Articles By Athlon Sports

Path: /fantasy/2012-fantasy-football-rookie-roundup-running-backs
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There's no shortage of draftable rookies from the offensive skill players who had their names called in April. With so many options available, Athlon Sports is here to help you break down this crop of talented rookies in terms of fantasy potential, both for 2012 and beyond.

KEY
Seasonal   Keeper/Dynasty    
A — Solid Draft Pick   1 — Blue Chipper   4 — Potential bye week fill-in
B — Late-round flier   2 — Potential stud   5 —Deep sleeper
C — Waiver wire   3 — Potential starter   UFA — Undrafted free agent

RUNNING BACKS

1. Trent Richardson, 5-9, 228, Alabama
Drafted by: Cleveland in the 1st Round, No. 3 overall
Seasonal: A
Keeper/Dynasty: 1

Richardson easily was the best all-around back in the draft and should be in position to record 200-250 carries in 2012. He brings a good blend of power and speed, which will be valuable in a division in which weather is a factor late in the year. Richardson should be the No. 1 rookie off draft boards this year and has RB1 potential.

2. Doug Martin, 5-9, 223, Boise State
Drafted by: Tampa Bay in the 1st Round, No. 31 overall
Seasonal: A
Keeper/Dynasty: 1

New Bucs coach Greg Schiano wants to build his offense around the rushing attack. LeGarrette Blount has 1,788 yards combined in the last two years, but Martin is expected to emerge as Tampa Bay’s feature back. Martin isn’t flashy, but he brings power and deceptive speed. Expect the Boise State product to lead the team in rushing this season.

3. David Wilson, 5-10, 206, Virginia Tech
Drafted by: New York Giants in the 1st Round, No. 32 overall
Seasonal: A
Keeper/Dynasty: 1

Brandon Jacobs is gone, and Ahmad Bradshaw has struggled to stay healthy throughout his career. Wilson is expected to serve as Bradshaw’s backup this year, but he brings some much-needed speed and explosiveness to the backfield.

4. Isaiah Pead, 5-10, 197, Cincinnati
Drafted by: St. Louis in the 2nd Round, No. 50 overall
Seasonal: B
Keeper/Dynasty: 3

Steven Jackson is one of the league’s most dependable backs, but the Rams have neglected to address the depth behind him. Pead won’t log 20-25 carries per game, but he should be a change-of-pace option while contributing on passing downs and special teams. If you draft Jackson, be sure to swipe Pead as insurance.

5. LaMichael James, 5-8, 194, Oregon
Drafted by: San Francisco in the 2nd Round, No. 61 overall
Seasonal: B
Keeper/Dynasty: 3

James, a big-play machine while at Oregon, won’t be an every-down back, but look for the 49ers to use him in a variety of ways to save Frank Gore some wear and tear.

6. Bernard Pierce, 6-0, 218, Temple
Drafted by: Baltimore in the 3rd Round, No. 84 overall
Seasonal: C
Keeper/Dynasty: 4

Pierce was a workhorse at Temple, recording 663 carries over three seasons. With no backup for Ray Rice on the roster, Pierce should serve as Baltimore’s No. 2 back.

7. Ronnie Hillman, 5-9, 200, San Diego State
Drafted by: Denver in the 3rd Round, No. 67 overall
Seasonal: C
Keeper/Dynasty: 4

8. Chris Rainey, 5-8, 180, Florida
Drafted by: Pittsburgh in the 5th Round, No. 159 overall
Seasonal: C
Keeper/Dynasty: 4

9. Robert Turbin, 5-10, 222, Utah State
Drafted by: Seattle in the 4th Round, No. 106 overall
Seasonal: C
Keeper/Dynasty: 5

10. Lamar Miller, 5-11, 212, Miami (Fla.)
Drafted by: Miami in the 4th Round, No. 97 overall
Seasonal: C
Keeper/Dynasty: 4

— Originally published in the 2012 Athlon Sports NFL Fantasy Football preview magazine

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

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Teaser:
<p> 2012 Fantasy Football Rookie Roundup: Running Backs</p>
Post date: Monday, August 20, 2012 - 06:04
Path: /fantasy/2012-fantasy-football-rookie-roundup-wide-receivers-tight-ends
Body:

There's no shortage of draftable rookies from the offensive skill players who had their names called in April. With so many options available, Athlon Sports is here to help you break down this crop of talented rookies in terms of fantasy potential, both for 2012 and beyond.

KEY
Seasonal   Keeper/Dynasty    
A — Solid Draft Pick   1 — Blue Chipper   4 — Potential bye week fill-in
B — Late-round flier   2 — Potential stud   5 —Deep sleeper
C — Waiver wire   3 — Potential starter   UFA — Undrafted free agent

WIDE RECEIVERS

1. Justin Blackmon, 6-1, 207, Oklahoma State
Drafted by: Jacksonville in the 1st Round, No. 5 overall
Seasonal: A
Keeper/Dynasty: 1

Blackmon fills a huge void in Jacksonville’s offense. He is true a No. 1 receiver and go-to target for quarterback Blaine Gabbert. During his career at Oklahoma State, Blackmon averaged 14.1 yards per reception and caught 40 touchdown passes. His value is tied with Gabbert’s improvement, but Blackmon should be a WR3 in his rookie year.

2. Michael Floyd, 6-3, 220, Notre Dame
Drafted by: Arizona in the 1st Round, No. 13 overall
Seasonal: A
Keeper/Dynasty: 2

Since trading Anquan Boldin to Baltimore, the Cardinals haven’t found a solid No. 2 to pair with Larry Fitzgerald. Floyd should slide into the starting lineup this season, but his value will hinge on Arizona’s shaky quarterback play.

3. Kendall Wright, 5-10, 196, Baylor
Drafted by: Tennessee in the 1st Round, No. 20 overall
Seasonal: A
Keeper/Dynasty: 2

With Kenny Britt coming off knee surgery, Wright is expected to be a significant contributor this season. He was Robert Griffin’s go-to option at Baylor and should help the Titans stretch the field in 2012.

4. Rueben Randle, 6-4, 210, LSU
Drafted by: New York Giants in the 2nd Round, No. 63 overall
Seasonal: B
Keeper/Dynasty: 3

With Mario Manningham signing with the 49ers, Randle has an opportunity to become the Giants’ No. 3 option. However, his fantasy value could be limited with Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz locked into the top two spots.

5. Stephen Hill, 6-4, 215, Georgia Tech
Drafted by: New York Jets in the 2nd Round, No. 43 overall
Seasonal: B
Keeper/Dynasty: 3

Outside of Santonio Holmes, the Jets have no proven options at receiver. After playing in an option offense at Georgia Tech, Hill will need some time to adjust to NFL passing schemes and to become a better route-runner. He is a big-play threat, but considering the fact that his value will be limited this season, he looks to be a better pick in keeper formats.

6. DeVier Posey, 6-1, 211, Ohio State
Drafted by: Houston in the 3rd Round, No. 68 overall
Seasonal: B
Keeper/Dynasty: 3

Senior year at Ohio State was derailed by suspensions, but has the talent to be a future No. 2 receiver for the Texans.

7. Brian Quick, 6-3, 220, Appalachian State
Drafted by: St. Louis in the 2nd Round, No. 33 overall
Seasonal: B
Keeper/Dynasty: 3

Quick has good size and speed, but he is raw after playing on the FCS level in college.

8. Alshon Jeffery, 6-4, 230, South Carolina
Drafted by: Chicago in the 2nd Round, No. 45 overall
Seasonal: C
Keeper/Dynasty: 2

Was a disappointment in his final year at South Carolina but has the talent to be an eventual No. 1 receiver. Could be a good bargain in keeper formats.

9. Ryan Broyles, 5-10, 192, Oklahoma
Drafted by: Detroit in the 2nd Round, No. 54 overall
Seasonal: C
Keeper/Dynasty: 3

Broyles suffered a torn ACL late in the 2011 season, but his recovery has him on track to play in 2012. Should fit into the slot receiver role for the Lions.

10. T.J. Graham, 5-11, 188, NC State
Drafted by: Buffalo in the 3rd Round, No. 69 overall
Seasonal: C
Keeper/Dynasty: 4

Speedster should help stretch the field while contributing right away on special teams.

11. Joe Adams, 5-11, 179, Arkansas
Drafted by: Carolina in the 4th Round, No. 104 overall
Seasonal: C
Keeper/Dynasty: 3

12. Mohamed Sanu, 6-2, 211, Rutgers
Drafted by: Cincinnati in the 3rd Round, No. 83 overall
Seasonal: C
Keeper/Dynasty: 3

13. Jarius Wright, 5-10, 182, Arkansas
Drafted by: Minnesota in the 4th Round, No. 118 overall
Seasonal: C
Keeper/Dynasty: 3

14. A.J. Jenkins, 6-0, 192, Illinois
Drafted by: San Francisco in the 1st Round, No. 30 overall
Seasonal: C
Keeper/Dynasty: 3

15. Greg Childs, 6-3, 219, Arkansas
Drafted by: Minnesota in the 4th Round, No. 134 overall
Seasonal: C
Keeper/Dynasty: 3

UPDATE: Childs tore the patellar tendon in both knees attempting to catch a pass during an Aug. 4 intra-team scrimmage in training camp. He has been placed on injured reserved and is out for the season.

16. Juron Criner, 6-3, 224, Arizona
Drafted by: Oakland in the 5th Round, No. 168 overall
Seasonal: C
Keeper/Dynasty: 3

17. Nick Toon, 6-2, 215, Wisconsin
Drafted by: New Orleans in the 4th Round, No. 122 overall
Seasonal: C
Keeper/Dynasty: 3

18. T.Y Hilton, 5-10, 183, FIU
Drafted by: Indianapolis in the 3rd Round, No. 92 overall
Seasonal: C
Keeper/Dynasty: 4

19. Marvin Jones, 6-1, 199, California
Drafted by: Cincinnati in the 5th Round, No. 166 overall
Seasonal: C
Keeper/Dynasty: 3

20. Chris Givens, 5-11, 198, Wake Forest
Drafted by: St. Louis in the 4th Round, No. 96 overall
Seasonal: C
Keeper/Dynasty: 3

TIGHT ENDS

1. Coby Fleener, 6-6, 247, Stanford
Drafted by: Indianapolis in the 2nd Round, No. 34 overall
Seasonal: B
Keeper/Dynasty: 2

A young quarterback’s best friend is a playmaker at tight end, and that’s exactly what Fleener brings to the Colts. He played with Andrew Luck at Stanford, and at 6'6", he’s a nightmare matchup for defenses. Fleener should be the top rookie at his position but is likely a TE2 in fantasy drafts.

2. Dwayne Allen, 6-3, 255, Clemson
Drafted by: Indianapolis in the 3rd Round, No. 64 overall
Seasonal: B
Keeper/Dynasty: 3

Allen will struggle as a blocker, but he should help to stretch the middle of the field for Andrew Luck.

3. Orson Charles, 6-2, 251, Georgia
Drafted by: Cincinnati in the 4th Round, No. 116 overall
Seasonal: C
Keeper/Dynasty: 3

Needs another year or two to develop and is behind Jermaine Gresham on the depth chart.

4. Michael Egnew, 6-5, 252, Missouri
Drafted by: Miami in the 3rd Round, No. 78 overall
Seasonal: C
Keeper/Dynasty: 4

Egnew isn’t a strong blocker, but his receiving ability will be a safety net for Miami quarterbacks.

— Originally published in the 2012 Athlon Sports NFL Fantasy Football preview magazine

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 Rookie Roundup: Wide Receivers &amp; Tight Ends</p>
Post date: Monday, August 20, 2012 - 06:03
Path: /fantasy/fantasy-football-2012-breaking-down-detroit-lions
Body:

What can the Detroit Lions 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 John Niyo, Detroit News

Will any running back be able to stay healthy and provide fantasy production for Detroit this year, or should we stay away from all Lions’ backs?
It’s buyer beware with the running backs. Assuming Jahvid Best shows no ill effects from contact in preseason, he’s still a home run threat and an elite receiver out of the backfield. But he only made it to Week 6 in 2011, and his rookie year was derailed by turf-toe injuries in Week 2. So the Lions will try to limit his workload, using him in tandem with Mikel Leshoure, who insists he’ll be ready for the regular season coming off a torn Achilles. Leshoure also faces a possible NFL suspension after a pair of drug-related arrests this winter, though, so Kevin Smith figures to share duties as well.

Who will be the Lions’ No. 2 fantasy receiver? Aging veteran Nate Burleson, second-year deep threat Titus Young or rookie slot Ryan Broyles?
Young showed he has the talent to be the No. 2 option with 48 catches and six TDs — four in the last four weeks — as a rookie. If he can avoid the diva behavior, he’s the one who’ll stretch the field and put up the bigger numbers opposite Calvin Johnson. But Burleson’s still good for 50- or 60-plus catches while the Lions groom Broyles — coming off a torn ACL last November — as his likely replacement.

Brandon Pettigrew has increased his catch, yardage and TD totals in each of his three seasons. Can he do it again?
Pettigrew still drops a few too many passes, and with so many other red-zone options — not to mention his talent as a blocking tight end — he’ll probably never completely satisfy fantasy owners.

Athlon's Best Bets

Sleeper: Mikel Leshoure, RB
Deep-Sleeper: Titus Young, WR
Overvalued: Kyle Vanden Bosch, DL
Top Rookie: Ryan Broyles, WR
Bounce-Back: Jahvid Best, RB
Top IDP: Stephen Tulloch, LB

2012 Draft Class

1. Riley Reiff T 6-6 313 Iowa
2. Ryan Broyles WR 5-10 192 Oklahoma
3. Dwight Bentley CB 5-10 182 UL Lafayette
4. Ronnell Lewis DE 6-1 253 Oklahoma
5. Tahir Whitehead LB 6-1 233 Temple
5. Chris Greenwood CB 6-1 193 Albion
6. Jonte Green CB 6-0 184 New Mexico State
7. Travis Lewis LB 6-1 246 Oklahoma

Fantasy Impact: In order for the Lions to make a run at the Super Bowl, they have to keep quarterback Matt Stafford healthy. So it’s really no surprise that Detroit chose to address the offensive line in the first round, selecting Iowa’s Riley Reiff as someone who could play on the left or right side in 2012. Receiver Ryan Broyles suffered a torn ACL late in the 2011 season but is expected to be ready to contribute early in the year. He likely will slide into the slot receiver role.

