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2012 Player Outlooks – Buffalo Bills

By: — June 19, 2012 @ 9:03 pm

Inconsistency keeps Ryan Fitzpatrick out of QB1 territory.

QB Ryan Fitzpatrick
Fitzpatrick’s 2011 season mirrored that of the Bills as he started the season on a hot streak before cooling off considerably over the season’s second half. He topped 25 fantasy points in each of his first three starts, throwing for 841 yards and 9 touchdowns in wins over the Chiefs, Raiders and Patriots. From that point on, it was mostly downhill with Fitzpatrick displaying the inconsistency that has plagued his career as he finished the season with a career-high and league-leading 24 interceptions. Rewarded with a $59-million, six-year contract extension after Week 6, his production plummeted with five games under 210 yards passing over his final ten weeks – a period in which he threw for 12 touchdowns and 17 interceptions. While injuries to running back Fred Jackson and at the wide receiver position were part of the problem, a substantial portion of the blame goes to Fitzpatrick whose accuracy got worse as the season progressed. While his season ended badly, Fitzpatrick still finished as the 11th ranked fantasy quarterback which was generally higher than predicted. Consider him an upper tier backup once again in 2012 (the Bills threw it 58% of the time in 2011) and move him down in leagues that penalize for turnovers given his propensity for throwing interceptions.

QB Vince Young
Pit stop number two on Young’s road to redemption is Buffalo. After a largely forgettable season in Philadelphia where he went 1-2 as a starter and threw four touchdowns and nine interceptions in just 114 attempts, Young will battle Tyler Thigpen for the job backing up Ryan Fitzpatrick. As redemption situations go, this one isn’t bad since Fitzpatrick trailed off badly last season after signing a lucrative long-term contract extension, a deal that wasn’t front-loaded and doesn’t guarantee him a long run as the team’s starter. Grab Young in deep dynasty leagues in case he gets a chance to shine in Buffalo but avoid him in all other formats.

RB Fred Jackson
Once again in 2011, Jackson held off 2010 1st round pick C.J. Spiller to be the team’s lead running back. In fact, Jackson was playing so well last season that Spiller basically became persona non grata in the Bills offensive game planning, with Jackson averaging 22 touches per game until a fractured fibula ended his season in Week 11. Jackson amassed 934 rushing yards, 442 receiving yards and six touchdowns prior to the injury and was being mentioned as a potential MVP candidate. Unfortunately for Jackson, Spiller played well in relief and likely earned himself a larger role in 2012, despite his poor production over the first year and a half of his career. While Jackson figures to be healthy by opening day and to regain his starting position, look for a reduced role for Jackson in 2012. Consider him a high end RB2 this season.

RB C.J. Spiller
Spiller spent the first year and a half of his career making Bills management look like fools for using the 9th pick in the 2010 rookie draft to acquire him. However, Fred Jackson’s season-ending leg injury thrust Spiller into the starting lineup and he played far better than anyone could have anticipated over the balance of the season. After a poor performance in his first game as a starter, Spiller accumulated 446 yards rushing, 187 receiving yards and scored five touchdowns over his last six games, hitting double-digit fantasy points four times. That means Spiller has solidified his standing as the Bills running back of the future. What it doesn’t mean is that he has earned a huge role in 2012. Jackson was a beast when healthy in 2011 and signed a two-year contract extension in the offseason. The expectation is that he will get the majority of the touches in the Bills backfield but that Spiller’s use won’t be as minimal as it was when Jackson was healthy. Consider Spiller a high-end RB4 with upside.

RB Tashard Choice
Waived by the Cowboys and Redskins in 2011, Choice ended up joining the Bills when Fred Jackson was injured but was used sparingly, failing to top 7 touches in four of six games. While Choice is good enough not to embarrass himself as a runner or a receiver, he does not excel in any one area and the days of him being considered a potential starter are long gone.

WR Steve Johnson
Johnson followed up his breakout 2010 campaign with another solid year in 2011, topping 1,000 receiving yards for the second consecutive season and becoming the first player in team history to accomplish the feat. He also became just the third Bills player to record at least 70 receptions in consecutive seasons. That’s all good and so is the fact that he is clearly the team’s undisputed top wide receiver and that he signed a lucrative contract extension in the offseason, negating any potential for a preseason holdout. The bad news is that the Bills did little to upgrade the starting position opposite Johnson, meaning he can expect plenty of attention in 2012. Johnson also underwent groin surgery, which bothered him during part of last season, but reports indicate that it was minor and won’t affect his availability for the beginning of training camp. While the naysayers will point out that Johnson isn’t regarded as an upper tier wide receiver (and that is likely the case), the bottom line is that he has been the focal point of the team’s passing attack over each of the last two years, finishing in the top ten in targets amongst wide receivers both seasons and there is little to suggest he won’t do so again in 2012. Consider him a rock solid WR2 for the coming season.

