By Leo Paciga (@FFHoudini)
The 2013 NFL Draft is less than a week away and the rookie hysteria that surrounds the draft each and every year is reaching that fever pitch level throughout the fantasy football landscape. With that in mind, I want to take a moment and discuss some second and third year players that should not be overlooked or lost in the mad rush to add shiny new rookies to your dynasty roster. I mentioned these six players earlier in 2013 as high upside “buys” that every dynasty owner should target sooner rather than later. So let’s take a look back at why these six NFL athletes were on my list of players to target and let’s see what their situations look like now heading into the 2013 NFL draft.
Alshon Jeffery, WR – Bears
What I Wrote:
Alshon Jeffery, WR – Jeffery had an up and down rookie season, battling inconsistencies and injuries throughout the year and never quite finding that rare comfort zone that some rookies are able to find in their initial seasons. Jeffery now finds himself with a new head coach and a full off season to get comfortable with a new offensive system. I think new HC Marc Trestman will breathe some life into the Bears passing game and also help provide some consistency when it comes to the play of QB Jay Cutler. With defenses so focused on fellow wide out Brandon Marshall, Jeffery could be the beneficiary of more targets and single coverage on a weekly basis. There is also more to like about Jeffery’s game in 2013 than just increased opportunity. He brings size (6’3″, 216 lbs.), above average agility and good balance for a big WR. Jeffery has deceptive speed due to his long strides, but those long strides are not as fluid as they could or should be. Because of that, Jeffery has some issues with quick changes in direction when he’s at full speed. Jeffery also uses his size well to out position defenders and gain an advantage when the ball is in the air, much like a basketball player would do when “boxing out”. In addition, he’s already very good at fade routes since they’re tailor made for his height and strength advantage over most defenders. Jeffery still needs to improve on his ball security and he could use some added finesse in his short game instead of relying solely on his size, but overall there is a lot to like about this 2nd year WR. Brandon Marshall seems to be a little more grounded in Chicago and appears to be willing to help Jeffery reach the next level as a WR. Factor in Marshall’s tutelage and the new, more open offense that Trestman brings to the Bears – and Jeffery becomes a solid buy now candidate this off season.
UPDATE: The more I watch Marc Trestman’s offensive tendencies from his days as an NFL offensive coordinator and a head coach in the CFL, the more I’m convinced that he’s an excellent fit as the head coach of the Chicago Bears. His commitment to ensuring that the energy level is high, that the pace is quick and that every potential mismatch on the field is explored and exploited is exactly what the Chicago Bears need to make an offensive impression in today’s NFL. Alshon Jeffery is not only going to be a major factor in creating the offensive mismatches that Trestman so loves, he’s also going to be the beneficiary of many of those same mismatches. As for Jeffery’s off season, according to a report in the Chicago Sun Times, Jeffery has spent the last six weeks training in South Florida with Brandon Marshall and more than a dozen other NFL players on a regular basis. The article also mentions that Jeffery weighed in at 225 pounds with a body fat percentage of 11 or 12 percent when he checked in and when he left Jeffery topped the scales at a svelte 219 pounds with eight percent body fat. A leaner, more focused Jeffery is exactly what the Bears need in 2013 and exactly what your dynasty squads need as well. As long as Trestman can fix the offensive line issues by incorporating quicker throws and faster reads by quarterback Jay Cutler, Jeffery should be in for a breakout season in just his second year.
Shane Vereen, RB – Patriots
What I Wrote:
Shane Vereen, RB – Shane Vereen showed us a glimpse of just how talented he can be with his playoff performance against the Houston Texans. Vereen finished that game with seven carries and five receptions for a total of 124 yards and three TDs. Let me say that again…..that’s 3 TDs and 124 yards on 12 touches. Vereen has always had talent, he’s a naturally gifted “cutback” style runner and what’s impressive is that he doesn’t lose much speed or power during his change in direction. The biggest issues for Vereen have been staying healthy and the trust factor that already exists between Tom Brady, Coach Belichick and RB Danny Woodhead. Well, Danny Woodhead is a free agent this off season and with Vereen’s surge at the end of the year, it’s very unlikely the Patriots bring Woodhead back in 2013. The thought of a Stevan Ridley/Shane Vereen backfield in 2013 has to be a very pleasant notion for the Patriots and there will be more than enough opportunity for both RBs from a fantasy football perspective. I’ve always thought of the Patriots backfield as an underappreciated source of FF production and Vereen – currently carrying a cheaper price tag – has the strength and potential to take over the lead back role in New England, especially if Ridley continues to leave the ball on the carpet.
