Robert Griffin III ranked second among all quarterbacks in rush attempts (120) and rushing touchdowns (7) last year, and he led his position in rushing yards (815). Griffin was also a remarkably productive passer in his first pro season, establishing a new rookie record for QB-rating (102.4). But the key to RG3's fantasy value, without question, was his rare talent as a ball-carrier.
Griffin underwent surgery in January to repair a damaged right LCL, and to re-repair an earlier ACL tear. His rehab and recovery have gone well, according to virtually every report. Griffin hasn't yet made a preseason appearance, but he's a full-go in practice, participating in 11-on-11 drills. No known setbacks. At this point, it would be a surprise if Griffin didn't start Washington's Monday night opener versus Philly.
But starting and starting at full capacity are different things. Questions remain about Washington's post-surgery plan for Griffin, and about the team's willingness to expose him to open field hits.
We should be careful not assume the coaching staff will dramatically reduce its use of option runs. As offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan said back in June...
“You just look at all the zone read clips. I mean, not many big hits happened on that. Usually everyone is blocked for. ... The three injuries were pass plays. They weren’t the zone read. The zone read is something that I learned going through the year that I think really helped us. It’s the least pass rush I’ve ever seen as a coordinator — guys just sitting there scared to death, just watching everybody, not moving. I really enjoyed sometimes, actually, being able to drop back and not have four guys just teeing off on the quarterback, all trying to hit him in the pocket.”
Realistically, opposing defenses will be looking to light up quarterbacks whenever possible on option runs in 2013, as part of a strategy of deterrence. It's not as if designed runs involve zero risk. But you can understand Shanahan's greater point about the opportunities created by the threat of Griffin as a rusher.
So we shouldn't expect RG3 to be anchored to the pocket this season. Let's just hope he'll play with a greater sense of self-preservation. He obviously can't continue to seek contact at the ends of runs, as he did last season — an injury really seemed inevitable for him, and he was fortunate to have lost just two fumbles. (He put the ball on the ground 12 times.) Washington's gameplans were tilted heavily toward the run last year, as the team ranked third in the NFL in total rush attempts (first in yards) and 30th in passes. Griffin may not reach 120 carries again, but he'll be more than a mere supporting player in this ground game — assuming he's healthy. Or healthy-ish.
Griffin's draft price isn't outrageous at the moment (QB7, ADP 44.8), but he's going well ahead of several quarterbacks who don't necessarily carry the same level of risk, and who will lead productive attacks — guys like Ryan (48.5), Stafford (63.0), Luck (79.2), Romo (88.9), Eli (100.1) and Vick (115.4). To date, I haven't been able to pull the trigger on RG3 when so many other appealing names are on the board.
Also, I'm viscerally repulsed by Griffin's receiving corps. That's an issue, too.
Pierre Garcon is a nice enough player, but we don't yet have much evidence to suggest that he's a no-doubt, must-start WR1. He had a pair of 100-yard performances last year — both against horrible pass defenses (NO, NYG) — in an injury-plagued, 10-game season. Garcon had a good-not-great campaign for a fetid Colts offense in 2011 (70-947-6), and he was serviceable in 2010 and 2009. He's now tied to a passing attack that put the ball in the air only 27.6 times per game last season. If you can land Garcon as an inexpensive WR2/3, fine. But I won't pay a top-50 price for his services.
No other wide receiver on this team's roster deserves serious attention in standard-size fantasy leagues. If you're involved in a deep format, let's say 14 or more teams, then feel free to take a late shot with Leonard Hankerson or Aldrick Robinson, preferably in that order. Santana Moss and Joshua Morgan remain in the picture, but drafting either of those guys is like a signal to the rest of your league that you intend to finish seventh. Please try to avoid them, if at all possible.
Tight end Fred Davis is a gifted athlete who's made a few highlight plays in prior years, and his recovery from Achilles surgery has gone as well as anyone could have anticipated. Davis somehow didn't visit the end zone in any of his seven games last season, though he caught nearly every ball thrown his way (24 of 32, 325 yards). He's a low-risk/modest-reward fantasy option at a position stacked with sleepers (ADP 114.5). Davis is only signed to a one-year prove-it deal, so he does not lack motivation. Washington used a third-round pick on Florida tight end Jordan Reed in April's draft, just in case the team decides that Davis isn't the long-term answer.
If the 'Skins are going to return to the postseason this year, the journey will likely happen in 5 and 6-yard increments, with Alfred Morris carrying the ball 300-plus times. Again, Washington fielded the NFL's most productive ground game last season, averaging 169.3 rushing yards per game. Morris finished second in the NFC in rushing (1613 yards) and Griffin ranked tenth (815). If you seriously think Mike Shanahan is going to veer away from a run-dominant approach now, with this roster, after claiming a division title ... well, wow. I can't see it.
Morris was a draft-day afterthought last year, but he delivered a big fantasy line in Washington's season-opener (28-96-2), quickly establishing himself as the team's featured back. He took 335 handoffs as a rookie and closed his season with a monster performance against a flat-lining Cowboys' defense: 33 carries, 200 yards, 3 TDs. Morris only caught 11 passes in 2012, so — despite the offseason sunshine about his improvement as a receiver — you can't realistically expect him to be a significant weapon in the passing game. He's less interesting in PPR formats than in standard leagues, no doubt. It's also a bit ludicrous to forecast another 1600-yard season for Morris, because that's simply a huge number. In a typical year, we only see one or two backs reach that plateau.
Still, Morris remains the early-down workhorse in a Shanahan offense, a very good bet for 1200-1400 yards and 8-10 scores. He's a second-rounder on my board, but a first-rounder for many. Roy Helu is back in the mix this season, we should note, enjoying a healthy, productive camp. Here's a clip of Helu taking a zone-read carry to the end zone, against the Steelers' preseason JV defense. Helu appears to own the third-down role for the 'Skins, so he'll surely make some noise in PPR leagues. And if Morris were to suffer an injury of any severity, fantasy gurus will be hyping Helu like it's November 2011 revisited.
Washington's defense was a perfectly middle-of-the-pack bunch last season, both in fantasy and reality. This group figures to be a match-up play, not a unit you'll need to roster all season. Own 'em for the games against Oakland, San Diego and perhaps Kansas City. IDP owners should consider linebackers London Fletcher, Brian Orakpo, Perry Riley and Ryan Kerrigan, plus DB DeAngelo Hall. In fact, Fletcher can head straight for the IDP Hall of Fame, whenever he decides to tap out.
2012 team stats: 27.3 points per game (4), 229.1 passing yards per game (21), 169.3 rushing yards per game (1)
Previous Juggernauts: 32. NY Jets, 31. Oakland, 30. Jacksonville, 29. Buffalo, 28. Cleveland, 27. Tennessee, 26. San Diego, 25. Miami, 24. St. Louis, 23. Pittsburgh, 22. Arizona, 21. Minnesota, 20. Kansas City, 19. Chicago, 18. Baltimore, 17. Philadelphia, 16. Indianapolis, 15. Carolina, 14. Cincinnati, 13. NY Giants, 12. Detroit, 11. New England, 10. Tampa Bay, 9. Seattle