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Dual threats for 2013

CBSSports.com
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Quarterbacks

Cam Newton, QB, Panthers: Fantasy owners are hoping a strong finish to 2012 will put Newton in prime position to dominate in 2013. After a lousy start last season Newton had multiple touchdowns in seven of his final nine contests, boosting his Fantasy production from 17.0 Fantasy points per game to 25.3 points per game. A few tweaks in offensive philosophy and a reliance on the short-area passing game (and a good schedule) helped turn things around for Newton, but more tweaks are in store this offseason after the team lost offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski to Cleveland's head coaching job. Mike Shula will take over the Panthers' offense, which Newton is happy with, but his track record as an offensive coordinator and head coach is not very good. The plan in Carolina is to stick with what worked late in 2012. Luckily, Newton is a freak of nature and stands to continue putting up huge numbers even though they did little this offseason to improve the offense. Factor in Newton's goal-line prowess and there's not necessarily a lot to fear with Newton so long as he's taken with a pick after elite quarterbacks like Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers and Peyton Manning are taken. That could happen after the 30th overall pick.

Robert Griffin III, QB, Redskins: RG3 is starting to look better as the preseason goes on as he appears on track to be ready for Week 1 against the Eagles. He had surgery to repair a torn ACL, MCL and meniscus in January and as a result is on a limited workout schedule through the month of August. He's not expected to participate in any preseason games but he's been practicing on a regular basis. There's no denying how awesome Griffin was last season, tallying 344 Fantasy points (seventh best among QBs) and averaging 22.9 Fantasy points per week. There is no indication the Redskins will alter their playbook and make RG3 a statuesque pocket passer, meaning it's very possible he remains as productive as he was in 2012. But he also could get hurt again, something Fantasy owners have to consider given what happened to him as a rookie. Your best bet is to consider him a solid No. 1 Fantasy quarterback worth a pick starting in Round 6. If you get him, aim to back him up with a capable passer a few rounds later. That's pretty much all the insurance you'll need to feel safe about owning Griffin in Fantasy play.

Colin Kaepernick, QB, 49ers: Kaepernick lost his No. 1 receiver in Michael Crabtree (Achilles) before the season started, but that doesn't mean his Fantasy value is sunk. Kaepernick should still play at a high level, and hopefully what he did last year in a small sample size will carry over to a big performance. He had five games with at least 18 Fantasy points in seven starts in the regular season, and he carried the 49ers to the Super Bowl with two standout playoff games. If you project Kaepernick's regular-season stats over a full 16-game season he would have finished with 4,146 passing yards, 23 touchdowns and seven interceptions and 948 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns. That's pretty awesome. He takes a hit with Crabtree out, but Kaepernick has the look of a No. 1 Fantasy quarterback, and we like him with a pick beginning in Round 6 in the majority of leagues. Since he's unproven, you'll still want to pair him with a quality backup option later (think anyone from Eli Manning to Jay Cutler), but Kaepernick should still be able to hold his own with a revamped receiving corps led by Vernon Davis and Anquan Boldin. Remember, there aren't many quarterbacks who can run like Kaepernick, and that rushing prowess makes him a unique Fantasy commodity.

Russell Wilson, QB, Seahawks: Wilson came out of nowhere to surprise Seattle fans and Fantasy owners with a dynamic performance in his rookie campaign in 2012. He should continue to play at a high level in 2013 but the loss of prized offseason acquisition Percy Harvin for much of the regular season harpoons any upside he had coming into the year. Wilson managed to do just fine without Harvin a season ago, finishing as the No. 9 Fantasy quarterback in standard leagues with at least 19 Fantasy points in nine of his final 11 games, including at least 27 points in his final three outings. That was helped by amassing surprising rushing totals, something that he might have to do again this season even though he said this offseason he doesn't like to run. Figure Wilson to be among the last starting Fantasy passers you'll see taken between Rounds 7 and 9 this season as owners shy away from him knowing he won't have Harvin around to enhance his stats further. You'll want to pair Wilson with a quality No. 2 Fantasy quarterback (think anyone from Eli Manning to Ben Roethlisberger to Andy Dalton), but until he proves you wrong he should be considered a starter from Week 1 at Carolina.

