Roto Arcade

First Down: Graham, Brady, Wilsons have inquiring fantasy minds wanting to know

Brad Evans
Roto Arcade

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Graham in Round 1 is quickly catching on among drafters (USAT)

Curiosity not only killed the cat, last year it buried your prized franchise, Belichick Yourself Before You Wreck Yourself, under a suffocating pile of Ls. Instead of chasing top-billed producers from a ballyhooed rookie crop, you decided to play it safe, trust volume and, inexcusably, buy into ‘expert’ assurances Matthew Stafford, Ryan Mathews and Larry Fitzgerald would crack their position’s top-five.

Busted.

Owners who went into drafts with poorly-formed opinions about buzzy players are determined this year not to make the same mistakes. Since Mr. Irrelevant’s name was called in April, thwarted fanatics have invested ample time, energy and resources, culling through as much information as humanly possible in a quest to seek fantasy knowledge.

In Part II of the Noise’s pressing questions series (Read Part I here) we examine sophomore sensations, muddied backfields and a Hall of Fame quarterback who may show signs of advanced aging:

Does Jimmy Graham deserve heavy first-round consideration in 12-team drafts?

What do Marissa Miller, Kobe beef burgers and the Dyno-Albino all have in common? They’re in a class all by themselves.

Upheaval stemming from Aaron Hernandez’s incarceration, Rob Gronkowski’s possible multi-game unavailability and other commodities’ inconsistency (e.g. Vernon Davis), has created a noticeable schism at the tight end position. It’s Graham and everyone else. As a result, it’s become common practice for owners to outstretch arms to acquire the Saints’ services in Round 1, particularly in PPR formats. In a recent ‘experts’ draft, for example, the top target went No. 6 overall, just ahead of RB building blocks C.J Spiller, LeSean McCoy and Alfred Morris. Some would call spending a No. 1 pick on a player at a traditionally unreliable position lunacy. However, it’s somewhat logical.

Following the Antonio Gates blueprint to NFL stardom, the ex-'U' power forward took the fantasy world by storm in a breakout campaign two seasons ago. During that year, he averaged a robust 12.3 fantasy points per game in standard formats, a number that ranked top-15 among RBs and top-five among WRs. Though his production dipped slightly last year (10.3 fppg), he remained an integral part of the league’s most prolific passing attack, especially inside the red-zone (42 RZ targets 2011-2012).

Projected by most publications to finish in range of 85-1050-10, Drew Brees’ deadliest weapon is worth entertaining at or just before the Round 1 turn. Again, assuming Gronk, who is making significant progress in his recovery from back surgery according ESPN's Ed Werder, misses substantial time, the cliff from Graham to Tony Gonzalez is fairly steep. Still, because most leagues require only one starting TE, it’s tough to swallow circumventing a bona fide RB1 or Calvin Johnson to grab him. Remember, surprises lurk around every corner in Fantasyland. Chasing a Dennis Pitta (78.0 ADP, TE6), Kyle Rudolph (86.1, TE7) or even Rob Housler (163.3, TE22) at a fraction of the cost seems to be the savvier move. Keep in mind last year the difference between Graham and Rudolph, the No. 12 TE, was only 3.6 fantasy points per game, a measurably smaller disparity when compared to gaps at other positions.

Can you honestly trust the ‘expert’ hype surrounding David Wilson and Lamar Miller?

Miller has become quite the spicy meatball. Pundits of all shapes, sizes and incompetency levels, including yours truly, have sung his praises this summer.

Their adoration is completely justified.

Blessed with fantastic cut-back skills, impeccable vision , plus speed and sure hands, he possesses all the necessary tools to thrive in a lead role. Recall last season on just 51 carries the second-year back tallied an impressive 4.9 yards per carry. Yes, Daniel Thomas will snake a goal-line touch or two and the offensive line, which lost Jake Long to St. Louis, is in a transition period, but he should excel as the bellcow. His improved pass pro turned heads at mini-camp and his summer workouts with fellow Miami alum Frank Gore can only help. Throw in Ryan Tannehill’s rapid maturity along with Mike Wallace’s arrival and Miller finishes inside the RB top-15. Keep pulling wool over opponent eyes in Round 3 of 12-team drafts (32.4 ADP, RB21).

