In this first part of a four-part series, I will be looking at each team and giving you my thoughts and assessments in hopes of providing insight to leverage. It could be that 2012 and previous seasons were just too long ago for my old mind, but 2013 has been noteworthy on many, many fronts. From young players establishing themselves far sooner than expected, to a deluge of season ending injuries to some of the ‘old guard’ not living up to expectations, 2013 has been anything but routine.
Let’s start in the NFC.
The 4-4 Dallas Cowboys have been consistently inconsistent. Tony Romo continues to perform as expected and sits as the QB4 in fantasy. With 18 touchdowns to only five interceptions, he’s still a top choice to keep you in the hunt. Dez Bryant on the outside has matured, despite the occasional outburst and should remain a top five receiver for years to come. Miles Austin, however, continues to suffer setback after setback, most often of the hamstring variety. Regardless of how you slice it, Austin’s best days appear to be behind him and he’ll likely be elsewhere in 2014. He may be a great buy-low candidate but realize that his hamstrings will follow him to any team that he signs with. Austin’s loss has turned into quite a boon for young rookie, Terrance Williams. Williams started slowly but has now strung together four straight games with a touchdown to go with 14 receptions and 300 yards during that same period. Williams currently sits at the WR25, depending on your scoring system and looks to have established himself as a starter. In fantasy, I peg him as a high upside WR3, at least until he further establishes himself. He’s a good sized, young, receiver for building teams but his acquisition value may be too high now if you’re looking to buy.
In the backfield, my concerns for DeMarco Murray continue to exist. I’ve steered clear of Murray in every league and have never owned him. I dubbed him a paper-tiger, a fitting label that seems to be accurate. If I own Murray, I’m trading him now or after his next good outing. I’m not high on Joseph Randle either. Randle lacks the dynamic I look for in my backs and his field vision is sub-par. I’d much rather perform a buy-low for Lance Dunbar with the hope that he gets an opportunity. He’s undersized but I like what he brings. At tight end, Jason Witten continues to be a force and at 31 year’s of age, he’s got at least three years left as a top ten target.
Oh, Philly. There’s not much to say about the Eagles that provides for fantasy leverage. The quarterback position is a mess and truth be told, I’d prefer to own none of the signal callers here. I had high hopes for Matt Barkley and he’s still the player I’d own in a deep roster league, but he’s looked extremely raw and anything but ready. Michael Vick and Nick Foles aren’t the answer and I want nothing to do with either. At the running back position, LeSean McCoy remains a top option and at only 25 years of age, he’s easy to build around. Bryce Brown is losing his luster but stands to be the back to own should McCoy fall to injury. Keep an eye on Chris Polk who is developing well. I believe Polk can be owned in deep leagues.
At receiver, an early blow to fantasy leaguers was delivered when Jeremy Maclin suffered an ACL injury. Maclin is a free agent in 2014 and I’ll be shocked if he returns to the Eagles. He’s a nice buy-low player right now, especially if he exists on a team fighting for the championship. Offer a depth chart starter from your squad to acquire the 25 year old Maclin. DeSean Jackson is a streaky WR2 sort who is on pace for a 1,300 yard, ten touchdown season. I steer clear of him myself in all leagues but he’s a receiver you don’t want to see starting against you. I’m leaving all other Philly receivers for dead. At tight end, the slow rise of Zach Ertz is beginning. I’m not a fan of Ertz but I’m souring enough on Brent Celek that I’d be willing to target Ertz as an upside TE3.
Robert Griffin III isn’t yet ‘right’ but he’s getting there. I believe he’s a good buy-low candidate in dynasty formats if you can capitalize on a frustrated owner. I expect we’ll see a different RGIII after week 12. Alfred Morris continues to be bell cow in standard formats but he’s good enough to be a lower RB1 in PPR leagues as well. Save a frustrating week where he yielded three touchdowns to Roy Helu, he’s easy to start and a young back to build around. Helu has upside and should be owned but his value will likely be higher to acquire than most would be willing to pay. The player to own in this offense is the emerging tight end, Jordan Reed. Reed is an athletic tight end who has likely sent Fred Davis packing. Reed is as good as a sell-high as much as he is a buy-low. If you need tight end help, wait for a down week to acquire him a bit cheaper. Either way, should he be owned by a coach with better options, his value should still be fair.
Outside of the relatively consistent Pierre Garcon, I’m not targeting any Redskin receivers. Too much variability here and I’ll leave it for someone else to figure it out and take the risk. I’m not seeing enough that intrigues me.
New York Giants
Eli Manning will remain an inconsistent QB2, he is what he is. At wide receiver, Hakeem Nicks appears to be on the outs as a Giant. He’s been terribly inconsistent, dinged up and is a free agent after the season. With the rise of Rueben Randle, look for the Giants to let Nicks walk and for Randle to be a starter across from top ten receiver, Victor Cruz. I’ve liked Cruz for a long time and have him in multiple leagues. Stringing four pedestrian games in a row, he may be able to be acquired on the cheap in the right situation. But the target here is either Nicks or Randle. Nicks’ status is up in the air and with a mystery team in his future, owners may be willing to shed him at a lower price. Make no mistake, I prefer Randle over Nicks and his oft-injured status, but measured risk taking can pay off.
