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Burning Questions and Bold Predictions

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What will become of the ACL Trio?

Adrian Peterson, Jamaal Charles and Rashard Mendenhall all tore their ACLs last season. Mendenhall is still rehabbing and if/when he eventually returns, he’ll be joining a crowded backfield with Isaac Redman and Jonathan Dwyer. Considering that Mendenhall is being drafted at the end of the 9th round, most owners don’t seem to have that much faith in him, and rightfully so. It’s not like Mendenall was exactly setting the fantasy world on fire the last time he played a fullish season. In 15 games last season, he was unable to break 1,000 yards rushing and while his nine touchdowns are impressive, his 4.0 ypc is just okay, nothing to write home about.

While Mendenhall’s impact on the fantasy landscape is negligible, A.P. and Charles are game changers, for better or worse, for all the owners that drafted them. Both of them were drafted in the 2nd round, a crucially important spot on any owner’s roster. If your 2nd round pick underachieves, you’ve got a serious hole in your roster. A hole that is not easily replaced without sacrificing another part of your team.

Between the two of them, I’m favoring Jamaal Charles. Whose a better running back, in general? Hands down you’ve got to go with A.P. Whose going to be a better running back for you in 2012? Hands down, I’m taking Mr. Charles. I could mention that Charles tore his ACL nearly three months earlier than A.P. did. Or the fact that Charles is actually slated to start in Week 1 but A.P.’s status is still up in the air as a Game Time Decision.

Most of all though, I’ve actually seen Charles perform in the preseason. He looked good out there, running with purpose, eluding tackles, catching passes in space, that’s the Jamaal Charles I know. We still have yet to see A.P. play since he was hurt. We’ve certainly read countless positive offseason reports about A.P.’s progress but we still haven’t seen anything. That worries me a lot. I’m not willing waste a 2nd round, season on the line-type pick, on a player that I’m not even remotely sure is going to be close to the 1st round stud he once was.

Make no mistake about it, it’s not as if Charles doesn’t have his own set of concerns. He has to contend with a resurgent Peyton Hillis stealing goal line touches from him. At least with A.P., when he comes back, we know he’s going to immediately be the top dog again. Still, in a year with so few True Blue workhorse, game changing RBs, I’m willing to roll the dice on Charles far more than A.P. because we still have no idea how A.P.’s going to perform when he returns.

Who will be the Best Fantasy Football Rookie of 2012?

Even though Trent Richardson has already been anointed the best fantasy rookie and Justin Blackmon has been looking very solid in the preseason; I’m still going with Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Doug Martin. I’ll give you that Richardson’s a better, more talented RB than Martin. But Richardson’s situation, though, is a lot worse.

First of all, he’s playing for the Cleveland Browns, arguably the worst team with the worst offense in the NFL. He’s also got Train-Wreck-Waiting-to-Happen Brandon Weeden as his Quarterback. Did anyone see Weeden play this preseason? Unfortunately, I did. Horrid. He was 24-for-49 for 297 passing yards, two fumbles and one interception. Horrid. He stinks in a “Blaine Gabbert is definitely better than him” kind of way. 

Listen, I’ve never been accused of being a Josh Freeman fan but would I take Freeman over Weeden? Every day I do. It’s not even close. Freeman’s far from perfect and I would never consider him as a QB1 for fantasy purposes, but at least he’s not going to hinder Doug Martin. Weeden, on the other hand, has all the makings of being a turnover machine.

Then you factor in Richardson having a much tougher schedule, playing the Ravens, Steelers and Bengals twice each. Besides having tough run defenses, those are teams that can score points, which the Browns will not be able to keep up with, especially with Weeden under center. This means that the Browns are going to have to pass a lot, which is good if you’re a Greg Little owner and you play in a PPR league, but bad if you want Richardson to have a lot of opportunities to run.

Finally, you have the injury situation with Richardson. He’s already had two knee surgeries in the last six months. It may be too early to call Richardson injury-prone, but there are legitimate concerns. With an incompetent rookie QB at the helm, whose not even the best quarterback on the Browns’ roster, a tough schedule and lingering injury concerns, there are burning questions about Richardson that have yet to be answered.

