Monday, August 27, 2012



The hype began weeks ago.  If you were smart enough to schedule your draft later into the pre-season, you’ve reaped the benefit of some extra information, especially when it comes to injuries.
Experts galore are pumping up the guys they love and disparaging the guys they hate, and I’m no different.  But rather than simply get you psyched about a player or players, I will give you some thoughts to keep in mind about each team this season that might change the way you view who you value.

Let’s get to it.

Head Coach Ken Whisenhunt sewed his oats under Bill Cowher’s two-back system that utilized fast Willie Parker and Najeh Davenport.  This is what makes Chris “Beanie” Wells a possible RB1 of the future.  He’s got deceptive speed and can still be physical, and his 2011 totals of 245 carries and 10 touchdowns were the most of his young career.  Second year man Ryan Williams could take some of these carries as a change-of-pace back, but remember that Williams already tore a patellar tendon in his knee, likely limiting the number of carries he’ll get in his first true season on the field.  Regardless of the quarterback, Larry Fitzgerald will still get his targets and yards, as he managed 1,000 yards for his fifth straight year.  The same reason Fitzgerald thrives under abysmal QB play is the same reason Wells hasn't -- Arizona often finds that they are throwing to stay even competitive in football games.  If they can get even slightly more consistent quarterback play, Wells owners will find they are rewarded.  As for the second option in the passing game, Andre Roberts has the early track to be that guy.  Just how many targets that means will depend on Whisenhunt’s confidence in his quarterback.  My suspicion is Kevin Kolb just doesn’t have the confidence or durability to play in the NFL (he’s already missed pre-season time with a bruised rib) and John Skelton hasn’t (yet) shown he can be a consistent downfield thrower.  I expect a bigger skew toward the running game and time of possession from this year’s Cardinals.  Keep an eye on TE Rob Housler as he could amass decent numbers behind injury-prone Todd Heap.

Matt Ryan is progressing as a QB, though he seems to be as lackluster a player to watch play the position as Jim Kelly was.  Remember how boring and uninspired the Buffalo offense was?  That's Atlanta.  Michael Turner is reliable and has registered 300 carries two seasons in a row and three of the last four.  Since NFL coaches have been giving a lot of running backs a 'pitch count' so to speak in addition to becoming tandem oriented, no other back has matched his touches on a yearly basis.  Others that did touch the 300-attempt precipice often went over and never returned.  I’m not high on him this year.  One other note based on their first pre-season game; a lot may be made of the fact the six of Ryan's nine completions went Julio Jones' way.  Don't make a lot of it come draft time.  I agree Jones has high upside, but Roddy White received 181 targets last year, double that of Jones.  Jones will cut into that number this year, but both will be solid receivers come season time barring injury.  Tony Gonzalez won’t make too many big plays, but he’s consistent and is still a red zone maven.  Matt Ryan is a top ten quarterback that can be obtained in the fifth round of a 12-team draft on average.    

Raynell Maurice Rice is nearly everyone’s consensus first or second running back off the board, and that’s not really surprising.  For the last three years he’s averaged 1,300 rushing yards and eight rushing touchdowns combined with 72 receptions and 654 receiving yards and 1.7 receiving touchdowns.  He’s also proven to be durable having started all 48 games in the last three seasons.  With Ricky Williams out of the picture, the guy is perhaps the safest pick in an unsafe game.   As for the rest of the team, there are many uncertainties, besides perhaps John Harbaugh’s defense, although it is aging quickly.  For the fourth season in a row, Joe Flacco started all 16 games behind center.  In 2011, he attempted the most passes of his career (542) and completed the lowest percentage (57.6%), a hefty dip from his growth to a stout 63% completion rate in 2010.  He also averaged a meager 6.7 yards per attempt, a lot of which has to do with finding Rice out of the backfield, for which it’s hard to blame him.  Where there is a problem with Flacco is the offensive efficiency of the unit.  They finished 19th in offensive efficiency, averaging 5.23 yards per play and 19th in overall passing yardage per game.  His two choices at wide receiver are headed in different directions:  Anquan Boldin, age 31 and once big play man turned possession receiver, and Torrey Smith, the 23 year-old burner out of Maryland who averaged 16.8 yards per reception (22.8 per catch in the post-season).  Smith’s your top choice here of the wide receivers group.  The tight ends, Dennis Pitta and Ed Dickson, both have decent hands, and both figure to get a decent amount of targets.  For the year, Dickson was targeted at a 1.5:1 ratio over Pitta.  However, it was Pitta who received 19 targets over the final three weeks last season.  As of this writing, Pitta’s hand surgery isn’t keeping him from practice but could limit his catches, but until Cam Cameron reveals who is the favorite of these two, you can do better elsewhere.

Harvard-educated quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick brained his way into a huge contract extension midway through the 2012 season, and then promptly collapsed.  However, Fitzpatrick was never intended to be a game-breaker, and there are only so many injuries a team can absorb before it simply struggles to get the most basic of things accomplished.  Fitzpatrick lost his center Eric Wood and then his top runner Fred Jackson.  The defense lost the likes of their best defensive tackle Kyle Williams and then DB Terence McGee.  Add to that breakout safety George Wilson, tackle Demetrius Bell, slot man Roscoe Parrish and complementary receiver Donald Jones, and all that was left was a mere shell of the team that started 5-2.  Fitzpatrick is a smart enough field general to make this offense move when Fred Jackson is slowed.  However, Jackson is their playmaker, who according to averaged a league best 3.75 yards after contact.  So it didn’t matter last year when the Bills’ line was being shuffled like a deck weekly.  Jackson made things happen, and he’s a top five back this year, even with C.J. Spiller competing for carries.  If Jackson stays healthy, even on the wrong side of 30, I expect this late-bloomer to get a career high number of carries (guessing 275) which would place him easily over 1,200 yards.  I think he’ll also get you eight rushing TDs.  Steve Johnson is the top dog of Fitzpatrick’s receiving targets with Donald Jones likely to be their WR2.  That doesn’t mean he should be for your team.  Fitzpatrick threw way more passes last year than Chan Gailey wants him to, so expect the running game to feature Jackson like it did early on last year.  Wide receiver David Nelson is also in the mix and is a wild card here.  Tight End Scott Chandler is a red zone possibility but keep in mind that he didn’t score in the final six games he played last year.

