Fantasy Football 2013: Need-to-Know Fantasy Information for Every NFL Team
Now that the preseason is about over, it's time to take a look at what fantasy football lessons we've learned from every team in the NFL.
That's right, folks—32 teams broken down for your fantasy football pleasure.
There is a ton for fantasy owners to take away from the preseason.
It's a lot to take in, so let's get right into what we learned from all 32 NFL franchises and how to apply it to your fantasy season.
As it's a long slideshow, I thought I would add essentially a chapter list for every division, since I already had the article broken up like that.
So just click below to skip to any division you want so see.
The AFC East isn't rife with high-end fantasy players right now. Sure, you have Tom Brady, as well as C.J. Spiller.
After that, though, the drop-off is pretty severe.
Each team has a few guys who are worth the effort—yes, even the New York Jets—and we're going to give you the rundown on what you need to know about each team going into the fantasy season.
New England Patriots
You don't need me to tell you why, right?
Danny Amendola isn't a sure thing because of his constant injuries, but he looks very solid—especially in point per reception (PPR) leagues.
Stevan Ridley will see a lot of carries and has looked pretty effective. He might be hurt in the red zone by the rest of the offense and on passing downs by Shane Vereen.
Zach Sudfeld will play the part of "Aaron Hernandez" in the Patriots' wildly popular two tight end sets. The downside is Sudfeld's inexperience and that his numbers could be hurt by the return of Gronkowski or the emergence of Jake Ballard.
An undrafted free-agent rookie success story, Kenbrell Thompkins had a lively summer and preseason and plays a physical brand of ball which will be popular with Brady. Rookies are unreliable though—especially receivers.
He'll be second fiddle to Ridley, save for on many passing downs. So in a PPR league, Vereen will be as productive as Ridley is.
As a team, the Patriots have less talent than they used to but will still be productive on offense. Brady proved this preseason that he can still make a diamond out of coal, so we know he can effectively throw the ball and will put up numbers.
However, we've kind of moved back to the original "Fantasy Patriots Offense"—the one which was a pain to draft receivers from because you never knew week to week who would get the targets.
The slight difference is that we have Amendola to point to, as long as he stays healthy. However, Gronkowski is out for at least part of the season, we cannot fully trust Sudfeld or Ballard and the other receivers are unproven.
This team will put up fantasy points passing the ball, but who exactly they will come from is not 100 percent certain.
We also know that the team has an effective running back tandem, but there is no guarantee that they will run the ball enough for a guy like Ridley to be more than a second running back in your starting lineup.
Defensively, this team is probably going to be a lot like last year's squad. They'll play well and put up OK fantasy numbers (most leagues had the Patriots' defense/special teams unit between seventh and 10th by the end of the year) but won't be dominant.
Mike Wallace may not be a No. 1 receiver on a fantasy team, but the Miami Dolphins spent a lot of money to get him. Expect Ryan Tannehill to use him a ton, enough to make him a good No. 2 or No. 3.
Offensive line issues, too many interceptions and a streaky offense make Tannehill a little too shaky to start in fantasy consistently. He's got the talent and weapons to fill a bye week or backup slot though.
The media can say "position battle" until they are blue in the face, but nothing I saw last year or this summer makes that notion believable. Daniel Thomas just isn't good, and while Lamar Miller has issues in pass protection at times, he can run rings around Thomas. He'll make a solid No. 2 running back.
While Wallace is attracting attention from the secondary, Hartline will find himself with some room to work with. He doesn't score many touchdowns but will put up some decent yards, and as a depth receiver off your bench, you cannot ask for much more.
Charles Clay has been rumored to be the front-runner to replace Dustin Keller, via Andrew Abramson of the Palm Beach Post which makes him good value for your bench. He should see a bunch of targets, but it's hard to say how effective he'll be. He hasn't been a starter since he came into the league in 2011. We don't know how much trust Tannehill will have in him.
The Miami Dolphins don't stand out as a team which will produce a lot of fantasy studs. Wallace may not reach his 2011 numbers, but he should hover around 1,000 yards and get most of the touchdowns Tannehill throws.
Also, given the defense—which isn't likely to be a worthy fantasy group—has a questionable secondary, Tannehill may have to throw a lot to help the team come from behind. That could pad his stats.
Overall, though, there isn't a lot here, and fantasy GMs shouldn't kick themselves for missing out on any Dolphins players.
C.J. Spiller has looked ridiculous at times in the preseason, and you know that it doesn't matter who is under center—he's going to get the ball early and often and run it to great effect.
While his overall value might see a hit if rookie Jeff Tuel or the recently signed Matt Leinart has to carry the team long term, Stevie Johnson will still be looked upon as the main guy in this passing offense. He'll get his touches and continue to be a fantastic No. 2 fantasy receiver.
While they struggled last year, this is the year to own the Bills as part of a Defensive Team by Committee. Yes, there are issues in the secondary, but they have a good front seven who should be able to pressure quarterbacks into making mistakes and generating sacks. You can also pick up the Bills late in a draft with little or no problems.
Rookies are a dangerous bunch, and we've seen so many solid rookie quarterbacks come by the last few years (Russell Wilson, Andrew Luck, Cam Newton, Robert Griffin III) that we risk forgetting that. However, EJ Manuel is an exciting player who flashed some truly amazing plays in the preseason and could be an intriguing benchwarmer for your team because of his upside.
There's a lot of discussion about who might win the No. 2 receiving job here, and while Marcus Easley has had a great preseason, I still lean towards Woods. If there is one thing USC produces, it's receivers who can extend themselves to bail out their quarterbacks. Woods will have that role for the Bills very early on in the season, regardless of who is throwing the ball.
As mentioned above, Spiller and Johnson are your targets here, with a few "Hail Marys" mixed in. You know both players will get their reps and can make some amazing plays with them.
The rest of the offense isn't as much of a sure thing.
We know Fred Jackson won't see many carries unless Spiller gets hurt, while the receivers are largely a mystery. Neither Tuel nor Kolb inspire confidence. Manuel doesn't either if it comes down to it.
The defense struggled to earn the large amounts of cash the team invested into it last season, but it will rebound in 2013. It isn't opportunistic enough to be started regularly, but it will do enough to function as part of a pair of defenses you play matchups with.
New York Jets
Hate on it all you want, but the Jets defense looks pretty good this year. It should generate a ton of sacks and probably more than a few interceptions. It can definitely function as your main fantasy defense.
Jeremy Kerley is one of the few consistent receivers on the team. He's healthy and dangerous with the ball after the catch. He can easily serve as a No. 3 fantasy receiver regardless of who is throwing the ball.
You can bump Stephen Hill into "Should Have" if you honestly believe he can hang onto a ball. I'm not sold on that yet and have a sneaking suspicion that he will struggle with the current offense.
Chris Ivory should be higher, but it's hard to believe he'll stay healthy all year. Heck, he's already banged up. Ivory is really talented, but is never on the field often enough to make it count.
This offense is a complete mess—nobody knows who the quarterback is, the offensive line is improved but still not very good and the skill position players are all hurt. It's not going to matter whether Geno Smith or Mark Sanchez wins that starting job because there isn't enough there to work with.
Worse yet, the defense is good. How is that bad, you ask? Well, if they keep games close, you won't be getting garbage yards from the passing game—further reducing the value of the players in this offense.
There isn't much here worth having for fantasy GMs.
The year finds some flux in who you'll want on your fantasy squad from the AFC North.
Departing players, injuries and uncertainty can be found on each team. You can also find some new gems for your squad.
Let's examine the things you have to know about the Baltimore Ravens, the Cincinnati Bengals, the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Cleveland Browns.
Hey diddle diddle, Ray Rice up the middle of the first round.
