Stop me if you think that you’ve heard this one before. Jermichael Finley is bigger and stronger. He is running better routes. He’s had the best camp of his career. Aaron Rodgers has developed better chemistry with him. Finley finally ‘gets’ it. Blah, blah, blah. It’s the annual refrain coming out of Wisconsin during the preseason. This is his sixth preseason and the hype machine is working overtime once again. I suppose this could be the year. Just ask yourself if 1-for-6 is the kind of percentage play you really want to make. There’s another player in Green Bay that’s making a little noise. The rookie out of Alabama ran with authority, reminding me of Trent Richardson, only a little stronger and maybe a little slower in pads. He displayed incredible strength, breaking tackles and showing off a spin move not normally associated with backs his size. Obviously, defenses can’t stack the box at Lambeau with Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb stretching the field and opening up passing lanes. The sky is the limit. What’s not to like? Well, the only problem is that the Packers hate to run. They’ve hated it ever since Ahman Green left, feeding the rock to the tailback just often enough to keep the defense honest. They also have Jonathan Franklin, DuJuan Harris, Alex Green and James Starks in an overcrowded stable. Do you really trust the Pack to give Eddie Lacy enough touches? I sure don’t. Nevertheless, if you eschew the reliable RB’s in the first two rounds and don’t mind a low floor, then he is worth a roll of the dice.
San Francisco at Kansas City
Frank Gore is understandably slower than he was in his prime, but he looks as strong as ever. He’s still the bell cow and if he continues to go in the fourth round, he presents a decent value. LaMichael James has big play ability, but even if Gore were to suffer an injury, I don’t see James being used much between the tackles. He’s fast with great moves but he’s not a bruiser. The more interesting prospect is quarterback B.J. Daniels out of South Florida. He runs the read option well and is extremely athletic. In Week 2, he was very accurate, able to loft throws with good touch or zip it to receivers on quick slants. The rook made good decisions and demonstrated decent pocket presence. Despite the new digs, Alex Smith is still captain check down. He rarely tests secondaries and most of his passes are of the ultra-conservative variety. Dwayne Bowe’s stock takes a hit on my sheet. It’s only the preseason, but it’s still Alex Smith and I don’t care what his numbers were the last two years. A lot of people are excited about Jamaal Charles getting a heavy workload. Let me tell you, I’ll be nervous every time he touches the ball. Indelibly imprinted in my mind’s eye is that non-contact ACL tear against the Lions two years ago. In PPR leagues, he should rack up the receptions, but I have no faith in the 49er castoff carrying enough weight to make this a high scoring offense. Knile Davis ran well and is worth a late pick. Speedster Cyrus Gray is underrated and could make a fantasy splash if he ever was given the opportunity, but he remains buried on the depth chart.
Minnesota at Buffalo
The fantasy market has largely ignored Greg Jennings, at least in terms of his normal price tag. It’s understandable considering that Christian Ponder is running this offense. Can the third year project get the ball to him? Jennings should face easier pass defenses this year with Adrian Peterson drawing everyone into the box. He could see a lot of man coverage with a single high safety. Fred Jackson looked serviceable, Kevin Kolb not so much. The potential fantasy value of Robert Woods, T.J. Graham and Jackson all hinge on E.J. Manuel making a quick recovery from his knee injury.
St. Louis at Cleveland
Brandon Jackson looked good, not that it matters. He’s going to get hurt. Montario Hardesty is going to stay hurt, as that is his normal condition. Trent Richardson is a stud but costs a first-round pick and questions surround his knees. Dion Lewis is not a big back, but he’s quick enough, shifty, with enough moves up his sleeve to make defenders miss now and then. The Eagle castoff is the handcuff of choice for Trent Richardson owners and pickpockets looking to steal a lotto ticket with modest upside. Sam Bradford looked great, delivering pass after pass accurately, and was rewarded with drops from his receivers. I like Tavon Austin but he’s going in the sixth round of late and that is too rich for my blood. Chris Givens in the 12th is more likely to yield a profit.
