Articles By Athlon Sports

Path: /fantasy/fantasy-football-2012-breaking-down-tampa-bay-buccaneers
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What can the Tampa Bay Buccaneers do for you this fantasy season? Check out Athlon Sports' team report as we break down the rookies, veteran players to watch and avoid, fantasy playoff schedule and more to help you get ready for the 2012 season.

Inside the Locker Room
with Rick Stroud, St. Petersburg Times

Which Josh Freeman can fantasy owners expect to draft? The one who threw 25 TDs and six INTs in 2010 or the one who tossed only 16 TDs and 22 INTs last season?
Josh Freeman has rededicated himself this season, having lost 15-to-20 pounds from his powerful 6'6" frame. Freeman’s weight loss has been overshadowed by what he gained in weapons. For the first time in his career, he has a legitimate No. 1 receiver in Chargers free agent Vincent Jackson. The Bucs also signed Saints free agent guard Carl Nicks and moved Jeremy Zuttah to center. Receiver Mike Williams should function better with coverage rolling to Jackson’s side. Freeman has to break his reliance on Kellen Winslow, who was shipped to Seattle for a seventh rounder. In his place is heady vet Dallas Clark. Freeman also has a back to check the ball down to in first-round pick Doug Martin. Remember, as bad as Freeman was, he set career marks in yards and completion percentage.

What sort of timeshare can owners expect from the Doug Martin-LeGarrette Blount backfield duo?
There’s a good reason the Bucs drafted Martin. In addition to adding some depth at the position, Martin is viewed by new coach Greg Schiano as an every-down back, meaning he can run, catch and protect. Blount was one-dimensional at best. Blount will be used in four-minute situations, when the Bucs want to pound the ball. Martin will do almost everything else and should be the much more enticing fantasy option on draft day.

Athlon's Best Bets

Sleeper: Mike Williams, WR
Deep-Sleeper: Arrelious Benn, WR
Overvalued: Vincent Jackson, WR
Top Rookie: Doug Martin, RB
Bounce-Back: Josh Freeman, QB
Top IDP: Mason Foster, LB

2012 Draft Class

1. Mark Barron S 6-2 213 Alabama
1. Doug Martin RB 5-9 223 Boise State
2. Lavonte David LB 6-1 233 Nebraska
5. Najee Goode LB 6-0 244 West Virginia
6. Keith Tandy CB 5-10 199 West Virginia
7. Michael Smith RB 5-9 205 Utah State
7. Drake Dunsmore TE/FB 6-3 235 Northwestern

Fantasy Impact: New coach Greg Schiano wants to build the offense around a powerful rushing attack, so it was no surprise when he selected Doug Martin to pair with LeGarrette Blount in the backfield. Blount has started the last two years for the Buccaneers, but Martin is expected to lead the team in carries and yards this season. Michael Smith brings a different dimension to the backfield and will see carries as a change-of-pace threat. Lavonte David and Mark Barron are two impact defensive acquisitions and should be monitored in IDP leagues.

Fantasy Playoff Run: Weeks 14-16 (PHI, at NO, STL)

Tampa Bay ranked 27th in the NFL in scoring offense and last in scoring defense  last season. No offensive players were top-12 fantasy players at their position. Playing the Eagles and Saints in the fantasy playoffs means playing catch-up, so there should be some production. St. Louis was equally bad — 32nd scoring offense, 26th scoring defense. The fantasy title game is a wild card.

Dominate Your Fantasy Football League! Click here for the ultimate online resource for mock drafts, positional rankings, Athlon's Top 250 and more.

You can order your award-winning Athlon Sports NFL Fantasy Football preview magazine here.

Teaser:
<p> Fantasy Football 2012: Breaking Down the Tampa Bay Buccaneers</p>
Post date: Tuesday, August 28, 2012 - 05:01
Path: /fantasy/2012-fantasy-football-improving-and-declining-defensespecial-teams
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Choosing the right defense/special teams unit for your fantasy football team is not a decison that should be taken lightly. Last season, three DSTs (San Francisco, Philadelphia and Houston) scored 180 or more fantasy points. That total put them among the top 55 overall and top 33 if your remove quarterbacks.

While every defense isn't as productive in fantasy scoring as the likes of the 49ers, Eagles and Texans, there are some units out there on the rise that could prove valuable. Likewise, there are some that you may be better off passing on this season. Here's Athlon Sports' take on four of each.

GOING UP

1. Buffalo Bills
After the Bills allowed 371.1 yards per game last season, it was clear changes needed to be made on Buffalo’s defense. Dave Wannstedt replaced George Edwards as defensive coordinator, and the team switched to a 4-3 alignment. The change in schemes likely helped lure standout end Mario Williams away from Houston. The two-time Pro Bowler will team with fellow offseason acquisition Mark Anderson to inject some much-needed punch to the pass rush. Rookie cornerback Stephon Gilmore will help a secondary that allowed 30 passing touchdowns last season.

2. Seattle Seahawks
The Seahawks ranked ninth in the NFL in total defense last year and made solid moves to improve this unit even more in the offseason. The addition of first-round pick Bruce Irvin out of West Virginia should help a pass rush that tied for 19th in the league with 33 sacks last season. The linebacking corps has question marks, but rookie Bobby Wagner brings speed and a physical presence to the middle. The Seahawks ranked fourth in the NFL with 22 interceptions in 2011, and the secondary returns intact.

3. Dallas Cowboys
The secondary was the biggest weakness for Dallas last season, but the offseason acquisitions should turn it into a strength. Brandon Carr was signed away from Kansas City to anchor one cornerback spot, while the team traded up in the first round to pick LSU product Morris Claiborne, who will start at the other spot. Both players are an upgrade over last season’s starters. Dallas needs linebacker Anthony Spencer to have a big season.

4. Kansas City Chiefs
Despite the absence of safety Eric Berry, the Chiefs finished 11th in the NFL in total defense in 2011. With Berry back in the mix, Kansas City’s defense could climb into the top 10. Stanford Routt was signed to replace Brandon Carr at cornerback, and the team expects a breakout year from outside linebacker Justin Houston. Rookie nose tackle Dontari Poe has upside, but his production didn’t match his talent at Memphis. If Poe, Glenn Dorsey and Tyson Jackson produce up front, this defense will be a good bargain on draft day.

GOING DOWN

1. New Orleans Saints
It’s been a tumultuous offseason in New Orleans, and the distractions could take a toll on this team in 2012. The Saints finished a disappointing 24th in total defense last year, and linebacker Jonathan Vilma is expected to miss all of this season due to a suspension. Signing Chris Chamberlain, David Hawthorne and Curtis Lofton should bolster the linebacking corps, but the pass rush remains a question mark. Veteran Steve Spagnuolo was a solid hire as defensive coordinator, but it’s hard to envision this unit emerging as an every week starter in fantasy leagues.

2. Oakland Raiders
Considering the pieces in place, finishing 29th in the NFL in total defense was a major disappointment last season. New coach Dennis Allen should bring some aggressiveness to this unit, but the back seven is littered with question marks. Linebacker Rolando McClain could miss time in 2012 due to legal issues, while Aaron Curry has been a disappointment. The safety spots are set with Michael Huff and Tyvon Branch returning, but Shawntae Spencer and Ron Bartell will be tested frequently at cornerback.

3. Baltimore Ravens
Baltimore should remain one of the top 12 fantasy defenses, but this unit is on the decline. Linebacker Terrell Suggs will likely miss all of 2012 due to a torn Achilles. Rookie Courtney Upshaw is a capable option, but replacing the NFL Defensive Player of the Year is no easy task. The depth took a hit with Jarret Johnson now in San Diego and Cory Redding and Tom Zbikowski departing to join former defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano in Indianapolis.

4. Miami Dolphins
Miami finished 15th in total defense last season, so there are reasons to be optimistic about this unit’s performance for 2012. However, the Dolphins are transitioning from a 3-4 to a 4-3 and had to cut safety Yeremiah Bell in a salary cap move. The Sean Smith-Vontae Davis cornerback tandem has had its moments but needs to play more consistently. Miami could be an option in select matchups, but with some players changing positions due to the new scheme, 2012 is a transition year.

Dominate Your Fantasy Football League! Click here for the ultimate online resource for mock drafts, positional rankings, Athlon's Top 250 and more.

You can order your award-winning Athlon Sports NFL Fantasy Football preview magazine here.

Teaser:
<p> 2012 Fantasy Football: Improving and Declining Defense/Special Teams</p>
Post date: Monday, August 27, 2012 - 06:04
Path: /fantasy/fantasy-football-2012-breaking-down-seattle-seahawks
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What can the Seattle Seahawks do for you this fantasy season? Check out Athlon Sports' team report as we break down the rookies, veteran players to watch and avoid, fantasy playoff schedule and more to help you get ready for the 2012 season.

Inside the Locker Room
with Dan Raley, Freelance Writer

Was Marshawn Lynch simply in beast mode for a new contract or can owners count on a repeat performance?
The big attraction to Lynch is he’s a self-starter. He plays with attitude. He was just as good in his previous season with the Seahawks without a contract incentive hanging over him. He stands to benefit from having a better quarterback (Flynn) and sturdier offensive line (if Russell Okung can stay healthy). If all goes well, Lynch’s fantasy numbers should be very, very good.

What are reasonable fantasy expectations for Matt Flynn in his first year as the starter?
Flynn, in his limited appearances with Green Bay, showed himself to be a big-numbers guy, every fantasy player’s dream. Another six-touchdown passing game is a stretch, but count on him for maybe two or more per game, plus 200-plus yards per outing — or double what Tarvaris Jackson provided as last year’s Seattle starter.

Is there a pass-catcher on this roster who will be an every week fantasy starter in 2012?
Probably not. The Seahawks insist that Sidney Rice, after having offseason surgery on both shoulders, will be healthy and Flynn’s No. 1 target. However, Rice’s five-season pro track record indicates he’s an extremely fragile player. Remember, undrafted rookie free agent Doug Baldwin was the top receiver in 2011 and Golden Tate remains on the roster as well. Seattle also signed free agents Terrell Owens and Braylon Edwards prior to the start of training camp, but it's anyone guess if the two mercurial veterans will contirbute anything on the field, let alone make the team.

Athlon's Best Bets

Sleeper: Matt Flynn, QB
Deep-Sleeper: Doug Badlwin, WR
Overvalued: Sidney Rice, WR
Top Rookie: Robert Turbin, RB
Bounce-Back: Zach Miller, TE
Top IDP: Chris Clemons, DL

2012 Draft Class

1. Bruce Irvin DE 6-3 245 West Virginia
2. Bobby Wagner LB 6-0 241 Utah State
3. Russell Wilson QB 5-11 206 Wisconsin
4. Robert Turbin RB 5-10 220 Utah State
4. Jaye Howard DT 6-3 301 Florida
5. Korey Toomer LB 6/2 234 Idaho
6. Jeremy Lane CB 6-0 190 Northwestern State
6. Winston Guy S 6-1 218 Kentucky
7. J.R. Sweezy DT 6-5 298 NC State
7. Greg Scruggs DE 6-3 284 Louisville

Fantasy Impact: The Seahawks added Matt Flynn to compete with Tarvaris Jackson at quarterback, but Russell Wilson will get a chance to win the job in preseason camp. Wilson lacks ideal size but can be a starter in the NFL. Robert Turbin is a physical back like Marshawn Lynch, so playing time could be sparse in 2012.

Fantasy Playoff Run: Weeks 14-16 (ARI, vs. BUF, SF)

Marshawn Lynch was the only fantasy-relevant Seahawk last season, ranking fifth among RBs. He gets the 49ers and their top-ranked rush defense from a year ago in the fantasy title game. He was the only back to rush for 100 yards and score a TD against San Francisco last season. Matchups against Arizona and Buffalo, ranked in the bottom 12 against the run last year, should be a bit kinder.

Dominate Your Fantasy Football League! Click here for the ultimate online resource for mock drafts, positional rankings, Athlon's Top 250 and more.

You can order your award-winning Athlon Sports NFL Fantasy Football preview magazine here.

Teaser:
<p> Fantasy Football 2012: Breaking Down the Seattle Seahawks</p>
Post date: Monday, August 27, 2012 - 06:00
Path: /fantasy/fantasy-football-2012-breaking-down-san-diego-chargers
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What can the San Diego Chargers do for you this fantasy season? Check out Athlon Sports' team report as we break down the rookies, veteran players to watch and avoid, fantasy playoff schedule and more to help you get ready for the 2012 season.

