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2013 Draft Prep: Wilson, Luck, Kap and RG3

Senior Fantasy Writer
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It seems like every summer there's a breakout quarterback from the year before that Fantasy owners can't wait to get their hands on.

Last year it was Cam Newton coming off a ridiculous rookie campaign for the Panthers. Two years ago it was Michael Vick following his re-emergence with the Eagles.

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This year there isn't one. There are four. And unless you've been stranded on a deserted island without Wi-Fi for the last year, you know the names.

Drafting a quarterback might never get as juicy as it will be this summer. Not only will the elite options be available to those who would spend an early pick on them but a few rounds later these four budding superstars will get snatched. All of them led their NFL teams to the playoffs last year. Three of them also led more than half of their Fantasy owners to winning seasons (only Andrew Luck fell under the 50-percent win mark at 49.6 percent). They all finished among the Top 12 in average Fantasy points per game started with 19.38 or better. The promise these guys have, both in the short term and long term, is exciting to think about.

Here's the low-down on this fabulous foursome as you formulate your draft strategies for later this summer.

Colin Kaepernick, Niners

In the 10 games he started, Kaepernick completed 62.1 pct. of his passes for 2,406 yards (8.8 yards per attempt) with 14 touchdowns and five interceptions. Nothing to sneeze at, but when you tack on his rushing stats -- 67 carries for 502 yards (7.5 yard avg.) and five touchdowns, you're looking at a stat machine. In fact, of those 10 games, Kaepernick produced 20-plus Fantasy points in six of them. His Fantasy appeal rose even higher when it was learned that Kaepernick was so bummed after losing Super Bowl XLVII that he took to offseason training quickly and worked hard on putting on muscle and running faster.

But when top receiver Michael Crabtree tore his right Achilles during spring workouts, the heat index on Kaepernick got unseasonably cooler. Crabtree was responsible for many of the numbers Kaepernick put up in those 10 starts, specifically 61 catches on 94 targets for 880 yards and eight touchdowns. Doing quick math, 36.6 pct. of Kap's yardage and 57.1 percent of Kap's touchdowns came from Crabtree. Eliminating him from the field over 10 games (or more) is bound to hurt Kaepernick's passing numbers, even if the Niners added a piece in veteran receiver Anquan Boldin and aim to target tight end Vernon Davis more. Replacements A.J. Jenkins, an injured Mario Manningham and a crew of otherwise unproven receivers might make things easier for defenses to take chances against Kaepernick, thus capping his stats.

That's about the wettest blanket we can throw on Kaepernick, though. All it takes is one of those young receivers (potentially Jenkins) to step up in the preseason and Kaepernick will look as awesome as he did pre-Crabtree injury. Some will say Kap can make up for the loss of Crabtree with his crafty rushing, but games like the one he had against the Packers in the playoffs last season will be few and far between, especially now that defensive coaches have had a full offseason to study his tendencies. Of his division rivals, only the Rams (who he played well against in his nearly two full games) gave up more than 50 rush yards per game -- and their defense has gotten better this offseason.

Elite quarterbacks tend to have at least one elite receiver to throw to. Without Crabtree, there's some risk in Kaepernick being a top performer week after week, which is why he's toward the bottom of our Top 12 Fantasy quarterback rankings. If you're after Kaepernick it'll take a pick in Round 6 to get him, probably not any later. Then the move is to pair him with another passer in Round 9 or 10 to safeguard your team against a potential disaster -- or at least give you a chance to use another quarterback until Crabtree comes back.

My latest projection: 4,114 passing yards, 24 pass TDs, 16 interceptions; 417 rush yards, 6 rush TDs, 4 fumbles lost

Andrew Luck, Colts

Normally when a quarterback changes playbooks after his first year it's part of a coaching staff overhaul caused in part by a lack of talent. That's not happening in Indianapolis, where Luck found incredible ways to win games and push the Colts to the playoffs in his rookie season. In fact, he did too good a job: His offensive coordinator, Bruce Arians, has moved on to lead the Cardinals. Replacing him is Luck's collegiate playcaller, Pep Hamilton, who brings a more conservative system than Arians' to Indy but one Luck is familiar with. Only one of Luck's receiving weapons from last year -- Donnie Avery -- is gone. Darrius Heyward-Bey was signed to replace him, a move that could be considered an improvement. Reggie Wayne, T.Y. Hilton and a pair of young tight ends remain staples in Luck's arsenal.

