Fantasy football rookie review

Fantasy football rookie review

Published Jan. 9, 2013 12:00 a.m. ET

The long, arduous journey that was the fantasy football season came to an end as we waved goodbye to the 2012 calendar year. We watched a very strange, topsy-turvy campaign that included myriad injuries, confusing performance trends and the disappearances of many former stars.

Of course, we’ve already had one huge injury in the postseason that served to shake up those early 2013 fantasy draft boards. So, we can’t put the spreadsheets away altogether. (You weren’t leaving football behind anyway.)

Soon, we’ll start inundating you with fantastic statistical breakdowns on the diamond. Pitchers and catchers are just a few short weeks from reporting to Arizona and Florida. Before we do, I wanted to put a few thoughts out about the rookie class of 2012 and offer some names for late wide receiver slots on your draft board. It’s my way of celebrating the brilliance of “All-Name Team” captain and fantasy hero Cecil Shorts III.

Let’s get things started in Washington.


Sophomore Signal-Callers

The results from the Wild Round of the NFL Playoffs took a backseat to a monumental injury in Washington. On Wednesday, January 9th, Robert Griffin III underwent surgery to repair the LCL and ACL in his right knee (his second ACL repair). Evidently, there was no clear ACL damage on the early MRIs, but it required repair once Dr. James Andrews further assessed the damage during surgery. As a result, the compound damage extends the timeline for Griffin III’s return to the field.

You can hope for the Adrian Peterson-inspired return from RGIII in 2013. I will give Mike Shanahan credit for securing a second option in the 2012 NFL Draft. Kirk Cousins slides into the starter role during Griffin III’s absence and becomes a mid-QB2 fantasy option. Remember, Cousins led the Redskins to a victory in Week 15 over the Browns, completing 26-of-37 attempts for 329 yards with two touchdowns and an interception (two sacks and 22 rushing yards). With a healthy Pierre Garcon, the return of Fred Davis and a strong running game onboard, Cousins should succeed in the top spot.

Andrew Luck led the Colts into the playoffs after passing for over 4,300 yards in the regular season. Granted, he closed out the regular season by passing for 205 passing yards or less in four consecutive games and failed to complete more than 50% of his pass attempts in his final five regular season games. He did have record six 300-yard games. Luck exceeded expectations, registering 28 total touchdowns against 23 turnovers in what was expected to be a dismal rookie season. There is a talented nucleus in the passing game, including two tight ends, though the team will need to find a complement to Vick Ballard in the backfield. Luck will enter 2013 drafts as a mid-QB1 option.

I remember the calls for Russell Wilson to be benched following the first quarter of the season despite recording victories over the Cowboys and Packers. Wilson’s second half of the season made him one of the great stories of the 2012 season. The rookie from Wisconsin produced multiple touchdowns in eight of his final nine starts and he became a rushing threat.

Wilson will eventually work the ball downfield more frequently, but this squad is built to run the ball and play suffocating defense. In 2012, Wilson attempted more than 25 passes in only five games. He’ll retain a mid-QB2 rank heading into draft season with upside.

Ryan Tannehill finished a distant fourth in the rookie quarterback sweepstakes this season, but the Dolphins found their signal-caller for the future. Tannehill passed for nearly 3,300 yards despite injury and consistency issues in the receiving corps. Of course, Tannehill did pass for 200 yards or less in seven games that he finished (three with more than 250 yards). He threw 12 touchdown passes against 13 interceptions. With upgrades to the receiving corps via the draft or free agency, Tannehill should round into a more consistent performer. Still, he’s just a borderline back-end QB2 on the early draft board.

Chip Kelly reportedly talked about Colt McCoy as a viable option for the Browns during his short-lived flirtation with the squad. I don’t see how Brandon Weeden was dismissed so quickly after passing for nearly 3,400 yards (3,385) with 14 touchdowns against 17 interceptions (he missed the finale). There’s a very nice core in Cleveland with Trent Richardson, speedster Josh Gordon and Greg Little.

As this was written, the Eagles were still pushing through the interview process for the head coaching job. The team will reportedly move forward without Michael Vick, thereby putting Nick Foles into the top spot. Foles passed for 1,699 yards while completing nearly 61% of his pass attempts in seven games. The Philadelphia offense is stocked with speed options and big-time playmakers. Foles will be able to thrive, provided that the team is able to build a serviceable offensive line this offseason. He’s a second-line QB2 out of the gate.

Second-Year Performers

While we lament the decision to leave RGIII on the field and his subsequent surgery, we must applaud Mike and Kyle Shanahan for leaving the running back shuffle in the past. Alfred Morris amassed 1,613 rushing yards overall with 13 touchdowns and dominated opponents down the stretch. He rushed for more than 76 yards in all but two games this season and carried the ball at least 20 times in seven consecutive games to close out 2012. I still fear Shanahan turning back to his old ways in 2013, particularly with RGIII’s injury on the board. Still, Morris will be a mid-RB1 entering 2013 fantasy drafts.

Doug Martin produced a fantastic season for the Buccaneers despite obvious issues on the offensive line and defensive lapses that forced Josh Freeman to take to the air. Martin earned five 100-yard games this season and helped bolster his stats by availing himself as a receiver (49 receptions for 472 yards). If you can spin Martin’s stats well to your league mates, you may find yourself a bargain on draft day. He rushed for 62 yards or fewer on six occasions, including four of his final six games.