Inside the Locker Room
with Bernie Wilson, Associated Press

Is Ryan Mathews ready to carry the load and become an elite fantasy running back?
He needs to be. He showed the bursts and long gains that fans and fantasy owners have expected ever since the Chargers moved up 16 spots to draft him with the 12th pick overall in 2010. It’s been a slow process, from injuries in his rookie year — as well as an inability to pick up the blitz that cost him playing time — to not being in shape during training camp last season. After rushing for 1,091 yards last year, Mathews should be ready for more in 2012.

Philip Rivers committed 25 turnovers last year. Can he eliminate his mistakes and return to fantasy’s elite QB club?
Even Rivers seemed mystified about the turnovers and will do everything he can to reduce them. The fumbled snap at Kansas City was the Chargers’ equivalent of the ball going through Bill Buckner’s legs, and many of those interceptions came from Rivers trying to do too much. That said, Rivers will need some help from his teammates so he doesn’t feel the need to carry the offensive load.

Athlon's Best Bets

Sleeper: Robert Meachem, WR
Deep-Sleeper: Eddie Royal, WR
Overvalued: Malcom Floyd, WR
Top Rookie: Ladarius Green, TE
Bounce-Back: Nate Kaeding, K
Top IDP: Eric Weddle, DB

2012 Draft Class

1. Melvin Ingram OLB 6/2 276 South Carolina
2. Kendall Reyes DE 6/4 296 Connecticut
3. Brandon Taylor SS 5/11 209 LSU
4. Ladarius Green TE 6/6 238 UL Lafayette
5. Johnnie Troutman G 6/4 314 Penn State
7. David Molk C 6/2 288 Michigan
7. Edwin Baker RB 5/9 210 Michigan State

Fantasy Impact: With the offense returning largely intact, rebuilding the defense was the top priority through the draft. Melvin Ingram and Kendall Reyes will help to bolster the front seven, with Ingram filling a hybrid linebacker/end role. Antonio Gates is still San Diego’s starter at tight end, but Ladarius Green could help in two-tight end sets. Green is a sleeper to watch in keeper formats. Edwin Baker, a seventh-round pick, could push Curtis Brinkley for playing time as San Diego’s No. 2 tailback.

Fantasy Playoff Run: Weeks 14-16 (at PIT, CAR, at NYJ)

The Chargers make the dreaded cross-country trip twice in the fantasy postseason this year, and they do so against two of the traditionally strongest defenses in the league. However, in the last three years San Diego has played 11 times east of the Mississippi River and scored 20 or more points in 10 of those games. Hosting Carolina in Week 15 should translate into opportunities for the Chargers’ playmakers.

Dominate Your Fantasy Football League! Click here for the ultimate online resource for mock drafts, positional rankings, Athlon's Top 250 and more.

You can order your award-winning Athlon Sports NFL Fantasy Football preview magazine here.

Teaser:
<p> Fantasy Football 2012: Breaking Down the San Diego Chargers</p>
Post date: Monday, August 27, 2012 - 05:59
Path: /fantasy/fantasy-football-2012-breaking-down-san-francisco-49ers
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What can the San Francisco 49ers do for you this fantasy season? Check out Athlon Sports' team report as we break down the rookies, veteran players to watch and avoid, fantasy playoff schedule and more to help you get ready for the 2012 season.

Inside the Locker Room
with Eric Gilmore, Freelance Writer

Will Frank Gore ever be an elite fantasy back again or has he been permanently relegated to RB-2 status?
Gore probably doesn’t get into the end zone often enough to be considered an elite fantasy back, but he rushed for 1,211 yards last season, cracking the 1,000-yard mark for the fifth time in the past six years. Gore carried 282 times last year, the second-most in his career, but he likely won’t have as heavy a workload this season. The 49ers have more weapons in the backfield, and they also seem intent on passing the ball more this year. They drafted A.J. Jenkins in the first round and signed free agents Randy Moss and Mario Manningham.

Is Randy Moss going to provide any fantasy value at age 35?
Despite sitting out last season, the 35-year-old Moss appeared to be in great shape during his first few offseason workouts with his new team. The real test won’t come until he puts on the pads and gets into a game. The fact that he caught only 28 passes in 2010 and played for three teams — the Pats, Vikings and Titans — is a huge red flag. In other words, fantasy buyer, beware. Moss might be worth a late-round flyer, but nothing more.

Can the Niners repeat as fantasy’s top team defense and special teams?
The 49ers are positioned well for an instant replay on both fronts. They return their entire starting defense. The only change in that group will be linebacker Aldon Smith, coming off a 14-sack season, bumping Parys Haralson to a backup role. The 49ers were next to impossible to run against last season, and there’s no reason that should change.

Athlon's Best Bets

Sleeper: Alex Smith, QB
Deep-Sleeper: Kendall Hunter, RB
Overvalued: Frank Gore, RB
Top Rookie: A.J. Jenkins, WR
Bounce-Back: Randy Moss, WR
Top IDP: Patrick Willis, LB

2012 Draft Class

1. A.J. Jenkins WR 6-0 192 Illinois
2. LaMichael James RB 5-8 194 Oregon
4. Joe Looney G 6-3 309 Wake Forest
5. Darius Fleming OLB 6-2 245 Notre Dame
6. Trenton Robinson S 5-10 195 Michigan State
6. Jason Slowey T 6-3 303 Western Oregon
7. Cam Johnson OLB 6-3 268 Virginia

Fantasy Impact: The 49ers needed to upgrade their offensive playmakers to make a run at the Super Bowl. Signing Randy Moss and Mario Manningham gives Alex Smith two veterans at receiver, while A.J. Jenkins is a promising rookie prospect. Jenkins could be buried on the depth chart this year but should be a late-round keeper prospect. LaMichael James won’t start but is a perfect change-of-pace option to Frank Gore and Brandon Jacobs. James’ fantasy value is limited in 2012, but he could be handcuffed to Gore in case of injury.

Fantasy Playoff Run: Weeks 14-16 (MIA, at NE, at SEA)

The 49ers have made plenty of offensive additions, and hopefully they won’t dilute an already inconsistent fantasy offense — TE Vernon Davis (ninth) was the only top-10 offensive fantasy player. The three opponents are hard to judge now, as Miami has a new coaching staff and New England and Seattle drafted on the defensive side (14 of their combined 17 picks).

Dominate Your Fantasy Football League! Click here for the ultimate online resource for mock drafts, positional rankings, Athlon's Top 250 and more.

You can order your award-winning Athlon Sports NFL Fantasy Football preview magazine here.

Teaser:
<p> Fantasy Football 2012: Breaking Down the San Francisco 49ers</p>
Post date: Monday, August 27, 2012 - 05:59
Path: /overtime/20-totally-unintentionally-dirty-sports-photos
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Ahh, photography. It can catch a split-second moment in time and turn it into a hilarious photo that can be interpreted the completely wrong way. And sports provides more of these moments than most other subjects--usually because there's a lot of sweaty dudes rolling around with each other and celebrating as only sweaty dudes know how. Here are 21 unintentionally funny sports photos that are hilarious even if you don't like sports.

Teaser:
<p> These photos caught athletes doing things we only see in the movies (dirty movies.)</p>
Post date: Friday, August 24, 2012 - 09:40
All taxonomy terms: AFC, AFC North, Pittsburgh Steelers, NFL
Path: /nfl/pittsburgh-steelers-2012-nfl-team-preview
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Athlon Sports is counting down its 2012 NFL preseason Power Rankings with in-depth team previews, schedule analysis and more as the start of the NFL season draws near.

The Pittsburgh Steelers check in at No. 6.

The Steelers, long a model of stability, are in transition. They released a handful of key veterans, including iconic wide receiver Hines Ward, during the offseason and made the first major coaching change of Mike Tomlin’s tenure. The question of whether they are revamping or rebuilding will be answered this season as they have to contend with bitter rival Baltimore and rising Cincinnati, and that is just in the AFC North.

For all of the moves they made during an offseason that was busier than in most years, the Steelers’ nucleus remains largely intact. They return every starter on offense, though running back Rashard Mendenhall may not be ready at the outset of the season after tearing the ACL in his right knee in a Jan. 1 game at Cleveland. The defense has to replace two starters and again fend off criticism that it has become too old (read: slow). Seven of the projected 11 starters are over 30 years old, and the defense let down the Steelers in a 29–23 overtime playoff loss to Denver.

Offense

The question of when the franchise quarterback and new offensive coordinator would meet turned into an obsession, and it ultimately shined a light on how deeply ingrained the Steelers are in the fabric of Pittsburgh. It is true that Ben Roethlisberger and Todd Haley did not talk for several weeks after the latter was hired. How well the two mesh will go a long way toward unlocking the vast potential of an offense that underachieved last season. Roethlisberger and Haley are fiercely competitive and strong-willed, which could lead to some, uh, interesting in-game verbal volleys. Haley, who lasted less than three seasons as Kansas City’s head coach, has a keen offensive mind, and he has shown the ability to adapt to his personnel — not the other way around. Arizona was one of the NFL’s top passing teams when Haley served as the Cardinals’ offensive coordinator. Kansas City ranked among the NFL’s leaders in rushing during Haley’s tenure with the Chiefs.

No less an authority than team president Art Rooney II said the Steelers have to be more consistent running the ball. But the offense is built around Roethlisberger, who is coming off his second 4,000-yard passing season, and a group of young and fleet-footed wide receivers. Mike Wallace and emerging star Antonio Brown are coming off 1,000-yard receiving seasons, and the Steelers have to hope the former’s contract situation isn’t a distraction and that his dip in production over the second half of 2011 was an aberration. Look for Haley to get more of out underrated tight end Heath Miller in the passing game.

Mendenhall’s health is a concern, as is the relative inexperience the Steelers have behind him. Isaac Redman has shown flashes of being a No. 1 back, but the Steelers need to see more from the bruising former undrafted free agent before they are convinced of it.

The Steelers fortified an in-flux offensive line through the draft. Staying relatively healthy would go a long way toward the Steelers improving their running game, particularly in short-yardage situations, and keeping Roethlisberger upright. The Steelers used 25 different offensive line combinations last season, the most in the NFL.

Defense

The Steelers may have been first in the NFL in total defense and points allowed last season, but they need to be more opportunistic and do a better job of putting pressure on the quarterback. Getting outside linebackers LaMarr Woodley and James Harrison on the field together would go a long way toward doing both. The two were rarely healthy at the same time last season, forcing defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau to move players around in his vaunted linebacking corps as if they were pieces on a chessboard. Larry Foote is a one-year replacement for James Farrior at left inside linebacker, and he will set the defense as Farrior did for a decade in Pittsburgh. The Steelers would love to see what the athletic and hard-hitting Lawrence Timmons can do at right inside linebacker if they can keep him there.

The defensive linemen will again be called upon to occupy blockers up front and allow the linebackers to roam freely in the Steelers’ 3-4 scheme. Brett Keisel is a Pro Bowl-caliber player, but the Steelers need to get more out of young defensive ends such as Ziggy Hood and Cameron Heyward. Nose tackle Casey Hampton is likely in his final season as the anchor of the line, and his health is an issue after the five-time Pro Bowler suffered his third major knee injury last January.

The back end of the secondary is set with perennial Pro Bowl strong safety Troy Polamalu and free safety Ryan Clark. The two have terrific chemistry, and Clark’s understanding of Polamalu’s game allows the latter to improvise and for LeBeau to line him up all over the field. Polamalu is one of  the top playmakers in the NFL, though injuries are always a concern because of his physical style of play.

The position battle to watch is at the cornerback spot opposite Ike Taylor. The Steelers are high on second-year men Cortez Allen and Curtis Brown.

Specialists

Antonio Brown gave the Steelers a triple-threat last season, excelling not only as a wide receiver but also as a kickoff and punt returner. The Steelers want to ease the burden on Brown, a starter now. Emmanuel Sanders is a top candidate to return kickoffs, though his struggles to stay healthy could have the Steelers looking at other options there. Rookie Chris Rainey has blazing speed, and the Steelers will give him every opportunity to replace Brown as the primary punt returner.

Shaun Suisham bailed out the kicking game in 2010 after he replaced the erratic Jeff Reed, but he needs to show more consistency after missing eight of 31 field goal attempts last season. The Steelers gave up on Daniel Sepulveda, a fourth-round draft pick in 2007 who suffered three major injuries in five seasons, leaving Jeremy Kapinos as the punter.