In all, the changes should agree with Luck and ultimately result in more efficient numbers. Luck surprisingly completed a gross 54.1 pct. of his passes last year and had 20-plus Fantasy points in six games (as many as Kaepernick had in 10 games). He's a cinch to complete more passes in the quarterback-friendly scheme coming to the Colts -- he nailed over 70 percent of his passes in his last two years at Stanford -- and should be able to cut down on the 23 turnovers he had last year while totaling more than the 28 scores he posted as a rookie. Only his yardage mark from 2012 -- 4,374 yards -- could be a challenge to surpass.

We knew this time last year that Luck was going to become a franchise quarterback. That maturation should continue in 2013. He's another young passer you should wait a little bit for -- Round 6 should be fine but Round 7 would be better -- and then pair with another passer in Round 9 or 10 just in case of a doomsday scenario where his production doesn't improve.

My latest projection: 4,413 passing yards, 28 pass TDs, 14 interceptions; 245 rush yards, 2 rush TDs, 2 fumbles lost

Russell Wilson, Seahawks

Of all the breakout quarterbacks from last year, Wilson is the one I'm targeting. Not only is it because of his phenomenal play for the last half of the regular season and postseason, but also because he's the only one of the young guns who received an upgrade at receiver during the offseason without losing anyone from his offense. His health, his playbook, his coaches and the teammates around him are all the same or better. None of the other young quarterbacks can say the same thing.

Wilson averaged 19.4 Fantasy points per week last season, but much of that was because of a slow start typical of a rookie passer. His lack of experience eventually became a non-issue and Wilson had 20 points or more in seven of his last eight regular-season games. Extend that into the postseason and Wilson had a 20-point effort in eight of his last 10 overall.

And all of that came without Percy Harvin. The lightning-quick receiver with soft hands and smooth routes was dealt to Seattle this offseason and should further boost Wilson's stats. Consider this: Christian Ponder is not what we would call an attractive Fantasy quarterback, but with Harvin healthy last year he averaged 15.3 Fantasy points per game versus 11.8 per game without him. It's safe to say that little difference -- 3.5 Fantasy points -- should go a long way for Wilson, who just missed averaging 20 Fantasy points per week. It's also safe to say Wilson is a better passer than Ponder, so maybe that 3.5 Fantasy point differential will be greater in Seattle.

Wilson intimated this offseason that he doesn't like to run, an element of his game that helped him produce big stats toward the end of last season. But it doesn't mean he won't do it when necessary. In Wilson's first eight games he averaged 4.5 rushes per game, 16.0 rush yards per game and the Seahawks offense averaged 16.25 points per game. In Wilson's final eight regular season games and two playoff games he averaged 7.3 rushes per game, 48.8 rush yards per game and the offense averaged 28.9 points per game. At the very least, the threat of Wilson running helped put opponents on their heels and opened the door for Wilson to do pretty much everything he wanted. It would be stunning to see him completely give up on running.

And it would be equally stunning to see Wilson falter for Fantasy owners. There's plenty of hype around Kaepernick, Luck and Griffin, but not everyone is willing to buy into Wilson. Let that be your opponents' downfall -- getting him in Round 6 (maybe Round 7) is one of the shrewdest moves you could make on Draft Day. And like the other quarterbacks, getting a solid "just in case" backup in Round 9 of 10 makes the plan even better.

My latest projection: 3,979 passing yards, 28 pass TDs, 13 interceptions; 393 rush yards, 4 rush TDs, 2 fumbles lost

Robert Griffin III, Redskins

No young quarterback comes with as much risk as Griffin, though none comes with as much reward, either. Griffin's impressive rehabilitation from multiple torn ligaments in his right knee is as remarkable as Adrian Peterson's effort a year ago, though Griffin hurt his roughly three weeks later into the year than Peterson's. As a result of his work and his progress as reported by those who watched him during offseason practices, it's now expected that Griffin will be ready for the start of the season.

Griffin was Cam Newton-like last season when he busted out of the gate with four straight games with at least 21 Fantasy points and five games in his first seven overall with at least 25 Fantasy points. Defenses started to catch up with him, though, and save for back-to-back monster outings coming off the bye against the Eagles and Cowboys, RG3 had 19 points or less in every game the rest of the way, including his ill-fated postseason appearance. It's especially concerning that each of his division opponents did a phenomenal job containing him in their second meeting, a sign that defenses will have an answer for him so long as he continues to do what he's always done.

