As I stated in my most recent blog, whether vying for a ring or playing for 2012, there is still much to be gained by zooming out just a bit from 2011 and focusing on years to come.
Championship contending teams need to be concerned, first, with wrapping up a ring THIS year. But in having a competitive team, this also likely means that you have aging players that can be moved without significantly impacting near-term years to come. I especially like to make moves for low first or second round selections when I’m in this situation. But even if you are beyond your league’s trade deadline, roster cultivation is still a valuable exercise.
On the other hand, if you’re well out of contention, then you should have already performed the exercise of jettisoning those players that will not help you in the short term, hopefully for younger players or draft picks. Or, if not yet beyond your league imposed trade deadline, there is still time. You don’t want to have an aging veteran that holds little value to you, but perhaps to others, retire off your roster.
Whether via trade during the season or after the season has ended, the best time to add young talent is before they become targeted commodities. For part one of this series, let’s take a look at a few players whose arrows are pointing north for 2012.
In fantasy, especially dynasty leagues, you MUST have a top quarterback if you expect to compete week to week. Depending on your scoring system, quarterbacks are likely your top point producers and the positional point disparity will be most evident at this position. Should your league award six points per touchdown over the traditional four, it is absolutely imperative to have a top five quarterback. As fantasy teams usually only start one quarterback per week, finding a young quarterback on the rise that won’t make a weekly starting lineup is much easier and will come more cheaply than other positions. This is the position to take the most risk as, if you can land a young quarterback that eventually blossoms, you may have a 15 year fantasy producer.
Despite what has turned out to be a decent crop of rookie quarterbacks in 2011, look for another run on the position in 2012.
Matt Flynn, GBP
Matt Flynn will be starting someplace in 2012. Much like Drew Brees or Jake Delhomme as a backup, Flynn is considered a top flight quarterback who is ready for a starting gig. He’s stable, poised and has the confidence you want in a young starter. He’ll be 27 when 2012 kicks-off and should be under-center quickly. As a 2011 note, Aaron Rodger’s owners should roster Flynn now for late week playoffs. If the Packers lock up the best record in the NFC, Rodgers may sit. Flynn would be a notable starter.
Caleb Hanie, CHI
Right behind Flynn is Chicago’s version of a coveted backup quarterback. Not quite on the same level as Flynn, Hanie has potential of his own and is likely to be elsewhere in 2012. Jay Cutler’s fractured right thumb will provide Hanie with an opportunity to showcase his skills for the remainder of 2011, something Flynn won’t get. It’s not out of the realm that Hanie will show enough to be resigned in Chicago but with so many quarterback needs currently present, any satisfactory level of performance by Hanie will only raise interest. Update: Hanie’s first start vs. Oakland leaves a bit to be desired but let’s not rush to judgment.
Andy Dalton, CIN
The young rookie has proven many NFL experts wrong. All Dalton has done was come in to a situation with zero expectations and help turn the team into a playoff contender. Cincinnati’s 2011 schedule was one of the easiest in the NFL but Dalton has performed regardless. The flame-haired rookie has a fiery confidence and demeanor along with a level of competitiveness that cannot be denied. Combine that with a better-than-advertised arm and rare pocket presence for a quarterback of his age and you have the potential for a top twelve player within the position in 2012. The Bengal’s defensive performance in 2011 will allow Marvin Lewis to focus on the offensive interior during the 2012 draft, in addition to a more dynamic running back. The Bengals just may find themselves with a young set of play-makers that will provide for a significant competitive foundation when 2012 kicks off.
Running backs continue to separate and the position is quickly becoming a have vs. have-not situation. Once again, teams are trending toward two and three back rotations and those teams that prefer a single carry-the-load back are slowly going the way of the dinosaur. Should you have a primary back, their value is increasing . Should you be on the hunt for one, your best bet is either via the rookie draft or through the more patient approach of acquiring backs in the second or third position of their respective depth charts. Pay special attention to the systems and the coaches within the systems as a poor system or utilization can turn a talented back into a perma-bench back.
Michael Bush, OAK
Bush signed a one year contract in August of 2011 and could be on the move in 2012. With Darren McFadden continuing to have difficulty staying healthy, Oakland may make the extension of Bush’s contract a priority. More than likely, however, Bush is going to want an opportunity to play for a more proven contender and should attract a lot of interest. In replacement of DMc, Bush has shown a tremendous amount of skill and full-season potential.
