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NFL Draft – Instant Fantasy Analysis: Justin Blackmon

By: — April 27, 2012 @ 12:52 am

1.05 Jaguars – WR Justin Blackmon, Oklahoma State

Blackmon compares more favorably with Hakeem Nicks and Dwayne Bowe – two receivers drafted in the twenties of their respective drafts – than A.J. Green and Julio Jones. Regardless, Jacksonville has now provided Blaine Gabbert with some legitimate weapons with this pick and its free agent signings (Laurent Robinson, Lee Evans). Blackmon is incredible after the catch and could possibly lead the Jags in receptions in his rookie season. Although he takes a statistical hit working with Gabbert (instead of Sam Bradford), it is also way too early to close the book on Gabbert. Blackmon probably deserves low-end WR3 fantasy consideration this summer in 12-team leagues.

NFL Draft – Instant Fantasy Analysis: Trent Richardson

By: — @ 12:48 am

1.03 Browns – RB Trent Richardson, Alabama

Dubbed by several draft analysts as the best running prospect in the draft since Peterson, Richardson is one of the rare running backs worth a top 10 overall selection in April. While Richardson is a high-level prospect, he lands in a division where at least two of the Browns’ three rivals are annually in the top five against the run each season. With that said, it is hardly a fantasy exile as Cleveland has allowed a declining Jamal Lewis and a slightly above-average Peyton Hillis to be fantasy standouts when neither back possessed the ability Richardson does right now. Two of Richardson’s best traits as a runner are that he rarely ever goes down on first contact and possesses incredible vision – aspects that make the AP comparisons somewhat appropriate. While Richardson isn’t exactly an accomplished receiver, he is more than capable and should be able to post at least 30 receptions in his rookie season. As for the rushing attack in Cleveland, the Browns are one left guard away from having one of the better left sides in the NFL.

Considering the division in which he will be playing in and his current supporting cast, Richardson should fall just short of RB1 territory in redraft leagues this summer despite the fact he may be one of the 2-3 backs that may push 300+ carries. In 12-team leagues, he should go in the first half of Round 2.

NFL Draft – Instant Fantasy Analysis: Robert Griffin III

By: — @ 12:44 am

1.02 Redskins – QB Robert Griffin III, Baylor

Whether we like it or not, Griffin bears a lot of likeness to a young Michael Vick with slightly less open-field elusiveness but better accuracy as a passer. His running ability will be put to good use in Mike Shanahan’s offense. In Shanahan’s system, quarterbacks are often asked to bootleg off play-action and throw on the run – a perfect fit for Griffin. The last time Shanahan worked with a gifted strong-armed mobile QB that was at or near his prime was Steve Young from 1992-1994. In those seasons combined, Young ran for 1,237 yards and 14 touchdowns and that was during a time when the idea of a running quarterback wasn’t nearly as accepted as it is today. In all likelihood, RG3 will not approach Cam Newton’s level of success in his rookie season simply because he isn’t entering a situation in which he should be asked to carry his new offense to the same degree Newton had to.

In redraft leagues, Griffin is entering a situation in which he has an outside shot to finish as a top 12 QB THIS YEAR. To be safe, he should be drafted as a QB2 in 12-team leagues, but 3,200+ passing yards, 500+ rushing yards and 6-8 rushing scores are entirely possible benchmarks for him to reach.

NFL Draft – Instant Fantasy Analysis: Andrew Luck

By: — @ 12:41 am

1.01 Colts – QB Andrew Luck, Stanford

Most, if not all, NFL personnel people believe Luck is one of the best and most NFL-ready QB prospects to come out in years, so his skill is not in question. However, new HC Chuck Pagano suggests Indy will be a physical running team in the coming years, which flies a bit in the face of what new OC Bruce Arians built his reputation on in Pittsburgh. And there is also the issue of his likely supporting cast, which will feature a declining Reggie Wayne, injury-prone Donnie Avery and Austin Collie with no viable threat at TE. Now, Collie has proven he can be a lead receiver at times, but the Colts’ offense is in the midst of a massive rebuilding job nonetheless. Luck’s upside is so high that he is probably worth over-drafting in dynasty leagues in order to get elite fantasy production from him in 2-3 years, but understand that his immediate success is far from guaranteed as the Colts restock the shelves.

