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This week we discuss the following:
- Buccaneers offense
- Players facing decreased production
- Andy Dalton & Philip Rivers
- Maurice Jones-Drew & Ray Rice
- Ben Tate & Toby Gerhart
- Andre Ellington & Giovani Bernard
- Chris Johnson & Rashad Jennings
- Percy Harvin & Michael Crabtree
- Eric Decker & DeSean Jackson
Josh McCown was unexpectedly productive and efficient filling in for Jay Cutler last season with the Bears. Can he take that productivity with him to Tampa Bay, or was last season's success a product of Marc Trestman's system? Or was it just a fluke?
Matt Waldman: McCown looked good last year. Marc Trestman's offensive philosophy in Chicago offers a lot of QB-friendly details that prepare a passer to do well. Jeff Tedford's philosophy is similar. The fact that McCown has two bad-ball receivers on the perimeter is also a plus. Where the Buccaneers and Bears differ is the line of scrimmage. Writer Sander Philipse posits that Tedford will have his offensive line moving a lot to block for skill players that the team wants to get into open space.
This is something Tedford did at Cal, but I have reservations that the Bucs' line with at least three new starters will have the consistent rapport to do this effectively on a consistent basis in 2014. Expect some hiccups. Even so, I think McCown can provide high-end QB2 production for this team if it all clicks.
Jeff Pasquino: I'll keep it pretty simple—the Bucs paid McCown good money to come in and be their starter, giving him $10M for two years. McCown would not have left Chicago if he didn't think he had a great shot at starting, and he got just that here in Tampa Bay.
I happen to love his situation right now. Sure, Tampa Bay stated that they still like Mike Glennon and see him as their QB of the future, but that's exactly the right thing to say when you starter is 35 and is only locked up for two years. Now the Bucs can use McCown this year and next while Glennon learns the "old school" way while holding a clipboard.
McCown had great numbers last year with three big targets (Brandon Marshall at 6'4", Alshon Jeffery at 6'3, and TE Martellus Bennett at 6'6"). Vincent Jackson (6'5"), Mike Evans (6'5") and new tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins (6'6") are just as big. I think that McCown is a very solid QB2 with good QB1 upside in games where the Bucs will have to put up points to compete.
Chad Parsons: McCown has been a journeyman throughout his career. The highly efficient run in Chicago last season is most likely a perfect-storm scenario. I would not be surprised if Mike Glennon starts more games in 2014 (even without injury to McCown). Add to that the difference in receiving weapons in Tampa as I would put McCown in the possible matchup-play QB2 range. Brandon Marshall and Vincent Jackson are comparable, but Mike Evans as a rookie is not ready for the high-ceiling breakout that Alshon Jeffery experienced in 2013. Finally, Martellus Bennett and Matt Forte are far better than the collection of retread Brandon Myers and rookie Austin Seferian-Jenkins at tight end and Doug Martin at running back for this season.
Andy Hicks: Josh McCown may have matured as a quarterback, but he is on his eighth NFL team and at 35 years of age how much was as Chad suggested a perfect storm scenario last year with the Bears? While there are a lot of similarities with the Chicago system and what Tampa will be doing this year, I'd rather they just let Mike Glennon sit for a while and throw him in when McCown starts to struggle, and he will. Glennon showed remarkable poise in a turbulent season last year and with any improvement will be a very good starting QB. The starting receivers, both at wide receiver and tight end in the Tampa offense are huge and incredibly talented. Any QB starting with these guys has to be at least a QB2 and higher if the offense clicks.
James Brimacombe: Although the Buccaneers gave McCown a decent salary to come to town he still does not have the clear shot as their starting QB. Mike Glennon is young and only entering year two but he showed a lot in his rookie season throwing for 2,608 yards and 19 touchdowns in 13 games. Having two QB's that can start any week in the NFL is a major plus and McCown's $5 million a year contract makes a lot of sense even if it is only in a backup role. I have a hard time believing that a 35 year old journey man can walk right in and scoop up the starting QB job for a team that is young and in transition.
