QB: When the narrative is already written about a player, it’s tough to escape it. Just ask Tony Romo. Romo had a very efficient season in 2013, but you can almost guarantee that when his name comes up, so will his game-ending interceptions, whether they were his fault or not. We often talk about the difference between fantasy and reality with Romo’s career often being a great example. Romo has been a great fantasy player for most of his career, but with just one playoff win to his name, many would consider him a failure unworthy of the huge contract extension he received heading into the 2013 season. Romo’s efficient play should have been good enough to help get the Cowboy to the playoffs, but another 8-8 season left them short yet again. While he still finished as a fantasy starter, it was actually his worst fantasy season since taking over the starting job in 2006. He went 342/535 (63.9%) for 3842 yards with 31 TDs and just 10 INTs. He had just 20 carries for 38 yards and finished tied for 10th at the position, with 21.3 FPG. Those aren’t bad numbers, but they’re also not the gaudy numbers, specifically the yards, that others put up and Romo has had in the past. Besides WR Dez Bryant and TE Jason Witten, the Cowboys didn’t exactly have consistent, reliable options in their receiving corps. WR Miles Austin battled hamstring issues and was a non-factor. WRs Terrance Williams and Cole Beasley flashed at times, but they could have been better and may get more chances next season. The OL was okay, but could certainly be better, especially after Romo took 35 sacks, which he has now done for the last three seasons. The coaching staff is a bit of a mess with the play-calling duties shifting yet again. In 2013, OC Bill Callahan took over, but the team still tinkered with how the calls would be getting to Romo. In January, former Lion OC Scott Linehan was hired as the passing game coordinator and will call the plays in 2014. As if that mess wasn’t bad enough, Romo is recovering from back surgery that caused him to miss the regular season finale. He’s now had two procedures on his back over the last year, so while he should be ready for OTAs, the team may elect to take it slowly. They still have veteran QB Kyle Orton under contract for another season, but Romo is expected to start come Week One. He’s still a viable fantasy starter, and will be ranked in the top-12, but Romo’s grasp on being significant for fantasy is slipping.
RB: Trusting RB DeMarco Murray has been tough to do for two big reasons. First, Murray has had trouble staying healthy, although 2013 was a little better, as he missed just two games with a sprained MCL. Second, the team will often abandon their ground game if they fall behind early, and that has driven Murray owners and Cowboy fans crazy for the last few years, especially since Murray has proven to be a very productive player when given the opportunity to show off his talent. Because he played in a career-high 14 games, we did see more of Murray than ever in 2013 and he came through for the most part. Murray ran 217 times for 1124 yards (5.2 YPC) and 9 TDs while adding 53/348/1 on 66 targets (an excellent 80.3% catch rate), which put him 4th among RBs with 18.6 FPG. Murray enters the final year of his rookie deal in 2014 and while he’s not expected to get an extension before the season, he should have a chance to earn a new deal from Dallas with another strong season. Of course, his injury issues, which can be somewhat attributed to an upright and sometimes stiff running style, as well as his willingness to take on a lot of contact, may give the team pause before giving him a new deal. We did see rookie RB Joseph Randle get chances when Murray was banged up, but he often found himself in a RBBC with Lance Dunbar and Philip Tanner. Randle had 54/164/2 (3 YPC) on the ground and 8/61 on 10 targets, which was good for just 3.9 FPG. Randle was serviceable, but hardly impressive, when he played. A thumb injury caused Randle to miss time in the off-season and had him buried on the depth chart in the preseason, which may have attributed to his lack of touches, at least early in the year. In his second season, we saw Dunbar do a decent job in a limited role, rushing 30 times for 150 yards (5 YPC) and add 7/59 through the air to finish with 3.1 FPG in 9 games before suffering a knee injury on Thanksgiving. He had surgery and should be ready for OTAs, where he’ll have a shot to battle for the backup job. But he’s clearly nothing more than a change-of-pace back.
