Thursday, January 30, 2014

Really Early 2014 Fantasy Football Tight End Rankings

Let’s talk about Tight Ends.  I’m usually pretty good at guessing which ones will be good, and the formula isn’t particularly complicated: (1) Players who get targets and (2) players who get touchdowns.  Figuring out touchdowns is pretty tricky.  Who are the other goal line targets?  If there is a RB who will get the TDs, or a monster goal line receiver—that could hurt your guy from getting TDs.  Each 6 is a pretty big deal for TE—a position which receives way fewer targets than WRs.*

*Per KFFL, the player with the most targets last year was Pierre Garcon with 182.  The highest tight end was superstar Jimmy Graham with 142—12th among all receivers.  The second, third, and fourth tight ends show up at 27, 28, and 29 overall.  Of the top 43 targeted receivers, a list that includes Brian Hartline, Nate Washington, and Emmanuel Sanders—only six of them are tight ends.  43 is kind of a selective end point—it is right at 100 targets.  The point still stands.  Targets, which are the best indicator of catches, are very tough to come by for tight ends.  Often, they find themselves fantasy-relevant only because of touchdowns—sudden spikes in any otherwise inconsistent season.  TDs are obviously important for every position, but each “6” is way more important in a smaller pie. 

UNFORTUNATLEY, it is very difficult to predict touchdown totals, as these are the most volatile stats.  You can look at red zone targets—hopefully over multiple seasons—and get a little idea of TDs, I suppose.  Nothing is a guarantee on TDs for future seasons.  Guys like Graham and Gronkowski—they are locks for TDs since they are the dominant receivers on their teams, but everyone else is sketchy.  Even though touchdowns reign supreme with tight ends, their volatility makes them unreliable.  Looking at targets is the safer and only reasonable way to evaluate tight ends.

How can we predict future targets?  Well, one good way is looking at past targets.  Then, you can consider player talent, offensive system, and possibly most important of all: the guy throwing the ball.  Player talent can be gauged with scouting, whether amateur/personal or professional.  The offensive system is often based on speculation, but can be an indicator of tight end targets, generally.  The guy throwing the ball can hint with completion percentage, preference for tight ends, and overall production that has to go SOMEWHERE.  Based on these criteria: who are the best tight ends for next season.  The only way to be thorough is to go through every team.  Let’s do it.

PLAYER(S): Julius Thomas
TARGETS: Last year, at the beginning of the season, ESPN had Thomas as the 20th rated TE.  There were two primary reasons for the ranking: first, it was his first season as a starter—and even that status was vaguely questionable (though if you’d listened to Denver media, you would know that he was starting consistently through OTAs and the preseason—and was impressing—also, Montee Ball was struggling—LISTEN UP ESPN!!!).  Second, ESPN questioned the number of targets he could receive. Because it isn’t like Peyton Manning had ever played with two top WRs, an oft-used slot WR, and still used a tight end before.
TALENT: Originally a 4th round pick, Thomas was drafted almost entirely on athletic potential.  He played one season in college, was a top tight end in a small conference, and got himself taken mostly on the athleticism shown in his basketball career.  Sure enough, after the injuries faded and he found the field, his athletic talents have shown through.  He is less raw than at the beginning of the season, and the Antonio Gates-comp makes a strong ceiling for the guy. At the very least, he can be a bigger, faster Dallas Clark for Manning.
SYSTEM: A similar one that created Dallas Clark’s best seasons.  Thomas had 65 rec, 788 yards, 12 TDs, and 90 targets (9th among TEs).  During Clark’s best and healthiest run in IND (07-09), he averaged 113.3 targets, 856.6 yards, and recorded TD seasons of 11, 6, and 10.  This is TE-friendly, but it is everybody friendly with Peyton.
QB: Hey, it’s the best QB in NFL history in his old phase.
OVERALL: Stock Down, but still a strong receiver.  You can’t expect a repeat on TDs, even with some past Dallas consistency.  Manning is not a sure thing to repeat a record-smashing performance, so expect don’t expect the same TD totals.  He will probably end up in the middle of the 2nd tier with guys like Witten and Davis.  Still plenty of value, but imagine someone will reach for it.  And then it isn’t value, anymore.
PROJECTIONS: 70 rec, 850 yds, 8 TD, 133 points 

PLAYER(S): Anthony Fasano, Travis Kelce
TARGETS: In limited time, Kelce saw no targets before his season ended with an early injury.  Fasano, who dealt with multiple injuries during the season, ended with 33 targets.  Sean McGrath ended as the team leader with 43 targets.  There are two interesting things about McGrath. (1) His giant beard and jovial personality earned him the moniker “Duck Dynasty.” It was before Phil Robertson informed the world that he doesn’t understand why gay men don’t like vaginas.* (2) He wasn’t going to make this team without an injury.  As it happens, Fasano, Kelce, and Moeaki all got injured, and that is how he got 43 targets.  Expect those to go to Kelce in the future.