Sometimes it's a good strategy to take a quarterback that plays for a team with a bad defensive unit.  Being behind generally means more attempts to score quickly, and that translates to more passes.  Cam Newton was one such quarterback last year, and those that took a flyer on him  (like yours truly) were rewarded with a deep fantasy playoff run.  I don’t believe Newton will repeat the same fantasy numbers, if for no other reason than the coaches will use him more this year as a goal line decoy in order to protect him.  His rushing numbers will decline and so will his rushing touchdowns.  The risk of injury is too great.  Newton aside, there's nothing to like about anyone in Carolina's backfield.  Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams have been splitting carries for awhile, and neither managed over 900 yards last year. The two of them managed a hefty 5.4 yards per carry, and 11 TDS, while Cam Newton alone ran for 14 TDS and averaged 5.6 per carry.  To add further insult to the situation, the Panthers brought in Mike Tolbert from San Diego.  The former Charger managed eight rushing touchdowns despite getting 60 less attempts and essentially being replaced by Ryan Mathews.   As of this writing, Stewart has an injured ankle after the third pre-season game, meaning Tolbert’s value has just increased as the red zone back, and Williams could become seriously important if Stewart can’t return.  Steve Smith finished fifth overall in receiving yards with the second highest output of his career, and his highest YPA at 17.6, so don't overvalue him this year.  He's 33 and in a sign fatigue may have been a factor had just one game over 100 yards in the second half of the season paired with three scores against the five he had in the first half.  He also accounted for nearly one quarter of all Panther receptions last year.  That kind of skew isn't likely to repeat, and second year pro quarterbacks also tend to catch a case of the sophomore blues.  In addition, new blood in the form of Louis Murphy and Rookie Joe Adams could take some looks away from Smith this year, not to mention Brandon Lafell who in spite of catching just 36 passes averaged a whopping 17 yards per catch as well.

Because of the strength of the division that is now the NFC North, people forget that the Bears were 7-3 by Week 11 when Jay Cutler got hurt.  During that run, there were only three other players that ever had a single game of five or more catches besides Matt Forte, and Dane Sanzenbacher was the only receiver to equal or exceed five catches in a game, and he did so twice.  Things have changed.  Roy Williams is gone.  Dane Sanzenbacher is fighting for a roster spot.  Earl Bennett is likely to move from first on the depth chart to third behind new acquisition Brandon Marshall and rookie Alshon Jeffrey.  Mike Tice is the new offensive coordinator, which is good news for Matt Forte.  Tice is a former offense lineman and line coach, an area the Bears need to vastly improve upon, and Tice’s approach won’t be the most creative.  Matt Forte will be the focal point of the offense, with Michael Bush given a few series to keep Forte fresh.  However, I wouldn’t be surprised if both backs surpass 200 carries, as this is still a rush oriented team.  If you miss out on the QB auction early on, you could do worse than Cutler.  He averaged 231 passing yards per game and didn’t have the likes of Brandon Marshall anywhere on the field. The drawback with Cutler is twofold: first, his offensive line is among the worst in football according to Pro Football Weekly.  Second, Cutler has some of the same issues I saw with Jake Plummer.  He sometimes overrates his own talent and tries to put balls into places he shouldn’t, leading to higher than average interception totals.  This year, waiting in the wings is Jason Campbell, who was having a stellar season in Oakland until his collarbone injury.  He should be a starter on most teams in the league, so I expect his presence to keep Cutler extra motivated.  Brandon Marshall is a solid WR2 for your team, simply because in the entire history of the Bears they have just one receiver to ever catch 100 passes in a season, and that was Marty Booker in 2001.  Booker also has the distinction of being the only Bears receiver to eclipse 1,000 yards in back-to-back seasons, so taper Marshall’s expectations for the entire season to around 55-60 catches and 900 yards.

Andy Dalton was one of the more pleasant surprises of the 2011 NFL season.  He made 516 attempts and completed 300, a 58.1% clip.  Not horrible, but at a 6.6 yards per attempt, it’s nothing to write home about.  Still, he gets rid of the ball quickly (sacked only 24 times – NFL avg. 37) and this year, figures to be part of a more pass-oriented offense.  The replacement of Cedric Benson with BenJarvus Green-Ellis is one of the more odd choices of this off-season.  Green-Ellis had two solid seasons in the Patriots system, but amassed more than 200 carries just once.  He scored 24 touchdowns in that span, surprising for a running back considered one of the worst after contact in the NFL (  Bernard Scott was supposed to take over for Benson, but clearly Cincinnati isn’t in love with him after acquiring Green-Ellis.  With A.J. Green’s fast development and the arrivals of Brandon Tate and rookie Mohamed Sanu, this could mean more attempts to spread the field.  Tight end Jermaine Gresham, once known for his ability to stretch the field might see more downfield action.  I like Gresham as a sleeper this year as second year quarterback Dalton is given more responsibility with Jay Gruden’s offense.  Expect another solid year from Green, and Dalton is a solid QB2 this year with upside.

You have to feel a little bit for the Browns' fans.  I mean, this isn’t Art Modell’s Browns – this is the new (worse) Browns.  Brandon Weeden is likely to have a short learning curve, because Colt McCoy may be the least mentioned player during training camp coverage thus far. And why shouldn’t he be?  The arrival of Trent Richardson was supposed to finally give the Browns the big play tailback they hoped for in Montario Hardesty or they got partially for one season with Peyton Hillis.  Now Richardson is under the knife again for cartilage problems in his knee, the same knee that was scoped in February.  Cartilage removal isn’t likely to affect his output this season, but I’d keep an eye on his left knee for wear and tear all season long.  With Richardson, the Browns have a chance to give Weeden precious time in play-action to make some plays with a below-average receivers group.  Greg Little caught 61 balls, but dropped 14, including six in one game.  The toll this took on Little was much less than it did on Colt McCoy, who has taken the fall for many stalled drives where he delivered perfectly good passes.  Little has a chance to lead this group to an improved status, but don’t invest much.  Behind him is Mohamed Massaquoi and Josh Cribbs, neither of whom cause opposing offensive coordinators to lose sleep.  Ben Watson may play decent role in this offense, particularly with a rookie QB.  Watson’s problem is health and he’s not a burner, but he can find open seams and has solid hands.  He’s a likely, at best a solid Bye Week fill-in.

Tony Romo haters will still point to the fact that Romo’s post-season success is limited.  I look at his numbers and point to one of the more consistent QB performers in fantasy four of the last five years.  Besides an injury shortened 2010, Romo’s other four seasons he averaged over 4,000 yards and nearly 30 touchdowns passes.  In ESPN leagues, he was seventh best of all QBs, and keep in mind, he turned Laurent Robinson into a stud free agent while achieving these numbers with a depleted receivers group as Miles Austin and Dez Bryant constantly fought injury.  Shockingly, as good as Romo is, his receivers are too injury prone for me to invest much in them this year.  Austin is again suffering from hamstring strains.  Dez Bryant, between his off-field actions and quad and leg problems, is too unreliable right now.  So I’m avoiding Dallas wide-outs this year except for Jason Witten, should he return from the lacerated spleen injury he suffered in the Cowboys second pre-season game.  DeMarco Murray isn’t getting a lot of work right now as a way of keeping him healthy, but recovering from a broken ankle can be a lot easier than a severely sprained ankle, so I expect that he’ll be back to form. The problem is that consistency wasn’t exactly his form to begin with.  In only five games of the 13 he played did he manage to gain more than four yards per attempt.  When he did break that barrier, boy did he, with eye-popping numbers.  Then you look at the likes of the teams he did it against: Buffalo (finished 28th against the run), Seattle (15th), Philadelphia (16th) and St. Louis (31st).  Those four games accounted for 601 of his 897 rushing yards.  In head-to-head matchups, he’ll win you a few weeks and kill you some others, so don’t reach for him.  Felix Jones is still there to get his portion of carries, and can still make big plays.