WR/TE: A back injury for any athlete is scary to hear about, but for the Cowboys, it’s frightening, as top WR Dez Bryant has clearly emerged as a dominant weapon. He played with the non-specific injury for just about all of the season and while he didn’t miss a game, he’ll need to visit a specialist in the off-season. Maybe the back is a problem because he was carrying the passing game far too often by himself this past season. TE Jason Witten is still a strong contributor, so it wasn’t all on Bryant, but there wasn’t much else to bank on in this receiving corps. Even with the injury, Bryant nearly matched his 2012 numbers. He posted 93/1233/13 (13.3 YPC) on 157 targets (59.2% catch rate), which was good enough for 18.5 FPG (9th). Bryant was very active in the red zone, as he finished 11th among WRs, with 21 RZ targets and 1st at the position, with 11 GL targets. WR Miles Austin battled hamstring issues yet again and was limited to 11 games, as WR Terrance Williams ended up taking his spot in the starting lineup for a short time. Austin had 24/244/0 (10.2 YPC) on 49 targets (49% catch rate) and had just 4 FPG. There’s a good chance he’ll be cut with lots of money coming his way over the next two seasons. Williams had a hot stretch with double-digit FP performances from Weeks Four through Eight, but he did that just one time for the rest of the season. In 16 games (8 starts), Williams had 44/736/5 (16.7 YPC) on 74 targets (59.5% catch rate) and was tied for 63rd among WRs at 9.3 FPG. He’s very talented, but should still be considered a bit raw, yet his playing time in 2013 will help speed up his development. WR Cole Beasley did a decent job working out of the slot in his 14 games, posting 39/368/2 (9.4 YPC) on 54 targets (72.2% catch rate) and scored 6.3 FPG. With Austin likely gone, Williams and Beasley could fill the #2 and #3 WR spots in 2014 as things stand now. Witten remained a solid, but not spectacular fantasy starter, as he ended up with 73/851/8 (11.7 YPC) on 110 targets (66.4% catch rate), which put him 8th at the TE position, with 12.9 FPG. He was less active than usual in 2013, yet he surprisingly posted a strong TD number. Rookie TE Gavin Escobar was a non-factor, catching 9 of 15 targets for 134 yards and 2 TDs, which was good for just 2.2 FPG. He has a long way to go in terms of his blocking. Barring Bryant’s injury being worse than expected or a big addition at WR, we don’t see much changing other than Austin likely moving on in 2014.
Key Free Agents: OL Brian Waters, OL Ryan Cook, LB/DE Anthony Spencer, DE Jarius Wynn, DT Jason Hatcher, LB Ernie Sims, S Danny McCray.
New York Giants
QB: There are certainly reasons for the Giants to be concerned. In last season’s team review for the club, we stated that QB Eli Manning “more often than not in 2012 was an average player.” And that was coming off a season in which he threw 26 TD passes and “only” 15 INTs. So what the heck are we supposed to say about him this season? Flat out, he was terrible. There’s no explaining it away. Playing in all 16 games before a high ankle sprain ended his season finale early, Eli completed 317/551 passes (57.5%) for 3818 yards, with 18 TDs and a league-high 27 INTs. Among QBs who played in at least 10 games, Eli ranked 25th, with 16.7 FPG (and remember, our site-default scoring system doesn’t punish for INTs). His 27 picks were the most thrown by any player since Brett Favre chucked 29 in 2005 (Eli finished second that year with 17), and his 18 TDs were the fewest in a season since he became the Giants’ full-time starter in 2005. For fantasy, Eli could have spent most of the year on your Waiver Wire. He threw 4 TDs (and 3 INTs) in Week One against the Cowboys, but after that he completed multiple TDs only twice – in Week Five, with 2 TDs while also throwing 3 INTs against Philly, and 2 more in Week Twelve, against Dallas again. Eli didn’t have a single 300-yard passing game after Week Five, after having three through that point. And five times he threw for fewer than 200 yards. On five separate occasions, he threw 3 or more INTs, including 5 in Week Fifteen against the Seahawks. Eli didn’t have a single game of 20 or more fantasy points after Week Five either, so he wasn’t even a good start in great matchups. Now, there are multiple reasons for this. If you listen to former OC Kevin Gilbride, who retired this off-season, the offensive line was reason #1. It was old, slow, and injured, and a guy who is willing to make risky throws like Eli will struggle behind it. The Giant offense usually begins with the running game, and other than a smaller stretch of games in which Andre Brown ran well, Eli was out of luck when it came to his running game. Also, Victor Cruz played hurt and was generally unimpressive, Rueben Randle was inconsistent, and Hakeem Nicks sleepwalked through his contract year. The Giants need to get younger and better up front and at receiver, and perhaps the late-season rise of Jerrel Jernigan is a good sign for 2014. But the fact remains that Eli has 42 INTs over his last two seasons, and he hasn’t played well at all.
