Roughly seven weeks ago the final seconds ticked off the Superdome clock. Confetti cascaded from the rafters. A champion was crowned. Baltimore fended off a late-charge by San Francisco to take Super Bowl XLVII. Its fans entered a perpetual state of euphoria. The rest of the pigskin community, however, mourned.
Tears streamed down wing-stained checks. Jerseys went into hibernation. Fantasy discussions around the water-cooler subsided. Life became unfulfilled.
The annual football famine was officially underway.
Now multiple firings, several cuts and one bloated Joe Flacco contract later, the NFL is again a hot topic. In recent days, seismic trades (e.g. Alex Smith to KC, Percy Harvin to Seattle and Anquan Boldin to San Francisco) along with numerous address changes has pigskin at the forefront of the mind, particularly among fantasy zealots.
That was a short offseason.
Who gained the most value? Who didn’t? Here are my biggest fantasy Flames and Lames of this year’s free agent frenzy:
Reggie Bush, Det, RB
Surprisingly, Bush suffered a numbers drop-off in Joe Philbin's Green Bay-styled system last year. Woefully underused in the pass game – he caught just 2.1 passes/game, the lowest mark of his career – and often mishandled on the ground, the rusher failed to establish consistency after a breakthrough 2011. Outside his unappealing contributions in the pass game, he registered a meager 3.8 yards per carry on rushes up the middle, down from 5.1 the year before under offensive coordinator Brian Daboll. Some have already written off the former No. 2 overall pick as a one-year wonder. Though it's likely he won't again surpass 1,000 rush yards, he is line to rebound strong. Detroit's vertical-oriented offense meshes perfectly with what Bush brings to the table. Elusive and electric in space, the veteran will slide into Jahvid Best's vacated role flawlessly. He'll cede carries to Mikel LeShoure in short-yardage situations, but a 15-18 touch per game workload is likely, with many of those grips coming via the pass. Best was well on his way to a top-10 season two years ago until concussions prematurely ended his career. Bush, though also delicate, should recapture that magic in 2013. With defenses focused on Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson, he will have plenty of room to operate. Label him a fringe RB1 in 12-team leagues.
Fearless Forecast: 206 carries, 924 rushing yards, 58 receptions, 420 receiving yards, 7 total touchdowns
Danny Amendola, NE, WR
For the love of PPR fans, Danny, keep your bones and tendons intact. Welker's younger identical twin undeniably received the biggest value boost of any player during the free agency period. Though New England's spread offense is reliant on its pair of outstanding tight ends, Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, it also features a highly productive slot weapon. Enter Amendola. Yes, he's missed 23 games during an injury-marred four years in the league, but when available, he's a slippery, versatile weapon who runs precise routes. Given his skill set, he and Tom Brady should foster an instant bromance. Welker averaged 8.7 targets per game as a Patriot over the past six seasons. If Amendola commands a similar workload and stiff arms the injury imp, his value will jump into the WR1 class in reception-heavy formats. Many drafters in 12-teamers will say a Round 4 price-tag is overly exorbitant, but the potential reward outweighs the risk. No guts. No glory.
Fearless Forecast (If he plays 16 games): 101 receptions, 1,088 receiving yards, 6 touchdowns
Steven Jackson, Atl, RB
If you think the 30-year-old workhorse will be ground up and served to Ikea patrons in the near future, think again. Jackson, who barely sniffed the goal-line in St. Louis' disjointed offense, could morph into a touchdown machine. Last year with the Rams, he carried the rock just 27 times inside the red-zone, 24 fewer totes than what Michael Turner tallied with the Falcons. He may not be as spry or explosive compared to his peak years, but the well-aged rusher still possesses enough power and burst to finish inside the RB top-15. Recall a season ago, his 693 yards after contact were the eighth-most among RBs. Yes, he will surrender roughly 7-10 touches per game to Jacquizz Rodgers and Atlanta's pass-first, pass-often mentality likely won't change, but S-Jax is in line to deliver top-flight RB2 numbers in 12-team leagues. With defenses focused on containing Julio Jones, Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez, stacked boxes, which he saw regularly in St. Louis, will be few and far between . The Falcons' offensive line needs to improve in the run-blocking department, but the two-time All-Pro's well-rounded talents and durability should make him a starting staple, especially in PPR leagues.