Fantasy Playoff Run: Weeks 14-16 (at GB, at ARI, ATL)

Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson played 16 games last year and were lights out. Now, Megatron lands on this year’s Madden cover. If he beats the jinx, then the QB-WR duo will face what was a score-at-will pass defense that Green Bay put up last season, an Arizona defense that was eighth-worst against fantasy WRs and a middle-of-the-road Falcons fantasy defense.

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 Detroit Lions</p>
Post date: Monday, August 20, 2012 - 06:02
Path: /fantasy/fantasy-football-2012-breaking-down-denver-broncos
Body:

What can the Denver Broncos 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 Armstrong, Freelance Writer

Is Peyton Manning still Peyton Manning?
Enter at your own risk when it comes to the injury factor, but the fact is, he was Favre-esque from a durability standpoint before his neck issues. Manning began working with his new receivers from his earliest moments in Denver, and he, like everyone else in the organization, believes there is major talent there that went untapped with Tim Tebow under center. The bottom line: Look for 30-plus TD passes.

Can both Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas be week-in, week-out fantasy producers, or is one clearly the top Manning target?
Unfortunately, Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas share a common bond: Both have had injury issues that have kept them from becoming major impact players. Add in Tim Tebow’s throwing issues and it was no surprise that neither put up impressive numbers in 2011. Now for the flip side: Both are big, fast and hungry to make their marks in the NFL. Jot down each as a major sleeper in fantasy drafts. Thomas is the bigger home run threat, and Decker will work the middle of the field.

After coming to Denver with Manning with his first chance as a starter, what do you expect from Jacob Tamme?
It was no coincidence that Jacob Tamme and Joel Dreessen were signed within hours of each other. The plan is for them to provide a package, with Dreessen doing most of the blocking and Tamme expected to put up significant receiving numbers. Given his history with Manning, there’s no reason to think he won’t catch a ton of TD passes.

Athlon's Best Bets

Sleeper: Eric Decker, WR
Deep-Sleeper: Gerell Robinson, WR
Overvalued: None
Top Rookie: Ronnie Hillman, RB
Bounce-Back: Peyton Manning, QB
Top IDP: D.J. Williams, LB

2012 Draft Class

2. Derek Wolfe DT 6-5 295 Cincinnati
2. Brock Osweiler QB 6-7 242 Arizona State
3. Ronnie Hillman RB 5-10 192 San Diego State
4. Omar Bolden CB 5-10 195 Arizona State
4. Philip Blake C 6-2 311 Baylor
5. Malik Jackson DE 6-6 290 Tennessee
6. Danny Trevathan LB 6-1 232 Kentucky

Fantasy Impact: The Broncos made their biggest acquisition through free agency, signing Peyton Manning to be the team’s starting quarterback. Although Manning will likely start for the next two or three years, Denver selected Brock Osweiler to learn under the future Hall of Famer. Osweiler holds value in long-term keeper leagues and is unlikely to play in 2012. Ronnie Hillman isn’t a three-down back but should be a valuable change-of-pace option to Willis McGahee. Consider Hillman a late-round pick in redraft leagues and a fringe keeper selection.

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

The Broncos should score more than the 40 points they did in last year’s three fantasy postseason weeks. The Raiders allowed 46 points in Week 14 alone last season. But it could get a lot tougher after facing Oakland’s 31st-ranked fantasy defense against QBs. Peyton Manning will face off against Baltimore’s top-ranked fantasy defense against QBs and Cleveland’s third-ranked defense against QBs.

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 Denver Broncos</p>
Post date: Monday, August 20, 2012 - 06:01
Path: /fantasy/fantasy-football-2012-breaking-down-cleveland-browns
Body:

What can the Cleveland Browns 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 Pat McManamon, Fox Sports Ohio

Will Trent Richardson be eased into pro competition or will he get the lion’s share of the carries immediately?
Richardson will not ease into anything. The Browns drafted him third overall and traded up to get him to make him their primary running back. Richardson wants to be the primary back, and the Browns will not let him down. The only thing that would keep him from 20 to 25 carries per game is injury.

Can Greg Little blossom into an every-week fantasy receiver?
If he learns to catch the ball and not drop it he could be a very good second or third receiver on a fantasy roster. Little has outstanding skills — size, strength, speed. He can run routes short and long. He just has to translate those skills into the NFL game. His problem last season was 14 drops, which is way too many for a professional. Little did not play at North Carolina his final season due to NCAA issues, so the drops may have been the result of re-adjusting to football. At least the Browns hope it was.

Which tight end is the best to target as a late-round sleeper?
Tough call. Ben Watson is coming off concussions, which is always iffy. And Evan Moore never lived up to the preseason hype he generated. If Watson is healthy, he will be more productive. He is a more well-rounded tight end who is very adept at catching the ball down the seam — the 20-to-25-yard routes that quarterbacks love. But if Moore lives up to expectations, he could be a better value given he could score more touchdowns because he causes matchup issues in the red zone. It’s a very close call, but go with Moore.

Athlon's Best Bets

Sleeper: Greg Little, WR
Deep-Sleeper: Evan Moore, TE
Overvalued: None
Top Rookie: Trent Richardson, RB
Bounce-Back: T.J. Ward, S
Top IDP: D'Qwell Jackson, LB

2012 Draft Class

1. Trent Richardson RB 5-10 228 Alabama
1. Brandon Weeden QB 6-3 221 Oklahoma State
2. Mitchell Schwartz T 6-5 317 California
3. John Hughes DT 6-3 306 Cincinnati
4. Travis Benjamin WR 5-10 175 Miami
4. James-Michael Johnson LB 6-1 240 Nevada
5. Ryan Miller G 6-8 295 Colorado
6. Emmanuel Acho LB 6-2 238 Texas
6. Billy Winn DE 6-3 296 Boise State
7. Trevin Wade CB 5-11 190 Arizona
7. Brad Smelley FB 6-2 233 Alabama

Fantasy Impact: Trent Richardson should be the top rookie fantasy pick for 2012 and has a chance to be one of the top 15 RBs off the board in preseason drafts. At 28 years old, Brandon Weeden has the tools necessary to succeed.

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

All right, Trent Richardson, you played 13 games to lead Alabama to a national title last season; now play three more like that to get us a fantasy championship. Richardson will start the playoffs against teams that were 10th- and 11th-worst against fantasy running backs and a Washington team that was 20th-worst. And none of the three has made dramatic defensive improvements.

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 Cleveland Browns</p>
Post date: Monday, August 20, 2012 - 06:00
Path: /fantasy/fantasy-football-2012-breaking-down-chicago-bears
Body:

What can the Chicago Bears 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 Bob LeGere, Daily (Ill.) Herald

Who will be more affected by their season-ending injury last fall, Jay Cutler or Matt Forte?
It’s unlikely that either player will have a problem. Forte came back from his sprained knee and played in the Pro Bowl in February, so his physical status isn’t in question. There are also no indications that Cutler has any lingering problems from his thumb injury. But because he could be susceptible to re-injuring the thumb every time he takes a snap from under center, there’s a slim chance he could be adversely affected.

Brandon Marshall caught 206 passes in two years as a starter with Jay Cutler in Denver. He caught 167 passes in two years in Miami. Which Marshall will owners be drafting in 2012?
Forté has caught over 50 passes in each of his four seasons and was on pace for 70 last season before he was hurt. The Bears want to involve the tight ends more this year, and they still want to utilize Devin Hester. And Earl Bennett will also be involved. So Marshall is more likely to have 80-some catches than 100 or so.

Is there a tight end on this roster worth drafting?
Probably not, even though new offensive coordinator Mike Tice will throw to the tight ends more than his predecessor Mike Martz did in 2011. Kellen Davis led the team with five TD catches last season, and he averaged a respectable 11.4 yards per catch, but he had a total of just 18 receptions.

Athlon's Best Bets

Sleeper: Michael Bush, RB
Deep-Sleeper: Earl Bennett, WR
Overvalued: Matt Forte, RB
Top Rookie: Alshon Jeffery, WR
Bounce-Back: Jay Cutler, QB
Top IDP: Charles Tillman, CB

2012 Draft Class

1. Shea McClellin DE 6-3 260 Boise State
2. Alshon Jeffery WR 6-3 216 South Carolina
3. Brandon Hardin SS 6-3 222 Oregon State
4. Evan Rodriguez TE 6-2 239 Temple
6. Isaiah Frey CB 5-11 190 Nevada
7. Greg McCoy CB 5-10 178 TCU

Fantasy Impact: The wild card of the Bears’ draft is second-round selection Alshon Jeffery. The South Carolina product had a standout sophomore campaign in 2010 but caught only 49 passes in 2011. Jeffery isn’t likely to have much fantasy value in 2012, especially with Chicago’s acquisition of Brandon Marshall. Julius Peppers is entrenched at one end spot, but the Bears needed another player to help get after the quarterback. Shea McClellin should bolster the pass rush off the edge and is a player to monitor in IDP leagues. The Bears lack an elite tight end, which could allow Evan Rodriguez to see playing time right away.

Fantasy Playoff Run: Weeks 14-16 (at MIN, GB, at ARI)

Chicago, please keep Jay Cutler upright. Two games in domes and one at home make for an appetizing postseason schedule. Add in Minnesota’s and Green Bay’s ranks against fantasy QBs (32nd and 28th, respectively), and it gets even more appealing. Green Bay went defense with its first six picks of the draft, and Minnesota added two rookies to its secondary in the first three rounds of the draft.

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 Chicago Bears</p>
Post date: Friday, August 17, 2012 - 06:03
Path: /fantasy/fantasy-football-2012-breaking-down-carolina-panthers
Body:

What can the Carolina Panthers 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 Fowler, Charlotte Observer

What sort of impact does Mike Tolbert have on the Jonathan Stewart-DeAngelo Williams timeshare?
Not nearly as major as Cam Newton’s eye for the end zone does, but it will have some impact. In terms of TDs, Williams (seven) and Stewart (five) combined didn’t have as many as Newton last season if you count only the QB’s rushing TDs (14), much less his passing TDs (21). Ron Rivera says he wants to use Tolbert on occasional carries for short yardage and also to flare out of the backfield for passes (which would affect Stewart far more than Williams, as the Panthers throw a lot more to Stewart). Tolbert’s main job, however, will be blocking. Bottom line: Williams and Stewart will still get the bulk of the carries between the 20s, but the Panthers were so successful with Newton running the ball last season near the goal line, so that probably won’t change much. So Williams and Stewart, with the addition of Tolbert, will be slightly less valuable as fantasy players, but not much. Tolbert’s impact will be felt slightly more by Stewart since he will sometimes be the Panthers’ third-down back.

Is there any chance Cam Newton can duplicate the numbers from his record-setting rookie season?
Absolutely. Probably not in rushing touchdowns — the Panthers don’t really want him running the ball quite as much due to injury concerns. Newton set an all-time record for quarterbacks last season with 14 TDs. But his passing TDs (a modest 21) should go up. So his overall total of 35 TDs is certainly reachable, if he can stay healthy (always a question for a running quarterback).

Who is the No. 2 pass-catching option on this offense?
Greg Olsen. To casual fans, he’s a tight end with limited fantasy appeal (540 yards, five TDs in 2011 while splitting time and numbers with Jeremy Shockey). But Olsen’s hands are fantastic, Shockey is gone and Newton loves him on third down in particular. He could be a value pick for fantasy tight ends.

As for wide receivers, Brandon LaFell is a big-play threat (17 yards per catch last season) but not great over the middle. David Gettis will also be a factor early. For the receivers, it’s still Steve Smith at No.1 and "receiver-by-committee" at No.2.

Athlon's Best Bets

Sleeper: David Gettis, WR
Deep-Sleeper: Joe Adams, WR
Overvalued: Cam Newton, QB
Top Rookie: Luke Kuechly, LB
Bounce-Back: James Anderson, LB
Top IDP: Charles Johnson, DE

2012 Draft Class

1. Luke Kuechly LB 6-3 243 Boston College
2. Amini Silatolu G 6-4 314 Midwestern St. (TX)
4. Frank Alexander DE 6-4 271 Oklahoma
4. Joe Adams WR 5-11 181 Arkansas
5. Josh Norman CB 6-0 190 Coastal Carolina
6. Brad Nortman P 6-2 209 Wisconsin
7. D.J. Campbell S 6-0 200 California

Fantasy Impact: The Panthers focused this year’s draft on upgrading the defense. Linebacker Luke Kuechly is expected to start right away and was one of college football’s leading tacklers throughout his career at Boston College. He should be targeted in IDP leagues as a late-round sleeper. Frank Alexander should help bolster the pass rush but is probably a long-shot to produce value in IDP formats. Joe Adams will immediately help on special teams and should work his way into snaps on offense as a No. 3 or No. 4 receiver.

Fantasy Playoff Run: Weeks 14-16 (ATL, at SD, OAK)

The Panthers’ defense struggled mightily with injuries, and it showed with an emphatic end to the 2012 season — 45 points and 617 yards allowed to New Orleans. Carolina went defense in the first round, fittingly with a linebacker, but that likely won’t help against its three fantasy postseason opponents. As a result, the Panthers offense should put up good numbers trying to keep pace.

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Teaser:
<p> Fantasy Football 2012: Breaking Down the Carolina Panthers</p>
Post date: Friday, August 17, 2012 - 06:01
Path: /fantasy/fantasy-football-2012-breaking-down-buffalo-bills
Body:

What can the Buffalo Bills 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 Leo Roth, Rochester Democrat and Chronicle

At 31, can Fred Jackson return from a broken leg and finish what he started in the first half of 2011?
There’s no reason to believe he can’t. The versatile back suffered a hairline fracture in his fibula against Miami on Nov. 20 and likely would’ve been back for the playoffs had there been playoffs for the awful Bills. Jackson was averaging 137.6 all-purpose yards per game at the time of his injury. The only thing that can prevent him from repeating that kind of production is reduced playing time, a very real possibility with the emergence of C.J. Spiller.