RB: We just got done digging through Eli Manning’s ugly year, but he certainly would have been helped if he had any sort of consistency in his run game. Injuries, fumbling issues, and bad luck prevented that from happening. Obviously, things got off on the wrong foot (no pun intended) when Andre Brown broke his leg in the Giants’ meaningless final preseason game, leaving the Giants shorthanded at the position (we’ll get back to Brown later). So the ultra-talented David Wilson opened the 2013 season as a starter after his disappointing rookie season, derailed by fumbles and mistakes. Unfortunately for Wilson, his fumbling issues popped up immediately in Week One, losing two fumbles against the Cowboys. Wilson never earned trust back from coach Tom Coughlin, carrying for only 44/136/1 rushing (3.3 YPC), with only 2 catches for 8 yards. Wilson’s season ended abruptly with a neck injury in Week Five, an injury that required surgery in the off-season. Wilson’s fusion surgery has left his status for 2014 up in the air, according to GM Jerry Reese, and it’s potentially derailed his entire career. His fantasy value, even in dynasty leagues, is tragically low right now. Since it’s difficult to follow this Giant backfield chronologically, let’s go back to Brown, who came off of short-term IR to play in New York’s final eight games. Over those eight games, he carried for 139/492/3 (3.5 YPC), adding 20/103/0 on 29 targets (68.9%) receiving. He ranked 27th in a PPR with 12.2 FPG over that span. But Brown, too, had his woes. He lost three fumbles and suffered a concussion. And after a quick start that saw him rush for over 100 yards in two of his first three games, he finished the season with a sputter, rushing for under 20 yards in two of his final three games, and under 3.0 YPC in four of his final five. Now the Giants’ woeful offensive line certainly shares some of the blame here, but Brown likely would have wanted to perform better in some tough matchups down the stretch to convince the Giants to re-sign him. But it’s not like they have great options outside of him. Because of the injuries and mistakes, the Giants had to sign both Brandon Jacobs and Peyton Hillis at points. Jacobs posted 58/238/4 (4.1 YPC) rushing in seven games, but 24.4 of his 51.1 FP on the year came in a single outing against the atrocious Bear defense. Otherwise, he looked sluggish and ineffective, and after an injury-plagued second half of the year, he retired. Hillis looked similar to Jacobs, though he was a better receiver. He posted 73/247/2 rushing (3.4 YPC) in seven outings, but added 13/96/0 receiving. His first game with the Giants in Week Seven saw him score a rushing TD and add 5/45 receiving, but 19.1 FP of his 59.3 FP on the year came in that one game. To get value from Jacobs and Hillis, you had to take a total shot in the dark and hope it hit. We also saw a little bit of Da’Rel Scott (20/73/0 rushing, 11/102/1 receiving in five games) and rookie Michael Cox (22/43/0 rushing, 3/12/0 receiving in three games) in this backfield. Cox should be in the mix in 2014 at least, but likely as a backup or #3. But it’s obvious that the Giant run game was a mess in 2013, and both the offensive line and the play calling under new coordinator Ben McAdoo must improve. Most of all, the Giants need better players.
WR/TE: The Giant offense was a total mess in 2013, and a lot of the blame certainly lies with QB Eli Manning (we’ve spent enough time detailing that). But his receiving corps, thought before the season to be among the best in the entire NFL, didn’t exactly help him either. Once again going as high as a 2nd-round pick a PPR league, Victor Cruz had a brutal second half of the NFL season for the second consecutive year. In 2013, Cruz finished with 73/998/4 receiving on 122 targets (13.7 YPC, 59.8%). He played in 14 games, missing the final two with knee and concussion issues (the knee injury required a scope after the season). Overall, he ranked a disappointing 24th among WRs, with 