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Fantasy Football Draft Prep: Predictions sure to go right

Senior Fantasy Writer
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Every year we like to come up with a list of predictions that we expect to come true. These are bold statements, typically involving hot-button players.

Last year, we correctly predicted Stevan Ridley turning into a star, Andre Johnson returning to form and Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker having breakout campaigns. We also said Adrian Peterson would struggle, but that's another story.

Hey, we can't always be right. But I'm confident in the predictions listed here. Now it's up to you to decide if you're buying or selling these bold statements for 2013.

Tony Romo is the best bargain at quarterback

Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo doesn't get the respect he deserves. He's an elite Fantasy passer, but he's being overlooked on Draft Day.

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Since Romo became a full-time starter in 2007 he has been a Top 8 Fantasy quarterback in every year but one, which was 2010 when he was limited to six games. He has four 4,000-yard campaigns over that span and five years with at least 26 touchdowns.

Last year, Romo passed for 4,903 yards, 28 touchdowns and 19 interceptions, and he also added a rushing score. From Week 10 on, which was when Dez Bryant dominated the NFL, Romo averaged 24.5 Fantasy points. If you project that over 16 games, Romo would have finished with 392 points in a standard league and been the No. 4 quarterback behind Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady.

But this season Romo is being drafted as the No. 11 quarterback based on Average Draft Position on CBSSports.com behind Andrew Luck, Colin Kaepernick and Robert Griffin III. While all three of those quarterbacks have unlimited upside, Romo might be the better option.

The prediction here is Romo will provide the best bang for your buck on Draft Day. We all love his receiving corps of Bryant, Jason Witten and Miles Austin, and DeMarco Murray has trouble staying healthy.

If you're smart, let someone else draft Luck, Kaepernick or Griffin, and you can wait on Romo. He will definitely reward you at the end of the year.

Colin Kaepernick won't be worth the price you have to pay

There's a lot to like about Kaepernick. He's a dynamic passer with a cannon for an arm and tremendous athleticism.

He's just missing one thing this year, which is vital for any quarterback – his best receiver.

The loss of Michael Crabtree (Achilles) for the majority of the season lowers Kaepernick's Fantasy value. He should not be drafted as a Top 10 quarterback, and ADP shows he's going No. 9. That's too high.

I can see Kaepernick still being a starting caliber Fantasy quarterback this year, but he's being drafted ahead of Griffin and Romo, which is too soon for me. I'd even take Eli Manning ahead of Kaepernick. The prediction here is Kaepernick will be a bust based on his value on Draft Day.

Yes, he has Vernon Davis, who should have an increased role compared to last year, and Anquan Boldin is a great addition. But Crabtree was Kaepernick's best weapon in 2012 by far, and he will be missed.

During Kaepernick's 10 starts last year, Crabtree had 61 catches for 880 yards and eight touchdowns. That accounts for 36.6 percent of Kaepernick's yardage and 57.1 percent of Kaepernick's touchdowns. He also targeted Crabtree 94 times. His next most-targeted receivers were Davis and Randy Moss, who tied at 39.

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Kaepernick will adjust without Crabtree, and coach Jim Harbaugh will find a way to put him in position to shine. But keep in mind the 49ers are a running team. They were seventh in the NFL in rushing attempts and just 44 away from being No. 1. That offensive line is meant to push people around, and San Francisco can run at will.

If you told me I could get wait on Kaepernick as my starter I'd be OK with it, and I'd be sure to pair him with a high-end upside backup. But he's going in Round 5, and there's no way I would draft him there. Neither should you.

DeMarco Murray and Darren McFadden will finally reward their owners

I take full responsibility for the failures of Murray and Darren McFadden last year. Put that on me. Don't worry, I can take it.

I touted Murray and McFadden as first-round picks, and they were drafted in the Top 11 in 2012 based on ADP. Neither finished anywhere near that because of injuries. Murray was limited to 10 games because of a foot sprain, and McFadden missed four games with an ankle problem.

It all comes down to injuries for both rushers. You can't argue their talent. When healthy, both produce, and I'm counting on them this season. The prediction is this will be the year Murray and McFadden reward their Fantasy owners for believing in them.

