Here are some of the predictions I have for the 2013 season. Don't get crazy on me if any of these don't work out for you. After all, if I could tell the future, I would likely be in the stock market rather than in the fantasy sports industry. In any event, enjoy the list!
1. I think Larry Fitzgerald bounces back BIG this year
What do Kevin Kolb, John Skelton, Ryan Lindley, and Brian Hoyer all have in common? A lot actually. All spent time under center in Arizona. None are fantasy-relevant. Not a single one was good enough to help Larry Fitzgerald reach his potential. After an abysmal season in which poor QB play, no rushing threat, and a substandard O-line left many fantasy owners screaming at awful fantasy production, I think we'll see a very nice bounce back out of Fitz this year.
While Carson Palmer is no longer an elite quarterback, he's still a significant improvement over the core of mediocre QB's that Fitz has had to contend with. Palmer didn't have anyone like Fitzgerald last year in Oakland and yet he was able to finish the season in the Top 10 for passing yards and the Top 15 for passing TDs. Palmer still has the ability to make a good WR into a great WR (think Chad Johnson, TJ Houshmandzadeh, and Terrell Owens) so I'm excited to see what he can accomplish when he has a great WR to start with. The possibility of bringing Fitz back into that elite fold is there.
The offensive line in Arizona hasn't gotten much better, but in addition to the QB position, the Cardinals have upgraded their run game with Rashard Mendenhall who worked with new HC Bruce Arians in Pittsburgh. Michael Floyd (WR) and Rob Housler are poised for bigger roles in the desert. With Palmer throwing the ball a bit more, we should see Floyd and Housler take some of the pressure off of Fitzgerald.
It's not unrealistic to think that Fitz could see 100 receptions this year and a dozen scores - in fact, I'm counting on it. That would make him a Top 5 WR in both standard and PPR formats. Look at his rankings and you'll see that he's generally going outside of that Top 5 range which means that many folks can't get over last season. Good - let him fall to me in the draft.
2. I think Arian Foster is ranked too high
Adrian Peterson has gone first in virtually every mock draft that I have participated in...and for good reason. He's a beast who put up insane numbers last year on a rebuilt knee. In each of those drafts, I've usually seen Arian Foster go next. This shouldn't be surprising as Foster has been fantastic over the past few years and finished the 2012 season in the top three across standard and ppr formats.
What concerns me is his workload, injury potential, and offensive line. For the past several years, we have all lamented about guys like Michael Turner and Ray Rice who are forced to carry the ball a lot. If guys like Turner and Rice caused us some concern, we should be even more concerned with a guy like Foster who, after becoming the Texans' starter, has carried the ball 99 times more than Turner and 101 times more than Rice over this time span. The reason Foster has been so productive is not just his explosive potential and skill, but he also has a lot of opportunities. This is a guy that has gotten at least 20 touches per game for the past three years. No other player is worked as hard as Foster is. The Texans lean on Foster very heavily.
I drafted Foster in the FFN Experts League two years ago only to watch him miss three games (fortunately I had Tate as a handcuff). While he hasn't missed any time since, his list of ailments is concerning. For example, he cut short his offseason workouts this year due to a calf strain. When we look at past injury reports, we can find Foster dealing with hamstring, knee, quad, and hip issues - none of which is exciting for a player who has been a starter for only 3 years and relies heavily on his lower body. His injury list from college shows a similar pattern - ankle, knee, hamstring, and thigh issues.
No matter how good a runner is, he's often a product of his offensive line. The O-line in Houston has deteriorated over the past three years after losing Eric Winston at right tackle - a player that Houston has been unable to replace with any sort of quality. Houston's offensive line rankings have declined each year for the past three seasons as well and there's no reason to expect a sudden and significant turn-around in 2013. When we combine the O-line with his ailments, it's not terribly surprising to see Foster's yards per carry come down as they have done each of the past three years. The year I had him (and lost him for 3 weeks) in the FFN Experts League, he was averaging 4.9 yards/carry. The next year he averaged 4.4 and last year saw him get 4.1 yards/carry. His saving grace has been his ability to get into the endzone.
