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By Michael Nazarek
The 4th of July has come and gone and training camps open in just a few short weeks. I normally begin my annual First Thoughts trek around the league in May, but this off-season was different. The staff and I focused on producing detailed rankings and projections in May instead of June, for the benefit of premium subscribers in dynasty/keeper leagues and those with early drafts. As a result, the first cut of our Pre-Season Draft Guide is more detailed and informative. The one drawback was the delay of this free series. Well, that delay is over. The plan is to whip through all 32 teams before the end of the month. As in years past, this series of articles will begin in the East and I'll work my way West. Let's get right to it, there's a lot to discuss...
Bills: The Bills were a mess in 2012. As a result, the team
cut QB Ryan Fitzpatrick this off-season and signed QB Kevin Kolb,
then drafted QB E.J. Manuel to compete to start. Kolb has shown potential
in the past, but a poor offensive line killed him in Arizona last
season. He'll likely begin the season as the starter, but could yield
to Manuel if he struggles. Not much fantasy value here. As
for the running game, that is another story. RB C.J. Spiller has ascended
to the starting job with veteran RB Fred Jackson backing him up. Spiller
is a top 10 fantasy RB for sure, possibly top 5. If you own
Spiller, it's best to draft Jackson as his handcuff. Yes, he's still
good, but he won't be the starter, barring injury to Spiller. WR Stevie
Johnson returns as the lead receiver, but things have changed quite
a bit. WR David Nelson and WR Donald Jones are history, and the team
drafted WR Robert Woods to start alongside Johnson. WR Marcus Easley
and WR T.J. Graham return for depth, while the team also drafted WR
Marquis Goodwin. I like Johnson, but due to the weak QB situation,
he's not a top 20 fantasy WR. Woods should be targeted late in your
fantasy draft. TE Scott Chandler returns, but is coming off a torn
ACL. His recovery is said to be ahead of schedule, but until he hits
the field and proves his health, he's a big fantasy risk. Once again,
relative unknown TE Lee Smith is the backup. No change at kicker...
Veteran PK Rian Lindell returns and remains a decent kicker, but if
the offense doesn't become more consistent, fantasy owners won't be
starting him very often.
Miami Dolphins: Unlike last off-season, this off-season, the Dolphins possibly made the biggest splash of all in free agency. Coming off another poor season, Miami finally spent some money to help their young QB Ryan Tannehill possibly get to the next level. In the past several months, they added WR Mike Wallace, WR Brandon Gibson, and TE Dustin Keller. They also shucked RB Reggie Bush to turn to second-year RB Lamar Miller, as their new starter. As for Tannehill, I can see nice improvement coming this season, but simply don't see him as an every-week fantasy starter. If Miller takes advantage of this opportunity, he could become a solid fantasy starter for owners who take a chance and draft him. Veteran QB Matt Moore will back up Tannehill, while RB Daniel Thomas backs up Miller. The Dolphins re-signed WR Brian Hartline, whom should start opposite Wallace. Gibson has struggled through OTAs and mini-camps, so he needs to get it together to have real fantasy value. WR Armon Binns has pushed Gibson thus far, but camps have yet to open and the Dolphins gave Gibson a lot of cash to sign. WR Rishard Matthews is also in the mix, but Wallace no doubt holds the most fantasy value from this corps. Where's WR Davone Bess? He's in Cleveland. As for Keller, if healthy, he'll provide a consistent serious threat at the tight end position, something the Dolphins haven't had for years. Veteran PK Rob Carpenter faces stiff competition from rookie PK Caleb Sturgis, this summer. Most believe Carpenter will lose his job, so avoiding the Miami kicker this summer is likely the best policy in fantasy drafts.
New England Patriots: Coming off another winning season, the Patriots have undergone a nightmare off-season. It began with multiple forearm surgeries for TE Rob Gronkowski and ended with the release of murder suspect TE Aaron Hernandez. In between, the team lost WR Wes Welker in free agency and released WR Brandon Lloyd and WR Deion Branch. They did manage to sign WR Danny Amendola, WR Michael Jenkins, and WR Donald Jones, but more questions arose than answers. One thing is certain. QB Tom Brady is healthy and remains the starter for the team, although he drops out of the top 5 fantasy QBs due to the situation he finds himself in. The running game is solid and in good hands with RB Stevan Ridley starting, while RB Shane Vereen picks up the slack in the passing game due to the loss of RB Danny Woodhead and Welker. Ridley should be good for another 10+ scores, keeping him a solid fantasy starter. Vereen holds extra value in PPR leagues. RB LeGarrette Blount was acquired from the Buccaneers, but don't expect much here. If Amendola holds up, he could make some serious fantasy noise, but that's a fairly big IF. Jenkins and Jones are fantasy longshots at best, while Gronkowski could miss a lot of the first half of the season if his recent back surgery doesn't take. TE Jake Ballard becomes an interesting fantasy sleeper, provided he shows he's healthy come the preseason. TE Michael Hoomanawanui and TE Daniel Fells could make impacts as well. Oh, the team also signed QB Tim Tebow to compete for the #3 QB job. Ho-hum. PK Stephen Gostkowski returns as a great fantasy kicker once again in 2013, with a greater possibility of increased FGAs due to the loss of team offensive firepower.
