NFL Football Column: Offseason Low Down
Most fantasy football leagues have ended for good. No keepers. No offseason free agent bidding wars. No trading of draft picks.
There are, however, many of us who compete in year-round dynasty and/or keeper leagues. It’s about this time of the year that you can get a major leg up on the competition in these formats simply by staying active and ahead of the hype.
If you’re able to add free agents, drop your kicker, defense, and those underwhelming late-season injury replacement players. Instead, sign high-upside players with potential for fantasy relevance in 2013. If you’re able to trade, follow the same logic, but go after higher-profile players.
You probably already missed the boat on Dennis Dixon and Lamar Miller, but today I’m going to share with you a few names worth targeting right now in your dynasty/keeper leagues.
As the infomercials always say “Don’t delay!” You’re just one Rotoworld news blurb away from being late to the party.
Michael Floyd – Cardinals – WR
Over the Cardinals' final three regular season games, Larry Fitzgerald saw 22 targets. Floyd saw 26. Initially buried on Arizona’s wide receiver depth chart, Floyd worked his way past Early Doucet and averaged a stout 7.2 targets-per-game during the second half of the season. In fact, among all wide receivers, Floyd ranked 27th in targets from Weeks 8-to-17. The Cardinals figure to improve on the John Skelton/Ryan Lindley at quarterback next season, and Floyd figures to play significant snaps opposite Fitzgerald (with Andre Roberts in the slot). The team’s 2012 first-round pick is primed for a breakout sophomore campaign.
Alshon Jeffery – Bears – WR
Although he missed six games, it may surprise you to know that Jeffery, a 2012 second-round pick, finished third on the Bears in targets with 48. He averaged a healthy 17 percent of Jay Cutler’s targets when active, which works out to near 4.8 per-game. After returning from injury in Week 14, Jeffery ran 79-plus percent of all possible pass routes in each of the team’s final four games. His presence was certainly felt by Brandon Marshall, who averaged 12.2 targets-per-game when Jeffery was out, compared to 10.8 per-game when he was active. Chicago’s primary deep threat on the outside, expect Jeffery to open 2013 as the team’s heavily-involved No. 2 wideout.
Ben Tate – Texans – RB
It was a down year for Tate. After missing his entire rookie season due to injury, he exploded onto the NFL scene in 2011 by averaging 5.4 yards-per-carry on 184 totes. He followed that up with an injury-riddled 2012, racking up 280 yards on 67 carries (4.2 YPC). Durability is an obvious concern for a guy who has now missed 22 games over his first three years in the league, but there are more reasons for optimism than concern. Still just 24-years-old, Tate has shown signs that he’s an explosive playmaker capable of handling a full workload. As if entering 2013 healthy and locked in as one of the game’s top handcuffs (behind Arian Foster) isn’t enough to boost his fantasy value, Tate is also headed into the final year of his rookie contract. A bounceback year could very well mean significant attention from other teams for a starting gig in 2014. Take note, dynasty owners.
Rueben Randle – Giants – WR
Stuck in a timeshare with Ramses Barden, and, to a lesser extent, Jerrel Jernigan, for New York’s No. 4 wide receiver job, Randle never really did get off the ground during his rookie season. Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz will return in 2013, but Barden and No. 3 wideout Domenik Hixon are unrestricted free agents. The Giants are expected to give Randle, their second-round pick in 2012, every shot to win the No. 3 gig. That makes both Barden and Hixon expendable, especially considering that they figure to generate mild-to-moderate interest from wide receiver-needy clubs. Working almost exclusively on the outside, Randle finally figures to take on the role that Mario Manningham made fantasy relevant from 2009-to-2011.
David Wilson, Andre Brown – Giants – RB
Although he’s only 26, Ahmad Bradshaw is due $3.75 million in 2013 and has missed seven games due to injury over the last two seasons. The Giants could decide to cut him loose and go forward with a strong Wilson-Brown two-headed attack. One would imagine that Wilson, the team’s first-round pick in 2012, will lead that attack, but Brown should not be overlooked. He dominated the backfield snaps when Bradshaw was out in 2012, averaging an impressive 5.3 yards-per-carry and scoring eight times on just 73 carries. Wilson, meanwhile, is the significantly more explosive back of the two. He racked up 5.0 YPC and scored five total touchdowns on 75 offensive touches. If Bradshaw is cut loose, expect to see a lot of Wilson between the 20s, with Brown seeing 8-12 touches and most of the carries inside-the-five.