*Robertson noted that it was illogical to prefer a man’s anus to a lady’s vagina (for doin’ it).  On one level, I agree that vaginas are a pretty neato hole for doin’ it purposes, and all things being equal, seem objectively preferable.  Problem is, all things aren’t equal outside of that hole.  Analogy try for the straight guy: to whom would you rather do the sex?  A wholly unattractive woman with an above average vagina, or a highly attractive woman with an average vagina?  If you chose the supermodel like a normal person, you probably disagree with Phil’s premise of deciding on sexual partners because of the quality of sex hole alone.
TALENT: In 8 seasons, Anthony Fasano has never caught more than 41 passes, and has been targeted over 59 times only once.  He is a good blocker, and has good hands.  He isn’t going to set the world on fire.  Kelce, a third round pick a season ago, is a very physical runner with solid hands, great size, and strong blocking skills.  He is significantly more likely to go off than Fasano, but is hardly a lock.
SYSTEM: Andy Reid WCO doesn’t really obsess over TEs, but certainly gives TEs a chance with a lot of crossing routes and short outs for TEs.  Kelce’s physicality can fit the system, but isn’t likely to be a downfield mega-target.
QB: Alex Smith LOVED Vernon Davis in SF, but that might be because he was the best receiver on those teams.  By a whole lot—my apologies to geriatric Randy Moss.  He is an underrated QB by most, but he still won’t take big chances, and will enjoy dump passes to Kelce—to get Kelce rumbling.  He threw 5 TDs to TEs last season.
OVERALL: There is hidden upside in Kelce, but the commodity is entirely unknown.  The likelihood of both Fasano and Kelce being semi-productive is good, but in a “they are both ranked between 20-40 TEs overall” way.  A major breakout seems kind of unlikely, but HEAR ME NOW: NFL.COM’s DRAFT PAGE COMPED HIM TO GRONK!
PROJECTIONS: Kelce 40 rec, 480 yds, 3 TD, 66 pts;Fasano 35 rec, 420 yds, 4 TD, 66 pts

PLAYER(S): Antonio Gates, Ladarius Green
TARGETS: Ladarius Green had a nice 3 game stretch with 9 catches on 16 targets for about 200 yards and 2 TDs.  But don’t get it confused, old man Gates (34 next season) was 4th in the NFL in TE targets.  I’m guessing a transition is coming, but is it fair to expect it in one season?
TALENT: Gates is no longer the mega player he once was, stretching the field.  In his last 4 games, during a playoff run, he averaged just over 4 targets a game.  He isn’t the same, but he still has a role—having 872 yards last season.  Green is a tall, athletic player, and a former 4th rounder.  He could develop into a good weapon, but he isn’t there, yet, and he isn’t a lock to get there.  Plenty of potential, though.  He could be a mismatch machine.
SYSTEM: SD is open to throwing downfield or short.  With the offensive line improved from a year ago, I think Rivers is back.  Even though he is getting older, he is young enough as QBs go.  The tight end can occasionally be a focus, so there is hope for any talented players.
QB: Rivers is good, and always leaves a chance for success for his best players.
OVERALL: I like both TEs, but tend to think Gates’ age is a hindrance, and Green hasn’t shown anything consistent.  I don’t expect a ton of 2 TE.
PROJECTIONS: Gates: 60 rec, 690 yds, 5 TD, 99 pts; Green: 25 rec, 400 yds, 3 TD, 52 pts