The reason I like both running backs this year is their value. Based on ADP you can draft Murray in Round 3 and McFadden in Round 4. I'll gamble on either one in those spots.

Murray did well last year when he played. He had five games with double digits in Fantasy points in a standard league with at least seven points in every outing. He averaged 9.6 Fantasy points a week, and if you project that over 16 games he would have finished with just under 154 points, which would have made him the No. 15 running back in standard leagues. The Cowboys are turning to offensive coordinator Bill Callahan to call plays this season, and he could be a good thing for Murray. I consider him a Top 20 running back on Draft Day, and I'll gladly take him in Round 3.

As for McFadden, he had six games with double digits in Fantasy points of the 11 full games he played, and that was in a system ill-suited for his talents. He averaged just over nine Fantasy points a week. If you project that over 16 games, he would have finished with 145 points, which would have made him the No. 17 running back in standard leagues. This season, McFadden gets an offense catered to his skills, and even though the Raiders are in shambles, he should still produce – if he doesn't get hurt. That's a huge if since he's played 13 games just once in five years and missed 13 games the past two seasons. But again, it comes down to value, and he's worth it in Round 4. It also helps that he's in a contract year

It all comes down to your risk level with these two running backs. For me, I'll gamble on them – just not on the same team. That's too risky given their track record, and even I recognize that. But there's nothing wrong with gambling on talent, and these are two of the most talented running backs in the NFL. If only they can stay healthy.

Jamaal Charles and Dwayne Bowe are headed for career years

I trust in Andy Reid. I expect him turn around the offense in Kansas City. And I'm counting on Jamaal Charles and Dwayne Bowe this year.

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The prediction here is Bowe and Charles are headed for career seasons.

Start with Bowe. Once upon a time he was a standout Fantasy receiver on his way to stardom. In 2010, Bowe had 72 catches for 1,162 yards and 15 touchdowns. He has been chasing that kind of production the past two years, but he finally has a system in place with a capable quarterback to help him get there.

Alex Smith is arguably the best quarterback Bowe has ever played with. While he doesn't possess great arm strength, he's accurate, completing more than 70 percent of his passes last season. He'll put Bowe in the right position when his number is called – which should be often thanks to Reid.

Reid's offenses in Philadelphia were among the most pass-happy in the NFL, ranking in the Top 10 in passing eight times over the past nine years. The volume of targets Bowe will get should allow him to produce at a high level. He won't score 15 touchdowns, but he should set career highs in catches and yards. He's a high-end No. 2 receiver worth drafting in Round 4 or 5.

Charles will find it harder to set career highs because he's already been incredible, especially the way he played in 2012. Coming off a torn ACL, he set career highs in carries (285) and rushing yards (1,509) despite having three games with fewer than 10 carries.

But Reid could turn Charles into a beast. While Reid was in Philadelphia he had three primary running backs in Duce Staley, Brian Westbrook and LeSean McCoy. That trio combined for six 1,000-yard rushing seasons, seven 1,500 total-yard seasons, nine seasons with at least 50 catches and five seasons with 10 total touchdowns.

The last two times Charles played a full season, which was 2010 and 2012, he had at least 1,700 total yards and six total touchdowns, but he's never had more than 45 catches in a season. Reid should help Charles catch 60-plus passes, and he's averaged 8.4 yards per catch in his career. He could get 500 yards receiving, and he if he rushes for 1,500 yards again he could be at 2,000 total yards.

He also could score 10 touchdowns in this offense, so you see where we're going with this. Charles is a Top 5 overall pick on Draft Day, and he just has to stay healthy to shine.

Reid is going to turn Bowe and Charles into superstars, and this will be a career year for both players.

Danny Amendola will have a better season than Wes Welker

You're on the clock in the fourth round of a Fantasy Football draft, any format, and your choices are Danny Amendola and Wes Welker. Who are you going to take?

Both are poised for great seasons. Both play in prolific passing attacks with premier quarterbacks. Both could be awesome, especially in point per reception formats.

I'm taking Amendola, and without hesitation. The prediction here is Amendola will be better than Welker in 2013.

