Fantasy Football

Fantasy football 32 Q's & A's: NFC

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Ryan Fowler

Ryan Fowler has spent the past 10 years covering and talking sports on TV and radio, in newspapers and on the web. He joined as lead Fantasy Sports Editor and also acts as Digital Content Manager at Follow him on Twitter. Listen to his FOX Sports Team Report Podcasts on SoundCloud and iTunes


This time of year, the questions surrounding football, both in reality and fantasy worlds, only come in one sensation: burning.


Can’t wait until your league’s draft day? has you covered. Test your fantasy football knowledge and strategies with a free and easy fantasy football mock draft.

This makes me really uncomfortable.

Be it talcum powder, salves, creams or John Madden breaking down a door – BOOM! – all I want is for those queries to experience some relief as soon as possible.

As a fantasy football owner, you may encounter similar symptoms in the coming weeks. Along with the burning questions, cold sweats, panic attacks, and choking are common.

To avoid becoming the next fantasy football draft day casualty, please consume the following information with a glass of water, but please don’t call me in the morning. Twitter is acceptable: @FOXSportsFowler.

NFC East

NY Giants

Question: Can the Giants’ receivers repeat and/or exceed their fantasy production in 2012?
Answer: No because of strength of schedule versus solid pass defenses. I’ll elaborate on that point in a second.

Hakeem Nicks (broken foot) came off the PUP list on August 13. He told the New York Daily News that he’s experienced no setbacks in his rehab. He and Victor Cruz were a viable one-two punch in the Eli Manning’s passing game last season combining for over 2,700 yards and 16 touchdowns.

The third-fiddle, Mario Manningham, is now in San Francisco leaving the third WR spot up for competition. My early favorites to fill the void are Domenik Hixon and rookie Reuben Randal. Both will benefit from extra reps in camp with Nicks on the mend.

Getting back to my initial answer, half of the Giants schedule (SOS: toughest in NFL), is against pass defenses that finished in the Top 12 last year: Eagles (twice), Redskins (twice), Steelers, Browns, Ravens, and Bengals. While I think Nicks and Cruz are still worthy WR1 fantasy picks, don’t expect them to torch secondaries in 2012.

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Dallas Cowboys

Question: Should fantasy owners avoid Dez Bryant?
Answer: No, but I’m not in a hurry to draft him. If he falls to a round where I see value, I’ll snatch him up.

Off-the-field issues aside, Bryant had a good 2011 fantasy football season. He didn’t have a great one. While he finished tied for fourth in touchdowns (9), he ranked 30th in receiving yards (928). Now some could argue that Laurent Robinson stole some of Bryant’s thunder, but I would counter with the fact Bryant received 22 more targets (103-81) than Robinson and played in one more game (15-14). It’s fair to say Romo and Robinson were far more efficient when they connected.

Now that Robinson is gone, Miles Austin and Jason Witten are the main threats to Bryant’s fantasy production – outside of himself and Roger Goodell, of course. Austin missed six games last season (hamstring), but managed to still haul in seven touchdowns and Witten remains Romo’s favorite target (117 for 992 yards) last year).

My advice is to avoid overvaluing Bryant in 2012. If you feel comfortable with your QB/RB situation after the first two rounds, go ahead and start to think about drafting him, but not before.

Philadelphia Eagles

Question: Who should I rank higher: Desean Jackson or Jeremy Maclin?
Answer: I’d take Maclin with a side of “don’t forget about Brent Celek.”

D-Jax may receive more media attention, but Maclin is the guy you want in fantasy leagues. If not for a number of injuries last season, J-Mac would have led the Eagles in targets for the second consecutive season. Take a look at the 2011 stat breakdown among the team’s top receivers:

Eagles Receivers 2011 Stats

Player Games Targets Recs Yards TDs
Jackson 15 104 58 961 4
Maclin 13 97 63 859 5
Celek 16 96 62 811 5


Celek finished 2011 on fire with 13 catches for 294 yards and three touchdowns in Philly’s final three games. If you miss on Gates, Witten Gronk and Graham, Celek is somebody to target in drafts.