Don't let this paint a totally bleak picture of Arian Foster. He's still a first round pick - just not #2 overall.
3. I think Danny Amendola is no longer the "poor-man's Wes Welker"
I've been guilty of referring to Amendola in this way before - but it had more to do with his slot position and Sam Bradford under center. Bradford is not Tom Brady - not by a long shot. With Welker in Denver and Amendola taking over as the #1 WR in New England, it's time for Danny to shine. Brady is a huge upgrade at QB for Amendola and that slot receiver position is PPR-gold. New England is not a running team. They are a serious passing team finishing near the Top 10 each year in passing yards.
A number of departures have left the door open for Amendola to really take hold in this offense. The Pats have lost Wes Welker, Aaron Hernandez, Danny Woodhead, and Brandon Lloyd. Who knows what Rob Gronkowski is going to look like when the season starts after multiple surgeries this offseason. It doesn't take an advanced degree in common sense to realize that Amendola will be targeted quite often.
Amendola is currently ranked 20th in standard formats and 18th in PPR on FantasyFootballNerd.com. I think these are conservative rankings - likely due to his new team and injury concerns. If Amendola can stay healthy, we may never refer to him as a "poor-man's Wes Welker" again.
4. I think I'd like to find some sleepers
Pierre Thomas, RB, Saints
It never fails. I usually get Pierre Thomas on most of my PPR teams each year because others pass by him. As a RB3/flex, Thomas is a value pick every year. I don't expect that to change this year when I see his ADP in the early 50's among RBs. That means that in a 12-team league, Thomas is being picked as a 4th or 5th RB. In PPR formats, this is a guy who finishes in the top 32...every year. That's good enough for RB3 or flex. Thomas remains a fantastic value pick.
Rob Housler, TE, Cardinals
I like Housler this year for the same reasons I like Fitzgerald - namely the additions of Carson Palmer and Bruce Arians. As the 26th-ranked TE on the FFN draft board (ppr), Housler is the type of deep sleeper that will escape most folks on draft day. Judging by the ADP numbers I've seen, Housler should be available to everyone late in their drafts - an ideal spot for a value, sleeper pick.
Shane Vereen, RB, Patriots
With Danny Woodhead headed to the other coast, Shane Vereen becomes an attractive option in the New England backfield, particularly in ppr formats. Like Pierre Thomas above, I think Vereen is being undervalued by many. He's currently ranked 31st among all RBs on FFN (ppr), which is great considering that he's very likely to see 40 receptions this year as the Pats' primary passing option out of the backfield.
Marcel Reece, RB, Raiders
Over the past few years, there have been a couple of fantasy handcuffs that have truly paid off. Ben Tate was helpful when Arian Foster went down. Michael Bush was outstanding when filling in for Darren McFadden as well as for Matt Forte. Darren McFadden is supremely talented, but as I say every year, he's going to get hurt at some point during the season. This is why Marcel Reece is this year's most interesting and must-have handcuff - even in a crowded backfield.
5. I think I'll actually draft a Miami RB
With Reggie Bush taking over the backfield in Detroit and Daniel Thomas a possible threat, Lamar Miller essentially has Miami all to himself. I'd like to say that he's flying under the radar; however, he's currently ranked 20th(std)/21st(ppr) on FFN among all running backs which tells me that others are just as excited to see what he can produce this season.
Miller has established a great rapport with QB Ryan Tannehill and Coach Joe Philbin, and he's joining an offense that now includes Mike Wallace and Dustin Keller - both guys who can help spread the field a bit. The O-line in Miami remains a concern, but if Reggie Bush could get close to 5 yards/carry, surely Miller can come close to that as well (and he did on limited action last year).
