Articles by S Raposa

A listing of all the articles written by S Raposa for the RotoWire Blog.

Fantasy Impact: Offensive Line Draft Selections

As I watched the second and third rounds of the NFL Draft conclude I thought it would be a good idea, since I’m the offensive line specialist here at RotoWire, to compile a ranking of the top-5 most impactful selections from a fantasy perspective.

This year’s draft was heavy at the top with offensive lineman, headlined by three tackles that went within the first four picks and two guards that were selected by pick number 10. You will find four of those five listed below. Here is my opinion of the additions that could change the fantasy values of their new teammates in a significant, and positive, way.

1. Chance Warmack to the Tennessee Titans at pick no. 10

Biggest Beneficiary: RB – Chris Johnson

Warmack may not have the highest upside or be the best lineman from this class in ten years, but he’s the most ready to step on the field and be a force from Day 1. He’s what I like to call a people-mover, he’s tough and rugged. He’ll step right in to play right guard and fill the Titans only remaining glaring weakness on their line. They signed Andy Levitre to fill their hole at left guard via free agency. The Titans have struggled to get the ground game going the last two seasons and that should change with Warmack in tow. Chris Johnson needs to get to the second level to be at his best and he should find a lot more creases to make that happen. He now becomes a much more comfortable selection somewhere near the top-10 fantasy running backs in drafts.

2. Lane Johnson to the Philadelphia Eagles at pick no. 4

Biggest Beneficiary: QB – Michael Vick

Johnson is the left tackle of the future for the Eagles, but I think he’s the right guard of the here and now, granted Jason Peters and Todd Herremans can return healthy. Johnson is insanely athletic so he should be able to pull out in front of LeSean McCoy on sweeps and screens and Shady will benefit from his addition, but Vick has been getting murdered of late, a lot of times with the pressure coming up the middle. He’ll have a cleaner pocket to work from this year. Right guard has been a major issue as 2011 first-round pick Danny Watkins hasn’t worked out to this point. Johnson also provides insurance at tackle if someone goes down again, and the offense shouldn’t completely stall as it did this past season.

3. Eric Fisher to the Kansas City Chiefs at pick no. 1

Biggest Beneficiary: RB – Jamaal Charles/ QB – Alex Smith

With Fisher and Branden Albert the Chiefs will have one of the best tackle tandems in the NFL. Fisher is the premier lineman in this year’s class and while he’ll eventually be their left tackle, possibly as early as 2014 when Albert’s franchise tag runs out, he’ll probably man the right side in 2013. He has a better pedigree and more strength to be successful there than Albert does. Kansas City’s offensive line wasn’t their biggest problem in 2012, but the upgrade along the front will certainly help all their weapons. The likelihood of Alex Smith being a success moves up a tick, Jamaal Charles should see more holes to squirt through, and Dwayne Bowe should have more time to get open. The Chiefs also selected Travis Kelce who will boost their run-blocking from the tight end position.

4. Jonathan Cooper to the Arizona Cardinals at pick no. 7

Biggest Beneficiary: RB – Rashard Mendenhall

There was no question the Cardinals needed to address their offensive line in this year’s draft and though they missed out on the top-3 tackles they got a fantastic player in Cooper. He’s a fast, chisseled athlete who moves extremely well and may be the best pulling guard I’ve ever seen. He anchors well in pass protection too and is strong at the point of attack. My gut is he will start for Arizona at center, which may ultimately be the best fit for his skill set, and be the leader of their offensive line from Day 1. He will be a big boost to the Cardinals’ running game and recently added running back Rashard Mendenhall. Not getting a tackle is a bummer, but the return of Levi Jones means only one of Bobby Massie or Nate Potter will have to work out on the right side and the interior will be vastly improved. All the skill position players in Arizona get a bump, but Mendenhall’s is the biggest.

5. Terron Armstead to the New Orleans Saints at pick no. 75

Biggest Beneficiary: QB – Drew Brees

I’m a bit out on a limb by myself on this one as Armstead went much later than I had him rated and obviously NFL brass weren’t big believers in his potential. I’m sticking with my evaluation though. He’s every bit as athletic as Lane Johnson and the Saints’ situation at left tackle after losing Jermon Bushrod to free agency was tenuous at best. Charles Brown is slated to be the starter there, but Armstead gives the team a back-up plan with loads of upside and I personally think he’ll win the job outright. Obviously Brees can’t get much of a boost from being a top-3 or four quarterback, but if his blind side was a major problem this season things certainly could have gone horribly wrong. This pick is a nice security blanket for those aiming to select Brees at the top of this year’s fantasy drafts.

What I Think I Think – NFC

continued from… What I Think I Think – AFC

NFC East

New York Giants

Issues along the offensive line and a dead last finish in rushing in 2011 have me concerned about whoever is getting carries in that backfield. (Even with Andre Brown‘s monster performance Thursday. Sell now!) This just makes it easier to justify 40-plus tosses for Eli Manning on a weekly basis which is their best approach anyway. Eli and Victor Cruz (in PPR) are top-7 at their respective positions. Hakeem Nicks‘ larger frame pounding on a bad foot that isn’t getting better this year really worries me. I’d sell high. Martellus Bennett looks great, he’s usable, and the Giants D is one of the biggest conundrums of the early season. I think they get better, but who knows with that leaky secondary.

Dallas Cowboys

Their Jekyll and Hyde first two weeks leads me to think their a home-strong team. Despite the lingering frustration of his hamstring issues, Miles Austin is the only pass-catcher I trust in Big D. I’m selling Bryant, Witten, and Ogletree if I can. Especially if they have good games Sunday which I anticipate. Seattle has a great run D and the best home-field advantage in the league, so I’m not over-reacting to DeMarco Murray‘s poor performance last week. He’s the key to their success.

Washington Redskins

Let’s just get it out of the way, RGIII is for real. His two rushing TDs at St. Louis was a performance I was hesitant to predict. His upside is boundless. But, I’m selling high and I’ll tell you why. It has nothing to do with an anticipated regression of production. (Cover your eyes RGIII owners, in fact, just skip to the next paragraph) He reminds me of Michael Vick. A lot. He takes a multitude of hits each week, and just plays kind of reckless. He does a lot of diving for yardage, and tumbling through the traffic on the sidelines. I don’t think he plays 16 games. Alfred Morris looks great and I think it’s his job as long as he’s healthy. He has showed nice patience, and the ability to find the hole and get through it. Fred Davis is useless, the defense too, and I love Pierre Garcon as a player, but he’s already hurt and my concerns about Griffin filter over here. I’m selling after his next big game.

Philadelphia Eagles

Vick (see RGIII above). The turnovers are troublesome on top of it. His numbers look okay so far, and the team is 2-0, but his play has been bordering on terrible. Sell now. This is about to turn. That said, I still love LeSean McCoy and if I can get him for any sort of discount (Reggie Bush and Roddy White??), I’m pulling the trigger faster than I could unsnap a bra by my sophomore year of college. The receivers here are frustrating with their fragility, but I think DeSean Jackson is on his way to a great season. I’m cooler on Jeremy Maclin and Brent Celek. Love the D.