Fearless Forecast: 236 carries, 989 rushing yards, 34 receptions, 277 receiving yards, 9 total touchdowns
Rashard Mendenhall, Ari, RB
For all intents and purposes, 2012 was a lost season for Mendenhall. The anti-Adrian recovered slowly from a torn ACL, returned briefly in Week 5 then quickly fell out of favor, taking a back seat to Jonathan Dwyer and Isaac Redman. His no-show for Pittsburgh's Week 14 game against San Diego only intensified matters. Now in the desert and with Beanie "The Weenie" out of the picture, he will be given every opportunity to prove his mettle. Ryan Williams will compete for touches, but Mendenhall, who is still only 26 and was very productive under Arians' watch in the Steel City, will enter training camp with a leg up. Arians recently told the Arizona Republic he believes the rusher is "the total package, an every-down back." The Cardinals offensive line was an absolute disaster last year. A cockroach couldn't find a hole scurrying behind it. Trench needs will be addressed in the draft, but a complete overhaul doesn't ensure an immediate turnaround. Neither does the acquisition of QB Drew Stanton, the presumed starter. Arians worked wonders with Andrew Luck and the Colts last fall, but he has a mountain to climb in Arizona. Still, it's entirely likely Mendenhall will record between 265-285 total touches in his new digs. If gifted such a workload, he should reestablish himself as a viable RB2.
Fearless Forecast: 264 carries, 1,029 rushing yards, 22 receptions, 161 receiving yards, 7 total touchdowns
Lamar Miller, Mia, RB
Tastes great. Fantasy filling. It's Miller Time on South Beach. In last year's draft, many scouts compared Miller to another ex-Hurricane, Clinton Portis. Versatile, explosive, and, right now, in prime position to enter the season as the starter, the youngster is hiding in the shadows. In his rookie year, Miller played second fiddle to Reggie Bush, tallying a lowly 57 touches. However, he made the most of his few opportunities averaging 4.9 yards per carry. He occasionally forced missed tackles and gained 56-percent of his yards after contact, a number identical to what Frank Gore achieved. Yes, Daniel Thomas will wrest away short-yardage touches, but add in Mike Wallace's ability to stretch the field and Ryan Tannehill's expected step forward, and Miller should turn a tidy profit in drafts this summer. Watch his progress closely when training camp opens in late July.
Fearless Forecast: 237 attempts, 1,043 rush yards, 31 receptions, 315 receiving yards, 7 total touchdowns
Daryl Richardson, StL, RB
Out with the old Steven Jackson, in with the new? With the former face of the franchise now in Atlanta, Richardson and Isaiah Pead are slated to shoulder the load. Another young back could be added via the draft, but the Rams appear dead-set against bringing in a veteran to compete. Over the first half of 2012, the former seventh-round pick showed flashes of future brilliance. He displayed terrific speed on the edge and contributed in the pass game. However, his smallish frame (5'10", 196-lbs) limited him to a yack-worthy 2.9 yards per carry on runs up the middle. Match that with the Rams' lack of red-zone opportunities and questionable offensive line, and he's a fringe RB2/3 at best. But if he sprints out of the tunnel Week 1 as the starter, he'll certainly be universally owned. But he could be the lightning component in a tandem backfield garnering roughly 12-15 touches per game. Unquestionably, his value is on the rise, but temper expectations.
Fearless Forecast: 211 attempts, 844 rush yards, 27 receptions, 286 receiving yards, 5 total touchdowns
Mike Wallace, Mia, WR
Wallace is the AFC version of Jordy Nelson. Let's not kid ourselves. He's blazing fast, but largely one-dimensional. That description, of course, doesn't mean he'll resemble a fantasy stiff. After all, despite his inadequacies, the one area Ryan Tannehill excelled in was deep-passing. His 43.3 accuracy percentage on throws beyond 20 yards was the eighth-highest output in the league. Still, it's imperative to keep expectations realistic for Wallace. Because of his unwillingness to go across the middle, defenses will continue to rotate a safety over-the-top to prevent the big play, especially if Brian Hartline, Brandon Gibson and Davone Bess don't soften secondaries. Joe Philbin will get creative with him, installing bubble screens and short sideline routes to help maximize Wallace's speed, but it's doubtful he'll total more than 60-65 receptions on South Beach. Considering the brand name and new digs, several owners will be willing to slap the wallet for the former Steeler. Though he's bound to improve on last year's massive letdown, don't expect a return to 2010 (60-1257-10). At this juncture, Randall Cobb, Michael Crabtree and Danario Alexander are more attractive options.
