Fantasy Football- Anthony

When it comes to the Tight End position, Jimmy Graham is a "slam dunk"

When it comes to the Tight End position, Jimmy Graham is a “slam dunk”

The tight end position has rapidly changed in the past 10 years. In 2002, Only five tight ends had 600 or more receiving yards. Guys like Tony Gonzalez and Jeremy Shockey showed unrivaled athleticism at the position typically known for its use in the blocking scheme in years past. In 2004, Antonio Gates stepped onto the scene, posting a previously unrivaled level of production: Almost 1,000 yards and 13 touchdowns. There were eight tight ends that year with over 600 yards, with Tony G posting over 100 catches and over 1,200 yards. Then in 2011, just two seasons ago, the position saw yet another influx of athletic talent. Moreover, the way in which the tight end was used had changed. Now tight ends were making plays not just from the in line position, but from the slot as well. So called “move” tight ends like Aaron Hernandez and Jimmy Graham gave teams more flexibility with formations and ways to get these physical freaks the ball. SEVENTEEN tight ends had 600 or more receiving yards that year, more than triple the total from just a decade ago. In fact, there were more tight ends with over 800 yard receiving in 2011 (7) than there were with 600 yards in 2002.

As the position has changed in the NFL, so too has it changed in fantasy.  For years, tight ends were consistently low producing players, not worthy of a pick in even the first 6 rounds or so. Last year, we saw 2 tight ends go in the first TWO rounds of most drafts, and a litany more picked in the first 5 or 6. Needless to say, the tight ends are here to stay:

Tier 1: Jimmy Graham

Jimmy Graham

With Rob Gronkowski injured, Jimmy Graham gets a tier of his own. Over the past two seasons, Graham has totaled 2,292 yards and 20 touchdowns. Now entering his 4thseason, he is the unquestioned number one player for fantasy at the tight end position. Last year, everything went wrong for Graham. He lost head coach and offensive mastermind Sean Payton, and battled through a wrist injury that caused him to uncharacteristically drop passes. Despite that, he posted an 85/982/9 stat line and was still the top tight end in fantasy. Now with Payton back and the injury behind him, the player that Drew Brees has dubbed “Avatar” could be in for another mind-numbing season. He’s going in the second round of drafts right now, which is about right in terms of value, but he is, in my opinion, the only tight end you can draft this year with confidence and receive premium production. He still has the upside to blow every other tight end out of the water and give your team an advantage that no one else can match.

Tier 2: The Usual Suspects With Two New Additions

Rob Gronkowski, Dennis Pitta, Jason Witten, Vernon Davis, Tony Gonzalez, Jared Cook

If the Gronk spends as much time on the field as he did in Cabo, his fantasy owners should be fine

If the Gronk spends as much time on the field as he did in Cabo, his fantasy owners should be fine

Many of these names are those you are used to hearing over the past couple of seasons, and perhaps none are as polarizing as Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski. Here are Gronk’s per game averages over the past 2 seasons: 5.37 receptions, 78.4 yards, 1.04 touchdowns. If you’re playing in .5 PPR formats, that’s 16.765 points a week! To put that in perspective, Jimmy Graham averaged 12.98 points a week in that same format. That’s almost 4 points higher than the NUMBER ONE tight end! It is this kind of tremendous upside that makes Gronkowski a player worth monitoring this offseason, one in which he has had 5 surgeries, including a back surgery that is putting his week 1 status in question.  Right now, I think the lack of information is making him a potential steal in drafts, with a fantasy football calculator ADP of 4.07.  We have no idea for sure when Gronkowski will return to the field or whether or not he will be able to avoid another injury, but what we do know is that when he is on the field, he gives you something that nobody else has and can win you weeks in your fantasy league. According to my projections, even just 8 games of Gronk and another 8 games of replacement level production (I used my #18 TE, Owen Daniels) gives you top 5 production over the course of the season along with the per-week upside perhaps only he and Graham can provide for the games he plays. Just typing this makes me want to put him in my first tier, and that may happen sooner rather than later.

Jason Witten and Tony Gonzalez are two of the most consistent producers in the game. For their CAREERS, both players together average a 79/899/6 stat line, which is remarkable. This year, Witten is almost a lock for his usual mid 90’s in catches, about 1,000 yards, and somewhere in the neighborhood of 5 touchdowns. Gonzalez passed on retirement to give himself one last shot at a title, and should produce similarly to his last two seasons in Atlanta. Both players are solid and worth trusting as TE1’s for your fantasy team. Vernon Davis has been anything but consistent over his career, but that has had more to do with his usage in the 49er offense than his ability. After averaging just one catch a game over the final six weeks of the regular season and opening round of the playoffs, Davis totaled 11/210/1 in the NFC Conference Championship against the Falcons and Super Bowl XLVIII against the Baltimore Ravens. Davis is an incredibly physically gifted talent and, with Michael Crabtree out for an extended period of time with a torn achilles, a full offseason with young gunslinger Colin Kaepernick, as well as extra reps at wide receiver, he should have plenty of chances to showcase it this season.   Both Dennis Pitta and Jared Cook are breakout players in my opinion this year that you can get at a discount in drafts this season (more on them later).

Tier 3: Guys I’m Willing to Start (But I’d Like to Have Two of Them)

Antonio Gates, Jordan Cameron, Kyle Rudolph, Martellus Bennett, Brandon Myers, Greg Olsen

This is the last tier of players that I’m willing to own as starters for my fantasy team this year, and as the title suggests, if I have to dip into this tier, I’d like to own two of them. Antonio Gates has looked as though he’s been falling apart in recent years. Despite missing just one game last season, Gates (49/538/7) didn’t even come close to the numbers he posted in 2010 in only 10 games (50/782/10). However, I think that there is a chance that the decline in play of Philip Rivers (YPA down from 8.71 to 6.84, QB rating down from 101.8 to 88.6 over that same time span) as well as the offensive line could have as much to do with Gates’ struggles as his health and age. With new head coach Mike McCoy in San Diego that could change in 2013, and could bring out the best Antonio Gates we’ve seen in 3 years.

Jordan Cameron is another breakout waiting to happen. With Norv Turner and Rob Chudzinski in Cleveland, the former USC basketball player will have the opportunity to play in the same offense that made the aforementioned Gates into a star. Kyle Rudolph had a terrific rookie year, but will rely on red zone production due to the poor play of former first round pick Christian Ponder and addition of both Greg Jennings and Cordarrelle Patterson in the offseason. Martellus Bennett had his first productive season last year with the Giants, and should put up similar numbers with Marc Trestman and the Bears in 2013. He has some upside if he can establish himself as the clear number 3 option in the passing game behind Brandon Marshall and Matt Forte. Brandon Meyers will be filling the role Bennett vacated in New York, and should be the next in line to put up TE1 stats with Eli Manning as his quarterback. The Giants tight end seems to always have a role in the offense, so Meyers should be a consistent producer this year. I’m a little worried about Greg Olsen with Rob Chudzinski being replaced with Mike Shula as offensive coordinator in Carolina. However, Shula had been working as the quarterbacks coach with the Panthers prior and should run a similar system. The lack of a quality number two receiver in Carolina is what makes Olsen a TE1 option again this year.

