Mike Clay

Offseason Low Down

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Pre-Hype Targets

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Most fantasy football leagues have ended for good. No keepers. No offseason free agent bidding wars. No trading of draft picks.

There are, however, many of us who compete in year-round dynasty and/or keeper leagues. It’s about this time of the year that you can get a major leg up on the competition in these formats simply by staying active and ahead of the hype.

If you’re able to add free agents, drop your kicker, defense, and those underwhelming late-season injury replacement players. Instead, sign high-upside players with potential for fantasy relevance in 2013. If you’re able to trade, follow the same logic, but go after higher-profile players.

You probably already missed the boat on Dennis Dixon and Lamar Miller, but today I’m going to share with you a few names worth targeting right now in your dynasty/keeper leagues.

As the infomercials always say “Don’t delay!” You’re just one Rotoworld news blurb away from being late to the party.

Michael Floyd – Cardinals – WR

Over the Cardinals' final three regular season games, Larry Fitzgerald saw 22 targets. Floyd saw 26. Initially buried on Arizona’s wide receiver depth chart, Floyd worked his way past Early Doucet and averaged a stout 7.2 targets-per-game during the second half of the season. In fact, among all wide receivers, Floyd ranked 27th in targets from Weeks 8-to-17. The Cardinals figure to improve on the John Skelton/Ryan Lindley at quarterback next season, and Floyd figures to play significant snaps opposite Fitzgerald (with Andre Roberts in the slot). The team’s 2012 first-round pick is primed for a breakout sophomore campaign.

Alshon Jeffery – Bears – WR

Although he missed six games, it may surprise you to know that Jeffery, a 2012 second-round pick, finished third on the Bears in targets with 48. He averaged a healthy 17 percent of Jay Cutler’s targets when active, which works out to near 4.8 per-game. After returning from injury in Week 14, Jeffery ran 79-plus percent of all possible pass routes in each of the team’s final four games. His presence was certainly felt by Brandon Marshall, who averaged 12.2 targets-per-game when Jeffery was out, compared to 10.8 per-game when he was active. Chicago’s primary deep threat on the outside, expect Jeffery to open 2013 as the team’s heavily-involved No. 2 wideout.

Ben Tate – Texans – RB

It was a down year for Tate. After missing his entire rookie season due to injury, he exploded onto the NFL scene in 2011 by averaging 5.4 yards-per-carry on 184 totes. He followed that up with an injury-riddled 2012, racking up 280 yards on 67 carries (4.2 YPC). Durability is an obvious concern for a guy who has now missed 22 games over his first three years in the league, but there are more reasons for optimism than concern. Still just 24-years-old, Tate has shown signs that he’s an explosive playmaker capable of handling a full workload. As if entering 2013 healthy and locked in as one of the game’s top handcuffs (behind Arian Foster) isn’t enough to boost his fantasy value, Tate is also headed into the final year of his rookie contract. A bounceback year could very well mean significant attention from other teams for a starting gig in 2014. Take note, dynasty owners.

Rueben Randle – Giants – WR

Stuck in a timeshare with Ramses Barden, and, to a lesser extent, Jerrel Jernigan, for New York’s No. 4 wide receiver job, Randle never really did get off the ground during his rookie season. Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz will return in 2013, but Barden and No. 3 wideout Domenik Hixon are unrestricted free agents. The Giants are expected to give Randle, their second-round pick in 2012, every shot to win the No. 3 gig. That makes both Barden and Hixon expendable, especially considering that they figure to generate mild-to-moderate interest from wide receiver-needy clubs. Working almost exclusively on the outside, Randle finally figures to take on the role that Mario Manningham made fantasy relevant from 2009-to-2011.

David Wilson, Andre Brown – Giants – RB

Although he’s only 26, Ahmad Bradshaw is due $3.75 million in 2013 and has missed seven games due to injury over the last two seasons. The Giants could decide to cut him loose and go forward with a strong Wilson-Brown two-headed attack. One would imagine that Wilson, the team’s first-round pick in 2012, will lead that attack, but Brown should not be overlooked. He dominated the backfield snaps when Bradshaw was out in 2012, averaging an impressive 5.3 yards-per-carry and scoring eight times on just 73 carries. Wilson, meanwhile, is the significantly more explosive back of the two. He racked up 5.0 YPC and scored five total touchdowns on 75 offensive touches. If Bradshaw is cut loose, expect to see a lot of Wilson between the 20s, with Brown seeing 8-12 touches and most of the carries inside-the-five.

Kendall Wright – Titans – WR

If a rookie leads his team in targets and no one notices, does it make a sound? Or something like that. Despite missing Week 16 due to injury, Wright easily led Tennessee with 95 targets. Even more promising is the fact that his role was expanding in the weeks leading up to his injury. He had enjoyed a total of 25 targets during a three-game span covering Weeks 12-to-14. What’s really interesting about Wright is that he only played 55 percent of the Titans’ offensive snaps, running just 65 percent of all possible pass routes. Although he worked primarily as an outside receiver, Wright did most of his damage underneath during his rookie campaign, putting up a 6.5 average depth of target – fifth lowest at the position. With an expanded role, improved quarterback play, and more vertical routes – something he did often (and well) at Baylor, Tennessee’s 2012 first-round pick should be in a breakout sophomore season.

A.J. Jenkins – 49ers – WR

Despite season-ending injuries to both Kyle Williams and Mario Manningham, Jenkins, the team’s 2012 first-round pick, managed to play only 46 snaps during his rookie season. He dropped his only target. As uninspiring as that is, there is a ton of room for optimism. First off, the opportunity is there. Mario Manningham returns from injury, but could be a cap casualty. Ted Ginn and Randy Moss are both unrestricted free agents and unlikely to return. A wide receiver selected in the first round will eventually get a legitimate shot at a starting job. Second, Jenkins received a vote of confidence from 49ers’ coaches after what was essentially a “redshirt” season. Third, he has the skills. He caught 90 passes as a Senior at Illinois, impressed at the Shrine Game and Senior Bowl, and put up a 4.39 40 time at the Combine. Finally, the 49ers offense is significantly more explosive with Colin Kaepernick under center. If all goes well during Training Camp and in the preseason, Jenkins will be on the radar as a potential ‘Randall Cobb of 2013’.

Vincent Brown – Chargers – WR

With all eyes on Danario Alexander and Malcom Floyd, Brown has the looks of a major sleeper in 2013. A third-round pick in 2011, Brown showed signs he could be an impact player with 19 catches, 329 yards, and two scores on 38 rookie-season targets. Seemingly in line to replace Vincent Jackson as the team’s top wideout, a fractured ankle cost Brown the entire 2012 season. He returns to a suddenly-crowded wide receiver unit in 2013, but figures to be on even footing with Alexander and Floyd for one of the team’s starting jobs. He makes for an ideal buy low.

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Mike Clay is a football writer for Rotoworld.com and the Founder/Managing Editor of Pro Football Focus Fantasy. He can be found on Twitter @MikeClayNFL.
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