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Offseason Extra: Fantasy potential of the 2012 class

Senior Fantasy Writer
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When rookies get drafted by an NFL team, they're picked based on expectations. For instance, Andrew Luck is expected to lead the Colts' offense for the next 15 years. Trent Richardson is expected to rumble on the ground for the Browns for the next nine or 10 years.

Rookies have pre-draft expectations in Fantasy Football, too. But some are believed to be with a team where they'll exceed expectations and others will wind up stuck on a depth chart or with some sub-standard teammates.

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Here's our take on 10 rookies who should do better or worse than we expected going into the 2012 NFL Draft simply because of where they ended up. This is not a list of obvious players like Luck or Richardson or Justin Blackmon, who should serve their teams well even though they're not in an ideal spot.

Note: Players are listed in order of Fantasy impact.

Top five draft winners

1. Robert Griffin III, QB, Redskins
Call him the rookie we saw coming weeks in advance: When the Redskins invested a huge package of picks in Griffin, we knew to take notice. Mike Shanahan and the Redskins' coaching staff are going to put Griffin's best attributes to work right from the get-go: His strong arm and his mobility. While we'd be shocked if he put up the rushing numbers Cam Newton did last year, he's still going to get some stats on the ground. But his arm is sound and the Redskins made some shrewd moves this offseason to lock up a receiving corps loaded with speed. They'll provide him opportunities to make some plays out of the pocket, which is where Shanahan's quarterbacks have put up big numbers in the past. He's easily the most appealing rookie quarterback for Fantasy and will be a trendy mid-to-late pick as a backup.
Initial 2012 projection: 3,383 passing yards, 22 touchdowns, 18 interceptions; 425 rush yards, four touchdowns

2. Doug Martin, RB, Buccaneers
You can tell that Bucs coach Greg Schiano is over the moon for Martin. When asked if he saw some of former Rutgers protégé Ray Rice in Martin, Schiano said, "To tell you the truth I do. I see a guy who runs hard and plays hard." He also referred to Martin as a "three-down back" and sounded like a man ready to give Martin every bit of the workload you'd expect a coach to give his first-round pick. This isn't to say that LeGarrette Blount won't have a role, but the smart money is on Martin having more carries, way more catches and way more total yards than Blount. The only catch: Short-yardage touchdowns, where Blount might still be of use to the Bucs.
Initial 2012 projection: 216 carries, 907 yards, five touchdowns; 33 catches, 256 yards, one touchdown

3. Coby Fleener, TE, Colts
Unquestionably the most perfect fit for the best receiving tight end in the draft. Fleener heads with his college quarterback, Andrew Luck, to a Colts team that needs offensive assets. He'll start from Day 1 and be a mismatch problem when he flexes out or lines up wide like Aaron Hernandez has done for the last two seasons. Colts coach Chuck Pagano told CBSSports.com in March that he's still dealing with the nightmare of defending the Patriots' tight ends in their AFC title game. Now he has one of his own. And not only is Fleener a good fit for the Colts, but he's an additional investment for Luck, providing a target he's very familiar with. For a team expected to pass a lot in 2012, this is a great move.
Initial 2012 projection: 61 catches, 754 yards, six touchdowns

4. Rueben Randle, WR, Giants
Randle was drafted 63rd overall, but he is by no means the 63rd-best rookie in this draft. He might even turn out to be the third-best rookie receiver this season. Randle is a big guy, nearly 6-foot-3 and 210 pounds, and he's got as good a chance as anyone on the Giants' wideout depth chart behind Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz to land the third receiver job. The kicker is that when he plays he'll be lined up with Nicks and Cruz, so defenses can't possibly do any better than stick one cornerback on him. With Eli Manning throwing the ball, that should lead to some good numbers. It's just a matter of opportunity for him.
Initial 2012 projection: 44 catches, 585 yards, four touchdowns

5. Ronnie Hillman, RB, Broncos
Unless you think Willis McGahee can handle another 285 carries (249 in the regular season, 36 in the postseason), or that Knowshon Moreno will come back seamlessly from a torn ACL, or that Lance Ball or Mario Fannin will step up and be huge contributors for the Broncos, you should get to know Hillman. While he might take a little while to develop into a primary rusher, he does have some exciting accolades and measurables. For instance, he broke some of Marshall Faulk's college records with 1,711 rush yards for a single-season best. And he can run a sub 4.5-yard 40-yard dash at 5-foot-9 and 200 pounds. But the Broncos love his explosive, big-play style, and they'll give him the chance to make some plays so long as he has a good preseason. Playing behind Peyton Manning (defenses won't stack the box) and with McGahee (who turns 31 in October) should yield some good opportunities.
Initial 2012 projection: 106 catches, 474 yards, two touchdowns; 25 catches, 172 yards.

