QB: It’s tough to judge rookie quarterbacks after just one season, but the likes of Russell Wilson, Andrew Luck, and Robert Griffin III set the bar much higher for first-year starters after their debut seasons in 2012. QB EJ Manuel didn’t play particularly well in his first NFL season, but plenty of quarterbacks have significantly improved in their second seasons, including QBs like Nick Foles and Ryan Tannehill this past season. We also saw RGIII take a significant step back in 2013, so Manuel could go a number of different ways in 2014. He didn’t show much progress this season because he missed six games in his rookie season because of two different knee injuries. Manuel hasn’t ruled out a possible knee surgery this off-season to get back to full strength, but he’s planning on therapy and training for right now. Manuel could really use a full off-season of workouts to get the ball rolling on his 2014 season, so it’s a situation to monitor. He finished the year completing 180/306 (58.8%) of his passes for 1972 yards, 11 TDs, and 9 INTs. Manuel added 53 carries for 186 yards and 2 TDs to finish 27th among QBs with 17.3 PFG. Manuel’s 58.8% completion percentage was well below the league average of 61.2%, which is even worse because Manuel averaged just 6.4 YPA, so he wasn’t at least attempting passes downfield. Manuel was seen as a bit raw and lacking polish out coming out of Florida State, and it really showed this season. He needs to improve his pocket presence and his deep ball, as he has a real vertical threat in WR Marquise Goodwin that he needs to take advantage of. He also needs to show he can process information quickly and can be sound mechanically, as he needs work still from the waist down and he tends to fall away from throws still. Manuel certainly is athletic and has plenty of tools, but he needs to refine his skills before he becomes a consistent player. Manuel will get another year to immerse himself in Doug Marrone’s and Nathaniel Hackett’s offense, so it’s time for him to show improvement the way Foles and Tannehill did in 2013. Marrone said he plans to hire a quarterbacks coach this off-season to help with Manuel’s progression, and he plans to expand the team’s usage of the passing game. Manuel’s injuries forced backup QB Thad Lewis to play in six games this season, and Thad did much better than expected and likely earned himself a chance to stick around next season. He played just as well as Manuel this season, finishing 93/157 (59.7%) for 1092 yards, 4 TDs, and 3 INTs. Still, we’d expect the Bills to at least do their due diligence and explore a veteran backup quarterback this off-season, just in case Manuel’s injury problems continue next season. The Bills more than likely can do better than Thad for a backup quarterback.
RB: It was supposed to be the year of RB C.J. Spiller in 2013, but it just wasn’t meant to be for him this season. The stars appeared to have aligned for him after an electrifying 2012 season, as HC Doug Marrone brought his run-heavy offense to Buffalo and RB Fred Jackson, at the age of 32 last season, was one year closer to becoming a bit player. It didn’t play out that way obviously, even though the Bills finished with the most rushing attempts (546) in the NFL this season. It turned out that Jackson still had life left in his legs, and Spiller played on one leg for the vast majority of the season. The Bills wanted to revolve their offense around Spiller this season, but Spiller’s Week Four ankle sprain really threw a kink into the plans. It also hurt that Jackson played surprisingly well in 2013, and he ended up stealing a ton of snaps from Spiller. Jackson ended up playing 663 snaps to Spiller’s 389 this season. His injury obviously played a role in the reduced role, but Jackson was also clearly the better pass protector and sort-yardage back. Spiller actually played 190 fewer snaps than in 2012, when the common complaint was that Chan Gailey underutilized him. Spiller finished the year with 201/927/2 rushing (4.6 YPC) and 34/197 receiving (5.8 YPC) on 41 targets (82.9% catch rate), which ranked him 32nd among RBs with 10.6 FPG. Jackson finished the year with 207/896/9 (4.3 YPC) and 46/375/1 (8.2 YPC) receiving on 64 targets (71.9% catch rate), which ranked him 13th among RBs, with 14.6 FPG. At some point, Jackson is going to start slowing down and it’s going to be sooner rather than later, so Spiller could be poised for a bounce-back season if he needs to take on a bigger role. He also likely won’t cost such a steep price like his top-10 fantasy draft status from 2013, so Spiller has the potential to have some real value August in fantasy drafts. Jackson won’t have much upside much next season, but he continues to be a steady performer and could have some value if he slips in drafts because of his age. Jackson didn’t slow down at the end of the season either, as he posted two of his best games in Weeks Sixteen and Seventeen (33/171/2 rushing, 5/60 receiving). And he’s still relatively young in football years, with 1138 carries in eight seasons, despite the fact he’ll turn 33 on Feb. 20. He did deal with an issue with his knee for most of the season, as he told us on the radio in 2013, but he did an amazing job of playing hurt. Still, at 33 years old, you have to wonder if he can stay healthy and/or play at such a high level while hurt.