I have a lot less concerns about Martin, much of it due to the superior situation he’s in. He’s got a better quarterback, a better No. 1 receiver to distract defenses and he’s certainly a lot healthier than Richardson. And there are similarities between my A.P. versus Charles debate as well. Similar to Charles, we’ve actually seen this preseason what Martin can do. Martin’s already rushed for two touchdowns and his coach, probably erroneously, has said that he reminds him of Ray Rice. It's a lockdown reach to compare Martin to Rice, especially at this early stage of the game, but there’s no denying that Martin’s been impressive.

Justin Blackmon deserves to be in this conversation and I foresee the poopy Jaguars having to pass a lot in most games to catch up, so he’ll have his opportunities. He’s a special player, who looks like a Lead Pipe Lock to be the best rookie receiver this season. Similar to the Browns, he still plays in one of the league’s worst offenses and he has one of the league’s worst quarterbacks throwing him the ball.

I’m not trying to say the Buccaneers offense is going to break records this season. Far from it. I’m simply saying that compared to the Jaguars and Browns’ offenses, the Bucs give their rookie fantasy running back a much better opportunity than Richardson and Blackmon. I know I’m not the first fantasy writer to say this, but location certainly can count for a lot.  In this specific situation, location even trumps overall talent.

Who will be this year’s Biggest Bust?

For me, to hold the infamous title of Biggest Bust, you have to be someone drafted in the first three rounds. Sure, I could tell you that Michael Turner or Frank Gore will probably have disappointing years but most of you knew that already. I’m taking a hard look right now at the first two rounds and I’m nominating DeMarco Murray as the most likely candidate to be this year’s biggest bust.

Murray has a long injury history that dates back to his college years. Last season he battled injuries at the start of the season, which made him largely ineffective until his Week 7 coming out party against the worst rush defense in the NFL, rushing for 253 rushing yards and a touchdown. For the next seven weeks he had two other big games against the Seahawks and the poopy Cardinals. He then missed the last three weeks of the season after hurting his ankle.

With Murray being drafted at the end of the 1st round, the stakes couldn’t he higher. I think it’s too early to give Murray that high of an ADP. He was The Man in Dallas for a little under two months before he got injured again. I’m not so sure he can last a whole season without getting hurt, especially since he’ll be shouldering the load of the Dallas Cowboys’ running game. I think he can be a very effective runner, especially when given a dream matchup, but to be a worthy 1st round selection, the bedrock of the teams that draft him, you’ve got to prove that you’ll be there for the whole season. If Murray ends up missing any time, the whispers about him being a bust will start to commence. For my money, he just hasn’t proven enough to be worthy of a 1st round pick and that’s why I view him, considering his injury history, as a prime candidate for being this year’s biggest bust.

Who will be this year’s Biggest Sleeper?

We debate this every year. How can “Insert Player Here” be a sleeper if everybody’s already heard of him? We’ve all been in drafts where over-anxious owners reach for “sleepers” and have collectively groaned that a player you thought you could get four rounds later was snatched so early. So I’m going to leave off the list guys like, Robert Meachum, Greg Olsen, Cedric Benson and players like that. The book’s already out on these fine gentleman. They’re not sleepers anymore.

My choice for the Biggest Sleeper of 2012 is someone who is currently being drafted at the end of the 12th round, if he’s getting drafted at all. I’m talking about Jonathan Dwyer, running back for the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Steelers running back situation is a hot mess right now. The earliest Mendenhall can return is Week 7 and that’s not even a guarantee.

Replacing Mendenhall as the starting running back is Isaac Redman, whose been bothered by injuries this offseason and when he has played this preseason, he’s look unimpressive.  Redman rushed for a 24 measly yards on 12 carries in the crucial 3rd preseason game. Dwyer has easily looked like the best running back the Steelers have, running for 147 yards on 28 carries, ending with a nice 5.25 yards per carry, compared to Redman’s 2.23 ypc.

There’s already rumors that Dwyer might push Redman into a 3rd down role and the Pittsburgh Gazette is predicting he’ll get “plenty of use” in the Steelers offense. We’re talking about a player that can be drafted in the 10th-12th rounds, who can be the Steelers main running back in the first couple weeks of the season. Dwyer is a high upside/low risk bargain for owners and if he happens to be sitting on your waiver wire, time to go out and grab him.

Good Hunting!

Ed Bonfanti

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