Tier 4: There’s Upside Here, But I Want to See it First

Rob Housler may not be a household name just yet, but he could be poised for a big season with Carson Palmer at the helm

Rob Housler may not be a household name just yet, but he could be poised for a big season with Carson Palmer at the helm

Jermichael Finley, Fred Davis, Heath Miller, Brandon Pettigrew, Tyler Eifert, Owen Daniels, Travis Kelce, Dwayne Allen, Coby Fleener, Rob Housler

There is a non-zero chance that these guys produce at a TE1 level this year, but they are best kept on the waiver wire until we know more about their roles and production levels. Finley has been one of the most overrated players in fantasy over the past two seasons. Fred Davis and Heath Miller both played very well last season while healthy, but succumbed to injuries that leave their 2013 status in question. Davis seems to be recovering faster from his Achilles tear than Miller is from his ACL tear, so I’ll rank him higher for now. Brandon Pettigrew always seems to get a lot of chances to catch passes in Detroit, but his lack of reliable hands and playmaking ability (career YPR of 9.9) make him tough to count on. Tyler Eifert and Travis Kelce are both rookies that I’m high on, but will probably not be startable as rookies. Owen Daniels takes a back seat this year to rookie wide out DeAndre Hopkins in my opinion, which greatly reduces his value. With Pep Hamilton as the offensive coordinator in Indianapolis, I expect the tight end position to be utilized often in the passing game. Unfortunately, there are two talented young players at the position for the Colts, so it is difficult to make out who will perform at a higher level, and the presence of both may make them unstartable. Fleener played for Hamilton at Stanford and could be used as a seam splitter the same way he was there, but I think Allen is the more reliable and consistent of the two. Rob Housler is an intriguing player in fantasy circles, and a favorite of our very own Matt LaMarca, but I think that Bruce Arians’ usage of the tight ends may be overstated. Allen and Fleener totaled 802 yards and 5 touchdowns last season, and Heath Miller averaged just 602 yards and 4 touchdowns during Arians’ tenure as Steelers offensive coordinator.

Tier 5:  Only in Deep, Tight End Premium Leagues

Jermaine Gresham, Dustin Keller, James Casey, Ed Dickson, Chris Gragg, Zach Ertz

In a standard league, you will ideally never have to even think about owning any of these players unless they break out in a big way, which would, in most cases, require an injury. Gresham may end up catching more passes than his rookie counterpart, but won’t gain enough yards (10.5 career YPR) to be relevant. Dustin Keller was one of Miami’s many free agency additions this offseason, but Keller will be the third option at best on a team with a still developing Ryan Tannehill. New Eagles coach Chip Kelly seems to be preparing to utilize many different tight ends after signing the versatile James Casey and drafting the sure handed Zach Ertz to go with Brent Celek. Of the three, only Casey and Ertz to me have upside warranting a ranking should they become featured players. I expect Ed Dickson’s snap count to reach a career high this year with the Ravens expected to utilize a lot of 12 personnel packages (1 RB, 2TE, 2WR), but he is still probably at best the fourth option in the passing game. Chris Gragg is an intriguing rookie out of Arkansas who could get a chance to showcase his athleticism (best tight end at the combine in the 40, vertical jump, and broad jump) if current starter Scott Chandler struggles to come back from an ACL tear.

Strategy for 2013

My tight end strategy for 2013 is similar to that of my quarterbacks strategy:  value, value, value. I’m looking to draft whatever tight end falls to me in certain draft spots. I will gladly take Jimmy Graham in round 2 if I find myself in a position where all of my top RB and WR are taken. Ideally, I’d like to land one of my top 7 so that I can have some kind of advantage in a given week over my opponents, but I have no problem getting a duo of, say, Cameron and Bennett with my last couple of picks.

Sleepers (all ADPs from Fantasy Football Calculator)

Dennis Pitta, Current Projection: 111 targets, 78 receptions, 944 yards, 12 TDs

Current ADP:  7.07

If Anthony mentions Dennis Pitta anymore, my head might explode

If Anthony mentions Dennis Pitta anymore, my head might explode

Outside of Shane Vereen, there may not be a player I’m higher on this season than Dennis Pitta (and if you’ve listened to part one of our fantasy football podcast, you already know this). Over the last 12 games last season (including playoffs), Pitta totaled 43/513/8, and he did that while averaging only 5 targets a game. Extrapolated to a 16 game season, that would be 57/684/11. So where’d the extra 21 catches, 260 yards, and a touchdown come from? The answer is Anquan Boldin, who totaled 56/848/7 over that same time frame (Boldin actually missed the week 15 game against Denver). With both players fighting over targets in the middle of the field and red zone, neither was particularly useful with any kind of consistency in 2012. However, with Boldin now traded to San Francisco (and nobody else added to replace him), the opportunities should be there for Pitta to have a true breakout season and ascend into the upper echelon of tight ends. Combine that with his 7th round ADP, and Pitta becomes a value that I am targeting in every fantasy draft this summer.

Jared Cook, Current Projection:  114 targets, 68 receptions, 986 yards, 8 TDs

Current ADP:  9.04

For years, Jared Cook has been almost like an urban legend in fantasy circles. Tales of his rare athleticism (was a top performer in the 40, bench, vertical jump, and broad jump at the combine) in a 6’5” 248 pound frame left fantasy owners drooling over upside that has yet to come to fruition in the NFL. I’m here to tell you that this is the year. After signing a 5 year $38.5 million deal to play with Sam Bradford and the Rams, Cook is ready for a breakout season. Rams coach Jeff Fisher, who also drafted Cook in 2009 out of South Carolina, seems to believe so as well. He was quoted by John Glennon of The Tennesseanas saying, “He’s obviously got years of experience under his belt, he understands the league, he understands defenses and he’s picked things up really well. We’re excited about creating mismatches, and offensive success these days is about creating mismatches.” Fisher was also quoted as saying, “He’s going to play all over the place. We’ve even got him in the backfield, so we’ve got some good things for him.” That plus the time Cook has supposedly spent with Bradford leads to me to believe 2013 will bring good things for Cook and for his fantasy owners. He’s currently a 6th round value at a 9thround price.

Busts

Jermichael Finley, Current Projection:  91 targets, 62 receptions, 812 yards, 3 TD

Current ADP:  9.11

There may not be a player who has been more overrated year in and year out than Jermichael Finley. Drafted as a top 6 tight end each of the past three seasons, Finley has done nothing but disappoint fantasy owners. Do yourself a favor and don’t be the one that is fooled by him this year. While his ADP has dropped considerably from years past, he is still being over drafted in the 9th round as the 10th tight end off of the board. He would be better suited going in the same range as Jordan Cameron (a guy I like) as a high upside TE2. Finley has a documented history of issues with quarterback Aaron Rodgers as well as the drops. Banking on him as your TE1 is a scary prospect.

Owen Daniels, Current Projection:  100 targets, 61 receptions, 738 yards, 4 

Owen Daniels has been a solid fantasy TE for years, but with new weapons in Houston, this could be the year he dissapoints

Owen Daniels has been a solid fantasy TE for years, but with new weapons in Houston, this could be the year he dissapoints

TDs

Current ADP:  12.01

As you can see, there aren’t that many tight ends I dislike in 2013. That being said, Daniels is being way over drafted right now.  With DeAndre Hopkins now in the fold in Houston, I think that Daniels’ upside has been sharply cut into. At best, he’s probably not much better than the player I have him projected to be, and if Hopkins ends up being a stud from the get go, he could fall completely off of the fantasy map. He belongs closer to 20 than to 10 in terms of draft spot amongst tight ends.