How many touches per game can fans expect from C.J. Spiller?
This isn’t easily answered. Spiller, the ninth overall pick in 2010, saw his carries per game increase from 2.1 per game to 14.3 over the final six games as the starting running back after Jackson’s injury. He responded in kind with 446 yards rushing (5.2 average) while adding 24 catches for 187 yards. Jackson and Spiller combined to average just over 20 touches per game in Chan Gailey’s offense. That’s barely enough work for one back, let alone two.

Ryan Fitzpatrick threw 15 TDs and nine INTs when the Bills went 5–3 in the first half of 2011. He threw nine TDs and 11 INTs while the Bills went 1–7 in the final eight games. Which Fitzpatrick can fans expect in 2012?
Probably the first-half Fitzpatrick now that he’s had a full offseason to heal from the rib injury that undoubtedly affected his play over the final eight games. If it’s the second-half Fitzpatrick that shows up in September, the fans will start calling for new backup QB Vince Young.

Athlon's Best Bets

Sleeper: C.J. Spiller, RB
Deep-Sleeper: David Nelson, WR
Overvalued: Fred Jackson, RB
Top Rookie: Stephon Gilmore, CB
Bounce-Back: Ryan Fitzpatrick, QB
Top IDP: Mario Williams, DE

2012 Draft Class

1. Stephon Gilmore CB 6-0 190 South Carolina
2. Cordy Glenn T 6-5 343 Georgia
3. T.J. Graham WR 6-0 180 NC State
4. Nigel Bradham LB 6-2 240 Florida State
4. Ron Brooks CB 5-10 188 LSU
5. Zebrie Sanders T 6-6 318 Florida State
5. Tank Carder LB 6-3 237 TCU
6. Mark Asper G 6-7 325 Oregon
7. John Potter K 6-2 209 Western Michigan

Fantasy Impact: Upgrading the defense was the offseason’s top priority. After acquiring Mario Williams to bolster the front seven, Buffalo addressed the secondary by selecting Stephon Gilmore in the first round. Receiver T.J. Graham could be a factor on special teams, and his speed will help stretch defenses and help to take the pressure off of Stevie Johnson.

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

It’s hard to say what the Bills will face here as they take on two teams headed by new coaching staffs and a Seattle team that drafted defense with eight of its 10 picks. Plus, who will be consistent for Buffalo? Ryan Fitzpatrick had no receivers inside the top 15 in fantasy production last season. Running back Fred Jackson was on a tear but got injured. Good luck.

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Teaser:
<p> Fantasy Football 2012: Breaking Down the Buffalo Bills</p>
Post date: Friday, August 17, 2012 - 05:59
All taxonomy terms: Fantasy Football, Fantasy
Path: /fantasy/fantasy-football-2012-best-offensive-lines-help-running-game
Body:

Here’s a revelation for you: Good blocking helps the running game. You already knew that, but how much did you consider it in your drafts last year? Probably not as much as you should have.

ProFootballFocus.com has four years’ worth of ratings for both individual players and whole teams (see chart, below). Among the top 16 teams — or the top half of the NFL — in run-blocking in each of those years, at least 10 have also finished among the top 16 in fantasy scoring for running backs.

The 2011 season produced 10 such teams. In 2009 and ‘10, 11 of the top 16 in PFF run-blocking also ranked top 16 in running back points. In 2008, 13 of the top 16 did.

Conversely, each of the past four seasons has also seen at least 10 of the 16 worst run-blocking teams rank in the bottom 16 in running back scoring.

Top running backs can still overcome poor blocking, as Chris Johnson did in 2010 — but not in 2011 — and mediocre running backs won’t turn stud just because of a few holes (Shonn Greene). It’s undeniable, however, that some talented big guys up front make life easier in the backfield.

With that in mind, which lines will help their runners most?

New England
New England is the only team to rank among the top 10 in run-blocking for each of the four seasons PFF has graded. The Patriots finished second from 2008-10 and then third in 2011. Last year was the only time within that stretch that the team failed to rank among the league’s top eight in fantasy scoring for running backs. Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen will begin with an advantage whenever they step onto the field. And don’t expect the retirement of left tackle Matt Light to hurt. Replacement Nate Solder was rated the team’s best run-blocker as a 2011 rookie right tackle.

New Orleans
The Saints ranked fifth in run-blocking in both 2011 and 2009, and fourth in 2008. They dipped to 16th in 2010, hurt by a down year for star guard Jahri Evans. Other guard Carl Nicks bolted for Tampa and a big free agent contract, but Baltimore free agent Ben Grubbs replaces him. Grubbs ranked eighth and 15th, respectively, among NFL guards in run-blocking the past two seasons, according to PFF.

N.Y. Jets
Right tackle Wayne Hunter took a lot of the blame for the Jets’ decline last year, but every lineman other than center Nick Mangold performed worse than the year before. And yet, the team still managed to rank 12th in run-blocking. Hunter remains the weakest link, but he doesn’t appear to be going anywhere unless Vladimir Ducasse beats him out in camp. Either way, this should remain a solid group. Now the Jets just need a running back to play up to the line’s level.

Philadelphia
The Eagles will miss left tackle Jason Peters. The question is: How much? PFF ranked Demetress Bell 21st among 76 qualifying tackles in run-blocking last year. That came over just seven games, and injury has been the biggest impediment to Bell’s career. He’ll play next to the No. 1 run-blocking guard in the league last year, Evan Mathis. The rest of the group is solid and led by veteran coach Howard Mudd. Most would probably be surprised to find out that the Eagles ranked 14th and ninth in run-blocking the two years preceding Mudd’s arrival. Upside remains with center Jason Kelce and guard Danny Watkins as well.

Jacksonville
The Jags finished each of the past two years among the top 10 and each of the past four among the top 16. Guard Will Rackley needs to improve, and there needs to be much less Guy Whimper. The team didn’t draft a challenger there, so it must feel good about Eben Britton.

Arizona
The Cards boasted the sixth-best run-blocking unit in the league last year, according to PFF, but still felt the need to upgrade. The Cardinals signed guard Adam Snyder to replace Rex Hadnot and drafted Ole Miss tackle Bobby Massie. Massie, a potential steal, could push disappointing left tackle Levi Brown.

— By Matt Schauf, originally published in the 2012 Athlon Sports NFL Fantasy Football preview magazine

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Teaser:
<p> Fantasy Football 2012: Best Offensive Lines to Help the Running Game</p>
Post date: Friday, August 17, 2012 - 05:59
Path: /fantasy/fantasy-football-2012-breaking-down-cincinnati-bengals
Body:

What can the Cincinnati Bengals 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 Keith Goheen, Freelance Writer

Can BenJarvus Green-Ellis flourish in a full-time workhorse role or will Bernard Scott finally deliver on his big-play potential?
The Bengals won’t ask Green-Ellis to be the prototypical workhorse back, not in the manner that Cedric Benson was used for the past few seasons. Green-Ellis is a better receiver out of the backfield, and the thrust of this offense is going to be through the air. The Bengals are banking on Green-Ellis to continue his production in the red zone and goal-to-go situations. Scott’s role could expand some, but he won’t get enough carries to be overly enticing to fantasy owners.

Who should owners target at wide receiver after A.J. Green has been taken?
The Bengals have several unproven candidates who could be worth a late-round investment. Rookie Mohamed Sanu caught 115 passes as a senior at Rutgers, but the Bengals also like fifth-round pick Marvin Jones. A sleeper choice? Former University of Cincinnati receiver Armon Binns, who spent most of last season on the practice squad.

Can Jermaine Gresham provide more than just touchdowns in this offense?
He started to show some of that last season and, with the lack of a proven No. 2 receiver opposite A.J. Green, Gresham will get more opportunities this season. He took a step forward in his overall game in 2011, but he’s got potential for much greater things.

Athlon's Best Bets

Sleeper: BenJarvus Green-Ellis, RB
Deep-Sleeper: Dan Herron, RB
Overvalued: None
Top Rookie: Mohamed Sanu, WR
Bounce-Back: None
Top IDP: Ray Maualuga, LB

2012 Draft Class

1. Dre Kirkpatrick CB 6-1 186 Alabama
1. Kevin Zeitler OG 6-4 314 Wisconsin
2. Devon Still DT 6-5 303 Penn State
3. Mohamed Sanu WR 6-2 211 Rutgers
3. Brandon Thompson DT 6-2 314 Clemson
4. Orson Charles TE 6-2 251 Georgia
5. Shaun Prater CB 5-10 190 Iowa
5. Marvin Jones WR 6-1 199 California
5. George Iloka S 6-4 225 Boise State
6. Dan Herron RB 5-10 213 Ohio State

Fantasy Impact: A.J. Green is set as the Bengals’ No. 1 receiver, but Mohamed Sanu could be the team’s No. 2 or No. 3 option this year. Orson Charles is still developing and will likely be Cincinnati’s No. 2 tight end behind Jermaine Gresham. Marvin Jones is a steady wide receiver and could earn snaps this season.

Fantasy Playoff Run: Weeks 14-16 (DAL, at PHI, at PIT)

This is probably one of the least desirable fantasy postseason schedules. Two of the three games are on the road. Fantasy championship week is at Pittsburgh — second-best against fantasy QBs, WRs and TEs in 2011. It’s not much better the previous week, as Philadelphia was in the top half against the three aforementioned positions as well.

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Teaser:
<p> A fantasy football perspective on the team</p>
Post date: Thursday, August 16, 2012 - 12:45
All taxonomy terms: Dallas Cowboys, Jason Witten, NFL, Monthly, News
Path: /nfl/cowboys-jason-witten-injures-spleen-week-1-status-doubt
Body:

Dallas Cowboys tight end Jason Witten suffered a lacerated spleen in Monday's preseason game against Oakland, putting his Week 1 availability very much in doubt.

The two-time All-Pro and seven-time Pro Bowler has a "very serious" small laceration that caused internal bleeding. The team said his spleen is not ruptured, but if his condition does not improve he may still require surgery which would sideline him indefinitely. For now, Witten will certainly miss the remainder of the preseason and there's a strong chance he will miss the Sept. 5 season-opener against the defending Super Bowl champion and NFC East rival New York Giants.

Witten suffered the injury on a hit from Raiders' linebacker Rolando McClain in the first quarter of Monday's game. Witten missed the next several plays, but eventually returned to the field and caught one more pass before the starters were removed from the game. A more thorough examination after the game disclosed the injury.

While the team waits to see if Witten's condition improves or gets worse over the next week or so, the Cowboys' offense will need to figure out what it's going to do without one of its top offensive playmakers. Since 2004, Witten has averaged 83 catches and 945 yards receiving a season. He’s also caught 40 touchdowns during that same eight-season span.

Witten, who has missed just one game in his entire career so far, is 55 receptions away from passing Hall of Fame wide receiver Michael Irvin to become the Cowboys' all-time leading receiver. Witten's 696 career catches are the third-most by a tight end in NFL history.

No one will miss Witten more than quarterback Tony Romo. Since 2006, when Romo became the Cowboys' starting quarterback, more than a quarter of his total completions (439 of 1,672) and 14 percent of his touchdown passes (21 of 149) have gone to Witten.

With Witten on the sidelines, Romo and the Cowboys' offense will turn to John Phillips as the starting tight end. Phillips, a four-year pro out of Virginia, played in all 16 games for the Cowboys in the 2009 and '11 seasons. He has caught a total of 22 passes for 163 yards and one touchdown in his brief career. Phillips didn't play in Monday's game as he has been limited by a sprained ankle.

The only other tight ends the Cowboys have on the roster currently are 2012 sixth-round pick James Hanna from Oklahoma, undrafted rookie Andrew Szczerba (Penn State) and Harry Flaherty, who was added as a result of Witten's injury. Hanna and Szczerba both caught passes on Monday night, but clearly they nor Phillips are near as established or feared as Witten. The team also may decide to bring in another veteran tight end at some point, depending on how Hanna and Szczerba respond to taking on larger roles in the offense.

And speaking of the Cowboys' offense, expect to see some changes in how head coach Jason Garrett and offensive coordinator Bill Callahan employ the passing attack. The onus is now on receivers Miles Austin, Dez Bryant, Kevin Ogletree, Dwayne Harris, etc., as well as running backs DeMarco Murray and Felix Jones to step up their production in Witten's absence. Romo also will need to show trust in his receivers and backs since he will be without his favorite target for the immediate future, if not longer.

FANTASY SPIN: Among tight ends, Witten finished the 2011 season tied for fifth in receptions (79) and third in receiving yards (942). Between his consistent production and obvious chemistry with Romo, Witten entered the season as a clear-cut top-10 fantasy tight end option, and was top-five according to some rankings. However, with the uncertainty surrounding his injury and how long it will keep him out, Witten should probably move down the list as players like Fred Davis, Jermichael Finley, Aaron Hernandez, Brandon Pettigrew, and perhaps even Tony Gonzalez are currently safer options. For now, draft Witten with caution as there's a chance he could be out an extended period of time, especially if it's determined he will need surgery.

As far as the rest of the Cowboys' offense goes, ignore the tight end position until further notice, or at the very least, until one of other options shows some proof of production. The emphasis is now on the wide receivers and running backs, specifically to see if any of them can take advantage of Witten’s absence.

Romo attempted 522 passes last season, which was 11th among quarterbacks, with Witten being targeted for 117 of those. That was the most on the team and the fourth-most among tight ends. Assuming Dallas doesn’t change its offensive game plan drastically, it’s safe to assume that Witten’s targets will have to go elsewhere.

Bryant was the second-most targeted Cowboy in 2011 with 103, but he’s also yet to make it through a complete season without missing at least one game. Austin had more receiving yards (2,361) and touchdown catches (18) than Witten did in the 2009 and ’10 seasons combined, but hamstring injuries limited him to just 10 games last season. If he’s healthy, he should be considered the lead contender to become Romo’s favorite target.

