6 Lessons the Playoffs Are Teaching Us for Fantasy Football in 2013
And then there were two.
Well, we have reached the zenith of the 2012 season with the Super Bowl (or maybe you have heard it being referred to as the HarBowl; tongue firmly planted in cheek) now just less than two weeks away.
What have we learned in the last couple of weeks? And how can we apply what we have learned and put it to good use when assembly our fantasy teams next summer?
Well, here are six lessons learned in this postseason that could change how we construct our fantasy teams next season.
Don’t Underestimate the Talent of Some Backup Running Backs
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In this year’s playoffs, we have seen several teams incorporate more youthful and energizing running backs to jump-start their offenses.
Bernard Pierce (Ravens), Jacquizz Rodgers (Falcons) and LaMichael James (49ers) have received a lot of run in the postseason. In the case of Rodgers and James, we could be witnessing a changing of the guards.
All aforementioned running backs have looked good thus far and appear headed to getting an increased amount of touches in 2013.
In three games while spelling Ray Rice, Pierce has rushed for 169 yards on 28 carries. While he was not effective in the Broncos’ contest, Pierce has made his presence felt in the offense this postseason. While Rice is the unquestioned lead dog in Baltimore, Pierce is due for more carries in 2013. Pierce is a must-own handcuff for Rice owners.
It’s only a matter of time before Rodgers phases out incumbent Michael Turner in Atlanta. Although Rodgers did not overwhelm in his two playoff games (20 carries for 96 yards), he showed great burst out of the backfield, and his versatility will not be overlooked next year.
Taking nothing away from Frank Gore, who has had a fabulous playoff run, but with him getting up there in age, the 49ers will at some point give more carries to James. James has looked good in Gore’s stead, rushing for 55 yards and a touchdown on eight carries in the playoffs.
You have to take into consideration the return of Kendall Hunter as well. The days of Gore being the 49ers’ workhorse seem numbered.
Joe Flacco’s Amazing Playoff Run Could Lead to Bigger and Better Things in 2013
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Pay the man!
Talk about perfect timing. Joe Flacco, who is a free agent, is finally delivering in the clutch and has raised his stock tenfold with his playoff success. It goes without saying his performance in the playoffs should lead to a pay raise and look for him to stay in Baltimore.
Flacco has been sterling in the postseason, passing for 853 yards and eight touchdowns (zero interceptions) in three playoff games.
With a run like that, you should feel comfortable tagging Flacco as a capable starting quarterback for your fantasy team next year. While he isn’t on the fantasy level of a Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers or Tom Brady, Flacco is someone who should be viewed now as a reliable starter (something he was not this year) next fall.
Zach Miller Could Be a Stealth Late-Round Steal
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No marginal player improved their stock more than Zach Miller in the playoffs.
Miller had an awful regular season and never got on the same page with Russell Wilson in Seattle. However, the two of them connected this postseason, and if Miller’s two-game breakout in the playoffs is any indication of things to come, he’ll be a terrific sleeper to keep your eye on next summer.
In two games versus the Redskins and the Falcons, Miller had 12 receptions for 190 yards and a touchdown (plus a two-point conversion).
While it may be hard to trust Miller as a starter, he makes for a late-round gem who could be an valuable backup. After all, this is a guy who has had solid seasons with the Raiders. So he's done it before.
New England and Denver’s Running Game Will Be One Big, Muddled Mess
Can you say running back by committee?
Between injuries, inconsistencies and fumble issues, the Patriots and the Broncos have some sorting out to do when assigning who gets carries in the running game next year.
For New England, Stevan Ridley is clearly the most talented running back, but he has shown to be fumble prone. Late in the season (and of course the playoffs), the Patriots implemented Shane Vereen and Danny Woodhead more into the mix. All three could eat into the carries for the others.
While Ridley should still get the bulk of the carries next year, I worry that Bill Belichick will want to mix and match his running backs more in 2013. Approach Ridley with caution.
In Denver, the Broncos will also have a trio of running backs who could all carry the load. Willis McGahee, Knowshon Moreno and Ronnie Hillman have all showed they are capable runners.
How the Broncos work McGahee back into the mix after his injury while rewarding Moreno for his late-season surge and also trying to give the young Hillman his chance will be a storyline to monitor this summer.
RGIII’s Toughness Had a Damaging Effect on His Draft Stock
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Credit Robert Griffin III for his toughness, but his grittiness (and perhaps questionable decisions made by Mike Shanahan) will now possibly lead to him being sidelined for a good chunk of the 2013 season after he badly injured his knee in the Redskins’ playoff loss to the Seahawks.
As such, he will be a major question mark heading into drafts next summer.
Can he recover the same way that Adrian Peterson astonishingly did and be back for the season opener? That remains to be seen, but RGIII could be out anywhere between 8-12 months.
For a quarterback who does a lot of damage with his legs, when to draft RGIII will be a hot-topic issue during the draft season. If healthy, Griffin would have been a slam dunk to be drafted in the first four or five rounds. Now he has to be treated as a backup worth drafting in the seventh round or later. There is a ton of upside with drafting him and stashing him if need be. However, there is a good deal of risk too.
Colin Kaepernick’s Legend Continues to Grow
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Speaking of running quarterbacks, Colin Kaepernick-mania has run wild this postseason, and his march to the Super Bowl has only magnified his growing legend.
Kaepernick has been beastly in the playoffs, throwing for 496 yards and three touchdowns while also running for a staggering 202 rushing yards and two touchdowns in two playoff games.
Combine that with his regular-season heroics and Kaepernick has vaulted himself into rarefied air. What round do owners try to snatch up Kaepernick? While he does use his legs an awful lot, and that is scary (see RGIII, Michael Vick, etc.), Kaepernick does possess a strong arm.
Right now there is no evidence to suggest Kaepernick will be an injury-risk candidate, and for the resume he is building for himself, you have to consider him the real thing.
It comes down to preference with Kaepernick. Do you want a traditional pocket passer or are you enamored with these hybrid-athletic freaks at quarterback? Until proved otherwise, Kaepernick should be given the benefit of the doubt and be one of the top six or seven quarterbacks off the board next year.