WR David Nelson
Entering training camp, Nelson was expected to challenge for a backup role on a Bills squad lacking depth behind starters Steve Johnson and Lee Evans. However, Evans trade to the Ravens and Marcus Easley’s reported heart condition moved Nelson up the depth chart and he ended the season starting 13 games. A big target at 6’5”, 215 pounds, Nelson has the size to play outside but was used mostly in the slot by the Bills. He played well early, catching 39 passes for 433 yards and four touchdowns over the first nine games of the year. However, he struggled down the stretch, averaging just 4.1 Fpts per game over his final seven contests with just 22 receptions for 225 yards and one touchdown. He shapes up as a WR5/WR6 in 2012.

WR Donald Jones
Given an opportunity to start in 2011, Jones was a major disappointment, failing to establish himself opposite Steve Johnson. The Bills were high on the former undrafted free agent out of Youngstown State but Jones caught just 23 of 46 targets in eight games before suffering a season-ending ankle injury in Week 11. He has solid size and better than average speed but has displayed little after the catch ability, averaging just 10.8 yards per reception over his first two years in the league. Jones will have to hold off David Nelson, Marcus Easley and 2012 4th round pick T.J. Graham to hold onto his starting position. Look for the Nelson to spend plenty of time in the slot and for the team to use several players lining up outside with Johnson in 2012. Unless Jones wins the job outright with an impressive preseason, he is not worth owning in redraft leagues.

WR T.J. Graham
Lacking a deep threat at the wide receiver position, the Bills used an early 3rd round pick on Graham in the 2012 draft. The 5’11”, 188 pound North Carolina State product brings plenty of speed to the table, having run a 4.41 40-yard dash, but is more of a project than a polished product and the expectation is that he will not have a major role as a rookie. Look for Graham to be used in more of a specialty role, running deep patterns and hopefully forcing opposing defenses to respect his big play ability. Graham isn’t worth a roster spot in redraft leagues but is a mid to lower-tier prospect in dynasty formats.

WR Marcus Easley
Considered the most physically gifted of Buffalo’s wide receivers other than Steve Johnson, Easley missed all of the 2011 season with a heart condition. Easley will compete for a starting position with Donald Jones, David Martin and rookie T.J. Graham but isn’t even assured of making the team’s final roster. Given the lack of a second quality starter on the roster, Easley could surprise and claim a starting position so monitor his production in the preseason.

TE Scott Chandler
The Bills entered the season searching for a pass catching tight end and Chandler filled the bill surprisingly well in 2011. The former San Diego 3rd round pick started the season on fire with four touchdowns over the first three weeks but cooled down considerably thereafter finding the end zone just two more times, both scores coming in a Week 8 win over the Redskins. Chandler finished the season by setting career-highs in every category with 38 receptions for 389 yards and six touchdowns. Looking ahead to 2012, it is worth noting (assuming Bills coaches took note) that Chandler caught an amazing 82.6% of his targets in 2011. He rates as a mid-tier to low-end fantasy backup for 2012.

Dynasty Wheeling and Dealing

By: — June 18, 2012 @ 12:55 am

I was recently invited to participate in the Dynasty Experts League hosted by Dynasty League Football. It is a 12-team, PPR scoring and individual defensive player lineup format league. This is a pure dynasty league, with all players held over every year. A combined rookie and free agent draft takes place in early June.

The league is entering its fourth season, but I’m onboard starting this year taking over an existing team. Fortunately for me, the team was well managed in terms of stocking it with young talent that should serve me well years into the future. That talent includes Cam Newton, Josh Freeman, Daniel Thomas, Jonathan Baldwin, Steve Johnson, Denarius Moore, Torrey Smith, Jimmy Graham, Brandon Pettigrew and Colin McCarthy, plus the 1.04 pick in the 2012 rookie draft and a pair of first round picks in 2013.

Like I said, I’m fortunate to acquire such a team with a nice strong nucleus of stars, especially Newton, Graham, Moore and Smith, even if the roster is light at RB. We recently completed the draft, and I wanted to share some of the moves and picks I made to get from my starting roster to today.

After I took over the team, trade requests from the other sharks started pouring in almost immediately. What do you want for Cam? What is the asking price for Graham? Are you willing to trade the 4th pick?

Whoa, baby. I don’t see any reason to go gangbusters out of the gate here. I will patiently pick my trade spots to balance out making this team competitive both short and long-term – in essence, to build a dynasty. Trade Cam and Graham? Uh, no.

