1. Andrew Luck – ESPN projections: 4061 yards, 26 TD, 12 INT
ESPN: “2013 Outlook: Luck finished his rookie campaign as fantasy's No. 9 QB. So why don't we project him for a bump as he climbs the learning curve? It comes down to offensive system. Downfield devotee Bruce Arians is gone, and new coordinator Pep Hamilton (Luck's college coordinator) is a West Coast man. We imagine Luck's efficiency may improve -- his completion percentage should go up and his interception total should go down -- but he's unlikely to lead the NFL in attempts that travel more than 20 yards in the air again.
Oh dear me, Andrew Luck might reduce his 20+ yard attempts…which he completed 32% of last year! And that is a bad thing...why? Not throwing a ton of deep shots means being selective with deeper shots; relying on YAC. Regardless, he was averaging under 7 YPA in the old system.In college, Luck averaged throwing the ball 31 times a game, and averaged 270 yards over those passes—or 8.71 yards per attempt. Even though he attempted 627 passes last season, ESPN predicts a slight reduction to 38 passes per game, despite a questionable running back situation, as well as two good TE options. If he gets back to that 8.7 YPA with 38 passes a game, he is averaging 330 yards per game, and over 5,000 on the year. Not to mention, that YPA stat is damaged by his shorter YPA in the red zone—which was not a result of poor play. He was a master of red zone efficiency in that system. It is entirely unfair to believe Luck can jump to his college numbers, but seeing an offense that fits the personnel shouldn’t scare anyone off.
Everything about Luck says “elite level QB waiting to arrive.” So, why on earth does ESPN think he will get worse? Take Peyton Manning, who had an 8.1 YPA average in college. First year in Indy, he threw a 6.5 YPA average, and then went to 7.76 his next season. How did he do it? Experience, for one, and he also reduced his number of passes over 20 yards from to 255 to 213. And yet, wonder of wonders, miracle of miracles—his yardage totals went up. His QB rating went from 71.2 to 90.7. Doubt the best QB prospect to come out since Peyton—even after one year of proving himself. I dare you.
2. Matthew Stafford – ESPN 2012 Projections: 4975 yards, 28 TD, 16 INT
Stafford has had 2 full seasons in the NFL. In both, he threw for nearly 5,000 yards. In one, he threw for 41 TDs on year, and 20 in the last. ESPN decided to split the difference, but a little less. I think this is an error.
Detroit feels like such a good fit for Reggie Bush. The speedy, receiving threat RB out of the backfield has been an ideal in Detroit for awhile. Jahvid Best was a 2nd round draft pick, Reggie Bush fills that role, and doesn’t carry quite the same injury risk as Best. He is still just 28. 2nd round pick Ryan Broyles will be healthy, there are 2 good TEs, THE best WR in football, and oh yeah, the Lions throw constantly (66.29% of plays were passes—most in the NFL). Even if they reduce that, it will still be very high, and will probably assist Stafford. Any fantasy article on Stafford must mention how incredibly unlucky he has been in getting TDs (Calvin Johnson getting tackled at the 1 yard line 4 times, anyone?), and TDs are MUCH more likely to fluctuate year to year. Somehow, all the Pettigrew targets in the red zone still haven’t meant TDs. There is strong potential for that to change. If Detroit is going to win more than 4 games, they will need Stafford to be good.
3. Eli Manning – ESPN 2013 Projections: 4037 yards, 25 TDs, 17 INTs
We have enough data on Eli over several seasons to see the guy as a sturdy, but not great fantasy starter. 2011’s monster year appears to be the aberration. He is usually worth about 4,000 yards and 26-31 TDs. But the 4,933 yards in 2011 are interesting. The big change in 2011 was the addition of Victor Cruz. In 2012, he was worth about 500 fewer receiving yards, likely because a hobbled Hakeem Nicks couldn’t take the top off defenses. Now, supposedly, Nicks is healthy. I would imagine that bodes very well for Eli. Brett Myers is a strong TE option, and while David Wilson/Andre Brown threaten to take yards and scores (the 2011 SB Champion combo of Bradshaw/Jacobs totaled about 1200 yards and 16 TDs—ESPN projects about 1600 and 11 TDs from Wilson/Brown). Even if they add rushing yards, Eli has a shot to break into the mid-4000s, and even an outside shot at 5,000. ESPN projects him to just get 4,000 yards and a recent career low in TDs. Eli is probably better as a part of a QB tandem as he has high and low spikes, but the high potential Is there. He went from 8 300+ yard TD games in 2011 to 3 in 2012. I get the feeling the Giants might give up some points this year, and there is a bucket of potential.
