Post-Draft Stock Watch
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This was a fairly deep draft class in terms of the skill position players, but overall it wasn’t exactly a stellar one, so we needed things to shake out well if we were to see legitimate improvements in the fantasy landscape.
But I can’t say with confidence that we got what we wanted in most cases.
There were still some positives, but for the most part, the movement in terms of players seeing their stocks rise or decline was subtle. It doesn’t help that the league now is all about getting more and more players involved in the offensive process from the skill positions, so the production even among experienced veterans is spread more thinly than ever before.
So I’m sad to report that this year’s rookie class appears to be very top-heavy in terms of fantasy impact. There are 4-5 players who should be keys for their respective teams, yet the rest appear to be complementary and role players, at best.
That said, I’ve still invested a ton of time to research and analysis the residual effects of this year’s NFL draft – and this is what I’ve got.
Matt Hasselbeck/Jake Locker (QB, Ten) – While we really haven’t seen a complete offense here in quite some time, we can’t say that’s due to a lack of trying, since the Titans have now invested a #1 pick on a skill player in four of the last five years. We’re still looking at an offense that is great on paper and merely intriguing in reality, but you have to love the weaponry they’re supplying for these QBs. Hasselbeck is the starter, and he’ll likely play Week One. But unless he’s lighting it up and they are winning – which is possible, but their defense is shaky – there’s a decent chance we’re going to see Locker before Thanksgiving. It’s not a clear situation for fantasy, but if you’re looking for upside at QB and can afford to stash him away, Locker clearly has a lot of it due to his skills and due to what potentially is a sick receiving corps. Even if they surprisingly part ways with Nate Washington, the addition of Kendall Wright gives the team another serious playmaker with vertical ability, and Locker has a rocket for an arm. Wright is also good protection for Kenny Britt, should he have any setbacks with his recovery from knee surgery (he’s in good shape right now). But if Britt is back, Washington stays, and if TE Jared Cook continues to show progress, the Titans are absolutely loaded at receiver now. Hasselbeck should produce here as long as he’s the guy, but while I fully comprehend how Locker is still a work in progress and needs to deliver the ball accurately to his receivers on a consistent basis, I just love his physical tools, intangibles, and upside – and I’m even more intrigued now that the explosive Wright has been brought into the fold.
Kevin Kolb/John Skelton (QBs, Ari) – While WR Michael Floyd landing in Arizona may not be a greatest thing for fantasy, it’s not bad at all, and it’s fantastic news for these two QBs. With the Cardinals, Floyd can settle comfortably under Larry Fitzgerald’s wing (Floyd, like Fitzgerald, is a Minnesota guy and was lobbied for by Fitz), so we’ll likely see some good things from the rookie in Arizona as he starts from Day One. He’s big and physical, and he moves well for his size. Playing with an elite receiver like Fitzgerald will likely result in some single coverage for Floyd, and his addition will also move wideouts Early Doucet and Andre Roberts down the depth chart, which is for the best, since both players can be effective from the slot and would be miscast as starters on the outside. The Cardinals actually had a greater need on the OL, which continues to be a concern for these QBs. But there’s enough talent now at the skill positions to push the starting Cardinal QB into serious fantasy relevance. And luckily for the Cardinals, they were able to grab in the 4th round a player in OT Bobby Massie, who was considered to be a likely 2nd-round pick. He probably likely slid for a reason, but they may have solved an issue at RT with Massie, which would also be good news for these QBs. They also gave themselves some depth at G/T with Senio Kelemete in the 5th round, so at least they’re not ignoring their OL anymore. If the job is clearly Kolb’s this summer, he’ll certainly be an interesting backup candidate. Even if that’s the case, in deeper leagues with available roster spots, Skelton could be worth a late pick because he’s clearly going to push for Kolb’s job, and he might be better suited to take advantage of these two key receivers than Kolb. No matter how you slice it, the Cardinal QB is more appealing now based on the addition of Floyd, who may go down as the best wideout from this draft class. If they can avoid key injuries, they will definitely score points, no matter whom they start at QB.
Matthew Stafford (Det) – In reality, Stafford is merely “holding steady,” since it’s going to be next to impossible for him to exceed 2011’s massive production, but there’s no disputing the fact that Stafford’s situation in Detroit has improved after the draft. They started things off by taking the second-best OT in the draft in Riley Reiff, who can give them great depth at OT this year or even possibly start at LT if veteran Jeff Backus moves to guard. He’ll help Stafford most for the long-term, but the Lion OL definitely got better for 2012. Next, they surprised by bypassing a great need at corner to select in Round Two WR Ryan Broyles, who is coming off an ACL injury suffered in November. Broyles does claim he’ll be ready for training camp, but he could be a little slow off the mark (especially if he lands on PUP). While this was a luxury pick, it was understandable, given Stafford’s massive potential throwing the football. All Broyles did in his career at Oklahoma was break the NCAA’s all-time receiving record, highlighted by a ridiculous junior season in which he posted 131/1622/14. We’ll have to see what their plans are for him, but he’s a natural receiver who could be a terrific slot guy in the NFL. He could be in the perfect situation, since he can clearly be ultra-productive, yet he might be better off as a complement to a beast like Calvin Johnson, since he’s not very big or fast. He’ll get on the field at some point, and if that’s in 2012 Stafford will have better depth at receiver, which was needed, and yet another weapon in the passing game at his disposal, which he can clearly take advantage of.
Blaine Gabbert (Jac) – It’s no secret that Gabbert was awful last year, but in his defense, he was probably asked to start a little too soon, especially since the off-season was seriously curtailed due to the lockout. And his receiving corps was horrendous. Gabbert has a live arm and good movement and mobility, but his inability to handle pressure in the pocket was incredibly disconcerting. It was so bad that his margin for error even as soon as this year may be small, since veteran Chad Henne is a viable competitor for the starting job. The good news is that Gabbert did show some signs of improvement very late in the season, and it’s fair to argue that he might actually stand taller in the pocket if he actually has some strong targets to throw to. The Jags have a poor history of drafting wideouts, especially slower ones, which is a red flag, but there’s no question the receiving corps has been upgraded substantially. In fact, it’s actually a pretty solid group all of a sudden, thanks to the free agent acquisition of Laurent Robinson, who can be a downfield threat and is excellent in the red zone, and, of course, #1 pick Justin Blackmon. The Jags last year emphasized a short passing game, and that approach should work with Blackmon, who will fight for the ball and break a lot of tackles gaining yardage after the catch. Veteran Lee Evans was also added for depth, but with Robinson and Blackmon on the outside, Mike Thomas, who was grossly miscast as their #1 last year, can return to the slot, where he can be effective, plus they do still have TE Marcedes Lewis, who caught 10 TDs back in 2010 (although 0 in 2011). Honestly, this passing game still has several red flags, including Robinson’s injury history and Blackmon’s ability to separate in the pros – not to mention Gabbert’s struggles as a rookie – but at least now they have a chance to have a respectable passing game. That’s right: I’m saying there’s a chance.