In redraft leagues, he starts the summer as a mid-level QB2 in 12-team leagues thanks mostly to his skill and underrated athletic ability. He has enough of a supporting cast that fantasy owners should expect a top 20 finish at his position in 2012.

2012 Early Fantasy Football Rankings: Tight Ends

By: — April 16, 2012 @ 11:08 am

With Rob Gronkowski of the Patriots setting a league record for touchdowns by a tight end and the Saints Jimmy Graham also enjoying monstrous production in his second year in the league, fantasy owners are for the first time faced with the prospect of selecting two tight ends within the first two rounds of their drafts.

The question is: is that a sound strategy?

Before we answer that, let’s decide who the top dog at tight end should be in 2012. Giving his 235 fantasy points last season, Gronkowski deserves that honor.

While Gronkowski has been a revelation in New England (and to his fantasy owners) with 28 touchdowns during his first two years in the league and 1,327 receiving yards in 2011, the odds of him replicating his 2011 production are unlikely. Brandon Lloyd joins the Patriots this season as a proven deep threat, defenses will adjust and increase their focus on Gronkowski and his high ankle sprain at the end of last season was a reminder of the injury issues that caused him to drop into the 2nd round of the 2010 draft.

If that turns out to be an accurate assessment, then he shouldn’t be taken in the 2nd round. In fact, there is a strong case that Graham should be able to significantly close the fantasy point differential between the two players, making him a potential better value as the second tight end off the board.

With the first wave of free agency over, here are my initial 2012 fantasy football tight end rankings:

The Top 12

1. Rob Gronkowski, Patriots – He’s a beast but is he a beast that can stay healthy?

Sky is the limit for Jimmy Graham.

2. Jimmy Graham, Saints – Given his inexperience, you could make a strong argument that he has more upside than any tight end in the league.

3. Jermichael Finley, Packers – Is he a tease or the dominant player he appeared to be in 2010 and one who deserves more targets in 2012?

4. Antonio Gates, Chargers – The bad news is that he has missed nine games in the last two years. The good news is that he averaged 13.8 points per game in 2010 when Vincent Jackson missed most of the season and Jackson has left for Tampa Bay.

5. Vernon Davis, 49ers – Are you getting the Davis who dominated in two playoff games last season (292 yards and four touchdowns) or the one who averaged six targets a game in the regular season (792 yards and six touchdowns). Head coach Jim Harbaugh will decide.

6. Aaron Hernandez, Patriots – Doesn’t have the upside of the players ahead of him but managed 910 yards and 7 touchdowns in just fourteen games last season.

7. Jason Witten, Cowboys – With Laurent Robinson having a solid season as the team’s third wide receiver, Witten had just 117 targets, his lowest total since the 2006 season. It is nice that Robinson isn’t in Dallas anymore. Not so nice is Witten’s production over the Cowboys final six games (272 receiving yards and no touchdowns).

8. Fred Davis, Redskins – If you watched any Redskins games last year, it was readily apparent that Davis has major upside. Look no further than his 8.1 points per game last season, 5th best amongst tight ends. With better wide receivers in Washington this season, a rookie quarterback and his 2011 suspension, Davis carries some risk and that is why he isn’t higher on the list. However, it won’t be a surprise if he is in the top five by season’s end.

9. Brent Celek, Eagles – Persona non grata in 2010 and for the first six games of 2011, Celek re-emerged as a weapon for the Eagles over the final 10 games, catching 53 passes for 738 yards and five touchdowns.

10. Tony Gonzalez, Falcons – The Falcons figure to have a solid offense once again in 2012 but I am not sold that the 36-year-old Gonzalez can repeat his 875-yard, seven-touchdown performance from a year ago. Gonzo is going to need to increase his touchdown count to repeat as a top 5 tight end.