Joe Flacco has a Super Bowl ring in the real world, but isn't more than a low-end, decent No. 1 quarterback or part of a quarterback by committee in fantasy football.
For the second straight year, Torrey Smith ended up as the No. 23 fantasy wide receiver. He'll probably show us more of the same this year, making him a good No. 2 or fantastic No. 3 fantasy receiver.
There are too many changes to be confident that this defense will be one of the best. Maybe they'll squeak into the top 10 defenses, but given the name recognition in fantasy circles, they'll go too high in drafts.
Bernard Pierce has been over-hyped, as the Ravens want to use him more to spell Rice and keep him fresh. That's great, and he does have value, but remember that this is still Rice's house, and he won't be splitting carries enough for Pierce to have high value. Pierce will be a flex player at best unless Rice gets hurt.
However, Pierce got hurt in the first preseason game. Hopefully, the bulk he added isn't the culprit.
Someone needs to step up to fill the gap Anquan Boldin left, and Jones is a speedy possibility. He should be able to take advantage of the attention Smith will draw and put up some good numbers on occasion.
With Dennis Pitta gone for most—if not all—of the season, a lot of fantasy GMs are looking at Ed Dickson and wondering what his upside is. We thought Pitta was going to have a really good season, but Dickson isn't quite as dynamic as Pitta. He has upside because we don't have a clear idea of who will be productive across from Smith, but he's not someone you can start with confidence at this point.
We all know Rice will have a big season, but will anyone else?
There's no clear-cut option in the passing game beyond Smith, and that's not only a problem in terms of sifting for fantasy gold among the other starters, but what could happen to Smith as well.
Can he stand as a true No. 1 with no proven player across from him?
Of course, if someone steps up—most likely Jones, unless Tandon Doss wakes up and takes a step forward—Smith should have his usual good season.
If not, though, it could be a problem, because he will face a lot of attention in ways he hasn't before. An increase in double teams, more safety help over the top and some physical play could end up hurting his numbers.
One guy in the offense you shouldn't be worried about is Flacco. Not because he transcends his receivers the way Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers does, but because he seems to just put up the same, consistent stats he always does regardless of the tools he has.
It won't matter really for a guy who is just as happy throwing to Dickson as he is Smith.
As we touched on above, the Baltimore defense isn't what it used to be from a fantasy standpoint. There are a lot of new parts or players in new situations as the team tries to replace Ray Lewis, Dannell Ellerbe, Ed Reed and the like.
Ultimately, the defense which will probably do fine from an NFL standpoint. However, from a fantasy one, there are just too many new moving parts to count on them the way you used to as a top-three defense.
By the end of the season, A. J. Green might supplant Calvin Johnson as the best receiver in fantasy football. He'll get the huge yards as well as touchdowns on a regular basis.
I've been pounding the table for Giovani Bernard for months now. He's going to take this job from BenJarvus Green-Ellis soon. He has the elusiveness and playmaking ability Green-Ellis lacks and will be a huge factor in this offense, way outperforming his fifth-round average draft position.
This looks to be a superb front seven and an opportunistic secondary. Defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer always finds a way to get production from guys NFL fans are unfamiliar with, and this year will be no different. We expect a lot of sacks and more than a few turnovers. Never go early on a defense, but keep your eye out for your spot to grab these guys.
Andy Dalton's a reliable fantasy quarterback, but he's not elite and never will be. I still have my doubts he's the long-term answer for the franchise's quest for a Super Bowl, but you can trust him not to implode your fantasy lineup.
Mohamed Sanu has the ability to be a solid possession receiver and the size and hands to be a nice red-zone target. He and Marvin Jones are duking it out for the No. 2 spot across from Green but with the attention Green gets, both could be productive.
Whereas Sanu can be the possession receiver, Jones is more of a deep threat. He can stretch the field for Dalton and does an excellent job adjusting to deep throws. Like Sanu, he's a nice flex player or No. 3 or No. 4 wide receiver for a fantasy squad.
Everyone keeps waiting for Jermaine Gresham to break out, but he just never does. With the Bengals adding Tyler Eifert, he will be well-motivated to step his game up. Don't expect a great year, but he's absolutely worth a look as a bye week filler.
After impressing at training camp, Eifert has cooled off a bit in preseason. Part of that has been an injury (which the Bengals have not provided details of), and part of it has been his struggles with pass protection. There's a plan that the offense will use more two tight end sets, and if that happens, Eifert will get the targets because he's a more dynamic receiving threat. You won't be able to start him early on in the season, but he could become one of those surprise players who pop up every year in fantasy.
The Bengals are working hard to improve their offense this season. Adding dynamic playmakers like Bernard and Eifert will go a long way toward helping Dalton break through the glass ceiling he appears to be up against. Dalton puts up reliable numbers for fantasy purposes and is often overlooked for bigger names, but he's an excellent backup with the upside to do more for you this year.
It's going to come down to the rest of the team, as Green can only do so much. If Sanu and Jones—as well as Bernard, Eifert and Gresham—start to perform, this could be a very high-powered offense. That means a lot of fantasy points for the taking.
You will note that I don't have Green-Ellis on the above list, and some of you will take issue with that. He is not going to hold on to the job. Maybe he'll be the nominal Week 1 starter, but Bernard is too good to keep off the field.
There is no point in grabbing Green-Ellis unless his value is so great at the spot you're looking at him for (figure very late rounds, somewhere in the teens) that you don't have to sweat cutting him in a month.
However, he's still going in Round 8, and I'd rather grab Bernard two or three rounds earlier.
As mentioned above, the defense is also a group which needs to be on fantasy teams. It may not have the cache of the Green Bay Packers or the Baltimore Ravens, but it's going to be one of the best this season.
There's actually nobody here you have to get on your roster. Rookie Le'Veon Bell was looking like the guy, but he's gone for the whole first month and perhaps more, so that's no longer true. It's not a knock on the Steelers as an NFL team—there's just nobody you cannot find an alternative to for fantasy purposes.
Even before Mike Wallace left for South Beach, Antonio Brown was proving to be the better receiver and perhaps the better fantasy guy. He's not a No. 1 for fantasy purposes, but he is a very good No. 3 or flex receiver.
When it comes to fantasy quarterbacks, Ben Roethlisberger's production can be a bit hit or miss. The last three seasons have been marred by injury, so that's a concern, but if he stays healthy, he usually lands just outside of the top 10 fantasy quarterbacks. He is a solid low-end starter or a perfect bye week/injury replacement. He might even be the key to a killer quarterback by committee.
A perfect vertical compliment to Brown, Emmanuel Sanders is set to have a very productive year. Last year was the first one in which he was healthy the whole season. If he can keep that up, he'll benefit from the attention to Brown as well as the whole offense's increased knowledge of offensive coordinator Todd Haley's offensive scheme as they enter their second year of it.
The problem with the injury to Bell is it leaves the backfield in a big, blurry mess—at least in terms of fantasy production. Will Jonathan Dwyer step up? Or perhaps Isaac Redman? When will Bell be back?
You can grab one of these guys, but this is a fluid situation which may be almost impossible to predict. Still, if you end up with the "hot hand" then you could have a very productive back.
It all keys on what is mentioned above in Sanders' section—how the offense handles its second year in Haley's scheme. As Roethlisberger and the receivers get more comfortable, this has the potential to be a very explosive group of receivers.
Two things are big, flashing "danger" signs though.
We talked about the backfield and how mired in confusion it is for fantasy purposes. They'll probably move the ball all right, but there are likely to be too many chefs in the kitchen here to help a fantasy owner. Bell might come back and might be effective later, but that really only makes him a "what the heck" kind of selection.
There are a lot of projections out there, including from FootballGuys, and they often show that most folks are expecting this to be a split (subscription link). So avoid the backfield, unless you are looking to fill out your roster after your starters are locked.