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Wilson isn't a cut above the rest says the Noise (USAT)

As for Wilson, place your ear to the ground and chances are you’ll hear wild exaggerations about the Giant from several fantasy aficionados. David Wilson is so powerful he could’ve outlasted Mike Tyson in his heyday. David Wilson could outrun a cheetah on one-leg. David Wilson is so physically and lyrically sound, he could out-hip, out-hop and out-whatever-the-heck-this-woman-is-doing Jay-Z. The majority, it seems, have Giant expectations for the ex-Hokie.

The Noise, though, refuses to join the movement.

Wilson is a talented runner with electric speed and above average open-field escapability. However, his gifts aren’t nearly as extraordinary as some would lead you to believe. Last year on almost an identical number of carries, he and tag-team partner Andre Brown each forced eight missed tackles according to Pro Football Focus.

Essentially, Wilson is the bang, Brown the brawn. Andre isn’t as flashy, but he’s a bigger, better-rounded rusher who is the likely frontrunner for the heavy side of a probable 55-45 timeshare, with many of those touches coming inside the red-zone. Moreover, if Wilson doesn't make major strides this summer as a receiver and pass protector, the workload separation could grow wider. Giants offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride told ESPN New York Thursday Wilson is improving against the blitz, but admitted the rusher "still makes mistakes...you are still kind of holding your breath when you see him." Not exactly a ringing endorsement. He's the quintessential boom or bust pick.

Inevitably, someone in your draft will buy into Wilson hook, line and sinker as early as Round 2, but whoever steals Brown some 50 picks later (Wilson ADP: 29.9, Brown: 79.5) may stake claim to the more prized Giant. Ultimately, his projected 7-9 TD total should make up for the probable 300-400 total yard disadvantage.

Is the supposed impending demise of Tom Brady greatly exaggerated?

Good thing Mr. Gisele Bundchen wakes up next to a lingerie model every morning. It's been a rough offseason. Wes Welker, Aaron Hernandez, Brandon Lloyd and Danny Woodhead, a group that comprised nearly 70-percent of the Patriots' vertical offense last year, are either catching passes elsewhere, unemployed or locked away in solitary confinement. Going from Welker to Danny Amendola is a lateral move, but due to the enormous health questions of Rob Gronkowski and Julian Edelman combined with the general overhaul in talent, Brady, at 36-years-old, is about to enter uncharted waters.

The roster isn't completely devoid of talent. Hybrid back Shane Vereen could do his best Reggie Bush impersonation, lining up all over the field to create mismatches. Rookie Aaron Dobson, who is expected to compete for one of the flanker spots, has fly tape for hands. In his senior year at Marshall he didn't drop a single pass on roughly 100 targets. Donald Jones, previously with Buffalo, has shown WR3 flashes. And Michael Hoomanawanui and Jake Ballard should fill in admirably until Gronk returns.

Still, concerns about a major drop-off are understandable. To alleviate pressure on Brady and keep the machine well-oiled, Belichick will likely lean on Stevan Ridley and the power run game. Unknown to most, the Pats have recorded the most rushing scores in the league the past two years. Recall a season ago, they featured the run 58-percent of the time inside the red-zone. An identical formula, especially early in the year, could be implemented. That happens, and Brady's numbers will suffer, though a dramatic decline probably isn't in the cards.

Currently, the two-time Super Bowl MVP checks in at No. 10 on the Noise's QB ranks. Don't consider the knock a harsh indictment of the player. History suggests he's more than capable of turning garbage into gold. And, to be fair, the points per game difference between Brady and Wilson, my No. 5 QB, will likely be less than three, a marginal drop-off. But because of the brand name, this drafter won't be outstretching a limb to snatch him up anywhere close to his 51.8 ADP (QB5).

Fantasy is a game predicated on maximizing value. Right now, Brady is an overpriced sports car with visible blemishes. Bank on 4,200 passing yards with 28-30 total touchdowns and not much more.

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Those who don't jump on the Russ Bus are loco. (USAT)

Will Russell Wilson improve, hold steady or slide in his second year?