14.1 FPG. But the big problem was his performance after the first month of the season. Through Week Four, Cruz had 26/425/4 receiving, and was the #2 fantasy WR in a PPR with 23.1 FPG. However, from Week Five through the end of the season, Cruz averaged only 10.4 FPG, ranking #48 among all WRs. That was behind players like Rod Streater, Cordarrelle Patterson, and Denarius Moore. You can make the argument that after September, Cruz wasn’t even worth starting. In six of his 14 games, he scored fewer than 10 FP in a PPR league. And it was dreadfully similar to last season, when he was a #4 PPR receiver over the final nine games. Cruz admitted after the season that he wasn’t on the same page as Eli, and that must change in 2014. What didn’t help Cruz or Eli was the fact that WR Hakeem Nicks was pretty much a non-factor all season, and his awful 2013 makes us wonder if the notion of a “contract year” is even worth bringing up. In 15 games, Nicks hauled in 56 passes for 896 yards on 98 targets (16.0 YPC, 57.1%). However, he didn’t score a TD, and as a result ranked 58th among WRs with 9.7 FPG (behind Marlon Brown, Jerricho Cotchery, and Tavon Austin). Nicks had three 100-yard performances, but six games under 50 yards. Coincidentally, it wasn’t injuries this time for Nicks – he missed only one game with an ab injury, tying a career-high in games played. Instead, he looked lethargic, and Giant GM Jerry Reese suggested he lacked focus. We do wonder if Nicks’ numerous lower-body injuries have taken a toll on him, but if he’s going to re-sign with the Giants, it now looks like it’ll have to be on a “prove-it” deal. Any team spending big money on Nicks will be taking a risk. The Giants do have rising third-year WR Rueben Randle to fill in for him, but Randle was more inconsistent than Nicks. Generally playing about half of the Giants’ snaps, Randle posted 41/611/6 receiving in 16 games on 77 targets (14.9 YPC, 53.2%). He tied for 67th among WRs with 8.6 FPG. Randle had a six-game stretch from Weeks Five through Eleven, in which he scored 6 TDs and ranked 26th among WRs with 14.0 FPG. However, he dealt with a knee injury late in the season and didn’t score double-digit fantasy points in a single game after Week Eleven. Although he’s very talented, Randle needs to establish more chemistry with Eli in new coordinator Ben McAdoo’s three-WR-heavy offense. Should Nicks leave, we can expect to see more of Jerrel Jernigan next year. In his third season, Jernigan finally made a tangible impact, hauling in 29/329/3 on 45 targets (11.3 YPC, 64.4%) in 15 games. But of that stat line, 19/237/2 and 27 targets came over the final three weeks of the season. It prompted team owner John Mara to openly question why Jernigan wasn’t playing earlier in the year. Coach Tom Coughlin acknowledged after the season that Jernigan finally caught up mentally, but it doesn’t help our notion that Coughlin sometimes buries younger players unnecessarily. The speedy Jernigan will have a shot at a bigger role in 2014. One area the Giants must upgrade is at TE. Brandon Myers, brought in to be a top receiving threat, proved he was just a guy. In 16 games, he posted 47/522/4 on 75 targets (11.1 FPG, 62.7%). Myers had only five double-digit PPR performances all year, and three shutouts. He’s now a free agent. With long-time TE guru Mike Pope departing for the Cowboys, it’ll be nice to see if the Giants can upgrade. They have the raw but talented Adrien Robinson on roster, but his time may have run out, so look for the Giants to add a notable player at this position in the off-season.
Key Free Agents: WR Hakeem Nicks, RB Andre Brown, TE Brandon Myers, DE Justin Tuck, S Stevie Brown, LB Jon Beason, DT Linval Joseph, CB Terrell Thomas, S Ryan Mundy, G Kevin Boothe, CB Trumaine McBride, QB Curtis Painter, LB Spencer Paysinger (RFA), RB Peyton Hillis, FB Henry Hynoski (RFA), DT Shaun Rogers, DT Mike Patterson, LB Mark Herzlich (RFA), CB Aaron Ross, WR Louis Murphy, K Josh Brown, P Matt Dodge.