Running Backs

Ray Rice, RB, Ravens: Rice should be in the conversation as a Top-10 pick, but not necessarily a Top-5 pick. True, he had another excellent season in 2012 when he totaled over 1,500 yards and 10 touchdowns and scored double-digit Fantasy points in 11 games. But toward the end of last year we saw Rice split reps with Bernard Pierce, so there's a little concern they could share a little more than we're used to seeing in 2013. Rice also didn't produce the huge numbers he did before the Ravens made a coordinator change as Joe Flacco sort of took over the direction of the offense. We wouldn't be as worried about those things as we would a hangover from the Super Bowl -- running backs tend to struggle posting big numbers in the season following a title game run. Rice had 331 carries and 69 catches over 20 games, which is a lot of work but nothing to get completely alarmed about (he had 411 total touches in 2010 and was fine in 2011). Roster shakeups due of injuries or salary cap issues have thinned out the talent Flacco will throw to as well, so there could be added emphasis on the run game week after week. Is he still one of the best players in Fantasy? Sure, but he's got a lot more company at the top of the running back heap than he did a year ago. We'd aim for Rice no higher than sixth overall in drafts.

Reggie Bush, RB, Lions: Bush left the Dolphins this offseason to sign with the Lions, and we're excited for his opportunity in Detroit. He has played well since coming to the Dolphins in 2011 when he got a chance to be an every-down back. In 2011, Bush had a career season with 216 carries for 1,086 yards and six touchdowns and 43 catches for 296 yards and a score. He followed that up with a career-high 227 carries for 986 yards and six touchdowns and 35 catches for 292 yards and two touchdowns. Now, Bush goes to a Lions team that should involve him more as a receiver, even promising a potential 70 catches. He has at least 43 catches in five of his seven years, and the Lions will use him as a three-down back. We view Bush as a No. 2 Fantasy running back with upside, and he could total 1,500 yards with about six touchdowns. He is worth drafting in all formats in Round 3 with the potential to be drafted in Round 2 in PPR leagues. This could be a big year for Bush in Motown.

Darren Sproles, RB, Saints: If you draft Sproles in 2013, you're banking on him coming through as a pass catcher rather than as a rusher. Sproles' run duties did little to supplement what he did as a receiver, which was actually slightly better on a per-game basis than what he did in 2011. His catches per game went up from 5.4 to 5.8, his receiving average jumped from 8.3 yards to 8.9 yards per catch and his receiving touchdowns stayed at seven. But his rush game, despite a nifty 5.1 yard average, practically disappeared. He had all of 48 carries thanks to four games of no handoffs and seven with five or fewer. That makes Sproles a risk as a top-20 running back but not quite as a low-end No. 2 option in a standard league. Obviously, the receptions he's expected to handle push him up in PPR formats to a very solid No. 2 option. He's worth a late fourth-round pick in standard leagues and a third-round pick in PPR formats this summer.

Shane Vereen, RB, Patriots: Vereen should be considered a sleeper coming into this season based on his expected role with the Patriots with Danny Woodhead gone. Last year, Vereen was inactive for the first three games of the season, but he finished the year with 73 carries for 308 yards and four touchdowns and 15 catches for 254 yards and three touchdowns, including the playoffs. With Woodhead gone, Vereen's value will rise, especially in PPR leagues where he could complement Stevan Ridley. Woodhead had 76 carries for 301 yards and four touchdowns and 40 catches for 446 yards and three touchdowns with one lost fumble last year, and Vereen should pick up the majority of that production. He should be considered a No. 3 Fantasy running back in standard leagues and a potential No. 2 option in deep PPR formats. He's worth a mid-round pick, and Vereen has breakout written all over him.

Wide Receivers

Randall Cobb, WR, Packers: Cobb blossomed into a solid Fantasy receiver last season and the hope is he continues his progress in 2013. It took a few weeks but once the Packers were in a pinch with their run game they utilized Cobb more and his numbers took off. Starting in Week 5, when Cedric Benson got hurt, Cobb posted 10-plus Fantasy points in five of his next six games (with a TD or 100 total yards in each game). Cobb slowed down toward end the season, scoring once and posting two games with 100 yards in his final seven games including the playoffs. He finished by leading the Packers in catches (80), targets (104 for an incredible 77 pct. conversion rate), receiving yards (954) and total yards (1,086), throwing in eight touchdowns along the way. Already, the Packers have said they're going to take Cobb off of special teams and focus on using him more on offense, so chances are he will be in a position to put up better stats in 2013. There is a concern that if the Packers drastically improve their run game that Cobb will lose touches but that's something to worry about later. For now, Cobb sizes up as the Packers' most explosive receiver worth a pick starting around 30th overall in standard leagues and 25th overall in PPR formats. He's a great low-end No. 1 Fantasy option.

