2012 Wrap-Up Report and Early 2013 Preview: NFC East
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QB: The Cowboys and QB Tony Romo came up short of making the playoffs once again, with a chance to do so in the final game of the regular season. Romo also took much of the blame again, tossing 3 interceptions against the Redskins, including a turnover deep in his own territory late in the fourth quarter that helped the Redskins seal the victory and the division title. Romo now owns a 1-6 career record in win-or-go-home games. He did crack a rib in the second quarter of the season-ending loss to the Redskins, but two of his three INTs came before the injury. Despite a third consecutive failed attempt to reach the postseason, the Cowboys look prepared to attempt to lock up Romo to a long-term deal this off-season. Romo will be a free agent after the 2013 season, and even though he hasn’t reached the playoffs recently, the belief is that the Cowboys (and owner Jerry Jones) feel he remains among the league’s top quarterbacks. Romo threw a career-high 19 interceptions this season, a year after a career-best 31-10 touchdown-to-interception ratio. However, a lot of his INTs game in bunches (5, 4, and 3 in one game), so other than a few terrible games, he protected the ball fairly well. In fact, from Weeks 9-16, Romo tossed only 3 INTs. Romo was hampered by a poor running game and poor offensive line play, but he still finished 8th among QBs this year, with 23.0 FPG, on 425/648 passing for 4903 yards (a career high), 28 TDs, and 19 INTs. Romo finished strong over the final eight games, with an 18-6 TD-to-INT ratio, to finish 5th among QBs with 25.0 FPG over that span. His 23 fantasy PPG in 2012 was just .7 points per game off his career-best 23.7 in 2007. Romo really benefitted from talented young WR Dez Bryant breaking out and emerging as one of the top wide receivers in the league. If Bryant continues his develop in 2013, Romo could have sneaky value for 2013 as a low-end starting QB. Heck, for fantasy purposes, Romo has been one of the most consistent QB options every year. He has tossed for at least 26 TDs every year since 2007, except for his 2010 campaign that was cut short by a broken clavicle. The Cowboys likely won’t be replacing Romo in 2013, but they might start to think about grooming his eventual replacement. QB Kyle Orton is considered one of the top backups in the NFL, but he isn’t a long-term solution, so the Cowboys could explore options for an eventual replacement later in the 2013 draft.
· Fantasy situation to watch for 2013: Can Romo and Bryant carry their momentum from the end of 2012 into the 2013 season? Will Romo continue to be a consistent force for fantasy as a top-10 QB?
RB: The Cowboy running game left a lot to be desired this season, and the disappointment started with the early-round fantasy pick DeMarco Murray. For the second consecutive year, Murray’s season and production was hindered by injuries. He missed six games in the middle of the season with a sprained foot, which was a huge disappointment, but not entirely unexpected, given his dicey durability history. The Cowboys several times described the injury as “minor,” but it was clearly more than that given the time missed, even if the organization was being extremely cautious. Murray finished 17th among RBs with 11.5 FPG in 10 games, as he finished with 161 carries for 663 yards and 4 TDs. He also added 34 catches for 247 yards. Remember that Murray missed the final three games of his promising rookie 2011 season with a fractured right ankle, but he still finished with 234 fewer rushing yards this season on just 3 fewer carries, as his YPC dropped from 5.5 in 2011 to 4.1 in 2012. At least he was a little more active in the passing game, with 8 more catches and 64 more yards in three fewer games. Murray has proven to be a legit NFL running back, but he’s not overly talented. He ran with an edge in 2012 and he did look good, but he still doesn’t make defenders miss often enough, and he’s really not a big-play threat. The fact that he runs hard is great, but then again the durability questions remain, and we can’t forget that Murray has been hindered by injuries all the way back to his college playing days at Oklahoma. Murray’s 2013 season should prove to be a pivotal campaign, since it’s now clear that he has to prove that he can stay on the field. It’s important for the Cowboys, too, since their running game was woeful this season, totaling the fewest yards per game in franchise history. It didn’t help that the Cowboy offensive line dealt with a number of injuries in 2012 and were particularly weak inside. Backup RB Felix Jones has been a major bust for the Cowboys since he was selected in the 1st round of the 2008 draft. Jones, a pending unrestricted free agent, will likely be gone this coming season after five inconsistent years marred by injuries and questions about his work ethic. As the de facto starter in the six games Murray missed, Jones totaled only 73/230/2 rushing (3.2 YPC, only 38.3 YPG), although his 18/181/2 receiving helped him salvage some fantasy value. Overall, Jones posted 668 yards from scrimmage and 5 TDs, ranking 42nd among RBs with 6.1 FPG, but he made some critical errors and the team can’t really trust him to stay on the field. With Jones likely gone next season, and Murray always finding himself with a different injury, the Cowboys could be in the market for a durable backup. Young RBs Lance Dunbar and Phillip Tanner each showed a little bit of juice in limited opportunities, so they (mainly Dunbar) could get the first opportunities to win the backup job. Yet Tanner didn’t see a single touch after Week Nine, and Dunbar had just 1 touch after Week Twelve. The Cowboys would be wise to find a proven backup running back just in case Murray continues to deal with injuries next season.
