By Joe Kilroy
The NFL landscape consists of thirty-two franchises. Certain teams are clearly regarded as being the cream of the crop. Others are questioned as to whether or not they can take the next step and achieve that elite status. Some dwell in the realm of mediocrity while others roam amongst the bottom feeders.
Regardless of where each team ranks as a whole, however, for the players every squad presents them with the opportunity to make their mark in the NFL. Some have already established themselves amongst the best. They’ve staked their claim as not only one of the prime players on their team, but as one of the elite at their position throughout the entire league.
Those are the guys who made the most of their opportunity when it was presented to them. For countless others though, their chance is still yet to come.
With that in mind here is a look at some of the voids that need filling throughout the league and the players which may be given the opportunity to fill them. We ran through the first sixteen NFL franchises last week. Now we take a look at the remaining half.
Remember, some players enter the NFL with the “future star” label already slapped upon them. For others, however – for those diamonds in the rough – it’s that unexpected opening that catapults them into fantasy relevance. And, perhaps even, stardom.
MIAMI DOLPHINS (Ryan Tannehill, Daniel Thomas, Lamar Miller, WR, TE)
The Dolphins offense lacks any standout options at their skill positions, but that is what makes them a prime team of interest to dynasty owners looking to find that next breakout star others may have overlooked.
Ryan Tannehill is locked in at quarterback and performed well enough as a rookie for fantasy leaguers to hang tight in hopes he’ll emerge as nothing less than a solid back-up at the position in the years ahead. To get there, however, he’s going to need some better receiving targets.
Brian Hartline and Davone Bess finished the year with decent reception and yardage totals, but the two of them combined for just two touchdowns. Neither qualifies as a desirable number one target for any NFL franchise. With that in mind, Hartline entering free agency, and Miami lacking any notable young talent at the position it’s believed they will pursue the likes of Greg Jennings or Dwayne Bowe this offseason.
The Dolphins are also likely to use some of their draft picks on wide receivers. However they choose to address the situation, dynasty owners should keeping tabs on things.
At tight end Miami features Anthony Fasano and Michael Egnew. A third round pick in last year’s draft, Egnew is the one to keep an eye on from a dynasty perspective.
The Fins running back situation is also an area of interest. Reggie Bush has functioned as the team’s primary back the last two years, but he is slated for free agency and its unknown as to whether or not Miami will bring him back. If he departs look for Daniel Thomas and Lamar Miller to battle each other in the preseason for their place atop the depth chart.
MINNESOTA VIKINGS (WR2, Jarius Wright)
When it comes to the Vikings their premier fantasy players are pretty well established – you have Adrian Peterson and Percy Harvin, with Kyle Rudolph having made his presence known in 2012 as well.
Christian Ponder is the team’s starting quarterback, but his level of play has been pretty up and down. He’ll need to perform more consistently and at a higher level going forward if he wishes to maintain his status as a starter in the league.
Aside from better quarterback play Minnesota could definitely use a threat opposite Harvin to help lighten Peterson’s load. Jerome Simpson was supposed to accomplish that task last season, but he never made an impact. Michael Jenkins isn’t the answer either.
With that being the case, 2012 fourth-round pick Jarius Wright may get some extended opportunities in his sophomore season. Wright saw playing time this year once Percy Harvin went down, and had some noteworthy outings, but it remains to be seen if he’ll be able to much playing time alongside Harvin.
If he proves capable then Wright becomes an intriguing dynasty prospect. That said it wouldn’t be all that surprising if Minnesota looks to the draft or free agency as a means of filling their need for a solid number two receiver.
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (WR)
There isn’t much to discuss about the Patriots from a fantasy perspective that isn’t already known. The only thing to pay attention to here is whether or not Wes Welker returns to the team in 2013.
If Welker and the Patriots come to terms on a contract then everything will likely remain status quo for the Pats. If he is allowed to depart via free agency, however, then Welker’s annual 100-plus receptions, 1250-yards receiving, and 5-7 touchdowns will have to be spread elsewhere.
