Fantasy Football

Freeman, Floyd highlight steals

Greg Olsen, Carolina Panthers
Olsen will see his fair share of love in Carolina this season.
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Joel Beall

Joel Beall is a writer for FOXSports.com and WhatIfSports.com. He lives with a Golden Tee machine and a jump shot that’s currently broken. Reach Joel on Twitter @FOXSportsBeall.

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Outside of tailgating, pickup hoops and Mila Kunis, nothing quite revs my engines like a bargain. Perhaps it’s a byproduct of competitive nature, or just the fact that I’m a frugal S.O.B., but it’s hard to top the belief that one has bested the dealer. However, I can’t be the only one who shares this sentiment. How else do you explain the extreme couponing craze and the popularity of the Discount Double-Check commercials?

Though this sentiment usually percolates in snagging an Eric Davis jersey off eBay for $15 or throwing down two Qdoba burritos for the price of one, this theory manifests itself in fantasy football. If you want to conjecture early-round selections as the foundation for your rotisserie fortress, it’s the late-round grabs that apply the finishing touches to the landscape, if you will. The fruition, or lack thereof, of these overlooked entities often decides the fate of the fantasy season. Primary picks like Aaron Rodgers, Arian Foster and Calvin Johnson fulfilled their heightened expectations last year, but it was the eleventh-hour acquisitions of Cam Newton, Marshawn Lynch and Jimmy Graham who delivered above and beyond their aspirations.

Utilizing the FOXSports.com Average Draft Position tool, which illustrates where players are falling in early calls of duty, here are some performers tumbling into the bargain bin:

Josh Freeman (Average Draft Position: 112.7)
Much has been made regarding Michael Vick’s spill from the first overall pick to third-round status, but Freeman’s plunge has been just as precipitous. A projected top-10 player at the position last August following a spectacular 25-to-6 touchdown-interception comparison in 2010, the Buccaneers signal caller now finds himself going as the No. 17 quarterback in FOXSports.com drafts after tossing 22 balls to the wrong team last season.

Yet there’s a lot to like about Freeman for 2012, starting with the new scenery. To shore up an attack that finished 27th in points scored, the Tampa front office overhauled the offense, bringing in veteran targets Vincent Jackson and Dallas Clark and beefing up a beleaguered line with All-Pro Carl Nicks. Rookie back Doug Martin has impressed in camp, not only with skills on the ground, but with his blocking ability and prowess in the passing game, two talents that incumbent runner LeGarrette Blount sorely lacks. A change at the coaching ranks should translate to improved performance as well, as Greg Schiano has instilled a toughness and discipline that was noticeably absent in 2011.

Though the periphery is much enhanced, if Freeman continues to turn the pigskin over, the refurbishment will do little in alleviating last year’s woes. Then again, the Kansas State product wasn’t as bad as advertised, as many of the mistakes could be associated with dropped or tipped passes by his receivers. Continually working from behind, as well as the dearth of a formidable running game, put Freeman in tough circumstances. It will be an endeavor to replicate the feat of five interceptions from 2010, but don’t envision last campaign’s gaffes to resurface, either. Moreover, Freeman is one of the few quarterbacks who can contribute in the rushing game, evidenced by four scores and 55 rushing attempts in 2011. Armed with a loaded arsenal at his discretion and stable leadership for the first time in his four-year career, Freeman could easily achieve the potential bestowed upon him at this juncture last season.

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Carson Palmer (ADP: 145.6)
More than a few readers found dispute in my claim that the former Heisman winner would reinsert himself into fantasy relevancy. Please don’t misconstrue this as an assertion that Palmer is, you know, not terrible. As a Queen City resident, I’m all too familiar with the egregiousness associated with the plethora of off-targeted, flimsy lobs from the 32-year-old’s arm. (Of course, you’d be afraid to step into throws too if a hitman took out your leg with a cheap-shot on the second play of your franchise’s first playoff game in 19 years. Not that I’m still bitter about that or anything.)

