Much like Chris Mortensen of ESPN, I’m touring all 32 teams in the NFL featuring what I’m looking for in the 2013 season and beyond – only DLF hasn’t chartered a bus for me, no pro will actually talk to me and we’ll be focussing completely on dynasty fantasy football. Other than that, it’s totally the same. In this new weekly series, I will cover all 32 teams and ponder a question I have for each of them in relation to dynasty leagues. Each edition will cover one division – this week, we cover the NFC West.
“Can any of these running backs be relevant under Bruce Arians?”
Much has been made on the effect Bruce Arians will have on the Cardinals’ passing game, but what I’m most interested in is the running back situation. Arizona has four intriguing options: Rashard Mendenhall, Ryan Williams, Stepfan Taylor and Andre Ellington – all of whom could see some significant playing time at some point this season. The question is, can any of them be fantasy relevant under Arians’ offensive scheme?
Mendenhall likely heads into the regular season as the starter, with Williams backing him up. Arians has worked with Mendenhall before and knows his strengths and weaknesses. He’s also on just a one year contract so there’s plenty of motivation for him to perform well. His current DLF mock ADP stands at the RB37, pick #106. He’s a cheap option to get in startups if you’re a believer – I’m not even though Arians has spoken highly of him.
Williams has been snake-bitten since entering the league. He was the talk of the town during the 2011 pre-season before tearing his patellar tendon, costing him his entire rookie season. He was part of the all-hype team again in 2012 while Beanie Wells was dealing with his own knee injury. Williams’ knee looked fine and the wagon was once again full of Williams’ apologists. After averaging a miserable 2.8 yards on 58 rushes, his season was finished when he injured his shoulder on a Thursday night in St. Louis in week five. Williams recently stated, “I was trying to protect my leg instead of trying to protect the football. It’s a scary sight being a running back and being scared to run the ball. That’s something that no running back should feel.” The jury’s still out on Williams, but Arians has brought in three more running backs this off-season which probably doesn’t bode well for the third year back.
Both Taylor and Ellington are the ones on my radar in startups. They are easily the cheapest of the four and safer bets to finish a full season of work.
Whoever ends up winning the job, either by performance or default, how good can they be?
Last season, Arians and the Colts were #14 in rushing attempts. Vick Ballard led the team in attempts with 211 during the regular season – that ranks #21 among all running backs in the NFL. Andrew Luck threw the ball 627 times under Arians which ranks #5 overall.
Carson Palmer is not Luck, but fits Arians’ downfield passing scheme. In Oakland, Palmer attempted 565 passes with approximately 150 fewer snaps than Luck had. He’s no stranger to chucking the ball around. In fact, many call him the King of Garbage Time. Since Arians has a quarterback and a nice trio of wide receivers in Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd and Andre Roberts (not to mention breakout candidate Rob Housler at tight end), I don’t see any Arizona running back carrying your fantasy squad to championship glory. What I do see is a running back situation that will deal you a solid flex play from week to week, should one of them stay injury free.
Since the Cardinals upgraded their offensive line, I’ll be curious if they can improve on their league-worst 3.4 yards per attempt in the confines of the NFC West. If they can, one lucky owner should hit on one of the late round running backs.
San Francisco 49ers
“Who will be the WR2?”
There aren’t many questions regarding the 49ers heading into the season – perhaps only one. Who will emerge as the team’s WR2?
Michael Crabtree has been lost for the foreseeable future and Anquan Boldin has been added to the receiving corps. Quinton Patton, one of my pre-draft favorites, was selected by the Niners in the fourth round and A.J. Jenkins is just one year removed from first round draft status. Boldin should be locked into a starting role, so that leaves the other spot up for grabs. Before the Crabtree news, I thought Patton had the talent to emerge as the frontrunner – I still do. However, talks of Jenkins’ off-season workouts with Colin Kaepernick have sparked my interest.
Jenkins didn’t catch a single pass in 2012. He was basically redshirted for most of the year as evidenced by his 47 total snaps. He came into training camp out of shape and was slow to grasp the playbook. Last season is in the rearview mirror and Jenkins’ future is on the horizon. As I mentioned, Jenkins’ off-season workouts with Kaepernick have been chronicled and team representatives have praised his work ethic both on the field and in the weight room. In college, Jenkins (6’o”, 192 pounds) struggled with press coverage due to his lack of size, but when he broke press, he was difficult to stay with. It will be very telling how he performs once the pads are strapped on during training camp. If he can emerge as the #2 or #3 wide receiver, we should see plenty of value given his ADP of 167 (WR66).
