16 NFC teams, 16 quick-hitting, need-to-know nuggets to digest before applying the finishing touches to your draft board. Check the AFC team nuggets here.
Even first-year fantasy general managers know the Bears’ Brandon Marshall gets a ton of passes thrown his way – 192 last season to be exact – but few realize the wideout is being targeted with historical frequency. According to AdvancedNFLStats.com, Marshall received 39.8 percent of the Chicago targets in 2012 – easily more than any other player in the league (Indy’s Reggie Wayne was a distant second at 31.7). Moreover, it’s the highest percentage and the only one above 35 percent since the site began tracking the figure in 2000. The Panthers’ Steve Smith is the next closest with 34.5 percent of Carolina’s targets in 2005.
RB Doug Martin made an instant impact for the Bucs and the fantasy scene last season, finishing third among all backs with 265 fantasy points (1,926 total yards, 12 TDs). But that’s not exactly a positive harbinger for this coming season, as five of the eight RBs who finished their rookie seasons among the fantasy top 10 since 2000 saw their fantasy point totals drop by an average of 81.8 points the following season. The only ones to buck the trend are LaDainian Tomlinson (87-point jump in ’02), Joseph Addai (45 in ’07) and Adrian Peterson in (10 in ’08).
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The Cardinals have undergone an extreme RB makeover this season, adding free-agent Rashard Mendenhall and drafting Stepfan Taylor and Andre Ellington. And with good reason. Arizona’s leading 2012 rusher, LaRod Stephens-Howling ran for only 463 yards and finished 44th among fantasy backs with 70 points. Overall, the team has had only one RB – Beanie Wells, 17th in 2011 – finish higher than 23rd in the fantasy ranks over the past five seasons.
To say the light came on for Cowboys’ WR Dez Bryant during the 2012 season is one of the fantasy understatements of the year. Fact: In Bryant’s first 30 NFL games, he had all of one 100-yard receiving game and two multiple-TD contests. In his 13 contests since then –since Week 4 of last season – the wideout has five 100-yard outings and four multiple-TD games.
Think the Eagles might run the ball a little more this season under new coach Chip Kelly? You might be on to something as Kelly’s University of Oregon teams finished in the 16th percentile of FBS teams in rushing attempts in all four of his seasons in Eugene, running the ball on roughly 47 percent of their total offensive plays. Philly, meanwhile, finished with an average ranking of 18.5 in rushing attempts among the 32 NFL teams over that same four-year span under former coach Andy Reid, running the ball on roughly 26 percent of all its offensive plays.
In free-agent signee Steven Jackson, the Falcons have added a relatively new weapon in their offensive arsenal: A pass-catching RB. Since Jackson became a full-time starter in 2006, he’s averaged 48.5 receptions per season with six 40-or-more-catch campaigns. Over that same seven-season span, the Falcons’ leading pass-catching RB has averaged 34.8 catches per year with only a pair of 40-catch seasons.
With the Forty-Niners’ WR corps banged up and starting the season without key pieces in Michael Crabtree and Mario Manningham, TE Vernon Davis figures to see plenty of work. Davis, though, should be more than up to the challenge, though, as one of the league’s more underrated TEs. Since entering the league in 2006, among all TEs, Davis ranks fourth in games started (102), eighth in receptions (345), sixth in receiving yards (4,351), sixth in yards-per-catch (12.61) and is tied for third in TDs (40) – with only Antonio Gates (58) and Tony Gonzalez (47) recording more.
The Giants’ Eli Manning was a fantasy disappointment in 2012, falling from sixth (370 points) to 14th (304) in the QB rankings. So what precipitated the drop? There are any number of factors, but the team’s decline in 40-yard-plus pass plays stands out. In ’11, Manning had 18 completions of 40 yards or more, including eight that went for touchdowns. Last year, though, Manning’s 40-yard completions dipped to 10, with only two of those going for TDs.
Lions’ QB Matthew Stafford had an historical 2012 season but not for the right reason. He was only 71 yards off his career-high 5,038 passing yards set the season before, and actually completed 14 more passes (435-421) than he did in ’11 while throwing only one more interception (17-16). Meanwhile, though, his passing TDs took a strange nosedive falling from 41 all the way down to 20. And there’s where the historical angle comes into play. Of the 34 QBs who have thrown for 4,500 or more yards in a season in league history, Stafford is the only one to finish with fewer than 23 TD tosses in the same year. In other words, if Stafford can hit that yardage milestone again, his TD total is apt to climb back into the 30s and possibly beyond.
