Every NFL season, a handful of fantasy studs spring out of seemingly nowhere. Last season, rookie T.Y. Hilton ranked in the top-ten in FP (fantasy points) among wide receivers under most scoring systems. Jacksonville Jaguars’ WR Cecil Shorts quietly posted WR1-like stats – I was able to pick him up in 2 of my 3 leagues last year as he helped me win a FFL championship.
But who is going to be jumping up in fantasy drafts that will see success in 2013? Here are my picks:
David Wilson, RB, New York Giants – David Wilson was chosen last in the first round in 2012 and fumbled his second rushing attempt of the season, placing him firmly in Tom Coughlin’s doghouse…until injuries to the Giants’ RB corps, including Ahmad Bradshaw, who is no longer with the team, allowed Wilson to see the field. Wilson came on strong towards the end of the season, however, and worked his way out of the RB Roach Motel partly through his skill in the return game. He’s a speedster out of the backfield and his special teams returns will only add to his fantasy value. He’ll never be a “featured” type of back due to his size, but should see a vastly increased workload. He’s not so much of a secret, but some fantasy owners eschew anyone they consider “risky.” Wilson’s not nearly as “risky” as his rookie season and Coughlin will have to lean on him by default.
Projection-Position: Round 3 – RB2
Lamar Miller, RB, Miami Dolphins – the Dolphins got a steal in the 2012 draft, taking this talented young man from across the street (U of Miami) in the 4th round. He was injured coming in so that probably kicked him out of a late-first or second-round slot had he been 100%. The Dolphins’ drafting him was the handwriting on the wall for popular RB Reggie Bush, who is now in Detroit. Miller carried the ball a little bit towards the end of the season and averaged a very nice 4.9 yds/carry. He looks to be “The Man” in Miami, and with defenses spread out worrying about the speed of Mike Wallace, Smith shouldn’t be facing many stacked fronts as his QB, Ryan Tannehill and Miami’s top pick of the same draft, has a howitzer arm with the ability to attack any part of the field on any given play. In a pass-first league, there should be plenty of running lanes for Miller to take advantage of. Fellow RB Daniel Thomas could see some vulture TDs down close, but Miller can do it all – including catch the ball and/or line up in the slot. He can block, too, making him a true 3-down back and can help him see even more snaps in 2013.
Projection-Position: Round 3 – RB2 or Round 2 – RB1/RB2 in PPR leagues
Michael Floyd, WR, Arizona Cardinals – Rookie WRs tend not to produce much, with a small group of exceptions, but the Cardinals’ offense was a complete train wreck in 2012. They had no offensive line and incompetent QB play – partly a result of their sieve-like offensive line. Carson Palmer may not be an All-Pro, but he should be a nice upgrade at the position and the Cardinals did add a couple of pieces to that line, starting with UNC guard Jonathan Cooper. They should have 2 new names at the guard spots on opening day 2013, and Palmer should have a little bit better protection (can’t get any worse). With defenses paying attention to top-3 NFL WR Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd’s production should only increase from his rookie campaign of 45 catches for 562 yards and 2 TDs.
Projection-Position: Round 6 – WR3/Flex
Alshon Jeffery, WR, Chicago Bears – The big 6’5″ Jeffery was expected to come in and help take heat off of 6’3″ WR Brandon Marshall, but got injured early and never did become much of a force. His stats were 24 rec 367 yds and 3 TDs. A healthy Jeffery entering his 2nd season should become Jay Cutler’s preferred red-zone target, which in turn will help his fantasy value. Between his height advantage over ANY corner – including the likes of 6’3″ Richard Sherman for instance – and the huge catching radius both he and Marshall have, Jeffery could develop into a clutch 3rd-down/possession receiver with the strength to break that first tackle and “YAC it up” just as Marshall does. With RB Matt Forte’s presence, anyone defending the Bears will have to pick their poison and Jeffery looks to be the one left in one-on-one coverage as Marshall commands double-teams. It’s a perfect set-up for Alshon…if he can only stay healthy.
Projection-Position: Round 5 – WR2 – partly due to TD/red zone targets. PPR Leagues: Round 7 – WR3/Flex
Antonio Brown, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers – Brown is my “boom or bust” pick for the group here. The Pittsburgh Steelers are in rebuilding mode, having had a disappointing 2012 campaign. They lost uber-deep-threat WR Mike Wallace, so the other WRs remaining will have to pick up the slack. Big Ben reminds me of an ancient QB named Jim Plunkett whose play was often ugly, but all he did was win ball games. Big Ben has deceptive athleticism and an especially strong QB who can shrugh off/duck tacklers to buy time for downfield throws, and they’ll be getting back their top draft pick in 2012 and the top-rated guard prospect in the draft that year, David DeCastro, who was injured in the preseason with a knee injury and lost for last season, so their o-line play should improve. With that in mind, Brown has already had one thousand-yard season in 2011, but only 2 TDs. Last year his yds/catch plummeted but his TDs increased to 5. This season, without Wallace (but with Emmanuel Sanders in the slot), defenses still have a couple of good receivers to cover, not to mention TE Heath Miller underneath especially in the red zone. But Brown has 4.3 speed himself (as does Sanders) and if he can stay healthy for all 16 games, I could easily see another thousand-yard season with at least half a dozen TDs. The bright spot is BOTH Steelers’ WRs I’ve mentioned should be under-rated going into most fantasy drafts. Since most managers are “what have you done for me lately?” types and Brown is a season removed from his 1,000-yard effort, he should slide in most drafts. His being only 24 years old means he’s still improving both mentally and physically. Finally, with the loss of RB Reshard Mendenhall to free agency, there is no primary bell-cow RB the Steelers can lean on…until/if one of their youngsters can break out of the pack. It all points to a big season for Antonio Brown in the steel city.
Projection-Position: Round 7 – WR3/Flex starter. PPR Leagues: Round 8-9 – Flex