We will kick off our division previews with a look at one of the most talent rich divisions in the NFL, the NFC East.
Give this man some respect: Tony Romo
All you need to know is that Romo has been a top eight quarterback in each of his last three full seasons, including 2012 when he had a career worst 19 interceptions. That number will drop dramatically in 2013, as Romo totaled just 19 interceptions in his two previous full seasons combined. The reason to trust in Romo, who is coming off of a career high 4,903 yards to go with 28 touchdowns, is that he is consistently productive. Last year, Romo was a Top 12 Fantasy quarterback 10 times (tied for fifth) and produced 20 or more points eight times, which was tied for seventh. In 2011, Romo 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). 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 five Fantasy quarterback on a per game basis (21.4 points per game), has a 75 percent consistency rate and is just below a 50 percent big game rate. He is a consistently productive Fantasy option who is averaging 4,523 yards passing with 29.3 total touchdowns and 12.7 interceptions per season. I will also repeat that he has never been outside of the Top 8 at the quarterback position in a full season as the starter of the Cowboys and yet he is currently the 12th quarterback off the board with an ADP in the seventh round. I have seen Romo drafted as late as the ninth round and he is currently the best value at the quarterback position on Draft Day.
Knee, what knee? It is 2013! Robert Griffin III
If Adrian Peterson proved anything last year in addition to the fact that he is a freak of nature, it is that an ACL tear is not the death knell it was once to a player's Fantasy value the following season. By all accounts, RG3 is ahead of Peterson's rehab schedule and even though he is a running quarterback who piled up 833 yards and seven scores on the ground, the rigors of his position pale in comparison to those of a full time running back.
RG3 has already been cleared to practice and while I do not expect another 800-yard season on the ground, he will still be a very effective runner for a quarterback in 2013. Where I do expect to see a nice leap from the young quarterback is in his passing totals. Griffin threw for 3,211 yards and 20 touchdowns with only five interceptions while completing nearly 66 percent of his passes and leading the NFL with an average of 8.1 yards per attempt. His efficiency will be tough to improve upon, but I do think he will see an increase on his 26.2 attempts per game and will see a nice bump in his yardage and passing score totals as well. With a healthy Pierre Garcon in the lineup, Griffin will have the true No. 1 receiver he did not have for much of the 2012 season.
It should be noted that RG3 produced five of his six multiple touchdown passing games with Garcon in the lineup and also had two of his three 300-yard passing efforts. In 2012, RG3 was a Top 3 quarterback five times last year -- tied for most in the league -- and was Top 12 on 11 occasions, fourth most. He accomplished a lot of that with his legs, but he certainly has the potential to be just as productive with a bigger emphasis on the passing game. After all, the Redskins threw for 8,278 yards in 2010 and 2011, ninth most in the NFL, and that was with the quarterback trio of Donovan McNabb, John Beck and Rex Grossman.
When you consider all of the facts, it is easy to see why RG3 could blow up again and post Top 5 numbers with nearly 4,000 yards passing, 500 yards rushing and 30 total touchdowns. With the good early news on regarding his knee, RG3 offers definite elite quarterback potential at a slightly depressed price tag (current ADP: 10th quarterback drafted). Even if taking Griffin means you have to draft a second quarterback (which I typically hate), the upside is worth it and you will have plenty of top backup options like his division rival, Eli Manning.
Time to put up or shut up: Demarco Murray
Huge upside and potential is great, but when it comes with the baggage of a checkered injury history, Fantasy owners will at some point get fed up (see Matthews, Ryan). For Demarco Murray, the 2013 campaign will be that pivotal point where he can either live up to his promise for close to 16 games and become a Fantasy darling, or disappoint with another injury and become a Fantasy Football pariah.
In 2012, Murray missed six more games and failed to finish in the Top 24 at the running back position. He did flash his potential down the stretch to tantalize his owners, averaging 12 points per game over his final five games of the season. For the year, Murray was a Top 24 finisher in seven of his nine full games, which would have translated to 12 games if he played 16, which would have been Top 10 at the position. He did have only one Top 12 finish, however, and never really put together a big week of at least 18 points, despite having at least 10 points in five of his starts. That was a far cry from the dominance Murray showed back in 2011 when he 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. That year, Murray averaged 15.3 points per game as the starter despite only scoring two touchdowns.
Murray did improve his scoring in his second season, with four scores in 10 games, but Arian Foster he is not. The good news for 2013 is that the Cowboys did address the offensive line in the first round for the second straight year and the team has turned over play-calling duties to Bill Callahan who certainly favors a more run-heavy attack as Dave Richard pointed out in this recent article. Murray himself thinks he is poised for a big year and is particularly excited about the plans to spread defenses out with multiple receiver and two tight end sets that do not incorporate the fullback. This could be a big adjustment that will help Murray get further down the field before contact, which will bump up his yards per carry average near 5.0 again.
