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I’ve decided to take a different approach to the AFC than I did in my NFC mid-season wraps. Rather than take up your time by relaying things you probably already know, I’ll try to share what I’m watching in the second half and what I’m expecting to see. I’ll throw in a few interesting numbers as I find them, but try to spare the stuff most of you know.
The Running Back Quagmire
Isaac Redman leads the way with 50 carries but has a pathetic 2.5 ypc average. He had his chance to be the lead back and failed miserably. On the other hand, Jonathan Dwyer looked affective in a Jerome Bettis type fashion on Sunday night. He averaged 7.2 ypc on 17 carries for122 yards. Dwyer looks fat and not particularly speedy on film, but I’ve been impressed by his balance and strength. He rarely goes down on first contact and does well to keeping his feet moving. Early reports say he’ll get the start again this week against Washington. While the Redskins have been much tougher than Cincinnati against the run, Dwyer may be able to lock down a long-term role with another solid outing. As a result, this would exponentially increase the likelihood of a 2013 Mendenhall departure.
He’s a guy I was stashing on my bench just waiting for a healthy season. Sanders is healthy this season but the numbers aren’t there. He’s a value part of the Steelers offense, but not as much can be said of his fantasy value. One potential factor in his lack of production may be Heath Miller’s resurgence, but time will tell. Sanders looks good with the ball in his hands, but he’s not touching the ball nearly enough for fantasy relevance. I’d like to see WR3 or flex level production by the end of the year. He’s nearing the top of my cut list, but I’ll wait it out for the remainder of 2012.
Elite Joe Flacco lasted about one month. As Flacco’s play has dropped off, so have Torrey Smith’s numbers. After starting the season on fire by averaging 83 yardsand 0.75 touchdowns per game in his first four games, his average line has dropped to 3/34/.3 over the last 3 weeks. He had 13 targets in Sunday’s blowout loss to the Texans, but for Smith to put up steady WR1 numbers Flacco must be better.
Back-up Running Backs
Bernard Pierce and Bobby Rainey are two other players I’m intrigued by. Pierce is the one of these two who’s actually seen some action. For the year, he has 25 touches and 138 yards. He looks quick and powerful. It’s unlikely we’ll get to see a lot of Pierce in the near future barring injury, but you should be keeping an eye on him.
As an UDFA, Bobby Rainey was a dynamo in the preseason. He was particularly impressive in the passing game. He was then cut due to his lack of special teams skills, but was re-signed to the active roster on October 16. He’s a player to stash only in deep leagues, but I’d like to see him get some playing time this season or at the very least stick on the active roster. He is comparable to Chris Rainey of the Steelers in that he is small and fast with good hands, explosive but not a work horse. If your league has practice a squad, he’s a guy I’d highly consider.
Marvin Jones vs. Mohamed Sanu
Mohamed Sanu was drafted in the third round and was the more highly touted receiver taken by the Bengals in the 2012 draft. However, Marvin Jones was a DLF forum favorite and there’s a lot to like. He’s got good size at 6’2”/199lbs and good speed with a forty time of 4.46 seconds. Rumor has it he was going to be featured by Cincy against the Steelers, but that plan was derailed by an opening kickoff MCL tear. I’m curious to see how this battle plays out when Jones is over his knee ailment. If there is any merit to recent reports, Jones may be the receiver to own (aside from A.J. Green) in Cincinnati.
Daltonis on pace for over 4,000 yards and 30 touchdowns. He’s pacing the second year quarterbacks and is currently fantasy football’s ninth ranked quarterback. There’s nothing particularly flashy when watching him play, but having A.J Green around should make any reasonably decent quarterback fantasy relevant. Dalton is an underrated fantasy quarterback. With a sub-par running game and a defense that’s getting healthier, it will be fun to see if his current pace holds up. Flying under the radar, Dalton may be a QB to buy-low.
Josh “Flash” Gordon
Averaging an absurd 34 yards per catch over his last 3 games, Gordon is making a solid case for being the number one receiver in Cleveland going forward. With above average hands and a great size/speed combo, he has all the physical tools. He has some sketchy character concerns in his past, but so far the coaches have nothing but positive things to say about him. He currently leads all rookies in receiving touchdowns (4) and receiving yards (333). Greg Little has proven that possessing very large hands with ten fingers attached to them is no guarantee that a person is able to catch a football. If that trend continues, Gordon should take over Little’s spot atop of the depth chart in short order. Gordon may end up being the best receiver of the 2012 class.