11. Brandon Pettigrew, Lions – Pettigrew had the 2nd most targets amongst tight ends last season with 126 but was the 11th ranked fantasy player at his position so you could make the argument that he has a lot of upside but you would be wrong. He catches a lot of passes (83 last year) but not for a lot of yards (10.0 career yards per reception). In Detroit’s offense, he gets few looks down the field and is mostly a check down option in the passing game.

12. Jermaine Gresham, Bengals – The 2010 1st round pick might be ready to bust out in 2012 provided he improves his route running. The talent is there, the light needs to come on.

Pettigrew and Gresham could be swapped out for a number of options including Jared Cook, Dustin Keller, Kellen Winslow and Owen Daniels.

2012 Early Fantasy Football Rankings: Wide Receivers

By: — April 8, 2012 @ 1:32 pm

With the NFL becoming more of a passing league, the fantasy statistics of quarterbacks exploded in 2011. The common assumption is that the fantasy value of the league’s wide receivers has risen alongside that of quarterbacks.

However, in this situation, the common adage that a rising tide lifts all boats is only partially true.

In 2011, the production of the league’s top 10 fantasy wide receivers increased by an average of eight points. However, the average production of the 11th to 20th ranked receivers increased just one point and there was a two point increase for receivers ranked 21st to 30th.

What that means is that additional production in the passing game is going to running backs, tight ends and lower tier receivers (oftentimes, those not useful for fantasy purposes other than in the deepest leagues).

If you’re looking for how this translates into a strategy at your fantasy auction, the takeaway is that it makes sense to grab an upper tier wide receiver early in your draft but use two of your first three picks on the position is likely not the best option. One of those picks needs to be for a running back and the other should go towards an elite quarterback, another running back or perhaps one of the top two tight ends.

With the first wave of free agency over, here are my initial 2012 fantasy football wide receiver rankings:

The Top 30

1. Calvin Johnson, Lions – If anybody else was here, you would quit reading.

2. Andre Johnson, Texans – The last two seasons have proven that Johnson isn’t getting any younger but his talent and the lack of talent amongst Houston’s other receivers land him at number two.

3. Larry Fitzgerald, Cardinals – With perhaps the second worst quarterback play in the league last season, Fitzgerald still managed 80 receptions for 1,411 yards and 8 touchdowns. Just imagine if the Cards would have landed Peyton Manning.

4. Roddy White, Falcons – These days, everybody likes the shiny, new gadget. In Atlanta, I like the old gadget and look no further than his performance from Week 11 to 17 last season (733 yards and five touchdowns).

5. Greg Jennings, Packers – Jordy Nelson put up better numbers but Jennings remains the Big Dog in the Packers receiving corps.

6. Hakeem Nicks, Giants – See above, remove Jordy Nelson, insert Victor Cruz.

7. Wes Welker, Patriots – Sorry Patriots fans, but the presence of Brandon Lloyd means more shots down the field and fewer opportunities for Welker.

It's not a stretch to consider A.J. Green a top 10 wideout.

8. A.J. Green, Bengals – If there was one reason to watch the Bengals last year, A.J. Green was it. If Andy Dalton keeps improving, Green is destined to be a top 5 fantasy wide receiver by 2013 at the latest.

9. Marques Colston, Saints – Over his last 11 games, Colston put up 985 receiving yards and eight touchdowns, making him the 3rd ranked wide receiver over that period. He then put up 256 receiving yards and a score in two playoff games. Also doesn’t hurt that Robert Meachem left town.

10. Mike Wallace, Steelers – With Rashard Mendenhall out, Wallace figures to be featured even more in 2012.

11. Jordy Nelson, Packers – This guy will prove that his 2011 production (1,263 yards and 15 touchdowns on just 68 receptions) was no fluke. Expect an increase on the 96 targets he had last season.

12. Percy Harvin, Vikings – Harvin was unstoppable over the Vikings final nine games, putting up 691 receiving yards, 176 rushing yard and eight touchdowns. With Adrian Peterson coming off a torn ACL, Harvin should be solid once again in 2012.

13. Brandon Marshall, Bears – Will being reunited with Jay Cutler make Marshall a top 10 fantasy wide receiver once again? Not quite.

