonathan Stewart, and other talents backs, Murray could be another ‘what could have been’ situation when we look back in two-to-three seasons. At this point, Murray is still carrying a high cost with a third round price tag in startup drafts this summer. That is in the range of fellow backs Chris Johnson, Maurice Jones-Drew, Darren McFadden, Stevan Ridley, and Lamar Miller as a point of reference.
Who is the secondary target to own in the passing game?
Lions and fantasy owners alike do not want to imagine life without a healthy Calvin Johnson, but I did just that in a recent Footballguys article projecting the Detroit offense without the superhero Megatron. In dynasty terms Ryan Broyles is the name in flashing lights. In terms of points-per-target efficiency, Broyles was the top option in Detroit’s passing game last season as a rookie. Brandon Pettigrew has been below replacement-level for three seasons now and Nate Burleson has not been much better. Those two veteran options have been undeservedly soaking up targets for a while now. All reports are that Broyles has been on track with his recovery to be in the mix this season. Corey Fuller is an intriguing size-speed combination Detroit drafted in the sixth round this year. Mike Thomas and Patrick Edwards are options that could see time in the slot. Handicapping this situation, Broyles is the clear favorite and his dynasty cost reflections that sentiment. Fuller and Edwards are typically available in leagues of 25 roster spots or less and worth monitoring if a team does not have available space on the backend of their receiver depth chart.
In addition to my pre-draft research into these two rookies, I found Chase Stuart’s article on NFL teams double-dipping into the running back through the draft especially interesting. Two takeaways from the article are that this situation is not all that common (just twice since 2000) and leads to more confusion than fantasy-relevant production. First off, the Packers are centered on Aaron Rodgers and have been content to use running backs in role situations in recent seasons. So how big is the rushing pie of production to start with and what would lead status ultimately mean? Lacy is more costly than Franklin with a four-round edge in startup draft ADP. In rookie drafts, Lacy is typically a mid-first selection, while Franklin goes in the late-first or occasionally slips to the early second round. I was not a fan of Lacy as a prospect, especially considering his dynasty cost. Franklin comes with a cheaper price tag, but also lags behind Lacy in terms of athleticism. Based on where they were selected in the NFL draft, Lacy has roughly three times better odds to become a fantasy starter early in his career compared to Franklin. My approach to this backfield would be to stay away at their given price points or take Franklin at or below his ADP if I wanted to invest here.
Is there value to be mined in the pass game?
Christian Ponder has a great deal to do with this question as one of the least efficient fantasy quarterbacks in his time as starter. Percy Harvin, the electric and uber-efficient playmaker all over the field, is out of the picture and Jerome Simpson has been below replacement level in terms of efficiency since 2010. Kyle Rudolph is already being valued within the top-5 tight ends in dynasty circles and for good reason. Aaron Hernandez is likely out of the picture and outside of Jimmy Graham and Rob Gronkowski, Rudolph is right there with anyone at the tight end position. Rudolph saw nearly 20% of the targets in Minnesota last year, a healthy mark, but considering the run-first nature of the offense, nothing that accumulated to much volume-wise. Where Rudolph makes a living is in the red zone, where he has been Gronkowski-like through two seasons.
At the receiver position, Greg Jennings and rookie Cordarrelle Patterson are the notable names. Jennings comes over from Green Bay where, in my opinion, he was propped up by Aaron Rodgers and the efficient nature of the passing offense. I think the Packers knew when to cash out on Jennings and move on at the receiver position and Jennings landing with a divisional rival does not worry them in the least. Jennings is still being valued among the top-100 dynasty players this summer, which is too high for my taste considering his age, likely decline in efficiency, and the lack of available targets on a team that takes the air out of the ball on offense. Patterson is an intriguing prospect that oozes upside with his burst and wiggle after the catch that should not be available to a receiver of his size, but lacks any sense of refinement as a receiver. Patterson has routinely been a top-5 rookie pick and a selection in the top-80 in startup values, but holds far greater value in established leagues. Patterson, not Jennings, is my dynasty best in the years to come for the Minnesota passing game. The dark horse candidate to provide value is Greg Childs. All reports during his latest injury recovery are positive and he was a favorite to see significant time early in his NFL career. He begins training camp on the PUP list, but with his physical attributes and play-making ability, he is a deep sleeper to monitor.