PLAYER(S): Mychal Rivera
TARGETS: In his rookie year, he had 60 targets and 400 yards.  That is pretty good for a rookie season.
TALENT: Rivera has some talent, no doubt about it, and is more of a “stretch the field” than red zone guy.  That said, the Raiders could certainly be in the market for a new TE.  Then again, they need plenty of things, especially weapon-wise on offense.
SYSTEM: There is at least one more season of Dennis Allen, so expect more of…the same?
QB: Pryor?  New guy?  McGloin?  I’m not enthused.
OVERALL: I wouldn’t be too enthused about anybody for this position right now.
PROJECTIONS: 50 rec, 500 yds, 5 TDs, 80 points

PLAYER(S): Jermaine Gresham, Tyler Eifert
TARGETS: Gresham had 6 and Eifert had 60.  The writing is on the wall for Gresham.  This is the last year of his contract, and Eifert is the new high draft pick in town.  I’d like to say that Gresham is so totally on the way out by the way the season ended, but in the final 4 games, in a playoff hunt, Eifert had only 11 targets to Gresham’s 12 (and Jermaine missed a game).  Even though this season had a significant drop in Jermaine’s targets, he was still a big part of the system.  I expect more from Eifert next season, but both will get action, limiting the upside of the other.
TALENT: Gresham was a first round, Eifert is a second, but is the new blood.  He is a good pass catcher, and should turn into THE GUY, but probably not until 2015.
SYSTEM: The Bengals are shifting from Jay Gruden to Hue Jackson this season.  I expect a little more Gio Bernard, and only a little less Law Firm.  I would guess not a lot will change from last year.
QB: Dalton is capable, but isn’t a superstar who will “make” his receivers.  In fact, it looks like it may be the other way around after some of his recent performances.
OVERALL: I like Eifert if he is the only guy, but picking which games will be successes for him seem like a good way to go insane.  In a way, I hope he has a mediocre year so he can be a deeper sleeper in 2015.
PROJECTIONS: Eifert: 50 rec, 500, 4 TD, 74 points; Gresham: 40 rec, 400 yards, 4 TD, 64 points

PLAYER(S): Heath Miller
TARGETS: Miller is still the guy in PIT, and even though he was coming off an ACL injury, he didn’t show a ton of rust.  His age (31) is beginning to show.  Before his 2012 injury, he was having a great season with the most targets of his career.
TALENT: Heath was a first round pick, but has always been just “pretty good.” I think he has enough gas for one more decent season.
SYSTEM: Todd Haley wants to run, but he also makes great WRs.  There isn’t a lot to teach a vet, so hopefully he flashes back to 2012.
QB: Roethlisberger is good, but isn’t great like many thought during his Super Bowl wins.  He is making Antonio Brown into something fantasy special even though there are no off-the-charts abilities.  Ben is good enough that Miller should have a better year in 2014.
OVERALL: I like Miller to bounce back with more scores and maybe a few more yards, but age is an issue.  Paulson may make him obsolete soon.
PROJECTIONS: 65 rec, 600 yds, 4 TD, 84 points

PLAYER(S): Dennis Pitta
TARGETS: In his second and third seasons, Pitta saw his targets go from 56 to 93.  In his first 4 games, until he was injured, Pitta had 33 targets.  That would be just over 8/game.  After the injury, Dickson did not take over, just getting 43 targets.  The TE production came from Dallas Clark. Pitta has to be the guy next season.
TALENT: A former 4th rounder, Pitta has good size and hands.  It looked like he was about to turn a corner into the top of the third TE tier.  Maybe he can get back there in 2014.
SYSTEM: Without Pitta, a lot of deep balls were forced, and the running game went from “really bad” to “still really bad.” The weapons available make the system sufficiently TE friendly.
QB: Joe Flacco is not a good decision maker, but he has one hell of an arm.  That means he might force it to Pitta more often—A FANTASY OWNER’S DREAM!
OVERALL: I think Pitta is a good sleeper, provided he is back to 100%.
PROJECTIONS: 70 rec, 720 yds, 5 TDs, 102 pts

