After a short hiatus, my football column will run semi-regularly from now through the 2014 Super Bowl. In the coming weeks I'll be commenting on some offseason observations, start some early season rankings and take a look at the over/under for team wins this season. Of course, if there is anything you'd like me to address in a column directly, now is the time to ask before the season heats up. Welcome to another season of "Payne's Perspective."
I'd be remiss in my duties as a Bills fan if I didn't start out by discussing them. For the first time in a while I have a little more optimism as the season approaches, considering they have a new coach in Doug Marrone and a potential a franchise quarterback in EJ Manuel. What Marrone did at Syracuse means little to me; it's his experience of being the New Orleans offensive coordinator that brings the optimism. He's already gone on record saying that C.J. Spiller will be used plenty, including at the goal line, which should make him a top-5 fantasy back.
As far as Manuel goes, I find it completely laughable that one "expert" criticized the Bills for taking Manuel No. 16 overall. Said expert had the Bills taking Ryan Nassib (who Marrone coached in college) eighth in his mock draft. In any event, the Bills moved down and still got the quarterback they wanted. If the Bills and Marrone passed on Nassib -- who lasted until the fourth round -- what are his actual chances of becoming a starting quarterback in the NFL? It'll be interesting to see how things break in camp: Will Kevin Kolb (who had zero time to throw last season) get the starting gig, or will Manuel impress to the point he takes the job and runs with it? My only fear here is a scenario in which the Bills stay committed to Manuel (who doesn't pan out) and they miss out on drafting Tahj Boyd or Teddy Bridgewater next year.
After spending countless hours working on it last month, I finished the tight end section of the upcoming Rotowire Fantasy Football magazine a couple of weeks ago. One of the more difficult players to project was Rob Gronkowski. He's had quite the roller coaster of events related to his health over the last few weeks. First there was the possibility of a lingering infection, then no infection. Now his arm is doing well, but he needs back surgery. If you knew he was healthy, he'd be a no-brainer as a late first round pick, as his fantasy points per game last season put him on a tier all by himself. He averaged 13.2 fantasy points per game, which was over three points better than Jimmy Graham (second) and 4.4 points better than Tony Gonzalez (third). If you compared him to wide receivers, he would have been third behind Calvin Johnson (14.2) and Brandon Marshall (13.5) but ahead of Dez Bryant (13.1). If you're really concerned about Gronkowski's status to start the season or even think he might miss the first six games on the PUP list, you need to significantly upgrade Aaron Hernandez. While that sounds like an obvious statement, Hernandez's numbers were much better the seven games Gronkowski missed (including the Houston playoff game when he got hurt). Over those seven games, he had 44 catches for 464 yards and three touchdowns. Pro-rating those numbers over a full 16-game slate would put those stats at 100 catches for 1,061 yards and seven touchdowns. Comparing those numbers to last year's tight end stats, that would place Hernandez first for receiving yards, second for receptions and tied for fifth for touchdowns.
The Arian Foster vs. Doug Martin debate is going to gain steam as draft season approaches. For the record, I'll have Foster ranked over Martin without thinking twice.
The argument against Foster is that he's dealing with a calf injury (which should be minor) and has over 1,000 carries under his belt. Last season he averaged a career-low 4.1 yards, a stat that for fantasy purposes, was mitigated by the volume of carries he received (351). He was used much less in the passing game (a drop of 400 receiving yards) but is a lock for double-digit touchdowns provided he stays healthy (something that can be said of every football player). I have to think that Foster will be used more in the passing game, which coupled with a better stat in the YPC category, should result in him finishing as at least the No. 2 running back in fantasy.
Foster finished last season .1 fantasy points per game ahead of Martin, who I probably won't have ranked as high as most. If you take out the monster game against Oakland, Martin's numbers don't look as impressive. Martin had eight games last season in which he averaged 4.0 YPC or less and had games of 2, 3, 6 and 7 fantasy points in standard formats. I will concede that Martin is an outstanding receiver; he finished fifth among running backs with 472 receiving yards. Overall, while I like the guy, I know someone at the draft table will grab him sooner than I would.
One running back I'll be higher on than most is Jamaal Charles. First off, he'll be another year removed from his knee surgery and should be stronger than ever. While the Chiefs drafted Knile Davis, it's hard to imagine Andy Reid pulling Charles off the field the way Todd Haley did while using Thomas Jones. Charles has never averaged fewer than 5.3 YPC in a season, so if he finds his way to 300 carries he should be a lock for 1,500 rushing yards at a minimum. The team's quarterback play will be greatly improved with Alex Smith in the fold, and only two seasons ago LeSean McCoy had a 20-touchdown season under Any Reid. For me, Charles is in the discussion for third running back off the board (along with Ray Rice and C.J. Spiller) after Adrian Peterson and Foster.
I'm never a fan of kicking Mr. Ed when he's down, but is there anyone to get excited about on the Jets this season for fantasy purposes? Chris Ivory? I'm not sure Ivory is a three-down back and despite his off-field transgressions, Mike Goodson should steal away some touches, along with Bilal Powell and Joe McKnight. Jeff Cumberland will be the starting tight end and maybe Santonio Holmes can find his way to relevance, but their upside is capped by the team's fluid situation at QB, where Mark Sanchez and Geno Smith are slated to compete for the starting job. I'm sure someone will emerge as a fantasy-worthy option; I'm just not sure who at this point.
As part of the Rotowire magazine, I participated in a mock draft a few weeks ago and with the third overall pick I happily took Calvin Johnson. I was puzzled when I heard I was criticized for that pick. I hope most people realize the five touchdowns last season were a fluke, as Megatron was tackled six times at the one-yard line. On top of the 1,964 receiving yards he racked up in 2012, his 122 catches put him around 80 catches more than the average of the top three running backs, something to note for those in full point PPR formats. The argument against Johnson at No.3 overall makes more sense in standard formats, although there's still a strong argument for him even then. In general, running backs are clearly more desirable in the early rounds, as there's a pretty steep drop off once the top 15 or so are off the board. However, Calvin was one of the league's most consistent producers last season, recording 11 games with 100 or more receiving yards. To compare that stat, it was the most among wide receivers; more than A.J. Green (5), Dez Bryant (5) and Demaryius Thomas (7).
Again, any ideas or topics you'd like to see discussed, hit up the comments section.