New York Jets: The Jets slumped badly last year and a horrendous salary cap situation yielded the loss of most of their young and talented players, including CB Darrelle Revis. Hey! At least they finally got rid of QB Tim Tebow! Anyway, QB Mark Sanchez regressed in a big way in 2012 and must win the job back again despite a fat contract. He'll have to beat out rookie QB Geno Smith for the job. That is likely to happen, but another poor start and Smith will be starting before you can blink your eyes. Obviously, from a fantasy standpoint, owners should avoid the Jets QB. Free agent RB Shonn Greene left and is now a Titan. The Jets signed RB Mike Goodson, and they also acquired RB Chris Ivory from the Saints. If Ivory stays healthy, he should win the starting job and could become a solid #3 fantasy RB for owners in 2013. As for RB Bilal Powell, he's not talented enough to start and warrants very little fantasy consideration. WR Santonio Holmes (Lisfranc) returns, but his health is still a big question mark. Second-year WR Stephen Hill is expected to start opposite Holmes, but he's had a poor offseason of work and is battling knee swelling. WR Jeremy Kerley could see a bigger role for the team, but due to the unsettled QB situation, also is a fantasy risk for drafts this summer. What does it say about the WR corps when WR Clyde Gates is your #4 WR? Yup, not good. TE Jeff Cumberland was expected to start with TE Dustin Keller in Miami, but the Jets recently signed TE Kellen Winslow, whom impressive during a recent mini-camp. If his knees hold up through training camp, he could grab the starting job. PK Nick Folk returns as the starting kicker, but with this offense in disarray, drafting Folk is hardly a good idea this summer.
Dallas Cowboys: The Cowboys missed the playoffs once again last year, but much of the team remains the same heading into 2013. QB Tony Romo is still the leader, and remains a solid fantasy starter, one that can be had in the middle rounds of a fantasy draft. QB Kyle Orton returns as the veteran backup. In the running game, RB Felix Jones is gone, meaning RB DeMarco Murray will start, as long as he remains healthy. Nagging foot and ankle injuries have kept him sidelined, making him a fantasy risk in many owners eyes. I like him this year, though. RB Lance Dunbar and RB Phillip Tanner return for depth, while the team also drafted RB Joseph Randle in April to back up Murray. In the passing game, WR Dez Bryant finally matured into the STUD WR he was expected to be late last year, playing through a fractured finger to boot. He's a top 5 fantasy WR entering the 2013 season. WR Miles Austin disappointed again last year, disappearing at times. It could be his final season as a Cowboys if he doesn't turn it around. WR Kevin Ogletree is gone, leaving the #3 WR position on the team up for grabs between WR Dwayne Harris and rookie WR Terrance Williams. But that doesn't mean whomever wins that job will make much of a fantasy impact, especially with veteran TE Jason Witten still an the roster and an integral part of the passing game. Witten remains an elite fantasy producer. TE John Phillips is gone, leaving TE James Hanna to back up Witten. PK Dan Bailey is the kicker for the team, a player who can go from a huge game to a one-pointer due to the inconsistent Cowboys offense.