Kendall Wright – Titans – WR
If a rookie leads his team in targets and no one notices, does it make a sound? Or something like that. Despite missing Week 16 due to injury, Wright easily led Tennessee with 95 targets. Even more promising is the fact that his role was expanding in the weeks leading up to his injury. He had enjoyed a total of 25 targets during a three-game span covering Weeks 12-to-14. What’s really interesting about Wright is that he only played 55 percent of the Titans’ offensive snaps, running just 65 percent of all possible pass routes. Although he worked primarily as an outside receiver, Wright did most of his damage underneath during his rookie campaign, putting up a 6.5 average depth of target – fifth lowest at the position. With an expanded role, improved quarterback play, and more vertical routes – something he did often (and well) at Baylor, Tennessee’s 2012 first-round pick should be in a breakout sophomore season.
A.J. Jenkins – 49ers – WR
Despite season-ending injuries to both Kyle Williams and Mario Manningham, Jenkins, the team’s 2012 first-round pick, managed to play only 46 snaps during his rookie season. He dropped his only target. As uninspiring as that is, there is a ton of room for optimism. First off, the opportunity is there. Mario Manningham returns from injury, but could be a cap casualty. Ted Ginn and Randy Moss are both unrestricted free agents and unlikely to return. A wide receiver selected in the first round will eventually get a legitimate shot at a starting job. Second, Jenkins received a vote of confidence from 49ers’ coaches after what was essentially a “redshirt” season. Third, he has the skills. He caught 90 passes as a Senior at Illinois, impressed at the Shrine Game and Senior Bowl, and put up a 4.39 40 time at the Combine. Finally, the 49ers offense is significantly more explosive with Colin Kaepernick under center. If all goes well during Training Camp and in the preseason, Jenkins will be on the radar as a potential ‘Randall Cobb of 2013’.
Vincent Brown – Chargers – WR
With all eyes on Danario Alexander and Malcom Floyd, Brown has the looks of a major sleeper in 2013. A third-round pick in 2011, Brown showed signs he could be an impact player with 19 catches, 329 yards, and two scores on 38 rookie-season targets. Seemingly in line to replace Vincent Jackson as the team’s top wideout, a fractured ankle cost Brown the entire 2012 season. He returns to a suddenly-crowded wide receiver unit in 2013, but figures to be on even footing with Alexander and Floyd for one of the team’s starting jobs. He makes for an ideal buy low.
Jordan Cameron – Browns – TE
With Ben Watson headed to free agency, the Browns’ top tight end job appears to be Cameron’s to lose. A fourth-round pick in 2011, Cameron saw his snap count jump from 55 during his rookie season to 319 in 2012. A converted basketball player, Cameron is expected to step into a role that saw Watson rack up 3.3 catches-per-game during his three-year contract with Cleveland. Working primarily with his hand in the dirt, Cameron hauled in 20-of-31 targets for 226 yards in 2012. He has the looks of a back-end TE2 in 2013.
Brian Quick – Rams – WR
Chris Givens. Chris Givens. Chris Givens. When you hear about young, potential-breakout wide receivers, he’s one of the names jammed down your throat. But what about Quick, who was actually chosen two rounds before Givens in the 2012 draft? Givens gets the attention because he played significant snaps as a rookie, showing off an explosive vertical game. Quick, meanwhile, played only 176 snaps, hauling in a disappointing 11-of-27 targets for 156 yards. The duo remains in line to work on the outside in three-wide sets for the Rams in 2013 (although Titus Young could enter mix). Givens certainly is more appealing of the two at this point in time, but Quick has just as much, if not more, upside, and can be had a much cheaper price.
Joe Morgan, Nick Toon – Saints – WR
With Jimmy Graham, Marques Colston, Lance Moore, and Darren Sproles locked in as Drew Brees’ top pass-catchers, it can sometimes be easy to overlook the talented depth at the wide receiver position in New Orleans. Unrestricted free agent Devery Henderson figures to move on, which leaves Morgan and Toon as the favorites for the team’s No. 3 wideout job. This is a spot that has seen Henderson and Robert Meachem flirt with fantasy relevance over the last few seasons. Morgan went undrafted in 2011 and spent the entire year on injured reserve. He handled the No. 4 wideout gig in 2012 and was easily one of the game’s most explosive wideouts on a per-play basis. He averaged a ridiculous 37.9 yards-per-reception and scored three times thanks to a massive 28.5 average depth of target. Of course, he only caught 10 passes. Toon, meanwhile, was a fourth-round pick in 2012. He was thought to be pushing Henderson for the team’s No. 3 job before foot surgery cost him his entire rookie season. Durability was already a concern out of college, but Toon has the looks of a productive possession receiver when healthy. Considering that the winner of this camp battle would end up one injury away from every-down snaps in a Drew Brees-led offense, both should be on your radar in deeper leagues. Morgan should be your primary target, but Toon will come much cheaper.