Need-to-know rookie: Randy Bullock, K, Texans. The Texans brought in veteran Shayne Graham to compete for the job with him, but the early guess is that the rookie will win out. Bullock made 90 percent of his field goals last year for Texas A&M and is a costly investment as a fifth-round pick (and is obviously much younger than Graham). Over the last two seasons the Texans' kicker has finished as a Top-10 option, so if Bullock gets the gig he might be great for Fantasy.

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Top five draft losers

Kendall Wright, WR, Titans
From all accounts, Kenny Britt is believed to be well on his way back from a torn ACL, Nate Washington is fresh off of a career year and Damian Williams played admirably for a second-year guy. So why add Wright? The Titans fell in love with his game and want to utilize his speed. It should work out for the team, but the chances of Wright catching over 50 passes or scoring more than six touchdowns this year seem bleak considering the talent around him (including running back Chris Johnson, who will chew up plenty of offensive touches). The best-case scenario for Wright is that he fits in right away while Britt is slow to recover from his knee surgery. Short of that, he's not expected to touch his potential this season.
Initial 2012 projection: 44 catches, 657 yards, three touchdowns

Stephen Hill, WR, Jets
Stephen Hill might turn out to be the next Demaryius Thomas -- or the next Troy Williamson. He left no questions at the combine about his measureables, but can he translate it to the pros after a fairly limited body of work in college? He'll be challenged to do so given the state of the Jets' quarterbacks. Mark Sanchez and Tim Tebow can't be classified as accurate by any means, and Hill will need all the help he can get to be effective as a rookie. He might be used more for his blocking skills than anything else as a rookie. That won't mean a lot of numbers.
Initial 2012 projection: 37 catches, 515 yards, three touchdowns

Ryan Tannehill, QB, Dolphins
By comparison, Tannehill should acclimate to his pro offense faster than any rookie quarterback. That's because it's the same offense he ran in college, and the coordinator (Mike Sherman) is the same coach he had at Texas A&M. That's great for him, but it's the team around him in Miami that makes him a loser. The Dolphins' top receivers are Davone Bess and Brian Hartline. They've got Reggie Bush and Anthony Fasano too. This is among the worst receiving corps in the NFL right now. So even with a good offensive line in front of him and an offense he's got down pat, he'll have to make a lot of magic to be productive in his first season.
Initial 2012 projection: 3,152 passing yards, 20 touchdowns, 17 interceptions; 208 rush yards, one touchdown

David Wilson, RB, Giants
Wilson is the classic case of a speedy running back getting picked solely for talent instead of need. That's not a bad thing for him or the Giants but it certainly puts a cramp on his Fantasy prospects. Ahmad Bradshaw remains atop the Giants' depth chart, and so long as he's there Wilson won't have a chance to see more than a few carries per week. What's more, Wilson isn't considered to be a complete back. So if Bradshaw misses some time as he's been known to do, Wilson still isn't expected to carry a full workload.
Initial 2012 projection: 75 carries, 393 yards, two touchdowns; 18 catches, 136 yards, one touchdown

Michael Floyd, WR, Cardinals
Floyd's on-field production at Notre Dame cannot be debated -- the guy's a stud. He's effectively a Larry Fitzgerald clone, right down to their respective college totals. But Floyd has two issues that should keep him from realizing his Fighting Irish stats in the pros: His quarterback(s) and his opportunities. Floyd wound up on the only team in the league with a Top 5 receiver in Fitzgerald and two bottom-10 quarterbacks in Kevin Kolb and John Skelton. We were psyched when the Falcons nabbed Julio Jones to pair with Roddy White last year; we'd feel the same way this time if the Cardinals had a capable long-term answer at quarterback. And even if they did, Floyd's target totals won't be close to Fitzgerald's, which means his stats won't be as huge had he wound up with a team with a legitimate need at receiver.
Initial 2012 projection: 59 catches, 737 yards, five touchdowns

Need-to-know rookie: LaMichael James, RB, 49ers. No doubt, James' landing with Jim Harbaugh's 49ers suggests that Harbaugh loved him even when he coached against him in college. But the mass of running backs the Niners have means that James won't see a ton of work until he either plays beyond anyone's expectations or Frank Gore gets hurt. He's one for the future, not for the present.

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us via Twitter @CBSFantasyFB . You can also follow Dave at @daverichard and on Facebook .

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Player News
Titans OL Taylor Lewan pleads guilty to two misdemeanor charges
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(10:26 am ET) Titans rookie tackle Taylor Lewan pleaded guilty to two misdemeanor charges Thursday in Michigan stemming from an incident that took place last year following a Michigan-Ohio State game, according to The Tennessean. Lewan entered pleas to charges of disturbing the peace and being drunk and disorderly.