· Fantasy situation to watch for 2013: Can Murray finally stay on the field for a full season and become a top-flight fantasy running back? Will the Cowboys go out and find a proven backup running back, with Jones likely gone next season?
WR/TE: The Cowboys didn’t have many positive developments in 2012, after missing the playoffs for a third consecutive season, but the growth of WR Dez Bryant in his third NFL season was definitely a bright spot. Bryant finally lived up to his lofty expectations, and he showed that he could be a force for years to come. Dez developed into a formidable weapon in the second half of the year to finish 3rd among WRs for the season with 13.1 FPG, on 92 receptions for 1382 yards and 12 TDs on 137 targets (a very good 67.2% and 15.0 FPG). In the final eight games of the year, Bryant finished as the top WR, with 18.4 FPG on 50 catches for 879 yards and 10 TDs. Dez even played his final three games with a broken left index finger, but the injury never slowed him down. That was a real positive because he hadn’t shown an ability to play hurt in the past. Bryant showed great chemistry with QB Tony Romo, and it’s no fluke that Romo played extremely well in the second half of the year when Dez started to go wild. Bryant entered 2012 with only one career 100-yard game in two seasons, but he posted five in 2012 alone, including a 9/224/2 outing against the Saints in Week Sixteen. He underwent a successful surgery to fix his broken finger on Jan. 8, and he’ll likely be cleared for June minicamp at the latest. There’s no doubt Bryant will be one of first WRs off of the board in fantasy drafts next summer. And while he’s still not a slam-dunk as a high pick, it’s hard to form an argument against him at this point. For as much progress as Bryant showed this year, the Cowboys are likely just as worried about the regression of now #2 WR Miles Austin. Austin played in all 16 games this year, but he continues to be dogged by lingering hamstring issues. He also left Week Seventeen without a catch after suffering a high-ankle sprain. Austin finished 29th among WRs with 8.7 FPG, on 66 catches for 943 yards and 6 TDs on 115 targets (57.4% and 14.3 YPC). Austin has been a major disappointment the last two seasons after missing six games in 2011. Austin’s roster spot for 2013 is anything but a guarantee, as the Cowboys are expected to try to renegotiate the final four years and $30.5 million remaining on his deal. Still, it’s hard to believe the Cowboys would totally blow up their wide receiver depth by releasing Austin this off-season. WR Dwayne Harris emerged as the team’s #3 WR after Week Eleven, overtaking pending free agent Kevin Ogletree. Harris didn’t record a catch until Week Eleven, but he still finished with 17 catches for 222 yards and 1 TD and showed a knack for making plays and added a spark to the passing game. Ogletree set new career-highs with 32 catches, 436 yards, and 4 TDs, but he was a major disappointment after scoring 2 TDs in Week One and becoming a Waiver Wire bust. He is unlikely to be back in Dallas next year, leaving Harris as the #3 WR. Also in the mix is diminutive slot receiver Cole Beasley, who looks like a worthy contributor going forward. TE Jason Witten had quite the unusual season on his way to making NFL history. He started the season with a lacerated spleen in the preseason and was a fantasy bust for the first few weeks of the season. But he ended up with the most catches by a tight end in NFL history while playing in all 16 games. Witten finished 6th among TEs this year with 7.6 FPG, on 110 catches for 1039 yards and 3 TDs on 147 targets (a ridiculous 74.8% catch rate and 9.4 YPC). He’s now surpassed 1000 yards in three of his last four seasons. Yet Witten’s 3 TD receptions were a little disappointing, but he has never been a prolific scorer with Romo at QB. Witten has registered 7 TDs or more in a season just twice in his career, so he’s been much better for PPR formats throughout his career. Witten will be 31 next season, and it’s hard to imagine his duplicating his 2012 season, but he’s still earned the right to be considered a high-end TE next season.
· Fantasy situations to watch for 2013: Can Bryant continue his torrid pace from the second half of the season into 2013? Will Austin, because of lingering injury issues, ever be the same receiver he once was? Who will be the Cowboys’ #3 WR, as they struggled to replace Laurent Robinson in 2012? What will Witten do for an encore to his record-breaking 2012 season?
Key Free Agents: RB Felix Jones, WR Kevin Ogletree, OLB Anthony Spencer, C Phil Costa (RFA), FS Charlie Peprah, SS Danny McCray, SS Eric Frampton, DE Kenyon Coleman, TE John Phillips, LG Derrick Dockery.