Matt Waldman: Sims fits the mold of one of these space players that Tedford likes, but so does Doug Martin. The player I believe is on the hot seat on the RB depth chart is Mike James, who is more of an interior hammer than a big-play space guy. Martin should remain the lead back and earn enough touches to see RB1 production if the offense clicks. Sims should see time and even provide some decent moments as a bye-week option if Tedford rotates the backs in Tampa like he once did at Cal. However, that rotation won't kill Martin's value as much as take some of the luster off.
Jeff Pasquino: Sims is going to be the third down back, catching the ball out of the backfield. He has great hands and good pass-blocking skills. He racked up over 200 receptions while at West Virginia and he should slot right in as the receiving back for Tampa Bay.
Chad Parsons: Charles Sims has one of the best receiving resumes coming out of college for any running back in the past 15 years. At a minimum, Sims will be a fully functional third-down option in the NFL. I do not agree with the Demarco Murray comparisons thrown around this offseason for Sims as an all-around back, but he can easily be a 35+ reception option out of the gate. Doug Martin is coming off of a sophomore season that was disappointing even before he missed the second half of the year with a shoulder injury. Both Mike James and Bobby Rainey performed well in his absence and now Charles Sims is added to the mix. There are four functional backs on the depth chart and Martin is not a world-beater talent. The upside for Doug Martin is evaporating as James' strength is as a between-the-tackles thumper and Sims' forte is as a receiver.
Andy Hicks: Reputation goes out the window when a new coaching staff takes on an NFL team and while Doug Martin was sensational in 2012, he was average before injury in 2013 and the drafting of Charles Sims has to be analyzed very carefully. History is littered with running backs struggling or losing their place on the depth chart when new coaches bring a different style or want "their" guys to play. While it seems incongruous that Martin won't be the lead back with Tampa Bay, stranger things have happened. I will be looking at training camp reports very carefully here as the Bucs have a talented backfield and there seems to be no reason to believe that if a guy earns playing time, he'll get it, regardless of reputation. Charles Sims was drafted high and as one of the first three draft picks for the new organization has to be considered a statement pick. What his role is remains to be seen, but all my ears and eyes will be open on this situation.
James Brimacombe: I am with Jeff on this one, that Sims is primarily going to see the field on third downs. All of a sudden Tampa's running back situation looks crowded with Doug Martin, Mike James, Bobby Rainey, and now Charles Sims. Martin is still the guy in Tampa Bay but with the physical abuse and pounding running backs take in the league nowadays it is a good game plan to have more than one capable back. The Buccaneers' ran Martin hard in his rookie season and luckily escaped without any injury, but 2013 was a much different tale as Martin got banged up in week seven and ended the year on IR. The addition of Sims gives the Bucs more options down the road and it also presents a very solid add to the RB depth chart.
In terms of being able to contribute immediately, how does Mike Evans stack up with some of the other highly drafted wide receivers from recent years?
Matt Waldman: Evans can contribute immediately, but I'm not expecting more than WR3 fantasy production. Look for Jackson and Martin to be the big offensive cogs and if Tim Wright retains a role in the offense it could diminish Evans' upside this year. I think a safe total to project for Evans is 600-650 yards and 6-8 touchdowns.
Jeff Pasquino: I like him to start right away but he may have some time to adjust to the NFL, just like any rookie. The good news is that Tampa Bay has a WR1 already in Vincent Jackson and a solid RB1 with Doug Martin. Defenses will not key on Evans, so he can work against single coverage while he adjusts to the higher level of competition. I see him as a solid WR3 option this year with far more impact than any first round WR from last year (Tavon Austin, DeAndre Hopkins, Cordarrelle Patterson). His first year may not rival Keenan Allen, but that's his potential for this year. I can see Evans finishing in the Top 30-40 wideouts in his rookie campaign.
Chad Parsons: Mike Evans is just an infant in terms of his experience coming out of college. He is a converted basketball player and really only had one season of quality production prior to being drafted. Plus he is will be 21.0 years old when week one kicks off, one of the youngest drafted receivers in the past 15 years. The good thing is Evans will see a ton of single coverage with Vincent Jackson across from him and he excels with jump balls, where a refined NFL game is not a prerequisite. Rarely does a wide receiver become fantasy-viable as a rookie and Mike Evans does not have a well-rounded game to project him as an early-career outlier. Sammy Watkins, Kelvin Benjamin, and Brandin Cooks would be my best bets to have decent fantasy production as rookies this season.
