The fantasy playoffs have arrived. Good luck to all of you and may your players remain healthy and score tons of points. Now, for those of you that aren’t in the playoffs, or don’t think your team will be going far, I’d like you to keep paying close attention to the games, looking for potential sleeper picks in next year’s draft. Some of the best sleeper picks begin next year, just where they left off the previous year. This is especially true with receivers and running backs. Guys that are young and finally getting into a good rhythm with their quarterbacks are going to have a lot of potential to carry that pace into a good full season next year.
Rookies and second year receivers that have been working with the same quarterback for the entire NFL career are going to be the ones you want to watch. We all remember how well Jordy Nelson did last year in the playoffs. All of his top four games for last year came in Week 16 or later. He carried that momentum into this year, and look where he is now. Last year in Weeks 15-17 there was a rookie tight end that caught four touchdown passes over his last three games. You might have heard of him this year: Jimmy Graham.
Just because it’s the end of our season, and we get to pick new players for next year, doesn’t mean that the season is over for the guys on the field. Here are some guys that I’ll be watching in the last few weeks to see if they develop anything for next year:
Brandon Saine, RB, Green Bay Packers:
Top running backs on the Green Bay depth chart: Ryan Grant (undrafted), James Starks (drafted in the 6th round), Brandon Saine (undrafted). I think Mike McCarthy is starting to adopt the Patriots’ running back mentality that he just needs a running back that can fall forward for three yards on third and two. Grant will be 30 next year, and that is about the age where most running backs drop off. James Starks has not had more than 13 carries in any game this season, and now has some injury trouble. Saine could or could not be the next running back to emerge in the Green Bay backfield. I’ll be keeping my eye on this one.
Roy Helu, RB, Washington Redskins:
As much as it pains me to say this, I’ll be watching to see if Mike Shanahan sticks with this rookie running back. Helu has been coming on strong the last couple games, and if this continues, he might have some staying power. I don’t trust Shanahan when it comes to his running backs, but if this is his primary guy for a half a dozen games in a row to end the season, I’ll be paying attention, and moving him up my draft chart for next year.
C.J. Spiller, RB, Buffalo Bills:
Fred Jackson is not a young guy. At the start of next season he will be 31. Although he doesn’t have as much mileage on his legs as most guys his age, how many 31 year-old running backs are primary ball carriers for their teams? Spiller was drafted to take over the Bills backfield, but has not followed through on that. His rookie season he averaged 3.8 yards per carry, and this year he has improved to 4.7 YPC. With Jackson done for the year, Spiller has gotten more carries than he ever has in his career. His previous highest total for carries in a game was nine. In the last two games he’s had 14 and 19. I’ll be watching to see if he is the back of the future for the Bills.
Greg Little, WR, Cleveland Browns:
Little was drafted in the second round this past year, and already has 93 targets on the year, firmly between Vincent Jackson (88) and Victor Cruz (95), on the list of top targeted wide receivers. A lot of reports are giving him a bad rap for his drops this year, but I think it’s just rookie mistakes. He left the locker room two weeks ago without talking to reporters because he was bothered by his play, so he does care about his mistakes, and wants to improve. Cleveland has two first round picks in the 2012 draft and will be a greatly improved team going into the 2012 season. I envision Little much like a Percy Harvin receiver; a guy that is good in that 10-15 yard range, and can run after the catch. I’ll be watching the Browns just to see how this guy is looking at the end of the season.
Laurent Robinson, WR, Dallas Cowboys:
We all saw how much Robinson did in place of Miles Austin in the lineup. Jerry Jones has said that based on Robinson’s performance this year he has guaranteed himself a spot on the roster next year. The big question is, how much will he get used now that Austin in back? This is a situation I’ll be watching. Robinson has a lot of value if/when Austin or Dez Bryant are out of the lineup, but how much does he have when they are both in it? With all three healthy I’ll be checking to see how much action Robinson gets.
Michael Crabtree, WR, San Francisco 49ers:
Crabtree has had his best two games of the year in the last three weeks. Has he finally figured out how to play in the NFL? Who will his quarterback be next year? Lots of questions surround this guy, but none of them are if he is talented enough to play in the NFL. It’s all in the head with this guy. If he’s figured it out, it should show on the field in the remaining season and playoffs.
Keep your eyes open for guys that are getting more than their usual targets or attempts. The end of the season is where a lot of coaches like to see how some of their young players handle real game action, and where they should be improving their roster in the offseason. Now onto the calls for the week.