You won’t find Skip Bayless here at Smug Fantasy Football, thankfully, but we do “embrace debate”! So much so that we decided to go head to head with Anthony Ferrugia from The Fantasy Scope. Check TFS out at www.thefantasyscope.com for up to date player rankings and strategies, and then go ahead and follow Anthony on Twitter at @thefantasyscope. Checking his twitter feed is a must if you want to win your league.
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Staying true to their coaching staff (Head Coach Mike Munchak and Offensive Line Coach Bruce Matthews were both Hall of Fame NFL Guards that played their entire careers in the Houston Oilers/ Tennessee Titans organization) the team went out and made massive upgrades to the interior of their offensive line. They signed Buffalo Bills guard Andy Levitre, who is probably a better pass blocker than run blocker, but (little know fact) he is one of the league’s best blockers on screen plays. They also drafted rookie stud guard Chance Warmack who, immediately upon playing his first NFL game, is a top 10 NFL run blocker. The Titans Offensive Line looked straight dominant on the ground in their first preseason game against the Redskins. We really could be looking at a top 5 run blocking unit. Chris Johnson is still one of the league’s fastest players and in the open field he’s a nightmare for defenders. His floor is surprisingly high, having only rushed for less than 1200 yards just once in his career. New RB addition Shonn Greene may end up vulturing a few TDs, but the Jets didn’t let him go because he’s some great RB. The Titans didn’t bring him in because they thought he was great either. They brought him in because Johnson needs to have fresh legs late in games, and with the amount of rushing they will be doing Johnson needs a nice breather once in a while. The Shonn Greene addition will actually allow Johnson to be more efficient and more dangerous. Jake Locker‘s inevitable, below average QB play will only reinforce the need for the Titans to run the ball to stay competitive in games. CJ2K will end up being more efficient and more dangerous. Despite the small frame, he has demonstrated rare durability, playing in every single regular season game of his NFL career (crazy huh?).
Lamar Miller is a big talent, and looked explosive in his first preseason game, but a recent minor ankle injury in practice is just a reminder of his potential fragility. He’s very much an upside pick. With little NFL experience his floor is much lower than Johnson’s. Oddly, Dolphins Offensive Coordinator Mike Sherman recently talked about the running back competition being close, praised backup Daniel Thomas and mentioned that the team needs a complete back. Miller is likely to get a big workload, but nothing is guaranteed with this situation.
Chris Johnson still possesses that RB1 ability, If the Titans do totally commit to the run, he will have a monster year.
The Fantasy Scope
With the departure of Reggie Bush to the Lions, Lamar Miller is expected to step into the role of bell cow for the Dolphins this season. Can he really produce as a solid RB2 right away? The answer is yes. Miller is an explosive runner with great vision and burst. He hits the hole quickly and decisively, an absolutely perfect fit for the zone blocking system currently in place in Miami. Over the offseason, Miami dedicated itself to upgrading the offense in just about every facet with one exception: running back. That should tell you two things: Miami is confident in Lamar Miller as their lead back and they want to surround him with as much talent as possible on offense.
This situation appeals to me far more than the situation Chris Johnson faces in Tennessee. Jake Locker appears to be behind Ryan Tannehill in terms of development, despite being in the league a year longer. The Titans open the season with their third offensive coordinator in the last four seasons, not a good thing for offensive continuity and development. Then you take into the account the type of player that Chris Johnson is. Sure he can be explosive as anyone with big plays, but those have been far and few between since his remarkable 2009 season. He has become a “feast or famine” player, constantly looking for big plays instead of getting positive yardage.
Add in the potential for Shonn Greene to vulture touchdowns LenDale White-style and Chris Johnson’s upside appears to be severely limited due largely to the situation he’s in. The bottom line: Lamar Miller is taking over the full workload for an offense that appears to be trending up while Chris Johnson appears to be ceding some of his workload in an offense that appears to be trending down.
Hakeem Nicks v. Cecil Shorts
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There is, perhaps, no player being disrespected more in 2013 drafts than Cecil Shorts. Shorts proved last year he is a top 20 receiver in the NFL with incredible talent but continues to be overlooked in drafts due solely to the fact that he plays in Jacksonville. Prior to week 6 Jacksonville was clueless on what it’s offensive identity was and Shorts barely saw the ball. During Jacksonville’s week 6 bye, though, the team decided to feature Shorts more prominently in the
offense and from that point forward Shorts took off. If you take Shorts’ statistic from week 7 through the end of the season and extrapolate it over a full 16 game slate Shorts was on pace for 1375 yards and 9 touchdowns (which would have made him the 6th highest scoring wide receiver last year).