WR/TE: In 2012, WR Stevie Johnson became the first Bill to record 1000 receiving yards in three consecutive seasons. Even Buffalo greats like Andre Reed, James Lofton, and Eric Moulds never accomplished that feat. However, Stevie couldn’t make it happen for a fourth season in a row in 2013, and he never really ever got close because of a slew of issues this season. Johnson battled groin, hip, and back issues basically all season long, and he suffered a personal tragedy late in the season with the passing of his mother. It also didn’t help that he had to break in new quarterbacks this season, which led to way too much inconsistency in the passing game. The Bills also attempted the most running plays last season, so they obviously leaned toward the ground game. Johnson ended up missing four games this year, and he posted 52/57/3 (11.5 YPC) on 100 targets (52% catch rate), ranking him 40th among WRs with 10.9 FPG. There’s been some speculation that the Bills could cut Johnson this off-season, but he just signed a five-year deal in 2012, and the Bills could give him another season to bounce back and let QB EJ Manuel develop some chemistry with the #1 WR this off-season. TE Scott Chandler was coming off an ACL injury suffered in 2012, but he actually led the team in receiving last season, with 53 catches for 655 yards (12.4 YPC) and 2 TDs on 81 targets (65.4% catch rate), which ranked him 22nd among TEs with 8.2 FPG. Chandler had been a bigger factor in the red zone with former QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, but Manuel and Thad Lewis looked his way just 6 times in the red zone this season. The UFA Chandler would like to return to the Bills next season after playing for three teams in his first four seasons, but the Bills already have Tony Moeaki, Chris Gragg, and Lee Smith under contract. Chandler certainly isn’t a special talent, so the incredibly athletic Gragg could get more opportunities in the passing game, with Moeaki and Smith handling run blocking duties. And since no one else on the roster has really done anything close to what Chandler has done, he could still be back. The Bills really need their 2013 rookie WRs, Robert Woods and Marquise Goodwin, to step up and improve next season. Woods didn’t play too badly, but he didn’t exactly set the world on fire either, posting 40/587/3 (14.7 YPC) on 84 targets (47.6% catch rate) for 8.5 FPG. Woods showed some polish right out of college and has a chance to be a solid complement to Stevie, but he doesn’t appear to be a real dynamic threat. Goodwin is a real wild card next season, as he showed some incredible game-breaking ability in his limited chances this season, yet he’s also not just a track guy playing football. He finished with 17/283/3 (16.6 YPC) on 31 targets (54.8% catch rate), as Goodwin flashed his world-class speed through some minor injuries this last season. Second-year WR T.J. Graham will have some work to do next season just to make the team, despite being a 3rd-round pick in 2012. He posted 23/361/2 (15.7 YPC) on 50 targets (46% catch rate), and HC Doug Marrone has no particular allegiance to him, since he was drafted by the old regime. This passing game should be better next season, but it will all depend on the development of their 2013 rookies Manuel, Woods, and Goodwin this off-season.