QB: Let’s get this out of the way right at the start. Eagle coach Chip Kelly did an unbelievable job in his first season, and it’s made the Eagles one of the clubs with the brightest futures in the NFL. But he doesn’t have a crystal ball, and if he did, we don’t think Michael Vick would have opened the season as the Eagles’ starting QB. Vick once again dazzled in the preseason and looked like the perfect fit to run Kelly’s up-tempo, run-heavy offense. His upside in the offense was evident in Weeks One and Two, right from the get-go, when he totaled 631 yards on only 38/61 passing, with 4 TDs and no INTs, adding 15/77/2 rushing. He ranked #3 among all QBs over the first two weeks, with 33.7 FPG. But Vick played poorly against the Chiefs in Week Three, throwing 2 INTs, making inaccurate throws and poor decisions along the way. As we’ve seen too often in his career, Vick’s startling upside was too frequently contrasted with his disappointing downside. And then the injuries came. Vick first pulled his hamstring in his fifth start of the year, against the Giants. He missed two games, started in Week Eight when clearly not healthy, left that game, and then didn’t attempt a single pass for the rest of the year. Vick, an impending free agent, wants to go elsewhere to start because he won’t find that opportunity in Philadelphia. That’s because Nick Foles, Vick’s replacement, was spectacular. Taking over for Vick in Week Five, Foles led the Eagles to a comeback win against the Giants, and then played spectacularly in Week Six against the Bucs. He had a big misstep with a poor outing against the Cowboys, in which he got concussed. But with Vick hurt again, Foles started in Week Nine in Oakland and established himself as the Eagles’ starter, with a ridiculous 406-yard, 7-TD performance on 22/28 passing. From Week Five on, when Foles had most of his playing time, he finished #3 among all QBs with 26.1 FPG. And on the season, he totaled 203/317 passing (64.0%) for 2891 yards with 27 TDs and only 2 INTs. He added 56/225/3 rushing, showing he could take what was given to him on the ground, despite his lack of natural running ability. All in all, Foles appeared in 13 games and started 10, led the Eagles to an NFC East title, and did enough to claim Philly’s starting job for 2014 (as Kelly said after the season). Foles led the NFL in passer rating (119.2) and in YPA (9.1). He consistently made good decisions, threw accurately and with anticipation, and took care of the ball, things Vick struggled with. While Foles must get the ball out quicker in some instances, especially given the time his elite offensive line gave him, the fact that he did all of this with a limited receiving corps is impressive. And he’s a player who has barely a full season’s worth of starts under his belt in his career. In Kelly’s offense, there’s clear upside, and it’s hard to say Foles was anything but spectacular in his first run.
RB: After watching what he did in 2013, it’s hard to say that LeSean McCoy isn’t the best running back in all of football. Certainly, Chip Kelly’s offense is conducive to fantasy success for running backs, and it helped that McCoy had a healthy and dominant offensive line to play behind. But he still made runs on a weekly basis that it seemed no other back in the NFL could dream to make. McCoy carried a league-high 314 times for an NFL-leading 1607 yards in 2013, with 9 rushing TDs (5.1 YPC). He added 52/540/2 receiving on 64 targets (81.3%). His 20.8 FPG ranked him #3 behind only Jamaal Charles and Matt Forte in a PPR. McCoy had eight performances of 20 or more FP, seven games of 100 or more rushing yards, four more in which he topped 100 yards from scrimmage, and even a 100-yard receiving game (Week Two). But here’s a key number: In a day and age when consistency at the RB position is so hard to find for fantasy, McCoy was the only back in the NFL to play in 16 games and score at least 10 PPR FP in each. He’s still only 25 years old, and it was his first full season of 16 games since 2009 (although he sat one game in 2010 with nothing to play for). So McCoy’s arrow is holding constant for 2014, and he could arguably be the #1 overall fantasy pick next season. But we should also note that McCoy had 11 games in which he touched the ball 20 times or more, in six of which he touched the ball 25 or more times. It’s fair to suggest the Eagles didn’t get what they would have liked out of second-year backup Bryce Brown. A spectacularly talented but raw player, Brown ran for 75/314/2 (4.2 YPC) in 15 games of action, adding 8/84/0 receiving on 13 targets. He averaged only 4.0 FPG. Brown’s worst struggles came early on, when he struggled to adjust to one of Kelly’s scheme and one of the staple plays, the outside zone run. Brown has exceptional downhill power and speed, but he neglected to use it too much and ended up running side-to-side. Prior to scoring 2 TDs over his last two games, Brown was worthless for fantasy. He had nine games in which he averaged fewer than 3.0 YPC. Brown started to contribute a little bit more down the stretch, but it’s certainly worth wondering if the Eagles want to upgrade behind McCoy. It’s possible they see something in the less talented but more decisive Chris Polk, who had 11/98/3 rushing and 4/61/0 receiving on the year, but Polk is probably best in his current role as a “breather” back with special teams value.
