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2012 Wrap-Up Report and Early 2013 Preview: AFC East

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Published, 1/31/13 

Also See: NFC East I NFC North I NFC South I NFC West I AFC North I AFC South I AFC West
 
Buffalo Bills
 
QB: When the Bills signed QB Ryan Fitzpatrick to a big-money six-year extension in October of 2011, the deal felt inevitable, but also likely to fail. That’s because the Bills might not have had much of a choice when it came to signing Fitzpatrick. He had performed well enough, and it’s not like there’s a huge supply of QBs on the market just falling off the trees. However, as predicted, Fitzpatrick’s contract now appears to be a burden on the Bills, as his play has regressed and the team has remained stagnant, below the playoff threshold. It’s not like Fitzpatrick is bad; it’s just that he’s not good enough. That’s the problem with a lot of NFL QBs, and the Bills know it. In 2012, Fitz went for 306/505 passing (60.6%) for 3400 yards with 24 TDs and 16 INTs. He added 49/201/1 rushing, and ranked 19th among all QBs with 18.3 FPG. As the Bills’ starter, it was Fitzpatrick’s worst fantasy performance, which probably shouldn’t be shocking, considering he lost WR David Nelson in Week One and really had nothing outside of Stevie Johnson on the perimeter. And for the most part, Fitzpatrick wasn’t a guy worth using for fantasy purposes. Fitzpatrick had a grand total of seven games in which he didn’t even top 200 yards passing, totaling 8 TD passes and 6 INTs in those games. In fact, Fitz threw 13 of his 24 TD passes on the season in only four of his better fantasy games, and all by Week Seven, so he was essentially worthless after that point (24th at QB with 16.8 FPG from Week Eight through the end of the season, a nine-game stretch over which he totaled 9 TD passes). In general, Fitzpatrick’s greatest positive is also his biggest drawback. He’s willing to make tight throws into small windows, but he doesn’t really have the arm strength to do that consistently well. His accuracy is also incredibly scattershot (some weeks it’s great, some weeks it’s terrible, and he often fluctuates throughout a game), and his deep ball is among the worst in the NFL. These are poor qualities that have led the Bills to openly question Fitz’s future with the club (specifically comments from GM Buddy Nix), and it’s the major reason we’re anticipating new coach Doug Marrone bringing in another “franchise QB” (potentially Marrone’s QB at Syracuse, Ryan Nassib). It’s not that Fitzpatrick is a bad player; it’s just that he’s probably not good enough to start for a consistent winner in the NFL. He got his payday and will probably play in the league for a while, but we learned in 2012 that he’s ideally a backup.
 
  • Fantasy situation to watch in 2013: Whom will new coach Doug Marrone bring in as his QB of the future? Will Fitzpatrick and the forgotten Tarvaris Jackson have a chance to compete for work?
RB: Well, we have to give former Bill coach Chan Gailey some credit because he was damn well determined to make sure RB C.J. Spiller didn’t get a lion’s share of carries, and Spiller sure as hell didn’t. Even with Fred Jackson banged-up for a large portion of the year and Spiller playing a full 16-game slate, the Bills’ young stud averaged “only” 15.6 touches per game. But man, did he do damage with those touches. Spiller posted 207/1244/6 rushing (an absurd 6.0 YPC) and 43/459/2 receiving (a healthy 10.7 YPC) on 57 targets. He averaged 6.8 yards per touch overall, and he ranked 8th among all RBs with 13.6 FPG. But even though he was effective from the early part of the season (he had 364 yards from scrimmage and 3 TDs over the first two weeks), he didn’t top 20 touches in a single game until Week Eleven, and only four times total (including in each of Weeks Fifteen, Sixteen, and Seventeen). Overall, we can’t necessarily fault Gailey for that. Spiller is a 200-pound back, maximum, and he’s likely going to be his most effective when he’s in an active rotation. But it’s frustrating for fantasy players that Spiller apparently needs Jackson to miss games (Jackson was inactive every time Spiller had 20 touches) to see his full potential. Spiller still had five games in which he posted 100 yards rushing, and another six in which he was over 100 yards from scrimmage with his receiving production added in. In five of the six games Jackson missed, Spiller posted 100 yards from scrimmage, and in the other he scored a TD, so his “fantasy relevance” conversion rate was 100% when Jackson was out of commission. Spiller will likely be a high fantasy pick in 2013, for good reason, but we’d like to see new coach Doug Marrone appear to have more “confidence” in the young back. Marrone and RB coach Tyrone Wheatley have pledged to use Spiller and Jackson in “multiple” ways, but that can be construed as both a positive and a negative if you’re a Spiller owner. That’s just how things will go in a backfield with two viable starters. But is Jackson still a “viable” starter? We love him, and at his best he’s a great example of a true three-down back. But Jackson is now 32, and has missed 12 games in the last two seasons with serious injuries. In 2012, he had his worst season, fantasy-wise, since 2008, and probably his worst season ever in football terms. In 10 games, Jackson rushed for 115/437/3 (3.8 YPC), adding 34/217/1 as a receiver (6.4 YPC). He ranked 29th among all RBs, with 8.9 FPG. So he was a flex guy by the averages, but he generally went higher than Spiller in drafts, so he was a “bust” in that regard. Jackson was placed on IR with a torn MCL in December, and he had a concussion and another knee issue (LCL) earlier in the season. He also put the ball on the ground 5 times in only 10 games, which is a big concern. Jackson had one 100-yard rushing performance and two more in which he topped 100 yards from scrimmage, but he’s getting older and has had a ton of injuries recently. Perhaps more than Spiller, Jackson will benefit from a rotation. Fantasy-wise, due to his advanced age, injuries, and the presence of Spiller, Jackson looks like he’s “just a guy” going forward.
 