It’s not a stretch to expect both Bryant and Austin’s numbers to go up at least slightly as long as Witten is sidelined. However, the greatest opportunity exists for whoever wins the No. 3 receiver job, whether that is Ogletree, Harris or someone else.

Remember, last year it was Laurent Robinson, not Bryant or Austin or even Witten, who led the Cowboys in touchdown catches with 11. Robinson took full advantage of Austin’s injuries to break out for 54 receptions, 858 yards receiving and a tie for the fourth-most touchdown catches in the league. Robinson parlayed his breakthrough season into a five-year, $32.5 million contract that he signed with Jacksonville as a free agent this offseason.

Even if Austin and Bryant stay healthy, which is no guarantee, Witten’s absence probably means the Cowboys will run even more three- and four-wide receiver sets than they normally would. With Robinson off to the Jaguars, the opportunity is clearly there for one of the other Cowboy receivers to step up and establish themselves.

Robinson was one of fantasy’s biggest sleepers and surprises last season. For now, it appears the pieces are all there for a repeat performance by another unknown Cowboy receiver in 2012. The question is which one and will you be paying close enough attention to pounce when the time is right.

— By Mark Ross, published on August 16, 2012

Teaser:
<p> Cowboys' Jason Witten Injures Spleen, Week 1 Status in Doubt</p>
Post date: Thursday, August 16, 2012 - 12:15
Path: /fantasy/how-2011-fantasy-football-busts-will-do-2012
Body:

There are first-round flops and high-priced mistakes made in every fantasy draft, every season. Here’s a look at those players who failed to live up to their expectations in 2011, and a preview of what to expect from those “busts” in 2012.

Philip Rivers, QB, Chargers
2011 stats: 16 games, 4,624 yards, 27 TDs, 20 INTs, rush TD, five lost fumbles
What went wrong in 2011: Rivers scored 12 total TDs and lost 17 turnovers over the first eight games of the season, sinking many fantasy teams in the process.
What to expect in 2012: A return to 2009-11 form, when Rivers averaged 4,324 yards, 31 TDs and 11 INTs. As an added bonus, Rivers has played all 96 games since taking over for Drew Brees in 2006.

Michael Vick, QB, Eagles
2011 stats: 13 games, 3,303 pass yards, 18 TDs, 14 INTs; 589 rush yards, TD
What went wrong in 2011: Fantasy owners struck gold with Vick as a waiver wire pickup in 2010. The electric lefty was a Vick-tim of his own success and subsequent expectations in 2011. Athlon Sports warned to “Beware of Vick” in last year’s magazine. A nightmare season for Vick was a distinct possibility for the “Dream Team” quarterback.
What to expect in 2012: Vick has not played as many as 15 games since the 2006 season — his only 16-game campaign. But he is still capable of carrying a team any given week. (Remember the six-total-TD effort against the Redskins on Monday Night Football?)

LeGarrette Blount, RB, Buccaneers
2011 stats: 781 rush yards, five TDs, 15 receptions for 148 yards
What went wrong in 2011: Blount TKO’d all scoring systems with 977 rush yards and five TDs over the last 11 weeks of 2010. A sophomore slump, however, failed to produce those same numbers in 14 games.
What to expect in 2012: Tampa Bay drafted Boise State running back Doug Martin in the first round. Blount could vulture a few TDs like Mike Alstott did during Warrick Dunn’s heyday, but don’t expect a ton of a carries out of the former Oregon Duck.

Mark Ingram, RB, Saints
2011 stats: 10 games, 474 rush yards, five TDs, 11 receptions for 46 yards
What went wrong in 2011: Despite playing in a high-octane offense, Ingram struggled to put stats on the ledger. Worse, he was easily bruised and battled a turf toe (among other ailments) for much of the season.
What to expect in 2012: Still searching for his first career 100-yard game, Ingram will almost certainly have a better sophomore campaign — if only because there’s nowhere to go but up.

Chris Johnson, RB, Titans
2011 stats: Four years, $53.5 million … Oh, and 16 games, 1,047 rush yards, four TDs, 57 receptions for 418 yards
What went wrong in 2011: First, Johnson held out for a new contract. After the NFL lockout ended, he arrived in a Titans camp that included a new coach, coordinator and quarterback. Once the season started, CJ couldn’t find his once-feared first step.
What to expect in 2012: With a chip on his shoulder and cash in his pocket, expect CJ to run like Usain Bolt this year. As one of the few feature backs, Johnson’s upside is much greater than his first-round risk.

Rashard Mendenhall, RB, Steelers
2011 stats: 15 games, 928 rush yards, nine TDs, 18 receptions for 154 yards
What went wrong in 2011: The year got off on the wrong foot with a few regrettable Tweets. In Weeks 1-14, Mendenhall topped the 100-yard mark once, while rushing for 70 or fewer yards in 10 games.
What to expect in 2012: Mendenhall tore the ACL in his right knee in Week 17. He’s damaged goods and coming off a bad year. Let one of the Steelers fans in the draft reach for Mendenhall.

DeSean Jackson, WR, Eagles
2011 stats: 15 games, 58 receptions for 961 yards, four TDs, 41 rush yards
What went wrong in 2011: D-Jax pouted for a new contract and played down to his attitude level with numbers comparable to his rookie year — not the two years prior, when he had a combined 2,453 yards from scrimmage and 20 total TDs.
What to expect in 2012: Not happy with an unhappy Jackson, the Eagles paid their top wideout. An undeniably talented headcase, Jackson is the definition of a boom-or-bust pick — especially now that he’s been paid.

Chad Ochocinco, WR, Patriots
2011 stats: 15 games, 15 receptions for 276 yards and one TD
What went wrong in 2011: Ochocinco had uno or dos catches in 10 games and nada in the other five contests.
What to expect in 2012: Well, he changed his last name back to Johnson (again), signed with his hometown team, the Dolphins, and then promptly messed up what could he his last shot in the NFL with yet another off-fiend incident. So to sum it all up, should you draft the receiver-formerly-known-as-Ochocinco? Child please.

Reggie Wayne, WR, Colts
2011 stats: 16 games, 75 receptions for 960 yards and four TDs
What went wrong in 2011: The Colts replaced Peyton Manning with Curtis Painter, Dan Orlovsky and Kerry Collins. As a result, Wayne failed to reach the 1,000-yard mark for the first time since 2003 and scored his fewest TDs since 2002.
What to expect in 2012: With Andrew Luck playing from behind with few weapons at his disposal, a routine Reggie season should be available at a discounted rate.

Marcedes Lewis, TE, Jaguars
2011 stats: 15 games, 39 receptions for 460 yards
What went wrong in 2011: Lewis dropped off the fantasy map one season after posting 58 catches for 700 yards and 10 TDs.
What to expect in 2012: Unless Blaine Gabbert is the most improved player in the league as a second-year signal-caller, Lewis will continue to struggle.

— Published on August 16, 2012

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Teaser:
<p> How 2011 Fantasy Football Busts Will Do in 2012</p>
Post date: Thursday, August 16, 2012 - 05:46
All taxonomy terms: Fantasy Football, Fantasy, News
Path: /fantasy/fantasy-football-2012-breakout-sophomore-players
Body:

Not every rookie enjoys immediate success. Here’s our list of players we expect to shine in their second seasons in the NFL.

Doug Baldwin, WR, Seattle
This hard worker is limited physically, but he’s extremely dependable and has little competition for targets in Seattle.

Vincent Brown, WR, San Diego
It took some time for the local product to get used to the NFL, but he showed flashes of ability against Green Bay (four catches, 79 yards), Oakland (five, 97, TD) and Denver (three, 50). With Vincent Jackson moving on to Tampa Bay, Brown can expect even more targets.

Randall Cobb, WR, Green Bay 
An aging Donald Driver should create chances for the explosive and versatile Cobb in the slot. The 2012 Packers’ offense could easily provide value for three wide receivers.

Leonard Hankerson, WR, Washington
The former Miami Hurricane posted his first 100-yard game in only his second career start before his season ended due to a hip injury. He is on schedule to be back for summer camp and could start in 2012.

Roy Helu, RB, Washington
Robert Griffin III’s best friend this fall will be an effective ground game. Helu, a former Nebraska Cornhusker, started only five games as a rookie and scored only three times. Still, he posted a 4.2 yards-per-carry average and caught 49 passes. What keeps Helu from feature back status? Mike Shanahan’s infamously unpredictable running back rotation.

Mark Ingram, RB, New Orleans
Ingram dealt with nagging injuries as a rookie, but the former Heisman Trophy winner scored in four of the last six games he played and posted his two best rushing totals (91 and 80 yards) over his final four games of the season. Fully healthy, Ingram should prove why the Saints moved back into the first round to draft him in 2011.

Taiwan Jones, RB, Oakland
The Eastern Washington product will compete with scat-back Mike Goodson for time behind Darren McFadden — who has rarely been healthy in his brief career. Jones has been incredibly productive at every stop and has the talent to give Run DMC a break for 10-12 touches per game.

Mikel Leshoure, RB, Detroit
After rupturing his Achilles tendon last August, Leshoure never got the chance to show his explosive playmaking skill that made him a 1,700-yard, 17-TD back at Illinois. He has the size and physical presence Detroit has craved for years, and if he can stay healthy he could explode in 2012. Keep in mind that Leshoure is suspended for the first two games of the season due to his off-field transgressions.

Greg Little, WR, Cleveland
Only A.J. Green caught more passes among NFL rookie wideouts last season than Little’s 61. No one should be more excited about the addition of Brandon Weeden and Trent Richardson than Mr. Little.

Jake Locker, QB, Tennessee
Matt Hasselbeck will need to stay healthy — and play very well — to keep this talented gunslinger off the field. Locker displayed a big arm, above-average athletic ability and should be surrounded with more talent.

Christian Ponder, QB, Minnesota
With a new left tackle, a pair of new receivers to go with Percy Harvin and Kyle Rudolph and a (hopefully) healthy Adrian Peterson, Ponder should be trending upward into 2012.

Stevan Ridley, RB, New England
The former LSU Tiger can be a workhorse back. His best three games came in the final three games of the season, when he got double-digit carries and averaged 70 yards rushing. With BenJarvus Green-Ellis gone to Cincinnati, the job as No. 1 back could be Ridley’s.

Kyle Rudolph, TE, Minnesota
Expect many two-tight end sets from the Vikings. Rudolph has had injury issues in the past, but he has way too much speed, size and athleticism to be kept off the field.

Torrey Smith, WR, Baltimore
He made a name for himself in 2011, but Smith is still undervalued in mock drafts. With another year of seasoning, Smith will only build on his solid first season.

Daniel Thomas, RB, Miami
New coach Joe Philbin isn’t exactly a run-first coach, but there is no reason for Thomas not to improve dramatically in Year 2. A full season of healthy football will yield a nice ROI for a player of his raw talent — especially considering Reggie Bush’s penchant for injury.

Titus Young, WR, Detroit
The battle for the slot between this second-year player and rookie Ryan Broyles will be interesting. But in the Lions’ offense, there should be room for both to excel. Young caught at least four passes in each of the final four games last year.

— Originally published in the 2012 Athlon Sports NFL Fantasy Football preview magazine

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Teaser:
<p> Fantasy Football 2012: Breakout Sophomore Players</p>
Post date: Thursday, August 16, 2012 - 05:04
Path: /fantasy/fantasy-football-2012-breaking-down-baltimore-ravens
Body:

What can the Baltimore Ravens 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 Aaron Wilson, Carroll (Md.) County Times

Has Joe Flacco topped out or is there another level of production in store for Flacco owners?
Flacco has the necessary weapons, arm strength and accuracy to regularly produce 4,000 yards and 30 touchdowns per season. Where we could see an upgraded Flacco is through improved fundamentals taught by new quarterbacks coach Jim Caldwell. The primary obstacle to bigger numbers, however, is the Ravens’ reliance on Pro Bowl running back Ray Rice in a run-first offense and Flacco’s tendency to use Rice so much as a safety valve.

Can Torrey Smith build on his stellar rookie season and become a No. 1 wide receiver?
Smith is capable of expanding his game and becoming a more complete downfield target, something he proved when his hands gradually improved toward the end of last season. He’s a legitimate big-play threat who’s also being utilized now on intermediate routes in addition to fly patterns and bubble screens. Where Smith needs to continue to hone his game is by catching the football cleanly on a consistent basis. His speed is rare, but the continued presence of veteran Anquan Boldin on the roster means he’ll still be sharing the workload.

Is Ed Dickson going to be the primary tight end or will Dennis Pitta steal enough targets to keep Dickson off fantasy rosters?
The Ravens’ plan is to utilize both tight ends, with Dickson slated to receive more targets than Pitta. While Dickson’s strengths are his superior size and explosiveness, Pitta has arguably the best hands on the team.

Athlon's Best Bets

Sleeper: Torrey Smith, WR
Deep-Sleeper: Ed Dickson, TE
Overvalued: Anquan Boldin, WR
Top Rookie: Courtney Upshaw, LB
Bounce-Back: None
Top IDP: Ray Lewis, LB

2012 Draft Class

2. Courtney Upshaw OLB 6-2 272 Alabama
2. Kelechi Osemele G 6-5 333 Iowa State
3. Bernard Pierce RB 6-0 218 Temple
4. Gino Gradkowski C 6-3 300 Delaware
4. Christian Thompson S 6-0 211 S. Carolina St.
5. Asa Jackson CB 5-10 191 Cal Poly
6. Tommy Streeter WR 6-5 220 Miami (Fla.)
7. DeAngelo Tyson DE 6-2 315 Georgia

Fantasy Impact: The Ravens traded out of the first round but landed an instant impact player in Courtney Upshaw. With Terrell Suggs suffering a torn Achilles, Baltimore needs Upshaw to help with the pass rush in 2012. He could be a sleeper to target in IDP leagues. With Ben Grubbs signing with New Orleans, Kelechi Osemele has a chance to start at guard. Bernard Pierce will back up Ray Rice and should be a handcuff pick in all formats.