So with that out of the way, the big pre-draft decision is what to do with the 4th pick. This team is light at RB and set at QB. The likely best options when I’m on the clock will be one of Robert Griffin III or Andrew Luck, and Justin Blackmon.

Doug Martin is who I want. Fantasy Sharks in the first overall spot is not trading it away, so the idea of getting Trent Richardson is a dead end. I do love what I’ve read about Martin and the situation he landed in. The problem is I think Footballguys could take him 2nd overall. If FBG lets him pass, I don’t think Sharks, who also own the 1.03 pick, will take Martin, instead opting for one of Griffin or Luck.

After some jostling back and forth with FBG about the cost to swap picks, he seems open to the idea, but I push my luck by letting him make the pick to see if I could possibly get Martin at four. He picks Martin. Trade! I managed to swing the following deal:

FF Today gives:
Pick 1.04
Pick 2.05
LB Colin McCarthy

Footballguys gives:
RB Doug Martin (Pick 1.02)
Pick 2.02
LB Jerod Mayo

I’m happy with this deal. I prefer McCarthy to Mayo, as did FBG obviously, but certainly a downgrade I can live with to acquire Martin and move up 3 spots in the second round. This is what can happen when you have two people on the same page about player value, each of us recognizing the 2nd, 3rd and 4th picks are very even in 2012 rookie dynasty drafts.

Okay, now on to the draft. You can check the whole draft report for all of the picks, and here is a summary of picks for Team FF Today:

1.02 RB Doug Martin, TB (via trade)
2.02 WR Rueben Randle, NYG
2.04 LB Luke Kuechly, CAR
3.04 S Mark Barron, TB
4.04 DE Cameron Wake, MIA
5.04 K Matt Prater, DEN
6.04 RB Dion Lewis, PHI
7.04 CB Cortland Finnegan, STL
8.04 WR Steve Smith, STL

One other deal to report had me sending RB Mikel Leshoure to Fantasy Sharks in exchange for WR Doug Baldwin and WR Mike Williams (Bucs). True, my team is light at RB, but I’m not keen on LeShoure and from a value standpoint, this looked like a great deal if Williams can rebound reasonably well from his sophomore slump.

So there you have it, all of the changes to the roster I started with less than a month ago, to get to my roster today. Each owner was required to answer the following questions about the draft, and I’ve included my answers here.

1. What was the best value pick in the draft?

1.10 WR Kendall Wright – I guess I’ve read more about Brian Quick since Fantasy Sharks took him at 1.07, causing Michael Floyd and Wright to fall down the board, but even if I accept Quick as a better prospect amongst those three, I disagree with TE Coby Fleener getting drafted in front of Floyd/Wright. Fantasy Sharks seemed to get caught up in drafting for need at that point instead of BPA with so many picks to play with. The result was an excellent value for Pro Football Focus nabbing, surprisingly (Bryan said it himself), Wright down at 1.10. Between a gimpy Kenny Britt and Joe Average Nate Washington, Wright has immediate impact opportunity, and finds himself with a better long-term answer at QB and team I feel is more likely to be on the upswing than the Rams or Cardinals.

Honorable mention: 4.06 TE Dwayne Allen, 4.12 QB Russell Wilson

2. What pick was the biggest reach or most surprising selection in the draft?

1.08 TE Coby Fleener – I’ll lay off Smitty of DraftCalc for the oft-mentioned DeAngelo Hall pick in the late second round, because if I don’t I’m sure I’ll be playing against him the week Hall has his 3 INT game. I’ll come back to Fleener as mentioned above… it seemed too early for a guy at a position that is deep with prospects already 1-2 years in the league, and drafted by a team that drafted two TEs. Sure, Fleener got drafted higher, but I’m not convinced he’ll be the prime receiving choice ahead of Allen and I certainly don’t expect a Gronkowski-Hernandez part deux in Indy anytime soon. Maybe I’m wrong, but I think from a value standpoint Sharks had a good chance to wait on Fleener to nearly the mid-2nd round.

Honorable mention: 2.10 CB DeAngelo Hall, 2.12 CB Darrelle Revis (hell, I’ll take my chances!)

3. Who has helped their team the most to compete this year?

ESPN/Scouts Inc. – To answer this question, you’ve got to look at the trades because there were some big ones. ESPN/Scouts did lose McCoy, Nicks and Brees in their wheeling and dealing, but on the flip side gained Maclin, Fred Davis, Antonio Brown, Vick, Cutler, Steve Smith (CAR), Brandon Marshall, Gresham, Peppers. Adding Ronnie Hillman in the draft should make an immediate impact, although Lamar Miller will not (but I like the pick and considered him strongly over Kuechly). Definitely lost some star power but stocked his starting lineup from top to bottom, plus depth, with solid fantasy contributors that will make this team a challenge to play against every week.