New York Giants
QB: Although they were 9-7 for the second consecutive season, the record wasn’t good enough to get the Giants into the postseason in 2012, and therefore they were unable to defend their Super Bowl title. However, it’s hard to argue that the Giants deserved to be in the tournament, at least judging by the way they played over the second half of the season. And a lot of that blame has to go to QB Eli Manning, who more often than not in 2012 was an average player. On the season, Manning completed 321/536 passes (59.9%) for 3948 yards, with 26 TDs and 15 INTs. He ranked 17th among all QBs, with 19.0 FPG, so he was really a mediocre backup. It was the first time since 2007 that Eli failed to complete 60% of his passes, and the first time since 2008 he failed to throw for 4000 yards. It was also his worst fantasy season since averaging only 15.8 FPG in 2008, as well. Eli had 10 games with 1 or fewer TD passes, and he failed to throw a TD pass four times, including three straight games between Weeks Eight and Ten. There were reports that Manning dealt with “dead arm” toward the middle of the season, and his poor performance after the Giants’ Week Eleven bye didn’t do much to assuage those concerns. Eli has always been a quarterback who will make the occasional poor decision, but at times in 2012 he also didn’t have the arm strength to get “lucky” on some of his poor decisions. A big problem was the injury issue WR Hakeem Nicks dealt with for most of the season, since the pair never got on the same page and Nicks was a shell of his usual self. That fact, coupled with a shaky offensive line, meant the Giant passing game struggled more often than not. Eli acknowledged this after the season, blaming a large part of the Giants’ struggles on Nicks being at less than 100% even when he was out on the field. In reality, Manning’s only consistent weapon all season seemed to be Victor Cruz, and even then, Cruz wasn’t the consistently electric player he was in 2011, as he struggled to get off man coverage at times (although we do have to tip our hat to TE Martellus Bennett, who had a career year). From our perspective, the hope is that Eli uses his off-season to rest his arm, presuming he’s not actually “injured” in the medical sense. We hope Nicks gets healthy. And we hope that some of Manning’s younger weapons – most notably WR Rueben Randle – take a step up and give the Giants some trustworthy depth on the perimeter.
· Fantasy situation to watch for 2013: Will Eli be healthier, and more consistent, in 2013? Based on his 2012 performance, he could be something of a draft bargain. Can some of his weapons step up and provide some needed depth? With David Carr a free agent, who will back up Eli?
RB: We went on the record as saying that Giant veteran RB Ahmad Bradshaw was someone to avoid this preseason. He had been a very productive player in his career, yes, but his nagging injuries, fumbling problems, and the drafting of rookie RB David Wilson in the 1st round were enough to prompt us to shy away from Bradshaw. Bradshaw actually did just fine, but he was hardly a fantasy savior. Bradshaw finished with 221/1015/6 rushing (4.6 YPC) and 23/245/0 receiving on 10 targets, finishing 16th among all RBs with 11.6 FPG. But his foot and knee problems limited him to 14 games played (and several more in which he was clearly limited). As a result, nearly 40% of Bradshaw’s fantasy production on the year came in just a three-game stretch between Weeks Five and Seven. After that stretch, during which he posted 69/359/3 rushing and averaged 19.8 FPG, Bradshaw ran for only 523 yards in eight games, scored only 2 TDs, and was held below 60 yards rushing five times. So owning Bradshaw, despite a rock-solid bottom line, was ultimately a headache, and given the $4 million in salary he’s owned next year, he might have to renegotiate or be released. Bradshaw’s fantasy struggles weren’t exactly due to the presence of Wilson, since Wilson simply couldn’t find his way onto the field. In Week One, Wilson fumbled on his second carry of the entire season, and found himself planted firmly in coach Tom Coughlin’s doghouse. It took Wilson until Week Fourteen to have even 10 carries in a game, and he finished with just 71/358/4 rushing and 4/34/1 receiving on the year (he also dropped some passes, but his Week One fumble was his only fumble on the year). However, when Wilson was given an opportunity down the stretch, his talent and explosive ability were evident. At times, it looks like he just plays a gear faster than other players. Over the last four weeks of the year, he ranked 14th among all RBs with 12.8 FPG. Giant GM Jerry Reese has said Wilson still projects as a lead back to the team, which is probably a good thing, considering the questions the Giants have elsewhere at the position. One of the reasons Wilson couldn’t get on the field early in the season was journeyman Andre Brown, who finally got his opportunity and performed well for New York before going down with a broken leg (injuries have hurt him since his rookie season). In 10 games, before his final action in Week Twelve, Brown carried for 73/385/8 and added 12/86 receiving, ranking 26th among all RBs with 9.5 FPG, not bad for a part-time player. Powerful with some downhill speed, Brown gave the Giants a formidable short-yardage option. In fact, he turned his 12 runs inside the five into 8 TDs and emerged as the goal line back of choice over Bradshaw. Bradshaw and Wilson combined to turn 15 goal-line runs into 4 TDs (Wilson was 0/3), so you can see how important Brown was before his injury. Brown is expected to be ready for spring practices, although he’s not exactly the most trustworthy option in a backfield that has a lot of talent, but also a lot of question marks.
· Fantasy situation to watch for 2013: Owed nearly $4 million in 2013, will the unreliable but productive Bradshaw be back with the Giants? Can Wilson establish himself as the back of the future? Can Brown recover from his broken leg to provide a short-yardage and rotational back?