I have both receivers ranked in the Top 20, but Amendola has more upside replacing Welker for the Patriots. Welker is going to see a downgrade in production going to the Broncos, while Amendola is poised for a breakout season catching passes from Tom Brady.

The key for Amendola is health since he's missed 20 games combined the past two seasons for a dislocated elbow, shoulder and foot problem. But when he's been on the field he's been productive. In 2010 he had 85 catches for 689 yards and three touchdowns, and last year before going down the first time in Week 5, he was on pace for 124 catches for 1,404 yards and eight touchdowns. Those are Welker-like stats.

Keep in mind Welker averaged 112 catches, 1,243 yards and six touchdowns a year in New England over six years. It's unrealistic for Amendola to hit those averages, but with Rob Gronkowski (back) hurt and a revamped receiving corps, Amendola could have a monster year.

Welker, meanwhile, has never shared a field with receivers the caliber of Thomas and Decker. His stats are going to dwindle. The Denver Post predicts Welker to catch 75 passes, and Welker also said if he's catching too many passes "that probably means we're in trouble."

If you give Welker his yards per catch last season, which was 11.5, he'll have 863 yards with 75 receptions. And the guy he's replacing, Brandon Stokley, only had 58 targets last season for 45 catches, 544 yards and five touchdowns. Welker is clearly an upgrade over Stokley, but Thomas had 141 targets and Decker had 122. You should still draft Welker to be a potential starter, but don't get overexcited with him going to Denver to play with Peyton Manning.

It should be a great year for both receivers, but Amendola has the higher ceiling. If he plays 16 games, which is obviously a big if, he will have a better season than Welker.

Hakeem Nicks, Jordy Nelson and Kenny Britt will rebound in 2013

Jordy Nelson and Hakeem Nicks gave us all a scare early in training camp with injuries, and heading into the fourth preseason game, Kenny Britt is battling swelling in his knee. It's concerning with these three receivers given their upside when healthy.

In 2012, all three were flops because of injuries. Nicks played through knee and foot problems, Nelson missed time for hamstring issues and Britt was still working his way back from a torn ACL in 2011.

But this year, all three receivers will rebound at a high level. The prediction here is Nelson, Nicks and Britt will again be standout options for Fantasy owners.

Start with Nelson, who was the No. 2 Fantasy receiver in 2011 with 68 catches for 1,263 yards and 15 touchdowns. He fell off last year with just 49 catches for 745 yards and seven touchdowns and missed four games. He had knee surgery in training camp, but he returned to practice before the final preseason game and should be ready for Week 1. Put him back on your radar as a No. 2 Fantasy receiver worth drafting in Round 4 or 5.

In the 11 full games that Nelson played last season he still managed at least eight Fantasy points in a standard league in seven outings. Aaron Rodgers will continue to rely on Nelson this year, and when healthy he's the second-best Packers receiver after Randall Cobb and ahead of James Jones. I'm expecting Nelson to return as a high-caliber Fantasy option as long as he doesn't suffer a setback with his knee.

I expect the same thing from Nicks, who is in a contract year, giving him the ultimate motivation. He's out to prove that he's still among the best receivers in the NFL after an injury-plagued year in 2012. Nicks appeared in 13 games last season, but his leg injuries were problematic. He was limited to 53 catches for 692 yards and three touchdowns, with his yards and touchdowns career lows.

If Nicks is able to stay healthy and play 16 games he could return to being a Top 20 Fantasy receiver. Keep in mind before last year he had consecutive seasons of at least 76 catches, 1,050 yards and seven touchdowns with 18 total touchdowns over that span. It's risky to count on Nicks given his injury history, but I'd gamble on him in Round 4 or 5 based on his upside. Eli Manning and the Giants need a big year from Nicks, and I'm counting on him to deliver.

Britt is a little trickier because he doesn't have the track record of the other two guys mentioned here. He has been plagued by injuries to his knee and hamstring throughout his career, and he's been in trouble off the field almost annually since entering the NFL in 2009. This year, however, he's healthy barring the latest knee swelling, which is expected to be nothing, and he's only been in the news for positive reports. He's entering a contract year, so Britt is saying and doing all the right things.