-Anthony Amico (follow @jamsportz and @amicsta)

Wide Receiver Preview

Dez Bryant has long been on the path to fantasy stardom, and 2013 may be the year he finally lives up to his enormous potential

Dez Bryant has long been on the path to fantasy stardom, and 2013 may be the year he finally lives up to his enormous potential

With the quarterback and running back positions in the books, it is now time to preview the receivers. Perhaps no other position has benefitted as much from the expansion of the passing game in the NFL. The wide receiver position boasts some tremendous athletes, guys who are over six feet tall and run sub 4.5 forty yard dashes. Of course, the possession receiver still has a place in the NFL as we will see shortly.

The biggest takeaway for the wide receiver is this:  there are a lot of them. In fact, there are 43 receivers that I think you could be satisfied with as starters this year for your fantasy team. That’s right, 43. In a 12 team league that starts 3 wide receivers, only 36 will start. That means that over half the teams will have FOUR legitimate plays at receiver (assuming the talent is evenly distributed). With all of the talent in play, you’re really going to have to work to find value. That’s where I come in:

Tier 1: Physical Freaks that are Matchup Proof

Calvin Johnson, Dez Bryant

It’s a small tier of two players, but they deserve to be in a class of their own. Last season, Calvin Johnson set the record for receiving yards with 1,964 and while he only recorded 5 touchdowns on the year, that figures to be an anomaly. He had recorded 16 and 12 touchdowns respectfully over the two seasons prior to last, and was tackled a whopping SIX times at the one yard line in 2012. Calvin is almost certainly a lock for 1,600 yards and double digit touchdowns.

Dez Bryant’s 2012 numbers, 92 receptions for 1,382 yards and 12 touchdowns are fairly impressive. What’s even more impressive is that he compiled a majority of that in half a season. In the last eight games of the year, Bryant hauled in 50 balls for 879 yards and a ridiculous 10 touchdowns. There were only 10 players with 10 or more touchdown catches ALL YEAR. It seems as though Dez has definitely turned a corner, and I expect that to continue in 2013.

Tier 2: Receiver Ones in Elite Offenses and Target Monsters

Brandon Marshall, Demaryius Thomas, A.J. Green, Randall Cobb, Julio Jones

Randall Cobb is an elite producer as a receiver, rusher, and returner...  and he should have plenty of chances to do all 3 in 2013.

Randall Cobb is an elite producer as a receiver, rusher, and returner… and he should have plenty of chances to do all 3 in 2013.

These players may not be in tier 1, but make no mistake about it, you want them on your fantasy team. Each of them brings something a little different to the table, but they are all viable plays as your WR1 in fantasy. Last season, Brandon Marshall was reunited with the quarterback that made him a PPR stud in Denver in Jay Cutler. That connection appeared to have not been lost at all as Marshall totaled 194 targets in 2012. What makes this stand out even more is that the Bears only threw the ball 485 times, meaning that FOURTY percent of the time the former Central Florida star was the target. While I definitely expect that number to regress in 2013, the introduction of Marc Trestman as Bears head coach should mean more passes are coming in Chicago. Only a seemingly lingering hip issue can keep Marshall from another top 5 finish. Demaryius Thomas broke out last year after the arrival of Peyton Manning, and that should continue this season. Don’t worry about the addition of former Patriot Wes Welker, Thomas will still get his. A.J. Green may have limited upside with Andy Dalton as his quarterback, but after selecting Tyler Eifert and Giovani Bernard in the NFL Draft, defenses may finally have something else to pay attention to other than the 6’4” third year pro.

Randall Cobb was on the precipice of fantasy greatness last season. From weeks 5 to 11 (7 games), while Greg Jennings was out with a hamstring injury, Cobb put up the following stat line:  57 targets, 40 receptions, 451 yards, and 7 touchdowns. Over that same time span, Aaron Rodgers attempted 223 passes. I currently have Rodgers projected for 551 attempts, which would be the lowest number of attempts for Green Bay since 2010. If we extrapolate the numbers, Cobb’s final numbers would look like this:  141/99/1116/17. Now that definitely doesn’t tell the whole story; I certainly don’t expect Cobb to catch 17 touchdowns, but Cobb caught a whopping 77 percent of passes thrown his way last season. 77 percent of 141 is about 109. That just gives you an idea of the enormous potential Cobb possesses.

I’m slightly worried about Julio Jones, but he remains an elite level talent on one of the best offenses in football (7th in points last season). While he is (supposedly) the number two receiver in Atlanta, the gap between Jones and his teammate, Roddy White, is shrinking. If we extrapolate Julio’s 2011 targets to 16 games he would have 118, good for about 20 percent of total targets for the Falcons (White’s 181 targets accounted for 30 percent). In 2012, the percentages were about 21 and 23 respectively. While I’m not sure if this is the year Jones passes White from a targets perspective, I think he finishes with both more yards and touchdowns.

Tier 3: Discount WR1’s…and Larry Fitzgerald

Jordy Nelson, Larry Fitzgerald, Andre Johnson, Victor Cruz, Vincent Jackson

I may as well have named this tier “Receivers I’m Likely to Own”. All 5 of these players are top 12 guys for me, and yet 4 of them (you can guess the missing one) are going at pick 3.12 or later right now on fantasy football calculator. That’s awesome value in my opinion, and it starts with Jordy Nelson. Nelson was tremendous two seasons ago, and was well on his way to another terrific year before a nagging hamstring injury plagued his season. If we remove the Vikings game that he barely played in due to that injury, Nelson totaled 48 catches, 735 yards, and 7 touchdowns in just 10 games. Over a full slate of games that’s a 77/1179/11 stat line. Couple that with the departure of Greg Jennings, and Jordy is primed for a big bounce back campaign. Fitzgerald should be able to show why he’s a top talent at the position now that the Cardinals brought in Carson Palmer at quarterback. Say what you want about Palmer, but he is a massive upgrade over what Arizona had last year at the position.

Andre Johnson has been the clear number one option for the Texan passing game, and maybe he will see less double and triple coverage this season after Houston drafted Clemson wideout DeAndre Hopkins. After signing his new 6 year, $45.879 million contract, Victor Cruz will be in Giants training camp on time. Cruz has totaled 168 catches for 2628 yards and 19 touchdowns over the last two seasons and shows no signs of slowing down. Eli Manning’s favorite target should be a quality #1 option for your fantasy team this season. Vincent Jackson is one of the league’s top big play threats and one of the better boom or bust plays in fantasy. In the defense-less (get it?) NFC South, it would seem that the only thing that could get in Jackson’s way is his quarterback. After totaling 6 touchdowns and almost 23 yards per catch in the first 8 games of 2012, Jackson could only muster 2 touchdowns while averaging 16.4 yards per catch in the second half of the season. Freeman’s QB rating splits? 95.1 and 70.4 in the first and second halves respectively. If Freeman can put it together for a full season, Jackson will be in for an incredible year.