WR/TE: The Eagles’ season got off on a bad foot in training camp, when WR Jeremy Maclin tore his ACL before we even got to see him take a snap in Chip Kelly’s offense. We were high on Maclin all off-season and were prepared to rank him even higher than DeSean Jackson, believing his versatility would make him a serious asset in Kelly’s offense. But Maclin has had more injury problems throughout his career than Jackson, and it culminated with the serious knee injury this past summer. The Eagles have a decision to make on Maclin, who is an impending free agent but has expressed his desire to return. If he’s anywhere close to the player we’ve seen in the past, inconsistent though he was, he’d be an asset. The Eagles will have Jackson back next season, and Jackson is coming off by far the best season of his career. In 16 games, Jackson posted 82/1332/9 receiving on 125 targets (16.2 YPC, 65.6% catch rate). He ranked 12th among all WRs with 16.8 FPG. What was the reason for the breakout? Well, first of all, the emergence of a consistent QB in Nick Foles helped Jackson. But Kelly also used Jackson in a variety of ways, unlike Andy Reid, who too often shoehorned Jackson into being a deep threat, forcing him to make low-percentage plays. Consider Jackson’s 65.6% catch rate – his previous career-best was 57.1% in 2011. His 82 catches were 19 more than in 2009, when he had his previous career-high of 63. Jackson was getting the ball closer to the line of scrimmage and was simply more reliable in making plays. He had five 100-yard games and seven games of 5 or more catches. But Jackson still fell victim to inconsistency. He had six games of 20 or more FP in a PPR, but also six games of fewer than 10 FP. That’s because Jackson still struggles to get off press coverage from the league’s best corners, all the more reason for Kelly to try to get him the ball closer to the line of scrimmage. And despite a strong season relative to the rest of his career, Riley Cooper didn’t exactly help take coverage away from Jackson. In 16 games, Cooper had 47/835/8 receiving on 83 targets (17.8 YPC, 56.6%). He tied for 38th among WRs with 11.3 FPG. But after catching only 8 passes through the first five games of the season, Cooper ranked 23rd from Week Six through the end of the season, with 14.3 FPG. That coincided with Foles taking over the QB job from Michael Vick. Cooper was a solid reach option most weeks, given he often saw single coverage, but consistency wasn’t his strong suit – he had nine games of fewer than 10 FP in a PPR, and only twice did he reach the 10 FP plateau without a TD. Cooper had 8/241/5 receiving in Weeks Nine and Ten in beautiful matchups against the Raiders and Packers, combining for 63.9 FP in those two outings. That accounted for 35.4% of his total fantasy production on the year, in only 12.5% of the games. Outside of those two games, he averaged 8.3 FPG, the same number a guy like Robert Woods averaged for the full season. Cooper too often didn’t win when faced with single coverage, and it limited Jackson’s chances to have a bigger year. Cooper is a free agent, and if he gets a big offer elsewhere, the Eagles would be wise to let him test the market. Aside from Jackson and Cooper, the Eagles didn’t get anything out of the WR position. Jason Avant is a clubhouse leader and a good blocker, but he had only 38/447/2 on 74 targets (51.3%) in 16 games. At the TE position, the Eagles used both Brent Celek and Zach Ertz pretty often. A superior blocker, Celek often played the lion’s share of snaps, but he occasionally made his impact as a receiver. Celek posted 32/502/6 receiving on 50 targets (15.7 YPC, 64.0%), and finished #28 among TEs with 7.4 FPG. He was particularly effective on TE screens, as he’s a load to bring down after the catch. However, if he didn’t score a TD he was doing nothing for you – all six of his double-digit PPR performances came in a game with a TD. As for Ertz, he struggled to get going early and had some drops issues, but came on late in his rookie season. He finished with 36/469/4 receiving on 56 targets (13.0 YPC, 64.3%). Like Celek, his only double-digit fantasy performances came in his three games with TDs – he scored twice in Week Thirteen. But Ertz became a dangerous player late when his route running got polished, and his rookie season has been far more impressive than most rookie TE seasons in recent memory. He’s a potential difference-maker as early as 2014. But will the Eagles split their TE targets basically right down the middle again?
Key Free Agents: WR Jeremy Maclin, WR Riley Cooper, QB Michael Vick, S Nate Allen, S Kurt Coleman, S Colt Anderson, DE Clifton Geathers, DE Cedric Thornton (RFA), P Donnie Jones.