Washington Redskins

Question: Should I take a gamble on Fred Davis early?
Answer: Yes, but as much as I believe in his ability to help your fantasy team, I’ve started to worry if we can trust him to stay out of trouble.

Most are aware that Davis was suspended the final four weeks of the 2011 season for failing a drug test. Well now, he’s mixed up in a whacky civil suit with a former friend that has all the making of a compelling Judge Judy episode. It’s a slight distraction, but no punishment is likely to come from the awkwardness or Davis’ unique use of legal jargon.

That’s what I mean when I worry about trust issues with drafting Davis. The flip side of that are his 2011 stats. He was among the league leaders at his position the first month and, despite missing the final four games, finished eighth in receiving yards among tight ends (59 rec. / 796 yards) with three touchdowns. When he’s good, he’s among the best, but there is also the factor of working with a rookie quarterback and not Rex Grossman. Did I just type that? Davis should be on your radar, but don’t reach.

You like how I avoided the team’s uber-running back by committee? All in due time.

NFC North

Green Bay Packers

Question: Is it even worth taking a Packers’ running back in 2012?
Answer: Sure, if James Starks is your fourth running back.

I love breaking down the pass-happy Pack’s 2011 rushing stats. At first glance, you’ll notice the team finished 27th in yards on the ground (1,558) – not a surprise. However, owners may see a glimmer of hope with 12 rushing touchdowns, 16th in the NFL last season. Not so fast. The 12 scores breakdown like this: John Kuhn (4) , Aaron Rodgers (3), Ryan Grant (2), Starks (1), Matt Flynn (1) and …B.J. Raji (1).

We'll wait and see how Cedric Benson's role is defined in the next few weeks.

Detroit Lions

Question: Outside of Stafford and Megatron, who should fantasy owners target in the Lions’ offense?
Answer: Let’s start with the running back by committee. With Jahvid Best’s concussion history, I wouldn’t invest a lot in Best as a RB1 or RB2. He’s a fringe RB3 as the team plays it safe with him. Mikel Leshoure will make his regular season debut this season after missing all of last with an Achilles injury. I think he’s a low-end gamble as a RB2 high-end RB3. That leaves Kevin Smith as the “starting” running back and one I would label a RB3 without blinking.

The two guys who interest me the most are Titus Young and Brandon Pettigrew. If not for Nate Burleson (110 targets / 71 recs. / 757 yards), Young would be my second Lions’ commodity on draft day. In that same breath, Pettigrew could be one of the leading fantasy scorers among tight ends if not for the vulture Tony Scheffler. The Mad Scheff received a third of the targets (42 compared to 126) than Pettigrew enjoyed, but caught one more touchdown (six to five) last season.

At the end of the day, I think Young has the most potential to help your fantasy team this season. Although I prefer to start a third RB in the flex, Young is closing in on the ability to contribute in that slot.

Chicago Bears

Question: Which round should owners target Brandon Marshall?
Answer: I’d say third with some thought to take him in the second depending how things shake out.

When we last saw Marshall and Kyle Orton as a 1-2 punch, the year was 2008. The city was Denver. Marshall opened up that campaign by setting a NFL-record by hauling in 18 passes for 166 yards and a touchdown versus the Chargers. He finished with 104 catches for over 1,200 yards and six touchdowns that season. The six scores have been his average per season over the last three years (w/ DEN / MIA / MIA).

Matt Forte was the Bears’ most-targeted player in 2011, but Johnny Knox “led” the team in receiving with 727 yards. Kellen Davis led the team in receiving touchdowns with five. My guess is a good number of casual fantasy players have never heard of Davis.

It’s okay, in 2012 Marshall will be the name to remember.

Minnesota Vikings

Question: Who is the fantasy sleeper up in Minnesota?
Answer: The name that keeps coming up is tight end Kyle Rudolph. Google his name and you will wish certain fantasy writers got a room before their lovefest ensued.

In case you missed it (or ICYMI for the Twitter crowd), Visanthe Shiancoe is now part of the New England Patriots hoard of receivers and tight ends. This leaves Christian Ponder Rudolph and John Carlson (formerly of SEA) as his top two tight ends.

