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2012 Draft Prep: AFC East Fantasy preview

Senior Fantasy Writer
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Football is in the air and I am thrilled to officially join the best team in Fantasy Football here at CBSSports.com for the 2012 season.

I'll kick things off with some stats and notes you need to know about the top Fantasy relevant players for every team heading into this season. This will be the first of eight division previews in the coming weeks full of fun statistical nuggets and factoids to help you in your talent evaluations as you prepare for your upcoming drafts.

Buffalo Bills

Offensive Coordinator: Curtis Modkins returns
Training camp story to watch: Workload split between Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller in the backfield

Quarterbacks

Ryan Fitzpatrick: Fitz is a first half player: From Week 1 through Week 9 of the 2010 and 2011 season, Fitzpatrick averaged a very healthy 19.5 points per game while throwing for an average of 244 yards with two touchdowns and 1.1 interceptions. From Week 10 on in 2010 and 2011, Fitzpatrick averaged just 13.7 points per game and saw all of his major numbers fall as he mustered just 227 yards passing with 1.3 touchdowns versus 1.5 interceptions per game. Nine of his 14 multiple touchdown games over the last two years have come before Week 10 and of his five games without a score, four have come from Week 10 on, so he can be good mid-season trade bait. This all begs the question: Shouldn't a beard help with the cold weather? Fitzpatrick ranked sixth among all quarterbacks with both 215 rushing yards and 93 red zone chances in 2011. If he can improve his 22.6 percent red zone touchdown rate (which was the worst among the eight busiest quarterbacks) he could approach the 30-touchdown mark in a sleeper Bills offense. Another sign of hope: when Fitzpatrick was good, he was really good. Fitzpatrick ranked seventh among all quarterbacks with six big games in 2011. Still, despite his second half swoon, Fitzpatrick was the 11th ranked Fantasy quarterback in 2011 and if he can put together a full season he will be an ideal No. 2 quarterback to target on Draft Day with tons of upside.

Running backs

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Fred Jackson: Jackson will be 31 years old for the 2012 season, but he has only 817 career carries, so no need to be scared off due to age. Jackson was the second-ranked running back in 2011 after nine full games before suffering a season ending injury in Week 10, averaging 18 points per game and positing a ridiculous 89 percent consistency rate with a 44 percent big game rate. In his nine full games, Jackson had six times as many touches (180) as C.J. Spiller (30), but do not expect that ratio to continue in 2012. How the workload is divided between Jackson and Spiller will be a big camp topic. I do, however, still expect Jackson to be the main rusher for the Bills and to handle the work at the stripe, where he converted 66.7 percent of his chances inside the five yard line into touchdowns, third best among the 45 rushers with at least five opportunities (Spiller checked in at 33 percent). Jackson has quietly been a top 21 running back in each of the last three seasons and has not been below 1,142 total yards during that span. Consider him a solid no. 2 running back again in 2012.

C.J. Spiller: Spiller was the seventh-ranked running back in all of Fantasy after taking over for Jackson in Week 11, averaging 13.6 points per game. As the starter in those seven games, Spiller amassed 652 total yards and five touchdowns while averaging a very healthy 5.1 yards per carry. Taken over 16 games, Spiller would have piled up 1,021 yards and seven touchdowns rushing on just 201 carries to go with 469 yards and nearly five touchdowns receiving on 62 grabs. That would have added up to well over 215 points and an easy top 10 finish in 2011. With Jackson back in the mix, Spiller will have to bide his time once again and won't sniff the top 15 unless an injury paves the way for the running back thriller to be the main man once again.

Wide receivers

Steve Johnson: Johnson battled through a groin injury to post his second straight season of at least 76 receptions, 1,004 yards and seven touchdowns in 2011 and finished the year as the 21st-ranked wide receiver (he was 10th in 2010). Touchdown Steve earned his money in the red zone in 2011, scoring six of his seven touchdowns from inside the opponent's 20 yard line. His 31.6 percent red zone scoring rate was third best among the 15 receivers who saw at least 17 targets. Johnson has scored at least six red zone touchdowns in each of the last two years and his 12 total red zone touchdown grabs rank third in the NFL during that span Over the last two seasons, Johnson is eighth with 276 targets (has been top 10 both years), eighth 158 receptions, 13th with 2,046 yards and tied for seventh with 17 touchdowns. Not too shabby. Beachfront property on Revis Island anyone? Johnson has not been held under seven Fantasy points in his last four games against the Jets and is second to only Brandon Marshall with a 9.0 points per game average against Revis. Johnson is one of only seven receivers to post at least a 50 percent consistency rate in each of the last two seasons and should be a solid No. 2 receiver again in 2012.