Key Free Agents: TE Scott Chandler, FS Jairus Byrd, FB Frank Summers, K Dan Carpenter, SS Jim Leonhard, WR Chris Hogan (ERFA), P Brian Moorman, ILB Arthur Moats, DE Alex Carrington, OT Thomas Welch, OG Antoine McClain (ERFA).
QB: After a decent rookie season with a lack of weapons, expectations were certainly higher for QB Ryan Tannehill coming into 2013. The Dolphins addressed the weak receiving corps with the signings of WR Mike Wallace, WR Brandon Gibson, and TE Dustin Keller. Things got off to a bad start when Keller was lost for the year after a gruesome injury in the preseason, although even after that, Tannehill entered the regular season with a much better group of talent around him compared to 2012. Unfortunately, Tannehill and Wallace had trouble getting on the same page, and those issues remained for much of the season. While Wallace certainly deserves some of the blame, Tannehill often underthrew or overthrew Wallace, leaving lots of yards and points on the field. Tannehill clearly had a better rapport with Hartline and TE Charles Clay, and he clicked well with Gibson before he was lost to a torn patellar tendon in late October. The injuries in the receiving corps didn’t help, but neither did the OL issues. Whether it was injuries, suspensions, or off-field problems, Tannehill didn’t get a lot of help from his OL, which was a big reason he took a whopping 58 sacks in 2013. Of course, he also deserves part of the blame for holding on to the ball too long or not being proactive enough with his legs. He dealt with injuries to his shoulder, knee, and thumb, but still made every start for the second straight season. Tannehill can make every throw on the field, but clearly has some more developing left to do. At times, he was too careless with the football and made correctable mistakes. He also had some great performances with a true command of the offense, even when the team wasn’t at full strength. The lack of a run game really hurt Tannehill, as it often put too much pressure on him to carry the team with his arm, which he was able to do at times, although that needs to change in 2014. For the season, Tannehill went 355/588 (60.4%) for 3913 yards, 24 TDs, and 17 INTs. He ran a little more in the second half of the year, putting him at 238 yards and a TD on 39 carries. We expected him to be a decent fantasy backup with the hope he could become a low-end starter by the end of the season. Instead, he finished just 17th among QBs at 20.1 FPG. At his best, Tannehill is a good anticipation and timing QB with a strong arm, who can hang in the pocket or move around to extend the play when necessary. He should be on his way to a very nice career, but both he and the team need to improve, which will hopefully happen in 2014.
RB: Other than a few games here and there, you may be wondering if the Dolphins actually used their RBs this season and it’s a fair question. While it looked like RB Lamar Miller would be the top option out of the backfield, the team saw it differently and that may be why they’re sitting home in January and (former) OC Mike Sherman is now looking for a new job. When Miller was playing well, he was making would-be tacklers miss and running through arm tackles. Unfortunately, the staff seemed set on using a committee, so Miller was never able to truly break out. He played every game despite dealing with a concussion and a pectoral injury, yet he managed just 177 carries (20 RZ, 5 GL) for 709 yards (4 YPC) and 2 TDs, while adding 26/170/0 on 35 targets (74.3% catch rate) with 1 fumble, putting him 45th among RBs at 7.9 FPG. Daniel Thomas was the thorn in the side of Miller owners and stayed in the mix all season, despite never showing any great or even good skills. He carried 109 times (24 RZ, 6 GL) for 406 yards (3.7 YPC) and 4 TDs, while adding just 15/63/2 on 17 targets to finish 62nd among RBs with 61 FPG. Neither player was particularly good in pass protection, so we’re really not sure why a less-talented player like Thomas was splitting time with Miller. There was no commitment to the run and it made life unnecessarily difficult on QB Ryan Tannehill, especially since the OL rarely performed well. Both Thomas and Miller, as well as the rarely used Mike Gillislee (6 carries, 21 yards in 3 games) are under contract for 2014, and we’d have to believe that new OC Bill Lazor will do a better job establishing the ground game instead of relying on the useless RBBC or abandoning the run quickly, as Miami did way too often in 2013.
