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2012 Player Outlooks – Philadelphia Eagles

By: — July 20, 2012 @ 4:21 pm

Drafting Vick necessitates grabbing an upper tier backup.

QB Michael Vick
Despite averaging the second highest FPts/G average of his career, Vick was considered a bit of a bust in 2011. At 23.2 PPG, Vick averaged 6.5 FPts/G fewer than his monster 2010 season and it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out why. After scoring nine touchdowns on the ground in 2010, Vick found the end zone just once. However, Vick himself may have been the biggest cause for his lack of scores as he turned the ball over repeatedly, coughing up 14 interceptions and losing four fumbles in the 13 games he appeared in. Otherwise, Vick put together a solid season setting career-highs in completions (253), attempts (423) and passing yards (3,303). In 2012, his success will depend on two factors: a willingness to avoid hits and improved decision-making. Vick can still run the ball (589 rushing yards last season) and his passing is light years ahead of what it was in his younger days, although not quite on par with the upper echelon quarterbacks in the league. He seemed to get the message about avoiding hits when he returned from a rib injury in Week 14 last season, with his rushing attempts dropping from 7.2 before the injury to 2.8 after the injury. And therein lies the quandary with Vick as your starting fantasy quarterback. He needs to run the ball effectively to be a stud but that increases his risk of injury, which takes him out of the lineup. Look for Vick to improve on his 2011 fantasy production but not match his monster season in 2010, leaving him just outside the top five as a fantasy option in 2012. Keep in mind that drafting Vick necessitates grabbing an upper tier backup since it’s pretty much certain he will miss time at some point in the season.

RB LeSean McCoy
After a solid season in 2010 in his first year as the Eagles starting running back, McCoy was even better in 2011, rushing for 1,309 yards and 17 touchdowns while chalking up 315 receiving yards and three more scores – good enough to finish as the 2nd ranked fantasy running back. The icing on top of that fabulous fantasy production was that he was remarkably consistent, reaching double digit fantasy points in every game until the Eagles season finale against Dallas. The question is whether McCoy can generate that production again in 2012? First off, the Eagles ran the ball more in 2011 than in previous seasons so a reduction in McCoy’s rushing attempts seems to be in the offing. No issue there since the Eagles have said they plan to get the ball to him more in the passing game to reduce his wear and tear and that seems like a genuine plan given that his receptions dropped from 78 in 2010 to 48 last season. Second, the Eagles have said they plan on giving him more rest but we’ve heard coaches spout that off before and it seems a little disingenuous this time given the team’s backups consistent of diminutive, second year player Dion Lewis (who found himself in some hot water for pulling a fire alarm in the offseason) and a pair of rookies in Bryce Brown and Carlos Polk. Finally, can we expect another 17 rushing touchdowns from McCoy given that quarterback Michael Vick scored just once last season? Probably not. Other than that, McCoy’s got a sunny fantasy outlook for 2012. Nab him as a top five running back and enjoy the show.

RB Dion Lewis
The Eagles 2011 5th round pick saw precious little playing time in his rookie year, running the ball 23 times for 102 yards and a score while catching just one pass. It was a little perplexing watching aging veteran Ronnie Brown continually run into the line and go down while the Eagles had a speedster like Lewis waiting in the wings but you’ll have to check with Andy Reid as to why he divvied up the playing time the way he did. This season, Lewis will enter training camp as the top backup to starter LeSean McCoy but his value as a handcuff is unknown. He will need to beat out a pair of rookies in Bryce Brown and Carlos Polk to win the role and be impressive enough that the team doesn’t bring in a veteran runner like they did last year. An off-season incident for pulling a fire alarm likely didn’t help Lewis’ case any. On other teams, Lewis’ size (5’8”, 195 pounds) might be an issue but not in Philadelphia where the running back position has been owned by a pair of smaller backs (McCoy and Brian Westbrook) for the last decade. Lewis’ fantasy value will be determined in training camp.

RB Bryce Brown
Philadelphia burned a 7th round pick to acquire Brown, a Kansas State product who will need to show some increased maturity in order to make the Eagles roster. Brown would have been taken much higher based on his size and ability but has barely played in two seasons. At 6’0” and 223 pounds, he brings some size to the running back position for the Eagles but that hasn’t been a key concern for Andy Reid with respect to running backs. With 2nd year player Dion Lewis having done little and fellow rookie Carlos Polk a health risk, Brown has a chance to emerge as LeSean McCoy’s backup in 2012. Monitor this situation in training camp.

RB Chris Polk
Polk might have been a 2nd round pick in this year’s NFL draft had teams not been concerned about a degenerative shoulder condition. As it turned out, Polk surprisingly went undrafted, making him the Danario Alexander of running backs. The Eagles signed him after the draft and Polk probably couldn’t have landed in a better situation. Despite going undrafted, he could end up being LeSean McCoy’s backup on opening day. He was hugely productive in college at Washington and has enough size, speed and receiving ability to produce in the pros. Keep an eye on him this preseason.

WR DeSean Jackson
DeSean got paid. The good news is that we won’t have to read and hear about how DeSean wants to get paid. The bad news is his high fantasy risk factor just went through the roof. Heck, high character players generally see a decline in production after getting their first big contract. Considering Jackson’s refusal to go over the middle last season as well as his alligator arms routine when forced to make a catch in traffic, getting his first big deal could put an even bigger damper on his production than his pouting, me first attitude did in 2011. The guy is extremely talented and might just be the best big play threat in the league next to Calvin Johnson but he has been a one trick pony for most of his career and there aren’t many reasons to expect that to change in 2012. Another 1,000 yards and six or seven touchdowns seems likely but a repeat of his 4th ranked fantasy wide receiver performance in 2009 is a pipe dream. Somebody is going to buy the dream. Don’t let it be you.

WR Jeremy Maclin
Maclin overcame some preseason injury issues (a medical condition that reportedly caused him to lose a pile of weight) to have a nice start to the season but the injury bug struck at midseason causing him to miss three games and preventing him from putting together his first 1,000-yard receiving season. The Eagles 2009 1st round pick is a talented player with above average speed and a willingness to catch the ball in traffic and over the middle but there is always a lingering suspicion that his production is tied to seeing less attention than his fellow starter DeSean Jackson. It is worth noting that the two Eagles receivers have produced similar fantasy point totals over the past two seasons. What makes Maclin more appealing from a fantasy perspective is his consistency and reduced risk profile. Maclin shows up every week when he is healthy and hasn’t showed himself to be a diva receiver during his three years in the league. While Maclin isn’t likely to generate the ten touchdowns that made him a solid fantasy option in 2010, he should come close to that given that he is a better red zone option than Jackson. Expect him to top 1,000 receiving yards for the first time this season and rank as a mid-tier WR2 at season’s end… without the headaches.

WR Jason Avant
As a football fan, you have to love Jason Avant. The guy has climbed his way up the food chain and improved every year that he has been in the league, seeing his receptions increase every year for six years. The 2006 4th round pick willingly goes across the middle and that ability helped him set career highs in receptions with 52 and yards with 679 last season. Unfortunately, the one area where he hasn’t showed much progress is in the red zone. Avant has found the end zone just 10 times in his six-year career, including once in 2011. With Riley Cooper nipping at his heels and the Eagles high on rookie 6th round pick Marvin McNutt, Avant will be hard-pressed to keep his run of increasing productivity going in 2012.