He isn’t up ahead of Romo, but he is much closer to him than ESPN leads us to believe, and the upside is higher.
4. Tony Romo – ESPN Projections: 4756 yards, 30 TD, 15 INT
Through the first 9 weeks of 2012, Dez Bryant was a mortal with a couple good games. Then the gods touched him, and now he is Dez Bryant: super-deity. In the first 9 weeks, Romo averaged 13.88 points per game. From 10-17? 20. That probably doesn’t have you clamoring for Romo, but he is great for a tandem situation.
5. Michael Vick – ESPN Projections: 2676 yards, 18 TD, 13 INT; 417 rush, 2 TD
Here’s a mortal lock: Vick won’t be healthy every week. But, I get the feeling that Philadelphia could have an occasionally awe-inspiring offense. An awe-fense, if you will. And here is the real trick, Vick has some pretty good matchups through the year. He has 3 games against bottom 6 defenses vs. the pass and another 5 against bottom 10. The upside with this new offense is huge. A more exciting backup doesn’t exist.
1. Maurice Jones-Drew – ESPN Projections: 1042 yards rush, 288 rec, 7 TD
He is 27, he is healthy, and he is an elite back on a bad offense. ESPN projects problems for MJD because Justin Forsett has experience in this scheme and was recently signed. Uh, oh…kay. Last year, in 4 games against top 10 run defenses, MJD averaged 8 points a game. Not what you want from a RB1, but that happens against tough defenses. He had one other healthy game against a bottom 5 defense, and he scored 24. That sounds about right. This year, he has 4 tough games ALL SEASON, and several very favorable matchups. If he is a RB2 for you, you’ve got a monster. Since 2009, in full seasons, MJD has had no less than 1324 yards and 7 TDs. Then again, that was the worst season—he had over 1600 with 11 TDs one year, and 16 TDs in another. How can he be projected this low? They are either predicting injury, or they really fear Justin Forsett taking a ton of carries. Both are pretty darn unreasonable. Jones-Drew should be in the same class as Steven Jackson—probably better. Projecting him to the 3rd, especially in this RB climate, is insanity.
2. Ryan Matthews – ESPN Projections: 915 rush, 219 rec, 4 TD
Matthews kind of stunk last season. When you break your collarbone twice, it might make things not quite right. But in his 2nd season, he looked pretty good. I’m not sure that he has lived up to his real draft billing, but he was averaging 4.9 YPC, had 50 catches, and 6 TD through 14 games. For some reason, I guess ESPN expects more injuries, and that isn’t entirely unreasonable. He hasn’t made it through one season yet, but has never played in fewer than 12. Ideally, he is a flex, but if you have to decide between him and someone else, most weeks Matthews will have significant value. He is one of the few star players left, and working with a new offensive line might make this his year. I could easily see RB2 upside. After Matthews, I don’t know who else represents that kind of value. He is projected to go at 58 (late 6th round), but is AT LEAST a 5th, and probably a 4th rounder.