NFC North

Green Bay Packers

I tweeted this last week, but I’ll repeat it here. I would bet a billion dollars Aaron Rodgers is not the top fantasy QB this season. After his slow start this probably isn’t a unique position, but still, I’m worried. He isn’t comfortable behind that offensive line, and the unit hasn’t been “right” since left tackle Chad Clifton was off the job of protecting the blind side. Rodgers missed a ton of open receivers last Thursday. Cedric Benson looks significantly better than I anticipated, but he won’t score much. This team gets too many long touchdowns. I still have hope for Jordy Nelson, and I think he gets going this Monday. I’m worried about Greg Jennings health, Randall Cobb will be up-and-down, and same goes for Jermichael Finley. This defense may be back though. The pass rush, and coverage looks reminiscent of the Super Bowl team through two weeks.

Detroit Lions

Calvin Johnson has already dealt with a foot injury, and now has an ankle issue. Like all his predecessors, he’ll eventually succumb to the Madden Curse. Until then, he’ll be great, but I would sell-high after he scores twice this weekend. Matthew Stafford is off to a so-so start, and I think he’ll end up with a so-so year. Their schedule is the big reason. After cushy dates with the Titans and Vikings at home, the Lions will face; the Eagles, Bears (twice), Seahawks, Packers (twice), Texans, Cardinals, and Falcons. That’s a “who’s who” of the NFC so far this season. My buddy Jay concocted a plan, which I stole, to grab and stash Jahvid Best. He fits this offense very well should he get cleared to return in Week 7. I don’t like anyone else on this squad, besides their kicker, Jason Hanson, and Drops McGillah, aka Brandon Pettigrew, to an extent.

Chicago Bears

Another one of my tweets last week addressed Jay Cutler, and I can’t believe it took me this long to notice it. Watching that Packers game I realized he never, ever, audibles. What defines great quarterbacks these days? Isn’t it the ability to manipulate the defense and the matchups? Peyton Manning did this for years, Eli does it now, Brady, Rodgers, even Matt Ryan is constantly making adjustments at the line of scrimmage. Cutler just runs the play. I don’t think; A.) he’s football smart, or, B.) he puts in the time in the film room. The Bears will struggle against talented defenses and creative defensive coordinators. Cutler and Brandon Marshall will pad their numbers when they play the bottom-half teams, but I’d sit both when they play; the Cowboys, Texans, 49ers, Seahawks, Packers, and Cardinals. Matt Forte is a stud, and a buy-low candidate right now. Michael Bush is a solid flex all year. The defense/sp. teams unit is solid. Alshon Jeffery has a lot to learn still.

Minnesota Vikings

The excitement over the “return” of Adrian Peterson got too hot, too fast. The touchdowns he scored in Week 1 overshadowed his part-time workload. When this team is 3-7 coming out of their bye, he’ll be put on a “pitch count” as they look ahead to 2013. Beyond his health issues, from Week 12-16 Minnesota plays; at Chicago, at Green Bay, home vs. Chicago, at St. Louis, at Houston. That’s rough. I really like Percy Harvin, but he’s not a red zone guy and his ceiling is limited in standard formats. The lack of big weapons (outside of Kyle Rudolph) also hurts Christian Ponder‘s upside in fantasy.

NFC South

Atlanta Falcons

We’ll know more about this team if they can win at San Diego on Sunday. I think they’re a top-4 team in the NFL this season. Matt Ryan has weapons galore, Michael Turner is a shell of his old self, and this offense should score as many points and produce as many solid fantasy starters as any in the league. Roddy White, Julio Jones, Tony Gonzalez, and Ryan are all no-brainer starts. If Turner keeps regressing I could envision Jason Snelling getting some significant run this season. He’s an interesting grab and stash if you have a very large bench, or at least a waiver guy to keep an eye on. The DUI Turner was charged with a week ago won’t help his standing with the organization either.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The Bucs passing attack has a long way to go. As does Josh Freeman. They put up nice numbers at the Giants last week, and I could see them doing that on occasion with favorable matchups. In general, however, this is a run-based attack. Their offensive line has been underperforming, but I expect them to improve throughout the year, and Doug Martin continues to be a personal favorite of mine. He just runs so hard, and showed some wiggle on his spin-move TD last week. After Sunday’s game at Dallas, there isn’t a matchup I’d consider benching him until Week 10 when Tampa hosts the Chargers. If he disappoints in Big D, buy low.

New Orleans Saints

For those who were wondering if Sean Payton’s absence was going to affect this team, it only took two weeks to get your answer. The Saints are going to lose more games than they are accustomed to in the Drew Brees era. Their schedule looks tough. Luckily, being behind isn’t necessarily a bad thing for fantasy purposes. For this reason, I anticipate Brees to end the season with 20-plus interceptions, but also lead the lead in fantasy points at the position. Jimmy Graham will come close to repeating his off-the-charts 2011, and I like Darren Sproles to get more involved as the interim coaches get more experience calling games. Marques Colston‘s injury issues concern me, but you can’t get equal value now. You’ll just have to wait that one out.

Carolina Panthers

Cam Newton has a little Cutler in him. I noticed this watching the game against the Giants on Thursday. He never checks out of his play. Those playaction throws off the spread option Carolina kept running over and over again were costing him valuable seconds of protection against an incredibly fast an athletic rush, and getting him killed, over and over again. But he just kept running it. Good quarterbacks would have audibled to quick slants, or bubble screens, or the like. He has some serious learning and growth to do. He’ll still score 10-plus rushing TDs, but 4,000 yards and over 20 passing TDs might be a stetch this year. Brandon LaFell looks better, but Steve Smith is the only comfortable start outside of Cam.

NFC West

San Francisco 49ers

Without a doubt, the best team in the league at this moment. Their defense is suffocating, and their power running game is rivaled only by the Texans. From a fantasy perspective, however, there’s nothing too exciting going on here. Vernon Davis is on pace for a solid year. Alex Smith has developed into a fine bye-week replacement. Michael Crabtree could even be useful in PPR formats. The most appealing player, though, presents an interesting case. Frank Gore, is playing phenomenal ball. But I think the organization will want to rest him in the second half of the regular season in preparation for a Super Bowl run. Their games in January and February are going to be much more important than the ones they play in late November and December when they’ve already clinched a spot in the tourney. I would sell Gore right around Week 7.

Arizona Cardinals

The defense/sp. teams unit is the only thing getting me excited fantasy-wise in the desert. They are vastly underrated (though gaining respect each week), and owning them gets you the employ of Patrick Peterson. Honestly, if I was a part of the Cardinals coaching staff, I’d be spending long hours trying to work him into the offensive game plan. He had one carry for 17 yards out of the Wild Cat formation at New England last week, while the team’s two “top” running backs have averaged 2.1 yards-per-carry through two outings. This team is starved for weapons. Larry Fitzgerald is off to a slow start, but he’s too talented to hold down much longer. Look for a big game this Sunday, even against the Eagles very good secondary.

Seattle Seahawks

I made the mistake of getting emotionally connected to Russell Wilson this preseason. The rushing yards and overall competence clouded my reason. He’ll be a very solid professional quarterback, but his opportunities to score fantasy points will be few in 2012. This is a running team. And Marshawn Lynch, should he be able to stay on the field, looks primed for another top-10 season. Sidney Rice should get better as the year progresses, but much like Wilson, his ceiling is capped by the offensive approach. Not much else here. Moving on.

St. Louis Rams

Danny Amendola set the PPR world on fire in Week 2. He placed himself among the weekly scoring leaders in one half. The chemistry he displayed with Sam Bradford during the quarterback’s rookie season seems to be right back in place. I like him in all formats moving forward. Bradford is a decent 2-QB league option himself, and I like Steven Jackson as an RB2 as well. This team has already taken big steps towards respectability in short order under the direction of Jeff Fisher.