David Nelson: In 2011, Nelson led the Bills with a 62.9 percent target conversion rate but managed just 10.8 yards per catch and 6.8 yards per target. For those of you in point-per-reception leagues, it should be noted that Nelson had four or more catches in 10 games last year, but he was able to top 60 yards receiving just four times and only once in his last 13 games. Nelson did show promise as a touchdown scorer, converting his 15 red zone targets into five scores. That 33 percent scoring rate was tied for fifth best among the 40 receivers who saw at least 12 red zone targets. Clearly, Nelson has good hands, but he will have to get down the field more often if he is to make a significant Fantasy impact.

Tight ends

Scott Chandler: Chandler had six touchdowns in the first seven games of 2011 and failed to find the end zone in his final nine contests. Chandler topped 60 yards just twice all season and is not the type of tight end you want to target on Draft Day.

Miami Dolphins

Offensive Coordinator: Mike Sherman (replaces Brian Daboll)
Training camp story to watch: Who wins the quarterback job, will Reggie Bush be the main man again and is there a single receiver worth drafting this year?

Quarterbacks

Matt Moore/David Garrard/Ryan Tannehill: Moore was solid as the starter in Miami, throwing for 16 touchdowns with only nine interceptions in his 13 starts, but he managed just a 38 percent consistency rate and was not a starting Fantasy option on a weekly basis. He has competition from David Garrard and rookie Ryan Tannehill to quarterback a team that lost its top target Brandon Marshall and replaced him with an aging Chad Ochocinco. Ouch. Don't spend too much time here and pass on the Miami quarterbacks in 2012

Running backs

Reggie Bush: Bush set career highs in 2011 with 216 carries, 1,086 yards rushing (his previous best was just 581 yards back in 2007) and five 100-plus yard rushing games (including four straight to end the season, giving him a grand total of six such performances for his career), but he will be hard-pressed to match those numbers in 2012. Former Miami head coach Tony Sparano was committed to running the football and Miami ranked sixth in the NFL with 469 rushing attempts last year. New head coach Joe Philbin coordinated a Green Bay offense that was 26th in the league in rushing attempts in 2011 with just 395. Bush has not reached 300 receiving yards in a season since 2009 and has not topped the 50-catch mark since 2008. In both of those years he played with the Saints and their explosive passing attack. Durability concern: Bush played in 15 games last year for the first time since 2006 and it should be noted that he has never played more than 12 games in a season following a year in which he had at least 200 touches (Bush had a career high 259 touches last year). Yes, I am expecting a regression from the injury prone Bush in a crowded backfield that also includes Daniel Thomas and rookie Lamar Miller, so he is someone on my bust list this year.

Daniel Thomas: Thomas was a disappointment as a rookie, averaging just 3.5 yards per carry while rushing for 581 yards and zero touchdowns. He did show some promise in Week 2 and Week 3 however, when he ran for 202 yards, added 37 yards as a receiver and scored his only touchdown (on a reception) for the season. After Week 3, Thomas failed to post double-digit Fantasy points or reach 75 yards on the ground in any game. Thomas was held under 50 yards in eight of his final 11 games. In 2011, 37 running backs had at least six goal line opportunities. Of those 37, only two failed to score a single touchdown. Matt Forte was one of them and Daniel Thomas was the other. Yikes. Thomas will open the season behind Bush and will likely find it hard sledding once again on a bad offense in 2012.

Wide receivers

Chad Ochocinco: In a year where Tom Brady threw for 5,235 yards and 39 touchdowns, Ochocinco accounted for a grand total of 276 yards and one score. He ranked dead last among Patriots pass catchers with a 46.9 percent target conversion rate in 2011, which is even more astounding when you consider that Tom Brady completed nearly 66 percent of his passes. After posting six consecutive 1,000-yard seasons from 2002 to 2007, Chad is averaging just 673.5 yards and 4.5 touchdowns per season from 2008 to 2011. He has also been held below 600 yards in two of those seasons and has fewer than five scores in three of them. His best days are behind him and Ocho will now have to deal with an offense in transition that lacks a top notch quarterback to get him the ball. Unless he has an unexpected preseason, I'd pass on 85.

