Fantasy Football Strategy, Advice, and Commentary
By: Dave Stringer — August 2, 2012 @ 5:40 pm
After scoring just 16 touchdowns during the 2010 season, the Panthers used the 1st pick in the 2011 draft to acquire Newton. With Newton leading the offense from Week 1, Carolina scored 48 touchdowns despite him not having the benefit of a full off-season, easily justifying his selection as the top overall pick. Along the way, Newton became the first rookie to throw for over 400 yards in his first game, set the rookie record for passing yards in one game with 432, set the NFL record for rushing touchdowns by a quarterback with 14 and broke Peyton Manning’s record of 3,739 passing yards for a rookie, finishing the season with 4,051. He also threw for 21 touchdowns and amassed 706 rushing yards on his way to becoming the 4th ranked fantasy quarterback in 2011. By season’s end, Newton had put to rest any notion that he was not ready to lead a pro style offense. If you are looking for any reason to doubt Newton in 2012, here it is. He was held to under 200 yards passing in each of his last three games and over his last six games, he averaged just 194 passing yards per game. Of course, he more than made up for that by throwing for nine touchdowns and rushing for 295 yards and rushing for five touchdowns. At season’s end, Newton was the fourth ranked fantasy quarterback, with his 14 rushing touchdowns helping propel him to that spot. However, rushing touchdowns from the quarterback position can be volatile and as a precautionary tale, look no further than Michael Vick, whose rushing touchdowns plummeted from nine in 2010 to just one in 2011. Put another way – can we trust Newton to average one rushing touchdown every nine carries again in 2012? While Newton is a top five ranked fantasy quarterback for 2012, he carries far more risk than any of the other options surrounding him in the rankings.
When Stewart gets a chance to run the ball, he looks good (career average of 4.9 yards per carry). He just doesn’t get a chance to run it enough (career low 142 carries last season). In 2011, Stewart split carries with DeAngelo Williams in the Panthers backfield but both players were behind quarterback Cam Newton in terms of getting short yardage work. If that situation wasn’t bad enough, the Panthers backfield got even more crowded in the off-season with the acquisition of former Charger Mike Tolbert, who was a TD vulture in San Diego, scoring 21 times over the past two seasons and caught 54 passes in 2011. His presence will make it difficult for Stewart to match his production from last season – five total touchdowns, 761 rushing yards to go along with career-highs in receptions (47) and receiving yards (413). While Stewart is a solid player entering his contract year, he shapes up as no better than a mid-tier to low end RB3 this season with little upside barring an injury in the Panthers backfield.
The Panthers showed their commitment to Williams in the off-season, signing him to a five-year, $43-million contract that included $21-million in guarantees. Then they showed their commitment to a RBCC approach by signing free agent Mike Tolbert to supplement an already crowded Panthers backfield. And, of course, kill Williams’ chances of duplicating the success he enjoyed during his career year in 2008 (1,518 rushing yards and 20 total touchdowns). There are two problems with owning Williams on your fantasy roster. One is that he sits 4th in the pecking order for short yardage touches behind quarterback Cam Newton, Jonathan Stewart and Tolbert. The other is that he doesn’t catch the ball with just 27 receptions over the past two years. So, his fantasy production comes from rushing yards (54.4 yards per game over the past two seasons) and long touchdown runs (five touchdown runs of 22 yards or more in 2011). That isn’t a recipe for fantasy glory but it is a recipe for major inconsistency (eight games with less than five fantasy points). Consider Williams a low end RB3 in 2012.
Tolbert was an unexpected fantasy star in 2010 and he followed that up with another solid season in 2011, averaging more than 10 FPts/G for the second consecutive year. In 2010, he ran for a career-high 735 yards and piled up 11 rushing touchdowns. Last season, he took a slightly different path, producing 490 rushing yards, 433 receiving yards and ten total touchdowns (two through the air). While Tolbert was a solid producer in San Diego, he faces an uncertain future in a crowded Panthers backfield. Tolbert is clearly the third most talented running back on the roster behind Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams but he is a better short yardage runner than either of those players. Unfortunately for Tolbert, the Panthers main threat on short yardage rushing players is quarterback Cam Newton. While Tolbert excelled as a receiver with the Chargers, he will likely split that role with Stewart in 2012. Add it all up and Tolbert shapes up as a player who will likely put a damper on the fantasy production of Stewart and Williams but not produce enough to make him worth owning in the majority of leagues.
Steve Smith: An ideal WR2.
