Monthly Archives: August 2013

Fantasy Focus: Quarterbacks

Even with a poor offensive line and a banged-up WR corps, Aaron Rodgers put up top QB numbers last year.

Even with a poor offensive line and a banged-up WR corps, Aaron Rodgers put up top QB numbers last year.

By James LoPresti
Lead Fantasy Writer

Who carried owners to fantasy championships last year? If you thought Jamaal Charles, Marshawn Lynch, Ray Rice, or any running back not named Adrian Peterson, I’m afraid you’re mistaken. Quarterbacks win titles. In the NFL, the quarterback position plays a gigantic role in a team’s success. In fantasy football, they are just as important. Having a top-tier fantasy quarterback is almost a must – seasons as amazing as Adrian Peterson’s don’t happen often.

Picking a top  quarterback is safer than a top-tier running back. It’s all about injuries. According to ESPN’s 2012 running back rankings, LeSean McCoy, Chris Johnson, Maurice Jones-Drew, Matt Forte, and DeMarco Murray were ranked as first or second round picks.  Peterson ranked 10th for running backs.  Doug Martin?  27th.  As for quarterbacks, Michael Vick (ranked 7th) and Philip Rivers (ranked 10th) were the only ones who failed to live up to projections.  I’ve been saying this for years, it’s safer drafting a quarterback early.  Drafting a running back in the early rounds is hit-or-miss.  I’d rather get the consistent player first, then worry about running backs who may or may not stay healthy all season.

*These projections are based on standard 12-team leagues.

LoPresti Locks – Can’t go wrong here. Anything less than 30 touchdowns is a disappointment.

Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Matt Ryan: I’d draft Rodgers or Brees in the late first round, early second. No question. Manning and Brady – late second, early third. The hardest one to put on here is Ryan, simply because I absolutely hate the Falcons  (full disclosure: longtime Bucs fan). However, he has probably the best wide receiver, tight end combo in the league – Roddy White, Julio Jones, Tony Gonzalez – and now has Steven Jackson, a great pass-catcher, in the backfield. I can’t stand Ryan, but I’d be a fool not to draft him.

On The Cusp – Not quite top-tier, but solid options after the first few rounds.

Cam Newton, Colin Kaepernick, Andrew Luck, Matthew Stafford, Russell Wilson: Outside of Stafford, these quarterbacks add rushing stats which really boost their value. I expect a slight sophomore slump for Luck and Wilson, but what they provide on the ground will make up for any drop in passing stats. If last year was any indication, the Detroit Lions will allow Stafford to throw eleventy-billion times – and not all of them will go to Calvin Johnson! Maybe.

RG3 owners will be praying that his surgically-repaired knee can hold up.

RG3 owners will be praying that his surgically-repaired knee can hold up.

High Risk, High Reward – These guys could be studs…or, they might flop.

Robert Griffin III, Michael Vick, Ryan Tannehill: As I mentioned above, Vick was ranked the 7th best quarterback entering 2012 by ESPN. I see no reason why he can’t be a top-10 quarterback in a Chip Kelly offense. For RGIII, it comes down to how much Coach Mike Shanahan and his staff trust how healthy Griffin’s knee is. I think he’ll be fine, but I’m weary the coaching staff will limit his running considerably, thus hurting his fantasy value. Tannehill is a wildcard. The addition of Mike Wallace is a huge boost to an offense which lacked a true deep-threat last season. I also expect Tannehill to run a bit more as he gets adept to reading coverage. He has a high ceiling, but remember that he’s a converted wide  receiver, still with just 34 career starts between college and the NFL.

The Middle Ground – They’re not flashy, but they get the job done.

Tony Romo, Eli Manning, Ben Roethlisberger, Joe Flacco, Josh Freeman, Andy Dalton: I foresee these guys with 20-25 touchdowns and 10-15 interceptions. Despite his late-season disappointments, Romo is the most consistent of the bunch. Outside of an injury-plagued 2010, he’s thrown at least 26 touchdowns every season since 2007.  Flacco and Roethlisberger fall victim to being solid NFL quarterbacks, but inconsistent fantasy ones. They’re merely fantasy backups in my book. Flacco, Freeman, and Dalton are on the up-swing, but I need to see one more solid year before I completely trust them as a QB1.

Best of the Rest – Strictly backups and injury plug-ins.

Carson Palmer, Matt Schaub, Jay Cutler, Sam Bradford, Philip Rivers, Alex Smith, Brandon Weeden.

Draft a quarterback early and save yourself the grief of choosing between two or three running backs who may pan out, or may get injured Week 1.