Jacksonville at Miami
I’m a huge fan of Lamar Miller. He displayed the most explosiveness of all the backs I scouted this weekend; great acceleration, top end speed, change of direction. Yet he’s still inexperienced in pass protection and the early returns on the offensive line aren’t great. It’s still early and these things change as lines need time to gel, but Ryan Tannehill was under the gun frequently against the Jags. Mike Wallace is a nice asset to have to spread the field, remove defenders from the box and open up running lanes, but unless the former Steeler has time to run his routes and the sophomore out of Texas A&M has time to set and throw, it’s all for naught. As much as I love Miller and his RB1 upside, spending a third-round pick (and rising) is a somewhat risky proposition.
New York Jets at Detroit
If you think Chris Ivory can withstand the rigors of being a workhorse in the NFL, I’ve got some swampland in Florida that… well, you know the cliché. As a part-timer averaging about 10 carries a game, he was only able to stay on the field for 24 of the Saints' 48 games over a three-year stretch. The Jets apparent faith in him and his late fifth-round ADP puzzle me. If you roll the dice expecting snake eyes, you better draft the entire stable in New York (his handcuffs are cheap). Bilal Powell is serviceable, much cheaper (20th round), and has a decent chance of having more totes on his stat sheet when December rolls around. Powell is not elite, but he’s quick and shifty enough out in space to make a defender miss, and he’ll get what’s blocked. He also looked decisive with his cuts, not dancing around in the backfield. He’s an efficient runner. There’s not a ton of upside here given the dearth of offensive weapons. Speedster Stephen Hill has potential but has been quiet up to this point. On the other hand, the Motor City has something to get excited about. They have four capable backs, but I have a feeling the brass wants Reggie Bush to be the bell cow. The veteran looks to be on a mission, and his legs look bigger to me than I’ve ever seen them. He remains somewhat of an injury risk, but the former Dolphin looks comfortable running between the tackles, sprinting to the perimeter or lining up in the slot. He’s poised to be a PPR monster and the big plays should return with arguably the most prolific receiver in NFL history at wideout. Remember all the lanes that opened up for Bush in Miami back in 2011 when Brandon Marshall wore the same colors? Those dried up last year with the mercurial receiver’s departure to the Windy City, but those lanes should open up and then some this year with Stafford at the helm and Megatron on the loose. If Reggie manages to stay on the field for 16 games, he could have a career year in Motown. The only buzzkill are the three capable backs behind him. Joique Bell will certainly get touches. Mikel Leshoure’s yards per carry impresses no one, but his legs are incredibly strong, making him a pile mover in the red zone and thus a potential touchdown vulture, not to mention the chronicles of Theo Riddick and his abilities.
During the 2011 preseason, everyone and their mother were proclaiming the perils of drafting rookie quarterbacks. In particular, they were warning us not to draft Cam Newton. I searched long and hard, but could not find anyone that liked his chances for success in his first season. Remember how flawed his mechanics supposedly were, how inaccurate he was, and how bad he looked in preseason games? As I watched him compete on the field, I kept wondering if I was in an alternate universe. I watched every snap Cam Newton made in those exhibition games and I kept scratching my head wondering if we were watching the same player. I’m not a pro scout, but he seemed to make good decisions the majority of the time and he was fairly accurate when he had time to throw. The only time he ever seemed to struggle was when he was under duress. Since that shortcoming came in a package of freakish athletic skills and since he had Steve Smith as a weapon, what was the big problem with taking a late-round flier on him? After all, he went undrafted in a lot of leagues. How did the fools who drafted him fare? He was the 4th best fantasy QB, behind only Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady.
Fast-forward to 2012 and we heard similar warnings about Robert Griffin and Andrew Luck. After Newton’s success, there were some who believed in the top 2 overall picks, and that drove their respective ADP’s up into the 10th and 11th rounds, but overall the pundit commentary was negative. Cam Newton was a fluke and the sensational showing we saw in 2011 would never happen again, and only novices would chase that dream, sensational combine showings be damned. Well, in fantasy terms RG3 repeated the exact same feat, finishing 4th in points per game, while the rookie out of Stanford managed a respectable 9th.