There is also a common misconception that if Blaine Gabbert is the starter Shorts is doomed. Shorts is a supreme talent capable of producing no matter who is throwing the ball to him. After week 7 he played about half of his games with Gabbert and half with Chad Henne. In his games with Gabbert, during that time, he averaged 89 yds and 0.5 TD’s per game. Over the same time period he averaged 84 yards and 0.6 TD’s per game with Henne. Nearly identical.
Nicks has proven to be an explosive big play talent and plays for an above average offense but just isn’t reliable. Nicks has never played a full 16 games in his NFL career and saw his per game production suffer dramatically last year due to ongoing injury problems. In 2012, Nicks averaged just 53 yards per game and score just once every four games. This includes week 16 and 17, in which he was active but produced a goose egg for championship-hopeful fantasy owners in back to back weeks. Nicks has lots of potential, as he has shown over his career, but just isn’t safe enough from a health standpoint to rely on as a WR2 this year. Despite his team’s reputation for having an ineffective offense, Cecil has shown he can produce with the best of the best in the NFL and will force the masses to take note as he excels in 2013.
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This is the best wide receiver on the Giants. He has size, speed, and huge, sticky hands (just 2 dropped passes in 2012). Very importantly, he’s in a contract year. Money is the ultimate motivator, and already recognized as a great talent. Nicks will be in line for big money if he can put together a big year. Injuries are always a worry with Hakeem, nagging hamstring injuries especially, but Nicks is right on schedule to be 100% for the start of the regular season, something he was not in his underwhelming 2012 performance. Nicks himself recently added that if this were the regular season he’d be ready to go.
Cecil Shorts is a nice player, good route running ability, smart on the field, whereas Nicks has elite physical assets. Shorts plays in one of the league’s worst offenses in Jacksonville, with the worst QB situation of any team. Best case scenario for Shorts is that Chad Henne starts, but as it looks right now the Jags still favor Blaine Gabbert and will let his typical terrible quarterbacking help the Jaguars to once again be one of the league’s worst offenses (Jags #30 PPG in 2012).
Not far removed from a 1200 yard and 7 TD campaign in 2011, Nicks has one of the best QBs in the NFL throwing to him in Eli Manning (2 Super Bowl wins aint too shabby.), and will command his attention as usual in what will likely be one of the NFL’s best offenses (Giants #6 PPG in 2012). Unlike most of the low-end WR2/high-end WR3 type WRs,, Nicks has real top 5 WR upside if he plays a full 16 games.
Colin Kaepernick v. Andrew Luck
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Kaep came on real strong once he took over as San Francisco 49ers QB in Week 9 last season. In 8 games (7 starts), he passed for 1725 yards,, 10 TD, 3 INT, and rushed for 304 rushing yards and 3 TD. His dual threat dominance continued in the playoffs as he lead his team to the Super Bowl and even rushed for 181 yards against the Green Bay Packers, an NFL record for the most by a QB in any game. No other QB in NFL history has commanded this kind of size (6’5, 233 lbs.), track speed, and arm power. This unique combination is probably the reason he didn’t have a single pass batted down at the line and was only hit
one time while throwing the ball during the regular season. His dual threat ability is very much tied to his fantasy value. He is the only player in college football history to rush for 4,000 yards and throw for 9,000 yards in a career. He is the single most dangerous weapon in the NFL as long as he stays healthy, The Niners boast one of the NFL’s top offensive lines (they were the top OL in 2012), and highly skilled Niners offensive coordinator Greg Roman excels at making the most of the unique skills of his players. Kaepernick could very realistically go over 700 rushing yards, and possibly approach 1000.