  • Fantasy situation to watch for 2013: New coach Doug Marrone will apparently use Spiller and Jackson in “multiple” ways. What does that actually mean? Can Jackson stay healthy? Can Spiller perform like a first-round pick, considering he’s certain to be in that discussion come August?
WR/TE: Any discussion about the Bill weapons on the perimeter can really begin and end with Stevie Johnson, at least in relation to the 2012 season. For the third consecutive season, Johnson topped 1000 receiving yards, becoming the first Bill to ever do that (neither Andre Reed, Hall of Famer James Lofton, nor Eric Moulds accomplished that in a Bill uniform). In 16 games, Johnson posted 79/1046/6 receiving on 146 targets (13.2 YPC, 54.1% conversion rate), and he ranked 27th among all WRs with 8.8 FPG, which was his worst fantasy finish of his three-year run. Stevie had three 100-yard games, and he caught at least 5 passes on 10 different occasions, so he had a lot of success for PPR owners. But he’s a guy who was definitely hurt by the accuracy issues of QB Ryan Fitzpatrick. Johnson’s a physical and smart receiver who does great work getting open in the short area. He won’t completely outclass a corner in the athleticism department, but he knows how to get free of a defender (he’s given Darrelle Revis problems in the past). In ways, this works well with Fitzpatrick because Stevie presents tight windows, and Fitz is willing to pull the trigger. But Fitz was even more inaccurate and scattershot than usual this year, and Stevie admitted this off-season he’d welcome some competition for Fitzpatrick (and he’s going to get it). This was Stevie’s worst career catch rate (he fell from above 60% in 2010 to where he is now), so he obviously recognizes the need for improvement. He might struggle to develop chemistry early on with a new QB, but the potential upside is almost certainly worth it, and new coach Doug Marrone understands how Johnson runs his routes and will allow him to continue playing the game his way (he’ll also play in the slot). That’s good because there wasn’t much else positive from the Bill WRs in 2012. Possession receiver David Nelson tore his ACL in Week One, which robbed Fitzpatrick of his second-best target. Donald Jones posted only 41/443/4 on 66 targets (10.8 YPC, 62.1%) and averaged 5.7 FPG, and he lost four games to leg problems and a minor kidney disorder, and ideally he’s a #3 or #4 type. We really love the deep speed of rookie T.J. Graham (31/322/1 on 55 targets), but his skill set was a horrendous fit with Fitzpatrick, who doesn’t throw a nice deep ball. Graham got a ton of snaps in 2012, at least, but almost no actual production. And TE Scott Chandler is a good athlete for his size, but his production was anything but consistent. Chandler posted 43/571/6 in 15 games (13.3 YPC, 58.1%), and he ranked 15th at TE with 6.2 FPG. But 4 of Chandler’s 6 TDs came in the first four weeks of the season, after which he posted only 4.7 FPG. From Weeks Six through Seventeen, the sizable Chandler had three 5-catch games, but in the other seven games, he had at least 3 catches only once. So really, he was a TD-or-bust guy who wasn’t scoring TDs late in the year. He’s too big a mismatch to be marginalized in this offense, so we hope Marrone finds the best way to utilize his skills.
 