Fast-forward once again to 2013 and the first signal caller taken in the draft was EJ Manuel out of Florida State. EJ’s 40 time of 4.65 isn’t going to match the 4.41 that Robert Griffin put up, but he’s a little bigger (6-foot-5, 237 lbs.) and stronger, making him more adept at breaking a tackle or two. Manuel will be tasked with an up-temp offense that will implement some form of the read option as part of its attack. CJ Spiller and Fred Jackson are potent ground weapons that will draw in safeties. When they do, this will open things up for Steve Johnson and Robert Woods (4.51 40). The former Seminole is mobile, accurate, raw and smart, and will give defensive coordinators plenty to think about if he climbs to the top of the Bills depth chart. Standing in his way at the moment is Kevin Kolb. Once the next best thing out of Philly, the battered Cardinal behind Arizona’s paper machet offensive line enters a potentially much better situation, but he must prove his mettle on the field. Either quarterback is worth a speculative play if they win the job. Tavaris Jackson technically has a shot at starting and has familiarity with the west coast scheme the Bills want to implement, but I wouldn’t bet on him winning that job.
The point in all of this is not to listen to me. I’m often wrong just like everyone else. There is no substitute for watching game tape. Don’t give too much credence to the hype or the haters. Watch as many preseason games as humanly possible. Scout with your own eyes and go to war on draft day with YOUR guys, whether they are a rookie or a veteran. There is nothing worse than doing proper scouting and then letting yourself get talked out of taking ‘your guys.’
There’s not much to be gleaned from watching Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady. The elite are the elite. Besides, I wouldn’t recommend taking a QB in the first six rounds unless a significant value slips.
The following list displays the top-24 quarterback performances of the 2012 fantasy season ranked by average points per game. The ordinals to the left represent the round in which they were drafted in a recent real money 14-team NFFC fantasy football draft.
TOP 24 QB’s by average points per game (NFFC FORMAT)
1st – Drew Brees – 31.5
2nd - Aaron Rodgers – 29.7
2nd - Tom Brady – 29.0
4th – Peyton Manning – 27.7
5th – Matt Ryan – 27.0
7th - Robert Griffin III – 26.6
4th - Cam Newton – 25.9
5th – Tony Romo – 25.1
6th – Ben Roethlisberger – 24.4
5th – Andrew Luck – 24.3
5th - Matt Stafford – 24.0
5th – Russell Wilson – 23.2
6th - Andy Dalton – 22.6
8th – Josh Freeman – 22.5
10th - Carson Palmer – 21.6
10th - Michael Vick – 21.6
5th – Eli Manning – 21.3
7th - Joe Flacco – 20.6
9th - Matt Schaub – 20.0
8th – Phillip Rivers – 19.9
26th – Ryan Fitzpatrick – 19.9
9th - Sam Bradford – 19.7
17th - Kevin Kolb – 19.6
8th – Jay Cutler – 18.1
In most drafts, you should stock up on running backs and wide receivers with your first six or seven picks. For our purposes here we will ignore those signal callers drafted in the first seven rounds and pick out those we should keep an eye on in camp and during exhibition games.
Carson Palmer – The former Bengal could be entering a much better situation in Glendale, Arizona IF the Cardinals can fix the monumental problems with their offensive line. Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd and Rob Housler are decent enough weapons. The key will be watching the O-line this fall to see how they gel. Palmer has low-end No. 1 QB upside.
Michael Vick – Many people will understandably write off Vick due to his 12/10 TD/INT ratio last year and his constant injury issues. He’s 32 now and doesn’t have the same speed or quickness. On the other hand, it’s hard to imagine things getting much worse and he still managed to put up mid-range No. 2 fantasy numbers. In fact, if you look at just the first 9 weeks of the season, before he suffered that concussion against the Cowboys in Week 10, Vick produced 24.8 points per game. That’s better than Andrew Luck’s average. By the numbers, that makes him a low- end No. 1. Due to his inconsistencies and inability to stay healthy, I like him more as a matchup play as part of a committee.
Geno Smith – He’s very accurate and has a big arm, but who is he going to throw to? They don’t have a legitimate threat on the ground to take the attention off the passing game. I suppose there’s no harm taking him as a flier in the 20th round, but it’s difficult to envision him becoming a reliable fantasy asset his rookie season. Expect growing pains in the Big Apple, if he wins the job.
Jake Locker – Robert Griffin III averaged 6.8 yards per rushing attempt. Jake Locker averaged 7.1. The problem is Locker is inaccurate (55.5 career completion percentage). Tennessee is loaded with receivers. Sophomore Kendall Wright, mercurial Kenny Britt and rookie Justin Hunter are poised to punish opposing secondaries. In the backfield, Chris Johnson has pass receiving skills and breakaway speed. Expect the Titans to implement the read option a little bit to show off Locker’s athleticism. Jake will be a low risk/high reward pick on draft day.