Is it time to give up on Mark Ingram?
The Saints offense has been a fantasy machine since the Drew Brees era started, but Mark Ingram is one of the few ancillary pieces yet to benefit. Darren Sproles has a defined role as a PPR dynamo, which works well with the offensive scheme in New Orleans. The ‘free Chris Ivory’ chants by fantasy owners have been rewards as he departed for the Jets. That leaves Ingram, Pierre Thomas, and Travaris Cadet. Cadet was a preseason star and was productive as a 2012 rookie, albeit in just 26 total snaps centering on the passing game. Thomas has been one of the more underrated backs over the past half a decade, mired in more of the more frustrating committees in fantasy. The crazy stat about Thomas is that he has caught an unreal 186 of his 190 catchable targets over a five-year span. Ingram on the other hand has seen just 21 targets over 26 career games in an offense that loves to use backs in the passing game. The saving grace is that Ingram improved his yards-after-contact from 2011 to 2012 and has been used a moderate amount in the red zone. Doing a quick search of first round running backs since 2000 that have not surpassed 12 points-per-game in year one nor year two yielded 11 former cases. Of those, six surpassed that mark in year three, which is in the ballpark of RB24 level in PPR scoring. The bad news is that Ingram’s closest comparison athletically among that group is William Green, of the five that did not elevate their game after two ho-hum seasons.
Is 2012 the coming out party for David Wilson?
The hype for the second-year back has reached the mid-second round in startup ADP. Owners are not loosening their grip on Wilson easily and for good reason. Wilson had a whopping 75 touches in less than 125 offensive snaps, so the Giants had a goal to get him the ball despite concerns with pass protection. Andre Brown was also efficient in limited time in 2012, but keep in mind that Brown had just one NFL game in his career prior to last year and has struggled with injuries throughout. My take is that Andre Brown will not be the reason Wilson does not pan out. The ball is firmly in Wilson’s court to build upon the highlight flashes seen as a rookie.
With a new coach, new offense, and Maclin out, where is the value on the Eagles offense?
Jeremy Maclin and Desean Jackson were both quite efficient the past two seasons, elevating sub-par quarterback situations. Maclin is out of the picture for 2012, leaving the cupboard bare after Jackson, a receiver who has been in decline since his 2009 breakout season. With the likely emphasis on the run game, Bryce Brown is a good place to start to mine dynasty value. He showed enough as a 21-year-old rookie in LeSean McCoy’s absence last year to warrant a growing share of the backfield share. Through the air, there is talk about three tight ends getting on the field. That makes sense with the loss at receiver. Zach Ertz stands out there as Brent Celek has been average at best over the past three seasons compared to the efficiency of his quarterbacks. Ertz was very productive in college and has enough athleticism to translate to the NFL level. Considering the lack of red zone options in Philadelphia, Ertz could be a touchdown vulture at a minimum from the start of his career, expanding from there.
Fill in the blank: Life without Percy Harvin is_________.
The answer, as Harvin looks likely to miss a significant chunk of the season with his labral tear and surgery, is essentially what we saw a season ago. The Seahawks were a run-based offense that got Russell Wilson in space and outside the pocket on passing downs making big plays. The interesting dynasty assets in Seattle are Christine Michael and Robert Turbin. Turbin was a pleasant surprise last season as a rookie, averaging 4.4 yards-per-carry and being efficient as a receiver. What worries me about the ultimate upside of Turbin is his underwhelming yards-after-contact metric and that Seattle turned around a year later and drafted Michael in the second round, a back with athleticism to burn. Michael is considered risky by most, but his potential is evident from watching just a few plays from his Texas A&M days. Michael has lateral agility and quickness that powerful backs his size should just not have. I will be surprised if his role in the offense does not expand quickly this season.
