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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
Texans' O'Brien: WR DeAndre Hopkins can 'be one of the best'
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(12:28 am ET) Texans head coach Bill O'Brien is very encouraged by the performance of wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins last season, per ESPN. O'Brien went as far as to say that Hopkins can be one of the best.

"He had a really productive year," Texans coach Bill O'Brien said. "The thing that we really like about Hop and that we want him to continue to do is his work ethic. He’s a hungry player. He works every single day. He came into the spring a year ago and he was learning the offense and thinking out there, then all of a sudden you could see all the work he put in and learning, he just took off."

Due to the departure of wide receiver Andre Johnson, the progression of Hopkins will be under the microscope as he is now the focal point of the passing offense.

"We just want to see him continue and progress," O'Brien said. "We think he can be one of the best, we think he is one of the best. We have a lot of confidence in him and we’re looking forward to seeing him progress when the offseason program starts."

In two years with the Texans, Hopkins has reeled in 128 receptions for 2012 yards and eight touchdowns.


Giants won't rush WR Victor Cruz back to the field
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(12:12 am ET) Although Giants head coach Tom Coughlin is hopeful that wide receiver Victor Cruz will be ready by training camp, the team will not rush him back, reports ESPN.

"I shouldn't say this, because medically I really don't have a definite answer, but by training camp hopefully, even if it's just to bring him," Coughlin said. "We're not going to just throw him to the wind. He'll work his way through. But I hope that would be the target."

Cruz tore his patellar tendon in week six of the 2014 season, causing him to miss the rest of the year. Coughlin is hopeful that he'll return to be the player that he was before the injury.

"I think he'll be the player that he was, and hopefully better," Coughlin said of Cruz. "But as far as when, I would be careful of what I would say there. Hopefully it's the first game. But if it isn't, you know we've done that one before. We just went through it. But I'm hoping it would be."

The former undrafted free agent has tallied 264 receptions for 3,963 yards and 24 touchdowns.


Lions QB Matthew Stafford to take more chances through the air
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(3/31/2015) Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford was in new offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi's system for the first time last season. The team plans on taking more chances down the field in Stafford's second season in the new offense, Lombardi said, according to the team's official website.

“In his second year (in the offense) he’s going to be that much more comfortable,” Lombardi said.

“We’ll be able to tailor the offense a little bit more to what he likes and what he’s good at. I thought he played smart football and sometimes to a fault. We’ll look for him to maybe take a few more chances this year with the football.”

Although Stafford didn't take many shots down the field, he did throw a career-low 12 interceptions in 2014. 

The former first overall draft pick has thrown for 21,714 yards with 131 touchdowns and 85 interceptions during his six-year career.


Colts OLB Robert Mathis plans to be ready for training camp
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(3/31/2015) Colts outside linebacker Robert Mathis is not ready to run yet, he told Alex Marvez of SiriusXM NFL. Mathis added that he plans to be ready for the start of training camp.

“It’s not going as fast as I would like to, but we are getting well and we should be clicking in camp,” Mathis told Sirius.

Mathis was suspended for the first four games of last season due to violating the league's substance abuse policy. He then suffered a torn achilles, forcing him to miss all 16 games of the 2014 season.

During his 11-year career with the Colts, Mathis has collected 487 total tackles, 111.0 sacks, 15 passes defensed and 48 forced fumbles.


Lions TE Eric Ebron has been working out with Matthew Stafford
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(3/31/2015) Lions offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi said that tight end Eric Ebron has been working out with quarterback Matthew Stafford in Atlanta this offseason, reports the Detroit News. Lombardi also said that the plan is to have Ebron be the No. 3 weapon in the passing game this year.

Ebron, 21, finished his rookie season with 25 catches for 248 yards and one touchdown. 


Cowboys' Tony Romo: DeMarco Murray asked me to take a pay cut
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(3/31/2015) Eagles running back DeMarco Murray was really hoping to remain with the Cowboys this offseason. So much so, he asked quarterback Tony Romo to take a pay cut to remain with the team, Romo said on 105.3 The Fan in Dallas on Tuesday, per the Dallas Morning News.

"DeMarco ended up asking me, 'Why don't you take a pay cut?' I said, 'I will. I would take a pay cut to go do this,'" Romo said. "I was like, 'They're going to restructure me.' That's the same thing in some ways, just for the salary cap purposes. He was like, 'OK, now we're back to being friends again.' I would take $5 million less if meant getting him back.