Andy Hicks: Mike Evans will almost certainly start. Most other first round rookie wide receivers have to earn their playing time or start as the third or fourth option, unless Evans is injured or severely struggles he will be in as a starter. In the last 10 years, 26 wide receivers have registered 100 fantasy points or more as a rookie. That should be his baseline. Of those 26 guys, only 12 were first round picks. For the guys drafted in round two onwards the vast majority had to prove themselves and either got their chance through injury or using the most of limited opportunities. For the 12 first round picks, six were top 10 picks like Evans. Later first round guys like Cordarrelle Patterson and Hakeem Nicks had to earn playing time in their rookie season. Of the six top 10 picks in the last 10 years to register 100 fantasy points, they ranged from Calvin Johnsons 114.20 to A.J. Greens 153. Of course not all top 10 rookie receiver get 100 fantasy points, but with opportunity and no injuries we have to presume that Evans is good for at least 114 fantasy points which would have ranked him 34th last year. His upside could be 150 points, which is fantasy WR2 territory. If Evans struggles or isn't a starter, then we have to reevaluate.
James Brimacombe: Evans is my favorite rookie this season, and I would even go as far as preferring him over Sammy Watkins now and for the future. Evans has plenty of positives working in his favor as he has the size and physical skills to find ways to get open, make leaping catches, find the ball in traffic and most of all his run after the catch ability is very surprising for a big body WR. The fact that he also has Vincent Jackson lined up on the other side of the field as him is going to allow him to get open and show his skill set very early on in his career. The potential for a 60+ catch season with 800+ yards and 6+ touchdowns is very attainable in his rookie season. I would put him just a notch below Keenan Allen as far as what can be expected in his rookie season.
Every year there are a few players who fade from fantasy stardom to backup status. Who is your prime candidate for that dubious distinction this season?
James Brimacombe: The two guys that come to mind are Wes Welker and Darren Sproles. I feel that they are both in high scoring offenses that can produce a large amount of fantasy points each week but both of their individual roles are dwindling. Welker looked tired at the end of last season and the fact that the Broncos brought in Emmanuel Sanders and Cody Latimer tells me they are looking for that burst and to stay fresh down their stretch playoff run. Besides that Denver also has a running game that is looking to get going with Montee Ball coming into year two, and with both Demaryius Thomas and Julius Thomas demanding targets it is going to be hard for Welker to continue his success in the PPR world. As with Sproles coming to Chip Kelly's Eagles offense seems to be a match made in heaven. I understand he is being drafted as a fantasy RB3/Flex type and that is perfect for PPR formats but I have a feeling that the Eagles are going to continue to spread the ball out to all of their playmakers on offense. Sproles will have plenty of opportunities catching passes from Foles but he is going to be hard to trust as an every week flex start at best.
Chad Parsons: Knowshon Moreno is an easy answer for an automatic fantasy starter last year turning back into a pumpkin. No Peyton Manning getting Moreno into the best possible situations will reveal the middling physical talent Moreno has become in Miami. As for pass-catchers, I see this as the year Anquan Boldin falls off and Charles Clay will revert to a waiver wire dweller after everything worked out for him to see far more targets than his versatile, but limited role, warranted last season.
While others will see White's return to health, the return of Julio Jones, and the loss of Tony Gonzalez all as positives, with some even expecting White to return to being a top 20 WR, I see the presence of Harry Douglas and a likely return to the run game as reasons White cannot be a reliable fantasy starter this year.
Harry Douglas was targeted 132 times last year and clocked over 1,000 yards receiving. White, meanwhile, posted far less impressive stats. While others in your league grab White in the fifth round, wait until the kickers and defenses get taken and grab Douglas instead. As for the Falcons running game, they ranked last in the league in rushing attempts and rushing yards. While Steven Jackson may not have much left in the tank, the Falcons will take whatever they can get from him, rookie Devonta Freeman and Jacquizz Rodgers this year and are certain to have a much better balanced unit in 2014.