4. Who has had the best draft for building some talent long term, over the next few years?

Fantasy Sharks – This team was loaded for bear with picks in this draft, so they are the hands down winner in this category. I kept checking his roster to see if there was some sort of roster exemption, to understand where he was fitting all of those prospects. This team is pretty competitive right now, already having Romo, Murray, A.J. Green, Bryant, Julio Jones, Gronkowski and then adding Richardson, plus hope for the best immediately from Blackmon, Quick and Fleener. It will be interesting if this team does jump out well this season to see if Jim will go the patient route and stick with all of these young guys, or pawn some off for older stars supporting a perhaps earlier than planned title run.

5. Two teams most likely to be in the title game this year?

Dynasty League Football over Fantasy Sharks

I purposely excluded FF Today from consideration as answers to the questions, but clearly, FF Today is the team that made itself the most competitive. Even if not this year, perennial title game appearances are on the horizon.

Early Fantasy Football Rankings Version 2.0: Wide Receivers

By: — June 5, 2012 @ 4:23 pm

With the first wave of free agency and the draft complete, here are my updated 2012 fantasy football wide receiver rankings:

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

2. 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).

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

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

5. 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. Then he put up 256 receiving yards and a score in two playoff games. Also doesn’t hurt that Robert Meachem left town.

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

7. Hakeem Nicks, Giants – See Greg Jennings, remove Jordy Nelson, insert Victor Cruz. A broken foot ruined his offseason but Nicks is expected to be good to go by Week 1.

8. 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 eight touchdowns. Unfortunately, recent reports that John Skelton was being given every chance to unseat Kevin Kolb lead us to believe the quarterback play might not be much better in 2012.

9. 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.

10. 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.

11. Andre Johnson, Texans – The last two seasons have proven that Johnson isn’t getting any younger and he recently had arthroscopic surgery on his knee, further validating that he is an injury risk at this point of his career.

12. 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.

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

14. Victor Cruz, Giants – I keep reading his stat line (1,536 yards and nine touchdowns) and I keep pinching myself.

15. 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.

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

17. 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.

18. 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.

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

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

21. 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?

22. 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.

23. 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.

24. Robert Meachem, Chargers – Meachem has plenty of talent but injuries and inconsistency plagued him in New Orleans. He gets the first crack at replacing Vincent Jackson in San Diego.

25. Darrius Heyward-Bey, Raiders – Recent legal troubles notwithstanding, DHB’s career trajectory is clearly on the upswing (124 yards to 366 to 974 last season).

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

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

28. Eric Decker, Broncos – Don’t you get the impression that Decker is going to be the chain mover in the Broncos offense?

29. 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.

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

Moving out from my initial rankings are Brandon Lloyd of the Patriots and the 49ers Michael Crabtree.

Early Fantasy Football Rankings Version 2.0: Tight Ends

By: — @ 9:22 am

Here is a post-draft update to my initial 2012 fantasy football tight end rankings.

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

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

3. Aaron Hernandez, Patriots – Doesn’t have the upside of the players ahead of him but managed 910 yards and seven touchdowns in just 14 games last season. It doesn’t hurt that he also got some looks in the running game as the season wound down.

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

5. 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).

6. 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?

7. 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.

8. Brent Celek, Eagles – Persona non grata in 2010 and for the first six games of 2011, Celek reemerged as a weapon for the Eagles over the final 10 games of last season, catching 53 passes for 738 yards and five touchdowns. A lot of that was in the screen game in order to help the team’s pass blocking and left tackle Jason Peters may miss most of 2012.

9. Tony Gonzalez, Falcons – The Falcons figure to have a solid offense once again but I am not sold that the 36-year 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.

10. Dustin Keller, Jets – On the bright side, the Jets have no proven starting wide receiver opposite Santonio Holmes and Keller has started the season on fire in each of the last two years. Over the four games of the last two seasons, he has totaled 515 yards and seven touchdowns. Unfortunately, he has not been able to sustain those hot starts and has scored just three touchdowns over the final 12 games over the last two seasons. The talent is there and he is in a contract year so maybe 2012 will be the first time Keller puts it together for an entire season.

11. 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.

12. 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. And 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.

Just missing from my list are Jermaine Gresham of Cincinnati, Jared Cook of the Titans, the Broncos Jacob Tamme and Owen Daniels of the Texans.

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