3. Shane Vereen – ESPN Projections: 587 rush, 386 rec, 6 TDs
When Danny Woodhead left, it increased Vereen’s value. When Hernandez was arrested/released, it increased Vereen’s value. Somebody has to be targeted, and why not the former 2nd round pick? I think we have a Darren Sproles type of playmaker here, but on the Patriots offense. Last year, Danny Woodhead had about 700 yards and 7 total TDs. Add THAT to what Vereen had last year, and there are 1100 all purpose yards, and 11 TDs. Vereen should be the only guy getting those touches, and he should see the field plenty. Until Gronk is back, he is a must play, and he is a strong flex option super deep. I understand that ESPN doesn’t want to predict some gaudy stats based on this type of speculation. But somehow, ESPN projects an average of less than 2 more points per game than Woodhead had last season? Insanity.
4. Mark Ingram – ESPN Projections: 655 rush, 81 rec, 5 TDs
Obviously a late flyer guy, he is finally rid of Chris Ivory. Pierre Thomas is still around, but they are one injury away from one of those 2 guys being the guy in a huge offensive juggernaut.
A real reason to be optimistic about Ingram? In his first 8 games last season, he had double digit touches one time, and he averaged 2.875 points per game. In the second half, he had double digit touches SEVEN times and averaged 7.75 points per game. What’s that, you say? It still is pretty lousy? Yeah, that’s fair. I think he has a couple nice matchups, specifically in weeks 3, 8, and 9. You can try to count on anybody getting hurt, but that would send his late flex value for a few games to sky high levels.
5. Rashard Mendenhall – ESPN Projected: 806 rush, 19 rec, 7 TD
I think Arizona is underrated. There once ATROCIOUS QB play is now probably just meh—which is a huge upgrade. That will help Larry Fitzgerald tremendously. Michael Floyd could be interesting. Carson Palmer is a legitimately interesting fantasy QB in some weeks. But for some reason, a former 2nd round fantasy player, and real-life 1st round talent can’t get any respect. I have long hated Mendenhall’s ability, thinking he is overrated, but now, has the pendulum swung the other way too far? I say yes. If he is healthy in weeks with favorable matchups (some nice ones at the beginning and end of the year), he is a VERY sneaky play.
1. Danny Amendola – ESPN Projections: 74 rec, 754 yards, 7 TDs
Last season, Wes Welker had 118 catches for 1354 yards and 6 TDs. Before that, 122-1569-9. Several 1000 yard seasons, with reasonable, though not great TDs. This offseason, the Patriots decided not to sign Welker, and paid a long-term contract to Amendola. The 27 year old was hired to do Welker’s job. The only question is his health. Has he been unlucky, or is he just a guy who gets hurt? If he is mostly healthy, he is an incredible value. He is a better player than Welker, and will be either a legit WR1 or a strong WR2 when healthy. Week to week, he can be great value.
2. Hakeem Nicks – ESPN Projections: 60 rec, 884, 6 TDs
Either Nicks was battling injuries last year, or he is done as an effective receiver. ESPN has leaned hard on the latter, and only hedged slightly. I disagree. In the two years before last, the 25 year old averaged over 30 more targets per season in similar playing time. ESPN projects 13 more targets. If the man is healthy, the value is obvious. He has some good matchups, too. If he is back to form, he should be taken ahead of Welker.
3. Pierre Garcon – ESPN Projections: 63 rec, 889 yards, 6 TDs
He looked like RGIII’s favorite target all last preseason, and then in Week 1, he promptly ate up 109 yards and TD in his first half. Then, he tore ligaments in his right foot, and he was out for a looong time. He came back, still somewhat hobbled, and he amassed 480 yards and 3 TDs in the last 7 games, and he still wasn’t 100%. Shanahan WR1s have a good history of getting plenty of targets. If Garcon is healthy, the projected 98 targets will be laughably low. The upside is huge, and the downside is still probably quite a bit higher than ESPN projects. Anything less than 1000 yards would surprise me.
4. Victor Cruz – ESPN Projections: 80 rec, 1043 yards, 8 TDs
Health is an issue again, and it is scaring people away from Cruz. But ESPN isn’t even taking that into account. They just assume that Cruz will have a similar—yet worse season to last year. He has 2 years of playing, and when his compliment was healthy, he had another 500 yards receiving. Yet, the project him lower. Cruz is a low end WR1, for sure.
