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 first NFC article and AFC articles to follow) as preview pieces for 2013.
Who’ll be toting the rock in 2013 as a Falcon? Michael Turner could return, but his 800 yards and 3.6 yards per carry average is proof of his age (he’ll be 31 in February). Jacquizz Rodgers is a nice change of pace, but hasn’t shown that he can carry the load to any degree. The Falcons should be in the market for a Turner-like back in 2013 Draft while they wait for the last wheel to fall off the “Burner.” Much like Green Bay, Atlanta is a pass-first team and any primary back in that system probably has a cap of an RB2. I’ll be watching to see if they strike a deal with an aging free agent back or if they go young via the draft, which could produce a nice late-first-round rookie (dynasty) draft gamble.
No surprise here. All eyes in fantasy will be on the plight of Jonathan Stewart. Many remain high on the ultra-talented back, but there’s just no way we can keep him ranked highly any longer based on potential and opportunity. DeAngelo Williams may or may not be back with the Panthers in 2013 and, if not, it will be the first time Stewart has been decoupled from Williams and free to run. Stewart is often plagued by small injuries and has largely disappointed, but he remains young and talented. But other backs with more talent have come and gone in the NFL without registering significant and ongoing fantasy production.
If Williams resigns in Carolina, there will exist another year of RBBC frustration, especially with Mike Tolbert still in the fold. Even should Williams depart, which may significantly raise his own value, Stewart will have to prove that he has the durability to carry the load. At what point do we finally cut bait and not look back? For many, that time has already come.
The New Orleans’ offense continues to be a fantasy difference maker, at least at quarterback and wide receiver.
In the backfield, however, if a three headed RBBC monster isn’t enough for you, how about a four headed beast? With the likes of Darren Sproles, Mark Ingram, Pierre Thomas and even Chris Ivory all in the mix, week-in and week-out consistency couldn’t be guaranteed. Thankfully, the return of Sproles late in the season rejuvenated many fantasy championship lineups. Ingram showed flashes of finally being healthy and having greater confidence. Thomas still averaged 4.5 yards per carry on his 105 attempts and even Ivory remains a deep sleeper with his 5.4 yards per carry average on 40 totes. And how many leagues actually find a fifth string running back gracing more than a few rosters? Rookie runner Travaris Cadet continues to get some play in fantasy as a young back with good size and quick feet. All but Ivory, a restricted free-agent in 2013, are nearly guaranteed to return. Should the Saints wish to retain Ivory, it will cost them roughly $2M for the honor, a cost which they won’t likely incur. I’m looking for him to be moved and, as such, he makes for a nice stash in deeper leagues. He’s never been able to stay healthy, but new scenery may change that. Either way, I’m looking at the Saints’ running back committee with great interest to see how things pan out and whether Ingram is finally handed a larger role in 2013.
Despite a largely forgettable year for the Buccaneers as a team, fantasy relevance was anything but that. Rookie runner Doug Martin was spectacular in stretches, new receiver Vincent Jackson was inconsistent but notable and fellow receiver Mike Williams turned out to be a great buy-low prospect after a disappointing sophomore campaign in 2011. Josh Freeman proved to be QB2 material, but showed some flashes of positional maturity and further capability. Only the tight end position failed to register on the fantasy radar. Aging veteran Dallas Clark had spot starts of productivity, but no real relevance between Clark or backup Luke Stocker emerged. No telling at this point whether Stocker is the future or if, perhaps, the Bucs will be looking to add more dynamic ability at the position in the off-season. The offense is tight end friendly and the emergence of a full time starter at the position (Stocker or otherwise) could make for a valuable free agent addition.
There are a number of stories with legs to follow ahead of the 2013 season related to the 49ers. The receiver situation is rather fluid as Michael Crabtree erupted in the second half of 2012 – can he continue that trend in 2013? Vernon Davis disappeared altogether this past year and I have no great expectation that we’ll see anything different next year. Frank Gore continues to pound out yards, but will be hitting the magical 30 year old mark before the season kicks off while Kendall Hunter waits in the wings.
