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WR Cordarrelle Patterson – Draft Profile


By: — April 25, 2013 @ 7:49 am
Filed under: NFL Draft
Cordarrelle Patterson

A perfect blend of size and speed.

Vitals
Height/Weight: 6’2”/216
Hands: 9”

Important NFL Combine Numbers
40-Yard Dash: 4.42
Vertical Jump: 37”
Broad Jump: 10’ 8”
20-Yard Shuttle: N/A

Background (College Stats)
After a strong 2008 high school season put him on college teams’ radars, Patterson did not play the following season at North Carolina Tech. He moved to Kansas the next year, became a two-time NFCAA All-American at Hutchinson Community College and was considered the top ranked JUCO product in the nation. Patterson entered 2012 expecting to be Tennessee’s No. 3 receiver (behind fellow draft classmates Justin Hunter and Da’Rick Rogers), but the latter was dismissed from the team. The South Carolina native seamlessly transitioned to the Division I level in his first game with the Volunteers, posting a 6-93-1 line against North Carolina State’s David Amerson, who led FBS with 13 interceptions the previous year. Patterson continued to make plays thereafter, becoming the first NCAA player in four years to score a touchdown four different ways. As the season progressed, Tennessee began to get him snaps at running back, where he tallied 208 rushing yards and three touchdowns on 25 carries. But he did his most damage as a returner, setting a SEC single-season record with a combined kickoff and punt return average of 27.6 yards, and a school record of 1,858 all-purpose yards.

NFL Player Comp(s): Dez Bryant

Strengths
Patterson arguably has the best size-speed-skill combination of any receiver in this draft and is something special in the open field; he may be the best bigger-bodied receiver in that regard to come out in recent drafts. As noted NFL Films guru Greg Cosell recently pointed out, he has “open field instincts and movement that you cannot teach”. Former Tennessee recruiting coordinator (and current Cincinnati Bearcats QB coach) Darin Hinshaw suggested Patterson “was the best I’ve ever seen with the ball in his hands”. To those points, Patterson repeatedly flashed exceptional stop-and-start ability as a ball-carrier. As cliché as it sounds, every play he has the ball in his hands is one that can actually be a big play. He also separates rather easily on vertical routes and could emerge as the player who “takes the top off” the defense early in his career. It comes as no surprise then that he was asked to – and excelled in – many different facets of the game, including receiver, runner and return specialist. As agile and nimble as he is in the open field, he is also not averse to getting a bit physical and will fight through weak tackles. For the lack of respect he gets for his “limited” mental acuity, Patterson does seem to comprehend hot routes and has a more expansive route tree than Bryant had in his first two seasons.

Weaknesses
As his background and one year in major-college football will attest, Patterson is raw. In his case, “raw” means he has a lot of work learning to use his hands to separate initially from coverage against the higher-quality cornerbacks he will face in the NFL. It also means he’ll be a work in progress becoming a better route runner to take more advantage of his natural physical gifts. Opponents will almost certainly use press coverage on him early on – assuming they have a cornerback capable of playing it well – until he stops trying to avoid the jam and learns to take it head on from time to time (something that he can be coached to do). As wonderful as he is with the ball in his hands, one of the bigger knocks on Patterson is that he doesn’t bring it on every play, as a receiver or blocker. Although his drop rate (4.2%) was lower than other high-profile receivers in this draft like Keenan Allen and Hunter, Patterson has a tendency to body catch, even when it isn’t necessary to do so. Patterson’s overall intelligence has also come into question, which may have something to do with the number of teams (reportedly) that he has not interviewed well throughout the draft process.

Bottom Line
If football was played simply from the shoulders down, the evaluation would be simple and the Pro Bowls would likely be aplenty. Patterson is about as talented as they come, but needs a lot of polish. For those reasons, he is one of the most difficult players to project in this class. One of the factors he has going for him is that he is not a character red flag, so the questions he raises with his academic struggles and supposed inability to retain information will be less of a burden on a coaching staff. (Based on some of his play, I get the distinct feeling that he’s a bit more football-savvy than he is getting credit for during the draft process.) Former University of Tennessee coach Derek Dooley told NFL.com’s Gil Brandt that Patterson “can be a head coach’s delight” and it isn’t hard to see why when he can make the big play at receiver, returner and even running back. Patterson should (and probably needs to) be brought along slowly, with his new team focusing on his abilities as a returner and the routes he excelled at with the Volunteers as a receiver (crossing routes, hitches and go routes). Will he shore up the mental/psychological part of his game? That’s the (several) million-dollar question, because he oozes physical talent. Assuming Patterson lands with a team willing to build a package of plays around his strengths in his rookie season – much like San Francisco did with OLB Aldon Smith a couple of years ago – and finds a very good (and patient) position coach to work with him, he could very well be one of the most dynamic receivers in the league in 3-4 years.



