Thursday, August 18, 2011

2011 Fantasy Football: Target Value, Not Sleepers

I've never been a big fan of the term "sleeper" in fantasy football. Sleepers tend to be guys you target later in drafts and have very little impact on your team? Last year, The Bleacher Report produced a top 25 sleepers list, their #1 sleeper in 2010: Arizona RB Beanie Wells. 397 yards and 2 TDs later, Wells wasn't such a great pick afterall. Also on that list: Charlie Whitehurst, Golden Tate, Devin Aromashodu. While some of The Bleacher Report's top 25 sleepers did have a big impact last season, it was hard to label some of them sleepers (LeSean McCoy, Hakeem Nicks, Ahmad Bradshaw).

Instead of focusing on sleepers, The Source has compiled a list of undervalued players who might actually help your team. These are players who I believe are being drafted lower than they should be. If you want to label them sleepers go ahead, I'll call them "value picks." The website, does a great job of taking the data from hundreds of mock drafts and determining each player's Average Draft Position (ADP). For this article, I took the ADP data from a 12-team, standard league and looked for players who I think are being drafted too low.

LeGarrette Blount, RB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Blount's ADP is #25, that ranks him behind Frank Gore, Steven Jackson, Peyton Hillis and Matt Forte. I believe is better than all of those players for two specific reasons: Blount is the only RB option in Tampa Bay and the Bucs offense is better than the Niners, Rams, Browns and Bears. Blount rushed for more than 1,000 yards and six touchdowns last season -- and that was just in ten games. Blount is currently ranked #17 on The Source's TOP 200.

Ahmad Bradshaw, RB, New York Giants
Bradshaw's ADP is #33, which ranks him just below Jets RB Shonn Greene. Bradshaw is a dual threat RB, who was just paid a lot of money to stay in New York. The Giants are going to use him more this season than they did last year. Bradshaw will still likely lose out on some goalline carries to Brandon Jacobs, but he'll make up for lost TDs with yards. Bradshaw has a shot at 1,700 total yards this season (projected: 1,295 rushings/405 receiving) and 9-10 touchdowns. Bradshaw is currently ranked #18 on The Source's Top 200.

Mike Tolbert, RB, San Diego Chargers
Tolbert's ADP is #82, mostly because fantasy owners have high expectations for Tolbert's teammate Ryan Mathews. If this scenario sounds familiar, it should because it played out last season. As a rookie, Mathews was touted as the next LaDainian Tomlinson in San Diego - instead he spent most of last season on the bench with various injuries. While Mathews sat, Tolbert excelled, scoring 11 touchdowns and totaling nearly 1,000 yards (735 rushing, 216 receiving). The Chargers appear ready for a dual backfield that features both Tolbert and Mathews, with Tolbert getting most of the red zone touches. It wouldn't surprise if Tolbert again out scored Mathews this fantasy season. Tolbert is currently ranked #63 on The Source's Top 200.

Philip Rivers, QB, San Diego Chargers
Rivers' ADP is #29, not too far below where we have him ranked, but it's still to low. Why? Because at #29, he is being drafted after Peyton Manning and Tom Brady. The statistical season Rivers had last year was amazing - 4,710 yards passing and 30 touchdowns - and he achieved those numbers with his best two receivers on the bench most of the season (Antonio Gates and Vincent Jackson). With both of those players ready to start week one, Rivers should be even better this season. Rivers is currently ranked #21 on The Source's Top 200.

Matt Ryan, QB, Atlanta Falcons
Ryan's ADP is #63 and that number baffles me. He finished last season with 28 touchdown passes and close to 4,000 yards, what's not to love? Plus, the Falcons added rookie WR Julio Jones in the draft, their offense is loaded. Ryan is entering his third season and has complete control of Atlanta's offense. With a steady running game courtesy of Michael Turner and two exceptionally talented WRs on the outside in Jones and Roddy White, Ryan will be a 30 touchdown QB this season. He's more reliable than Tony Romo and Matt Schuab, yet he's being draft after both players. Ryan is currently ranked #42 on The Source's Top 200.