Where do you draft him?  The expectations and anticipation of Peyton Manning this season match the old moniker of his new home turf: mile high.  The clever fantasy football-er is pressing full steam ahead to collect their RBs and WRs early while catching Manning in as late as the ninth round in some drafts.  As we get closer to the season, Manning’s ADP is rising.  For your draft purposes you must think of Manning as a QB2.  Anything more than that and you are risking a great deal, especially considering QBs have led all fantasy scorers the last few seasons. My eyebrows popped into my receding hairline when Manning himself told reporters he wasn't at 100% and couldn't throw downfield as well.  As competitive as a guy like Manning is, for him to send a peremptory shot across his fans' bow to warn them of his possible shortcomings prior to the season piqued me.  It was odd and worrisome.  He may be fine.  He may not.  And bypassing guys like Rogers, Stafford, even Ben Roethlisberger or Cam Newton, to put Manning in the first slot prior to seeing him take a sack is a risk I'm unwilling to take.  If he's available as a backup to a strong candidate, sure you can grab him.  The hype is that Eric Decker and Manning have great chemistry while Demaryius Thomas has struggled.  Now, how can one struggle with Manning's massive check-down system? (yes, that’s sarcasm)  All kidding aside, Thomas' biggest problem is health, having managed just 22 games in his first two seasons.  According to sources, he's also not yet a detailed route-runner.  If Thomas is healthy, he has high upside because of his sheer size and speed, but he'll have to learn to stick to his assignment.  If Manning goes down, you've got a WR3 on your hands.  For Decker that scenario might be worse.  The only guy I'm willing to consider here is Willis McGahee, ironically because he has become durable and managed to play in all but two games the last three seasons.  He's not a PPR alternative, but he should be a red zone hawk this year.  Should the offense stay healthy throughout, McGahee will celebrate the added visits to the zone with higher TD numbers closer to those of 2009.  With all the hype out there around Jacob Tamme now that Manning is in Denver, it’s hard to call him a sleeper anymore.  He should put up good numbers, especially with Manning saying that his depleted arm strength is compromising his deep ball.  Thus, I’ll speculate that deeper routes might be centered to give Manning a little more range downfield.

Matthew Stafford may have an injury-prone past, but who else are you going to take in the Lions backfield that won't keep you up nights?  This team is primed to be a pass-first offense, with no true reliable running back to speak of.  Jahvid Best is sadly one concussion away from perhaps being done.  Kevin Smith has had ankle and foot problems, which continued to dog him after his brief comeback last year.  And Mikel LeShoure, who is recovering from a torn Achilles, is likely facing a suspension due to several arrests.  Stafford has Calvin Johnson on the outside, the ultimate quarterback escape plan should he even simply toss one up.  Titus Young, if he gets his head on straight, could be a solid WR2 with upside.  Nate Burleson is solid when healthy, and had more catches last season, 73, than a name like Vincent Jackson (68) has ever had in one season.  The question is where to rank TE Brandon Pettigrew, and I believe he'll be a top TE this year.  The knock on him really is he managed just five receiving TDs last year and that was his career best.  Make no mistake about it, for the last two seasons he has been on an upward curve being targeted 111 and 126 times respectively.  No other TE has been targeted that much in the last two years.  I think you can let a guy willing to spend a higher draft pick on Jimmy Graham and Rob Gronkowski go ahead, and catch Pettigrew a few rounds later and be in very good shape.

The signing of Cedric Benson only helps Aaron Rodgers, as this has become a pass first, consider-the-run-when-necessary offense. James Starks only carried 133 times to the tune of 4.3 yards per carry, but scored just once.  His ankle injury in November rendered him useless the rest of the season.  To that end, the aforementioned Benson was signed as an insurance policy.  Keep in mind, the Packers only attempted 395 rushes.  Only six other teams had less rushes in the NFL.  Greg Jennings had knee problems last year, and at age 28 should be in his prime, but 2011 saw Jennings YPA drop below 16 yards per catch for the first time the last three seasons.  Jordy Nelson leapt to the forefront, even once Jennings went down, and showed he belongs at the number two.  Both have generally been durable players, and along with Jermichael Finley at tight end, comprise a group of top-notch fantasy options.  If there’s one concern this year it’s that Rodgers’ success this year will depend on a new offensive line that includes veteran Jeff Saturday and new left tackle Marshall Newhouse.  Saturday is 37, and though he’s still considered among the best centers in the league, he’s aging fast, and the injuries Saturday has endured and played through are likely to take some toll.  Known to be a great line general, should Saturday get hurt, things could get messy.  Marshall Newhouse filled in for Chad Clifton, starting three games last year and did a fine job, allowing the Packers to release the veteran Clifton in April. Still Aaron Rodgers was sacked 41 times; four above the league average. While a lack of running game might not hurt Rodgers’ statistics, it could catch up with the team itself.

Arian Foster has taken the league by storm.  Not since Priest Holmes exploded onto the scene has a running backed taken over an entire offense like Foster has.  And it's a good thing too because Andre Johnson's leg issues are crimping the Texans passing game. Enter Foster, who despite playing 13 games amassed over 1,200 rushing yards, 600 receiving yards and 12 total touchdowns.  It is worrisome that he's started having quadriceps and knee issues, but it's not surprising considering his workload.  Even so, with Ben Tate behind him, he has plenty of motivation to stay on the field, and unless he suffers a serious problem, he'll be the focal point of Houston's attack and opposing defensive coordinators.  Matt Schaub returns and so does his mediocrity.  After the 2009 season, it appeared that Schaub was on his way to elite quarterback status.  A disappointing 2010 and an injury-ridden 2011 now put Schaub at age 30, and the Texans on a short time-frame to make a deep playoff run before they look elsewhere.  Andre Johnson is a top receiver when healthy.  Unfortunately those two words, when healthy, have been cropping up more and more lately.  Already this pre-season, Johnson has been dealing with another hamstring problem.  This is likely a result of his recurring knee and ankle problems, and though the reward is high, I'm avoiding Andre Johnson because of the risk.  If he's available in the fourth round then I'd consider it, but in general he's going to have to drop for me to consider him above Calvin Johnson, Roddy White and maybe even Julio Jones.   Kevin Walter is a good possession guy, but that's about it.  Rookies DeVier Posey and Keshawn Martin are expected to make some kind of impact, but are likely waiver wire fodder.  Owen Daniels could figure in again with a strong season as the last time he and Schaub were both healthy, Daniels caught 70 balls for 862 yards and two scores.

