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2012 Draft Prep: NFC East Fantasy preview

Senior Fantasy Writer
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The league's best division from top to bottom is loaded for Fantasy owners as well. Here are some of the players you need to focus on in the NFC East for the 2012 season.

Spotlight player

Tony Romo, QB, Cowboys: Yes, it is true that we are all mad at Romo for costing us Fantasy titles with a big fat zero in Week 16 last year. Now that it's out of the way, let's focus on why Romo got you to the title game and why he can do it again.

In 2011, Romo completed 66 percent of his passes and threw for 4,184 yards with 31 touchdowns and only 10 interceptions to finish seventh at the quarterback spot. He had a 75 percent consistency rate (sixth), a 38 percent big game rate (seventh), 11 games of 250 yards passing (seventh) and 11 games with multiple touchdowns (sixth). In the red zone, Romo continued to be very solid as his 26 percent scoring rate was -- you guessed it -- sixth among the 30 busiest quarterbacks. It should also be noted that from Week 9 on last year (excluding Week 16 when he played only two snaps), Romo completed over 70 percent of his passes and tossed 20 touchdowns with only three picks while averaging 27 points per game. In those final eight games, he totaled 2,250 yards and the 20 scores which is a pace for 4,500 yards and 40 touchdowns or 432 Fantasy points and a fourth place finish at quarterback over 16 games.

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Romo has a very impressive 8.0 yards per attempt average for his career, which is the second best mark among all quarterbacks (trailing only Aaron Rodgers) since 2006. For his career, he ranks in the top six in NFL history in quarterback rating (second at 96.5), yards per attempt (fifth at 8.0) and completion percentage (sixth at 64.5 percent. With Miles Austin, Dez Bryant and tight end Jason Witten back for another year, Romo has as good a top trio of pass catchers as any quarterback in the league. Since 2007, Romo is a Top 5 Fantasy quarterback on a per-game basis (21.5 points per game), has a 75 percent consistency rate and is just below a 50 percent big game rate. He is a great Fantasy option who always has top four potential and the best news is that you can get him four to five rounds after the "elite" quarterbacks.

Michael Vick, QB, Eagles: In 2010, Michael Vick averaged the second-most points per game (30.45) in Fantasy Football history and I made my debut at CBS explaining why he was undraftable given his first round price tag in 2011.

That worked out well. I'm back in 2012 to tell you that the pendulum has swung the other way and Vick is looking like one of the great Draft Day values. He still finished as the 12th-ranked quarterback last year despite missing three games, scoring only one rushing touchdown and dealing with down seasons for both Jeremy Maclin (illness and injury) and DeSean Jackson (attitude). Vick still averaged 21 points per game in 2011 and I know he has a ton of upside on those numbers. As I explained last year, there was no way that Vick would match the career highs he set in 2010 in completion percentage (62.6), yards per attempt (8.1) and rushing touchdowns (nine). In 2011, those numbers fell to 59.8 percent, 7.8 yards per attempt and only one rushing touchdown. What I like about those numbers is that Vick bested his career averages in both completion percentage and yards per attempt last year and they represented the second best totals of his career.

Vick averages around five rushing touchdowns per season and I expect to see his scores come up from one and land right around four to six, which is significant for his weekly production. For Vick to still produce that efficiently in the worst years for both Maclin and Jackson as starters is extremely impressive to me and shows that Vick has really grown as a quarterback. I am concerned however that his rushes per game fell by 33 percent (although that could help to keep him healthy) and his ability to score up close completely fell off the map. After scoring a quarterback best nine rushing touchdowns in the red zone in 2010 on 21 carries, Vick took only 11 carries last year and scored the one touchdown. Both Vick and the Eagles wanted to limit his wear and tear in scoring situations, which is why we saw Vick score eight fewer times from inside the 20 last year while running back LeSean McCoy saw his red zone rushing scores jump from four in 2010 to 14 last year.

In 2011, Vick had an 18.7 percent red zone scoring rate, worst among the 15 busiest quarterbacks and his struggles inside the five yard line were legendary. His 23.1 percent goal line scoring rate bested only Curtis Painter, Blaine Gabbert and Joe Flacco among the 28 quarterbacks with at least 10 goal line chances. He will improve on those metrics and was at 23.8 and 42 percent respectively in 2010, so look for Vick to middle those numbers for 2012, which gives him some nice upside. With a healthy Maclin, a happy Jackson, LeSean McCoy out of the backfield and his rediscovery of tight end Brent Celek, Vick will pilot one of the most explosive and dynamic offenses in the NFL.

How many games he will play remains the big question for Vick, who has missed seven games over the last two years. At 32 years of age, Vick is no spring chicken, but his Fantasy upside is as big as any quarterback's in the league and with a proper ADP in the late fourth round, he is absolutely a worthwhile gamble on Draft Day. Unlike with the top quarterbacks, I would definitely recommend snagging a good backup quarterback (I think Robert Griffin III is the perfect compliment) with Vick because chances are you will need him for at least a few games. What you are looking for from Vick is top-five production when he is on the field, and I think he will deliver that in 2012.