Check out my evaluation of the big guys up front on Rotowire’s Offensive Line Grid

Listen to the Fantasy Sports Digest radio show podcasts I co-host

And follow me on Twitter @FantasyZenMastr

Please comment and list your early season assessments. Best of luck this week!

What I Think I Think – AFC

We’re only two weeks into the regular season and there are giant questions lingering throughout the fantasy world. Several elite players and top draft picks are under-performing, while other previously unknown names are showing up at the top of the scoring leader board.

This seems to happen on an annual basis. What we want to know, is who to panic on, who will turn it around, and which waiver wire gems will emerge from inspection under the jeweler’s eye loupe as authentic.

I certainly don’t have all the answers, and some of the biggest quandaries simply need time to shake out a clearer picture. Today I’ll share my thoughts and observations with quick hits from all 32 teams in the hopes of shedding some light on the first couple weeks of action.

AFC East

New England Patriots

This team is going to run more than it has in the last five years. The Pats most successful (Super Bowl Championship) teams were well-balanced on offense. That seems to be a real goal of Bill Belichick this season. Despite this, I think Stevan Ridley is a sell-high candidate. This renewed dedication to the run knocks Tom Brady and all his weapons down, say, half a notch. Except Rob Gronkowski. He is proving to be completely unguardable once again. Don’t panic on Wes Welker either. Belichick is a mad scientist, and was no doubt experimenting to see how things might look sans-Wes in 2013. With Aaron Hernandez going down, look for the “old Welker” to reappear starting this week. The defense/sp. teams unit may have been slightly overrated after dismantling a terrible Tennessee squad Week 1, but they’re drastically improved, and a dynamic return threat is all that’s keeping them from being a legit weekly fantasy option.

New York Jets

Their opening act was explosive. Their encore, a complete dud. Week 1 pitted them against a Buffalo defense that looks to have serious issues, while this past week they had to travel into hostile Steelers territory (where they’ve struggled historically) and faced a team that was hungry for a win. The Real McCoy here lies somewhere in between. Mark Sanchez, Santonio Holmes, Dustin Keller and Shonn Greene are all average players. Stephen Hill has a lot to learn and will be up-and-down. The guy I really like is Jeremy Kerley. He’s a player in the Antonio Brown mold and could be their most dynamic weapon. Pick him up.

Buffalo Bills

Holy spillage! Even when I included him in my Breakout RBs column and said he would be a starter in all leagues should he once again find himself atop the depth chart, I couldn’t have imagined this much success for C.J. Spiller. He’s on his way to becoming the next Arian Foster, falling into the job and never looking back. Before you call shenanigans, and over-reaction, take a look at his last eight games going back to Week 12 last year; 125 total yards-per-game, 29 receptions, and 8 touchdowns. He can’t keep up this pace every week, but he’s a top-5 back from here on out. Love their O-line. Steve Johnson and Ryan Fitzpatrick are what they are, solid, and nothing more.

Miami Dolphins

Reggie Bush has shed the Kardashian Curse and really dedicated himself to his craft. This was first evident to me watching “Hard Knocks”. He looks stronger than ever and just as quick. He’ll still struggle to rack up yardage between the tackles against stouter run defenses, so he remains best used as a matchup play in standard formats if possible, but some more big games are coming in 2012. I’m eying Week 5 at CIN, Week 6 vs. STL, Week 10 vs. TEN, and Week 15 vs. JAX for those of you in weekly salary cap leagues. Lamar Miller could be an interesting handcuff. Brian Hartline could be a WR3 in very deep leagues. Nothing else to see here, let’s move on.

AFC North

Baltimore Ravens

Ray Rice needs more work. After blowing a lead in Philly last week, I think it’s coming. The desire to throw more is admirable, but there needs to be balance. This team is at their best when dominating the clock and field position. More runs will also open up the deep ball and get Torrey Smith rolling out of his slow start. Don’t give up on him. He hasn’t developed enough yet to be “the guy” this year, but some big outings will come, and he’ll win you some weeks. Dennis Pitta looks good so far, but he probably won’t get enough looks to be a weekly starter in most formats. Flacco, Boldin, and the defense/sp. teams are adequate, not spectacular.

Pittsburgh Steelers

This is a passing team. Forget what Mike Tomlin says he wants. What he wants is to win, and they’re going to get there on the strength of Ben Roethlisberger‘s right arm and the legs of Mike Wallace and Brown. Each of them are excellent starters in all leagues. Also, forget what you hear about Rashard Mendenhall being healthy and “practicing fully”. I doubt we see him (outside maybe a cameo) until after their bye in Week 4. And when he comes back, you’re not getting an 1,100 yard-12 TD guy. He’ll be rusty and sharing a smaller lot of carries. The defense isn’t what it used to be either. Things are changing in Pittsburgh.

Cincinnati Bengals

Perhaps the best call of the early season belongs to my older brother Tom. After the team’s Monday Night opener, he asked if I watched the game. It was one of few I’ve missed (I’m an NFL Sunday Ticket maniac). “That little guy for the Bengals is the next Darren Sproles he said. Watching Andrew Hawkins juke and ankle-break his way to a 50-yard TD in Week 2, I couldn’t agree more. The only problem is the passing volume won’t be the same as in New Orleans, but that’s trending up under the sturdy play of Andy Dalton. Pick this guy up. A.J. Green is a stud, the Lawfirm looks like one too, and their defense is struggling which puts the O under some pressure to score more and open it up. All good stuff for fantasy purposes. Solid sleeper fantasy source here. Dalton too.

Cleveland Browns

Trent Richardson finally put together a game, but the Bengals have gotten torched on the ground in each of the first two weeks, so I’m tempering expectations…for now. He showed the all-around skills that made him a top draft pick and built a lot of fantasy hype this summer. The defense here is intriguing as well. They’ve put together two nice efforts while missing key guys (Joe Haden and Phil Taylor), and they have solid return weapons in Josh Cribbs and Travis Benjamin. Leave the pass-catchers and gun-slinger for someone else.

AFC South

Houston Texans

This defense is scary. Along with the 49ers, they’re the most dominant unit in the NFL. Two games against Jake Locker and Andrew Luck, one more against Blaine Gabbert, and the imminent recognition of the name Trindon Holliday in the football world make this unit tops on my list. Their run game is also fearsome. As if Arian Foster wasn’t enough, we saw Ben Tate put his skills on display in Week 2. Hopefully you didn’t cut bait after the opener. He’ll get his, it will just be tough to know when. I’d suggest playing him in games that are likely to be blowouts. (i.e. against Jacksonville, Tennessee, and Indianapolis) There’s also very real Spiller-esque potential here should anything tragic befall Foster and his owners. If you didn’t handcuff him in drafts, I’d overpay to get that insurance now. It will be a bargain if the nightmare enters the waking world. The passing game will be inconsistent, as will Andre Johnson, simply because it’s not the offensive focus.

Indianapolis Colts

They’ll trail a lot, throw an ungodly amount, and therefore Luck and his weapons should be legit plays. I suggested Reggie Wayne in my Not Dead Yet article and that’s looking good. Same goes for my concern about Coby Fleener and the adjustment period I detailed in my Rookie Trends Part I. Donald Brown can be used, but he’s not going to get the carries to have the breakout I predicted.

Jacksonville Jaguars

What? They have a football team in Jacksonville? (Cough, cough) For now at least. Things will get better in the swamp. But not much. Gabbert still leaves a lot to be desired, and I still worry about Maurice Jones-Drew’s ability to hold up after the hold-out. Rashad Jennings could be a savvy claim for owners in deep leagues who have a spot to stash a player. There’s a good chance he was dropped already. Justin Blackmon is nowhere to be found, but I wouldn’t give up on him yet. He’s only played two NFL games. Give him some time.