WR/TE: The team’s great depth and variety of talent at the WR position carried them to a Super Bowl title in 2011, but injuries, departures, and inconsistent young players meant they weren’t able to replicate their success in 2012. The biggest issue for the Giants was WR Hakeem Nicks, whose foot, leg, and knee issues limited him to 13 games and severely limited his effectiveness. In fact, Nicks was targeted in only 12 of those games, and in those 12, he caught 53/692/3 on 99 targets (53.5%), and ranked 45th among WRs with 7.3 FPG. Nicks had only one 100-yard game on the year (Week Two against Tampa), and he caught more than 5 passes only twice (Week Two, Week Ten). Even when active on gameday, Nicks rarely practiced, and QB Eli Manning said it caused the two to lose a lot of the chemistry they’ve developed over time. Now, we know what Nicks can do when he’s healthy. He’s strong and has deceptive speed. In fact, in 2010, he ranked #1 among all WRs with 13.2 FPG. But the fact of the matter is that he’s never healthy. He’s never played a full schedule, and his swollen left knee that cost him a lot of his explosiveness this past season is going to require at least two months of rest, and perhaps surgery, before he can start working out again. So Nicks is going to head into 2013 already behind the 8-ball. Exactly how can fantasy players trust him now? At the least, 2011’s breakout star, Victor Cruz, had another strong season in 2012, even if he wasn’t as consistently dominant (understandable, since teams didn’t have to worry about Nicks nearly as much). In 16 games, Cruz posted 86/1092/10 (12.7 YPC, way down from 18.6 in 2011) on 142 targets (60.6%, down from 63.8% in 2011), and he ranked 17th among WRs with 10.6 FPG. Cruz wasn’t immune to the struggles of the Giant passing game, and in fact, his inability to shake man coverage at times exacerbated the issues. After scoring 6 TDs in a four-game stretch from Weeks Four through Seven, Cruz ranked an abysmal 41st among WRs with 7.2 FPG over the final nine games of the season. Given that, it’s understandable the Giants have curbed extension talks with Cruz until they have a time to evaluate his season with the gift of hindsight. Another factor hurting the Giants was the loss of WR Mario Manningham to free agency, because they didn’t really have a solid #3 WR step up in Nicks’ absence. Veteran Domenik Hixon returned from an ACL tear to post 39/567/2 and 5.3 FPG in 13 games of action, but he was a guy who more often “flashed” than made a consistent impact. One area for hope was rookie WR Rueben Randle, who posted only 19/298/3 in 16 games (3.0 FPG), but he ended the season on a strong note with 4/58/2 against the Eagles in Week Seventeen. A big receiver who has decent speed, Randle could go a long way to helping the Giants in the event of more Nicks injuries if he continues to work on his sloppy routes in the off-season. Given all the problems the Giants had, it was a surprise that TE Martellus Bennett was probably Eli’s second-most reliable receiver. In a career year, Bennett posted 55/626/5 on 89 targets (61.8%), and finished 16th among TEs with 5.8 FPG. But even with Bennett being a consistent contributor throughout the year, he faded in a big way (along with the whole passing game) after catching TDs in each of the Giants’ first three games, going without another score until Week Thirteen. Still, Bennett is talented, and he should be commended for putting together a nice season on a one-year “prove it” deal from the Giants. He’s expected to re-sign, and he even said he will accept a “hometown discount” to stay with Big Blue. Still, the team could look to upgrade at the position in the draft.
· Fantasy situation to watch for 2013: It’s the same question we ask every year, but will Nicks be healthy for 2013? If not, can the Giants count on Randle to step up in his second season, or will they add someone else? Will the Giants agree to an extension with Cruz, a restricted free agent? Will free agents Bennett and Hixon be back?
Key Free Agents: WR Victor Cruz (RFA), RB Andre Brown (RFA), TE Martellus Bennett, QB David Carr, WR Domenik Hixon, WR Ramses Barden, LT Will Beatty, LG Kevin Boothe, DE Osi Umenyiora, DT Rocky Bernard, LB Chase Blackburn, LB Keith Rivers, S Kenny Phillips, S Stevie Brown (RFA), K Lawrence Tynes.