Under an agreement with prosecutors, Lewan is expected to get probation when he's sentenced Dec. 15. Lewan was initially charged with one count of misdemeanor aggravated assault and two counts of assault and battery. Two Buckeyes fans said Lewan assaulted them. Lewan had previously stated that he was breaking up a dispute and wasn't involved in a fight.


Jaguars might consider changing up linebacker corps
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(10:17 am ET) While the Jaguars were pleased with how J.T. Thomas performed at middle linebacker Week 8 against the Dolphins, coach Gus Bradley is considering making a change to the linebacker corps because rookie Jeremiah George is making a strong impression on the coaching staff. 

"We’re looking at the linebacker spot, what’s our best three on the field?" Bradley said, per The Florida Times-Union. "We know J.T. played well. [Otto] Dekoda Watson played pretty well. Jeremiah George is showing up a little bit in practice, so a chance to see him in there and throw him into the mix. We’re trying to find a way to see as of right now, what gives us our best opportunity and what guys are playing the best on the field."


Bills' Kiko Alonso starts to run, but still has ways to go in recovery
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(10:11 am ET) Bills linebacker Kiko Alonso is pleased with his progress as he is three months removed from ACL surgery.

"I’ve started running already," Alonso told Buffalobills.com. "I’m just doing straight line running, so I’m doing everything but cutting right now. Obviously I’m progressing to full speed running. I’m doing everything, but I’m limited."

Alonso said his knee feels great. However, he is being cautious with his recovery, which usually takes 7-9 months after surgery.

"My knee feels great," he said. "It definitely doesn’t feel like there’s anything wrong with it. It’s just a matter of time. You’ve got to let that ligament heal and strengthen the muscles around it. It feels probably where it should be right now."


Ben Roethlisberger deserves to start
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(10/29/2014) It goes without saying that Ben Roethlisberger's six-touchdown, 522-yard performance Week 8 against Indianapolis was a once-in-a-blue-moon thing, and I stand by my earlier assessment that he's too inconsistent to start in standard 12-team leagues. But that's more for those weeks when every quarterback is available. With six teams on bye, that's certainly not the case in Week 9.

For those owners accustomed to starting Aaron Rodgers, Matthew Stafford, Matt Ryan or Jay Cutler, Roethlisberger may be the best choice. His matchup against Baltimore isn't great. The Ravens rank a suspect 22nd against the pass, giving up 256.0 yards per game, but having allowed just seven touchdowns through the air, they've surrendered the second-fewest Fantasy points per game to quarterbacks. Regardless of the matchup, though, Roethlisberger has a better chance than most of the quarterbacks who might be available of putting up the numbers you're accustomed to.

I'd prefer Carson Palmer, Nick Foles and Cam Newton to him, to name just a few fringy types, but Jamey Eisenberg and Dave Ricahrd both have Roethlisberger in their top 10 for this week.


Brandon LaFell not the only Patriots WR to consider
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(10/29/2014) It's time to give Patriots wide receiver Brandon LaFell a shot in Fantasy -- as in not just owning him, but starting him. If his 11 catches for 124 yards and a touchdown Week 8 against the Bears weren't enough to convince you, his matchup Week 9 against Denver should be.

It's not that the Broncos are so bad against the pass. They rank in the middle of the pack, allowing 242.9 yards per game. It's just that the Patriots' only hope against them is to beat Peyton Manning at his own game. Their passing attack -- at least the version they've shown in the last four weeks -- is good enough to beat anybody when they're motivated to use it.

LaFell appears to have leapfrogged Julian Edelman in the pecking order, but frankly, Edelman might not be such a bad play either. Tom Brady is going to need every weapon at his disposal to outscore Manning and company. Edelman is more of a desperation play than LaFell, I think, advisable only if you're short on startable wide receivers, but Dave Richard likes him enough with this matchup to rank him 24th at the position.


Shane Vereen a better choice than Jonas Gray
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(10/29/2014) By giving the previously unknown Jonas Gray 17 carries for 86 yards Week 8 against Chicago, the Patriots revealed that they'll stick with a two-man backfield even with preferred rusher Stevan Ridley out for the year with a torn ACL and MCL.

But Week 9 against Denver might be a better matchup for preferred receiver Shane Vereen, who also thrived in Week 7 against the Jets. The Broncos, like the Jets, have done a good job stopping the run this season. They rank No. 1, in fact, allowing 72.4 yards per game.

Plus, the Patriots will most likely have to throw more than usual just to keep up with the league's highest-scoring team. These days, a team's only real choice against Peyton Manning is to beat him at his own game.