Avoid the tight end position as well. Normally, Heath Miller is one of the more underrated tight ends in fantasy, but injury issues have put the kibosh on that. He was even expected to miss the first month of the season.
You'll also note the defense isn't on this list. It's not that it's bad, but with the ages of many of the playmakers, this year looks like a step back. There is more to like from individual players than the group as a whole.
The Steelers still have a solid fantasy defense—it's just hovering around the end of the top 10 versus the top three to five.
Some fantasy GMs are scared of Richardson because of how banged up he got last year. That's fine; let them worry about his potential missed games. You focus on the 1,317 total yards he got last year and grab him.
Josh Gordon is kind of an idiot off the field, sure, but he's spectacular on it. Unfortunately, the first thing has impacted the second, and he's suspended for the first two games of this year. That hurts his fantasy value and will keep him from having a 1,000-yard season, but ultimately, if you can live without him for a few weeks, he'll be very productive.
Greg Little was the Browns' second-round draft pick in 2011 but hasn't lived up to expectations. Part of that is on the Browns and their issues on quarterback, but part of it is just Little's limitations. He can move the chains and is good on short and underneath routes, but he'll never be a big-play receiver.
The Browns ranked 11th in the NFL for both sacks and interceptions last year. Owners can get plenty of fantasy points from that.
Brandon Weeden is not someone you can start with confidence. But he has looked—dare I say it—competent this preseason. Really, more than that, take a close look at his 30 passes for 334 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions. Weeden has seemed to take a step forward this summer, and he could be a sneaky late pick who could fill in on a bye week.
New head coach Rob Chudzinski and offensive coordinator Norv Turner love to use their tight ends and Jordan Cameron is just what they look for—big (6'5", 254 pounds), athletic and fast with good hands. Cameron is a good person to consider if you're waiting on a tight end or looking for someone to pair with another guy—perhaps a Brandon Myers or Zach Sudfeld—in a tight end committee approach.
The Browns aren't top heavy with fantasy talent, but have a lot of "role players" you can use. If Weeden takes the step forward he appears poised for, players like Gordon (post-suspension) and Little could have even bigger seasons.
However, this isn't a high-powered offense, so most of the players are very hit-or-miss from one game to the another.
Defensively, the Browns have a good unit from an NFL standpoint and have room to build on last season. While it might not be a stand-alone fantasy defense, pairing them with another squad will be very effective.
Right about this time last year, it appeared as if there was only one team with more than a couple of worthwhile fantasy prospects.
If you weren't looking at the Houston Texans, much of what you saw were question marks. Then, Andrew Luck came and turned fantasy mush into concrete production.
We're also seeing a few other players return to stud status.
Let's take a look at the fantasy prospects of the AFC South.
Some will worry about Arian Foster's current injury, but he's expected to play in Week 1. He may not produce quite as much as we were hoping for, but he's easily a top-10 back anyway. If you feel nervous, draft an extra back or Ben Tate, who will fill in for him if he does get hurt.
While he started slowly last season, Andre Johnson still ended up as a top-10 receiver. As much as the Texans want to run the ball, they still need to throw it. Plus, Johnson finally has another receiver who can draw coverage off of him in rookie DeAndre Hopkins.
While some might fear that will limit Johnson, the truth is that if Hopkins does well, it will free Johnson up for bigger plays by leaving him in single coverage more frequently.
Now that he's cleared through the NFL's concussion protocols, Hopkins is poised to start his NFL career in Week 1. We saw how effective he was in preseason, and while we know the regular season can be much different, Hopkins' great hands and concentration were on display. He's going to have rough patches—rookies do—but overall, he should be a very good No. 3 fantasy receiver with the upside to maybe be even more.
While his production has been up and down overall, Owen Daniels is a solid No. 2 tight end. He might see some slippage in numbers if Hopkins lights defenses up, but he's going to produce his usual numbers.
The Texans defense was hit or miss last season. While it was fifth in the NFL in sacks (thanks J.J. Watt!), it was only 14th in interceptions. It's unlikely Watt repeats the numbers he had last season, but at the same time, the interceptions should go up this year, especially with Brian Cushing back in the mix.
Maybe you bump him up to a "must have" if you have Foster and feel a bit nervous about it. Tate will get some carries as the Texans try to preserve Foster, but his greatest value might be if Foster gets dinged up.
Given his weapons, Matt Schaub should be a much bigger fantasy factor than he is. On paper, he should be a top-10 quarterback.
The reality is much different. Schaub is no more than a bench player over the last two years, partly because the focus shifted to the run game and partly because he's an OK quarterback—not a great one. He's a very good No. 2, though, and if things click, he could be so much more. So really, this is an upside pick—pure and simple.
The Texans look like a potentially high-powered offense and there is a lot of talent there. In fact, looking at the list above, you can tell because most of the main starters are listed.
In terms of fantasy, the only starter I am truly hesitant about is Schaub. He seems to have the ability to do very well but often disappears against top competition.
Yes, last year, Schaub dropped four touchdowns and 290 yards on Denver on September 23. Two weeks later, against Green Bay, he threw for 232 yards and two picks. Against the Jets in Week 5, he had 209 yards, a pick and a touchdown. The, Schaub had 232 yards and an interception over New England on December 10.
He didn't have one touchdown from Week 16 to the second round of the playoffs. Three weeks. Now, the only time that hurt you was Week 16, but as that's Championship Week for most teams, that was the one which hurt.
The above doesn't mean "don't draft at all costs." It's more like "buyer beware."
Could there be a sophomore slump? Sure, but I don't expect it. He has some great weapons in the pass game and is smart enough to use them. Forget the slump—he'll be better after a second year just because he's more comfortable in the offense.
Just when you thought he was done, Wayne dropped 1,355 yards in 2012, matching his 2010 output. Will it be quite that good this year? Probably not, and the lack of touchdowns is an issue, so don't overpay for him. He'll be a very good No. 2 or 3 receiver for you, though.
Yes, Darius Heyward-Bey is the starter for now, but he has limited abilities. Right now, Heyward-Bey's status is largely because he blocks better. As soon as Hilton improves his blocking, his superior skills will get him back on the field more often.
Ahmad Bradshaw/Vick Ballard
Pick your poison, because neither one is clearly "the man" in Indianapolis. It could be Bradshaw if you believe for a moment he'll stay healthy, which many don't. Meanwhile, Ballard clearly didn't impress the staff enough to avoid having a veteran back brought in. One of them might pop, but both of them could also flop.
Pick one and keep them on the bench until it sorts out or you need the bench spot for a second kicker.
While some are predicting a drop-off for the offense, it's just as likely it will improve, as Luck now has a year of experience. The Colts will throw an awful lot and lean on his arm quite a bit.
And Luck, in turn, will lean on his veteran, Wayne.
A few "glaring omissions" from above include the aforementioned Heyward-Bey, as well as both second-year tight ends—Dwayne Allen and Coby Fleener—who will end up canceling each other out by splitting the targets.
While he will never return to the "elite" status we once had him at, Chris Johnson looks spectacular right now and should, at the very least, be a great second running back.
If Britt can stay healthy, he has the potential to be a top receiver (in both fantasy and actual NFL play). However, he hasn't finished a season since his rookie year in 2009, which drops him down. So does his quarterback, Jake Locker, who has not looked all that good this preseason.
As with Britt, Locker throwing the ball hurts Wright's overall value. But his run-after-the-catch skills and ability to gain separation on his routes make him valuable anyway. Wright has the speed to go vertical, but can also function as a possession receiver. He's a good flex or No. 3 or 4 receiver.
It's hard to really get too excited about the Titans.' fantasy prospects Outside of Chris Johnson and, to an extent, Kenny Britt, there are no surefire guys.