Matt Waldman: Of those two quarterbacks, give me Rivers. Keenan Allen should be better now that he'll have a full offseason where he's trying to be a good football player rather than a part-time workout warrior for the combine and pro days. Ladarius Green is progressing nicely and if he can continue to show that he doesn't need to benefit from Antonio Gates' presence, this offense could be even better.
James Brimacombe: With Andy Dalton and Philip Rivers both having big years last season, I would put my money on Rivers to repeat the production. The Bengals are struggling when it comes to winning playoff games and for them to get over that hump, their game plan has to change to a more balanced attack and that was made evident by drafting Giovani Bernard last year and following it up with Jeremy Hill this year look for them to control more games with their running game. Sure, Dalton was a top five QB last year, but for him to put up 33 touchdowns again seems a little much, especially considering his 586 attempts and 20 INTs. Rivers on the other hand has shown in the past that he can be a top five QB and has eight straight seasons with at least 21 passing touchdowns.
Jeff Pasquino: I have to say Ray Rice. Rice slimmed down in the offseason (losing 10 pounds) from a heavier body weight that greatly slowed him down last year. As long as he does not get a substantial suspension, I think he stays the top back for the Ravens and holds off Bernard Pierce from any significant work. Jones-Drew has lots of challengers for snaps with Darren McFadden and even Marcel Reece in the Raider backfield. I expect Rice to be a fantasy RB2 with upside when he starts, while Jones-Drew is a flex option at best.
Stephen Holloway: As long as Ray Rice avoids a lengthy suspension, I agree with Jeff that he will outperform Maurice Jones-Drew. The Ravens offense struggled with consistency and Rice was hindered by lingering injuries most of last season. Look for improved offensive line play and better holes for a more healthy Rice to run through. You can always count on Rice to catch a lot of passes as he averages over 60 catches per season. Jones-Drew will have more competition for playing time with Darren McFadden and Marcel Reece and all three of those guys are decent receiving backs so they will share the receptions as well as the carries. Jones-Drew may have difficulty matching last year's totals of 803 yards rushing and 43 receptions.
Chad Parsons: While both are low-level upside plays, I will bet on Maurice Jones-Drew over Ray Rice to be starting caliber this season. Rice has looked completely done lately and still has pending off-the-field concerns. Jones-Drew is playing behind Darren McFadden who struggles to string together more than four games of health prior to heading to the sidelines. Jones-Drew is likely to see a handful of starts this season and still has a well-rounded game to contribute to starting fantasy lineups.
Andy Hicks: I have to agree with Jeff here, Ray Rice for me. By a long way. Twenty-nine year old backs changing teams, who were awful in their last year, rarely bounce back to some kind of fantasy success. I'm not saying that Rice can bounce back to RB1 status as he was clearly ineffective last year, but given the choice of the two Rice is the clear winner pending an unlikely lengthy suspension.
Ben Tate and Toby Gerhart are both transitioning from being number two guys behind major studs, to getting their chance as starters for new teams. Which guy is better set up for fantasy success, considering their respective talents and team situations?
Jeff Pasquino: Gerhart can be a feature tailback—he was just behind one of the best in the game while playing in Minnesota. Adrian Peterson blocked his path much like Michael Turner was blocked by LaDainian Tomlinson. I like Gerhart to make a good splash in Jacksonville as they try and re-build (again) the offense.
While I do like Ben Tate, he has had a long list of injuries since he was drafted and went down in his very first preseason. He is not on an offensive juggernaut franchise either in Cleveland, who is likely to be without Josh Gordon for a lengthy amount of time this year. Tate also has two rookies (third-round draft pick Terrance West and UDFA Isaiah Crowell) right behind him to challenge for work, while Gerhart has to only contend with Jordan Todman and rookie Storm Johnson. I give a decided edge to Gerhart.