In 2011, Murray was 2.5 yards down the field per carry before taking on contact and added another 3.0 after contact for his 5.5 yards per carry average. In 2012, Murray was hit 1.6 yards down the field on average and still added a solid 2.5 after contact (to get to his 4.1). If the new scheme and improved line play can get Murray bigger running lanes, we could see another five yards per carry or better from Murray, who definitely has the Top 12 potential in that offense to vastly outplay his current ADP of 24th overall. That's why he is worth the plunge as your second running back on Draft Day, since some of the inherent risk in him is already factored into that ADP. Also, just in the interest of full disclosure, his injury replacement would be Joseph Randle, who should be drafted late to cover Murray, who has yet to prove he can play a full season in the NFL. It is your year DeMarco, now go out there and reward our faith in you!
Eli had a down year in 2012, finishing 14th at the quarterback position while throwing for 3,948 yards and 26 touchdowns. That was the first season since 2008 that Manning failed to throw for 4,000 yards and I think he gets back over the hump in 2013. After all, it was just in 2011 that Manning threw for a career best 4,910 yards with 29 scores en route to a sixth place Fantasy ranking at the quarterback position.
Part of the reason that Eli struggled in 2012 sits squarely on the shoulders of my other bounce back player in New York, wide receiver Hakeem Nicks. Nicks battled injuries all season long and posted career lows in receiving yards (693), yards per catch (13.1) and touchdowns (three). He also caught a career low 53 percent of his targets and had the worst yards per target average of his career (6.9) by nearly a yard and a half. Week 2 was his only game of more than 80 yards receiving and Nicks was horrendous in the red zone, with just one touchdown on 17 targets. To put that in perspective, of the 31 receivers with at least 13 red zone targets last year, none had fewer touchdowns or a worse touchdown rate than Nicks.
The lack of a healthy Nicks also hurt Victor Cruz, who saw his yards per catch fall from 18.7 in 2011 to 12.7, his yards per target fell from 11.6 to 7.6, and his receiving yards dropped from 1,536 to 1,092 despite seeing only 16 fewer targets. It is no surprise that Nicks' best game was also Cruz's best game back last year and a healthy Nicks should recharge this passing game in a big way. Don't forget that in 2010 and 2011, Nicks produced 2,221 yards and 18 touchdowns in 28 games with back-to-back finishes in the Top 12 at the wide receiver position. He also averaged an elite 8.6 yards per target during those two seasons, so if he is healthy, he will regress to the mean and finish Top 20 with ease. Nicks also just saw Cruz get paid and he will be playing for dollars in 2013, which is always a powerful motivator.
In addition to his top two targets, Eli will have two other excellent pass catchers at his disposal this year. Second year receiver Rueben Randle is ready to play a much bigger role than he did as a rookie, which is great news for Eli, who missed that third big play option following the departure of Mario Manningham prior to the 2012 season. Randle showed excellent efficiency metrics as a rookie, averaging a team-high 1.49 Fantasy points per target and was second at 9.3 yards per target. He is a nice sleeper in his own right, as Randle averaged nearly 10 Fantasy points per game in the three games in which he saw at least four targets. His biggest impact will be for his quarterback however, as all three of Randle's scores last year came in the five games in which Eli threw for three or more scores. More Randle should mean more consistency from Eli, who finished as a Top 12 Fantasy quarterback just six times last year (he was Top 6 in five of them and Top 3 in three of them).
The other new factor in New York to note is the addition of Brandon Myers. Yes, Martellus Bennett and his big play ability are gone, but Myers will keep many drives alive with his sure hands. Myers caught 79 passes for 806 yards and four scores in his breakout season with the Raiders in 2012 and is playing for dollars on a one-year deal in the bright lights of the Big Apple. Whereas Bennett only hauled in 61.8 percent of his targets and averaged just 7.0 yards per target with the G-Men, Myers comes to town after catching a tight end best 75.2 percent of his targets and averaging 7.7 yards per target. What is even more impressive about Myers efficiency is that he was on an Oakland team that completed just 59.8 percent of its passes and his 15.4 percent catch rate differential was the tops in the league. Giving Eli a sure-handed option to work with in the middle of the field will bring a nice bump to his overall efficiency and will keep more drives alive for this talented offense.
Look for Eli to post another 4,000-yard season while getting back to the 30-touchdown mark, making him a great value on Draft Day since you can typically snag him as your second quarterback. Eli is just another reason why you need to wait on a quarterback and I expect this passing offense to produce a solid No. 1 receiver in Cruz, a No. 2 in Nicks and No. 1 tight end in Myers and a great late-round upside sleeper in Randle.
Potential realized in 2013: Pierre Garcon
Last year, I remember being laughed at after having Garcon ranked in my Top 5 for Week 1 against the Saints. Sure it was bold, but I loved the clear chemistry between Garcon and RG3 that was on full display in the preseason.
Well in Week 1, Garcon caught four passes for 109 yards and a touchdown to finish eighth at wide receiver. The real news was that he topped 100 yards with a score in the first quarter before leaving the game with a foot injury that really derailed his season and cost him the better part of eight games. Garcon has been fully cleared for camp and will have a monster season in 2013 if he stays healthy all year. He is the clear No. 1 option for RG3 and despite playing on one leg last year, Garcon was the 10th highest scoring Fantasy receiver once he returned to full duty in Week 12 of last year. In those final six games, Garcon was targeted 53 times and caught 34 of them for 486 yards and three touchdowns. Those are legit numbers of nine targets per game, a 64 percent catch rate and excellent averages of 9.2 yards and 1.26 Fantasy points per target.