Nevertheless, while Palmer is not the first choice to be at the helm of your favorite football team, in the fantasy realm, his robust yardage accumulation (over 2,600 yards in nine starts last year) renders prosperity. And that damage was done mostly on the fly, as Palmer was trying to assimilate into the Oakland offensive philosophy midseason. Now with eight months to digest the team’s terminology, as well as building rapport with his stable of receivers, it’s not preposterous to suggest Palmer should improve immensely for the Silver and Black.

For those struggling to wrap their head around this premise, a good parallel is Jon Kitna’s stint in Detroit. The Lions may have struggled in the win column with Kitna under center, and he was far from what gridiron pundits would call “good,” yet the squad’s frequent context of playing from behind correlated to back-to-back 4,000-yard seasons for the field general, even more impressive considering the league was still a ground-oriented atmosphere. By putting Palmer in this perspective, suddenly such a preeminent fantasy standing seems fairly attainable.

BenJarvus Green-Ellis (ADP: 73.5)
Highlighted by second-year studs Andy Dalton and A.J. Green, the Cincinnati air assault garners most of the media attention, but the ground game is the core principle of the unit’s disposition. Despite missing four games in the last three years, along with an occasionally careless insolence towards ball security, former Bengals back Cedric Benson amassed nearly 900 carries with the Who-Deys since 2009. Enter the Law Firm, who has yet to fumble in 510 career attempts and has racked up 24 rushing touchdowns in the last two seasons. Concededly, Green-Ellis has been dealing with a foot ailment for most of training camp, limiting the back’s presentation in his new digs. However, the injury isn’t imagined to be serious, and shouldn’t downgrade his draft status. Very few teams employ a single-back system, so with Green-Ellis pictured to handle the majority of the workload in Paul Brown Stadium, it’s a Danny Ocean-esque heist that he’s going in the eighth round.

Kevin Smith (ADP: 139.7)
Jahvid Best is on the PUP list, Mikel Leshoure remains hampered with injuries and faces a two-game suspension, Stefan Logan is more of a return specialist and Keiland Williams is, well, Keiland Williams. By the diagnosis of exclusion, Smith is set to handle Motown’s burden of backfield exertion come season opener. By no means is Smith a paragon of good health, as the injury bug has reared its ugly head on more than one occasion in his professional career, yet the 2007 All-American was solid in abbreviated appearances last season, averaging 4.9 yards per carry in seven contests. Granted, the Lions are powered by a high-octane airborne approach, but this actually enriches Smith’s stock, as the rusher is one of the more proficient receivers at the running back position. Estimated for 20-24 touches per week, don’t let Smith nosedive down your draft board.

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Rashad Jennings (ADP: 147.7)
Initially, I was concerned over the lack of fervor on Maurice Jones-Drew’s holdout, as Titans fans handled Chris Johnson’s August sabbatical last season in the same fashion as Owen Wilson’s character in Wedding Crashers dealt with his breakup to Rachel McAdams, which is to say, with a complete nervous breakdown. Then I remembered there are only 13 actual Jaguars supporters, and the outrage scarcity made sense.

For his part, Jennings has looked agile for a power back, earning praise from coaches and fellow players, and has made the most of his time in the spotlight, rushing for 118 yards on 23 carries against the starting defenses of the Giants and Saints. MJD will likely return before Week 1; nevertheless, with CJ2K’s abomination fresh in the minds of many an owner, handcuffing Jennings is an astute effort.

Reggie Wayne (ADP: 102.6)
A fallacy all fantasy owners are culpable of is infatuation over new assets (see: Richardson, Trent), which corresponds to the negligence of older, proven players. This misapprehension is evident in Indianapolis, as Reggie Wayne, in spite of averaging over 1,200 and eight touchdowns for the past eight seasons, is dropping to the 11th round. This descent could somewhat be rationalized if the football community was down on Andrew Luck, but clearly this is not the case, as the No. 1 overall pick in April’s NFL Draft seems to be harvesting league-wide tribute. I have no qualms with this adoration, although I do think Newton’s ridiculous rookie campaign has placed unfair expectations on Luck and Robert Griffin III. However, you can’t be up on Luck and down on Wayne, as the two are riding the same train. The Colts and Luck will be doing their fair share of flight exhibitions this fall, and with mostly unproven players at the receiver and tight end positions, Wayne should see an excess of targets in his direction.

