Every year in fantasy football there are players whose stocks are rising and falling.
Sometimes there's an exciting rookie who has been impressive in team workouts so people start to hype him up. Other times, there's a veteran player who has seen his production decrease in recent years. Then there's the case of opportunity.
This preview focuses on players who have a lot of hype surrounding them right now and others who have some lingering question marks heading into the season. It's still early, so a lot could change in the preseason, but this is how it stands now.
Shane Vereen has been getting plenty of hype lately. Since most of the Patriots' offensive weapons from a year ago are gone (or in Rob Gronkowski’s case, hurt), Vereen has become more and more valuable to New England.
The 2011 second-round draft pick hasn’t done a lot so far in his NFL career, but that’s expected to change in 2013. Vereen will take over the void left by the loss of Danny Woodhead. Woodhead finished in the top 30 of running backs last year in fantasy after putting up 747 rushing and receiving yards.
Vereen can, and likely will, produce even better numbers than that. On Vereen’s 88 touches (including the postseason) last year he averaged 6.4 yards and scored seven touchdowns. After producing so much on so few touches, it’s no wonder why people expect a big year from him.
If Vereen can average 6.4 yards and get as many touches as he and Woodhead combined for in 2012, he would put up nearly 1,200 yards of offense. That’s not bad for someone being drafted in the sixth round.
Those numbers are a little higher than what’s expected of him, but it’s a good estimate of how high his ceiling is. His floor would be Woodhead’s numbers from a year ago, which weren’t bad.
Ryan Mathews is like a real-life bad luck Brian meme. It seemed like all the factors were in place for him to succeed last season, but all that went out the window after he broke his collarbone on his very first carry of the preseason.
Before the injury, he was being selected during the second round in most drafts. After the injury, people were hesitant to select him. Those that passed on drafting him made the right decision.
Mathews’ 2012 season was ugly. He averaged just 59 rushing yards a game and 3.8 yards per carry while only scoring one touchdown. His past performance and injury history have most looking to avoid drafting him in 2013.
Another red flag hurting Mathews is the new coaching staff. Head coach Mike McCoy has stated that he wants to use multiple backs this year. The team signed Danny Woodhead in the offseason and re-signed Ronnie Brown.
If any of those players get in a rhythm, McCoy said he is going to “play the hot hand.” Right now Mathews is falling to the fifth round. It’s a long fall from the high expectations he had heading into 2012.
The Packers selected Randall Cobb in the second round in 2011. He saw limited playing time his rookie year, but in 2012 he put up big numbers. Heading into 2013, even more is expected of Cobb.
Cobb, who is 10 months younger than Green Bay's rookie running back Johnathan Franklin, is a versatile athlete. He has been compared to Percy Harvin due to his ability to make plays in open space and contribute in the slot position. Both players are also known to run the ball out of the backfield from time to time.
In 2012, Cobb snagged 80 passes for 954 yards and eight touchdowns. His role increased significantly when Greg Jennings was forced to the sidelines for seven games due to injuries. Before Jennings’ injury, Cobb had two consecutive one-reception games. After the injury, he never had less than three.
Cobb’s teammates are expecting big things from the little receiver as well. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers believes Cobb could be a “100-catch guy” this season. This makes him an even better option in PPR leagues.
The Denver Broncos are loaded at wide receiver. They already had one of the best duos in the NFL last season with Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker. Then, in the offseason, they added Wes Welker. Adding someone with as much value as Welker means the other two receivers will take a hit.
Thomas and Decker saw 141 and 123 targets, respectively, in 2012. Last year’s slot man, Brandon Stokley, saw 57 targets. Assuming that Welker will see a lot more than 57 targets this season, it’s safe to say Thomas and Decker will end up seeing less as a result.
This doesn’t mean that these guys won’t be productive, because they will. It just means they won’t be as productive as they were last season. There are only so many targets to go around.
The one good thing going for Decker is how efficient he is in the red zone. In fact, he was the most efficient receiver in 2012. He turned 23 red-zone targets into 11 touchdowns (out of his 13 total).
Vernon Davis ended his last six games of the regular season in 2012 with a combined six receptions for 61 yards. Those games all came after Colin Kaepernick took over as quarterback. So why is there hype surrounding him for 2013?
After his regular-season struggles, Davis and Kaepernick were able to develop rhythm in the postseason. Davis had over 100 yards in each of the last two postseason games. It was encouraging to see after all of the one-reception games he put up in the weeks leading up to the conference championship.