Lance Moore, WR, New Orleans Saints
Moore's ADP is #133, which is low for a player who might be QB Drew Brees' top target this season. Drafting Saints receivers is always tricky, but Moore appears to be the least risky of the bunch - and the healthiest. Moore is being drafted 88 positions after teammate WR Marques Colston, which is crazy when look at both players' 2010 stats. Colston led the Saints with 1,023 yards receiving (Moore had 763 yards), while Moore led the team with eight TDs (Colston had 7 TDs). Another concern with Colston is his achy knees. He had surgery again this offseason and has been forced to miss practices because of knee swelling. Moore is currently ranked #89 on The Source's Top 200, Colston is #88.

Nate Burleson, WR, Detroit Lions
Burleson's ADP is #169, which is extremely low for a WR2 on a offense that's expected to be very good. As a starter opposite superstar WR Calvin Johnson, Burleson can expect a ton of single coverage this season. In 14 games last season, Burleson caught 61 balls for 785 yards and 6 TDs. If QB Matthew Stafford can stay healthy for an entire season, Burleson's value improves. Plus, with the running game taking a hit with the loss of rookie RB Mikel Leshoure to a season-ending injury, look for the Lions to pass more often this year. Burleson is currently ranked #109 on The Source's Top 200.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

2011 NFL Preseason Recap: Week One (Part 2)

Miami Dolphins at Atlanta Falcons
  • Rookie WR Julio Jones looks like a veteran - and a pro bowler. He will definitely take away targets from WR Roddy White. Still, there will be plenty of targets for both this season.
  • With Jones and White on the outside, RB Michael Turner is going to see plenty of seven-man defensive fronts. Expect another big year for Turner.
  • Falcons K Matt Bryant will score a lot of points this year. Plus, 12 games inside a dome stadium makes him a solid pick.
  • Matt Ryan will be a 30 TD QB this season. He looks that good.
Jacksonville Jaguars at New England Patriots
  • RB Rashad Jennings looks like a guy who may be more than just Maurice Jones-Drew’s handcuff this season.
  • None of the Jaguars WRs excite me. Considered Mike Thomas a sleeper pick and Jason Hill a deep sleeper. Both were non-factors, but should improve with QB David Garrard (rookie QB Blaine Gabbert was QB).
  • Rookie RB Stevan Ridley looked like a guy who can contribute for the Patriots this season. But trying to figure out Bill Belichick’s running back rotation will drive you crazy.
  • Aaron Hernandez plays like a hybrid TE/WR, which makes him a challenge to defend. Still, much like the Patriots RB situation, New England’s TE situation with Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski will be hard to figure out.
  • WR Taylor Price stood out for the Patriots, making a brilliant catch in the end zone. Don’t see him stealing playing time from WRs Chad Ochocinco, Wes Welker or Deion Branch.
San Francisco 49ers at New Orleans Saints
New York Jets and Houston Texans
  • WR Santonio Holmes is a solid WR2, who will get the same amount of targets as a WR1. QB Mark Sanchez’s accuracy issue brings Holmes’ value down slightly.
  • Houston’s defense is no joke anymore. Maybe not a DST starter in most leagues, but it looks much improved over last year.
  • Not sure who RB Arian Foster’s handcuff will be. My best guess, in order: Chris Ogbonnya (sleeper), Derrick Ward, Steve Slaton, Ben Tate.
  • WR Derrick Mason was very involved in the Jets offense. He’s a sneaky pick in PPR leagues.
  • RB Shonn Greene looked leaner and faster, which should help him hit holes quicker. The Jets will run the ball a lot this year. As for who will back-up Greene, my best guess in order: LaDainian Tomlinson, rookie Bilal Powell (sleeper), Joe McKnight.
Arizona Cardinals at Oakland Raiders
  • Aside from WR Larry Fitzgerald, the Cardinals have no other offensive playmakers.
  • The Cardinals O-line is a mess. QB Kevin Kolb had very little time to throw (he looked shaky) and RB Beanie Wells (he looked slow) had very little room to run.
  • RB Michael Bush is a solid back-up fantasy RB option, a must draft for RB Darren McFadden owners.
  • Rookie WR Denarius Moore lived up to the training camp hype, looking very smooth in the Raiders offense. Moore is worth keeping an eye on, and might be a late round flier.
  • Remember the name WR Stephen Williams. He could be the big, fast WR who starts opposite Fitzgerald for the Cardinals.
Denver Broncos at Dallas Cowboys
  • Look for the Cowboys DST is more aggressive this season. That will translate to more sacks and turnovers.
  • RB Knowshon Moreno looks like a guy who’s ready to stay on the field all three downs. Health is always a concern with him, but he looks like a guy who could have a big fantasy impact.
  • QB Kyle Orton was great last year, but a new offensive system will hurt his value this year. He’s a QB2, at best, and knock WR Brandon Lloyd down a couple notches too because of the change in offensive strategy.
  • WR Dwayne Harris’ 5 catch, 127 yard, 2 TD performance should get your attention, after all he is battling for the WR3 job in Dallas. Consider him a sleeper right now, more likely a waiver wire guy during the season (just like WR Patrick Crayton, who Harris is replacing).

