Colin Kaepernick, QB, SAN FRANCISCO: The Alex Smith era is over by the Bay before it ever really had a chance to take off. The concussion he suffered in week ten for all intents and purposes also brought to an end his time as the starting quarterback for the 49ers. Kaepernick has been that good and looks to just be scratching the surface of what could be a very productive NFL and fantasy career. The second year quarterback out of Nevada has transformed from the occasional plug-in a game as a possible threat to run the ball into a multi-dimensional weapon that defenses are struggling to contain.
Kaepernick has shown an ability to stretch the field with an accurate long ball and he’s shown a pocket presence beyond his years. Combine that with the rushing threat that he is and you have a potential top ten fantasy quarterback in 2013. Look for Kaepernick to be even more dangerous once he’s had an entire offseason to prepare as the starter in San Francisco.
Joseph Morgan, WR, NEW ORLEANS: Through fifteen weeks the undrafted rookie Morgan had hauled in nine passes on 20 targets for a whopping 371 yards and three touchdowns. He is the quintessential deep threat wide receiving option and has obviously garnered the trust of quarterback Drew Brees. In a prolific passing offense like the one the Saints employ, any and all receivers carry some fantasy value and as the field stretching deep ball option Morgan will only see his value increase moving forward.
He is everything that the Saints and fantasy owners had hoped that Devery Henderson would turn out to be and has inherited the role of the deep touchdown threat that the departed Robert Meachem once held.
Morgan has averaged only 26 snaps a game in his rookie season and with Henderson likely being allowed to walk in free agency that number is bound to increase as will his fantasy value. Any receiver that’s averaging over 40 yards per reception on a passing team like the Saints is a player whose name belongs on fantasy draft boards for 2013.
Ronnie Hillman, RB, DENVER: Yes, the same Ronnie Hillman that fantasy owners held on to all year and then inserted into lineups when McGahee got hurt and produced nothing. The same Ronnie Hillman that Knowshon Moreno leapfrogged in the Denver running back rotation from the inactive list. Hillman has been a victim of the fantasy hype machine since being drafted, fell way short of what may have been unrealistic expectations and that will help to make him a nice under the radar option to draft in 2013.
The kid has the skill set to be a number one running back for the Broncos and is a nice situation to do so as early as next season. Willis McGahee isn’t getting any younger and there is a lot of tread on his tires and surgeries on his knees. Knowshon Moreno may have played his way back on to the Denver roster with his excellent performances down the stretch but his upside is still less than that of Hillman. Another year of OTAs and training camp to improve his pass protection skills will only enhance Hillman’s chances to see more playing time and become a fantasy factor for next year.
Lance Kendricks, TE, ST LOUIS: After an injury plagued rookie season in which he finished with only 28 receptions for 352 yards and no touchdowns Kendricks has rebounded with a very nice sophomore campaign. Targeted an average of four times per game he has posted over 480 total yards and four touchdowns through fifteen games this season. Staying healthy and developing a rapport with Sam Bradford has helped the big tight end out of Wisconsin emerge as a potential fantasy option for 2013.
Kendricks has the size at 6’ 3” and 250 pounds along with just enough speed to split the seam and do damage down the middle. He showed that ability in week sixteen by beating the Buccaneers for an 80-yard touchdown reception. He’s not a top tier tight end heading into next season but Kendricks is a name to remember later in drafts who could pay big dividends as the Rams offense improves in head coach Jeff Fisher’s second season.
Justin Blackmon, WR, JACKSONVILLE: Blackmon put together a decent rookie season after a very slow start that would see him post only 14 receptions for 126 yards in his first six games. He exploded in week 11 against the Texans to the tune of seven receptions for 236 yards and a touchdown and will likely finish with over 800 yards in his first NFL campaign. He possesses all the tools and size to be a dominant receiver and fantasy force moving forward but was hampered by sporadic quarterback play in 2012 and he seemed to play better when defenses had Cecil Shorts to contend with as well for the Jaguars. He still needs to prove he can be the number one option at receiver and that will come with time.
Evaluating his worth moving forward is a bit of a quagmire as the quarterback situation in Jacksonville could get very muddled next season if the rumored arrival of Tim Tebow takes place. Every Jacksonville receiver will suffer if Tebow and his lack of accuracy end up in Florida. He could still put up decent stats by being the deep ball threat for Tebow that Demaryius Thomas was back in Denver but it’s a dicey situation. It will clear up some by the start of the 2013 season but as of now Blackmon is a mid to late round draft selection for 2013 redraft leagues and a questionable keeper in dynasty formats depending on the size of the league.
There truly is no offseason in fantasy football and this is just the tip of the iceberg in looking ahead but it is a nice jumping off point. It is a quick look at a few names that intrigue me and there are dozens more that could and will be added in the future.
College bowl season will pick up steam now and the combine and NFL Draft both lie ahead to alter our draft boards moving forward and there is no rest for the weary. Ah, let’s face it…there is no weary. It’s all fun and exciting and why we play this wonderful game called fantasy football!