PLAYER(S): Jordan Cameron
TARGETS: In the first 4 games of the season, Cameron had 30 catches on 43 targets.  Over the remaining 12 games, he had 50 receptions on 74 targets.  Cameron came on so strong at the beginning of the year, he still was the 5th overall fantasy TE at the end.  But you can’t ignore the 4.2 catches/game on 6.2 targets.  Take that average over 16 games, and you get 68 receptions.
TALENT: A former 4th round pick, Cameron has good size, and although it is nothing elite, he uses it well.  I think his first 4 games created the illusion that he was a Gronk-like TD machine with unstoppable size.  He is strong in the red zone, and may get better, but he isn’t an absurd mismatch right now.
SYSTEM: The Browns haven’t hired an offensive coordinator, yet, so this is a big unknown factor.
QB: Ditto this.  A new QB is coming, but who will it be?  Or maybe it will be more Jason Campbell.  Either way, it won’t be Weeden, who made Cameron’s biggest games happen.
OVERALL: I think he is a little bit overrated right now, and Norv Turner is leaving (he has some good TEs in his history).  A lot will depend on what Cleveland does.  I’ll have to visit this later.
PROJECTIONS: J. Cameron, 70 rec, 780 yds, 6 TD, 114 points

PLAYER(S): Rob Gronkowski, Another?
TARGETS: In just 6 complete games, Gronk had 62 targets.  That is obscene.  He is ranked lower because the overall points should be lower than others.  It is unclear how much time he will miss because of his ACL, and he might not be quite the same at first. The targets are plentiful for this elite talent, though.
TALENT: Size, strength, hands are elite.  If he is healthy, he is better than Jimmy Graham.
SYSTEM: This is ever-changing.  The one constant is Tom Brady.
QB: Give Brady a decent receiver, and he’ll put up good numbers.  Look at Julian Edelman.  Give him elite talents like Moss or Gronk, and watch records break.  It is why people were drafting Zack Sudfeld last season.  Remember when Matthew Berry was excited about Sudfeld, and then he was cut after 1 game and 0 fantasy points.  Good times.
OVERALL: The thing that makes Gronk special, even if he misses games, is that the games he plays will be mega-altered.  The point totals you expect each game usually range from 10-25.  That is absurd.  Even if he isn’t healthy, it is reasonable to draft him second among TEs, because the games he starts, he is #1 in the game.
PROJECTIONS: Let’s see what the injury people say

PLAYER(S): Charles Clay
TARGETS: Clay played plenty as a 2nd TE and H-Back in his first seasons in Miami, but he broke out big in year 3 for 97 targets, 7th among all TEs (ESPN has him at 103 targets).
TALENT: He thrives in an H-Back type of role, and is a vicious runner after the catch.  He wasn’t an elite talent, but can be dangerous in Miami.
SYSTEM: They aren’t going to go deep to him, but it is conducive to his strengths.
OVERALL: He was a surprise, and it will be interesting to see his repeat attempt.
PROJECTIONS: 70 rec, 750 yds, 5 TD, 105 pts

PLAYER(S): Jeff Cumberland
TARGETS: Cumberland had 40 targets last season.  He was overshadowed by Kellen Winslow Jr. who probably won’t be back next season since he rubbed some people the wrong way.  The people: just himself.  At Target.  In case the joke wasn’t clear at first.
TALENT: Cumberland isn’t a special talent.  The Jets badly need an upgrade.
SYSTEM: The Jets want use multiple backs, and several receivers, and none can be very good.
OVERALL: I will re-evaluate when they have their guy, but I still am probably staying away.  Mostly because of the next section…
QB: Geno Smith isn’t going to be very good, but surrounding him with middling talents is pretty cruel.  He thrived at WVU (kind of) with short passes where others made the most of the play (ie Tavon Austin).  He led the Jets to 8 wins, so he might still get better (I recall the Jets winning playoff games with Mark Sanchez, so, you never know).  Still, I don’t think Geno is good enough to make anyone a major fantasy threat.  It would have to be vice versa.

PLAYER(S): Scott Chandler
TARGETS: Coming off a major injury, Chandler had the most targets of his career last season: 81.  He is also a free agent.  My guess is he isn’t the Bills tight end next season.
TALENT: We know what Chandler is.  A tall guy with pretty good hands.
SYSTEM: He found more targets, so that is good.  It could help the next guy.
QB: Manuel needs to stay healthy.  There is a chance he could make a talented TE a special sleeper.
PROJECTIONS: 40 rec, 550 yds, 5 TD, 85 pts