Yes, Andrew Luck threw a touchdown on his first pass; of course that pass was all of two yards and Donald Brown and his blockers made the rest happen.  I don't think any of us are ready to do much more than take a flyer on Andrew Luck as a backup and pray he can put up quality numbers.  He most likely will have good numbers, but this is a team in transition, with a lot of new moving parts.  Donald Brown has little competition to be the top running back, which is a good thing.  However, Brown has provided little evidence he can be a true workhorse back.  His durability has been questionable and he's managed just two 100-yard games in his three seasons.  Granted, he was sharing time, and last year he managed his first season over four yards per carry (it was closer to five).  He has good hands, and could be a perfect safety valve/check down option for Luck, much like we saw in their first pre-season game.  Expect his PPR numbers to be higher this year.  However, I do expect Luck to be given a chance to throw downfield.  To that end, Austin Collie and Reggie Wayne are both perplexing additions to your lineup.  At times last year Curtis Painter had time to throw and made some plays.   This year, Andrew Luck will be delivering the football, and unlike Painter, there is no lack of confidence there.  Wayne, 33, hasn't missed a game in a decade, and even with Painter under center he managed to haul in 75 receptions for 960 yards.  He may well be the most undervalued receiver in this year's draft.  He may not have as many big plays left in him, but don't forget Wayne is a great athlete with gifted hands.  An 80 reception season is not unattainable.  Collie's injury issues are his biggest concern, and that will leave the door open for T.Y. Hilton.  However, rookie receivers almost never make a big impact their first year.  Coby Fleener is being hailed as an obvious sleeper, having played aside luck at Stanford.  However, Bruce Arians hasn’t featured his tight end very often as he prefers a downfield aerial assault.  Fleener may add some good red zone numbers, but I get the feeling from watching Luck, he's not going to be a check-down happy quarterback a la Trent Edwards

No one is pointing to North Florida as a place to mine fantasy talent this year.  And you can't blame that.  Jacksonville was last in offensive efficiency last year, averaging less than 4.5 yards per play in both the running AND passing game.  Blaine Gabbert may have the talent to be a professional quarterback, but he flinches under pressure.  His tendency to throw off his back foot or simply fall away from blitzing linebackers led to a 51.2 completion percentage, 11interceptions and only 12 touchdowns.  Granted, the wide receivers he had to choose from hardly worried any defense, which turned the spotlight to Maurice Jones-Drew and his amazing 2011 season.  I've never been a huge believer in MJD as an every down back, and right here I'm going to say how wrong I was.    He was flat out phenomenal, leading the league in rushing facing eight and nine man fronts weekly.   However, I don't feel like I'd want to see MJD get another 343 carry season because he's just too important to empty his career gas tank so soon and he’s coming in after a holdout.  I would expect Rashad Jennings to be the lead while MJD holds out, and Jennings to get more carries overall even when Jones-Drew returns.  In limited action Jennings has averaged over five yards per carry, something to keep an eye on.  Meanwhile, new management has begun the transition of rebuilding by shedding some old, and picking up some nice pieces.  They went out and got Chad Henne to provide a solid fallback should Gabbert struggle again, picked up Laurent Robinson from free agency and drafted Justin Blackmon, a huge receiving talent who has impressed so far in training camp.  I've never been a Robinson believer, though it's hard to argue what he did last year to save the Cowboys season after both Dez Bryant and Miles Austin went down.  Marcedes Lewis was a nice surprise in 2010 and a huge bust in 2011.  Gabbert will determine whether any of these guys become sweet value picks in the mid to late rounds of your draft, and to that end, tread cautiously.  Jones-Drew is a top five back assuming he returns sooner than later (particularly in PPR) and Blackmon is a worthy mid-round pick just because he's likely to see 70-80 targets regardless.

If Houston provides some shady risk-reward factors, the Chiefs are the equivalent of putting your house on 'red' and spinning the roulette wheel.  Matt Cassel seems to perform best on even years (see '08 and '10 seasons for reference and former New England receivers coach Brian DaBoll has high expectations on him to get Matt Cassel to his 2010 numbers.  The return of TE Tony Moeaki certainly will assist that effort, as he was sorely missed after his 2010 campaign of 47 catches, 556 yards and three scores.  Kansas City's pass protection has been average, but the bigger problem has been getting a receiver opposite the streaky Dwayne Bowe that will stick.  Bowe is a huge target who makes plays whenever he's dialed in.  The problem with him is that he is a true boom or bust play quite often.  He had three games last year over 100 yards receiving, and two games of 17 yards receiving.  You can place his lack of scoring (just five TDs) mostly on that three different quarterbacks started games for Kansas City last year.  On the other side, Steve Breaston is underrated as a receiver, but hardly durable.  The expectation is that Jonathan Baldwin will step up in his second season and provide yet another big target for Cassel.  Perhaps bigger still is the return of Jamaal Charles, along with the addition of Peyton Hillis, to boost the running attack far greater than Jackie Battle ever could.  By the time Week 1 rolls around, Charles will have had nearly a year to rehab his new ACL, and I expect by late September he'll be rounded into form.  Hillis will vulture some short yardage TDs, and certainly can spell Charles on third down or for a series here and there.  He's a must handcuff for Charles.

Ryan Tannehill has won the starting job, something that comes as a surprise to me as Matt Moore had a pretty solid year last year.  In fact, when you consider that Moore wasn’t the starter, and played 13 games for the first time in his career, the fact he completed over 60 percent of his passes, threw 16 touchdowns against only nine picks, and managed a 6-7 record with a team that began 0-3 before he took over, it’s a wonder the Dolphins didn’t see the kind of growth I did.  The Dolphins defense also blew two fourth quarter leads in two of his first four starts.  The loss of Brandon Marshall will only make Tannehill’s job more difficult.  He’ll have to rely on underrated slot possession man Davone Bess, and Brian Hartline, should Hartline get over his calf injury.  Legedu Naane has length but has never emerged as a big play threat.  Tight end Anthony Fasano’s role could increase, particularly with rookie Tannehill under center.  He’s still not someone you’re targeting.  The player I’m keying on though is Reggie Bush.  Many experts are simply discounting Bush’s 2012 as a fluke.  There’s also a high expectation that the speediest rookie at the combine, Lamar Miller, will eat into his playing time.  While the latter may be true, Bush became a different running back last year.  Bush carried 216 times, the most in any season for him and averaged a whopping five yards per carry.  He not only ran through the line, but instead of avoiding contact, seemed to invite it.  He was physical and determined, and with his great speed, has another possible 1,000 yard season awaiting him. Bush posted five 100-yard games last season, and added 43 receptions.  He’s a possible top ten runner this year yet is being ranked as the 20th ranked running back.  Daniel Thomas may cut into some red zone looks, but if Bush remains durable as he did in 2011, he’s a great target this year.  Lamar Miller can only help that cause, and the Dolphins are likely to try to run as much as possible.

