Acronym/Acumen (Periodic Updates)
IDP (Individual Defensive Player) INT (Interception); LY (Last Year); QB (Quarterback); PPR (Points-Per-Reception) RB (Running Back); TD (Touchdown); TE (Tight End); WR (Wide Receiver) YAC (Yards After Catch) YPA (Yards Per Attempt)
Seven of the top 10 RBs and WRs from last year will not make the top 10 fantasy stat list this year. So a fantasy owner's job is not to pick the already-ripened fruit (some of it will go rotten). Instead; observe and select the fantasy fruit that is ready to ripen.
The AFC East
New England Synopsis
Tom Brady is a several-year incumbent that likes to spread the wealth to his receivers. He has failed fantasy owners but once, coming off a 2007 record-setting 50-plus touchdown season only to go straight to IR the first game next year via leg injury.
There are questions this year in New England about the offensive line given their shoddy play and quarterback protection this preseason (exposing $100-million QBs to potential injury in preseason games is a great mystery to me).
Brady has a new target in Brandon Lloyd, while questions swirl around Wes Welker and his continued tenure with the team. TEs Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez appear to be set for another productive season. The Law Firm has moved to Cincy, so RB Stevan Ridley gets first backfield crack with Shane Vereen waiting in the wings.
Roll with Brady at his generally advised No. 2-3 QB ranking and expect the offensive line to jell and perform when the real games begin (counterpart QB Brees has his own issues to deal with).
Brandon Lloyd stands a chance to outperform his WR ranking if he can meld with Brady on a fast track. Lloyd, once a top-two fantasy WR, will have to share targets in the spread Patriot system. He is talented, but he is no Randy Moss, so temper expectations of revisiting such territory. Pay for top-25 WR performance and hope for a top-15 outcome.
Note: There is an overabundance of quality WR candidates from which to choose this year, making Lloyd much more affordable in a very deep market.
It may be time to get off the Wes Welker bandwagon. Something as small as being unable to haul in a semi-errant throw from Brady in the fourth quarter of last year’s Super Bowl may have cost Welker some favoritism and targets. On the business side, too many other contracts have been signed to think Welker will get the kind of bank he’s looking for next season—so it’s time to learn to live without him...for now.
Most pundits have Gronk as the No. 1 TE this year, and Hernandez as high as No. 3. If the barometer is correct on the Welker situation, and with a new running back coming into the fold, expect the New England tight ends to gain the plurality of Brady looks again this season.
The tight end evolution is officially on. However, expect a more equal distribution of targets between Gronk and Hernandez, which helps the latter and hurts the former (that split might send Jimmy Graham ahead of both to the No. 1 TE ranking).
RB Ridley is a wild card that could step into a great role and thrive or get totally lost in the shuffle. Too many question marks for my money—I would take a wait-and-see approach and if Ridley falters, consider Vereen off the waiver wire. Vereen is currently dinged up but may be the better talent in an ongoing competition that is more unsettled than it appears.
New England's team defense has some playmakers and created a greater share of turnovers last year. The Patriots are a more viable choice than in years' past for your DST.
NY Jets Synopsis
After the Pats, the rest of the AFC East leaves little to be desired when it comes to fantasy scoring. DB Revis is the best player on the Jets, and he scores less than his actual value to his team in IDP leagues—offensive coordinators rightly tend to avoid him, keeping his INT totals down.
The Jets are purely entertainment value—the Kardashians of the NFL. In this regard, Tim Tebow is the perfect fit. The contrast between the esoteric Tebow and the rambler Rex Ryan could not be more intriguing. The question is: Which will rub off more on the other? By the end of the year, I expect Rex will be handing out Gideon bibles and Tebow, in a publicity stunt made for reality, will be seen at a tattoo shop, then pulled over for a DUI with Jessie J and 50 Cent in the car.