TE Tyler Eifert – Draft Profile


By: — April 24, 2013 @ 9:36 am
Filed under: NFL Draft
Tyler Eifert

Eifert is the consensus top tight end in the 2013 draft.

Vitals
Height/Weight: 6’6”/251
Hands: 9 1/8”

Important NFL Combine Numbers
40-Yard Dash: 4.68
Vertical Jump: 35 1/2”
Broad Jump: 9’ 11”
20-Yard Shuttle: 4.32

Background (College Stats)
The son of a former Purdue basketball player, Eifert began to emerge as a factor in Notre Dame’s offense in 2011 when he led all FBS tight ends with 63 receptions for 803 yards as a complement to first-round receiver Michael Floyd. Eifert was not highly recruited out of high school, but ended his amateur career as a two-time finalist for the John Mackey Award (college football’s best tight end) and won it this past season despite seeing his numbers slip to 50 catches for 685 yards. Despite leaving college a year early, Eifert leaves Notre Dame with just about every school receiving record for a tight end – including catches (140) and receiving yards (1,840).

NFL Player Comp(s): Ed McCaffrey
This requires a bit of an explanation since McCaffrey was a receiver for three teams from 1991-2003. The best current player comp is probably the Carolina Panthers’ Greg Olsen, but I was less than two minutes into studying Eifert recently before my mind flashed to “Easy Ed”. Despite being 35 pounds heavier, Eifert actually has a similar body type to McCaffrey. However, the comparison stems from the fact that both players use(d) their size, grit and fearlessness to do most of their damage as a receiver.

Strengths
Eifert may have no peers in his class – at tight end or receiver – when it comes to focus and body control. There also may be no pass catcher in this draft that attacks the ball in the air better than he does or shows less regard for his own physical well-being when he leaves the ground. Despite somewhat less-than-ideal hand size, Eifert helps make up for it with superior hand strength. The 2012 Mackey Award winner has a lean, long frame with above-average arm length (33 1/8”), which he uses to “box out” defenders in zone coverage. Notre Dame used him all over the field, which speaks to his versatility and ability to understand the entire offense (and not just his role in it). Eifert is a feisty competitor, which was reflected in the desire he showed when trying to power through a tackle or when he made a block for a ball-carrier down the field to prolong a big play. Eifert was plenty productive at Notre Dame despite the lack of a consistently accurate quarterback, improved dramatically over his college career and has no red flags attached to him on or off the field.

Weaknesses
Almost every college prospect can improve their route-running ability and Eifert is no different, with his biggest issue being that he telegraphed too many of his routes. When combined with his lack of initial burst, Eifert may struggle to consistently beat man coverage in the early part of his career. While he will create big plays with his ability to win jump balls, he isn’t likely to gain many yards after the catch. Like most young tight ends, Eifert’s effort as a blocker is ahead of his effectiveness, although that is a weakness many tight ends have been able to overcome in the NFL once they add “man-muscle”, learn the proper angles and make football their full-time job. It’s the same lack of overall strength that will probably limit his snap count in his first year or two in the NFL and prevent him from getting open against some of the league’s better cover linebackers early in his career.

Bottom Line
Although the Irish didn’t really have many other legitimate passing-game weapons to threaten Alabama’s defense in the BCS National Championship game, it was telling that Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban opted to use CB Dee Milliner against him in coverage and even more telling that Notre Dame QB Everett Golson seemingly forced the ball to him anyway. Like most of this year’s prospects, I don’t get the sense that Eifert will be that once-in-a-decade (or generation) talent that defines this draft class. However, I do think he will be a better all-around pro than last year’s top-drafted tight end, Coby Fleener. Assuming Eifert continues to show the same kind of work ethic and year-to-year improvement he displayed in college at the next level, none of his current shortcomings should be overly difficult to overcome. In a day and age where most tight ends are strictly “rocked-up receivers” or muscle-bound in-line blockers, Eifert is the exception and projects a player who should eventually excel at receiving and blocking. While it is important to note that the Golden Domer isn’t likely to become the next Jimmy Graham, Rob Gronkowski or Tony Gonzalez, Eifert could easily evolve into a top 10 player at his position and make multiple Pro Bowls in the right system with a quarterback who learns to trust his ability to make the contested catch.



