May 10, 2013; Englewood, CO, USA; Denver Broncos running back Montee Ball (38) during rookie minicamp at the Broncos training facility. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Fantasy Football: Pre-Training Camp Edition

Fantasy Football has grown by leaps and bounds over the past 10 years and I’ve been playing it since before it was “cool.”

I figured I would pass along some of my feelings and observations as training camps start winding up:

WATCH the Dallas Cowboys

Dallas is already shaping up as a strange team to predict overall with injuries on their defensive line. DT Jay Ratliff may miss significant time with a strained leg and isn’t the only injured Cowboy D-lineman. DE Tyrone Crawford tore his ACL and is out for the season. Unless you’re in an insanely deep FFL, Neither is going to be drafted even if healthy so why am I mentioning this?

Several reasons. First, Head Coach Jason Garrett is on record for wanting to run the ball more in 2013, but he has fragile DeMarco Murray as his bell-cow back. This should help Murray’s fantasy value on the surface, but I’d stay away from him in any draft unless he falls to the 5th round or beyond. While he can put up monster numbers when healthy, he can’t help you from the training room.

With depth being an early issue on the Cowboys’ D-line, their defense should suffer a bit so I’d be leery about drafting their DEF unit. It also means they’ll be more susceptible to having to play from double-digit deficits at times, so the running game will suffer there anyway.

So what’s the GOOD news?

Well, Tony Romo should be around fairly late in your draft. For some reason, he’s unloved in fantasy football in general although he’s finished in the top-8 fantasy QBs in fantasy points in 3 of the past 4 years, and the Dallas Cowboys schedule is extremely soft against teams stopping the pass.

That’s great news for both Tony Romo AND Dez Bryant, and Bryant could be a top-3 WR in all of fantasy football because of it and his own growth as a player. Bryant isn’t going to sneak up on many people so he won’t be much of a value pick, but he should be a high producer for you if you can get him after getting a couple of those bell-cow RBs that are such a vanishing breed from a decade ago.

Dez Bryant Should be Second among WRs in FP

Entering his fourth season, it appears that this guy has finally matured into the game-changing professional that the Cowboys thought they were getting when they drafted him out of Oklahoma State. I don’t think he’s going to vanish, as he has been known to do in random games. Put together the fact that the Cowboys face the easiest pass-defenses of any NFL team schedule, at least as far as giving up FP to QBs, and that says Dez should flourish in 2013.

Lamar Miller Appears to be the Real Thing

I’ve mentioned him in the past, and he’s another guy who isn’t going to sneak up on anyone. He’s a guy that might be over-drafted simply because he only had 51 carries as a rookie (for about a 6-yard average) and as such he’s not yet a known quantity. However, remember the Dolphins let Reggie Bush walk even though he had played better for Miami than he ever did in New Orleans, so that speaks volumes about how the Dolphins feel about Lamar Miller.

Miller should, if healthy, put up RB1-type numbers in Joe Philbin’s West Coast offense and especially in PPR leagues. He can do it all, and if he’s around in the 3rd or 4th round, you should grab him. The former Hurricane is compared to another former Hurricane, Clinton Portis.

David Wilson and Hakeem Nicks should bounce back

Wilson fumbled early as a rookie and got stuck in Tom Coughlin’s doghouse but showed great ability in preseason games and toward the end of the season. Without Amhad Bradshaw, Wilson should see a lot more action, can also be a factor in the return game, and see his fantasy value explode in 2013. With teams worrying about Eli Manning, Victor Cruz, and Hakeem Nicks being in a contract year, watch for Nicks’ production to increase if he can stay healthy.

Jul 27, 2013; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Giants running back David Wilson during training camp at Timex Performance Center. Mandatory Credit: John Munson/The Star-Ledger via USA TODAY Sports

Wilson, however, is only 5’9″ 205 lbs and may not stand up to being the go-to back. He’ll run the ball some for sure, but look for the Giants to get him the ball with some short/screen passes and in the return game. Andre Brown at 227 lbs. could be a surprise producer in New York so keep an eye on their RBs, usage and production during the pre-season.

Mike Wallace will probably be overdrafted

With the Dolphins having a big-armed young QB and adding weapons right and left this offseason, everyone has heard about Mike Wallace’s presence and hopeful big-play impact in South Florida.

However, with SO many weapons now and with defenses fearing Wallace’s deep speed and big-play ability so much, he’s the one that is going to be seeing the double-coverage. He also has a history of being dinged up, so he’s a boom-or-bust guy. He’s not the perfect wideout people think, which is why the Steelers let him go…not to mention some bad blood between them with his contract talks and holdout last season.

He drops catchable passes and doesn’t run perfect routes, so it should take time for he and Tannehill to get on the same page. I’d look for a relatively slow start from him.

Devious Duo in Denver isn’t who you think

I’m talking about Ronnie Hillman and Montee Ball, not Manning and Welker. John Fox has ALWAYS been a “run-first” coach. Just look at how he used Tim Tebow to win a playoff game. But Hillman’s the “lighnting” and Ball is the “thunder” here. I’m quite certain that Fox wants to establish the run, keeping the heat off of 36 yr old Peyton Manning, and allowing him to dissect defenses when the play call is there.

The NFC may have a lot more good teams than the AFC does, but Denver and Houston are as talented as they come.