The last time I was excited about Britt was his rookie season, and now I would draft him as a No. 3 Fantasy receiver. Britt has shown flashes of his potential before. In 2011, before he suffered a torn ACL in Week 3, he was on pace for 91 catches, 1,541 yards and 16 touchdowns. He also scored nine touchdowns in just 12 games in 2010.

Having the inconsistent Jake Locker at quarterback is a concern, and the Titans are still a run-first team. But Britt has the talent to be a difference maker, and he should land in your lap in Round 8 or 9. If he stays healthy he should reward you with a big season

Antonio Brown will be better than his predecessor Mike Wallace

Antonio Brown has spent the past three years in Mike Wallace's shadow. But now Wallace has left the Steelers for the Dolphins, and this is Brown's chance to shine.

The Steelers made their choice last season when they gave Brown a contract extension and allowed Wallace to walk. We'll find out if they made the right decision.

The prediction here is Brown will be the better Fantasy option in 2013. Brown has yet to put together a standout season. He was good in 2011 with 69 catches for 1,108 yards and two touchdowns, but he failed to build on that performance last year. He set a career high with five touchdowns, including four in a row to close the season, but his catches (66) and yards (787) declined.

We're counting on Brown to improve in all areas as he becomes the No. 1 target for the Steelers. Not only is Wallace gone, but Heath Miller (ACL) could be limited to start the season. And if Miller is out, Brown could see a significant uptick in targets.

Last year, Wallace and Miller combined for 36 red-zone targets and came away with 16 touchdowns. That's hard to replace, and Brown should benefit with the higher touchdown potential. He should also see an increase with more overall targets since he had just 106 last year. Wallace led the Steelers with 119, but we wouldn't be shocked if Brown gets north of 150 targets. He should get back to 1,000-plus receiving yards like he had in 2011, and he has the chance for 75-plus catches. Brown has the potential to be a Top 20 Fantasy receiver.

Wallace, meanwhile, has been trending down. His receiving yards have declined from 1,257 yards in 2010 to 836 last year. His saving grace has been at least eight touchdowns in every year over that span. But Wallace also disappears during the season. Last year, Wallace had just one game with a touchdown in his final six outings and two games with 100 receiving yards on the year. The same thing happened to him in 2011 when he had one game with a touchdown in his final seven outings and four games with 100 receiving yards.

There's a pattern here, and maybe he changes that with a change of scenery, but you're going to get frustrated with Wallace. Some weeks he'll be awesome and other games he'll disappear. The Dolphins need Wallace to improve their passing game, but it's hard to count on him as a must-start Fantasy option. He's still too boom or bust, and he gets a downgrade in quarterback from Ben Roethlisberger to Ryan Tannehill.

If you consider him a No. 3 Fantasy receiver then you're in good shape, but if you think going from Pittsburgh to Miami will help his value then you're mistaken. You also should realize that Brown has more upside. If you have to decide between the two, the choice is easy. Brown is your guy.

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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Player News
Chris Harris targeting midway point of preseason
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(7/11/2014) Broncos cornerback Chris Harris, who's coming back from ACL surgery, told ESPN he expects to be cleared for full participation by the midway point of the preseason. Harris said the exact timetable hinges on his upcoming visit to his surgeon, Dr. James Andrews.

"I’m doing everything, there’s really nothing I can’t do right now," Harris told the network. "I still have to go see Dr. Andrews at the end of the month and get checked up and he’ll pretty much let us know the plan from there."

Harris had 65 tackles and three interceptions last year before getting hurt in the playoffs.


Dimitri Patterson a starter by default
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(7/11/2014) Unable to land a high-end free agent cornerback, the Jets "were forced to settle for journeyman Dimitri Patterson as a consolation," notes The Star-Ledger. Patterson, who projects to start opposite Dee Milliner, is on his sixth team in 10 seasons and has played all 16 games just once in his career.

If Patterson falters, third-round pick Dexter McDougle could get a shot.


Fred Jackson in danger of losing carries
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(7/11/2014) Bills running back Fred Jackson might not approach the 207 carries he received last year. According to WGR550.com, Jackson will once again split time with C.J. Spiller but also potentially lose snaps to the team's additions at running back, Bryce Brown and Anthony Dixon.