RB Eddie Lacy – Draft Profile


By: — April 23, 2013 @ 9:13 am
Filed under: NFL Draft
Eddie Lacy

The most powerful RB in the draft.

Vitals
Height/Weight: 5’11/231
Hands: 9 1/2”

Important Pro Day Numbers (NFL Combine – DNP; hamstring)
40-Yard Dash: 4.64
Vertical Jump: 33 1/2”
Broad Jump: NA
20-Yard Shuttle: NA

Background (College Stats)
A four-star recruit despite playing only seven games in his final year of high-school football in Louisiana, Lacy is just the latest in what is becoming a long line of first-round quality NFL running backs from the University of Alabama. (Mark Ingram went in the first round in 2010, Trent Richardson went No. 3 overall in 2012 and freshman T.J. Yeldon projects as a high future first-rounder himself.) Lacy overcame a tough upbringing, including but not limited to being displaced by Hurricane Katrina as a teenager. Although he was never the featured back at Alabama, he accepted his role as a complementary back and played a critical role in two of the school’s three national championships over the past four seasons.

NFL Player Comp(s): Andre Brown

Strengths
Lacy is without question the most powerful back in this draft, faster and more athletic than most would expect a back his size to be. Unlike many draft-eligible running backs, he is already where he needs to be in terms of his build, meaning his transition to the NFL will almost exclusively be above the shoulders. And unlike most runners his size, he is not strictly a straight-line runner. But perhaps the most surprising part of his game is his spin move – which he will utilize multiple times per game – underscoring the fact he is not just a big back, but one that is light on his feet with very good balance. The first-team All-SEC selection is also not one of those big backs seems to embrace contact and will fight for every yard. For a player who runs as violently as Lacy does, the fact that he wasn’t worn down (355 carries in three years at Alabama) in college makes him more attractive to talent evaluators. Vision and patience are underrated parts of Lacy’s game as he does a good job of pressing the hole and bursting through it when it develops. Those skills – along with his one-cut ability – make him a more than adequate fit as a back in the zone-blocking offense while his size and tendency to break through weak tackle attempts should allow him to hold up well in a power-based run-blocking scheme. Lacy is also a willing and improving pass blocker, meaning he isn’t likely to embarrass himself in those situations.

Weaknesses
Foot injuries (ankle sprains, turf toe) were a slight concern in college, which made his durability a question mark before the draft process began. He then suffered a partial hamstring tear during pre-draft training, causing further anxiety. His willingness to accept contact also likely means he will struggle to remain healthy enough to stack consecutive 16-game seasons together. While it is always hard to knock a runner during an evaluation for playing with superior offensive line talent, Lacy rarely ever had to dodge a defensive tackle or linebacker penetrating the line of scrimmage because it rarely ever happened. (Consider this aspect of his game more of an unknown than a weakness at this point, but it needs to be pointed out that big backs are typically more dependent on their lines to hold the point because it takes them a split second more to build up their speed and get to the hole in order to create the momentum necessary to power through the linebacker or safety.) Lacy has adequate hands, but it is doubtful he’ll ever emerge as anything more than a dump-off or screen option simply because he isn’t sudden enough nor does he run the sharp routes necessary to free himself.

Bottom Line
(To give readers some idea on how I would rank the recent Tide runners in terms of pro potential, I would go Richardson-Yeldon-Lacy-Ingram.) Critics of Lacy may point out that he was rarely the best back in his own backfield, but talent evaluators – or at least the good ones anyway – recognize that Alabama simply has enjoyed an embarrassment of riches at the position. While I must admit I was turned off by his answer to a question he received on his pro day (he suggested the reason he couldn’t make it through his workout was because he didn’t eat enough prior to the workout), it is hard to knock the way he closed out his college career. If he had only managed to perform at that level for his entire junior season, my final assessment of him might be different. Lacy projects as a player that should have an immediate impact as a red-zone/bruiser/end-of-game role, similar to the role the Detroit Lions had in mind for Mikel Leshoure before the start of the 2012 season. While Lacy is unlikely to be a bust simply because he has what a lot of teams want – power – I also don’t see anything about his game that screams “must-have” either.