WR Riley Cooper
The Eagles 5th round pick in the 2010 draft, Cooper has made some plays when given the opportunity but unfortunately not nearly enough of them. Given a decent amount of playing time last season when injuries beset the Eagles receiving corps, Cooper finished the year with 16 receptions for a nifty 315 yards and a score. Not bad. Not so impressive was his completion to target percentage which checked in at 45.7%, his second consecutive sub-50% season. Cooper’s solid size and decent speed make him a good option on deep passes, hence his 19.7 yards per reception figure from last season. However, he struggles to get open on underneath routes and has a limited upside. He isn’t worth drafting in standard leagues and may be usurped on the depth chart by rookie 6th round pick Marvin McNutt, rendering him a slight dynasty league prospect also.

TE Brent Celek
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 production was in the screen game in order to help keep quarterback Michael Vick upright and slow down the opposing pass rush. With left tackle Jason Peters out for 2012 due to injury, Celek may end up getting plenty of targets in 2012. Or he may end up being asked to help out new left tackle Demetrious Bell. While Celek is unlikely to return to his glory days from 2009 when he finished the year as the 4th ranked fantasy tight end, he ranks as a low end fantasy starter in 2012 and one with upside given his re-emergence in the Eagles passing attack last season.

Overvalued / Undervalued – Tight Ends

By: — @ 1:24 pm

With the NFL season just around the corner, it is time to start thinking about players to target for your winning fantasy team. Tight Ends are arguably the most intriguing position – a Rob Gronkowski or a Jimmy Graham can win your fantasy league while selecting an oft-absent Antonio Gates may leave you with an unenviable seeding heading into the fantasy playoffs come December. Here is a look at some players that appear to be going too early in drafts and those who provide serious value in later rounds.


Jimmy Graham – New Orleans Saints
Average Draft Position: 2.05

You are right, Robert Meachem is gone so Graham should see more balls thrown his way in 2012. He did have 99 catches, 1310 yards and 11 touchdowns last season but step back a minute and take a look at the situation in New Orleans – a complete and utter mess! Drew Brees signed a historic contact and is finally happy but the perennial banged up running back situation will enter 2012 healthy for the time being. Graham is a stud for sure – he is my top tight end – he’s just not worthy of being picked ahead of Larry Fitzgerald… too many question marks for a second rounder. Waiting three rounds for Antonio Gates (5.05), or four rounds for Vernon Davis (6.02), Jermichael Finley (6.04), or Aaron Hernandez (6.06) would be your best move.

Rob Gronkowski – New England Patriots
Average Draft Position: 2.08

I know, I know! Gronkowski was an absolute monster last year but being chosen in the first or second round may be over-optimistic. True he is an elite pass catcher who redefined the role of Tight End with 90 catches, 1327 yards and 17 touchdowns, but 19th overall? He is being drafted ahead of guys like Matthew Stafford, Cam Newton, Andre Johnson and A.J. Green to name a few. And, don’t forget Tom Brady has a new weapon named Brandon Lloyd in the mix this year. If you subscribe to the idea that a Tight End can win you a championship then you’ll need to commit an mid-to-late second round pick on Gronk but something tells me that the quarterback, an elite running back, or WR1 that you miss out on would be more beneficial in guiding you to the promise land.

Jason Witten – Dallas Cowboys
Average Draft Position: 6.11

Witten had his worst season statistically last year with 79 catches, 942 yards and only five scores; in the final eight games he only scored once and fell below 50 yards in five matchups while averaging just 5.8 targets per game. A healthy Miles Austin and a better running game could eat into Witten’s production even more this year. He is being drafted a full round ahead of a healthy Fred Davis who is likely a better option. In the sixth round, Witten is a reach.


Fred Davis – Washington Redskins
Average Draft Position: 8.01

Only a positive drug test prevented Davis from having a great season last year. With a rookie QB and lack of bonafide weapons in DC, there is reason to believe he could be in for another good campaign. He had 59 catches, 796 yards and three scores last year and is projected by many to come close to 1000 yards this season which would rank him in the second tier of NFL TEs. As it sits now, Davis is the eighth or ninth TE off the board when his projections put him fifth. He may not seem like an eighth round pick but when the inevitable run on TEs leaves you scrambling, you could do a whole lot worse than Davis.

Jermaine Gresham – Cincinnati Bengals
Average Draft Position: 10.12

Gresham is an interesting prospect and clearly Andy Dalton’s second option in what should be a better season for the second year pivot. Some are projecting Gresham to be a top 10 Tight End and for good reason. With Jerome Simpson residing in Minnesota, the Bengals options opposite A.J. Green are unproven and lack experience. Gresham is being drafted late in the 10th round, but reaching for him in the eighth or ninth certainly isn’t out of the question after you have your other position players locked up. Gresham is arguably the best Tight End sleeper on the board.

Tony Gonzalez – Atlanta Falcons
Average Draft Position: 10.02

There is not much doubt that Gonzo’s skills are waning but at present he is the 11th Tight End being taken in most drafts. With Atlanta’s apparent commitment to throwing the ball this season, his presence should equate to more opportunities. He had 80 catches, 875 yards and seven touchdowns last year – not far from the numbers that made him a perennial Pro-Bowler in the past. To pick up a starter in the 10th round will certainly be a coup for you. He’s 36, finished in the top five among fantasy Tight Ends last year and he has recorded 80 or more catches in four of the last five seasons.

Greg Olsen – Carolina Panthers
Average Draft Position: 14.01

The Panthers brought in Rob Chudzinski (San Diego) in 2011 to run the offense and to say that he is Tight End friendly is an understatement. Add in the fact that Carolina passed up an opportunity to significantly upgrade their receiving corps in the off-season and you have to think Cam Newton will rely on his Tight End even more this year. Also, Jeremy Shockey has been jettisoned so it will be Gary Barnidge, yes Gary Barnidge that will be Newton’s second Tight End option. Olsen has caught at least 5 TDs in each of the last four seasons and should see increased targets in 2012. You can snatch him up with one of your last picks in the draft and he could realistically be starting for you every week this season.

When Two Is One Too Many – Austin vs. Bryant

By: — July 19, 2012 @ 10:10 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 Miles Austin and Dez Bryant.

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): Austin – 5.02; Bryant – 4.06

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

The case for Austin: Of all the Cowboys’ receivers, Austin is certainly the most dependable. By “dependable”, I mean Austin can be counted on to show up each game and be where he is supposed to be (on and off the field). Prior to last year’s injury-marred campaign – which the seventh-year pro admitted happened in part because he wasn’t in the kind of condition he needed to be in following the lockout – Austin had just completed consecutive 16-game seasons; Bryant has yet to play in all 16 games since he became a Cowboy in 2010. T0 his credit, Austin is reportedly in “outstanding shape” this off-season according to Cowboys website writer and former NFL scout Bryan Broaddus. As for his actual ability as a receiver, Austin has very few holes in his game. Austin does a fine job of using his 6-2, 215-pound frame to shield off defenders and is very good once he gets the ball in his hands. Austin is equal parts possession receiver and big-play threat all wrapped up in one package. Were it not for Jason Witten, Austin would easily be considered QB Tony Romo’s favorite target.