Fantasy Playoff Run: Weeks 14-16 (at WAS, DEN, NYG)

Ray Rice, last season’s top fantasy points collector at the running back position, will face two defenses in the semifinals and finals of most fantasy postseasons that were 11th- and 12th-worst against fantasy running backs. And Rice should be used in bulk these three weeks, as the Ravens try to slow down pass offenses led by Robert Griffin III, Peyton Manning and Eli Manning.

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Teaser:
<p> Fantasy Football 2012: Breaking Down the Baltimore Ravens</p>
Post date: Thursday, August 16, 2012 - 05:02
Path: /fantasy/fantasy-football-2012-breaking-down-atlanta-falcons
Body:

What can the Atlanta Falcons 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 Knox Bardeen, CBSSports.com

We know he will still get the goal-line and short-yardage carries, but will Michael Turner reach 300 touches for the fourth time in five years?
No, we’ve seen the end of the days when Turner gets 300 or more carries per year. The Falcons are going to limit his touches to keep him fresh throughout the season, and they’ll be able to do that with the emergence of Jacquizz Rodgers.

How many touches will Rodgers get?
Coach Mike Smith said on a number of occasions last season that he felt Rodgers could be an every-down back. I’m not ready to completely agree with that just yet. I do think Rodgers earned the right to carry the ball more in 2012, and quite frankly, the Falcons need him to do so to spell Michael Turner. Rodgers carried the ball 57 times in 2011, and as long as both he and Turner stay healthy, I think Rodgers will approach 100 carries in 2012.

Is it possible that Julio Jones actually becomes a better fantasy option than Roddy White?
Yes, it’s a real possibility. I don’t think Jones will get as many targets or receptions as White, but Jones could accumulate more yards and get into the end zone more frequently. There isn’t a receiver on this team that is trusted more to move the chains than White, who almost had more first downs via the pass than the next two highest players on the team combined. White has a knack for knowing how to get the ball across the first-down marker and is depended on frequently in those situations. Jones can stretch the field, and in new offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter’s new scheme, the Falcons will be a more vertical team.

Athlon's Best Bets

Sleeper: Jacquizz Rodgers, RB
Deep-Sleeper: Harry Douglas, WR
Overvalued: Michael Turner, RB
Top Rookie: Charles Mitchell, S
Bounce-Back: John Abraham, DE
Top IDP: Sean Witherspoon, LB

2012 Draft Class

2. Peter Konz C/G 6-5 315 Wisconsin
3. Lamar Holmes T 6-6 333 Southern Miss
5. Bradie Ewing FB 6-0 239 Wisconsin
5. Jonathan Massaquoi DE 6-2 264 Troy
6. Charles Mitchell SS 5-11 202 Mississippi State
7. Travian Robertson DT 6-4 302 South Carolina

Fantasy Impact: The Falcons were without a first-round pick due to the trade to acquire Julio Jones in last year’s draft. With few needs at the skill positions, Atlanta focused on upgrading the depth on the offensive line and acquired two future starters in center Peter Konz and tackle Lamar Holmes. Fullback Bradie Ewing replaces Ovie Mughelli as the team’s lead blocker and is likely to start in 2012. Jonathan Massaquoi likely won’t start but could see playing time as a pass-rush specialist. This draft filled some needs but isn’t likely to produce any fantasy value.

Fantasy Playoff Run: Weeks 14-16 (at CAR, NYG, at DET)

Matt Ryan and his receivers get last season’s eighth-, sixth- and 12th-worst defenses against fantasy quarterbacks and the 21st-, fifth- and sixth-worst defenses against receivers. Plus, the Falcons will be facing three potent offenses themselves. All three quarterbacks were top eight in fantasy points, and all three teams had a receiver in the top seven in fantasy points last season.

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Teaser:
<p> Fantasy Football 2012: Breaking Down the Atlanta Falcons</p>
Post date: Thursday, August 16, 2012 - 05:01
Path: /fantasy/fantasy-football-2012-breaking-down-arizona-cardinals
Body:

What can the Arizona Cardinals 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 Bordow, Arizona Republic

Can Beanie Wells stay healthy and build on his breakout 2011 campaign?
Even if Wells does stay healthy it’s unlikely he’ll equal or better his 2011 numbers, when he ran for 1,047 yards and 10 touchdowns. That’s because the Cardinals plan to split his carries with second-year back Ryan Williams, who missed all of last season with an patella tendon injury. The Cardinals were raving about Williams in training camp before he got hurt. Wells will probably get the ball at the goal line because he’s the bigger back, but his injury history and Williams’ availability should make fantasy players beware.

Which “first-year” player will have a bigger fantasy impact in the desert, Williams or Michael Floyd?
Floyd is the pick because he’ll be the No. 2 receiver barring a holdout or injury, and Williams will split time with Wells at tailback. Floyd also will benefit from all the attention Larry Fitzgerald gets on the other side. Teams that decide to double Fitzgerald will try to cover Floyd one-on-one with their second-best defensive back. Also, at 6'3" and 225 pounds, Floyd will be an enticing target in the end zone.

Does Todd Heap have any fantasy gas left in the tank or is Rob Housler the better pick?
Heap produced when he played last season, but the problem is he doesn’t play enough. The Cardinals love Housler’s ability to get deep down the middle of the field, and his 2011 statistics (12 catches, 133 yards, no TDs) would have been much better had Kolb not underthrown him so many times. Neither tight end will put up big numbers, but Housler has more potential.

Athlon's Best Bets

Sleeper: Rob Housler, TE
Deep-Sleeper: Ryan Williams, RB
Overvalued: Beanie Wells, RB
Top Rookie: Michael Floyd, WR
Bounce-Back: Kevin Kolb, QB
Top IDP: Daryl Washington, LB

2012 Draft Class

1. Michael Floyd WR 6-3 225 Notre Dame  
3. Jamell Fleming CB 5-11 206 Oklahoma  
4. Bobby Massie T 6-6 316 Ole Miss  
5. Senio Kelemete G 6-4 301 Washington  
6. Justin Bethel S 6-0 190 Presbyterian  
6. Ryan Lindley QB 6-4 230 San Diego State  
7. Nate Potter T 6-6 300 Boise State

Fantasy Impact: The Cardinals have been looking for a reliable No. 2 receiver to pair with Larry Fitzgerald since Anquan Boldin was traded to Baltimore. Michael Floyd struggled with injuries at Notre Dame but should be a valuable addition to the passing attack and will help take some of the pressure off of Fitzgerald. Jamell Fleming should contend for snaps as Arizona’s No. 3 corner, while Bobby Massie and Senio Kelemete help improve the depth on the offensive line. Ryan Lindley has upside but needs a year or two of development before pushing for playing time.

Fantasy Playoff Run: Weeks 14-16 (at SEA, DET, CHI)

Two home games against teams traveling nearly across the country are never a bad thing come playoff time. And Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd will face two defenses at home that were sixth- and 11th-worst against fantasy receivers last season. Seattle and Chicago were in the top half of the league against the run, so the Cards’ receivers may be leaned upon more.

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Teaser:
<p> Fantasy Football 2012: Breaking Down the Arizona Cardinals</p>
Post date: Thursday, August 16, 2012 - 05:00
Path: /fantasy/fantasy-football-2012-breaking-down-dallas-cowboys
Body:

What can the Dallas Cowboys 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 Charean Williams, Fort Worth-Star Telegram

If you could only have one fantasy wide receiver on this team, who would it be?
Tony Romo trusts Miles Austin more than he trusts Dez Bryant, so at crunch time, the quarterback is going to look for Austin more than Bryant. If Austin can stay healthy, he is the choice.

Can DeMarco Murray hold up for a full season of work?
Murray entered the NFL with questions about his ability to stay healthy. He had a dislocated kneecap, a hamstring injury and a knee injury during his career at Oklahoma, which was a contributing factor in his being available for the Cowboys in the third round in 2011. Murray was on pace for a 1,000-yard season as a rookie until breaking his right ankle and requiring surgery. Murray does not have a history of staying healthy, so it is risky to rely on him without a backup plan.

What type of role can we expect to see from Felix Jones?
Unless DeMarco Murray is injured, Jones’ role with the Cowboys will be relegated to a kickoff returner and third-down back. But if Murray goes down, Jones’ role, and thus his fantasy value, will increase.

Is Jason Witten still an elite fantasy tight end?
Witten just turned 30. He did not have 1,000 yards receiving in 2011, the first time since 2008 that happened. Still, Witten led the team with 79 catches, and he had 942 yards and five TDs. He remains Tony Romo’s favorite target and still should be productive this season. He just might not reach 1,000 yards, and his history says he will score only four to five touchdowns.

Athlon's Best Bets

Sleeper: Felix Jones, RB
Deep-Sleeper: Kyle Orton, QB
Overvalued: DeMarco Murray, RB
Top Rookie: Morris Claiborne, CB
Bounce-Back: Miles Austin, WR
Top IDP: Sean Lee, LB

2012 Draft Class

1. Morris Claiborne CB 6-0 185 LSU
3. Tyrone Crawford DE 6-4 275 Boise State
4. Kyle Wilber OLB 6-4 249 Wake Forest
4. Matt Johnson S 6-1 212 E. Washington
5. Danny Coale WR 6-0 200 Virginia Tech
6. James Hanna TE 6-4 243 Oklahoma
7. Caleb McSurdy ILB 6-1 242 Montana

Fantasy Impact: Addressing a shaky defense was the Cowboys' offseason priority. Cornerback was addressed in free agency by signing former Chief Brandon Carr and selecting Morris Claiborne. Claiborne and Carr should give Dallas a much-improved secondary. Tyrone Crawford and Kyle Wilber are solid fits in the 3-4, but neither will produce IDP value this year. The additions in the secondary and the front seven should make the Cowboys a top-15 fantasy defense. Danny Coale is a steady possession receiver but is unlikely to emerge as a fantasy option in 2012.

Fantasy Playoff Run: Weeks 14-16 (at CIN, PIT, NO)

Starting up the fantasy playoffs against two AFC North defenses stinks. Cincinnati was 14th-best against QBs and WRs and 10th-best against RBs. Pittsburgh was second-best against fantasy QBs, WRs and TEs and fourth-best against RBs. The saving grace is that Pittsburgh is in Dallas for the semifinals, and the Cowboys then play host to a Saints team that was one of the worst against QBs (26th), WRs (24th) and RBs (29th).

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Teaser:
<p> Fantasy Football 2012: Breaking Down the Dallas Cowboys</p>
Post date: Wednesday, August 15, 2012 - 06:00
Path: /fantasy/fantasy-football-2012-breaking-down-green-bay-packers
Body:

What can the Green Bay Packers 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 Jason Wilde, ESPNMilwaukee.com

Jordy Nelson or Greg Jennings?
As long as quarterback Aaron Rodgers and both players are healthy, Nelson and Jennings will both deliver huge numbers. Nelson’s breakout year (15 touchdowns) figures to cause him to draw more attention than he did last season, when some defenses inexplicably chose to cover him one-on-one for entire games. That said, Nelson, Jennings and Jermichael Finley create the ultimate conundrum for opposing defenses, which must decide who merits the most attention.

Is Randall Cobb the top sleeper in this offense?
Folks who watched the Packers all season won’t call Cobb a sleeper. He’s a natural playmaker who’s a tough cover lining up in the slot. His quickness off the ball and elusiveness in the open field make him a vital target on slants and other quick passes that he can turn into big gains. The slot was once the domain of Donald Driver; even if Driver returns, expect Cobb to take away some of his snaps.

Will Jermichael Finley ever develop into a consistent, elite fantasy tight end?
Finley’s numbers would have been so much better if only he held onto the football. He was in the top five in the NFL in drops last season with 11, then added two more in the playoff loss to the Giants. He is such a matchup nightmare for defenses, but he has to improve his concentration and focus to truly put up elite numbers.

Athlon's Best Bets

Sleeper: Cedric Benson, RB
Deep-Sleeper: Randall Cobb, WR
Overvalued: Jermichael Finley, TE
Top Rookie: Nick Perry, LB
Bounce-Back: Clay Matthews, LB
Top IDP: Morgan Burnett, S

Related: Desmond Bishop Out for the Year?

2012 Draft Class

1. Nick Perry OLB 6-3 265 USC
2. Jerel Worthy DT 6-2 308 Michigan State
2. Casey Hayward CB 5-11 192 Vanderbilt
4. Mike Daniels DT 6-0 291 Iowa
4. Jerron McMillian SS 5-11 203 Maine
5. Terrell Manning OLB 6-2 237 NC State
7. Andrew Datko T 6-6 315 Florida State
7. B.J. Coleman QB 6-3 233 Chattanooga

Fantasy Impact: With most of their core returning from last season, the Packers used only two picks on offense. Tackle Andrew Datko and quarterback B.J. Coleman are developmental selections. Addressing the front seven on defense was critical. End Nick Perry and tackles Jerel Worthy and Mike Daniels should figure prominently into the line rotation this year. Worthy’s selection is especially crucial, as he can help anchor the defense at the nose tackle position.

Fantasy Playoff Run: Weeks 14-16 (DET, at CHI, TEN)

It’s the Packers: Play ’em if you got ’em. They go against a Detroit team that drafted defense with a majority of its picks after ranking sixth- and 12th-worst against fantasy QBs and WRs, respectively. Chicago was middle of the pack against fantasy backs and receivers. Championship week is vs. a Tennessee team that was one of the top fantasy defenses vs. QBs and WRs 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 Green Bay Packers</p>
Post date: Wednesday, August 15, 2012 - 06:00
Path: /fantasy/fantasy-football-2012-breaking-down-new-england-patriots
Body:

What can the New England Patriots 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 Shalise Manza-Young, Boston Globe

Does Brandon Lloyd take away from or add fantasy value to Wes Welker?
He likely hurts it. Lloyd figures to take away some catches and touchdowns from Welker. But a drop in receptions for Welker is still a good season for many receivers, and he’ll still be a good value, particularly in PPR leagues.

Will there be any lingering affects of offseason ankle surgery and rehab for touchdown machine Rob Gronkowski?
It’s hard to know if Gronkowski will be affected come August or September, but in May, he wasn’t on the field taking part in Patriots’ organized team activities. He was spotted going through rehab drills with the team training staff, and it’s likely the team will be very cautious about his recovery.