Alex Smith (QB, SF) – The planets aligned for Smith last year, and he took the team to the brink of a Super Bowl appearance. He played very well in the team’s run-based offense, one that allowed the team to stay on schedule and ahead of the down. They wisely threw a lot of shorter passes, but Smith did sling it with confidence, and he did throw well at times with bodies around him, which was a good sign. But clearly, they’re looking for more production from their passing game, and their focus this off-season has been speed at receiver. They’ve undoubtedly addressed their inability to get vertical with the additions of free agents Randy Moss and Mario Manningham, and, of course, with the surprise 1st-round selection of A.J. Jenkins, whom the team reportedly timed at an excellent 4.31 in the 40 at the combine. The 49ers obviously love Jenkins, which isn’t a shock to us, since we had him ranked as the 5th-best rookie WR in 2012 heading into the draft (he was the 4th off the board). Jenkins has the ability to play inside or outside, so this receiving corps is a lot more dynamic, explosive, and versatile. I highly doubt I’ll be going “all in” on Smith as a great fantasy backup option, but there’s no denying his impressive body of work in 2011, combined with the receiver upgrades in 2012, not to mention the savvy guidance he receives from their coaches, make him a lot more intriguing. This is a more complete and versatile offense, and Smith should be (finally) ready to take advantage of that.
Jay Cutler (Chi) – While the Bears did nothing to improve a still-shaky OL, they did give Cutler what could turn out to be a very key weapon at receiver in South Carolina’s Alshon Jeffrey. Jeffrey’s production was way down in 2011 after a spectacular ’10 season due to a shift in offensive philosophy and issues at QB, but also due to Jeffrey playing at a weight that was just too high. Former Bear QB Jim Miller told me over draft weekend that the Bears are excellent in terms of training and working with players to stay slim and trim, and if they can keep Jeffrey down to about 220 pounds, then they may have formed a very dangerous WR duo with Brandon Marshall. Jeffrey is considered a great red-zone threat (17 TDs the last two years), and the team does claim to have timed him at 4.47 at his pro day. This was a key addition because the Bears can’t count on Johnny Knox, so there was a gaping hole at their #2 WR spot. Now they can team Jeffrey with Marshall to form an imposing duo, and they can use Earl Bennett as their slot receiver, which is his ideal role. I wouldn’t expect much from him this year, but Chicago also added in the 4th round an athletic target at TE in Evan Rodriguez, who brings some potential. Cutler has been quietly brilliant the last 1-2 years, so if the OL is decent and Jeffrey comes through, Cutler should challenge for a top-12 finish in fantasy this year. He loves throwing the ball to big, physical receivers, and now the Bears have a great one in Marshall and a potentially good one in Jeffrey.
Josh Freeman (TB) – The Bucs last year completed 92 passes to their RBs, which was an increase from 67 in 2010. They have added a legit #1 wideout in Vincent Jackson, but they needed some receiving help out of the backfield with Earnest Graham aging and unsigned and Kregg Lumpkin gone. LeGarrette Blount doesn’t have much of a presence in the passing game, and Blount overall has limited upside due to his very basic skill set, so Freeman’s supporting cast just got a lot better, thanks to the addition of RB Doug Martin, whom we had as the #2 RB in this draft (he was the second back off the board). Martin is arguably the most complete back in this class, so it should not be hard for him to pass the limited Blount on the depth chart. Keep in mind Freeman’s struggles last year were likely due to the fact that he tried to do too much and because of his limited weapons at the skill positions – and the team has done a very nice job of correcting those two deficiencies. And Martin is a big part of that.
BenJarvis Green-Ellis (Cin) – Well, with free agency essentially over and the draft in the rear view, Green-Ellis clearly remains their lead back, so you have to recognize that for fantasy. The best FA back available is Cedric Benson, whose days in Cincy are over, so it does not appear as if the team will be adding anyone of note to its backfield in 2012. I’d prefer more juice from my fantasy backs, but there is something to be said for his role as the lead guy and his ability to punch the ball into the endzone from short range, plus this is a very capable offense. OC Jay Gruden has indicated that he wants to go with an RBBC approach, but there’s no one else on the roster who should merit a lot of carries. Veteran Bernard Scott should be involved, but he’s more of a specialty player and not someone who should get significant touches. The team also used a #1 pick on OG Kevin Zeitler, who is a road-grader whose strength is blocking for the run, plus they signed the solid
OG Travelle Wharton from the Panthers this year. That helps, since the Bengal OL hasn’t been great blocking for Benson the last couple of years. Any extra production in the passing game would be a bonus, and if BJGE is right about his underrated and his underutilized receiving ability, you have to consider him a top-20 back based on that element of his game and his role and ability to score double-digit TDs. He’s not the type of fantasy option who will win you a title, but you can win one if you’re being represented by the Law Firm.
Alex Green (GB) – My guy! While he’s probably more of a “holding steady” entry, especially since he’s coming off an ACL injury (he’s on track to be ready for camp, however), I’m as excited as I’ve been with Green right now than I’ve been all year. That’s because the Packers have not yet re-signed veteran Ryan Grant and they might not in the coming months. And more important, they did not draft a RB. They had some chances to grab some quality backs, including Miami’s Lamar Miller as a great value, yet they passed on all RBs. Whether or not that’s an endorsement of Green remains to be seen, but I believe it is. How can it not be? Remember, when I asked Greg Jennings earlier this year about Green and conveyed my affinity for the player, Jennings’ reply was, “You really know what you’re doing, don’t you?”. Whether or not I do know what I’m doing is up for debate, but I’ve clearly been onto something with Green for quite some time. I’m sure the Packers will add another back, but it appears as if they have some big plans for the second-year back. I realize they don’t run the ball a lot, but Green can catch the rock well, and this is a player who scored 18 rushing TDs in his final year at Hawaii on only 146 rushing attempts. He’s a lot more explosive than James Starks.
Steeler RBs (Pit) – A slight upgrade here, of course, but we’ve been bemoaning the Steelers’ issues on the OL for years, and you have to give them credit for trying to address those deficiencies in their last two drafts. They have now used two of their last three #1 picks on players for the interior of the offensive line. In 2010 it was C Maurkice Pouncey with the 18th pick of the draft, and this year it was G David DeCastro with the 24th pick of the draft. Some felt DeCastro was the best lineman in the draft, period, and he’s a dominant run blocker who also handles the opposition in pass protection. He has a lot of upside and should break into the starting lineup right away and be a fixture for years to come. In the 2nd round, the team further bolstered its talent and depth on the OL with Mike Adams, a tackle who they gave a 1st-round grade to going into the draft. The Steelers’ picks the last few years haven’t been sexy, but they’ve done a nice job patching some serious holes on their line, and that’s big for their offense. The Steelers did address the RB position later in the draft with the 5th round selection of Chris Rainey out of Florida. Rainey is a smaller and speedier back, so he’s a changeup for them this year, at best. For now it’s still veteran Isaac Redman filling in as the starter until Rashard Mendenhall is ready to contribute, which might not happen until the second half of the season. Redman isn’t special, but he usually gets every yard that’s there for him close to the line of scrimmage, and the upgrades on the line will help him.
