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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
Reggie Bush says he doesn't plan to retire
by Shawn Krest | CBSSports.com
(2/28/2015) Three days after being released by the Lions, RB Reggie Bush said he has no plans to retire. 

TMZ reporters confronted Bush outside a Beverly Hills restaurant and asked if Bush, who turns 30 on Monday, was going to quit football. Bush responded with, "No." 

Bush rushed for 297 yards and two touchdowns last season. 


Report: Cowboys to let DeMarco Murray test free agency
by Shawn Krest | CBSSports.com
(2/28/2015) The Cowboys will let RB DeMarco Murray test the free-agent market, according to a report from Fox Sports Southwest

Cowboys VP Stephen Jones said that negotiations with Murray's agents have been "slow". 

Jones said that Murray "is probably going to get some peace and see what's out in the market, and then we'll talk and see. I do believe deep down he'd love to stay in Dallas."

Murray rushed for 1,845 yards and 13 touchdowns last season. 


Report: Cowboys to use franchise tag on Dez Bryant
by Shawn Krest | CBSSports.com
(2/28/2015) The Cowboys will use the franchise tag on WR Dez Bryant on Monday, according to a report by Fox Sports Southwest

The team has been trying to negotiate a long-term contract with Bryant, a free-agent to be. If a deal can't be made by Monday's franchise tag deadline, the Cowboys will use the tag to keep Bryant a Cowboy. 

"I still think that (it) would be a stretch to think that we would have something done by Monday and beat the franchise-tag deadline," Cowboys VP Stephen Jones told Fox. "Looks like we're eyeing a franchise tag on Dez, but certainly won't stop us from working hard to get a long-term deal. ... We just don't want to lose his rights."

Bryant had 88 catches for 1,320 yards and 16 touchdowns last year. 


QB Josh McCown's contract with Browns worth $14 million
by Shawn Krest | CBSSports.com
(2/28/2015) Quarterback Josh McCown's deal with the Browns will pay $14 million over three years, a league source told CBS Sports NFL Insider Jason La Canfora.

With incentives related to playing time and playoff berths, McCown could earn $20 million over the course of the deal.

McCown will earn $6.25 million in fully guaranteed money, with $5.25 million of it coming in the first year of the deal.


Report: Panthers won't re-sign Greg Hardy
by Shawn Krest | CBSSports.com
(2/28/2015) Panthers DE Greg Hardy is scheduled to become a free agent on March 10. He missed most of last season while appealing his conviction for domestic violence. 

Even though the charges were dropped on appeal, the Panthers have no intention of bringing Hardy back, multiple league sources told BlackandBlueReview.com's Bill Voth


Texans' Brian Cushing has had three offseason surgeries
by Shawn Krest | CBSSports.com
(2/28/2015) Texans LB Brian Cushing has had three surgeries since the end of the season. 

In a public appearance on Saturday, Cushing told the Houston Chronicle's John McClain that he's had surgery on his broken right wrist as well as arthroscopic procedures on his left knee and left ankle. 

"It’s not uncommon for stuff like that to happen," he said of the two arthroscopic surgeries. "It’s just little things here and there, the residual effects of two major surgeries and injuries, the wear and tear of playing throughout the season. There were still some things bothering me a little bit. Just went in there and had real good success in both areas."

Cushing has a cast on his wrist. “It’s coming along real well,” he said. “I’m going to start working out a little bit. From a pain standpoint, there’s really nothing going on there. I’m real happy about that. I’m real happy to get the cast off and start doing some physical therapy on it, and I don’t have to worry about it anymore."


Report: 49ers to release wide receiver Steve Johnson
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(2/28/2015) The 49ers are expected to release wide receiver Steve Johnson, according to Dianna Marie Russini of NBC Washington D.C.

The move will reportedly save the team $5.5 million in cap space. Johnson had 35 catches for 435 yards and three touchdowns in 13 games last season.


Patriots running back Stevan Ridley: 'I have something to prove'
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(2/27/2015) Patriots running back Stevan Ridley is expected to become a free agent in the coming weeks and he is ready for the experience.

"I'm excited about it," Ridley told Sirius XM Radio Friday. "As a player coming into the league, you get there and your first contract you kind of have to establish yourself and see what you can do. Everybody is a good player if you get to make it to the NFL, but there is something to be said if you get to that second contract."

Ridley has rushed for 2,817 yards and 22 touchdowns in his first four seasons in the league with the Patriots.

"Where I'll be playing, and who I'll be playing for, is still unknown, but I know I've come in and done my job up to this point and now I have to put it in my agent's hands to get me on another team, or stay where I'm at, and make sure I’m in pads playing ball somewhere next year. I know if you think about it too much it will worry you sick."

Ridley has played in 20 of a possible 32 games the last two seasons, starting in just 11 of them.

"I take it personal to any team or anybody that says I can't be a very productive player on whatever team I land on," he said. "I've been playing ball my whole life, I'm going to come in and be a leader, and I'm going to be a guy that comes in and busts his butt in the weight room and busts his butt on the field. I'm a good teammate, I have fun with my guys, but when the lights come on Sundays, it's all business and I plan on going out there and making plays."


Patriots' Aaron Dobson doing well in rehab of hamstring injury
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(2/27/2015) Patriots wide receiver Aaron Dobson is still recovering from a hamstring injury that ended his season in 2014. Trainer Brett Fischer said Friday he thinks Dobson is going to turn heads when he heads back to Foxboro for training camp, according to the Boston Herald.

"He was talking about, 'When I go up there (to Foxboro) and they see me again, I want to make sure they know I'm in the best shape of my life.' He is really determined," Fischer said. "That is the underlying theme every day: 'Hey, I've got to be ready when April comes, be ready as far as the best shape of my life.' It's frustrating with two years of freaky-type stuff."

Dobson finished a disappointing 2014 season with three catches for 38 yards.

"He is doing great," Fischer said. "I'm really excited for him. He has put the time and effort into it, comes in early, gets all his work in and he is hungry. There are a few specific things we found, minor little things we're working on, that make his program a little bit unique to everybody else's. Nothing major."


Report: Should be a 'very active market' for Broncos' Julius Thomas
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(2/27/2015) Broncos tight end Julius Thomas turned down a five-year, $40 million contract for a reason. That's because it's believed he will have a "very active market" when the new league year begins on March 10, according to NFL.com's Ian Rapoport. 

Two teams that are expected to target Thomas in free agency are the Raiders and Jaguars, both of which need to upgrade considerably at their skill positions to help out their young quarterbacks. The expectation is for Broncos general manager John Elway to let Thomas test the waters in free agency to see what he's offered. 

The Falcons have also reportedly been interested, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's D. Orlando Ledbetter. 

Injuries slowed what was an otherwise fast start to his 2014 season. Thomas' season ended with 489 yards and 12 touchdowns. 


 
 
 
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