Can Aaron Hernandez be an every-week fantasy starter despite being the No. 2 tight end on the roster?
Yes. Hernandez has lined up all over the field for New England — split wide, in the slot, near the line, in the backfield — and that looks to continue. And now that the team signed a third tight end, Daniel Fells, Hernandez can be used in even more creative ways. He’ll get plenty of touches.

Will Stevan Ridley get the bulk of the carries and break the mold of the Pats’ RB-by-committee approach?
Not likely. The Patriots have gone with a committee approach at running back since 2006, and while Ridley was the team’s most explosive back last year (all of the Pats’ 20-plus yard runs were by Ridley), fellow 2011 draftee Shane Vereen missed almost his entire rookie season to injury. If Vereen is healthy, it’s hard to believe that he won’t get his share of carries.

Athlon's Best Bets

Sleeper: Brandon Lloyd, WR
Deep-Sleeper: Stevan Ridley, RB
Overvalued: Aaron Hernandez, TE
Top Rookie: Dont'a Hightower, LB
Bounce-Back: Brandon Lloyd, WR
Top IDP: Jerod Mayo, LB

2012 Draft Class

1. Chandler Jones DE 6-5 265 Syracuse
1. Dont’a Hightower LB 6-4 260 Alabama
2. Tavon Wilson S 6-0 205 Illinois
3. Jake Bequette DE 6-5 274 Arkansas
6. Nate Ebner S 6-0 205 Ohio State
7. Alfonzo Dennard CB 5-10 205 Nebraska
7. Jeremy Ebert WR 5-11 200 Northwestern

Fantasy Impact: The Patriots owned one of the NFL’s worst defenses last year, so it was no surprise that the first six selections in the draft were devoted to fixing that side of the ball. Chandler Jones and Dont’a Hightower are expected to contribute immediately, and both players will add playmaking ability and speed to the defense. Jake Bequette will help with the pass rush, while Tavon Wilson provides depth at safety. Jeremy Ebert faces an uphill battle to make the team and is unlikely to have any fantasy value in 2012.

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

The Pats start the playoffs against a Texans team that was top five against fantasy QBs, RBs and TEs and top 10 against receivers. They then play host to a 49ers team that was top seven against QBs, RBs. However, the 49ers and the Jaguars both struggled against tight ends last season. That’s certainly good news if Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez are on your team.

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

Teaser:
<p> Fantasy Football 2012: Breaking Down the New England Patriots</p>
Post date: Wednesday, August 15, 2012 - 06:00
All taxonomy terms: New York Jets, Tim Tebow, Fantasy
Path: /fantasy/fantasy-football-2012-cure-your-tim-tebow-obsession
Body:

So you’re infatuated with Tim Tebow, eh? Can’t get enough of his last-minute, game-winning drives, followed by his (gasp!) world-famous thinking-man’s pose? Sure, he’s a snappy dresser — we give you that — and his determination and work ethic are admirable qualities. But as a fantasy passer, Tebow doesn’t live up to his billing — not as a franchise quarterback, not even as a reliable No. 2.

We’re not hatin’ on the man; we just know a fantasy dud when we see one.

Here’s the thing: There’s hype and there’s substance. No matter how many headlines Rex Ryan’s newest toy generates, the numbers just aren’t there. Go ahead, look. Not convinced? Look again. He averaged 144 passing yards in 12 regular-season games for Denver last year. Give him a full 16-game schedule under center in New York — heck, give him 18 games — and they still won’t be there.

Tebow is unlike any pro football phenomenon fans have ever witnessed, and yet he is similar to so many failed fantasy prospects to come before him. Fantasy owners want to believe that what they see is somehow different from what the raw numbers suggest. They crave the success and turn a blind eye to the evidence. In the end, all that’s left is disappointment.

(Voices of dissent begin to grumble) “But Tebow gives my team rushing yards and touchdowns other quarterbacks do not provide.” Not enough, we’re afraid. To prove this, let’s convert his 660 rushing yards last season (second-most among quarterbacks) and six rushing scores to passing totals (1,650 and nine, in traditional leagues). The additional numbers would give Tebow 2011 season-ending totals of 3,379 passing yards and 21 touchdown passes. Is this what you expect from your starting fantasy quarterback?

At best, he’s a fantasy backup, and his current role as Mark Sanchez’s understudy only further complicates matters. But, for the sake of argument, let’s assume Tebow nudges Sanchez from the lineup early in the season, as many predict will happen. Even then, Tebow is not a viable fantasy backup. Ask yourself: Does the Jets offense really provide Tebow with more fantasy firepower than what he had to work with in Denver? Will New York’s media tolerate a 46.5 completion percentage? New York was a team struggling to hold it together last year, and if anything, a quarterback controversy or poor passing numbers will only create locker room drama and tabloid fodder. As former Denver teammate Demaryius Thomas described the experience to a radio station this offseason: “If it wasn’t for the (Broncos) defense, most of the time there wouldn’t be no supposed ‘Tim Tebow Time.’”

Last year, Tebow was neither consistent nor prolific (only two regular-season games with 200 or more yards passing!) — the two qualities you should seek from a backup quarterback. And heaven forbid your starter should suffer a season-ending injury, thus thrusting Tebow into your lineup full time... well, let’s just say adieu to your fantasy postseason hopes.

Nope, Tebow is for dreamers. For New York, Tebow can be an effective situational player at best (no fantasy market for that) and a distraction at worst. For fantasy owners, he should be someone else’s problem.

— By Mike Beacom, originally published in the 2012 Athlon Sports NFL Fantasy Football preview magazine

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

Teaser:
<p> Fantasy Football 2012: The Cure for Your Tim Tebow Obsession</p>
Post date: Wednesday, August 15, 2012 - 06:00
Path: /fantasy/fantasy-football-2012-players-coming-back-injury
Body:

These players suffered serious injuries during the 2011 season. Will they be ready to play in ’12? We take a look.

Kenny Britt, WR, Tennessee
After leading the AFC in receiving through two weeks with 271 yards, Britt tore an ACL against the Broncos in Week 3. He should be healthy, but it also should be pointed out that he has had two additional procedures performed on his already surgically repaired right knee since May. Health issues aside, Britt's return to the field could be delayed further due to NFL suspension as he added to his growing list of off-the-field incidents with a DWI arrest in late July. Don't forget the Titans drafted Baylor wide reciever Kendall Wright in the first round of April's draft either.

Jamaal Charles, RB, Kansas City 
Any ACL injury is a big concern, but this one took place so early in the year that Charles appears good to go for the start of the season. Adding Peyton Hillis will help ease Charles back into action.

Fred Jackson, RB, Buffalo 
The talented tailback fractured his fibula in Week 11 after topping 100 yards six times in the first 10 weeks of the season. Something to consider: Although Jackson has played only five NFL seasons, he’s already 31 years old.

Mikel Leshoure, RB, Detroit
The talented tailback suffered a ruptured Achilles tendon last August and has yet to appear in a preseason game, much less a regular-season game in his NFL career. He's been held out of training camp so far because of a hamstring issue, but he is hopeful of being able to return to practice soon. Even if he is able to show he is healthy, the earliest he will make his professional debut is Week 2. Leshoure is suspended for the first two games of the season after being charged on two separate occassions for drug possession during the offseason.

Peyton Manning, QB, Denver 
The great quarterback missed the entire 2011 season with neck issues. If he is even close to his old self, he will be a value on draft day.

Darren McFadden, RB, Oakland 
He’s never played more than 13 games in a season and was injured at Arkansas, too. He has elite ability but suffered a serious foot injury in Week 7 and missed the remainder of the season. Without Michael Bush, it’s his football, but can he handle it for a full season?

Rashard Mendenhall, RB, Pittsburgh
He’ll start the season on the Physically Unable to Perform list, so you have to wonder when he’ll be at full strength.

DeMarco Murray, RB, Dallas 
Murray dealt with multiple injuries (dislocated kneecap, pulled hamstring) while at Oklahoma and was lost for the final month of his rookie season with a broken ankle. Can he carry the load?

Adrian Peterson, RB, Minnesota 
The most talented running back on the planet is such a physical specimen that the recovery from his severe knee injury suffered on Dec. 24 is well ahead of schedule. Will he maintain his elite-level explosiveness and cutting ability? Peterson took the next important step in his return to the field earlier this week when the Vikings removed from the PUP list. Even if he's able to make a near-miraculous Week 1 return, expect Toby Gerhart to see a fair amount of carries, especially early on.

Matt Schaub, QB, Houston
The Lisfranc injury to his right foot required surgery and kept him from making his playoff debut. He should be healthy this season, but it’s worth noting that he has missed at least five games in three of the last five years.

Ryan Williams, RB, Arizona
The explosive rookie tailback ruptured his patella tendon in the preseason last year and it's been a long road back. After being limited early in training camp and missing the Cardinals' first two preseason games, Williams is expected to play this weekend. If healthy, his explosiveness and big-play ability will make him tough to keep off the field in Arizona.

— Published on August 15, 2012

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: Players Coming Back from Injury</p>
Post date: Wednesday, August 15, 2012 - 06:00
All taxonomy terms: Fantasy Football, Fantasy
Path: /fantasy/fantasy-football-2012-decline-running-back
Body:

RBBC is the acronym du jour in the world of fantasy football. It stands for “running back by committee,” and it means the days of the workhorse back, the bell cow back — whatever term you have for the back who totes the ball a clear majority of the game — are coming to an end.

The true feature backs who are also adept at catching passes are the players who can survive, or even thrive, in this new RBBC world. But those backs, as we will see, are few and far between.

Arian Foster, Ray Rice, LeSean McCoy, Chris Johnson, Maurice Jones-Drew and Steven Jackson are versatile workhorses. Each had at least 260 carries and 40 catches in 2012.

There are three others who have the potential to be complete workhorse backs — Matt Forté, Ryan Mathews and Trent Richardson.

Forté had 203 carries and 52 catches in 12 games last season. But there are some red flags. Forté is not happy with his contract situation in Chicago, and the Bears added Michael Bush — a noted touchdown thief — in free agency. Also, don’t be surprised if Khalil Bell, who played well when Forté was hurt last season, steals some carries. Forté has carried the ball 260-plus times only once (316 as a rookie in 2008) in his career.

Mathews, who had 222 carries and 50 catches in his second season as a pro, is another potential workhorse — especially with Mike Tolbert now in Carolina. Richardson, the No. 3 overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, will be asked to take on a huge role in Cleveland right away, both as a ball-carrier and pass-catcher.

Then there are the one-trick ponies — players who are still top fantasy producers but don’t bring the total package of a Foster, Rice or McCoy.

Marshawn Lynch and Michael Turner are bulk-carriers who caught under 30 passes last season yet still finished as top-seven fantasy backs. We are all waiting for the bulk-carriers who just run the ball to either break down or have their workload cut by more dynamic, change-of-pace running backs.

It has not happened to Turner yet, but many other No. 1 backs are having their production cut, and it is changing the landscape of fantasy football.

We’ve just discussed 11 players who are — or have the ability to be — workhorse running backs, which is essentially one-third of the league’s 32 starting running backs. That leaves 21 teams in a RBBC situation.

The combination of the RBBC and NFL rules that encourage more downfield passing has helped make quarterbacks, receivers and even tight ends more attractive fantasy options in recent years.

LOOK AT THE DATA
The number of receivers taken in the first three rounds has increased over the last three years, while the number of running backs taken in the same rounds has decreased.

That’s three years. What about the last decade?

Look at some historical data, according to Athlon Sports’ mock drafts (see chart, right), and you will see that 22 running backs were taken in the first three rounds (36 picks) in 2006 compared to 17 this season. There were 18 backs selected in the first two rounds (24 picks) in 2006, and that number has dropped to 13 this season.

No quarterback was taken in the first round in 2006. Nowadays, two quarterbacks (Aaron Rodgers and Cam Newton) are consensus first-round picks, and several others (Drew Brees, Tom Brady and Matthew Stafford) can be expected to go by the end of the third round.

Rodgers was the only quarterback selected in the first round (eighth overall) in last season’s Athlon Sports mock draft. Next up was Brady at No. 20, and that kicked off a run in which four quarterbacks were selected in the next eight picks.

Rodgers was taken fifth overall in this year’s Athlon mock, followed by Newton at No. 9. Next up were Brees, Brady and Stafford, who were picked from 22-26.

Meanwhile, the number of receivers selected among the first two rounds in 2006 was three. This year, it was six; last year, it was up to eight wideouts taken in the first 24 picks.

There were no tight ends in the first two rounds in four of the six mock drafts from 2006-11. Now, we have two — Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham — in the top 24.

Even Athlon’s rankings over the last two seasons show the change. Last year, we had nine running backs in the top 12 and one quarterback. This season, we have only six running backs and four quarterbacks.

WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?
There are a couple of ways to look at the data.

You should still try to get one of the top-five running backs as soon as you can. That will always be the case as long as there are still guaranteed workhorses out there.

But if you miss out, or elect to take the top quarterback or wide receivers — or Gronkowski or Graham — don’t just take the next-best back the next time around because you feel you need a player at that position. Instead, draft a top-flight player at the receiver position.

There were eight running backs last year who had at least six 100-yard rushing games. Six of them are ranked in Athlon’s top 15 — Foster, Jones-Drew, Rice, McCoy, Turner and Lynch. The other two — Willis McGahee and Fred Jackson — can be had outside the top 20.

The emergence of the RBBC has enabled owners to piece together the running back position and keep loading up elsewhere.

Good receivers are going to continue to get plenty of touches — just take a look at what happened in the league last season.

The NFL had its highest scoring average in 46 seasons (44.4 ppg), and 2011 marked the first season in NFL history in which three different teams scored at least 500 points (Green Bay, New Orleans and New England).

The league-wide passer rating (84.3) and TD:INT ratio (1.472:1) were both record-setting numbers. Games averaged an all-time high of 693.7 total yards, surpassing the record from a year earlier (672.0). The all-time passing yards per game mark was set in 2010 (443.1 ypg) and then broken in 2012 (459.4 ypg). There were 121 individual 300-yard passing games, the most in NFL history by 17. There were also 18 400-yard passing games, besting the old mark of 13.