Stephen Holloway: I do not have faith that Ben Tate will have sustained success in Cleveland. Even in a part-time role in Houston, he has missed games every season. In addition, he had only four games in his three years with Houston where he had over 20 carries in a game. Despite Cleveland having a decent offensive line, they haven't produced a 1,000 yard rusher since Peyton Hillis in 2010. That might be the result of poor quarterback play as much as ineffective running, but lack of wide receivers may limit quarterback effectiveness in 2014 even if one of Hoyer or Manziel plays better than their predecessors. Toby Gerhart's situation with Jacksonville may not be much better, but he should have a clear opportunity to be the lead back. Gerhart should have fresh legs as he has only 276 rushes over four years in Minnesota as Adrian Peterson's understudy. I favor Gerhart over Tate, but expect neither to top 1,000 yards rushing. Gerhart's receptions should allow him to out produce Tate.
Andy Hicks: I have Tate rated higher than Gerhart, but have little confidence in either.
How Tate fares will depend on who the starting quarterback is and the progress of rookies Terrance West and Isaiah Powell. As Jeff mentioned, Tate does have a significant injury history as well. All told, a lot has to go right for Tate to end up as a fantasy RB1 or a more realistic upside RB2. I do believe that if Tate can hold off the rookies and stay healthy, he has an excellent shot to be successful this year. At worst his downside is still worth at least 10 carries a game.
Gerhart on the other hand has a more stable situation, with no real challenge for playing time. He however isn't as talented a runner and I need to see more than just spot production before I invest into his fantasy prospects. Jeff mentions the Michael Turner situation, but there are plenty of guys who fail when given the opportunity on a new franchise. I believe Gerhart will start with a lot of carries, but opposing defenses aren't going to be afraid of any passing game the Jaguars have and Gerhart will struggle for room. At some stage of a developing season, the Jaguars will realize that Gerhart isn't all that good and look at introducing other options. Gerhart would be a solid back sharing time or as a backup, but I need to see him produce as a starter before I can be convinced of his fantasy worth.
Andre Ellington and Giovani Bernard are both electrifying runners who flashed big-play ability as rookies, but were eased into the NFL behind less exciting veterans for a year. This season they'll get more chances to shine as starters. Who has the greater potential to become a top-ten fantasy RB?
Jeff Pasquino: This is a tough one. Ellington is explosive and the Cardinals want to give him a lot of touches, but I think he is better served with fewer carries (and hits) to keep him fresh to bust a big play. Bernard will get more chances but may lose some goal line work to either rookie Jeremy Hill or third-string BenJarvus Green-Ellis. Bernard should get more PPR love as he should see lots of targets as a receiver as well, so despite the threat of goal line vulturing I will go with Bernard.
Andy Hicks: Until the Bengals drafted Jeremy Hill in the second round I would have said Bernard in a heartbeat. Taking Hill with the 55th overall pick has to hurt Bernard's prospects of being a fantasy RB1. The general consensus is that BenJarvus Green-Ellis will be let go if Jeremy Hill has any kind of grip on the playbook and pass protection schemes. As Jeff mentioned, Bernard will be much better served in PPR leagues. 71 targets as a rookie has to be considered the baseline for this year and while I think Hill or Green-Ellis or a combination of the two will be the dominant ball carriers, Bernard will see considerable time here too.
Andre Ellington on the other hand seems to have a clear run at being the starter, but doesn't seem to have the size to be an every down back. Coach Arians stated he can see Ellington with 25-30 touches a game, but that is likely to be a risky strategy. Ellington was great when given limited opportunities. If he can handle the additional work without losing his explosiveness, then he has a fantasy RB1 upside, but in the same statement coach Arians said that he'd rather "let Stepfan Taylor or (Jonathan Dwyer) have the rest of the carries pound the rest of the ball up in there".
In conclusion both have RB1 upside, but are much more likely to be RB2 backs who simply won't see enough rushing attempts to push into that top bracket. I believe that Bernard will see more touches and therefore be more likely to break into that top 10.
