AFC East Help Wanted is the final installment in this 8-Part series.
Throughout the off season, Fantasy Football Trader's Columnist Ernie Estrella toured the NFL by division and identified key positional battles with the Fantasy Football implications up for grabs. Let's look at the AFC East.
No. 2 WR
Candidates: Wes Welker, Julian Edelman, Sam Aiken, Torry Holt
As age sets in with the Patriots, head coach Bill Belichick brought in more gray hairs with Torry Holt and welcomed back David Patten, giving the team three receivers with 12 or more years of experience.
While Randy Moss will undoubtedly keep the No. 1 spot, there is some concern about the No. 2 position that’s been held by Wes Welker for the past three years.
Welker blew out two ligaments in his left knee in the final game of 2009, but only required surgery on one and is just now beginning to run without pain.
Injuries such as these normally take two seasons to see the player before the injury; even Tom Brady was off last year.
Edelman grew into an admirable replacement. Similar in stature and build, the converted quarterback excelled in the short routes and slants designed for Welker, but no one can replace the tenacity or grit of the PPR king.
In addition to the Welker situation, the Joey Galloway experiment did not work out last year, so that’s why Patten, who is very familiar with New England’s offense, and the once-great Holt, were brought in. Belichick has a way of squeezing the lemon to the very last drop.
The improved running game helped mask the deficiencies the Pats had on the edges of their offense, but eventually, a talented young receiver needs to be brought in.
Until that happens, both Holt and Patten are Band-aids over a wound in the offense that’s been festering for two years now.
Welker is the No. 2, but keep an eye on his mobility in preseason and don’t be surprised if he gets off to a slow start.
Prediction: Wes Welker
Fantasy Implication: 8/10
Brady and Moss’ fantasy outlook depend on Welker’s health, which makes this position very important in what the Patriots do.
If he can complete a full return, Welker will be near or at the top of PPR wide receiver rankings. If not, his value drops, and Holt or Patten need to step up.
Alge Crumpler could help the situation some, but let’s not expect too much from a veteran tight end in his 10th season.
Welker is a spring chicken compared to everyone else on this team and other than Brady, his health is just as important if the Patriots want to go anywhere this season.
That puts Welker at a risk for those who have him in dynasty leagues, and he may drop on draft boards where he’d normally be chosen anywhere from the third to fifth rounds.
One other drawback from drafting Welker too high is that he is not normally a red zone threat.
Touchdowns are a bonus to all of the receptions, yards, and intangibles he brings. So before taking him off the board, consider your league rules in addition to his developing mobility.
New England Patriots
No. 1 RB
Candidates: Laurence Maroney, Fred Taylor, Sammy Morris, Kevin Faulk, BenJarvus Green-Ellis
Like their receiver situation, the Patriots have three running backs with at least 11 years of experience. Seriously, someone needs to blow the candles out for Taylor and Morris.
Both backs sat out for extended periods of time last season for injuries, and the do-everything back, Faulk, is long in the tooth at 34.
Maroney looks good one week, and never gets off the sidelines the next. He seems to have the shortest leash of any of the backs.
For example, he can string together, say, four great games in a row, but if he struggles in the fifth game, he’s benched.
The fact is none of these backs, at their age, or with their past efforts, are capable of holding the starting position as one normally would on any other team.
Prediction: None, Running Back by Committee
Fantasy Implication: 4/10
The Patriots’ weekly starter is always shrouded in mystery and is never truly known until the end of each game.
Belichick treats the running backs like a manager in baseball uses his bullpen.
One week it’s Maroney, the next it’s Faulk, and on the rare occasion it’s Morris. Then out of nowhere, Green-Ellis.
It’s a frustrating thing to commit to any one of these backs, regardless of the potential points sitting there for anyone with enough balls to pick these players up and actually start them week-to-week. I’m simply not that brave.
Still, the Patriots need a back of value; otherwise, aging relics disguised as wide receivers will be exposed. Unless you need to fill out your roster, leave that kind of misery for someone else.
No. 2 WR
Candidates: Davone Bess, Greg Camarillo, Brian Hartline
When I looked at the Dolphins before the draft, I thought the big fight would be the No. 1 receiver on the team, but the acquisition of Brandon Marshall solved that riddle and that move has brought tremendous excitement in South Beach.