Taylor Thompson – Titans – TE
Jared Cook is headed for unrestricted free agency. There’s a decent chance he will be slapped with the franchise tag, but that’s far from a certainly. If he leaves, Thompson could take over as the team’s primary pass-catching tight end. A fifth-round pick in 2012, Thompson is a massive 6’6/259 ex-defensive end who managed a 4.56 40-yard dash time. Of his 12 rookie-season targets, six came as an in-line tight end, four from the slot, and two after lining up in the backfield. Although he’s unlikely to work as an every-down player with Craig Stevens in the mix, Thompson would see significant snaps on passing downs. That would be enough to put him on the TE2 radar.
Michael Palmer / Chase Coffman – Falcons – TE
The last players I’ll examine at length today are the top in-house candidates to replace Tony Gonzalez as Atlanta’s starting tight end. A few months ago, I made the not-so-bold prediction that Gonzalez’s replacement is not currently on the roster. Although I stand by that assessment, both Palmer and Coffman are worth a look in the deepest of leagues. Palmer, undrafted in 2010, has worked as Gonzalez’s primary backup each of the last two seasons. He saw only six targets in 2012, but actually entered the league as more of a pass-catcher than blocker. Coffman was a highly-touted third-round pick by Cincinnati in 2009, but has failed to live up to expectations. He latched on with the Falcons this past season, but played only eight snaps, only landing on our radar because of an acrobatic 11-yard catch in the Divisional playoffs against Seattle. I don’t expect either player to be the Week 1 starter, but it’s a possibility, especially if the Falcons choose to play the wait-and-see game with Gonzalez.
Other Pre-Hype Targets
Ryan Mallett – Patriots – Is a trade coming? Deep leaguers should snatch this guy up just in case.
Ryan Williams – Cardinals – Current favorite to open 2013 as the team’s starting tailback
Bernard Pierce – Ravens – Will, at least, enjoy the Ricky Williams/Willis McGahee role behind Rice in 2013.
Bilal Powell – Jets – Could he be the cash-strapped Jets’ starter in 2013?
Daryl Richardson, Isaiah Pead – Rams – Steven Jackson could be out, which moves these two into what would likely be a committee. Richardson is safer, but Pead is more explosive.
Tandon Doss – Ravens – Anquan Boldin is rumored to be a potential cap casualty. If so, Doss would compete for a starting gig opposite Torrey Smith.
Mohamed Sanu – Bengals – Was locked in as the No. 2 wideout and seeing a lot of work prior to a season-ending foot injury. He’ll compete with Marvin Jones in 2013.
Nate Burleson – Lions – Fresh off an injury, but has a legitimate chance at the No. 2 job with Titus Young gone and Ryan Broyles’ (ACL) status uncertain.
Laurent Robinson – Jaguars – Injuries have him buried behind Justin Blackmon and Cecil Shorts, but he’s still pretty darn good…and the offense figures to improve.
Devon Wylie – Chiefs – Andy Reid had a lot of fun with 5’10 DeSean Jackson and 5’8 Damaris Johnson. What will he have in store for 5’9 sophomore Wylie?
Rob Housler – Cardinals – He saw more than five targets six times in 2012 and should have a better quarterback throwing him passes.
Andrew Quarless, D.J. Williams, Brandon Bostick – Packers – I think Jermichael Finley sticks in Green Bay, but it’s not a lock. Williams would be my top-target of the three.
Coby Fleener – Colts – Stuck behind Dwayne Allen, but Dennis Pitta was once buried behind Ed Dickson. He’s not a bad buy low.
Michael Egnew – Dolphins – Anthony Fasano is out. Egnew has had his troubles, but he could get a shot at the No. 1 job.
David Paulson – Steelers – Heath Miller tore his knee apart, putting Paulson No. 1 on the depth chart in the meantime. He’ll have competition.
Ladarius Green – Chargers – Raw, but could be Antonio Gates’ eventual replacement.
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