RGIII and Andrew Luck may have ruled the headlines among last year's historic rookie QB class, but Wilson is on track to deliver more valuable virtual numbers the second time around and possibly beyond. Determined to dominate, the Wisconsin product is a filmroom junkie. His studious approach combined with an unflinching attitude, opportunistic running style and accurate arm (64.1 completion percentage in '12) makes for a winning combo.

Naysayers will point to his zero 300-yard games and underwhelming number of pass attempts (24.5/game) as reasons why you should avoid him, but any simpleton could tell you fantasy is about the total package. Wilson runs, effectively, padding his overall value quite nicely. In his last seven games last year he surpassed 30 rushing yards five times. Overall, he accounted for 10 multi-TD games, the same number as Matt Ryan. Most impressive, his 25.3 fantasy points per game mark from Weeks 8-17 ranked top-three at the position. By all means, doubt Wilson ... and sign up for a spot in the Noise's league.

With a year under his belt, coming off a remarkable offseason and adding Percy Harvin, the 'Hawk will fly high in 2013. Though his pass attempts per game probably won't touch 30, bank on a top-five QB campaign. Currently the 10th passer off average draft boards (76.3 ADP) according to Fantasy Football Calculator, he's a bargain buy, particularly for those who plan to exercise patience at the QB position on draft day.

What ray of RB sunshine will emerge from cloudy backfields in Green Bay, St. Louis and Denver?

Green Bay Eddie Lacy early, Jonathan Franklin late. The Packers haven't produced a top-10 RB since Ryan Grant accomplished the feat four years ago. Recycling numerous has beens and clunky talent since, it was high time the front office address its lacking backfield. Enter rookies Lacy and Franklin. Because of his interior brawn and accolades earned at 'Bama, most expect the former to be the more desirable fantasy back, but don't sleep on Franklin. He's an outstanding downhill runner with superb lateral movement who, despite his light build, gains extra yards by churning his legs after initial contact. Faster than his new tag-team partner (Franklin: 4.49 40-yard, Lacy: 4.57) and more versatile, the future LA mayor is the better all-around fit for Green Bay's zone-blocking scheme.

At this time, it's difficult to pinpoint exactly what the distribution of carries will be, but it should emulate what the Bengals plan to employ with BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Giovani Bernard, a probable 60-40 split. Lacy should generate most touches on early downs and inside the red-zone, but given his injury-plagued past, predicting a midseason switcheroo isn't outrageous. Based on their near 70-pick separation in average drafts (Lacy ADP: 55.3, Franklin: 117.9), thrifty shoppers should pocket the savings and aim for the ex-Bruin or grab both. The setup is absolutely fantastic.

St. LouisZac Stacy. At 5-foot-8, 220-pounds, the Vanderbilt product is minion-like. Though he lacks foot-speed and wiggle, the diminutive rusher is ox-strong between the tackles who should rack considerable yards after contact. As a member of the Commodores he averaged a laudable 5.6 yards per carry from 2010-2012. He's also a decent receiver out of the backfield. Already the best rusher on the Rams roster, he should steal the spotlight from incumbents Daryl Richardson and Isaiah Pead, who is suspended for the first week of the season, in short order. If there's an Alfred Morris in this year's draft class, it's likely Stacy. Don't forget about him in the midnight hour (ADP: 119.7, RB47).

Denver – Full-blown RBBC. According to ADP data, owners investing in the Broncos backfield fully anticipate a Montee Ball breakout. That likely won't occur, at least initially. Several local reports have surfaced in recent weeks predicting Denver will install a committee, an approach typical of John Fox-coached teams. Ball and a motivated Ronnie Hillman are expected to dominate early downs with Knowshon Moreno working third downs. Under that scenario the rookie would still be the finest fantasy option – it's safe to assume he'll net goal-line touches – but his overall value would suffer, which makes his early fourth-round price tag rather unpalatable (39.2 ADP, RB23). Sketchier, the jury is still out on his pass-blocking abilities. If he doesn't exude competency in that area in exhibition play, his odds of securing at least 15-18 touches per game would diminish greatly. Unless Ball falls into Round 5 of 12-team drafts or beyond, it's best to snag Moreno, who performed admirably in six starts last year, late (155.2 ADP, RB56).

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