Some believe Griffin won't run as much as he did last year (7.8 attempts per game on average including playoffs) but Redskins offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan made a brilliant observation: All four of RG3's injuries came on pass plays where he had to scramble, not out of the zone-read option that brought forth so many of his big rushing numbers. The Redskins have a bigger investment in Griffin than any Fantasy player and surely will work with him on being a smarter runner, but the zone read might not evaporate from the Redskins playbook as some might think. That happens to double as good news for Alfred Morris, by the way.

If we knew Griffin was a lock to start in Week 1 without any limitations and stay that way for the season, he'd probably be a lock for Round 4. But because there's trepidation about him playing 16 games, he's in the same range as his rookie quarterback counterparts. Why take a risk on him earlier than necessary, particularly in a year where everyone in a league will have a good starting quarterback?

It's actually more likely he'll get picked in Round 6 as a Top 10 quarterback than fall past Round 7 simply because he'll get into preseason action eventually and someone in every draft will eyeball him. If that someone is you, do yourself a favor and come back in the following round with the best available quarterback -- potentially a guy like Luck, Wilson or Kaepernick.

My latest projection: 14 games, 3,405 passing yards, 25 pass TDs, 11 interceptions; 380 rush yards, six rush TDs, three fumbles

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

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Player News
Cowboys' Garrett: DL Nick Hayden an 'important signing'
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(3/26/2015) Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett made it a point of emphasis to mention to reporters at the NFL Meetings that re-signing defensive lineman Nick Hayden was important, reports the Dallas Morning News.

“Well, we’re always trying to get better and we have to get better,’’ Garrett said. “We have to bring some impact players into our defense. But Nick has been such a good player for us as a leader of that defensive line and he’s a really productive player. There’s a lot of the dirty work but he’s one of those guys who makes a lot of hits on the ball, is around the football a lot and simply makes a lot of plays.

"That was an important signing for us.’’

Hayden has started all 16 games with the Cowboys for two consecutive seasons. Over his seven-year career, he has 135 total tackles, two sacks, two passes defensed and one forced fumble.


Giants' Coughlin: WR Victor Cruz looks 'really good'
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(3/26/2015) Giants head coach Tom Coughlin is encouraged that wide receiver Victor Cruz can return to form, according to the NY Daily News. Cruz suffered a torn patellar tendon that forced him to miss 10 games last season.

“I think he will be back to the player that he was and hopefully better. Victor looks really good, he’s starting to run, I was in the field house watching him rehab, he’s coming along well.” … As for when Cruz will be back at practice, full-time, Coughlin added, “I don’t know. I shouldn’t say this, because medically I really do not have a definite answer, but by training camp, hopefully. He will work his way through.”

Through his five years in the NFL, Cruz has 264 receptions for 3,963 yards and 24 touchdowns.


Patriots LB Dont'a Hightower to miss at least six months
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(3/26/2015) Patriots linebacker Dont'a Hightower is going to miss between six and seven months, according to the Boston Globe.

Hightower had surgery this February to repair a torn right labrum. The team is concerned that he might not be able to be ready for the start of the reguar season. He played through the injury for a good portion of the 2014 season prior to surgery.

The 25-year-old started all 12 games he played, collecting 89 total tackles, six sacks, two passes defensed and one forced fumble.


Packers to use pistol formation more often this season
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(3/26/2015) After implementing the pistol formation into the offense to help take stress off of quarterback Aaron Rodgers' leg in 2014, the Packers are considering to use it more often this season, according to the Journal Sentinel.

"I like the pistol," head coach Mike McCarthy said during a break at the NFL owners meetings this week. "I think there's a lot of value regardless of the injury to Aaron. I know he likes it. There's a place for it year-round in your offense."

Although McCarthy has no intention of turning Rodgers into an option quarterback, the system provides unpredictability for opposing offenses.

"I would say this is about the third year it's been part of our pace and installation," McCarthy said. "Really, when we moved to it exclusively there at the end of the year it really wasn't a change for us.

"I liked it from a self-scout standpoint. It gives you another self-scout variable when you're in the gun, but you also have the tailback behind you. (There are a) lot of benefits to it."


Report: Vikings sign CB Terence Newman
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(3/26/2015) The Vikings have signed cornerback Terence Newman to a one-year, $2.5 million contract with $750,000 in guarantees on Thursday, according to NFL Media Insider Ian Rapoport. 

Newman spent the last three seasons with the Bengals after playing nine years for the Cowboys. The 36-year-old has had at least one interception in each year of his 13-year career. The cornerback has recorded 741 total tackles, two sacks, 147 passes defensed, 37 interceptions, and eight forced fumbles. 