QB: It wasn’t hard to read between the lines last off-season. The Eagles would have preferred to move on from Michael Vick, but Peyton Manning resisted Andy Reid’s overtures and the Eagles were unable to get themselves into a position to draft Robert Griffin III. So Reid went into the 2012 season with Vick as his starter, hoping that his QB could recapture the fleeting magic he exhibited in 2010 instead of the disappointment he showed in 2011. Unfortunately for both Reid and Vick, the signal caller’s 2012 season was his worst as an Eagle. In 10 games, Vick completed 204/351 passes (58.1%, his worst as an Eagle) for 2362 yards (his worst as an Eagle) with 12 TDs (his worst as an Eagle). He threw 10 INTs and lost 5 fumbles, turning the ball over 15 times in those 10 games (1.5 per game, his worst as an Eagle). While he carried for 62/346/1 to boost his fantasy numbers, the 5.6 YPC he averaged were, again, his worst as an Eagle. Are you noticing a trend here? In our site-default scoring system, Vick averaged 20.7 FPG and ranked 13th among all QBs, which were both his worst as an Eagle. In fairness to Vick, the OL in Philly was absolutely decimated by injuries, yet Vick did nothing to help that tough situation. In fact, his poor pocket presence and overall weak field general skills made the problem worse. Vick missed a handful of games late in the season with a concussion, and he also dealt with painful ribs from an injury he suffered during the preseason. His injuries continue to pile up, his production is falling, and his price tag is rising. So it’s understandable to believe Vick’s performance cost both him and Reid jobs in Philadelphia, although the hiring of new coach Chip Kelly, famous for running a revolutionary spread offense at the University of Oregon, could make the Eagles’ decision to cut Vick harder. Even if the Eagles cut Vick, they’ll still be unlikely to commit outright to QB Nick Foles, who started six games for Philadelphia as a rookie this season once Vick went down. Ideally, Foles wouldn’t have played a whole lot as a rookie, but for what he did, he acquitted himself well. In seven games of extensive action (including the game in which Vick got injured against Dallas), Foles went 161/265 (60.8%) for 1701 yards with 6 TDs and 5 INTs. Foles ranked only 25th among QBs with 17.0 FPG, but remember he had to deal with injuries to DeSean Jackson, Brent Celek, and Jason Avant. Given that, and the fact that he played Week Sixteen with a broken throwing hand, the fact that he had two starts with at least 340 yards passing was pretty impressive. A big kid with a pretty strong arm, Foles has the ability to make every throw, and he clearly sees the field well. His pocket presence was, at the least, better than Vick’s, and he shows a nice instinct for moving in the pocket to create functional space. What Foles must work on, however, is his lower body. His feet are too inconsistent, and his occasional accuracy and arm strength issues come from not setting his body correctly when he’s ready to throw. There is stuff to build on here for Foles, but the question is if Foles (not exactly the most mobile guy) is equipped to run Kelly’s offense, which typically required QBs to have great mobility and running ability. When it comes to a singular position, what the Eagles do with their QB situation might be the most intriguing storyline of the off-season.
· Fantasy situation to watch for 2013: This is simple. Who will be taking the snaps in Kelly’s offense for the Eagles? Will the Eagles try to restructures Vick’s contract, or will they cut him outright? Can Foles run an offense that, ideally, features a mobile QB?
RB: Obviously, it was hard to anticipate Eagle RB LeSean McCoy replicating his 2011 season, given that he scored a whopping 20 TDs. But it would have been fair to expect a little bit more out of McCoy than what he gave in 2012. In 12 games (missing four toward the end of the season with a concussion), McCoy carried for 200/840/2 (4.2 YPC), and added 54/373/3 receiving (6.9 YPC). While his receiving numbers were up across the board, the rushing numbers plummeted. McCoy’s 4.2 YPC were down 0.6 YPC from last year, he scored a whopping 15 fewer rushing TDs, and he had four separate games of rushing for fewer than 50 yards, the same number he had last season in four more games. He also fumbled four times, after fumbling only once in 2011. His 12.6 FPG and #11 ranking among RBs were down big from last season (18.8 FPG, #2). But there are good reasons for McCoy’s struggles. The Eagles lost a ton of talent up front on the line thanks to injuries, especially LT Jason Peters (who missed the whole season) and C Jason Kelce (who missed all but two games). But he also danced quite a bit more this past year, and he does have to work on carrying the ball tighter to his body. The hope is that new head coach Chip Kelly’s spread offense, which is known for opening up huge running lanes, will help get McCoy into space, where he might be the most dangerous back in the game. It’d also be nice to see him keep up this great pace in the passing game, which he was missing in 2011. But if the Eagles have injury concerns about McCoy moving forward, they found a very interesting young option in Bryce Brown behind him. A 7th-round pick in the 2012 draft, Brown isn’t short on talent. He just never really got much experience in college, for various reasons. A powerful runner who has less wiggle but better straight-line speed than McCoy, Brown posted 115/564/4 rushing (4.9 YPC) and 13/58/0 receiving in a full 16-game schedule. But Brown’s breakout came in Week Twelve, when McCoy was out with a concussion. Against the Panthers, the young back posted 19/178/2 rushing, and the next week he doubled down with 24/169/2 against the Cowboys. Brown had major ball-security problems in 2012, though, due possibly to his lack of experience, and after his two-game explosion, he looked like he was bouncing too many runs to the outside and struggled because of it. But with a full off-season in an offense that should be extremely conducive to Brown’s success, he can work himself into a potentially deadly rotation.
· Fantasy situation to watch in 2013: How will the Eagles’ gifted young backs fit in Kelly’s offense? Kelly has had success in college with rotating backs in his run-heavy offense. What kind of split can we expect between McCoy and Brown?
