Category Archives: Fantasy Focus

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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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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FEATURED POST: FanDuel’s Rookie Runners

If Eddie Lacy can stay healthy, he should be able to fend off fellow rookie Johnathan Franklin for the bulk of the carries in Green Bay.

If Eddie Lacy can stay healthy, he should be able to fend off fellow rookie Johnathan Franklin for the bulk of the carries in Green Bay.

With fantasy football drafts quickly approaching around the country, more and more people are doing their research for the season. While there are a number of proven, reliable running backs to choose from, a few rookies could emerge as solid players thanks in large part to the opportunities they will have. Here is a look at the three who are a cut above the rest:

Montee Ball, Broncos

Willis McGahee is out of Denver, and Knowshon Moreno is recovering from a tough knee injury. That means that the former Wisconsin standout will be given a lot of opportunities for the Broncos right away. A 1,000-yard season and a touchdown every other game sounds pretty reasonable, as Ball is a dependable back that can grind out yards.

Eddie Lacy, Packers

Lacy’s size will allow him to be an instant impact player at the NFL level, but before picking him for your fantasy football team, be aware that injury issues are still a legitimate problem. He will not be capable of breaking off huge plays, but for the Packers, he doesn’t have to. Aaron Rodgers passing threat will open up running lanes for Lacy all season long. If he does go down, try to target fellow rookie Johnathan Franklin as a pickup. Both will get their share of playing time this season.

Le’Veon Bell, Steelers

The Steelers were a terrible running team last season, so Bell has to be an upgrade if he can stay healthy. He is just under 250 pounds, so Bell is a durable, smash mouth running back who can grind out yards behind Ben Roethlisberger. He won’t catch a ton of passes, but he is good enough that he will demand respect as a receiver. If Pittsburgh is going anywhere in 2013, they will need the rookie to step up and be consistent from Week 1.

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Fantasy Focus: Rookie Flyers

With a muddled QB situation in Oakland, rookie Tyler Wilson could get an early shot to take the reins.

With a muddled QB situation in Oakland, rookie Tyler Wilson could get an early shot to take the reins.

By James LoPresti
Lead Fantasy Writer

Some players fly under the radar on draft day, and all it takes is an injury to a starter to give them that opportunity to grab hold of the position and keep it. These are my sleeper picks. It’s tough to gauge what will happen between today and the end of training camp, but as it stands now, it will take an injury or spectacular preseason to give these players fantasy value.

Tyler Wilson, QB, Oakland Raiders: Oakland brought in Matt Flynn to be its starting quarterback, but if last season was any indication, that isn’t set in stone. Flynn has started just two games in his career, and the word out of training camp is that he hasn’t shown much to separate himself as the starter. Wilson is the same size and build as Flynn, and based on new OC Greg Olson’s play-calling, I think he would prefer a pocket passer leading the offense, rather than scrambling quarterback Terrell Pryor.

Latavius Murray, RB, Oakland Raiders: Will Darren McFadden ever stay healthy an entire season? My thoughts are NO. He has incredible talent, but the guy just can’t stay on the field. Marcel Reece filled in admirably but Oakland prefers him in a blocking role. Murray will contend with Jacksonville castoff Rashad Jennings for the backup role, and if he remains healthy, should have no problem holding him off. Murray is a physical back, weighing in at 223 pounds, but surprisingly ran a 4.38 40 at Central Florida’s pro day. Prediction: It’s not if, it’s when – McFadden will get hurt, and Murray will supplant him. Murray isn’t getting much recognition, so he’s a great handcuff to grab on the cheap.

The Rams have a stable of young running backs, but Zac Stacy could steal the starting job with a stellar camp.

The Rams have a stable of young running backs, but Zac Stacy could steal the starting job with a stellar camp.