Tennessee Titans

This may be the worst team in the league. They can’t run block. Chris Johnson can’t even run, apparently. Usain Bolt…HA-HA-HA-HA….HA-HA-HA…I can go all day. HA-HA-HA-HA. Ok, that’s good. Locker is a young quarterback with a lot to learn. For all intents and purposes, he’s a rookie this season. He’ll get better as the season progresses and his weapons get healthier, and some good fantasy performances will come. Same goes for the wide outs, but don’t expect them on a regular basis.

AFC West

Denver Broncos

Peyton Manning got exposed Monday Night for throwing ducks that looked very similar to those I was pointing out in my preseason analysis. The arm strength isn’t coming back at his age after what he’s been through, and the hype from Week 1 sure seems a bit overblown now. Good news, it doesn’t seem to bother Demaryius Thomas much. Dude’s a thoroughbred. Manning will keep this offense, and Denver’s fantasy weapons, effective on sheer intelligence alone. Keep starting these guys. Eric Decker too. His is coming.

San Diego Chargers

Well, 2-0 without Ryan Mathews is impressive. But beating the Raiders and Titans this season only means you could contend for the BCS. The real test is coming. Falcons this week, then on the road to KC and New Orleans, and home against the Broncos. If they’re better than 3-3 heading into their buy, I’ll be shocked. I’d sell high on Rivers now. Malcom Floyd is the only pass-catcher I like here. Antonio Gates is not 27 anymore, despite how much the media wanted to turn back the clocks for him this summer. This will not end well.

Oakland Raiders

Their offensive line is built to run. They have a top-5 talent in the backfield. Yet, Darren McFadden has 26 carries through two games, and Carson Palmer has 94 pass attempts. Dennis Allen, “C’mon man!” I know you came from Green Bay, but Palmer is not Aaron Rodgers. Unless the team is tanking for Matt Barkley, this has to change. Buy low on DMC. With all the hyped-up wide outs in the Bay, they look like (Tone Loc voice) busted-moves so far. Brandon Myers is leading the team in receiving yards. Who? I do this for a living, and I don’t have an answer.

Kansas City

When I opened the statistics page on the Chiefs website, it auto-loaded to the preseason. Apparently Jamaal Charles owners aren’t the only ones wishing the first two weeks of the regular season could be stricken from the record. Much like Oakland, this team is in dire need of some serious self-assessment. Offensive coordinator Brian Daboll did great things building rushing attacks in Cleveland and Miami the last two seasons, and the offensive line is talented, but the onus falls on Romeo Crennel to do what’s right here. A 24-42 record as a head coach obviously screams competence, so I wouldn’t hold my breath. A soft late-season schedule begs for patience, but it’s going to be a trying task.

Continued with my NFC breakdown.

Check out my evaluation of the big guys up front on Rotowire’s Offensive Line Grid

Listen to the Fantasy Sports Digest radio show podcasts I co-host

And follow me on Twitter @FantasyZenMastr

Please comment and list your early season assessments. Best of luck this week!

Busted!

Bust is a relative term. Those unfortunate souls about to be listed here don’t have to sign up to get their real estate license quite yet. The majority of these players won’t fall off the cliff, or even be fantasy dead weight necessarily. It’s all about value. And draft day cost.

So this is basically my roster of guys, who won’t be on any of my rosters of guys. The investment required to retain their services simply prices out their value.

Some of those listed I will have less-than-optimistic expectations for. I will attempt to make note of that, and give some reasoning as to why I feel that way.

I did this column last year as well. There were some I got wrong; Steven Jackson, Pierre Garcon, some I got very wrong; Drew Brees, Eli Manning, Marques Colston, Tony Gonzalez, but a whole lot I got right; Josh Freeman, Donovan McNabb, Jamaal Charles, Ryan Grant, Mike Williams, Chad Johnson, Danny Amendola, Dallas Clark, and a bunch more.

Hopefully, I’ll find similar success here, and we can each avoid some fantasy disasters that no doubt would ruin plenty of otherwise beautiful Sundays.

Quarterbacks

Michael Vick – Philadelphia Eagles

As I’m writing this it’s making me seriously reconsider the player I have planned on targeting with my seventh overall pick in my East Coast 12-team PPR league, Darren McFadden. How many times do we have to go down this road? It’s like when Homer Simpson can’t resist the electrified donut, and he gets shocked over, and over, and over again. Mmmm…donuts. So Sweet. Fool me once…fool me eight out of nine seasons? Vick has one complete, 16-game season on his resume. He will not play in every game. So why is he still going off the board in the fourth round? He won’t be on my team, and I think I just wrote myself out of McFadden.

Philip Rivers – San Diego Chargers

This may be similar to my call on Brees last year, so I guess you should keep that in mind. And yes, Rivers can make productive receivers out of guys like Seyi Ajirotutu. But I live in San Diego, and I just don’t like the vibe around this team. They may succeed amid lowered expectations, but an awful lot is riding on the balky, 32-year-old lower half of Antonio Gates. It’s been three years since he’s played a full season. Vincent Jackson left town, Vincent Brown is out for an undetermined, but definitely long time, the offensive line is in shambles, Ryan Mathews is hurt, and Rivers inclination to throw picks of late is a real problem. He threw a career-high 20 in 2011 and tossed four to the wrong jersey in limited action this preseason. I’d rather take my chances with Matt Ryan, Tony Romo, or Eli Manning, who have similar price tags.

Joe Flacco – Baltimore Ravens

There is no arguing the fact Flacco has a cannon for an arm. But in the last three seasons, he’s thrown for almost exactly 3,600 yards and right around 22 touchdowns. Why expect any different in 2012? They didn’t add any new weapons, unless you want to count Jacoby Jones. I’ve said it in this space before, and I’ll say it again. As long as Ray Lewis is still in that locker room, people will be too terrified of him to take the chance of letting Flacco air it out. I’d rather have Ryan Fitzpatrick two rounds later.

Running Backs

Chris Johnson – Tennessee Titans

Is it possible last year was a fluke, and he was just out of shape? Sure. Keep in mind though, running backs don’t last that long in the NFL. The Titans ranked 31st in rushing last season, and this preseason Johnson averaged 2.3 yards-per-carry. There was a change at the top of the coaching staff prior to 2011, but Mike Munchak was promoted from offensive line coach, so you would think that would be the last place the team would suffer. Perhaps they just don’t have the talent anymore. I’m staying away, too much evidence.

Michael Turner – Atlanta Falcons

I mentioned this in my sleeper RBs section while discussing Jacquizz Rodgers, but I’ll post it again. Turner hit the foreboding age of 30 this year, has logged 300-plus carries in three of the last four years, and I think we’ve seen the start of his decline. Omitting his monster game against the AAA Buccaneers who were totally checked out in Week 17, he averaged 3.2 yards-per-carry and scored just one touchdown his last six games of 2011. Plus, I think they pass it more inside the 20 this year, and even those TDs you’ve been able to count on dwindle.

Frank Gore – San Francisco 49ers

It’s no coincidence I like the guys behind my nominees as running back busts as sleepers this year. This is what I wrote in my section on Kendall Hunter. Gore, who stands in his (Hunter’s) way, is getting up there in age (29), and mileage (1,654 career carries). He also tailed off in the second half last year, has annual injury issues that cost him games, and toted the rock in 2011 more times than he had in five seasons. The organization also brought in Brandon Jacobs, and drafted LaMichael James. If they’re preparing for the worst, shouldn’t we?