Final Analysis: 1st in the AFC North

Faces have changed, but expectations haven’t for one of the NFL’s flagship franchises. It is again Super Bowl or bust for the organization that displays six Lombardi Trophies at its practice facility, and it is time for the offense to supplant the defense as the Steelers’ driving force. Roethlisberger’s wideouts should be as good as any in the league, and the Steelers are no longer in the awkward position of trying to keep Ward involved in the passing game. The offensive line should be better, especially if rookie guard David DeCastro helps fortify the interior as expected. The defense is no longer a great one, but it is still good enough for the Steelers to win, especially if it improves on the 15 turnovers it forced in 2011.

The key to another Super Bowl run is winning the AFC North. Two of the three seasons the Steelers won the division under Tomlin they also advanced to the Super Bowl. The two times they finished outside of first place they either missed the playoffs or lost in the opening round.

Related: 2012 Pittsburgh Steelers Schedule Analysis

Outside The Huddle

Homecoming for Haley
Todd Haley, who replaced Bruce Arians as the offensive coordinator, is no stranger to the Steelers’ organization. Haley’s father, Dick, is a former player personnel director who helped build the dynastic teams of the 1970s, and Todd once served as the Steelers’ ball boy at training camp. Bill Cowher offered Todd Haley the job of wide receivers coach in 2004. When Haley turned it down, Cowher hired Arians for the position.

Crossed Signals
Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is close with Arians, and their relationship helped save the latter’s job after the 2009 season. But Arians couldn't survive after the Steelers were 12th in the NFL in total offense in 2011 but tied for 21st in scoring, even though he also appeared to have coach Mike Tomlin’s support. A day after the team’s Jan. 8 playoff loss in Denver, Tomlin said he expected both coordinators to return for the 2012 season, but Arians was out less than two weeks later.

Tomlin’s Take
The Steelers announced Arians’ retirement on Jan. 20. Indianapolis hired Arians as its offensive coordinator on Jan. 31. That strange turn of events fueled speculation that president Art Rooney II had ordered Tomlin to fire Arians. Not true, said Tomlin. “Don’t get me wrong,” the sixth-year coach said. “Art Rooney II owns the football team. He can do what he wants to do. But those directions did not happen.”

Follow The Leaders
An offseason purge stripped the Steelers of their long-time leaders on offense and defense. The release of wide receiver Hines Ward and inside linebacker James Farrior — they served as captains for 15 seasons between them — did not necessarily leave a leadership vacuum in the locker room. Defensive end Brett Keisel and free safety Ryan Clark can fill the void left by Farrior’s departure. Roethlisberger, a two-time captain, and Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey are two of the team leaders on offense.

Telling Statistic
The Steelers were, uncharacteristically, near the bottom of the league in turnover differential last season with 13 more giveaways than takeaways. In Tomlin’s first four seasons combined, the Steelers had 21 more takeaways than giveaways. Bottom line: The Steelers cannot afford to lose the turnover battle this season if they want to contend for the Super Bowl.

Gaining Through Losing
Stevenson “Sly” Sylvester dropped more than 15 pounds during the offseason, and he is hoping the lost weight will help him find a more prominent role this season. Sylvester, primarily a special teams player his first two seasons, is hoping to challenge Larry Foote for the starting job at left inside linebacker. Sylvester played at 255 pounds last season, and he said his optimal weight is at around 240 pounds.

Repaying A Bet
The Steelers made it clear that right tackle Willie Colon is still very much a part of their plans even though he has played one game the last two seasons because of arm and foot injuries. The Steelers restructured Colon’s five-year, $29 million contract, giving the seventh-year veteran more guaranteed money. “In my heart of hearts I feel like I’m in debt to my two coaches, Tomlin and (offensive line coach Sean) Kugler,” Colon said, “and I feel like I’m in debt to this team.”

Off To The Races
Wide receiver Mike Wallace is one of the fastest players in the NFL, but he may no longer hold that title in his own locker room. Rookie running back Chris Rainey claims he runs the 40-yard dash in the 4.1 range. “Mike Wallace is kind of fast, but I have confidence in myself so I’m the fastest,” Rainey said after the Steelers drafted him.

2012 Athlon Sports NFL Power Rankings and Team Previews:

No. 32: Jacksonville Jaguars
No. 31: St. Louis Rams
No. 30: Minnesota Vikings
No. 29: Indianapolis Colts
No. 28: Cleveland Browns
No. 27: Miami Dolphins
No. 26: Arizona Cardinals
No. 25: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
No. 24: Kansas City Chiefs
No. 23: Oakland Raiders
No. 22: Washington Redskins
No. 21: Seattle Seahawks
No. 20: Carolina Panthers
No. 19: New York Jets
No. 18: Buffalo Bills
No. 17: Tennessee Titans
No. 16: San Diego Chargers
No. 15: Cincinnati Bengals
No. 14: Philadelphia Eagles
No. 13: New Orleans Saints
No. 12: Dallas Cowboys
No. 11: Denver Broncos
No. 10: Detroit Lions
No. 9: Chicago Bears
No. 8: Atlanta Falcons
No. 7: Baltimore Ravens
No. 6: Pittsburgh Steelers
No. 5: Mon., August 27

Order your 2012 Pittsburgh Steelers Athlon Sports NFL Preview magazine here

Related: 2012 Pittsburgh Steelers Schedule Analysis

Teaser:
<p> Pittsburgh Steelers 2012 NFL Team Preview</p>
Post date: Friday, August 24, 2012 - 08:00
Path: /fantasy/fantasy-football-10-biggest-injury-concerns-tight-end
Body:

Injuries are certainly a part of football, and fantasy football, for that matter, but when it comes to the latter that doesn't mean you can't or shouldn't be prepared.

Here are the top injury concerns when it comes to tight end. The position continues to evolve thanks to the record-setting efforts of the likes of Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham. Of course with more passes being thrown their way comes an increase risk of injury. These tight ends are the ones you should be most wary of when it comes to the potential for missing a game or two.

1. Jason Witten, Dallas
Witten has missed a total of one game in nine seasons. But the Cowboys' All-Pro and Tony Romo's favorite target suffered a lacerated spleen on a hit in the team's Aug. 13 preseason game, which changes everything. The good news is that it appears Witten will not need surgery, which would have put him out of action indefinitely. However, he is a longshot at best to play in Week 1 and no one knows for sure when he will be back on the field at this point.

2. Antonio Gates, San Diego
The talented tight end turns 32 this summer and has missed nine games over the last two years with a variety of lingering issues.

3. Owen Daniels, Houston
Experienced a slight return to form last fall but still missed time due to injury. Has missed 14 games over the last three seasons.

4. Dallas Clark, Tampa Bay
The aging vet has dealt with major injuries for the better part of two years, missing 15 games over that span. If healthy, he has a clear path to the starting job in Tampa.

5. Jermaine Gresham, Cincinnati
After suffering an ACL tear in high school (2005) and college (2009), Gresham missed two games last season with a hamstring injury. He returned and played well in the second half of the season. Gresham suffered a right knee sprain in the Bengals' preseason game against Atlanta, but appears to have escaped serious injury.

6. Rob Gronkowski, New England
When you play a physical brand of football like the Gronk, injuries will always be a concern. Hopefully, the ankle injury he sustained in the 2011 playoffs isn’t a sign of things to come.

7. Tony Moeaki, Kansas City
There were high hopes for the second-year player before he tore his ACL in the preseason and missed the entire 2011 season.

8. Kyle Rudolph, Minnesota
Showed the ability to stay healthy last year (he missed one game) but had a history of significant injuries while at Notre Dame.

9. Martellus Bennett, New York Giants
The former Dallas Cowboy has always had massive physical upside, but due to lack of focus and minor injuries, he has never delivered on his talent.

10. Tony Gonzalez, Atlanta
The greatest ever to play the position has missed only two career games, but Gonzo is 36, and one would think that at some point his body may begin to break down.

— Published on August 24, 2012

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Teaser:
<p> Fantasy Football: 10 Biggest Injury Concerns at Tight End</p>
Post date: Friday, August 24, 2012 - 06:04
Path: /fantasy/fantasy-football-2012-breaking-down-philadelphia-eagles
Body:

What can the Philadelphia Eagles do for you this fantasy season? Check out Athlon Sports' team report as we break down the rookies, veteran players to watch and avoid, fantasy playoff schedule and more to help you get ready for the 2012 season.

Inside the Locker Room
with Phil Sheridan, Philadelphia Inquirer

Who should be the first Eagles wide receiver on fantasy draft boards?
The safer pick is Jeremy Maclin, who is a more consistent, productive receiver on a weekly basis. The no-guts, no-glory pick is DeSean Jackson. He remains capable of scoring every time he gets the ball. The question is whether he responds to his new contract with all-in commitment, and the gut feeling here is that he will.

Should owners have any concerns about LeSean McCoy holding up for another 300-plus touches?
Running backs are always a concern in terms of durability. It’s a high-attrition position. The mitigating factor with McCoy is that the Eagles’ offense is built upon getting him the ball in space. He is not grinding it out between the tackles; he’s catching screens and taking tosses designed to get him in the open field.

Which Michael Vick will we see in ’12?
The answer to this question will make or break the Eagles. There are two major concerns for those drafting Vick: his durability and his knack for turning the ball over. That makes him a big risk with potential high reward for fantasy owners.

Which rookie defender has more value, Mychal Kendricks or Vinny Curry?
Tough to know exactly how a team will deploy rookies, but there is one very clear indicator. The Eagles’ entire defense is predicated on their defensive line getting pressure. D-linemen had 44 sacks for the Eagles in 2011. Linebackers had just five all year. It is a reach to assume that Kendricks, an undersized linebacker, will generate more sacks and turnovers than Curry, who will likely be part of the rotation at end.

Athlon's Best Bets

Sleeper: Dion Lewis, RB
Deep-Sleeper: Bryce Brown, RB
Overvalued: Michael Vick, QB
Top Rookie: Fletcher Cox, DT
Bounce-Back: DeSean Jackson, WR
Top IDP: Jason Babin, DE

2012 Draft Class

1. Fletcher Cox DT 6/4 298 Mississippi State
2. Mychal Kendricks LB 5/11 239 California
2. Vinny Curry DE 6/3 266 Marshall
3. Nick Foles QB 6/6 243 Arizona
4. Brandon Boykin CB 5/9 182 Georgia
5. Dennis Kelly T 6/8 321 Purdue
6. Marvin McNutt WR 6/3 216 Iowa
6. Brandon Washington G 6/3 320 Miami (Fla.)
7. Bryce Brown RB 6/1 223 Kansas State

Fantasy Impact: With Michael Vick’s penchant for injuries, the Eagles need to have a quality backup. Nick Foles will serve as the No. 3 quarterback this year, and if he develops as expected, he could be Philadelphia’s quarterback of the future. Marvin McNutt had a productive career at Iowa but will be fighting for time as the No. 4 or No. 5 receiver.

Fantasy Playoff Run: Weeks 14-16 (at TB, CIN, WAS)

Tampa Bay drafted defensive players with four of its first five picks to try and fix a defense that allowed a league-worst 30.9 points per game. Cincinnati was 14th-best against QBs and WRs and 10th-best against RBs. Michael Vick vs. RGIII will make for an interesting championship week. Tampa Bay and two games at home are not a bad trio of games for Philly.

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Teaser:
<p> Fantasy Football 2012: Breaking Down the Philadelphia Eagles</p>
Post date: Friday, August 24, 2012 - 06:03
Path: /fantasy/fantasy-football-2012-breaking-down-pittsburgh-steelers
Body:

What can the Pittsburgh Steelers do for you this fantasy season? Check out Athlon Sports' team report as we break down the rookies, veteran players to watch and avoid, fantasy playoff schedule and more to help you get ready for the 2012 season.

Inside the Locker Room
with Scott Brown, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Can Isaac Redman be the full-time ball-carrier while Rashard Mendenhall gets back up to speed?
The Steelers are going to find out. No other healthy back on the roster has more than 25 career carries, meaning the Steelers will lean heavily on Redman. Redman shined after Mendenhall went down early in the regular-season finale, and the former undrafted free agent runs with authority. But the Steelers haven’t seen enough to anoint Redman as a
No. 1 back though he will be given every opportunity to prove he is just that.

What do you expect from Ben Roethlisberger this season?
A third 4,000-yard passing season, more touchdowns and fewer interceptions. New offensive coordinator Todd Haley plays to his team’s strengths, and it’s hard to imagine him not taking advantage of the skill the Steelers have at quarterback and wide receiver.