Robert Griffin III, QB, Redskins: I don't think RG3 could have landed in a better spot as a strong armed and very mobile quarterback than to be under the tutelage and coaching of Mike Shanahan. Let's not forget that in this very offense, an immobile Rex Grossman was the 12th-ranked Fantasy quarterback from Week 11 on in 2011. Rex Grossman people!

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Griffin is much more talented than Grossman and with the additions of Pierre Garcon and Josh Morgan, he will even have a better supporting cast. Let's start with the facts. Griffin has track speed and should be able to run for 500 yards and a handful of touchdowns based on his athletic ability alone. As a thrower, he averaged an NCAA best 10.6 yards per attempt and had an NFL QB rating of 130, which was also tops. He joins a Redskins team that has thrown for 8,278 yards over the last two years -- ninth-most in the NFL -- and is a huge upgrade over Donovan McNabb, John Beck and Grossman. When you consider the facts, it's easy to see why Griffin could blow up and post top five numbers with over 4,000 yards passing, 500 yards rushing and close to 30 total touchdowns. I do not expect RG3 to hit the best case scenario in every category, but the potential is there. I think he will finish in the top 12 at quarterback this year and is a great Draft Day value given his upside versus his eighth or ninth round price tag. In fact, if you miss out on a Top 5 quarterback this year, I love the idea of grabbing Michael Vick and RG3 in an all upside tandem.

Breakout players

DeMarco Murray, RB, Cowboys: Murray took over as the starting running back for the Cowboys in Week 7 against the St. Louis Rams and looked like superman as he rushed for 253 yards and a touchdown on 25 carries. From that game until he was lost for the year with an ankle injury in Week 14, Murray was the fifth-ranked Fantasy running back. In his seven-game stretch, Murray ran for 798 yards (most in the NFL during that span) on 5.9 yards per carry, scored two rushing touchdowns and added 21 catches for 154 yards out of the backfield. He averaged 15.3 points per game as the starter and was on a 16-game pace of 2,176 total yards (1,824 rushing) and five touchdowns, which would have ranked him as the fifth running back last year (245 points overall). I loved his total yardage consistency, as Murray topped 100 total yards five of those seven games and impressively, Murray did not fumble once.

The only concerns I really have about him are his performance (or lack thereof) in scoring situations and durability. Last year, Murray scored just one time on 21 red zone chances and his 4.8 percent scoring rate was sixth-worst among the 43 backs with at least 20 chances. At the goal line, he scored just once on his five carries for a well-below-average scoring rate of 20 percent. With Bill Callahan at the offensive coordinator position, I expect improvement from the Dallas offensive line, which should help Murray get it in the end zone at a better rate.

The durability concern is really the biggest issue. He missed time in all but one of his seasons at Oklahoma and was could not finish his rookie campaign. That being said, he is slated to be the workhorse again for the Cowboys, which gives him Top 5 potential in 2012. I have Murray as a low-end first running back for your teams worthy of a pick late in the first round or in the early second round because he is a good bet for 100 total yards each week. I do believe he will be a more efficient scorer in his sophomore season. He has risk just like all of the running backs seem to this year, but Murray also has tremendous upside and a solid insurance policy in Felix Jones should he miss time again in 2012.

Jeremy Maclin, WR, Eagles: Maclin is my favorite of the two Eagles receivers for 2012 (not by much) and I am expecting his first career 1,000-yard receiving season with at least eight scores. Maclin is the steadier of the two receivers as the dominant red zone target and sure-handed compliment to the speedy DeSean Jackson. Last year, Maclin battled a mysterious illness all offseason and was not able to stay at 100 percent for the whole 2011 season as a result. He missed three games and finished with 63 catches for 859 yards and five scores. Maclin did most of his damage in the first eight weeks of the year before he just could not sustain his health.

In those first eight games, Maclin was actually the 10th-ranked Fantasy receiver with 44 catches for 606 yards and four scores. He averaged 10.5 points per game and boasted a 50 percent consistency rate in those games as well. It sure seemed like Maclin was the same guy who exploded for 964 yards and 10 scores in 2010. Unfortunately, Maclin became ineffective as fatigue from the illness set in and he missed three of the final eight games. Still, for the season, Maclin caught an impressive 65.6 percent of his targets and averaged 8.9 yards per target.

