Jordan Cameron – Browns – TE
With Ben Watson headed to free agency, the Browns’ top tight end job appears to be Cameron’s to lose. A fourth-round pick in 2011, Cameron saw his snap count jump from 55 during his rookie season to 319 in 2012. A converted basketball player, Cameron is expected to step into a role that saw Watson rack up 3.3 catches-per-game during his three-year contract with Cleveland. Working primarily with his hand in the dirt, Cameron hauled in 20-of-31 targets for 226 yards in 2012. He has the looks of a back-end TE2 in 2013.
Brian Quick – Rams – WR
Chris Givens. Chris Givens. Chris Givens. When you hear about young, potential-breakout wide receivers, he’s one of the names jammed down your throat. But what about Quick, who was actually chosen two rounds before Givens in the 2012 draft? Givens gets the attention because he played significant snaps as a rookie, showing off an explosive vertical game. Quick, meanwhile, played only 176 snaps, hauling in a disappointing 11-of-27 targets for 156 yards. The duo remains in line to work on the outside in three-wide sets for the Rams in 2013 (although Titus Young could enter mix). Givens certainly is more appealing of the two at this point in time, but Quick has just as much, if not more, upside, and can be had a much cheaper price.
Joe Morgan, Nick Toon – Saints – WR
With Jimmy Graham, Marques Colston, Lance Moore, and Darren Sproles locked in as Drew Brees’ top pass-catchers, it can sometimes be easy to overlook the talented depth at the wide receiver position in New Orleans. Unrestricted free agent Devery Henderson figures to move on, which leaves Morgan and Toon as the favorites for the team’s No. 3 wideout job. This is a spot that has seen Henderson and Robert Meachem flirt with fantasy relevance over the last few seasons. Morgan went undrafted in 2011 and spent the entire year on injured reserve. He handled the No. 4 wideout gig in 2012 and was easily one of the game’s most explosive wideouts on a per-play basis. He averaged a ridiculous 37.9 yards-per-reception and scored three times thanks to a massive 28.5 average depth of target. Of course, he only caught 10 passes. Toon, meanwhile, was a fourth-round pick in 2012. He was thought to be pushing Henderson for the team’s No. 3 job before foot surgery cost him his entire rookie season. Durability was already a concern out of college, but Toon has the looks of a productive possession receiver when healthy. Considering that the winner of this camp battle would end up one injury away from every-down snaps in a Drew Brees-led offense, both should be on your radar in deeper leagues. Morgan should be your primary target, but Toon will come much cheaper.
Taylor Thompson – Titans – TE
Jared Cook is headed for unrestricted free agency. There’s a decent chance he will be slapped with the franchise tag, but that’s far from a certainly. If he leaves, Thompson could take over as the team’s primary pass-catching tight end. A fifth-round pick in 2012, Thompson is a massive 6’6/259 ex-defensive end who managed a 4.56 40-yard dash time. Of his 12 rookie-season targets, six came as an in-line tight end, four from the slot, and two after lining up in the backfield. Although he’s unlikely to work as an every-down player with Craig Stevens in the mix, Thompson would see significant snaps on passing downs. That would be enough to put him on the TE2 radar.
Michael Palmer / Chase Coffman – Falcons – TE
The last players I’ll examine at length today are the top in-house candidates to replace Tony Gonzalez as Atlanta’s starting tight end. A few months ago, I made the not-so-bold prediction that Gonzalez’s replacement is not currently on the roster. Although I stand by that assessment, both Palmer and Coffman are worth a look in the deepest of leagues. Palmer, undrafted in 2010, has worked as Gonzalez’s primary backup each of the last two seasons. He saw only six targets in 2012, but actually entered the league as more of a pass-catcher than blocker. Coffman was a highly-touted third-round pick by Cincinnati in 2009, but has failed to live up to expectations. He latched on with the Falcons this past season, but played only eight snaps, only landing on our radar because of an acrobatic 11-yard catch in the Divisional playoffs against Seattle. I don’t expect either player to be the Week 1 starter, but it’s a possibility, especially if the Falcons choose to play the wait-and-see game with Gonzalez.
Other Pre-Hype Targets
Ryan Mallett – Patriots – Is a trade coming? Deep leaguers should snatch this guy up just in case.
Ryan Williams – Cardinals – Current favorite to open 2013 as the team’s starting tailback
Bernard Pierce – Ravens – Will, at least, enjoy the Ricky Williams/Willis McGahee role behind Rice in 2013.
Bilal Powell – Jets – Could he be the cash-strapped Jets’ starter in 2013?
Daryl Richardson, Isaiah Pead – Rams – Steven Jackson could be out, which moves these two into what would likely be a committee. Richardson is safer, but Pead is more explosive.
Tandon Doss – Ravens – Anquan Boldin is rumored to be a potential cap casualty. If so, Doss would compete for a starting gig opposite Torrey Smith.
Mohamed Sanu – Bengals – Was locked in as the No. 2 wideout and seeing a lot of work prior to a season-ending foot injury. He’ll compete with Marvin Jones in 2013.
Nate Burleson – Lions – Fresh off an injury, but has a legitimate chance at the No. 2 job with Titus Young gone and Ryan Broyles’ (ACL) status uncertain.
Laurent Robinson – Jaguars – Injuries have him buried behind Justin Blackmon and Cecil Shorts, but he’s still pretty darn good…and the offense figures to improve.
Devon Wylie – Chiefs – Andy Reid had a lot of fun with 5’10 DeSean Jackson and 5’8 Damaris Johnson. What will he have in store for 5’9 sophomore Wylie?
Rob Housler – Cardinals – He saw more than five targets six times in 2012 and should have a better quarterback throwing him passes.
Andrew Quarless, D.J. Williams, Brandon Bostick – Packers – I think Jermichael Finley sticks in Green Bay, but it’s not a lock. Williams would be my top-target of the three.
Coby Fleener – Colts – Stuck behind Dwayne Allen, but Dennis Pitta was once buried behind Ed Dickson. He’s not a bad buy low.
Michael Egnew – Dolphins – Anthony Fasano is out. Egnew has had his troubles, but he could get a shot at the No. 1 job.
David Paulson – Steelers – Heath Miller tore his knee apart, putting Paulson No. 1 on the depth chart in the meantime. He’ll have competition.
Ladarius Green – Chargers – Raw, but could be Antonio Gates’ eventual replacement.