Stevie Johnson (ADP: 112.1)
After posting 82 receptions for 1,073 yards and 10 trips to the Promised Land in 2010, the Buffalo wideout found himself as a preseason top-15 rotisserie receiver. Following a season with similar stats in 2011 (76 catches, 1,004 yards, seven scores), Johnson is now going in the…12th round? Come on, the Bearded Bomber, a.k.a. Ryan Fitzpatrick, isn’t that bad, and outside of Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller, Johnson has little competition for targets. If he repeats his output from the past two years, thank the gridiron gods that Johnson is available at this juncture.

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Malcom Floyd (ADP: 120.6)
1. Philip Rivers’ primary deep threat, the aforementioned Jackson, has departed to Tampa.

2. Rivers’ other favorite bullseye, Antonio Gates, has missed nine games the past two years and was hampered by injuries in countless more contests.

3. Receivers Vincent Brown and Eddie Royal are dealing with injuries, and offseason acquisition Robert Meachem has struggled to build affinity with Rivers thus far in camp.

4. Rivers has averaged 4,400 yards and 30 touchdowns the past four campaigns.

5. Floyd’s yards-per-game mark has steadily progressed each of the past four seasons.

6. Writing in numeral-bullet form is way easier than constructing coherent paragraphs.

In short: someone’s going to be the beneficiary of receptions in San Diego this season. Might as well be Floyd.

Danny Amendola (ADP: 150.5), Steve Smith (ADP: 150.7)
It’s not exactly the soundest prophecy, but I’m buying into the rejuvenation of Sam Bradford this season, and as consequence, like Amendola and Smith to see the fruits of this fulfillment. In PPR formats, Amendola holds enormous potential, verified by his 85 receptions in 2010. Fully recovered from an elbow injury that sidelined the receiver for most of last year, Amendola is expected to be the chief target once again thanks to aptitude over the middle.

As for Smith, it seems like eons since the cat has made significant contributions on the field, as health problems have impeded the 2009 Pro Bowler’s playing time. This season could be a different tale, with Smith warranting acclaim for his speed and separation in camp. He’ll have to battle rookie Brian Quick for a starting spot, but you better believe the buzz on the banks of the Mississippi regarding Smith.

Greg Olsen (ADP: 147.1)
It’s a deep contingent at tight end this season, but even in this environment, it’s astonishing that Olsen can be had at such a late stage in drafts. In his Carolina debut, Olsen submitted commendable stats of 45 catches, 540 yards and five touchdowns working with a rookie cannon in Newton, who had a truncated training camp to adapt to the professional ranks. As Newton and Olsen had the benefit of an entire offseason to advance their communication, Olsen has been indicated by many around Panthers camp as a breakout star this season. Supplementing this support is the exile of Jeremy Shockey, as the majority of Shockey’s 37 receptions are believed to be headed in Olsen’s direction. Throw in the addition of Mike Tolbert, whose blocking competence should allow the tight end to roam across the middle, and all signs point to opulence for Olsen.

Tagged: Bills, Bengals, Cowboys, Lions, Titans, Colts, Raiders, Rams, Buccaneers, Redskins, Panthers, Jaguars, Chargers, Jon Kitna, Reggie Wayne, Steve Smith Sr., Carson Palmer, Philip Rivers, Malcom Floyd, Vincent Jackson, Fred Jackson, Calvin Johnson, Greg Olsen, Chris Johnson, Stevie Johnson, Kevin Smith, Danny Amendola, BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Rashad Jennings, Josh Freeman, Jahvid Best, Sam Bradford, Keiland Williams, Cam Newton, A.J. Green, Vincent Brown, Robert Griffin III, Andrew Luck

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