Miller could be one of the best value picks in the draft this year.
6. I think I'll pass on a Green Bay RB
Green Bay hasn't had a real, solid threat at running back for years. Plenty have tried including Ahman Green, Ryan Grant, James Starks, and last year's veteran Cedric Benson, but none have been able to flourish in that offense. As a Packer fan, I'm excited to see what rookie Eddie Lacy can bring to the table, but I'm also a realist when it comes to tempering my expectations in the fantasy world. The Packers have not had a 100-yard rusher in a dismal 43 straight regular-season games. If we look at the Packers' rushing stats during Mike McCarthy's tenure as head coach, they've never been higher than 14th in the league and have averaged 21st among all teams.
Lacy is the highest running back ever drafted by GM Ted Thompson so the team obviously has high expectations for him. I'd be willing to take a flyer on Lacy in my draft, but you won't find me reaching for him.
7. I think "sophomore slump" is more than just a catchy phrase
Here's a rundown of players who are entering their sophomore year in the NFL and an estimate on how likely they are to hit that slump. The scale is from 1 to 5 where 1 is least likely to slump and 5 is almost a sure thing.
Robert Griffin III, QB, Redskins
I drafted RGIII in most of my leagues last year...as a backup. It wasn't long before he was my starting QB. I worry that he'll be like Michael Vick - elusive until someone lands a big hit. Griffin's play style is not suitable for a long life as a QB in the NFL. Slump Prediction: 3
Russell Wilson, QB, Seahawks
The former Wisconsin QB exploded on the scene last year taking the starting job early and never looking back. With speedster Percy Harvin joining him in Seattle, a very talented defense, and a legitimate, Skittle-eating rushing threat, the pieces look like they are all in place for an incredible season. Slump Prediction: 1
Andrew Luck, QB, Colts
When the Colts were behind, Luck was forced to throw...and throw he did breaking the record for most passing yards in a rookie season. Andrew Luck made Reggie Wayne a fantasy stud once again. Slump Prediction: 2
Brandon Weeden, QB, Browns
Weeden didn't set the world on fire last year, but he should have some additional help this year with the addition of Miami's Davone Bess and an improving Josh Gordon. As long as you're not expecting much, Weeden shouldn't disappoint. Slump Prediction: 1
Ryan Tannehill, QB, Dolphins
Like Weeden above, Tannehill didn't really set the bar very high. It shouldn't take much to meet or surpass his rookie season numbers - particulary with the addition of Mike Wallace from Pittsburgh and Dustin Keller from New York. Slump Prediction: 1
Doug Martin, RB, Buccaneers
Doug Martin did set the fantasy football world on fire last year. With a good eye for the holes and an explosive ability to shoot through them, Martin was the 2nd-highest scoring fantasy back last year. From a historical perspective, it's this type of situation that has slump written all over it. Barring injury, Martin will likely finish as one of the best in the league this year, but frankly, the bar he set last year is simply too high for him to come close to. He'll remain the workhorse in that Tampa Bay backfield and they will run him a lot so don't hesitate to draft him with your first pick. Just keep in mind that his numbers aren't likely to reach the stratosphere again. Slump Prediction: 4
Trent Richardson, RB, Browns
Trent Richardson ... meet Norv Turner. Turner has made a living out of turning his running backs into fantasy gods. While Richardson's rookie performance leaves a lot to be desired, 2013 looks like a solid year for him. It shouldn't be difficult to surpass 2012's numbers. Slump Prediction: 2
Alfred Morris, RB, Redskins
If you've read enough of my opinions over the years, you know that I'm not a big fan of any running back in Mike Shanahan's offense. That changed last year with the surprise relevance of Alfred Morris. Morris is ranked 10th(std)/14th(ppr) on FFN. He'll likely end the year in/around those projections, but the odds of him finishing with better numbers than he had last year are slim. As long as Shanahan keeps him in the game, Morris should still be a solid producer for you. Slump Prediction: 3
Vick Ballard, RB, Colts