The website said Jackson, 33, who's entering the last year of his deal, will be trying to prove how much he has left.


Teammate: Bitterness won't linger from Jimmy Graham standoff
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(7/11/2014) Saints tight end Benjamin Watson told ESPN that the the team's arbitration fight with Jimmy Graham over whether he's a receiver or a tight end won't have a longterm detrimental effect. Watson is hopeful the sides will reach a multiyear contract agreement by Tuesday's deadline.

"I’m very confident that it’ll be resolved the right way and guys can move forward," Watson said. "Obviously it’s always tough when you go through litigation with somebody, and it can probably get heated. And I’m sure there are emotions on both sides. But that is the business side of the game. 

"And it’s unfortunate that it came to that and that it was so public. But I really think -- I know, I don’t think -- I know that Jimmy loves New Orleans and I know that he loves our team and the organization and he loves playing here. And we love him, everybody wants him here, coaches included. So when it comes down to contract situations, that’s just a necessary evil ... not even evil, but just a necessary progression of getting a player here."


Dallas Thomas eyes starting job
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(7/11/2014) Dolphins coach Joe Philbin named Dallas Thomas one of the team's most improved players, and he has a good chance to start at left guard, according to the team's website. A third-round pick in last year's draft, Thomas played only four offensive snaps last season.

Thomas worked with the first team during spring drills and is much further along than he was in 2013. He stayed in South Florida throughout the offseason to get better prepared.

"You’ve got to know your material, you’ve got to know what you’re doing on the field because stuff happens so fast," Thomas said. "You’ve got to be able to just react to it and not even think about what’s happening on the field."


Spencer Nealy hit with four-game ban
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(7/11/2014) The NFL suspended Vikings defensive end Spencer Nealy four games for violating the league's policy on performance enhancing substances. An undrafted free agent out of Texas A&M, the 24-year-old Nealy did not play in a game last season.

Nealy apologized and took responsibility in a statement, saying he took a supplement containing a banned stimulant.


Jarrett Boykin will be 'hard to dislodge'
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(7/11/2014) Jarrett Boykin improved dramatically last season and "will be hard to dislodge" from the Packers' No. 3 receiver job, reports the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. Boykin will have to hold off second-round pick Davante Adams, fifth-rounder Jared Abbrederis and seventh-rounder Jeff Janis.

Boykin, 24, caught 49 passes for 681 yards and three touchdowns last season.


Trent Richardson might not get long leash
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(7/11/2014) Averaging 2.9 yards a carry, like he did last year, will get Trent Richardson benched quickly, reports ESPN.com. Richardson "will have to produce right away because it's unlikely the Colts will wait for him to get going" if running backs Ahmad Bradshaw and Vick Ballard are healthy and productive, the website said.

Richardson likely will get the first shot at the starting job. He has a much better grasp of the playbook than he did in 2013 and the belief is he'll be able to run on instinct as opposed to overthinking, the report said.


Bruce Ellington trying to overcome stature
by Jeff Borzello | College Basketball Writer
(7/11/2014) At 5-foot-9, Bruce Ellington is the shortest receiver on the 49ers' roster. But the fourth-round pick out of South Carolina should not be discounted, his high school coach, Jerry Brown, told the Sacramento Bee.

Brown said Ellington is relentless at finding open space and catching everything thrown his way. "Football's played on a big field and it's hard to track someone like Bruce who's got so much agility," Brown said.

Ellington believes he has lots of room for growth because he only gave up basketball last year. Also a former track competitor, Ellington clocked a 4.45 forty at the combine.

"I'm just going to work hard, give it a hundred (percent) every time I step on the field and keep on chasing the dream," he said.


Colts dump LaVon Brazill, sign Aaron Burks
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(7/11/2014) The Colts waived suspended wideout LaVon Brazill and signed receiver Aaron Burks, an undrafted free agent from Boise State. Brazill, 25, is suspended for at least a year for violating the league's substance abuse policy.

Burks caught 18 passes for 309 yards and three touchdowns for the Broncos last season, averaging 17.2 yards per catch.


 
 
 
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