Julian Edelman was believed to be getting groomed as Welker’s eventual replacement, but injuries limited him to just eight games this season. He did have some notable outings when healthy, but not enough to guarantee himself anything in New England.
Edelman is set to be a free agent in 2013. If the Patriots bring him back and allow Welker to walk he’s worth taking a flier on. If the Patriots allow both Welker and Edelman to depart via free agency then it’s anyone’s guess as to who may be called upon to fill Welker’s shoes.
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS (RB, WR)
Attempting to figure out who may be the next “big thing” to emerge from the Saints roster is not an easy task. Both Marques Colston and Lance Moore are under contract for a few seasons yet to come and as such it’s hard to predict any of their young wide receivers stepping in and making a noteworthy impact anytime soon. Nonetheless, if you have the roster space to stash some deep dynasty prospects from the Saints receiving depths then Nick Toon and Joseph Morgan are the guys to have.
The running back situation in New Orleans is even cloudier. At wide receiver at least we know Colston and Moore are the current options to rely upon. Darren Sproles is New Orleans most valuable back from a fantasy perspective. He turns 30 in the offseason, however, and that leaves one to wonder how much longer he will continue to dazzle as a receiving threat out of the backfield.
Former first round pick Mark Ingram hasn’t performed as well as hoped with the opportunities he’s been given, but at just 23-years of age he remains a prospect worth holding onto. For as long as he remains stuck in New Orleans running back by committee from hell though his upside will always be capped.
Pierre Thomas does a little bit of everything for the Saints, but that doesn’t translate into much success from a fantasy perspective. He’s also 28-years old, and given the role he’s stuck in dynasty leaguers shouldn’t view him as any better than an option to play in case your primary backs get injured.
That brings us to Chris Ivory. The undrafted veteran has performed well in his limited opportunities over the past three years. But unless he finds himself in a better situation his fantasy appeal will remain limited.
NEW YORK GIANTS (David Wilson, Rueben Randle)
The Giants are set-up pretty well across the board when it comes to their skill positions. The key thing dynasty owners should pay attention to with them is realizing that not only are the G-Men set with their starters, but they also have notable depth at both running back and wide receiver.
Ahmad Bradshaw has served as the Giants starting tailback for the better part of the past three seasons, but David Wilson wasn’t selected in the first-round of last year’s draft to simply sit on the sidelines. He may not take over as the featured back in 2013, but he’ll definitely get more opportunities than he had as a rookie.
And should the injury bug once again strike Bradshaw, Wilson just might take over the featured role sooner than expected.
At wide receiver Rueben Randle is the player dynasty leaguers should look to acquire on the cheap and/or be patient with. Hakeem Nicks is entrenched as the starter opposite Victor Cruz for now, but his current contract ends after the 2013 season.
The Giants, who also need to work out a long term deal with Cruz (he’s a restricted free agent in 2013), may let Nicks walk at the end of the upcoming year (especially if he’s hampered with injuries again). This would open the door for Randle to take over his starting role.
With both Cruz and Nicks needing to be signed there is a fair chance one of them won’t be back in 2014. And with the Giants having invested a second-round pick on Randle chances are he’ll get first crack at replacing whichever receiver departs.
Tight end is another position worth keeping an eye on in New York. If Martellus Bennett returns then he should do no worse than match his 2012 production. He is set to be a free agent, however, so if the Giants let him walk fantasy owners would be wise to look at who replaces him in the starting line-up.
NEW YORK JETS (QB, RB, WR, TE)
There isn’t a whole lot to like when it comes to the New York Jets. In fact, truth is, as things stand now there is absolutely nothing to like from a fantasy perspective with the team.
Rex Ryan will return as head coach, and as such it seems Mark Sanchez (guaranteed $8.25M in 2013) may get another crack at working as the team’s starting quarterback. Tim Tebow is expected to be playing elsewhere in 2013, and Greg McElroy isn’t an option anyone should be getting excited about.