14. Dwayne Bowe, Chiefs – Quarterback Matt Cassel was lost in Week 10. Prior to that, Bowe was the 7th ranked fantasy wide receiver. Yes, Tyler Palko killed his fantasy value.

15. Julio Jones, Falcons – This kid is dynamite but his hammies cause me some concern.

16. Dez Bryant, Cowboys – Let’s face it. This guy has top five potential but he’s not going to get there with the 6.9 targets per game he had last year.

17. Vincent Jackson, Buccaneers – The Chargers offense is better than the Bucs and Josh Freeman is no match for Philip Rivers.

18. Steve Smith, Panthers – Smith had a renaissance season in 2011, catching 79 passes for 1,394 yards and 7 touchdowns. However, he will be 33 years old on opening day and the Panthers passing attack won’t surprise anybody in 2012.

19. Miles Austin, Cowboys – Just 27 years old, Austin is entering his 7th season in the league. He remains wonderfully talented but he couldn’t stay healthy last season and might not be the top dog on his own team.

20. DeSean Jackson, Eagles – He’s risky and wildly inconsistent but there’s no way he can be as bad he was last year.

21. Victor Cruz, Giants – I keep reading his stat line (1,536 yards and nine touchdowns) and I keep pinching myself. No, I don’t quite believe and I’m having a hard time putting him here.

22. Steve Johnson, Bills – It doesn’t feel right putting him this low but he has benefited from a lot of targets and the production opposite him can’t be as bad as it was last year. Or can it?

23. Kenny Britt, Titans – If it weren’t for injury, brain cramps and quarterback concerns, Britt would be much higher.

24. Jeremy Maclin, Eagles – I’m making the call that the ten touchdowns he scored as part of the Eagles high-flying 2010 offense were an aberration.

25. Demaryius Thomas, Broncos – I read that Thomas is the most physically gifted wide receiver that Peyton Manning has ever played with. Unfortunately, he’s not the best receiver that Manning ever played with. And the injury history cannot be ignored.

26. Michael Crabtree, 49ers – Over the season’s final 11 games, Crabtree caught 61 passes for 742 yards and four touchdowns. Projected over an entire season, that would make him a mid-tier WR2 but that won’t happen with Mario Manningham and Randy Moss in San Francisco.

27. Antonio Brown, Steelers – Breakout season in 2011 but lack of touchdowns hurts his fantasy value. Doesn’t help that Emmanuel Sanders figures to be healthy for 2012.

28. Brandon Lloyd, Patriots – You see a player being reunited with the offensive guru who help propel him to a career-year. I see a player who is his team’s fourth option in the passing game.

29. Torrey Smith, Ravens – Meet Baltimore’s new number one receiver.

30. Reggie Wayne, Colts – Repeat after me. Top wide receiver on a doormat that will have to throw plenty. Garbage time production, folks.

On the outside looking in: Darrius Heyward-Bey, Anquan Boldin, Sidney Rice, Robert Meachem, Malcom Floyd, Lance Moore, Pierre Garcon, Santonio Holmes, Eric Decker, Nate Washington, Laurent Robinson and Mario Manningham.

2012 Early Fantasy Football Rankings: Running Backs

By: — April 4, 2012 @ 10:55 am

Let’s face it, folks. With the NFL becoming a passing league, the days of there being ten quality fantasy options at running back are long gone and they aren’t coming back.

If you haven’t ditched your two stud running back theory, it’s time to get out of the cave, return from the stone ages and quit eating leaves from tree tops. Otherwise, your fellow owners are going to have plenty of fun with dinosaur and cave man jokes at your expense.

And you don’t want that.

This year, there are four running backs that deserve to be taken before any other position and that is it. Some might argue that number should be three. Even more interesting is that you could make a strong case that this year’s 5th ranked running back should be taken no sooner than 9th overall.

With the first wave of free agency over, here are my initial 2012 fantasy football running back rankings:

The Top 30

1. Arian Foster, Texans – Foster proved in 2011 that his monster breakout season in 2010 was no fluke. A hamstring injury that caused him to miss two starts and leave early in another game and a Week 17 breather were the only issues preventing Foster from repeating as the top fantasy running back last season. A pair of key defections on the offensive line and his new contract are the only red flags.