Sam Bradford – The Rams have assembled a lot of talent on offense that has flashed but hasn’t yet produced much. Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey will bolster the aerial assault that already has speed demon Chris Givens in its wings. Isaiah Pead was a phenomenal playmaker in college but looked a little overwhelmed his rookie season. Brian Quick caught only 11 passes, but with a year of experience and a better grasp of the offense, he will be expected to contribute. Still, I’m not holding my breath expecting a big breakout. Bradford is more of a safety net if you miss out on better options.
In the NFFC scoring format in 2012, Coby Fleener was the top scoring rookie tight end (25th). In 2011, Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph held the honor (34th). Even the dynamic duo of Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez only ranked 11th and 14th in scoring their first season, fringe No. 1 tight end or high-end No. 2 territory. They returned a profit to anyone that invested in them, but they hardly carried anyone to a fantasy championship by themselves. Remember how Jermaine Gresham was going to make an immediate impact for the Bengals as a rookie? He finished ranked 16th. During camp back in 2007, Greg Olsen was hyped as being the best receiver on the team. He finished 23rd among TE’s. Jason Witten, Antonio Gates and most elite tight ends were all non-factors their rookie seasons. Why even waste time looking at rookies at this position? Good question. The true answer is that there’s really no good reason. You should stop reading this article now. It’s of no fantasy value for sane people in 20-round redraft leagues.
Sill reading? Fair enough, but you’ve been warned. The rookies:
Tyler Eifert – 6-foot-6, 251 pounds (4.68 40) – Tyler should get some looks in two tight end sets. He displayed good leaping ability at Notre Dame and combined with his size and height, that makes him a good red zone target, particularly with A.J. Green, Jermaine Gresham and others drawing the attention of opposing defenses. He’s certainly more attractive in deeper draft champions leagues in which you don’t have to decide which weeks to start him.
Travis Kelce – 6-foot-5, 255 pounds (4.64 40) – Kelce possesses good lateral quickness and speed for someone his size. He’s a load to take down and can punish those who tackle him. Perhaps the most important thing in his favor is that no standout player is firmly entrenched ahead of him on the Chiefs depth chart.
Zach Ertz – 6-foot-5, 249 pounds (4.76 40) – Questions about his blocking ability and a lack of speed will likely keep him from getting enough snaps to make a fantasy impact for the Eagles this year. He possesses good size and good hands but he’s probably at least a year away.
Jordan Reed – 6-foot-2, 236 pounds (4.72 40) – Reed is yet another athletic tight end with great receiving skills but no blocking prowess. He is a playmaker with quick feet and tremendous ability to make defenders miss. He changes direction quickly and runs faster in pads than his 40 time would seem to indicate.
Gavin Escobar – 6-foot-6, 254 pounds (4.84 40) – He has good hands and will eventually be a decent possession receiver on shorter routes, but he is slow and his blocking skills need work. He’ll need an injury to Jason Witten to have any fantasy relevance this year.
Since the crop of rookie tight ends is usually so barren, at least initially, here are a couple of youngsters with two years experience about to come into their own.
Rob Housler – 6-foot-5, 250 pounds (4.46 40) – Mastersball.com’s own Perry Van Hook warned me, saying that Arizona doesn’t use their tight ends, that they don’t even know they have any. Unfortunately, I did not heed his advice and took Housler often as a late-round flier in 2012 fantasy drafts. All the junior out of Florida Atlantic did was burn a roster spot and tease me with occasional flashes of brilliance. I still think the third year pro has an extremely high ceiling. As an offensive weapon, he reminds me of Jason Witten, only a little smaller and faster. Now that the Cardinals have Carson Palmer under center, Housler’s stock is on the rise. Questions about the offensive line remain, even though they tried to address it in the draft
Jordan Cameron – 6-foot-5, 235 (4.53 40) – Cameron played basketball in college for BYU and then transferred to USC to display his football talents. His former hoops talent has led to many Antonio Gates comparisons. Ben Watson has moved on to the Big Easy, so the former Trojan sits atop the depth chart ready to put his skills on display. I’m buying.