At running back Shonn Greene is set to be a free agent. If he doesn’t return then the running back position becomes one of intrigue as the Jets will either sign a free agent to work as their starter or fill that need in the draft. Bilal Powell and Joe McKnight are the current backs behind Greene, but I don’t foresee either being New York’s primary back in the year ahead.
Dustin Keller is a free agent as well. And it appears he won’t be playing as a Jet next year. That being the case, fantasy owners may want to keep an eye on who takes over his role, but chances are they won’t be all that productive.
Santonio Holmes will return at wide receiver, but coming off a season ending foot injury and back-to-back disappointing years there’s little reason to have high hopes for his future production. Stephen Hill and Jeremy Kerley appear to be the Jets wide outs worth taking a look at.
Rex Ryan has fired offensive coordinator Tony Sparano which is a sign he may abandon his “ground-and-pound” offensive approach, but when it comes to the Jets it’s best not to invest too much into any of their players unless you can afford to take a flier on them with a deep roster spot.
OAKLAND RAIDERS (QB, RB, WR, TE)
The Raiders starters seem to be set at their offensive skill positions heading into 2013, but it’s conceivable the entire thing could be blown apart by the time 2014 roles around.
Carson Palmer is 33-years old and with another losing season there’d be little reason for Oakland to hold onto him at his high price tag. And Darren McFadden is an injury prone running back playing on the last year of his contract. If he fails to stay healthy throughout most of the upcoming season there’s a possibility Oakland will part ways with him as well.
At wide receiver Denarius Moore seems to be the only notable player who appears to be assured a roster spot with the franchise beyond the upcoming season. The same can’t be said for Darrius Heyward-Bey because some recent reports are stating he may be cut as a cap casualty this offseason.
Brandon Meyers was a nice surprise in 2012 for Oakland, but he is set for free agency this offseason and may not be back with the team.
When taking all that into account Oakland becomes one of those teams that could have a lot of openings come about very quickly. It may not happen this year, but a lot of their 2013 draft picks could be looked upon as potential starters the following season.
PHILADELPHIA EAGLES (QB, Nick Foles, Bryce Brown)
The Eagles are a tough team to figure out right now it terms of what opportunities may be had amongst the roster. Having yet to hire a head coach following the firing of Andy Reid it’s hard to predict much beyond a belief that LeSean McCoy will remain a focal point of the offense.
If a more run oriented coach comes to town then Bryce Brown may get enough touches per game to warrant ownership beyond that of a handcuff to McCoy. If that is how things unfold, however, then chances are Nick Foles’ potential as a dynasty prospect won’t be worth the wait.
As it stands, we don’t even know if Foles will be the Eagles starting quarterback next year.
Jeremy Maclin and DeSean Jackson will likely remain the Eagles starting receivers by default, but their futures beyond the 2013 campaign aren’t so certain anymore. Brent Celek could also see a significant drop in production depending on how the new offensive scheme utilizes the tight end position.
All in all there are a lot of question marks here. Until the Eagles new head coach is named LeSean McCoy appears the only player whose long-term future can be addressed accurately.
PITTSBURGH STEELERS (RB, Jonathan Dwyer, WR2, Emmanuel Sanders)
With Mike Wallace expected to depart via free agency, and Rashard Mendenhall potentially doing the same, the Steelers will have some notable openings on their offense.
The two players currently on the roster expected to fill those roles would be third-year veterans Jonathan Dwyer and Emmanuel Sanders. Working in favor of those two is the fact the Steelers aren’t expected to have much, if any, cap space this offseason. That means they won’t be able to pursue any big name free agents to compete with them for the starting roles.
It also means dynasty leaguers would be keen to pursue any players the Steelers draft at the wide receiver and running back positions – even prospects drafted in the third through fifth rounds or later (you never know who it is that may emerge: see Alfred Morris).