Aaron Rodgers’ long-time favorite target, Greg Jennings, is now wearing Vikings’ purple and gold, but that doesn’t figure to slow the roll of one of fantasy’s top heavyweights. Since becoming the Packers’ full-time starter in 2008, Rodgers has had six targets (Jennings, Randall Cobb, Donald Driver, Jermichael Finley, James Jones and Jordy Nelson) finish a season with 50 or more catches and 750 or more receiving yards. And all but Driver have had at least one season with eight or more TD catches.
Is the Panthers’ Cam Newton the best rushing fantasy quarterback we’ve ever seen? The early returns from his career seem to back that up. Since the 1970 league merger, eight QBs have accounted for 120 or more fantasy rushing points in a season. Newton has reached that mark in both of his pro campaigns, debuting with a QB –rushing-record 154 fantasy points in 2011 (706 yards, 14 TDs) and then following that up with 122 points (741-8) this past season, the sixth-best all-time single-season total.
Sam Bradford has some work to do if he wants to check out of an ignominious club. Over the past 15 seasons, seven of the 12 quarterbacks selected No. 1 overall in the NFL Draft have notched top 10-ranked fantasy seasons. The five who haven’t are Tim Couch (first overall pick in 1999), David Carr (‘02), Alex Smith (’05), JaMarcus Russell (’07) and the current Rams’ QB (’10), who is one of the two signal-callers in that quintet – Smith being the other across the state in K.C. – slated to start in 2012. Bradford has finished 19th (260 points), 32nd (135) and 18th (288), respectively, among fantasy QBs his first three seasons.
There’s the ongoing RGIII Watch in D.C. but almost as many fantasy GMs have their eye trained on RB Alfred Morris. The Redskins’ 2012 sixth-round surprise finished second to MVP Adrian Peterson with 1,613 rushing yards a season ago and wound up fifth among fantasy backs with 247 points. So what’s in store for Morris’ sophomore season? If Mike Shanahan’s recent RB track record is any indicator, it could mean a sizable dip. Quick research reveals that the past eight leading rushers on Shanahan-coached teams – dating back through Clinton Portis’ run with the Broncos – all saw their rushing yardage and TDs decline the following season. And most were no small decreases either, falling an average of 481.6 yards and 4.3 scores per back. If Morris follows suit, that’ll put him at 1,131 yards and 9 TDs in 2013.
No surprise: It looks like another undecipherable RBBC in the Big Easy. That’s just SOP, though, with Sean Payton. Since he took over as coach in 2006, the Saints have had no fewer than six different leading rushers in seven seasons with totals ranging from 581 to 1,057 yards. Also during that span, a RB has finished with 300 or more yards in a season 17 times, and eclipsed 500 yards from scrimmage 16 times with four different yards-from-scrimmage leaders. Good luck.
The Seahawks’ homefield advantage is something to behold – in reality and fantasy. Just check out the home/road splits for the Seattle D/special teams, which tied for ninth overall in the 2012 fantasy rankings. In their eight games at raucous Qwest Field, the ‘Hawks allowed only 11.1 points per contest, forced 20 turnovers, notched 21 sacks and scored four defensive/special teams TDs. In its eight road contests, the Seattle D/ST allowed 19.4 points per outing, swooped up 11 turnovers, recorded 15 sacks and scored a pair of TDs.
Peterson wasn’t the Vikings’ only fantasy stud a season ago. A kicker – and a rookie kicker at that – was just as impressive in his own right, as Blair Walsh led the league with 35 made field goals, including an NFL single-season-record 10 bombs from 50 yards or more. In fact, the sixth-round pick from Georgia connected on every one of his 10 attempts from 50-plus territory. It was good enough for a fourth-place finish (141 points) among all fantasy kickers in standard leagues – and topped most leagues which awarded bonus points for longer FGs. And the final kicker? Walsh’s 10 50-yard-plus makes was as many as the entire NFL accounted for 30 years earlier in 1982.