Rudolph didn’t post a “wow, look at me” game in 2011, but did finish with 26 receptions for 249 yards and three touchdowns. After posting big numbers with Matt Hasselbeck in 2009 and 2010, Carlson was a dud in 2011 with Tarvaris Jackson behind center. He recorded over 1,200 yards with 12 touchdowns in ’08 and ’09 combined. He had one score in 2011. Why couldn’t he be the sleeper?

It’s also worth noting that Adrian Peterson insurance is a must this season with Toby Gehart as his handcuff. The third-year back out of Stanford had three games where he rushed for over 90 yards last season.

NFC South

New Orleans Saints

Question: What do we make of the Saints’ rushing attack in 2012?
Answer: Similar to the Packers, I think Pierre Thomas, Mark Ingram and, in certain leagues, Chris Ivory possess value, just not enough to move the needle.

It’s scenarios like this (heavy RBBC) where I believe fantasy leagues could begin to adopt a new rule where you draft a team’s entire rushing unit instead of individual players.

Thomas and Ingram are low-end RB2, high-end RB3, but Sproles still intrigues me. Some fantasy writers believe without Sean Payton on the sidelines, the speedy back could see his touches diminish in 2012. I disagree. As I’ve said before, all due respect (is it really due?) to Joe Vitt, but Drew Brees is going to run this offense on the field. Sproles was second in targets last season. Granted, Marques Colston would have caught him had he not missed time due to injury, but Sproles is a tasty checkdown and a fantasy player I’d feel comfortable drafting and starting as my flex play.

Carolina Panthers

Question: Is Cam Newton a first-round lock in standard-scoring leagues?
Answer: Lock? No. Would I take him in the first round? Yes.

Cynicism runs rampant during fantasy football draft season. Some of the same guys who questioned Cam Newton’s fantasy draft value a year ago (hand is raised) are the same ones now claiming “he can’t do it again.” So, believe me, there are plenty of Newton pessimists to go along with owners ready to anoint him a fantasy overlord.

Here’s what I want those considering Newton to keep in mind. Through his first four starts last season, he averaged 346.5 passing yards per game. During his final 12 games, he averaged 222 passing yards per game. His 21 passing touchdowns just missed the top 10, good enough for 11th in the league. His 17 picks were good enough for the top ten – sixth-most in the NFL.

The fantasy risk-versus-reward comes down to Newton’s feet, not his arm. He averaged less than 50 rushing yards per game, but made up for it with 17 rushing touchdowns. Mike Tolbert was picked up in the offseason and could vulture the vulture inside the five.

Atlanta Falcons

Question: Should I be weary of Julio Jones or should I embrace him?
Answer: I’m comfortable enough to embrace him as a low-end WR1.

Jones finished with a flurry of fantasy excellence the last month of the regular season. He averaged over 92 receiving yards per game with six touchdowns in the final six games.

It comes down to if owners believe enough touches exist for Jones when Roddy White, Michael Turner and Tony Gonzalez continue to splinter targets.

Tampa Bay Bucs

Question: Lots of new faces in Tampa Bay, how does it impact fantasy football draft strategy?
Answer: I’m a fan, but then again, I was one of those owners burned by LeGarrette Blount in 2011. So, take it with a grain of salt.

This year’s trendy running back pick is Doug Martin (low-end RB1). No question, he’s going to get a chance to start because of Blount’s struggles – let’s just say in a variety of areas – last season. Still, I’m not completely bailing on Blount (RB3/flex). He could be a great option to vulture on the goal line. Think Brandon Jacobs when Ahmad Bradshaw was healthy last year.

Josh Freeman has the weapons to be a QB1, but do we trust him that much? I don’t. I’m very interested to see how Mike Williams (WR2) bounces back this season with Vincent Jackson (low-end WR1) drawing so much attention on the other side of the field. If Dallas Clark (TE2) stays healthy, he could be a late-draft steal at tight end or one you draft and stash on your bench in the hopes a desperate owner comes looking for an upgrade.