Brian Hartline: For all of his straight line speed, Hartline does not have a 100-yard game in his NFL career. Should he emerge as the top target in Miami, his 8.6 yards per target average over the last two seasons indicates that Hartline could be a 1,000-yard receiver if he were to see 116 targets in 2012. Even if he hits 1,000 yards as a breakout sleeper this year, he will have to become a better scorer to be Fantasy relevant. After all, Hartline has scored just two total touchdowns on his last 155 targets, which is why he is a late round flier at best.

Davone Bess: Point-per-reception alert: Bess has at least 50 catches in all four of his NFL seasons and has exceeded 75 catches in two of his last three years. However, 2011 saw Bess set career lows with 51 and 537 yards. Bess has some of the best hands in the NFL and has caught a remarkable 65.4 percent of his targets for his career. Bess is a short pass specialist who has never topped 10.5 yards per catch in any season (and he averages only one touchdown for every 24 receptions), so if he is going to be a factor in non-PPR formats he will need to catch close to 100 passes in 2012, something I do not see that happening.

Kicker

Dan Carpenter: Carpenter has made 28 field goals from 40 or more yards over the last two years, second only to Sebastian Janikowski (29).

New England Patriots

Offensive Coordinator: Josh McDaniels (replaces Bill O'Brien)
Training camp story to watch: Who will emerge as the main rusher and goal line back for the explosive Patriots

Quarterbacks

Tom Brady: Brady has been a top six Fantasy quarterback in each of his last four full seasons. In those four years, he has been the top Fantasy point scorer twice (2007 and 2010) and has one third place finish (2011). Brady has at least one touchdown in each of his last 32 regular season games and has an NFL best 27 games with multiple touchdowns during that span. Even more impressive is that since Week 9 of 2010, Brady has thrown multiple touchdowns in every game but one (24 out of 25) and in that game he still managed 321 yards and a touchdown against a stout New York Jets pass defense. Brady's 2011 season also saw him pass for 300 yards or multiple touchdowns in all 16 games, giving him the first perfect 100% consistency rate for a quarterback I have seen since I began charting this data. Over the last two seasons, Brady leads all passers with 60 total (56 passing and four rushing) red zone touchdowns, but even more impressive to me is that he has thrown only three red zone interceptions during that span. Brady set career highs in passing yards (5,235) and yards per attempt (8.6) in 2011 and things could get even better with Brandon Lloyd coming into the mix. No one has better overall weapons than Brady and he is the second quarterback on my board behind Aaron Rodgers.

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Running backs

Stevan Ridley: Ridley led the Patriots with a 5.1 yards per carry average in 2011, which is even more impressive when you consider that all other New England rushers averaged a combined 3.9 yards per attempt. Ridley was at his best with a bigger workload in 2011. In the four games in which he saw at least 10 carries, Ridley averaged a solid 9.5 points per game. In those contests he ran the ball 49 times for 307 yards (6.3 yards per carry) and one touchdown. He averaged a very solid 76.75 yards rushing on only 12.25 carries per game in those contests and could have a bright future if he sees 10-15 carries per week. To realize that potential and to replace BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Ridley needs to show a big improvement in two areas: ball security and goal line rushing. The Law Firm never fumbled once on his 536 career touches as a Patriot, while Ridley put the ball on the ground twice last year and we all know Bill Belichick has no tolerance for that. Ridley also failed to score on his five goal line chances in 2011, whereas BenJarvus punched in 10 of his 20 goal line carries. While Ridley may not get to an elite 50 percent touchdown rate at the stripe, if he gets to just 40 percent and is the team's goal line back, he should hit 10 touchdowns in 2012, which makes him a great upside sleeper as your third running back on Draft Day.

Shane Vereen: Vereen was the Patriots' second round pick in the 2011 draft but managed just 15 touches as a rookie, netting just 57 yards. He is being counted on to play a bigger role in 2012 and is the early favorite to be the team's primary pass catching running back. He showed great hands in college, catching nearly 25 passes per season and averaging over nine yards per catch.

Joseph Addai: In his last four seasons, Addai has been held under 550 yards rushing three times, under 500 yards rushing twice and is averaging a whopping 3.8 yards per carry during that span.