STRATEGY
If you miss out on Rodgers, Brees, Brady, Newton or Stafford, go find a receiver (or two) who is responsible for some of these record-setting offensive numbers.

While you will find that the ADP data says there have been 33 to 36 receivers taken in the top 100 for the last decade — and 34 for the last five years, according to MyFantasyLeague.com — the number of those taken in the first four rounds (48 picks) has increased over the last four years. It was 15 in 2009, 15 in ’10, 16 in ‘11 and 19 this season (through late May).

For example, with the first pick in a 12-team league, you could grab Arian Foster, follow up with receivers Greg Jennings and A.J. Green in the second and third rounds, respectively, and still have a chance at another top-flight receiver or a tight end with your next two picks. Only then would you need to start thinking about a quarterback.

Here’s another scenario. Say you start with the sixth pick in the first round. You can grab Calvin Johnson, come back and still get a Gronkowski or Graham in the second round, followed by a top-tier receiver in the third and fourth and then grab one of the 300-yard passing quarterbacks in the fifth.

Once again: Don’t worry if you miss one of the elite quarterbacks in the early rounds. You can still get high-quality signal-callers in the middle rounds.

Philip Rivers, Eli Manning and Matt Ryan each had at least six games with 300 yards passing in 2011. Tony Romo had five such games. Oh, and Peyton Manning is back in action this season. All of these quarterbacks can be had in the fifth-to-seventh rounds.

Then there’s Ben Roethlisberger, who had five 300-yard games and three others with at least 250 yards. His ADP is in the 90-to-100 range (around the eighth round).

We won’t deny that running backs still rule the fantasy game at the very front end of any draft, but the committee approach has reduced the number of elite backs who are available. You need to be prepared on draft day. If you miss out on a player like Foster or Rice (or you simply choose not to use a top pick on a running back), you need a sound game-plan for the top few rounds. And that game-plan should include taking several top-flight receivers and perhaps one of the top tight ends and a quarterback before you load up on running backs.

The fantasy game is changing — so change your strategy.

— By Corby Yarbrough, originally published in the 2012 Athlon Sports NFL Fantasy Football preview magazine

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Teaser:
<p> Fantasy Football 2012: Decline of the Running Back</p>
Post date: Tuesday, August 14, 2012 - 08:30
All taxonomy terms: Fantasy Football, Fantasy
Path: /fantasy/fantasy-football-2012-rules-picking-rookies
Body:

Fantasy owners are often tempted by the unlimited potential rookies offer. But history shows us that they rarely satisfy the demands of the roster spots they occupy.

You’re four rounds into your fantasy football draft, and already the temptation is killing you. Is it time to consider Justin Blackmon? He could be huge for Jacksonville, same as he was for Oklahoma State. He could be the game’s next elite wide receiver. He could fill my need at the No. 2 wide receiver spot.

He could … he could … but chances are, he won’t.

Rookies rarely live up to the hype. Most NFL quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers and tight ends take time to mature. Success doesn’t happen in Year 1. But, because of a few well-documented exceptions, fantasy owners — even seasoned ones — ignore hard evidence and fall under the trance rookie prospects project.

Last season will only fuel the problem. Cam Newton had arguably the greatest debut of any player in league history, and fellow rookie quarterback Andy Dalton lit up the sky in Cincinnati. A.J. Green and Julio Jones each put up some of the best numbers ever posted by a rookie receiver. That success will have fantasy owners pondering whether Blackmon and others can duplicate that success in 2012.

History tells us probably not. By analyzing rookie data dating back to 1978 when the league went to a 16-game format (and in some cases dating back before that), the evidence suggests that rookies don’t meet the expectations fantasy owners have for starters (or even front-line backups).

Here is a look at some of the rookie pitfalls, broken down by key statistical categories, for each of the four primary fantasy positions:

Quarterbacks
NFL teams invest a lot in a rookie quarterback. More than the money, that player represents the team’s future, so the conventional wisdom is to bring him along slowly. Teams remind themselves of the beating Troy Aikman took in 1989, and of how some careers never got going because the player’s confidence was shattered early on. There’s another reason fantasy rookie passers fail to meet expectations: Chances are, if a team picks a quarterback in the early rounds of the draft, the rest of the team isn’t very good.

Rule 1: Quarterbacks don’t find the end zone enough
Newton is one of only four rookie quarterbacks from the Super Bowl era (1966-present) to throw for 20-plus touchdowns in a season. Peyton Manning’s 26-touchdown debut in 1998 ranks atop the leaderboard for this category and may be the only acceptable touchdown total among rookie fantasy passers. Most alarming is the fact that over the past decade — the most friendly passing era in the history of the game — only five rookie quarterbacks have logged 15 or more touchdown passes.

Rule 2: The 3,000-yard “norm” is rarely reached
Fantasy owners expect starting quarterbacks to throw for at least 3,000 yards, and recent numbers suggest that this is reasonable to expect of backups as well. At least 18 quarterbacks have reached that total in each of the past four seasons, so it’s a bit surprising that only a handful of rookie signal-callers over the past 35 years have passed for 3,000 or more yards. Four of the five have come in recent years (Matt Ryan, Sam Bradford, Andy Dalton and Cam Newton).

Rule 3: Rookie QBs don’t start enough games to matter
Perhaps the reason rookie quarterbacks do not perform well for fantasy owners is because they do not get enough snaps. Since 1978, only eight quarterbacks have started every game in their debut seasons. And to take it a step further, a total of 25 have started 12 or more games (who could forget Jeff Komlo’s 1979 campaign?) — that’s less than one per season, on average.

2012 Potential Rule-Breaker
Four quarterbacks (Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, Ryan Tannehill and Brandon Weeden) will have a chance to start all 16 games, but of the three, Griffin may have the best chance to produce for fantasy owners. Washington’s receiving corps gives Griffin the edge.

Running Backs
Through the years a number of rookie running backs have found success — perhaps more so than any other fantasy position. The transition from college to the NFL is easier on backs, and teams take advantage of their rookies’ fresh legs. But recent trends should give fantasy owners reason for pause.

Rule 1: The biggest names are not always the ones to shine
A total of 27 running backs have scored 10 or more rushing touchdowns in their rookie seasons — an encouraging stat. But many of these players were middle- or even late-round picks. Next to Eric Dickerson’s 18 touchdowns (1983) in the record book is sixth-round pick Mike Anderson’s 15 scores from 2000. Five backs were selected ahead of Maurice Jones-Drew, who scored 13 touchdowns in 2006. Tim Hightower (10 touchdowns) was a fifth-round pick in 2008, Ron Davenport (11) was a sixth-round pick in 1985, and Billy Jackson (10) was a seventh-round pick in 1981. Sometimes you just can’t tell where rookie running back production will come from.

Rule 2: Rookie workloads are declining with the times
Running backs have not been putting up huge numbers in recent years, and in 2011 only two backs logged 300 or more carries (in 2006, 10 backs reached the mark). Rookie backs have followed this trend. Whereas there have been 15 rookie backs to carry 300 or more times since 1978, only one has come in the past decade (Matt Forté, 2008). In fact, in this last decade, only 16 rookies have carried 200 times or more.

2012 Potential Rule-Breaker
The Browns invested in Trent Richardson to be the workhorse for their rebuilding offense. Unfortunately, that offense has no passing game to speak of, suggesting that opponents will be able to stack the box to stop Richardson. This may be another year in which rookie running back success comes from someone fantasy owners don’t suspect.

Wide Receivers
It takes time for a wide receiver to blossom. That’s why fantasy owners long ago invented the “three-year rule,” which is used to predict when a receiver will have a breakout season. Receivers must learn all of the routes (and variances for each route) and develop chemistry (timing, trust) with their quarterbacks. Rarely does success happen overnight.

Rule 1: Receivers catch fewer than 70 balls
To crack a starting lineup, a fantasy receiver should approach the 70-reception mark (24 wide receivers reached the mark in 2011). Few rookies get there, though — only six since 1978, most recently Eddie Royal (91 catches in 2008). Over the past decade, 21 rookie wide receivers have reached the 50-catch mark, including undrafted free agents Davone Bess and Doug Baldwin. If there is a silver lining, it’s that that figure is a 50 percent increase from the decade prior (14 rookie receivers caught 50-plus balls from 1992-2001).

Rule 2: Don’t expect 1,000 or more yards
Eleven rookie receivers have topped the 1,000-yard mark since 1978, but the important thing to note here is that only six of the 11 were first-round picks, suggesting that many went unnoticed by fantasy owners on draft day. Indianapolis’ Bill Brooks was a fourth-round pick in 1986, and, of course, Marques Colston lasted until the seventh round in 2006. In terms of consistency, only 10 receivers over that same period have averaged 70 or more yards per game in their first seasons (min. of 11 starts).

Rule 3: Double-digit touchdown totals are out of the question
Here is a trivia question your friends will never get the answer to: Name the five rookie receivers of the Super Bowl era to catch 10 or more touchdowns in a season. Most know Randy Moss set a record in 1998 with 17, and some will remember that only a few years ago Tampa Bay’s Mike Williams had 11. The others? San Diego’s John Jefferson caught 13 touchdowns in 1978, and Minnesota’s Sammy White (1976) and Seattle’s Daryl Turner (1984) each caught 10. Consider that in 2010 alone there were 10 wide receivers with 10 or more touchdown catches.

2012 Potential Rule-Breaker
The Jaguars were one of the weakest teams at the position last year, so hopes are high that Blackmon can fill the void for second-year quarterback Blaine Gabbert. Of course, this only means opposing teams will be able to key on Blackmon.

Tight Ends
Obviously, the tight end position has only emerged as a fantasy force in recent years. Prior to the Tony Gonzalez era, there were few seasons of note (Mike Ditka’s rookie season of 1961 among them). Today, however, fantasy owners expect a great deal of production out of their tight ends, which is why they should evaluate rookies with caution.

Rule 1: First-year TEs don’t offer big catch totals
If 70 is the benchmark for wide receivers, 50 is the equivalent for tight ends (17 reached the total last season). Since 1978, only five rookie tight ends have caught that many passes, and only two have caught 60 or more balls (Philadelphia’s Keith Jackson has the high mark with 81 in 1988). Recent history suggests that rookies are making progress in this category, however. Half of the top 20 catch seasons among rookie tight ends have been recorded since 2001, and the 2010 NFL season was the most successful of any, as four rookie tight ends had 40 or more catches, including New England’s Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski.

Rule 2: Count on a low touchdown total
Gronkowski is the only rookie tight end of the Super Bowl era to catch 10 or more touchdowns, but fantasy owners shouldn’t expect that from a first-year player (10 touchdowns is a respectable total for an elite tight end). However, what is troubling is that only a dozen rookie tight ends have caught six or more scores in the same period, and surprisingly, only four from the past decade — Gronkowski, Hernandez and Pittsburgh’s Heath Miller (2005) and Washington’s Chris Cooley (2004).

Rule 3: Tight ends don’t crack the starting lineup
Same as quarterbacks, rookie tight ends do not see enough action. Only nine have started a full season since 1978, and over the past decade, only nine have started 12 or more games. Only one rookie tight end from the period has reached all of the above milestones (16 starts, 50 receptions and six or more touchdowns) – New Orleans’ Cam Cleeland, 1998.

2012 Potential Rule-Breaker
Coby Fleener knows his new quarterback (Luck) well from having played together at Stanford, but fantasy owners should be scared at the thought of a rookie throwing to a rookie.

— By Mike Beacom, originally published in the 2012 Athlon Sports NFL Fantasy Football preview magazine

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Teaser:
<p> Fantasy Football 2012: The Rules for Picking Rookies</p>
Post date: Tuesday, August 14, 2012 - 08:30
All taxonomy terms: NFC, NFC East, Philadelphia Eagles, NFL
Path: /nfl/philadelphia-eagles-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 Philadelphia Eagles check in at No. 14.

After the nightmare “Dream Team” season of 2011, the Eagles are wide awake going into 2012. Owner Jeffrey Lurie admitted he considered making a change after Andy Reid’s 13th championship-free season as head coach. It is widely assumed Reid will have to make a deep playoff run, at least, to survive his 14th season. And while it is safe to say that the excuses for 2011 — the lockout, the enormous changes on the roster and among the assistant coaches — won’t apply this year, there is also a good chance that no excuses will be necessary.

Reid didn’t undo all those changes during this more typical offseason. Instead, he committed more fully to them. Juan Castillo remains as defensive coordinator after the team blew five fourth quarter leads. Michael Vick had another season plagued by injury, but Reid stood by his reclaimed quarterback and stood pat on his refurbished offensive line.

Reid has reached the playoffs in nine of his 13 seasons. His team has also done a little worse in each of the past three seasons. Which trend will hold? The answer will determine the Eagles’ course after 14 seasons under the league’s longest-tenured head coach.

Offense

The Eagles are betting on Vick to be better after his first full offseason as the team’s No. 1 quarterback. It is a bet that could make or break the 2012 season. Vick certainly has a championship-caliber supporting cast.

After several years in flux, the team’s offensive line has evolved into a strength going into this season. Todd Herremans has locked down the right tackle spot vacated by Jon Runyan. Journeyman guard Evan Mathis found a home after connecting with offensive line coach Howard Mudd, and 2011 draft picks Jason Kelce (center) and Danny Watkins (right guard) got through their growing pains and should be fixtures for years. The team suffered a blow when Pro Bowl left tackle Jason Peters tore his right Achilles tendon during an offseason workout and then tore it once again in a freak injury in May. The Eagles signed free agent Demetress Bell, a move that should minimize the loss.

The line’s emergence, and Mudd’s attacking style, helped LeSean McCoy establish himself as one of the top backs in the league. McCoy just got better as he developed a feel for his blockers, and he is poised to have a monster 2012 season.

One reason: The speed and production of wide receivers DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin clear out the intermediate areas of the field. If McCoy can get through the line, there is room for him to get up to full speed and to use his exceptional shiftiness.

