How great does it feel knowing that in a couple short months, training camps will start, professional players will be taking the field and we all can enjoy the sport that is truly king in America. Sunday Night Football was the highest rated television show in this country for a reason. For guys like you and I, football season means even more. It has become synonymous with the ups and downs of being in a fantasy football league. And for many of us, several fantasy football leagues. It is my duty to advise and assist fantasy managers nationwide, whether it be a novice or expert, in improving their chances at winning fantasy football games week in and week out. I will be better than ever at it in 2012, and even if you only learn a tidbit here or there, I guarantee you will learn something if you stay with me on a weekly basis during the season.
On to the advice. I will start with the glaring piece of information that jumps off the page at me when I start forming my rankings for 2012. Wide receivers. Wow. There are a ton of them; the depth at the position has never been better. Anybody remember the top scoring wide receiver of the 2010 season? Yea well, he has signed with the New England Patriots, a team that will throw the ball more than 600 times with Tom Brady at the helm. That player is Brandon Lloyd, and his consensus ranking is between the 27th and 30th wideout off the board. Like I said, opportunities to secure productive pass catchers will be plentiful in this year’s drafts and auctions.
How does this affect your strategy, you might ask? Good question. Well it makes it much easier to feel confident about taking other positions in the first three rounds. Whenever I speak of standard fantasy leagues, I will assume three wide receivers are in the starting lineup. Even then, if you were to draft pass catchers in Rounds 4, 5 and 7, you could very well still land 3,000 yards and 20 scores between those players.
A quick value check for a few guys at wide receiver position before we move on:
Dez Bryant – The 17th wide receiver off the board so far in drafts. He has the potential to be a Top 3 guy, especially if he was not fully healthy all of last season. Only had one double-digit target game in all of 2011, and finished the year with only 104 total targets. If that number reaches the 125-plus range, he will cruise to a Top 10 finish in 2012.
Greg Little – The 40th ranked wide receiver as of today. The Biggest improvements truly do come between Year 1 and 2 of a player’s career, and this guy will play significantly better as Cleveland’s top wide receiver. Brandon Weeden will look to him often. The improvement already was evident as Little only averaged 9.8 yards per catch in his first eight career games, but during the second half he gained 13.8 yards on average every time he touched the ball.
Denarius Moore – The 36th ranked wide receiver currently. The Oakland Raiders’ most naturally gifted wideout, he might be just now reaching some of his incredible potential. His ball skills are world class, and he gained Carson Palmer’s trust by season’s end in 2011. The last five games of the season, while inconsistent in output (usually due to lack of targets), Moore converted his 29 total targets into 345 yards and three scores.
Football is an emotional game, and for anybody that has played it for a while knows attitude is everything. How you approach practice, how you take responsibility for bettering yourself off the field and the drive you have day in and day out very likely will determine how well you play. Professionals get paid to play the game of course, but it is silly to believe they do not feel similar emotions in their approach to the game. That is why monitoring a player’s offseason, especially his progress in even the smallest of matters such as organized team activities, can lead you in the right direction when evaluating whether a player will produce at a high level when the games start counting. Chris Johnson was the poster boy for that last season, and DeSean Jackson wasn’t far behind. Did these players suddenly lose all their God-given abilities? No, it was simply attitude.
Positive reports don’t guarantee anything, but they surely can reveal some information that staring at stats and rankings cannot. The Philadelphia offense as a whole is a situation to target. Michael Vick is a mature leader at this point in his career and he knows this is the time to make the run the Eagles were supposed to make in 2011. LeSean McCoy is signed long term and will barely be 24 years of age at the start of the season. DeSean Jackson has a new deal and Jeremy Maclin is healthy once more. This is a perfect example of looking at rankings that reflect last year’s production and realizing it holds virtually no merit into how well they can perform this season, besides McCoy of course, who you should have figured out is the most explosive player with the ball in his hands that plays in the NFL today.
Brandon Marshall in Chicago is a situation you should feel secure about. He and Jay Cutler have already shown chemistry working together again. His price is quite high at this point, but there is nothing that stands in his way of living up to or exceeding expectations.
Santana Moss, an overlooked player at age 33, has looked quick in camp and still played an important role in coach Mike Shanahan’s offense in 2011. He converted an awful 48 percent of his targets last year, but that can be attributed to the quarterback play more than Moss himself. Robert Griffin III will love getting the ball to Moss on designed roll outs and quick hitters. Moss has always excelled at speed routes and at scrambling downfield by using his quickness to separate, which plays directly into how Washington will use Griffin. Moss is valued at his current draft position.
Keeping an eye out for other reports, such as the wide receiver situation in San Diego or the running back competition in Tampa Bay can be very beneficial. Know who is missing practice, who is excelling in practice and how they are being used. Obviously, a lot is still to be determined, but if you happen to get in a league who holds an early draft in June (I usually get into a June league draft purposefully), you can get some tremendous values if the other players in your league are not keeping up on the information other than consensus rankings.
One person who is receiving plenty of praise before he has ever taken a snap in the NFL is Cleveland running back Trent Richardson. He will be the prized rookie targeted in every league around America. His price commands a very high pick though, and the situation reminds me of Ryan Matthews in 2010, although Richardson is not nearly as reckless when running and knows how to take on hits much more effectively. With that said, this is still the first time he will be getting tackled 300 times in a NFL season. Be careful if you believe he is worth a second-round pick.
Speaking of rookies, there are a few others who have potential to make a large impact in their first season. Starting with a couple running backs David Wilson (New York Giants) and Ronnie Hillman (Denver). Wilson will get his opportunities in New York. If the Giants handed it to Brandon Jacobs 152 times plodding at 3.8 yards per carry, they will be ecstatic when they see what Wilson can do. Wilson might not ever become a 20-carry guy, but he can do a lot with limited opportunity, like Ahmad Bradshaw did early in his career for New York. Bradshaw’s yards per carry have declined every year since he entered the league and he again will likely only play around 12 games as he did in 2011, opening the door for Wilson to explode on the scene, literally and figuratively when the opportunity arises.
Ronnie Hillman is in a similar situation. Willis McGahee had a good season last year, but ‘good’ is as far as I will go. Hillman will present himself as more explosive and more versatile, especially since McGahee benefited tremendously from the threat of Tim Tebow running. Take away Willis’ performance against the worst run defense in football (Green Bay), McGahee toted it 54 times at 2.8 per carry with the conventional Kyle Orton under center early in the season. Don’t be fooled. Hillman will catch on quickly and could easily out-produce McGahee.
Lastly, a couple long-shots that were taken later in the draft that could make an impact. BJ Cunningham, a sixth-round pick by Miami, will get a chance to crack the starting lineup. Michigan State’s all-time leading receiver doesn’t possess eye popping attributes but does have very good body control and is polished for somebody taken so late. Juron Criner is another. Oakland could use him as the possession guy opposite of Denarius Moore. Criner, again not a burner, which is why he went in the fifth round, has those natural pass catching, ball tracking skills you can recognize when you see them. Robert Turbin landed in a good spot at running back in Seattle. He could be used in short yardage situations and can catch passes out of the backfield. He will be in the backfield rotation even with Marshawn Lynch getting the bulk of the carries. If Lynch gets dinged up with this physical style, Turbin could step in, play multiple downs, including third down, and be the most valuable Seattle running back.
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