PLAYER(S): Dwayne Allen, Coby Fleener
TARGETS: From his first to his second season, Fleener went from 48 to 88 targets.  Dwayne Allen went from 66 to 2 and out for the season.  I anticipate an increase for Allen next season, and a decrease for Fleener.  BOLD CALL, YOU GUYS!
TALENT: Leading up to the 2012 draft, there was a fair amount of debate about who the superior prospect between Fleener and Allen.  The Colts ended up taking Fleener in the 2nd, and Allen fell all the way to the 3rd.  It is now apparent when they are on the field at the same time.  Allen is the more talented player.  Fleener is still pretty good and growing, but Allen was better.  If he still IS better, a big season could be coming.
SYSTEM: A couple years ago, while the pair of Gronkowski and Hernandez absolutely murdered the competition (HA!), people wondered if Fleener and Allen could be their Gronk and Hernanez.  Fleener is no Gronkowski, but Allen might just be all of Hernandez.  The Colts say they want to establish the run first, but I also think the results of more passing—like against the Chiefs—are undeniable.  Could see  bunch of 2 TE with the current WRs (and no first round pick thanks to Trent Richardson).
QB: With an elite QB like Andrew Luck who has T.Y. Hilton—very good deep threat; not top WR—old injury-return Reggie Wayne, and Fleener…well, that and the comparison that I am making for Allen, this could be a pretty big connection.
OVERALL: I think there is an absolute ton of upside here.  A sleeper favorite.
PROJECTIONS: 65 rec, 700 yd, 6 TD, 100 pts; Fleener 45 rec, 550 yd, 6 TD, 85 pts

PLAYER(S): Delanie Walker
TARGETS: Walker was a nice little utility piece in San Francisco for a pretty long time, but he was nothing relevant to most of the world.  Then he went to the Titans, and made his touches a priority.  A career high 86 targets later, and he is fantasy relevant, kind of.
TALENT: Walker was generally thought of as a minor bit player in SF.  Drafted in the 6th round, he had to do a lot of things in SF to work as an H-Back, TE, and whatever else.  He isn’t a super athlete, but he is smart, and his role with the Titans makes him a little dangerous.
SYSTEM: Fits him very well.
OVERALL: I like him as a back-up in fantasy leagues, but I don’t really love him until really late.
PROJECTIONS: 60 rec, 600 yd, 4 TD, 84 points

PLAYER(S): Owen Daniels, Garrett Graham
TARGETS: In healthy seasons where he has played at least 15 games, Daniels has had a minimum of 84 targets.  That is a good deal, if it is consistent.  Last season, if Daniels would have kept up his torrid pace over 16 games (he played 5) just tripling his stats would have given him 72 receptions, 756 yards, and 9 TDs.  That would be 119 points, good for 4th in my next year projections (then again, I am giving no high TD numbers).  In his absence, Graham racked up 89 targets, but only converted about 55% of those into catches, one of the lowest totals in the league (among top 50 TEs in targets, only Mercedes Lewis is lower).
TALENT: A former DII 4th round pick, Daniels turned into a solid tight end for a long career.  Age may become an issue, and there have been so many injury issues.
SYSTEM: Bill O’Brien reportedly likes to run a lot of 2 TE formations.  That would be good news for Owen and Garrett.  Even if he is getting up there in age, he is still a solid threat, and a little better than Garrett Graham.
QB: We shall see soon enough.  I won’t call this an advantage, but he will be a #1 overall pick.  That’s gotta mean something (or might mean nothing).
OVERALL: I like Daniels still—he still has some upside, but if anyone tells me it is for a full season with 100 targets, call me skeptical.  When healthy with good matchups, I still trust him.
PROJECTIONS: Daniels 54 rec, 670 yds, 5 TD, 97 pts; 30 rec, 350 yards, 2 TD, 47 pts

PLAYER(S): Zach Miller
TARGETS: Luke WIllson is around, too, but it isn’t the one who played Drillbit Taylor, so WHO CARES?  Miller had 56 targets last seasons in 14 games, and 53 in the full season prior.
TALENT: It looks like his best seasons in Oakland are behind him, now, and Miller is just an adequate piece.  An upgrade might be sought.
SYSTEM: It isn’t particularly amenable to TEs at the present.
QB: Russell Wilson is a great game control QB, and is an outstanding decision maker with the ability to make a lot of plays.  I’m not sure he will make a star out of anyone just yet, but give him some talent with which to work, and the stats might head up.
OVERALL: No deal.
PROJECTIONS: 40 rec, 440 yds, 4 TD, 68 pts

