The Patriots managed a top ten performance in both rushing and passing yards in 2012 and, once again, veteran quarterback Tom Brady finished in the top three in fantasy passers. Looking across the offense, the Patriots have few weaknesses as they continue to hit on all cylinders.
Between Wes Welker’s play underneath, the presence of both Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez at tight end and the emerging Stevan Ridley in the backfield, there’s little reason to believe the Pats can’t continue their success again in 2013. But what’s been missing in the offense is a bona fide big play receiver, understanding the Patriots haven’t had this presence since the departure of Randy Moss and have still managed to be very successful. While it’s not typical of Bill Belichick to commit large dollars to an acquisition of this nature, I believe there is potential for the Patriots to at least court one of the bigger free agents this off-season. Dwayne Bowe, Greg Jennings or Mike Wallace would add a dimension to the offense that would put significant pressure on every defense, on every Sunday.
Ryan Tannehill was a pleasant surprise for the Dolphins in 2012. In a season that saw rookies like RGIII, Andrew Luck and Russell Wilson capture most all of the media attention, Tannehill quietly put together a season that provides Dolphins faithful a reason to be optimistic about the future. What’s missing is plenty obvious – a big play receiver must be added in the off-season.
Brian Hartline, for his part, did haul in 74 receptions for 1,083 yards but added only a single touchdown. Even second leading receiver Davone Bess could only muster 778 yards and a single score – that won’t get it done. The Dolphins will certainly attempt to add talent via the NFL draft in April, but it’s a safe bet to pencil either Mike Wallace or Dwayne Bowe in at starting receiver. Don’t count out Greg Jennings, although look for the Dolphins to go a bit younger at the position. I’m not excited about any receiving prospects in Miami next season, but that’s not to say there’s not opportunity.
New York Jets
What a mess. I pity New York fans that they have to put up with this circus. The Jets need play makers across the offense without exception.
In short, the Mark Sanchez show has come to a close. There’s talk he could remain in New York, but his days as the starter are over. Of course, with Rex Ryan remaining as the head coach, anything is possible. Word on the street is that Michael Vick could be in play for a year or two while the Jets groom a rookie. With an offense in full rebuilding mode, a young signal caller won’t be of fantasy relevance early in his career in all likelihood, but will have a great opportunity for a long career. With the ninth pick in the 2013 draft, USC’s Matt Barkley may be a possibility. Beyond the quarterback position, Bilal Powell may be a nice buy-low candidate to take over for the likely-departing free agent, Shonn Greene.
With the same record (6-10) as the Jets in 2012, the Bills enter yet another rebuilding phase. Or is this a continuation of a decade-long project? But with C.J. Spiller and Steve Johnson still relatively young, the foundation blocks are arguably in place to make for an easier process. Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick is likely out as the starter after throwing for 3,400 yards and a 24:16 touchdown to interception ratio. Not too shabby, but not enough to elicit enough excitement. His below average arm strength and questionable decision making just won’t take the Bills to the next level. Will there be difference-making alternatives available?
The presence of Spiller can be a nucleus for success in the near future. It’s not likely that a rookie will be lining up under center anytime soon, so if the Bills expect to make a change, it will need to come in the form of a trade or from the free agent market. Typically, Buffalo quarterbacks are sub-par fantasy performers due to broad under-performance from the offense combined with late season weather conditions that make for risky starts. However, I’ll be keeping my eye on the “next” in Buffalo.
There’s a lot to like about Denver. Any offense with Peyton Manning at the helm makes for immediate fantasy relevance. But no greater question exists than at running back.
The 31 year-old Willis McGahee tore his ACL in November and missed the remainder of the regular season. Fantasy owners of Ronnie Hillman rejoiced as the expectation was that the young rookie would finally get a chance to carry the load. Instead, the Broncos turned surprisingly to the largely-forgotten Knowshon Moreno. What followed was eight games of surprisingly productive performance. Moreno only averaged 3.8 yards per carry, rushing 139 times for 528 yards, but scored three touchdowns while adding 21 receptions over that same stretch. At 26 years old when the 2013 season kicks off, the Denver running back depth chart is up in the air. I’m not a fan of Hillman myself – I expect McGahee will be back for one more year and should split time with Moreno, but it won’t be any surprise should the Broncos elect to start Moreno and use McGahee as more of a short yardage specialist. For Hillman and his owners, it’s likely to be a frustrating 2013. That being said, Hillman took over for Moreno in their playoff loss to Baltimore and was a productive workhorse. Stay tuned.
The wheels continue to come off in San Diego. With an entirely new coaching staff and front office on tap for 2013, expect major changes to come. Many questions need answers, but none more important than the future prospects of former first round selection Ryan Mathews. Mathews suffered a second broken collar bone to end the 2012 season and red flags are now everywhere. Can Mathews stay healthy for a full season? Can Mathews average more than 4.0 yards per carry again? Is he teetering on the border of being a bust? Only time will tell.
For the season, Mathews amassed 707 yards on 184 carries, good for 3.8 yards per carry and had one touchdown. One. That’s not going to get it done for fantasy owners who opted to call Mathews’ name in the first round. The giant sucking sound you hear is the air coming out of the balloon. Word is that the front office, at least that which remains, are questioning whether Mathews can be the back that they drafted in 2010. It should be no surprise if the Chargers add another back as insurance in the off-season. As an owner of Mathews, there’s little you can do other than hope and pray. His value isn’t such that you’ll receive enough in return to trade him away and a low-ball offer to acquire him will likely be met with a profane response.
The Raiders regressed badly in 2013, finishing 4-12. Little seems to be working in the Black Hole and with a young receiving corps., injury prone running backs and an aging veteran at quarterback unable to put a team on his back, it would appear to be more of the same in the next year.
More than anything, the Raiders need to establish a consistent passing attack. Carson Palmer is capable and brings veteran experience to the young team, but his young receivers have been inconsistent. But they’re not without talent. There’s enough intrigue the names Denarius Moore, Darrius Heyward-Bey and Rod Streater to stay tuned and leading receiver and tight end Brandon Myers had a break-out campaign. I’m counting on the continuing growth of Denarius Moore but also believe the young Rod Streater has the size and speed dynamic to be a true WR1 in time. Both of these receivers can likely be had at a reasonable price and I’m not against acquiring them if you’re looking for a low-cost, high-upside player.
Outside of the Denver Broncos, the AFC West was pathetic in 2012. Containing the first pick of the 2013 NFL Draft, there’s almost no chance that the Chiefs pass on West Virginia’s quarterback, Geno Smith. That’s not to say that Smith is a prototypical first-pick quarterback, but the Chiefs aren’t in a position to get cute. Most draft experts don’t have a high first round grade on Smith or USC’s Matt Barkley, but it’s a pick that needs to be made. The rookie wage scale does create the possibility for a trade-down scenario, and I would be very surprised if Kansas City doesn’t explore the option, but in the end a quarterback will be the selection.
The problem is, outside of running back Jamal Charles, the Chiefs are a fantasy wasteland. Dwayne Bowe is a free agent and likely to depart, although there’s been talk that new coach Andy Reid will make resigning him a top priority. In the end, Bowe is likely to receive a can’t-refuse offer elsewhere and may even take his talents to Miami. I’ll be watching the quarterback situation closely, but without a lot of excitement. Much like the quarterback situation in Cleveland, there’s not enough present to suggest any level of fantasy performance any time soon.
In part four of this series, we’ll finish up the AFC.