It’s the truth of most drafts.  It’s not always the player, but where you drafted him that matters.  Depending on where you draft him, Adrian Peterson can make or break your season.  If you reach for him too high, surpassing other stat mavens he may cost you.  When the season opens, Adrian Peterson will have had a little over eight months to recover from two ligament tears and meniscus damage.  Peterson makes a great pick in round four or five, but I’m not willing to invest more than that in him.  The likelihood he can run full tilt or with the same confidence for the first quarter of the season is doubtful, as is how many carries Leslie Frazier is willing to give his star workhorse.  Expect Toby Gerhart to see the yeoman’s share of carries out of the gate, with that number decreasing as the season moves on and Peterson’s health improves.  The biggest question mark for Minnesota is just who is Christian Ponder?  He has limited weaponry with Percy Harvin, Michael Jenkins and Jerome Simpson manning the wide receiver spots and second-year man Kyle Rudolph expected to provide better numbers than Visanthe Shiancoe.  Ponder’s numbers certainly weren’t eye-opening, but then again, he wasn’t supposed to be the starting quarterback.  After the Donovan McNabb experiment failed, Ponder had to grow into the position mighty quickly.  What he did show was a willingness to step up in the pocket and take a hit to deliver the football.  He also showed decent speed to escape pass- rushers.  Will 2012 be the year he puts it together?  Well, not for your fantasy team that’s for certain.  Harvin is a special talent, but his problems with migraines and injuries, not to mention the limitation of just how many pass attempts Ponder will have this year, gives him WR2 status on any fantasy team.  Jenkins is a reliable pass catcher but won’t provide anything more than WR3 numbers.  Simpson is suspended for three games to start the season, taking away one fifth of the season.  Rookie Jarius Wright is undersized but could provide decent slot receiver totals because of speed and after catch capability, while rookie Greg Childs output will largely be determined by his health.

The last time Josh McDaniels was the offensive coordinator in New England, Tom Brady broke Peyton Manning’s record for passing touchdowns in a single season by hurling 50.  The one thing I know with sequels though is they’re never as good.  The controversial McDaniels left Denver rather unceremoniously after trading Peyton Hillis to get Brady Quinn and drafting Tim Tebow.  He then was the coordinator for the Rams last year, one that took a disastrous turn for the worse after what was supposed to be a vastly improved team.  Injuries didn’t help, but perhaps McDaniels got in over his head too early in his young career.  Now he returns home, back to Tom Brady, back to Bill Belichick.  There were some positives to McDaniels' tenure in Denver.  The Kyle Orton-to-Brandon Lloyd connection revived the careers of both players, if not more Lloyd who elevated to top receiver status.  With McDaniels now in New England, you can bet Lloyd will be a focal point of the passing game.  This brings me to Rob Gronkowski, rated among the top tight ends  in the league.  He’s barely in my top five this year.  Here’s why.  I spoke to an orthopedic surgeon once after I had a high ankle sprain.  Sprain, by the way, is really a misnomer.  Depending on the injury, a sprain is a gradation of tearing when it comes to ligaments.  He told me ankle surgery is much worse than knee surgery.   Gronkowski has the best facilities money can buy, but the ankle requires such a complex rehabilitation that it has a high chance of recurrence.  Not only have that, but 40% of all athletes who suffer such an injury had continued ankle instability.  We’ve seen how it limited him in the playoffs, and how Ben Roethlisberger’s high ankle sprain made him a liability, and he didn’t have to run much.  Gronkowski will have had about nine months to recover from a tough injury.  He won’t be the same player this year.  I’ll bypass Gronk for Jimmy Graham, Jermichael Finley, or Vernon Davis. . (PS Word is Gronkowski has some sort of undisclosed problem – you've been warned).  Drafting among the New England runners is a crap-shoot, but Stevan Ridley was solid after contact last year, gaining 3.75 extra yards on average.  Still, New England runners are depth players for your bench until one separates himself from the pack.

There’s never a worry drafting Drew Brees.  He’s attempted more passes in the last three years than any other quarterback in the NFL.  This will continue no matter who is coaching the team.  The running game will again be tricky to measure in terms of fantasy.  Mark Ingram should get his share of carries, but Darren Sproles has taken over the backfield as the Saints’ premiere weapon.  In PPR leagues he’s in the top five of all backs, but I’m still going to worry about his durability.  Mark Ingram just hasn’t progressed nor impressed with his downfield vision or speed.  His health has also remained in question.  Pierre Thomas is a hard-runner and solid pass catcher, but just as he gets going, the injury bug hits him.  Last year was his first in surviving an entire campaign.  Jimmy Graham is my best tight end off the board this year because of his sheer athleticism and his quarterback. Marques Colston isn’t as fast as he once was, but he’s a gigantic target and a strong possession guy.  With Robert Meachem gone, Devery Henderson should again take over the deep ball routes, but I like Lance Moore to continue to be a constant threat from the slot.  He’s led all wide receivers in touchdowns last year.  Colston is a safer pick than Moore, but I’ll take Moore in the later rounds if I don’t get Graham.

For all his accolades and abilities, Eli Manning can drive a fantasy owner crazy because he’ll still throw a duck into traffic.  Nevertheless, it is this same fearlessness that has also made him a big play superstar.  According to, his ADP is 53, meaning you can grab him in the fifth round and build the rest of your team accordingly.  The Giants are a pass first offense now, even with Tom Coughlin’s rather traditional hard-nose football background.  He no longer has a physical back he can rely on in Brandon Jacobs, and Ahmad Bradshaw’s lingering foot and ankle problems have carried over into three seasons.  Enter David Wilson, the rookie from Virginia Tech, who though rumored to have fumble problems, could top out as the Giants best back this season.  He’ll have to improve his ability protect the quarterback, but depth is limited in the Giants backfield.  D. J. Ware has yet to prove he can sustain a level of play and health.  If you want a giant (pun intended) sleeper this year, Wilson is it.  The receivers group is led by Hakeem Nicks, but truthfully, he’s not as explosive as Victor Cruz.  Cruz burst onto the scene in the 2010 pre-season and was injured before the season began.  His 2011 year was continuation from that.   Nicks is still the top target-getter, and while some may reach for Cruz because of his name recognition now, don’t forget about the big, body-controlled guy Nicks is.  The Giants failed to bring back Jake Ballard, so Bear Pascoe and Dallas disappointment Martellus Bennett will compete for Eli’s eye in the middle of the field.  Bennett has loads of size and good hands, but was injury prone and had focus issues in Dallas.  He has a chance to make a strong impact, but if he couldn’t do it in Dallas where they like throwing to the tight end, I’m not sure he’ll be huge in a Tom Coughlin/Kevin Gilbride offense, one whose complexity might not fit with a guy who has a history of a weak work ethic.