PLAYER(S): Vernon Davis
TARGETS: Davis was targeted a surprisingly low 84 times last year.  Even more surprising, that shouldn’t have been surprising!  He was targeted 61 times in 2012.  Kaep doesn’t seem to love him like Alex Smith did.
TALENT: Davis is a breakout speedster, and a matchup nightmare.  He is a premire player at the top of the 2nd tier, and was worthy of his high first round selection.
SYSTEM: So far, the read option hasn’t been great to Vernon’s targets or consistency, but he has had some monster games, and had 13 TDs last season.
QB: Kaep likes that he is the best receiver on the team, but with Crabtree back, I expect it to hurt more than help.
OVERALL: I love the guy, but 13 TDs is due to regress, and his 850 yards was his highest in 3 seasons.
PROJECTIONS: V. Davis, 60 rec, 800 yds, 8 TD, 128 points

PLAYER(S): Rob Housler
TARGETS: The hope was that Housler would finally break out with a real QB.  Instead his targets decreased from 68 to 57.
TALENT: A former third rounder, he is still young, so hope springs eternal.  But in all likelihood, he doesn’t have the chops to be a starter.
SYSTEM: The offense seems built to throw to WRs.
QB: Palmer isn’t going to turn anyone into a superstar at this stage of his career, even though he is a solid QB.
OVERALL: I’m not taking him.  Zona might be smart to upgrade.
PROJECTIONS: 40 rec, 450 yds, 2 TD, 57 TD

PLAYER(S): Jared Cook
TARGETS: In his first 7 games with Sam Bradford, Cook had 42 targets.  In his final 9, he had 43.  The difference is small enough that it isn’t relevant, but that is 6 targets vs. 5.  We have a good idea of who Cook is now, but at age 26 with Bradford, a bump is possible.
TALENT: Cook is a great athlete, but hasn’t seemed to put it all together.
SYSTEM: The offense seems great when it gets the ball to its playmakers in space.  This is good for Cook.
QB: Bradford fits the system, though he won’t set the world on fire.  I’m not sure I buy the good chemistry with Cook thing.  Whoa, just got some serious Breaking Bad vertigo for a second.
OVERALL: He is a good backup or fill-in for a bye week—will be relevant if he hits a TD spike.
PROJECTIONS: 55 rec, 730 yards, 4 TD, 97 pts

PLAYER(S): Jermichael Finley, Man of Mystery
TARGETS: I kind of think Finley will leave via free agency, and someone new will take his place.  Whoever this stranger is, let him know I am interested.  In a deep dark FANTASY way…sexually. 
TALENT: Finley always had great athleticism and was one step away from really stretching the field.  Giving him reliable hands might go a long way.  Let’s face facts, though.  The solution isn’t in house as Andrew Quarless is not an ideal #1.
SYSTEM: With a real RB, a healthy Cobb, Lacy, AND a tight end?  This is reminiscent of Manning with Edge, Harrison and Wayne.  Maybe it isn’t quite that, but for the WCO they run, these personnel fit great.  TE is the major missing piece offensively.
QB: Rodgers is an elite QB—the type who makes his WRs WAY better.
OVERALL: I’m excited for the new guy, starring DJ Qualls.  And I think Zooey Deschanel is in it.  Awful.

PLAYER(S): Martellus Bennett
TARGETS: Over the past 2 seasons with NY and CHI, Bennett has had 90 and 96 targets.  He has caught 55 and 65 balls.  We are getting a pretty good idea of who he is.
TALENT: He was a second round pick by Dallas, but he was used infrequently due to Jason Witten existing.  Used as a #1, he is about average among #1 TEs.  Solid.
SYSTEM: The offense looks as good as it has since Cutler has been there.
QB: Cutler is good for the system, and is a better fit with Bennett than Eli Manning or Tony Romo was.
OVERALL: Some people think there is all the upside in the world.  He is 27, so this could be a peak season.
PROJECTIONS: 60 rec, 710 yds, 5 TDs, 101 pts

PLAYER(S): Brandon Pettigrew
TARGETS: Pettigrew’s targets have gone from 126 to 100 to 64 over the past 3 seasons. 
TALENT: The potential is still there.  He is young and a former first round pick
SYSTEM: There is no telling what Jim Caldwell will run.  I don’t trust him very much.
QB: Caldwell said he will change Stafford’s footwork that has given him problems.  If the previous coaching staff was just too dumb to try and teach footwork to Stafford, then I hate them, and they deserved to be fired long ago.  Then again, if it is just Stafford—which is my guess—Caldwell won’t last.
OVERALL: I don’t anticipate a sudden resurgence for Pettigrew.  Anything is possible and stranger things have happened, though.
PROJECTIONS: 60, 600 yds, 4 TD, 84 pts

