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JL's Pre-Settlement Observations

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I will tell you a quick story before I start the meaningful informative part of the article. I was sitting at work watching NFL Network … and of course you probably just asked yourself what kind of job I possess which allows me to do such an activity … being a firefighter has its perks. Anyways, one of my co-workers came into the room and said to me, “you’re obsessed.” I didn’t know if he meant just watching NFL network or just with the NFL in general. But I quickly explained to him that once you really involve yourself deeply into every aspect of the NFL, and fantasy football for that matter, you really don’t need any other sport. Don’t need to follow another sport, play another fantasy sport or even watch another on TV. I truly believe this, and once I explained that out loud I convinced myself it was time to get back to business. Despite the NFL not doing so quite yet, I will be ready whenever they do decide to start the league year. I advise you do the same. Luckily you have me here to help you.

When you first delve into your 2011 fantasy football research, you will surely grab an outdated magazine from the bookstore or sign on one of your consensus driven websites. This site of course not included in that for one, because we have tremendous writers and secondly because it’s free. Nevertheless, the first observation which I noticed very quickly was that there are some ridiculous values presenting themselves in re-draft leagues all over the place. Experience in high-level fantasy leagues is priceless, and you learn to cut through the info that doesn’t seem to matter in shorter time each year you play in such leagues. I will post a few value plays in each of my articles leading up to the season. Here we go.

What if you could draft a running back outside of the Top 15 in your draft who is in their prime, looking to boost his value, who will get 275-plus carries, gets all the goal line carries and is on a team on the rise? Well you can in 2011. If you are in a league worthwhile, the 16-18th running backs will probably go in the mid-fourth round. LeGarrette Blount fits the bill.

 It’s obvious this guy has the No. 1 quality for any running back or football player for that matter …  he is motivated. I understand he is only a two-down back, but he set a pace for 290 carries in the second half of last season and held up very well with 5.1 yards per carry, including an astounding 6.0 yards per carry average on first down. The Buccaneers’ offense is improving in all aspects, and it is not hard to see that Blount is a major part of it as the Buccaneers were 8-5 in games he played. Blount will improve on his 26 red zone carries and will top 10 touchdowns in 2011, receive close to 300 touches and will be a top guy to target in the fourth round … making it much easier to avoid going running back-running back in the first two rounds.

At quarterback, there are a couple values I really like. But when drafting an elite team, a mix of risk-reward type players with solid locks, where you know what you’re going to get. I feel very confident in saying I know what I am going to get with Matt Ryan, and in this case there is some definite upside available as well. Ryan improved in all statistical categories,  besides rushing touchdowns, from his second year to his third year.

The stat that has bothered me with Ryan the last two seasons has been his 6.5 yards per attempt average, which has dipped significantly from his 7.9 average his rookie season. A lack of a big playmaker alongside Roddy White is the obvious reason here. That void has been filled. Julio Jones probably won’t reach 1,000 yards or 10 touchdowns as a rookie but he definitely will provide a boost in the big play department and make an impact. It is much easier to make an impact when you are a rookie when you simply cannot be double covered at any point during the game or at any point on the field. Tony Gonzalez will still command the defense’s attention in the middle of the field.

Ryan is currently going in the sixth or even the seventh round, and with a slight increase in yardage and a couple more touchdowns he will hit the landmarks of 4,000 passing yards and 30 touchdowns. Those numbers are something you would have to pay a premium for in a quarterback in the early rounds. Of course, most importantly you have to believe this guy is also highly motivated after what took place in his home playoff game last year against the Green Bay Packers.

Quick Hits:

I expect the league total touchdowns to actually decrease this season due to the new kickoff rules. It is pretty simple – there will be more touchbacks in 2011, and thus more teams having to drive the full 80 yards to get into the endzone. The less dangerous return men that touch the ball, the less touchdowns will be scored.

In 2010, Mark Sanchez threw only three touchdowns and seven interceptions in the New York Jets’ six losses, while accounting for 22 total touchdowns and seven interceptions in their 13 total wins. Talk about it really coming down to one player. And just an extra little factoid: he only threw one first quarter touchdown the whole season, with a 5.2 yards per attempt. Maybe they should take the handcuffs off him earlier in games.

I usually don’t spend a lot of time on rookies, but the one running back who will go on a run of games at some point during the season that makes him look like an elite back will be Arizona’s Ryan Williams. He can do everything Chris ‘Beanie’ Wells and Tim Hightower can do … only better.

There are a ton of free agents that are about to be signed here in the coming weeks. Obviously the big names out there are Sidney Rice, Ahmad Bradshaw, Reggie Bush, DeAngelo Williams and a handful of quarterbacks. A couple of the below-the-radar players might actually have a greater influence on fantasy values though. James Jones (Green Bay) will likely start on almost any team besides the Packers. The drafting of Randall Cobb leads me to believe they are planning on to not re-sign Jones.

The same type of thing can be said for New Orleans’ Lance Moore. I have always believed he was one of the most underrated wide receivers in all the NFL. His hands are some of the most reliable around and he simply comes up with the big plays at the right time. He could flourish with more opportunities. The last name won’t be talked about much and I doubt he moves, but if Zach Miller leaves Oakland, this is an elite tight end prospect for most teams who have a quarterback and system already in place. He has 182 total receptions the last three seasons with the Raiders! Too bad it has only produced nine total touchdowns. Oakland management says he is their top priority … and I know why.

Lastly, as far as when you should be doing you’re drafting. I believe there is an advantage to drafting very early if you truly know the sport. I only advise this for advanced fantasy managers who can read between the lines when it comes to all the information out on the internet. Good luck to all as the lockout finally comes to an end!