Tier 4: Upside WR2’s and Reliable Starters

If Danny Amendola can stay healthy, 2013 should be his best season as a pro

If Danny Amendola can stay healthy, 2013 should be his best season as a pro

Dwayne Bowe, Roddy White, Pierre Garcon, Hakeem Nicks, Percy Harvin, Reggie Wayne, Eric Decker, Danny Amendola, Wes Welker, Marques Colston

This is the last tier of guys that I would say I definitely trust as WR2’s. Many of these players have produced as top 10 receivers in the past or have top 10 upside. My favorite of the group is Dwayne Bowe, who has undeniable talent, evidenced by the 5 year $56 million contract ($26 million guaranteed) the Chiefs handed out to him this past offseason. Despite catching passes from duds like Matt Cassel and Brodie Croyle, Bowe has a career 16 game average of 75/1,035/7. Now he gets to play with Alex Smith, who will by far be the best quarterback he’s ever had throwing to him. Roddy White has been the picture of consistency, and although his reception totals have declined each of the last two seasons, he has never missed a game and has AVERAGED 1,296 yards over the past six seasons. Garcon and Nicks are both players that could either be WR1’s at the end of the year, or be injured and on your waiver wire. Garcon was excellent last year when he was on the field and had clear chemistry with Robert Griffin III. However, a lingering foot injury (torn ligament in his right foot) could end up derailing his 2013 hopes. Nicks was being drafted as a top 5 receiver just two years ago, and all of the talent and reasoning for that ranking is still present. Victor Cruz has certainly emerged as Eli Manning’s security blanket, but Nicks still has plenty of big play potential to tap into if he can avoid his own injury problems.

The second half of this tier is filled with players I expect fantasy owners to be able to rely on in 2013.  Reggie Wayne was the favorite target of Andrew Luck last season, and had one of his best seasons ever. After the departure of Bruce Arians to Arizona and the introduction of former Stanford offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton I think that Wayne sees, overall, less balls come his way, and therefore a lower level of production. However, the aforementioned chemistry with his young signal caller should allow Wayne to be a consistent producer this year. There has been some concern in the fantasy community as to whether or not the Broncos offense can support three receivers and I don’t see any reason why it couldn’t. New offensive coordinator Adam Gase figures to use 11 personnel (1 RB, 1 TE, 3 WR) as the base set for the Bronco’s attack, and this should allow both Eric Decker and Wes Welker to produce as WR2’s. People point to former Colt slot dynamo Brandon Stokley when talking about Welker’s potential role, but I look instead to Dallas Clark. The Colts offenses under Peyton Manning routinely supported 3 receiving options, and I expect that to continue here.  Danny Amendola steps in to the role that Wes Welker abdicated when he departed for Denver. I don’t expect it to be a direct correlation in terms of production, but Amendola is much more explosive than he appears, and should be in for a boat load of targets with Aaron Hernandez gone and Rob Gronkowski potentially on the shelf. He will just need to avoid his own injury troubles after playing in just 12 games the past two seasons. Marques Colston has been a consistent year to year performer for Drew Brees and the Saints, and that should continue in 2013.

Tier 5:  Remember When I Said Receiver Was Deep?

Cecil Shorts, Steve Smith, Tavon Austin, Mike Wallace, Antonio Brown, Josh Gordon, Kenny Britt, DeSean Jackson, Danario Alexander, Mike Williams, Michael Floyd, Alshon Jeffery, Jeremy Maclin, Anquan Boldin, DeAndre Hopkins, Justin Blackmon, Stevie Johnson, Miles Austin, T.Y. Hilton, Greg Jennings, Torrey Smith

My oh my this tier is deep and encompasses many rounds worth of players in drafts. Because of that, it allows you to grab two and potentially three of these players to round out your receiving core. Cecil Shorts and Steve Smith are guys who seemingly can’t get any respect despite their production and roles in their respective offenses. Tavon Austin, Gordon, Britt, Floyd, Jeffery, Hopkins, Blackmon, Hilton, and Torrey Smith are all young guys who could be primed to pop this year, and for the most part are guys I’m targeting. I’m down on Wallace, Brown, Johnson, Miles Austin, and Jennings, and expect them to be gone before I would be willing to take them. The Eagle receivers are perhaps the biggest wildcards right now, as nobody knows for sure how Chip Kelly will direct his passing game, or who will benefit most from it.

Tier 6:  Well That Fell Off Fast

There are some intriguing guys in this list like Ryan Broyles, but if you count on them to be every week producers you could be in trouble

There are some intriguing guys in this list like Ryan Broyles, but if you count on them to be every week producers you could be in trouble

Vincent Brown, Ryan Broyles, Sidney Rice, Rod Streater, Juron Criner, Lance Moore, Golden Tate, Stephen Hill, Robert Woods, Brandon LaFell, Denarius Moore, Emmanuel Sanders, Rueben Randle, Kendall Wright, Aaron Dobson, Brian Hartline, Jacoby Jones, Julian Edelman, Markus Wheaton, Cordarrelle Patterson

Receiver is incredibly deep, but it really falls off after tier 5. Vincent Brown and Ryan Broyles are both second year players that could have expanded roles in their offenses this season and put up very nice production. Past them, there is a lot of uncertainty. Most of these players are either in very cluttered receiver situations or young guys awaiting an opportunity to produce. You would be best served by locking up your receiver position before it gets to this tier.

Tier 7:  Lottery Tickets with Debatable Upside

Santonio Holmes, Andre Roberts, Austin Pettis, Justin Hunter, Keenan Allen, T.J. Graham, Chris Givens, Muhammad Sanu, Brandon Gibson, Andrew Hawkins

Many of these players will (or should) go undrafted. It would take an injury to someone more prominent in the pecking order for these guys to have a shot at consistent production, and I’m not too sure if they’d be worth a start even in that case. I would just like to note that I find it interesting that the Rams projected starters on the outside (Givens and Pettis) ended up so low in my projections/rankings. I really feel as though Tavon Austin and Jared Cook will dominate targets from the slot and over the middle of the field, leaving not enough for Givens and Pettis to be more than bye week fliers.

Strategy for 2013

As it’s been discussed throughout this article, there is a lot of depth at the wide receiver position this season. Whether or not I take one in the first two rounds will be directly dependent on the running backs available when I pick. The real value at receiver is going to be in that third tier for me. I plan on getting Jordy Nelson in most leagues where I have a late pick. I probably don’t need to take more than 2 in my first 7 picks with the depth at WR3 guys found in rounds 8-11. The position is really so fluid, I’d be comfortable with a variety of strategies. I also plan on experimenting with an upside down strategy based around receivers to see how I like it.

Sleepers (all ADPs from Fantasy Football Calculator)

Josh Gordon will miss the first 2 games of the season, but could still be primed for a huge year

Josh Gordon will miss the first 2 games of the season, but could still be primed for a huge year

Josh Gordon, Current Projection: 95 targets, 52 receptions, 910 yards, 8 TDs

Current ADP:  8.11

Rob Chudzinski and Norv Turner are both aggressive offensive minds, going back to their time together in San Diego. Now with the Browns, the story should remain the same with like-minded quarterback Brandon Weeden at the helm. After not playing football for a year, Gordon posted a 50/805/5 line last season with the conservative Pat Shurmer running the show. With the shackles taken off of the offense, I expect Gordon to really shine a la Vincent Jackson. He will miss the first 2 games of the season due to suspension, but that will only make him a better value. I fully expect Gordon to produce at a WR2 level at minimum.