Who will post more catches, yards and touchdowns in 2012: Mike Wallace or Antonio Brown?
It’s hard not to like Brown here. He broke out in 2011 after arriving at training camp as the No. 4 receiver, and he is the more complete player of the two. Take away the deep ball from Wallace, as teams did in the second half of last season, and the fourth-year veteran puts up pedestrian numbers. Plus the precipitous drop in his production after the first eight games last season and his uncertain contract situation make Wallace a wild-card heading into 2012.

Which linebacker is most likely to bounce back and be the most productive: Lawrence Timmons, LaMarr Woodley or James Harrison?
It is close between Woodley and Timmons. Injuries forced the Steelers to play Timmons both inside and outside in 2011, and the lack of continuity did not help his development. Timmons should be more productive if he plays most, if not all, of the season inside. Woodley had been terrorizing quarterbacks before suffering a pulled hamstring last October, and the nagging injury robbed him of his burst and effectively ended his season. If he stays healthy in 2012, Woodley will finish among the NFL leaders in sacks.

Athlon's Best Bets

Sleeper: Isaac Redman, RB
Deep-Sleeper: Emmanuel Sanders, WR
Overvalued: Mike Wallace, WR
Top Rookie: Chris Rainey, RB
Bounce-Back: Lawrence Timmons, LB
Top IDP: Troy Polamalu, S

2012 Draft Class

1. David DeCastro G 6/5 316 Stanford
2. Mike Adams T 6/7 323 Ohio State
3. Sean Spence LB 5/11 231 Miami (Fla.)
4. Alameda Ta’amu NT 6/3 348 Washington
5. Chris Rainey RB 5/9 180 Florida
7. Toney Clemons WR 6/2 210 Colorado
7. David Paulson TE 6/4 246 Oregon
7. Terrence Frederick CB 5/10 187 Texas A&M
7. Kelvin Beachum G 6/3 303 SMU

Fantasy Impact: The offensive line has been an issue for several years in Pittsburgh, but the Steelers may have finally fixed this unit by drafting David DeCastro and Mike Adams. Both will play right away. New offensive coordinator Todd Haley brought all-around threat Dexter McCluster to Kansas City, and Chris Rainey could fill a similar role in Pittsburgh.

Fantasy Playoff Run: Weeks 14-16 (SD, at DAL, CIN)

The playoffs might get progressively harder for Big Ben and Co. San Diego had the 11th-worst scoring defense (23.6 PPG) in the NFL and was 26th against fantasy QBs and 15th against WRs. Dallas ranked 18th against fantasy QBs and WRs. Cincinnati was 14th against QBs and WRs. Maybe new OC Todd Haley can help Pittsburgh improve on its 21st-ranked scoring offense (20.3 ppg).

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Teaser:
<p> Fantasy Football 2012: Breaking Down the Pittsburgh Steelers</p>
Post date: Friday, August 24, 2012 - 06:02
Path: /fantasy/fantasy-football-2012-breaking-down-st-louis-rams
Body:

What can the St. Louis Rams do for you this fantasy season? Check out Athlon Sports' team report as we break down the rookies, veteran players to watch and avoid, fantasy playoff schedule and more to help you get ready for the 2012 season.

Inside the Locker Room
with Jim Thomas, St. Louis-Dispatch

Does Steven Jackson have another 1,000-yard season left in the tank?
He sure does. Jackson has been incredibly consistent, with seven consecutive seasons of 1,000 yards or more. Only five players in NFL history have had eight or more consecutive 1,000-yard seasons, and four of those players are in the Hall of Fame (Emmitt Smith, Barry Sanders, Curtis Martin, Thurman Thomas) and the fifth is LaDainian Tomlinson, a future Hall of Famer. Jackson takes care of his body, and coach Jeff Fisher still is a firm believer in running the ball — and running it often.

What kind of role can fantasy players expect from rookie Isaiah Pead?
If things go well, and the offense is at least respectable, Pead could get 100 carries and maybe 30-40 receptions. He will be used to spell Jackson, and probably will see lots of duty on third downs as well. And if Jackson should go down with an injury and miss a game or two, Pead will be the feature back. The shifty Pead also has value in the return game, although it’s uncertain if he’ll handle punt returns, kickoff returns — or both.

Is there any receiver on the roster worth drafting?
Certainly not with your early picks, but there are some decent options late. Danny Amendola, healthy after missing 15 games last season with a dislocated elbow and torn triceps, should catch plenty of passes, although his yards per catch won’t be great. Rookies Brian Quick and Chris Givens are expected to have big roles, but will they be able to learn the offense quickly enough to put up big numbers early?

Athlon's Best Bets

Sleeper: Robert Quinn, DE
Deep-Sleeper: Lance Kendricks, TE
Overvalued: Steven Jackson, RB
Top Rookie: Isaiah Pead, RB
Bounce-Back: Sam Bradford, QB
Top IDP: James Laurinaitis, LB

2012 Draft Class

1. Michael Brockers DT 6/5 322 LSU
2. Brian Quick WR 6/3 220 Appalachian State
2. Janoris Jenkins CB 5/10 193 North Alabama
2. Isaiah Pead RB 5/10 193 Cincinnati
3. Trumaine Johnson CB 6/1 204 Montana
4. Chris Givens WR 5/11 198 Wake Forest
5. Rokevious Watkins G 6/4 338 South Carolina
6. Greg Zuerlein K 6/1 187 Missouri Western
7. Aaron Brown LB 6/1 225 Hawaii
7. Daryl Richardson RB 5/10 192 Abilene Christian

Fantasy Impact: Surrounding Sam Bradford with more weapons was essential, and the Rams added two potential starting receivers with Brian Quick and Chris Givens. Isaiah Pead will work as the team’s change-of-pace back and should be handcuffed to Steven Jackson in all formats.

Fantasy Playoff Run: Weeks 14-16 (at BUF, MIN, at TB)

Steven Jackson was the only fantasy-relevant Ram in 2011, ranking 10th among RBs. Sam Bradford was the 33rd-ranked fantasy QB. No receivers or tight ends were in the top 35 of their position. If they turn it around, the Rams have an easy playoff schedule, particularly the last two weeks as Minnesota and Tampa Bay were in the bottom 16 against fantasy QBs, RBs and WRs last season.

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Teaser:
<p> Fantasy Football 2012: Breaking Down the St. Louis Rams</p>
Post date: Friday, August 24, 2012 - 06:01
Path: /nfl/10-nfl-coaches-hot-seat
Body:

The 2012 NFL season kicks off in less than two weeks, which means teams will start finalizing their 53-man rosters very soon. Once Week 1 rolls around, however, the focus on job security switches from the players to the head coaches. As is typically the case, several enter the upcoming season on the proverbial "hot seat."

Below is a look at the coaches who really need to win in 2012 or otherwise they may want to start polishing up their resume.

2012 NFL Head Coaches Hot Seat Rankings

1. Norv Turner, San Diego Chargers
After missing the playoffs for a second straight season with a team that many expected to contend for a Super Bowl title, some were surprised that Turner got a reprieve for this season. There’s little doubt that this is Turner’s last stand with the Chargers, who should be able to compete with the now Peyton Manning-led Broncos for AFC West supremacy in 2012. For his career, Turner has a sub-.500 record (107-113-1) in 14 seasons and has only been to the playoffs four times. Two of those appearances have come in his five seasons with the Chargers, but if Turner has any hopes of keeping his job, just making the playoffs may not be enough this season.

2. Andy Reid, Philadelphia Eagles
Reid is the most tenured coach in all of the NFL as he enters his 14th season leading the Eagles. The franchise’s all-time leader in wins (126), Reid has taken the team to the playoffs nine times, won six division titles, one NFC Championship, and an appearance in Super Bowl XXXIX following the 2004 season. However, after signing several marquee free agents, the Eagles’ so-called “Dream Team” stumbled out of the gates in 2011, starting the season 1-4. They never really got any momentum going until the end, when they won four in a row against non-playoff teams, and finished the season a disappointing 8-8. Owner Jeffrey Lurie has not come out and said so publicly, but it’s pretty clear that Reid and the Eagles need to not only make the playoffs this season, but get beyond the first round. Otherwise there will probably be significant changes, starting at the top.

3. Rex Ryan, New York Jets
Last season was the first in three that Ryan did not lead his Jets to the playoffs, although he did get them to just a win away from the Super Bowl in his first two. However, when the team you share the city with has two world championships in the past five seasons, it’s pretty clear that you need to do more than just talk a good game. Ryan seems to have moved on from his annual Super Bowl guarantees, which is a wise move on his part. Besides, if he and the Jets don’t fare better than 8-8 this season, the only guarantee he will need to worry about is one coming from owner Woody Johnson about his job security.

4. Jason Garrett, Dallas Cowboys
Garrett may be entering just his second full season as a head coach, but let’s not kid ourselves here, the Dallas Cowboys aren’t your typical NFL franchise. Garrett has posted a winning record (15-13) in his tenure, but the ‘Boys went 8-8 in 2011, missing the playoffs for the second straight season. Jerry Jones isn’t known for being a patient man and with a potential coaching free agency pool that could include the likes of Super Bowl winners Bill Cowher, Tony Dungy, Brian Billick and Jon Gruden, Garrett can ill afford a slow start or losing season.

5. Leslie Frazier, Minnesota Vikings
Just like Garrett, Frazier has been in charge of the Vikings for only one full season. However, that’s where the similarities end between the two coaches as the Vikings and Cowboys are in two entirely different situations. The Vikings are in complete rebuild mode and no one is expecting them to compete for a playoff spot in 2012. That said, if Frazier isn't even able to improve on last year’s 3-13 dismal showing then no one would be surprised if owner Zygi Wilf goes with someone else to oversee the rebuild in Minnesota.

6. Lovie Smith, Chicago Bears
After starting the 2011 season 7-3, the Bears stumbled miserably down the stretch finishing 1-5 and missing the playoffs. Season-ending injuries to both Jay Cutler and Matt Forte played a significant role behind the team’s collapse. That’s why new general manager Phil Emery addressed the depth at both quarterback and running back as well as added wide receiver Brandon Marshall during the offseason. With these moves and others, Smith and the Bears really have no excuses should they miss the playoffs for the fifth time in the last six seasons. If that happens, Smith’s run in the Windy City could come to an end.

7. Chan Gailey, Buffalo Bills
Like the Bears, the Bills got off to a great start (5-2) last season, before watching it all come apart and finishing a disappointing 6-10. The Bills focused their offseason efforts on upgrading the defense, highlighted by the signing of marquee free agent Mario Williams. If the team doesn’t show signs of taking that next step in 2012 and posts an eighth straight losing season, the first casualty will more than likely be the 60-year-old Gailey.

8. Pat Shurmur, Cleveland Browns
The Browns haven’t been in the playoffs since 2002 and have had two winning seasons in the past 10. No one is expecting them to contend for a playoff spot in 2012, especially since they are in the same division as Baltimore and Pittsburgh, but there’s no reason they can’t win more than four games this season either. The Browns have put together several solid drafts recently, highlighted by this year’s first-round picks Trent Richardson and Brandon Weeden. If Shurmur and his team doesn’t start showing some results on the field, chances are someone else will get the chance to coach the young pups in 2013.

9. Romeo Crennel, Kansas City Chiefs
Injuries devastated the Chiefs early and often last season, but that still wasn’t enough of an excuse for Todd Haley to save his job. Crennel took over, went 2-1 in the final three games, and should get a healthy Jamaal Charles, Eric Berry and other key players back this season. Now it’s up to Crennel to show he’s the right man to lead the Chiefs back to the playoffs. Even though he and general manager Scott Pioli have a relationship that goes back to their days with the Patriots, Crennel’s track record as a head coach (24-40 with Cleveland from 2005-08) isn’t exactly the strongest.

10. Ken Whisenhunt, Arizona Cardinals
Whisenhunt has won two division titles and led the Cardinals to Super Bowl XLIII in his five seasons so far in the desert. The problem is, both playoff appearances and the NFC Championship came with Kurt Warner leading the offense. Since Warner’s retirement, the Cardinals have gone 13-21 and missed the playoffs the last two seasons. To make matters worse for Whisenhunt, Arizona's quarterback situation has been the story of Cardinals' traning camp, mainly how poorly Kevin Kolb, whom the Cardinals invested more than $62 million after trading for him in 2011, has performed. Whether Kolb, backup John Skelton or rookie Ryan Lindley ends up with the starting job remains to be seen, but it's clear that the position could play a significant role in Whisenhunt’s future with the team.