QB: Franchise QB Robert Griffin made his much anticipated return to the field in 2013 coming off an ACL injury suffered in the playoffs the previous season. However, little else went right for RGIII and the Redskins after that. Griffin didn’t appear to be even close to 100% healthy at the start of the season, and by the time some of his athleticism started to come back later in the season, the Redskins were already a complete mess. The Redskins’ season turned so far south that former HC Mike Shanahan essentially rested a healthy RGIII in the final three games to prevent the franchise quarterback from sustaining another injury behind a shaky offensive line. With Griffin’s elite athleticism missing for much of the season, his mechanical weaknesses became glaring. Griffin threw far too often off his back foot, and he showed a penchant for not making quick decisions with the ball, which caused him to get blown up far too often by defenders. Redskin quarterbacks took 43 sacks last season, so RGIII needs to get rid of the ball quicker and the offensive line also needs to get better. Griffin didn’t come close to touching his top-5 fantasy QB status and 24.4 FPG from 2012, as he tied for 12th with Matt Ryan with 21.0 FPG in 13 games. He completed 275/457 passes (60.2%) for 3212 yards, 16 TDs, and 12 INTs, and he added 88 carries for 484 yards (5.7) and no TDs. RGIII posted similar passing numbers in his first two season, but he saw his INTs jump from 5 to 12 in 2013 and his rushing totals plummeted from 119/826/7 in 2012. New HC Jay Gruden already declared RGIII his starting quarterback, which is absolutely no shock. Gruden once pushed the Bengals to pass on Colin Kaepernick in favor of Andy Dalton, so we’ll see how much he can adapt to an athletic quarterback and if he can take advantage of RGIII’s skill set. We’ll also see if Griffin can become a better passer if Gruden keeps around some of his West Coast offensive principles. Also, hopefully Griffin will be far healthier by the time 2014 rolls around, as he’ll be close to 20 months removed from his ACL surgery. The Redskins need to bolster this roster any way they possibly can, but backup QB Kirk Cousins didn’t do much to increase his trade value with his play at the end of the season. Cousins completed 81/155 of his passes (52.3%) for 854 yards, 4 TDs and 7 INTs in three starts and five appearances. He played increasingly worse in his final three starts of the season, so the Redskins will probably have to keep him around next season. However, it isn’t a bad scenario, considering how many big hits RGIII took last season, so the Redskins need a viable backup like Cousins.
RB: The Redskin offense didn’t have many memorable performances this past season, but at least RB Alfred Morris didn’t fall off a cliff after a strong rookie season in 2012. However, the Redskin offense wasn’t nearly as potent this past year, so Morris saw his touchdowns drop from 13 to 7, which really hurt his fantasy value. Morris finished with 276 carries for 1275 yards (4.6 YPC) and 7 TDs, ranking 27th among RBs with 11.6 FPG. Morris continued to be a complete non-factor in the passing game, catching only 9 passes for 78 yards. Morris finished 4th in the league in rushing yards and had a league best 10 carries for 20+ yards. However, Morris did have major ball-security issues this past season, with four lost fumbles, which is totally unacceptable for a big-time back. Morris also lost 3 fumbles during his rookie season in 2012, so he’ll certainly be working on his ball security issues this off-season. The Redskins are expected to keep their running game pretty similar to last season, incorporating mostly zone-blocking schemes and Morris’ physical playing style. HC Jay Gruden is also expected to continue to run some read-option with Morris and QB Robert Griffin III. Morris now has 611 carries in his first two seasons, and he’ll likely continue to be a workhorse next season. Former HC Mike Shanahan can be fickle when it comes to running back usage, but there’s no doubt that his backs are usually productive, so we’ll see how Morris can fare without Shanahan and under Gruden next season. FB Darrel Young had a solid season as the lead blocker in this offense, but he did steal 4 TDs from Morris, including 3 TDs in one game against the Chargers in Week Nine. Young’s vulturing of touchdowns certainly didn’t help Morris’ fantasy value this season, and we can only hope that Morris gets the vast majority of goal-line carries next season. Third-down and no-huddle back Roy Helu flashed at times after missing most of the 2012 season. However, Helu didn’t have nearly enough production for how much he played this season, as he was on the field quite a bit because the Redskins trailed in so many games. He finished the year with 62 carries for 274 yards (4.4 YPC) and 4 TDs, and 31 catches for 251 yards (8.1 YPC) on 42 targets (73.8% catch rate) for 6.7 FPG. Gruden could look to get the ball in Helu’s hands in space more next season, much like he did with Bengal RB Giovani Bernard last season. RB Evan Royster is basically off the map after making a little bit of noise at the end of 2011, and he ended the season on the IR with an ankle injury. Royster could struggle to make the roster next training camp, especially if the more talented rookie RBs Chris Thompson and Jawan Jamison get more opportunities next preseason. Thompson and Jamison never touched the ball on offense this season. Thompson went on the IR in Week Eleven after he needed shoulder surgery, and Jamison was promoted from the practice squad late in the year but didn’t play. The Redskins spent a 5th-round pick on Thompson and a 7th-round pick on Jamison last April, so they need to show some progress this off-season if they want to actually get touches next season.