Wide receivers

Brandon Lloyd: In his last 27 games with Josh McDaniels calling the plays, Lloyd has amassed 128 receptions for 2,131 yards (16.6 yards per catch) and 16 touchdowns. That translates to 4.7 receptions, 79 yards, 0.6 touchdowns and 11.5 points per game. Not too shabby. However, in those games, Lloyd averaged 10 targets per game; there is no way he will see 10 targets per game with the amazing group of pass catchers. That being said, Lloyd averaged eight yards per target in those 27 games despite catching only 47 percent of his targets from the likes of Kyle Orton, Kellen Clemens, A.J. Feeley and Sam Bradford. Those quarterbacks averaged under seven yards per attempt, so Lloyd was actually better than average with those signal callers. While his targets are likely to decrease, Lloyd should improve both his target conversion rate and yards per target with one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play the game, making a 1,000 yard season likely provided Lloyd can still see around 100-115 targets for the year. He is a good third receiver for your team with top 10 to top 20 potential depending on how many targets he gets in this high octane offense.

Wes Welker: Welker has at least 111 receptions and 1,165 receiving yards in four of his last five seasons and has two seasons of 122 plus catches to boot. Despite those amazing numbers, Welker has only been a top 10 Fantasy wide receiver (in non-PPR formats) once during that span, when he finished third in 2011 on the strength of career highs in targets (188), yards (1,538), yards per catch (12.9 -- tops as a starter), receiving touchdowns (nine) and yards per target (8.35). Welker had never topped 170 points in a season before 2011, when he blew his previous best (168) away with 213 points. It is interesting to note that 2011 also saw Welker catch 65 percent of his targets, which is a great number, except when you consider it was his worst season yet in New England. Prior to 2011, Welker had caught a league best 74.5 percent of his targets as a member of the Patriots, as he had hauled in a ridiculous 432 passes on 580 looks. With Lloyd in the mix, I don't think Welker will see another 180 target season, which means his ceiling is likely the 11th or 12th Fantasy receiver, which is his best finish in New England (average finish was 16th at wide receiver from 2007 to 2010) outside of last year. In other words, do not overpay for Welker in a non-PPR format, but keep him in your top five in PPR leagues.

Deion Branch: Branch was not even a top 36 receiver in Brady's career year, catching 51 passes for 702 yards and five scores. He was below average on the Patriots with a 52 percent target conversion rate (besting only Chad Ochocinco) and his 7.2 yards per target average was the lowest among all of the team's wide receivers and tight ends. The figures were also the lowest of Branch's career with the Patriots, which is not a good trend considering the offense was as explosive as ever and he was easily the fourth concern for opposing defenses. Declining skills and declining opportunities thanks to the arrival of Lloyd means Branch has no value on Draft Day.

Jabar Gaffney: Believe it or not, Gaffney was the 26th-ranked Fantasy wide receiver last year, catching 68 passes for 947 yards and five touchdowns for the Rex Grossman led Redskins, which is pretty darn remarkable. Many of you owe thanks to the Fantasy playoff sleeper who was the ninth ranked receiver from Weeks 14 to 16 in 2011, as he averaged nearly 13 points per game during that span. Unfortunately, Gaffney is unlikely to get a chance to repeat any of those feats in New England unless injuries open up playing time for him.

Tight ends

Rob Gronkowski: In 2011, Gronkowski had the best season in NFL history for a tight end. He set all time NFL tight end single season records with 1,327 yards, 17 touchdowns, 240 Fantasy points and 13 red zone scores (no other tight end had more than eight). Gronkowski was also tops among the 20 most targeted tight ends in the red zone with a 48 percent touchdown rate in 2011. H0e also has an NFL tight end record 27 receiving touchdowns in his first two NFL seasons and trails only Randy Moss (28) for most receiving touchdowns in the first two seasons of a career. Doubtful to repeat 17 scores? I'd say so: Since 2002, there have been six seasons in which a tight end has caught at least 11 touchdowns. Two of the six happened last year with Gronk's 17 and Jimmy Graham's 11 touchdowns. Of the other four seasons of 11-plus touchdowns for a tight end, not a single one (Antonio Gates, Vernon Davis, Dallas Clark or Visanthe Shiancoe) matched their touchdown total in the following season. In fact, only Gates followed up his big year with at least 10 touchdowns as he had 13 in 2004 and came back with 10 in 2005. Davis went from 13 in 2009 to seven in 2010. Clark fell from 11 scores in 2006 to seven in 2007 and Shiancoe went from 11 scores in 2009 to just two in 2010. In sum, the last four tight ends to hit at least 11 receiving touchdowns lost an average of 5.5 touchdowns in the following season. Gronk still has his excellent yardage to fall back on, as he was tops with 12 games of 60 or more yards and first with five games of 100 yards. Gronk also led all tight ends with a 10.7 yards per catch average, which would have ranked tied for sixth among wide receivers Look for his scores to normalize back towards 10 this year, but Gronk remains an elite tight end and is No. 2 on my board at the position behind Graham because I think Lloyd will cut into some of Gronk's downfield receiving numbers.