The case against Austin: Some may suggest that he lacks durability since he missed six games last year with hamstring injuries and parts of a few other contests, but we’ve already addressed why that probably isn’t a long-term concern for him. Compared to most NFL receivers, Austin is a special talent. Next to Bryant, however, his talent seems rather ordinary – which is really saying something. Despite being the same height (and separated by just three pounds), Bryant is a superior option once the ball is in his hands in part because he runs tougher than some NFL running backs after the catch. (Truth be told, there are very few pro receivers that can match Bryant in that area.) Consider for a second that Bryant has yet to show the league – or his team, for that matter – that he can consistently run more routes than a quick screen or a fly pattern and it seems rather amazing that he is still challenging Austin for the title of the Cowboys’ best fantasy receiver. In short, it seems like everyone knows Austin will eventually become the second option in this offense, but no one seems to have a good idea when that might happen as Bryant continues to struggle off the field.

Bryants work habits have improved but off-field issues remain.

The case for Bryant: Dependability…in one key area. Austin has been in the league three years and dropped a total of four “catchable” balls, according to Pro Football Focus. Question him all you want in other areas of his game, but those numbers suggest that he does what any fan or fantasy owner wants his/her receiver to do when he has an accurate throw come his way – catch it. Bryant’s physical talent is obvious, which is why many have labeled him a disappointment to this point in his career despite posting 108 catches for 1,489 yards and 15 touchdowns over the first two seasons of his NFL career. And up until a recent incident – which we’ll get to in a bit – Bryant was enjoying perhaps his quietest and most positive off-season as a pro, drawing high praise for the improvements he made in terms of his work habits and mental approach (specifically as it related to finally learning how to run consistent routes). Even as he struggles to leave his past in the past, it is clear that he is starting to “get it” in other areas, which means there is hope. Maturity is almost always a gradual process, so the new-found devotion to his craft is definitely a step in the right direction for him.

The case against Bryant: More than anything, his on- and off-the-field demons. On the field, his work ethic and grasp of the complexity of the passing game has been questioned on multiple occasions. Off the field, he just cannot seem to stay out of trouble long enough to build any kind of trust with his team and coaches, the latest of which came this past weekend when he was arrested for allegedly assaulting his mother. (Since both parties have “earned” their reputations as questionable decision makers, we’ll just stop the conversation about this incident right here and let the story play out.) Whether this latest poor decision is his fault or not, he seems to be a magnet for trouble and, from a fantasy perspective, that is obviously a problem for any owner who values as many “safe calls” when setting a lineup as possible. Is this week the week Bryant puts it all together or is it the week he misses the first half of the game because HC Jason Garrett suspended him for being late to a team meeting? Will he be focused on running his dig route at 12 yards or will he be thinking about another pending lawsuit (like the ones he was still dealing with at the end of last season)?

The verdict: Austin. Up until a week ago, my answer to this question would have been Bryant as it appeared his life was starting to move in the right direction, but this most recent incident will almost certainly lead to a multi-game league suspension. If Austin was a clear second receiver in this offense, owners could still justify taking Bryant over him. However, Austin has more than proved he can handle being the main receiver in this passing game, meaning it doesn’t make a lot of sense to wait 2-4 games for Bryant when you could probably get the same production during his absence from Austin.

2012 Player Outlooks – Washington Redskins

By: — @ 1:21 pm

Expecting a Newton-type fantasy season from RGIII is unrealistic.

QB Robert Griffin III
Redskins head coach Mike Shanahan spent big in order to move up in the draft to select Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III and provide Washington with a franchise quarterback to match up against the other talented signal callers in the division. RGIII’s unique talents match up well with Shanahan’s version of the west coast offense, which requires quarterbacks to spend plenty of time outside of the pocket, throwing on the run and scrambling for yards on the ground. At Baylor, Griffin was a monster operating out of the shotgun, throwing for 77 touchdowns and rushing for 32 more, but he will need to adapt his game in the NFL. He possesses an outstanding arm and blazing speed but the odds of him duplicating the season Carolina’s Cam Newton put together as a rookie seem slim. Griffin doesn’t have Newton’s size and strength meaning he won’t be his team’s goal line back like Newton. The Redskins also don’t have a true number one wideout like Newton had in Steve Smith but they do have a deep rotation of receivers that could be productive. If only the team had that type of depth along the offensive line, which has been a major concern and remains so heading into 2012. RGIII is an outstanding dynasty league prospect with a huge upside but fantasy owners are likely best served having him as a bench option in 2012.

RB Roy Helu
Helu got Shannied in his rookie season, forced to start the season behind veteran journeyman Tim Hightower and then splitting carries with Ryan Torain after Hightower was lost for the season in Week 7. Helu had a nice game in Week 9 against the 49ers, gaining 41 yards on the ground and accumulating 105 receiving yards, but saw minimal use for the next two games before having a nice three game stretch against the Seahawks, Jets and Patriots where he topped 100 yards rushing in every game and averaging 18.5 FPts. That’s nice production against a pair of solid defenses but Helu came out of it nicked up and saw his touches decrease for the season’s final three games. Entering 2012, Helu’s fantasy value is hard to nail down as the Redskins re-signed Hightower and there are whispers that head coach Mike Shanahan prefers him as the team’s starter due to his belief that Helu cannot stay healthy for an entire season. Odd thinking given that Hightower is coming off a torn ACL. Evan Royster is also in the mix and he had a pair of nice games last season. While Helu has more upside and talent than any back on the roster, he can’t be trusted because Shanahan can’t be trusted. Helu’s talent and opportunity suggest a 1,000 rushing yard season with 300-400 receiving yards and five to eight touchdowns is likely. But when do you start him? Draft Helu as a high-upside RB3 but really, this guy is best used as a flex option in leagues that use that position.

RB Tim Hightower
Despite coming off a torn ACL suffered in Week 7 of last season and his marginal productivity as a starter in 2011, the Redskins re-signed Hightower late in free agency and the plan is apparently to have him atop the depth chart entering training camp. Hey, welcome to the world of Mike Shanahan. The veteran journeyman who scored one touchdown in 84 carries in five games and averaged 3.8 yards per carry gets the starting nod over the hotshot second-year player with 4.40 speed and solid size and receiving ability in Roy Helu – hard to believe. Hightower has no upside, folks, unless he is playing in a powerhouse offense operating as a short yardage runner. That won’t be the description of the Washington offense in 2012. When Hightower is forced to run on early downs, his yards per carry suffers and you saw that last season. He will likely put together a few solid performances in 2012 but who knows when that will happen. Draft him as no better than an RB4 or RB5.

RB Evan Royster
Not fast, not shifty, but in the mix to be Washington’s starting running back in 2012. Royster, the Redskins 6th round pick in 2011, was nailed to the bench for most of his rookie year before starting a pair of games late in the season after Tim Hightower was lost for the season and Roy Helu couldn’t stay healthy. To his credit, Royster produced when given the opportunity, topping 100 rushing yards in each game and accumulating 314 total yards. However, he doesn’t possess Helu’s upside due to his lack of speed and agility. Who knows though? Rather than spending higher picks on Helu and Hightower, throwing a late round lottery ticket on Royster may yield more fantasy value than any of Washington’s three backs.