Michael Floyd, Current Projection:  128 targets, 70 receptions, 1,050 yards, 7 TDs

Current ADP:  10.09

Michael Floyd is ready to explode. Bruce Arians loves to throw the ball down the field, an area in which Floyd excels. I also expect the Cardinals to be throwing a decent amount, something new signal caller Carson Palmer is no stranger to. And of course, there’s that Fitzgerald guy commanding coverage on the other side. Perhaps this is a simplistic evaluation, but in this case I think it tells the story. Draft Floyd with confidence in the 10th round as your WR4 or 5, and reap the benefits.

Busts

Percy Harvin, Current Projection:  115 targets, 75 receptions, 1,200 yards, 7 TD

Current ADP:  3.09

I think that Percy Harvin is a terrific talent, but I don’t think that people realize that the move from Minnesota, where he was a focal point of the offense, to Seattle, where he will be anything but, is a downgrade. Harvin was a target monster for the Vikings, catching a ton of passes within the first 5 or 10 yards from scrimmage and trying to make plays with them. The Seahawks will still be a team that likes to run the ball first and throw second. Seattle attempts 405 passes last season, dead last in the league. Even an increase to 458 attempts (what I have Russell Wilson projected for), which is fairly significant, puts a cap on what can be reasonably expected of Harvin. If we assume that Harvin receives about 25 percent of targets, which is about right for a #1 receiver, that’s 115 targets. His career catch percentage is around 68, but I’ll bump that down to closer to 65 to account for a couple more downfield passes. That’s 75 receptions, and even if we give him a HUGE boost to 16 YPR (his career average is 11.8), that gives Harvin 1,200 yards. Add in 7 touchdowns and some rushing yardage, and that’s good for WR20 in my projections. I moved him up to 17 because I think he’s talented and still possesses upside, but needless to say, he won’t be on any of my teams this year when I’d  rather have 8 guys going after him on average in drafts.

Torrey Smith, Current Projection:  115 targets, 51 receptions, 1,020 yards, 6 TDs 

Can Torrey Smith fill the void created by Anquan Boldin's departure

Can Torrey Smith fill the void created by Anquan Boldin’s departure

Current ADP:  5.09

Torrey Smith has amazing deep speed, but I’m not too sure if he does anything else well. He caught only 49 of his 110 targets last season (about 45%), and boasts only a 48% catch rate for his career. With Jim Caldwell running the offense, we saw Smith taking the top off defenses and opening up the underneath routes for Anquan Boldin and Dennis Pitta. This season I would expect much of the same, with an emphasis on the tight ends and the run game. He’s going to make some big plays, and is a decent boom or bust play week to week, but the 5th round is way too rich for my blood.

-Anthony Amico (follow @amicsta and @jamsportz)

Running Back Preview

Will Trent Richardson become the latest fantasy stud under new Browns OC Norv Turner?

Will Trent Richardson become the latest fantasy stud under new Browns OC Norv Turner?

Last week, I previewed for you the quarterback position for fantasy football this season (if you missed that article, you can find it here.)  This week, we break down the running back position. For years, running backs were the must have item on the draft market. They gave you the most consistent production, and the high end ones really separated themselves from the pack; guys like LaDainian Tomlinson, Ricky Williams, and Priest Holmes were consistent members on winning fantasy squads. In this new age of more wide open NFL offenses, the position has not had as much importance in recent years. After going RB-RB for years to start drafts, many people started mixing in wide receivers and quarterbacks. Last year, we even saw tight ends crack the top 2 rounds! However, much like these nerds, they’re back!

According to fantasy football calculator, in current 12 team mock drafts, 10 RBs are going in the first round (compared to just 7 last year). To go even further, 16 are going in the first two rounds (14 last year), and 22 in the first three rounds (18 last year). Needless to say, in just one year, the fantasy running back landscape looks a lot different. Let’s take a look at the players:

Tier 1: Every Week Studs With Upside

Adrian Peterson, Jamaal Charles, Doug Martin, Trent Richardson, C.J. Spiller, LeSean McCoy

I can’t remember the last time my first tier of running backs went 6 deep, but here it is. Coming off a 2,000 yard season the year after blowing out his knee, Adrian Peterson is expected to be the first pick in most drafts this year. Charles, Martin, and Richardson are both guys I expect to dominate the workload for their respective teams. Spiller is one of the best home run threats in the league (12 runs of 20 or more yards, second to only Peterson) and tallied the highest elusive rating (Pro Football Focus metric that factors in missed tackles forced, touches, and yards after contact) of any player over the last 5 years (the metric has only existed that long). Oh, and he should set a career high in touches now that Chan Gailey is gone from Buffalo.

I want to take a moment here to go into depth with Trent Richardson. I have a feeling that for many, ranking Richardson in the first tier will seem a bit high. The reason I like him so much is very simple: Norv Turner. Norv feeds his running backs early and often, a tailor made scenario for fantasy success. Let’s take a look at the number of touches for Norv Turner “workhorse” backs since 2002:

Ricky Williams (2002): 383 rushes, 47 receptions (16 games)
Ricky Williams (2003): 392 rushes, 50 receptions (16 games)
LaMont Jordan (2005):  272 rushes, 70 receptions (14 games)
Frank Gore (2006):  312 rushes, 61 receptions (16 games)
LaDainian Tomlinson (2007):  315 rushes, 60 receptions (16 games)
LaDainian Tomlinson (2008):  292 rushes, 52 receptions (16 games)

Average per game:  24.532
Average per 16 games:  392.51

Now there are obvious names missing from this list. The most recent one of course is Ryan Mathews, who we all expected to dominate the fantasy landscape for these same reasons, but injury and poor line play derailed that idea. However, I am a firm believer that Trent Richardson is a) the Browns workhorse back if he’s on the field and b) Richardson will be on the field. I know that people are worried about his current shin injury, but I expect him to be ready to go for training camp. Even if he gets dinged up throughout the season, this is a guy that played through cracked ribs down the stretch in 2012 and was still a successful fantasy player. I’ll bank on the touches and the talent and gladly take Richardson in the top 5 of drafts this season.

Tier 2: Back end RB1’s with risk

Arian Foster, Ray Rice, Matt Forte, Steven Jackson

More touches should lead to more points for Ray Rice in 2013

More touches should lead to more points for Ray Rice in 2013

This tier is a bit of a mixed bag, but the title says it all: there is some risk here with these running backs. Foster has had a whopping 1,243 touches over the last three seasons (including playoffs), which works out to just over 414 touches a season. With a workload like that, he is a definite candidate to regress and/or succumb to injury at some point. Contrary to popular opinion, I actually expect Ray Rice’s touches to go UP this season with the up-tempo offense of Jim Caldwell.  His commitment to the run should yield plenty of fantasy goodness for the 6th year pro out of Rutgers. Forte is a bit of wild card, but I think he will fit in very well with the Marc Trestman offense. Forte should rack up plenty of catches and will have holes to run through given the pass-first nature of the offense. Steven Jackson is a classic “Amico” guy. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: if the undead corpse of Michael Turner can plod his way to 900 total yards and 11 touchdowns, Steven Jackson can do AT LEAST 1,200 and 12. With the more talented Jackson in the fold, Atlanta could look to balance out their offense a bit better in 2013. He is also a true three down back, and should dominate touches for the Falcons.

Tier 3: Quality Options Are Slim Huh?