Beanie Wells – Arizona Cardinals

This is another spot where I think we can take a cue from the actions of management. If the team felt comfortable with Wells as their bell cow, why would they use a high second-round pick on Ryan Williams? Wells posted his first 1,000-yard season and also added 10 touchdowns in 2011, so those drafting on last year’s numbers will be excited. I’d rather have Williams, who is a more dynamic and well-rounded player, and is being drafted 45 picks later.

Jonathan Stewart – Carolina Panthers

Stewart found paydirt on the ground 10 times in each of his first two seasons. Over the last two, he’s combined for six. Cam Newton and Mike Tolbert are on the Panthers. In those same two seasons, they combined for 33 rushing scores (and Cam only played one year). Stewart salvaged his value in 2011 by reeling in a seriously outlying 47 passes (he averaged just over 11 his first three years!). Tolbert also has very underrated pass-catching skills (54 receptions last year), and DeAngelo Williams is on the roster and is no slouch himself. The cherry on top, Stewart is hurt heading into the season. Other than all this, and the fact he just got fat and happy with a big boy check, I love him.

Wide Receivers

Demaryius Thomas – Denver Broncos

Thomas has all the potential in the world. From a physical standpoint, he’s on par with Calvin Johnson. And the two are actually both former Yellow Jackets and worked out together this offseason. I think that’s where the similarities should end, however. Peyton Manning looked a little shaky to me this preseason, and threw some very un-Manning-like ducks. Thomas’ forte is the deep ball where he runs the straight go-route, and I’m not sure Peyton has the arm after four neck surgeries to get it there. Take Eric Decker who’s going 14 spots later, and will only require Peyton to get it about 10 yards downfield to be effective.

Brandon Lloyd – New England Patriots

I hope I’m wrong on this one. As a Pats fan, there is nothing I would love more than to see Lloyd beating single-coverage for 40-plus yard TDs on a weekly basis. It’s an element that has been missing since Moss was run out of town. However, this is what I wrote in my reasoning for “busting” Chad Johnson last season:

Wes Welker, Deion Branch, Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez, Julian Edelman, Danny Woodhead, Taylor Price. Too many options in Patriot-land for Ocho to post big numbers, and he won’t be able to “Keyshawn Johnson” his quarterback into throwing him the damn ball, like he used to in Cincinnati.”

The only thing that is different, is Price is now Matthew Slater, and Lloyd will have a better attitude. Of course he’s way better than Ocho, but his price is way higher also.

Jeremy Maclin – Philadelphia Eagles

Would you be surprised if I told you Maclin has never had a 1,000-yard season? Or that he’s never caught more than 70 passes? Both true. Yet he’s drafted just outside the top-20 at the position. Doesn’t seem to add up to me. DeSean Jackson is by far the more physically gifted player, and I think 2012 is his year to go off. Maclin is a nice enough player, but he’s overrated, and there’s no value where he gets selected.

Vincent Jackson – Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Josh Freeman could develop into a nice player. He has some rare athletic gifts. But, while I’m not the biggest Rivers fan, he’s leaps and bounds ahead of Freeman as a passer at this point. Jackson’s numbers will suffer as a result of his move to the sunshine state. The Bucs should lean heavier on the ground game than the Chargers did during Jackson’s tenure as well. His draft cost is down this year, but I’m still not buying.

Robert Meachem – San Diego Chargers

And now, Jackson’s replacement. Apparently nobody won in this deal. Well, I guess Jackson’s $50 million probably make him feel like a winner. It seems fantasy owners are just sliding the numbers Jackson put up into Meachem’s lap. That doesn’t seem like a wise move. Before he broke his ankle this preseason, it seemed like Vincent Brown was well on his way to unseating Meachem for the starting gig for the Chargers. I think this passing attack dips across the board, and Meachem disappoints.

Denarius Moore – Oakland Raiders

Moore had some big outputs in his rookie campaign (5-146-1 Week 2 @ BUF, 5-123-2 Week 10 @ SD, 4-94-1 Week 16 @ KC, and 3-101-0 Week 17 vs. SD). Outside of that, however, it was a bunch of duds and missed games due to injury. Lost among Moore’s flash, was the fact that his teammate Darrius Heyward-Bey made giant strides toward becoming a well-rounded receiver and posted consistent production. I’d rather have the later of the two being selected back-to-back.

Santonio Holmes – New York Jets

Holmes is another guy who has seen his draft cost plummet from year’s past. But that doesn’t mean I think he’s a value. I still wouldn’t take him no matter how far he falls. In his two years in Gotham, he’s failed to pull in more than 52 catches, pile up more than 746 yards, or cross the goalline more than eight times. To his credit, he did have 14 scores over those two years, but this season he should see double, and possibly triple-coverage at times in response to New York’s serious dearth of weapons on the outside. His QBs aren’t exactly Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers either.

Michael Crabtree – San Francisco 49ers

Much like my assessment of Gore, I’ll point to the player personnel moves the front office executed this offseason. They signed Randy Moss and Mario Manningham, and drafted A.J. Jenkins in the first round. Does it sound like they’re set, or confident in Crabtree being the guy? I didn’t think so either. Don’t be fooled by his respectable numbers the last two years. They’re going down in 2012. Staying 100|PERCENT| healthy has been a real problem for Crabtree as well.

Tight Ends

Jason Witten – Dallas Cowboys

You would think a lacerated spleen would kind of take care of this on its own. In an “expert” mock draft I saw just yesterday, Witten still went off the board before Tony Gonzalez, and some other nice names like Greg Olsen, Jacob Tamme, and Jared Cook. I understand he’s a very talented player, and has put up some serious numbers in the past, but is this really the season you want to own Witten? Even at a discounted rate? I don’t.

Dustin Keller – New York Jets

see Santonio Holmes above. Keller posted a career-high 815 yards in 2011 and scored a respectable five times, but I’m all out on the Jets passing attack this year. Like Holmes, he’ll command extra attention from defenses and his QBs are better suited (quite literally) for GQ Magazine than a quarterback skills competition. No thanks.

Coby Fleener – Indianapolis Colts

I think this kid is going to be good, very good. But for whatever reason, rookie tight ends just don’t get numbers in volume. Maybe it’s the complexities of the playbook and professional route tree, or NFL coverages and blocking schemes. Maybe it’s a respect thing where QBs feel the need to make them “earn” their targets, or feel pressured to feed the veteran, diva-ish receivers. Whatever the reason, it just doesn’t work in Year 1. And he’s got a rookie QB to boot. I know, they played together in college. Big whoop. He wasn’t targeted much in the preseason, and if he was going to “go off”, I think we would’ve seen some hint to that fact. I like his a lot in keeper formats, but I’ll pass this time around in yearly leagues.

Heath Miller – Pittsburgh Steelers

There aren’t too many owners climbing over each other to secure the rights to Miller this year, but he’s still being drafted ahead of upside guys like Kyle Rudolph, Jordan Cameron, Lance Kendricks, and Dennis Pitta, all of whom I’d rather own. Especially when you consider Miller is going to be your backup anyway. The emergence of Antonio Brown means more passes heading out wide, and the continued deficiency on the offensive line means more blocking for Heath.