UPDATE: The biggest hurdle for Shane Vereen heading into 2013 was potentially much larger than Danny Woodhead’s slight 5’8″ frame. Danny Woodhead’s involvement in the Patriots’ passing game and their reliance on the former Jet running back in their “hurry up” spread offense could have been a major roadblock for Shane Vereen, even with his game breaking upside. The good news is that Danny Woodhead has moved on to the sunny football fields of Southern California having signed a 2 year contract with the San Diego Chargers in March; leaving the door open for the talented Vereen. Shane Vereen is one of the most naturally gifted cutback runners I’ve watched on film and he instinctively presses the line of scrimmage aggressively and with solid pad level. Vereen may not have that 5th gear like C.J. Spiller, but he has a sweet combination of power, balance and agility to make a major statement while stepping into Danny Woodhead’s former role. As I mentioned in my earlier write up, if Stevan Ridley struggles again with ball control and develops a case of “fumblitis”….I could see Shane Vereen staking a claim to the starting job in New England in 2013.
Stephen Hill, WR – Jets
What I Wrote:
Stephen Hill, WR – Stephen Hill ended up in the worst possible situation for a raw, unpolished WR coming out of college. He found himself on a team that simply didn’t have the right combination of coaching to help improve his technique or enough veteran leadership at WR to help Hill transition to the NFL level. Hill is an extremely talented athlete, but he needs to work on some major inconsistencies when it comes to route running and catching the ball with just his hands (not his body). Hill’s inexperience at route running is really his biggest handicap and until he improves in this area, he will never be able to really capitalize on his truly impressive athletic abilities. It’s not often you can acquire a 6’4″, 215 lb WR with the wing span of an albatross and the leaping ability of a kangaroo on Red Bull, but in this instance you can probably get Stephen Hill for pennies on the dollar due to the fact he’s on the Jets. I doubt the Jets will be able to get the best out of Hill and his immediate future may certainly look bleak, but I’m buying Hill as cheap as I can. I’m hoping that either the Jets clean house after 2013 and bring in a coaching staff than can help refine Hill, or he moves on to a team that can bring out that elite upside.
UPDATE: Look, I can’t sugar coat this one, nothing about this team gives me any optimism or confidence. Bottom line, the New York Jets are a train wreck from the front office down through the ranks; a collection of inept coaches and players lacking high end skills at almost every vital position. I’m not even sure Jets wide receivers coach Sanjay Lal or offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg are the mentors capable of taking Stephen Hill to the next level, although Mornhinwig has to be more competent than former OC Tony Sparano. In 2012, the game was simply too big for Stephen Hill and the complexities of the pro style offense swallowed Hill up as a rookie. I still believe Hill has an amazing combination of size, speed and athletic ability and with the right coaching and leadership, he can become a big target with game changing deep threat abilities. I’m looking forward to seeing Stephen Hill with a full off season under his belt, but at the same time I’m hoping he doesn’t regress along with the rest of the team. Yes, there is risk involved with this player….but the price to acquire Stephen Hill is still fairly inexpensive and I believe adding Hill to your dynasty squads is worth the current price of admission.