RB Johnathan Franklin – Draft Profile


By: — April 22, 2013 @ 12:38 am
Filed under: NFL Draft
Johnathan Franklin

“Elite” status may be out of the question for Franklin.

Vitals
Height/Weight: 5’10/205
Hands: 9 1/8”

Important NFL Combine Numbers
40-Yard Dash: 4.49
Vertical Jump: 31”
Broad Jump: 9’ 7”
20-Yard Shuttle: 4.31

Background (College Stats)
Franklin didn’t enter college football with all that much fanfare (a three-star recruit) and redshirted in 2008 before emerging as a four-year starter for UCLA. Although he began to show his wares as a sophomore in 2010 with his first 1,000-yard rushing season, it really wasn’t until the arrival of new coach Jim Mora Jr. and offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone that Franklin truly entered the conversation as an upper-echelon first- or second-day running back. In Mazzone’s zone-read offense, Franklin produced back-to-back 200-yard games against Rice and Nebraska in 2012 that generated early Heisman Trophy buzz. Perhaps most amazingly, Franklin set single-season records for rushing yards (1,734) and all-purpose yards (2,062) as well as career marks for rushing (4,403) and all-purpose yards (4,920) for a Bruins team that went 26-27 during his four-year stay.

NFL Player Comp(s): Warrick Dunn / Shane Vereen

Strengths
Franklin has the tools necessary to excel in the zone-running scheme that just about every team uses to a degree and some teams feature. He runs bigger than most backs his size, is patient and willing to run inside. He also ranks among the best in this class in terms of his vision and has the balance necessary to not get knocked off his feet in the hole. Although he won’t make his living by generating yards after contact, he does a fine job of keeping his legs moving and falling forward. Along with his vision, his best attributes may be his cutting ability and explosion, the three traits that will likely be how he makes a name for himself in the NFL. Toughness and durability are two other traits that Franklin has displayed that are somewhat uncommon for a player his size. Mazzone’s offense accentuated his ability to catch the ball and excel in the open field as the Bruins frequently used him on swing passes to get him on the perimeter of the defense. Franklin didn’t get a chance to showcase his receiving ability for much in his career, but his senior tape proves it wasn’t because of a lack of skill. Ball security had been an issue throughout his first three years, but he did a much better job of holding onto the ball in 2012. Intangibles – such as leadership, work ethic, work in the community, etc. – are also not in question.

Weaknesses
Two of the primary concerns entering the 2012 season – ball handling and picking up the blitz – will remain his biggest question marks entering his rookie season, until he can prove that he can do it again. (It should be noted that he had zero fumbles in 2012, showed dramatic improvement as a pass blocker and backed the latter up with a solid performance during Senior Bowl week.) Franklin knows he is at his best outside the hashes and bounces a few too many runs to the perimeter, although that is not an uncommon thing for any college back that has enjoyed as many big plays in his career as Franklin has. While the second-team All-American can make defenders miss in the open field, he isn’t exactly a player that will stack one open-field move on top of another. Franklin has likely already maxed out his frame, meaning he probably isn’t going to add 10 pounds without sacrificing a few of his aforementioned strengths. Given how NFL teams have taken the bigger-is-better approach in short-yardage situations, Franklin probably won’t see a great deal of time on the field in at the goal line.

Bottom Line
Mora is said to love Franklin more than Dunn, who he coached for several years with the Atlanta Falcons, and it is a very appropriate comparison to make – on and off the field. Franklin isn’t likely to get a lot of action in the red zone in the NFL, although he wasn’t exactly a slouch in that department in college. (Remember, Dunn lost a lot of those opportunities to T.J. Duckett even though Dunn was the better inside/goal-line back.) While I don’t believe Franklin will ever be an “elite” back, I have little doubt he can emerge as a 250-carry back at some point early in his career. He doesn’t take a lot of big hits and has shown the ability to make dramatic improvements from one season to the next, suggesting he cares about his craft and wants to be great. Franklin has also drawn comparisons to Frank Gore (minus the catastrophic knee injuries), Bernard Scott and Maurice Jones-Drew – a fellow UCLA alum. While none of those comparisons are completely off, he’s almost certain to be viewed by coaches as a 1A/1B kind of back (as opposed to “featured” back), which brings us back to Dunn and Vereen. Franklin should be a solid, steady 6-7 year pro that averages about 220 touches.