WR Pierre Garcon
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and the Redskins see some beauty in Garcon because they paid him to be a number one wide receiver although he has never fulfilled that role. In Garcon, the Redskins add a player to their roster with enough talent in terms of size, speed and ability to adjust to poorly throw passes but one who has frustrated his coaches and quarterbacks with his frequent drops and questionable route running. If Garcon can learn the nuances of the position and avoid mental lapses, he could emerge as one of the league’s top receivers. Of course, he will need rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III to be an accurate passer early in his rookie season for Garcon to top 1,000 receiving yards for the first time in his career. It is also worth noting that despite being on the receiving end of passes from perhaps the most accurate quarterback in the history of the league (Peyton Manning), Garcon caught just 55.1% of his passes during his first three years. On the plus side, he had a career year in 2011 catching passes from the likes of Kerry Collins, Curtis Painter and Dan Orlovsky. That provides some comfort and indicates that even with Griffin under center, Garcon’s downside (barring injury) figures to be his 2011 production where he finished as the 22nd ranked fantasy wide receiver. Although, that ranking was burnished by a number of injuries and poor performances to receivers across the league. Garcon should be considered a low-end WR3 with upside entering 2012.

WR Josh Morgan
The Redskins showered Morgan with a lucrative two-year deal worth a reported $12-million in the offseason as part of an effort to overhaul a passing offense that struggled in 2011. The contract raised some eyebrows around the league especially considering the team already had Pierre Garcon, Santana Moss, Leonard Hankerson and Jabar Gaffney (since released) on the roster. As a 49er in 2011, Morgan missed all but five games of the season after suffering a broken leg, finishing the year with 15 receptions for 220 yards and one touchdown. The 2008 sixth-round pick burst onto the scene with an impressive training camp performance as a rookie but largely failed to assert himself as a consistent receiving option during his four years in San Francisco. In Washington, he will battle for a spot in the starting lineup but as a possession receiver with little upside in a crowded receiving corps, he has little fantasy appeal. He is clearly a lower-tier fantasy backup in all leagues but a player with more value in PPR leagues. A breakout 2012 campaign is very unlikely.

WR Santana Moss
With the free agent signings of Pierre Garcon and Josh Morgan, Moss’ career as a Redskin appeared to be over. Those predictions were premature and reports from the Redskins OTA’s indicate that he appears rejuvenated and could begin the season in the starting lineup. With Morgan better known for his blocking ability and 2nd year player Leonard Hankerson having struggled for most of his rookie season before suffering a season-ending hip injury in Week 10, Moss enters training camp as the odds on favorite to start opposite Garcon. What can we expect? At 33 years of age and coming off an injury-plagued 2011 season in which he produced his worst statistical year since 2002, we can’t expect much. While Moss may open the season in the starting lineup, he offers little upside since he no longer warrants a major role in the team’s offense.

WR Leonard Hankerson
Here’s a little secret. Hankerson is the Redskins receiver who makes the most sense taking your fantasy draft this summer and here is why. Some owner is going to overpay for Pierre Garcon’s upside. Another owner is going to overpay for Santana Moss’ past production given the reports that he was rejuvenated in this spring’s OTA’s. Another owner might think Josh Morgan is worth taking a late round flier on. And in the latter stages of your draft, Hankerson is going to be sitting there with most owners looking at his subpar rookie numbers of 13 receptions for 163 yards and no touchdowns and move to another player on their cheatsheet, leaving Hankerson for you. And you’re going to take him. He was productive at Miami, has solid size at 6’2” and 209 pounds to go along with excellent speed. In two starts in his rookie season, he caught 12 of 14 targets for 140 yards, including an eight-reception, 106-yard performance against Miami in which he suffered a season-ending hip injury. Monitor his pre-season progress but at this point, he ranks as a late-round flier in most leagues and waiver wire material in leagues with small rosters. He is a solid option in dynasty leagues.

WR Anthony Armstrong
After emerging in 2010 as the Redskins best option starting opposite Santana Moss and establishing himself as the team’s big play threat by catching 44 passes for 871 yards and three touchdowns, Armstrong seemed likely to build on that momentum in 2011. That never happened and in 2012, he has dropped on the depth chart and could be a roster casualty in the preseason. For deeper leagues, it is worth noting that Armstrong’s 19.8 yards per reception average in 2010 was good enough to finish third in the league in that category behind DeSean Jackson of the Eagles and the Steelers Mike Wallace.

TE Fred Davis
Entering 2011, expectations were low for the talented Davis – the Redskins 2008 2nd round pick. Despite playing well for an injured Chris Cooley at the conclusion of the 2009 season, Davis was a forgotten man in the Redskins offense in 2010 and with Cooley still in the picture, not much was expected to change in 2011. However, with Cooley suffering through knee and hand injuries, Davis started all 12 of the games he played before a four-game suspension for drug-related issues ended his season. He emerged as the team’s top receiving threat, reaching career-highs in receptions (59) and yards (796) while also catching three touchdown passes. His 8.1 FPts per game average ranked 5th at tight end and he should finish near that ranking in 2012 provided he plays 16 games. Of course, his next suspension will result in a 16-game absence so he brings enormous risk.

TE Chris Cooley
Cooley suffered through an injury plagued 2011 campaign where he produced career lows in every offensive category, finishing the season with just eight receptions for 65 yards and no touchdowns. Lingering knee issues caused him to miss the entire preseason and hampered him through the first five games of the season before a broken left index finger ended his campaign. At that point, Fred Davis has secured a stranglehold on the starting role at tight end before a drug-related suspension ended his season after 12 games. At 30 years of age, Cooley’s days as a solid fantasy option have come to an end.

2012 Player Outlooks – Dallas Cowboys

By: — July 18, 2012 @ 2:14 pm

Tony Romo is looking for his fourth 4000-yard season.

QB Tony Romo
Romo put together a strong 2011 season after missing ten games in 2010 due to a broken collarbone. He topped 4,000 passing yards for the third time with 4,184 yards and threw for 31 touchdowns, the second highest total of his career. The truth is that Romo may have had the best year of his career last season as he continued to play well despite missing Miles Austin for six weeks, Jason Witten struggling somewhat down the stretch and Dez Bryant failing to register a breakout season in his second year in the league. Part of Romo’s success was based on the chemistry he had with Laurent Robinson, the team’s third wide receiver who signed with Jacksonville in the offseason. It’s anybody’s guess who will attempt to replace that production in 2012 but the odds are that none of the candidates will come closing to matching Robinson’s 858 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns. While Romo’s statistics from last season would have been good enough to make him a top five fantasy quarterback a few years ago, he finished as the 8th ranked player at his position. There is little reason to suggest that he will improve on that ranking in 2012. Consider him a low end QB1.

