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First Down: RG-Glee, QB’s freak recovery echoes Peterson’s

Brad Evans
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Griffin's value should steadily climb as the mercury rises (USAT)

One down. One second. One twist. In an instant an ironclad commodity's value can sink to seemingly irrecoverable depths, a victim felled by mangled tissue and bone.

At this point on the calendar one year ago, Minnesotans expressed cautious optimism. Their heart and soul, Adrian Peterson, then roughly 15 weeks removed from a complete knee makeover, sprinted, cut and jumped on top of large obstacles with few limitations, an exhibition widely thought impossible not long before. At Memorial Day cookouts his captivating display triggered numerous owner questions. What's his true worth? Would you take on the risk? There's no way he'll contribute immediately, right?

The rest of the story still blows the mind. Peterson, quite possibly an alien life-form conceived on Krypton, not only beat the odds, he choke-slammed them, improbably falling just nine yards shy of Eric Dickerson's single-season rushing record. His subsequent 19.7 points per game average, which easily set the pace among RBs, remains astonishing, a resounding victory for modern sports medicine and the human will.

Now with burgers again sizzling on backyard grills, Fantasyland's attention is focused on another once cherished producer faced with similar skepticism, Robert Griffin III.

On Thursday, the much-discussed passer, who appeared to be smuggling pythons under his tight-fitting black shirt (SWOLE!), had an encouraging workout in front of coaches and media. As Yahoo!'s Les Carpenter observed, he delivered crisp passes from 30 yards out, sprinted lightly and looked like a quarterback on a fast-track to Week 1 availability.

Remarkable.

The biggest question about RGIII isn't whether he'll receive a Panini Press for his wedding or when he'll be ready to take first-team snaps, but exactly how productive he'll be from the onset. He's openly expressed his desire to become a more cerebral runner, opting to slide or dive out of bounds to dodge defenders instead of sacrificing his body for an extra yard. Undoubtedly, his rushing totals will suffer as a result, but already a very polished passer – Ben Roethlisberger is the only QB in league history to notch a higher completion percentage in his inaugural season – being anchored to the pocket could actually enhance his fantasy worth.

Last fall, Griffin averaged 26.2 pass attempts, a pedestrian total in a pass-heavy era. But because of Washington's need to protect its most indispensable asset, it's conceivable that number exceeds 30 in short order. Toss in his remarkable accuracy, limited turnovers (20:5 TD:INT split in '12) and strong arm (8.1 YPA in '12), and he could throw for 4,000-plus passing yards and 25-30 TDs, making up for the likely 300-400-yard reduction on the ground. Assuming he's on the field Week 1, expect him to finish ahead of Matt Ryan, Matthew Stafford and, if the cloud hanging over Rob Gronkowski darkens, Tom Brady.

At this point, it's wise to remain guarded about RGIII (77.8 ADP, QB10). However, based on his stunning progress, he, like Peterson before him, could reward the river chaser.

Fearless Forecast (16 games): 4,046 passing yards, 26 passing touchdowns, 8 interceptions, 486 rushing yards, 3 rushing touchdowns

The last time the Cleveland Browns produced a top-20 fantasy wideout (Braylon Edwards in 2007), Amanda Bynes was the poster-child for a drug free society. Since then it's been a virtual cesspool of talent. But Josh Gordon, fresh off a rock solid debut, could deliver Febreze-y numbers in Year 2. According to Plain Dealer reporter Terry Pluto, the game looks 'outrageously easy' to the youngster in OTAs. Dedicated on improving his routes this offseason, he has the appearance of a player on the brink of a breakout.

Overshadowed by the stellar play of marquee names from last year’s rookie class, Gordon was at times radiant in his inaugural campaign. For a guy who barely played college football, his 50-805-5 effort was a testament to his dynamite physical gifts and newfound work ethic. A terrific deep threat, he racked 16.1 yards per catch, the 18th-best YPC for a first-year receiver in NFL history.

With a pair of vertically-minded coaches, Rob Chudzinski and Norv Turner, calling the shots in Cleveland and with only fair competition for targets, Gordon could be a sophomore sensation. Brandon Weeden must elevate his game, but if adequately protected, the wideout should tally a line around 75-1100-7. At his current 87.3 ADP (WR35), you're robbing the competition blind in the middle rounds. Stevie Johnson, Tavon Austin and Greg Jennings, all receivers going at least a round or two ahead of him in early drafts, will pale in comparison. REACH!

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Standard drafters, be wary of Welker (USAT)

In other pass-catcher news, Wes Welker is still a team player. The selfless receiver revealed to the Denver Post he anticipates a substantial numbers drop-off in his first season with the Broncos. Some would say he's simply channeling Roddy White – last year the Falcon's target expressed a similar sentiment to beat writers in Atlanta – suggesting he's prepared to do what's necessary for the betterment of the franchise.

Most would argue the opposite, especially with Peyton Manning at the helm, but Welker's words aren't far from the truth. His days of 100-plus receptions are likely in the rear-view.

Demariyus Thomas and Eric Decker are vastly superior downfield/red-zone receivers who will dominate targets most weeks. Unless John Fox abandons the run, highly unlikely given the organization's excitement for Montee Ball, Manning probably won't throw 600 times. That means Thomas and Decker, who combined for 263 looks last year, should again shoulder at least 40-percent of the receiving workload. If that occurs, Welker will be lucky to net 125 targets.

This of course doesn't mean Welker will rot on owner benches, particularly in PPR formats. The wily veteran remains one of the finest zone-busters in the league. However, his chances of finishing outside the WR top-30 are significant. Last year, Jeremy Maclin was the 30th-best WR in Fantasyland generating a 69-857-7 line. Because of the competition for targets and his inconsistent TD history, it's no stretch to think Welker finishes in range of 80-875-5. Going on average around pick No. 45 overall (WR16), the ex-Pat is arguably the most reached for receiver in early drafts.

Michael Crabtree's catastrophic Achilles injury prematurely derailed what some, including yours truly, projected would be a top-10 season. It's unfortunate, but one man's disaster can lead to another's delight. Or so people think. Similar to Evan Silva's take , I'm not convinced Anquan Boldin will suddenly morph into the 1300-yard, 7-TD juggernaut of yesteryear. Though spectacular during the Ravens' Super Bowl run, he's a player clearly in the penultimate phase of his career. He should see an uptick in targets, but don't anticipate a quantum leap. At this point he's still a fringe WR3 in 12-teamers.

Unless the Niners explore options via free agency (Brandon Lloyd anyone?), Vernon Davis and A.J. Jenkins stand to benefit most. The former disappeared when Colin Kapernick took over totaling a 18-316-1 line in nine games (playoffs included), but, blessed with divine physical tools, he is more than capable of carving out a larger role. He needs to be one first 5-7 tight ends taken in 12-team drafts.

Jenkins' situation is murkier. He contributed as much to San Francisco's storied 2012 as a flaming pile of donkey poo. However, he's a talented, though unrefined, target who I watched routinely terrorize Big Ten secondaries during his tenure at Illinois. San Fran invested a first-round pick in him for a reason. If he can mature quickly this summer, he could surprise, but it's important to keep in mind the Harbaugh/Greg Roman mindset, steeped in pounding the pigskin, won't change. Last year the Niners ran 62.4-percent of the time inside the red-zone. Still, he could become a sought after wire add in deeper formats at some point. Rookie Quinton Patton, an upside long-distance threat, will also be in the mix. Monitor his progress when camps open up in July.

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