Tavon Austin Draft Profile


By: — March 29, 2013 @ 10:18 am
Filed under: NFL Draft
Tavon Austin

Austin: The next Randall Cobb?

Vitals
Height/Weight: 5’8/174
Hands: 9 1/8”

Important NFL Combine Numbers
40-Yard Dash: 4.34
Vertical Jump: 34”
Broad Jump: 10’
20-Yard Shuttle: 4.01

Background (College Stats)
A two-time Maryland high school player of the year that set a number of state career and single-season records, Austin led the NCAA in all-purpose yards as a junior (198/game) and finished second in the category as a senior (224.4). Austin was already in consideration to be a potential late-first or early-second round draft pick midway through last season, but likely solidified his standing as a top-20 selection with a historic performance against Oklahoma on Nov. 17, 2012. In that contest, Austin – a wide receiver who had no more than five carries in any of his first 48 career games – rushed 21 times for a school-record 344 yards in his first action at running back since high school and set a Big 12 record with 572 all-purpose yards. As a result of his stellar senior season, Austin won the Paul Hornung Award (most versatile player) and earned first-team All-America honors as an all-purpose player.

NFL Player Comp(s): Randall Cobb / T.Y. Hilton

Strengths
Austin combines incredible acceleration with breathtaking quickness, allowing him to be the kind of “space player” the NFL has found a role for in recent years. Perhaps the one aspect of his game that really jumps off the tape is his stop-and-start ability which – when combined with his body control and vision in the open field – allows him to create a lot of “whiffs” and make defenders look silly. These same qualities obviously bode well for his chances to be one of the NFL’s top kickoff and punt returners – areas in which he excelled in college. While his size will likely always be an issue, defenders rarely get a chance to square up Austin – particularly in the open field – and, as such, he never missed a practice or game at West Virginia. That quality, along with the fact that he plays to his timed speed, should help quickly dissolve the notion that he is a slot-only receiver with return skills. Austin gains separation rather easily, has a solid feel for the soft areas in zone coverage and transitions out of cuts effortlessly. Although he wasn’t used much as a deep threat in college, he certainly has the ability to do that and will fight for the ball in the air.

Weaknesses
Size – and how it relates to his ability to absorb punishment in the NFL – is probably always going to be the biggest question mark with Austin. He isn’t the most consistent “hands-catcher” and will drop balls that he should catch. On the rare occasion that he can’t make a defender miss, he tends to get tripped up easier than he should. Austin often plays as if he has gotten used to defenders being unable to corral him – which could easily come back to haunt him at the next level. His vertical jump is average for a receiver – which accentuates his lack of height even more – meaning quarterbacks probably won’t throw to him as much down the field despite his top-end speed unless he has at least a step or more on his defender.

Bottom Line
Austin isn’t built in the same way Percy Harvin is – and probably never will be – which will likely result in him being used slightly less on offense than he should be, at least initially. The upside for his future employer is that while he may only see 30-40 snaps on offense per game in his first season or two, his contributions as a returner may help make for it. In that way, it is entirely possible that his career trajectory is similar to Cobb’s in which he essentially forces his way into the starting lineup in Year 2 simply because he will prove to be his team’s most explosive playmaker. As is usually the case with a young skill-position player entering the league, the creativity, aggressiveness and scheme of the offense he enters will have a big say in his overall production. His best fit will likely be in a wide-open passing offense that uses him all over the field and isn’t scared of how someone of his size will hold up long-term. Austin projects better to the NFL than a similar-sized player such as Dexter McCluster simply because he is more elusive and explosive. While Austin could line up in the backfield in theory to dictate defensive personnel, it would be a mistake for his future team to put him in a position where he may be forced to run in between the tackles. Austin is a slot receiver that should hold his own on the outside in two-receiver packages and contribute as a returner, not a receiver that should be asked to serve in a third-down back role at any cost.



Chiefs Revive Niners’ QB Pipeline with Trade for Smith


By: — March 1, 2013 @ 6:04 pm

Throughout their history, few teams have shown more disregard to developing quarterbacks through the draft than the Kansas City Chiefs. Since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970, only three quarterbacks drafted by the Chiefs – Mike Livingston (1969-79), Steve Fuller (1979-82) and Todd Blackledge (1983-87) – won a game for the franchise. Put another way, Blackledge – in 1987 – was the last quarterback selected by Kansas City to win a game for the Chiefs.