Matt Waldman: I'll take Rashad Jennings over Chris Johnson. The Giants' west coast offense under Ben McAdoo is a good fit for Jennings, who has excellent hands as a receiver to complement his size to pound the ball between the tackles. Johnson enters a Jets' dynamic that has a history of rotating runners in and out of the lineup due to situation, poor performance, and turnovers. Remember, Chris Ivory is still with the team and he was supposed to be a major factor last year. The Jets also added Daryl Richardson and kept Bilal Powell. Neither of these players are as exciting as Johnson and Ivory, but they are steady and if Johnson continues to look like he did the past few years in Tennessee, Jennings will be the much safer and productive bet.
Jeff Pasquino: I like Jennings, as he can be a feature tailback when called upon (as in right now) and has shown that most recently. Johnson has lost that ability even when given numerous chances to re-prove himself. Throw in that there is more competition with the Jets (Ivory, Powell, Richardson) than with the Giants. David Wilson is great when healthy, but it remains to be seen if he can recover. Rookie Andre Williams is the biggest threat to Jennings and even if they split time, I like Jennings' fantasy outlook much more than Chris Johnson. The Jets don't have a passing game that can set up the run either, which Eli Manning and the Giants seem to have with three versatile wide receivers ready to go this season in Victor Cruz, Reuben Randle, and rookie Odell Beckham.
Chad Parsons: I agree with Matt on betting on Rashad Jennings over Chris Johnson. While I doubt Jennings will start more than half the season due to an injury or two, at least Jennings will be a viable starter when active unlike Johnson.
Andy Hicks: I have to take the opposite view of both Jeff and Matt here. While I think Chris Johnson will do well in New York, I really have little faith in Rashad Jennings. Until Jennings got hot in the last eight games with the Raiders, he was a career underachiever or a guy that got injured every time opportunity landed on his door step. Did he stay with the Raiders? Nope, he moved to another new team where he has to prove himself and compete for playing time with potentially David Wilson and fourth round rookie Andre Williams. At age 29, with a troubling injury history, on a new team with competition for playing time I have to disagree with Matt and say he's not the safer choice here. In fact I consider him incredibly risky for a guy going in the top 60.
Chris Johnson is 28, and six months younger if that really matters. He has however been incredibly durable for a feature back. The only game he has missed in a six year career was week 17 in his rookie season when he was rested for the playoffs by the Titans. Johnson is an explosive back who will work well with either Geno Smith or Michael Vick, as their mobility will give Johnson room he has not had since Vince Young was the QB in Tennessee. I don't believe it is a coincidence that Johnson had his best year when Young was the QB with the Titans and Johnson posted 11 100 rushing yard games in a row. Johnson may have lost a yard or two, but will be the pass catching back and should exceed 200 carries. Chris Ivory has nowhere near the talent level of Johnson and has had several injury plagued seasons.
Johnson will be pushing for RB1 status and be excellent value for a late RB2 draft slot. Jennings will once again disappoint those who have to pay the highest price they've ever had to pay for him.
Stephen Holloway: I am going to agree with Andy and prefer Chris Johnson to Rashad Jennings. The Jets have a decent offensive line and Chris Johnson will be their most talented running back since an aging LaDainian Tomlinson several years back. The quarterback play should be better this year as well. Johnson is definitely not as explosive as he once was, but he is good enough to be the lead back for the Jets and will catch a lot of check-down passes as well. Jennings is a 29-year old former seventh round pick that is switching teams for the second time in two seasons playing for a team that will depend heavily on their passing game.
Percy Harvin and Michael Crabtree probably would have been drafted as top ten wide receivers last season had they been healthy. Each missed most of the season with injury, however, before returning late in the year. Each is being drafted far outside the top ten at their position this year. Are fantasy owners improperly devaluing them due to short memories, or appropriately discounting them based on legitimate risk factors?
Matt Waldman: The Harvin-Crabtree ADPs are a product of two things: injury concerns and fantasy owners looking at the 49ers and Seahawks' offenses and passing judgment on the aerial games of each team. Without us knowing the intimate details of either player's recent injuries, Crabtree's Achilles' surgery is a greater concern on the surface than Harvin's hip. In this respect, I think it's fair for fantasy owners to devalue these players—Crabtree for his recent woes during the past year; Harvin for his overall difficulty staying healthy the past two seasons.