SAN DIEGO CHARGERS (Ryan Mathews, Danario Alexander, WR)
Like the Eagles the Chargers have yet to name their new head coach since firing Norv Turner at the end of the regular season. Once they do we will be able to far better determine the opportunities to be had amongst their roster. In the meantime, though, there are a few things that can already be addressed.
First off, the upcoming season may go a long way in determining Ryan Mathews’ career path in the NFL. If he performs well under his new head coach all will be right with the world and Mathews’ dynasty owners will be able to breathe a big sigh of relief. Should he again falter, however, Mathews may simply prove to be nothing more than an overrated talent at the NFL level.
Danario Alexander is the other intriguing player on the Chargers roster. He’s performed incredibly well whenever he’s been healthy throughout his career. The issue, however, is that last season was the first time he managed to stay healthy over any lengthy period of time. He’ll have to prove that he can not only keep himself on the field, but that his impressive run over the second half of the season wasn’t a fluke.
Should Alexander falter, and even if he doesn’t, Vincent Brown may be worth keeping an eye on as well.
Philip Rivers is set in place as the team’s franchise quarterback, but from a fantasy perspective owners will be looking for him to bounce back from a disappointing 2012 campaign. The same can be said for the aging Antonio Gates.
SEATTLE SEAHAWKS (Russell Wilson, Sidney Rice, Golden Tate)
There isn’t much to say about the Seattle Seahawks as it pertains to the purposes of this article. All that really needs to be noted is the impressive rookie campaign of Russell Wilson.
If he is able to improve upon his performance in the years ahead then it stands to reason that not only will his value rise, but so too will that of his receivers. Sidney Rice and Golden Tate appear to be entrenched as his starters.
The issue, however, is the run heavy offensive approach employed by the Seattle offense. Wilson threw the ball just 393 times in 2012 while playing in all 16 games. If his attempts don’t rise much higher than that then neither will his passing totals.
It’s also worth noting that since the Seahawks run the ball so heavily Robert Turbin makes for a notable dynasty prospect and a “must own” handcuff for Lynch owners.
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS (Colin Kaepernick, RB, WR2)
Colin Kaepernick took over as the 49ers starting quarterback near the midpoint of the season and hasn’t looked back. He’s not only compiled impressive totals during his starts, but he also led his team to an impressive victory in the playoffs last week against the Green Bay Packers.
Regardless of how he fairs throughout the remainder of the postseason, Kaepernick has already made his mark in the NFL. The only question now is will he be able to build upon his success in the years ahead.
While other dynasty owners are infatuated with the impressive rookie year Russell Wilson put together I’d suggest pursuing Kaepernick instead.
Aside from Kaepernick the 49ers running back position is one to monitor. Frank Gore put together a great year for himself, but he’ll enter next season at the dreaded age of 30. Sooner or later the wheels are going to fall off and Kendall Hunter or LaMichael James will get the chance to take over.
The 49ers could also use a worthwhile receiver to emerge opposite Michael Crabtree. Given San Francisco’s offensive scheme, however, I’m not so sure there’s enough touches to go around to make that player a relevant fantasy option anytime soon. Nonetheless, A.J. Jenkins was a 2012 first round pick and one would tend to think San Francisco would like to incorporate him into their offense at some point.
ST. LOUIS RAMS (Sam Bradford, RB, Chris Givens, Brian Quick)
It doesn’t “feel” like it, but Sam Bradford actually threw for more than 3700-yards in 2012. Had he done this in the year immediately after his solid rookie outing of 2010 more people would probably be taking notice of this.
Instead he followed up his rookie season with a pretty dreadful sophomore campaign. Nonetheless, it appears as though he is again trending in the right direction. As such, fantasy owners in need of help at the quarterback position may want to look into acquiring Bradford on the cheap.
If Bradford continues to develop then it would also stand to reason that his receivers will become more prominent options amongst fantasy leaguers. Many of us are aware of Danny Amendola’s brilliance in PPR formats, but there is room for Chris Givens or Brian Quick to emerge as notable options as well.