Marshawn Lynch, SEA
After a slow start, Lynch has now scored in the last seven games in which he has played. Still not averaging 4.0 ypc., the Seattle offensive line has been showing greater capability and Lynch has rewarded them with greater productivity. Averaging 112 yards a game over his past three, Seattle is now talking extension for the bruising down-hill runner. Lynch will likely never be a top ten runner in fantasy, but as long as he finishes strong in 2011, he’s a capable RB2. And he’s only 25 years old.
DeMarco Murray, DAL
I’m only mentioning him here because no back has undergone a greater climb in value than that of Murray. Four of his last five have been phenomenal performances for a rookie and he’ll be quite the enigma heading into 2012 draft season. His value is still rising and it will likely rise through the end of the season, at least until his injury history rears its ugly head once again.
Ben Tate, HOU
Foster is a restricted free agent in 2012 and Tate has shown why the Texans originally drafted him to be their workhorse in the backfield. He’s a lock to stick in Houston in the near term due to his low salary but that is not to say that Houston will immediately meet Foster’s demands or RFA amount. With backs proving that clubs don’t need to heavily invest, Tate could find himself first on the depth chart when 2012 kicks off.
Joe McKnight, NYJ
The 23 year-old may find himself with a much greater roll for the remainder of 2011. L.T.’s injury status is up in the air and Shonn Greene just doesn’t provide any level of dynamic. Rex Ryan showed his hand to some degree when they elected to stick with McKnight in week 11 following an injury to Greene. He has a tendency to fumble and have lapses of concentration, but there’s no denying his ability with the ball in his hand. He doesn’t have the look of an every-down back, but he’s got the size and speed to be what I call a three-quarter (3/4) back, squarely between a carry-the-load and change-of-pace backs.
Kendall Hunter, SF
I’m on record as saying that Kendall Hunter could have the best fantasy career of all backs drafted in 2011. I still stand by this statement. Frank Gore will be 29 in 2012 and Hunter possesses an NFL skill set. Despite his size, I believe Hunter can be a Ray Rice style of back in time and with a bit more time in the gym. Coach Harbaugh loves dynamic play-makers and Hunter will make his case to stay on the field as he matures. Gore isn’t going anywhere any time soon but he’s aging quickly and Hunter is one injury away from significant time. Better still is the fact that he hasn’t gotten a ton of carries in 2011, likely making for a cheaper acquisition.
Javon Ringer, TEN
Ringer was my 2009 version of Ray Rice and is nearly identical in size. With Chris Johnson’s epic decline, Ringer has been seeing a steady increase in workload. Whether his paltry 3.4 ypc. average is underwhelming, it’s safe to say that at least some of the blame falls upon Tennessee’s offensive line. How much so is arguable. Ringer will be playing for a contract in 2012 and there has been talk that the Tennessee could elect to waive C.J. in 2012 to save money. Should that occur, the then 25 year old Ringer would have an enormous opportunity.
Kevin Smith, DET
Smith has obviously put himself in line for significant work for the remaining games of 2011. Whether due to renewed focus or fresh legs, Smith exploded onto the scene in week 11 and quickly had fans forgetting about Jahvid Best. Best’s concussion history is a significant issue and his 2011 season is over. Should Smith prove capable in the remaining games, the Lions have the luxury of not pressing him back into action. Followers of Smith, of which I am one, will recall that it wasn’t Smith’s lack of ability that ended his time in Detroit as much as it was recurring injuries and poor offensive line play. Fast forward to 2011 and the interior offensive line play has been effective and holes not present in the past have appeared. But can Smith be productive against a team not ranked 30th against the run. Either way, Smith will stick on the roster through 2011 and could be in the mix for the starter’s role in 2012. Update: Once again, Smith is dogged by injury. He must shake this routine if he’s ever expecting to be a starter in the NFL.
Jacquizz Rodgers, ATL
I’m not squarely on the Rodgers bandwagon yet at this point, but I have to admit that there’s something electric about this kid. Essentially a 21 year old Darren Sproles, Rodgers has proven capable in every phase of the offensive game plan and success of the aforementioned Sproles will likely lead Atlanta’s coaching staff to replicate his game usage in Rodgers’. Say what you will about size, and I usually do, but Rodgers has averaged 4.3 ypc. on 35 carries. He’ll need to be paired with a bigger back but Rodgers could emerge as a valuable flex player in fantasy in 2012.