QB Kyle Orton
What seemed inevitable finally occurred this past offseason. Kyle Orton resigned himself to being a backup and signed a three-year contract with Dallas. While Orton isn’t worth grabbing in any fantasy format, it is worth noting that he has put together some decent seasons. That makes him a solid pickup as your QB2 if Tony Romo gets hit with the injury bug – not a ridiculous proposition given the state of the Cowboys offensive line.

RB DeMarco Murray
When Felix Jones went down with an ankle injury in Week 6, Murray took over the starting role and proved the Cowboys made the correct decision by drafting him in the 3rd round of the 2011 draft. Murray ran wild over the St. Louis Rams in Week 7 with 25 rushes for 253 yards and a score. He put together a string of solid performances until suffering a broken ankle in Week 14 that ended his season. Murray possesses outstanding speed, enough agility to make tacklers miss on the second level and enough strength to run over defenders when he has a head of steam. Unfortunately, he also can’t stay healthy making him a risky proposition as a RB1 in 2012. One thing is for certain, head coach Jason Garrett will give him the ball enough to establish himself as an upper tier running back. In the seven games that he was the Cowboys primary back, Murray accumulated 155 touches. His talent and productivity when he played last season coupled with the Cowboys strong offense basically ensure that some owner in your league will draft him as their RB1 and take on that risk. You need to decide if that owner is going to be you.

RB Felix Jones
If 2011 proved anything, it proved that Jones’ days as a starting running back in the NFL are over. Barring injury, that is. When Jones was lost for four games in the middle of the season, DeMarco Murray took over and the Cowboys rushing attack exploded. Murray’s performance relegated Jones to backup status until an injury suffered in Week 14 ended his season. While Jones has enough speed and explosiveness to put together a couple of solid performances, he has failed to remain healthy for most of his career, having missed 16 games in his four-year career. Since Murray brought a reputation of being an injury risk from college to the pros and failed to stay healthy in 2011, Jones has some value as his handcuff but that’s about it. Jones is a low end RB4 in 2012.

RB Phillip Tanner
Normally it wouldn’t be worth mentioning a 2nd year former undrafted free agent running back sitting behind a pair of players with solid pedigrees but Tanner may be worth a pick in larger leagues. With DeMarco Murray and Felix Jones having difficulty staying healthy, Tanner may actually have some fantasy value in 2012 especially when you consider that Jones is entering the final year of his rookie contract and may not want to re-up in Dallas to sit behind Murray. While the Cowboys could always take a running back in the 2013 draft, Tanner is likely to get a chance in 2012 to prevent that from happening.

WR Miles Austin
It is now two years removed from Austin’s breakout performance of 1,320 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2009 and the question is whether he will ever approach those numbers again. After a rather pedestrian 2010 season with 1,041 yards and seven touchdowns when quarterback Tony Romo missed most of the season, Austin suffered through an injury-plagued 2011. He missed six games with leg injuries, finishing the season with 43 receptions for 579 yards and seven touchdowns. At just 28 years of age, Austin has plenty left and with the Cowboys likely to rely heavily on the trio of Austin, Dez Bryant and Jason Witten in the passing game, he has a good chance to approach his 2009 production provided he can stay healthy and Romo can stay upright behind a leaky offensive line. Austin shapes up as a high end WR2 with upside in 2012.

WR Dez Bryant
While Bryant improved upon his production as a rookie in 2010, his 63 receptions, 928 yards, and 9 touchdowns in 2011 still left the Cowboys and his fantasy owners wanting more. Watching the talented 6’2”, 217 pound Bryant when he is on his game makes that feeling completely justifiable. Basically, the sky is the limit for Bryant but the question is whether his work ethic and attitude will ever allow him to reach his potential. He figures to get plenty of opportunity to make that happen in 2012 with no proven third wide receiver on the roster. But that was the expectation last season and he finished the season with just 103 targets, the 4th lowest total amongst the league’s top 20 fantasy wide receivers. Presumably head coach has noticed that Bryant’s explosiveness warrants more touches. In essence, adding Bryant to your fantasy roster means drafting him for his potential rather than his past production and doing that too often can be a risky proposition. As evidenced by his latest off-field incident, which may or may not lead to discipline from the league, Bryant is a high-risk, high reward wideout. Consider him a WR2 with a huge upside in 2012.

WR Kevin Ogletree
With Laurent Robinson having left town for Jacksonville, the Cowboys are looking for a third wide receiver and Ogletree will at the top of their list heading into training camp. After three largely unproductive seasons, the odds of Ogletree approaching Robinson’s 858 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns are pretty much non-existent. Hey, if the Cowboys liked Ogletree they wouldn’t have signed Robinson after he was cut by the Chargers prior to opening day, right? Basically no player is going to replace Robinson’s production. Far more likely is the Cowboys giving more targets to their big guns at wide receiver and tight end. Ogletree hasn’t proven anything and it’s doubtful he can put up meaningful production even if he takes over Robinson’s role.

WR Danny Coale
The Cowboys used a 5th round pick on Coale, a 5’11”, 201 pound Virginia Tech product who they envisioned working out of the slot as a rookie. However, a broken foot suffered in May OTA’s put a kink in that plan and likely rule out Coale winning the third receiver job out of training camp. Coale isn’t worth drafting in redraft formats but may be worth a flier in PPR dynasty leagues.

TE Jason Witten
Witten put together what can only be described as another Witten-like fantasy performance in 2011. The talented Cowboys tight end once again had a season heavy on yards but a little disappointing in the touchdown category. He finished the season as the 6th ranked fantasy tight end with 79 receptions for 942 yards and five touchdowns. Unfortunately for his fantasy owners, he stumbled down the stretch, gaining just 272 yards and failing to find the end zone over the final six weeks of the season. The question is whether Witten is slowing down at age 30 or he simply lost touches in the passing game to the hot hand of third wide receiver Laurent Robinson? With Robinson now in Jacksonville and the Cowboys failing to sign a proven receiver to replace him, Witten should get plenty of targets in 2012 and more red zone looks than he had last season. Another 1,000 receiving yard season with six to eight touchdowns seems to be in order for Witten in 2012 and that should make him a top five fantasy player at the tight end position.

2012 Player Outlooks – New York Giants

By: — July 17, 2012 @ 9:03 pm

The Rodney Dangerfield days for Eli Manning are over.

QB Eli Manning
Last year, I asked you whether you got the feeling that Eli is the Rodney Dangerfield of fantasy quarterbacks and the answer to that was yes. This year, there is no doubt the answer is no. Coming off a career year with 4,933 passing yards and 29 touchdowns that culminated with the Giants second Super Bowl win, Manning figures to start getting some fantasy love in 2012. There goes the chance of acquiring him as a value pick as has been the case in recent years. If you want to nitpick, you could view the departure of Mario Manningham and the downgrade at tight end to Martellus Bennett as issues but Manning seems to be at the point of his career where he can make lemonade out of lemons. Of course, when your starting wide receivers combined for 2,728 yards, you don’t need much of a supporting cast. With three-year averages of 4,319 passing yards and 29 touchdowns, Manning’s consistency and expected production in 2012 should make him no worse than the 7th quarterback off the board in your draft. The Dangerfield days are over.