Three More Names to Watch

Gary Kubiak, Houston Texans
Kubiak led the Texans to their first-ever 10-win season, division title, playoff appearance and playoff victory in 2011 and then signed a two-year contract extension that takes him through the 2014 season in June. So why is he even mentioned here, you ask? Because for the first time in franchise history, the Texans are not only expected to make the playoffs, but compete for a spot in the Super Bowl. Kubiak’s never had to coach a team with such high expectations, so what happens if the Texans don’t meet said expectations?

Sean Payton, New Orleans Saints
Yes Payton won’t be coaching this season, so he can’t do anything to “hurt” his resume, if you will. However, given the damage done, not only to Peyton’s reputation and wallet, but also to the Saints’ franchise itself, because of the bounty scandal, you can’t help but wonder if perhaps Payton has already coached his last game for the Saints. He is under contract through the 2015 season, but I have to think should he want out of the Big Easy or vice versa, something can be worked out. Did I mention Payton has a house in Dallas?

Mike Shanahan, Washington Redskins
What’s a coach with 157 career wins (14th all-time) and two Super Bowl titles have to worry about? Perhaps nothing, but Shanahan has gone just 11-21 in his first two seasons in Washington. His contract runs through 2014 and it pays him $7 million a year, but money has never been an issue for Redskins owner Daniel Snyder. Shanahan's best seasons came when he had a quarterback named John Elway on his roster. Will he be able to revisit that success with his new field general, No. 2 overall pick Robert Griffin III? More importantly, will he get enough time to even find out?

— By Mark Ross, published on August 23, 2012

Related NFL Content

Ranking the NFL's Top 10 Head Coaches in 2012
2012 NFL Coaches: Who is the NFC's Best Coach?
2012 NFL Coaches: Who is the AFC's Best Coach?

2012 NFL Quarterbacks: Ranking the Best and Worst Starters

Ranking the NFL’s Best Backup Quarterbacks

The 10 Worst NFL Teams Since Expansion

NFL Quarterbacks Rewrote Record Books in 2011

Miami Dolphins QBs Since Dan Marino: An NFL Horror Story

2012 Athlon Sports NFL team-by-team schedule analysis:

AFC East
Buffalo Bills

Miami Dolphins

New England Patriots

New York Jets

AFC North
Baltimore Ravens

Cincinnati Bengals

Cleveland Browns

Pittsburgh Steelers


AFC South
Houston Texans

Indianapolis Colts

Jacksonville Jaguars

Tennessee Titans

AFC West
Denver Broncos

Kansas City Chiefs

Oakland Raiders

San Diego Chargers

NFC East
Dallas Cowboys

New York Giants

Philadelphia Eagles

Washington Redskins

NFC North
Chicago Bears

Detroit Lions

Green Bay Packers

Minnesota Vikings


NFC South
Atlanta Falcons

Carolina Panthers

New Orleans Saints

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

NFC West
Arizona Cardinals

San Francisco 49ers

Seattle Seahawks

St. Louis Rams

Click here to order your Athlon Sports Pro Football 2012 Preview magazine

Teaser:
<p> 10 NFL Coaches on the Hot Seat</p>
Post date: Thursday, August 23, 2012 - 13:16
Path: /fantasy/fantasy-football-10-biggest-injury-concerns-wide-receiver
Body:

Injuries are certainly a part of football, and fantasy football, for that matter, but when it comes to the latter that doesn't mean you can't or shouldn't be prepared.

Here are the top injury concerns when it comes to wide receiver. These premier pass-catchers also have a history of catching plenty of time on the bench because of injuries.

1. Kenny Britt, Tennessee
After leading the AFC in receiving through two weeks with 271 yards, Britt tore his ACL against the Broncos in Week 3. He needed a second procedure to “clean up” the knee at the end of May. There's also the matter of pending discipline, most likely a suspension of some sort, from the NFL for his most recent off-field transgressions.

2. Andre Johnson, Houston
Missed six games after a Week 4 hamstring injury and then missed three more games after tweaking his other hamstring in Week 13. He also had his knee scoped in May and gave the team and potential fantasy owners a scare early in training camp when he injured his groin.

3. Hakeem Nicks, New York Giants
Coming off back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons, but he might be not be ready for the start of the ’12 campaign after breaking a bone in his foot in May.

4. Miles Austin, Dallas
Austin missed two games with a left hamstring issue early and four games later on with a right hamstring problem. And wouldn't you know it, he hurt his hamstring, again, in traning camp. According to the team, the next time you will see Austin on the field is in Week 1 against the New York Giants, hopefully.

5. Sidney Rice, Seattle
Since his breakout 2009 season, he has missed 17 games over the last two years with shoulder and concussion issues.

6. Percy Harvin, Minnesota
Has dealt with durability issues dating back to his days at Florida, but surprisingly has missed only three games in his NFL career. Can he handle increased workload on the ground?

7. Marques Colston, New Orleans
Constantly seems to be dealing with nagging issues. Has missed eight games over the last four years, playing all 16 games only twice.

8. Dez Bryant, Dallas
Bryant has yet to play a full season in his two-year career. He was slowed by a bruised quad last season and left practice earlier this week with a knee injury. An MRI revealed patellar tendinitis in his right knee. He will miss the remaining preseason games, but is expected to be ready to go in Week 1.

9. Malcom Floyd, San Diego
Floyd has played 16 games only once in his seven-year career (2009). He has averaged 9.7 games played in the other six years.

10. Jeremy Maclin, Philadelphia
He missed three games with shoulder and hamstring issues in the middle of last season after suffering significant weight loss from a mysterious preseason illness.

Five More to Watch

Vincent Brown, San Diego
Broke his left ankle in Aug. 18 preseason game, underwent surgery and is expected to be out at least eight weeks. He has not been ruled out for the season, however, and could make a return at some point in the second half.

Austin Collie, Indianapolis
Collie appears to have suffered yet another concussion after taking a hard hit in the Colts' preseason game against Pittsburgh on Aug. 19. It would represent the third concussion for the four-year pro since November 2010. Collie was limited to just nine games in 2010 because of concussions, but he did play in all 16 last season.

Jacoby Ford, Oakland
After playing in all 16 games as a rookie in 2010, Ford missed eight games with a serious foot injury in ’11, and suffered a left foot sprain in the Raiders' second preseason game. It doesn't help that he's only 5-9, 185 pounds.

Denarius Moore, Oakland
Moore was one of the surprise rookies of the 2011 season but did miss three games with a foot and ankle issues.

Demaryius Thomas, Denver
The big fella missed six games as a rookie due to injury and then ruptured his Achilles in February 2011. He recovered quickly enough to play 11 games last season.

— Published on August 23, 2012

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Teaser:
<p> Fantasy Football: 10 Biggest Injury Concerns at Wide Receiver</p>
Post date: Thursday, August 23, 2012 - 05:04
Path: /fantasy/fantasy-football-2012-breaking-down-oakland-raiders
Body:

What can the Oakland Raiders do for you this fantasy season? Check out Athlon Sports' team report as we break down the rookies, veteran players to watch and avoid, fantasy playoff schedule and more to help you get ready for the 2012 season.

Inside the Locker Room
with Eric Gilmore, Freelance Writer

Will Darren McFadden ever be able to carry the load for a full season?
The next time McFadden carries the load for a full season will be the first time. In his four NFL seasons, he has never carried more than 223 times. He has missed 19 games in his NFL career with assorted toe, foot and knee injuries. Although ­McFadden has recovered from last year’s Lisfranc injury, it’s hard to believe he’ll be able to stay healthy for an entire season. It’s up to him to prove us wrong.

Carson Palmer was more productive in 10 games last year than any season in Cincinnati. Will he keep up that pace for a full season?
Palmer basically came off the couch to play the final 10 games and start the final nine last season. With the benefit of a full offseason program and training camp, Palmer should be able to put up big numbers again. He will have to learn a new offense that new coordinator Greg Knapp brought with him from Houston — a form of the West Coast scheme with zone blocking. But compared to last year, he’ll have tons of time to master this playbook and become more familiar with his receivers.

Denarius Moore or Darrius Heyward-Bey?
Heyward-Bey had by far the better numbers last year, but Moore has better hands, runs better routes and produces more big plays. Quarterback Carson Palmer has raved about Moore, but he wants him to start catching more short- to mid-range passes to go with his work on deep throws. This is a tough call, especially with a new coaching staff and new offense in place, but Moore gets the nod.

Athlon's Best Bets

Sleeper: Denarius Moore, WR
Deep-Sleeper: Mike Goodson, RB
Overvalued: Darrius Heyward-Bey, WR
Top Rookie: Juron Criner, WR
Bounce-Back: Jacoby Ford, WR
Top IDP: Tyvon Branch, S

2012 Draft Class

3. Tony Bergstrom G 6/5 313 Utah
4. Miles Burris OLB 6/2 246 San Diego State
5. Jack Crawford DE 6/5 274 Penn State
5. Juron Criner WR 6/3 224 Arizona
6. Christo Bilukidi DT 6/5 290 Georgia State
7. Nathan Stupar LB 6/2 241 Penn State

Fantasy Impact: There’s a new front office and coaching staff taking over in Oakland, but their ability to add impact players on draft day was limited by having just one pick in the first three rounds. Tony Bergstrom could play guard or tackle and should upgrade the depth if he does not start in 2012. Juron Criner had a solid career at Arizona and surprisingly slipped to the fifth round. Although Criner could make an impact, playing time at receiver won’t be easy to come by with Darrius Heyward-Bey, Denarius Moore and Jacoby Ford returning.

Fantasy Playoff Run: Weeks 14-16 (DEN, KC, at CAR)

There are plenty of weapons on the Oakland roster. And if they can all stay healthy, a fantasy title game in Carolina is very appealing. Facing two division opponents — Denver and Kansas City, both in Oakland — also isn’t a bad way to start the fantasy postseason. All three opponents allowed at least 21 points per game last season.

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Teaser:
<p> Fantasy Football 2012: Breaking Down the Oakland Raiders</p>
Post date: Thursday, August 23, 2012 - 05:01
Path: /fantasy/fantasy-football-2012-breaking-down-new-york-giants
Body:

What can the New York Giants do for you this fantasy season? Check out Athlon Sports' team report as we break down the rookies, veteran players to watch and avoid, fantasy playoff schedule and more to help you get ready for the 2012 season.

Inside the Locker Room
with Ralph Vacchiano, New York Daily News

What will the timeshare look like between David Wilson and Ahmad Bradshaw?
Giants GM Jerry Reese said that Bradshaw is still the “lead dog,” but how much he leads depends on his health. He’s got chronic ankle and foot issues and had yet another offseason procedure on his foot, so they have to limit his load. The best guess is Bradshaw will get about two-thirds of the carries and Wilson will get one-third.

Martellus Bennett is dripping with athletic ability, but can he turn into a fantasy weapon for Eli Manning?
Bennett does have tantalizing skills that he’s never quite been able to put together. He should blossom with the pass-happy Giants; just don’t expect him to suddenly be a top-flight tight end. That position is just not a major weapon in Kevin Gilbride’s offense. Judging by past use of tight ends, it would seem a 50-to-55-catch season might be the ceiling. The Giants like their tight ends to block, and they prefer to target their top three wide receivers.

Victor Cruz: One-hit wonder, or can he repeat his breakout season?
All Cruz did was have the greatest single season for a receiver in Giants history (82 catches for 1,536 yards and nine TDs), so it’s hard to imagine he’ll match that his second time around. He had an abnormal number of breaks last year — fumbles that he recovered or were overturned by replays, short catches where he broke a tackle (or the tackler missed) that he turned into a huge gain. If that was luck, then expect a big regression. But if it was skill that caused him to break all those big plays, he might repeat his magical season.

Can Hakeem Nicks parlay his stellar postseason run into consistent fantasy greatness this season?
I’m not sure why anyone would think he’s been inconsistent. He had 76 catches for 1,192 yards and seven touchdowns last season — and that was a down year from the one before (79-1,052-11 in 13 games). He’s one of the most underrated receivers in the game, is on the verge of a Pro Bowl, and has shown both possession and big-play skills. If he stays healthy — which sometimes has been a mild issue — he could easily jump to the next level, which is Calvin Johnson/Larry Fitgerald territory.