NFC West

San Francisco 49ers

Question: Where should we buy Randy Moss?
Answer: I’m targeting him as a WR4 at the moment. As silly as it may sound, players like Moss are ones I want to see in preseason games (even though his reps will be limited). He’s 35 years old and I want to see if he can separate from defensive backs.

The Niners were 29th in passing offense last season. So, it’s going to take a lot for owners to trust Alex Smith and invest in his receiving corps outside of Vernon Davis (792 yards and six TDs last season). If I were to gamble on a 49ers receiver, it would have to be Mario Manningham. The former Giants’ receiver was brought in to help that 29th pass offense improve, but durability has been linked to Super Mario in the past. When you combine injury concerns with Alex Smith as his QB, it may be enough to turn owners away.

Seattle Seahawks

Question: Who is the sleeper in Seattle?
Answer: Do not sleep on Doug Baldwin … again.

Marshawn Lynch is likely to be suspended to start the season. This opens up a world of opportunity for the Seahawks passing game and their new trigger behind center.

Baldwin finished with a team-high 788 receiving yards and four touchdowns last season. Most owners would agree that Matt Flynn is an upgrade over Tarvaris Jackson at quarterback. Let’s hope Flynn sees the value in targeting Baldwin.

Sidney Rice is coming off surgery on BOTH of his shoulders. The team did make a move to acquire tight end Kellen Winslow, which could cut into Baldwin’s productivity, but not much.

Baldwin is a low-end WR2/WR3.

St. Louis Rams

Question: Is the Rams wide receiver corps still a mess?
Answer: Yes. The team-leader in receiving last season was Brandon Lloyd (683 yards, five TDs), now in New England, and he only played in 11 games with the Rams after he was dealt by Denver.

Danny Amendola (back from a nasty elbow injury) is worthy of consideration in PPR leagues, but after that it’s a crap shoot. Danario Alexander, Brian Quick Brandon Gibson and Chris Givens are in the mix. The team did sign “the other” Steve Smith this offseason who, in this bunch of WR2’s, could prove useful.

My head hurts thinking about the Rams receivers. Try to avoid them as WR1-3.

Arizona Cardinals

Question: Should owners trust Beanie Wells and/or Ryan Williams in the running game this year?
Answer: Trust is such a strong word with a RBBC where both backs are coming off knee surgeries.

Beanie (career-high 1,047 rush yards and 10 TDs in 2011) began the season on the active/PUP list. Williams missed all of last season with a torn patella tendon. So, at face value, owners who draft one or the other are investing in a lot of hope – or as my colleague Joel Beall said – a lot of “ifs”.

If Kevin Kolb is the starting quarterback, if Kolb utilizes rookie Michael Floyd in the passing game, if the defense keeps the team in games to allow the rushing attack to play a role all four quarters are all bullet points owners should consider before gambling on Wells and/or Williams.

For right now, I’d feel safe calling them middle-to-low RB2s.

Send me your fantasy football questions: @FOXSportsFowler.

Tagged: Falcons, Bears, Browns, Cowboys, Lions, Packers, Titans, Rams, Vikings, Patriots, Saints, Giants, Eagles, 49ers, Seahawks, Buccaneers, Redskins, Panthers, Jaguars, Cardinals, Matt Hasselbeck, Steve Smith Sr., Mike Williams, Jason Witten, Brandon Lloyd, Eli Manning, Vincent Jackson, Alex Smith, Brandon Jacobs, John Kuhn, Ryan Grant, Tarvaris Jackson, Vernon Davis, Brandon Marshall, Brent Celek, Laurent Robinson, Kevin Kolb, John Carlson, Matt Forte, Fred Davis, DeSean Jackson, Matt Flynn, Kellen Davis, Kevin Smith, Mario Manningham, Mike Tolbert, Brandon Gibson, Jeremy Maclin, Brandon Pettigrew, Hakeem Nicks, Beanie Wells, Dez Bryant, Jahvid Best, LeGarrette Blount, Chris Ivory, Cam Newton, Julio Jones, Ryan Williams, Kyle Rudolph, Titus Young, Doug Baldwin, Chris Givens

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