The current ADP is a fair assessment of the risk/reward that both players present (mid-to-late fourth round in 12-team leagues). Both are capable of stronger production than what fantasy owners realistically expect from a fourth-round fantasy wide receiver—low-end WR2/high-end WR3 production. However, the injury risk depresses the value to an appropriate cost.
What's interesting to me is that Crabtree, whose Achilles' injury is the type of issue that can rob a player of explosion, has a higher ADP than Harvin's. I get that Harvin has missed a lot of time the past two years, but even with the migraine issues the Seahawks' new receiver only missed three games during his first three seasons.
I would rate Harvin higher than Crabtree because of their respective offenses. This is the area where I believe most fans might be wrong. Fans look at the San Francisco and Seattle offenses and see run-heavy units with quarterbacks that "manage" the game. Even if you soften the sting of that assessment and use the phrase "dynamic game manager" to account for Kaepernick's and Wilson's skill outside the structure of the play, the priority of the run game in the recent past suggests that passing production will remain modest for fantasy owners in the future.
I believe this is the case with the 49ers. I wrote about Kaepernick as an overrated fantasy option last year—he's not a progression-savvy reader of defenses at the highest levels of NFL quarterbacking. At least not yet, and I'd be surprised if he manages a huge jump in 2014. However, the addition of receiver like Steve Johnson confirms to me that the 49ers know what they have in Kaepernick and don't expect a big change.
Note that Steve Johnson, Anquan Boldin, Quinton Patton, Michael Crabtree, Bruce Ellington, and Brandon Lloyd (if he sticks) are all "bad ball" receivers. They win the ball in the air and extreme precision isn't as monumental a factor with them as other receivers. I can see Kaepernick providing low-end QB1 fantasy production if all the starting receivers stay healthy, but I don't believe that year after year he'll ever be a consistent QB1 within the top 3-5 fantasy passers.
I'm more optimistic about Russell Wilson and the Seahawks offense. Seattle has made references to its offense's continued evolution. The addition of Harvin and the draft-day acquisitions of Paul Richardson Jr and Kevin Norwood signify a more quarterback-friendly, big-play element is on the horizon—not immediately this year, but within the next 2-3 seasons. Wilson has been a top-12 fantasy quarterback for each of his past two seasons and his touchdown/interception ratios and production totals rival the best in the game at the same point of their development track.
Seattle will continue to run the ball because Marshawn Lynch is one of the five best running backs in the game today. However, this team wants to transition to a balanced offense that may someday favor the pass. If Harvin stays healthy, he's capable of WR1 production in this offense even as the Seahawks run the ball a lot. The Texans Andre Johnson has been a fantasy WR1 during four of the past five seasons despite the Texans preference to pound the ball with Arian Foster. The only reason Johnson didn't have a shot to make this five straight seasons was injury.
If you believe that Harvin can stay healthy, he's undervalued as a fourth-round pick. I'd probably take him two rounds earlier as my WR2 or even a WR1 if I went with a fantasy RB or TE in the first round.
James Brimacombe: Percy Harvin's and Michael Crabtree's current ADPs are more of a reflection of the teams that they play on. Both the Seahawks and the 49ers have well balanced offenses when it comes to throwing the ball. There is not a clear number one WR in those two offenses and they are both teams that like to rely on their defenses and play clock management with their strong running games. When you think about top 10 or even top 20 fantasy WRs you want to get guys that are being fed the ball each week regardless if they are on a good or bad team. Both Harvin and Crabtree are solid WR2 types and have the ability to put up big numbers any given week.
Chad Parsons: I agree with Matt that Percy Harvin is the better fantasy option than Michael Crabtree. I do think more of Colin Kaepernick as a fantasy asset and producer in coming seasons. The added weapons in the 49ers passing game will spread the wealth away from Crabtree more so than Harvin in an equally run-heavy Seattle offense on a per-game basis.
Andy Hicks: I'm even lower than the consensus rankings on both Crabtree and Harvin. They are both currently slotted to be drafted in the fourth round and while I agree with most of the thoughts from the other guys, especially James, I really have to advise caution to anyone even considering taking either one.