He will be 100 percent headed into 2012 and has Top 10 potential in my eyes due to what we saw in the first half of 2011 and what we know about Maclin in the red zone. Over the last two years, Maclin's 41 percent red zone scoring rate is fourth-best among the 53 receivers with at least 20 targets. Meanwhile, Jackson's 9.1 percent red zone rate is the third worst behind teammate Jason Avant at 8.3 percent and Legedu Naanee. With the other two Philly receivers both ranking among the league's worst in the red zone, Maclin's prowess as a touchdown scorer can not be overstated. I love Maclin as a later second receiver for your teams and think he is the best third receiver you could grab, which is very possible given his ADP in the late fifth round.

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Fred Davis, TE, Redskins: Davis missed the final four games of 2011 due to some high-flying off field activities, but still turned in a good enough 12 games to finish as the 12th-ranked tight end. In his shortened season, Davis caught 59 passes for 793 yards and three touchdowns, which would project to 16-game totals of 79 catches for 1,057 yards and four scores. He produced 60 yards receiving in half of those starts and had a very solid 58.3 percent consistency rate along with a 25 percent big game rate. Those totals would have made Davis the fourth-ranked Fantasy tight end in 2011, with 129 total points.

I love that he is more of a receiver than a tight end and the team has no problem splitting him out wide. Last year, he was second among the 30 most targeted tight ends with a 72.7 percent catch rate and finished third with a 9.1 yards per-target average. The guy was efficient with Rex Grossman and John Beck, so you have to be excited about what he can do with a better quarterback in 2012. He had a solid 33 percent red zone scoring rate last season as well, so the lack of touchdowns really came more from a lack of chances. He had just nine targets in the red zone (22nd among all tight ends), which is disappointing considering that he was tied for seventh at the position with 7.2 targets per game. With a couple more touchdowns, Davis has Top 5 potential this year and is a great gamble if you miss out on the elite tight ends.

Honorable mention: Dez Bryant, WR, Cowboys, Roy Helu, RB, Redskins, Evan Royster, RB, Redskins (but see the buyer beware alert below on the Washington running backs)

Sleepers: David Wilson, RB, Giants, Santana Moss, WR, Redskins, Leonard Hankerson, WR, Redskins, Cowboys D/DST, Martellus Bennett, TE, Giants

Buyer beware

Roy Helu/Tim Hightower/Evan Royster, RBs, Redskins: In recent years it has become clear that you can not trust a Mike Shanahan running back and you might be best off just avoiding the whole situation. He seems to be a very fickle coach and a known Fantasy Football hater who changes which runner is getting the ball on a whim. He'll drive you crazy and is easily the least Fantasy-friendly coach in the NFL, which is why he is a permanent member of my wipe it list.

Whoever does start is usually very effective, but they don't seem to last for more than a few weeks. Believe it or not, Shanahan has not had a single running back exceed 750 yards rushing or five rushing touchdowns in four straight seasons. In fact, you would have to go back to Tatum Bell in 2006 to find the last 1,000-yard rusher for a Shanahan team.

Perhaps even more shocking is that Shanahan has not coached a top 24 running back since 2005, when Mike Anderson ranked 10th and Tatum Bell was 22nd. That means in his last five seasons, there has not been a Shanahan coached running back who has delivered the goods over the course of a full season, which is definitely something to think about on Draft Day, even though Helu and Royster seem to be very tantalizing prospects.

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

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Player News
Eagles' Earl Wolff, Marcus Smith limited in OTAs with injuries
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(9:33 pm ET) Eagles safety Earl Wolff and linebacker Marcus Smith were limited in OTAs with injuries, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports.

Wolff is recovering from knee surgery. Coach Chip Kelly said the safety has been cleared to return, and the team is waiting for him to reach full participation in OTAs. Smith has been dealing with a pulled leg muscle.


Packers' Casey Hayward dealing with foot injury
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(9:27 pm ET) Packers cornerback Casey Hayward is dealing with a foot injury and doesn't expect to return to action until training camp, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports.

"I’ll probably take it easy into camp right now," Hayward said. "I have a minor foot thing right now. We’ll probably take it easy into camp."

Hayward said the foot "flared up" on him earlier in the offseason. He finished with 42 tackles and three interceptions last season.


Ravens' Terrence Brooks running, 'doing really well'
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(9:19 pm ET) Ravens free safety Terrence Brooks is running after suffering ACL and MCL tears in his right knee in December, the Baltimore Sun reports.

"Terrence Brooks is doing really well," coach Jim Harbaugh said. "No predictions right now, but he looks good. He has worked hard."

Brooks is expected to open the season on the PUP list and could make his return this season.

"We're just hoping for the best, trying to get back as soon as possible," Brooks said. "We're taking precautious. We definitely don't want to rush back too fast. If you do get cleared, playing this year is definitely a goal. You don't want to rush it. For the most part, you have to be cautious and take it easy. After we get off of the PUP list, we'll see where we're at. I definitely want to get back into it, but we're taking our time. I have high hopes of being ready."