Keep an eye on:
Phillip Tanner, DAL – Young and runs hungry
Jonathan Dwyer, PIT – Still young and has been producing with opportunities
Antonio Brown, PIT
It’s one thing when your own players and coaches talk about your skills and route running but it’s another thing when opposing corners and safeties give props. Brown has exploded on the scene in 2011 and has been Pittsburgh’s WR2 with Emmanuel Sanders battling the injury bug. In the Steeler’s offense, a WR2 or WR3 designation is valuable enough to be considered flex worthy every week. He’s especially valuable as an up and coming PPR receiver.
Denarius Moore, OAK
We here at DLF have been high on Moore since training camp and we’re still high on him. At only 22 years of age and now with veteran Carson Palmer under center, Moore has the potential to rise to a legitimate WR1 in the Oakland offense. Currently, Moore is no more than a flex play in fantasy but his upside is exactly what you want heading into the off-season. With any luck, he doesn’t over-produce in his final five games and his value will remain lower than his potential upside.
Preston Parker, TB
A virtual unknown heading into 2011, Parker has found a niche in Tampa’s offense as a slot receiver. On pace for 45 receptions and 5-6 touchdowns, Parker has ensured himself a role in 2012 with precise route running and a dynamic that has been sorely missing in Tampa Bay. At only 24 years of age, Parker has a fair amount of upside along side Mike Williams and Arrelious Benn and projects more comfortably as a slot receiver. Given his size and the fact that he has out-produced Benn, it’s not out of the question that Parker could move to the outside in 2012.
Randall Cobb, GB
Cobb’s dynamic ability is no longer a secret and if not for the productivity of the receivers above him on the depth chart, he’d be a starter. Being that he is buried behind Jordy Nelson and James Jones, it’s best to start discussions now for acquiring Cobb. Green Bay needs to find ways to get him into the lineup and James Jones could be the odd man out in the off-season. With 2011 likely being veteran Donal Driver’s final year and Jordy Nelson clearly the WR2 the departure of Jones would find Cobb as the third receiver in the Packer’s explosive offense.
Jonathan Baldwin, KC
While it’s true I’m not a big fan of Baldwin or his game, it’s obvious that he’s got an increasing role in the Chief’s offense. A big receiver, Baldwin’s targets will only increase as he gains experience but the current quarterback woes are likely to limit any meaningful productivity. That fact makes Baldwin a perfect buy-low or throw-in candidate for trade talks prior to 2012.
Laurent Robinson, DAL
Who knew Robinson could be so productive. He’s always had some level of talent but whether due to system or nagging injury, he’s just never put it together. Romo now obviously has extreme confidence in Robinson and the two have a nice chemistry. The situation is muddy with Miles Austin nearing a return, but it’s likely Robinson would be just fine as a third receiver.
Early Doucet, ARI
Should Doucet finish 2011 without injury, that alone is enough to raise his stock. He’s caught just over 60% of his targets (42/68) and has shown a nose for the end zone. Should Arizona’s quarterback play improve, Doucet will likely reap the rewards. He’s quietly in the top 30 receivers in PPR formats and is in the shadow of Larry Fitzgerald. A great buy-low if he can finish healthy.
2011 has been a somewhat sub par year for tight ends, at least those not playing in New England. Some new names have stepped up this year and the position is a bit up in the air for 2012.
Fred Davis, WAS
The fall of Chris Cooley was a quick one and he’s seemingly not in the plans for the Redskins in 2012. He’ll likely be back but with Fred Davis healthy and more dynamic, Cooley’s days as a top tight end are behind him. Davis is still somewhat under the radar and not a marquee name. He could be a middle round steal in 2012.
Ed Dickson, BAL
The Ravens like to use both Dickson and Dennis Pitta but Dickson is the more athletic producer and his role should increase in 2012. He’s on the fringe of being a true TE1 and he has a lot of upside.
Jake Ballard, NYG
Another unknown New York tight end that produces. He’s not consistent yet but he’s only 24 and his role will only increase heading into 2012.
Next up, players losing value for 2012.
You can find Jeff on Twitter at @dlf_jeff