Lamar Miller, RB – Dolphins
What I Wrote:
Lamar Miller, RB – Ok, if there is one player that is smack dab in the middle of the perfect scenario, the “Shangri – La” where talent, situation and value all intersect, it’s Lamar Miller. His dynasty asking price is starting to increase, but it’s still below market value for a RB with his upside and situation. Yes, Miller certainly struggled his rookie season when it came to pass protection and that led to a lack of playing time for the rookie RB. Miller was in on roughly 140 plays in 2012, reaching the 10 carry mark only twice in the nine games that he played. No way were the Dolphins going to risk their young franchise QB by playing a rookie running back struggling with the X’s and O’s on offense and with pass protection – even if Miller was averaging 4.9 yards per carry. So yes, Miller struggled in some aspects as a rookie, but the positives of Miller’s game far outweigh the negatives. Miller runs with exceptional balance and patience, allowing his blockers to open up the next level of defenders. He has good size and strength, runs with good pad level and has a nice burst whether he’s running downhill or sideline to sideline. Miller also has another gear that allows him to accelerate through holes or past defenders and he catches the ball very well out of the backfield or down field. The uncertainty of Miller’s immediate future comes down to 2 things; just how well he develops in year two with his pass protection and will the game slow down enough for him mentally. I believe both things will happen and Miller will become an electric running back at the NFL level in his sophomore season. Regardless of where Reggie Bush ends up, or what noise Daniel Thomas makes this off season, Lamar Miller is the RB to own in Miami as far as dynasty fantasy football is concerned. If you want to acquire him at a reasonable price, then you have to go and get him now.
UPDATE: Earlier this off season we all watched New York Giants running back David Wilson skyrocket up the dynasty value charts and Lamar Miller isn’t that far behind when it comes to being the off season darling of the dynasty community. Reggie Bush is no longer in Miami, having made a mad dash for the Motor City and a starting spot in the Detroit backfield. Unless the Dolphins draft a RB later this week, Daniel Thomas is the only competition to Lamar Miller’s strangle hold on the starting role and he’s simply not talented enough to pose any real threat to Miller. The coaching staff in Miami loves Lamar Miller’s vision and natural ability to identify running lanes on the back side of the offensive line; an essential ingredient in any successful zone blocking scheme. Miller also has the ability to make deft jump cut moves, another aspect of his skill set that makes him the perfect candidate to anchor the Dolphins backfield in 2013. Even if the Dolphins draft a running back fairly early, I’m still confident Lamar Miller will open the season as the starting back for the 2013 season. In fact, the only thing that could slow down the Miller hype train is Lamar’s failure to improve in pass protection this summer.
Rueben Randle, WR – Giants
What I Wrote:
Rueben Randle, WR – In order to see Randle’s true value, lets first discuss the dilemma at WR for the Giants. Victor Cruz is a restricted free agent now (and an unrestricted FA next off season). There is very little chance the Giants will lose Cruz this summer since they can place a one-year tender on him. That gives the Giants the right to not only match another team’s offer, but also receive compensation if they let Cruz walk. So while Cruz may be a Giant in 2013, there could still be some serious trouble on the horizon. Hakeem Nicks will also be an unrestricted FA in 2014 and will demand some big money. Nicks is a WR with elite skills and top 5 upside if he could simply stay healthy. Since battling compartment syndrome back in 2010, Nicks has had a litany of lower body injuries culminating in 2012 with a fractured foot in May and a troublesome knee injury that required a recent arthroscopic clean up at the end of the season. How healthy Nicks will be in 2013 is anybody’s guess. On top of all that, WRs Domenik Hixon and Ramses Barden are also free agents and Barden has already talked about finding a new home for 2013. That leaves 2nd year WR Rueben Randle as the WR most likely to benefit from the Giants upcoming WR turmoil. Randle appeared raw as a rookie, but his athleticism was evident while on the field and he actually reminds me of a poor man’s version of Hakeem Nicks. He has a nice combination of speed and strength and he also has great vision and strong hands. Randle should make a nice 3rd WR, manning an outside position with Cruz lined up in the slot for 2013. And if Nicks battles injuries once again this fall, Randle’s role could expand quickly – making him a prominent fantasy football contributor in 2013.
UPDATE: Victor Cruz went through the restricted free agent process without receiving an offer sheet from another NFL team and that means the potential is looming for a possible hold out later this summer. According to the USA Today, Cruz has balked at the 7 million per year offer from the Giants and has yet to sign the tender offer of 2.879 million for one year. As for Hakeem Nicks, he appears to be working his way back from the off season surgery on his left knee. New York Daily News reporter Ralph Vacchiano wrote that Hakeem Nicks participated in recent workouts with quarterback Eli Manning at Duke University and suffered no setbacks. Also, former Giants wide receiver Domenik Hixon signed as a free agent with the Carolina Panthers and Ramses Barden remains a free agent looking for employment somewhere other than the Meadowlands. So where does that leave Rueben Randle? Well, it leaves Randle with a fantastic opportunity in 2013 as the 3rd wide receiver on a high caliber offense with an accomplished quarterback. More importantly, however, the question marks surrounding the contracts of Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks and the concern over Nicks’ long term health put Randle in a position to lock down a starting spot in the near future for the New York Giants. Rueben Randle has great hands and solid athleticism; he exhibits both quickness in tight spaces and deep speed striding down-field. I believe Rueben Randle will make the most of any opportunity he’s given and I believe the Giants will give him plenty of chances starting in 2013.