2. Ray Rice, Ravens – With Ricky Williams backing him up, Rice still managed 2,068 total yards and 15 touchdowns in 2011, both career highs. Williams retired this off-season and while Baltimore will surely add to their running back depth chart, it is unlikely Rice’s new backup will be as talented as Williams. That means Rice figures to approach 400 touches (395 last season) again in 2012, provided he doesn’t hold out.

3. LeSean McCoy, Eagles – McCoy finished second in fantasy points amongst running backs in 2011, topping 1,600 total yards for the second consecutive season and scoring a career-high 20 touchdowns. He clearly benefited from quarterback Michael Vick’s lack of rushing touchdowns (just one in 2011 after scoring nine times in 2010). Vick’s presence, the loss of Pro Bowl left tackle Jason Peters to a potentially season-ending injury and McCoy’s contract status are the concerns.

4. Maurice Jones-Drew, Jaguars – What is there to say? MJD was gold last season even though the Jaguars featured the worst quarterback play in the league, gaining 1,980 total yards and scoring 11 touchdowns. Since taking over as the team’s starter three seasons ago, he has averaged 117 total yards per game while topping 1,600 yards every year. Imagine what he can do if Blaine Gabbert picks up his game.

5. Chris Johnson, Titans – He’s just too good and his ego too big to have two consecutive down years. Right?

Ryan Mathews is pushing to be a top 5 fantasy running back.

6. Ryan Mathews, Chargers – With Mike Tolbert and Darren Sproles having left town over the past two off-seasons, Mathews is the Big Dog in San Diego in 2012 and the only thing holding him back from being a superstar is injury. Despite missing two games and having a reduced workload in two others, he still managed 1,546 total yards and six touchdowns last season. LeRon McClain is a marginal threat to take over Tolbert’s goal line duties but the expectation is that Mathews will assume that role.

7. Darren McFadden, Raiders – Run DMC was a monster over the first six weeks of last season, gaining 610 yards on the ground, 153 through the air and scoring five touchdowns. Then the injury woes hit, again. This time it was a Lis Franc sprain that ended his season with the Raiders hiding the true extent of his injury for several weeks, keeping his fantasy owners in limbo. Super sub Michael Bush has left town so injury history is the only thing keeping McFadden out of the top five.

8. Matt Forte, Bears – Forte was on the verge of a career-year in 2011 before suffering a sprained medial collateral ligament in his right knee during Week 13. In his first eleven games, he ran for 987 yards, had 490 receiving yards and scoring four times. Never a strong short yardage runner, Forte will once again come out in those situations with Michael Bush taking over that roll from Marion Barber. Bush figures to eat into some of Forte’s touches this season but Forte remains a RB1 for fantasy purposes.

9. Marshawn Lynch, Seahawks – With pending free agency, Lynch had the finest year of his career in 2011, posting career-highs in rushing yards with 1,204 and rushing touchdowns with 12. He also chipped in 212 yards and another touchdown in the passing game. He will remain a workhorse back in 2012. Why not higher up, you ask? Simple. I don’t believe.

10. Jamaal Charles, Chiefs – Despite coming off a 2011 season that ended in Week 2 with a torn ACL, Charles sneaks into the top 10. Peyton Hillis signed with the Chiefs but don’t forget that Charles topped 1,000 rushing yards in consecutive seasons and posted 1,935 total yards in 2010 on just 275 touches.

11. Michael Turner, Falcons – Turner’s FF bio is littered with red flags. He turned 30 in February, he has topped 300 carries in three of the last four years and he was dreadful from Week 12 to Week 16 last year (280 rushing yards and one touchdown) before running roughshod over a decimated Bucs team in Week 17. However, he has hit double-digit touchdowns in each of his four years in Atlanta and he remains the lead back in an offense that that should be in the top 10 in 2012.