  • Fantasy situation to watch in 2013: Will Johnson struggle if the Bills bring in a new QB, or will his skill set match up even better with a new signal caller? Can the Bills find a reliable #2 WR, or a QB who can throw Graham a good deep ball? Can Chandler put together a consistent season?
Key Free Agents: LG Andy Levitre, WR David Nelson (RFA), WR Donald Jones (RFA), QB Tarvaris Jackson, QB Tyler Thigpen, FB Corey McIntyre, RB Tashard Choice, OL Chad Rinehart, WR Ruvell Martin, S Jairus Byrd, DE Shawne Merriman, DT Spencer Johnson, DB Bryan Scott, CB/KR Leodis McKelvin.
 
Miami Dolphins
 
QB: As chronicled on Hard Knocks, Miami rookie QB Ryan Tannehill was able to hold off QB Matt Moore for the starting job in training camp after veteran QB David Garrard suffered a knee injury. While Tannehill may have had one of the thinnest receiving corps in the league to work with, he did a heck of a job in his first season. The numbers may not have translated to much in terms of fantasy production, but when you watched Tannehill, there were many traits of a professional QB, which can be rare to see in a rookie. Most important, he was very controlled and comfortable in the pocket with no hurried or frenetic movement. Tannehill was known for throwing the ball well in the pocket in college, and that carried over to the NFL. Before the snap, Tannehill was very good a processing information and then showed poise and command in the pocket once the ball was snapped. He read coverage and got through progressions quickly and had impressive timing with precise ball location, which was certainly important with the lack of talent at the position. When Tannehill needed to go on the move, he threw it well, but wasn’t running for yardage until later in the season, which helped extend drives and pick up yardage that wasn’t there through the air. He showed a willingness to hang tough in the pocket and pull the trigger on throws, which may have led to some INTs, but that’s expected for a rookie. When you play with anticipation and accuracy like Tannehill did, an improvement in talent should lead to better numbers. He started all 16 games, going 282/484 (58.3%) for 3294 yards with 12 TD and 13 INTs and added 197 yards on 49 rushes to finish the season 32nd among QBs at 15.3 FPG. While that didn’t give him much fantasy value, it was tough to expect much from a receiving corps made up of WRs Davone Bess and Brian Hartline and TE Anthony Fasano. We were very impressed with Tannehill’s rookie season, and he should be on his way to a nice NFL career.
 
·         Fantasy situation to watch for 2013: Can Tannehill build on what a nice rookie year? Will the team help him out with an improved receiving corps? Can Miami’s OL improve and will they bring back LT Jake Long?
 
RB: A year after arguably his best season as a pro, we were interested to see what RB Reggie Bush would do in his second season with the Dolphins. Unfortunately, he suffered a knee injury in Week Three that seemed to plague him for the rest of the year. However, he didn’t miss a game and has sat out only once in two seasons with the team, a major improvement in durability over his five years in New Orleans. Bush set a personal-high with 219 carries, but saw his yards drop from 1086 in 2011 to 960 this past season. He scored 6 rushing TDs once again, but had a drop in receiving numbers, catching 35/292/2 on 51 targets, which put him 20th among RBs at 11 FPG. The diminished role in the passing game was odd, considering how thin the team was in their receiving corps. Even with the knee issue, Bush was able to average 4.4 YPC. While Bush saw the majority of the carries in the backfield, his burst seemed to come and go after the knee injury and calling him inconsistent is probably fair with his fantasy numbers jumping all over the place during the season. To his credit, Bush battled through his knee injury, although we have to wonder if he was gutting it out knowing he was playing out the last year of his deal. Bush appeared to be in the doghouse at times this season due to fumbles (4), the knee issue, and tentative running (and trying to bust too many runs outside). Reports seem to indicate the team would be willing to move on from Bush, although he has expressed an interest to return. The problem is RB Daniel Thomas has been a disappointment over his first two seasons and appeared to be phased out down the stretch before landing on the IR with a knee injury. He had just 325 yards, 4 TDs, and 3 fumbles on 91 carries (3.6 YPC) and 15/156 on 21 targets, putting him 44th among RBs with 6 FPG. Thomas didn’t seem to run hard and never jumped off the page as an overly talented back. Thomas had surgery on his knee in December, but is expected to be ready for OTAs. The team also has RB Lamar Miller, who actually looked very good in a limited role. Miller appeared in 13 games, rushing 51 times for 250 yards (4.9 YPC) and 1 TD while catching 6/45 on 8 targets. Reports in Miami indicate Miller might be ahead of Thomas, and the team might be okay rolling with him as their lead back over Thomas if Bush isn’t back. Miller – who we pushed many times as a keeper pickup during this past season – looked quicker than Bush and with better size is more willing to press the hole than both Bush and Thomas, so he’s already a legit sleeper in 2013.
 
