So I guess my roof is being painted right now, so no suntanning today, meaning I'm kind of stuck inside before work, meaning I have time to kill, meaning I'm doing something fantasy sports related.
Sure, we haven't even got to training camp, but so much has been happening already that I would be remissed if I didn't try and weave my way through the inner workings a little bit before the season and every other preview guide (including mine) comes out.
This is more of a way to discuss what has happened so far and what the possible ramifications could be. Also, it's going to be a way to try and predict the future, which, when you boil it down, is really what all of us fantasy pundits are doing (we're probably better than Miss Cleo, but not by much). So, without further ado...
The Aaron Hernandez Saga And What It Means To Guys Who Will Actually Play Football This Year: I'm not going to go into the details of this whole story because it's been done (and is still being done) by every breathing sports writer in America, and also, to write anything more than a sentence about a guy who was going to be a fixture in the Patriot offense for years to come and is now a murderer is beyond depressing.
Needless to say, I have a better chance of impacting your team than he does, so what does that mean? Well, let's start with what it does for the Pats. Clearly their entire offensive scheme that was derived from two years ago when the epic WHONK trio (Welker/Hernandez/Gronkowski) was in effect. Wes is in Denver, Hernandez is...well, you know, and Gronk has been an injury train wreck after being seemingly indestructible in 2011. The Pats are likely to have Gronk and Jake Ballard (TE sleeper for the first few weeks if Gronk is out) as their tight ends, which, while being a decent combo, does not present nearly the kind of mismatches that a Hernandez/Gronk combo would. This means there will be more pressure on the receivers to make up for the production.
Danny Amendola is clearly the biggest prize of the Pats' receiving corps, so look for him to go somewhere in the 5th-6th rounds. He will likely be the Hernandez replacement in the slot with the ability to run outside routes. The true sleeper is Julian Edelman, who, all the while, has been the "Welker clone," and is one of the big reasons why Wes became, at the time, "expendable." Edelman is a huge darkhorse, and has shown flashes of brilliance in the receiving game and the return game. He will be the slot receiver and will also likely be returning punts, so keep him in mind for those sleeper lists.
Another name to consider is Aaron Dobson, the rookie out of Marshall. While Donald Jones is listed ahead of him on the depth chart, I think ultimately, Dobson wins the job based on size (6'3) and his pure athletic ability. Many receivers have gone to Marshall since Randy Moss was drafted in '98, but none have been compared to him except Dobson, who scouts have raved about. He will need to be a key contributor in the outside passing game for Brady and the Pats to have any success throwing the ball downfield.
Now that we've covered the Patriots, what does Hernandez being out of the game mean in terms of drafting tight ends? Well, the tight end pool, in terms of guys who put up consistent numbers, is extremely shallow. This year, I'm saying that Dennis Pitta is the dividing line between guys that can put up 10 points a game and guys that can't. Pitta, by the way, could venture his way into the top 3 in fantasy with more of an importance placed on his position with the departure of Anquan Boldin.
The Plus-Pitta Side:
- Jimmy Graham: The consensus #1.
- Gronk: Could be a steal if you can get him cheap and don't mind rolling with a lesser TE for a few weeks.
- Tony Gonzalez: Came back just in time to be a top 5 tight end...again.
- Vernon Davis: Has been in line for a giant season for seemingly years, and now might get it with a stable QB and Michael Crabtree down for at least the first 6 to 8 weeks due to an Achilles injury.
- Jason Witten: Lost in the shuffle was the fact that this guy caught 110 balls last year.
- Kyle Rudolph: If he had someone other than Christian Ponder throwing to him, he would be ranked higher.
- Owen Daniels: This is an example of a guy who isn't the "sexy" pick, but always produces.
- Brandon Myers: Leaving Oakland could possibly become the greatest move of his career. Another guy, like Rudolph, who could find themselves on the Plus-Pitta side before too long.
- Antonio Gates: Stock continues to keep slipping.
- Jermichael Finley: Sure, he's been a disappointment, but without Greg Jennings and Donald Driver, A-Rod will probably be looking for someone familiar to keep that dynamic passing offense going.