PLAYER(S): Kyle Rudolph
TARGETS: Rudolph was ESPN’s #5 TE last draft season.  Almost no drafts that I saw ended with that result.  His big 2012 was heavily inflated by 9 TDs, a feat he did not repeat.  He was injured for half the season and still managed to get 3 TDs.
TALENT: Rudolph was a high pick out of Notre Dame a couple years ago.  Entering his fourth year, he has some talent.
SYSTEM: Here is where things get interesting.  Norv Turner is going to be the Vikings Offensive Coordinator.  His coordinating skills most recently boosted Jordan Cameron and Trent Richardson.  Perhaps Rudolph is in for a genuine upgrade.
QB: Cassel or Ponder next year, but someone else new…sooner than later, I would guess.
OVERALL: Interesting, but probably a guy you want for good matchups only.
PROJECTIONS: 60 rec, 650, 6 TD, 95 pts

TARGETS: Ertz had 56, Celek had 51.
TALENT: We know who Celek is.  He is a veteran who provides a big body, good hands, and steady production. Ertz is a high second round pick who had a very productive rookie season.  Breakout potential is sitting there, ready for the taking.
SYSTEM: Chip Kelly’s system was thought to need a running QB, but with Foles playing, the team really took off.  With a pure passer, every man in the system is a potential weapon.
QB: It is worth noting that all 4 of Ertz’s TDs came from the Foles second half of the season.  Once that offense got going, he saw some scores. 
OVERALL: Even with a couple goose egg target games, he seemed more capable in the second half of the year.  If he can eliminate those in his sophomore season, he could be a mega-sleeper.
PROJECTIONS: Ertz 60 rec, 710 yds, 7 TD, 113 points; Celek 30 rec, 450 yds, 5 TD, 75 points

PLAYER(S): Jason Witten
TARGETS: Despite growing older, Witten still raked in 111 targets last year.  He is a model of consistency in getting targets, but he saw a decrease for the first time last season.
TALENT: He is a premiere player, even while aging.
SYSTEM: He has received fewer red zone targets in the past, but a higher octane Cowboys offense has a use for Witten.
QB: Romo and Witten have great chemistry.  You trust them as a pair, though Tony appears to love Dez the most nowadays.
OVERALL: Still a great option, you just might have to overpay for a sure thing Tier 2 guy like this.  That isn’t how you win leagues.
PROJECTIONS: J. Witten 75 rec, 780 yards, 6 TD, 114 points

PLAYER: Brandon Myers
TARGETS: Myers had a great last season in Oakland, but targets fell to 73 this year.
TALENT: He is a solid player, but not a game changer or guy who will make the incredible play.
SYSTEM: This is the same offense that created Kevin Boss and Martellus Bennett Part II.  In other words, the TEs will be kind of “meh."
QB: Eli is a fine-ish QB, but don’t expect magic.
OVERALL: I don’t want him.  Maybe the Giants won’t either, soon.
PROJECTIONS: 55 rec, 650 yds, 4 TDs, 89 pts

PLAYER(S): Jordan Reed
TARGETS: In 8 healthy games, Reed received 58 targets.  After he was injured, his backup kept getting looks (over 40), but Reed is going to be the guy if he is healthy.  There isn’t a to of receiving talent on this team, and I don’t anticipate an influx—the RGIII trade really left this team without options.  They overpaid for Garcon, and have made him a target machine (#1 in the NFL), but they want to get Reed involved.  If he keeps up a pace of 110-120 targets, he will be in the company of the second tier TEs.
TALENT: Reed is 6’2”, so he isn’t the red zone monster you are likely hoping to get, but he is a target machine.  The comp that shows up a lot for the 3rd round rookie from Florida known for athleticism, but not height?  How about “on the field” Aaron Hernandez?
SYSTEM: Anyone who can be a legitimate weapon fits this system.  Read option that favors dump passes fit Reed well.
QB: RGIII is still a high level QB.  He looked awful last season, but I believe he will improve.  Give the guy some weapons, and this one looks like a good fit for RGIII.
OVERALL: I think there is a high ceiling for this type of rookie year success.
PROJECTIONS: 75 rec, 800 yds, 6 TD, 116 points