Brian Quick, WR – Rams
What I Wrote:
Brian Quick, WR – The Rams drafted Brian Quick at the top of the 2nd round last April and right away the small school, big receiver comparisons to Terrell Owens started rolling in. Even Rams WR coach Ray Sherman was waxing poetically about Quick last spring, telling Yahoo Sports that there were a lot of similarities between Quick and Terrell Owens. So what happened? Quick struggled both mentally and physically in his transition from a small school WR (Appalachian State) to an NFL wide out. He had trouble digesting the Rams play book and his route running lacked the precision necessary to make a weekly impact. Fellow rookie WR Chris Givens passed Quick on the Rams depth chart early in the year and Brian finished the season with a paltry 11 receptions for 156 yards and 2 TDs. While reflecting back on 2012 may sound terribly disappointing, all is not lost when it comes to Brain Quick and his future prospects with the St. Louis Rams. Rams coaches often praised Quick for routinely making catches that were of the highlight-reel variety in practice each week. The challenge now is getting Quick to transfer those spectacular plays from the practice field to the actual games on Sunday and Quick has the physical tools to make happen. Quick has good size (6’3”, 220 lbs.) and deceptive speed for a big WR because he takes such long strides. He’s very strong and has the ability to go high for the football, but he is still fairly raw when it comes to the finer techniques of being a WR – something that I think a full off season will help improve dramatically. If Quick is able to refine his raw skill and catch up to the speed of the game mentally this off season, he could really blossom into a physical threat for the Rams. The opportunity is there for Quick, and his price has dropped among the many disgruntled and disappointed dynasty owners scattered throughout the fantasy football landscape. I’m buying because I think Quick’s raw talent outweighs the risk that he’ll never take the next step.
UPDATE: Yes, there is a lot of talk and speculation that the Rams are going to draft a WR early in this draft to supplement their young receiving group. Yes, there are folks out there that are really impressed with fellow teammate Chris Givens and the growth he showed as his rookie season progressed. Honestly, I agree with both of those sentiments and I actually think both statements bode well for Brian Quick and his sophomore season with the Rams. Brian Quick is similar to Jets wide receiver Stephen Hill in that he’s a big, strong athletic wide receiver that ended up being overwhelmed by the recognition speed and execution required on every single play at the NFL level. Where Brian Quick is different, however, is in the way he routinely catches the ball with his hands and the combination of strength and short range quickness he displays immediately off the line of scrimmage. Brian Quick was a standout high school basketball player and didn’t start playing football until his senior year in high school. He improved each year at Appalachian State and he’s still learning the nuances and intangibles of being an NFL caliber wide receiver. I love Brian Quick’s upside and I believe his ceiling is still extremely high even with the growth of Chris Givens and the possibility the Rams draft additional wide receivers in the 2013 draft.
Well, there you have it, six players you should still be attempting to acquire even with the 2013 draft right around the corner. There are certainly other second and third year players out there deserving of your attention; players like T.Y. Hilton, Kendall Wright, Michael Floyd and Ronnie Hillman are all upside players you should be monitoring/targeting. These six, however, were the players I wanted to revisit and update for the sake of this article. You may or may not agree with my analysis on the players mentioned above, but hopefully you’ve at least enjoyed the article. I encourage everyone out there to take the time to research players, watch some film and continue to actively improve your dynasty rosters. The tools and opinions provided here at DFW can certainly help take your teams to the next level. Feel free to contact me on Twitter @FFhoudini with any questions or comments. Next week we’ll all have plenty to discuss with the conclusion of the NFL draft so until then, stay informed and keep building those rosters.