Monday, August 15, 2011

2011 Preseason Recap: Week One (Part 1)

What did we do before the NFL Network and DVR? The all-football channel is replaying every preseason football game, a perfect opportunity to prepare for the fantasy season. Every preseason it is a goal of mine to watch every preseason game and find players and trends that will give you an advantage during the fantasy season. Here is The Source's rapid reaction to the first weekend of preseason NFL football. Seven games down, nine to go. Look for more recaps this week. 

Buffalo Bills at Chicago Bears
  • The Bears offensive looked awful. They failed to protect QB Jay Cutler and showed very little in the running game. If this keeps up, the Bears will struggle on offense.
  • Newly acquired RB Marion Barber III moved up in our ranking after a strong showing. He looked quicker and stronger than I expected. He should be the back-up/short yardage option in Chicago.
  • Buffalo Bills WR Steve Johnson looks like he will be the main focus of Buffalo's offense this year. The Bills made a concerted effort to get Johnson the ball (3 catches on 3 targets). Johnson's fantasy value improves in PPR leagues.
  • Buffalo's defense will be better this year with Shawne Merriman as an outside rusher and rookie Marcell Dareus plugging the middle.
  • RB Fred Jackson is clearly Buffalo's best option at running back. C.J. Spiller is a pass catcher, and not a threat to steal too many carries.
Minnesota Vikings at Tennessee Titans
  • QB Matt Hasselbeck played well in his debut with the Titans, finishing 5-6 for 55 yards (played one series). Hasselbeck gives Tennessee a reliable game manager under center, who should take pressure off the running game and RB Chris Johnson (who's holding out).
  • Titans back-up RB Javon Ringer is a must draft for Johnson owners. Ringer ran well in light duty, finishing with 3 carries for 17 yards.
  • QB Donovan McNabb looked sharp early in his Vikings debut, connecting on 4 of his first 5 passes. Look for McNabb to target his tight ends (Visanthe Shiancoe) and WR Percy Harvin in the 8-10 yard range a lot this season. The Vikings' offensive strategy will be about ball control and power running.
  • Rookie QBs Jake Locker and Christian Ponder played well at times, but they also reminded us that they're still rookies. Neither will be a fantasy factor this season.
  • One rookie to watch is Vikings TE Kyle Rudolph, who looked comfortable running routes and catching passes in the Vikings new offense.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Kansas City Chiefs
  • QB Josh Freeman has complete control of Tampa Bay's offense. Look for him to put together a solid season, which will include some rushing touchdowns this year.
  • RB LeGarrette Blount looks like he's ready to move into the elite running back class. He looks more comfortable in the Bucs offense, including in the passing game -- where he was non-existent last season.
  • RB Thomas Jones is still the best handcuff option for Jamaal Charles owners.
Green Bay Packers at Cleveland Browns
  • Packers started the game with 3 WRs (and played most offensive snaps): Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson and Donald Driver. James Jones was not in the rotation (worked with the second team).
  • RB Ryan Grant is the starter for the Packers, but James Starks looked more explosive. Packers had no commitment to the run.
  • QB Colt McCoy looked very comfortable running the Browns offense, worked the ball around extremely well. Looked like a player who could be a solid QB2.