Austin Collie (Ind) – Although the drafting of QB Andrew Luck was merely a formality, it is now official, so I am now officially excited about Collie’s chances in 2012. The team did add TE Coby Fleener, Luck’s college teammate and good friend, with the 34th overall pick, and then they added another quality TE in Dwayne Allen, so there will be some competition for the ball. But the fact remains that the pro-ready Luck has a history of methodically and efficiently beating opponents with timing-and-rhythm passing, and he excels throwing inside the numbers. This all sets up very well for Collie to be an extremely active target for Luck from Day One. He managed to avoid a concussion in 2011, which is cause for optimism, so Collie looks like a savvy PPR pick in the middle rounds.
Pierre Garcon (Was) – Another formality was the Redskins taking QB Robert Griffin III with the #2 pick overall, and now that it’s also official, it’s time to isolate Garcon as the player best suited to take advantage of RG III’s ability to effortlessly flick the ball downfield with both velocity and accuracy. Garcon is clearly the team’s best deep threat, and the Shanahans know how to manage QBs well and put them in a position to succeed. They also handle mobile QBs well and feature a downfield passing game, which is why they acquired Garcon. He could be a little hit-or-miss, and his value is tied to Griffin’s ability to transition quickly to the pros coming from a spread approach in college, but the potential for big plays is definitely there. If the team cuts ties with veteran Jabar Gaffney, that should mean a few more targets for Garcon, as well.
Philadelphia Eagle Defense (DT, Phi) – I hate to use the two words, but, uh, dream team? Philly was very fortunate to get the best DT in the draft in Fletcher Cox, whom they did move up to acquire. His athleticism and versatility are intriguing, and Cox has the potential to line up at several different spots on the defensive line and bolster Philly’s defensive front. When you add into the equation their addition of a solid MLB in DeMeco Ryans and the fact that the trade of Asante Samuel will clearly allow them to cater their defensive backfield to their personnel, with an elite corner in Nnamdi Asomugha and a high-end talent in Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and you can easily see how Philly may have swiftly corrected all its problems last year. Heck, thanks to the addition of 2nd round pick LB Mychal Kendricks they may actually be able to cover TEs now. And for all their problems, the Eagles were still tied for first in the NFL with 50 sacks and finished in the top-10 for fantasy in both total points and points per game. Expect them to rank higher in 2012.
Green Bay Packer Defense (DT, GB) – The Packers are one of the many fantasy defenses that ranked highly despite having some issues in NFL terms. Their biggest problem was clearly their pass rush, and they have addressed that with a savvy pick of DE/OLB Nick Perry out of USC. Perry is an explosive and athletic prospect who has all the physical skills necessary to make an impact at the next level, and he has huge upside. He’ll likely play on the other side of Clay Matthewsin their 3-4 defense and greatly help their pass rush. That, in turn, will help their fantasy defense. They otherwise went heavy on defense in the draft, most notably nabbing in the 2nd a 1st-round talent in DE Jerel Worthy, who could play right away and beef up their defensive front.
Seattle Seahawk Defense (DT, Sea) – Despite finishing only 19th in the league in sacks with 35 last year, Seattle’s defense was able to finish 7th in fantasy last year. The Seahawks feasted on some poor teams down the stretch and scored 5 TDs, but their secondary is excellent and might even be the best in the league this year. That secondary can only get better with an improved pass rush, which was their biggest need entering the draft and a need they addressed with the selection of DE Bruce Irvin with the 15th pick. The Irvin pick was a little earlier than expected, but Irvin has been one of the better pass rushers in college football the past two years and has made a large number of plays behind the line of scrimmage. He may project best as 3-4 outside linebacker, but we’ll defer to the Seahawks, who do run a 4-3 and have landed some really good defensive players the last 1-2 years. Seattle’s clearly a top-10 fantasy defense in 2012.
New York Jets Defense (DT, NYJ) – The Jets, much like Seattle, managed a strong finish in 2011 for fantasy (6th in points), despite the fact that their pass rush left something to be desired. They scored 5 DT/ST TDs, but to enjoy sustained success in the fantasy world, they can’t rely on scoring. They have certainly addressed their so-so pass rush the last two years with DE Muhammad Wilkerson in the 1st round last year and now with DE Quinton Coples in the 1st round this year, although they still need help at linebacker. That pass rush has to improve in 2012, which should result in more sacks and probably more turnovers.
New England Patriots Defense (DT, NE) – The Pats have been a good example of the disconnect between fantasy and reality the last two years, as their NFL defense has been poor, yet they have finished 8th and 1st in fantasy the last two years. That’s been mostly on the strength of 13 DT/ST TDs the last two years, but they also have had a lot of INTs and a decent number of sacks. They still have issues on the back end, but their defensive front and been infused with two 1st-round talents, thanks to their two #1 picks in DE Chandler Jones and LB Dont'a Hightower. They have addressed their need for a pass rusher here, and they now have 5-6 rock-solid players on their defensive front, so they should remain on the fantasy radar, for sure.
Dallas Cowboy Defense (DT, Dal) – We’ve been teased by this unit for fantasy for years, but they may come through finally in 2012, due to the additions of CBs Morris Claiborne from the draft and Brandon Carr from free agency. Rob Ryan’s defense puts a lot of pressure on its corners, like his brother Rex’s defense, yet the Cowboys have not had the players in their secondary to hold up in single coverage. If these two guys can lock opposing receivers down like Darrell Revis and Antonio Cromartie do in New York, then Dallas’ sack and turnover numbers should be on the rise. They also still have corner Michael Jenkins, who could be a solid #3 if he remains on the roster.
Colt McCoy (QB, Cle) – It’s obviously early, but while I would be surprised to see #1 pick Brandon Weeden start Week One because he’s transitioning from a spread offense in which he played in the shotgun a lot, the selection of the mature (read: ancient for a rookie) Weeden is clearly a major indictment on McCoy. I felt the Browns could have grabbed a wideout and still nabbed Weeden in the 3rd, but they obviously weren’t messing around, which speaks to their opinion of Weeden. It also speaks to their opinion of McCoy, and it would appear as if that opinion is in line with ours: He isn’t the answer. McCoy had a lot of things working against him last year, but as we hear from players all the time, windows of opportunity for players must be taken advantage of, and McCoy has not taken advantage of his. You have to think his window in Cleveland has essentially closed, so McCoy is looking a lot like a journeyman backup type for the rest of his career. I would like to see the team make Weeden beat McCoy out this summer, but they might be ready to hand him the job without a battle.