WR/TE: Improving the receiving corps was a top priority for the Dolphins coming into 2013 and they decided to address that issue through free agency. They made their biggest splash signing WR Mike Wallace to a five-year, $60 million deal, including $30 million guaranteed. In addition to Wallace, they added a solid #3 WR in Brandon Gibson and gave TE Dustin Keller a one-year deal. Keller never saw the regular season, as he ended up tearing his ACL, MCL, and PCL during a preseason game. The Dolphins were lucky enough to have TE Charles Clay make a huge jump to offset the loss of Keller. Unfortunately, Wallace didn’t live up to his massive contract. He was expected to be the top option for QB Ryan Tannehill, as a speedy, downfield threat who could take the top off opposing defenses. Wallace never really got on the same page as Tannehill, and whether it was Tannehill overthrowing or underthrowing Wallace or issues with Wallace’s efforts to blame, the bottom line is Wallace was a disappointment. He played in every game and put up 73/930/5 (12.7 YPC) on 136 targets (53.7% catch rate) and finished 32nd among WRs at 12.5 FPG. Wallace’s presence may have helped out WR Brian Hartline, who slipped into a much more comfortable #2 role after being the de facto #1 in 2012. He also signed a new deal to return to the team after hitting free agency. Hartline also played every game and had 76/1016/4 (13.4 YPC) on 133 targets (57.1% catch rate) to finish tied for 29th among WRs at 12.6 FPG. Those are horrible catch rates for both players, as they both struggled with drops as well as occasional inaccuracy from Tannehill. Gibson was having a decent season before going down with a torn patellar in Week Eight. In seven games (three starts), he posted 30/326/3 (10.9 YPC) on 43 targets (69.8% catch rate) and was tied for 36th at the position with 11.5 FPG. The team hopes he’ll be ready for training camp. In Gibson’s absence, Rishard Matthews stepped up to post 41/448/2 (10.9 YPC) on 66 targets (62.1% catch rate) and 6.1 FPG. While Gibson is expected back, Matthews did a solid job as a replacement in his rookie season. As we mentioned, Clay did a great job as the primary TE after disappointing as an H-back in the last two seasons. He played every game and had 69/759/6 (11 YPC) on 102 targets (67.6% catch rate) with 15 RZ targets and was tied for 12th at the position, with 11.8 FPG. Rookie TE Dion Sims ended up with just 6/32/1 on 10 targets and was used more as a blocker than as a receiver. There’s enough talent here for the team to have a strong passing attack, but they’ll need to show improvement with Tannehill and stay healthier in 2014.
Key Free Agents: TE Dustin Keller, OL Tyson Clabo, OL Bryant McKinnie, OL Richie Incognito, OL John Jerry, DT Paul Soliai, DT Randy Starks, CB Nolan Carroll, CB Brent Grimes, CB Chris Owens, CB Chris Clemons.