Check out my evaluation of the big guys up front on Rotowire’s Offensive Line Grid

Listen to the Fantasy Sports Digest radio show podcasts I co-host

And follow me on Twitter @FantasyZenMastr

Please comment and list your favorite busts! That concludes my pre-draft player evaluation. I may post a short strategy column and an overall rankings list for those of you drafting Monday or Tuesday, so check back for that. Happy drafting!!! and have a fun and safe Labor Day!

My Five: Sleepers – All Positions – Part II

…Continued from Part I.

Wide Receivers

5. T.J. Graham – Buffalo Bills – |STAR|ADP NL (not listed)

|STAR|average draft position referenced from FantasyPros.com composite rankings as of 9/1/12

The Bills have been looking for a no. 2 wide out for some time. I’m not sure Graham is the guy, he’s slight of build at 5-foot-11, 188 pounds, but David Nelson and Donald Jones haven’t staked a claim to the job over the past few years. It’s certainly possible Graham becomes the player defenses have to honor opposite Steve Johnson. He has blazing speed, 4.35 40-time at the combine, and showed well this preseason (9 catches for 146 yards). Buffalo likes to sling it, so he should get plenty of opportunities to produce. The big downside here is touchdown potential. He only scored twice in his four-year college career at N.C. State (2 more on returns), and he won’t be a red zone weapon. Extra bump here for leagues that give bonuses for long plays. He posted a 23.0 yards-per-reception average in college (16.2 this summer).

4. Brandon LaFell – Carolina Panthers – |STAR|ADP 52

I wasn’t exactly excited to place LaFell on this list after closer examination of Cam Newton‘s passing yards trend as 2011 wore on, but he has virtually no competition for looks at the receiver position beyond Steve Smith. Last year, Legedu Naanee got the majority of the starts as Carolina’s no. 2, but he’s out of town and took his 76 targets with him. LaFell obviously has some skill, evidenced by his 17.0 yards-per-reception last year, and should just a portion of those looks fall his way, and he assume the mantle as the team’s red zone target (a fair assumption), he should have little trouble compiling 700-800 yards and 4-6 scores.

3. Randall Cobb – Green Bay Packers – |STAR|ADP 54

I’m certainly not the only one tabbing Cobb as a sleeper this year, but the goal isn’t to be unique, it’s to be correct. Playing with Aaron Rodgers automatically garners you consideration for production, but Cobb just seems like a perfect fit for what this team needs. Jordy Nelson and Greg Jennings have the outside covered, James Jones provides the team with another vertical threat, and Jermichael Finley is an athletic option at tight end. All that’s missing is a shifty, fearless slot guy with reliable hands to work the underneath routes. Check. Check. And check. The potential for scores in the return game is a bonus, and those open-field running skills will translate to his YAC (yards-after-the-catch) also. He’s not “this year’s Nelson”, but may be this year’s Antonio Brown-lite.

2. Keshawn Martin – Houston Texans – |STAR|ADP NL

I tried my best to avoid rookies in my sleeper ranks, particularly wide outs as their track record is spotty at best, but like Graham’s situation in Buffalo, Martin has a real opportunity to leap right into the no. 2 role for the Texans. They too have long been searching for a complement to their top dog, Andre Johnson. Martin isn’t very big (6-foot, 188), but he’s fast (4.45 40), and excellent after the catch. My girlfriend Mandy is a Michigan State alum, and a big-time Spartans fan, so I watched all their games last season. Every time they needed a play, especially on third downs, it was Martin who came through. He has a knack for getting open and will become a favorite option of Matt Schaub very early this season. Kevin Walter has no shot of holding off this kid.

1. Randy Moss – San Francisco 49ers – |STAR|ADP 45

If you’re wondering, yes, I can hear the cascade of laughter pouring through my computer. You know what, I don’t care. He may have nothing left, but he also may get his groove back. Like Stella. Even if there’s only a 5|PERCENT| chance that happens (I’ve mentioned plenty of times I’m a risk-taker in fantasy), I’m “wasting” a 12th round pick if that’s how you want to classify it to find out. He could be cut, or benched (in fantasy and reality) by Week 2, or he could be a serious difference-maker. I just don’t see any downside here. I literally have him on every team I’ve drafted so far. If he still has “most” of his straight-line speed, I think he gets 60-900-6, with a minuscule possibility for a lot more.

Tight Ends

5. Kellen Davis – Chicago Bears – |STAR|ADP NL

Tight end simply gets real thin, real quick once you hit the 20s. I don’t know much about Davis, and truthfully, I don’t think I’ve ever seen him play. Word out of Bears camp, particularly from his position coach, is that he’ll be used a lot more with the team’s transition away from Mike Martz’ offensive scheme. He scored five times last season, and at 6-foot-7, 267 pounds he should be utilized in the red zone.

4. Zach Miller – Seattle Seahawks – |STAR|ADP NL

Miller had a pretty nice career going in his first four season in Oakland. He averaged 57 catches, 678 yards, and three scores over that span. Then he signed with Seattle last year and slipped into oblivion. The release of Kellen Winslow Jr. provides a ray of hope he can rekindle what he once had building. He’s 6-foot-5, 255, so he has prototypical size. Though expectations have bottomed-out, he is someone to keep an eye on the first couple weeks as he’ll likely go undrafted in most formats.

3. Scott Chandler – Buffalo Bills – |STAR|ADP 29

Chandler was a hot waiver wire commodity after he scored four touchdowns through the first three weeks of 2011. Unfortunately, most owners were too slow, or quick (depending on your perspective) to the punch, as he only scored two more the rest of the way. Ryan Fitzpatrick reportedly played the majority of the second half with a rib injury, and that hampered the Bills passing game, and all his respective weapons. A return to health could put Chandler back in a spot to be useful in fantasy. He’s a beast of a man, standing 6-foot-7 and weighing 260 pounds, and his 12 red zone targets ranked third on the squad. Probably another waiver guy, but Buffalo loves to pass, so be ready to pull the trigger.

2. Jordan Cameron – Cleveland Browns – |STAR|ADP NL

Cameron is a personal favorite of mine. Serving as the Browns beat guy for RotoWire, I researched his background thoroughly and found some interesting tidbits. First off, he played basketball at Cal. Lots of tight ends have a hoops pedigree, but not too many at the Division-I level. Jimmy Graham, Antonio Gates, and Tony Gonzalez come to mind. Um, yeah. He also ran a 4.59 40 at the combine. The Browns recently released Evan Moore, and their starter Ben Watson is treading dangerously close to Jahvid Best-territory with his concussion issues. He’s had three in the last calender year. Now, Cleveland doesn’t figure to have a dynamic passing attack…but in the famous words of Lloyd Christmas, “you’re telling me there’s a chance”. Ya read me?

1. Lance Kendricks – St. Louis Rams – |STAR|ADP 32

I really had high expectations for Kendricks last season coming out of Wisconsin. He disappointed, in pretty dramatic fashion. He had problems with drops early on, and never completely regained the confidence of his teammates, or in himself. He reportedly took to hot yoga in the offseason to train his concentration and endurance. I’m not sure if that will help his play on the football field, but at least he’s trying. The upside is still there, a healthy Sam Bradford should help, as should the stability of new coach Jeff Fisher. And everyone has already given up on him, despite the fact all he’s done is struggle as a rookie, which isn’t all that remarkable. Snatch him off waivers if he looks good early, or take a flier with a last round pick in deep formats. It could pay off.

Check out my evaluation of the big guys up front on Rotowire’s Offensive Line Grid

Listen to the Fantasy Sports Digest radio show podcasts I co-host

And follow me on Twitter @FantasyZenMastr

Please comment and list your favorite Sleepers! The show must go on…Busts coming up next.