Aaron Hernandez: On any other team, Hernandez would be lauded as one of the best young tight ends to play the game, but despite finishing in the top 12 at his position in each of his first two years (despite missing two games each year) and finishing third to Gronk and Graham in 2012 he is in the shadow of his teammate. Hernandez caught 79 passes for 910 yards and seven touchdowns in 2011 while finishing third among tight ends in big games (five), games with a touchdown (seven) and 100 yard games (three). Hernandez should have had 10 touchdowns last year and if he can improve his efficiency in scoring situations look out in 2012. As a rookie, Hernandez had a 50 percent red zone scoring rate, but in 2011, he saw 25 red zone targets but converted them into only six touchdowns (24 percent). By comparison, Gronkowski had 27 red zone chances and netted 13 touchdowns off of them. If Hernandez can get back north of 33 percent, he will score touchdowns this year. Hernandez led all tight ends with 12 goal line opportunities but scored only four touchdowns on them. Clearly Brady likes Hernandez and he should see plenty of opportunities again in 2012. Breakout candidate: if defenses concern themselves with Gronkowski, Lloyd and Welker in 2012 look for Hernandez to kill favorable matchups week after week. I would not be surprised if he is the more efficient tight end this season and while I do rank Gronkowski higher on Draft Day, it would not shock me if Hernandez (who is my fourth ranked tight end) finishes with better numbers at the end of the year.

Kicker

Stephen Gostkowski: Has been a top five Fantasy kicker in each of his last four full seasons. That is very, very rare at the position.

New York Jets

Offensive Coordinator: Tony Sparano (replaces Brian Schottenheimer)
Training Camp story to watch: What will Tim Tebow's role be and are the Jets really making the switch back to being a run heavy offense?

Quarterbacks

Mark Sanchez: Believe it or not, Sanchez finished the year as the 10th-ranked Fantasy quarterback with a very solid 18 points per game average, besting Michael Vick, Ben Roethlisberger, Joe Flacco and Josh Freeman. He posted career highs in every major category with the biggest jump coming in touchdowns, where his 32 total scores were a 60 percent increase over his previous best of 20 total touchdowns. He was tied for sixth with a 75 percent consistency rate thanks to the 32 touchdowns and 12 games with multiple touchdowns, which was tied for fourth. Sanchez was tied with new teammate Tim Tebow for second among all quarterbacks with six rushing touchdowns, five more than Michael Vick in 2011. That number will not be repeated in 2012 as Tebow is expected to handle the goal line rushing duties at the quarterback spot this year. The addition of Plaxico Burress was huge for Sanchize in the red zone last year, where he actually finished third among quarterbacks with a brilliant 29.3 percent red zone touchdown rate (only Aaron Rodgers and Tim Tebow were better). He was amazingly third among quarterbacks with 14 total goal line touchdowns, again trailing only Tom Brady and Drew Brees. A pretty impressive story and yet Sanchez is on as hot a seat as any quarterback in the league thanks to his NFL worst eight fumbles and his 26 total turnovers, which ranked second worst to only Josh Freeman (27). Looking ahead, Sanchez is going to be down from 543 pass attempts (ninth most) under Tony Sparano, he is going to lose goal line rushes, he lost his best red zone weapon in Burress and could lose his job to Tebow if he gets off to a slow start. In other words, I see no chance that Sanchez will be a top 10 Fantasy quarterback again in 2012.