Marshawn Lynch, Chris Johnson, Darren McFadden, Reggie Bush, Frank Gore, Alfred Morris, DeMarco Murray, Maurice Jones-Drew

There is some upside and a lot of risk here in tier 3. Marshawn Lynch has been consistent and durable in his time as a Seahawk, but the addition of Christine Michael in round 2 of the NFL draft along with his pending DUI verdict makes me somewhat wary of the former Golden Bear. Lynch also does not catch many passes, and Seattle will probably pass at least a little more after Russell Wilson’s coming out party to close 2012. For the last two seasons, Chris Johnson has underwhelmed and the question is if it is a result of a waning skill set or a poor offensive line. The latter has been resolved this offseason after the Titans signed former Bill Andy Levitre and drafted Alabama’s Chance Warmack. Johnson is definitely a guy that could shoot up into the top 7 at RB this season, but I think that Shonn Greene caps his TD total and, thusly, his upside. McFadden is a guy I just can’t seem to get away from. He’s in a contract year, and will be returning to the power blocking scheme that netted him 5.27 yards per carry during the 2010 and 2011 seasons. He’s always a risk to miss games, but even 12 games of McFadden this season is worth the risk as I firmly believe he sneaks back into that back end RB1 conversation with his play. Reggie Bush has an opportunity to total around 200 carries and 80 receptions in an offense that suits his skill set perfectly. The 49ers are still built on the ground game (especially after the loss of Michael Crabtree), which makes Frank Gore a bit of a value if you can get him in the 3rd round. I like Alfred Morris, but he does not catch enough passes for me to rank him much higher than I currently have him. Murray is another player who is perpetually injured, but his usage when healthy still merits this high of a ranking. Maurice Jones-Drew is a guy that I won’t touch this season following the dreaded lis-franc injury last season.

Tier 4: I Won’t Be Confident With Them As My RB2

Both of the "new" starters in NY should be solid RB2s for fantasy squads this year.

Both of the “new” starters in NY should be solid RB2s for fantasy squads this year.

Chris Ivory, David Wilson, Le’Veon Bell, Lamar Miller, Shane Vereen, Stevan Ridley, Darren Sproles, Ryan Mathews, Rashard Mendenhall

There is some definite upside with the top half of this tier, but at the end of the day (as the title suggests) I don’t want to have to rely on any of these guys week in and week out as my RB2. Ivory should be basically unchallenged for touches in New York, and while the Jets offense figured to be in flux and pretty putrid, I think there is real upside to be had with Ivory. He has always been a player whose talent was not in question, just his opportunity (and his ability to stay healthy). I like Geno Smith to start for the Jets week 1, a move that would buoy his value. When all is said and done, a Michael Turner light season could be in the making, which would be a great buy for fantasy owners. After a week one fumble banished him to the bench, David Wilson burst onto the scene for the Giants first as a special teamer, averaging almost 27 yards per kickoff return (6th best in the NFL). He finally got an opportunity to showcase his skills late in the season, compiling 247 rushing yards and three touchdowns on 43 carries in the season’s final four weeks. Now with Ahmad Bradshaw out in New York, Wilson will only have to battle the oft-injured Andre Brown for carries. I expect Wilson to eclipse 1200 total yards using his big play ability, and the ceiling is incredibly high if Brown is either injured or underwhelms. I expect Le’Veon Bell to run away and hide with the running back job in Pittsburgh, but exactly what that will be worth in Todd Haley’s offense remains to be seen. Regardless, he should get enough work to at least be an every week flex play or low end RB2. Lamar Miller should get his shot as a lead back as well with Reggie Bush departing Miami for Detroit. The Dolphins added a lot of weapons in the passing game, but should run the ball enough for Miller to be a quality fantasy option. I am not a huge believer in Stevan Ridley, but I am one in Shane Vereen (more on this later). Darren Sproles has been a consistent pass catcher over the last 2 seasons, and that should continue this year, making him a quality option in leagues that award points for catches (my rankings are based off of .5 ppr). Ryan Mathews and Rashard Mendenhall are two players that won’t be on any of my teams this season, but they are still most likely starters on their respective teams. Injury risk and lack of upside prevent me from putting them any higher than this though.

Tier 5:  High Upside Backups and Committee Backs

Bryce Brown, Ben Tate, Fred Jackson, Andre Brown, Zach Stacy, Ahmad Bradshaw, Eddie Lacy, Bernard Pierce, Pierre Thomas, Jonathan Stewart, Mark Ingram, Montee Ball, Gio Bernard, Knowshon Moreno, Benjarvis Green-Ellis, Danny Woodhead

For many of these players, the story is very simple: if the starter gets hurt, they will be every week plays at running back. Jackson, Pierce, Thomas, and the Browns should all be able to provide flex play value even without an injury. The Denver and Cincinnati situations will be ones to monitor in the preseason and could provide some late fantasy value. These are all players I’d ideally like to have as my RB4 or later.

Tier 6:  Lottery Tickets

Guys in this tier, like Christine Michael, could end up being studs if injuries hit

Guys in this tier, like Christine Michael, could end up being studs if injuries hit

Shonn Greene, DeAngelo Williams, Joique Bell, Mikel Leshoure, Vick Ballard, Isaiah Pead, Joe Randle, Latavius Murray, Christine Michael, Montario Hardesty,  Ronnie Hillman, Jaquizz Rodgers, Michael Bush, Jonathan Franklin, Robert Turbin, Ryan Williams, Toby Gerhart

Owning any of these players as anything other than your last running back would be very risky. Each of them have upside in their own way, but concerns over talent and opportunity limit that upside, making it a much riskier proposition than those backs in tier 5. I would like to at least highlight a few players here. Ballard, Randle, Murray, and Hardesty are all backing up players that at least some in the fantasy community have injury concerns over. Christine Michael is, to me, an elite talent who could speed up his path to fantasy stardom if starter Marshawn Lynch succumbs to a suspension. Ronnie Hillman has been getting the bulk of carries in offseason workouts, but I still believe the Broncos prefer him as a change of pace back.

Tier 7:  Only in the Deepest of Leagues

Mike Tolbert, LaMichael James, Daryl Richardson, Mike Goodson, Mike Gillislee, Justin Forsett, Kendall Hunter, DuJuan Harris, Chris Thompson, Denard Robinson, LeGarrette Blount, Brandon Bolden, Stephan Taylor

Most of these players will be on your waiver wire to start the season and should only be added if there is an injury to the starter on their respective teams or if they flash ability in the preseason. This is more of a watch list than a list of players you should look to draft.

Strategy for 2013

Running backs, running backs, and more running backs. That’s the theme of my draft strategy for the position this season. With any late position this season, I’m looking to start RB RB, and I want at least 2 RBs with my first 3 picks in an early position. No matter what, I’m looking to have at least half of my picks be running backs in the first 10 rounds. That should give me a firm basis at a position that is, in my opinion, the thinnest. If I can nab 2 RBs out of my top 2 tiers, my 3rd from either tier 3 or 4, and the rest from tier 5, I will be a very happy man. Believe me, this is the year you definitely want to have top players AND depth to be successful.