WR/TE: Given the struggles the Eagles had at the QB position this year (especially Michael Vick), it should come as no surprise that their WRs and TEs didn’t have the years we were hoping for. In the first year of a big contract extension he signed this off-season, DeSean Jackson was more consistent than he’s been in recent years, especially in the effort department, but his numbers were just mediocre when it came to fantasy. In 11 games before suffering broken ribs and landing on IR, Jackson posted 45/700/2 receiving on 87 targets (51.7%), and he ranked 45th among WRs with 7.4 FPG. Jackson was more “consistent,” at least in our eyes, because he averaged more than 4 receptions per game for the first time since 2009, and he caught multiple balls in every game except Week Twelve, when he got injured. But he still scored only 2 TDs and had only two 100-yard performances, and his 15.6 YPC was his lowest mark since his rookie season in 2008. Jackson’s effort wasn’t in question, and he still has elite deep speed. He did show he could be a little more of a complete receiver, but he also struggled to beat man coverage and the Eagles’ route concepts under Andy Reid didn’t help him, nor did Vick’s inability to see the field clearly and deliver accurate throws. Teammate Jeremy Maclin didn’t have excellent success this season, either. Drawing criticism from the club for his inconsistent effort, Maclin still managed to finish with a better year than Jackson. In 15 games (he dealt with a hip problem early in the year), Maclin posted 69/857/7 on a career-high 121 targets (57.0%, easily a career-low and down from 65.6% in 2011). His 12.4 YPC was the worst of his four-year career. Overall, Maclin finished 31st among WRs, with 8.5 FPG, which is certainly okay, but not what you’re hoping for from a guy with Maclin’s natural speed and ability. If you’re looking for positives, however, Maclin finished the year better than he started it. Whether a coincidence or not, his effort and consistency seemed to improve when Nick Foles took over at QB in Week Ten, and in the final eight games of the year Maclin posted 41/504/4 and improved to 9.3 FPG. Maclin was much more of a volume receiver with Jackson out, and he had five games with at least 6 catches and had three separate 100-yard performances, plus he scored in three of his final four games, so there’s something to build on here. Like Jackson, Maclin struggled to get off man coverage in the Eagles’ puzzling route concepts, but his skill set should match up incredibly well in new coach Chip Kelly’s offense. With Jackson and Maclin, slot WR Jason Avant should also get an opportunity to make an impact under Kelly. Avant has never been a dominant player, nor much more than a borderline fill-in for PPR leagues, but he’s a pretty effective player for what the Eagles have done. In 14 games, Avant posted 53/648/0 on 75 targets (70.7%). He averaged only 4.6 FPG, but he caught multiple passes in 13 of his 14 games and made the season highlight reel in Week Fourteen with an absurd one-handed catch. It’ll be interesting to see if the Eagles get more out of Avant under Kelly in his spread system than his career-high 53 grabs. One thing the Eagles have lacked since the departure of Terrell Owens has been a truly reliable big receiver. Their closest bet is TE Brent Celek, who disappointed after a hot finish to the 2011 season, with only 57/684/1 on 86 targets (66.3%), averaging 12.0 YPC and ranking 21st among TEs with 5.0 FPG. After a monster game with 8/157 in Week Two against Baltimore, Celek never again topped 75 yards receiving, and only had more than 5 catches once after that point. Scoring 1 TD is unacceptable for a team that had so many red-zone struggles, and Celek also had some key drops and penalties during the year. If he wants to have a prominent role in Kelly’s spread scheme, which got some vertical production out of guys like Ed Dickson at Oregon, he’ll have to clean up his mistakes. In the red zone, the Eagles could also look to get Cooper more involved. In 11 games, the 6’3” WR posted 23/248/2 on 47 targets. Cooper has some size and talent and is worth keeping around, but he doesn’t appear to be poised to settle into an expansive role in the near future.
· Fantasy situation to watch in 2013: The speed of Jackson and Maclin was a key factor in convincing Kelly to bolt Oregon for Philadelphia. Will their promise finally match up to their production? Can Celek get back to the level at which he played in 2011, or will he become an afterthought in Kelly’s fast-paced attack? Will the Eagles add a red-zone threat at WR, or will they roll with Cooper?
Key Free Agents: LT King Dunlap, RG Jake Scott, CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, S Colt Anderson (RFA), DT Derek Landri, LB Akeem Jordan, LS Jon Dorenbos.