It was reported that Tom Coughlin once told a reporter that he was so tough early on when he joined teams because it’s much easier to dial things back than dial them up.  Rex Ryan has shed the weight and is trying to expunge his ridiculous, boisterous, overly optimistic predictions of the past and get down to business.  Oh, how this team is on the verge of an implosion.  As if there weren't enough locker room problems last year, Mark Sanchez is trying to convince the media, and perhaps himself, that he believes in the system that will employ Tim Tebow in his offense while Tebow himself looms at the heir apparent starter.  Shonn Greene started to showed at times last year he was capable of being a first tier running back, but his yards after contact is incredibly low for a stocky runner.  In fact out of the 56 running backs pro-football focus rated for elusiveness, Greene ranked 49.  He's a decent pass catcher, yet even as Mark Sanchez struggled last year, Greene only managed 30 receptions.  He's without LaDainian Tomlinson sharing the backfield, which should increase those numbers, but I think I'd rather have Donald Brown.  Meanwhile, Santonio Holmes, who has added more than his fair share of drama to the locker room, worked with Sanchez this off-season to develop their chemistry.  However, he's already claimed he was unfairly scapegoated for last season's issues, and finds himself battling both rib and back issues.  Perennially injured Chaz Schilens takes up the second WR spot, with the Jets expecting more from second year man Jeremy Kerley and rookie Stephen Hill.  It still comes down to Sanchez, who in his fourth year has still not become the first round pick they had anticipated.  It won't take much for this group to fall apart, as pre-season fights have already gotten media attention, and Rex will likely find that Tom Coughlin was right. Don’t be surprised is Ryan’s ship has sailed by mid-season if the Jets start slow.

For all the arm problems Carson Palmer had in the past, he certainly wasn’t afraid to hurl the rock downfield in 2011.  Palmer averaged 8.4 yards per attempt, fourth best in the league.  Problem is he also threw 16 interceptions in just 328 attempts versus 13 touchdowns.  He also had three games with three or more turnovers.  There are better options, particularly when you look at a receivers group without a proven tight end (David Ausberry is favored to start), one year semi-sensation Denarius Moore, and the ever-improving Darius Heyward-Bey.  Such an unproven group makes  the Louis Murphy trade in late July a perplexing one, as speedy Jacoby Ford was on the sideline last year as much as he was on the field.  Darren McFadden is a superstar but one that comes with great risk.  He’s never made it through a full season, and entering his fifth year is still recovering from foot and hamstring issues after managing just seven games last season.  Thus, if you draft McFadden, and you probably should if you’re sitting in slot eight or higher, then Mike Goodson becomes a must have.  Taiwan Jones is also a consideration, but he’s considered as great an injury risk as is McFadden.

One year after the supposed ‘dream team’ dubbed by Vince Young fell flat on its face, the Eagles find themselves with an immense amount of talent and Vince Young out of Philadelphia.  How far this team goes will depend on the health and accuracy of quarterback Michael Vick.  Already Vick has suffered a rib injury this pre-season, and questions abound as to how successful Vick can be if he’s not a threat to leave the pocket and scramble.  He has who I consider to be the best all-around running back in the league from a talent standpoint.  LeSean McCoy had six 100-yard efforts last year on the ground and nine games with over 100 all-purpose yards.  He added 48 receptions and over 300 receiving yards to go with 20 total touchdowns.  The Eagles are equipped with a talented group of receivers, but durability is a huge issue.  DeSean Jackson has missed games in each of the last two years, as has Jeremy Maclin.  The diminutive speedster Jackson has also had mental lapses, such as spiking the ball on the one-yard line before crossing the goal line (twice in college, once in the pros).  His speed makes him a big-play guru, but besides 2010, Jackson has averaged just four scores per season (not including returns, which won’t help you unless you draft their defensive/special teams unit).  Now that Jackson has his big contract, one worries about how strong his motivation will be.  Maclin provided three 100-yard performances in only 13 games and led the team with 63 receptions.  Thus, if healthy, he has more consistency and is my preferred receiver of the two.  Brent Celek had 19 red zone targets and 10 red zone receptions to lead this team inside the 20.  Celek is in the second tier of tight ends should you not get one of Graham, Gronkowski or Gates.  I’d take him over Owen Daniels, Jacob Tamme, or even speculative pick Jared Cook.

The Steelers brought in Todd Haley to replace Bruce Arians, which initially caused ripples with Ben Roethlisberger.  Of course, to be blunt, Roethlisberger isn't exactly a thinker; he's a playmaker.  Much to his own chagrin, Roethlisberger's desire of an increased passing attack may have been his own undoing, as he reported during training camp that he's suffering from a slight tear in his rotator cuff.  We all know the ninth year all-pro is not adverse to pain management, and to that end, he should continue his rise toward a top fantasy quarterback.  With running backs suffering and recovering from injuries aplenty, Haley will likely find even more ways to increase his quarterback's passing attempts.  Rashard Mendenhall was recently taken off the PUP list, meaning he’s way ahead of schedule in terms of playing, but he still may miss the first few games.  The loss of first round pick guard David DeCastro wasn’t a piece of news the Steelers wanted, though at least it he only tore his MCL ligament and not the ACL, so there’s a good chance he’ll be solid for next season.  Still, the Steelers have to hope tackle Mike Adams comes into form and the line improves, otherwise rushing gets even tougher for Isaac Redman and Jonathan Dwyer.  Don't count out Isaac Redman as a serious running back though.  In 110 carries last year, Redman managed a 4.4 yards per attempt and is ranked sixth on the elusiveness chart.  One only needs to watch Redman carry to know he invites contact and runs right over it.  This may also invite injury, and depth is question as Jonathan Dwyer has just eight games under his belt.  Mike Wallace isn't expected to hold out into the regular season, but the time missed might make his start slower than desired.  Antonio Brown signed a huge extension this off-season of five years and $42.5 million after he had over 1,000 receiving and return yards in the same season.  Wallace may be the deep threat, but Brown has become Big Ben's go-to guy, receiving 10 more targets than the aforementioned Wallace.  Emmanuel Sanders will man the slot position after missing most of 2011, and Jerricho Cotchery adds some veteran leadership to the group.  Heath Miller is a very hit-or-miss tight end, and in Haley's offense, he'll deliver more of the same numbers, but he’s nothing special. 
Can the Chargers ever succeed at a level commensurate with their talent?  Injuries have plagued this team at a Biblical level, and no one seemed to escape in 2011. The entire left side of the Chargers’ line found the injured reserve.  LBs Larry English and Stephen Cooper joined them, and kicker Nate Kaeding tore his ACL on the first play of the season.  Philip Rivers battled injuries and turnovers, and this year already is without starting RB Ryan Mathews, who broke his collarbone in the first pre-season game.  His durability already question, Mathews is likely to miss at least the season opener if not more time, leaving an opening for Ronnie Brown to take over the starting position.  Even though he managed just 43 carries last year, Brown still hauled in 32 receptions, and in a shotgun-reliant offense, Brown still holds some value.  The opportunity really is for Curtis Brinkley, who had spot duty last year.  He has only 13 professional games under his belt, and won’t be used in short yardage, but has quick feet and a decent burst.  Vincent Jackson’s loss is Robert Meachem’s gain, as the former New Orleans Saint gets a chance to be the benefactor of a Norv Turner offense that hasn’t attempted under 540 attempts each of the past two seasons.  Don’t get me wrong, Meachem has great speed and size, but I just don’t trust his hands. He’s never had more than 45 receptions in a season, and the Saints chose keeping Devery Henderson, a one-trick deep play pony, over the once highly touted Meachem.  Don’t expect someone to become what he has never been.  Thus, I expect Malcom Floyd, whose chemistry with Rivers continued to grow over the final few games of 2011 to be his top target besides Antonio Gates.  One guy to put on your watch list is LaDarius Green.  Gates has missed nine games the past two seasons, and his foot problems are not likely to improve with age.  Rookie tight ends rarely make huge appearances their rookie season, but Green was drafted as the heir to Gates’ position.  He’s a final round consideration.  Rivers is still a solid QB, even though he had the most turnovers of his career.  With a healthier line in front of him, he should return to solid form this year.