Part of that is due to Locker, who just isn't the answer at quarterback. Of course, a decent offensive line might help that (as it seems to have done for Johnson), but ultimately, Locker appears to not have what it takes to be an NFL starter.
That is really why the Titans lack a significant amount of fantasy prospects.
When Reggie Bush was picked second overall in 2006 and Maurice Jones-Drew was taken by the Jaguars in the second round, everyone outside of Los Angeles said "Who?" and everyone in Los Angeles said "Why?" Turns out, the answer to "who" is "the better running back."
Last year, Jones-Drew was hurt, and there is concern about the pounding he takes. However, he has improved his yards per carry for three straight years (from 4.4 in 2010 to 4.8 in 2012). He's the foundation of this offense.
All anyone has ever done is doubt Cecil Short, which is fine, because he feeds off of it. Last year, he came up just short of 1,000 yards and could easily surpass that this year. Justin Blackmon is suspended for the first four games of the season, which only puts the onus on Shorts even more. Last year when it happened, he went off.
Due to the aforementioned four-game suspension, Blackmon's production will drop off. He's talented, but he clearly has issues off the field, which surfaced again during the preseason. If he can get out of his own way, he will have a big second half.
Sanders is what FootballGuys colleague (and Denver radio host) Cecil Lammey would call a "what the heck flex." In other words, it's a "what have I got to lose" pick who can sit on your bench and be cut if need be with little emotion.
Sanders is very quick off the snap and in his routes and could displace Jordan Shipley as the slot guy in this offense. If that happens, he should put up some nice numbers.
While its cupboard isn't as bare as Tennessee's is, Jacksonville has more question marks than fantasy talent.
Blaine Gabbert will get one more chance to prove he can ball as a starting NFL quarterback, but it's hard to see anyone outside of the front office buying that. Normally, that would limit the talent around him, but even with Chad Henne in last season, Blackmon and Shorts did well.
Of course, they could do so much more—especially Blackmon, if he could avoid suspension. However, the offense will still produce some points, especially since the defense will likely allow a ton of yards and Gabbert will be forced to throw.
That gets you all sorts of good fantasy football garbage points.
This division appears to be filled with the "haves" and "have-nots" in terms of both actual and fantasy talent.
It appeared to be all the Denver Broncos until the Kansas City Chiefs traded for Alex Smith. Suddenly, it appears as if there might actually be a race in the AFC West.
There are a ton of changes in the West this year, including new coaches, new quarterbacks and new offensive coordinators. How will that affect fantasy football GMs?
Let's take a look.
He might feel he will never be as good as he was prior to his neck surgery, but Peyton Manning is still pretty good. And now he has Wes Welker? Yipes.
One of two 1,000-yard receivers last season for the Broncos, Thomas is the one more likely to hold that total, and perhaps improve it.
Decker also topped 1,000 yards last year, but don't expect a repeat with Welker in town. That said, you know he'll get plenty of targets, and as long as you don't pay for 2012 production, he will be a sharp No. 3 receiver.
It will be hard for Welkers to reach the numbers he got in New England and be picked up at proper value (No. 13 receiver off the board is just a tad high for my taste). Though he won't put up huge yards, he will get more than his fair share. Aim for him as a low-end No. 2 with upside, and you should be happy.
Ball has pass protection issues, which will keep him off the field most third downs. But he is going to be the goal-line back, so while his yards may not be huge, his touchdown total could be. Plus, if Ronnie Hillman can't hang onto the football, Ball will get ample chances to make us forget pass protection was an issue in preseason.
Take away Von Miller, and many fantasy GMs are worried about production here. Understandably so, but as the Broncos will be getting Champ Bailey and Derek Wolfe back, it isn't as big a worry. The team is aiming to improve its turnover ratio, and that will be the difference between a No. 10 ranking and a top-three ranking.
Hillman is in the doghouse because of too many preseason fumbles, and his star has dimmed. Head coach John Fox has no interest in a back who can't hold onto the ball. Hillman had a better training camp and looked poised to take the lead job, but the fumbling is killing him. Put him on your bench for the upside and cross your fingers.
Don't get too excited by Thomas finally living up to his potential. This preseason, he hauled in 12 passes for 123 yards. As it was just preseason, you shouldn't go overboard, but stashing him on your bench could pay off later in the season.
This is a high-powered offense that will put a lot of points on the board. The receivers should all catch a ton of balls (Manning threw 583 pass attempts in 2012) and put up a ton of yards. The touchdowns will be harder to predict, but it's safe to assume Thomas will get most of them.
Defensively, this unit might get off to a slow start with Von Miller out for six games for a suspension. By the time you hit fantasy playoffs, though, it should be humming along quite nicely.
Kansas City Chiefs
From a yardage standpoint, Charles should be outstanding and hit 1,200 to 1,300 yards easy. The problem is the shortage of touchdowns. Charles has never scored more than seven in a season (2009), which he followed up with five, zero and five touchdowns from 2010-2012.
Last season was marred by injury, but Bowe comes back to the team to find a much better quarterback in charge. That should get him back on track for his usual 1,000-yard season. Like Charles, though, he might find touchdowns hard to come by, so use Bowe as a very good No. 2 rather than reach for him as a No. 1.
Nothing here but a big gap between the upside group and the elite group.
If we're high on two of Smith's offensive players, why is he only a "might have"? Well, Smith doesn't elevate his receivers the way great quarterbacks do, so it's up to guys like Bowe to do it themselves. Smith doesn't throw downfield much, which will limit his touchdowns as well.
Now that Jon Baldwin is gone, Avery can settle into the No. 2 role right away. Of course, Avery has struggled to put up consistent numbers, and that might happen again this year.
With Charles out for a game, fantasy GMs started to wonder what they would do if they lost him for a long time. Enter Knile Davis. The rookie has had some fumbling issues and had to deal with injuries throughout college but if he can stay healthy—and Charles doesn't—he could emerge as a very good replacement option.
It's hard to get enough of a read on this offense, as head coach Andy Reid has only been in Kansas City about a minute and a half. We know he wants a fast-paced offense, which actually favors Smith. However, we're not totally sure how the backfield reps will pan out, and there are no receivers beyond Bowe who can carry the team.
Charles should get a ton of carries (Reid's teams in Philadelphia usually had one guy who carried the ball 100-150 times), and with his lifetime 5.8 yards per rush average, he should be very effective and support the offense quite a bit.
Overall, the offense isn't filled with exciting talent, but what it does have will be very valuable.
Nobody in Oakland is anyone you "must have."
McFadden's biggest issue is his inability to stay healthy. He has never finished a season since he came into the league. With the offensive line problems he has to deal with, McFadden has to create his own holes, and that doesn't work out very often.
People love to cite the "third-year breakout" rule—that it's always year three when a receiver comes into his own. It could be true with Moore, who regressed last season as he worked on his route-running. Now that he has that down, he is more than a deep threat.
Given that McFadden is unable to stay healthy, it makes sense to have his backup. Reece is a solid back who will net you consistently decent yards if McFadden is hurt.
Pryor has been looking better than Matt Flynn. Mull that over for a minute. A guy who many in the media said would never get a shot at a starting job is beating someone who lost to Russell Wilson last season in Seattle. Pryor fits the new "read-option" theme running throughout the copycat NFL. While his accuracy leaves something to be desired, his ability to keep a play alive and add yards with his feet makes him an interesting late-round draft pick.
It almost doesn't matter who wins this job, who starts at quarterback or what sort of scheme they run—the Raiders are rebuilding, and as is often the case, it's ugly. There is no one reliable fantasy player on this entire roster, unless you count kicker Sebastian Janikowski, who will never be on my teams because I won't take a kicker early enough to get him.
The guys above will give you some points, but you can't count on them on for a whole season.