LeGarrette Blount (TB) – The Bucs got a little lucky to grab Blount off the scrap heap in 2010, and he gave them a productive season. He’s big and physical, but he doesn’t always “bring it,” so with a limited skill set to work with, he’s a player with limited upside. He’s also fumbled nine times the last two years, and new head coach Greg Schiano is a stickler for ball security. Schiano coached Ray Rice at Rutgers, and the polished and mature Doug Martin does compare to Rice because he’s the same height and is also built very well at 223 pounds (Rice is about 10 pounds lighter) and can be an inside or outside runner like Rice. He’s a good receiver out of the backfield, and his blocking is considered strong, so he could be their 3rd-down back right away. He has better vision than Blount and some lateral agility to make people miss. There really isn’t anything he can’t do (he even plays special teams), so he’s just a better player, which explains why the team traded up six spots to get him. The Giants probably would have grabbed him had the Bucs not moved up, so it was a great move. Martin may open the season as only a complement to Blount, and Blount will likely have a role all year. But I don’t see the veteran holding the more versatile and dynamic rookie off for too long, so Blount is about to tumble down my board. Tampa also grabbed in the 7th round a speedy back in Michael Smith out of Utah State. Due to his speed, which is very much needed in this backfield, Smith could actually play some this year, which would hurt Blount further.
Ahmad Bradshaw (NYG) – If Bradshaw is able to play, he’s your Week One starter, no question. But at this point, it’s safe to say he can’t be relied on, given his lingering foot issue, so it was not a surprise to see the G-Men address his position in the first round of the draft. They did so with a player in David Wilson who not only has a legitimate chance to be a lead back in the NFL, but can be someone who brings explosiveness and big-play ability to the table, which is something we really haven’t seen in the Giant backfield in a little while. Now, while it’s fair to downgrade Bradshaw based on this move (the Giants claim Wilson was #1 on their board when they drafted), keep in mind Wilson, while potentially a lead back down the road, will need some time to develop, so he’ll optimally be in a rotation with Bradshaw. Wilson also has to prove he can block at this level, and his work in the passing game, while solid, isn’t stellar. And if he continues to look for the big run early and/or put the ball on the ground, he might not play a lot. On the other hand, if Bradshaw has issues and if Wilson is asked to and is able handle a larger workload, the talented and explosive back could certainly take the ball and literally run with it. At the very least, the addition of Wilson – who right away seems like the perfect complement to the physical and bruising Bradshaw – likely bumps Bradshaw down from a lower-end #2 RB to merely a #3.
Montario Hardesty (Cle) – Uh, yeah; Hardesty’s screwed. Young players in the NFL have to take advantage of their opportunities quickly because those opportunities are often limited, and Hardesty has not taken advantage of the opportunities that he’s had (and he has had some). So with Trent Richardson in the fold, he’s merely a backup for the Browns going forward – if he’s lucky.
Dion Lewis (Phi) – Between the UFA signing of Washington’s Chris Polk, who surprisingly didn’t go over the board in the draft’s seven rounds, and the selection by Philly of RB Bryce Brown out of Kansas State in the 7th round, it may not be a lock that Lewis is the second most valuable back in Philly. Lewis does have a big advantage in terms of his experience, and the Eagles are usually pretty hesitate to play inexperienced RBs a lot. But if he makes the team, a guy like Polk could emerge as a sizable complement to LeSean McCoy, and Polk does catch the ball well (one scout to our Adam Caplan compared Polk to Pierre Thomas). Brown is a real wild card, but he has very good speed and much better size than Lewis, plus he catches the ball well. He’s had a checkered past, but the talent is definitely there. Basically, as usual, the situation behind the Eagles’ starting RB is a little cloudy.
Dexter McCluster (RB, KC) – McCluster is an undersized back who can run the ball, catch the ball, and contribute in the passing game. Problem is, so is their 6th-round pick Cyrus Gray out of Texas A&M. So maybe McCluster can be a slot receiver? Perhaps he could have before the team selected speedy slot guy Devon Wylie. Once again, McCluster appears to have no set role, and with former OC Charlie Weiss long gone, there appears to be no one capable of utilizing him. I’m essentially waving the white flag with McCluster. I give up.
Eli Manning (QB, NYG) – I’ve written a few times about the thin Giant receiving corps this off-season, and it concerned me because of Hakeem Nicks’ various bumps and bruises over the last few seasons. But the selection of LSU wideout Rueben Randle goes a long way toward solidifying their receiving corps and adding some needed depth. Randle is a big receiver at 6’3”, 210 pounds, but he has the versatility and lateral quickness to play anywhere in a formation. Randle can play Nicks’ spot as the “X” receiver, yet he can also spell Victor Cruz in the slot. I wasn’t very confident in someone like Jerrel Jernigan handling the #3 WR role, yet that should now be Randle’s gig this year if all goes well. Even better for Manning, the team injected some serious juice in their backfield with #1 pick David Wilson. The Giants had to throw a little more than they wanted to last year, which helped Manning’s numbers, but he’s probably better off with an improved running game, which he should get with Wilson in the mix. In short, thanks to just these two picks, there’s little reason to believe Manning’s usual rock solid level of production won’t continue in 2012.
Matt Schaub (QB, Hou) – Acquiring the explosive Kendall Wright at WR was not to be, or else Schaub would be a definite upgrade, but it’s not like the Texans ignored their need at receiver. While we’ll probably see the pedestrian Kevin Walter starting yet again opposite Andre Johnson, which is annoying, the Texans did add speed at receiver with the 68th overall pick in wideout DeVier Posey. Posey played only the final two games of the 2011 season because of NCAA issues, but the Texans seem very high on him. He has good size 6’ 2”, and while he’s not a serious deep threat, he has the ability to stretch the field, and he recorded a 40 time of 4.4 at the combine. They also added depth and return ability with their 4th round selection of Keshawn Martin out of Michigan State. Martin is a pretty solid low-end slot receiver prospect who has quickness and some lateral explosiveness in and out of his breaks. He has good hands and the ability to move around the offense, so he has a chance. The Texans didn’t address their need at OT, but they did possibly replace RG Mike Brisiel, who they lost in free agency, with 3rd round pick Brandon Brooks. Schaub’s not looking great after the draft, but they have given him some more potential now with the two receivers in the fold. Almost anything is an improvement over relying on Walter and the erratic Jacoby Jones.
Andy Dalton (QB, Cin) – The addition of WR Mohamed Sanu may end up being a great one for Dalton, but for now, I will remain only relatively optimistic on Dalton in Year Two. I was hoping the team would get Michael Floyd on the roster, which could have been deadly, but Sanu does make a lot of sense. He doesn’t run as well as Floyd and he’s not as gifted, but he’s also a tough, physical receiver with good hands, and he should fit in very well with the Bengals as the possession guy and #2 opposite star A.J. Green. I also think Sanu runs a little faster than he’s given credit for, so he does have a little upside. In addition, the Bengals added needed WR depth by selection Cal’s Marvin Jones in Round Five. Jones isn’t a stud, but his size is good, his speed decent, and he’s a solid all-around player with excellent hands, a very wide catching radius, and good route-running ability. Finally, the team added another athletic target at TE in Georgia’s Orson Charles. Charles may not do much as a rookie, but he’s an upgrade for their offense and was something of a luxury pick with Jermaine Gresham still clearly the guy. Overall, I’m not thrilled with the players around Dalton for 2012 (it’s a very young receiving corps), but there’s enough here to expect him to continue to progress in Year Two, especially if slot receiver Jordan Shipley returns to form this year (he’s ahead of his rehabilitation schedule in coming back from a torn ACL).