Tavon Austin, WR, Rams: The Rams drafted Austin in the first round of the NFL Draft out of West Virginia, and he's expected to contribute right away. In fact, he might be the best rookie this season since he has the size (5-foot-9) and playmaking skills of Percy Harvin. He has excellent speed (4.29 in the 40-yard dash). Austin posted back-to-back 100-catch seasons with the Mountaineers, totaling over 11 yards per catch along the way while upping his rushing workload as a senior (72 carries for 643 yards including a school-record 344 rush yards against the Oklahoma Sooners). He will likely play in the slot for the Rams, but he also can play outside. Consider Austin a potential No. 3 Fantasy receiver in standard leagues with a mid-round pick (yep, that high), but in rookie-only drafts he's a first-round selection.

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Player News
Eagles' Walter Thurmond moves to safety
by Ruben Palacios | Staff Writer
(5:20 pm ET) The Eagles have made a lot of moves to improve their defense this offseason, one of which was to bring Walter Thurmond aboard.

Most thought he would play cornerback, but Chip Kelly announced Thursday that Thurmond has moved to safety, per nj.com.

Thurmond said the coaching staff approached him about the idea some time ago, giving him the option to compete at either position. 

"It was a couple weeks ago, just after the draft, they asked me how I would feel about moving to safety,'' Thurmond said. "They said I could stay and compete at corner, or I could move to safety and compete there. After drafting three corners, even though some of them might be safeties, they thought it would be better for me at safety. I'm good with it. I just want to play."

The move is intriguing given that Thurmond has never played a game at the safety position, but he isn't concerned too much about that.

"I've played it in practice, but never in a game,'' Thurmond said. "In this defense, though, it's not much different than playing in the nickel.''


Buccaneers DE Jacquies Smith opens OTAs on first team
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(5:16 pm ET) Buccaneers defensive end Jacquies Smith was part of the first-team defense in Thursday's open OTA practice, the first of the offseason, per the team's website.

Smith and George Johnson were the bookends on the defensive line, surrounding Gerald McCoy and Clinton McDonald. Lavonte David and Danny Lansanah were the two linebackers in the nickel set, with Alterraun Verner and Johnthan Banks at corner and Chris Conte and Major Wright at safety. Sterling Moore and Isaiah Frey each played nickel.

Smith was a castoff by Buffalo early last season but developed into a rotational end with the Buccaneers, racking up 6 1/2 sacks.


Cowboys sign fourth-rounder Damien Wilson
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(5:11 pm ET) The Cowboys have announced the signing of rookie linebacker Damien Wilson. Bringing the fourth-round pick in the fold leaves only first-rounder Byron Jones unsigned.

Wilson was a tackling machine last year at the University of Minnesota, racking up 119, including 10.5 for losses and four sacks. He has worked in the first-team nickel package in practice both in the middle and on the weakside.


Packers WR Jordy Nelson post-surgery: 'Everything is going well'
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(4:55 pm ET) Packers standout wideout Jordy Nelson admitted Thursday to having hip surgery in the offseason, but downplayed its significance.

Nelson attended the OTA session, but did not participate aside from throwing the ball around a bit.

"Everything is going well," he told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "...We're just going to continue to progress ... I don't have any worries about anything that's of importance down the road."

Nelson did state that if the hip wasn't bothering him last year, he wouldn't have opted for surgery. "Just an opportunity to get some things cleaned up," he added.

The veteran is coming off his most productive season. He established career-highs in receptions (98) and yards (1,519).


Eagles RB Murray to Randle: 'Hopefully he can taste some of that meat'
by Ruben Palacios | Staff Writer
(4:48 pm ET) Eagles running back DeMarco Murray and his former teammate Joseph Randle have an interesting back-and-forth going on, per csnphilly.com.

Randle, who backed up Murray as he lead the NFL in rushing, has recently said Murray "left a lot of meat on the bone" last year. 

