After a somewhat stunning defeat of the Denver Broncos in the playoffs, the Baltimore Ravens continue to put a good product on the field, year in, year out. The nearly certain retirement of Ray Lewis changes the complexion of the Ravens and the loss of his presence and leadership will be deeply felt.
Depending on your scoring system, quarterback Joe Flacco finished as the QB14, give or take, and continues to perform as a relatively solid QB2. Ray Rice continues to be a top five back and receiver Torrey Smith, albeit inconsistent, has shown signs of being a capable WR1. The question for the Ravens continues to be one about the WR2 in 2013. Aging veteran Anquan Boldin will turn 33 during the 2013 season and has one year left on his contract. While he’s still capable of bringing down the tough catch, his skills are rapidly diminishing and the Ravens need to establish a second receiver in what could be a productive fantasy position. The offense runs behind Rice and tight ends Dennis Pitta and Ed Dickson play a big role in the scheme, leaving plenty of relevance to any WR2. While Boldin will likely stick in 2013 within this role, the door is open for a play-making big receiver.
I’m not expecting a big free agent signing and, instead, expect a relatively early selection at the position in the 2013 NFL Draft.
The young Bengals were an exciting team in 2012 and it’s obvious there’s a foundation in place for bigger things in 2013 and beyond. A young receiving corps headlined by A.J. Green, a young and fiery quarterback in Andy Dalton as well as enough other weapons within the group to provide needed role players make for a productive nucleus. The WR2 role will likely come down to Marvin Jones or Mohamed Sanu in a notable competition, but my eyes are focused squarely on the running back position.
BenJarvus Green-Ellis is capable, but not elite in any regard. He’s a fine “move the chains” type of runner, but the Bengals need an extra dynamic in the backfield to relieve some of the defensive pressure shaded to the secondary. With a capable defense ranked near the top third in the league, the Bengals will have options at addressing that need. I expect the addition of a young smaller back via the draft to pair with Green-Ellis as opposed to adding through the free-agent market, but an addition of a DeAngelo Williams-like back would make some sense.
A departing Mike Wallace changes the receiver dynamic mightily, but the Steelers have enough young up-and-coming players to fill the void, even if not to the same level of production. The three-headed running back by committee is worthy of full focus in 2013.
Rashard Mendenhall is likely departing via the free agency, Isaac Redman is best suited as a high-end spot starter, leaving the young Jonathan Dwyer with an opportunity to be the lead back in 2013. At only 23 years of age, Dwyer has averaged a surprising 4.3 yards per carry over his career. He’s listed at 229 pounds, I’ll take “the over” by a significant margin. Should Dwyer be able to lose ten pounds in the off-season, he has an enormous opportunity in front of him. He doesn’t possess a multi-dimensional dynamic, but is a tough downhill runner with soft enough hands to produce in the passing game on occasion. Conditioning and weight will likely determine Dwyer’s ultimate role, but he’s one to watch in the off-season.
Another year, another disappointment, but things are looking up, or at least should be. The arrival of Trent Richardson and supplementary draft receiver selection of Josh Gordon give the Browns two of the three needed components for a dynamic offense. The quarterback position continues to be a source of concern and 2012 rookie Brandon Weeden doesn’t appear to be the answer, if that answer can be found in a single season of under-performance team-wide. With Colt McCoy still in the wings again, the Browns do have options. Exciting options? No.
A new coaching staff will be in place and I look for Weeden to be under center once again in 2013. I’m looking for increasing development from the Browns’ young play makers to help him be more successful, but I’m also expecting a veteran to be brought in for direct competition at the quarterback position.
The Texans were off to a quick start in 2012 before fading badly into the playoffs. The focus for 2013 will remain as it has been for the past few years, who will step up to be a presence at the WR2 position?
Andre Johnson continues to rack up receptions and yardage, Arian Foster remains a touchdown machine and quarterback Matt Schaub has been healthy and relatively effective. However, without a quality target starting across from Johnson, the offense is missing an extra dimension. This year’s receiver-du-jour was supposed to be none other than Lestar Jean. The hot late-round fantasy target followed the hype by hauling in six passes for 151 yards and a single touchdown. Until further notice, tight end Owen Daniels remains the next best option at receiver. Whether it’s Jean, DeVier Posey or Keshawn Martin, the Texans need to establish a young second receiver.
Andrew Luck was as advertised all season for the surprising Colts. In fact, he outperformed most all expectations, leading many to believe he could be even better than advertised. Without established receivers outside of Reggie Wayne, the extremely young Colts finished the season at 11-5 and with an early playoff exit – it was a great success for Indy and their fans. My focus is squarely on the running back position heading into 2013.
Donald Brown has the best overall skill set in the backfield, but couldn’t stay healthy if his career depended on it, and it likely does. Vick Ballard didn’t show well early on but continued to develop as the year progressed and made so much progress that the coaching staff now believes he may be the “carry the load back” they needed. Delone Carter is the after thought I expected him to be and isn’t in the long term plans. The question is whether Ballard can become THE back. He’s got the size needed, but I question whether he can be more than a two-down plodder. He’ll be a relatively low-priced target with upside in fantasy until we know more.
Questions abound for the Titans in 2013. With Jake Locker now entrenched as the full-time starter, his development now takes center focus. The receiving corps is established and young enough to pay dividends if Kenny Britt can stay healthy (something he hasn’t been able to accomplish in his short career). Chris Johnson remains capable and finished the season respectably with 1,243 yards, a 4.5 yards per carry average and six touchdowns. What’s evident is that CJ1.4k doesn’t have the capability to be anything more unless his offensive line steps up.
Having watched Jake Locker a fair amount this past season, I didn’t see what I needed to in order to believe he’s the quarterback of the future. There’s little doubt that he’s got the mobility and arm strength to be successful, but without the accuracy and decision making, mobility and arm strength serve little purpose. Locker is consistently off-target with his throws and has shown surprisingly little touch on the deep ball. Without him stepping up in 2013, the Titans may be more Titanic in nature … and not in a good way.
The 2012 season was a catastrophe for the Jaguars. Very little went their way and with an offense and defense both ranking in the bottom third of the league, there’s a lot of work to be done. But believe it or not, things may be looking up.
Leading the way for the Jags are a pair of young receivers in Cecil Shorts and Justin Blackmon who are more than just capable. After a very slow start, Blackmon came on strong in the second half, finishing with 865 yards and five touchdowns on 64 receptions. The benching of second year quarterback Blaine Gabbert proved to be the correct choice as Chad Henne reestablished a down-field attack. Even with a full quarterback competition on the horizon, there’s little doubt Henne will be under-center again in 2013.
The biggest question remains the health and status of elite running back Maurice Jones-Drew, who unsuccessfully attempted a strong-arm approach to landing a new deal. What followed was a mystery ankle injury that ultimately ended his campaign and left the door open for back-up runner, Rashad Jennings. Jennings did nothing to secure the job for any length of time and eventually lost the job to Montell Owens. Assuming a healthy MJD is available, it would seem his job as the starting runner will be reclaimed. At age 28 when the season kicks off, will the Jaguars run with MJD or trade him for remaining value as they rebuild?
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