Even after what was a long awaited growth-type season for Alex Smith, there was talk he was going to be replaced.  Rumors that a deal for Peyton Manning could be struck set Smith out to find what free agency would offer.  Neither seemed to get what they wanted so Smith is back with San Francisco for now, signing a three-year deal worth $24 million, $9 million of which is guaranteed. If that sounds like a smack in the face for a 28 year-old QB with plenty left in the tank, it is, especially after you consider the fact he outdueled Drew Brees, delivering a TD strike to Vernon Davis with just nine seconds left in the 49ers first playoff win in nearly a decade.  In both playoff games, Smith didn’t throw a single pick, and his growth and confidence as a QB can be attributed to Jim Harbaugh and QB coach Geep Chryst.  Despite the fact Smith and the 49ers were reunited on less than ideal circumstances, GM Trent Baalke went out and signed Mario Manningham, and likely future hall of famer Randy Moss.  Whether this will add motivation to Michael Crabtree, the former holdout turned disappointment, to avoid be labeled a true bust is hard to know.  Manningham’s catch totals sank last year amidst a crowded group of core receivers and injury.  He also is not considered the shrewdest route-runner of the group, one of the areas that can be forgiven with a QB like Eli Manning, but not necessarily with Alex Smith.  Thus, Manningham can make an impact in the NFC West, but he’ll have to improve his mechanics, something that is very possible under the determined eye of Jim Harbaugh. Randy Moss will get his share of looks as well, particularly on the outside.  I don’t expect we’ll see Moss doing much damage in the middle of the field though, which will limit his output.  Michael Crabtree is coming off his best season, but still hasn’t managed to show the discipline that might lead to NFL elite status.  I like Manningham to lead this group in receptions this year, with nearly 90 targets and 65-70 receptions.  However, this group will need to improve on third down efficiency (they were ranked 31st for 2011) in order for this offense to balance their defense and provide some quality fantasy numbers.  This is still a ball control offense, but Frank Gore is likely to be given less reps in order to keep him healthy and useful.  Brandon Jacobs is likely to play the same roll Michael Bush did for some time in Oakland, that of red zone and third down specialist, and an occasional spell for Gore.  However, the oversized Jacobs is facing the same fate of other punishing, physical backs – a short life-span as an NFL runner.  LaMichael James isn’t big, but has big play ability, and in PPR leagues should be a nice acquisition for your bench initially.  Kendall Hunter had a nice post-season, but is also undersized and rarely will play more than a series or two.  Bruiser Anthony Dixon could fill Jacobs’s role should Jacobs’ balky knee heal too slowly for him to start the opener.  The defense/special teams is worth mentioning because, 1) they play in what has been the offensively inefficient NFC West; 2) they have an aggressive group of linebackers featuring Patrick Willis and youngsters NaVorro Bowman and Aldon Smith; and 3) Ted Ginn, Jr. is a highlight  waiting to happen in the return game for the special teams.e’s

Has there ever been a team as confounding as Seattle when it comes to fantasy?  In the past, the great northwest is where fantasy gems take their stats to die.  Recently, see Sidney Rice, Ricky Watters and Joey Galloway.  The improved offensive line and Marshawn Lynch’s aggressive running style had given some hope to the Seahawks faithful until Lynch’s arrest tendencies popped its eerie head out of the closet.  In July he was arrested for DUI, his third arrest in the past five years.  Worse is the fact that no one speaks about Pete Carroll’s (lack of) player assessment.  This is the same Coach that traded for Charlie Whitehurst and declared him a starting NFL quarterback.  This is the same guy whose friendly, just-one-of-the-guys style seemed to work wonders in college (all sanctions to USC aside) but rarely works in the pro ranks.  Carroll has no way of dialing things up here (see Tom Coughlin reference in the NY Jets section), and while the acquisition of Matt Flynn was a risk worth taking, if Lynch is suspended, a lack of running game will hamper a line that allowed 50 sacks last year, 13 above the league average.  I wouldn’t reach for Sidney Rice based on his health problems alone.  Doug Baldwin is an intriguing young player who despite starting only one game caught 51 balls for 788 yards and four touchdowns.  As of this writing, Terrell Owens has been released, so that means the Seahawks feel they have enough receiver depth.  Will tight end Zach Miller return to the form he once had in Oakland when he had two straight years of 60 or more receptions?  Offensive Coordinator Darrell Bevell was Brad Childress’ coordinator the year Visanthe Shiancoe caught 11 TDs off the arm of Brett Favre, so Miller could end up having sleeper value.  Carroll has named Russell Wilson, their third round pick out of Wisconsin, his starting quarterback.  Keep in mind, if Wilson doesn’t work out, the front office certainly doesn’t look good, seeing how they acquired Flynn for $26 million, ten of which is guaranteed.  Again, see my previous mention about Carroll’s ability to assess talent.

