With NFL training camps opening up this week, another season of fantasy football is right around the corner. My first draft of the year is this Wednesday during the annual FFPC Pros vs Joes contest. I've spent some time mock drafting with my friends at Mock Draft Central and Fantasy Football Calculator. With each draft, I find myself looking more forward to the 2012 season. I'm also looking forward to a number of storylines leading up to the rest of my drafts. Here they are in no particular order.
1. The Trophy By The Bay
According to the MGM family of sports books, the San Francisco 49'ers are 4/1 favorites to win the 2013 Super Bowl and for good reason. Their rush defense denied everyone but Marshawn Lynch from seeing the endzone and San Francisco has retained their entire starting defense. The defense has earned the consensus #1 spot among all 32 teams on FFN. On the other side of the ball, they've added Mario Manningham and Randy Moss to help give them a run for the Lombardi Trophy. I'm one of the unlucky folks who drafted Randy Moss with my first pick in 2010 only to suffer tremendous disappointment. I'm not ready to fall for that again. Moss will end up on somebody's fantasy team...just not mine. The running game in San Fran should be stellar with the addition of Brandon Jacobs to RB1 Frank Gore. It is full speed ahead for the 49ers.
2. Powerful Handcuffs
Matt Forte got his contract and money, but the Bears have taken out an insurance policy on their running game with the addition of Michael Bush from Oakland. Bush was the handcuff of the year last year because of the injury prone nature of Darren McFadden. He has always made the most of every opportunity presented to him and he'll make for a great handcuff this year as well.
Speaking of Darren McFadden, be sure to target Mike Goodson when...let me repeat that...WHEN Run DMC goes down again. McFadden is explosive and could be the #1 RB in the NFL if he could just stay healthy. The man hasn't played a full season since he was drafted.
While it ultimately proved ineffective, Jamaal Charles was my first pick in both of the FFN Users Leagues last season. My fantasy season went down with him. The Chiefs are not going to let the same thing happen to them again this year. They snagged Peyton Hillis from the Browns to serve as backup to Charles this year. Hillis didn't pan out as a RB1 last season, but he's definitely worth a look as a handcuff. He's currently being drafted towards the end of the 7th round.
If Arian Foster, arguably the best running back in the NFL, misses any time, Ben Tate will be the man to have. In that offense, a versatile back with the ability to play a role in the passing game is crucial. Tate is very talented and is perhaps the most important handcuff of 2012.
3. Will Purple Jesus Play Week 1?
Adrian Peterson spent New Year's Eve in the hospital following major knee surgery. His top backup, Toby Gerhart, is preparing to be the starter Week 1 but will be ready to step aside when Peterson is ready. There is some optimism that Peterson will suit up for the opening game against the Jaguars, but even if he does, his production will likely be limited. Peterson's ADP has him coming off the boards near the middle of the 2nd-round (12 team standard) which is a bit sooner than I'd take him, but that could change once more updates surface during camp.
4. Are the Dolphins Ready to Swim?
The QB situation is one of the storylines to watch once camp opens up. Matt Moore played better than most had expected but now he's got some competition. Veteran David Garrard will make a play for the starting gig with rookie first-round pick Ryan Tannehill learning the ropes. Like Garrard, the Dolphins acquired another veteran on the cheap - Chad Ochocinco. None of these guys appear to have much fantasy relevance though. Ochocinco is ranked 198th overall and 69th among wide receivers on FantasyFootballNerd.com.
5. Which Peyton Will We See?
Peyton Manning has delivered many championships to fantasy owners over the years, but with a year off and a new supporting cast in Denver, will he maintain the same level of fantasy power? With Manning in town, the Broncos receivers have actually had to learn routes which begs the question "what did their receivers do before Manning?" Denver is the favorite to repeat as AFC West champions and Manning is easily the most important free agent over the past decade. He's ranked 11th on FFN among QB's which means that he'll likely be the starting QB for fantasy owners in 12-team leagues. If he can post the kind of numbers that we fondly remember, he'll be a steal in the 5th or 6th rounds.
6. Is RG3 Good or Andrew Lucky?
Robert Griffin III is the kind of player that an offensive coordinator dreams of. He's very talented, but will he make the leap from college to the pros in a fantasy-relevant way? Andrew Luck may have been drafted ahead of RG3, but by all accounts, it would appear that RG3 has a better shot at fantasy relevance. I'm not ready to invoke the name "Cam Newton" as it's way too early for that, but expectations are fairly high. Washington added Pierre Garcon and Josh Morgan to reliable targets Fred Davis and Jabar Gaffney. Roy Helu has shown some versatility. A lot of eyes are going to be on the Redskins this year. Our eyes are on RG3's #15 ranking among QB's on FFN. In every mock that I've participated in, he has gone just ahead of Ben Roethlisberger so that should give you an idea of where he'll go in your draft. He will start the fantasy year as a backup and, after some time under center, has the ability to potentially be a QB1.
7. Competition is Good...Before the Draft
I don't think anyone expects him to take the starting job away from Mark Sanchez, but Tim Tebow causes headlines wherever he goes. There has been no indication that Sanchez will be taken off the field for any Tebow-special packages, so the job is his to lose. Even so, Tebow is only four spots lower in the FFN QB rankings than Sanchez.
Once camp gets underway and the QB competitions really heat up, we'll be watching with interest to see who gets the starting nod in Seattle and Tennessee. Matt Flynn left the shadow of Aaron Rodgers to come to Seattle at a cost of 3 years, $26 million. Also leaving Wisconsin is rookie Russell Wilson who led a dominating Badgers team. While Flynn has the money and the expectation, he won't be handed the job without some competition.
Titans fans will be watching Matt Hasselbeck compete against Jake Locker. Locker has not taken over the reigns but you wouldn't know it from the FFN consensus rankings. Locker is currently ranked ahead of Hasselbeck.
8. Did They Get a Secondary?
The New England Patriots and the Green Bay Packers have efficient, high-powered offenses. They can seemingly score at will. The offense is not the problem...the defense is. Both teams loaded up on defensive rookies and will expect them to play an immediate role. The Packers come into camp with the 3rd-best fantasy defense while the Patriots have the 12th. Apparently the industry consensus is that both teams have made enough moves to warrant Top 15 placements. Pay attention during camp though as this could change.
9. Will the Saints Go Marching In?
Drew Brees signed a monster contract, and is perhaps worth every penny. He is the leader of that team and takes ownership in almost every facet, however the loss of Sean Payton cannot be understated. His influence is visible in both the preparation of and the execution of the game plan. Hopefully it doesn't impact the skill players too much. Brees is still an elite QB and will likely be taken in the first round. Jimmy Graham became an elite TE last season and is currently flying off the boards in the early 2nd round. In PPR leagues, Graham is going ahead of Rob Gronkowski. The rest of the squad should be available and taken in this order: Darren Sproles, Marques Colston, Mark Ingram, Pierre Thomas, and Lance Moore. The Saints, even without Payton, put up big numbers. Even after Brees and Graham are off the boards, there will still be plenty of points to go around.