Athlon's Best Bets

Sleeper: Martellus Bennett, TE
Deep-Sleeper: Rueben Randle, WR
Overvalued: Ahmad Bradshaw, RB
Top Rookie: David Wilson, RB
Bounce-Back: Jerrel Jernigan, WR
Top IDP: Jason Pierre-Paul, DE

2012 Draft Class

1. David Wilson RB 5-10 206 Virginia Tech
2. Rueben Randle WR 6-4 210 LSU
3. Jayron Hosley CB 5-10 178 Virginia Tech
4. Adrien Robinson TE 6-4 264 Cincinnati
4. Brandon Mosley OL 6-5 314 Auburn
6. Matt McCants OL 6-5 308 UAB
7. Markus Kuhn DT 6-5 299 NC State

Fantasy Impact: With Brandon Jacobs departing for San Francisco, the Giants needed to address the depth behind running back Ahmad Bradshaw. David Wilson likely won’t start, but he will see a handful of carries per game. He should be a handcuff to Bradshaw and one of the top rookie picks in keeper formats. Rueben Randle was a solid pickup in Round 2. He will be the No. 3 receiver in 2012. Tight end Adrien Robinson is a sleeper to watch, especially with Jake Ballard and Travis Beckum sidelined with injuries.

Fantasy Playoff Run: Weeks 14-16 (NO, at ATL, at BAL)

The Saints were in the bottom 13 against QBs, RBs and WRs last season. This figures to be a favorable matchup for the Giants in the first week of the fantasy playoffs. Games at Atlanta and at Baltimore certainly should be a bit more troublesome. The Giants closed strong last season, so you can expect them to put some points on the board down the stretch.

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Teaser:
<p> Fantasy Football 2012: Breaking Down the New York Giants</p>
Post date: Thursday, August 23, 2012 - 04:03
Path: /fantasy/fantasy-football-2012-breaking-down-new-york-jets
Body:

What can the New York Jets do for you this fantasy season? Check out Athlon Sports' team report as we break down the rookies, veteran players to watch and avoid, fantasy playoff schedule and more to help you get ready for the 2012 season.

Inside the Locker Room
with Ernie Palladino, Freelance Writer

Will Shonn Greene ever develop into a feature back?
Greene could certainly be a feature back — if he can stay healthy. Rib and ankle injuries led to a subpar performance last year, with just two 100-yard efforts. But if he can stay healthy, Greene has the body and strength to overpower linebackers and run through defensive backs, a la Brandon Jacobs.

What sort of role and how many touches per game will Tim Tebow get in the Jets’ offense?
Offensive coordinator Tony Sparano says he expects backup Tebow to get between 15 and 20 touches per game, but he refuses to say in what capacity. It’s no secret, however, that Sparano wants to return to a ground-based offense, and the Wildcat would be a major part of that. Tebow could be a master in that formation, given his natural bulk, speed, and running ability.

Mark Sanchez set career highs in completions, yards and TDs last year, but the Jets still acquired Tebow. Can Sanchez develop into a 4,000-yard passer?
Don’t expect Sanchez to hit the 4,000-yard mark in passing. His statistics would not have been nearly as high last year had former offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer not decided to throw the ball so much early in the season. With Sparano now calling the plays, the emphasis will now revert to Sanchez managing games, and the increase of run plays will naturally cut down his passing yards. His confidence is also a problem. Unless he turns the mental game around, Sanchez will never become a great passer.

Athlon's Best Bets

Sleeper: Mark Sanchez, QB
Deep-Sleeper: Joe McKnight, RB
Overvalued: Tim Tebow, QB
Top Rookie: Stephen Hill, WR
Bounce-Back: Jeremy Kerley, WR
Top IDP: LaRon Landry, S

2012 Draft Class

1. Quinton Coples DE 6-6 286 North Carolina
2. Stephen Hill WR 6-4 215 Georgia Tech
3. Demario Davis OLB 6-2 235 Arkansas State
6. Josh Bush S 5-11 208 Wake Forest
6. Terrance Ganaway RB 6-0 239 Baylor
6. Robert T. Griffin G 6-6 335 Baylor
7. Antonio Allen S 6-1 210 South Carolina
7. Jordan White WR 6-0 208 Western Michigan

Fantasy Impact: Outside of Santonio Holmes, the Jets do not have any proven threats at receiver. Georgia Tech’s Stephen Hill may not start, but he will see plenty of snaps this season. Hill was a big-play threat in college but played in an option offense, so his route-running and mastery of passing schemes will need work. Terrance Ganaway is a powerful runner and could help the Jets in short-yardage and goal-line situations.

Fantasy Playoff Run: Weeks 14-16 (at JAC, at TEN, SD)

Will it be Tim Tebow or Mark Sanchez under center when the Jets travel to Jacksonville and Nashville? Sanchez was a top-10 fantasy QB last season — the only Jets player in the top 10 in any position. There are some winnable matchups for the Jets in the postseason, but the consistency of all other positions certainly depends on who’s at QB.

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Teaser:
<p> Fantasy Football 2012: Breaking Down the New York Jets</p>
Post date: Thursday, August 23, 2012 - 04:02
Path: /fantasy/fantasy-football-10-biggest-injury-concerns-running-back
Body:

Injuries are certainly a part of football, and fantasy football, for that matter, but when it comes to the latter that doesn't mean you can't or shouldn't be prepared.

Here are the top injury concerns when it comes to running back. These ground-gainers are the eptiome of risk-reward when it comes to weighing potential opportunity versus their respective injury histories.

1. Jahvid Best, Detroit
Diminutive runner isn’t built for NFL workload and has paid the price with concussion problems. He has still yet to be cleared for practice and more than likely will start the season on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list, meaning he will miss at minimum the Lions' first six games. Be VERY wary.

2. Darren McFadden, Oakland
Uber-talent has been brittle his entire pro and college career. Has never played more than 13 games in a season. Electric upside, but almost certain to miss a few games.

3. Adrian Peterson, Minnesota
A completely destroyed knee is scary — even for someone as powerful as Peterson. Due to his violent running style, it is hard to see him ever playing completely injury-free.

4. Trent Richardson, Cleveland
This yearNo. 3 overall pick has yet to see any NFL action as he underwent arthroscopic surgery on Aug. 9 to remove a loose piece of cartilage from his left knee. While it's unrelated to the torn meniscus he suffered in the same knee in January's BCS National Championship game, it's still troubling when someone undergoes mutiple surgeries on the same body part in such a short time span. The team is hopeful Richardson will still make his debut in the Browns' season-opener, but that's the absolute best-case scenario right now.

5. Beanie Wells, Arizona
After his best season, Wells had to have knee surgery in January. Balky knees have been an issue dating back to Ohio State.

6. Mark Ingram, New Orleans
The early May arthroscopic knee surgery was his second in the past three offseasons. He also dealt with foot surgery at the end of last season.

7. Ryan Mathews, San Diego
The third-year pro has yet to play a full season in the NFL and it won't happen this season either. Mathews broke his collar bone on his first carry in the Chargers' first preseason game. It has been projected to be a four- to six-week recovery period, the former allowing him enough time to be ready for Week 1. The six-week range is probably the safer bet, which (hopefully) puts him back in the Bolts' backfield by Week 3.

8. DeMarco Murray, Dallas
Has dealt with serious injuries in each of his last three football seasons — hamstring and dislocated kneecap at Oklahoma and the broken ankle last fall. 

9. Ahmad Bradshaw, New York Giants
Constantly deals with nagging injuries, such as the banged up hand he suffered in a preseason game, but is explosive when in the lineup. A time-share with David Wilson might be the bigger concern.

10. Fred Jackson, Buffalo
Has played only five years and hasn't touched the ball 1,000 times yet. But he is 31 and recovering from a fractured fibula.

Two More to Watch

Reggie Bush, Miami
Last season was only the second time he has topped 10 starts in his six-year career. You have to doubt his ability to stay healthy.

Frank Gore, San Francisco
Played all 16 games last year but missed a total of 10 games in the previous four. Gore is only 29 but is approaching 2,000 career touches.

— Published on August 22, 2012

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Teaser:
<p> Fantasy Football: 10 Biggest Injury Concerns at Running Back</p>
Post date: Wednesday, August 22, 2012 - 06:00
Path: /fantasy/fantasy-football-2012-breaking-down-new-orleans-saints
Body:

What can the New Orleans Saints do for you this fantasy season? Check out Athlon Sports' team report as we break down the rookies, veteran players to watch and avoid, fantasy playoff schedule and more to help you get ready for the 2012 season.

Inside the Locker Room
with Jeff Duncan, New Orleans Times Picayune

What sort of time share can we expect in the Saints backfield between Mark Ingram, Darren Sproles and Pierre Thomas?
The Saints will employ a similar strategy as last season, with all three getting their share of touches weekly. I expect Ingram to win the starting spot with Sproles playing primarily in the nickel packages and two-minute offense. Thomas will share the workload with Ingram, subbing in for a series or two each half. Chris Ivory is also in the mix. He is healthy now and is the club’s best power runner.

Do you expect Jimmy Graham’s numbers to come down across the board?
No. I expect similar numbers. Defenses undoubtedly will concentrate their game-plans on Graham more this season. But it’s very difficult for teams to focus on one Saints perimeter player because they have so many other weapons at their disposal. Moreover, Graham is so talented and such a mismatch for most defenders that Drew Brees often throws to him successfully even when he’s double-covered.

Will Devery Henderson finish as the team’s No. 2 wide receiver?
No. Henderson is on the downside of his career. He might inherit Robert Meachem’s starting spot, but I expect Lance Moore to become the clear No. 2 in terms of production. Henderson’s role has diminished in recent years while Moore’s actually has expanded. In fact, I think there’s a greater chance that one of the team’s stable of young receivers — Adrian Arrington, Joe Morgan or Nick Toon — will overtake Henderson for the third receiver spot than Henderson does of being the No. 2 receiver.

What sort of impact will the offseason drama have on Drew Brees and the prolific Saints offense?
Little if any. As long as Brees is around, the Saints offense will continue to rack up yards and points. The biggest concern is the loss of head coach Sean Payton, a brilliant game-planner and offensive strategist. Offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael Jr. and running game coordinator Aaron Kromer are well-versed in the Saints system and proved they could function just fine as play-callers a year ago when Payton went down with a leg injury. But Payton’s loss will be felt during weekly game-plan sessions, where he was a master at identifying opponents’ weaknesses and exploiting them. Still, the Saints have so much talent and Brees is essentially a coach on the field that I can’t see them dropping off much at all. The club’s top four rushers and top five receivers return from a unit that set the NFL record for yards gained in a season.

Athlon's Best Bets

Sleeper: Lance Moore, WR
Deep-Sleeper: Nick Toon, WR
Overvalued: None
Top Rookie: Nick Toon, WR
Bounce-Back: Mark Ingram, RB
Top IDP: Curtis Lofton, LB

2012 Draft Class

3. Akiem Hicks DT 6-5 318 Regina College
4. Nick Toon WR 6-2 215 Wisconsin
5. Corey White S 5-11 206 Samford
6. Andrew Tiller G 6-4 324 Syracuse
7. Marcel Jones T 6-6 320 Nebraska

Fantasy Impact: Thanks to a trade of their first-round pick and losing a second-round selection due to the bounty scandal, the Saints were largely quiet in the draft. Defensive tackle Akiem Hicks has a lot of upside, but he played collegiately in Canada and will have a steep learning curve to contribute in 2012. Marques Colston, Devery Henderson and Lance Moore are set as the top three receivers for quarterback Drew Brees, but Nick Toon could work his way into the mix as the No. 4 receiver. Although he might not make much of an impact in 2012, he could be one to watch in 2013 or 2014.

Fantasy Playoff Run: Weeks 14-16 (at NYG, TB, at DAL)

The Saints should get off to a great start against a Giants team that was in the bottom six against QBs, WRs and TEs and did little to improve its starting defense. The Buccaneers were bottom three against QBs and RBs and middle of the road against WRs and TEs but did go defense with four of the first five draft picks. The game in Dallas for the title game could be a shootout.

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Teaser:
<p> Fantasy Football 2012: Breaking Down the New Orleans Saints</p>
Post date: Wednesday, August 22, 2012 - 05:57
Path: /fantasy/fantasy-football-2012-breaking-down-minnesota-vikings
Body:

What can the Minnesota Vikings do for you this fantasy season? Check out Athlon Sports' team report as we break down the rookies, veteran players to watch and avoid, fantasy playoff schedule and more to help you get ready for the 2012 season.