Murray rushed for 1,845 yards and 14 touchdowns last season, helping the Cowboys become one of the most potent offenses in the league.

"Hopefully he can taste some of that meat this year," Murray said of his former teammate.“They’re a good team. Hopefully he can get a chance to run behind that line and do some good things. But I’m not worried about it. I didn’t hear about it until now. It’s not a big deal.”

The Cowboys will use a multi-running back system with Randle leading the way. He rushed for 343 yards and three touchdowns as Murray's backup last year.


Michael Oher wants to bounce back with Panthers
by Ruben Palacios | Staff Writer
(4:29 pm ET) Panthers left tackle Michael Oher thinks he's in the perfect place for his career to bounce back, per the Charlotte Observer.

Oher, who is coming off his worst season as a pro, signed a two-year, $7 million deal with the Panthers this offseason. Now on his third team in three years, Oher doesn't want to let any of his new teammates down.

“It seemed like they wanted me,” Oher said. “I got the (same) feeling going into my rookie year of not wanting to let guys down and guys with a winning culture. For me, it’s about getting back to the basics and fundamentals of doing everything right. Looking myself in the mirror knowing what I have to do and getting better from within.”

Oher started his career with four solid seasons as a Raven before nagging injuries began to hamper him in 2013. He signed a four-year deal with the Titans last offseason but injuries continued to plaque him while there. The Panthers gave Oher another chance to prove himself this offseason, and currently list him as their starting left tackle.
“I’m doing everything in my power to make that happen,” Oher said. “I know that I have the abilities and I’m going to put in the correct amount of work to get the job done. It’s just being around more guys who are willing to do the same.

“It’s definitely about culture in the NFL. That wins you football games alone.”


Report: Broncos will sign offensive tackle Ryan Harris
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(4:22 pm ET) The Broncos have agreed to terms on a contract with offensive tackle Ryan Harris, according to a report from ESPN. 

This move is a necessity now that left tackle Ryan Clady is likely lost for the season due to a torn ACL that he sustained in practice on Wednesday.

This move brings Harris back to the organization he started his NFL career with as he played with the Broncos, which drafted him in the third round, from 2007-2010. 

Harris was with the Chiefs a year ago and started 15 of the 16 games he appeared in. 


Standout snags Thursday give hope to Panthers WR Stephen Hill
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(4:15 pm ET) Panthers wide receiver Stephen Hill flashed some of the potential Thursday that he never reached with the Jets. He caught three deep balls, beating starting cornerback Josh Norman on one of them.

But such achievements are quickly forgotten in May. If Hill doesn't produce when training camp and the preseason games roll around, he will be in the same predicament he has been in since August.

That's when he was waived by the Jets and landed on the Carolina practice squad. And that is not where a player with his talent belongs. But Hill, a second-round selection in 2012, only caught 45 passes for the Jets in his first two seasons combined, so he must prove his worthiness all over again.

Quarterback Cam Newton ran downfield to congratulate Hill on his catch against Norman, which pleased the wideout. He was encouraged by his performance.

"Today was pretty good," he told the Charlotte Observer. "I made a couple big plays, but still need to work on some things when it came to individuals."


Panthers WR Kelvin Benjamin: 'Right now, it's about getting healthy'
by Ruben Palacios | Staff Writer
(4:09 pm ET) Panthers wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin is taking his time while rehabbing his injured hamstring. 

Benjamin, who was turning heads at OTA's this time last year, is concerned with getting back to the field 100 percent healthy.

"I'm getting a lot of mental reps right now," Benjamin said. "Right now, it's about getting healthy and getting back on the field.

"It's up to the trainers. Right now they're just taking their time with it."

The Panthers want to be careful with their second-year player.

"Kelvin tweaked it a couple of weeks ago. Coming out of a break, he slipped a little bit on the wet turf and strained it," coach Ron Rivera said. "We're being a little bit cautious, but the unintended consequence that's been a plus has been getting [Devin Funchess]snaps."

Benjamin set a rookie record with 1,008 yards receiving last season.


Jets announce release of quarterback Matt Simms
by Ruben Palacios | Staff Writer
(4:01 pm ET) The Jets released quarterback Matt Simms, the team announced on Thursday.

Simms, who was buried in the depth chart with the Jets, has played in four career games, completing 19 of 39 passes for 195 yards a touchdown and an interception.


 
 
 
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