Cam Newton (QB, Car) – I’m trying not to go overboard when analyzing the impacts of this year’s rookie class because, while it’s a deep class at positions like wide receiver, it’s not exactly a great class. But the Panthers did draft a player in Arkansas’ Joe Adams who could legitimately help Newton this year. Newton threw for over 4,000 yards as a rookie, yet, as crazy as it sounds, he has even more upside as a passer compared to what we’ve already seen because he can make all the throws, and he stands tall in the pocket with bodies around him. Newton finished 10th in the NFL in passing yards as a rookie, yet his receiving corps was somewhat limited, which is why the addition of Adams, coming from a pro-style offense in college, could play a role in Newton’s fantasy production this year. Adams is a laterally quick and agile player who should be dangerous running underneath routes from the slot, and those are traits that are missing from this offense right now. Adams didn’t time well at the combine, but if he’s up-to-speed mentally and gets on the field, he can be an explosive option for Newton.
Joe Flacco (QB, Bal) – I can’t give him an upgrade based on a 6th-round pick, but I really liked the selection of WR Tommy Streeter out of Miami for the Ravens. They’ve been looking for speed at receiver for years, and Streeter can run very well (4.4 40). He’s also 6’5”, so he gives them excellent size. He’s not a polished route-runner, but he might be able to help this offense right away if they use him in certain situations. For one, he’s a dangerous red-zone threat due to his size and leaping ability. He’s also a player who upgrades their speed at receiver, and he could possibly make some big plays for them if they ask him to run fly patterns and the like and haul in some jump balls on passes deep down the field. The Ravens were pretty thin at receiver, so this looks like an outstanding flyer. Raven GM Ozzie Newsome compared Streeter to former Raven Michael Jackson, who had a 14-TD season for Baltimore in 1996. The Ravens also addressed their OL and added a backup RB to Ray Rice in Bernard Pierce, so they did some good things for their offense while also adding a key defender with their first pick.
Ryan Fitzpatrick (QB, Buf) – Here’s another guy I can’t in good conscience give a ringing endorsement to after the draft, but the Bills did some good things for Fitzpatrick in the draft. For one, they did add to their OL with the pick of Cordy Glenn, who was at least considered by some teams in the 1st round (he was a 2nd rounder). Glenn can play tackle, but he might be moved to guard this year. Either way, Glenn will add to their talent up front, and that was needed. They also finally gave him some speed at receiver with 3rd-round pick T.J. Graham. Graham may have been a bit of a reach in the 3rd, but the Bills desperately needed a player capable of blowing the top off a defense, and Graham can fly. He’s a bit raw as he continues to transition from sprinter to football player, so Donald Jones may not go away in his role as their “deep threat.” But if the rookie can get on the field and challenge defenses down the field with a downfield play here and there, it will help their offense, for sure.
Matt Cassel (QB, KC) – Nothing earth-shattering here, but the Chiefs did use two earlier picks on OTs, so their depth at the position a lot better this year (they also signed Eric Winston, a very good right tackle). They also drafted wideout Devon Wylie, an explosive player (4.36 40 at the combine) who’s dangerous after the catch and projects well as a slot receiver. He’s already getting a ton of inevitable Wes Welker comparisons, but it does hold water because if GM Scott Pioli’s ties to New England (Pioli was the guy who signed Welker). Wylie is unlikely to make a huge impact in KC this year, but he’s yet another potential weapon for Cassel, whose supporting cast looks very good on paper this year. That certainly helps, since Cassel has no chance if he’s not surrounded by playmakers and difference-makers on offense. He certainly is in 2012.
Mark Sanchez (QB, NYJ) – It’s going to be really hard to get behind Sanchez this year – and I don’t intend to – based on his shaky supporting cast at receiver and the presence of potential TD vulture Tim Tebow, whom the team intends to get on the field this year for up to 20 snaps a game. But at least the team added a receiver in Georgia Tech’s Stephen Hill who has a ton of raw talent. Hill’s experience running routes is very limited, but due to his deep speed and blocking ability, he should get on the field this year. If they utilize him well, he’ll only be asked to run deep in a straight line, and Sanchez actually throws a pretty good deep ball, so Hill’s presence helps the offense overall. There’s still no truly compelling reason to back Sanchez this year, but Hill does help.
Carson Palmer (QB, Oak) – It’s been a very quiet off-season for the Raiders, who’ve been dealing with some salary cap issues and who had only six draft picks and none until the 3rd round (their first pick as the 95th pick of the draft). But after losing the sizable Chaz Schilens at wide receiver in free agency, they did add another potentially-solid possession guy in Arizona’s Juron Criner. There’s some concern about Criner’s speed, especially since he ran a 4.68 40 at the combine, but he could be a pretty solid possession receiver. He was also very impressive during Senior Bowl week and surprisingly got open regularly there. We didn’t see a lot of NFL routes from him in college, but many NFL scouts think Criner could be a player in the NFL. If Criner can contribute with even 20-25 catches this year, that should make the Raider receiving corps more well-rounded, and his size should fit in with the revised offense they will be running in Oakland this year.
Michael Turner (RB, Atl) – One thing that can help offset another year of aging and mileage on Turner’s wheels is to create more space for him to run, and despite not having a #1 pick, the Falcons landed the best C in the draft in Peter Konz, who was expected to merit serious consideration in the 1st round this year. Between Konz and T Lamar Holmes, who was the 91st pick of the draft, the Falcons have injected some youth and some nastiness to their offensive line, which should help Turner’s ability to come through with another stellar season. The Falcons have veteran Todd McClure at C, so Konz could play guard this year, and Holmes is expected to challenge for a starting spot at T. In addition, the team used its third pick in the draft (Round Five) on a FB in Bradie Ewing, who is known for being able to move people in the running game. So for all the talk of the Falcons becoming a passing team, their draft focus was power football, which is a pretty good sign for Turner. The team has talked about utilizing complementary back Jacquizz Rodgers more this year, and they likely will, but their moves in the draft sure do seem to point to plenty power running with Turner again this year.