QB: We know how Robert Griffin’s season ended, but the beginning and middle of his initial NFL campaign was pretty impressive. HC Mike Shanahan made it clear Griffin would start right away, and the team tailored their offense to fit Griffin’s skill set. In 15 games, he finished 259/394 (65.7%) for 3211 yards with 20 TDs and just 5 INTs. He rushed 118 times for 833 yards (7.1 YPC) and 7 TDs, which put him 5th among QBs, with 24.4 FPG. The rookie suffered a concussion in Week Five against the Falcons, but he didn’t miss a start because of it. A sprained LCL suffered in Week Fourteen caused him to sit out the following week against the Browns but wasn’t bad enough to keep him out of the final two games of the season. While it was apparent the Redskins played it safe with him in his first game back, Griffin appeared to be back to his normal running ways in the season finale victory against the Cowboys when he ran for 63 yards and a score on 6 carries. Unfortunately, the injury was a huge factor in the team’s Wild Card loss to the Seahawks and got only worse as the game went on, to the point that Griffin ended up exiting after crumpling to the ground without being touched. As we know, Griffin underwent surgery to fix both his ACL and LCL as well as a minor meniscus tear. It was the same ACL Griffin tore back in 2009, so it’s fair to say there’s concern about both Griffin’s long and short-term future. The team hopes to have him back in time for Week One of 2013, but that might be extremely optimistic. What we saw from Griffin was big-armed, smart, and accurate passer, who threw with excellent velocity and consistent accuracy, both on short/ intermediate throws and vertical throws. The Shanahans developed a pass game that both helped Griffin with expansive backfield action concepts and protected him with simplicity of route and reading concepts. The multiplicity in the backfield and the read-option approach often froze second-level defenders and opened passing windows for Griffin for between-the-numbers throws, which he was very good at making, especially off play action. He usually had one read and if it wasn’t there, he'd run it, and we know effective he was with his legs. Because he is such an accurate passer and the Redskins help him with their offensive scheme, he was able to hit the big plays and supplement that with his running ability. It was almost pointless to look at the matchups each week because there was really no way to prepare for everything the Redskins threw at you with their multiplicity out of the backfield. While we saw different concepts when it came to adapting the offense the Redskins were still able to stick with a conventional run game with Griffin under center, although a big part of that was due to the success of another rookie, RB Alfred Morris. If Griffin is able to return in time for the season, there will likely be some altering of the offense to keep him out of danger. Griffin’s ability to run and throw are clearly what made him so special in 2012, so his mobility will be utilized if he’s on the field. The good news is that, with a year under his belt, Griffin can be more of a pocket passer in 2014 if they decide to adjust their offense. He may not have as much upside, but he could still be a rock solid performance throwing the ball to (a finally healthy) Pierre Garcon. The Redskins were one of the surprise teams in 2012, but it might not be in their or Griffin’s best long-term interests to rush him back. If Griffin isn’t ready, at least they have QB Kirk Cousins, another rookie, who played well in the limited time we saw him (33/48, 466 yards, 4 TDs, 3 INTs in three games). We just hope Griffin’s future won’t be drastically altered after such a fantastic rookie season.
· Fantasy situation to watch for 2013: Without a doubt, the biggest issue is Griffin’s return. Will he be rushed back? Will he ever be the same player? How much, if any, will the offense change? If he doesn’t run as much, can he make up that fantasy production with his arm?
RB: The Redskins certainly did well when it came to rookie skill players in 2012. Obviously, selecting QB Robert Griffin III with the 2nd overall pick in the draft was a no-brainer, but the discovery of RB Alfred Morris at the Senior Bowl paid major dividends as well. The 6th-round pick ended up beating out Roy Helu, Evan Royster, and Tim Hightower for the starting job and never looked back. It was tough to believe he’d keep the job all season based on the Shanahanigans we’ve seen pulled in this backfield the last couple of seasons, but it was clearly pretty early in the season that Shanahan had found his guy and was going to commit to him. Early in the year, Royster was in the mix enough to be considered a threat to have a bigger role at some point, but that never happened. Morris’ value was boosted early when Helu landed on the IR in late September due to a turf toe injury. However, he ended up taking over third-down duties after the bye in Week Ten, which basically made him an every-down back. Of course, given the style offense they were running, Morris’ “promotion” meant very little. He never played much of a role in the passing game (11/77, 16 targets), but the fact that he was on the field so much made him a Redskin back we could actually trust each week without worrying about others stealing significant snaps or touches from him. We usually have a tough time trusting anything HC Mike Shanahan says when it comes to his RBs, but when he called Morris a special back who could be a big-time player for many years, it was hard not to take notice of such high praise. Morris proved to be a tough grinder who lacks lateral explosiveness. Yet he made up for it with quick feet in confined spaces, and he's naturally tough and powerful. He rarely went down on first contact and could make the first person miss, which isn’t easy to do, especially for a rookie with some size. His downhill, decisive style made him a perfect fit for the option-based run attack with Griffin and allowed the offense to rely on the multiplicity of the ground game to be their foundation. Morris didn’t show breakaway speed, but he attacked the line of scrimmage with power and could move a pile to the point that you could see would-be tacklers shying away from him. His upside was limited because he didn’t have much of a role as a receiver, and he did lose rush attempts to Griffin, especially near the goal line. However, whether it was due to Griffin’s knee injury or just more trust in Griffin, he went on a tear to end the season, scoring seven times in the final four games. Morris carried the ball at least 20 times in every game after the team’s Week Ten bye, including Week Seventeen, when he set season highs in carries (33), yards (200), and TDs (3), in the victory over the Cowboys that clinched the AFC East. Morris hit 100 yards on seven occasions and was second in the league in rushing with 1606 yards on 335 carries (3rd-most), which was good for 4.8 YPC. He scored 13 TDs and ended up 5th among RBs, with 15.4 FPG while playing every game. By comparison, Royster was the only other back to see time in more than five games, appearing in all 16, but ended up with just 23 carries for 88 yards and 2 TDs while adding a team-high 15/109 on 23 targets, putting him at just 2 FPG. Morris did more than enough to consider him one of the top options at the position, and his role may be even more important with Griffin coming off major knee surgery.