Kubiak wants Peyton Manning comfortable with playbook
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(3/26/2015) Broncos head coach Gary Kubiak wants to make sure that all of his players are comfortable with the new offensive playbook, including quarterback Peyton Manning, reports ESPN.

“I think you prepare to help him call that game throughout the course of the week," Kubiak said. “A lot of people put emphasis on him calling plays at the line, but you’ve also prepared to do that throughout the course of the week, so you, as a coach, 'Here’s what I think is best in that situation.' In a lot of ways you’re still working together. You’re just going about it a different way."

“You never want to put a player in a position where he’s doing something he’s uncomfortable with," Kubiak said. “One of things about having a veteran, especially like Peyton, he’s going to let you know, 'This is what I do best and this is what I feel comfortable with.' That’s what you need to go do as a coach. You might tweak things here or there that you think may help, but you’re never going to take him out of his comfort zone and what he feels like he does best.”

Manning, 39, recently took a pay cut of $4 million to help clear salary cap space for the team.


LB Brandon Magee still committed to playing in NFL
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(3/26/2015) After being released by the Buccaneers, linebacker Brandon Magee is going to participate in spring training with the Boston Red Sox. That being said, he is still committed to playing in the NFL, according to Pro Football Talk. 

Magee's agent, Blake Baratz, emailed Pro Football Talk regarding his client's desire to resume his NFL career.

“There have been rumors circulating that Brandon Magee, who was recently released by Tampa Bay, has given up football with the intention of playing professional baseball. This could not be further from the truth,” Baratz wrote. “While he does attend spring training for a few weeks up until the beginning of the NFL off-season program, he is 100% fully committed to playing in the NFL.”

Magee, 24, has seen action in 17 games the last two seasons, nine of which were in 2014 with the Buccaneers. He has registered 10 total tackles in his career.


Bill O'Brien: 'Sky's the limit' for WR DeAndre Hopkins
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(3/26/2015) With Andre Johnson now in Indy, DeAndre Hopkins enters the 2015 season as the Texans' undisputed No. 1 receiver.

“He had a really good year last year and the sky’s the limit with Hop (Hopkins)," coach Bill O'Brien told NFL Network. "He’s an excellent young player who works extremely hard and we’re looking forward to putting together our whole receiving corps and he should be the leader of that.”

Hopkins led Houston with 1,210 receiving yards and six receiving touchdowns last year. He has 128 catches for 2,012 yards and eight scores in his two NFL seasons.


Giants RB Shane Vereen will be more than third-down back
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(3/26/2015) Giants running back Shane Vereen is being viewed as much more than just a third-down running back, according to nj.com.

The team is excited about his ability to catch passes out of the backfield, but he'll be relied on to do more than that.

"I see him in that regard as a pass receiver coming out of the backfield, a pass protector, a guy who runs the ball in the three-wide offense in the run game, if you will, which is very prevalent today in our sport," coach Tom Coughlin said at the NFL Annual Meetings this week. "So I see him in that regard."

Last season the Giants did not have one receiving touchdown by a running back. Vereen, formerly of the Patriots, had three receiving touchdowns out of the backfield last year.

"Well, you know what [Vereen] can do. Quite frankly, it's something from an attack standpoint we've had some success with, but not to the extent that he has," Coughlin said. "When you look at Vereen, a lot of the [Tom] Brady hookup with Vereen was the ball was almost automatically going to him. First down, if it was zone coverage, they were dropping the ball down and he would scoot. So we know that. Will we open it up to more parts of it?"

The 26-year-old has 907 yards rushing and seven touchdowns on the ground, adding 107 receptions for 1,023 yards and seven touchdowns through the air in four years. 


Chiefs confident they'll reach deal with Justin Houston
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(3/26/2015) Chiefs chairman Clark Hunt told the Kansas City Star he's confident the team will sign standout outside linebacker Justin Houston to a long-term deal. The Chiefs put a $13.1 million nonexclusive franchise tag on Houston, which he has yet to sign.

“He knows, and his agent knows, how much we want him back,” Hunt said. “We just all have to be patient, and eventually, we’re going to get him signed to a long-term deal.”

Houston has 48.5 sacks in his four-year career. 

“I’ve been very consistent in saying that we not only value Justin as a football player, that we not only value Justin as a person and leader, and we want him to be a Chief for life,” Hunt said.


 
 
 
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