Harvin has played in only 10 of the last 32 regular season games. That is not going to help you win your league. Sure he could be healthy and be a big part of the offense this year, but it has to be remembered that he has not proven a single thing in the Seattle offense. Sure he made some guest appearances in the playoffs, but his performances were not fantasy relevant. You can gamble on Harvin in the fourth and you may get lucky, but until he proves his durability and role in this offense, then I'll take a more reliable option in the fourth. If he's there in the sixth or 7th, it's a better gamble.
Crabtree was fantastic in 2012, but he had a washed up Randy Moss, an unfit Mario Manningham and the blocking version of Vernon Davis playing for the 49ers. Last year Anquan Boldin admirably played that role and Vernon Davis saw a resurgence as a receiver. Add in Steve Johnson and the 49ers do not throw the ball enough for Crabtree to be the single dominant player he was in 2012. Let's throw in doubts about his recovery from his Achilles injury and an even more run focused offense, if that's possible and Crabtree is almost a wasted pick in the fourth. I'll even put another log into the fore with the contract extension talks being a potentially volatile situation. Crabtree will be expecting a lot more money than the 49ers are likely to want to pay. If agreement is reached here, then the size of the contract needs to be examined to see if the 49ers do truly think he is a marquee receiver or just another guy.
Matt Waldman: The ability is still there for both to be successful. The questions are the offensive system, coaching, organization, and quarterback. I don't have much faith in either organization at this time. Jay Gruden's offense is likely to be more receiver-friendly and Robert Griffin III has the deep ball prowess to make a Jackson a fantasy option capable of giving his owners huge numbers in any given week. The potential for the Jets to have a QB carousel is too great for me to regard Decker with any optimism. Even as a seventh-round value, I'd rather consider another player or position.
James Brimacombe: With Decker and Jackson finding new homes they could face some growing pains in year one with their new teams. The Jets offense is in transition now and Decker coming from a Peyton Manning run offense is not going to see nearly the production that he once had. He could put up some nice PPR numbers each week as the Jets are very limited on weapons on offense, but finding the end zone as often as he did in Denver (24 touchdowns) the past two season is not going to happen. Jackson, on the other hand, is coming off a career year in Philadelphia, and his coming to Washington with Griffin throwing him the ball is not going to result in as big of a drop in production as Decker's. Washington's passing offense is shaping up nice with Pierre Garcon, DeSean Jackson, Andre Roberts, and Jordan Reed looking to help open the field up for Robert Griffin III III. Jackson is still a high upside WR2 as Decker would fall into the low end WR3 rankings.
Chad Parsons: Both DeSean Jackson and Eric Decker are off of my radar for the coming season in a fantasy sense. The general sentiment I have heard about Decker this offseason is that he will be 'the guy' on the Jets offense, which will compensate for the lack of Peyton Manning and all those red zone and high-leverage opportunities. Poor quarterback play rarely fuels top-12 fantasy production at wide receiver and Decker could be dealing with one of the absolute worst throwing quarterbacks in the NFL. Decker is going to have trouble finishing even within the top 36 fantasy receivers. With DeSean Jackson, he had no competition for targets in Philadelphia and now Pierre Garcon is a legitimate running mate. Both Decker and Jackson fall into a price range where I am looking for high-upside and neither possess it for 2014.
Andy Hicks: Eric Decker is going to find it difficult to adjust to life without Peyton Manning. Two consecutive top eight fantasy finishes are going to be history and Decker is going to be the primary target for whoever wins the battle between Geno Smith and Michael Vick. If Geno Smith has made significant progress or if Vick brings his "A" game, then Decker could be a surprise, but a still developing Smith or an inaccurate Vick will be bad news.
As for DeSean Jackson, he has the luxury of some other quality targets on his team. Pierre Garcon and Jordan Reed have a rapport with Robert Griffin III III, while Jackson may take some time to get on the same page. He won't have as much pressure as Decker will, but if he clicks with the Washington offense then solid numbers can be expected. I guess we won't truly know with Jackson until we see his role through training camp, but I definitely see more potential from Jackson who does have a higher upside.
That will do it for this edition of the Footballguys Preseason Roundtable. Please join us again next week.