Andrew Luck is going to be one of the best Quarterbacks in the NFL one day. He is smart, athletic, accurate and strong in his throws, and I really like him as a player. The problem: his upside is limited in his 2nd season. New Offensive Coordinator Pep Hamilton is smart. He’s a former college QB at Howard, scholar athlete, and has risen through the coaching ranks quickly. He knows Andrew Luck’s strengths and weaknesses like a book. He was his position coach and OC one year at Stanford. But what he doesn’t know is what he’s never done before, and that is run an NFL offense that will allow Andrew Luck to score his owners lots of fantasy points. We honestly don’t know much about Hamilton as an NFL play caller. What we know is that while he was the OC at Stanford in Luck’s final season they ran the ball about 55% of the time. In 2012 that number jumped to 58%. In 2012 the Colts passed the ball 58% of the time. With vertically oriented Bruce Arians gone and obviously run oriented Pep Hamilton at the helm, expect that passing percentage to drop considerably, lowering Luck’s ceiling in the process.
For Kaepernick, the fact that the Niners will run the ball a lot doesn’t matter much. He’ll be involved in a lot of it. The rushing stats will keep his weekly floor high, making him a very consistent, low risk QB option with bigtime upside.
The Fantasy Scope
Although Andrew Luck is only in his second year playing in the NFL, he is ready to assert himself as an elite quarterback in this league. After one season, Luck has proven he has the chops to be a dominant passer. ProFootballFocus.com measures a statistic called “aDOT” (average depth of throw), which helps determine how far down the field the quarterback is throwing the ball. For instance, a quarterback with an aDOT of 3.0 yds is, on average, only throwing the ball down the field 3 yards (a very easy degree of difficulty throw) whereas an aDOT of 10.0 yds would be much more difficult to accomplish. Andrew Luck had a 10.8 aDOT, the highest in the league among qualifying quarterbacks.
Many will say that Kaepernick’s rushing ability is what puts him ahead of Luck, but Luck was no slouch on the ground either. Luck punched in five scores on 250 yards rushing, a nice little boost on top of his passing numbers. Sure, Kaep was very effective out of the run option when he took over for the 49ers in the middle of the season last year, but can we be sure that rate of success will continue? With an entire offseason to study both Kaepernick and the run option strategy as a whole I have to believe defenses are going to get better at containing this look. If anything, they will be sure to contain the edges so that Kaepernick has to beat them with his arm rather than his feet.
Kaepernick’s best weapon is Vernon Davis at tight end and then not much else. Yes, San Fran has a great run that sets up their pass game; but there are not many weapons to pass to this year. Anquan Boldin has lost all semblance of speed and will not be a major factor in fantasy this year. Other than that you’re looking at the oft-concussed Austin Collie and the extremely underwhelming AJ Jenkins. Meanwhile Luck still has potential future hall of famer Reggie Wayne, a promising talent in TY Hilton, and a rejuvenated DHB to go along with a pair of young, high upside tight ends.
Look, I think Kaepernick is a no-brainer top 10 quarterback, but Luck is a much better quarterback and has Peyton Manning-like upside with that offense that Kaepernick just hasn’t shown with his arm yet. I like him to make that leap into the “elite” class of quarterbacks this year and stay there for many yet to come.
Shane Vereen v. Giovani Bernard
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Gio Bernard and Shane Vereen both enter 2013 as the change of pace, receiving running back that will be put in different places on the field to showcase
their abilities to exploit matchups. The only difference is that Bernard is playing behind the unexciting BenJarvus Green-Ellis and could easily take over his role more and more as the season goes on. Vereen is playing behind the ultra-productive Stevan Ridley and has almost no chance of stealing Ridley’s workload barring injury. Neither running back has much of a history of success in the NFL (Bernard is a rookie and Vereen has less than impressive statistics in his rookie year last season) but both expect to be used in creative ways to help increase their value this season. The main difference here is very simple though. Bernard has RB1 upside if everything breaks perfect for him whereas Vereen has, at best, low RB2 upside if everything breaks perfect but Ridley remains healthy. For that reason I’ll take the exciting, young rookie with the higher upside.
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As long as they have Brady and Belichik, the New England Patriots will be among the leaders in total yards and points scored yet again (#1 in yards/game and points/game in 2012, #2 ypg and #3 ppg in 2011), and running back Shane Vereen will be a huge part of that. Off-season news indicates they plan on utilizing him mostly as a 3rd down RB and receiver out of the backfield, with a healthy dose of rushing the football, and even sometimes lining up as a WR to take advantage of defenses. WR Wes Welker and RB Danny Woodhead are gone baby gone. Given Vereen’s excellent receiving ability and underrated route running for a RB, he is ready to make an immediate contribution in those roles. New England has likely the 2nd best, maybe the best, run blocking unit in the NFL. In fact they rated out as 2nd run blocking offensive line by Pro Football Focus in 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, and 2008!. With the losses in their receiving game and the strength of their Offensive Line, the Patriots will lean on both Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen heavily.