Fearless Forecast: 64 receptions, 1,094 receiving yards, 7 touchdowns
Mikel Leshoure, Det, RB
Admittedly, I've expended boundless energy penning sonnets on the ex-Illini, but he underwhelmed when thrust into a lead role last year. Yes, he was effective in goal-line packages, indicative in his nine TDs scored, but he didn't register a single 20-yard run despite racking 215 rush attempts. He should make some strides in his second full-season, but Bush's acquisition blackens his overall worth. He should be viewed as a modern-day T.J. Duckett. Though he contributed soundly in the pass game last year (34 receptions), he will surrender most, if not all, pass downs to Bush, and possibly additional touches to forgotten Joique Bell. Still, he'll hold some value as a bench back. Leshoure will almost certainly net most, if not all, short-yardage/goal-line touches. Given the explosiveness of the Lions offense and Calvin Johnson's propensity for trip-ups at the 1-yard line, he could easily net another 8-10 touchdowns. Bush is also far from the picture of durability, which makes him an imperative handcuff. Don't forget about him in the double-digit rounds.
Fearless Forecast: 191 attempts, 728 rushing yards, 13 receptions, 93 receiving yards, 9 total touchdowns
Chris Johnson, Ten, RB
Most would agree, Shonn Greene was completely incapable of kicking anyone in the groin, but by joining the ranks of Tennessee, the ex-Jet did exactly that. The addition of Greene slumps over CJ2LAME's value. A season ago, Johnson was one of the most erratic RBs in virtual pigskin. In 16 contests, he registered under 10 fantasy points in a game seven times and eclipsed 20 points only twice. His impatience once again got the best of him. Instead of being content with a 3-yard gain, he often tried to hit the home-run by bouncing outside, only to be greeted by a gang of defenders. As a result, he was the second-worst rusher in the game according to Pro Football Focus' metrics. In short-yardage situations, Greene can be a hammer. His thick build and straight-line style are ideal in goal-to-go scenarios, an area of the field where he will be exclusively used. Johnson's touchdown total won't dramatically erode compared to last year. Of his six touchdowns only one was scored inside the 10. But Greene's presence practically guarantees the former rush king won't be a double-digit TD producer. Inevitably, someone will overpay for the brand-name in Round 2, but with Greene in tow and given the numerous question marks surrounding the Titans offense, CJ is completely avoidable in the early rounds.
Fearless Forecast: 243 carries, 1,044 rushing yards, 39 receptions, 243 receiving yards, 5 total touchdowns
Wes Welker, Den, WR
In a turn of events no psychic could've predicted, Welker severed ties with the organization, New England, that transformed him from Miami castaway to fantasy megastar. This year, the slot machine will play alongside another first-ballot Hall of Famer, Peyton Manning, in Denver. Though on the wrong side of 30, the wideout is still incredibly slippery. Last year, he hauled in 100 receptions and 1,000-plus yards for the fifth time in six years. However, the address change won't boost his value. Nor is it a lateral move. Manning isn't going to suddenly pump the brakes on his budding chemistry with Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker. A season ago, the pair combined for 263 targets. Welker is an obvious upgrade over Brandon Stokley, but with so many mouths to feed it seems unlikely he'll again reach the century mark in catches. Keep in mind Manning's 583 pass attempts in 2012 were the third-most of his career. Unless John Fox completely abandons the run, which given his history is very doubtful, someone is going to experience a numbers regression. Welker will still be productive, especially for the PPR masses, but he's more WR3 than WR2 material in standard formats. Because of their size, Thomas and Decker will dwarf him in red-zone targets and, presumably, touchdowns. Don't be seduced by the new threads.
Fearless Forecast: 85 receptions, 868 receiving yards, 5 touchdowns
Greg Jennings, Min, WR
Let me guess, Greg's middle name is 'Brett.' Jennings is the second turncoat to trade in Green Bay green for Minnesota purple. However, unlike Favre, instant fantasy success is unlikely. To be fair, Jennings is a fantastic, well-rounded receiver who runs precise routes and still possesses the extra burst needed to break away from defenders downfield. When operating at peak capacity, he's been one of the position's steadiest producers. Since 2007, he's averaged at least 11.5 fantasy points per game four times. Unfortunately, going from Aaron Rodgers to Christian Ponder is akin to trading in a Rolls Royce for a golf cart. Though he completed over 62-percent of his attempts, Ponder often struggled in play-action and was a laughable 8-for-36 on attempts of 20-plus yards, the worst in the league. Offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave will deploy Jennings similarly as Percy Harvin, targeting him on short screens and slants. But he isn't nearly as explosive or shifty as Harvin, which will limit his yards after catch. Without another reliable vertical weapon on roster, Ponder will line up Jennings in the cross-hairs roughly 7-9 per game. However, unless Ponder shakes off the suck, the Old Spice pitchman will likely post modest WR3 numbers in 12-team leagues. No bueno. Remember, this is Adrian Peterson's team.
Fearless Forecast: 69 receptions, 1,027 receiving yards, 6 touchdowns
Still waiting in the green room: Ahmad Bradshaw (GB?), Fred Davis (Cle/Wash in play)
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