In 2010, Smith looked undersized, old and on the decline during a disappointing season in which he finished the year with 46 receptions for 554 yards and a pair of touchdowns in 14 games, his least productive season since his injury shortened campaign in 2004. Turns out, the issue wasn’t Smith – it was the play of the team’s quarterbacks. With Cam Newton under certain, Smith enjoyed a renaissance year in 2011, catching 79 passes for 1,394 yards and seven touchdowns. While the numbers were impressive, Smith’s production tailed off as the season wound down. With defenses focused on slowing down the Panthers big play passing attack, Smith caught just 33 passes for 476 yards and three touchdowns over the team’s final eight games. In 2012, the question is what Smith are we buying? The one that was a revelation over the first half of the season with 46 receptions for 918 yards and four touchdowns? Or the second half version? One guy shapes up as a WR1 while the second shapes up as a WR3. Let’s split the difference and call Smith a WR2 in 2012.
The Panthers need somebody to emerge as a starter opposite Steve Smith at wide receiver and the smart money is on LaFell. The team’s 2010 3rd round pick out of Louisiana State has largely disappointed during his first two years in the league, failing to catch 50% of his targets as a rookie and falling behind the forgettable Legedu Naanee on the depth chart in 2011. The silver lining to LaFell’s season was that he seemed to finally be putting it together near the end of the year. After being targeted less than three times per game over the first nine games of the season, LaFell was targeted 30 times over the final seven games of the year, catching 18 passes for 310 yards and a score. Sure, the one touchdown was a 91-yarder which obviously padded his production but it is worth noting that he averaged a nifty 17.0 yards per reception last season, showcasing the playmaking ability the Panthers hoped they were getting when they drafted him. LaFell has a nice blend of size and speed to go along with a solid opportunity. He is worth taking a flier on in the late rounds of most fantasy drafts.
The Panthers 2010 6th round pick, Gettis unexpectedly emerged as a starter during his rookie season, catching 37 passes for 508 yards and three touchdowns although a large portion of that production came in just two games (10 receptions for 217 yards and all three of his touchdowns). Truth be told, his starter’s status was more due to the Panthers lack of talent at the wide receiver position than his own performance. Nonetheless, Gettis was expected to take a step forward in 2011 before a preseason ACL tear landed him on injured reserve. With Gettis out of the lineup, Brandon LaFell took over in the starting lineup and the Panthers plan on giving him every opportunity to hold onto that role. In addition, the Panthers traded for Louis Murphy in the preseason, which may be a sign that they aren’t convinced that Gettis’ knee is fully recovered. Gettis shapes up as waiver wire material in 2012.
A couple of years ago, Murphy was getting some love as a potential breakout candidate due to his solid rookie season in 2009. Of course, the one major disclaimer from that season was that he caught just 35.4% of his targets and that proved to be the most telling statistic from his rookie campaign. After three years in the league, the 2009 4th round pick was buried on the Oakland depth chart, leading to his preseason trade to the Panthers. In Carolina, Murphy is insurance in the event Brandon LaFell struggles and David Gettis is slow to recover from the ACL injury that ended his 2011 season. Barring his ascension to the starting lineup, Murphy is waiver wire fodder in 2012.
Looking to add some punch to their receiving corps and in the return game, the Panthers grabbed Joe Adams in the 4th round of this year’s draft. While Adams showcased some playmaking ability in college at Arkansas, offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski doesn’t have a history of showcasing the slot position. That doesn’t bode well for Adams’ fantasy prospects during his rookie season.
The Panthers used a 2010 3rd round pick to acquire Edwards in the hopes of converting the college quarterback to a wide receiver in the pros. After two seasons and no receptions, it’s safe to say that the Panthers massively overreached in drafting Edwards. If the writing wasn’t on the wall with the selection of Joe Adams in the 4th round of this year’s draft, it certainly became clear that Edwards roster spot was in jeopardy when the team acquired Louis Murphy in the preseason.
Finally free from the shackles of being a starting tight end in a Mike Martz led offense, Olsen had a chance to fulfill the promise that led him to being a 1st round pick of the Bears in the 2008 draft. And for half a season, it looked like Olsen might be on the verge of fulfilling that promise. In his first eight games, he caught 30 passes for 359 yards and four touchdowns, averaging a solid 7.5 FPts/G which would have allowed him to finish as a top ten fantasy tight end. Unfortunately, he tailed off badly over the final half of the season with 15 receptions for 181 yards and a single touchdown. Worse yet, Olsen was completely AWOL in the Panthers final three games with just four targets. Although Olsen occasionally shows glimpses of the talent that made him a 1st round pick, the bottom line is that his career highs all came in the 2008 season when he caught 60 passes for 612 yards and eight touchdowns. In today’s world, that would make him a solid backup fantasy tight end. While somebody might sell you on the fact that Olsen will get Jeremy Shockey’s looks now that he is no longer in Carolina, that’s snake oil since the Panthers are now better equipped at the wide receiver position.
