Eric Decker – I’ll be eyeing Decker five rounds after someone else jumps on the
Demaryius Thomas bandwagon. Decker is a proven talent, and quite frankly Thomas’ injuries scare me off. Decker will blow away the stats we saw when he was with
Kyle Orton, never mind the stats he had with Tim Tebow. Look for a big jump here. The talent is there and he has an actual quarterback now. Thomas’ newfound game-breaking ability will earn him some additional coverage in 2012. That means Decker will see more one-on-one, and Peyton Manning should be more than able to take advantage of that.
Marques Colston – There’s never been anything flashy with Colston. You know exactly what you’re going to get – somewhere around 1,000 yards and high single-digit touchdowns. But this year there is one less prominent player to have to deal with.
Robert Meachem is now running fly routes with San Diego. Those extra targets are going to have to go somewhere. The only two Saints’ receivers I really trust are
Jimmy Graham and
Marques Colston, so the nod goes to them. Colston could have a career year with the additional opportunities added to
Drew Brees’ want for a mega-deal.
Antonio Gates – For the better part of the decade, the San Diego Chargers’ bread and butter has been running the ball and exploiting the Gates’ mismatch. With
Vincent Jackson out of town, look for that philosophy to be reinstated. As long as Gates can stay on the field, he’ll finish no worse than the third best fantasy tight end. The clock is ticking away on Gates and this could be his last elite season. With the return to normalcy added to the additional targets, Gates is certainly on the rise, even if only for a season.
Darren McFadden – Just like with Gates, as long as McFadden stays on the field the sky is the limit.
Michael Bush is no longer stealing precious goal line carries away. This is McFadden’s chance to put up MVP type of numbers. With
Carson Palmer under center, McFadden will see the least amount of stacked boxes since entering the league. The ultra-valuable combination of touchdowns, additional carries and a softened defensive front makes McFadden a potential fantasy freak show in 2012. His injuries are
Felix Jones-like, so you’d be better draft well at running back or he could ruin your season before it begins. He’ll single handedly win your league or move you into last place. McFadden is this season’s
5 – Brandon Marshall – Let’s face it, he was drowning in Miami. The Dolphins spent the high price on getting Marshall into town but failed at finding him a quarterback. Marshall is now back with the strong-armed Jay Cutler, who earned him his dominant reputation while in Denver. The Chicago Bears are now the “Old Broncos” and it should work out perfectly. The Bears offense could be just as dominant as their defense for the first time in forever. Look for Marshall to have the best numbers he’s had in quite some time. Looking at his Miami touchdown totals, it really shouldn’t be all that hard to do. Marshall and Matt Forte are the only real targets through the air when in close. Marshall’s redzone targets could rival
Calvin Johnson’s at season’s end.
Ahmad Bradshaw – As of the end of free agency it looks as though Bradshaw is in for a large increase in carries.
Brandon Jacobs now joins
Tiki Barber and
Jeremy Shockey as the last piece of the remaining “I don’t like my coach” puzzle from when Tom Coughlin first took over. The New York Giants are sure to address this need in the draft but you can’t deny that no matter who they land that they won’t have as large of a role as Jacobs. Jacobs was an established, 1,000-yard, double-digit scoring veteran who deserved his role. The rookie will be utilized, but not to the degree that Jacobs was. Bradshaw is a health concern for sure but one can’t help but to monitor the Giants’ draft. Fantasy is all about opportunity, and as of now Bradshaw is staring at a huge workload.
7 – BenJarvus Green-Ellis – The New England Patriots are a pass first team. They have perhaps the most able quarterback in the game and a stable of talented targets. Added to that is the fact that coach Bill Belichick loves to use to a multiple back system. Not since the days of Corey Dillon have fantasy owners been able to trust a Patriots’ back week-in and week-out. With all of those factors playing against Green-Ellis, he still put up some impressive numbers while with the Patriots. Now that he’s running for Cincinnati, the amount of carries should increase. The step back in talent from the Patriots’ offense to the Bengals’ is worrisome, but sometimes you just have to follow the carries.
Cedric Benson ran well in that offense, and if I could compare Green-Ellis to any NFL runner it would be Benson. Just with a much better attitude and work ethic.
Victor Cruz – With
Mario Manningham now in San Francisco there are more targets to spread around. I expect half of those targets to be split between
Hakeem Nicks and
Victor Cruz. Cruz will be used in far more sets in 2012 than he was in 2011. He’ll be split out wide in two wide receiver sets and used in the slot to exploit his quickness. Cruz caught 80-plus balls in a season where he didn’t start to begin the season, then worked mostly in the slot position, and then had to wait for Manningham to get hurt to earn No. 2 wide receiver work. Don’t be surprised if Cruz’s targets go up by more than 25.
Mike Williams – He isn’t complete enough of a wide receiver to play the No. 1 role. He’s still learning, is still unpolished, and hasn’t figured out how to run against double coverage. That was very evident last season when his numbers dropped drastically from the year before. Leave it to the Buccaneers to entrust a second-year, fourth-round draft pick to lead their offense. But the Buccaneers saw this issue and addressed it in a big way with
Vincent Jackson. Now that Jackson will be drawing the defense’s best corner and most likely double coverage, Williams will be able to fully utilize his pure athleticism against weaker competition. I’m expecting bounce back numbers from Williams. Kind of around the lines of a poor man’s
Victor Cruz where the talent is evident but the help across the field plays an enormous role.
Brandon Lloyd – He followed his offensive coordinator from Denver to St. Louis to New England. He’s had great success at the first two stops and expectations are that the third will yield the best results, yet.
Tom Brady is leaps and bounds better than any quarterback that Lloyd has played with in his entire career. The only downside to Lloyd is that someone on the Patriots’ offense won’t meet expectations. Truth be told there are only so many minutes in a game for players to compile stats. It could end up being Lloyd. Lloyd isn’t likely going to be getting a ton of catches so he’ll have to beat coverage over the top to produce elite fantasy numbers. Treat Lloyd like
DeSean Jackson where you take him after the safer options are gone. He’s completely boom or bust, much like the Philadelphia receiver.