The profound letters N, F and L don’t just stand for National Football League. In a sport where circumstances change faster than Oakland’s projected week one starter, the acronym NFL is given a secondary meaning: Not For Long. This means we can’t take anything for granted. It wasn’t long ago Mark Ingram was a consensus top three pick in rookie drafts or Aaron Hernandez was considered a lock for top tier tight end production.
Sometimes the changing circumstances are due to unpredictable events, such as the season ending injuries, but in many cases the drastic change in player values come from expectations. Whether its anticipating a player’s situation or analyzing their skillset, the perception and expectations of players are key factors in identifying their future values.
Dynasty owners have to be a step ahead of the game in realizing what the perception of the player is now and what it will be in the future. It is with this mentality I share with you my thoughts of some of the current perceptions of players now, and what I am anticipating for the future. Some may be bold – but with risk comes reward. At the end of the day, you have to trust your instincts, be able to act on them and put yourself in a position to win.
Not For Long…
1.) Will Ryan Mathews be considered a bust.
When a player is drafted into the NFL to immediately be a three-down back, expectations are high. Entering last pre-season, Ryan Mathews was being touted as a top five back before ever finishing as one. Following two broken collarbones and one down-season later, fans have jumped off the bandwagon and some have gone as far to declare Mathews a bust. A disappointed fantasy nation came down hard on him and resulted in a full snowball effect. In reality, I believe lofty expectations derailed by injury have led to unprecedented hate.
Well, the hate has gone too far and Mathews is primed for a bounce back season. Mathews has shown a promising preseason and looks determined to come back strong. Yes, new acquisition Danny Woodhead certainly figures to get some touches, but people are a bit too quick to anoint him as a game changer in San Diego. Make no mistake, Mathews will be the primary back. After a down-season, and an even worse run on his dynasty reputation, his value in dynasty leagues has plummeted. This makes Mathews a great buy candidate who could punish those who were too quick to give up on him.
2.) Will Trent Richardson be a first round lock in startups.
Yes, you caught me. I am not a Trent Richardson fan. Now when I say this, I don’t mean he’s a not good player, he won’t have a solid career or any other conclusions you might jump to. I mean given his current number two overall ADP value, there is no dynasty team I will own him.
Part of my concern here is injury. Nearly every single week during the 2012 season, Richardson was questionable and dealing with a plethora of nagging injuries. A 21-year-old three-down running back already dealing with consistent injuries and requiring knee surgery troubles me, and I think this has been largely overlooked simply because he managed to suit up each game.
In Richardson’s rookie season he appeared underwhelming. While he managed 11 touchdowns and just shy of 1,000 yards on the ground, I wasn’t overly impressed. A 3.56 average on over 250 carries isn’t terrible, but it doesn’t demand a lock for a top two pick. I much rather prefer the dynamic ability of a player like CJ Spiller, LeSean McCoy or even Shannahan’s new man, Alfred Morris. Call me crazy (which I’m sure many of you will), but I wouldn’t take him until the second round, and would rather have a handful of wide receivers brinking on stardom like Julio Jones and Dez Bryant.
I don’t think he’ll fall out of the top two or three rounds in the near future, but dynasty owners can’t neglect his consistent health concerns forever and may turn to safer options for top end production, especially with him being considered at the 1.01 in start-up drafts.
3.) Will Ronnie Hillman be starting games for the Broncos.
Ronnie Hillman has been in the spotlight this preseason. He has started all preseason games for the Broncos and would appear to be in position to lead the backfield entering the 2013 season. While I admit he has shown less hesitation and more explosiveness as a runner, he still hasn’t shown any real playmaking ability or been capable of fighting for extra yards. This still leaves you with an undersized back who can just take what’s given. The Broncos’ front office has expressed their feelings on Hillman being only a situational player and his preseason ball security issues won’t help his case.
Head coach John Fox is known to favor veterans and I don’t expect him to change now. This is certainly where Hillman has an advantage over rookie Montee Ball, but I think Knowshon Moreno has the leg up on both of them in this respect. Maybe the former first round pick has never truly fulfilled his own expectations, but Fox trusts him with a full workload and in pass protection.
Moreno hasn’t received many reps during the preseason, but Fox already knows exactly what he’s getting from his veteran. The preseason was an opportunity for the younger backs to display their skillsets and make an argument for playing time. To open the season, I expect Moreno to be a bigger part of the game plan than Fox is letting on until Monte Ball is ready to take the reigns. I don’t think Hillman figures to be a major part of the plan, short or long term.
4.) Will the Bengals have a backfield timeshare.
Opening the 2013 season, there will be two backs featured in Cincinnati. The incumbent, BenJarvus Green-Ellis, has done nothing but be consistent in his career. Over five seasons he has averaged 4.0 yards per carry and eclipsed the 1,000 yard mark two of the past three years.
The Law Firm can pass as a quality NFL starter, but he just doesn’t offer is the dynamic playmaking ability rookie Giovani Bernard has in spades. Every time Bernard touches the ball he has the chance to do something great. This preseason he has shown he can be an effective goal line back and he also brings a rare backfield catching ability to the table. Even without the ball in his hands, Gio will demand the respect of defenses and open up the field for A.J. Green and company.
Green-Ellis is signed through the 2014 season. Regardless of the Bengals’ decision to hang onto him next year, it won’t be long before Gio Bernard will be the man in Cincy. The Bengals will give Gio every chance to be a three-down back, and his contributions to the offense will prove to be too much to remain on the sidelines.
5.) Will Bryce Brown be LeSean McCoy’s backup.
Bryce Brown has been a hot prospect since he was awarded the Hall Trophy and thus dubbed the best high school player in the country in 2008. However, things begin to get a little murky after that. Following a long process of un-honored commitments, school transfers and an early declaration for the NFL, Brown recorded a total of just 104 collegiate rushes. His greatest consistency has been his questioned commitment. After being named the best prospect in the country, there is a reason slipped to the seventh round in the 2012 NFL draft.
In his first two NFL starts in LeSean McCoy’s absence, he lit the fantasy world on fire with 247 rushing yards and four touchdowns. Despite these performances, perhaps owners more greatly are reminded of his of his next two starts when he totaled 40 yards and had no scores during the fantasy playoffs. Teams are willing to take a chance on him because of the skill and upside he possesses, but he comes with risk.
He currently sits at number two on the depth chart behind starter LeSean McCoy, but if character concerns persist, he won’t last long there. The second back in Philly could see a decent workload with Chip Kelly as head coach, but Kelly needs someone he can rely on. Early in camp there were already rumors swirling rookie Chris Polk was in contention for the role. Polk is not a lock for the job, but I think Brown has a problem with being a role player behind another back, which dates back to his Tennessee days. It could be only a matter of time before his commitment concerns catch up with him and he loses the number two duties to a less talented runner.
Follow Chris on Twitter @ChrisR124.