It’s coming. Load up on hot dogs and Jiffy Pop, and make sure your favorite living room chair is in peak working order. Training camp is just over a week away, which means the 2013 NFL season is exactly seven weeks away, which means you have less than two months left to see your family. Hooray?
Yes, the longest winter is almost over, and with July at its halfway point, we’re also about to enter the fantasy football wonderland of August. That’s a time when dreams are created, only to be shattered shortly thereafter. So right about now seems like a good time to do some previewing.
Going in reverse order of the 2012 standings and starting today with the Chiefs and their intriguing new offense under Andy Reid, I’ll be continually rolling out team previews. Using handy little categories denoted by bolding and underlining, I’ll separate the fantasy contributors on each team, starting with the studliest studs, and ending with the deepest reaching sleepers and handcuffs.
Starting a preview series with the Chiefs seems like a foolproof way to guarantee success. This Internet thing, man. I’m good.
A quick note for clarity before the notables: we’re focused only on players who will have a fantasy impact, even a reaching one.
Notable additions: Donnie Avery, Alex Smith, Anthony Fasano
Notable draft picks: Eric Fisher
The Marquee men (the elitest of the elite)
Dwayne Bowe (approx ADP: 45.3): Like Jamaal Charles below, in Bowe we had something remarkable during the 2012 season: a Chiefs offensive player who did anything of value. Before his season ended three games early, Bowe was the Jedi of garbage time production, averaging 80.4 receiving yards per game over the first five weeks. But what you’re buying with Bowe is his absurd target volume, something that likely won’t change much under Andy Reid, though the depth of his targets could take a hit. Last year over just 13 games, Bowe was targeted 114 times, which included five double digit weeks.
Jamaal Charles (approx ADP: 4.3): By now, I should probably buy Jamaal Charles pajamas, and drink only Jamaal Charles brand orange juice, because I assume such a thing exists. Since the moment Reid morphed from a green sideline blob to a large red dot, projecting Charles as a LeSean McCoy clone of sorts with his renewed presence as a pass catcher has been pretty trendy, and we’ve been given numerous indications that a glorious rise in his reception total is forthcoming.
Charles’ career single-season high in receiving production came in 2010, when he finished with 45 catches on 468 yards. That’s swell, but something more in line with McCoy’s 592 yards the same season is pretty nice too, and the bestest is Brian Westbrook’s 697.25 average receiving yards per year between 2004 and 2007. Charles’ ceiling is exceedingly high under Reid, and there’s an argument to make him the first overall pick.
The Middle Men (middle-to-late round options)
Alex Smith (approx ADP: 160.0): Those who champion the late-round quarterback approach can stretch their logic to its furthest extreme here, but in Smith you won’t find a Carson Palmer circa 2012. Palmer was usually available on the waiver wire and was still unowned in nearly 75 percent of ESPN leagues last year. Yet because the Raiders were clawing from behind so often and asking him to chuck deep and then chuck deep some more, Palmer finished with 219 fantasy points, only one point behind the universally owned Ben Roethlisberger.
With Smith, that thought and strategy will sound much more inviting than the result. Or maybe both the thought of starting Smith and the result of starting Smith will be about as inviting as an endless loop of Chris Berman’s Home Run Derby play-by-play. A definitive forecast is difficult, but given the sparse vertical thinking in a Reid offense, it’s more than reasonable to assume that Smith’s yardage will remain moderate, which is a feeling he’s quite familiar with given his career average of 178.5 yards per game. Throwing the deep ball has always been a problem, and Smith’s nearly non-existent fantasy production will then have to come in the form of touchdowns. While both Anthony Fasano and Tony Moeaki are large targets, TDs will always and forever be volatile. Over his career, Smith has averaged one touchdown for every 26.8 pass attempts.
Tony Moeaki (Approx ADP: 170): I hear you, world. Moeaki isn’t worth your draft pick, with the exception maybe being the deepest of deep leagues as a late-round flier. After missing the 2011 season, he finished with 453 yards on 33 receptions, and most horrifyingly, seven games with 20 yards or less.
But he’s also the poster boy for tight end streaming. With the emphasis in KC now on dinking with some occasional dunking, a presence up the middle could be emphasized more, and that guy will be Moeaki. Last year, seven of his minimal receptions went for 20 yards or more, and two years ago during his re-emergence in San Francisco, Smith targeted his primary tight end Vernon Davis on 21 percent of his throws.
The Menial Peons (sleepers, flex plays, and matchup plays)
Donnie Avery (ADP: undrafted): Charles will be a target hog, and Bowe will catch all the balls too. Avery’s speed and vertical ability played well last year in Indianapolis with a quarterback (Andrew Luck) and an offensive coordinator (Bruce Arians) who both thought in long, straight, downfield lines, just like Avery. Reid’s lines and Smith’s throws will now often be much more horizontal, as the Chiefs’ offense (hopefully) caters to the limited skillset of its new quarterback.
That leaves Avery peering down a jagged cliff after his 60 receptions and 781 yards last year, both career highs.
Jon Baldwin (ADP: undrafted): If I was lazy (which I am, usually) I could pretty much copy and paste the words directly above regarding Avery. But although he’ll compete for the No. 2 wide receiver job opposite Bowe, Baldwin may be an even worse option if you’re in a deep, dark place at some point this season, and you’re reaching for a waiver wire plug and play. He had only four catches over the final six games last year, and he’s caught just 41 balls over 26 career games.
Dexter McCluster (ADP: undrafted): Yes, this is an offense which will cater to fast guys who excel in space, a description McCluster fits as the primary slot receiver. But eventually, there just won’t be enough footballs available, especially since Smith can only throw one at a time.
Throughout the offseason tinkering, Charles has been shifted everywhere, including the slot. With Charles’ versatility and the high volume of passes expected to land in his hands, McCluster will be minimized further.
The Mop-Up Men (deeeep sleepers, handcuffs, backups)
Anthony Fasano (ADP: undrafted): He’s a large red-zone target with the speed of a Commodore 64, and he’ll sporadically suck back yards and then fade back into nothingness. For example, last year in Miami Fasano had a four-game stretch with only 24 yards, and then 56 yards in a single game. That’s reliability at its finest, but like Moeaki (just to a far, far lesser extent), Fasano could get some limited looks due to both Reid’s short-yardage leaning, and Smith’s fondness for tight ends.
Shaun Draughn/Knile Davis (ADPs: both undrafted): They’ll compete to be Charles’ backup. If you’re investing a top five pick in a running back (especially one who’s only a year removed from being sidelined due to a knee explosion), securing his handcuff in a deep league is usually something wise people do.