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TDR Spotlight: Southern Miss WR Francisco Llanos

llanos2

In our first installment of the TDR Spotlight series for the 2014 NFL Draft class, Southern Mississippi WR Francisco Llanos joined TDR’s Luke Easterling to talk about his upcoming senior season, the Golden Eagles’ attempt to rebound from last year’s disappointing season, and what it was like to play for a local legend in high school.

Check out the interview and post your thoughts!

http://www.spreaker.com/user/thedraftreport/tdr_spotlight_usm_wr_francisco_llanos

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Fantasy Focus: Buyer Beware

Injury concerns and goal-line vultures make Matt Forte a risky pick.

Injury concerns and goal-line vultures make Matt Forte a risky pick.

By James LoPresti
Lead Fantasy Writer

Some players have a history of injury problems, which can limit their production and make it really difficult for fantasy owners to trust them on a weekly basis. I’ve found it’s best to stay away from players who frequent injury reports. However,  I realize that some are worth the risk because of their potential to have that “perfect” season – a la owners who took a chance on Adrian Peterson and Peyton Manning, even though they were returning from what would normally be debilitating injuries.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t draft these players — only that you should be prepared to see them on injury reports for the better part of the season.

Matt Forte, RB, Bears: There’s no questioning his talent when he’s on the field. It’s his durability that concerns me. He’s missed six games over the last two seasons, but more frustrating is the amount of time he’s been listed as doubtful and/or questionable on injury reports right before game time. This leaves fantasy owners in a conundrum – play Forte and hope he produces and doesn’t injury himself more, or bench him and risk losing out on big points.  Save yourself some stress and pass on him on draft day, unless you get him at a bargain. Bonus: If you’re interested in a Chicago Bears running back, I suggest Michael Bush in the later rounds. He takes most of the goal-line carries away from Forte, and he’ll benefit the most if Forte succumbs to another injury.

Hakeem Nicks, WR, Giants: Nicks practically hobbled through 13 games last year and you can make the argument that he’s never really been able to stay healthy since college. On top of knee issues, he’s also dealt with foot and hamstring problems for much of his career. He’s a hard wide receiver to trust on your fantasy team. He has upside, sure, but the fact that he’s already missed part of training camp with a groin injury worries me. Reuben Randle is already one of my biggest sleepers, and he would get an even bigger boost if Nicks continues to miss time. Diagnosis: Nicks has shown he can provide WR1 upside, but owners are walking on a tight rope if they draft him.

Even if RG3 stays healthy, Pierre Garcon can't be counted on for a full season.

Even if RG3 stays healthy, Pierre Garcon can’t be counted on for a full season.

Pierre Garcon, WR, Redskins: It’s clear he has developed awesome chemistry with quarterback Robert Griffin III, but what isn’t clear to me is if he’s over the foot injuries that plagued him for most of his career. Garcon elected not to have surgery this off-season, and I question if that was the right move for the long term.  He hasn’t exactly been optimistic about his foot problems either. Overall, I think he plays and does okay – assuming RGIII stays healthy himself – but, I just can’t see him being the consistent possession receiver that many fans believe he can be. Projection: 65 catches, 720 yards, five touchdowns – and three missed games.

DeMarco Murray, RB, Cowboys: Of all the players listed, he’s the one with the most injury history. He has missed nine of 32 career games, rarely goes more than two or three weeks off the injury report, and even had a reputation of missing games in college. I drafted him in the second round last season, foolishly believing he would stay healthy all year. I was wrong. When he plays, he is a serviceable RB2. But, when the first sign of an injury pops up, he is a big headache. New offensive coordinator Bill Callahan loves to run the ball, which bodes well for Murray, but he hasn’t shown me any reason to trust him yet; nor should you. Bold Statement: Murray struggles with foot and hamstring injuries and is shut down with half the season remaining. Joseph Randle, the rookie out of Oklahoma State, benefits from Murray’s injury and becomes one of the hottest waiver wire selections of the season.

Age seems to be catching up to Antonio Gates, and the Bolts' porous pass protection won't help this year.

Age seems to be catching up to Antonio Gates, and the Bolts’ porous pass protection won’t help this year.

Antonio Gates, TE, Chargers: Gates has been arguably the most consistent tight end for the better part of a decade. That is why it’s so hard adding him to this list. I might get burned for this one, but his plantar fasciitis scares me too much to draft him. He’s dealt with it for the past few seasons, and shown exemplary stamina, but I feel like it catches up to him this season. Although he finished 2012 with seven touchdowns, he was a mediocre producer overall, topping 60 yards receiving just once in 15 games.  Prognosis: San Diego’s wide receivers are dropping like flies, so Philip Rivers will lean on Gates more heavily, but he’s getting up there in age – 33 – and just isn’t the same durable machine as years before. Don’t draft him expecting TE1 production.