Willis McGahee (RB, Den) – We have a long way to go before this backfield is settled, but things are starting to come into focus now with the bulk of free agency and the draft behind us. And as of now, McGahee still stands alone as the best candidate to be their lead back. They clearly need to work some other players into the mix, but as of now they have not added another back of note. They have, however, added a back from the draft, and he’s an intriguing one in San Diego State’s Ronnie Hillman, whom they traded up 20 spots in the 3rd round to select. The addition of Hillman could mean the end of Knowshon Moreno in Denver, since he’s a speedier back with potential in the passing game. While Hillman is undersized at 5’9”, 200 pounds – he’s built a little like Ahmad Bradshaw – he handled a full share of carries at San Diego State (311 carries last year). He appears to be a good fit in a backfield with Manning lining up under center, and they took him over Miami’s Lamar Miller, who was widely considered to be a much better prospect. But while Hillman is interesting, he’s probably not a threat to McGahee – for now. Unless the team has big plans for 2011 undrafted free agent Mario Fannin, who is in the mix here, McGahee has stable value here for 2012.
Maurice Jones-Drew (RB, Jac) – If MJD can run for 1600+ yards with literally nothing at receiver for the Jags, then he should be in good shape this year and should, at worst, have another very good season. In Justin Blackmon, the Jags now have a legit #1 wideout, and teamed with Laurent Robinson, Jacksonville actually now has a viable receiving corps. Jones-Drew has handled a pretty heavy workload in his six seasons, but his 4.7 yard-per-carry average in 2011 was his best since his rookie season in 2006, when he had only 166 carries. He told me last July that he played most of the 2010 season on one leg, and it’s hard to dispute that after seeing what we did in ’11, so MJD once again looks like a can’t-miss guy.
Ryan Mathews (RB, SD) – While no one expected the Chargers to draft a RB in the earlier rounds, it’s still good to know for Mathews’ sake that they didn’t. They did use a 7th-round pick on Edwin Baker out of Michigan State. Baker was a solid back for the Spartans, but he projects as a 3rd down/situational runner, at best. The team could still bring in a veteran free agent and likely will, but it’s still all about Mathews in this backfield for 2012.
Chris Johnson (RB, Ten) – Since in the last two years he hasn’t been the same guy who we saw dominate in 2008-2009, it’s fair to say that Johnson may need some help if he’s to return to fantasy glory – and the Titans have given him some help. The OL is aging, but the addition of WR Kendall Wright gives the team another dynamic and explosive threat at the position. Teamed with their other big-play receivers, it’s going to be difficult for defenses to handle all their weapons, and with Hunter presenting a vertical challenge to defenses from even the slot, Johnson should have some room to run. The team is in good shape behind Johnson dating back to last year, but it’s worth pointing out that they haven’t added another back this year, so he’s obviously still the guy. On what is clearly an ascending offense, and with no holdout or contract issues this year, there are no more excuses for Johnson.
Roy Helu (RB, Was) – Obviously, anyone with a pulse on this roster at this position is in the mix for playing time – if not the lead role – and fellow second-year back Evan Royster certainly is in the mix. The team could also still re-sign veteran Tim Hightower as well if his knee checks out. But the Redskins haven’t added a back of note this year, the draft included, so it’s all systems go for Helu to get the first crack at this lead role. Washington did use a 5th-round pick on RB Alfred Morris out of Florida Atlantic, but he’s a big back who could be utilized at FB. Helu could be a lot more effective this year, too, playing with the dynamic QB Robert Griffin III. RGIII will challenge defenses on the perimeter, which could work out very well for the speedier Helu this year. I still like Helu a lot more than Royster, which is why I’m including only Helu him into this entry. Of course, Royster is a solid fit for the scheme and did pretty darn well late in the season, so he can’t be ruled out.
Steven Jackson (RB, Stl) – The Rams finally addressed their backup RB spot with a potential impact player in a complementary role in Isaiah Pead out of Cincinnati, which is great for their offense. Pead is an explosive playmaker with a lot of upside as a receiver, but he’s undersized and he does have issues in pass protection, so it might be hard for him to see the field a ton and bogart a significant number of catches from Jackson. Pead can be moved around the formation with designs on getting him the ball with a seam, but it’s unlikely he’ll have a truly negative effect on Jackson’s fantasy value in 2012. The team also drafted the speedy Daryl Richardson out of Abilene Christian in the 7th round.
Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen (RBs, NE) – There was some talk of the Patriots possibly drafting another back this year, but I didn’t see that happening. It didn’t, so these two guys remain the favorites to handle the “bulk” of the workload in this backfield. That was certainly the plan last year when the team invested two Day Two picks on Ridley and Vereen, and they complement each other pretty well. I have a sick feeling that we’ll be forced to group these guys a lot this coming season in our weekly game and player previews, but if you’re going to draft a Patriot back, it obviously has to be one of these guys. Based on Ridley’s fumbling last year and Vereen’s speed and versatility, I’m actually a little more intrigued by Vereen. Then again, the team did lose some size and power with BenJarvis Green-Ellis signing with the Bengals.
Toby Gerhart (RB, Min) – Not that they were expected to, but the Vikings didn’t add a RB in a draft, and they didn’t add one in free agency, unless you count Lex Hilliard (sorry, but I do not). This could be construed as a good sign for Adrian Peterson, as he attempts to come back from a torn ACL suffered late in the 2011 season. But it’s certainly something of an endorsement for Gerhart, who was surprisingly productive and really maximized his touches last year. If AP is not ready, Gerhart is the guy.
Greg Little (WR, Cle) – Little is a very talented player and has a chance to be a go-to receiver, but his adjustment to the NFL last year was a little rough, which wasn’t surprising, considering he missed his last season at North Carolina and dealt with a shortened off-season. He’s also a guy who played RB in college, so there was a learning curve. He also played with a bad QB in 2011. But things are looking up for him these days. It would have been nice for Little if the team had added a speed receiver of note, but they did grab Miami’s Travis Benjamin, who is very fast and could conceivably help Little. Benjamin is far from a complete receiver, but he could be a dangerous big-play weapon, as he ran a 4.36 40 at the combine to tie for the best mark among WRs. But otherwise, the team has upgraded the QB position with Brandon Weeden, who can make all the throws and has a lot going for him. Weeden, of course, helped Justin Blackmon win the Biletnikoff Award as the nation's top receiver two consecutive seasons. He has a much better arm than Colt McCoy, which helps Little for sure, and he’s possibly the best pocket passer in this ’12 draft class. The team also added an elite runner in Trent Richardson, who can only help this offense and take some pressure off the passing game. Richardson will likely see a lot of stacked boxes, as most top backs do, and that can help Little. Little is a physical receiver with good size and excellent ability to make plays happen after the catch, and his stock is looking solid in Year Two.
Brandon LaFell (WR, Car) – I was curious to see what the Panthers did in the draft at WR because I felt it had a large bearing on LaFell’s fantasy future. They did add a wideout in Arkansas’ Joe Adams in the 4th round, but he’s probably not a threat to LaFell. Adams is more of a slot receiver and a kick returner, so his addition means they’ve given up on Armanti Edwards, who was a #3 pick in 2010. Unless the intriguing David Gettis blows up in the preseason, LaFell should be a lock to be the #2 opposite Steve Smith, and there is some potential from that spot, since QB Cam Newton threw for over 4,000 yards in 2011. LaFell came on a little later in the season, too, separating himself from (since-departed) Legedu Naanee and putting up 103/1 in Week Sixteen. He’s is a former
3rd-round pick out of LSU, and he did average a nice 17.0 yards a catch last year, so he’s worth a look as a player capable of slipping into the top-40 at WR in 2012.