By: Dave Stringer — @ 4:43 pm
With his record-setting passing performance in 2011, Brees finished the season as the top ranked fantasy quarterback, averaging 29.5 FPts/G. He eclipsed Dan Marino’s single-season passing yardage record with 5,476 yards while throwing for a career-high 46 touchdowns. Better yet, he cut down on his interceptions, going from a career-high 22 in 2010 to just 14 last season. Things couldn’t be looking rosier, right? Well, Bountygate has put a cloud over the Saints and Brees’ outlook for the 2012 season with head coach Sean Payton suspended for the entire year. Payton’s absence has to have a negative impact on the team’s offensive production and let’s face it; it is folly to chase last year’s fantasy production so predicting 5,500 passing yards and 45 touchdowns for Brees is foolhardy. Brees will remain a fantasy stud in 2012 but 5,000 yards and 35-40 touchdown passes seems far more realistic. After Aaron Rodgers, Brees deserves consideration as being the number two quarterback on your draft board along with Tom Brady, Matt Stafford and Cam Newton.
The Saints signed Sproles to a multi-year contract during the 2011 offseason and the expectation was that he would serve as a pass catching threat out of the backfield as well as spice up the team’s return game. Let’s just say that for $14-million over four years, the Saints got an absolute bargain. Sproles set career highs in rushing yards with 603, receptions with 86, receiving yards with 710 and receiving touchdowns with seven while averaging 11.6 FPts/G. Is a repeat performance in 2012 in the cards? Why not? Pierre Thomas and Mark Ingram figure to handle the majority of the work on rushing downs but when you chuck the ball around as much as the Saints do, there aren’t many rushing downs. Since Sproles hauled in an amazing 77.5% of his targets and averaged 8.3 yards per reception, a short pass to him beats a running play in most instances. While the Saints are unlikely to move Sproles into the starting lineup, he certainly ranks as their top fantasy running back entering the 2012 season. Sproles shapes up as a mid-tier RB2 in standard scoring formats and an upper tier RB2 in PPR leagues.
The Saints traded back into the first round of the 2011 draft in order to select Ingram, the top rated running back in that year’s draft. While big things were expected of him, knee and turf toe injuries limited his effectiveness as a rookie and caused him to miss six games. With just 474 rushing yards and five touchdowns, Ingram was a disappointment as he struggled to show much explosiveness. Off-season knee surgery and a crowded Saints backfield cloud his fantasy outlook for 2012. The biggest issue is whether Ingram is really as mediocre as he looked last season or whether injuries hampered his ability to show his true ability as a runner. While no one is predicting a breakout season, you could make the argument that he ranks as a worthy RB3 with upside provided he can stay healthy and become the Saints full time short yardage option, a role he shared with Pierre Thomas last season. Don’t reach for Ingram hoping he becomes a bell cow runner in the Saints explosive offense. However, he looks good as a lower end RB3 in standard scoring leagues. Knock him down further in PPR formats since he showed little ability as a pass catcher as a rookie and the Saints have one of the league’s top receiving backs in Darren Sproles.
The Saints love Thomas and his versatility. Unfortunately, they didn’t like him enough entering last season to not draft Mark Ingram and sign Darren Sproles in free agency. Interestingly, it wasn’t the presence of Sproles that caused Thomas’ fantasy value to decline (he caught a career-high 50 passes), it was having to split goal line work with Ingram. Removing the 2010 season in which he appeared in just six games, Thomas’ touchdowns have declined from 12 to eight to six. He was worth owning as a low end RB2 in 2008 and 2009 while averaging double digit fantasy PPG despite averaging between 10-13 touches per game. That wasn’t the case in 2011 though, as his average PPG dropped to 8.4. With Ingram expected to be healthy in 2012 and Sproles coming off a career-season, not much is expected to change for Thomas. Basically, he needs Ingram or Sproles to be out with an injury to be a useful fantasy contributor but the presence of Chris Ivory even clouds that prognosis.