Tim Tebow: Tebow averaged 18.2 points per game as a starter in 2011 and would have finished as a top 10 Fantasy quarterback had he played all 16 games. Tebow was the most efficient red zone quarterback in the NFL last year, turning 12 of his 34 red zone passes plus carries into touchdowns for a 35.3 percent touchdown rate. 102 of Tebow's 223 total points last year came as a rusher, which was the highest percentage (46 percent) of any quarterback last year. Cam Newton was second at 37 percent. If Tebow ever takes over the job in New York grab him immediately, but in the meantime consider him to be a specialist who will likely pilot this team in the red zone.

Running backs

Shonn Greene: I do not think Greene is an elite talent, but he has the chance to be very productive in 2012 following a 2011 season in which he quietly ran for 1,054 yards (4.2 yards per carry) and six touchdowns while catching a career high 30 passes for another 211 yards en route to an 18th place finish at running back. Sparano is good for the Greene: New offensive coordinator Tony Sparano just coached Reggie Bush to his first 1,000 yard rushing season in a year where the Dolphins ranked sixth in the NFL averaging 29.3 rushing attempts per game. All of the early talk is that Greene will be asked to carry the ball close to 20 times per game. Greene has seen 20 or more carries in nine games over his three-year career. In those nine games, Greene has produced 100 yards (five times) or a touchdown (five times) in seven of those games for a 78 percent consistency rate. He has notched four big games as well for a solid 44 percent big game rate. In the nine games of 20-plus carries for Greene's career, he has totaled 938 yards (104.2 yards per game) rushing on 4.8 yards per carry to go with seven rushing touchdowns, which translates to an average of 15.1 Fantasy points per game on rushing totals alone. But his offensive line is offensive: In his five games of 20 carries in 2011, Greene totaled 486 yards rushing (97.2 yards per game) on 4.5 yards per carry and notched five of his six touchdowns. So even behind that line he can be effective when given the ball 20 times as he averaged 13.2 rushing points per week. It should also be noted that Greene has never been held under 70 yards rushing in a game in which he has received at least 17 carries. This will be his first true chance to be a bell cow running back and history has shown he gets better when he carries the ball more. If there ever was a year for Greene to live up to the hype, this is it. The good news is that he will be drafted as a late No. 2 runner or No. 3 runner at best. Greene is a great upside candidate and don't forget that while Tebow will take some goal line work, Sanchez scored six rushing touchdowns in 2011, second most among all quarterbacks. Still, to truly breakout he will have to improve upon his paltry 30 percent goal line touchdown rate of a year ago.

Joe McKnight: McKnight has been the featured back for two games in his career. In those two games he has amassed 294 total yards, which is something to think about if Greene gets injured and McKnight gets the chance to start.

Wide receivers

Santonio Holmes: For all of his talking and his sizable paycheck, Holmes netted as many 100-yard games as you did in 2011, zero. Holmes has been held under 60 yards receiving in 20 of his 31 games (including playoffs) with the Jets. Holmes finished 2011 with a solid streak of seven straight games under 60 yards receiving and was at 40 or fewer yards in seven of his last 10 games. While the yardage totals are scary, Holmes has 14 touchdowns in his 28 regular season games as a member of the Jets and has scored in 13 of those games. Despite all of those touchdowns, Holmes has yet to be a top 30 Fantasy receiver as a member of the Jets and if he loses his scoring burst his points will plummet. He is not an efficient receiver and is coming off of lows in target conversion rate (51 percent), yards per target (6.5) and yards per catch (12.8). With the Jets moving to more of a run-oriented attack, I am not expecting Holmes' production to match up to his salary in 2012 and I think you are better off looking elsewhere for a starting receiver.

Stephen Hill: Hill is a raw talent, but the big and speedy receiver did average 29.3 yards per catch last year at Georgia Tech, so you know he can hit the big play. Could be a Demaryius Thomas-type of home run hitter if the Jets turn to Tebow and become a run, run and run type of offense that takes a few shots down the field.

Tight ends

Dustin Keller: Keller set career highs with 65 catches for 815 yards and five touchdowns (tied his 2010 output) in 2011 and finished 10th at the tight end position for the second straight year. Keller led the Jets in targets last year with 115 and was eighth among all tight ends in that category, but I expect that number to come down under Sparano, who never really featured the tight end in Miami. He was tied for fourth among all tight ends last year with a career high seven games of 60 receiving yards, but managed to top 60 yards just four times in his last 13 games after a fast start. Speaking of fast starts, Keller is someone to sell after September if the last two years are any indication. September has yielded five of Keller's 10 touchdowns as well as five of his 12 60-plus yard games over the last two years. That means he has just five touchdowns and seven games of 60 yards in the 26 other games he has played outside of the warmest month of the season, including 10 week-killing duds of less than 30 yards receiving and no touchdowns. Keller is in a contract year and should be very motivated, but I expect a decrease in his targets and his overall production in 2012. Consider Keller a top backup option on Draft Day and if he becomes more efficient in the red zone (he was fifth among tight ends with 20 targets, but scored just five touchdowns) he could wind up in the top 10 for the third straight year.