Alex Smith

Another San Francisco QB is headed to Kansas City.

Over that time, one trend has developed: Kansas City typically has a need for a quarterback and the San Francisco 49ers typically have a signal-caller to spare. Even though the transaction cannot be made official until March 12, the teams essentially wrapped up a deal on Wednesday to send Alex Smith to the Chiefs in exchange for a second-round pick in the upcoming draft (the 34th pick) plus a conditional third-rounder in 2014 that can escalate to an additional second-rounder. Smith is the latest Niner-turned-Chief quarterback on a list that includes Steve DeBerg, Joe Montana, Steve Bono and Elvis Grbac. Shockingly, former San Francisco quarterbacks have accounted for 95 of the franchise’s 404 wins – 34 more than the aforementioned trio of KC-drafted field generals.

But that is enough of the historical significance. New HC Andy Reid and GM John Dorsey had little choice but to pursue the most established veteran quarterback on the market in a year where the incoming rookie class doesn’t appear to possess a single must-have talent at the position. Combined with Reid’s history of developing quarterbacks and the fact he holds Smith in high regard, the Chiefs can make the case their new employee is a battle-tested quarterback that is a proven winner. Furthermore, the overall compensation for Smith wasn’t quite what it was for Matt Schaub or Kevin Kolb – other veteran quarterbacks less accomplished than Smith when they were traded.

Reid stated in his opening press conference the Chiefs needed to find the next Len Dawson, who incidentally was another quarterback the franchise did not draft (selected and traded by the Steelers to the Browns, who later released him). Few Kansas City fans will argue that Matt Cassel needed to go and Smith is an upgrade – even if he has earned a reputation as a “game manager”. (Anyone who watched the Chiefs’ offense last season should be able to appreciate a quarterback who can manage a game.) Whether the “game manager” tag is an appropriate one is a discussion for another day, but what Smith does have for the first time in years is a front office that is invested in him and a coach that has publicly stated that he has long been a Smith fan.

Fantasy Impact
So the question becomes: will fantasy owners join Reid aboard the Smith bandwagon? Just as importantly, how does his arrival affect the fantasy fortunes of players such as Jamaal Charles and Dwayne Bowe (if he returns to the team)?

Smith was in the midst of a career year in 2012 before a Week 9 concussion effectively ended his 49er career and gave birth to the rise of second-year stud Colin Kaepernick. How much of his “late development” stemmed from the fact he worked under seven different offensive coordinators and how much of it was the coaching and confidence he received from HC Jim Harbaugh and OC Greg Roman? It’s a fair question. In fact, I think most people would agree that after seven seasons and 75 NFL starts, we still really don’t know who Alex Smith is or what he could become. If only for that reason, the soon-to-be 29-year-old Smith is about as much of a wild-card as there is entering the 2013 season.

Fortunately, we do know that Reid has admitted on several occasions he can’t help himself when it comes to the passing game. As a result, there is a very good chance Smith will set career highs across the board. Another factor in Smith’s favor is that Reid has consistently received a lot of production from his quarterbacks, even taking a strong-armed option quarterback out of Syracuse in Donovan McNabb and molding him into an efficient West Coast passer. Therefore, I think that while learning yet another system isn’t likely to yield immediate results, most of us can agree Smith is transitioning from one quarterback-friendly offense to another.

In regards to his new supporting cast, it’s hard to believe the biggest beneficiary from the Reid-Smith marriage will not be Charles. While the NFL’s fourth-leading rusher this season is a bit more reliant on speed and a bit less reliant on elusiveness than Brian Westbrook or LeSean McCoy, all of them are accomplished receivers. Given the fact that the 2013 Chiefs would look a lot like Reid’s early teams (without DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin) if Bowe leaves via free agency – and more like the Eagles prior to Maclin’s arrival if Bowe stays – there’s every reason to believe Charles will be a 50-60 catch player either way. Charles’ fantasy outlook was going to be better than in 2012 because of the way Reid utilizes his backs, but a solid Smith can only help his week-to-week consistency.