Jul 22, 2013; Davie, FL, USA; Miami Dolphins tight end Dustin Keller (81) catches a pass in front of linebacker Jonathan Freeny (56) during training camp at the Doctors Hospital Training Facility at Nova Southeastern University. Mandatory Credit: Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports

Watch out for the sleepers

With Lamar Miller being no secret, turn to the Pittsburgh Steelers and their rookie RB, La’Veon Bell. Incumbent RBs Jonathan Dwyer and Isaac Redman had their chances last season and weren’t the most spectacular guys. Bell is a bit more of a deep sleeper than some, and he could wind up with a monster rookie season. Don’t forget, Pittsburgh gets back LAST season’s first-round pick in guard David DeCastro, so his presence will only help whoever is toting the rock inside…and at 6’1 244 lbs, Bell is a LOAD. I think the Steelers want a Bus v. 2.0, and Bell could very well be that guy. Keep an eye on his progress during training camp and see how he is in the pass-blocking game. That will be the key to how much he sees the field come opening day.

Watch the New York Jets and RB Chris Ivory. He’s got a lot of tread left and a lot of experience at the same time. Rex Ryan loves the “Ground and Pound” and Ivory’s going to be the man there. He showed a lot of ability in his time with the New Orleans Saints and now he’s got his chance.

Remember when San Diego let Michael Turner go in Free Agency to Atlanta? What was his production? Can’t blame the Chargers for letting him go – they had LaDanian Tomlinson. Ivory is in a similar situation.

November 25, 2012; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints running back Chris Ivory (29) carries against the San Francisco 49ers during third quarter of their game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

Stevan Ridley won’t be the guy in FF that he was last year. Instead, look for Shane Vereen to take some production away. His value is going to be even better in PPR leagues this year because of the issues the Patriots have with their personnel catching the ball. Danny Amendola might be a good steal if you can get him late enough, but I don’t think he’s a Wes Welker. TE Rob Gronkowski is their only threat there, and his health is uncertain. WRs otherwise are sparse, but someone will emerge with Brady throwing it.

What it all means is that Ridley has no hands and Vereen does. Bill Belichick doesn’t show much during the preseason, but the backs and receivers are going to necessarily be put through their paces. Without proven receivers, Vereen may see multiple duties. Bottom line is I’d stay away from Ridley and get Vereen as a late-round sleeper.

Arizona Cardinals WR Michael Floyd is in a great situation now and should be nabbed as a WR3/Flex starter with WR2 upside. This kid had a decent rookie season at a position that few rookies do much. He had a horrible OL, Kevin Kolb and other unimpressive QBs and he had Larry Fitzgerald grabbing most of the passes that actually got launched.

This year, the Cardinals have an improved offensive line, a proven RB with Rashard Mendenhall, and finally a competent QB in Carson Palmer.

December 30, 2012; San Francisco, CA, USA; Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Michael Floyd (15) catches a touchdown in front of San Francisco 49ers defensive back Chris Culliver (29) in the fourth quarter at Candlestick Park. The 49ers defeated the Cardinals 27-13. Mandatory Credit: Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

Sure, Fitzgerald is going to get his numbers but defenses are going to worry about him instead of Floyd. Floyd has the speed to take the top off of the defense, so I think both Michael Floyd and Mendenhall could be good mid-round borderline starters, bye-week starters, or competent injury replacements.

Receivers often make their biggest leaps in production in their second season so Michael Floyd really fits the profile of a guy set to make a jump…especially now that he’s got those improvements on the offensive side of the ball. Floyd won’t get any extra attention and could be poised for some big games in 2013.

Rising second-year pro Justin Blackmon is a guy who you might look at in the final two rounds as he is a special case. Yes, he’s suspended for four games, but this should allow you to get him on the cheap.

As I’ve said before about him, there are going to be a few managers who won’t even have him on their board because of the suspension. But think of this:

He’s suspended for the FIRST four games – when everyone has rosters filled with healthy players. When he comes off suspension, managers will be worrying about bye weeks and injuries inevitably start to creep in. Blackmon should be drafted with the bench in mind for sure, but his physical skills are better than those of the OTHER breakout guy in Jacksonville, WR Cecil Shorts. However, Shorts broke out last season and won’t sneak up on anyone and teams have room for multiple thousand-yard receivers. Blackmon should be the better and more productive WR in the second half of the season as he matures and gets his routines down….all for the “price” of a very late-round pick. He’s worth taking a chance on there if he’s still available.

News out of South Florida is that the defensive front-seven is dominating the offensive line, and that could spell some early trouble for the revamped offense. Part of it is that the Dolphins already have a top-ten front-seven (and a massive group of defensive lineman – without Dion Jordan) and part of it is that defenses tend to be ahead of the offenses early in training camp since “timing” isn’t the big deal on defense that it is on offense.

What this could well translate into is a fast start for newly-acquired TE Dustin Keller. He’s the relief valve for Ryan Tannehill (Miller will be held in to block on a significant number of passing attempts) and thus, the “hot-read” on a lot of plays. Consider Keller as a TE2/bench player who should see some early production and with Mike Wallace, Brian Hartline, and Brandon Gibson on the field, defenses won’t be paying Keller any special attention.

Also don’t forget that Head Coach Joe Philbin made TE Jermichael Finley into a star as the OC in Green Bay.

Lastly, Chargers RB Ryan Matthews always seems to enter the fantasy season high on boards, but usually disappoints. He’s not worth a top-4 pick with his injury history but if he drops into the middle rounds, you might consider taking a flier on him in round 6 or 7. Chances are good someone else will grab him before that, but just figure it’s a wasted pick if they do. They’re desperate for a back and rolling the dice on him, you watch. Check the roster of the guy drafting him and I bet they’re the guy who took their QB in round 1 or 2, or Calvin Johnson.

Fantasy Football drafts are about exactly the same thing the real drafts are about – VALUE. I’d rather have 2 “RB2″ guys than an RB1 and an RB3/Flex guy…unless that RB1 is A.P. hehe

Follow me on Twitter @Ken_Dye

NOTE: Eagles WR Jeremy Maclin is out for the season as is Baltimore Ravens TE Dennis Pitta. Don’t draft either.

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Tags: 2013 Fantasy Football Tips

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