Jackson, who admitted pouting over his contract and was suspended by Reid for one game, did not have a great 2011 season. He has a new deal and will be expected to be the player he was in 2009 and ’10. His mere presence helps create opportunities for Maclin, slot receiver Jason Avant and tight end Brent Celek.

But it all starts, and sometimes ends, with Vick. His 14 interceptions and 10 fumbles (four lost) were among the team’s biggest problems in 2011. Vick also missed three games and parts of three others with injuries. For the Eagles to get the most from their array of offensive talent, Vick has to play smarter and stay healthy. “He understands how important he is to this football team, that he’s healthy,” Reid says. “And that means as healthy as you can be playing the sport. You limit some of the contact points you have.”

Defense

Once Reid decided to stick with Castillo, and with defensive line coach Jim Washburn’s signature “wide 9” philosophy, the focus became adding pieces that fit the puzzle. The first of those pieces filled a gaping hole in the middle. Linebacker DeMeco Ryans, acquired in a trade with the Texans, could be the team’s first impact linebacker since Jeremiah Trotter’s heyday. While Washburn’s approach generated enormous pressure on opposing quarterbacks, it also created huge gaps for running backs. Ryans, available because the Texans switched to a 3-4 defense last year, provides an imposing, three-down presence in the middle of the field.

The linebacker-light Eagles also drafted short but fast Mychal Kendricks from Cal to compete for the strong-side spot. That could leave the best of the incumbents, Jamar Chaney and Brian Rolle, competing for the weak-side job.

The other adjustment was made in the secondary. The Eagles dumped their best defensive back of the past few years, Asante Samuel, to commit to more aggressive press coverage. Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, both of whom looked woefully miscast in their first seasons as Eagles, need to step up with Samuel gone.

At safety, the Eagles are relying on youth. Nate Allen is rebounding from a serious knee injury, while Jaiquawn Jarrett’s rookie year was spoiled by the lockout and the general chaos surrounding the defense. The team also signed veteran Oshiomogho Atogwe to a one-year deal to provide some depth at safety.

The centerpiece of the defense will continue to be the line. Ends Jason Babin (18 sacks) and Trent Cole (11), unleashed by Washburn’s system, combined for 29 sacks in 2011. Cullen Jenkins, Mike Patterson and Antonio Dixon rotated in the middle. They will be joined by first-round pick Fletcher Cox, a disruptive inside presence from Mississippi State, and rush end Vinny Curry from Marshall. Cox could displace Jenkins as a starter, while Curry is likely to provide energy off the bench.

Specialists

  The kids were all right. After years of continuity in the kicking game, the Eagles went with rookies Alex Henery and Chas Henry in 2011. They acquitted themselves well and will be back in 2012. Henery, a fourth-round pick, made 24-of-27 field goals and all 46 of his extra-point attempts. His field goal percentage was the best ever for a rookie kicker and the best in Eagles history. The only question left unanswered was how he would handle a clutch kick with the game on the line. The situation didn’t arise in 2011. The undrafted Henry was solid. As long as he doesn’t try throwing the ball — as he did on one ill-advised trick play — he should be fine.

The return game is less settled. Jackson and, to a lesser degree, Maclin are weapons as punt returners but figure to be used sparingly in that dangerous role. Rookie Brandon Boykin and running back Dion Lewis could compete for that job as well as kickoff returns.

Final Analysis: 3rd in the NFC East

The only way for the Eagles to shake the unfortunate “Dream Team” label applied by departed backup quarterback Vince Young is to rebound with a more typical Reid-era season. If Vick remains healthy and effective, this team should certainly contend for a playoff berth.

It may take more than that — an appearance in the NFC title game or even the Super Bowl — for Reid to retain his job, but it would be a good start.

Related: 2012 Philadelphia Eagles Schedule Analysis

Outside The Huddle

Divine intervention
Defensive line coach Jim Washburn was very excited when the team traded up to select his guy, Mississippi State’s Fletcher Cox. “I didn’t think we had a chance,” Washburn said. “Guess it was just meant to be.” Asked how Cox fits his philosophy, Washburn gushed, “When God made him, he made him to be in this system right here.” Tough to overrule the Big Scout.

Bargain bin
When cornerback Asante Samuel accused Eagles GM Howie Roseman and president Joe Banner of playing “fantasy football” by acquiring corners Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, it was assumed he’d soon be an ex-Eagle. The rest of the NFL assumed it as well, and the Eagles were only able to get a seventh-round draft pick from Atlanta for the Pro Bowler.

Free trade agreements
Going into the 2012 draft, Roseman confided, “We like action.” And once again, Roseman engineered a bunch of draft-weekend trades. The big one was moving up to get Cox in the first round. To recoup the fourth-round pick surrendered in that deal, Roseman moved down eight spots in the second round in a trade with Green Bay. They got corner/return specialist Brandon Boykin with their new fourth-round selection.

True fan
A lot of players say they are fans of the teams that draft them. Vinny Curry, the second-round defensive end from Neptune, N.J., is the real deal. He declined a request from NFL Network to send a crew to his home because he didn’t want to take down his Eagles memorabilia. His first trip to NovaCare Complex coincided with a ceremony honoring retiring former Eagle Brian Dawkins. “This has got to be the best day of my life,” a teary Curry said.

20/20 hindsight
Eagles fans already know one of the highlights of the 2012 season. It will be the game where the team honors Dawkins. There was much angst when Dawkins left to finish his career in Denver. The team and Dawk himself tried to repair that damage upon Dawkins’ retirement. He signed a one-day contract to retire as an Eagle, and the team announced the retirement of Dawkins’ No. 20.

@EvanMathis69
His Twitter profile proclaimed him “The People’s OG.” Maybe, but guard Evan Mathis certainly is one of the wittier and more entertaining tweeters among professional athletes. On draft day: “Welcome to Philly @fcoxx_94 (Fletcher Cox). Watch out for their LG in training camp. He’s awesome.” Or: “For every new follower I get in the next month I’ll donate nothing to everyone.” Worth a follow.

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: Wednesday, August 14, 2012

Order your 2012 Philadelphia Eagles Athlon Sports NFL Preview magazine here

Related: 2012 Philadelphia Eagles Schedule Analysis

Teaser:
<p> Philadelphia Eagles 2012 NFL Team Preview</p>
Post date: Tuesday, August 14, 2012 - 08:00
All taxonomy terms: Ryan Mathews, NFL, Fantasy, News
Path: /fantasy/chargers-ryan-mathews-breaks-collarbone-out-4-6-weeks
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San Diego running back Ryan Mathews broke his collarbone on his first carry in Thursday night’s preseason game against Green Bay and is expected to be out between 4-6 weeks. With that diagnosis, the hope is that Mathews will be able to play at the latest by Week 3.

Mathews, who rushed for 1,091 yards with six touchdowns in 2011, appeared to be poised for an even bigger year in 2012 with the Chargers losing backup running back Mike Tolbert to the Carolina Panthers in free agency. Now, the coaching staff’s attention will turn to who will get the carries in Mathews’ absence, while fantasy owners figure out what to do regarding his draft status.

Fantasy-wise, all signs were pointing to a breakout year for the third-year pro, especially with Tolbert no longer around to vulture touchdowns. Tolbert scored 19 touchdowns combined the last two seasons, while Mathews had a total of 13 during that same span.

For all intents and purposes, it appeared that Mathews was going to become the league’s next workhorse back, a rarity these days, which had his fantasy value at an all-time high. Preseason fantasy rankings have Mathews as high as sixth among running backs and certainly among the top 10 overall.

This latest injury, however, also highlights one of the biggest criticisms when it comes to Mathews – durability. Mathews has missed time in each of his first two seasons, two games last year and four in 2001, because of different injuries. While this latest, a broken collarbone, doesn’t necessarily cement a “brittle” reputation for him, the fact that he’s looking at missing the first two weeks of the season, if not longer, certainly needs to be addressed when it comes to his draft value.

That said, I for one, am taking the optimistic approach with Mathews thinking that he will be out no more than the reported 4-6 weeks, meaning you will hopefully get more than enough games out of him (depending on the set up of your league’s playoffs) to maintain his current draft value.

For my money there are four clear-cut top-tier options when it comes to running backs this season – Arian Foster, Ray Rice, LeSean McCoy and Chris Johnson. These four are secured as the starters on their teams and are virtually guaranteed of touching the ball, provided they stay healthy, no less than 300 times this season.

After that there’s no shortage of appealing options certainly, but there’s no shortage of questions associated with each option. For example, Maurice Jones-Drew has yet to report to Jaguars’ training camp because he’s holding out for a new contract. Will this holdout carry over into the regular season? No one knows right now, but depending on when your league holds its draft, isn’t this enough reason to give you pause on calling his name out?

Matt Forte got his new contract, so he’ll be toting the rock for the Bears starting in Week 1. However, remember he missed the final four games of last season with an MCL sprain and the Bears signed Michael Bush in the offseason. Considering Bush rushed for 977 yards with the Raiders last season, you can’t help but wonder if Forte’s workload will be decreased this season as the Bears look to protect their latest long-term investment.

Speaking of injuries, what about Adrian Peterson and Jamaal Charles? Two dynamic, explosive running backs for sure, but they also are both coming back from severe keen injuries that ended their 2011 campaigns at different times. Charles got hurt in Week 1 of last season, while Peterson went down in Week 16. The difference in recovery time alone for the two would lead you to believe that Charles is the “safer” option, but the reports on Peterson’s recovery have been so positive. Which one do you take and when?

And we haven’t even gotten to Darren McFadden (injury risk), Marshawn Lynch (facing potential suspension due to legal troubles), DeMarco Murray (injury risk) or Trent Richardson, who just went under the knife to remove loose particles from a knee that has already been surgically repaired.

The point is this – once you get past the first four running backs, there are really no sure things. While Jones-Drew, Forte and, to a degree, Lynch, appear to be among the safest of the next best available options, I still think you can include Mathews in there as well.

For one, while Mathews did break a bone, he didn’t shred his knee like Charles or Peterson did. As long as the bone heals properly, which is why the initial prognosis is he will be out 4-6 weeks, it shouldn’t take him that long to get back into the flow of things with San Diego’s offense.

Also, even though all three have already had their share of injuries in their NFL careers, I would rather take my chances with Mathews than McFadden or Murray. McFadden has played no more than 13 games in any of his first four seasons, including just seven last year. Murray’s injury history goes back to his college days at Oklahoma and he is coming off a broken ankle he suffered last December. Mathews’ latest injury doesn’t affect his ankle or legs, while both McFadden and Murray have histories with such.

And far as Richardson goes, while I’m not expecting the knee surgery to keep him out an extended period of time it does cut into the rookie’s preparation time as he gets ready for his first NFL season. Combine that with the reports that this knee issue could “linger” as the season progresses, the questions I have related to Cleveland’s offensive line and the fact that rookie Brandon Weeden will be starting at quarterback, that’s enough reasons for me to think twice before drafting Richardson early, especially in a redraft league.

Provided Mathews is back in the lineup by Week 3, he still should be I line for a very productive season. The clear-cut No. 1 back, Mathews is also a viable weapon catching passes out of the backfield as he had 50 receptions for 455 yards last season. Even though he had a down year in 2011, Philip Rivers is still one of the top quarterbacks in the league, which increases Mathews’ value and potential to have a big season as the Chargers’ passing game should help open up rushing lanes but also present big-play opportunities for him.

Before he got hurt, I viewed Mathews as a solid top-10 fantasy running back option this season. My view hasn’t changed, even if it means Mathews won’t play until Week 3. I would put him clearly behind Foster, Rice, McCoy, Johnson, Forte and probably still Jones-Drew, but after that he’s definitely among the next-best available options and right now the only one I would consider taking ahead of him would possibly be Lynch.

Now as far as the San Diego backfield options go without Mathews, this screams running back-by-committee so I wouldn’t go looking for any sleepers here. The Chargers don’t lack for options as Jackie Battle, Curtis Brinkley and Ronnie Brown are all on the roster.

Last season, Brinkley was third on the Chargers in carries with 30, putting him considerably behind Mathews (222) and the now-departed Tolbert (121). Brinkley finished the season with 101 yards rushing (3.4 ypc) and a touchdown.

After losing Tolbert in free agency, the Chargers signed veterans Brown and Battle. Brown is a 1,000-yard rusher, but that came back in 2006 as injuries have taken their toll on the former Auburn Tiger who has taken with the second overall pick in the 2005 NFL Draft. Last season with the Eagles, the now 30-year-old Brown rushed for only 136 yards on 42 carries (3.2 ypc) as the primary backup to McCoy.

For the second straight season, Battle could get an opportunity to establish himself because of an injury to the incumbent starter. Last season, Battle got four starts in Kansas City after Charles went down with season-ending ACL injury in Week 1. Although Battle’s opportunities decreased as the season went along, the sixth-year pro out of Houston finished 2011 with a career-high 597 yards on 149 carries (4.0 ypc) and two touchdowns.

It’s entirely possible that one of these could do enough in training camp and preseason action to lay claim to the starting position. Even if that happens, however, I don’t see enough reason to seriously invest in any of them, except in deeper leagues. Brown is nowhere near the dynamic player he once was and I just don’t think his body can sustain a heavy workload. Battle is one-dimensional, which really doesn’t fit how the Chargers were planning on using Mathews. The opportunity is there for Brinkley, but there’s no history of production to really cling to.

There’s also Le’Ron McClain, the All-Pro fullback the Chargers signed as a free agent in the offseason. Brought in to help clear the way for Mathews, McClain now may get a few more chances to carry the ball instead. That alone should tell you all you need to know about the Chargers’ backfield without Mathews – stay away.

In fact, the biggest beneficiary of Mathews’ absence could be Rivers and wide receivers Vincent Brown, Malcom Floyd and Robert Meachem and tight end Antonio Gates. Chances are without Mathews, the Chargers may be inclined to throw the ball even more than they usually do.

— By Mark Ross, published on August 10, 2012

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<p> <font>Chargers' Ryan Mathews Breaks Collarbone, Out 4-6 Weeks</font></p>
Post date: Friday, August 10, 2012 - 12:19

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