There’s an old saying about quarterbacks: they can’t do much damage throwing from their backs.  In that case, Sam Bradford must have felt like he could have used a hammock in 2011.  Hurried and harassed for nearly all of the season, the second-year quarterback was more a victim of bad line play than anything else.  The offense finished 31st in total yards, led the league in sacks allowed and yards lost, and were ranked 31st in offensive efficiency, averaging 4.48 yards per play.  They also made a league-low 29 appearances in the red zone.  Also, Bradford needs to be given some slack as he’s had two offensive coordinators in two years: Pat Shurmur in 2010 and Josh McDaniels in 2011.  He’ll face his third offense in Brian Schottenheimer’s scheme this year.  It should be a better year with Jeff Fisher taking over at the helm period.  Steven Jackson will be one beneficiary, but he may be too late to the big dance, as his physical ability has been punished behind St. Louis’ deteriorating line play.  Enter rookie Isaiah Pead, who brings a career 6.0 yard per carry average to the Rams, and was the Senior Bowl’s MVP.  Supposedly, he has solid hands as a receiver, as his 87 college receptions would attest.  Rookie Daryl Richardson is also on the depth chart, but both are small, and not likely to supplant Jackson unless he’s felled by injury.  I expect Fisher and Schottenheimer to fix their line problems posthaste, and that means better numbers for the receivers.  Danny Amendola is a poor man’s Wes Welker, with burst quickness and deft ability to find holes in the zone.  Brandon Gibson petered out toward the end of season, and  he has yet to average over 13 yards per catch, pretty mundane by NFL standards.  Veteran Steve Smith left the Giants and Eagles and will attempt to show his knee isn’t going to affect him having an impact in the Midwest.  He’s still only 26, and has great hands combined with solid route-running skills.  Tight End Lance Hendricks could be a pleasant surprise, though Jeff Fisher’s past teams never relied on one tight end when it came to the passing came (remember Bo Scaife/Ben Troupe/Erron Kinney?)

The Buccaneers are counting on Josh Freeman to rebound from a seriously awful sophomore campaign, one where he was increasingly turnover prone, and the offense dropped to 27th in the NFL.  With the defense collapsing to the worst defense in terms of points ceded, Raheem Morris’ tenure came to an end.  New coach Greg Schiano ran a pro-style offense at Rutgers, and claims he intends to be run-first offense.  Certainly based on Freeman’s 24 turnovers last year, it would seem to be prudent.  To that end, the Bucs drafted RB David Martin out of Boise State as their second first rounder to provide a speedier alternative to LeGarrette Blount.  However, Blount is not only a strong runner, he’s an elusive one as well.  He’s one of the top runners in the NFL after contact.  His problem is he doesn’t have great hands, nor has he been a solid blocker, so he has been limited in becoming a three-down starter.  Martin is likely to win the starting job, which may motivate Blount further, and I still see Blount as a pile mover who may increase his numbers inside the red zone.  The recent loss of guard Davin Joseph for the season will be a hard void to fill in the offensive line, and the running game could suffer a bit.  Vincent Jackson is one of the most overrated players in the NFL.  It’s true he’s a big play receiver, but he’s never once grabbed 70 catches in a single season, and with Freeman as his quarterback, his yardage numbers will drop.  His ADP according to is 72, as the 21st receiver off the board ahead of Demaryius Thomas, Torrey Smith and Dwayne Bowe.  I’d take either of Smith or Thomas over Jackson, simply because of the upside.  Mike Williams may benefit from having a giant body such as Jackson opposite him, turning him into an even better possession receiver.  He’s a good late round pickup for your bench.  Arrelious Benn enters his third year, one where receivers often turn a corner, but his knee injury is keeping the former second round pick from gaining traction on the third spot.  Tight end Dallas Clark will try to prove he has something left in the tank after nine years of greatness.  He could prove to be a decent pickup as a forgotten tight end entity.  Take a late round flyer on him and his veteran skills.  If healthy, he will surprise people this year.

The only thing unforgettable about the Titans 2011 season was Chris Johnson, who cost fantasy owners their seasons by laying the proverbial egg after a holdout.  He appeared slow and indecisive early on, in addition to easily being felled by contact.  By the time Johnson got going it was Week 9, and many owners had given up on him.  He managed just four yards per carry and four rushing scores, both career lows.  The Titans as a team managed just 3.82 yards per carry for the year, third worst in the league behind only the Giants and Cleveland.  Second year coach Mike Munchak will hope to improve on that, and handing Jake Locker the reins should be a step in the right direction.  For his 66 attempts and 34 completions last year, Locker averaged 8.2 yards per attempt, a hefty increase over Matt Hasselbeck’s 6.9.  Yet he only completed 51.2%  of his passes.  As a starter, he’ll also have to improve those numbers, and still without a true stud receiver to look for.  Nate Washington had far and away his best year as a receiver, his first ever gaining 1,000 yards.  With Locker, those numbers could easily increase, as Kenny Britt is injured again and facing a possible suspension for off the field issues.  Britt has managed just 15 games the past two years, and when knee and leg problems dog a receiver (see Dez Bryant) I simply want no part in that.  Washington’s numbers should be similar, but leaning toward a dip because Britt will emerge at some point.  Damian Williams has never impressed me as he tends to be inconsistent at best.  Tight end Jared Cook exploded in the final three games for 21 catches for 335 yards and score.  While that doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll provide this over an entire season, it does speak to his growth in the offense and understanding of the Titans’ playbook.  Every year there’s a new player that emerges much at his position, much like Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham did.  Jared Cook could easily be that player in 2012.

Of all the tough choices when drafting this year, none may be more perplexing than where to take Robert Griffin III.  After Cam Newton’s incredible rookie year, filled with a record for rushing touchdowns by a quarterback, the facsimile that is Griffin would appear primed for similar numbers.  What may be even better is that he’s under coach Mike Shanahan, a man used to having a mobile quarterback (the name John Elway might ring a bell) and one who will exploit all of Griffin’s strengths.  There’s no reason to think Griffin won’t put up numbers as a quality QB2, but as quarterbacks have become fantasy gold once again, I’m not reaching for an unknown quantity as my starter.  Remember Vince Young and how great his intangibles were?  People have pumped up Fred Davis as the best tight end here but don’t lose sight of Chris Cooley.  Having managed just 28 games in the past three seasons, Cooley may not be as young or reliable as he once was, but Shanahan has made solid tight ends flourish in his offenses, including the likes of Shannon Sharpe and Tony Scheffler.  Cooley’s a good route runner and has very reliable hands, while Davis has had issues with suspensions and inconsistency.  Davis will be the TE1 to start the season, but watch Cooley in the pre-season as Washington plans on testing out his balky knee with fervor.  Roy Helu has his fans but I’m not one of them.  First, he’s in a Shanahan system where rarely now does one back dominate over the others.  Veteran Tim Hightower and youngster Evan Royster are in the mix for carries, with Hightower likely to get the call around the goal line.  Second, Helu started five games last year, and had three strong appearances, but they were against the likes of Seattle, New England and the NY Jets.  They were middle third rushing defenses all year, with Seattle’s making the most improvements as the year went on.  He was then completely shut down by the Giants and the Eagles.  For PPR leagues, Helu makes a more intriguing candidate as he has good hands.  Pierre Garcon joins Washington for his first season as a certain WR1, as I think Santana Moss is now the second option.  However, Garcon never really had that position, and now that he may face double-teams, we'll see what he's about.  Leonard Hankerson will be most interesting considering his one start last year against Miami, one which resulted in eight catches for 106 yards. Drafting any Washington wide receiver comes with trepidation as we're waiting to find out what a regular season game with RGIII really means.