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NFL Offseason Watch: Payne's Perspective

Kevin Payne

Kevin has worked for Rotowire just under a decade and has covered basketball, baseball and football. A glutton for punishment, he roots for his hometown Bills, Sabres and the New York Yankees. He hosts the RotoWire SiriusXM show every Wednesday and Friday and you can follow him on Twitter @KCPayne26.

How high are you willing to draft Victor Cruz for the upcoming season? He has to be in the top-10 for wide receivers without a doubt, but would ranking him number two behind Calvin Johnson be too aggressive?
Cruz finished the 2011 season third among wide receivers with 1, 536 receiving yards. If you take away the first two games in which he had a minimal role in the passing game and prorate what he did the rest of the season, Cruz would have had 1,736 receiving yards. That mark would have been 55 yards more than Calvin Johnsonís league-leading 1,681 receiving yards. While I understand that prorating stats can be an oversimplified way to show a playerís potential, the exercise itself shows the upside a player can have, especially when itís a small amount of games youíre taking away to prorate. Cruz hauled in only nine touchdown catches, which could lead to the argument that Jordy Nelson should be taken ahead of him, considering he caught 15 touchdown passes, but with 273 fewer receiving. In fantasy terms the extra yardage vs. touchdowns, in addition to prorating Cruzís stats still place him ahead of Nelson. Similarly, Nelson has to compete for targets with Greg Jennings just as Cruz has to share looks with Hakeem Nicks. Wes Welker finished with more receiving yards than Cruz (by 33) and had the same number of touchdowns (nine) leading to an argument that he should be higher than Cruz. However, with Brandon Lloyd now in the mix, thereís a good argument that not only will Welkerís numbers take a significant hit, but Lloyd could challenge him for the team-lead in targets.

Many will argue that Cruz canít keep up this pace for another season, considering his size and injury risk. However, Cruz held up fine all of last season and stature-wise heís actually bigger than Welker, who has finished second in receiving two of the last three years. Eli Manning has shown no signs of slowing down and considering Cruz had only two fewer targets than Nicks, thereís evidence that either player is considered New Yorkís number one receiving option. Some might point out that Cruz was ďluckyĒ (think of the 99-yard strike vs. the Jets) and that playmaking isnít in his skill set. While Eli has had something to do with Cruzís big plays, his 25 catches of 20-plus yards was tied for third among wide receivers and his 595 yards after the catch were second to only Welker. These stats show that Cruz has the ďbig-playĒ ability as part of his skill set; itís not luck when he breaks off a long play.

So will I be able to pull the trigger on taking Cruz as the number two wide receiver once Calvin Johnson is off the board? The answer to that is probably not. Maybe itís the Super Bowl hangover theory at work, but I canít see Cruz duplicating what he did last season. Teams wonít be naÔve as to who he is this season and Iíd expect a lot of teams to double Nicks and Cruz and make anyone else on the Giants beat them, a la the Patriots in the Super Bowl. Iíd look for the Giantsí run game to be better (yes, itís possible they just let Eli air it out) but I canít see another season where the two main backs Ė in 2011, Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs Ė average less than four yards per carry. With Jacobs in San Francisco (meaning the Giants should have a new player with more upside) and hopefully a healthier version of Bradshaw, the Giants should run a lot more than 411 times (21st in the league), down from 480 the previous season. Itís not that I donít like Cruz and wouldnít want him on my team; Iíd just guess someone in most of the leagues Iíll be drafting in will be much higher than I am.

Adrian Peterson ran without complication for the first time this week since his ACL surgery and appears to be on track to play Week 1. While coming off an injury will drop Peterson out of his usual top-3 overall spot in fantasy drafts, he could prove to be a value depending on how far he drops. Teammate Toby Gerhart is coming off a sprained MCL himself, so both of the Vikingís top running backs are looking to start the season healthy. Percy Harvin took to Twitter this week to let everyone know heíll need offseason shoulder surgery. While Harvin was able to hold up while playing running back at Florida, itís possible that Harvinís use in the same role in the NFL could have led to this and further injuries. In my opinion it would be better to get Harvin to the perimeter of the field with short quick passes rather than use him out of the backfield if the Vikings are merely looking to get him touches.

Sticking with the Vikings, itís mystifying to me there are the reports that the Vikings are looking to trade down out of the number three spot and pass on Matt Kalil. By getting Kalil, the Vikings would have a left tackle to protect Christian Ponder for years to come. The potential addition of Kalil should also help in the running game, giving Peterson and Gerhart a player who can open up holes on the left side of the offensive line. If Kalilís name sounds familiar, itís because his brother plays center for the Panthers and his dad was drafted by the Bills before playing in the USFL in the early 80s. Given the salary limits for rookies and that Kalil appears to be a ďcanít-missĒ type of player, the Vikings would be wise in standing pat and grabbing him with the third overall pick.

Getting back to the Giants, look for them to use one of their high picks to snag a running back in the upcoming draft. Bradshaw will need three months to recover after having bone marrow transplanted from his hip into his problematic foot. Bradshaw missed four games last season and had a career-worst 3.9 yards per mark (down from 4.5 in 2010-11) when he was on the field. Take note of whoever the Giants draft, as theyíll likely have an 8-10 touch role per game at a minimum, provided Bradshaw is completely healthy. Thereís a ton of upside, as a running back in that offense, given that opposing teams will focus on shutting down Eli Manning and the passing game.

The Ravens were wise to lock up Lardarius Webb with a five-year deal worth roughly $50 million. The 26-year-old is now under contract for the next six years and is coming off a season with five interceptions and broke a franchise record with three interceptions in the playoffs. The Ravens have one of the better secondaries entering their prime with Webb, Cary Williams, Bernard Pollard and Jimmy Smith all 27 or younger. Remember that the ageless Ed Reed (heís actually only 33) should return to the team unless the retirement rumors come to fruition.

Knowshon Moreno might not be ready to start the season and could find himself on the PUP list rather than in the Broncosí backfield. Since being drafted out of Georgia, Moreno has had a difficult time staying on the field due to a variety of injuries. Moreno has averaged 9.02 yards per catch, a decent mark, but a very average 4.08 yards per carry. Moreno has only seven carries of 20-plus yards in 466 attempts, showing a lack of explosiveness. However, the presence of Peyton Manning could find Moreno useful if he carves out a role as a pass-catching back once heís healthy.