San Diego Chargers
Nobody in San Diego is anyone you "must have."
Even at 33 years old, Gates can ball. He's on the downside of his career, but should see at least a brief resurgence under new head coach Mike McCoy. Still, he's not the top-five tight end he once was.
After being injured in 2011 and stuck behind Malcom Floyd, Vincent Brown is finally healthy and walks right into a job as the No. 1 receiver for this offense. Of course, the offense is shaky, but Brown should see enough targets to nudge 1,000 yards and six to eight touchdowns.
Look to him more in a point-per-reception league, but yards are yards and he'll get about 800 or so total. He's fast and dynamic, and while he won't crack the top 10 running backs, he's durable, unlike Ryan Mathews.
Speaking of which, you might be wondering what's wrong with me for having Mathews as a "might" versus a "must." Really, Mathews is just way too unreliable for me to touch him—especially with an ADP of 50, which puts him as a fourth- or fifth-round prospect. I won't go that high for a guy who has yet to finish a whole season.
Look for Allen to emerge as the eventual No. 2 in this offense, especially as Malcolm Floyd continues to battle injuries. Allen is coming off knee issues (which dropped his stock in the draft), but has had a healthy month and caught six balls for 48 yards in the preseason. He can play, and it won't be long before he supplants Floyd as the second receiver in San Diego.
Can Mike McCoy turn this offense around? You'll note that Philip Rivers isn't on the list here. That's because while McCoy can (and will) help Rivers overall, the team didn't do enough to fix the problems around him.
The offensive line is still questionable, the run game is too banged up, the receivers are unproven or mediocre and the best weapon—Gates—is fading.
It will take an awful lot to turn this ship around, and it looks as if this season is not going to see much of a change.
The NFC East is an interesting division both from an NFL perspective and a fantasy one. There are a lot of talented players on each team, but none of the franchises are without fault. Neither are their fantasy players.
Injuries, contract issues, new schemes and old (or aging) players are the story in the NFC East.
Let's see what we can learn about the fantasy players by looking at their issues.
New York Giants
Wilson is the starter this year and should get the majority of the snaps in the backfield unless he regresses into a fumbler. He's go the ability to be very good, though, and is a no-brainer for your choice of a No. 2 back.
After being in a walking boot, Cruz is free and swears he is playing in the season opener. He won't hit the 1,536 yards he had in 2011, but he'll easily surpass the 1,092 yards he had last season. He's definitely a guy who could contend for the top fantasy receiver spot.
Nicks has never finished a season healthy, so expect that going in and you'll be fine. Because while he may miss a couple of games, he can still do that and top 1,000 yards. His touchdowns have steadily declined thanks to Cruz, but they should top the mere three he had last season.
Manning just isn't elite in fantasy football. That's fine. He's a perfect choice for a quarterback by committee and should bounce back in terms of yards from last year, when he had his lowest total since 2008.
There are two simple reasons to have Brown on your squad. First, Wilson could be hurt or start fumbling and head coach Tom Coughlin could change up his backfield. Secondly, Coughlin will run both backs anyway, and Brown complements Wilson nicely. He is a good flex, and he could be a lot more.
The Giants always seem to lose tight ends, but they also replace them pretty easily. Myers is coming off a fantastic season in Oakland where he caught 79 balls for 806 yards. Don't expect those numbers, but the 89 targets for 55 catches and 626 yards Martellus Bennett had seems like the floor here.
The Giants have a powerful offense and a defense that can be good, but they have issues in the secondary.
That's good news, though, because it means Manning will be throwing and generating points for his owners (and those who also have Cruz and Nicks).
Keep an eye out for waiver-wire options from this team if Nicks or Cruz go down. Last season, we saw a few good games from Rueben Randle and Ramses Barden. This year could bring more of the same.
Robert Griffin III
The knee is fine, and Griffin, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter, will start Week 1. Staying healthy is a concern, but everything looks like a "go" right now. If you're cautious with your No. 2 quarterback (see below), you'll be more than happy about his production.
Morris is just at the end of my current running back top 10, and you should expect another great season from him. Washington will lean heavily on him to take the weight off RG3, so you can expect another 300 or so carries and 1,300 to 1,400 yards. Double-digit touchdowns will also be on the agenda.
The only reliable and legitimate threat for the Redskins is Garcon, and he'll flirt with the 1,000-yard mark this year and bounce back from an injury-filled 2012. Griffin will find him early and often.
Over the last few weeks, Hankerson has emerged as a potential No. 2 wide receiver. He's always had the potential, but could never seem to sustain his focus. Now it seems like he has turned a corner. Not enough to plug into the lineup right away, but grab him and hold him. The time will be right this season.
Davis has a lot of potential, but like Hankerson, focus is an issue. He has the chance to finally emerge, but you can't rely on him. So grab him late and hold onto him to see if he will be a help when bye weeks roll around.
You can protect your Griffin investment with Cousins, or mess with the Griffin owner by grabbing Cousins, knowing you might only get a week out of him. There is always the possibility—remote though it is—that Washington trades him to a quarterback-needy team. Lord knows there are plenty of those.
Again, this is an offense with a lot of talent and not as much support from the defense as it needs. Despite that, the offense should hum along pretty well. Griffin is healthy and showed he can throw from the pocket as well as tuck and run. Morris is a beast.
There's talent here. As with the Giants and Eli Manning, if the defense is blown up, that just gives you more fantasy points from the offense trying to come back.
Last season saw a pretty big leap in maturity and execution for Bryant, who is easily one of the best receivers in the league, fantasy or otherwise. He's staring a huge season down the barrel and is worth a very high pick.
Austin used to be the heir apparent for the No. 1 spot, but injury and inconsistency hurt his progress. He got back on track last season and will build on it this coming year. He'll be a solid No. 2 or a ridiculously good No. 3.
The big issue with Witten—and what keeps him from being considered with the likes of Jimmy Graham and Rob Gronkowski—is the lack of touchdowns. Witten lines up all over the field because he's a nightmare to match up with, but he doesn't get the call in the red zone much anymore. He'll pile up catches, though.
Romo tends to hang just outside of the top-10 fantasy quarterbacks and is getting pushed off those lists in part because of the influx of young, mobile quarterbacks. That means you can get him for a song and get tremendous value.
If he stays healthy, Murray can absolutely zip past 1,000 yards or more. However he is rarely healthy and you need to protect yourself in case he goes down.
If you're worried about Murray—and you're not wrong to be—then Dunbar is the guy you get. He was having a great camp before he got hurt and ended up in a walking boot, which really slowed down his trademark quickness. He should be back soon, if not in Week 1, and then it's a matter of watching Murray and seeing how much play Dunbar gets. It should be a lot even if Murray is healthy.
The Cowboys are looking to make a run this coming year and know the window might be closing. So expect some intensity, which will translate to fantasy points. Bryant looks ready for a great season, and while Romo isn't always a top fantasy quarterback, he could end up in that spot with the receivers he has to work with.
Defensively, new coordinator Monte Kiffin will instill some discipline in a unit that hasn't really had it in a while. This is a talented group, though there could be some rough edges as Kiffin transitions things from a 3-4 to a 4-3 to fit his Tampa 2 scheme.
The secondary has issues despite having Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne at the corners. The safety positions are the biggest concern and will keep this from being a top defensive unit.
"Shady" McCoy is a stud running back in an uptempo, high-octane offense. He should have a fantastic season in 2013 and make his owners very happy.
With Jeremy Maclin done for the season, Jackson has to step his game up and fill the void. Normally an all-or-nothing fantasy player, Jackson will have to be far more specific on his routes and work harder to gain separation with more than simple speed. He's had some banged-up seasons lately, and this is the year he has to turn it around.