New York Giants: My favorite team missed out on the playoffs after a Super Bowl win the previous season. QB Eli Manning struggled to recapture the magic from the 2011 season in 2012 and the team got blown out too many times late in the season to earn a playoff berth. As a result, Manning isn't viewed my most as a solid fantasy starter, but he's still capable of blowing up, making him an excellent #2 QB. Veteran QB David Carr returns to the team as the backup. In the running game, RB Ahmad Bradshaw is gone, leaving second-year RB David Wilson and RB Andre Brown to carry the load. Look for a RBBC to develop here, as Brown is a good short yardage back, while Wilson has the speed to break long runs. Wilson must improve his pass-blocking skills if he's to ever become a cow-bell back for the team. In the passing game, WR Hakeem Nicks and WR Victor Cruz both return to the team in 2013. Nicks is healthy once again, while Cruz just signed a new long-term contract. Both players can lite it up, but they must stay healthy for the passing game to succeed, especially since WR Domenik Hixon and TE Marcellus Bennett left via free agency. Second-year WR Rueben Randle is expected to fill the #3 WR position, while WR Ramses Barden was re-signed for depth. Veteran WR Louis Murphy was also signed to boost the corps' deep threat capability. To replace Bennett, the Giants signed TE Brandon Myers, a player whom broke out in Oakland last year. He's an interesting fantasy sleeper at tight end for 2013. Second-year TE Adrien Robinson will back up Myers. PK Lawrence Tynes is history, as the team signed veteran PK Josh Brown to take over the kicking duties. He's an accurate kicker on a team that should give him plenty of scoring chances, if you get my drift.
Philadelphia Eagles: The Eagles missed the playoffs again and HC Andy Reid was fired and replaced with HC Chip Kelly. Kelly says the starting QB position is up for grabs between QB Michael Vick and QB Nick Foles. Odds right now say that Vick will start, but if he struggles, Kelly won't hesitate to bench him for Foles. Bottom Line: Vick is far from a lock as the team's starter in 2013. In the running game, RB LeSean McCoy returns as the starter, although an injury last year forced RB Bryce Bown into a lead role, where he impressed, meaning he's likely to see more touches than a normal backup would in 2013. Still, McCoy is the guy to own here as in fantasy terms. The Eagles also signed WR Felix Jones for depth. In the passing game, WR DeSean Jackson and WR Jeremy Maclin return as the starters, but with the QB situation a bit muddled, neither can be counted upon for top 20 fantasy WR production. Veteran WR Jason Avant returns as the #3 WR, but he's too inconsistent for fantasy owners to rely upon. WR Riley Cooper and WR Damaris Johnon are also in the mix, while the team acquired WR Arrelious Benn from the Buccaneers for depth. TE Brent Celek is still on the roster, but may not start ahead of TE James Casey, signed during the off-season. Bottom Line: Don't expect big things from the Eagles tight end in 2013 and you'll be fine. PK Alex Henery is a decent kicker, but didn't see nearly enough chances last year to make a real fantasy impact. That could change in 2013, but there are plenty of better options for fantasy owners to take ahead of Henery at the end of your draft.
Washington Redskins: The Redskins made the playoffs in surprising fashion last year, mostly due to the impressive play of QB Robert Griffin III. Unfortunately, he tore his knee up pretty bad at the end of last season, but plans to be ready to play come week #1, a la A.P. Can he do it? We'll see. If he can't, second-year QB Kirk Cousins is likely to start in his absence. Obviously, drafting RGIII this summer is a risk, but one that could pay off. Veteran QB Rex Grossman returns, but is not guaranteed a roster slot, especially if RGIII can play in early September. In the running game, second-year RB Alfred Morris blew up in 2012 as a rookie and won the starting job. He returns, ready to carry the full load once again, and perhaps catch a few more passes. RB Evan Royster and RB Roy Helu return, but this is clearly Morris' job to lose, something I don't think will happen. In the passing game, WR Pierre Garcon developed quick chemistry with RGIII last year, but a week #1 toe injury nearly caused him the entire season. He returned late in the year to reclaim his lead position in the corps. Veteran WR Santana Moss filled in admirably when Garcon didn't play, but once he returned, Moss went back to being a non-factor. WR Josh Morgan and WR Leonard Hankerson will play opposite Garcon, but are too inconsistent for fantasy owners to depend upon week to week. Veterans WR Donte Stallworth and WR Devery Henderson were signed to vie for one position, but that position is unlikely to make a fantasy impact (likely #5 WR). At tight end, injured TE Fred Davis (Achilles) was re-signed and is out to prove his worth coming off that serious injury. He's sliding in a lot of drafts this summer, making him worthy of a late-round draft pick as your #3 fantasy TE. TE Logan Paulsen returns to back up Davis, and is not a threat to steal the job, since he struggled after Davis went down last year. PK Kai Forbath came from nowhere to earn the starting job after signing during the season. He's the perfect example of why fantasy owners should wait to draft a kicker, as he made 17 of his 18 FGAs for the team after joining them.
That's a wrap for the two Eastern divisions. Be sure to join me over the coming weeks as I offer my First Thoughts on the other six divisions. All comments, complimentary or otherwise, are always welcome via our contact page. Let's talk fantasy football!