· Fantasy situation to watch for 2013: Morris didn’t hit a rookie wall in 2012, but will he be able to keep up the same pace in 2013? Will his role increase if Griffin isn’t ready for Week One? If Griffin is ready, but the Redskins decide to limit his runs, how will it affect Morris’ value? Will Helu’s role increase at all?
WR/TE: One of the big acquisitions for the Redskins heading into 2012 was signing WR Pierre Garcon away from the Colts. Garcon had been known as a receiver with good size and decent speed during his time with the Colts, but he lacked consistency, so the team opted to let him go when they entered their re-building phase. Garcon quickly developed a rapport with QB Robert Griffin, which was evident during the preseason. Garcon’s development was pretty amazing, as the team was using him around the line of scrimmage and as an intermediate threat, in addition to his ability to make plays after the catch and down the field. Unfortunately, he suffered a foot injury in the opening week, which kept him out until Week Four. Garcon was ineffective for two games and ended up sitting out until the after the team’s Week Ten bye. He decided to not have surgery on the foot, which had torn ligaments, electing to rest it instead. After a quiet return in Week Eleven, Garcon finished the final five games 19th at the position with 10.3 FPG. For the season, he played in 10 games and had 45/644/4 (14.3 YPC) on 68 targets, which was good for a 66.2% catch rate and 8.9 FPG (26th). Garcon has yet to decide if he’ll have surgery in the off-season, although he did play with pain upon returning. Garcon was clearly the top option in the passing game, which was good for his fantasy value, but the Redskins didn’t have any other regular fantasy options at the position. Veteran WR Santana Moss was their next best fantasy player with 6.7 FPG, thanks to 41/573/8 (14 YPC) on 62 targets, which was good for a 66.1% catch rate. He played in every game, but he wasn’t a regular starter and was mostly boom-or-bust for fantasy. WR Leonard Hankerson also played in every game and saw some time as a starter, but he ended up with just 38/543/3 (14.3 YPC) on 57 targets (66.7% catch rate) and 4.6 FPG. Along with Hankerson, WR Aldrick Robinson was a deep threat for the Redskins, but he had just 11/237/3 (21.5 YPC) on 19 targets (58.9% catch rate) and squandered opportunities at a starting role, while playing 14 games. WR Josh Morganplayed in 16 games, starting all but one, yet he didn’t have a consistent role in the passing game, with 48/510/2 (10.6 YPC) on 70 targets (68.6% catch rate), although he was a strong blocker, which was important in the option-based run game. Morgan had surgery in mid-January for an ankle issue, according to his Twitter account. TE Fred Davis was having some trouble connecting with Griffin early in the season, but he started to come on after a few games. Unfortunately, he suffered an Achilles tear in Week Seven and was lost for the rest of the season. He ended up with 24/325/0 (13.5 YPC) on 31 targets and 4.7 FPG. TE Chris Cooley, who was cut in the preseason, was brought back, but appeared in just seven games and had a single catch on the season. TE Logan Paulsen filled in for Davis when he went down. Paulsen played in all 16 games and started once Davis went down, but didn’t play much of a role in the passing game. He finished with 25/308/1 (12.3 YPC) on 37 targets (67.6% catch rate) and just 2.3 FPG. Davis is an unrestricted free agent and continues to rehab. The team may use the franchise tag on him once again, although that may depend on his rehab. Converted TE Niles Paul appeared in all 16 games and the team tried to use him at FB, but he didn’t matter much in the grand scheme, at least for fantasy. Paul ended up with 8/152/1 on 15 targets and also saw time as a returner.
· Fantasy situation to watch for 2013: How will QB Griffin’s knee injuries affect the passing attack going forward? Will Garcon be able to stay healthy for an entire season? Can any other Redskin receiver step up opposite Garcon? How will the team treat Davis in free agency coming off a major injury? Will Moss return with his salary jumping in 2013?
Key Free Agents: TE Fred Davis, TE Logan Paulsen (RFA), TE Chris Cooley, FB Darrel Young (RFA), QB Rex Grossman, LG Kory Lichtensteiger, RT Jamaal Brown, RT Tyler Polumbus, DE Adam Carriker, DE Kedric Golston, NT Chris Baker (RFA), LB Chris Wilson, LB Lorenzo Alexander, LB Bryan Kehl, LB Rob Jackson (RFA), CB Cedric Griffin, FS, Madieu Williams, KR/WR Brandon Banks.
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