On paper Vernon Davis should be the San Francisco player to target. He has been the most efficiency player on offense for three years running even with sub-par quarterback play in 2010 and 2011. Anquan Boldin has been largely average during his decline of late, Mario Manningham has been forgettable since 2010 and A.J. Jenkins is a complete wildcard after a red shirt rookie season in the books. If the 49ers are at least adequate through the air, it is difficult seeing Davis not perform well compared to his dynasty price tag of TE5/6 this offseason in drafts. In addition to the available targets, Davis has been a beast in the red zone over his career. The problem has been not getting enough looks at the goal line. In fact, the 49ers threw the ball just 33% of the time when inside the 20-yard-line, lowest in the NFL last season. With just 41 total passes, there is a limited ceiling for all members of the San Francisco passing game near the end zone if that repeats itself. From a competition standpoint, nothing is standing in Davis’ way from a big season, if only projecting performance was that simple.
Is this the breakout year for Sam Bradford?
The Rams are certainly surrounding the former no.1 overall draft pick with new weapons. Without Steven Jackson anchoring the run game as he did for years in St.Louis, the Rams appear poised to lean on the pass for better or worse. Ever since Bradford’s solid rookie season, he has not elevated his game into the QB1 conversation. Without much rushing production, around 200 yards and two touchdowns in 42 career games, Bradford will need to be a high-level passer to vault into the fantasy starter conversation. In terms of weapons, Jared Cook and Tavon Austin are new additions that can open up the offense, Chris Givens is a legitimate deep threat coming off a good rookie season, and there are worse options down the depth chart than Austin Pettis, Brian Quick, and Stedman Bailey in the NFL. Whether it all comes together on the stat sheet this season or not, this is Bradford’s best opportunity to produce up to this point in his career.
Will Josh Freeman step up or step out?
Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams were both pleasant fantasy surprises last season with similar efficiency and plenty of targets. Freeman was slightly above the NFL average for starting quarterbacks in that regard and the last two seasons have seen him post a total of 43 touchdowns and 39 interceptions. I broke down quite a few Tampa Bay games for Footballguys last season and Freeman’s inaccuracy and inconsistency jumped off the screen many times. Now, Freeman enters the last year of his contract and Tampa Bay drafted Mike Glennon, albeit in the third round, as a young backup option. The early reports from camp are Freeman is in great shape (course half the league has reports of being in the 'best shape of their career' this time of year), has rededicated himself this offseason to training, and looks to rebound in a make-or-break season. Without other viable options in the passing game, Jackson and Williams plan to be go-to targets for Freeman again this season.
What is the value play at wide receiver?
There is fantasy value to be had in passing offenses with capable quarterbacks. Robert Griffin III was very efficient as a rookie and all signs point to him being the healthy and starting Week 1. Pierre Garcon is being drafted in the top-60 of startup drafts this summer despite the talk that he may not be fully healthy this season with a torn ligament in his foot. While Garcon was above-average in terms of per-target efficiency in 2012, so were Leonard Hankerson and Aldrick Robinson. In fact, Robinson was one of the most efficient receivers in the league and in relation to the level of his quarterback in limited time. With Hankerson and Robinson coming at a steep discount (Robinson on many waiver wires) compared to Garcon and have enough physical ability to build on their 2012 seasons, they are the value play of this wide receiver trio.
Questions, comments, and future dynasty content suggestions are always welcome @ChadParsonsNFL on twitter and email@example.com via email.
More from Chad Parsons:
Dynasty: Punting Quarterback Theory - July 23
Touchdown Regression: Receivers to Watch - July 15
Start Rate and Consistency: Quarterbacks - July 8
Dynasty Depth Chart Diving: AFC Wide Receivers - July 3
Dynasty Depth Chart Diving: NFC Running Backs - July 2
Dynasty Depth Chart Diving: AFC Running Backs - June 24
2014 Undrafted Tight End Watchlist - May 28
2014 Rookie Primer Part 7: Post-Combine Wide Receivers - April 10
2014 Rookie Primer Part 6: Post-Combine Running Backs - March 22
2014 Rookie Primer Part 5: Post-Combine Tight Ends - March 3