Sleepers (all ADPs from Fantasy Football Calculator)

Anthony (and probably only Anthony) thinks Shane Vereen could outperform his more heralded teammate in Stevan Ridley

Anthony (and probably only Anthony) thinks Shane Vereen could outperform his more heralded teammate in Stevan Ridley

Shane Vereen, Current Projection: 638 rushing yards, 624 receiving yards, 11 total TDs

Current ADP:  6.12

I now have an opportunity to talk about my beloved Shane Vereen. Yes, I have him ranked higher than Stevan Ridley (albeit by one spot) in my rankings. I am a real believer in Vereen’s unique skill set. He can be a dynamic playmaker that can line up all over the field, and should inherit the Danny Woodhead role out of the backfield. He should also pick up a few more receptions now that Aaron Hernandez is officially out in New England. I expect the Patriots to run the ball a lot again this season, which should allow him to compile yards on the ground as well. And while Ridley racked up plenty of touchdowns last year, I think that Vereen has at least as good of a nose for the goal line. I may be admittedly a tad high on the touchdowns, but if you take Vereen in the 6th round of drafts this season, you will not be disappointed.

Zach Stacy, Current Projection:  880 rushing yards, 225 receiving yards, 7 total TDs

Current ADP:  10.01

St. Louis has one of the more crowded backfields in the league, but I’m taking a stand with Zach Stacy. I really liked his vision and sudden power at Vanderbilt playing against SEC competition. He is also a willing blocker, which will only speed up his ascension on the depth chart. While the rotation is crowded for the Rams, Daryl Richardson looks to be more of a space player who can’t run the ball between the tackles. He should have a definite role, but probably more as a third down/change of pace runner. Isaiah Pead has a diverse skill set and was taken in the 2nd round of last year’s NFL Draft, but I question is passion for the game and ability as a pro. Pead will also be suspended for week 1 after being arrested for possession of marijuana. If Stacy has a solid outing against Arizona with Pead gone, he may take the job and run with it.

Busts

Rookie RBs are a valuable commodity in fantasy football... unless John Fox is involved

Rookie RBs are a valuable commodity in fantasy football… unless John Fox is involved

Montee Ball, Current Projection:  893 rushing yards, 105 receiving yards, 6 total TDs

Current ADP:  4.01

1,000 total yards and 6 touchdowns is not a terrible season for a rookie runner, but it is if you take him at the top of the 4th round. I think that it is even debatable that he hits that level. Let’s look at rookie RB’s under John Fox:

2003: DeShaun Foster – 113 carries, 26 receptions
2006: DeAngelo Williams – 121 carries, 33 receptions
2008: Jonathan Stewart – 184 carries, 8 receptions
2012: Ronnie Hillman – 85 carries, 10 receptions

Now, it should be noted that Hillman was not expected to have nearly the kind of role as the other 3 backs, who were all 1st or 2nd round picks. Between Foster, Williams, and Stewart, the average number of touches was about 162. Given the trends of Fox and the questions that I have with Ball as both a runner and pass protector, you’d be better off letting someone else take the risk for their RB2/3.

Daryl Richardson, Current Projection:  280 rushing yards, 160 receiving yards, 1 TD

Current ADP:  7.08

I said it before and I’ll say it again, Richardson probably projects best as a space player and change of pace option. In that role, he will probably only get in the neighborhood of 5 touches a game when Pead is back from suspension. Even if he were to get a more substantial role, I don’t see him justifying the 7th round ADP.  He’ll never be an every down player and will be limited by the other players in St. Louis.

-Anthony Amico (follow @amicsta and @jamsportz)

Fantasy QB Previews

Will RGIII continue his assault on the league in 2013?

Will RGIII continue his assault on the league in 2013?

The quarterback position is one that has drastically changed over the last 10 years. In 2002, there were four quarterbacks with over 4,000 yards passing and six with 25 or more touchdowns.  Fast forward to 2012 and the difference is staggering:  11 quarterbacks with over 4,000 yards passing (in fact, there were five QBs last year who had more than the league leading 4,689 yards of Rich Gannon in 2002) and 12 with 25 or more touchdowns.  Rule changes and more diverse offensive schemes have very quickly made it a passing league.  That definitely reflects in the position for fantasy this season.

There may not be a deeper position this season than quarterback. All over the draft board there will be quarterbacks that may look appealing for one reason or another.  In fact, your stance and strategy towards quarterbacks will have an impact on your draft more than anything else. We’ll break down my tiers released in my opening fantasy article from over the weekend, as well as discuss sleepers and busts.

Tier 1: The Elite

Aaron Rodgers, Cam Newton, Drew Brees

Drew Brees should remain a solid option in 2013

Drew Brees should remain a solid option in 2013

My elite tier of quarterbacks this year contains two obvious names. Rodgers and Brees have been dominating the fantasy football landscape for years now, and should still be two of the top quarterbacks off any board. While I expect both the Packers and the Saints to run the ball more (and more importantly, with better effectiveness), Rodgers per play production is still top notch, while Brees should be able to compile another 600 attempts in a very potent offense.  The name that may stick out is Cam Newton, who I believe is in for a dominant season. We have seen over the last few seasons the impact a running QB can have on the fantasy landscape.  Cam is the prototype for this, and takes it to a level above all others.  His ability to not only scramble effectively, but to be used as the Panthers’ goal line ball carrier might give him a FLOOR of 8 rushing touchdowns. If he can improve his passing numbers from last season, he may be knocking on the door of top player overall.

Tier 2: Not Quite Elite, But I’ll Still Start Them With Confidence Every Week

Peyton Manning, Robert Griffin III, Tom Brady, Russell Wilson, Colin Kaepernick

This tier contains a mix of options fantasy owners have come to trust, and a trio of young dual threats.  Peyton Manning and Tom Brady have been two of the most consistent fantasy QB options of our generation.  The addition of Wes Welker gives Manning yet another weapon at his disposal and should allow for a very consistent season for the 16 year veteran.  Brady finds himself out of Tier 1 due to the uncertainty surrounding his receivers. Rob Gronkowski is iffy to play week 1 and will be coming off of FIVE offseason surgeries, Aaron Hernandez is facing potential legal issues, and Danny Amendola has not exactly been a picture of health over his four seasons. Even with that inherent risk, it is difficult to rank Brady any lower than 6 given the combined offensive genius of Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniels.

If I may make a slight detour here during this tier, take a moment to look at the top quarterbacks in the league right now. Peyton Manning (37), Tom Brady (35), and Drew Brees (34) are all getting up there in age.  Over the next few seasons, we could see a change at the position similar to what we’ve seen over the last couple of years at both running back and wide receiver. Only Aaron Rodgers (29) seems destined for fantasy dominance over a prolonged period of time.

The three young arms (and legs) in this tier combined with the aforementioned Cameron Jerrell Newton and Andrew Luck (who we’ll get to later) represent the future of the position. The future may be now given the skill sets of these young players, and in a quarterback class this deep, it may be a wise play to gamble on their upside.  Griffin was looking like a perennial top quarterback option before tearing his ACL in the playoffs against Seattle. He will need to come back healthy, but all reports so far out of Washington have been nothing short of fantastic, and there will be quality backups to be had late in drafts in case he starts off slow. Russell Wilson was fantasy’s top quarterback over the final five weeks of 2012, and now has Percy Harvin at his disposal. Colin Kaepernick lost his top option in Michael Crabtree, but showed his full potential in the divisional round of the playoffs (181 rushing yards and 2 rushing TDs to go with 263 passing yards, 2 touchdowns, and just 1 interception) and will have a full offseason for 49er’s coach Jim Harbaugh to come up with creative ways to utilize his unique ability.