Zac Stacy, RB, St. Louis Rams: Marshall Faulk and Steven Jackson led the Rams in rushing each of the past 14 seasons. Who was the last player to lead them in rushing? I had to go to Pro Football Reference for this one – Charles “June” Henley.  He only played in the NFL in 1998 and he led the entire Rams team with 313 yards rushing!  Stacy is currently behind Daryl Richardson and Isaiah Pead on the depth chart, but Stacy is the type of workhorse runner that fits St. Louis’ style of play. Furthermore, Richardson has battled injuries his entire career, and Pead will be serving a one-game suspension to start the season. If Stacy makes the most of his opportunity in the preseason and during Pead’s suspension, he could chip in 10-15 touches a game. He’s worthy of a late round draft pick in all formats.

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Fantasy Focus: Rookies to Target

Bucs RB Doug Martin silenced fantasy doubters in 2012 with 1,926 total yards and and 12 touchdowns as a rookie.

Bucs RB Doug Martin silenced fantasy doubters in 2012 with 1,926 total yards and and 12 touchdowns as a rookie.

By James LoPresti
Lead Fantasy Writer

I took a gamble on him in the third round. Though being mocked by my draft buddies, I took another flyer in the fifth. They were risky picks. Despite what team sources were saying, the truth is that neither were assured a full-time role. If they succeeded, I knew I’d have a solid chance to compete for the fantasy playoffs. If they were a bust, I’d be hearing it from the league mates the rest of the year. For the last pick, I chose a wide receiver, just to fill depth, though I expected him to land on the waiver wire within a week.

Drafting rookies for fantasy is hit-or-miss. It’s similar to how the NFL works. Most fizzle, some provide depth, but nothing earth-shattering. A select few make a true impact. When I drafted Trent Richardson in the third, Doug Martin in the fifth, and T.Y. Hilton in the final round, I was drafting on faith…faith that how they played in college would translate well to the NFL.

Each year, April’s NFL draft (next year, May, ugh!) is one of the highlights of the offseason. After the top picks, the head-scratchers, and draft-day trades, just about everyone has an opinion on their teams’ picks and how they will impact rosters going forward. The same can be said for fantasy analysis. The players that are drafted into favorable situations are the ones on everyone’s fantasy radar. Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III were obvious choices in 2012. But what about Russell Wilson, Alfred Morris, and Colin Kaepernick (who didn’t get his chance till week 10)?

There’s always going to be rookies who fly under the radar on draft day. All it takes is an injury to a starter (Kaepernick’s case), or a strong training camp for them to show coaches they offer more incentive than veteran players (Wilson, Morris). Here’s a list of guys to key an eye out for when drafting:

Broncos RB Montee Ball is a prime candidate for huge fantasy points in his rookie season.

Broncos RB Montee Ball is a prime candidate for huge fantasy points in his rookie season.

Montee Ball, RB, Denver Broncos: Of all the rookies, Ball is considered by most pundits to have the best chance to take over the starting running back job by week 1. With Willis McGahee gone, and Knowshon Moreno recovering from offseason knee surgery, only second-year speedster Ronnie Hillman is opposing Ball. However, Ball fits Denver’s smash-mouth style better than anyone else on the roster. The Doak Walker Award winner (nation’s top RB) carried the ball an average of 23 times a game during his senior season, amassing 1832 yards and 22 touchdowns. At worst, he’ll share carries, but because of his size and strength, he’ll likely receive most of the red zone touches. My prognosis: He’s in an ideal system with Peyton Manning at the helm. His durability and strong hands make him reliable, and his nose for the end zone leads me to believe he will have a strong rookie year. Draft him as early as round 3.

Tavon Austin, WR, St. Louis Rams: Barring a preseason injury, he’ll be starting in the slot week 1. The Rams traded up for him, so you can bet they’ll incorporate him into the offense as much as possible. However, his durability is an issue, and probably will be for the foreseeable future. He’s 5-foot-9, 174 pounds, and that’s probably being generous. His college numbers are also skewed – including screens, 78% of his receptions were within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage.  Additionally, he’ll be competing for touches with speedy second-year receivers Chris Givens and Brian Quick, as well as newly acquired tight end Jared Cook. Austin is electric with the football in his hands, but temper your expectations. Forecast: 45 catches, 760 yards, four touchdowns.

Bengals TE Tyler Eifert could present opposing defenses with serious matchup problems.