WR/TE: QB Robert Griffin III certainly didn’t play well this season, but it wasn’t like he was throwing to an elite set of receivers. WR Pierre Garcon was basically a one-man wrecking crew at receiver this season for the Redskins, as rookie TE Jordan Reed was about the only other receiver who started to emerge as a threat before his concussion issues. Garcon battled and played through a toe injury for much of the 2012 season, but he showed no ill-effects from the issue this season. Garcon finished with 113 catches for 1346 yards (11.9 YPC) and 5 TDs on 181 targets (62.4% catch rate), tying Andre Johnson for 10th among WRs with 17.5 FPG. Garcon led the league and set a new Redskin record for receptions in a season, and Steeler WR Antonio Brown was the only other receiver to catch 5+ passes in every game this season. Former Jaguar WR Jimmy Smith was the only receiver to catch 5+ passes in every game before this season, and he accomplished the feat back in 2001. Garcon’s season may have been even better if RGIII and Kirk Cousins had played better, but the lack of a supporting cast at receiver helped Garcon to lead the league in targets. He also racked up the most yards after the catch (672) in the NFC, and his 32 third-down catches ranked him 2nd in the NFL this year. Garcon is certainly a top-tier WR, but it gets pretty thin after him on the depth chart. WR Leonard Hankerson has flashed at times but has yet to emerge as a legit #2 wide receiver, and a torn ACL and LCL in Week Eleven certainly won’t help his chances in the future. He caught 30 passes for 375 yards (12.5 YPC) and 3 TDs on 50 targets (60% catch rate) in 10 games, for 8.6 FPG. Hankerson should be close to a return around training camp, but the Redskins could try him out of the slot if WR Santana Moss doesn’t return next season. Moss is clearly on the backside of his career as age is catching up to him at this point, and he is dropping too many passes. Moss finished with 42 catches for 452 yards (10.8 YPC) and 2 TDs on 79 targets (52.2% catch rate) for 6.4 FPG. He is a free agent this off-season, so the Redskins need to decide if Moss will spend a 10th season with the franchise. WR Josh Morgan fell out of Shanahan’s graces at the beginning of the year after he pouted about losing playing time to Hankerson, and he posted just 21/223/0 receiving. Morgan primarily sees the field for his blocking ability, but he may not see it again with the Redskins as he is a free agent. WR Aldrick Robinson is a pure speed guy and a deep threat, as he averaged an outstanding 20.3 YPC on 18 catches (365 yards and 2 TDs) on a 39.1% catch rate. The Redskins could have to consider some outside options to improve at wide receiver, especially with Hankerson likely sidelined until at least training camp. Reed started to emerge as the team’s #2 receiver when Shanahan finally put him in the lineup ahead of Fred Davis and Logan Paulsen. Reed played every offensive skill position at Florida, so he’s clearly extremely athletic. Now he just needs to stay on the field as a concussion ended his season, which is a major concern since Reed suffered two concussions in college. Reed finished with 45 catches for 499 yards (11.1 YPC) and 3 TDs on 59 targets (76.3% catch rate) in nine games, ranking 7th among TEs with 12.7 FPG. Reed didn’t play after his Week Eleven concussion, so there’s obviously a lot of concern about him going forward, but he should be ready to go for off-season workouts. Davis owned the starting job for four years but suspensions and injuries finally caught up to him this season, as Reed took over his spot in Week Two. Davis registered 7/70/1 this season in 10 games, despite Reed going down late in the season. It’s unlikely that Davis will be back next season, and CBS Sports reported in late January that Davis is facing a six-game suspension for another violation of the substance-abuse policy. Davis is one strike away from being banned for a year, and he now could have a tough time finding work anywhere. Paulsen is primarily a blocker, but he’s been forced to start quite a few games the last two seasons. He hauled in 28 passes for 267 yards (9.5 YPC) and 3 TDs on 50 targets (56% catch rate). He’s been valuable blocking for Morris the last two seasons, but Paulsen doesn’t bring much to the table for fantasy.
Key Free Agents: TE Fred Davis, WR Santana Moss, WR Josh Morgan, WR Aldrick Robinson (ERFA), WR Dezmon Briscoe, QB Rex Grossman, OLB Brian Orakpo, CB DeAngelo Hall, CB Josh Wilson, CB E.J. Biggers, SS Reed Doughty, ILB Perry Riley, DE Chris Baker, ILB Bryan Kehl, OLB Darryl Tapp, ILB Nick Barnett, SS Jose Gumbs (ERFA), DE Doug Worthington (RFA), ILB Will Compton (ERFA), C J.D. Walton.