"He knew that. It was just funny how he was literally worried about that part of it for a week. I'm like, 'That's not the reason.' I'm like, 'Obviously I'll restructure. I would even take a pay cut.' He was like, 'OK, we can be friends again.' It's amazing what you think about in those moments."


Giants QB Eli Manning wants to take offense 'to another level'
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(3/31/2015) Giants quarterback Eli Manning is entering the second year in offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo's system. Manning is ready to take the next step now that he is familiar with the system, reports the NY Daily News.

““This year will be a much easier transition, knowing that we have been through so much of it already,” said Manning, who recently had been working out at Ole Miss with some of their receivers and alumni. “It’s definitely a different starting point. I feel good about it. I feel that I have a good understanding of it.

“But there is still room to grow and that is why I try to keep it as fresh in my mind as possible. Looking at old game-plan sheets and calling plays in my head – throwing routes with receivers trying to call out plays to myself, so you don’t let it slip away. It was new last year and it wasn’t something I have been doing for 10 years, so you want to keep it fresh and go through your reminders and all your checks. So when we come back I haven’t taken a step backwards and have to re-learn things. It is still all there. There will be new stuff and we will be taking it to another level.”

Manning has started all 16 games in each season since 2005, throwing for 39,755 yards with 259 touchdowns and 185 interceptions.


Saints TE Josh Hill wants to grow into new role
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(3/31/2015) After trading trading Jimmy Graham to the Seahawks, tight end Josh Hill is ready to step into his new role with the Saints, according to the team's offical website.

“I think it might open a few opportunities for me as I continue to grow in my role and just do everything they ask me to do,” Hill said when asked about the trade of Graham to the Seahawks.

Hill recognized that Graham helped him transition from college to the professional level.

“It’s a big difference, especially coming from a smaller school and a smaller city," Hill said. "He was always there for me. We became pretty good friends over the past few years so it will definitely be different without him.”

Head coach Sean Payton believes that Hill is ready to step up.

“Josh Hill is a player that we value a lot," Payton said last week at the NFL annual meeting. "He’s not on anyone’s fantasy first three rounds, I promise you, but he’s a real good tight end. He’s versatile in the running game, in the pass receiving game, a special teams player.”

Hill, heading into his third year in the NFL, has recorded 20 receptions for 220 yards and six touchdowns. 


Cowboys QB Tony Romo excited about this offseason
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(3/31/2015) Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo is excited about what the offseason holds for him, according to ESPN.

“This is the first offseason where I’ve been able to kind of get after it this early and be able to kind of improve in a lot of different areas that I think you aren’t able to until you get healthy enough to attack it,” Romo said on 105.3 The Fan in Dallas on Tuesday. “I’m just excited about that, really.”

Romo, 34, is encouraged by the fact that he is able to do a lot of different things during the offseason process while working out.

“Now I’m able to do that while actually doing functional strength training through different versions of squats,” Romo said. “I’m not putting anything on my back and doing stuff like that but you are doing a lot of single-leg stuff and different things that I started getting into during the season that helped a lot. Now it’s nice to be able to do that in the offseason.”

Romo has thrown for 33,270 yards with 242 touchdowns and 110 interceptions in his 12-year career. 


WR Dwayne Bowe looks to revitalize himself with Browns
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(3/31/2015) Wide receiver Dwayne Bowe is looking to revitalize his career now that he has joined the Browns, reports ESPN. Bowe was cut by the Chiefs in the middle of March.

"I have a chance to revitalize myself," Bowe, 30, told ESPN.com via telephone Tuesday. "Just sit back and watch."

Browns general manager Ray Farmer has familiarity with Bowe from their time with the Chiefs. The two sat down and watched tape from the 2010 season when he racked up 15 touchdown receptions.

"Him knowing what I can do, seeing me in practice, making crazy plays, splitting the safeties, he knows I still can do that," Bowe said. "I couldn't showcase that last year. He was pulling up old plays, saying, 'We are going to use you just like that.' Moving around, going on motion, trying to hit the deep ball, trying to break plays."

The 30-year-old wideout appreciated his time with the Chiefs and he has no regrets.

"It's been up and down, but it's been fun," Bowe said. "I don't regret nothing. People can talk about the NFL and playing wide receiver -- I feel I still have a good four more years in me."

Over his eight-year career, he has totaled 532 receptions for 7,155 yards and 44 touchdowns.


 
 
 
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