Instead, the biggest battle will be for who besides Marshall will keep defenses honest.
I felt this group of receivers was going to make a big improvement without Marshall, but now that’s one less position available for one of these guys, so expect a hard-fought battle in training camp and preseason.
Hartline and Camarillo are coming along very well, but I imagine that these two will have to accept a reduction in looks to incorporate Marshall.
When the dust bowl settles, Bess is the best of this remaining bunch. He had great chemistry with Chad Henne last year and has a feel for of the flow of the game.
As a slot receiver, he makes as big of an impact as the other playmakers on this team.
Not unlike Wes Welker in New England, the emergence of Bess in the short game in combination of Marshall in the deep game and the Wildcat, make the Dolphins a legitimate threat in the East.
Prediction: Davone Bess
Fantasy Implication: 6/10
What Bess brings to the table in tandem with Marshall makes the Fins’ offense truly complete.
We’re talking about a team that’s designed to win with the Wildcat formation and the horse-and-cart play of Ricky Williams, Ronnie Brown, and even Pat White in the backfield.
So Marshall stretching the field opens the running game and short passing lanes even more for Bess.
What I don’t see much of for Bess, though, is red-zone opportunities. With two power running backs and other emerging receivers, the cake can be sliced only so many ways.
So while I don’t see much of a reduced role for Bess on the field, I think when it comes to scoring touchdowns, the Dolphins have too many other options for any one receiver (outside of Marshall) to reap plentiful opportunities.
Keep an eye on Marshall’s hip, though, if it continues to give him troubles, even after he returns from surgery in July, then Bess’ role becomes even more important.
No. 1 RB
Candidates: Ricky Williams and Ronnie Brown
While many try to ape or modify the Wildcat formation, there is no other team that runs it remotely close to the Dolphins.
These two are the reason why a promising young quarterback, Chad Henne, has a fantasy ceiling. Williams recently signed a new contract, while Brown is recovering from a season-ending lisfranc fracture.
Brown has always been a big injury risk, and 2010 will not be a different story. Despite Brown’s explosiveness, I’m going to recommend Williams instead. He’s the steadier and healthier back.
Should Brown fully return to good health, I don’t see him in full stride until mid-season, making Williams once again the unlikely hero at 33 years old.
He keeps himself in phenomenal shape and has rededicated himself to the game. It’s not customary for me to go against the fantasy maxims (steer clear of backs over 30), but Williams has never been one to follow any written path, so why expect him to fit into any other?
He is as unique as they come, and is why he’ll end this season as the durable and reliable No. 1 Dolphins back.
Prediction: Ricky Williams
Fantasy Implication: 8/10
The ground game looks even more impressive as the Dolphin receivers continue to develop and gel.
Williams is still a brute to bring down, even at his age. Take away his sabbatical and the total time suspended, Williams hasn’t had the same punishment a running back has at his age.
So not only do I think he’s going to surprise people and bust much more yardage than most will give him, but he’ll also have a very good fantasy season with double-figure touchdowns.
No. 1 WR
Candidates: Santonio Holmes, Braylon Edwards, Jerricho Cotchery
The recent acquisition of Holmes propels this Jets team as the favorite in AFC East and solves one glaring problem on this Jets offense.
When Cotchery went down mid-season with an injury, the then-new addition Edwards was double covered with no relief in sight.
Compound that with Edwards’ lack of mental toughness and the Jets posed no threat in the air until Cotchery returned.
Edwards is still going to drop balls, that’s followed him since his days at Michigan, but with some of the pressure off of him with Holmes in the mix, he might be able to just focus on what he can control.
Cotchery will continue to be the steady ship in rough waters and Holmes will be a real threat in the slot.
I don’t think there’s really a No. 1 guy here, since each offers unique skills at the position and each also has his own different set of shortcomings.
Prediction: None, Wide Receiver by Committee
Fantasy Implication: 6/10
Adding Holmes doesn’t change what this team does best, and that’s run the damn ball. Shonn Greene, and LaDainian Tomlinson in a more reduced role, will drive this team into the NFL playoffs, and continue to keep the reliance on Mark Sanchez’s arm to a minimum.
Still, teams will expect that, so the ability to throw the ball at any given time improves this offense two-fold.
