Whether or not your team is playoff-bound, it’s never too early to start shaping your team for 2013. To do this, finding value without selling the farm to do it is this week’s objective. Here are a few to target in the coming months:
Cam Newton, QB CAR
My best example for Newton lies in the careers of Sam Bradford and Josh Freeman. Each went through a sophomore slump, and each is a viable QB2. The rookie-year ability they flashed has resurfaced in year three, and should remain roster-worthy for years to come. Newton has more playmaking ability than both of them. This season, defenses have adjusted to him, the same way they figured out Bradford and Freeman. With ability like Newton’s, he’ll figure things out, and resurface as a QB1 once he does.
More than likely, whoever owns Newton in your league will be down on him after this season. Take advantage of it. Franchise quarterbacks who also serve as goal-line running back don’t come around often, and this is your last chance to get him.
Alfred Morris, RB WAS
Believe it or not, Mike Shanahan’s about to do you a favor. Morris has already proved he’s a great fit in that offense. He’s not fast, but doesn’t have to be, as Robert Griffin III gives their backfield all the speed it needs. Morris runs hard, and runs smart. For all the talk RGIII gets, his running back continues to get completely overlooked. Add the fact that people get worried about Mike Shanahan’s tendencies, and you found yourself a borderline RB1 next season.
Honorable Mention: Jonathan Stewart, RB CAR
On pace for the lowest yardage total of his career, Stewart is turning himself into the Benjamin Button of fantasy football. Meanwhile; the biggest threat to his job, DeAngelo Williams, has talent going downhill faster than Mike Myers after he wrote “The Love Guru.”
I’m a sucker for talent, and Stewart’s is elite. Earlier this season, Ron Rivera talked about a commitment led by one, featured running back. Stewart, who turns 26 before next season, was supposed to be that guy, but it never materialized. If Rivera, or whoever’s coaching Carolina next season, doesn’t realize that now is the time to ride him like Secretariat, J-Stew will go down as arguably the most under-utilized running back in the last decade. There’s a great chance he’ll be available in your league this off-season for a relatively low price. Feeling lucky?
Larry Fitzgerald, WR ARI
Speaking of talent that’s just dying to be put to practical use, Fitzgerald should just start lining up at running back at this point; it’s gotten that bad in The Desert. How much worse does the Cardinals quarterback situation need to be before they either draft a quarterback in the first round, or Fitzgerald wants out of Arizona? It seems as it’s only a matter of time.
Fitzgerald is a top-three player at his position, and has never needed speed to do it, improving his chances for success over the next few years. He’s simply an elite pass-catcher, and by no fault of his own, his value has never been lower. A completely inept organization who hasn’t found an answer since Kurt Warner retired is squarely to blame.
Fitzgerald’s situation reminds me of Reggie Wayne last year. Without a proven quarterback, Wayne suffered his worst season in nearly a decade. The only difference; Fitzgerald’s been stuck in this bad situation for three straight years. I like Arizona to improve their quarterback situation this off-season, and Fitzgerald’s value to do the same.
Aaron Hernandez, TE NE
A tease that rivals the cute cocktail waitress with a tramp stamp, Hernandez, when healthy, is a top-five player at his position. He’ll miss a game or two next season, but in a system that might lose Wes Welker to free agency, Hernandez should post career-best numbers in 2013. Keep him high on your draft board.
Start planning ahead, people. Let’s get the conversation started. Who are some other value picks you like this off-season?
Follow Dan Hasty on Twitter @DanHasty34