·         Fantasy situation to watch for 2013: Will Bush return in 2013? Can Miller handle the starting job if Bush is gone? Has Thomas buried himself too deep to have legitimate fantasy value?
 
WR/TE: When GM Jeff Ireland said his team had “4s, 5s, and 6s” at WR during Hard Knocks, we knew he wasn’t lying, and we knew the Dolphins would be in trouble. WRs Brian Hartline and Davone Bess may be better than that classification, but the pair together can’t be considered a legitimate starting duo in the NFL. Unfortunately for the Dolphins, Hartline and Bess were their starters for most of the season, and the results weren’t very good. Hartline flashed at times, including a ridiculous 12/253/1 performance in Week Four against the Cardinals, but he topped 100 yards only two other times all season (Week Two, Week Nine) and caught more than 5 balls just four times. He’s got decent size and can run, but isn’t one to be in man coverage and certainly isn’t a #1 WR, which is the role he was forced to play on this team. Hartline set career highs, with 74 catches and 1083 yards (14.6 YPC) on 130 targets (56.9% catch rate), but scored just once and was 48th among WRs with 7.1 FPG. Hartline is a free agent for the first time and expressed an interest in returning to the team, especially since he was happy with the connection he made with rookie QB Ryan Tannehill. Bess has always been a better fit for the slot, but he hasn’t always been able to play inside in recent seasons due to the team’s lack of depth at the position. Bess missed time for the first time in his five-year career due to a back injury that knocked him out for the final three games of the season. The team wasn’t happy with the missed time, but that’s probably because they didn’t really have any other reliable options. The good news is that Bess is recovered and expected back in 2013. He finished 2012 with 61/778/1 (12.8 YPC) on 103 targets (59.2% catch rate), putting him in a tie for 57th among WRs with 6.4 FPG. Rookie WR Rishard Matthews, a 7th-round pick, played more once Bess went down, showing good speed and decent route-running. He ended up playing eight games, finishing with 11/151 on 20 targets. TE Anthony Fasano had another average season, catching 41/332/5 on 69 targets (59.4% catch rate), which was good for 4 FPG (31st). Fasano is a free agent and likely won’t return. TE/FB Charles Clay has yet to show the consistency the team is looking for and had 18/212/2 on 33 targets in 14 games. He or 2012 3rd-round pick, TE Michael Egnew, could end up replacing Fasano. Egnew was a big disappointment, as evidenced by his being active for just two games. Ireland expressed confidence in Egnew after the season, but the young TE still has a lot to prove. He’s obviously younger than Fasano, but he’s also considered to be much more of a “new age” TE in that he’s more athletic and moves better.
 
·         Fantasy situation to watch for 2013: Can this receiving corps find some upgrades? Will Hartline be back? What will happen at TE?
 
Key Free Agents: WR Brian Hartline, WR Marion Moore (RFA), LT Jake Long, LG Nate Garner, TE Anthony Fasano, QB Matt Moore, RB Reggie Bush, DT Randy Starks, DT Tony McDaniel, LB Austin Spitler (RFA), CB Sean Smith, SS Jonathon Amaya (RFA), FS Chris Clemons, PK Nate Kaeding
 