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FANTASY FOCUS: Health Benefits

If Malcom Floyd misses significant time with his knee injury, Eddie Royal could rise to the occasion.

If Malcom Floyd misses significant time with his knee injury, Eddie Royal could rise to the occasion.

By James LoPresti
Lead Fantasy Writer

Injuries are a part of fantasy football, so as an owner, it is important to plan for them. Every season, you can count on at least two top-10 players missing part or most of the year because of a freak or nagging injury. And, it’s frustrating. The loss of one player has the power to knock a team out of the playoff hunt, cause them to lose a weekly matchup, or even alter the hopes of a fantasy championship. Ask any LeSean McCoy, Maurice Jones-Drew, Demarco Murray, Fred Jackson, Ryan Mathews, or Darren McFadden owner last season.  Each of those players were ranked in the top-25 of FOX Sports 2012 preseason fantasy rankings.

There are always going to be injuries, and I’ve learned that the best strategy is drafting backup players as a handcuff to the starter. Few things are worse than watching your starting running back tear his ACL, and while you are scrambling to find out who the backup is, you realize that another owner has already stashed that player on their bench. We’re only one week into the 2013 season, and already several players from each team have succumb to the injury bug. With that said, here are some under-the-radar players who have been thrust into fantasy circles because of injuries to starters.

Eddie Royal, WR, Chargers: The injuries to Danario Alexander and Malcolm Floyd open up the door for Royal to be Philip Rivers’ number one target. He’s been inconsistent since he left Denver, but this is still the guy who caught 91 balls as a rookie. And Mike McCoy – the offensive coordinator during his two seasons in Denver – is now in San Diego and wants to run a possession offense. Robert Meachem and rookie Keenan Allen will be in the mix for targets, but neither possess the experience or versatility of Royal. He is a great value pick in the last rounds.

Bills WR Robert Woods is already taking advantage of Steve Johnson's absence due to a hamstring injury.

Bills WR Robert Woods is already taking advantage of Steve Johnson’s absence due to a hamstring injury.

Robert Woods, WR, Bills: He is the favorite to start alongside Stevie Johnson, but Johnson’s hamstring injury is already forcing him to miss all of the preseason. Hamstring injuries are known to linger or flare up suddenly, so my guess is that he misses time in the regular season as well. Woods possesses good hands, a quick first move, and has been impressing coaches with his route-running skills in training camp. If he can develop good chemistry with the starting quarterback – likely E.J. Manuel – he has a solid chance to lead the Bills in receptions.

Knile Davis, RB, Chiefs: The fantasy world was given its first real jolt when it was reported that Kansas City Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles was forced from practice with a foot injury. It didn’t help matters that he was transported to the locker room on a cart. Coach Andy Reid said Charles’ injury isn’t serious, and that it is just a sprain. Even if that is the case – which I doubt it is – Charles is going to be sidelined for precautionary reasons at least the next few preseason games. His workload will also likely be cut. That opens the door for Davis, a bruising back with uncommon speed for a big man, but a runner who has dealt with a long list of injury problems himself. Still, he’s bypassed Shaun Draughn and Cyrus Gray on the depth chart, and handled the majority of first-team reps when Charles left practice. He isn’t fantasy relevant yet, but he is someone to keep an eye out for if Charles’ injury is more serious than everyone is letting on.

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Fantasy Focus: Show Me The Money

Plagued by inconsistency, will this finally be the year Josh Freeman puts it all together?

Plagued by inconsistency, will this finally be the year Josh Freeman puts it all together?

By James LoPresti
Lead Fantasy Writer

Here are a few players to keep in mind who are headed into their contract years and could be primed for a breakout:

Josh Freeman, QB, Buccaneers: Pulling up last year’s statistics, Freeman’s numbers aren’t too bad. His 27 passing touchdowns were tied for seventh in the league, and his passing yards (4,065) were ninth. Erase an awful three-game stretch to finish the season, (2 TD’s-9 INT’s) and instead of talking about him fighting to keep his job, we could be labeling him a top-10 quarterback. And before you think differently, consider this – this year is the first time in Freeman’s career that he has the same offensive coordinator and quarterback coach for consecutive seasons! It’s hard enough learning to run an offense; even harder when that offense is changing ever-other year. Additionally, he has great talent surrounding him – Vincent Jackson, Mike Williams, Doug Martin, and now a fully healthy offensive line, with returning All-Pro guards Davin Joseph and Carl Nicks. I expect him to earn a big payday next offseason, whether it be from Tampa Bay or somewhere else.