New England Patriots
QB: It wasn’t exactly a banner year for QB Tom Brady and this Patriot passing game in 2013. TE Aaron Hernandez ended up in jail just before training camp, and TE Rob Gronkowski managed to play in only 7 games. Key free-agent acquisition Danny Amendola never came close to filling Wes Welker’s former role, and three rookie wide receivers failed to adequately fill a major void on the outside. However, one of the bigger disappointments might have to be the inconsistent season of Brady, as his downfield accuracy has significantly declined in the last two seasons. Certainly, his diminished cast didn’t help with his downfield accuracy this season, as he was throwing deep balls to the likes of Matthew Slater and Austin Collie in the AFC Championship Game against the Broncos. Still, he had more than a few opportunities to complete a couple deep balls in the title game but completely overthrew his targets, something he did all season long. The Patriots have now lost in consecutive AFC Championship Games, and they lost to the Giants in the Super Bowl three seasons ago. The Patriots under Brady have been consistently one of the best teams, but they’ve failed to win a Super Bowl since 2004. However, the Patriots had one of the youngest teams in the postseason, with 17 players having never taken the field in the playoffs, despite New England’s extended run of success the past decade. Brady is still the engine that makes this offense go, but he significantly underperformed for fantasy this season. He tied for 18th among fantasy QBs this season with 19.9 FPG, tying with Bear QB Jay Cutler and Titan backup QB Ryan Fitzpatrick. Brady finished the year completing 380/628 passes (60.5%) for 4343 yards, 25 TDs, and 11 INTs. It was his worst fantasy season since 2006 (obviously throwing out his knee injury season in 2008) when he averaged 17.7 FPG but still finished 10th among QBs. However, Brady did play much better with Gronk in the lineup for seven games from Weeks Seven through Fourteen, as he averaged 23.3 FPG and ranked 8th among QBs, so he needs an elite receiver in this offense to succeed for fantasy at this stage of his career. Backup QB Ryan Mallett has attempted just 4 passes in his three NFL seasons, but he could be a commodity this off-season, if the Patriots decide to shop him around the league. There’s already been some speculation that former Patriot OC and new Texan HC Bill O’Brien could be interested in dealing for Mallett. Brady almost never leaves the field outside of his devastating knee injury back in 2008, so the Patriots very well could try to maximize the value of Mallett, but they still need a reliable backup.
RB: The Patriot backfield was once again a major fantasy headache for a majority of the season under HC Bill Belichick, and we’re likely to see “The Belitricks” continue into the 2014 season. RB Stevan Ridley got off to an extremely slow start through the first five weeks of the season, but he finally got on track starting in Week Six. In five games from Weeks Six through Eleven, he ranked 8th among RBs with 17.9 FPG, posting 84/388/7 rushing. However, Ridley’s ball-security issues crept back starting in Week Nine, and he lost fumbles in three consecutive games, which landed him in Belichick’s doghouse for much of the rest of the season. He finished the year with 178 carries for 773 yards (4.3 YPC) and 7 TDs, which ranked him 35th among RBs with 9.7 FPG. Ridley really bungled his way to the bench by losing four fumbles this season, which is a major shame since he’s the most talented runner for the Patriots. Ridley’s failures opened the door for RB LeGarrette Blount, who the organization viewed as the #4 running back in training camp. Blount bided his time and took advantage of his opportunities once Ridley landed in Belichick’s doghouse. As the lead runner in the Patriot offense, Blount posted 431 rushing yards and an amazing 8 TDs in three straight games before the AFC Championship. He finished the regular season with 153 carries for 772 yards (5.0 YPC) and 7 TDs. Blount ran with more power and speed at the end of the season than he previously had shown in his first three NFL seasons with the Buccaneers. Blount, who turned 27 in December, is a free agent this off-season and both sides appear interested in working out a deal to keep Blount a Patriot in 2014. The Patriots have RBs Ridley, Shane Vereen, and Brandon Bolden under contract for next season though, so they won’t overpay to keep Blount around. If Blount does stick around, that means he will compete with Ridley for lead-runner snaps next season, which could be a major fantasy headache. Vereen will still likely handle the vast majority of passing-down situations next season, and he’ll likely be the most stable PPR fantasy option in the Patriot backfield. Vereen missed eight games after breaking his wrist in Week One, but he still managed to finish 10th among RBs with 16.8 FPG, on 47 catches for 427 yards (9.1 YPC) and 3 TDs on 69 targets (68.1 catch rate). Vereen added 44 carries for 208 yards (4.7 YPC) and 1 TD. Ridley and Blount bring little to the table in the Patriot passing game, so Vereen will have to stay very involved in the offense as a dynamic receiver out of the backfield. Vereen has yet to play a full 16-game schedule after missing three games to a foot injury in 2012, so he has some minor durability questions. Bolden did little this season as the fourth running back (55/271/3 rushing, 21/152 receiving), but he did see an uptick in action when Vereen was out with his wrist injury. He’ll likely stay as the primary backup to Vereen in the passing game next season, but he could see more action as a runner if Blount leaves the Pats via free agency.
