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2012 Draft Prep: Sky's the limit for Thomas, Decker

Senior Fantasy Writer
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Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker were solid but unspectacular Fantasy receivers in 2011. Decker had his moments early in the season. Thomas was a reliable option late.

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This year, both will be stars.

Thomas and Decker are elite talents, but they were never going to be elite Fantasy receivers with Tim Tebow at quarterback. Tebow might have a knack for winning games, but he was never going to turn his receivers into winning Fantasy options.

Enter Peyton Manning, and the value for Thomas and Decker has risen dramatically. It all coincides with both entering their third year in the NFL, and both are poised for a breakout campaign. The prediction here is Thomas and Decker will each have a career season.

We'll start with Thomas, who has the higher ceiling. Go back to his rookie year in 2010 when he was selected ahead of Dez Bryant in the first round of the NFL Draft. The expectation right away was for Thomas to be a star, but he's struggled with injuries in the first two years of his career.

He finally showed flashes last season with Tebow, closing the year with double digits in Fantasy points in three of his final five games. He also had the amazing playoff performance against the Steelers with four catches for 204 yards and the game-winning 80-yard touchdown in overtime. For the season, Thomas had 32 catches for 551 yards and four touchdowns.

Thomas has the potential to be a No. 1 Fantasy option and he is being drafted in Round 4 as the No. 15 receiver based on Average Draft Position. He should easily live up to that draft position and Manning is excited about his new No. 1 target.

"He's a guy we're going to feature," Manning said of Thomas in the Denver Post. "His size and strength and speed just allow you to do certain things with him that other players just can't do. … I look forward just to get more and more comfortable with (Thomas)"

The new offense in Denver should help Thomas dramatically. The Broncos are going to throw the ball at a much higher rate and Thomas should thrive.

Thomas only had three games with double digits in targets in 2011 and finished with one 100-yard game and two touchdowns over that span. Imagine what he could do with 16 games of seeing double digits in passes.

"I have high expectations, but I'm not going to project myself to do anything more than pick up where I left off at the end of last season and get better," Thomas told NFL.com. "You know with Peyton, the future Hall of Famer, just watching him with the Colts, he spread the ball out to all of his receivers. I should have plenty of opportunities. ... I've heard from older players that if he trusts you, you're going to have a great year."

Manning already appears to trust Decker. The two hooked up for two touchdowns in the third preseason game against the 49ers, and Decker is the hot name heading into Labor Day weekend.

Decker is being drafted in Round 6 as the No. 23 receiver and that's a great spot for him. His value might be slightly higher in PPR leagues since he could lead the Broncos in receptions. But make no mistake, Thomas should be drafted ahead of Decker since he has the potential for a better year even though both should shine.

Decker played well in 2011 as he bridged the transition from Kyle Orton to Tebow. Decker had two games with double digits in Fantasy points when Orton was the starter and four with Tebow. He finished the season with 44 catches for 612 yards and eight touchdowns.

He now gets a significant upgrade in Manning, and the two have developed an instant rapport. Decker's teammates have noticed a change in his approach this year.

"He's grown so much this summer,'' Denver cornerback Champ Bailey said in USA Today. "Eric's hit that level where he can take off at any moment because he works hard. He wants it. He just has to stay healthy. He wants to be the best."

We can see big things for Thomas and Decker this season. They could be Manning's next version of Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne. And here's what Thomas and Decker are looking at if you believe in that comparison.

Harrison had at least 82 catches, 1,110 yards and 10 touchdowns every year from 1999-2006 with Manning as his quarterback. He had four years with at least 100 catches, three years with at least 1,500 receiving yards and two years with 15 touchdowns.

Wayne had at least 75 catches, 1,100 yards and five touchdowns every year from 2004-10. He had three years with at least 100 catches, three years with at least 1,300 receiving yards and three years with at least 10 touchdowns.

Granted, that was when Manning was in his prime and not coming off sitting out a season following multiple neck surgeries at 36 years old. But the potential is there for Thomas and Decker to fill the role of Harrison and Wayne as Manning's go-to guys in his supporting cast.

We're excited for Thomas and Decker this season, and they are definitely worth drafting based on their current ADP. They might even prove to be Draft Day bargains if they have the breakout campaigns we're expecting. This is going to be a good year for Denver's passing game.

