This is the preview in which together, we’ll learn to forever abandon our Trent Richardson injury fears. We can do this.
Notable additions: Jason Campbell, Bryan Hoyer, Kellen Davis, Dion Lewis
Notable draft picks: The Browns (rightfully) went all defense during the draft, so outside of Barkevous Mingo in IDP leagues, there won’t be much fantasy impact to be found among their rookies.
The Marquee Men (the elitest of the elite)
Trent Richardson (ADP: 9.2): I know, you’re scared. You’re scared that Richardson will shatter, because due to multiple injuries during his first season, he’s gained the reputation of being an injury-prone jerk, even though that’s a little harsh and reactionary. Richardson missed the final game of the 2012 season with a high-ankle sprain after playing through two broken ribs in nine other games. And throughout this offseson he’s fought a shin injury which kept him sidelined for most of OTAs, and he only recently reached full health.
But we need to constantly remind ourselves that yes, sometimes in football bones break, so we should probably look at Richardson’s rookie season and the small sample size it’s given us from a different angle. Even though he lacked burst with an overall yards per carry of 3.6, and had seven games when his longest run was less than 10 yards, he still played NINE GAMES with broken ribs.
Seriously, repeat that to yourself a few times, and then read Richardson’s recollection of his physical state throughout much of that time. At the end of the season he still couldn’t lay flat on his back, and he needed to sleep propped up. Oh and also, at one point he needed help dressing and getting in and out of the shower. He’s not sane.
Yet despite that state of physical decay, he still somehow finished only 50 yards shy of a 1,000-yard rookie season on the ground, in addition of 367 receiving yards with 11 total touchdowns. His injury concerns, then, will actually benefit you, as long as you’re not a little scared man.
Again, expect a whole ton of touches for Richardson, especially early with Josh Gordon out for two games. Knowing that, where his current ADP resides there’s a reasonable chance that he falls into the second round, and getting a running back of Richardson’s caliber in the second round is a very beautiful thing.
Also, please remember that despite the many mentions of a vertical offense you’re about to see below, the foundation of Rob Chudzinski’s thinking is still a power running attack. During his first stint in Cleveland as an offensive coordinator, Jamaal Lewis rushed for 1,304 yards in 2007. As ESPN’s Tony Grossi notes, Lewis’ 298 carries that season ranked third among the team’s all-time single-season totals, and only Jim Brown has more yards in a season throughout the history of the franchise.
The Middle Men (middle-to-late round options)
Josh Gordon (ADP: 94.9): He’s suspended. This is true, and he also might be down to his last football life, and a football life is about an eighth of the length of a dog life. To be clear up front, we can’t just scoff at a two-game suspension, especially for fantasy football purposes. With most fantasy regular seasons ending in Week 13, that’s a sizable chunk of the year.
But if you can pursue enough depth at wide receiver elsewhere in the early rounds (and you can) to absorb Gordon being out for two games, his suspension will be a very good thing since the price for one of the league’s most promising young vertical options has been sufficiently lowered.
With the tandem of Rob Chudzinski and Norv Turner, the Browns’ offense will be filled with glorious, straight vertical lines. Over the past two years when Chudzinski was the offensive coordinator in Carolina, Steve Smith had 2,568 receiving yards, even though he’s now the ripe age of 33. This is the perfect, utopian fit then, because catching deep balls is Gordon’s best trick. Or perhaps his only trick.
When he first truly emerged last year starting in Week 5, a particularly remarkable stretch began. Gordon didn’t catch many balls, but when he did, he preferred to catch long balls. Over the next five games he caught 12 passes, and on those catches he averaged 27 yards per grab.
So I’ll use the same words written above regarding Richardson, but just change the name: getting a receiver of Gordon’s caliber at nearly the 100th overall pick is stupid good value.
Jordan Cameron (ADP: 147.0): If my grandmother, dog, gold fish, and freshly cut grass played fantasy football, they would all have Cameron as their sleeper. All of them
The offense fielded by Chud and Turner is one that features tight ends prominently. How do we know this? Well, that’s what happened in the past when the two were in San Diego together, when Turner was playing head coach while Chud played assistant coach and tight ends coach.
For more depth on this matter, I’ll direct you to a really smart guy who wrote about Cameron a few months ago:
When Turner was in San Diego with Chud as both his assistant coach and the tight ends coach between 2009 and 2010, Antonio Gates accumulated 1,861 receiving yards and 18 touchdowns. And this past season when Chudzinski was Carolina’s offensive coordinator, Greg Olsen averaged 52.7 yards per game with 843 yards overall, and five touchdowns.
Also, last season Olsen was targeted 104 times, the second-highest total of his six-year career. And his 2012 yardage was easily a career high (his previous high was 612 yards).
Sadly and predictably, Cameron’s ADP is rising steadily. Although he’s still deep in late-round tight end territory, his price has risen by a full round since the beginning of July. We should all start saying awful things about him.
The Menial Peons (sleepers, flex plays, and matchup plays)
Brandon Weeden (ADP: undrafted): If everything aligns properly for Weeden, he could be the beaming late-round quarterback gold we all seek at the end of the rainbow of crap. No seriously, I mean it, but right now with Gordon out it’s hard to justify using any draft pick on him. Any at all.
Let us review the ifs that need to land in Weeden’s lap right now:
- If Trent Richardson’s injury curse is lifted, he’ll be good.
- If Josh Gordon returns and is no longer an idiot, he’ll be good.
- If a vertical offense works and develops a rhythm over the first two weeks, he’ll be good.
But oh, there’s hope regardless of those obstacles. Chudzinski has said Weeden’s footwork improved significantly over the offseason, and he’s getting the ball out quicker. The latter observation is especially crucial in this offense, and ideally they’ll both lead to improvements over Weeden’s 57.4 completion percentage, 6.5 yards per pass attempt, and 72.6 passer rating.
Greg Little (ADP: undrafted): Calling Little inconsistent is an insult to things in our life that really are inconsistent. Like the weather, or how often you go to the gym. Over the first five games last year, his amount of catches (11) was dangerously close to his drops (6). Then that improved, and over the rest of the season he dropped only three passes.
Nine drops is still plenty, though, but he has some early value tied to Gordon’s suspension, however limited it might be because of the corners he’ll line up against (Brent Grimes, and Lardarius Webb). Little has been followed by a dangerous word through two seasons — “potential” — yet largely due to his drops, he’s averaged only 11.9 yards per catch.
The Mop-Up Men (deeeep sleepers and handcuffs)
Davone Bess (ADP: undrafted): Bess should be the slot receiver, a role he’ll likely maintain even when Gordon returns. He flashed speed during his time in Miami, particularly after the catch speed which led two sporadic +120 yard games last year, one against a premier pass defense (dem Seahawks).
Travis Benjamin (ADP: undrafted): The real sleeper wide receiver value lies with Benjamin, who will start opposite Little during Gordon’s suspension. There’s a lot of upside here, even in the small sample size of just 18 receptions we have to draw from during Benjamin’s rookie year. That’s because four of those catches went for 20 yards or more, and one catch was a 69 yarder.
Montario Hardesty (ADP: undrafted): If you’re a fan of doing intelligent things, you’ll handcuff Hardesty to Richardson. But be afraid and careful, because there’s at least a slight chance that one of Dion Lewis or Brandon Jackson could challenge for the backup role.