PLAYER(S): Greg Olsen
TARGETS: Olsen was 5th in TE targets with 111, tied with Jason Witten.
TALENT: He has the ability, as a former high first round pick, to outshine Witten any season now.
SYSTEM: Newton doesn’t have to do a ton reading defenses, and Olsen is arguably the best receiver on the team with Steve Smith aging.
QB: Newton is too good to throw to no one.  Then again, with his legs, maybe I’m wrong.
OVERALL: I really like Olsen.  He isn’t a deep sleeper—just a mini-one.  But you can land great value on him, and he might give you a top 5 player any given year, and is a high probability for top 10.
PROJECTIONS: 78 rec. 820 yds, 6 TD, 112 points

PLAYER(S): Jimmy Graham
TARGETS: Jimmy led TEs with 142 targets, 86 receptions, and everything else you can imagine person doing.
TALENT: Arguably the best in the game.  With Gronk injured, there is no argument to make against him.
SYSTEM: Fits him very well.
QB: Drew Brees, an elite QB, has an elite target while all others are mostly mediocre.
OVERALL: Clearly the first tight end in football.  The question is: how high can you take him?  Value Based Drafting says you wait on tight ends, but he is so clearly levels above the next tier, you have to value him specially, right?  But what if he doesn’t lead the league in TDs, that is LIKELY to decrease.  It is a tough call.
PROJECTIONS: J. Graham NO, 90 rec, 1200 yd, 12 TD: 192 points

PLAYER(S): Timothy Wright
TARGETS: 76 targets for the rookie
TALENT: Wright was a surprise sensation.  This means he could bloom even bigger next season, or he could nose dive off a cliff.  I would tend to preach caution.
SYSTEM: Tough to see how the new coaching will impact Wright, but I wouldn’t guess much.
QB: If it is Mike Glennon, which I expect, I wouldn’t guess a big spike is coming, but I won’t guess a drop-off, either.
OVERALL: Caution, but deep sleepers in mega bloom may be present.  This could be a monster.
PROJECTIONS: 60 rec, 620 yds, 5 TD, 92 points

PLAYER(S): Ghost of Tony Gonzalez
TARGETS: In his final season, Hall of Famer Tony Gonzalez paved the way for all TEs with 121 targets, second only to Graham.  With TG retiring, the Falcons now have the backup plan of “AAAAAAAHHHHHH!!!!”
SYSTEM: Hello, what is this?
QB: Matt Ryan and the fast runny turf guys could make a new tight end piece immediately effective.  Can you imagine Jermichael Finley here?  He would probably be great at times, but mostly a disappointment still.  Maybe a bad example.
OVERALL: Keep your eyes on this one.
PROJECTIONS: who knows?

1.       J. Graham NO, 192 points
2.       J. Thomas DEN, 133 points
3.       V. Davis, 128 points
4.       Jo. Reed, 116 points
      5.       J. Witten, 114 point
6.       J. Cameron, 114 points
7.       Z. Ertz, 113 points
8.       G. Olsen, 112 points
9.       R. Gronkowski, who knows?
10.   C. Clay, 105 points
11.   D. Pitta, 102 points
12.   M. Bennett, 101 points
13.   D. Allen, 100 points
14.   A. Gates, 99 points
15.   O. Daniels, 97 points
16.   J. Cook, 97 points
17.   Z. Rudolph 95 points
18.   GB TE, 93 points
19.   T. Wright, 92 points
20.   C. Fleener, 85 points
21.   S. Chandler, 85 points
22.   H. Miller 84 points
23.   B. Pettigrew, 84 points
24.   M. Rivera, 80 points
25.   D. Walker, 84 points
26.   B. Myers, 76 points
27.   B. Celek, 75 points
28.   T. Eifert, 74 points
29.   Z. Miller, 68 points
30.   A. Fasano, 66 points
31.   T. Kelce, 66 points
32.   R. Housler, 57 points
33.   L. Green, 52 points
34.   G. Graham, 47 points

Monday, August 26, 2013

5 undervalued fantasy football players (by ESPN) at each position


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 TD

The 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 TDs

Gates 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.


1. PIT

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.

2. TB

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.

3. ARI

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.

4. SD

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.

5. KC

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.