  • WR Josh Cribbs started for the Browns, played every snap with the first offensive team. Looks like he will play a significant role in Cleveland's offense. Brian Robiske started opposite Cribbs, rookie Greg Little worked as WR3.
Pittsburgh Steelers at Washington Redskins
  • RB Tim Hightower looks the part of a starting running back. He's faster than RB Ryan Torain, but fumbling is a concern. If Hightower can hold onto the ball, he will be the Redskins leading rusher this season. He's an above average pass catching RB as well.
  • Rookie RB Evan Royster (shifty, strong, finished runs) was RB2 for the Redskins, rookie Roy Helu was RB3 (started slow, but finished strong).
  • WR Santana Moss is still the Redskins top target, despite his age and new quarterback -- more valuable in PPR leagues. Don't be scared off by the fact that Rex Grossman is his QB.
  • Rookie WR Leonard Hankerson will not see a lot of playing time for the Redskins if he can't catch the ball. Right now, he can't catch the ball.
  • WR Antonio Brown filled the Steelers WR3 role and looked solid in place of injured WR Emmanual Sanders.
  • Look for the Steelers and QB Ben Roethlisberger to stretch the field a lot this season with WRs Mike Wallace, Brown and Sanders. Roethlisberger is
Indianapolis Colts at St. Louis Rams
  • Rookie TE Lance Kendricks looks like he could become QB Sam Bradford's favorite target, and possibly the Rams top red zone target this season.
  • Newcomer RB Cadillac Williams is the best handcuff option for Steven Jackson owners.
  • RBs Donald Brown and rookie Delone Carter in competition for RB2 behind Jospeh Addai. Brown has the experience, but has been a disappointment. Carter has the upside. This battle is worth watching.
  • Don't forget about WR Pierre Garcon for the Colts. With WRs Reggie Wayne and Austin Collie, as well as TE Dallas Clark, Garcon is easy to overlook. He will be the Colts primary deep threat this season. Plus, he's more durable than Collie.
Cincinnati Bengals at Detroit Lions
  • If QB Matthew Stafford can stay healthy for 16 games for the Lions, he will be among the top 5 scoring quarterbacks. WR Calvin Johnson is on the verge of overtaking WR1 overall and WR Nate Burleson looks like a solid sleeper this year as a WR3. The Lions will throw the ball a lot.
  • The Lions running game is non-existent. RB Jahvid Best is not an every down RB1 and the other RBs, Jerome Harrison and Mike Bell, showed very little to get excited about.
  • The Bengals will struggle to score points this season with rookie Andy Dalton at QB. Poor QB play will hurt the value of WRs A.J. Green, Jerome Simpson and Jordan Shipley.
  • RB Cedric Benson should be considered a good fantasy option at RB2, but his value his hurt by QB play.

Cleveland Browns QB Colt McCoy Learns From Brett Favre

There's a lot of fantasy football buzz right now around Cleveland Browns quarterback Colt McCoy. The second-year QB played extremely well Saturday night against the Green Bay Packers, and now there's word he's been getting QB help from a Packers legend.

According to the NFL Network's Steve Mariucci, McCoy worked out with Brett Favre in Mississippi for several days this summer, learning the West Coast Offense (which the Browns currently run). Favre is considered a WCO whiz, playing in the offensive system for many years under Mike Holmgren in Green Bay. Holmgren is now the Browns President.

McCoy reportedly worked out with Favre at a high school near where Favre lives.

McCoy appears to be a quick study. On Saturday night against the Packers, McCoy completed 9-of-10 passes for 135 yards and a touchdown.