New England Patriots
 
QB: Patriot QB Tom Brady continued to play at his perennial MVP level in 2012 and was a top-5 fantasy QB once again this year. Brady, who turned 35 in August, didn’t show any clear signs of slowing in his 13th NFL season, and he’ll once again be in the discussion as a 1st-round fantasy pick next summer. Brady put up monster numbers once again this year on 401/637 passing for 4827 yards, 34 TDs, and 8 INTs to finish 3rd among QBs with 25.3 FPG. Brady finished behind just Saint QB Drew Brees and Packer QB Aaron Rodgers in terms of fantasy points for quarterbacks. Brady and the Patriots fell short of their lofty expectations of winning the Super Bowl once again this year by losing to the Ravens in the AFC Championship Game. Brady now owns a 3-3 record in the playoffs since he tore his ACL in the first game of the 2008 season. Brady certainly didn’t play to his standards in the title game, but he was hurt by another critical drop by WR Wes Welker and the loss of TE Rob Gronkowski to injury was definitely a huge blow. And similarly, Welker and Gronk have to be the biggest concerns for Brady heading into 2013. Gronk has shown that he’s injury-prone in the last two seasons with his ankle and forearm issues, which were big reasons he fell to the 2nd round of the 2010 NFL Draft. Welker will be an unrestricted free agent this off-season, and the Patriots have been very quiet about their plans for Welker. They didn’t want to commit to Welker long-term last off-season, and it would cost about $11.4 million to franchise him a second time, which seems unlikely. Welker has been Brady’s go-to receiver in almost any situation since he came to the team in 2007, so Welker’s loss could be a big one for the Patriot quarterback. Brady has said that he would like to play until he’s about 40 years old, so that means about five more seasons, barring any injury setbacks, but he might have to adjust with different personnel. Interestingly, as something to watch this off-season, the Patriots do have a highly sought after backup QB in Ryan Mallett. The former Arkansas quarterback has attempted just 4 passes in two seasons, but Mallett is still considered a coveted prospect in the league. It would likely take about a 2nd-round pick for the Patriots to consider trading him, so they are in no hurry to get rid of Mallett unless they are blown away by an offer.
 
·         Fantasy situation to watch for 2013: At the age of 36, can Brady sustain his top-5 fantasy QB value even if he loses his top WR Welker? Will the Patriots trade coveted backup Mallett to any quarterback-needy team this off-season?
 
RBs: The Patriot backfield has generally been a giant headache under HC Bill Belichick. The running back situation in New England in 2012 wasn’t ideal, but Belichick did give RB Stevan Ridley a chance to take on the role of a lead back. Ridley still split plenty of carries with RBs Danny Woodhead, Shane Vereen, and Brandon Bolden, but Ridley was clearly the preferred back in obvious running situations. The Patriots also ran the second most plays in the history of the NFL, so Ridley still played plenty of snaps even though he was splitting time. He finished the year with 290 carries for 1263 yards (4.4 YPC) for 12 TDs to finish 10th among RBs with 12.7 FPG. But his production came almost entirely as a runner, as Ridley was an absolute nonfactor out of the backfield as a receiver, with just 6 catches for 51 yards. The Patriots finished the year 13-1 when the team ran for more than 100 yards and 0-4 when it didn’t hit the century mark. In fact, the Patriots’ only loss in which they ran for more than 100 yards came in the AFC Championship Game against the Ravens. Ridley was the go-to back in the second half when they built big leads this year, as he was used to close out victories. But while his 12 TDs were nice, they certainly weren’t married to him on top of the goal. Ridley does have a ball-security issues that cropped up toward the end of the year when he lost fumbles in consecutive games, recalling to the fumbling issues in practice during 2011 that prevented him from seeing more carries as a rookie (87/441/1). Ridley also lost a fumble against the Ravens in the AFC Championship, but he took a huge hit from SS Bernard Pollard and was clearly concussed when he fumbled. We doubt that Belichick would hold his latest fumble against him, so he should enter preseason camp as the top back. If Ridley was the closer for the Patriots, Woodhead was the hurry-up back this season, playing 34.1% percent of the snaps this year. Woodhead ended the year with 76 carries for 301 yards and 4 TDs, and he added 40 catches for 446 yards and 3 TDs. He finished 34th among RBs this year with 7.3 FPG. Woodhead will become a free agent this off-season, so he’s no lock to come back. Yet he is a favorite of Belichick’s, and he’s not exactly a player who’s going to fit into a lot of offenses because of his small stature (5’8”, 195). Woodhead’s future with the Patriots will probably depend on how much confidence the franchise has in Vereen. He started to take snaps away from Woodhead later in the season, and Vereen starred in the Divisional Playoff Round with 3 touchdowns when Woodhead injured his thumb. Vereen, a former 2nd-round pick (he was drafted before Ridley the same season) in 2011, has just 85 career regular season touches in two seasons, but he showed late in the year he can handle the no-huddle offense, and he could certainly see his role increase if Woodhead moves on. The rookie Bolden had a breakout game against the Bills in Week Four with 16 carries for 137 yards and 1 TD, but he was relatively quiet the rest of the year. Bolden was also suspended four games for violating the league’s policy on performance-enhancing substances during the middle of the year. Bolden really saw time only in the more traditional Patriot offense when Ridley needed a breather, so he’d only have fantasy value if Ridley would get hurt next year or end up in the doghouse because of his fumbling. But like Ridley, he was a pretty violent runner who has solid natural power, so he should stick here and possibly cause some headaches for Ridley owners in the near future.
 