We got to see what Vick Ballard was capable of when Donald Brown was injured last year and we liked what we saw. Ballard is well ahead of Brown in our rankings and should produce well for fantasy owners this year. With Brown healthy, I have a lingering concern as to how many touches he'll have per game. A timeshare situation is very likely in Indy which limits Ballard's sophomore potential. Slump Prediction: 3
Justin Blackmon, WR, Jaguars
It's going to be hard for Blackmon to increase his fantasy production when he won't even be on the field for the first 4 games. That's 25% of the season...gone. Unless he posts Calvin Johnson-like numbers (better odds of getting struck by lightning while buying a winning lottery ticket at the same time) and somehow gets a decent upgrade at QB, Blackmon has sophomore slump written all over him. Slump Prediction: 5
T.Y. Hilton, WR, Colts
Donnie Avery's departure opened the door for an increased role in Luck's offense, however the addition of Darrius Heyward-Bey may have closed that door. Slump Prediction: 3
Josh Gordon, WR, Browns
I think Gordon has the potential to be big playmaker this year. If Weeden takes a few more shots downfield, Gordon may be one of the better candidates for shaking off the sophomore slump. He's currently ranked 36th on the FFN list (std) and has the potential to finish the year perhaps 8 to 10 spots higher. Slump Prediction: 1
8. I think I'll wait on a QB
With the exception of one league last year, I resisted drafting Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees even though I had ample opportunity. I would encourage you to do the same. The depth at the QB position is pretty stellar. There are 12 good quarterbacks comprising the first three tiers. In a 12-team league, you're almost certain to get any one of these guys. Unless you're in a 2-QB league, there's no reason to rush here. Stock up on your other skill positions where the depth isn't quite as solid. In some of the expert mocks that I've participated in this summer, it wasn't uncommon for Rodgers or Brees to remain on the board until the 3rd round. Each of my teams this year will likely be led by a Tier 2 or 3 QB.
9. I think Hakeem Nicks will remind us why we used to love him
Nicks was a disappointment last year. Perhaps we could start a YouTube campaign to help Nicks get his own dance to go alongside teammate Victor Cruz. Maybe that would give him some mojo...or perhaps Nicks will realize that he's playing for a lucrative contract like Cruz got and that will be enough to bring him back into fantasy relevance. Whatever it takes. As long as he stays healthy, Nicks should be up for proving why he's the WR1 in New York.
10. I think I'll wait longer on a fantasy defense
In a few leagues, a poor defense can really mess up an otherwise solid week. Getting negative 21 points out of a defense is like having honey poured into your ears and while lying on an anthill. There's just nothing fun about it. I've been guilty of reaching for an "elite" defense in the past - I'm not going to lie to you. The negative point thing was an emotional barrier to clear thinking. What hindsight (which is always 20/20) teaches us is that the defenses like the Steelers or Packers were ranked #1 and #2 in 2011 but finished the season 10th and 11th. It happens every year folks. With the exception of a few defenses (I'm looking at you Oakland and Jacksonville), the chances of a defense producing negative points consistently is pretty low. There's usually a few teams on the waiver wire as well. This year, wait until the 2nd or 3rd-to-last round before drafting a defense.
BONUS: 11. I think I'll publicly shame anyone who drafts a kicker before the last round
Thinking about defenses and when to draft them reminds me of kickers and the only appropriate place to draft them. Do not under any circumstances draft a kicker before the very last round of your draft. Seriously - don't be that guy...and under absolutely no circumstances are you to carry 2 kickers on your team. A kicker can be dropped and a new one picked up with relative ease. The per week point difference between the 5th-ranked kicker and the 15th-ranked kicker is minimal and not worth considering. Drafting a kicker is like having to hug one of your annoying, old relatives - you have to do it even though you'd rather not.
Good luck this season!
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