Due to knee issues, Colston wasn’t getting much love from either the Saints or fantasy football enthusiasts entering the 2011 season. However, after a solid season in which he caught 80 of his 107 targets (an amazing 74.8% completion rate) for 1,143 yards and eight touchdowns, he got some love this off-season from the Saints in the form of a five-year, $40-million contract. After missing Weeks 2 and 3 with an injury and struggling in his Week 4 return, Colston caught fire over the Saints last 11 games, putting up 985 receiving yards and eight touchdowns, making him the 3rd ranked wide receiver over that period. Then he put up 256 receiving yards and a score in two playoff games. The evidence is there that it’s time to give Colston some fantasy love in 2012. It’s time to quit focusing on the lack of targets and start focusing on his consistent high level of production. Removing the 2008 season in which he missed five games due to injury, Colston has topped 1,000 receiving yards and seven touchdowns in his five other seasons, averaging 1,096 receiving yards and 8.6 touchdowns in those years. Consider Colston a mid-tier WR1 in 2012.
It has been three long years since Moore’s breakout season in 2008 when he came out of nowhere to catch 79 passes for 928 yards and 10 touchdowns. He followed that up with an injury-plagued 2009 season and a pair of mildly productive seasons in 2010 and 2011, averaging 59 receptions for 695 yards and eight touchdowns in those years. In 2012, the 5’9”, 190 pound Toledo product will get a chance to replicate his 2008 success due to the departure of Robert Meachem and the likelihood the Saints will once again feature a pass happy offense. Moore will battle Devery Henderson for a starting spot opposite Marques Colston but the reality is that New Orleans is likely to continue spreading the ball around to many receivers. That limits Moore’s upside even if he opens the season as a starter. In addition, it is hard to imagine Moore continue to score a touchdown every 7.5 receptions as he has over the past four seasons. Moore should be drafted as a solid WR4 who will likely have a number of double-digit scoring weeks as well as a few duds in 2012.
On the surface, Henderson fantasy prospects for 2012 would appear to be on the upswing with the departure of Robert Meachem to the Chargers. However, after eight largely mediocre seasons, it is difficult to predict a breakout season at age 30 for Henderson. He has averaged 33 receptions for 484 yards and 1.5 touchdowns over the past two years and has just 11 touchdowns over the past five seasons, despite possessing outstanding deep speed. Henderson is bye week filler and not exactly one you want to rely on for anything more than a game or two.
The Saints used a 4th round pick on the 6’4”, 218 pound Wisconsin product but the expectation is that Toon will have a marginal role as a rookie in 2012. His scouting profile reads that he has solid route running ability but lacks deep speed and being the son of a former NFL wide receiver (Al Toon) will help get acclimated to the NFL faster than most rookies. However, expected starters Marques Colston and Lance Moore both lacking upper tier deep speed, Devery Henderson is the odds of favorite to be the Saints third wide receiver. Toon will also need to surpass fifth year wide receiver Adrian Arrington to earn playing time. Toon is a lower tier prospect in dynasty leagues and a player with more value in PPR leagues.
Entering his 5th year in the league, Arrington has frequently been mentioned as a player that the Saints like. Unfortunately, that hasn’t been backed up by his inclusion in the team’s game plans so “like” has turned into nine receptions in four years. Barring Arrington surprisingly unseating Devery Henderson and rookie Al Toon to win the third receiver role, you can drop Arrington from your cheatsheet.
You can make a case from Graham being the #1 fantasy tight end.
As expected, Graham enjoyed a breakthrough season in 2011, catching 99 passes for 1,310 yards and 11 touchdowns. The scary part is that his production last year might just be the tip of the iceberg given his relative inexperience as a football player. Graham emerged as quarterback Drew Brees’ preferred option in the passing game, finishing the year 149 targets, good enough for 6th in the league. Graham has solid hands and enough speed to get deep as well as excellent ability to adjust to passes, making him a great option in the red zone. While Rob Gronkowski was clearly a fantasy beast in 2011, there is a strong argument that Graham has more upside than the Patriots tight end. While Gronkowski will almost surely be the first tight end taken in most fantasy drafts, Graham may end up representing better value as the second tight end off the board.
A concussion limited Thomas to five games last season but he has proven to be reasonably productive given his inconsistent use. If Jimmy Graham were to go down, Thomas would likely be a viable TE2 given the lack of depth at the wide receiver position compared to previous seasons.
By: Doug Orth — @ 4:21 pm
In my continuing quest to contribute to your draft-day domination, I will compose a series of blogs over the next few weeks that focus on players that are sure to create some hardship for fantasy owners: players on the same team who play the same position that will likely have a significant fantasy impact. For those of you who regularly read and contribute to the FF Today Forums, consider this short series a distant relative to “Look-Alike Players”. My goal is to create a compelling case for and against each player before handing down a final decision. Let’s get started:
The players in question this week: Wide receivers Roddy White and Julio Jones
The setup: Full-point PPR; 10 rushing/receiving yards equal one fantasy point; all touchdowns are worth six fantasy points.