Davis’ resurgence in the playoffs isn’t the only reason to be excited about him in 2013. So far in training camp he has received a lot of praise. The Sacramento Bee says Davis has been “by far the most consistent deep threat” in the Niners offense. Even offensive coordinator Greg Roman says that Davis has “taken it up to a new level” this year.
Another factor to consider is the lack of overall talent at the tight end position this season. With Baltimore's Dennis Pitta out for the season, the list of top tight ends in the league has become even thinner. So if you want one of them on your team, it’s going to come at a premium.
Not that long ago Antonio Gates was considered among the fantasy elites at his position. Now, after three straight years of declining numbers, he’s becoming an afterthought.
Last year, Gates put up his lowest numbers since his rookie season in 2003. He had just one game with over 60 receiving yards. His seven touchdowns were nice, but that's not enough to make him an exciting pick this year.
The chances of him producing a turnaround season at 32 years old are slim. He might improve his numbers a little bit, but not enough to be a big-time fantasy producer. His best days are behind him.
The Miami Dolphins did not re-sign running back Reggie Bush in the offseason. Instead, they opted to trust the players they already had on their roster, specifically Lamar Miller.
A fourth-round pick in 2012, Miller saw limited playing time as a rookie. He carried the ball just 51 times for 250 yards. He produced a promising 4.9 yards a carry in that limited exposure and showed enough potential that the coaching staff trusts him with the starting role in 2013.
Head coach Joe Philbin recently gave Miller a lot of praise when he spoke to the Miami Herald.
He has good instincts as a runner. Has very, very good athletic ability. Has good speed. He can pass protect. It took him a little while to get the responsibilities down, the blitz adjustments down. At the end of the year, he was very sound in his pass protection. He has good hands, can catch the football.
Miller’s goals this year are to rush for 1,500 yards. That would be a big improvement for Miami considering that last year’s starter (Bush) only ran for 986 yards.
The goals Miller set are a little higher than what most people are expecting from him. Even if he just rushes for 1,200 yards and 10 touchdowns it would be a successful year from him.
Throughout his career Tom Brady has been nothing short of great. The last two years he’s been a top-three quarterback in fantasy. This year, however, is a different tune.
Brady is dealing with an entirely new set of personnel on offense from last year. The only guys he still has familiarity with are Rob Gronkowski and Julian Edelman. Gronkowski is still recovering from five offseason surgeries, and his availability for this season is still unclear.
Brady has seen his ADP fall from the third round down in April to the fifth round of current fantasy drafts. Part of this has to do with the depth at the quarterback position. A lot of it, though, is that people are skeptical about the Patriots offense this season.
Can Brady still throw over 4,800 yards and 30-plus touchdowns with the guys he has now? That remains to be seen. It’s not impossible, but people drafting would rather be safe than sorry.
The Bengals made Giovani Bernard the first running back taken in this year’s draft for a reason. They like what he brings to the table. The 5'8", 202-pound back from North Carolina is a shifty runner who can weave his way through a defense.
He’s a great complement to incumbent BenJarvus Green-Ellis. Green-Ellis is more of a north-south runner who will run through guys instead of around them.
Another element to Bernard’s game is his ability to catch the ball. According to the team's official site, running backs coach Hue Jackson praised Bernard’s receiving ability.
"He's so natural catching the ball. He can catch it like a receiver," Jackson said. "I knew he could catch it really well, but I wouldn't be surprised if he could go out there and line up outside and catch balls like some other guys can because he has that skill set."
The rookie back is expected to split carries 50-50 with Green-Ellis, but that won’t stop people from hyping him up. If he continues to impress, he could force himself into a featured role.
After putting up 1,174 total yards in the 2011 season, there was some optimism for Jonathan Stewart heading into 2012. That optimism faded away quickly. Stewart had just 493 total yards in nine games last year and only scored two touchdowns.
Going into 2013, there’s little hype surrounding the 26-year-old running back. Stewart underwent surgery on both ankles and hasn’t been at camp as he’s still recovering.
The Carolina Panthers running back situation is also not ideal for Stewart. His touchdowns will be vultured away by Cam Newton and Mike Tolbert. He will also have to split carries with veteran DeAngelo Williams.
Stewart is still fairly young. He’s also talented as he averaged 5.4 yards a carry as recently as 2011. He just has too many factors working against him to make him a trusted option in fantasy this year.