While the idea of a player who is "injury prone" makes some folks' hackles rise, the truth is, some guys get hurt more. Like Vick, who takes a huge beating behind a shaky offensive line. Now, new head coach Chip Kelly's offense seems like a perfect fit to me, as Vick seems most comfortable moving quickly and not having to do much reading of the defense. He should be good in this team and a really nice fantasy starter—that is, until he gets banged up.
Let's forget about his racist screed at a Kenny Chesney concert (NSFW link, courtesy of Deadspin) and focus on two other things. One, the Eagles need a second wide receiver to step up immediately. Two, Cooper has reliable hands and can run a good route. Expect Riley to fill a flex or No. 4 receiver slot.
New head coach Chip Kelly wants an uptempo offense to keep opposing defenses on their toes. If the Eagles can pull it off (and so far, so good), then they will move the chains easily. In a point-per-reception league, that could mean huge points for the receivers.
Defensively, this unit still lacks playmakers and can be both run and passed on.
As we've said before, though, that just means the offense will be on the field more.
The final question is, can Vick fumble his way out of this job? He should have last year, as his turnovers cost the Eagles multiple games. Kelly may have less slack for Vick than Andy Reid did.
In which case, is it Nick Foles time?
Once again, this division looks like a tough one. You have two offenses who can really throw the ball, one ground power and one offense in transition.
What does that mean for fantasy production?
Let's take a closer look at the NFC North and find out.
Green Bay Packers
Here we have the top fantasy quarterback in the league. He throws the ball well, extends plays with his feet and never gets hurt. Do with that information what you will.
Yes, Nelson is currently banged up, but will be fine for opening day, according to Fox Sports Wisconsin. He was a bit inconsistent last season, following a great game (like Week 2 against the Chicago Bears where he had six catches for 84 yards) with a terrible one (Week 3 against the Seattle Seahawks where he posted two catches for 19 yards). That said, he is a huge playmaker when healthy.
Cobb is a nightmare with the ball in his hands, so expect the Packers to get the ball there as often as possible. I could easily see Cobb getting 1,000 yards this year if he stays healthy.
Jones is a favorite red-zone target of Aaron Rodgers. He won't pile up yards, but he does score a ton of touchdowns. He won't repeat the 14-touchdown season he had in 2012 because Nelson and Cobb are healthy, but he'll get plenty of them anyway.
It looks like Lacy is the starter. What does that mean? Well with the Packers, who can tell? Lacy runs exceedingly tough and is a load to bring down. He'll get the short-yardage stuff and, if he can hold up in pass protection, stay on for third downs. Of course, the Packers can trade off carries every down and nobody would be shocked. We can't trust Lacy yet—because we can't trust the Packers.
The Packers are not as potent as a unit as they once were, but they have some great kick returners and an opportunistic secondary. If they can add in some more sacks, this could be a top-three defense. If they repeat last year, you're looking at a group somewhere in the 8-10 range.
For the most part, Finley has looked good this summer. He's playing for a contract, so he'd better. That said, he still jogs through his routes at times and isn't exactly a willing blocker. There is some fluidity among tight ends this fantasy season. Finley has the talent and, with a little more focus, could be one of the top-ranked tight ends by the last games of the season.
The Packers always bring the thunder offensively. The most interesting thing is how they'll possibly change things up with a run game.
Aside from that, the team will always put fantasy points and touchdowns on the board.
A running back who can catch in an uptempo offense? Sign me up!
The single biggest acquisition for the Bears last season enters his second year reunited with buddy Jay Cutler. Expect fireworks as teams get exhausted trying to cover him no-huddle.
One of the most opportunistic groups in the NFL last season, they lost Brian Urlacher, but still have their amazing cornerbacks and a very talented front seven. Once again, one of the top defenses in the NFL and fantasy.
Jeffery had to mature at the end of last year and stop getting baited into bad offensive pass interference penalties by veteran corners and safeties. This should be a year where he is healthy and can take advantage of Brandon Marshall lining up across from him.
Bennett is a legitimate threat at a position where the Bears have been desperate for one.
It's hard to trust Cutler. But if head coach Marc Trestman's offense works out, it could be Cutler's best season ever. The offensive line is improved and he has plenty of weapons—so it's time for Cutler to put up or shut up.
The idea behind Trestman's offense is simple—don't give the defense time to rest, regroup and substitute. If you do that, a defense cannot stand against the physical play of Marshall or Bennett and will get worn down by Forte.
If it clicks—and we don't know if it will yet because it's still early—it could abuse a lot of teams.
The defense is basically staying the same—if it ain't broke, don't fix it.
Last year, Peterson ran for 2,097 yards—and he wasn't 100 percent. Just stew on that for a bit.
While there are certainly questions as to whether Christian Ponder can connect with Greg Jennings, the team will try to make it happen. Jennings should have a solid year, somewhere between a No. 2 receiver and a No. 3.
It seems very obvious to anyone with eyes that Patterson is a direct replacement for Percy Harvin. He'll get the ball a lot on the old screens and slants Harvin used and then will gain extra yards with his run-after-the-catch ability.
Ponder's favorite target in 2012 will probably be the same thing in 2013.
This year, Simpson is healthy and not suspended. He has been supplanted as the main vertical threat by Jennings, but he might still see enough passes to make it worth owning him.
Wright had some very nice games last year after Harvin went down. He's likely to get crowded out of this group, but keep an eye on him.
This team wants to throw the ball—and go deep while it does. That's all well and good, but possibly something Ponder can't hack.
If that's the case, it will lean heavily on Peterson again, hoping he can replicate his 2012 season.
Still, this year is about Ponder and whether he's actually the franchise quarterback the Vikings hoped he'd be.
How he does directly affects the entire offense and its fantasy output—which should make you a tad nervous.
The defense is intriguing. It has a lot of good players—Jared Allen, Harrison Smith and rookie Xavier Rhodes—but can it produce turnovers and sacks consistently?
Johnson was impossible to stop last year—unless you were stopping him from scoring touchdowns, in which case it was easy. This year we should see more touchdowns and less yards as the ball is spread out more, lowering his target number but freeing him up from double teams.
Like Johnson, lots of yards and few touchdowns. Still, he piles up the yards, so expect another big season from him.
A great addition to the team, Bush can run between the tackles as well as catch the ball. This is the dual threat Jahvid Best was supposed to be.
Joique Bell/Mikel Leshoure
Pick one. Bell has outplayed Leshoure in the preseason but Leshoure is a better complement to Bush. They are both good to have on your bench, but you may not be able to play them much.
People always sneer about putting Burleson on lists like these, but before he got hurt last season, he was on his way to the second-most targets on the team. He is a reliable receiver and Stafford will look to him a lot.
Can he come back from a second ACL surgery? Hard to say, but he's working hard. He's a dynamic player—or was before this injury—and it remains to be seen if he can keep his speed and ability to cut after both knees have been injured. The upside is there, though.
Offensively, we once again see the Lions with all their ducks in a row—but last time out, that didn't work. Stafford's mechanics still look wonky, and nobody has helped Johnson out by playing well across from him.
Those things have to change if they want to win—but if they don't, your fantasy team might actually be better off.
Defensively, the front seven is going to generate pressure and sack the quarterback. Nick Fairley and Ndamukong Suh look great and the defensive line will be moving them around to keep offensive lines hopping.
However, the secondary continues to be a mess and you can't trust it to generate turnovers.
You can trust it to let other teams jump out to a lead which, while bad for NFL teams, is good for fantasy football teams with Lions as their starters.
While the Atlanta Falcons and New Orleans Saints are definitely a step above the Carolina Panthers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers in NFL terms, all four teams have a lot to offer fantasy GMs.
Let's take a look at which players you need to be thinking about for your fantasy drafts.