RB Ahmad Bradshaw
It’s hard not to like Bradshaw as a football player. Despite his size, he runs hard and is willing to take on any defender to gain tough yards when they are needed, perhaps making him the toughest player in the league on a pound for pound basis. He can catch the ball out of the backfield, he’s willing to play banged up and he produces when he plays (12.9 FPts/G over the past two seasons). Unfortunately, it can be difficult to like Bradshaw that much as a fantasy player due to his inability to stay healthy (four missed games in 2011 due to a stress fracture). On the plus side, it seems fairly certain that Bradshaw will inherit the goaline work with Brandon Jacobs having been replaced by David Wilson, the team’s 1st round pick who is similar in size to Bradshaw. Barring injury, Bradshaw will get the majority of the work and he rates as a mid-tier RB2 in 2012, one whose upside is matched his injury risk.

RB David Wilson
With Brandon Jacobs a salary-cap casualty and a big hole at running back behind the injury-prone Ahmad Bradshaw, the Giants used a 1st round pick to acquire Wilson. A standout runner at Virginia Tech with big play ability, Wilson topped 1,600 rushing yards in 2011 to go along with 9 touchdowns on the ground. While he failed to catch many passes in college, the Giants feel he has room to develop in that area. Of greater concern are his ability to pass protect and the fumbling issues that he experienced in college. I don’t need to remind anybody what head coach Tom Coughlin does to players who can’t protect the ball. Also not helping matters is the Giants 32nd ranked run offense from a year ago, which can partially be blamed on the team’s poor offensive line play – an area that wasn’t replenished in the offseason. Wilson rates as a RB4/5 entering 2012 and as an upper tier prospect in dynasty leagues.

RB D.J. Ware
Ware served as the Giants third running back last season, playing behind Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs. While Jacobs left for San Francisco in the offseason, the team used its 1st round pick on Virginia Tech speedster David Wilson. The 27-year old Ware saw field more in 2011 than in previous seasons, finishing the year with 46 carries and 27 receptions. Unfortunately, he showed little playmaking ability, averaging 3.5 yards per carry and 6.3 yards per reception while failing to find the end zone. Even if Ware holds off Wilson and second-year player Da’Rel Scott in the preseason, he is unlikely to remain the Giants top backup running back throughout 2012. He is waiver wire material in almost all formats.

RB Da’Rel Scott
The Giants think their 2011 7th round pick has some upside but he will face an uphill battle for playing time in 2012. Scott will battle it out with 1st round pick David Wilson and D.J. Ware for the right to be Ahmad Bradshaw’s top backup. If he wins that battle, Scott will be worthy of using a late round pick in redraft formats but even then the expectation is that Wilson will emerge as Bradshaw’s main backup at some point during the season.

WR Hakeem Nicks
After a somewhat disappointing injury-plagued regular season in which he caught 76 passes for 1,192 yards and seven touchdowns, Nicks showed the league just how talented he was in the postseason by catching 28 passes for 444 yards and four touchdowns in the Giants four game march to the Super Bowl. Then this offseason, he once again reminded us of how brittle he can be by breaking his right foot at an OTA in late May. Therein lies the conundrum with Nicks. He is wonderfully talented and has the potential to be one of the most productive receivers in the league given his status in New York’s pass-heavy offensive attack. With Nicks battling injuries for much of last year, Victor Cruz emerged as a big play threat opposite him but heading into 2012, the Giants lack a proven third wide receiver and at tight end. That should mean plenty of targets for Cruz as well as Nicks, provided he is healthy to open the season. Recent reports indicate that he will be back on the field three weeks prior to opening day. Nicks should be drafted as a high end WR2 in 2012 but one who could be producing like a top five fantasy wide receiver by midyear.

WR Victor Cruz
Expected to be given his first extensive playing time and be utilized primarily as a slot receiver in 2011, Cruz burst onto the scene during a Week 3 road game against Philadelphia catching three passes for 110 yards and two touchdowns. By season’s end, Cruz had supplanted Mario Manningham in the starting lineup and had amassed 82 receptions for 1,536 yards and nine touchdowns, finishing the year as the 4th ranked fantasy wide receiver. Those are lofty heights for a former undrafted free agent who had failed to catch a single pass during his first two years in the league. So, the question is whether Cruz can replicate his 2011 success in 2012? With no realistic threats to his playing time, Cruz has an opportunity to match his touchdown production from last season but the odds of him topping 1,500 yards again are remote. Cruz was a big play machine last year, using his speed and elusive to register several long touchdown passes including receptions of 99, 74, 74, 72 and 68 yards. Think that’s happening again? Dream on. While Cruz is unlikely to match his 2011 production, he should be in for another big year with the Giants continuing to be a pass first offense and with fellow starting wide receiver Hakeem Nicks unlikely to be 100% healthy by opening day after breaking his right foot in May. That should mean plenty of targets for Cruz and plenty of fantasy production in 2012. Add it all up and Cruz shapes up as a potential top five fantasy wide receiver but comes with more risk than any other player listed in the top 10 at his position.

WR Rueben Randle
With Mario Manningham having departed for San Francisco, the Giants had a hole at the backup wide receiver position and they were pleasantly surprised when Randle was still available with the last pick in the 2nd round. The LSU product was considered a bit of a steal on draft day since he was considered one of the most pro ready receivers in the draft. He possesses solid size at 6’2” and 208 pounds and scouting reports indicate that while he doesn’t have great speed, he has enough speed to get deep and enough athleticism to succeed at the pro level. In New York, Randle will have a chance to open the season in the starting lineup if Hakeem Nicks’ fractured foot bone results in him not being ready on opening day. Randle’s size could allow him to become a solid red zone threat for quarterback Eli Manning. Of course, he could also be buried on the bench if he doesn’t outperform Domenik Hixon, Ramses Barden and Jerrel Jernigan. While Randle may have less experience than those receivers, he is considered likely to win that competition in the preseason. Given the previous productivity of the Giants third receivers and there is no proven receiving threat at tight end, Randle is worth taking a flyer on in redraft leagues. In dynasty formats, he shapes up as a mid-tier prospect due to Nicks’ inability to stay healthy and the fact Victor Cruz needs to prove that his magical 2011 season wasn’t a fluke.

WR Ramses Barden
The hype never matches the production. That’s the story with Barden. The Giants 2009 third-round pick has been somewhat of an OTA and training camp legend yet he has caught just 15 passes for 174 yards in three seasons. While it’s possible he could win the Giants top backup wide receiver position, it is far more likely the team will go with the younger Rueben Randle, their 2nd round pick in this year’s draft. Barring a monster preseason (and we mean production in games, not in practice), don’t bother having Barden on your cheatsheets.

WR Domenik Hixon
After being a bust for the first two years of his career with Denver and the Giants, Hixon played well at the end of the 2009 season, catching 28 passes for 351 yards and a touchdown when given the first extensive playing time of his career. That made him a bit of a breakout candidate for the 2010 season but he blew that opportunity and has caught just 19 passes for 237 yards and a pair of touchdowns over the past two seasons. In 2012, he will compete with rookie 2nd round pick Rueben Randle, Ramses Barden and Jerrell Jernigan for a backup spot on the Giants. His return ability may give him a leg up in that competition but the team has younger players as options in the return game and it doesn’t help that Hixon has suffered torn ACL’s in both of his knees over the last two seasons. Hixon is a low upside receiver who may not even be on the Giants roster on opening day.