12. Fred Jackson, Bills – Sorry, C.J. Spiller owners, Fjax is too good to give up too many touches to the young speedster in 2012. This guy was a top 5 fantasy running back before suffering a broken fibula in Week 11.

13. DeMarco Murray, Cowboys – Hey, the kid can play but can he play for 16 games? Injury issues caused him to drop to the 3rd round of the 2011 rookie draft and low and behold, he ended his rookie season on injured reserve.

14. Adrian Peterson, Vikings – How did I decide to put AP at 14? I couldn’t find anybody else to put ahead of him. Peterson is on schedule with his rehab and the club remains confident he will return for Week 1 however he’s likely to be limited early in the season.

15. Frank Gore, 49ers – Persona non grata in the passing game and now facing a threat to his goal line carries with Brandon Jacobs in town. Jacobs is no sure bet to win that role but Gore is no longer a workhorse back with Kendall Hunter and Jacobs on the roster.

16. Reggie Bush, Dolphins – Coming off a career year, Bush surprised the football world by staying healthy for 15 games and topping 1,000 rushing yards for the first time in his career. The issue is whether he can do it again.

17. Darren Sproles, Saints – The diminutive one finished 2011 as the 10th ranked fantasy running back despite having just 173 touches. He is unlikely to reach the nine touchdowns he had last season but a repeat of his 1,313 total yards is possible.

18. Steven Jackson, Rams – Sjax bounced back last season after suffering through a subpar 2010 season when he averaged just 3.8 yards per carry. While he might be just 28 years old, he has had more wear and tear than perhaps any other running back that age, constantly having to face eight and nine man fronts. At least it’s nice to know that he has topped 1,000 rushing yards in seven straight seasons.

19. Roy Helu, Redskins – Helu showed plenty of upside in 2011 before missing the final three games of the season with knee and toe injuries.

20. BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Bengals – It’s precarious but BJGE cracks the top 20 until we see what the Bengals do in the draft.

21. Ahmad Bradshaw, Giants – The good news is that Bradshaw’s main backup, Brandon Jacobs, has left town. The bad news is that it doesn’t mean much since the Giants don’t believe Bradshaw can be a workhorse back.

22. Isaac Redman, Steelers – With Mendenhall out, Redman looked good in a Week 17 win over the Browns and in the Steelers playoff loss against a tough Broncos defense. Basically, I don’t think he’s a big downgrade from Mendenhall, who will miss much of 2012. By opening day, Redman could move up to mid-tier RB2 status.

23. Shonn Greene, Jets – Despite a rib injury that limited him late in 2011, Greene topped 1,000 rushing yards for the first time and figures to top the 273 touches he had last season with LaDainian Tomlinson no longer on the roster.

24. Beanie Wells, Cardinals – At first glance, Wells’ numbers look good – 1,047 yards, 4.3 yards per carry and ten touchdowns. A closer look reveals some major inconsistency, with Wells having ten games (out of 15) with 67 or fewer yards and just two 100-yard performances. Add in his injury history and it seems clear that a timeshare with Ryan Williams, who missed all of his rookie season with injury, is almost guaranteed.

25. LeGarrette Blount, Bucs – There’s a nagging belief that the Bucs don’t view Blount as the answer and help is on the way in the draft, maybe in the form of Trent Richardson.

26. Stevan Ridley, Patriots – If he doesn’t fumble, Ridley figures to take over BJGE’s role in 2012.

27. Willis McGahee, Broncos – Sorry, folks, I don’t believe a repeat of his 2011 performance is in the cards. Expect the Broncos to add to their depth at running back and for McGahee to be less of a workhorse back next season.

28. Jonathan Stewart, Panthers – This ranking doesn’t reflect his talent. It is looking likely a committee approach in Carolina this season but Stewart at least figures to be the lead dog.

29. Jahvid Best, Lions – Let’s assume he plays 10 or 11 games. That should be enough to keep him inside the top 30 fantasy running backs.

30. Mark Ingram, Saints – Why is he here? I’m scared to put him any lower. My apologies to Trent Richardson, James Starks, DeAngelo Williams, Michael Bush, C.J. Spiller and Daniel Thomas.

Wide Receivers up next…

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