Matt Ryan has very quietly become one of the best fantasy quarterbacks in the NFL. It shouldn't come as a shock—look what he has to work with. The last two seasons have planted him firmly in the top 10 at the end of the year, and he'll finish 2013 in the same place.
Jackson is going to be a key part of the Falcons offense, which suffered a bit from not having a real ground threat in 2012. Jackson has had eight straight 1,000-plus-yard seasons and has the skills to be a three-down back for the Falcons.
Jones and White are probably the best wide receiver tandem in the NFL—perhaps ever—with Jones the Alpha to White's Omega. The same is true for fantasy. Jones is a slam-dunk top wide receiver worthy of a second-round pick, while White continues to put up top-10 fantasy receiver numbers despite losing targets to Jones. Both are No. 1 fantasy wide receivers, though White is definitely on the downside of his career and will, at some point, start playing second fiddle to Jones.
It's the last hurrah for probably the most consistent fantasy tight end we've ever seen. Gonzalez hasn't finished outside the top 10 fantasy tight ends since 1998 and has topped 800 yards three out of four seasons he's been in Atlanta. His role may be slightly reduced this year as the team prepares for his retirement, but he will still put up great numbers.
Rodgers saw his fantasy value take a big hit when Jackson came to town. It's clear the Falcons don't see him as an every-down back, and neither should fantasy owners. However, he could be useful as a flex, especially if something happens to Jackson.
This team is one of the best for fantasy owners—every position on the offense has someone for your team, and the majority of them are starting material.
The Falcons like to throw the ball, but they will also run it now that they have a decent running back. They'll always go to the air more frequently than the ground, with ultimately limits Jackson's value to more of a No. 2 running back, but he still has the upside to perform as a No. 1.
Defensively, the Falcons just don't generate enough turnovers to place them as more than a decent fantasy unit. Your best bet is to use them in tandem with another team and switch them in and out depending on their opponent.
New Orleans Saints
You won't always know where Drew Brees is throwing the ball, but when you own him, it doesn't matter. He'll put up wild numbers on a weekly basis, and that's really all you care about.
There's an argument where Jimmy Graham might go in the first two rounds of a fantasy draft, but it's not insane. He's far and away the best tight end in fantasy (especially with Rob Gronkowski hurt), and he's the main weapon in New Orleans for Drew Brees.
The biggest problem with Colston, and what keeps him from the top tier of receivers is that he disappears for stretches during the season. He has some very big games, but can be inconsistent week to week. That said, he always ends the year in the top 15 to 20 fantasy receivers and is a very safe No. 2 receiver.
He won't get you many yards on the ground, but Sproles will pile up the receiving yards. Combined with the carries he does get, he tops 1,000 all-purpose yards most years.
Pierre Thomas/Mark Ingram
Ingram is supposed to be the heir apparent for the No. 2 gig in New Orleans, but he has struggled to fill that role. Meanwhile, Thomas has been consistent between the tackles, but his upside is much more limited. Right now, Ingram is looking like the better of the two backs, according to Jeff Duncan of the Times-Picayune, but both can have some value as a flex as we hit the season.
You know how we just talked about Colston being a little inconsistent game to game? Moore is that, but amped up to 11 percent. He can make big plays, but can also completely disappear for long stretches. However he is good enough to play as a No. 4 or flex on a fantasy team.
The Saints put up a lot of yards, which is great for fantasy owners. They also sometimes struggle defensively, and that's also a bonus.
There will be someone who emerges from the crowd this year, as there always is, but it's going to be hard to play them consistently, as they'll have two good weeks, then nothing.
The defense itself is supposed to be improved with Rob Ryan in town, but so far this preseason, we haven't seen a ton of evidence of it. For now, consider them a middle-of-the-road unit.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Expect Martin to follow up an exceptional rookie season with an even better sophomore effort. He's got a solid run-blocking offensive line and some dangerous receivers to keep the defense from stacking the box. And we know the Bucs will rely on him to move the chains.
The trip east from San Diego has been nothing but good for Jackson, as he stepped right into the No. 1 role that he should have been just as effective in for the Chargers. Instead, he's just putting up points for Tampa and his fantasy owners. No matter how teams cover him, he finds a way to get free and make the catch.
With Jackson in town, Mike Williams seemed to recapture the ability he showed off his rookie year. He's been up and down this preseason, but expect him to take advantage of the attention Jackson gets and put up another 900-yard season in 2013.
This unit has the potential to be fantastic. It has a young and hungry front seven to pressure the quarterback and an improved secondary to take advantage of that pressure and generate turnovers. They should be one of the better fantasy defenses out there this year.
Consider this a "buyer beware" situation, as Freeman can play well but is far too often prone to poor decisions. He has all the tools a young quarterback could want—a strong run game, two great receivers and a solid offensive line. If he's going to be the franchise quarterback in Tampa, it happens now. As it stands, he's only safe for fantasy GMs as a backup quarterback.
In pure football terms, the Buccaneers' season comes down to Freeman. It's hard to have faith in that concept given how inconsistent he is.
Luckily as a fantasy GM, all you care about is whether he will kill the value of the players around him. He won't.
In fact, they'll be the one saving his value over the next year.
Newton has ended his first two seasons in the NFL as the No. 4 fantasy quarterback. His combination of ability to run for a ton of yards and pass for them puts him as one of the most dangerous fantasy quarterbacks there is.
Do you recall when Smith was looking for a trade so he could actually have a decent quarterback? Turns out he didn't need to do it. Since Newton has been in town, Smith has had back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons. Does he have more left in the tank? Sure, and he should continue to be a strong No. 2 or 3 receiver for fantasy owners.
With Jonathan Stewart hurt and on the PUP list, Williams will finally get to prove he deserves the massive contract the team gave him a few years back. He's a very strong runner between the tackles and can catch the ball as well. You can grab him in the sixth or seventh round, secure in the knowledge that if Stewart isn't back, Williams won't have anyone to take his carries and could be performing as a No. 1 running back for the season.
Olsen had the second-most targets of anyone in Carolina last season (104) and produced a fantastic season with 69 catches, 843 yards and five touchdowns. Expect more of the same for a guy going in the eight and ninth rounds of fantasy drafts and consider him a great value if you can grab him there.
LaFell has had an up-and-down career so far. He'll show flashes of incredible talent, followed by a lackluster effort. He is what he is—a decent receiver who can't quite make the transition to very good. Draft him as a No. 3 receiver and you'll be rewarded with about 700 yards and five or so touchdowns.
The team is trying to simplify the offense and speed it up, but in the preseason, it's clearly still a work in progress. That might knock Newton from my No. 4 quarterback to my No. 5 (with Peyton Manning vaulting him), but ultimately, it's not a big deal.
Newton will get it and the offense will be much better off without former offensive coordinator and current Cleveland Browns head coach Rob Chudzinski, who seemed to always be trying to force Newton into positions which didn't suit him.
Defensively, this is a unit with a very strong front seven, but not a great secondary. That means that as a fantasy starter, it's more of a matchup-dependent group. The upside is that they'll be good enough to keep things close, but bad enough to where Newton will have to throw to keep up with the opposition.
In the end, that's good for everyone's numbers.
Most of the teams in the NFC West have a great offense, or at least one on the verge of being great.
The Arizona Cardinals are seemingly the exception to the rule.
Still, the St. Louis Rams have a lot of talent, and the Seattle Seahawks have a dangerous running back and a great young quarterback. In addition, the San Francisco 49ers have a balanced offense.
Who do you pick up on any of these teams?
Let's take a look.
While there was a concern Wilson would slide backwards when Percy Harvin was injured, we discovered instead that it almost doesn't matter who he throws to. He simply makes plays. He's a top 10 fantasy quarterback regardless of who he has to pass the ball to.