Current ADP (courtesy of Fantasy Football Calculator): White – 3.07 Jones – 3.04
What’s at stake: Grabbing the better fantasy WR1 of the two the Atlanta Falcons have to offer.
The case for White: Proven consistency. Fantasy owners often chase the shiny new toy when it becomes clear everybody else wants that same toy, often forgetting how much they enjoyed their last favorite toy. White has secured at least 149 targets in each of the four seasons he has played with QB Matt Ryan, finishing first in the NFL in that category each of the last two years after a second-place finish in 2009. While it probably isn’t the worst thing in the world for White or the Falcons if they reduce their reliance on him and place more on Jones’ plate, the high-target total also tells us that Ryan obviously has a strong level of trust with White, something that tends to win out over talent in the short term – or at least until the point where the talent of one receiver is undeniably better than the other receiver.
The case against White: A reduced role and – let’s face it – Jones is just more explosive at this point of their careers. Not that he cares one way or the other about his fantasy stock, but White surprised many when he personally announced that his role would be reduced in new OC Dirk Koetter’s offense. It’s not exactly as if prognosticators didn’t see this eventual passing of the torch coming, but for the player himself to announce it was happening created even more buzz for Jones. White will also turn 31 during the season, meaning he will be a year or two past his athletic prime. Since Jones has already asserted his dominance as a big-play deep threat, does White begin to get boxed into the possession-receiver role of this offense even more?
Fantasy owners are drooling over Julio Jones.
The case for Jones: Can fantasy owners help but be impressed by how dominant Jones was down the stretch last season? Jones was the second-most productive receiver in PPR leagues during Weeks 14-16 – the fantasy playoffs – last season, which started just two weeks after he returned from his second hamstring-related absence. Consider for a minute the rookie averaged five catches for 98.25 yards and 1.5 touchdowns over the final four games of the regular season and it is no wonder why owners are drooling over him. Jones has reportedly been very impressive during the off-season and the early part of training camp, doing nothing to dispel the notion that he will be anything less than elite in 2012. HC Mike Smith has even went so far to suggest that Jones is a faster version of Terrell Owens, which must be music to his keeper and dynasty league owners since he has been anything but a distraction his entire career.
The case against Jones: Durability. Lost in the meteoric rise of Jones as a top-five fantasy WR is the fact that he hasn’t been a model of health in recent years. Just in the past year-plus, he needed foot surgery during the 2011 off-season and battled hamstring issues for much of his rookie season. During his college days at Alabama, he broke a bone in his hand in 2010 and battled through a knee injury and sports hernia surgery in 2009. Granted, it is a bit nit picky to be downgrading a young receiver for legitimate injuries suffered while playing in a physical, ball-control offense in college and his rookie year in the NFL, but White has yet to miss a game in his seven-year pro career. All the talent and run-after-catch ability in the world isn’t going to help fantasy owners if he can only bring his A-game for half a season.
The verdict: In general, I will always lean toward the more durable and proven commodity in situations like this simply because owners need consistent weekly production from their high draft choices and White has provided that over the years. So while Ryan is obviously comfortable with Jones, it will take a while for that combination to approach the rapport Ryan and White have. However, the line between these two receivers in fantasy is so razor-thin that choosing between them depends on the format. For example, if your league uses non-PPR scoring and/or rewards big plays, then I give the advantage to Jones. In PPR leagues, I would opt for White.
By: Mike Krueger — @ 10:34 am
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Player Projections, Rankings & Cheatsheets
Change Log – 8/2/12
- Colt McCoy (-5) McCoy’s slide continues. By the time training camp is over, I’m expecting Seneca Wallace to be the No. 2 QB.
- Jahvid Best (-7) Best has yet to be cleared for practice.
- Kevin Smith (+10) Smith’s value continues to rise with Best on the sideline.
- Felix Jones (-5) Use on special teams may cut into his offensive opportunities.
- Phillip Tanner (#96) The Cowboys’ RB3 included in the rankings.
- Julio Jones (+4) Man crush on Julio is growing along with the idea of Atlanta’s passing attack being top 5 in the league in 2012.
- Santonio Holmes (#26) Dropped 1 TD from his projections and moved him down to Tier 4. A revamp of the Jets passing projections is coming in the next update.
- Braylon Edwards (+12) Edwards (SEA) has a team now, but his value is still minimal at best unless he wins a starting job.
- Kyle Rudolph (+4) The Vikes TE is becoming a bigger part of their passing attack during camp.
- Dennis Pitta (-3) A broken hand has the Ravens TE questionable for the season opener.
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