My Five: Sleepers – All Positions – Part I

My Saturday night marathon session presses on. My goal, in anticipation of the two biggest draft days of the year, was to get all my breakouts, sleepers, busts, and maybe a strategy article up by the time y’all wake on Sunday. I’ve downed about three 5-hour energy drinks, so barring a heart attack, I plan on achieving said milestone.

In order to accomplish this, I’m going to have to shorten things up a bit for the sleepers lists (which might please readers anyway as I can get a bit long-winded). I’ve decided to mash all four columns into one, and I’ll be trying to stick to only a couple key points on each player that stand out to me.

Last year, my first four columns here at RotoSynthesis were my sleepers lists. I had some good calls; Reggie Bush, Antonio Brown, Jimmy Graham, Matthew Stafford, and some bad one; Tim Hightower, Lee Evans, Marcedes Lewis, Sam Bradford. So it goes, can’t hit ’em all.

For quarterbacks and tight ends I set the parameters as players being drafted (within their position) outside the top-20, for running backs the top-35, and for wide receivers the top-45.

In the interest of presenting a wider assessment, I have excluded all players featured in my Breakout series.

And…action!

Quarterbacks

5. Nick Foles – Philadelphia Eagles – |STAR|ADP NL (not listed)

|STAR|average draft position referenced from FantasyPros.com composite rankings as of 9/1/12

Michael Vick will not last all 16 games. Vince Young left town, and the rookie has looked spectacular in the preseason. Foles has posted a 110.1 QB rating, thrown 6 touchdowns to 2 interceptions, racked up an excellent 8.8 yards-per-attempt, and hit on several deep balls; 7 for 20-plus, and 4 for 40-plus. He’s a big (6-foot-6) pocket passer who may just get more out of Philadelphia’s dynamic weapons than Vick can, even if it’s only for a few weeks. He’s a legitimate QB-handcuff for me.

4. Tim Tebow – New York Jets – |STAR|ADP 26

I think the Jets are going to stink. Since it took 14 quarters, and a 6-yard pass from Greg McElroy to Terrance Ganaway for the offense to score its first preseason touchdown, I’m guessing everyone else does too. So that’s no prediction. But when they do stink, and the media hoards rain down upon Mark Sanchez, you just know “the savior” will be called upon. His rushing ability makes him fantasy-relevant and I think he starts eventually.

3. Christian Ponder – Minnesota Vikings – |STAR|ADP 30

Ponder’s ceiling is limited based on the conservative, run-oriented offense the Vikings figure to employ. He also doesn’t have a wealth of explosive targets. One could do worse than Percy Harvin, Jerome Simpson, and Kyle Rudolph though. Just ask the aforementioned Jets QBs. I was impressed with Ponder last year, when he had basically zero reps with the first team until he got his first start. Now he’s has regular season experience and a full camp under his belt. He can be useful in deeper, 2-QB leagues.

2. Matt Cassel – Kansas City Chiefs – |STAR|ADP 29

No one wants to like Cassel, or admit to it. He did throw for 27 touchdowns and just 7 picks his last healthy season in 2010 though. Kansas City could possibly be the most run-heavy team in the NFL this year, so like Ponder his ceiling is limited, but this late, with a decent matchup, he could be a serviceable bye-week or injury replacement. He’s got two nice pass-catching backs and a legit no. 1 target in Dwayne Bowe.

1. Russell Wilson – Seattle Seahawks – |STAR|ADP 22

Dude played so good this summer, he forced Pete Carroll to bench Matt Flynn just months after signing him to $10 million guaranteed. Over his eight quarters of preseason play, Wilson completed 63.5|PERCENT| of his passes, knocked out 8.5 yards-per-attempt, posted a 110.3 QB rating, and threw 5 touchdowns to 1 interception. He also ran for 150 yards and a score. If you extrapolate his per-quarter numbers to a full game, he averaged 268 passing yards and 75 on the ground with three touchdowns per game. Yes, I realize it’s the preseason. But, the biggest knock on this guy was his size (5-foot-11), and last year behind an offensive line at Wisconsin that was legitimately bigger than that of the Packers, he had two battled balls. Two. Cam Newton, and previously Vick (and Tebow) have shown how valuable QB rushing yards are in fantasy. I’m drafting this kid.

Running Backs

5. Ronnie Hillman – Denver Broncos – |STAR|ADP 55

I don’t necessarily think Hillman is an elite talent, or will blow up this season, but I do think he’s going to get enough work to be fantasy-relevant at times. John Elway was raving about his skills after the draft, and despite dealing with a hamstring issue in camp, he got back fast enough to log 24 carries this preseason and churned out a respectable 4.0 per-carry average. Willis McGahee shouldered an increase of 149 carries last season at the age of 30 and I worry about him holding up this year. Knowshon Moreno is still around, but even if he looks slightly better, I think Hillman gets the work as he’s the back of the future. His 3,243 yards and 36 TDs in two seasons at San Diego State don’t hurt either.

4. Jacquizz Rodgers – Atlanta Falcons – |STAR|ADP 49

Michael Turner hit the foreboding age of 30 this year, has logged 300-plus carries in three of the last four years, and I think we’ve seen the start of his decline. Omitting his monster game against the AAA Buccaneers who were totally checked out in Week 17, he averaged 3.2 yards-per-carry and scored just one touchdown his last six games of 2011. I’m expecting a more wide-open, up-tempo attack from the Falcons that is geared more towards their dynamic weapons in space, which includes Rodgers. I’m not thinking fantasy starter, but in PPR leagues especially, he can be a solid matchup play or injury replacement.

3. Kendall Hunter – San Francisco 49ers – |STAR|ADP 57

If you’re looking for a guy who is an injury away from fantasy stardom, this is my nominee. Frank Gore, who stands in his way, is getting up there in age (29), and mileage (1,654 career carries). He also tailed off in the second half last year, has annual injury issues that cost him games, and toted the rock in 2011 more times than he had in five seasons. Hunter is a scrappy 5-foot-7, awfully short, but like Maurice Jones-Drew, not particularly small. He tips the scales at 199 pounds and runs hard. He put up two monster, 1,500-plus-yard, 16 touchdown seasons at Oklahoma State and showed well in his rookie year averaging a respectable 4.2 yards-per-carry. He was also effective in the red zone (43 yards and 2 scores on 17 carries). I expect his role to increase, even with a healthy Gore, and I love him in keeper formats. That team knows how to, and loves to run it.

2. Jonathan Dwyer – Pittsburgh Steelers – |STAR|ADP 64

With Rashard Mendenhall working his way back from a torn ACL he suffered in Week 17 last year, and Isaac Redman being hampered by a groin injury this summer, Dwyer has been given a perfect opportunity to showcase his stuff. And that’s precisely what he’s done, plowing his way to a 5.3 yards-per-carry average and pleasing coach Mike Tomlin along the way. He didn’t find paydirt in his preseason work, which is disappointing, and Pittsburgh’s offensive line isn’t stock full of Pro Bowlers, but I could easily envision a scenario where Dwyer gets the lead role early, and keeps it all season. He worked out with MJD and Matt Forte this offseason which appears to have moved him forward, and it shows me he’s dedicated. Big potential reward here compared to the initial investment cost.