WR/TE: It really isn’t acceptable for a Super Bowl contending team to be taking deep shots to Matthew Slater and Austin Collie in the AFC Championship Game as the Patriots were forced to do against the Broncos. QB Tom Brady really needs a legitimate outside receiver at this stage of his career, as he really hasn’t had a standout playmaker on the outside since Randy Moss left. Rookie WRs Kenbrell Thompkins and Aaron Dobson were expected to be important parts of the offense this season, but neither player managed to emerge as the two combined for just 69 catches. Preseason sleeper Thompkins flashed at times, especially earlier in the season, but ended up with just 32 catches for 466 yards (14.6 YPC) and 4 TDs on 68 targets (47.1% catch rate), averaging 9.3 FPG. He missed five games in the regular season because of a hip injury and the AFC Championship Game because of a concussion. Dobson played slightly better, registering 37 catches for 519 yards (14.0 YPC) and 4 TDs on 71 targets (52.1% catch rate), averaging 9.4 FPG. He dealt with a foot injury at the end of the season and missed four games. Dobson, Thompkins, and another rookie Josh Boyce (9/121 receiving) each had a few moments in 2013, but they did nothing to suggest they’ll be standouts on the outside. Boyce ended the season on the injured reserve after an ankle injury in Week Fifteen, and he’ll be behind Dobson and Thompkins entering training camp. The Patriot offensive system has been notoriously difficult for first-year wide receivers, so we’ll see if one of these second-year WRs can take a leap next season. Free-agent acquisition Danny Amendola was expected to step into Wes Welker’s role, but it never really happened, as Julian Edelman ended up filling Welker’s void. Amendola suffered a groin injury in Week One, and he never looked the same and dealt with the injury all season long. Amendola and Brady said during the playoffs that they were still dealing with chemistry issues, so we’ll see if a full off-season can solve those problems. Amendola finished the year with 54 catches for 633 yards (11.7 YPC) and 2 TDs on 83 targets (65.1% catch rate), finishing with 10.8 FPG. Amendola hasn’t played a full 16-game schedule since 2010, and his value for next season will hinge on whether Edelman stays or goes this off-season. Edelman received almost no interest from the rest of the league as a free agent last off-season, but that would surely change this time around if the Patriots can’t lock him up before then. Brady is already trying to sway the Patriots to bring Edelman back, and the franchise quarterback usually gets what he wants. Edelman destroyed his previous career marks, recording 105 catches for 1056 yards (10.1 YPC) and 6 TDs on 149 targets (70.1% catch rate), ranking 15th among WRs with 15.5 FPG. Edelman closed out the year on fire, ranking 2nd behind Brown WR Josh Gordon in the final six weeks of the season, hauling in 53/556/4 for 22.1 FPG. Edelman played above and beyond even the wildest expectations for him this season, as he clearly had more chemistry out of the slot with Brady than Amendola ever had. The Patriots are now at the point where they can’t count on TE Rob Gronkowski to play a full season, and they might not even have him for the start of the season. He’ll be coming off an ACL injury, so he’s no guarantee to be back at full strength early in the year. He’s already undergone eight documented surgeries in the early part of his career, so the injuries could start taking a toll on him. Gronk proved he’s still among the elite at his position when he’s on the field, as he racked up 39 catches for 592 yards (15.2 YPC) and 4 TDs on 66 targets (59.1% catch rate) for 17.5 FPG in just seven games. The Patriots were clearly a better offense with Gronk in the lineup, as they moved the ball easier through the air and were more efficient in the red zone. The whole Aaron Hernandez fiasco last off-season put the Patriots in a bind at tight end, but they really need to upgrade at backup tight end with a full off-season to do it. TE Michael Hoomanawanui did an effective job as a blocker, but he offered very little in the passing game outside of a few circus catches. The Patriots need more depth at tight end behind the injury-riddled Gronk, so they could look to address the need through the draft.