Rookie Running Backs Will Always Be Underrated...Buy Low While You Can: Coming into this season, there will be three guys (Doug Martin, Trent Richardson, and Alfred Morris) who will likely go in the top 10 of your drafts this year that were rookies last year. Martin and T-Rich were on everyone's radars, but none were drafted anywhere close to where they are ranked now (T-Rich went in the 3rd-4th, Martin in the 5th-6th, and Alfred Morris?...well, if you drafted him, I applaud your psychic sense, but otherwise, he was the big prize in the fantasy waiver sweepstakes last year). The reason for this is the "unknown" factor of how well their talents will translate from Saturdays to Sundays. There are two rookie backs who will likely land the starting job on their respective teams from Week 1:
- Montee Ball: Drafted in the 2nd round by Denver, Ball will have no real competition outside of Ronnie Hillman, who is projected as more of a Jacquizz Rodgers type in terms of being the "change of pace" back. Everyone knows how dynamic the Broncos passing offense will be, which should lead to a lot of running room for Ball up the middle. He is projected to go in the 4th round but could see his stock creeping into the 2nd round by the time this season's up.
- Le'Veon Bell: Also picked in the second round, the Steelers finally get a bruising, every down back in Bell. He is even more of a no-doubt Week 1 starter than Ball. The Steeler offense could struggle if Antonio Brown cannot assume the #1 receiver role (which I think he can, but you never know), and their line can't stay healthy, which was the biggest reason they struggled last year. Le'Veon is ranked a little lower than Ball, but is a strong pick in the 4th-5th rounds.
Second-Year QBs Are Getting No Love In The Fantasy World: You would think that after having the most productive rookie QB class to enter the league since 1983, these guys would be hitting the top 5 rounds of fantasy drafts, but alas, that is not the case. What is the deal? If you're looking for some kind of reasonable explanation here besides "it's only their second year," then you won't get it from me. To be honest, I'm almost spellbound at the fact that this group all could finish inside the top 10 in QB scoring this year, with maybe two or three hitting the top 5. I think the only real question is which direction should you head? Well, let's see if we can break this down a little.
- Andrew Luck: Last year's number one pick hit the ground running in Indy, helping the Colts reach the playoffs after there was supposed to be a "learning curve." Look, this guy was projected to be a stud, and, ta-da, he's a stud. He revitalized Reggie Wayne's career, and made T.Y. Hilton (shout out to FIU) a solid #2. With Ahmad Bradshaw on board to help out Vick Ballard, Luck has a solid backfield to take some pressure off. His football IQ is ri-donkey-balls, so expecting him to exceed his outstanding rookie season (4,374 yards, 23 TDs) is actually completely within reason (don't forget he also had 255 yards rushing and 5 TDs on the ground...yeah he's got wheels too).
- RGIII: No full name needed here. The guy was electric as advertised, and became the first QB since Randall Cunningham to throw for 3,000 yards and run for 800 yards. My assumption for why he's ranked so low (some have him outside of the top 15) is because of that brutal knee injury that he re-aggravated in the playoffs against Seattle last year. However, he's looked solid in practice, he says he's okay...that's pretty much all we can go by right now. The preseason should be very telling in terms of his draft stock. Personally, I think he's going to be okay, but there's always that risk when you're talking about a scrambling QB.
- Russell Wilson: He's too short, his college success won't translate to the pros...yeah where are those people now? Wilson was stellar after taking the job outright from Matt Flynn, who was signed to be the QB of 2013 and possibly beyond. Now he's in Oakland, and the Seahawks are one of the Super Bowl favorites. Now with Percy Harvin on board to team with Sidney Rice, you have to believe Wilson's numbers are only going up.
- Colin Kaepernick: I truly think we're sleeping on this guy...still. Even though he went to a Super Bowl, even though he was a magician throughout the regular season and the playoffs, he's still underrated. Okay so here's my theory on this...it's a west coast thing. This kind of stuff happens all the time. East coasters (like myself) are painfully oblivious to what happens on the left coast. Maybe it was the competition level at Nevada that had people questioning this guy a little, but regardless of who you play, if you have 10,000 passing and 4,000 yards rushing throughout a collegiate career, your name is Colin Kaepernick, and that's it...in the history of Division I College Football!! Then, he takes away the job of Alex Smith in the midst of the best year of his career (Smith was leading the NFL in completion % at the time of the injury that cost him his starting spot)...and he's still not breaking the 5th round? This is why I love preseason rankings. Only concern here is Crabtree, whose injury will certainly affect the passing game.
