Chris Wesseling

Dynasty Rankings

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Pre-Camp Dynasty Buys

Friday, July 20, 2012


The NFL news cycle picks up again with the opening of training camps later this month, which means Dynasty rookie drafts are soon to follow. The astute Dynasty owner has long realized this is the perfect time of the year to capitalize on the inflated value of rookie picks from the late-first through the third round.

Now that draftniks have created a year-long cottage industry, there is even greater opportunity to steal potential breakout players with NFL experience at the cost of a few shined-up draft picks. As draft “experts” populate Twitter with their favorite mid-round sleepers and steals, it’s instructive to remember that the hit rate for rookie picks 6-35 will never reach reliability. Without the benefit of training camp or exhibition action -- much less regular-season film -- the majority of rookie picks come down to luck rather than drafting acumen.

Where was the Denarius Moore love last offseason when draft analysts were hyping Bilal Powell, Jacquizz Rodgers, Johnny White and even undrafted free agents such as Chad Spann or Darren Evans?  It’s not that those who analyze the draft for a living aren’t good at what they do. It’s that the nature of mid-rounds picks is akin to a carnival game. The fix is in ahead of time with more misses than hits while still making it hard to judge the difficulty. It always has been. Use that to your advantage by targeting players that have put undeniable talent on NFL game film yet still have room to grow fantasy value.

These are the new leads. “These are the Glengarry leads. And, to you, they’re gold.” On to the list.

1. Matt Ryan / Julio Jones, Falcons - This time a year ago we were hoping the blowout playoff loss to the Packers would jolt the coaching staff into realizing the Falcons can’t compete with the NFL’s elite until they open up the offense. After the hiring of coordinator Dirk Koetter, we finally have tangible evidence that the offense will skew more heavily toward the pass.

In addition to implementing more vertical routes with an emphasis on getting the ball to receivers on the move, Koetter plans to cater the offense to Ryan’s greatest strength -- the no-huddle formation -- after unimaginative former OC Mike Mularkey had “hit a wall” with the quarterback’s development. Only Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Tom Brady, Matthew Stafford and Tony Romo threw more touchdown passes than Ryan’s 29 last season. That number should only increase with Michael Turner’s offensive impact on the wane and Ryan’s come-and-go arm strength “much-improved from the first four years.”

Jones is the best kind of Dynasty investment. When a player already boasts freakishly explosive physical ability and a commitment to excellence, he becomes can’t-miss once the organization starts telegraphing their big plans for the upcoming season. When they interviewed Koetter back in January, the Falcons brass was convinced he would concentrate on getting the ball in Jones’ hands. Ryan expects a “great year” from the game’s most dynamic post-catch runner, and Roddy White confirms his own role will be reduced while Jones is highlighted. I’m packaging draft picks and young talent to make a serious run at Julio before August.

2. Ryan Mathews, Chargers - Rotoworld already had the Mathews angle covered in May when I ranked the potential every-down workhorse No. 2 among re-draft backs and Evan Silva followed suit with a detailed breakdown of his 2012 outlook. A month later, NFL Films analyst Greg Cosell told Silva that Mathews could be a “top-five guy” as Norv Turner’s foundation back.

How great is the impact of Mike Tolbert’s departure? As @FantasyFbPundit points out, Tolbert’s snap rate was 44 percent in the 13 games the two back suited up together. Mathews still managed a top-seven fantasy finish while becoming one of just 10 backs to average 20+ carries plus targets per game. Those in PPR formats would be wise to note that Mathews and Tolbert each finished in the top-10 in targets per game last season. The price for Mathews is higher now than it was two months ago but not as high as it’s going to climb by mid-season. Strike now before he’s off the table altogether.

3. Randall Cobb, Packers - It’s not unusual for an elite fantasy receiver to begin his career as a dynamic return specialist. Look no further than Steve Smith, Percy Harvin or even borderline Hall of Famer Tim Brown. A Harvin-like talent with eye-opening RAC skills (Julio Jones was the only full-time receiver with a greater YAC per reception average last season), Cobb is Aaron Rodgers’ long-term slot receiver in the league’s most finely-tuned passing attack.

After advising Twitter followers to bombard Cobb owners with trade offers over the summer, I made waves by stating that I’d flip Antonio Brown straight-up for the former Kentucky star. I stand by that assessment. Cobb has the advantage in talent, quarterback and play-caller. It’s not a question of whether Cobb will arrive as a fantasy star, but when.

4. Darren McFadden, Raiders - One of my long-held fantasy football philosophies is that injuries at running back are common enough that you have to place a high value on the ones who score the most points when they are in the lineup. Trying to ascertain which running backs suffer fluke injuries and which backs are wearing down physically to the point where they become injury prone is an inexact science. Rotoworld’s Frank DuPont a/k/a @FantasyDouche recently coined the term “injury agnostic” to describe the windmill-tilting that is injury prediction. Explaining “recency bias,” DuPont points out that Matthew Stafford, universally declared injury-prone last summer, is now valued without risk. “It’s got to be 100 percent in our head,” Dupont muses.

Now that Adrian Peterson is recovering from a shredded knee, McFadden may be his rightful heir as the game’s most talented back. No running back -- not even Darren Sproles -- has been more efficient as a receiver the past three years. One NFL coach told CBS Sports’ Pat Kirwin early last season that he “might rather have McFadden than any other back in the NFL.” Then-coach Hue Jackson went a step further, proclaiming his star as “one of the best players in the league, period. … I’ll take my guy over anyone. Anytime, anyplace, anywhere, against anyone.”

McFadden’s high ceiling and high floor when he does play ensure that he’s a top-tier fantasy back. Go get him while the getting is good.

5. Brandon Lloyd, Patriots - Looking for this year’s “Steve Smith Career Renaissance Award” winner? The last time Lloyd enjoyed both a decent quarterback and a creative play-caller, he finished the season as fantasy’s top receiver. Reunited with that play-caller, Lloyd gives the best passer of his career the sorely-needed field-stretcher (horizontally as well as vertically) to fill the vacancy left since Randy Moss wrote his ticket out of town.

Already “assimilating himself into the fabric of the offense” and making sweet music with Tom Brady in offseason practices, Lloyd is the ideal trade target for a contender who annually flips late-first round picks for a shot at a weekly advantage over the competition.


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Chris Wesseling is a senior football editor and Dynasty league analyst for Rotoworld.com. The 2011 NFL season marks his fifth year with Rotoworld and his third year contributing to NBCSports.com. He can be found on Twitter @ChrisWesseling.
Email :Chris Wesseling



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