The story of greatest interest to me is the development of new quarterback Colin Kaepernick. A dynamic player both as a passer and a runner, the rocket-armed slinger stole the reins from Alex Smith, ignited Crabtree and gave Bay area fans reason to finally cheer their quarterback. Can Kaepernick be the missing link on an already great team? Smith, for his part, did manage the game better than given credit for, but he’s not the multi-faceted threat that Kaepernick is. At only 25 years of age, Colin Kaepernick has the potential to be a long term starter and heading into 2013, he’s done enough already for me to hang a QB15 rating on him in my most recent rankings.
Here at DLF, we’ve been in love with Russell Wilson well before he was drafted – being drafted by our Northwest home team just deepened that affection. I wasn’t ready to call Wilson the next Drew Brees as many vertically-challenged quarterbacks come and go without coming close to sniffing success. But coming out of Wisconsin, you could tell was different. He never allowed size to dictate a level of success. He’s as intelligent as they come, had perhaps the greatest work ethic I’ve seen coming out of college and possesses leadership and charisma that is simply off the charts. It was said that had Wilson been five inches taller, he could have challenged for the first pick in the draft. As it stands, no pun intended, he arguably still worthy of that value in many drafts of the past decade.
Elite is a word that is thrown around often in fantasy as well as in the pros. In fantasy, an elite quarterback is one who is an every week starter without question and usually ranked in the top five of the position. I stand by my expectation that Wilson will not achieve the fantasy elite tag in his career, but at QB9 (depending on your format), he’s no more than forty to fifty points off that mark as is. I may very well be selling him short on his potential. The fact that he is a rookie and his top two receivers (Sidney Rice and Golden Tate) combined for only 95 receptions and 1,436 yards is nothing short of stunning. He accounted for thirty touchdowns overall, four of them of the rushing variety. Just where is his ceiling?
There’s a whole lot of mediocrity in St. Louis these days. I’m fully off the Sam Bradford bandwagon even though I love his leadership ability. Steven Jackson is a fifty-fifty bet to return while Daryl Richardson faded greatly down the stretch. Wide receiver Chris Givens showed some promise while fellow rookie Brian Quick was disappointing. Danny Amendola remains one to watch in 2013. The 27 year old slot receiver hauled in 63 receptions while missing nearly a third of the year due to injury – he’s the best weapon on offense the Rams possess and he’s a free agent in 2013. Don’t expect the Rams to apply the franchise tag as they don’t have enough cap room to make it work. Amendola seems to want to stay in St. Louis and the Rams will certainly look to lock him up for the next five years. A healthy Amendola is a great WR2 option in PPR leagues. He’s established enough in the Rams’ offense to make it worthwhile to fantasy owners for him to stay there. Should he wish to depart, however, he’ll be an immediate upgrade to any offense.
It doesn’t get a lot worse for fantasy owners than the Arizona Cardinals. Larry Fitzgerald had a horrific year and, outside of a few spot starts for wild card running backs, the Cardinals were a fantasy wasteland. You could choose any offensive position and it would be a worthy candidate to watch as 2013 takes shape. Or, you could write the Cardinals off altogether and I wouldn’t hold it against you. The present problems don’t appear to be short term in nature.
When it all comes down to it, the Cardinals MUST address their quarterback situation. A constant carrousel of sub-par quarterback talent has plagued the team for years and look for the new head coach to immediately address the situation via the draft. The Cardinals hold the seventh pick in the 2013 draft and while that appears to be too early for a selection of the available talent within the draft pool, Arizona can’t risk waiting until the second round in hopes of landing a top tier rookie. As an alternative plan, it should be no surprise to anyone if the Cardinals opt to sign or trade for Alex Smith, Matt Flynn or even Michael Vick as a stop-gap measure while using one of their first two picks on a quarterback. My money is still on a selection of USC’s Matt Barkley or West Virginia’s Geno Smith in the first round. My belief is that Smith will go first in the draft to Kansas City, leaving Barkley to fall to Arizona. The plight of Fitzgerald is a noteworthy discussion topic as he’s aging quickly and with only a couple prime years left, fantasy owners may not be able to ride him out.
For the record, I’m not a Barkley fan.
Next we look at the AFC …
You can find Jeff on Twitter at @dlf_jeff