Key Free Agents: WR Julian Edelman, RB LeGarrette Blount, TE Michael Hoomanawanui, CB Aqib Talib, C Ryan Wendell, ILB Brandon Spikes, OT Will Svitek, TE Matthew Mulligan, WR Austin Collie, TE D.J. Williams, LB Dane Fletcher, DE Andre Carter.
New York Jets
QB: The Jet QB whirlwind started all the way back in April… if not before that (they did have Mark Sanchez for four seasons). That’s when they selected Geno Smith in the second round of the NFL Draft, after speculation that he was in play for their first-round pick (eventually DT Sheldon Richardson). And with Sanchez missing the entire 2013 season with a shoulder injury, Geno won the Jets’ starting QB competition in training camp and started all 16 of New York’s games. To consider Geno anything more than a work in progress would be kind. He completed 247/443 passes (55.8%) for 3046 yards, with 12 TDs and 21 INTs (fourth-most in the NFL). A strong rushing performance of 72/366/6 helped salvage some fantasy value, but Geno still finished only 29th among QBs with five or more starts with 17.1 FPG. For most of the year, and rightfully so, he was a desperation Waiver Wire option. Geno certainly had some ups, using his natural arm strength to make “NFL throws,” but his downs were more pronounced. The most notable was a four-game stretch between Weeks Nine and Thirteen, during which Geno completed a total of 29/74 passes (39.2%) for 374 yards, with no TDs and 6 INTs. Multiple times during this stretch, Geno got a breather from Matt Simms. But the Jets stuck with Geno, and he rebounded the rest of the season, finishing #6 among all QBs with 23.0 FPG over the last four games of the year, thanks in large part to 31/186/3 rushing over that span. Geno’s struggles were evident – he often made poor decisions, misread coverages, made inaccurate throws, and sometimes made a combination of errors. But he’s tall and mobile, with a very strong arm, and he needs to be given credit for his resiliency. Note also that he had almost zero help from his receivers, with injuries and a general lack of talent significantly limiting what Geno could do. There is no guarantee Geno will be the Jets’ starter come Week One of 2014, and GM John Idzik confirmed as much after the Jets’ 8-8 season ended. But should New York choose to stick with him, and the front office gives him some much-needed help, there is an argument to be made that there are enough positives to build on.
RB: The Jets were among the least fantasy-relevant teams in the entire NFL, and may have been at the absolute bottom of that list. This is despite an 8-8 season in which they remained competitive throughout the year with a rookie who was in over his head at QB. In large part, that’s thanks to the defense, but also for the Jets’ only two truly relevant fantasy players – RBs Chris Ivory and Bilal Powell. Now, “relevant” is relative to the rest of the Jets. In a PPR league, Powell finished 43rd among RBs with 8.8 FPG, and Ivory finished 54th with 7.0 FPG. But at least at different times they had flex value. Powell’s run was early in the season, as the Jets’ predominant passing-down RB. Through the first four weeks of the season, Powell averaged 14.3 FPG with a double-digit performance in each game. That ranked him #15 among RBs over that span, which led us to believe he’d be a nice flex for the entire year. But the problem? After Week Four, Powell had only one double-digit PPR performance in 12 games, and ranked #56 among all RBs with 7.0 FPG. Overall, Powell had a decent season, with 176/697/1 rushing (4.0 YPC), and 36/272/0 receiving on 57 targets (63.2%), but he was hurt by his lack of TDs and the eventual rotation he had with Ivory. As for Ivory, he finished stronger than Powell. When Powell was hot through Week Four, Ivory was a fantasy zero. Playing three of the first four games (missing one with a hamstring injury), Ivory averaged only 2.4 FPG through Week Four. After that, he averaged 8.1 FPG over the final 12 games. Both Ivory and Powell had five double-digit PPR performances, but all of Ivory’s came from Week Seven on, while only one of Powell’s did. Ivory had three 100-yard rushing performances on the year and totaled 182/833/3 rushing (4.6 YPC) in 15 games. The problem? As was the case in New Orleans, Ivory was a total zero as a receiver, catching only 2 passes for 10 yards on 7 targets this year. He also fumbled twice. Ivory had several long runs on the season, and we continue to love his natural physicality and downhill speed as a runner. But his hamstrings are a chronic problem, and he finished the year with cracked ribs and a hip pointer. Both Ivory and Powell are under contract in 2014, as is Mike Goodson, who played only two games before tearing his ACL (Goodson is also in trouble with the law on weapons charges). Goodson, however, doesn’t have any guaranteed money on his deal and can be released without penalty.
