Four enigmatic players are up for judgment. These players, for different reasons, are difficult to value going in to 2012. I’ll evaluate the player’s performance in 2011 and situation going in to 2012 and suggest a course of action for each.
LeGarrette Blount, RB TB (a.k.a. “The Disappointment”)
Honestly, it’s sort of hard to think of anything in favor of Blount at this point. After driving the bandwagon last year, I’ve got egg on my face. I felt he was a solid RB2 for non-PPR and a flex option in PPR, yikes. It was a lost year for Blount and Tampa as a whole. All of the promise of Josh Freeman, Tampa Mike Williams and Blount turned immediately into fantasy disappointment. And now there are rumors of excessive partying, poor discipline, etc.
I watched a number of Tampa games last year to try to figure out what the heck was going on. I saw four things relative to Blount:
1.) He ran hard
2.) The offensive line is bad
3.) Tampa played from behind all the time
4.) Raheem Morris misused him
The two biggest reasons for hope are that Blount remains the primary option in Tampa and the new coaching staff cannot possibly be worse than the last regime. Some draft pundits (e.g. Mel Kiper) predict that Tampa would like to take Trent Richardson with the 1.05 – I don’t see it. They have extensive needs on defense that they must address in this draft. Taking Richardson at 1.05 would be a luxury they cannot (and should not) afford. I fully expect Tampa will bring in another running back either via free agency or the draft. Blount owners need to hope that is a third down back which would frankly have no impact on Blount since he never plays on third down anyway.
Recommendation: If you don’t own him, he’s an avoid.
There is no reason to take on someone else’s mistake. If you are like me and have him in several leagues, you are probably stuck. For the values you will likely get, it’s better just to hold him and hope he can be a bye-week/injury filler with some upside. He’s a RB4 in a non-PPR.
Nate Washington, WR TEN (a.k.a. “The Surprise”)
As a die-hard Titans fan, I was extremely disappointed when they signed Nate Washington in 2009. They had struggled to find a legit WR1 since the departure of Derrick Mason. I was convinced the Titans had paid WR1 money to a WR3 with a limited skill set who was more or less cast off by Pittsburgh. And nothing that happened in 2009 or 2010 made me feel any differently.
In 2011, two things happened – the Titans signed Matt Hasselbeck and Kenny Britt tore his MCL/ACL. To say 2011 was a surprise for Nate Washington owners is a massive understatement. His career highs had been 47 receptions, 687 yards and five touchdowns (all in different seasons mind you). Last year, he posted a 74/1,023/7 line. Nate Washington had been a low end injury replacement who vaulted to being the WR#15 in both PPR and non-PPR leagues.
Nothing good is about to happen for Washington, however. Britt is reportedly ahead of schedule in his rehab, plus his injury occurred very early in the 2011 season. Worse yet, Jared Cook began to show signs of life in the passing game toward the end of the year. I’m willing to bet fairly heavily that Washington will not approach the 121 targets he received in 2011 and may not even break 100.
Recommendation: If you own him, my advice is to hold him until after week two.
There is a good chance that Britt will come back slowly and that Washington could have some strong games early in the season – I’d then dump him immediately. This approach is a bit of a gamble because he could show nothing in those games and you’ll be left holding the bag, but the upside to this approach is that you get more in return than you would now because the savvy dynasty owner is probably skeptical that Washington can repeat his 2011 performance.
Antonio Brown, WR PIT (a.k.a. “The Breakout”)
Thinking back to the 2011 preseason, the consensus among the fantasy community was that Hines Ward not only had lost a step, but was probably singing his swan song in Pittsburgh (maybe even the NFL). What there wasn’t consensus on is who would benefit in the receiving corps.
It’s easy to forget that Emmanuel Sanders had finished 2010 with some promising performances. Antonio Brown was being worked in to the offense, but appeared to be the third option and never got more than four targets in a game in 2010. Then came multiple off-season foot surgeries for Sanders and the veteran fantasy players knew it was time to cash in. There is probably nothing that red flags a player for me more quickly than recurring foot problems. Interestingly, there was still much debate on who to own going in to 2011.
Well, the debate was settled early. Sanders did exactly as I expected – he missed six games and was a complete non-factor after week eight. On the other hand, “The Breakout” was putting up numbers that landed him just outside of the top-24 by year’s end. Particularly exciting for Brown owners is that he finished as the WR#13 in yardage with a whopping 16 yards per reception. The only category that Brown didn’t excel in was catching touchdowns.
The outlook in 2012 is even rosier. Brown is clearly the WR2, Hines Ward is a non-factor even if he somehow hangs on for one more year, the running back situation is a mess and the coaching changes are at worst a push for the passing game (maybe a plus).
The only ticking time bomb here is the Mike Wallace contract situation. Losing Wallace would be extremely bad for Brown, who would then pull the best coverage on nearly all plays. The Steelers are in a tough position relative to the cap and franchising Wallace would be painful. Speculation is that they will put the top level RFA tender on him. What’s important to note is that the top level under the new CBA is just a first round pick. In years past, the top tender was a first and third, making it prohibitive for a team to try to poach a tendered player.
Teams will still be reluctant to try to pull Wallace off the Steelers. In order to do so, they need to successfully negotiate with him, have the Steelers pass on matching the offer and cough up the first. Many feel it’s a waste of their time to essentially do the Steelers dirty work of hammering out a deal with Wallace.
Recommendation: Buy Brown.
He’s still somewhat enigmatic and many owners aren’t sure what they’ve got in him. The best approach is to wait for draft fever to kick in to high gear and then snag him for any first round pick you can after the 1.03. I’d rather have Brown and his proven talent, plus solid situation than a non-elite rookie selection. And of course by then the Wallace situation will be resolved.
Carson Palmer, QB OAK (a.k.a. “The Vet”)
I’ve rarely seen so much excitement on the DLF Forums for a “retired” veteran returning to active duty as when Palmer landed in Oakland for a king’s ransom in draft selections for Cincinnati. I was mystified that people were ready to declare that fantasy owners had another top-12 quarterback to add to the mix given that Palmer hadn’t played professional football in nearly a year, had missed all of Oakland’s off-season activities and was tossed in to play basically right off the charter jet. And frankly, Palmer hadn’t looked all that great toward the end of his time as a Bengal anyway. If one did a search on the forum, they could probably find where I said, somewhat sarcastically, I’d rather own Colt McCoy.
I must admit I was pretty impressed. Tossing out the first game he played (that’s the one where he famously admitted he didn’t know much of the playbook), Palmer averaged a more than respectable 293 yards per game and 1.44 touchdowns per game. Projected out over a full season, this would have put him right in the mix with other mid-grade QB1’s like Philip Rivers and Tony Romo. Hmm – maybe I would rather own him than McCoy. . .
I like his situation going in to 2012 as well. I’m not a fan of owning Oakland receivers not because I don’t see talent, but I don’t see a commitment to any one of them in particular. And I’d also have no idea who to start on a week to week basis. But that makes no difference to a Palmer owner. The coaching changes are not particularly relevant to me either. If anything, Greg Knapp will be smart enough to know how to let Palmer do his thing.
Recommendation: He’s a buy for a contending team.
If you have a quarterback with some question marks, Palmer might just make a very good, and possibly, cheap back-up solution. How cheap? In the recent DLF Experts Mock, Palmer went off the board in the fifteenth round as the QB24 and was passed on in favor of every rookie pick up through the selection at 2.09. He’s worth more than that.
Follow me on Twitter @dynastytim.