Real Life Rankings:
- Andrew Luck
- Colin Kaepernick
- Russell Wilson
- Kaepernick (I would draft him in the 4th-5th rounds)
- Luck (5th-6th)
- RGIII (6th-7th)
- Wilson (6th-7th)
There Is A TON Of Wide Receiver Depth: Sure, the top guys (Megatron, AJ, Julio, Brandon Marshall, Dez Bryant) are great to have. You're guaranteed either 100 yards, a TD, or both pretty much every week. However, if you choose to go RB-RB the first two rounds (or RB-RB-RB in the first three), and don't get any of the "elite" WRs, fear not. You'll be pleasantly surprised to know that you can actually get yourself in really good shape if you start drafting WRs in the 4th or 5th rounds. Here's a few examples of what's available:
- Larry Fitzgerald (Projected Round: 5th): Okay, hear me out if you got burned by Fitzy last year. You shouldn't blame him, you should blame Kevin Kolb, John Skelton, and the rest of the ship-shod QBs the Cards had to try to throw the ball to him. I know Carson Palmer isn't going to throw for 5,000 yards, but you have to expect that he will be a significant upgrade over last year's QB crew. If he gets a decent QB, Fitzgerald is still a top 5 receiver.
- Antonio Brown (6th): Yet another guy who, if you drafted last year, probably killed you. Brown not only got hurt but wasn't nearly as productive as what was projected for him. However, with Mike Wallace in Miami, Brown becomes the de facto #1 in Pittsburgh. I'm banking on a bounce-back performance.
- Reggie Wayne (6th): Wayne has become fantasy's "old faithful" as he continues to grind out year after year of successful campaigns. He still finds himself on the outside of the "elite" receivers, which is good for you because with Andrew Luck on board, Wayne will continue to be a top 50 player.
- Danario Alexander (7th-8th): When Vincent Jackson left for Tampa, it was assumed that Malcom Floyd would be Philip Rivers #1 target, but Alexander emerged as a TD machine in the second half and one of the most valuable fantasy receivers in the game. With another year in the system, Alexander could be in line for a 1,000 yard, 10 TD season.
- Cecil Shorts (7th-8th): CSI follows the Danario Alexander plan of coming from out of nowhere to become fantasy relevant. The one concern going forward here is the murky QB situation in Jacksonville. Shorts had a massive up-kick in numbers when Chad Henne assumed the reigns from Blaine Gabbert, so the hope is that he wins the job in camp. Another thing to keep in mind is that Justin Blackmon will be out the first four weeks, meaning CSI will be the #1 until his return, so there is a chance for immediate short-term benefits regardless of who is throwing to him.
- Stevie Johnson (8th): This is contingent on E.J. Manuel winning the starting job from Kevin Kolb, which I think is an inevitability. If that were to happen, the deep ball would be back in effect in Buffalo. Ryan Fitzpatrick came unglued last year, which was unfortunate, especially after I sang his praises for the better part of the last three years, so Johnson's numbers probably took a hit because of it. Having said that, he still went over 1,000 yards on the season, making it three straight years going over 1,000. Getting Johnson as your WR2 or even as a backup is a pretty solid option.
- Greg Jennings (8th): Sure, he switched from Aaron Rodgers to Christian Ponder...to say that is a drop-off is an understatement of the wildest portions. Still, he's got plenty of upside considering he's going for the first time this low in about three years. I say he has at least two good years left at a minimum.
- Tavon Austin (8th): The last time a team moved way up the draft board to get a receiver, it was Atlanta with Julio Jones. After a few weeks of growing pains, Jones became a beast. I'm not saying Austin will be hitting Julio's numbers, but the Rams made a significant move to get him, meaning that he will be a big part of the offense from the jump. It may not all click immediately, but I'll be very surprised if looking back on this draft, getting Tavon in the 8th round will not be considered a serious bargain.
- Jeremy Maclin (9th): Maclin seems like the guy doing all the scoring while DeSean Jackson is more of the chain-mover in Philly. Again, drafting guys this late, you're essentially filling your bench and getting bye week replacements, but with a guy like Maclin, he could sneak into your starting lineup based on a good matchup.
The Broncos, Bears, and Texans are probably on that second tier of defenses, and after that, it's a real crap shoot. The Ravens and Steelers are always solid options, but don't offer nearly the kind of big-return potential that they used to. In terms of underrated, you may want to check out Arizona...not so much for their defense, but anytime you have control over Patrick Peterson, the odds go way up to score a special teams TD.
Okay, good first day (or three). Of course I will be back with the 5th installment of the fantasy dossier. Look for that right in the middle of the preseason. Until then, I'll be stocking up on knowledge, and I suggest you do the same. Take care and be safe everyone. Peace.