Inside the Locker Room
with Jeremy Fowler, St. Paul Pioneer Press

Will Adrian Peterson return to full strength for the start of the season and therefore justify using a first-round draft pick to land him?
Peterson’s fantasy risk could keep owners nervous up until the days before the Vikings’ Week 1 opener. Asking Peterson to carry the ball 20 times a game less than nine months removed from a torn ACL would be ambitious. But don’t forget — Peterson is an otherworldly athlete, he’s drawn a line in the sand that he doesn’t plan to miss time and his rehab has gone smoothly by all accounts. If he doesn’t play Week 1, he likely won’t be out long.

How many touches can we expect from Toby Gerhart in 2012?
Even if Peterson returns to full health by Week 1, expect Gerhart to get eight-to-12 touches per game as the Vikings look to protect Peterson’s long-term promise. Gerhart seems to thrive off carries in bulk. If Peterson doesn’t make it back by the season’s start, Gerhart could have solid fantasy value.

Can Kyle Rudolph stay healthy and become a weekly fantasy starter at tight end?
Rudolph caught three touchdown passes in his last six games as a rookie and can become one of the most potent red-zone targets in the NFC North. Float it to the 6'6" Rudolph on a lob, and he’ll use his size and incredible hands to snatch the ball. Question is, can he consistently beat man coverage? And though the Vikings will run plenty of two-tight-end sets, Rudolph will be battling John Carlson for touches. Still, there’s little reason Rudolph shouldn’t break out.

Will Christian Ponder and the passing game be effective enough to create useful fantasy receivers other than Percy Harvin?
The Vikings have made enough improvements to the offensive line and at receiver to rescue a 28th-ranked passing offense to a more respectable level. They won’t challenge New Orleans’ touchdowns-in-seven-seconds-or-less offense, but Ponder will have more ammunition to work with after the Vikings added a potential elite left tackle (Matt Kalil), a viable deep threat (Jerome Simpson) and a talented receiving tight end to pair with Rudolph (Carlson). Let’s be real, though — the offense’s hopes hinge on Ponder’s progression. If he improves his decision-making, he’ll realize his sizable potential.

Which rookie wideout would you target in Minnesota?
The Vikings resisted the temptation to draft a receiver in the late-first or early-second round because they felt confident in Arkansas tandem Jarius Wright and Greg Childs. Despite a skill set suited for the slot (Percy Harvin’s home), Wright looks poised to have the bigger rookie impact than Childs, who is still trying to find his way after a torn patella tendon slowed him in his final two college years. The Vikings move Harvin around enough to make room for Wright, who will be explosive in space. Childs can be a deep threat eventually, but the Vikings have Simpson and Michael Jenkins to bridge the gap in 2012.
Note: Childs tore the patellar tendon in both knees early in training camp and is out for the season.

Athlon's Best Bets

Sleeper: Toby Gerhart, RB
Deep-Sleeper: Kyle Rudolph, TE
Overvalued: None
Top Rookie: Blair Walsh, K
Bounce-Back: Christian Ponder, QB
Top IDP: Jared Allen, DE

2012 Draft Class

1. Matt Kalil T 6-7 295 USC
1. Harrison Smith S 6-2 214 Notre Dame
3. Josh Robinson CB 5-10 199 UCF
4. Jarius Wright WR 5-9 180 Arkansas
4. Rhett Ellison TE 6-5 250 USC
4. Greg Childs WR 6-3 217 Arkansas
5. Robert Blanton S 6-1 200 Notre Dame
6. Blair Walsh K 5-10 192 Georgia
7. Audie Cole LB 6-4 239 NC State
7. Trevor Guyton DE 6-3 280 California

Fantasy Impact: Tackle Matt Kalil will help protect the blindside of quarterback Christian Ponder and open up rushing lanes for Adrian Peterson. Outside of Percy Harvin, the Vikings lack playmakers at receiver. Jarius Wright and Greg Childs will help stretch the field, but neither is likely to sustain fantasy value in 2012.

Fantasy Playoff Run: Weeks 14-16 (CHI, at STL, at HOU)

A start against the Bears should be good news for the WRs and TEs as Chicago was 11th-worst and seventh-worst, respectively, against the positions. The Vikes face a Rams team, now coached by Jeff Fisher, that was already top 10 against QBs and TEs. They play a Texans team in fantasy championship week that was top five against fantasy QBs, RBs and TEs last season and top 10 against receivers.

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Teaser:
<p> Fantasy Football 2012: Breaking Down the Minnesota Vikings</p>
Post date: Wednesday, August 22, 2012 - 05:56
Path: /fantasy/fantasy-football-2012-breaking-down-miami-dolphins
Body:

What can the Miami Dolphins do for you this fantasy season? Check out Athlon Sports' team report as we break down the rookies, veteran players to watch and avoid, fantasy playoff schedule and more to help you get ready for the 2012 season.

Inside the Locker Room
with Ethan Skolnick, Palm Beach Post

Can Reggie Bush build on his first career 1,000-yard season or will Daniel Thomas (or Lamar Miller) steal a big chunk of his touches?
No offensive staff has believed in Bush as an every-down back until the one the Dolphins had last season. Now that staff is gone, and Joe Philbin hasn’t traditionally loaded up one guy with carries. Expect Bush to contribute more as a receiver, but less as a runner.

Is any Dolphins’ pass-catcher worth a fantasy roster spot?
No. Davone Bess is the Dolphins’ most reliable threat, but most of his damage is done horizontally, out of the slot, rather than vertically. Brian Hartline has slightly above-average speed and can tiptoe the sidelines, but more than 600 yards would be a stretch. And Clyde Gates is raw as a deep threat, with a long way to go.

Rank the four potential fantasy contributors at tight end for the Fish.
You know what you’re getting from Anthony Fasano, even though his improvement as a blocker won’t show up on the fantasy scoreboard. Rank Fasano first, though Charles Clay appears to have bigger upside as a receiver and will be on the field plenty. Michael Egnew also showed a feel for route-running in college. It’s not clear what to expect from Les Brown, since he’s so new to the position.

Athlon's Best Bets

Sleeper: Davone Bess, WR
Deep-Sleeper: Clyde Gates, WR
Overvalued: Reggie Bush, RB
Top Rookie: Lamar Miller, RB
Bounce-Back: Daniel Thomas, RB
Top IDP: Karlos Dansby, LB

2012 Draft Class

1. Ryan Tannehill QB 6-4 221 Texas A&M
2. Jonathan Martin T 6-5 312 Stanford
3. Olivier Vernon DE 6-2 261 Miami
3. Michael Egnew TE 6-5 252 Missouri
4. Lamar Miller RB 5-11 210 Miami (Fla.)
5. Josh Kaddu LB 6-3 239 Oregon
6. B.J. Cunningham WR 6-1 211 Michigan State
7. Kheeston Randall DT 6-4 293 Texas
7. Rishard Matthews WR 6-0 212 Nevada

Fantasy Impact: The success or failure of the Dolphins’ 2012 draft will hinge on whether or not Ryan Tannehill emerges as a successful starting quarterback. He should be selected in keeper formats, with his biggest impact likely to come in 2013. Lamar Miller is a big-play threat but is behind Reggie Bush and Daniel Thomas for carries.

Fantasy Playoff Run: Weeks 14-16 (at SF, JAC, BUF)

New HC. New OC. New QB. Can Reggie Bush repeat? Deal with all of these scenarios then start the fantasy playoffs against San Francisco’s defense and a Jacksonville defense that ranked in the top seven against QBs, RBs and WRs. The good news: If the Dolphins find a reliable TE they could be worth a play. Jacksonville (30th) and Buffalo (32th) were terrible against fantasy TEs last season.

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Teaser:
<p> Fantasy Football 2012: Breaking Down the Miami Dolphins</p>
Post date: Wednesday, August 22, 2012 - 05:50
Path: /fantasy/fantasy-football-10-biggest-injury-concerns-quarterback
Body:

Injuries are certainly a part of football, and fantasy football, for that matter, but when it comes to the latter that doesn't mean you can't or shouldn't be prepared.

Here are the top injury concerns when it comes to quarterback. If you decide to draft one of these guys, be sure you add a capable backup at some point.

1. Michael Vick, Philadelphia
Style of play makes him the most injury-prone QB in the league. Played 16 games only once in his career (2006) and has missed seven games over the last two years. It also doesn't help his rep that he's already banged the thumb on this throwing hand in an earlier preaseason game and left Monday's night game against the Patriots after taking a hard shot to his ribs. Fortunately, x-rays came back negative, but if he's taking this much punishment in the preseason, what happens when the games count?

2. Sam Bradford, St. Louis
He had a significant shoulder issue in college, and an ankle injury cost him six of his last 11 games last fall. Needs to prove he can stay healthy.

3. Matt Schaub, Houston 
Major injuries appear to be fluky and unlucky, but the fact remains that he has played no more than 11 games in three of his last five years.

4. Matthew Stafford, Detroit
When healthy, he is as good as any quarterback in the league. Played in every game at Georgia but only 29 of a possible 48 regular-season games since entering the NFL.

5. Matt Cassel, Kansas City
After taking a pounding for the first nine games (and playing better than expected), he suffered an injury to his throwing hand that ended his season. Could this be his last chance in Kansas City?

6. Robert Griffin III, Washington
Missed a huge chunk of his second season at Baylor with a torn ACL, and his style of play lends itself to injuries. Can Mike Shanahan afford to let RG3 run free?

7. Peyton Manning, Denver
After starting 208 straight games, Manning missed all 16 games of the 2011 season. The neck appears to be healthy, but can he still take the big hits?

8. Tony Romo, Dallas
Oft-injured, gutty performer often plays through injury but is constantly banged up. Missed 10 games in 2010 and three games in 2008. Has O-Line improved enough to keep him healthy?

9. Jay Cutler, Chicago
Has taken a beating his entire pro and college career and has bounced back every time, but first major injury (thumb) cost him six games last year.

10. Matt Hasselbeck, Tennessee
Played his first full season since 2007 last year, but  has been replaced by Jake Locker as the Titans' starter. Should Hasselbeck regain the starting job for whatever reason remember this — he turns 37 in September.

— Published on August 21, 2012

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Teaser:
<p> Fantasy Football: 10 Biggest Injury Concerns at Quarterback</p>
Post date: Tuesday, August 21, 2012 - 05:05
Path: /fantasy/fantasy-football-2012-breaking-down-kansas-city-chiefs
Body:

What can the Kansas City Chiefs do for you this fantasy season? Check out Athlon Sports' team report as we break down the rookies, veteran players to watch and avoid, fantasy playoff schedule and more to help you get ready for the 2012 season.

Inside the Locker Room
with Kent Babb, Kansas City Star

How will Romeo Crennel divide the carries between Jamaal Charles and Peyton Hillis? Can they both provide fantasy value?
Assuming Charles is healthy, he’ll get the majority of carries — although he has been at his best with a power rusher splitting part of the load. Particularly with Charles returning from an ACL tear, the Chiefs will be careful with how much responsibility they give him, at least until he proves he has the same agility and breakaway speed he had before the injury. Hillis will be used in short-yardage situations, similar to the way Thomas Jones was used the previous two years. He’ll be a good source of touchdowns, but it’ll be Charles — if he’s healthy — who racks up the yards.

After Dwayne Bowe, who is the next wide receiver to target?
Steve Breaston is a solid receiver, but he’ll lack big plays and touchdowns. A sleeper choice would be second-year wideout Jon Baldwin, who is similar in build and hands to Bowe. He wasn’t dazzling in his rookie season, and the Chiefs will need him to take a step forward in his second year. Breaston is the safer choice, but Baldwin has the higher upside — and, of course, the higher risk.

Does Matt Cassel provide any fantasy value whatsoever?
If he’s at 2010 form, when he rarely threw interceptions, then sure. But Cassel also rarely has 300-yard passing games, even when he’s at his best. He’s a decent (very) late-round quarterback choice or a very good fantasy backup, but Cassel’s ceiling is remarkably low, even with a terrific rush offense and some very good receivers.

Will Tony Moeaki return to his rookie form of 2010 when he caught 47 passes for 556 yards and three scores?
Moeaki is another high-risk, high-reward player. If he’s healthy, he has the potential to be one of the league’s better tight ends. But that’s a huge if — and it has been since his college days. Moeaki has incredible hands and a remarkable ability to get open. The problem with him, and always has been, that he can’t stay healthy. So fantasy owners who take a chance on Moeaki, should probably draft another tight end in the early to mid-rounds, just to avoid the buyer’s remorse when Moeaki again suffers an injury.