Report: OT Jake Long visits Giants Thursday
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(8:45 pm ET) Free-agent offensive tackle Jake Long visited the Giants on Thursday, ESPN reports.

The Giants are having to shuffle their offensive line with Will Beatty expected to miss the first part of the season with a pec injury. Long was scheduled to make $9.25 million in 2015 but was released by the Rams in March.


Saints CB Brandon Browner impressing teammates, coach
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(7:11 pm ET) New Saints cornerback Brandon Browner is having a positive impact on not just the secondary, but the entire defense. At least that's the view of defensive backfield mate Kenny Vaccaro.

"Browner's a good dude, leads by example, talks when he needs to talk," Vaccaro told the New Orleans Times-Picayune. "He's real serious, kind of keeps everybody level headed and knows what we've got to work for. He's won two Super Bowls, so he knows what to do."

Sean Payton echoed those sentiments.

"He's competitive," he said. "He's driven and certainly one of the things we talked about this offseason through the draft, through the acquisition of players is the makeup and making sure that this is something we felt like was a plus and certainly with him we feel that that is a strength of his."

The Saints are Browner's fourth team in six seasons in the NFL.


Eagles LB DeMeco Ryans working way back from injury
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(6:37 pm ET) There was a bit of a discrepancy Thursday in regard to the practice participation of Eagles inside linebacker DeMeco Ryans.

Chip Kelly said before the session that Ryans would be a full-go despite him being just seven months removed from rupturing his Achilles tendon. Ryans did practice, but he told the Philadelphia Inquirer that he was not a full participant.

Ryans missed half of the 2014 season with the injury, but contributed to 45 tackles in eight games before going down.


Eagles QB Mark Sanchez optimistic as offseason rolls on
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(6:28 pm ET) A stronger arm, greater familiarity with the offense and more confidence has Eagles quarterback Mark Sanchez feeling quite good these days.

Sanchez underwent shoulder surgery two years ago that affected him early last season. He expects to be better in 2015, especially if given an opportunity to play over newcomer Sam Bradford.

"First thing, physically, I feel so much better," he told the team website. "The farther it gets away from surgery and all the reps I've had, all the rehab on through, it can only get better and stronger. So this is definitely the best I've ever felt. And then as far as the scheme, every rep, every time we sit down and watch film, every meeting, that can only help with my growth as well."

The chance to play is one reason why Sanchez chose to return this offseason to the Eagles.

"Were there other opportunitites? Absolutely," he said. "Did they look potentially good, better, similar, maybe worse? Potentially, yeah, there was some stuff out there. But when I factored it all in, I just felt this was the best spot for me. I enjoy playing for coach Kelly, I love this system, I love the tempo, I love the pace."

Sanchez also expressed a desire to remain on the team for which he threw his highest completition percentage of his career in 2014. He hit on 64.1 percent, by far a personal best.

Chip Kelly has seen a difference in Sanchez.

"I think you can see it in how he's performing out there now," he said. "He's also not learning an offense again. ... He is really comfortable in terms of the scheme."


Ravens waive/injured Julian Wilson
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(6:04 pm ET) The Ravens waived/injured cornerback Julian Wilson on Thursday, the Baltimore Sun reports. Wilson suffered a broken leg on the first day of rookie camp and will miss the season.

Saints' Anthony Spencer works ahead of Junior Galette Thursday
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(6:01 pm ET) Saints linebacker Anthony Spencer worked ahead of Junior Galette in the team's base 4-3 defense, a run-heavy look that featured just three linebackers, ESPN.com reports.

"However it came out, we’re not worried about depth chart now," defensive coordinator Rob Ryan said. "We’re putting in a defense, we’re all working hard together and getting to know each other, our teammates and what we got. But I know both those guys can play, so we’re excited about 'em."

Spencer had a career-high 11 sacks in 2012 but has managed just 24 total tackles and a half-sack in 14 games over the last two years while dealing with a major knee injury.

"I think sometimes there are tougher positions to evaluate at this time of year," coach Sean Payton said, when asked to give his early thoughts on Spencer. "But I think, No. 1, he can affect the passer. ... He’s an edge player, I think he’s very good at fitting the run, and I think he can affect the passer."


Report: Bryant participates in drills despite unsigned franchise tender
by Ruben Palacios | Staff Writer
(5:46 pm ET) Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant took a huge risk by participating in a limited portion of his team's organized team activities on Thursday, because he has yet to sign his franchise-tag tender, sources told Todd Archer of ESPN.com.

Bryant, who wants a long-term deal, has made a number of appearances at the Cowboys' offseason conditioning program but Thursday was the first day he participated in meaningful on-field work.

Bryant and the Cowboys need to work out a long-term deal before July 15 or he would be forced to play the season under the franchise tag, which would pay him $12.8 million.

In 16 games last year, Bryant caught 88 passes for 1,320 yards and 16 touchdowns.


 
 
 
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