Tier 3: Not Much Upside, But I Probably Don’t Need a Backup

Matt Stafford, Matt Ryan, Tony Romo

Tony Romo may not be a "winner," but luckily that doesn't matter in fantasy football

Tony Romo may not be a “winner,” but luckily that doesn’t matter in fantasy football

Tier 3 is comprise of three players that I feel comfortable with starting, but that do not possess (in my opinion) upside to break the top 5.  Matt Stafford is coming off (basically) back to back 5,000 yard seasons and is a strong candidate to improve given that he threw for only 20 touchdowns last year.  However, given his proneness to turnovers (33 interceptions over the last two seasons) and lack of rushing ability (323 career rushing yards in four seasons), even a 5,000 yard, 30 touchdown season probably won’t be top 5 material and may not even be top 7 or 8 worthy.  Again, quarterback is incredibly deep this season. Matt Ryan threw for over 4,700 yards and 32 touchdowns last year, but given the Falcons’ upgrade of Steven Jackson over Michael Turner at running back, Atlanta may be a little more balanced in 2013. In my opinion, last year’s numbers represent the ceiling for him this year. Tony Romo will probably see a decrease in passing attempts from last year’s 648 now that Jason Garrett has turned over play calling responsibilities to offensive coordinator Bill Callahan and running back DeMarco Murray will be healthy (although for how long, nobody knows).  The inability of all three of these quarterbacks to provide substantial points on the ground while lacking elite passing numbers is what separates them from the tier 2 players.

Tier 4: Committee Quarterbacks and High Upside Backups

Jay Cutler, Sam Bradford, Ben Roethlisberger, Andrew Luck, Michael Vick, Eli Manning, Alex Smith, Joe Flacco, Carson Palmer, Andy Dalton, Josh Freeman, Philip Rivers

This is easily the largest tier of quarterbacks I have (don’t worry, I won’t talk about them all). All 12 of these players will have weeks where they are startable (and probably better than that) given the offenses they play in and ability they have.  By the way, an interesting fact for you, did you know that while Aaron Rodgers was the first quarterback off the board in most leagues last year and a top 3 player overall, he had a whopping SEVEN outings in which he wasn’t even a top 12 scorer at quarterback? That just speaks to the week to week variability at the position, and a huge reason why this tier will be very attractive come draft day in many leagues. But more on strategy later, right now we are focused on Tier 4.  This tier features potential breakthrough players (Cutler, Bradford, Luck, Dalton), reliable yet un-sexy backups (Big Ben, Eli, Dalton) and wildcards worth taking a shot on (Vick, Smith, Flacco, Palmer, Freeman, Rivers).  You’re definitely going to want to own two of them if you wait this long to take your starter, but the reward could be great if one or both of them hit.

Tier 5:  There’s Some Upside, But I Probably Won’t Own Any of Them

E.J. Manuel, Brandon Weeden, Ryan Tannehill, Jake Locker, Matt Schaub

Brandon Weeden could have some value in a Norv Turner offense

Brandon Weeden could have some value in a Norv Turner offense

There are some players to watch in this tier, but overall (as the name suggests) I probably won’t own any of them this season. Manuel, Tannehill, and Locker are all raw passers that should offer some upside with their legs. Tannehill will also have some new toys to play with in Mike Wallace, Brandon Gibson, and Dustin Keller. It has been no secret that I am a fan of Norv Turner and what he could do to the Cleveland Browns offense, and Weeden could potentially benefit from that. Matt Schaub probably won’t get back to the 4,770 yards he threw for in 2009, but has been fairly consistent over the last 4 seasons.

Tier 6:  Own At Your Own Risk

Geno Smith, Christian Ponder, Chad Henne, Tyler Wilson

These are the players I expect to start the majority of games for their respective teams, but there is little to no fantasy value in them this season. Being forced to start one of these quarterbacks will not bode well for your fantasy team.

Strategy for 2013

As I said before, your approach at quarterback will have a drastic impact on your draft this season. My approach will just be to wait on value. I am completely comfortable with owning 2 of my Tier 4 quarterbacks this season, so I will not reach on a superior talent. Rather, I will load up on the running back and wide receiver positions (maybe even TE) until a value comes by that I cannot resist. Based on mocks that I have done so far, it would seem that the sweet spots for quarterbacks are the 4th and 7th rounds if you do not want to wait too long. These are where the tier drop-offs at the other positions are significant enough for one of the top available quarterbacks to be a value. In auctions, I would recommend spending your money elsewhere, picking up 2 quarterbacks you can start for $5 or less.

Sleepers (all ADPs from Fantasy Football Calculator)

Jay Cutler, Current Projection: 4,340 passing yards 28 TD 16 INT, 196 rushing yards 1 TD- Current ADP:  11.12

"Smoking" Jay Cutler could be due for his best season as a pro

“Smoking” Jay Cutler could be due for his best season as a pro

Jay Cutler has been nothing short of a disappointment since being traded to the Bears in 2009. In his 4 years in Chicago, Cutler has not surpassed 3,666 yards passing or 27 touchdowns while completing under 60% of his passes. However, I am a huge believer in new Bears head coach Marc Trestman.  Everywhere Trestman has gone (including the CFL), the offense has thrived, specifically through the air. Furthermore, he has stressed that Cutler get the ball out of his hands quickly thus far in workouts, which should keep the mercurial quarterback as upright as he has been in his Bears tenure. Cutler could have a career fantasy season.

Sam Bradford, Current Projection:  4,268 passing yards 28 TD 12 INT, 81 rushing yards 1 TD- Current ADP:  13.06

Sam Bradford has never had a real chance to show the kind of talent that made him worthy of the first overall pick the Rams spent on him in 2010. After drafting West Virginia star Tavon Austin in the first round and signing free agent tight end Jared Cook, the Rams finally have some weapons at Bradford’s disposal. They are faster and probably will not run the ball as often after losing running back Steven Jackson to the Falcons. All of this could culminate in a big year for Bradford.

Busts

Andrew Luck, Current Projection:  4,176 passing yards 26 TD 16 INT, 200 rushing yards 2 TD- Current ADP:  7.06

Andrew Luck is the future of the NFL.  However, the future is not necessarily this year.

Andrew Luck is the future of the NFL. However, the future is not necessarily this year.

After a very impressive rookie season, it is understandable that the fantasy community is overrating Andrew Luck.  He may be the future of the position, but I do not believe that will reflect in his fantasy numbers this year. After losing offensive coordinator Bruce Arians to the Cardinals, the Colts added former Stanford OC Pep Hamilton to replace him.  While Hamilton and Luck certainly have some familiarity with each other, the expected west coast roots and increased emphasis on the run game should cut into Luck’s bottom line. Needless to say, his current 7th round ADP is too steep of a price for me to pay.

Tom Brady, Current Projection:  Incomplete- Current ADP:  4.11

As was mentioned earlier, there is an incredible amount of uncertainty surrounding Tom Brady’s fantasy outlook right now. He still possesses the upside of best player overall, but a more likely outcome is him settling in somewhere between 4 and 7. With quarterback being as deep as it is, I cannot justify taking a sub-elite player in the 4th round when there are players at other positions that will simply be more valuable at that time.

-Anthony Amico (follow @jamsportz and @amicsta)

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2 Responses to Fantasy Football- Anthony

  1. Pingback: Anthony’s Fantasy RB Preview | jamsportz

  2. Pingback: Anthony’s Fantasy Wide Receiver Preview | jamsportz

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