·         Fantasy situation to watch for 2013: Will Ridley avoid ball-security issues and stay on the field as the team’s lead back? Will the Patriots keep free agent RB Woodhead around next season, or will Vereen take over as the primary no-huddle running back?
 
WRs/TEs: WR Wes Welker has been a constant force in the Patriot lineup since he came from Miami to New England in 2007. For the fifth time in six years, Welker cleared 110 catches and 1100 yards in 2012. He ended the year with 118 catches (68.2% catch rate) for 1354 yards and 6 TDs to finish 14th among WRs with 10.8 FPG. But this season might be the last time Welker puts up huge numbers for the Patriots. Welker, who is 31 years old, will once again be a free agent this off-season, and the Patriots have been very quiet about their plans for the veteran wide receiver. The Patriots decided not to commit to Welker long-term last off-season, and he played under the franchise tag for $9.5 million in 2012. It would cost the Patriots about $11.4 million to franchise him a second time, which seems unlikely. Welker has been QB Tom Brady’s go-to receiver in almost any situation since he came to the franchise in 2007, so Welker’s loss could be big huge blow for the team. If Welker wishes to return to New England, he’ll have to likely do it at a reasonable price – and that is very possible. If not, the Pats could actually look at current Ram UFA Danny Amendola, who is a very similar player. WR Brandon Lloyd came to the Patriots from St. Louis in the off-season, and he proved to be a useful receiver for Brady. Yet Lloyd came in with such high expectations (and probably a bit unreasonable at that), so his season was a little bit of a disappointment. Lloyd, who is also 31 years old, was expected to be the vertical threat that Brady has lacked in recent years, but he lacked the ability to gain much separation from defensive backs. He also struggled to run after the catch, with only 180 yards gained after the catch this year. Lloyd ended the year with 74 catches (57.0% catch rate) for 911 yards and 4 TDs to finish 47th among WRs with 7.2 FPG. He also had a really uneven year. Check his Weeks Fourteen and Fifteen, for example. Over those two games, he posted 17/279/1 and ranked #1 with 17.0 FPG. In the eight games before that total, he posted 25/274/2, and ranked #68 with 4.9 FPG. Oof. WR Julian Edelman had his season come to an end with a broken foot in Week Thirteen. The Patriots clearly had intentions of Edelman getting involved more at the beginning of the year, but Welker took back his dominant spot in the lineup after an early injury to TE Aaron Hernandez. Edelman will hit the market along with Donte Stallworth and Deion Branch. Stallworth ended his year with an ankle sprain, and Branch kept shuffling between the 53-man roster and the street this season. The Patriots have some real big decisions to make at wide receiver this off-season. TE Rob Gronkowski continues to be the best or one of the 1-2 best tight ends in football when he can stay on the field. Gronk finished as far and away the best tight end, with 13.2 FPG, on 55 catches (69.6% catch rate) for 790 yards and 11 TDs. Yet Gronk was the best tight end in football while playing only 11 games. He missed five games toward the end of the year with a broken forearm, and re-fractured the injury in the Divisional Round. Gronk has shown that he’s injury prone in the last two seasons with his ankle and forearm issues, which was a big reason why he fell to the 2nd round of the 2010 NFL Draft. Still, he is a total freak and a beast in the red-zone when he stays on the field. Fellow TE Aaron Hernandez also had his own injury issues this year, with recurring ankle issues that forced him to miss six games. Hernandez has yet to play a full season in three years, as he missed four games total in his first two seasons. Hernandez ended the year with 51 catches (62.2% catch rate) for 483 yards and 5 TDs to finish 5th among TEs with 7.9 FPG. Hernandez and Gronk technically played just five games together this season, so we didn’t really get to see the Patriot offense at full strength in 2012. Both Gronk and Hernandez are elite tight ends, but they need to show some durability next season.
 