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

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Alfred Morris running into tough matchup
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(5:57 pm ET) For as good as Alfred Morris is, owning him in Fantasy can leave you disappointed at times, given the Redskins' sometimes-inconsistent usage of him. You might want to skip the headache in Week 5, with the Seahawks on the way Monday night.

Morris has been productive in each game so far, and currently ranks fifth in the NFL in rushing yardage through four games. Unfortunately, he faces one of the toughest tests in the league this week. The Seahawks have yet to allow an opposing running back to score even six points this season, and their lone touchdown allowed came from little-used Packers fullback John Kuhn in Week 1. Morris has yet to face Seattle in his career, and they are unlikely to give him a very warm welcome.

Morris is nearly a must-start Fantasy option on a weekly basis, but this is one time you might want to avoid relying on him. The workload should be there, but Morris ranks outside of the top-30 for running backs in both Jamey Eisenberg and Dave Richard's Week 5 rankings.   


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Seferian-Jenkins was targeted on seven of quarterback Mike Glennon's 42 throws in Sunday's game, a number that left him third on the team. He brought in three of those passes, a decent number considering Glennon struggled with his accuracy all game. The fact that Glennon looked his way so often might be a good sign, since it was the pair's first game together.

After a collegiate career that saw him total 1,840 yards in three seasons, Seferian-Jenkins has a chance to become a big part of this Tampa Bay offense. However, he obviously has a lot to prove before you want to rely on him. Keep an eye on Seferian-Jenkins' play in Week 5 against the Saints, and consider adding him if he and Glennon show a good rapport. 


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Luke Willson has a lot to prove with increased role
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(5:35 pm ET) The Seahawks will turn to Luke Willson to start at tight end in the coming weeks, with Zach Miller sidelined by ankle surgery. Should Fantasy owners take notice?

Miller had logged 83.5 percent of the team's snaps through three games, so Willson should be in line for a much larger role as the starter. Of course, Miller was nearly a nonfactor in the passing game so far, having been targeted just seven times. Between he and Willson, quarterback Russell Wilson has targeted tight ends just eight times on 87 attempts, after 20.6 percent of his passes went their way a year ago.

Willson might be the better pass catcher of the Seahawks tight end tandem, but we don't have much to go on here. There are better tight end options worth targeting on waivers, at least until Willson proves himself. 


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(5:28 pm ET) Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder took the first-team reps Monday and Tuesday while rookie Teddy Bridgewater watched with an ankle injury. "I'm preparing to play, but we're hoping the best for Teddy," Ponder told reporters.

"I've talked to Teddy. He's doing everything he can to prepare and be ready to play."

Ponder has started 35 games, but none with Norv Turner as offensive coordinator. He could be under center Thursday in Green Bay. "It's a very different style of offense than what we've ran the previous three years," Ponder said. "Without Adrian [Peterson], it's different. Defenses play us differently without Adrian. I'm comfortable and fit well in it."


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The Jaguars have relied on Toby Gerhart less and less as the season has gone on, and for good reason. He is averaging just 2.6 yards per carry through four games, with a long run of just 10 yards. And, while Robinson has not been much better (3.3 yards per carry), the team appears willing to give him a bigger role, if only for a change of pace.

Robinson might have some extra value long term in PPR leagues, even if he ultimately never overtakes Gerhart for the starting job. Robinson has been targeted seven times in 70 offensive snaps, compared to seven targets for Gerhart in 133 snaps.

Clearly, the Jaguars are not thrilled with their investment in Gerhart this offseason, so Robinson is going to get more chances to cut into his playing time if he can show a pulse. At this point, Robinson is a long way from starting, but in deeper leagues, he might have some upside.


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(5:11 pm ET) With Seahawks tight end Zach Miller recovering from ankle surgery, Luke Willson will start Monday's game in Washington, reports the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. The second-year pro caught 20 passes for 272 yards and a touchdown as a rookie.

"When you're the backup guy, you're kind of always prepared for it," Willson said. "I don't really feel like I'm really entering any new territory."

A fifth-round pick out of Rice, Willson started two games last year when Miller hurt his hamstring.


 
 
 
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