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us via Twitter @CBSFantasyFB . You can also follow Nathan at @nathanzeguraTFC .

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Player News
Gavin Escobar a threat to Jason Witten?
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(1:13 am ET) Cowboys rookie tight end Gavin Escobar, who entered the day with just four catches all season, wasn't highly targeted Week 7 against the Giants, but he made the three targets he did get count, scoring two touchdowns, including one on an impressive 26-yard grab between two defenders in the third quarter.

In all, he had three catches for 65 yards -- numbers that would be easier to overlook if not for the two touchdowns and the fact that fellow tight end Jason Witten, to this point a mainstay in Fantasy, had only two catches for 27 yards. And it's not like he and quarterback Tony Romo were just failing to connect. Witten was targeted only twice the whole game.

Witten's production hasn't been up to his usual standards this season -- in seven games, he's averaging 3.3 catches for 38.0 yards -- but just based on their history together, you figured Romo would have a need for him sooner or later. Now with the emergence of Escobar, it's no longer so clear.

Escobar himself isn't worth adding except in deep leagues of 16 teams or more that don't have enough tight ends to go around. In those formats, he's the new Timothy Wright. But in leagues of 12 teams or fewer, Witten may be on the outs. He deserves a couple more weeks given his history, but keep an eye out for the next big thing at the position.


Larry Donnell here to stay?
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(12:55 am ET) After catching just one pass in his previous two games combined, Giants tight end Larry Donnell got back on track Week 7 at Dallas, catching seven passes for a season-high 90 yards.

Considering it was the Giants' first game without star wide receiver Victor Cruz, Donnell was expected to play a bigger role in the passing game, but a resurgence of this magnitude should remind us all how he came to be owned in 83 percent of Fantasy leagues in the first place. Over the first four weeks, he averaged 6.3 catches for 59 yards, scoring four touchdowns.

One potential pitfall for Donnell is that he lost two fumbles in Week 7, giving him three fumbles lost for the season, but with so few tight ends capable of his kind of production in a given week, the Giants would have to suggest his playing time is in jeopardy for me to pass on Donnell in Fantasy.

His production fell when rookie wide receiver Odell Beckham entered the mix in Week 4. Now that Cruz is out of the mix, Donnell's production figures to rise again.


Odell Beckham shows he's worth adding
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(12:42 am ET) Only three games into his career, Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham has emerged as one of quarterback Eli Manning's favorite red-zone targets, which is especially good news with another one of his favorite red-zone targets, Victor Cruz, lost for the season with a knee injury.

Beckham didn't have a lot of chances Week 7 at Dallas, but he made the most of the ones he got, scoring on catches of 9 and 5 yards. In all, he had four catches for 34 yards. His six targets were third-most on the team, behind wide receiver Rueben Randle's nine and tight end Larry Donnell's seven.

The six targets were a season high for Beckham. He has yet to catch more than four passes for more than 44 yards, but because he keeps getting looks in the end zone, he's worth adding in Fantasy even if it's just to stash him on your bench until you're ready to put your trust in him.


An encouraging performance for Eli Manning
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(12:34 am ET) Playing his first game without star wide receiver Victor Cruz, who's out for the season with a torn patella tendon, Giants quarterback Eli Manning still managed to bounce back from arguably his worst game of the season with one of his best Week 7 at Dallas, completing 21 of 33 passes for 248 yards and three touchdowns.

It was his fifth game in six with multiple touchdown passes and his second with at least three. And he did it against a defense that had generally kept quarterbacks out of the end zone, recording nearly as many interceptions (seven) as it had allowed touchdown passes (eight) prior to Week 7.

Though two of his touchdown passes went to rookie wide receiver Odell Beckham, who wasn't even available to him the first four weeks, Manning did a nice job of spreading the ball around. None of the touchdowns went to his two leading receivers, Larry Donnell and Rueben Randle.