At running back the future of Steven Jackson is a little cloudy. He holds a $7 million player option that recent reports suggest he may be leaning towards voiding. If he does so he may still return to the Rams under a new deal, but nothing will change the fact he’ll enter the 2013 season at the age of thirty.
Daryl Richardson is the young back many fantasy owners are currently clamoring over in hopes he’ll soon replace Jackson as the starter, but Isaiah Pead shouldn’t be written off so quickly. He was a second-round pick after all (Richardson was taken in the seventh). And big improvements can often come about from players as they transition from a rookie into their second year in the NFL.
TAMPBA BAY BUCCANEERS (TE)
The Buccaneers are pretty much set at all their offensive skill positions heading into the offseason. Josh Freeman is their starting quarterback. Doug Martin locked down the job as the starting halfback. And Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams will return as the team’s starting wide outs.
That leaves tight end as the only spot on that side of the ball (aside from offensive line) in which the Buccaneers may produce a new and relevant fantasy option.
Dallas Clark compiled 47 receptions for 435 yards and 4 touchdowns as the starting tight end in Tampa Bay last season, but he was only signed to a one-year deal. If the Buccaneers decide to bring him back it won’t garner much interest from fantasy owners, but if they add a notable option amongst the free agents available, or their draft selections, it’s a position dynasty owners should take note of.
TENNESSEE TITANS (Jake Locker, Kenny Britt, Kendall Wright, Jared Cook)
The Titans offense, outside of Chris Johnson, proved to be a major disappointment in 2012. It was so bad, in fact, that offensive coordinator Chris Palmer was fired eleven games into the season. Dowell Loggains, who stepped in as Palmer’s replacement, however, didn’t exactly fix the Titans offensive woes upon taking over the reins.
That said, there are still fantasy relevant players amongst the Titans offense. Kenny Britt has been an intriguing option ever since he entered the league, but injuries and off-field issues continue to hamper his value and production. Nonetheless, at just 24-years of age he still has time to turn things around.
Kendall Wright is another noteworthy receiver on the Titans roster after having posted 64 receptions for 626 yards and 4 touchdowns as a rookie this year. If the Titans manage to get the right offensive coordinator in place this offseason (although there is still a chance they’ll retain Loggains in that role) it’s possible both Britt and Wright could flourish.
That would then open the door for Jake Locker to emerge as a worthy dynasty prospect at the quarterback position. And maybe Jared Cook would then live up to the high expectations some had placed upon him as well.
As of now though, it’s simply a lot of talk. It’s a lot of potential that exists, but not much to be shown for it. Once the Titans name their offensive coordinator for the upcoming season we’ll have a better idea as to how much faith fantasy owners should put into any of their players.
WASHINGTON REDSKINS (Roy Helu, Pierre Garcon, WR2, TE)
If it weren’t for the fact Robert Griffin III and Alfred Morris have already fully established themselves at the NFL level in their rookie seasons, they’d deserve more mention here. Since they have, however, we’ll simply leave it at that.
Moving on the next player to make note of is Pierre Garcon. When healthy he was clearly the best target Griffin had to throw the ball to. If he can put together a full season in 2013 Garcon figures to surpass the thousand-yard mark for the first time in his career while hauling in 70-80 passes and 5-8 touchdowns.
Aside from Garcon, however, it would be nice if the Redskins had another reliable option emerge in the passing game. Santana Moss, Leonard Hankerson, Josh Morgan, and Aldrick Robinson combined for impressive totals, but none of them truly stood out consistently on their own.
It’s also worth noting that Fred Davis is a free agent this offseason. After using the franchise tag on him last year, it’s doubtful the Redskins will do so again. If they don’t bring him back then fantasy owners should keep an eye out for his potential replacement.
Roy Helu is another player that may garner some interest. Alfred Morris will remain the featured back, but Helu brings a different skill set to the table and Shanahan may want to get him involved. He could be decent depth in PPR leagues if he manages to stay healthy.