There's a DUI case hanging over Lynch's head, but the trial date isn't even set, so he's unlikely to be suspended this year. In that case, you're looking at a top 10 fantasy running back who is worthy of a first-round pick. He's a hard runner who can break off a long dash to the end zone at any time and you can ride him to a championship. The Seahawks plan to.
There are very few "must-have" defenses, in part because you never go too early on a team defense. That said, if you are of a mind to jump early, the Seahawks defense would like a word with you. They're a group with tremendous pressure up front which the excellent secondary exploits to generate turnovers.
With Harvin hurt, Tate has stepped up in camp and preseason and has a chance to prove that he can be a legitimate threat. He won't put up anything close to top receiver numbers, but he will absolutely fill in as a No. 3 or 4 wide receiver for you throughout the season. Tate was Wilson's most reliable target in 2012, and that should continue this season.
Rice is coming off his best season since 2009, when he topped 1,300 yards. He should continue to improve this season, and he was Wilson's most frequently targeted receiver. Expect more of the same this year, especially as long as Harvin is sidelined.
Harvin had hip surgery and was recently placed on the PUP list to start the season. According to NFL.com's Chris Wesseling, the Seahawks aren't sure what the timetable for his recovery is and are just hoping he can be back by Thanksgiving.
Harvin was a tremendous asset prior to last year's injury and could be just the ticket to a fantasy playoff run if he's healthy by then. However, you have to be able to hold him that long or risk him on the waiver wire with no real assurance that he'll play at all during the fantasy season.
The preseason has been very kind to Kearse, who looked great in limited action. Have him on your radar because while Tate and Rice are the primary guys, there is always room for another breakout player. If either of them gets hurt, you'll have someone in mind who might explode when they get that chance.
Until we hear about that Marshawn Lynch DUI case, Michael's value is more theoretical than actual. He's clearly talented and will spell Lynch a bit, but probably not enough to warrant many starts, if any. However, if the trial gets set and Lynch is suspended, the Seahawks will look to Michael to fill the void.
There is definitely concern because of the injury to Harvin, but again, it was clear Wilson wasn't bothered by the loss all that much. This is a passing offense with a lot of role players who have some value, though no studs.
Wilson and Lynch will be the cornerstone for the offense, and they are your biggest targets. However, there is plenty of value elsewhere in the offense if you keep a careful eye out.
San Francisco 49ers
If one of the wave of exciting quarterbacks from last year (Russell Wilson, Kaepernick, Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III) is going to backslide, it could be Kaepernick, though it has almost nothing to do with his ability. Losing Michael Crabtree for most of, if not all, of the season is a huge blow, especially since the offense lacks anyone to fill his shoes. Still, Kaepernick has the tools to play at a high enough level that you can still be confident in his ability as a starting fantasy quarterback.
Everyone likes to count Gore out every year, and he always proves them wrong. While he's not quite a No. 1 fantasy running back, he will put up 1,000 yards and double-digit touchdowns with no problem.
While there are some questions about the secondary, you're looking at one of the best pass rushes in the NFL, and that alone will make it easier on the defensive backs this season. They may not generate as many turnovers as you would like, but they will provide you with a ton of sacks.
Boldin went from the No. 2 receiver to the lead receiver this summer, and while he is still capable of playing at a high level, not having a legitimate threat across from him (as he did with Torrey Smith last year with the Baltimore Ravens) will hurt a bit. Still, Kaepernick will lean on him heavily.
Ever since Mike Singletary yelled at Davis on the sidelines a few years back, it's been a whole new ballgame for the tight end. Gone are the sulky days, replaced by a hard worker who will lay out for the offense. He'll have to do just that this year, and you can grab him as a No. 1 tight end for your fantasy team.
With no other real weapon among the receivers, Kaepernick is going to have to find someone to throw to. Patton was locked in a battle with A.J. Jenkins, who was shipped off to Kansas City, which leaves him as the nominal No. 2. He's worth a flier to see how he develops.
In all honesty, Baldwin has shown zero ability to succeed at the pro level. That said, the offense needs a playmaker, and he has the raw skill to be that guy. Don't expect much, but if you grab him late in the draft or off the waiver wire, he is a low-risk player to have on your bench.
The injury to Crabtree has made a lot of people concerned with whether this offense can function, but you shouldn't be too worried. The Niners are a team who run so many different offensive schemes and looks that it shouldn't slow them down much.
St. Louis Rams
The move from Tennessee to St. Louis looks like it agrees with Cook. It's well worth passing on the "big boys"—Jimmy Graham, Rob Gronkowski, Jason Witten and Vernon Davis—and grabbing value elsewhere with the intent that you take Cook in the eight or ninth round.
Two of the best cornerbacks in the league fronted by a fantastic front seven? I'll take it.
Now that Richardson has won the starting job, he's going to be a solid No. 2 or flex running back. It's still possible that the Rams go with a "hot hand" approach, but it's Richardson's job to lose. He's a bit undersized, so he won't get a full compliment of carries, but he'll get the majority of them.
A surprise last year in his rookie season, Givens showed tremendous speed on the outside and an ability to go deep and get separation doing it. It's getting crowded in St. Louis with all the new arrivals, but Givens has the talent to build on his 2012 and make something special.
The Rams are going to try and get the ball into Austin's hands as early and often as possible, and given his ankle-breaking cutting ability, who can blame them? They'll use him in the slot, get him the ball in the open field and let him do his thing. He also will return some kicks, so if you get points for that in your league, keep him in mind.
Of course, he's a rookie, so consider that as well. It may take him a year or two to wrap his head around an NFL offense.
Bradford now has a ton of weapons and no real excuses. He has looked great at times this preseason, and other times looked awful (missing a wide-open Austin at the goal line, for example). His upside makes him an intriguing No. 2 quarterback, but the floor on him is a little scary.
Quick didn't do all that much as a rookie, but he has the size and physicality to be a red-zone threat and possession receiver. He's still very raw, though, so he may not emerge this year, especially if Austin really takes off.
We mentioned that Richardson is a bit undersized, so Stacy won't shock you by stealing carries here and there. He's more of a prototypical size for a running back, but Richardson played much better this summer. Stacy is a guy to keep an eye on, though, and it wouldn't be a shock to see him with more carries as the season wears on.
This offense looks great on paper, but so far, we haven't seen it click. That's fine, but it's also a warning not to overvalue any of the players in this offense.
Defensively, this team looks tremendous and could start an entire season (save for the bye week) for any fantasy GM.
While Carson Palmer hasn't looked stunning, all he really needs to do is throw it to this guy. Fitzgerald puts up a ton of yards but an increasingly small number of touchdowns. It keeps him from being an easy No. 1 fantasy wideout, though his upside warrants the spot, if on the lower end of the tier.
Entering his second season in the league, Floyd will build off the momentum of a strong finish to 2012. Teams will double up Fitzgerald because they have to and Floyd has the athleticism and size to take advantage of it. He should make a nice flex with some upside.
Palmer is the king of fantasy garbage yards, and this year won't be any different. The biggest concern is whether or not the guy will survive behind the offensive line. If he can, he'll be a great spot start or bye week filler for you.
You'll note the complete lack of running backs here. That's because between injuries, lackluster blocking and general lack of talent, this group is uninspiring. I like the look of rookies Andre Ellington and Stepfan Taylor, but don't believe they will really get a shot behind Rashard Mendenhall despite the fact that I'm not high on him either.
The defense can be solid—it has the secondary and gets decent pressure. However, it isn't consistent enough to start regularly, so at best, you have to pair it with another team.
Andrew Garda is a member of the Pro Football Writers Association. He is also a member of the fantasy football staff at Footballguys.com and the NFL writer at CheeseheadTV.com. You can follow him at @andrew_garda on Twitter.
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