Doug Baldwin/Golden Tate (WRs, Sea) – While we’ve viewed Tate as a better inside guy, the Seahawks preferred to see him outside, which might be because Baldwin is a terrific slot receiver. Toward the end of 2011, the Seahawks started to get Tate a little bit more involved. Through Week Twelve, Tate caught only 16 passes, but finished the year with 19 receptions in his last five. Baldwin’s line of 51/788/4 on 84 targets (60.7%) was much better, and he flashed more potential. With zero wideouts added in the draft and of note in free agency, the team is clearly going to ask these two to play key roles. Baldwin is our favorite, and with an upgrade at QB in Matt Flynn, who doesn’t have the strongest arm in the league, Baldwin could catch 70+ balls in 2012.
Vernon Davis (TE, SF) – On one hand, there’s only so much production to go around in this passing game, and they have added three new receivers who have either done a lot in the league already or have major potential, so that’s a small concern for Davis. But on the other hand, they did not grab TE Coby Fleener in the 1st round, so Davis is clearly still the guy at the TE position. QB Alex Smith will have more options in the passing game this year, but those options – all of them big-play/vertical threats – should help clear out some space and open things up for Davis. Ultimately, you have to believe that Smith will still be looking for Davis a ton. Davis was a disappointment in 2011 with very little else in the passing game, so it’s quite possible that he’ll actually do better with a lot of options in the passing game.
Owen Daniels (TE, Hou) – The Texans lost TD vulture Joel Dreessen to free agency, which might be a good thing for OD, and they’ve done nothing to address the position in the off-season and in the draft. Daniels may never be the player he was a few years ago, when he was younger and before his serious knee injury, but he’s still a player who can be very effective. You have to think he’ll be the #2 option in the passing game again this year, and if he can grab a few more cheapie TDs, he could be very relevant for fantasy.
Rob Housler (TE, Ari) – Not that anyone expected the Cardinals to draft a TE, but you never know. They did not, so the extremely athletic Housler is still very much in the mix to take over for Todd Heap once Heap’s run as a featured guy in the NFL is over – which could happen at any point in time, starting now.
Kellen Davis (TE, Chi) – While the team did add a more athletic TE in Evan Rodriguez in the 4th round, he’s not considered a top prospect, so he’ll likely need some time to develop. He’s also almost strictly a receiving TE, so with questionable blocking he might not even see the field. For at least 2012, Davis should be the guy, for what it’s worth, unless Rodriquez really surprises and picks things up very quickly.
Sam Bradford (QB, Stl) – I love Bradford and think he’s capable of becoming an elite player at his position, but he’s certainly not there yet – and the guy needs help at receiver. The Rams may have passed on the only two wideouts in this draft class capable of being legit #1 WR targets for Bradford in Justin Blackmon and Michael Floyd. The good news is the Rams did address receiver, and they are very high on 2nd-round pick Brian Quick out of Appalachian State. The Rams are obviously high on him and likely love his combination of size and speed, as well as his ability to snatch the ball away from defenders. But Quick is transitioning from a lower level of competition in college, and he’s considered raw as a route runner and needs to prove that he can consistently get separation in the pros. The Rams also grabbed WR Chris Givens out of Wake Forrest in the 4th round. Givens will supply some much-needed speed at the position, and he has the talent to become pretty dangerous both outside and in the slot. But he has some issues with his hands, and he’s still a little raw. The Rams may hit a homerun with one or both of these players, but it’s hard right now to assume they’ve truly helped themselves at receiver for 2012, so I still think Bradford’s receiving corps might wind up being a prohibitive factor this year unless someone like Danario Alexander steps up and miraculously stays healthy. Hopefully, I’ll feel better about this group in training camp and the preseason, but we’re not there yet.
Christian Ponder (QB, Min) – It’s nice that they got Ponder a premier prospect at LT in Matt Kahlil, and he will definitely help Ponder, and the pick addresses a glaring need on the OL. Protecting Ponder is even more important because he’s had plenty of injury issues in the past, including in his rookie season last year. But there’s also an obvious need at wide receiver, so unless they hit a homerun with either the free agent signing of Jerome Simpson (doubtful) or with one of their draft picks (too early to tell), Ponder’s supporting cast at receiver is still shaky. Ponder is a player who clearly needs help at the skill positions to excel, and while Percy Harvin is a star, he’s not an outside threat, so unless someone like 4th rounder Greg Childs, a 6’3” WR out of Arkansas, surprises, it’s hard to feel good about Ponder. They did add another Arkansas wideout (also in the 4th) who was more accomplished in college in Jarius Wright. Wright is an inside guy like Harvin, so perhaps they are looking for insurance for Harvin. But if he’s ready he should play early, since he’s a downfield threat who is also able to turn underneath throws into big plays because of his elusiveness, burst, and straight-line speed. But while there is more potential with this receiving corps now, it’s not enough potential to feel particularly optimistic. With very good depth at the position, Ponder’s case to be a fantasy backup isn’t great.
Matt Moore (QB, Mia) – Most likely, Moore’s your Week One starter, especially since rookie Ryan Tannehill had only 19 college starts after playing receiver for two years. On the other hand, #1 picks tend to play right away at any position these days, even QB, and Tannehill does have a lot of familiarity with the offense, having played for Miami offensive coordinator Mike Sherman in college. In fact, he knows it better than Moore. So it’s not inconceivable to believe we’ll see the rookie on the field at some point this year. And while Moore will likely be atop the depth chart, we do still have veteran David Garrard in the mix if Moore is benched before we see Tannehill. But for now, the plan in Miami has to be Moore for the immediate future. Of course, while they did add a couple of bigger receivers who might be viable short-to-intermediate threats in the west coast offense, they’ve done very little to help Moore for 2012 at wide receiver, and they’ve, of course, traded his top target from 2012 in Brandon Marshall. They added a TE in the draft who could help them in Michael Egnew, but there’s little reason to consider any Dolphin QB in 2012. As far as I’m concerned, they’re off the grid.
Kendall Hunter (RB, SF) – I’m still trying to wrap my head around the 2nd-round selection of Oregon’s LaMichael James, but I do understand it on a few levels. For one, head coach Jim Harbaugh is all about competition at every position, so he doesn’t give a rat’s ass about your fantasy team. The team is also obviously hell-bent on adding speed, explosiveness, and big-play ability to their offense, and they have certainly done that. It’s still a little curious, however, since James and Hunter are similarly smaller backs who are both probably better off in complementary roles. They’re both talented enough, though, to be very active complements, so I’m not sure where this leaves Hunter for the long term. James does have some ball-security issues and he’s not an accomplished receiver out of the backfield, so Hunter should be okay for this year. But unless they view Hunter as the eventual replacement for Frank Gore and would like to pair him with the diminutive but explosive James, it’s hard to figure out their values going forward. The 49ers are all about a physical, power running approach, and while Hunter is very physical for his size, he really doesn’t project as a true lead back like Gore does. That said, I wouldn’t be surprised in 1-2 years if they are rolling with a three-headed monster backfield, which isn’t great news for fantasy.