Gio Bernard is one of top backs in this year’s class, and landed in a positive situation with the Bengals. He most likely will lead the team in touches as well, but he’s a small back with a torn ACL in his injury history. His body just won’t be able to handle the damage of true feature back duties in his first NFL season. Complicating things for him is 6th year vet Benjarvus Green-Ellis, a back that’s rushed for 1000+ yards and 10+ TD in 2 of the last 3 seasons and is currently listed as the team’s starter. The most likely scenario is that BJGE ends up handling a bit of everything except catching the football, which he sucks at, and Gio stays fresh, getting about half the carries and all of the catches out of the backfield.
Shane Vereen’s weekly workload will be substantial, regardless of who is listed ahead of him on the depth chart,. If Ridley ever goes down Vereen is suddenly a workhorse in one of the NFL’s top flight offenses. He will provide owners with RB2/3 numbers all year long.
Michael Floyd v. Ryan Broyles
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2nd year Arizona Cardinals WR Michael Floyd has overtaken 4th year WR Andre Roberts as the team’s #2 WR. In fact he’s been running as the #2 WR since early on this offseason and the recent depth chart released by the team has him starting opposite Larry Fitzgerald. A blue chip, 5 star recruit out of high school, Floyd terrorized defenses while at Notre Dame before being made the 13th pick in the 2012 draft by the Arizona Cardinals. With great size (6’3, 220 lbs.), leaping ability (38 in vertical), and nice hands, Floyd had a finished strong in 2012. In weeks 13-16 he averaged 70 receiving yards per game and .25 TD.
Most of the yards came in Week 16 as he hauled in 8 receptions for 166 yards and 1 TD against the San Francisco 49ers. Veteran QB Carson Palmer is
a huge upgrade over the recent carousel of throwers we have seen over the past few years. Another offseason addition, new HC Bruce Arians is known for throwing the football down the field and will have no problem utilizing Floyd’s skills in jump ball situations. With one of the game’s all time great receivers in Larry Fitzgerald out there at all times, double teams will be rare. This will create a lot of favorable one on one situations with corners and safeties.
There is a wow factor about Ryan Broyles though. He has incredible hand eye coordination and an uncanny ability to find the soft spot in defenses and get open. When the Lions drafted him, they actually thought of him as a faster version of Wes Welker. Ability aside, he has serious health concerns. He tore his ACL 9 months ago, the second of two ACL tears within the past 2 years. He would have been a first round pick if not for that first big injury. The talent and opportunity will be there, but his injury history makes him a possible ticking time bomb.
Floyd is on the same level of talent and dominance in college. He has also demonstrated big game ability on the professional level, evidenced by that 166 yard game against the league’s best defense. Expect Floyd to breakout in a big way this season.
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I’ll concede, the case for Ryan Broyles is more about opportunity than it is proven production, but there is A LOT of it. Broyles enters just his second year in the league after suffering a devastating ACL tear late last year. Before the injury, Broyles was coming on strong and about to pass Nate Burleson for #2 WR duties. Broyles averaged a whopping 14.1 yards per reception last year and put up an impressive 126 yard performance against Houston in his last game prior to suffering the injury. With Titus Young now AWOL, the #2 WR situation has cleared up in Detroit some. Burleson now remains the only real threat to Broyles’ role as second option on the team and has so far not been much of a threat through camp, as Broyles has already ascended to #2 on the depth chart despite returning from such a serious injury. Reports thus far are that Broyles looks like he’s 100%, like he never suffered an injury in the first place. Normally, just being a #2 WR on a team doesn’t guarantee you fantasy production but on the team that threw more than anyone else in the league last year? Yea, you’re going to be fantasy gold.
Michael Floyd looks to be in a good situation himself as Bruce Arians and Carson Palmer hope to rejuvenate what was a terrible offense in Arizona last year. While the Cardinals could surprise many this year with their new offensive look, it’s far from a guarantee. Detroit has proven year after year that they are dedicated to throwing the ball a ton, capably, and Ryan Broyles looks to be in prime position to benefit from that this year.