Trent Richardson finished third among rookie running backs, producing 1,267 yards with 11 total touchdowns. Richardson achieved three 100-yard games and was limited to fewer than 50 rushing yards on seven occasions before missing the finale because of ankle/rib injuries. Richardson reportedly played much of the 2012 season with broken ribs. He’ll appear on the board as a high-RB2 option for 2013.

Ronnie Hillman was expected to become “the man” when Willis McGahee was injured midway through the 2012 season. Instead, Knowshon Moreno emerged from nowhere to claim the top slot and produced fantastic numbers to help fuel the 11-game winning streak. Hillman produced 330 rushing yards on 85 attempts this season (3.9 yards per carry). I’m not ready to bury him yet, but the team will certainly have some interesting decisions to make at the position. He’s worthy of a late-round flier given the current roster composition with upside.

Daryl Richardson earned the second slot in the St. Louis backfield behind Steven Jackson and amassed more than 600 total yards. He’ll be challenged in 2013 by Isaiah Pead, who slid off the radar after being selected in the second round. Pead logged only 10 carries in 2012, five of which came in the season finale against Seattle. I expect Pead to slide ahead on the depth chart and become a formidable No. 2 behind Jackson.

Dwayne Allen and Coby Fleener will grow alongside Andrew Luck in Indianapolis. Allen caught 45-of-66 targets for 521 yards, though he logged only three touchdowns. Fleener caught 26-of-48 and missed part of the season because of a shoulder injury. Allen is the more intriguing option for me in fantasyland as a potential red zone beast.

I’ll spare the lengthy analysis of Alshon Jeffery and Kendall Wright here. Both flashed signs of becoming big-time performers in 2012. Jeffery had his rookie season upended by injury, while Wright battled a crowded receiving corps and inconsistent quarterback play. Likewise, Chris Givens amassed 42 receptions and demonstrated great downfield play-making ability for Sam Bradford. The Rams will be interesting to watch in year two for Jeff Fisher.

Jarius Wright closed out the season well, producing eight receptions (14 targets) for 143 yards in the final two games against the Texans and Packers. He amassed 22 receptions for 310 yards overall, including a huge 65-yard touchdown reception against Green Bay. Wright will take on a much larger role in his second year whether Percy Harvin returns to Minnesota or not. Obviously, there’s still a huge question at quarterback (are you a Ponder believer?), but there’s speed and downfield capability here.

Unless there’s a complete overhaul in New York, you won’t have to take much of a risk in selecting Stephen Hill late in your 2013 drafts. He produced 21 receptions on 47 targets as a rookie for 2512 yards, though he did missed five games.

Looking Deep: Next Year’s Cecil Shorts III

Tandon Doss will enter his third year with the Ravens in 2013, and he’s been tabbed as a potential replacement for Anquan Boldin. Doss caught 7-of-17 targets in 2012 for 123 yards. He’s a 6-foot-2 receiver who logged 140 receptions for 1,668 yards in his final two seasons at Indiana.

The Texans continue their search for a No. 2 receiving option opposite Andre Johnson. Sure, Owen Daniels has been a steady option over the middle with an occasional deep throw in the mix, but there’s not a steady downfield option otherwise (it’s no longer Kevin Walter’s run). Keshawn Martin, a fourth-round pick out of Michigan State, caught 10 passes for 85 yards while operating as a return man for the Texans in 2012. DeVier Posey, a third-round pick out of Ohio State, caught six passes for 87 yards. Posey is the better bet for a larger role coming into 2013 barring a change in personnel via the draft or free agency.

Longtime readers already know of my affinity for Mohamed Sanu, who established himself as a red zone option down the stretch before an injury sidelined him ahead of the playoffs. Teammate Marvin Jones, a rookie from California, will compete for a starting slot in 2013. Jones caught 18-of-32 targets in 2012, including 10 receptions (his lone touchdown) in the final two weeks of the regular season.

The Browns have an intriguing core of skill position players entering 2013. I can’t believe that I just wrote that line, but it’s true. We know about T-Rich and the short-lived fantasy brilliance of Josh Gordon as a downfield threat. I’ll turn my attention to another receiving option that popped onto the radar as a rookie. Travis Benjamin, a fourth-round pick from Miami, caught 18-of-37 targets for 298 yards with two touchdowns and demonstrated some big-play potential of his own. I’ll be curious to see how he’s used once the new coaching staff gets put in place. Could he pile up short receptions with some YAC? Benjamin’s a true longshot option in this category.

Rishard Matthews received an opportunity down the stretch in Miami because of an injury to Davone Bess. The rookie from Nevada caught eight passes in the final three games for 96 yards, including 20 and 30-yard receptions. Matthews finished the season with 11 receptions on 20 targets for 151 yards.

Nick Toon missed the entire 2012 season after undergoing surgery on his foot. He’ll return to the Saints for 2013 barring a setback and will try to crack the rotation in the explosive New Orleans offense.

A.J. Jenkins was a non-factor as a rookie despite getting selected in the first round of the NFL Draft by the 49ers. Jenkins was not targeted a single time this season. Michael Crabtree finally became the No. 1 option that everyone anticipated he could be, but questions remain in the rest of the San Francisco receiving corps. He’ll have a chance to battle Mario Manningham for reps in 2013.

And because I feel the need to put his sticker on the board, don’t forget about Vincent Brown of the Chargers. We were taunted and teased during the middle of the 2012 season about a possible return to action for Brown. Unfortunately, it did not materialize. With Danario Alexander working alongside Malcom Floyd on the perimeter, Brown should return as a PPR machine for the Chargers in 2013.