So most likely, Gray will spend much of Week 9 on the sidelines while Vereen spends much of it in the backfield. Jamey Eisenberg and Dave Richard both rank Vereen among their top 20 running backs for this week.


Vincent Jackson not such a great play
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(10/29/2014) On a day when the Buccaneers couldn't get anything going offensively Week 8 against Minnesota, wide receiver Vincent Jackson was barely involved, catching one pass for 13 yards. He was targeted five times, but for a player who misses a lot of the balls thrown his way, both because of his role in the passing game and his issues with drops, that's a pretty low number. He averaged 10.0 targets in his first six games.

Even worse for Jackson, quarterback Mike Glennon has developed a nice rapport with both Mike Evans and Louis Murphy, and the Buccaneers passing attack isn't prolific enough to sustain three wide receivers. Is it more likely to sustain him than those other two? Yeah, probably. But it'll likely cut into his production regardless.

And it could cut into his production in a big way Week 9 at Cleveland. The Browns don't rank especially high against the pass, but they don't give up many touchdowns through the air, allowing the fourth-lowest quarterback rating of any team this season. Cornerback Joe Haden, who has played better in recent weeks after a slow start, is a big reason for that, and he'll likely go up against Jackson on Sunday.

Neither Jamey Eisenberg nor Dave Richard rank Jackson among their top 30 wide receivers -- and that's in a week with six teams on bye.


Time to the roll the dice on Denard Robinson?
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(10/29/2014) Sitting Denard Robinson the week after his breakout 127-yard effort against the Browns was understandable. It was an outlier performance achieved with an especially favorable matchup, and there was some big talk about Toby Gerhart still playing a big role. But now, after back-to-back 100-yard games, taking a conservative approach with Robinson just seems kind of silly.

Especially since his matchup Week 9 at Cincinnati is, at least on paper, a favorable one. The Bengals rank 29th against the run, allowing 140.7 yards per game, and have given up the eighth-most Fantasy points per game to running backs. And as tough as the Jaguars defense has played in recent weeks, you don't have to worry so much about the Bengals running away with the game, compelling the Jaguars to throw every down.

Calling Robinson a must-start is taking it a bit far. Some people have enviable depth at the position. But in Week 9, Jamey Eisenberg and Dave Richard both rank Robinson among their top 24 running backs, with Dave slotting him as high as 15th.


Is starting Andy Dalton a good idea?
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(10/29/2014) Jamey Eisenberg and Dave Richard both rank the Bengals' Andy Dalton among their top 12 quarterbacks for Week 9, presumably because he's facing the Jaguars. But how did that work out for Ryan Tannehill in Week 8, Brian Hoyer in Week 7 or, yep, even Ben Roethlisberger in Week 5?

I don't know about you, but I'm getting tired of the whole "start Player X against the Jaguars because they're bad" argument. Because they're not. At least not anymore -- not on defense, anyway. The Jaguars have allowed an average of 16.5 points in their last four games, and if not for the Dolphins' two defensive touchdowns in Week 8, it'd be 13.0

True, star wide receiver A.J. Green is looking likely to return from a three-game absence for a toe injury, which would certainly improve Dalton's chances. But again, quality quarterbacks -- namely, Tannehill and Roethlisberger -- have had their full arsenals when they faced the Jaguars, and they still underwhelmed against them. I'm not sure this is Dalton's week.

Now, with so many high-profile quarterbacks (such as Aaron Rodgers, Matthew Stafford, Matt Ryan and Jay Cutler) on bye this week, you may want it to be Dalton's week, but I'd give Carson Palmer, Nick Foles, Cam Newton or Tannehill a shot before I turned to him.


Greg Olsen deserves your trust
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(10/29/2014) Panthers coach Ron Rivera mentioned Monday that the reason tight end Greg Olsen had only one catch for 16 yards in Week 8 is because the Seahawks rotated their coverage toward him, particularly in the red zone. You can understand why they'd do that after Olsen averaged 70.4 yards with four touchdowns in his first four games.

Unfortunately, since the Seahawks limited the Panthers to just nine points in that game, they've invited other teams to emulate them, and while the Saints, Olsen's Week 9 opponent, certainly aren't the Seahawks defensively, they've done good job of containing tight ends this season, giving up the second-fewest Fantasy points per game to them. And that's even though they rank 31st against the pass.

But just because you can make a reasonable case to sit one this year's most productive and reliable tight ends doesn't mean you should follow through with it. Week 8 was just the second time in eight games that Olsen's production didn't justify a starting spot -- a terrific ratio for any player, regardless of position -- and the Saints haven't really faced a team with a top-flight tight end until now.

If quarterback Cam Newton has big numbers in this game -- and the data suggest he should -- Olsen will, too. Keep him active.


 
 
 
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