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Thoughts to ponder for season ahead

Pro Football Weekly
Thoughts to ponder for season ahead

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Thoughts to ponder for season ahead

Anyone else feeling obsessed with football now that training camps have opened? (Hands go up throughout the room.) Good. Happy to know I’m not alone. I actually had a dream the other night in which my wife reacted angrily after I deleted episodes of “Project Runway” to make room on the DVR for preseason games.

A few of you degenerates already have had fantasy drafts/auctions, but for most of us, the draft season is just ahead. Please allow me to dislodge an indiscriminate jumble of fantasy-related thoughts from my brain. The first two pertain to strategy. The others are more player-specific.

One school of thought heading into the fantasy draft season is that there’s so much depth at wide receiver, owners should wait on wideouts and load up at the other positions (particularly the Keira Knightley-thin RB position) in the early rounds. I agree — to a point.

The shrewd move is to tailor your draft strategy to the size of your league and the lineup configuration that your league requires. If you only have to start two receivers each week in a 10-team league, then yes, it makes sense to be patient at the WR spot. If you need to start three receivers each week in a 14-team league, well, you’d better not wait too long before dipping a toe into the WR pool. I played in a 12-team expert league last year where the flex rules allowed you to start as many as five WRs in a 10-player lineup — and you had to start four WRs each week unless you opted for a second tight end in one of the two flex spots. Getting caught short on receivers in a league like that could be fatal.

Before you draft, put some thought into the relationship between the size of your league, the lineup configuration it uses and the areas of strength/weakness in the player pool. Doing so should help you frame a sound draft strategy.

This is the time of year when fantasy owners tend to think solely in terms of full-season stats. Once the season begins, owners shift their focus to single-game stats. You’re no longer concerned about whether you will get 1,500 yards and 10 TDs out of your top running back; you’re concerned about whether he will produce a good yardage total and maybe a TD or two in the game ahead.

Do you have the stomach for players like the Jacksons — Vincent and DeSean — who are notorious for long stretches of two-catch, 25-yard games punctuated by the occasional 160-yard, two-TD explosion? If not, perhaps you should eschew Jacksonian democracy on draft day.

For your backup quarterback, do you prefer a low-ceiling Steady Eddie type like Joe Flacco, or more of a feast-or-famine guy like Ryan Fitzpatrick?

Before you take the plunge on any player, make sure he fits into your week-to-week plans. This obviously isn’t a hard thing to figure out with Calvin Johnson. It’s trickier with, say, Randall Cobb. Yes, Cobb is an exciting player and a popular sleeper. Yes, Cobb probably will score a few “Holy crap, did you see that?” touchdowns this season. But will you be able to count on him when it’s Week Seven, you’re facing one of the toughest teams in your league and you have three starters on bye?

Cobb appears to have a bright future (hello, dynasty leaguers), but it’s hard to see him seizing a prominent every-week role in the Green Bay offense this season. You might have the roster room for one or two gamble-on-talent flyers like Cobb, but go overboard on those types of players and you might find it hard to scrape together a credible lineup each week.

After attempting to dampen the enthusiasm of Robert Griffin III disciples in an earlier column, I’m going to reload the Super Soaker.

The Redskins’ offensive line is a mess right now. There’s no problem at left tackle, where the Yeti-sized Trent Williams capably holds down the fort. But ORT Jammal Brown is out indefinitely with a chronic hip ailment that flared up again the day before the Redskins opened training camp, and OLG Korey Lichtensteiger just had cleanup surgery on a knee that was shredded last season. Washington isn’t exactly blessed with great OL depth.

In early practice reports from Ashburn, Va., the primary knock on RG3 was that he was holding on to the ball too long. If a running quarterback like Michael Vick is considered an injury risk, perhaps RG3 enthusiasts should be concerned about the rookie’s prospects for survival behind a patchwork offensive line.

Oh, and by the way, Andrew Luck fans, the Colts’ offensive line isn’t exactly an impregnable wall.