5. Jeremy Kerley – ESPN Projections: 64 rec, 754, 2 TDThe Jets QBs won't throw many TDs or for many yards this season. But they will score on rare occasion, and Kerley seems like a good bet to get most of the targets. All Jets are correctly being avoided like the plague, but that makes for a decent buy low of the best Jet WR. Keep an eye on Stephen Hill.
1. Antonio Gates – ESPN Projections: 50 rec, 573 yards, 7 TDsGates was previously a top 3 TE, but the stats fell off pretty badly. Gates is in improved shape this year, and will likely see more short targets. He is past his plantar fascia issues, and is one of the better bets to compete with the Witten, Davis’s and Gonzalez’s of the world. I’m guessing they shorted Gates by about 200 yards.
2. Jermichael Finley – ESPN Projections: 65 rec, 743 yards, 4 TDs
Of the next tier of TEs, only Finley and Cook look likely to be able to stretch the field. Going with either of these two seems like a good bet, but one of these players is catching passes from Aaron Rodgers. The sky is the limit for Finley, but I wouldn’t be surprised for him to disappoint again.
3. Julius Thomas – ESPN Projections: 46 rec, 547 yards, 3 TDs
ESPN thinks Orange Julius (I want a TM on that) will get 46 targets and catch them all. I’m not so sure they actually care about TE sleepers. He might be nothing in a lot of games, but he has the ability to stretch the field, like Finley.
4. Dwayne Allen - ESPN Projections: 35 rec, 434 yards, 4 TDs
He is the more polished of the Colt TEs, and I expect big things from the Colts. 600 yards and 6 TDs is very possible, which would put him right in the thick of the 3rd/4th tier.
5. Anthony Fasano - ESPN Projections: 26 rec, 178 yards, 3 TDs
This is a deep sleeper league only—but ESPN is just being foolish here. Greg Olsen has a 5 year contract for about $5M/yr. Fasano has a 4 year deal for $4M. Is it to block? Yes. Is it only to block? ESPN says yes, and I say “wanna bet?” I think he is good for 400-500 yards, 4-7 TDs, and all at the discount price of undrafted.
Last season, the Steelers defense couldn’t force turnovers, but still, no one could move the ball on them. If turnovers really can be random, the Steelers could become a top 5 defense again. Then again, the young players are unproven, and perhaps last year was a stepping stone towards awful.
The secondary is revamped featuring the best potential CB in the league. Two good safeties are here, and a young defensive line is improving on an already very strong talent base.
There is a ton of talent on this defense. Perhaps the addition of a reasonable QB will increase the turnovers. This is a pretty good ST unit, too.
The question in SD is CB. They have great run stuffers, and a healthy Melvin Ingram would be great, but the front 7 is as strong as any. There are some nice matchups, and will still have several great weeks.
The 24th D/ST has the highest potential of all. Last year, this team had 5 D/ST pro bowlers (if you include P Dustin Colquitt) including Tamba Hali, Derrick Johnson, Eric Berry, and Justin Houston. Like with Arizona, a good QB could give this team rest and greater aggressiveness to go with a nice schedule. No to mention Dave Toub’s Special Teams look VERY special. The coordinator who made Hester famous has yielded massive KO returns from every man who goes out there.
1. David Akers
The top passing offense has a mediocre RB for punching it in, and is kicking in a dome with something to prove coming off last season.
2. Dan Bailey
Good passing offense, questionable running back situation, and indoors.
3. Greg Zuerlein
Hey, it is decent offense, terrible RBs, no major red zone receiving threat…and it is a dome. This just smells like good fantasy stuff.
4. Adam Vinatieri
DOME! Also, a major passing offense with no one to score short yardage TDs. And ESPN has him 18th? I don’t understand K rankings.
5. Ryan Succop
The Alex Smith led 49ers were great at creating just enough offense to get into FG range, then no further. This strategy made David Akers the #1 K in 2011 far and away. Without a short yardage hammer, the Chiefs may be kicking a whole lot of FGs. And he is rated 27.