Judging by this performance, Manning knows how to make use of the weapons the Giants have and doesn't need Cruz to remain successful in Fantasy. His bad games can be really bad, but his good games have been frequent enough for you to give him another shot when he returns from a bye Week 9 against Indianapolis.


Andre Holmes comes back down to earth
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(12:26 am ET) Raiders wide receiver Andre Holmes, who blew up for 121 yards and two touchdowns Week 6 against San Diego, took a long time to get going Week 7 against Arizona, catching his first pass about midway through the fourth quarter. Not surprisingly, he finished with just three catches for 34 yards. 

It's not like he was invisible before then. He nearly had a great catch on a long pass along the sidelines in the second quarter, but it was ruled incomplete. He did have only two targets apart from his three receptions, though.

Clearly, it was a disappointing showing, but it's not like quarterback Derek Carr forgot about him. Only James Jones and Darren McFadden had more targets, tying for the team lead with eight. Holmes spent much of the game covered by Patrick Peterson, who remains one of the better cornerbacks in the NFL. Holmes still has incredible play-making ability and will have better days.

But this performance shows why you can't trust him on an every-week basis yet. His matchup Week 8 against Cleveland is another tricky one because of cornerback Joe Haden, who has struggled at times this season but limited the Jaguars' Cecil Shorts to three catches for 12 yards in Week 7. You might want to leave Holmes on your bench for this one.


49ers' Phil Dawson makes 1-of-2 field-goal attempts in Week 7
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(12:22 am ET) 49ers knicker Phil Dawson made only one of his two field-goal attempts in Week 7, adding two extra points in his team's 42-17 loss to the Broncos.

Dawson couldn't deliver from 51 yards out in the first quarter, pushing the attempt wide left, but was true from 22 yards out in the second quarter. He's 13 of 16 on field-goal attempts this season but had been 10-for-10 in his previous three games coming into Week 7. The 49ers have a bye in Week 8 before facing the Rams the following week.


49ers TE Vernon Davis catches two passes in Week 7 loss
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(12:20 am ET) 49ers tight end Vernon Davis caught just two of his five targets for 21 yards in his team's 42-17 loss to the Broncos in Week 7.

Davis was coming off an ugly Week 6 performance in which he dropped two passes, and he didn't fare much better in the team's blowout loss against the Broncos. He has 14 receptions for 142 yards and two touchdowns heading into the team's Week 8 bye. The 49ers will face the Rams after the week off.


49ers WR Michael Crabtree held to 27 yards in Week 7 loss
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(12:16 am ET) 49ers wide receiver Michael Crabtree caught four of his seven targets for just 27 yards in his team's 42-17 loss to the Broncos in Week 7.

While the 49ers averaged 11.1 yards per reception as a team Sunday, top options Crabtree (6.8 YPC) and Anquan Boldin (7.1 YPC) could find no room to work, leading to disappointing performances despite the offense dialing up 46 passes in the loss. Crabtree hasn't topped 50 yards in any of his last four games, and he owns 32 receptions, 322 yards and three touchdowns in seven games this year. The 49ers have a bye in Week 8 before facing the Rams the following week.


Anquan Boldin catches seven passes in 49ers' Week 7 loss
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(12:13 am ET) 49ers wide receiver Anquan Boldin caught seven of his 10 targets for 50 yards in his team's 42-17 loss to the Broncos in Week 7.

Boldin had at least one bad drop in the game and was unable to find much room to work downfield. He came into the week average 12.4 yards per reception but managed just 7.1 YPC against the Broncos. Boldin has collected 39 receptions for 447 yards and one touchdown in seven games. The 49ers have a bye in Week 8 before facing the Rams the following week.


49ers WR Steve Johnson scores touchdown in Week 7 loss
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(12:10 am ET) 49ers wide receiver Steve Johnson caught five passes for a team-high 79 yards and one touchdown in his team's 42-17 loss to the Broncos in Week 7.

Johnson hauled in a four-yard score in the back of the end zone with only 11 seconds left in the first half to send the 49ers into halftime with a 21-10 deficit. The Broncos took over from there, scoring three touchdowns in the third quarter. Johnson has reached the end zone in three of his last four games, and he's up to 25 receptions, 315 yards and three scores on the season. The 49ers have a bye in Week 8 before facing the Rams the following week.


 
 
 
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