Reggie Bush (RB, Mia) – The Dolphins were clearly in BPA (best player available) mode when they selected the talented Lamar Miller in the 4th round and with the 97th overall selection, so he’s not a threat to Bush from the outset here in 2012. But this is a new coaching staff and system, so we can’t just focus on Bush’s stellar 2011 season because that has little bearing on his role and production this year. If Miami is going to mirror what Green Bay does on offense, then we could see more of Daniel Thomas than many expect, since the Packers typically hand the ball off to bigger, more physical backs. Bush will obviously have a large role, but it’s questionable if that role will translate to steady production, at least in non-PPR leagues. And if Bush reverts to previous (and unspectacular) form and/or suffers through some injuries, anything can happen with Miller later in the season, once he starts picking up the scheme and the like. Miller, like Bush, isn’t that great laterally, so he’s best off in a one-cut, downhill runner in a zone scheme, which is likely what the Dolphins will be running this year. In short, while it’s a stretch to assume Miller – who does have several similar traits to Bush – will make an impact, it’s not a stretch to say his presence makes selecting Bush a little bit of a scarier proposition this year.
Shonn Greene (RB, NYJ) – Greene’s starting job isn’t in jeopardy, but thanks to the addition of Baylor’s Terrance Ganaway in the 6th round, his margin for error might have been reduced just a tad. With Ganaway and Bilal Powel, The Jets now have two big, bruising backs behind Greene who could potentially handle a large workload in the “ground and pound” attack they plan to continue running in 2012. Ganaway was only a 6th-round pick, but he has a chance to contribute in the NFL as a rotational runner because he’s quicker than most backs his size, and he could still help move the chains because of his natural power and short-area burst as a downhill runner (although he can play soft at times). In theory, he could be an option for them near the goal line (so could Timmy Tebow). The one thing Greene still has in his favor is versatility, as Ganaway isn’t a viable receiver out of the backfield (6 catches last year). Greene’s not Marshall Faulk catching passes, but he was decent last year as a receiver. It could have been a lot worse for Greene, though. The Jets focused mainly on defense in the draft, and they didn’t use an early pick on a player at his position, so he’s still clearly the guy.
Donald Brown/Delone Carter (RBs, Ind) – The Colts did draft RB Vick Ballard out of Mississippi State, and while he’s a bruising runner with a nice ability to get to the edge, he’s not considered a top prospect. So for now, this backfield still appears to be a rotation between these two guys. Based on their first four picks (QB, TE, TE, and WR) it looks like OC Bruce “Pass Happy” Arians is already putting his stamp on this team, but head coach Chuck Pagano does want to get bigger and more physical in all areas, so there is a good opportunity here for a guy like Carter, who is probably more talented than Ballard and can be a physical inside runner. There should be a healthy role for Brown as well, but both guys are holding steady after the draft and the bulk of free agency, since they really are the team’s best options.
D.J. Ware and Da'Rel Scott (RBs, NYG) – While one or both of these guys could easily be in the mix for 5-10 touches per game this year, especially early in the season, the Giants were very high on RB David Wilson, and they grabbed him as both the best player remaining on their board and also to address a big need. In a perfect world, Wilson quickly settles in as an active complement to Ahmad Bradshaw, which would render both of these players essentially worthless.
Andre Roberts (WR, Ari) – We’re likely looking at a battle between Roberts and Early Doucet for the #3 WR spot for the Cardinals, but for now, Roberts is a noted because he was actually a starter on the outside last year. He won’t be this year, obviously, now that Michael Floyd is a Cardinal. Doucet is a more traditional slot guy, but we’ve been told by someone in the organization that Roberts has to play inside because he can’t really handle coverage on the outside. He is quick in the short area, so he could be a nice slot option for the team. Through Week Eight last year, Roberts wasn’t a factor. But from Week Nine on, he had 38/453/2 on 67 targets, and ranked a respectable 47th at the WR position, with 6.7 FPG. Roberts caught at least 4 passes six times over the last nine games of the season. Roberts is a small guy at 5’11”, but he is a better athlete than Doucet, so he might be the favorite to be the team’s #3, which could render Doucet relatively useless.
Nate Washington (WR, Ten) – Washington in 2011 stepped up after stud Kenny Britt went down and reminded us that he's a talented player and can run well and be an effective receiver in the red zone. Washington, who played through troublesome ankle and back injuries, played in every game and finished with 74/1023/7 (13.8 YPC) on 121 targets (61.2% caught), which put him 22nd among WRs with 9.4 FPG. It’s hard to envision the team cutting him loose after using their #1 pick on wideout Kendall Wright, but there’s no question Washington’s stock takes a hit now. The Titans clearly loved Wright, as we do, and they plan on utilizing him right away. Wright is good insurance for Britt, in case he has issues with his repaired knee, but if Britt is okay, I’m not sure there’s enough production to go around here among all of their talented receivers. It’s all great news for their QBs, and they now have great speed, playmaking ability, and versatility, but this isn’t exactly an offense poised to post huge numbers just yet. Washington, if he’s on the team, will almost certainly still “start,” but Wright will be utilized, and he will take away some of Washington’s (and Britt’s) fantasy value.
Marcus Easley (WR, Buf) – It’s probably wishful thinking just listing Easley here, since his first two seasons have been completely destroyed by injury and health issues. But the team didn’t select WR Michael Floyd in the 1st round as some expected, so Easley still has a chance. I heard before the draft that Buffalo hasn’t given up on Easley yet, and I can understand why because Easley has an intriguing combination of size, speed, and overall athletic ability. The Bills reportedly timed him in the 40-yard dash at 4.4 seconds back in 2010. Easley missed most of 2010 with a knee injury and he missed the entire season again because of a heart condition, but he’s flashed in the preseason, and he’s expected to be ready to play in 2012. It would not be shocking, if all went well, to see Easley finish second or third on this team in catches. He’s more talented than a guy like Donald Jones, and maybe even Stevie Johnson (although Johnson has obviously proven to be very productive).
Anthony Fasano (TE, Mia) – The Dolphins didn’t get a top prospect at the TE position in the draft, but they did get one of the better options in Michael Egnew out of Missouri. Missouri TEs have a poor recent history in the NFL, but at least Egnew has very good size and speed. He’s not overly athletic, but neither is Fasano, so Egnew could see the field early in the team’s new offense. I’m rooting for Egnew because it would be nice to have a TE in Miami who someone can actually project on a week-to-week basis. Over the last few years, just when you think Fasano is dead for fantasy, that’s when he scored 2 TDs in a game. If you give him some attention, he catches 1 ball for 7 yards in a game. If he could just go away, that would be okay with me.
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