Weeden predictably struggled early in the season, but his numbers have come on as of late. At 29 years of age, I wouldn’t touch him as my franchise quarterback. However, for fantasy purposes he may develop into a respectable QB2. The emergence of Gordon and Richardson are positives, but his decision making has been poor. One drawback to his game is a difficulty throwing touch passes. Early on critics noted his lack of a second velocity. His TD/INT ratio needs to improve (currently 9/10) and over the last few weeks it has. Over the first four weeks that ratio was 3/7, over the last three numbers have almost exactly split, 6/3. After a slow start, a strong finish appears well within reach.
Martin versus Jean is certainly a debate that isn’t over yet. However, I really like Martin’s open field skill set on a team that lacks quickness in its receiving core. He has just 6 catches for63 yardsand has had several bad drops. On the bright side 5 of his 6 catches have gone for first downs, he’s been targeted in the red zone, and, judging by his pass routes (quick slants/crosses), the Texans coaching staff understands his abilities. Jean may win the battle for playing time and this will all be for naught, but I’m hoping Martin will be more productive in his limited chances.
On pace for nearly 1,000 yards and 9 touchdowns, Daniels is your #3 fantasy tight end through 7 weeks. Finally, fully recovered from his 2009 ACL injury, Daniels has become a favorite target for Matt Schaub with just 5 fewer targets than Andre Johnson for the team lead. Daniels is 29 years old and should have several more years of viable fantasy production remaining. His health is my biggest concern.
Greg Cosell noted back in training camp that Ballard was Colts’ best running back. I’ve come to the realization that that has more to do with the other running backs than anything special about Vick Ballard. He runs hard and has a good north-south style, but that’s about it. He’s been over 3 ypc in just one game all season, but to his credit had a solid outing against the Browns last week with 20 carries for 82 yards. The Browns rank 24th against the run and are allowing133.7 yards per game and I would have liked an even more productive outing. Only one game as a lead back is not enough to write off a player, but I need to see a lot more before I view him as anything more than a desperation play.
Allen vs. Fleener
The Luck to Fleener connection was a primary reason many had high expectations for Fleener heading into the season. However, anyone who watched Clemson in 2011 knew Allen wasn’t just going to be a blocking tight end. After Fleener dominated targets early in the season, Allen has drawn even with 17 targets over the last 4 games. Adding to that, Allen played 60 snaps to Fleener’s 37 last week. I’m higher than most on Allen and believe he has a good chance to be the tight end to own in Indy. Then again, it’s just as likely they cancel each other out and neither amount to more than a TE2 for a few years.
I watched the entire game against Pittsburgh in week 6 and parts of week 7 against Buffalo. Physically he appears to be over his ACL tear. If he begins trusting his knee fully, I expect to see some great games in the second half of the season. They play Indianapolis twice,Green Bay and Jacksonville – all of which struggle against the pass. If Britt can stay healthy and out of trouble, he can rejoin the elite tier of wide receivers in 2013. We also need to see improved play out of the quarterback position. Locker has good upside, but his accuracy issues are woeful.
Wright has been the most consistent rookie wide receiver over the first half of the season. Prior to Britt’s return he was the clear go to guy in the passing game. However, the Titans have made a concerted effort to do three things that may damper Wright’s immediate value. First, they’ve worked on the running game and the results have been solid with Chris Johnson showing renewed explosiveness and effectiveness. Second, they’ve made Jared Cook a bigger part of the offense this season. While Cook hasn’t become a fantasy asset just yet they’re targeting him more in recent weeks with 17 targets over the last three games. Third, they got Kenny Britt back. Due to Wright’s early season performance he still leads the team in targets, but over the last 3 weeks his targets have dropped from11 to 8 to 3. He’s a small receiver with dynamic open field skills, but he doesn’t have the elite talents of Harvin or Cobb. We need to see Wright become an essential cog in the Titans’ passing attack or his value could fall precipitously.
Shorts has a knack for making big plays at big times, but is still not consistent enough to be a fantasy factor. However, Blackmon’s slow developmental pace may give him an extended opportunity to prove himself. He saw 10 targets last week and reeled in 4 of them for 79 yards and touchdown. I’m not tremendously excited about anyone in Jacksonville and Blackmon is still the WR to own for now, but Shorts’ first half performance warrants more attention.
Jennings was a hot preseason name due to Jones-Drew’s holdout. The hype was all for nothing though as MJD ended his holdout and took over immediately. Now he has another chance. Jennings racked up over 100 total yards last week, but was not particularly effective on a per touch basis. He averaged just over 2 ypc against the Raiders. We don’t know how long Jones-Drew will be out for and given the lack of an effective passing game, Jennings will have plenty of value until he returns. Don’t go crazy overpaying for him. He’s still the clear back-up and he’s already 27 years old.
I’ve started working on the AFC East and West and plan to get them wrapped up before Sunday arrives. Thanks for reading!
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