WR/TE: Yes, it’s a fact that Geno Smith struggled as a rookie in 2013, and it’s left his future as the Jets’ starting QB in 2014 in doubt. But it’s also completely true that he had no help. Among his WRs and TEs, no Jet averaged more than Jeremy Kerley’s 9.5 FPG in a PPR (that’s fewer fantasy points per game than Marlon Brown, Tavon Austin, and Brandon LaFell). Among WRs, Kerley’s performance ranked him tied for 59th. In leagues that can start four WRs, Kerley was barely on the radar at any point. And in many leagues, he was available on the Waiver Wire for free. Remember, he was the best of this bunch. Ideally a slot guy who has some deep speed, Kerley posted 43/523/3 receiving on 72 targets (59.7%) in 12 games. He missed three games late with an elbow injury, and missed a game in Week Two with a concussion. Kerley was Geno’s “favorite” target with 72 of them on the season, despite missing four games. And it tells you all you need to know about the state of the Jets’ receiving corps that his 72 targets could lead the team – 64 WRs, 18 TEs, and even 9 RBs had more targets. Kerley’s best game came in Week Seven against the Patriots, when he had 8 catches for 97 yards and a TD. That performance was actually the Jets’ third-highest in terms of receiving yards on the year, behind Santonio Holmes’ 5/154/1 performance in Week Three, and Stephen Hill’s 3/108/1 in the same game. But aside from that Week Three game, Holmes and Hill were complete nonfactors. Dealing with chronic hamstring and foot problems, Holmes played in only 11 games and had 23/456/1 receiving on 59 targets (a putrid 39.0% catch rate). He averaged 6.8 FPG, which ranked him #85 among all WRs in a PPR league. He’s owed a seven-figure roster bonus this off-season, and we’d bet the Jets will let him move on. As for Hill, he played in 12 games and had only 24/342/1 receiving on 57 targets (42.1%), averaging 5.4 FPG. He missed the final four games of the year with a sprained knee, but managed to catch only a single ball after Week Eight. We would suggest to Jet fans that they not look at the list of receivers drafted after Hill in 2012. In fact, both Hill and Holmes ranked below David Nelson (78th with 7.5 FPG), who played in 12 games after being signed off the scrapheap on Oct. 1. Nelson got stronger as the year wore on, finishing with 19 catches over the final five games over the year. He rebounded very well from a torn ACL suffered in Buffalo last season, and the Jets rewarded him with a two-year extension, so he’ll be back next year as a key red-zone contributor. That’s good news because the Jets didn’t really have one at TE. In 15 games, Jeff Cumberland had 26/398/4 receiving on 40 targets (65%), and ranked 38th among TEs with 6.0 FPG. He’s more of a rotational player or #2 TE, and he’s not under contract in 2014. Kellen Winslow out-produced him this year, with 31/388/2 in only 12 games, but his career seems destined to end after it was reported in early January that he’s facing chargers for possession of synthetic marijuana. If you managed to make it through this mind-numbingly terrible assessment of the Jets, you realize they need serious help here next year.
Key Free Agents: TE Jeff Cumberland, TE Kellen Winslow, K Nick Folk, OT Austin Howard, G Willie Colon, G Vladimir Ducasse, LB Calvin Pace, DE Leger Douzable, CB Aaron Berry, CB Ellis Lankster, QB David Garrard, RB/KR Darius Reynaud, WR/KR Josh Cribbs.