WR Jerrell Jernigan
The NFL doesn’t wait for you and Jernigan has learned that lesson over the last year. Taken in the 3rd round of the 2011 draft, the 5’8”, 189-pound Troy State product was expected to compete for a slot-receiving role but dressed for just eight games and failed to catch a pass as Victor Cruz won that role and helped carry the Giants to a Super Bowl victory. While Mario Manningham’s departure has left an opening on the team’s roster, Jernigan isn’t likely to benefit given that he is strictly a slot receiver. With Cruz best suited to play out of the slot and the Giants other backup wide receivers better suited to line up outside, Jernigan is unlikely to see the field much in 2012. Avoid him in all formats unless Cruz is lost for the season and Jernigan plays well in the preseason.

TE Martellus Bennett
The Giants tight end situation took a turn for the worse in the Super Bowl when Jake Ballard and Travis Beckum both suffered torn ACL’s during the team’s 21-17 victory over the Patriots. That led to the signing of free agent Martellus Bennett, a career underachiever in Dallas. While Bennett is a talented player with outstanding size and solid speed, he comes to the Giants after a four-year run in Dallas where he failed to emerge as a weapon for the Cowboys. After a solid rookie season in 2008 with 20 receptions for 283 yards and four touchdowns, Bennett averaged just 22 receptions for 188 yards over the next three seasons, failing to find the end zone. While his signing seemed to signal a solid opportunity, offseason reports that he had ballooned to close to 300 pounds put a damper on those expectations. Even though the Giants lack a proven third wide receiver behind Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz, it is hard to get excited by Bennett’s prospects for 2012. Pluck him off the waiver wire if he has a solid start to the season.

TE Adrien Robinson
The Giants used a 4th round pick to acquire Robinson, a former basketball player who the team feels has considerable upside. While that may be the case, not much is expected of Robinson in 2012. With just 27 career receptions in college, Robinson is a raw prospect who is unlikely to earn a significant role this season despite the team’s lack of depth at tight end. He is a mid-to-lower-tier prospect in dynasty leagues on the strength of the Giants solid and reasonably young offense.

TE Travis Beckum
Selected in the 3rd round of the 2009 draft, the Giants felt that Beckum would develop into a solid receiving option in a hybrid tight-end/fullback role. After three years of modest production (26 receptions for 264 yards and three touchdowns), Beckum tore his ACL in the Super Bowl and faces a difficult rehabilitation in order to come back healthy in 2012. However, with Martellus Bennett signed to be the team’s starter, Bear Pascoe valued for his blocking ability and rookie 4th round pick Adrien Robinson guaranteed a roster spot, Beckum is facing an uphill battle to remain on the roster on opening day.

2012 Player Outlooks – Kansas City Chiefs

By: — July 13, 2012 @ 4:50 pm

QB Matt Cassel
The Chiefs offensive production went south when Cassel was lost for the season in Week 10 due to a broken hand but Kansas City was hardly an offensive powerhouse with Cassel in the lineup. Even with the team’s most dynamic offensive player Jamaal Charles lost for the season in Week 2, former head coach Todd Haley still leaned heavily on the run game with Cassel failing to top 200 passing yards in five of his nine starts and also failing to top 300 passing yards once. With Haley gone and new offensive coordinator Brian Daboll running the show, the team’s production in the passing game isn’t likely to see a huge increase. Daboll’s preference is to run the ball heavily and utilize plenty of short passes. While that may play to Cassel’s strengths (although that is half-hearted praise given his completion percentage of 57.2% as a Chief), it isn’t going to turn him into a useful option as your fantasy quarterback. Cassel rates as a lower tier QB2 in 12-team leagues.

RB Jamaal Charles
Considered a top five-fantasy running back prior to last season, Charles suffered a torn ACL in Week 2, ending his season and leaving his fantasy owners with a massive hole in their starting lineups. Heading into 2012, the issue with Charles is clearly going to be how well his recovery has gone and when he will be back, close to 100%. On that front, having suffered the injury early in the 2011 season is a benefit. Charles’ game is all about speed and agility so any lingering effects of the knee injury will be amplified. The Chiefs signed Peyton Hillis in the offseason as a change of pace back and to handle the short yardage work with the expectation that he will likely see plenty of touches early in the season. Provided Charles returns to full health, Hillis’ presence doesn’t really impact his fantasy value given the 1,935 yards and eight touchdowns that he put up in 2010, splitting time with Thomas Jones. Consider Charles a lower tier RB1 with some risk in 2012.

RB Peyton Hillis
After a disastrous 2011 season in Cleveland, Hillis was signed by Kansas City in the offseason to provide insurance in the event Jamaal Charles is slow from ACL recovery. Hillis brings plenty of baggage with him, having sulked his way through most of 2011 in a contract dispute and having seen a huge drop in his production due to injuries and ineffectiveness. There are two questions to ask yourself when assessing his fantasy value for the upcoming season: One, is he the player we saw last season or the one who put together a monstrous 2010 campaign with 1,177 rushing yards, 477 receiving yards and a combined 13 touchdowns? Second, how are the Chiefs going to use him? Having signed a one-year deal, Hillis figures to be plenty motivated and at 26 years of age, he has plenty of gas in the tank so another solid performance seems likely. However, Charles was one of the most dynamic running backs in the league prior to his injury so Hillis is likely to serve as a change of pace and short yardage back. Helping matters somewhat is that offensive coordinator Brian Daboll is familiar with him from their time together in Cleveland. Consider Hillis an upper tier RB4 likely to see more work early in the season than later on.

Assuming he signs his franchise tender, a third-straight 1000-yard season is in the works for Bowe.

WR Dwayne Bowe
Coming off a monstrous 2010 season that saw him finish the year with 81 receptions for 1,159 yards and a whopping 15 touchdowns, much was expected of Bowe in 2011… likely too much. Receivers don’t often put up 15 touchdowns so a drop in that number seemed likely and sure enough, Bowe’s touchdown receptions dropped to five as he struggled to find the end zone when Matt Cassel was lost for the season in Week 10. Prior to Cassel going down, Bowe had scored four touchdowns in nine games but he found the end zone just once in his final seven games. Bowe has refused to sign his franchise tender but the expectation is that he will do so in time to open the season. Expect him to join the team once the Chiefs break camp and for Bowe to once again fulfill his role as the team’s leading wide receiver and produce his third consecutive 1000-yard season. Clearly the most talented of the Chiefs wide receivers, Bowe will be looking to impress in 2012 and earn the long-term contract that Kansas City failed to reward him with at the conclusion of the 2011. Bowe’s fantasy prospects are held back by Matt Cassel’s mediocre quarterback play and new offensive coordinator Brian Daboll’s run first philosophy, making him a low end WR2 with solid upside and little risk in 2012.