If things weren’t bad enough for the G-men already, one only has to examine the running back position to finish the story. With the departure of Ahmad Bradshaw, David Wilson’s value shot up just as dynasty drafts were getting underway in 2013. It didn’t take look for drafting owners to realize their mistake after Wilson continued his collegiate legacy by putting the ball on the ground multiple times. In a Tom Coughlin system, that’s a direct ticket to the bench which is where Wilson went. As he attempted to work his way back into his coach’s good graces, he went down with a neck injury and isn’t expected back until week 11 at the earliest. Perhaps no other player has seen such an increase in value followed by a similarly remarkable slide. There’s only one player to focus on for the long haul in New York. But “long haul” and David Wilson likely shouldn’t appear in the same sentence at this juncture. I favor a buy-low strategy with Wilson but he is of the highest risk value currently and existing owners are far more likely to simply ride him out rather than trade him away.
The tight end position is a mess and shouldn’t be owned until someone emerges. I’m not touching the position here, there’s just no value.
Russell Wilson is fairly valued and there’s not much to see here. Same goes for Marshawn “Beast Mode” Lynch. Christine Michael is the hot pick-up here and you need to hurry. He’s getting few reps behind both Lynch and second year player Robert Turbin but he’s clearly the future, at least if you ask me. Buy low now before he starts figuring in the equation. He’s had enough hype such that his price may very well be too high, but I’d give it a shot.
At receiver, Golden Tate is emerging as the player to own, but I also like what I’ve seen from both Doug Baldwin and second-year player Jermaine Kearse. Not enough to trade for necessarily but worth a claim if they are available on your waiver wire in deep leagues.
San Francisco 49ers
There’s a lot to like in San Francisco. Quarterback Colin Kaepernick is coming on and is doing so with a limited set of receivers. Ron Jaworski has said that he believes Kaepernick could be the best that has ever played at the position. I’ve liked Kaep since before he was a rookie and while I won’t go as far to believe that he has “best ever” potential, he’s been a targeted player of mine in new drafts. Veteran runner Frank Gore is nearing the end of the road and both Kendall Hunter and rookie Marcus Lattimore are waiting in the wings. Hunter is a great buy-low target and could come cheaply due to Lattimore’s presence. Hunter is a free agent in 2015.
At tight end, Vernon Davis is well known and fairly valued. At receiver, much remains in flux. Receiver Quinton Patton was a preseason riser before doing nothing in the regular season and ultimately being placed on injured reserve. Michael Crabtree is nearing a return and can be bought. A lot of question remains about Crabtree but I’m a fan. He’s matured and if he can stay healthy, I think he can be a difference maker. As for the aforementioned Lattimore, I’ve followed him from high school and was extremely disappointed for him as his college career ended in horrific fashion. Now, with a full year to heal with no expectations, the competition will begin with Hunter to serve as Gore’s ultimate replacement. Don’t count out Gore just yet though in 2014, he’s showing little sign of slowing down.
The mediocre Cardinals do offer some upside to be taken advantage of. Rookie draft participants calling running back Andre Ellington’s name have been rewarded recently as he’s shown that he can be especially valuable in PPR formats. Even when carrying the load, at least if week eight is any indication, there’s some level of potential there. If I’m an owner of Ellington on a team with good back depth, I’d be tempted to sell high as I don’t believe he can be an effective every-week carry-the-load-back. In PPR formats, however, he’s got value for the dynamic he brings.
Larry Fitzgerald is the class of receivers everywhere. At 30 years old, his name has been dropped as a player that could be traded following the 2013 season. Some players are bigger than the stats they compile and can define a team. Fitz is a player of this caliber and I have a hard time believing we’ll ever see him in something other than the red and white. Michael Floyd’s value is leaking if only a bit and he’s a decent buy-low candidate. I felt he should have emerged more than he has in 2013 but he’s young, has a great receiver build and when the Cardinals resolve their offensive line issues, all receivers should be on the rise. Target Floyd for as a worthy risk-reward play.
As for starter Rashard Mendenhall. He’s looked slow, plodding and nothing like the back we saw even two years ago. With Ellington coming on strong of late, Mendenhall is quickly becoming nearly worthless in fantasy. I’ve had an offer of Mendenhall for my third round rookie selection in 2014 and passed.
St. Louis Rams
The loss of Sam Bradford for the year is a big blow to his owners. Bradford has been anything other than accurate or productive in fantasy and the former high fantasy pick is heading down the path of being a bust. I hesitate to recommend ANY Ram receivers, which is a big variable in Bradford’s lack of success to date, but Tavon Austin looms. Austin hasn’t found a role yet in the struggling offense but his talent and dynamic is obvious. That said, many high-dynamic receivers have come and gone without finding the role that was expected when drafted. I’d still be a buyer if the price was right and I’ll let you make that determination if the offer presents itself.
In the backfield, it appears as though Zac Stacy is the back to own but I’m not high on any of the runners. Stacy, Isaiah Pead or Daryl Richardson could rotate at any point in time, rendering all useless. I’ll take Stacy if I have to but I’d be selling at the first significant offer. The Rams have yet to score a rushing touchdown in 2013 and the prospects aren’t good going forward.
There was perhaps no greater hype in the preseason than that of tight end Jared Cook. Cook is heavily involved in the offense, but without viable options at receiver, he’s too easily accounted for. Until he emerges, stay away. There are too many other developing tight ends to target.
Stay tuned for part two ….
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