Jimmy Graham is arguably the best TE in the game, but will he be the highest-paid come next year?

Jimmy Graham is arguably the best TE in the game, but will he be the highest-paid come next year?

Jimmy Graham, TE, Saints: He’s already fantasy’s best tight end, and as crazy as it sounds, I’m projecting him to be better than all the wide receivers too. Absurd? Not so much, but let’s look at the stats to be sure. In a year in which he battled through ankle and wrist injuries most of the season, and was without offensive guru Sean Payton at the helm, Graham compiled 85 catches, nearly 1,000 yards and nine touchdowns – numbers better than every other fantasy tight end. The fact that his season is being described as disappointing by people is mind-blowing. Well, Graham seems to have read into that, and is ready to prove he is the same player who caught 99 balls for 1,310 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2011. (Oh, by the way, only four wide receivers scored more fantasy points than Graham that year). According to NFL Network, he’s fully recovered from offseason wrist surgery, and has been studying game film around the clock. All Graham has said is that he’s “hungrier than ever” to get back onto the field. Expect Drew Brees to find him early and often. He isn’t going to come cheap in fantasy drafts – ESPN projects him a Round 1 or 2 pick – but barring any more health concerns, he’s a lock for a monster season.

Will the presence of Wes Welker cut into Eric Decker's chances of earning a big payday?

Will the presence of Wes Welker cut into Eric Decker’s chances of earning a big payday?

Eric Decker, WR, Broncos: Decker seems like he would be the odd man out in the new-look Broncos offense. Wes Welker is going to eat touches, and Demaryius Thomas is a dangerous deep threat. Surely Decker won’t record double-digit touchdowns again. Or will he? My money’s on him. Guess who led all wide receivers last season in red zone targets? Decker led with 25, including 11 from inside the 10-yard line. In fact, 25% of the Broncos total red zone targets went to Decker; he caught more than 70% of those balls, which was top-10 among all wide receivers.  Clearly, he has earned the trust of Peyton Manning. And, it doesn’t hurt that the opponent’s third-best cornerback will be covering him all year (with Welker and Thomas drawing most of the underneath and over-the-top coverage). I expect Decker’s yards and catches to slightly digress, but he’s a good bet for another double-digit touchdown year.

Deep Sleepers

Target these players in the later rounds:

With Mike Wallace gone, Emmanuel Sanders knows exactly who Ben Roethlisberger should pick as his go-to guy.

With Mike Wallace gone, Emmanuel Sanders knows exactly who Ben Roethlisberger should pick as his go-to guy.

Emanuel Sanders, WR, Steelers: Mike Wallace (now in Miami) was targeted 122 times in 2012. Tight end Heath Miller will likely miss most of the year while he recovers from a torn ACL. Someone has to make up for those targets. The popular choice is Antonio Brown, a slippery receiver who finished second on the team in catches. However, my pick is Sanders. While an overall solid contributor, Brown was shut down by opposing cornerbacks too often — six games of four or fewer receptions — and missed three games in 2012 with a high-ankle sprain, an injury that is known to linger. He also struggled holding onto the football down the stretch, losing four fumbles. When Ben Roethlisberger lobbied for Pittsburgh ownership to match the offer to Sanders made by the New England Patriots in the offseason, that showed me that Big Ben saw great potential in this young receiver. Sanders is very quick and shifty, (he ran a 4.41 40 at the 2010 Combine) and will likely play primarily out of the slot. He was targeted 74 times by Roethlisberger last season, and I’d be shocked if that number didn’t double. He is a great mid-to-late round value pick.

With Percy Harvin sidelined, Golden Tate could rise to the occasion in 2013.

With Percy Harvin sidelined, Golden Tate could rise to the occasion in 2013.

Golden Tate, WR, Seahawks: According to the Seattle Times, not only is Tate showing spectacular big-play ability, he has been called the most impressive player in training camp by his coaches! Consider that he is opposed by Brandon Browner and Richard Sherman in practice—two of the league’s best young defenders. Tate led Seattle with 12 catches of more than 20 yards last year and his wide receiver rating finished second among all players who caught at least 35 balls. ‘WR Rating’ calculates the quarterback rating on passes targeted to every wide receiver.  Percy Harvin’s injury is a bummer, but his loss could propel Tate into a solid WR3 in most fantasy formats. His current average draft position (ADP) is hovering around the 13th round in standard scoring leagues.

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