·         Fantasy situation to watch for 2013: Will the Patriots bring Welker back or will they look a different direction through the draft or free agency? Can Lloyd become a bigger part of the offense or are his best days past him at 31 years old? Can Gronkowski and Hernandez stay healthy to give the Patriots a complete offense?
 
Key Free Agents: WR Wes Welker, CB Aqib Talib, RB Danny Woodhead, RT Sebastian Vollmer, WR Deion Branch, WR Julian Edelman, WR Donte Stallworth, TE Michael Hoomanawanui (RFA), CB Kyle Arrington, SS Patrick Chung, LG Donald Thomas.
 
New York Jets
 
QB: We figured at some point in 2012, QB Mark Sanchez would eventually lose his starting job, and he did, but not to the person we expected. Instead of QB Tim Tebow taking Sanchez’s job, he gave way to third-string QB Greg McElroy, although considering the way Tebow was treated, we’re not sure the Jets ever really considered him to be part of the QB depth chart. Sanchez survived many rough patches until the team mercifully pulled him in Week Thirteen in favor of McElroy. However, they went back to him for the next two games before giving the starting job to McElroy for Week Sixteen. McElroy would suffer a concussion in that start, giving Sanchez the final start of the season, which hammered home the notion that the team had no interest in starting Tebow. Sanchez’s issues through the first four seasons of his career haven’t changed much. He misses throws that should easily be made, has erratic accuracy, and is very scattershot. He continues to have issues with his pocket movement and a tendency to drift backward, which is the worst thing you can do as a passer. While we know the Jet OL wasn’t great again this season (although it might have been better than 2011), Sanchez didn’t help himself much since he still doesn’t have a good internal clock in the pocket. Even in his fourth season, Sanchez continues to make bad reads and head-shaking decisions, which have often led to turnovers. His best attribute is throwing between the numbers and at times he can be an excellent seam thrower, but when the team is dialing up too many deep balls, Sanchez doesn’t have much of a chance because of his average arm strength. Of course, losing WR Santonio Holmes to a foot injury early in the season didn’t help, nor did TE Dustin Keller battling multiple injuries throughout the season. Considering Sanchez’s own issues and a lack of talent around him, he never had much of a chance to produce at even an average level this season. That would explain why he finished 37th among QBs, with 13.3 FPG, thanks to 2883 yards on 246/453 passing (54.3%) with 13 TDs and 18 INTs plus 14 fumbles. The Jets have said they are “comfortable” with Sanchez, but that’s probably because his contract doesn’t give them much choice but to keep him, unless they consider him a sunk cost and just move on. Either way, HC Rex Ryan has said the starting job is open in 2013, but we highly doubt the long-term answer is Sanchez, McElroy, and certainly not Tebow. McElroy appeared in two games (one start) going 19/31 for 214 yards with 1 TD and 1 INT. Tebow, who had rib issues, appeared in 11 games, going 6/8 for 39 yards and ran 33 times for 97 yards.
 
·         Fantasy situation to watch for 2013: Who starts for this team in 2013? Will the team look to bring in someone else to compete for the job and/or use a high pick on a QB?
 