Bowe makes the most interesting fantasy case. In this whole San Francisco-Philadelphia dynamic, he compares most favorably to Michael Crabtree. When focused and properly motivated, however, Bowe could be the most dominant wide receiver that Smith has thrown to in his career and the second-most dominant one Reid has coached. I can only assume Reid received some kind of assurance from management that Bowe would remain a Chief – be it via a new contract or the franchise tag – before he took the job or else the new coach is open to the idea of seeing his new quarterback start out the same way McNabb did (with the likes of Charles Johnson, Torrance Small, James Thrash and Todd Pinkston serving as the main receivers). Since I doubt the latter is the case, Bowe has a chance to be the first high-volume receiver Reid has coached since Terrell Owens. While that level of production is unlikely, it could happen – Bowe has already flashed that kind of ability.

In closing, the Chiefs either made a savvy move in trading for a “proven” veteran in a year where the rookie quarterback talent pool appears to lack a clear-cut “franchise quarterback” or severely overpaid because need trumped common sense. If Smith’s last two seasons were a sign that he was just a late bloomer that needed someone to believe in him, then Kansas City took a significant step forward with this move. While the price was to acquire was a bit steep in my opinion, I have little doubt that Smith will be at least serviceable in reality and fantasy, pending any improvements the Chiefs make at receiver this offseason. Assuming Bowe returns, Smith should be a viable QB2 in 12-team leagues in 2013 while a happy Bowe could easily return to top 10 WR status.


When Two Is One Too Many – Thomas vs. Decker


By: — August 9, 2012 @ 1:39 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 Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker

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): Thomas – 5.05 Decker – 6.04

What’s at stake: Grabbing the better fantasy WR2 of the two the Denver Broncos have to offer.

Demaryius Thomas

Decker doesn't possess Thomas' natural talent.

The case for Thomas: Raw talent. When Thomas was healthy for the first time in his pro career, it showed. From Week 13 on, Thomas dwarfed all of his teammates in just about every receiving category with Tim Tebow as his quarterback, commanding over 37% of the targets (65 of 175) over the Broncos’ final seven games, including the postseason. New QB Peyton Manning has already admitted to the Denver Post that Thomas “is a guy we’re going to feature” and CB Champ Bailey told the team’s website the 6-3, 228-pound receiver is “on top of” his route running this season. In terms of the S-W-S model (size, weight and speed) the NFL likes to use, fellow Georgia Tech alum Calvin Johnson may be Thomas’ only peer at the receiver position.

The case against Thomas: While one could question the lack of durability tag that I placed on Julio Jones last week, Thomas has a significant injury track record. He has battled a number of injuries – most notably to his hand, head (concussion) and Achilles’– since the pre-draft process in 2010. His lack of durability certainly hasn’t helped his development as an all-around receiver, although Bailey’s comments above suggest that part of his game is coming around.

The case for Decker: Route-running and the Broncos’ plans for him, which include moving him around the formation. While Decker is the same height as Thomas and actually only gives up about 10 pounds, Decker simply knows how to get open – something that was on full display when Kyle Orton ran the team for the first month as he posted a 20-270-4 line to begin last season. While it is never good to put too much stock in early training-camp returns, the consensus seems to be that Manning and Decker have “clicked” and their off-season work together shows on the field. Since Decker seems to be the clear choice for slot duties and the potential exists that Manning may not have the same arm strength he used to – due to his neck surgeries – Decker could easily finish with upwards of 100 receptions given the history Manning has with using that position (Austin Collie, Brandon Stokley).

The case against Decker: Simply put, Decker isn’t all that flashy, which makes it hard for some fantasy owners to buy into him. The 2010 third-rounder also hasn’t exactly dodged the injury bug either over his two-year pro career, although he has missed just two games – both in 2010. And while Denver has big plans for Decker, he’ll have plenty of competition for slot duties with Stokley, Andre Caldwell and Jacob Tamme all likely to get some time there as well.

The verdict: First, let me just say that both players are incredible value at their current ADP. But given the PPR format, I would side with Decker. In non-PPR, it is probably a coin flip. Perhaps it is unfair to cite durability as the main reason to rank one player over another – just as I did last week – but sometimes the best ability is availability. Flash doesn’t always produce cash; fantasy owners must be willing to look at more factors than just talent when ranking players. Sometimes, quarterbacks bond with the unexciting options they can trust and that seems to be the case with Decker. With that said, owners should be thrilled to land either player as a WR2 in a Manning-led offense because there’s very little “bust” potential here. There’s also a very good chance that at least one – if not both – of these players will be considered a fantasy WR1 at this point next season.


When Two Is One Too Many – White vs. Jones


By: — August 2, 2012 @ 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?

Julio Jones

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.


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