Trent Richardson, RB, Cleveland Browns – Does this song sound the same as before? An Alabama RB enters the league with “minor dings” – and never reaches his potential. Recall Heisman Trophy winner and current New Orleans Saints RB Mark Ingram, who has barely 1,000 rushing yards..in two seasons. On a high-powered offense. Richardson is in Cleveland, under a new system with a new Head Coach in Rob Chudzinski, and reports are out that Richardson could miss the entire preseason with yet another “ding.” His NFL career is off to an inauspicious start for sure, and Chud would abandon/under-utilize the running game at times last season with the Carolina Panthers. Trent Richardson’s path just looks too similar to that of Ingram’s so far, and without the benefit of being “just another option” as Ingram is in New Orleans. When Richardson is on the field with Cleveland’s offense, the defenses are going to key on stopping him first – another thing Ingram doesn’t face in New Orleans – stacked fronts. Trent needs to prove to me he can stay healthy and carry the load before I’ll draft him. Certainly, being the “featured” running back is nice for fantasy owners, with most teams going with a backfield-by-committee situation, but there are just too many negatives to take Richardson in the first or second round, where someone will likely draft him. Don’t let that person be you! VALUE: RB2
Fred Jackson, RB, Buffalo Bills – If you really want a Buffalo Bills RB, look strongly at taking Fred’s teammate C.J. Spiller if he’s still there in the second or third round. Spiller’s the “breakout” candidate here. Jackson has been prone to injury and Spiller has gradually made the most out of his time on the field. I think the trend continues in 2013…at the expense of fantasy points for Freddo here. Jackson is also 32 years old, his best years are behind him, and the NFL is more and more a young man’s game. VALUE: BENCH
Stevan Ridley, RB, New England Patriots – AVOID is perhaps too strong a word for Ridley, but don’t expect a repeat performance out of him in 2013. Last season, he tallied over 1,200 rushing yards and 12 rushing TDs, but he’s a one-trick pony with all of 6 receptions. He also fumbled 4 times in his second year in the league and simply dropped several passes at the end of the year and in the playoffs. If you’re in a PPR league, he’s certainly no “value” and in regular leagues, he’ll be drafted too high, expecting a repeat of 2012’s statistics. New England’s offense looks to be more balanced this season and Shane Vereen has much better hands, so he should slice into Ridley’s touches. Don’t buy into the hype here but if somehow he falls to the 5th or 6th round, that’s about as early as I’d look into taking him. VALUE: RB2.
Ray Rice, RB, Baltimore Ravens – lil’ Ray has been a dynamo thus far in his career and has rushed for over a thousand yards in each of his 5 seasons, save for his rookie year as he was being groomed into the starting role for the 2009 campaign. Ray’s right in the prime of his career, but at age 26 already has over 1500 touches. If you think Ray will be “the featured back” in Baltimore in 2013, think again. While his skills haven’t diminished yet, that’s not the issue. Rising second-year pro Bernard Pierce should start eating into Rice’s carries and I know the coaches are really, really high on him. Pierce averaged 4.9 yds/carry in 2012 on 108 carries while Rice had 1,143 yds on 247 carries for a 4.4-yard average. If you’re into Sabremetrics, Pierce had a better yds/carry average on “good run-blocking” plays, which are plays where the defense doesn’t negate any of the offensive blocks on running plays. Clearly, Pierce’s star is on the rise, which means whoever drafts Ray Rice will probably be A) disappointed and B) over-drafting the guy. Unless Ray makes it into the 4th round of your league’s draft or beyond, stay away from him. His value for fantasy owners is as high as it’s ever going to be, and the assumptions moving forward on his production are very likely overstated. There will be better _value_ with most of the other running backs compared to Mr. Rice, and when you draft a guy in the top 3 rounds, you’re expecting a lot. VALUE: RB2
New England Patriots Tight Ends – The Patriots have the most talented TE duo in the NFL today. Period. Rob Gronkowski has great size and soft hands, making him a great red-zone threat and intermediate target over the middle and Aaron Hernandez has breakaway speed at the position, but both guys have issues staying healthy. With Rob Gronkowski having had several off-season surgeries on his troublesome forearm AND with yet another procedure for a completely different injury (back) on the docket, I have trouble believing Gronk will be able to reach his lofty totals of the recent past in 2013. That leaves Aaron Hernandez….Hernandez is also facing injury issues a bit late for comfort and hasn’t played in all 16 games in any of his 3 seasons in the NFL. At 6’1″ 245 lbs, he lacks ideal height to be a red-zone threat and he’s small for a 21st Century TE. He’s not the blocker that Gronk is, so even when healthy he’s not an all-purpose guy. I’m looking at a down year in New England overall (11-5-ish) while the Miami Dolphins push them hard for the AFC East crown and the Pats just don’t have all their ducks in a row this season. Call it a feeling or whatever, but I would completely avoid Gronk and Hernandez will be at best the 10th-15th TE in fantasy points in 2013. Gronk’s injury makes the entire position in New England very opaque right now. Look elsewhere. VALUE: BENCH (Gronk), TE2/BENCH (Hernandez)