Holmes being suspended for the first four games dips his value some, and meshing with a new team will take time.
I think his presence though elevates this team, and puts fear in the opponents’ eyes, especially when defenses still need to worry about Cotchery and the good-Edwards showing up as opposed to the bad.
Take your pick of any of the three, and you’re more likely to have a solid No. 3 fantasy receiver or flex option at best, than a top-20 weekly starter.
No. 1 QB
Candidates: Brian Brohm, Levi Brown, Trent Edwards, Ryan Fitzpatrick
The Bills have too many unsettling questions on offense, but none more glaring than the one at quarterback.
Coach Chan Gailey declared the position to be wide open and if you look at this roster, it’s like seeing the Cleveland Browns of last season. No relief in sight.
The team turned to Fitzpatrick last year when it was clear that Edwards was not the answer. All Fitzpatrick did was complete a terrible 55 percent of his passes and in his career, he’s never completed over 60 percent.
I don’t think it’s wise either for the Bills to throw younger quarterbacks such as Brohm and Brown to the wolves with a struggling offensive line, not to mention a stable of receivers that wouldn’t scare many top 20 Division I college football teams.
Looking back, Edwards wasn’t much worse than Fitzpatrick; at least he had more consistent numbers, and games of multiple touchdowns.
The Bills felt the need to “win now” (with Dick Jauron on the hot seat) and made the switch because they hoped the change would spark some wins. Unfortunately, the Bills got nothing but wildly inconsistent play from Fitzpatrick.
I’d wager Edwards wins the battle this preseason. He’s at the end of his contract, and if he wants to land somewhere else next year, then he will step up in training camp to win the job and put his best foot forward.
Prediction: Trent Edwards
Fantasy Implication: 0/10
If there’s one mantra I walk into my fantasy draft this year, it’s to avoid the Bills passing game altogether.
None of these quarterbacks are going to give you stats that will win you games. Hell, I don’t know if they’ll get stats to win actual football games.
The decision to skip an offensive tackle and draft C.J. Spiller will have major ramifications this season. The Bills didn’t address the glaring need until the fifth round with project Ed Wang.
The team is also lacking a receiver to scare defenses or a tight end safety valve. I’m afraid that the Bills will discover new levels of awful play this year, and try their luck with next year’s quarterback crop and start all over again.
No. 1 RB
Candidates: Fred Jackson, Marshawn Lynch, C.J. Spiller
The Bills tried to quell rumors of a trade involving Lynch, but I don’t know why. Fred Jackson clearly outplayed Lynch last year and deserved to hold the starting position even after Lynch returned from a four-game suspension.
Drafting C.J. Spiller only makes sense had they traded Lynch to improve one of the several needs of this team.
But I’m not here to play general manager; I’m here to make sense of the Bills running back situation, which is suddenly crowded with talent.
Am I the only one to think that Jackson doesn’t deserve to be the starting running back on this team based on his starts from last year? Jackson is a big back who can run with authority and catch the ball.
Spiller adds much of the same, but with more speed and will probably be used in the slot given the Bills’ pedestrian talent at receiver.
Spiller offers the X-factor scenarios much in the same style that Reggie Bush brings to the Saints.
But there’s a big difference between playing in the dome for the Super Bowl Champs, and the harsh winters in Buffalo with a less than “Super-Bowlish” supporting cast.
Fantasy owners would appreciate the Bills packaging Lynch for a veteran wide receiver, or some offensive line help, because Jackson is the one answer to this question mark; but it’s only one down and many more to go.
Prediction: Fred Jackson
Fantasy Implication: 7/10
Even on the worst team in the league last year, there was Steven Jackson. So even though the two situations aren't necessarily related, Fred Jackson and Spiller could break some big plays for the Bills.
Spiller can be used in so ways, that like Percy Harvin, Josh Cribbs, or Bush, the way the game unfolds determines how best Spiller can be used for that week.
There’s no way to expect consistent numbers out of Spiller, but he will be on SportsCenter Monday mornings, no doubt about it.
The Bills will probably try to adhere to Jackson and the running game early in games until they fall behind, and that’s where Jackson will get his share of screen and swing passes to move the chains down the field.
I see Jackson being in the tail end of the Top 15 backs, which puts his value at a No. 2 fantasy back that would start on teams who are thin at the position.
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