The year is in the books, at least as far as the regular season is concerned. I’m wasting no time in turning my attention to 2013. With our draft coverage set to pick up steam as we head into the draft months, there’s no better time for a quick exploration of each team toward determining a single fantasy relevant issue that bears watching for the season to come. In many cases, there are draft implications to these issues so treat this article (as well as the second NFC article and AFC articles to follow) as preview pieces for 2013.
What a year for Robert Griffin III owners. Not only was he as advertised under center, but also well beyond expectations in the areas of both leadership and poise. If not for the single missed game due to a knee injury, RGIII would have likely ended the year as the QB4 in fantasy – not bad for a rookie. And with rookie tailback Alfred Morris behind him and receiver Pierre Garcon capable enough on the outside at receiver, all arrows were pointing up for the Redskins in 2013. Until…
The dazzling young RG3 did all he could to overcome an LCL injury in his first playoff game vs. the visiting Seahawks. In fact, he tried to do too much. Whether you blame the coach, the player, team doctors or simply bad luck, the end result is a torn LCL and ACL. I’ll reserve my personal opinion for another time. Is the 2013 season now at risk?. With a 6-9 mos. recovery time, I do expect to see him back under center. But every player not named Adrian Peterson will tell you that the real recovery time is closer to 12-15 mos., the additional time in gaining psychological confidence in the joint. Working in RG3’s favor is the fact that he’s young and in a position that doesn’t require the same level of movement that does a receiver or running back. As it stands, I fully expect that we’ll see him back under center for the first game of the 2013 season.
That all said, the primary question will remain “will this injury change the style that provides much of his dynamic?”. I expect the result here will be that this injury will make for a smarter Robert Griffin and, thankfully, he’s a capable quarterback even when not on the move. My advice to RG3 owners is not to overreact at this point, blow up your team or otherwise trade for another quarterback unless you have no other alternative. He’s young, his career should be long and he has enough time to get back under center by September.
New York Giants
There’s a number of different issues I’m watching in New York and it’s a team with a lot of intrigue. The health of Hakeem Nicks’ knees along with the slow emergence of Rueben Randle, the potential of tight end Martellus Bennett as well as the somewhat disappointing season of Eli Manning are items to keep tabs on. But the biggest fantasy story heading into 2013 will be the future of running backs Ahmad Bradshaw and rookie David Wilson. Wilson has had his share of fumbling problems (an issue that plagued him in college) in addition to pass protection woes, but there’s no denying the dynamic element he brings to the G-men’s offense.
Bradshaw signed a four-year deal in 2011 and is due a $3.75 million dollar salary in 2013. Will Bradshaw, who has never been durable, again be the featured runner or will he give way to the quicker feet of Wilson? Will it be the dreaded even-split running-back-by-committee (RBBC)? I’m in the camp of the latter as coach Tom Coughlin likes his veteran players. If Bradshaw is traded or should his role be reduced, Wilson’s value will skyrocket.
Two years ago I believed Tony Romo had two years left in Big D, unless he could bring home a championship. Once again, a late season collapse should put his future in doubt. He simply can’t win the biggest games in any given season. But once again, word out of Dallas is that Romo is secure and they’re looking to lock him up for the long term. Either way, there’s not enough intrigue here for me to pay a lot of attention. Instead, I’ve got my eyes trained on the WR3 role. Since the departure of Laurent Robinson, the 2012 version of Buffalo’s Peerless Price (look it up), the the Boys have been looking to replace his production. Kevin Ogletree was quick out of the gate but was largely a one-and-done player in 2012. Dwayne Harris has shown flashes, but hasn’t exactly established himself as “the next.”
Given the gimpy nature that is Miles Austin, combined with a maturing and productive Dez Bryant, the WR3 role in Dallas has plenty of upside. Will the Cowboys make a play for a more established third receiver or will they look for growth from both Ogletree and Harris? For the record, I’ve seen enough from Harris to make me believe that he’ll get 2013 to show what he’s capable of.
What’s not to watch here? It was a disastrous season for the Eagles and their fans. Now, a complete overhaul is underway. What’s the biggest story heading into 2013 in Philly? The emergence of Bryce Brown? A slowly eroding receiver situation with Jeremy Maclin no sure bet to return? For me, I have to watch the quarterback duel between Nick Foles and ???. We all know that Michael Vick won’t be back, but there’s nothing in me that believes the new head coach won’t be bringing in veteran competition for the position. Kevin Kolb anyone? Not a chance. After watching a lot of Foles at Arizona and now in the NFL, I stand by my belief that he’s a long shot to be a long-term starter in the NFL. He’s a good young player and a likable character, but I just see too many issues mechanically and decision-making wise for me to believe anything different. The bigger issue here may be the fact that this Eagles team is in dire need for leadership and a strong core and are lacking in both – this isn’t a good foundation for development of a young quarterback.