It should also be noted that an "injured" Garcon led all receivers in Fantasy points per route run last year (0.4) and was second in yards per route run (2.94) per Pro Football Focus. In other words, a less than 100 percent Garcon was among the most efficient receivers in the NFL last year and you have to be excited about what a healthy Garcon can do. Finally, those final six-game stats would translate to 16-game totals of 91 catches, 1,296 yards and eight touchdowns, which would have placed Garcon in the Top 8 at his position. With a current ADP as the 25th receiver taken, Garcon, who will finish in the Top 12 if he plays 16 games, has nothing but upside for you on Draft Day.
Look out Megatron, I'm coming for you: Dez Bryant
Bryant has moved to the No. 2 spot on my board at wide receiver for the simple fact that he has the talent, the offense and the upside to unseat Calvin Johnson. From Week 10 on last year, Bryant caught 50 passes for 879 yards and 10 touchdowns to finish as the top ranked Fantasy receiver over the final eight games. The only receiver to be within 30 points of Bryant over that stretch was in fact Johnson.
It should also be noted that Adrian Peterson was the only running back to outscore Dez during that stretch. That kind of proven upside coupled with early reports out of Cowboys camp that he has been other worldly dominant from our own Jason LaCanfora (and many others) have Dez shooting to the second spot at receiver for me, making him worthy of a pick at the end of the first or early second rounds.
The Eagles could average nearly 40 running back rushes per game if new coach Chip Kelly gets his way in 2013. After all, as Dave Richard pointed out, Kelly's running backs ran the ball over 35 times per game in each of his last three years at the University of Oregon and he loves to rotate in his running backs. That would leave 10 or more carries for Bryce Brown (a nice sleeper) every week and in talking to members of the Eagles organization, that is exactly the plan.
Brown needs to stop carrying the football around like a loaf of bread, but I am sure that was a point of emphasis for him this offseason and history has shown that many fumbling rookies have been able to eliminate such problems. One thing there is that Brown offers one of the most dynamic combinations of size and speed in the league. Despite weighing in at 223 pounds, Brown ripped off 10 runs of 15 or more yards and picked up 50.4 percent of his yards on breakaway runs. He was second in big run rate and breakaway yardage percentage to only Adrian Peterson last year (per PFF), which is pretty good company. Should McCoy suffer another injury, Brown would be in line for major work and solid No. 1 status, which he flashed in picking up 347 yards and four touchdowns on the ground in his first two NFL starts. He is my favorite upside runing back reserve and a great mid-round gamble to take on Draft Day given his current ADP as the 43rd runner taken.
It should also be clearly stated that even though I like Brown a lot this year, I still love McCoy and think he is a top option for your teams.
Wilson has the upside and the sizzle, but Brown was the league's most effective goal line back and certainly looks like the better value on Draft Day. In 2012, Brown scored eight times from inside the five-yard line (second most in the NFL) on only 12 carries. When you consider that the Giants have scored at least 16 running back rushing touchdowns in four of the last five years (13 was the lone exception), he has legitimate 10-plus touchdown potential in 2013. Add in the fact that Brown averaged a very healthy 5.3 yards per carry when 12 of his 78 rushes came from inside of five yards and he becomes all the more impressive.
In the three games where Brown saw at least 13 carries last season, he produced at least 12 Fantasy points in each game while averaging 16.3 per contest. Wilson is no slouch himself, averaging 5.0 yards per carry and producing 68 Fantasy points on just 75 total touches. He is an electric runner who still has some work to do in pass protection, but has the talent to be a big time Fantasy producer in the mold of Tiki Barber.
Watch this battle in training camp to see how things shake out. If Brown can see close to 40 percent of the total touches and the goal line work, he will be the top back to own in New York given his current ADP as the 32nd running back taken. If you could steal Brown as your fourth running back, trust me, you'll be a happy owner later on this season. Now Wilson could wow in camp and the preseason and lock down the majority of touches while still ceding the scores to Brown near the stripe. In that case, he would absolutely be worth the 20th running back ADP that he currently boasts, but right now I would much rather have guys like Lamar Miller, Darren Sproles, Chris Ivory and Le'Veon Bell as my second runner than Wilson.
Stay Away: Michael Vick
Vick lacks the quick decision-making and accuracy that Chip Kelly will demand from his quarterbacks. Just last year, Vick averaged over 3.07 seconds from snap to throw, the second-lowest rate in the NFL per Pro Football Focus. By comparison, teammate Nick Foles got the ball out nearly a quarter of a second faster and completed two percent more of his passes in the exact same offense. Vick is not worth the risk on Draft Day, as I do not envision a scenario in which he is the starter for 16 games. Add in the fact that this will be a run-focused offense and the upside for Vick becomes virtually non-existent for me in 2013.