In terms of sexiness, Shonn Greene is the Rosie O’Donnell of running backs. No, he’s not a dynamic, thrilling-to-watch runner, but he has gained more than 4.0 yards per carry in each of his three seasons with the Jets, and none of his backups is a serious threat to his job security. Greene’s value takes a hit in PPR leagues, and his TD potential could wane if Tim Tebow takes over at quarterback for the Jets. Still, at a time when most teams are taking the RB-by-committee approach, a decent back who will get 15-20 carries in most games shouldn’t be so readily dismissed.

James Starks will attract some attention simply because he’s the No. 1 running back in an excellent offense. However, the Packers deploy a committee at running back, which is why Starks didn’t have more than 13 carries in any game last season. Starks isn’t going to get much work in TD land because the Packers’ preferred options near the goal line are (1) Aaron Rodgers throwing; (2) Aaron Rodgers running; and (3) FB John Kuhn. If I put on my rosiest rose-colored glasses, I could maybe — maybe — see Starks finishing with something like 1,200 rushing-receiving yards and 5-6 TDs (though I’d confidently bet the under on those numbers). So, in a best-case scenario, Starks produces Shonn Greene-type numbers.

With Trent Richardson, it’s not so much the lack of supporting cast that bothers me. Yeah, the Cleveland passing game is going to be awful, but the Browns have a pretty decent offensive line. What bothers me more is the competition Richardson will face in the AFC North — six games against the Ravens (No. 2), Steelers (No. 8) and Bengals (No. 10), all of which had top-10 run defenses last season.

The guess here is that Ahmad Bradshaw’s chronic foot problems aren’t going away, even after a stem-cell injection in the offseason. That’s why I (insert a bunch of “reallys” here) like his explosive rookie teammate, David Wilson of Virginia Tech.

Jeremy Maclin might be my leading candidate for a “Why didn’t we see it coming?” type of season, by which I mean a Jordy Nelson, 15-TD type of season. Maclin isn’t exactly off the radar — he’s a top-20 receiver in a lot of people’s rankings — but I think his potential is somewhat obscured by the fact that he has played in the NFL for three years without having a 1,000-yard season. Maclin did, however, have 10 TDs two seasons ago, and he was an absolute TD machine during his college career at Missouri (33 total TDs in 28 games). A mysterious health scare last August clouded his outlook for 2011, but all systems are go this season.

I’m intrigued by Justin Blackmon and Michael Floyd, but Alshon Jeffery might have greater potential for a strong rookie season simply because his quarterback isn’t a bum. Whatever talent gap there might be between Jeffery and his higher-drafted peers, it’s surely smaller than the vast chasm between Jay Cutler and plebeians Blaine Gabbert and Kevin Kolb. Jeffery doesn’t figure to be a high-volume receiver (at least not right away), so he’s not an ideal late-round draft target in PPR leagues. But in standard leagues I like him as a potential flex WR who could tally 750-900 yards and 7-8 TDs.

The training camp reports about Antonio Gates have been positively glowing, and he’s said to be completely healthy. But as with Bradshaw, Gates' chronic foot problems are worrisome. With Gates in his twilight years, it’s hard to see him matching stats with guys like Graham and Gronkowski, and yet I think a lot of owners are going to reach for him after Graham and Gronk come off the board.

Are we absolutely positive that Jacob Tamme is going to fit neatly into the role that Dallas Clark used to play for Peyton Manning? Sure, Tamme actually did fit into that role pretty neatly when Clark was injured in 2010 and produced Clark-like numbers over the second half of that ’10 season. But is Tamme appreciably better than fellow Broncos TE Joel Dreessen? Why has Tamme gained only 9.3 yards per catch over his career?

Tamme’s average draft position is currently in the TE 10-11 range, and at that price there’s no way I’m buying. You can probably get much better value with, say, Panthers TE Greg Olsen, whose ADP is in the 17-19 range. Olsen is taller and more athletic than Tamme, plays with a top quarterback and is on a team with a shortage of quality wide receivers.

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