The biggest question here is will the Eagles jump on the opportunity to draft a rookie quarterback come April? My guess is no. There are too many other needs both offensively and defensively to take another young signal caller. But the right veteran quarterback could breathe some life into this offense that wasn’t horrible – thirteenth in both rushing and passing yards. I smell a buy-low situation brewing here.
Fantasy relevance in 2013 comes down to two issues in Green Bay: 1) The fate of Jermichael Finley and 2) The state of the running game.
I have to believe a more effective and consistent running game will be the top offensive focus in 2013 for the Pack. Alex Green, James Starks, Cedric Benson and DuJuan Harris all have some talent, but not enough to be consistent or carry the load. I’m looking for the Packers to steer clear of young backs via the draft and, instead, bring in an aging veteran that will add an every-down established threat to the backfield. Cedric Benson may return, but I’m holding out hope for the chance that they land a back such as DeAngelo Williams (should Carolina waive him). The right back in this system could be a very productive low-end RB2 with upside on your fantasy team. Aaron Rodgers is a passing quarterback and I don’t see any back entering that system and becoming a high scorer.
The Vikings put together a nice season in 2012, surprising me in that regard. And dare I even say that they were fun to watch week-in, week-out. Adrian Peterson’s pursuit of the single season rushing record, Christian Ponder’s further development and the guessing game related to how many games Percy Harvin would play all made for an interesting season. They were an entertaining team this year.
When I look at the Vikings, I see tremendous opportunity for any receiver that can step up to be a true WR2. In an offense that runs on the back of Adrian Peterson, has a truly dynamic WR1 (when healthy) in Percy Harvin and a productive tight end in Kyle Rudolph, there exists a lot of opportunity. Jerome Simpson is a bust yet again. Michael Jenkins is still Michael Jenkins. I’m looking for the Vikings to make a splash in free agency by making a play for a receiver like Dwayne Bowe or Mike Wallace. A big talent receiver starting across from Harvin will provide the extra dimension that is currently missing. Note that slot receiver Jarius Wright has begun to emerge and while he’s not likely going to start on the outside, he does make for an interesting complement to Harvin. Wright runs a 4.42 forty and has been developing nicely. He compares extremely well with Kendall Wright in Tennessee for those looking for a comparison. In fact, many had Jarius Wright graded more highly than that of Kendall Wright. I’m looking for a lot more from him in 2013.
When looking at Chicago, I see a team very close to being where they need to be, but they need to strike quickly. I was unsure of just how effective the Jay Cutler-to-Brandon Marshall sequel was going to turn out, but it serves to show just how much chemistry can dictate between a quarterback and his receiver. Of course, it helps that Marshall is a huge body with great hands and an elite skill-set. It’s also true that the Bears could be in need of better tight end play. But in a system that isn’t highlighting tight ends as it stands, this statement is too arguable to really stand behind. The biggest issue for the Bears on the offensive side of the ball is the continued development of receiver Alshon Jeffery.
While his 24 receptions, 267 yards and three touchdowns has to be considered a disappointment in his first year, it’s only mildly so in my estimation. Productive rookie receivers are not easy to come by and Jeffery’s year has demonstrated why that is. He’s struggled at times with his role, mistakes and consistency, not to mention that he’s also fought through numerous injuries. All in all, it was a largely forgettable campaign for the big receiver. With that said, 2013 could make for a great buy low on Jeffery. While it was easy for any analyst to see the flaws and deficits in his game, Jeffery has also shown the ability, at times, to be productive and make the big catch. His hands are as advertised and I did note stronger off-the-line play than I had seen collegiately while he was at South Carolina. There are safer bets for breakout players, but Jeffery is one who should come at a low price.
Every fiber of my being simply wants to write “See Philadelphia above” for my current thoughts on Detroit. I have the utmost respect for Detroit fans and feel for what they have been through. But, honestly, I don’t like the product the Lions are putting on the field. More than that, I don’t like their coach, I don’t like the system and I certainly don’t like the antics that I’ve witnessed from Detroit players. I’d like to see a lot more leadership from both Mathew Stafford and Calvin Johnson. This team needs to learn how to win and how to lose with class and humility. But I digress.
I’d like to say I’m watching the evolution of the Lions’ running game toward locating a decent buy-low runner. In the end, I just haven’t seen anything out of Detroit that leads me to remove the label I have attached to their system – It’s where running backs go to die. I’m just going to leave it alone. But, an established WR2 has major upside. I had high hopes for the likes of Titus Young until I quickly realized that a character issue player like Young going to a team which I described in the first paragraph here is a match made in He … well, you get the point. The emergence of DLF favorite Ryan Broyles is one to watch. Should he be able to recover on schedule from his recent ACL injury, he’s just the type of player who can benefit along side Calvin Johnson. Broyles is a high-character player and person and has a knack for getting open. He’s a solid buy-low candidate, but has already shown enough such you aren’t going to get him for nothing. I have high hopes for Broyles and I’ll be watching to see how he recovers from his injury and how he’s used going forward.
We’ll take a look at the rest of the NFC in the next installment.
You can find Jeff on Twitter at @dlf_jeff