WR Jonathan Baldwin
The Chiefs 2010 1st round pick got off to a rousing start as a Chief, suffering a thumb injury in a fight with teammate Thomas Jones that caused him to miss the first six games of the season. At that point, he was stuck behind Steve Breaston on the depth chart and by Week 10 starting quarterback Matt Cassel was lost for the season to be replaced by noodle-armed Tyler Palko. While Baldwin didn’t show much as a rookie, off-season reports out of Kansas City indicate that he has taken a step forward, both on the field and off of it. Baldwin possesses better than average speed and he is a physical player with good leaping ability but a breakout season in 2012 with Cassel leading a run heavy offense isn’t likely in the cards unless Dwayne Bowe does the unexpected and refuses to sign his franchise tender well into the season. Baldwin has upside but consider him a low end WR4 or high end WR5 in 2012. He is a solid dynasty league prospect.

WR Steve Breaston
Breaston joined the Chiefs prior to the 2011 season and ending up playing in all 16 games for the first time in three years, starting 13 of those games. While he stayed healthy, he wasn’t exactly overly productive, catching 61 passes for 785 yards and just two touchdowns. At 28 years of age (29 on opening day), having been in the league for five seasons and never having topped three touchdowns in a single season, there is no reason to expect a breakout year from Breaston in 2012. In fact, there is a decent chance that 2010 1st round pick Jonathan Baldwin will relegate him to the slot receiving role, which is a role that he is better suited to. He is waiver wire material other than in deep leagues.

WR Dexter McCluster
After a largely unproductive rookie season in 2010, McCluster saw his role increase in 2011 due to a season-ending injury to Jamaal Charles in Week 2. McCluster rolled up 844 total yards and a pair of touchdowns working mostly out of the backfield… decent production but hardly awe-inspiring. With Charles returning from injury and the team having signed Peyton Hillis to supplement him in the backfield, it appears that McCluster will move back to his slot receiving role in 2012, effectively torpedoing what little fantasy value he had. Basically, McCluster hasn’t shown much, if any, playmaking ability in that role and he will serve as the team’s fourth wide receiver behind Dwayne Bowe, Steve Breaston and Jonathan Baldwin. It appears that McCluster’s fantasy value hinges on an injury to a player ahead of him on the depth chart. He should be waiver wire material in all but the deepest of leagues.

TE Tony Moeaki
Moeaki had a solid rookie season in 2010, showing plenty of promise on his way to a 47-reception, 556-yard, three-touchdown performance. However, Moeaki’s 2011 season was ended in the preseason courtesy of a torn ACL and he will enter the 2012 season fighting with former Raider and Giant Kevin Boss for playing time. While Moeaki has far more upside as a receiver, Boss is the better blocker and will likely see significant playing time in the Chiefs offense, which is expected to feature plenty of runs under new offensive coordinator Brian Daboll. That limits Moeaki’s upside as does the presence of three solid wide receivers in Dwayne Bowe, Steve Breaston and Jonathan Baldwin. Moeaki shapes up as a low-end fantasy backup with some upside in 2012.

TE Kevin Boss
Having signed with the Raiders prior to the 2011 season to replace the departed Zach Miller, Boss was such a complete bust that the team’s new management parted ways with him after just one season. Boss moves to a Chiefs team that will rely on the run plenty in 2012 and his role is likely to be more of a blocker than a receiver. Boss will split time with 3rd year player Tony Moeaki and the expectation is that Moeaki will get more looks in the passing game. Avoid drafting Boss in every format.

When Two Is One Too Many – Nicks vs. Cruz

By: — July 12, 2012 @ 1:44 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 Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz.

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): Nicks – 4.01; Cruz – 3.09

What’s at stake: Grabbing the better fantasy WR1 of the two the New York Giants have to offer.

The case for Nicks: As the Giants’ top receiver with two 70+ catch seasons under his belt and incredible talent, Nicks represents the safer pick – from a year-to-year consistency standpoint – of the two New York wideouts. Nicks has also been an impact player since his rookie season in 2009 and as he proved throughout the playoffs last season, he can often be virtually unstoppable at times, even when he isn’t healthy. Five of his 11 touchdown receptions last season (including the playoffs) were less than five yards, meaning QB Eli Manning has a great deal of trust in him to make the necessary catch in tight quarters, be it a diving catch on a low throw by the front pylon or a fade pattern near the back of the end zone. With 28 touchdown catches in his first three seasons, Nicks is unquestionably a fantasy WR1 in PPR and non-PPR leagues when he is on the field.

The case against Nicks: Durability. Few will argue that Nicks is not or cannot be an elite fantasy receiver. (In full-point PPR leagues, he has scored less than 10 fantasy points just nine times in 46 career contests, including the playoffs!) The problem is that he almost always seems to be playing in pain and has yet to make it through an entire season. And when owners are trying to build the foundation for their fantasy team in the first few rounds, they want high-scoring players who they can plug into their lineups every week without fail. To further support the durability claim, Nicks is recovering from offseason foot surgery and appears to a question mark for the start of training camp, if not the season opener. This comes after a season in which he battled a string of nagging shoulder, knee and hamstring issues.

The case for Cruz: It’s hard to put into words the leap the former undrafted free agent out of Massachusetts made in his second season. After not catching a single pass in three games during his rookie year, Cruz exploded on the scene in his sophomore campaign with 82 catches for a franchise-best 1,536 yards and nine touchdowns. To put that team record into some perspective, Cruz joined elite company as only the fourth post-merger receiver to go over the 1,500-yard receiving mark in his second season, joining the likes of Jerry Rice and former Rams teammates Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt. While stats can often be deceiving, it’s hard to dispute that Cruz’s 2011 season just landed him alongside the receivers who currently occupy first, third and tenth place on the league’s career receiving yards list. Also working in the favor of Cruz is the success former Giant receiver Steve Smith had in Nicks’ rookie season. Playing the same kind of hybrid outside/slot role that Smith did back then, Cruz averaged over nine targets per game over the final 14 regular-season contests (when he became a bigger part of the offense), less than a target per game less than what Smith averaged during his breakout campaign.

Injury concerns with Nicks point the arrow in Cruz's favor.

The case against Cruz: The questions that any undrafted small-school player who seemingly comes out of nowhere typically gets, such as “Can he do it again?” and “Will he be content resting on his laurels now that he has proven himself on the big stage?”. Was his playoff showing – which was still impressive by all accounts yet slightly disappointing based on the standard he set during the regular season – a sign of things to come when defenses made more of an effort to stop him and let an injured Nicks beat them instead? They are fair questions and ones that we have to let play out, especially in his case since the only true hint he provided us that he was capable of this kind of performance before last season was during a three-touchdown game against the Jets during the 2010 preseason.

The verdict: Cruz. In a perfect world, this would be an apples-to-apples comparison in which we could discuss talent vs. opportunity vs. role. But the fact of the matter is that until Nicks can get healthy and stay that way, fantasy owners would be advised to select a more durable receiver as their top receiver option or hope that Nicks somehow slides in the draft enough to be a fantasy WR2. If injuries were not a consideration,then I would lean slightly towards Nicks. Furthermore, Cruz has locked down his role in the slot, which Smith has already proven can provide a windfall of fantasy points. The truth of the matter is that both players should benefit from the other’s presence – in reality as well as fantasy – since most defenses cannot realistically expect to slow both receivers down for an entire game. Both Nicks and Cruz should be viewed as solid foundation pieces for any fantasy team with top-five upside at their position.

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