But back to the numbers—if not for lowly Miami in the division, the Jets would be the fantasy caboose of the AFC East. I usually take exhibition game stats with a grain of salt, but only one preseason game TD should send off the sirens that the Jets offense is in big trouble heading into 2012.
Most competitive NFL teams have at least two go-to WRs, while the Jets have only Santonio Holmes. WR Stephen Hill is reportedly a little raw and still in development. QB Mark Sanchez is looking in the mirror and over both shoulders. Shonn Greene has the burst of smart car with snow chains. When people are calling for Bilal Powell to get more touches...
The Jets are grounded. I would generally avoid any Jets player for fantasy purposes and just tune in for the weekly drama. Yes—Greene, Holmes, Sanchez and Tebow—they all have value on a 12-team league draft board.
Tebow might again be a second-half proposition—a top-15 QB pickup. If you are a karma guy, maybe stash him at the end of your bench. Holmes is really halted without another WR threat on the outside. When Plaxico didn't pan out, things got really ugly for Santonio. He is a fringe WR3 at best.
Shonn Greene remains a borderline feature back—I just don't see him surpassing his ADP even though it is already discounted. In leagues with some bench positions, I would rather take a shot at current backs up with some upside—a la Mikel Leshoure (Detroit), Ryan Williams (Arizona) or Robert Turbin (Seattle). In IDP leagues, DB LaRon Landry might get some decent run opposite Revis, and LB David Harris is a steady tackler who consistently scores well.
The sidebar question is: Can a head coach named Chan lead you to the promised land? Either you have a feel for such things or you don't. The last two years, the Bills stampeded out of the gate and promptly fizzled in the second half.
In 2011, injuries to Ryan Fitzpatrick and Fred Jackson attributed to the late-season fall-off. Both players are healthy coming into 2012, with feature RB Jackson getting a good deal of fantasy attention as a borderline RB1/2. Fitzpatrick retains his primary outside target WR Stevie Johnson, who has proven steady though not spectacular - and he starts the season with a nagging groin injury.
The Bills open the season at the Jets and test their mettle against a defense that should be somewhat rejuvenated from 2011.
RB Fred Jackson's stock has risen over the past couple of years, and despite the acquisition of C.J. Spiller. Jackson is a feature back and Spiller remains a third-down option. Jackson has not demonstrated he can be productive for a full season.
You can anticipate that Jackson will live up to or even surpass his fringe RB1 ADP for the first eight to 10 games of the season, but you should have a alternate plan starting in November. A Spiller handcuff is one option—Spiller was sporadically productive in Jackson's absence last year.
Fitzpatrick is being overlooked in most standard 10-team drafts and is is being left off a good percentage of leagues, though he may be a better proposition as a QB2 than other trendy rookies such as Andrew Luck and Russell Wilson.
Steve Johnson is a wannabe diva receiva, but his skill set caps him as a steady, productive WR2. Comparatively, WRs like AJ Green and Torrey Smith have more upside, especially with Johnson entering the season a bit hobbled.
The Dolphins enter the season under a new coaching regime, and they are in makeover mode. The opening-day QB (Tannehill) almost assuredly will not be the Week 8 starter (more likely Moore). RB Reggie Bush rushed to a nice comeback year in 2011, and counterpart Daniel Thomas had but a brief audition.
Departed WR Brandon Marshall was the difference-maker in an otherwise vanilla attack, and his exit left very little swizzle in the Dolphin drink. WR Davone Bess is more of a PPR possession guy, and he appears to be the best Tannehill target to open the season. As woeful as the Jets are on paper, the Dolphins seem even more dead in the water.
Much like the Jets, the pickings are very thin for fantasy purposes. Reggie Bush had his comeback year in 2011, and it is reasonable to presume some regression against the ADP for Bush, especially with no WR threat on the outside.
Reggie also has an injury history - would try to avoid him. Expect a larger load share with RB Thomas this season. A team going nowhere wants to see what it has for the future.
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