RB: HC Rex Ryan has made it clear throughout his tenure with the Jets that he wanted the team to have a ground-and-pound offense, but that may have come to an end in 2012 after another disappointing season from the offense. Starting RB Shonn Greene actually had another decent season, rushing for 1063 yards and 8 TDs on 276 carries, but that came out to just 3.9 YPC. He added 19/151 on 30 targets to finish 22nd among RBs, with 10.6 FPG. However, Greene’s value and production seems to mostly come as a result of the volume he gets, and predicting when he’ll get volume can be difficult. He’s not an overly talented player and doesn’t have any traits that stand out. He can absorb a beating and has managed to stay relatively healthy over his first four seasons, as he hasn’t sat out a game due to injury in the last three years. However, he doesn’t have much juice and is pretty much nothing more than a between-the-tackles runner who needs a significant number of touches to produce decent numbers. That might work on a team with a strong passing game, but it doesn’t work for the Jets, especially since Greene was probably their best weapon on offense for the last two seasons. Greene enters free agency for the first time, and with Ryan looking like he’s giving up on the ground-and-pound offense with the dismissal of OC Tony Sparano, it may signal the end for Greene in the green and white. However, there’s not a clear replacement for Greene on the roster. We saw more of RB Bilal Powell in the second half of the season, but he battled multiple injuries, including a concussion, so it’s not like we have a large sample size to judge him on in 2012. Powell had at least 10 carries just once through Week Ten, but five times after that. In 14 games, Powell ran 110 times for 437 yards (4 YPC) and 4 TDs while adding 17/140 on 36 targets to finish 46th among RBs. Powell might have a bit more burst than Greene, and he was active and effective as a goal line runner, but he didn’t show enough to make us believe he can take over the starting role if Greene were to leave. RB Joe McKnight played in 15 games but didn’t have much of a fantasy impact, picking up 179 yards on 30 carries and seeing just 2 passing targets all season.
 
  • Fantasy situation to watch for 2013: Will Greene return to the team or test the market in free agency? Will the Jets truly get away from the ground-and-pound offense under new OC Marty Mornhinweg?
WR/TE: Things probably won’t go well for your already-anemic offense when your best receiver is lost for the season in Week Four. That’s exactly what happened to the Jets in 2012 when WR Santonio Holmes landed on the IR after Week Four, thanks to a Lisfranc fracture. Holmes underwent surgery in October, but will need another surgery in February to remove a plate from his foot. The hope is that he’ll be able to run in April, but that doesn’t give us a clear picture of when he’ll be back to normal when it comes to the 2013 season. After a disappointing 2011 campaign, Holmes had actually gotten off to a decent start in 2012, putting up 20/272/1 on 41 targets, which had him at 8.3 FPG. The versatile Holmes is owed $7.5 million in 2013, so he should be back as the team’s top passing target as long as he’s healthy. A better QB situation would certainly help Holmes and the rest of the Jet receiving corps, but that’s far from a sure thing to happen. When Holmes went down, WR Jeremy Kerley became the only other Jet WR with fantasy value for the rest of the season. Kerley, who was used primarily out of the slot, showed quickness and ability to play bigger than his size (5’9”, 188) in his second year in the league. Kerley appeared in all 16 games, catching 56/827/2 (14.8 YPC) on 95 targets (58.9% catch rate), putting him at 6 FPG, which was 62nd among WRs. The next best Jet WR was rookie WR Stephen Hill, who had 21/252/3 (12 YPC) on 46 targets (45.7% catch rate), good for 3.9 FPG. Hill battled ankle, hamstring, and knee issues all season, the latter of which landed him on the IR in late December. Hill has good size and speed, but he had too many issues with drops and didn’t develop as quickly as the team had hoped, although the QB situation didn’t help much, either. The only other Jet WRs of note to do anything were Clyde Gates (16/224, 31 targets) and Chaz Schilens (28/289/2, 41 targets), which shows you how bad the receiving corps was this season. TE Dustin Keller, arguably the best receiver outside of Holmes, battled injuries all season long and was limited to just eight games. Keller opened the season with a hamstring issue, which caused him to sit out Weeks Two through Five. He returned until Week Thirteen, when an ankle injury ended up sidelining him for the rest of the season. In what was easily his worst season in five with the Jets, Keller had 28/317/2 (11.3 YPC) on 36 targets to finish with 5.5 FPG. Keller is a free agent and isn’t happy with the idea of getting the franchise tag. If he’s able to fly the coup, he could have nice potential in a better situation (like Atl) in 2013. Backup TE Jeff Cumberland played in 15 games, catching 29/359/3 on 51 targets. He is a restricted free agent.
 
  • Fantasy situation to watch for 2013: How will Holmes come back from his injury? Will the team be able to re-sign Keller? Can Hill improve in his second season to give the team another legitimate threat on the outside? 

Key Free Agents: WR Chaz Schilens, WR Braylon Edwards, LG Matt Slauson, RG Brandon Moore, RT Austin Howard (RFA), RT Jason Smith, TE Dustin Keller, TE Jeff Cumberland (RFA), FB Lex Hilliard, RB Shonn Greene, DT Mike Devito, LB Bryan Thomas, SS Yeremiah Bell, FS LaRon Landry, PK Nick Folk


 

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