1. David Wilson – New York Giants – |STAR|ADP 39

I want to like Ahmad Bradshaw. I love, and really respect the way he plays the game. I want to think he’s undervalued this year. I wasn’t extremely impressed watching Wilson’s tape from Virginia Tech. He seemed like a straight-ahead, bull-dozier-type which I didn’t think would translate against the bigger players in the NFL (especially at 5’11”, 205). But, he’s been able to grind out 4.7 yard-per-carry this preseason and the Giants essentially have to give him close to a 50-50 split right away. Bradshaw is just too fragile. That in mind, Wilson could be a work-horse any given Sunday. (Pacino voice) “You die for that inch!” Sorry. Couldn’t help myself.

To be continued…Part II

My Five: Breakout Tight Ends

Many have proclaimed the tight end position took a forward leap last season that could be measured in light years. The truth is, the position has been evolving steadily over the last ten years, particularly since the rule changes that limited contact in the defensive backfield were implemented. Only two guys truly had “revolutionary” seasons in 2012, and while I teased you with the excerpt to this article, I don’t see anyone joining Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham in that group in 2012.

Proponents of Value-Based Drafting systems, which essentially measure players’ worth by comparing the spread between each player and a “baseline” starter at their position, will argue taking Gronk or Graham is a wise move early in your draft. It’s hard to refute this stance, as each guy accumulated WR1-type stats in 2011 and blew away their peers. If you don’t find yourself in a position to draft them or simply can’t get on board with drafting a tight end with such a valuable pick, however, the position is deep, and loaded with potential.

And that’s what I’ll be looking for.

Just because I don’t believe there’s another uber-elite tight end out there, doesn’t mean I won’t be trying to find one. After the top two guys (three, if you’re buying the “Antonio Gates is healthy” rhetoric, I’m not), I’ll be focusing on size and speed. Athletically gifted tight ends have become a match-up nightmare for defenses and frequent red zone targets.

Aaron Hernandez, Vernon Davis, and Jermichael Finley are all nice players who I anticipate having good seasons, but they are priced accordingly. Each is going off the board in the first 60 selections. As with all my breakout columns, the goal is to find excess value from guys a little deeper.

Here goes nothing.

5. Kyle Rudolph – Minnesota Vikings – |STAR|ADP 156

|STAR|average draft position referenced from FantasyPros.com composite rankings as of 9/1/12 as per a suggestion from Scott Pianowski

Rudolph has long been destined for my sleepers column, but I decided to bump him into the breakout category. The biggest factor in that decision came as I was evaluating the Vikings red zone targets. And came up empty. Percy Harvin basically got all of them last year (18) and only came away with two scores.

Rudolph on the other hand, caught all five of his targets inside the 20 and three of them put six on the board. He’s 6-foot-6, 259 pounds, has a basketball background, and should have more plays developed for him in Year 2 with the benefit of a full offseason, more cohesion with Christian Ponder, and no Visanthe Shiancoe around.

The Vikings are sure to have a run-heavy attack on offense, so I’m not anticipating big yardage or reception totals, but double-digit touchdowns is a real possibility. It’s also worth noting for those concerned about his lack of production in his college career and rookie season that Graham had a similar absence of statistical evidence before his eruption.

4. Brandon Pettigrew – Detroit Lions – |STAR|ADP 82

The Lions’ behemoth tight end has already been extremely productive over the last two years (only Jason Witten has more receptions at the position), but his lack of speed and explosive plays seems to be scaring owners off. This may appear to be a diversion from what I stated I would be looking for in “upside” tight ends, but what Pettigrew lacks in quicks, he makes up for in strength.

His 126 targets in 2011, 15th among all players, shows he can use his size to get open and that he has a nice chemistry going with Matthew Stafford. Pettigrew’s looks may regress some in 2012 with the expected progression of Titus Young and the addition of Ryan Broyles, but they should also open up more space in the middle and help him improve his 10.0 career yards-per-catch.

Another factor helping him, is those alternate options are small, very small, and shouldn’t be a threat to his ridiculous 22 red zone targets from a year ago. Furthermore, he only converted five of those passes into scores, a ratio that can only improve this season.

3. Jermaine Gresham – Cincinnati Bengals – |STAR|ADP 123

Gresham is in a similar situation to Rudolph in that he plays on a run-oriented offense. This means a drastic increase in opportunities, and outlandish yardage or reception totals are not wise expectations. His improvement will have to come from progression in efficiency.

The good news is, also like Rudolph, there aren’t a ton of weapons in Cincy to gobble up the attention of offensive coordinator Jay Gruden. Particularly when they get down close. A.J. Green is a monster, and obviously will be option no. 1, but defenses will be certain to double-team him at all times. All Gresham will be competing with after that looks to be two rookie wide outs, Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones, and Brandon Tate, a miscast return man.

Gresham has the physical tools to take the next step. He’s 6-foot-5, 260 pounds, and has 4.66 40-speed. In his junior year at Oklahoma he posted 950 yards, 14 touchdowns, and a 14.4 yards-per-reception average. I see that as his upside this season. Not likely, necessarily, but possible. And in the 10th-12th round, that’s a pretty good gamble.

2. Fred Davis – Washington Redskins – |STAR|ADP 75

Davis is popular in drafts this summer. But with good reason. He racked up 59 receptions on 88 targets, 796 yards, and three scores in just 12 games last year. He missed four games after being suspended for drug use. The good news is, it wasn’t due to injury. The bad news is, if he pops another test he could be done for the year. He’s vowed not to let that happen.

So, extrapolating those numbers over a full 16-game schedule adds up to 117 targets, 79 receptions, 1,061 yards, and 4 touchdowns. Sure, the team added some new weapons on the outside, but they also made a dramatic upgrade at quarterback when they drafted Robert Griffin III. Those two moves should probably even out in regards to the effect on Davis.

He’s not the tallest guy at 6-foot-4, and therefore not an elite red zone target who projects to have big scoring totals, but he’s very good after the catch. Davis is a former running back and those skills haven’t vanished. He dashed for 15 20-plus yard grabs and posted an average of 13.5 yards-per-catch in 2011. Both are very healthy figures for a tight end. RGIII is going to need a security blanket as he transitions to NFL coverages and pass rushers, and Davis should be that guy.

1. Jared Cook – Tennessee Titans – |STAR|ADP 129

I love this guy. And I thought everyone else would too after the way he finished up last season. Cook hammered out a re-Gronk-u-lous 21 catches, 335 yards, (16.0 YPR) and one score over the last three games. But there he sits, 129 picks in, surrounded by guys like Greg Little, Mikel Leshoure, and Pierre Thomas.

He’ll be working with a young quarterback, but that’s not always a bad thing for tight ends. Tennessee has a lot of weapons on the outside. But that’s not always a bad thing either. Cook won’t catch 100 balls, or even close for that matter. He’s somewhat Jordy Nelson-esque though, in that he makes a lot out of what he gets. His 15.5 yards-per-reception were tops among tight ends with at least 40 grabs in 2011. His targets (81) should go up, as should his catch rate (60.5|PERCENT|).

When it comes to athletic ability, few can match Cook. Like the coach in Dazed and Confused said about his Grandmother, Cook’s 6-5, 248, and runs a 4.5 40. The ideal measurables if you will.

Again, I’m not expecting Graham/Gronk numbers, but if I had to bet, here’s where I’m putting my money. His less-than-stellar hands and lack of red zone production through three years keeps me at a more realistic projection of 65 receptions, 975 yards, and 7 scores, but who’s complaining about that with a selection in the 100s?

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Please comment and list your favorite TE breakouts! Sleepers coming next. I’m not shutting it down tonight until it’s all out there. Much more to come! Happy drafting.