Bengals TE Tyler Eifert could present opposing defenses with serious matchup problems.

Le’Veon Bell, RB, Pittsburgh Steelers: Bell is the proto-typical bruising running back Steelers teams are known for using. He was a workhorse at Michigan State, but at times, had trouble hitting the hole and converting short third and fourth down attempts. Still, at 244 pounds, Steelers’ coaches are saying he is capable of being a three-down back. Isaac Redman and Jonathan Dwyer squandered chances to become the full-time starter, and though their below-average play could be attributed to a poor offensive line, Bell’s blocking skills and soft hands give him the advantage going into camp. Prediction: A healthy offensive line and a solid passing attack will open up holes for this grinder – 1,006 yards, nine touchdowns.

Tyler Eifert, TE, Cincinnati Bengals: Cincinnati OC Jay Gruden has said he plans on using a two tight end offense with Jermaine Gresham and Eifert each being heavily involved. Two tight end systems have been effective recently, most notably Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, as well as the duo of Vernon Davis and Delanie Walker. Be careful drafting Eifert as your starting tight end, but he should produce enough to warrant a roster spot. Projection: 55 catches, 670 yards, five touchdowns.

Eddie Lacy, RB, Green Bay Packers: Quick trivia – Who was Green Bay’s leading rusher last season? (The Packers used five over the course of the year) – If you guessed James Starks, (like me) you would be wrong. It’s former University of Hawaii running back Alex Green. Of the five backs the Packers used, Green was the only one to carry the ball more than 100 times! With Lacy, the Packers get a hard-nosed wrecking ball who has the size – 5-11, 230 pounds – to run between tackles and the stamina to be an every-down back. The knock on Lacy is that he doesn’t have break-away speed, and he fought hamstring issues his senior year at Alabama. He’ll also have to contend with fellow rookie Johnathan Franklin, though he seems more fit in a third-down role. Observations: Lacy is in prime position to receive most of the carries, including those in goal-to-go situations, which in an offense as prolific as Green Bay’s, should be many, many opportunities. In early mock drafts, he’s being selected after Ball and Bell, and could prove to be a bigger steal come draft day.

With plenty of questions marks across the receiving unit, Aaron Dobson could be in line for a big year in New England.

With plenty of questions marks across the receiving unit, Aaron Dobson could be in line for a big year in New England.

Aaron Dobson, WR, New England Patriots: When you’ve got Tom Brady, it doesn’t matter who the receivers are. If Brady can have a Pro Bowl year with the likes of David Patten and Troy Brown at wide receiver, he can do it with anyone. New England brought in Danny Amendola to serve as a Wes Welker clone, and as of today, Dobson, Julian Edelman, Kamar Aiken, and Michael Jenkins are in the mix for the No. 2 role. Edelman has the most experience in New England’s system, but Dobson overmatches him in size and skill set. He stands 6-foot-3, 210 pounds, and he was clocked at 4.40 at the NFL Combine. The Boston Globe reported July 27 that Dobson began working with the first team during practice and saw time on the outside and in the slot. With the status of Rob Gronkowski up in the air for week 1, Dobson could be a viable fantasy option from the get-go. He’s looking like a great value pick late in drafts.

Giovani Bernard, RB, Cincinnati Bengals: Bernard might be my favorite rookie to watch in the preseason. He’s assured a role in the offense, and he’ll be a PPR (points per reception) machine, but he’s stuck behind the law firm, BenJarvus Green-Ellis, for full-time carries. And, as crazy as it sounds, he shouldn’t be. He’s arguably the most versatile running back in this year’s class. At 5-foot-8, 202 pounds, he averaged 5.9 yards per carry over his two seasons at North Carolina, caught 92 passes, and returned two punts for touchdowns his senior season. He has burner speed, makes quick cuts, and has the size to run between the tackles. I expect Bernard to begin the year in a 60-40 split, with Green-Ellis nabbing most of the goal line carries, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he explodes off the scene and takes over the starting role by midseason. Prediction: He’s a must-grab handcuff to every Green-Ellis owner, and a solid flex play for players in PPR leagues.

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