What Kaepernick displayed in 2012 was his ability to hit his targets 20+ yards downfield. Per PFF, Kaepernick was the highest rated quarterback in the NFL completing 19 of his 33 deep passes. His 60.6% accuracy was 7% more than fantasy stud Aaron Rodgers.
Jenkins isn’t an elite burner, but was still able to get over the top of defenses in college effortlessly (or so it looked). He’s got big playmaking ability and is sure handed. If anyone knows how to utilize those attributes, it’s Jim Harbaugh – who still wants cake now. #NFLLipReading. If he can make as good an impression in camp like OTAs, Jenkins will flourish in that offense. Don’t expect consistent week to week numbers in 2013, just hope he continues to get better for your dynasty team in 2013 and beyond.
“Who will emerge as the wide receiver to own?”
Again, the Seahawks are another team entering 2013 without many question marks. Russell Wilson has taken the city, nation and fantasy football world by siege and the running game will/should continue to dominate. Shameless plug, here are my thoughts on Wilson from February. Besides deciphering which of the two backup running backs to own between Robert Turbin and Christine Michael, I’m intrigued by which wide receiver will the man in 2013 and beyond.
After someone drafts Percy Harvin, who’s the next wide receiver to own in Seattle? Is it Sidney Rice or Golden Tate?
According to Ryan McDowell’s ADP mock drafts, the consensus seem to think it’s Rice, but I’m not so sure. Rice is being drafted as the WR59 opposed to Tate being drafted has the WR78 – almost three full rounds later. Rice is signed through the 2015 season while Tate is in a contract year. The money given to Rice says he’s the guy to own, but the Seahawks have shown the propensity to play the best player, not the highest paid one.
During an interview last month, head coach Pete Carroll had this to say about Tate: “”Golden is really ready to be a terrific football player. We love what he does, and we just have to get him the ball more,” Carroll said last month. “It took him a couple years to get going and now he’s legit for us and we love what he brings.”
Carroll is correct.
Tate led the Seahawks in receiving during the team’s last 11 games (including the playoffs) when he had 42 receptions for 635 yards and five touchdowns. He showed great playmaking ability as he ranked #15 amongst wide receivers with a 6.1 YAC while hauling in nearly 70% of the passes thrown his way. It’s clear Tate has progressed into the receiver the Seahawks had hoped for when they drafted him in the second round in 2010.
Most likely, both Rice and Tate will man the outside positions with Harvin lined up in the slot. With Tate’s contract expiring, look for the Seahawks to re-sign him next off-season and perhaps dump the uber-inflated contract of Rice.
Tate is a solid buy-low right now given his current situation. Even if he doesn’t duplicate his 2012 numbers, his value for 2014 will skyrocket whether or not he stays in Seattle in the coming years.
St. Louis Rams
“Which question do you even ask?”
I suppose you think I’m going to continue my obsession regarding Isaiah Pead in this series…well, I can’t. I may or may not have a restraining order against me from said player, but I digress. Truth is, the Rams are the most interesting team to follow in the coming months not only in the NFC West, but perhaps the entire NFL. I’ve discussed both the running back and wide receivers’ situation ad nauseum, here was the latest. That leaves the quarterback, tight end or kicker position left to discuss. Since we all know Sam Bradford, Jared Cook and Greg Zurlein will all be starting and are being drafted within good values given their individual ADPs. The only real questions are the ones I covered in the article.
The only wrench thrown into the mix for the wide receivers is the emergence of Austin Pettis as the #1 penciled in on their depth chart. Color me unconcerned when it comes to Pettis. They’ve drafted four quality wide receivers in the past two drafts – they are the future. I believe Pettis being the “#1” on the depth chart is a motivational move by the coaching staff. Someone other than Chris Givens will have to step up this season and I highly doubt it’s Pettis in the end.
Thos are my questions for the NFC West, but I want to hear yours. Comment below on what or who you’re looking for to emerge come 2013.
What questions do you have in regards to the Seahawks, Cardinals, 49ers or Rams? Post them in the comments below and let the debates begin!