Athlon's Best Bets

Sleeper: Tony Moeaki, TE
Deep-Sleeper: Jon Baldwin, WR
Overvalued: None
Top Rookie: Devon Wylie, WR
Bounce-Back: Jamaal Charles, RB
Top IDP: Derrick Johnson, LB

2012 Draft Class

1. Dontari Poe DT 6-3 346 Memphis
2. Jeff Allen G 6-4 306 Illinois
3. Donald Stephenson T 6-6 307 Oklahoma
4. Devon Wylie WR 5-9 186 Fresno State
5. DeQuan Menzie S 6-0 198 Alabama
6. Cyrus Gray RB 5-10 198 Texas A&M
7. Jerome Long DT 6-5 285 San Diego State
7. Junior Hemingway WR 6-1 222 Michigan

Fantasy Impact: The Chiefs’ first three picks were spent upgrading both lines, so there’s not much fantasy value likely to come out of this class. Defensive tackle Dontari Poe can be dominant, but his effort was questioned at Memphis. Jeff Allen played tackle at Illinois but could move inside to guard in the NFL. Devon Wylie will help on special teams and is penciled in as the No. 4 receiver. Running back Cyrus Gray was a solid late-round pickup but faces an uphill battle for playing time.

Fantasy Playoff Run: Weeks 14-16 (at CLE, at OAK, IND)

New offensive coordinator Brian Daboll comes over after coordinating for Miami and Cleveland. He had no top-10 fantasy producers for the Dolphins, and no Browns are on the tip of your tongue over the last five years. If a consistent player does emerge, the Chiefs do get the Raiders and Colts, easy fantasy defenses from a year ago, in the playoffs.

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Teaser:
<p> Fantasy Football 2012: Breaking Down the Kansas City Chiefs</p>
Post date: Tuesday, August 21, 2012 - 05:04
Path: /fantasy/fantasy-football-2012-breaking-down-jacksonville-jaguars
Body:

What can the Jacksonville Jaguars do for you this fantasy season? Check out Athlon Sports' team report as we break down the rookies, veteran players to watch and avoid, fantasy playoff schedule and more to help you get ready for the 2012 season.

Inside the Locker Room
with Tania Ganguli, Florida Times-Union

Is the addition of Justin Blackmon enough to make Blaine Gabbert a viable fantasy player in 2012?
The additions of Blackmon and Laurent Robinson, whom the Jaguars added in free agency, have already made the Jaguars receiving corps several times better than it was last season. It’s all on Gabbert now. Watch Gabbert during the preseason and training camp for signs that he has truly changed.

What are reasonable statistical projections for Blackmon in his first season?
His ceiling could be something like Anquan Boldin’s rookie year. Boldin had 101 catches for 1,377 yards in 2003. The Jaguars see a lot of similarities in the two receivers. The quarterback situation is the biggest thing to watch when it comes to Blackmon’s fantasy production.

Can Maurice Jones-Drew reach the 1,300-yard plateau for the fourth consecutive season?
Nobody motivates himself like Jones-Drew. No matter how good of a season he had in the previous year, he can always find a way to convince himself that he has something to prove. Last season, Jones-Drew came in trying to prove that the surgery he had to repair his 2010 torn meniscus wouldn’t affect his play. This year, coming off an NFL-leading 1,606 yards, his contract situation could be a motivating factor that keeps him at the high level he’s played for the past two seasons. Jones-Drew hasn’t attended the Jaguars’ voluntary offseason workouts in an effort to make known his dissatisfaction with his contract, which has two years left on it. Expect another big season from MJD.

Athlon's Best Bets

Sleeper: Rashad Jennings, RB
Deep-Sleeper: Blaine Gabbert, QB
Overvalued: Laurent Robinson, WR
Top Rookie: Justin Blackmon, WR
Bounce-Back: Marcedes Lewis, TE
Top IDP: Paul Posluszny, LB

2012 Draft Class

1. Justin Blackmon WR 6-1 215 Oklahoma State
2. Andre Branch DE 6-5 258 Clemson
3. Bryan Anger P 6-4 208 California
5. Brandon Marshall LB 6-2 243 Nevada
6. Mike Harris CB 5-10 184 Florida State
7. Jeris Pendleton DT 6-2 328 Ashland

Fantasy Impact: Quarterback Blaine Gabbert had an awful rookie season, but he didn’t have a lot of help in the receiving corps last year. The Jaguars have taken steps to solve that, as they signed Laurent Robinson and selected Justin Blackmon in the first round of the draft. Blackmon should provide some much-needed big-play ability, but his fantasy value will be determined by how quickly Gabbert can improve. The rest of Jacksonville’s draft was met with mixed reviews, but defensive end Andre Branch should spark a pass rush that ranked near the bottom of the NFL last year.

Fantasy Playoff Run: Weeks 14-16 (NYJ, at MIA, NE)

Perhaps Blaine Gabbert and Justin Blackmon will have some sort of chemistry by this point in the season. If so, the Jags get the Dolphins’ ninth-worst fantasy defense against WRs and 13th-worst against QBs, and the Patriots’ 32nd-ranked fantasy defense against WRs and 29th-ranked against QBs in the title game. MJD does have to play two top-10 and a 16th-ranked fantasy defense vs. RBs from a year ago.

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Teaser:
<p> Fantasy Football 2012: Breaking Down the Jacksonville Jaguars</p>
Post date: Tuesday, August 21, 2012 - 05:03
Path: /fantasy/fantasy-football-2012-breaking-down-indianapolis-colts
Body:

What can the Indianapolis Colts do for you this fantasy season? Check out Athlon Sports' team report as we break down the rookies, veteran players to watch and avoid, fantasy playoff schedule and more to help you get ready for the 2012 season.

Inside the Locker Room
with Phil Wilson, Indianapolis Star

Will Andrew Luck top Peyton Manning’s rookie numbers of 3,739 yards, 26 touchdowns and 28 interceptions?
The hunch is Luck won’t surpass Manning’s numbers, but he could eclipse the win total of three. Luck is so unselfish, he won’t be about putting up big numbers, and the Colts will want to run the ball more and play ball control as much as possible to protect an overhauled and learning-on-the-go defense.

How will the new coaching staff decide to use tailbacks Delone Carter, Donald Brown and Vick Ballard?
Expect Carter and Brown to be the tandem for now. Ballard gets a shot if he shows something in camp and one of the other two guys struggles. Brown has never been much of a blocker, so perhaps that opens the door for Ballard to get a few reps eventually.
Is Reggie Wayne’s fantasy career over, or can he bounce back after failing to reach 1,000 yards for the first time since 2003?
Wayne might never get back to the levels taken for granted in past years. Expect decent numbers, but it’s doubtful Luck will throw to him so much that the old statistical levels will come into play. This team must spread the ball around.

Which tight end will get the most targets, Coby Fleener or Dwayne Allen?
The guess will be Fleener because that’s who Luck knows. But seriously, flip a coin on them. Allen could be that guy. You never know which guy will stay healthier, who picks up the offense more quickly, which style will consistently get open more often, etc.

Athlon's Best Bets

Sleeper: Coby Fleener, TE
Deep-Sleeper: Dwayne Allen, TE
Overvalued: None
Top Rookie: Andrew Luck, QB
Bounce-Back: Reggie Wayne, WR
Top IDP: Pat Angerer, LB

2012 Draft Class

1. Andrew Luck QB 6-4 234 Stanford
2. Coby Fleener TE 6-6 247 Stanford
3. Dwayne Allen TE 6-3 255 Clemson
3. T.Y. Hilton WR 5-10 183 FIU
5. Josh Chapman DT 6-1 316 Alabama
5. Vick Ballard RB 5-10 217 Mississippi State
6. LaVon Brazill WR 5-11 191 Ohio
7. Justin Anderson T 6-5 342 Georgia
7. Tim Fugger OLB 6-3 248 Vanderbilt
7. Chandler Harnish QB 6-2 219 Northern Illinois

Fantasy Impact: The Colts surrounded No. 1 overall pick Andrew Luck with plenty of help, including tight ends Coby Fleener (also a Stanford alum) and Dwayne Allen. Both will be valuable safety nets for the rookie quarterback. T.Y. Hilton is a dangerous all-around threat and will slide into the No. 3 receiver role in 2012.

Fantasy Playoff Run: Weeks 14-16 (TEN, at HOU, at KC)

Rookies pepper the Colts’ roster at quarterback, receiver and tight end. Those rookies likely will be producing for a bad team and adjusting to the final games in the longer pro season. This is not a good fantasy situation, but there should be enough garbage points to make a few on this roster worthy of starts come fantasy postseason.

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Teaser:
<p> Fantasy Football 2012: Breaking Down the Indianapolis Colts</p>
Post date: Tuesday, August 21, 2012 - 05:02
Path: /fantasy/fantasy-football-2012-breaking-down-houston-texans
Body:

What can the Houston Texans do for you this fantasy season? Check out Athlon Sports' team report as we break down the rookies, veteran players to watch and avoid, fantasy playoff schedule and more to help you get ready for the 2012 season.

Inside the Locker Room
with Sam Khan

Is Andre Johnson finally nearing the end of his career or is he still worth a first- or second-round selection?
This season will be Johnson’s 10th of his career, but even though he isn’t getting any younger, he’s still among the best receivers in the league — when he’s healthy. If he could be counted on for 16 games, I’d say he’s a first- or second-round pick, but he hasn’t gone for all 16 in three of the last five seasons, including missing nine regular-season games last year. The other factor worth considering: Johnson has never been a high touchdown guy — his highest single-season touchdown reception total is nine. He’s far from done, but injury history suggests passing on him in the first round.

Can Ben Tate be a starting fantasy running back despite not starting at running back on his own team?
If you’re in a league where you can start three running backs, I would say yes, but Tate is not quite to the point where you can make him an automatic start in a two-back league. Should Arian Foster get hurt, then Tate becomes that. Until then, he’s a good flex option or third running back.

How far do injury concerns drop Matt Schaub down draft boards?
A Lisfranc injury — which Schaub suffered in his right foot, ending his 2011 season — is serious, so there will be some concern for fantasy owners, even though Schaub’s offseason progress has been good and he’s expected to be 100 percent for training camp. His potential is great (more than 4,000 passing yards and 25-30 touchdown passes) but only twice since he joined the Texans in 2007 has Schaub appeared in all 16 games.

Athlon's Best Bets

Sleeper: Ben Tate, RB
Deep-Sleeper: DeVier Posey, WR
Overvalued: None
Top Rookie: Randy Bullock, K
Bounce-Back: Andre Johnson, WR
Top IDP: Brian Cushing, LB

2012 Draft Class

1. Whitney Mercilus DE 6-4 261 Illinois
3. DeVier Posey WR 6-2 210 Ohio State
3. Brandon Brooks G 6-5 343 Miami (Ohio)
4. Ben Jones C 6-3 316 Georgia
4. Keshawn Martin WR 5-11 189 Michigan State
4. Jared Crick DT 6-4 279 Nebraska
5. Randy Bullock K 5-9 205 Texas A&M
6. Nick Mondek T 6-5 307 Purdue

Fantasy Impact: Finding a receiver who can complement Andre Johnson has eluded Houston, and the door is open for DeVier Posey to contend for snaps in 2012. Posey should be a fringe pick in keeper formats. Kicker Neil Rackers was not re-signed, leaving Randy Bullock as the favorite to win the job in the preseason. Whitney Mercilus fits the 3-4 scheme as an outside linebacker or rush end and should play immediately on passing downs in 2012.

Fantasy Playoff Run: Weeks 14-16 (at NE, IND, MIN)

The Texans will start the fantasy postseason at New England — their third straight game on the road — and will face a Patriots team that drafted defense with its first six picks after being the fourth-worst fantasy defense against QBs and the worst against WRs. After the game in New England, the Texans return home to face Indianapolis and Minnesota, two of the worst teams in the NFL in 2011.

Dominate Your Fantasy Football League! Click here for the ultimate online resource for mock drafts, positional rankings, Athlon's Top 250 and more.

You can order your award-winning Athlon Sports NFL Fantasy Football preview magazine here.

Teaser:
<p> Fantasy Football 2012: Breaking Down the Houston Texans</p>
Post date: Tuesday, August 21, 2012 - 05:01

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