16 AFC teams, 16 quick-hitting, need-to-know nuggets to digest before applying the finishing touches to your draft board. Check the NFC team nuggets here.
How good has the Bengals’ A.J. Green been over his first two seasons? Short answer: He’s been historically good. Examining all wide receivers and their first two NFL seasons since the 1970 merger, Green ranked second in receptions (162), fourth in yards (2,407), tied for sixth in TD catches (18) and ranked third in total fantasy points (354.8). Only the Saints’ Marques Colston had more receptions (168) and only Randy Moss (449.4) and Jerry Rice (377.1) totaled more fantasy points.
The Bills are embarking on another quarterback era – or at least they hope to be once first-round pick EJ Manuel’s knee recovers from a minor preseason procedure. Productive QBs, however, have been hard to come by of late in western New York, and productive fantasy QBs have been even scarcer as only Drew Bledsoe (seventh overall in 2002) and Jim Kelly (eighth in ’93) have finished a season ranked among the top-10 fantasy QBs over the past two decades.
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With Wes Welker joining the Broncos’ posse, what fantasy general managers want to know is if there’s room for three 1,000-yard pass-catchers in the Mile High City. It’s only happened three times on any team over the past 20 seasons: The 2008 Cardinals (Larry Fitzgerald, Anquan Boldin, Steve Breaston), the ’95 Falcons (Eric Metcalf, Terance Mathis, Bert Emanuel) and the ’04 Colts (Reggie Wayne, Marvin Harrison, Brandon Stokley) quarterbacked by, yes, Peyton Manning. In fact, Manning attempted 86 more passes, had 102 more completions and threw for 102 more yards with the Broncos this past season than he did with the Colts in ’04, so there’s plenty of room for another 1,000-yard triumvirate.
Browns’ second-year back Trent Richardson is coming off a strong debut season (950 rushing yards, 51 receptions for 367 yards and 12 total TDs) a year ago, and in fact, became the latest member of the Rookie 900-50-12 Club. That’s 900 or more rushing yards, 50-plus catches and 12 or more TDs as a first-year running back. Only seven RBs can call themselves card-carrying members of the club since the NFL’s inception 93 years ago, and you might recognize a name or two among the first six members: Matt Forte (’08), Edgerrin James (’99), Marshall Faulk (’94), Eric Dickerson (’83), Joe Cribbs (’80) and Billy Sims (’80).
Philip Rivers has most definitely been on the fantasy decline over the past three seasons, falling from the fourth-ranked fantasy QB in 2010 (361 points) to seventh in 2011 (349) to 18th this past season (288). The loss of weapons such as Vincent Jackson and Darren Sproles certainly has hurt, and so has the Chargers’ lack of pass protection as only Aaron Rodgers (118) has been sacked more times than Rivers (117) over the past three seasons. The constant pressure also has played no small role in Rivers committing a whopping 47 turnovers (35 interceptions and 12 fumbles) over the past two years. Only Mark Sanchez (52) has more during that span, and look where that’s gotten the “Sanchise.”
So how’s this marriage between the running Chiefs and pass-happy coach Andy Reid going to work out? They just might be what the other needed. Over the past three seasons, K.C. is tops in the league in rushing attempts (1,543) and yards gained (6.915) but only a shocking 30th in rushing TDs (27). Reid’s Eagles, meanwhile, were 20th in rushes (1,291) but fourth in yards (6,474) and sixth in TDs (48) – a full 21 scores more than the Chiefs despite 252 fewer attempts. In other words, Reid’s passing offense could help Jamaal Charles and the Chiefs do more with less on the ground.
Just imagine how good Colts’ WR Reggie Wayne would be if he found his way into the end zone more often. Including his 106-catch, 1,355-yard, 5-TD season of a season ago, Wayne ranks fourth in the league in receptions (474), sixth in yards (6,079) but only is tied for 18th in receiving scores (31) over the past five years.
Second-year Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill also could use a few more touchdowns. Few realize that Tannehill threw for more yards (3,294) than fellow rookie QBs Robert Griffin III (3,200) and Russell Wilson (3,118) in 2012 and finished with fewer interceptions (13) than the other two full-time rookie starters, Andrew Luck (18) and Brandon Weeden (17). But when it came to passing TDs, Tannehill brought up the rear among the quintet, finishing with only 12 – the fewest for any NFL QB who had more than 12 starts last season. Wilson led the rookies with 26 TD tosses, followed by Luck (23), RGIII (20) and Weeden (14).
How Maurice Jones-Drew bounces back from the most serious injury of his career – a left-foot issue that sidelined him for all but six games in 2012 – is a legitimate concern for the RB’s fantasy owners. Worrying if the Jaguars’ still-moribund passing offense will affect MJD isn’t. In fact, since Jones-Drew entered the league in 2006, the Jags have ranked in the top half of the league in passing only once – a 15th-place finish in 2008 – and have averaged more than 200 passing yards per game in only four of the seven seasons.
Cornerback Darrelle Revis went to four Pro Bowls in six seasons with the Jets, and a quick examination of the stats reveals there can be no doubting his impact. Over Revis’ six seasons in N.Y., the Jets allowed the lowest opposing completion percentage (56.1) in the league and ranked second in average passing yards allowed (3,137.7), completions surrendered (287.7) and passing TDs allowed (18) per season over the span. In four of the six seasons, the Jets also finished in the league’s top six in terms of fantasy points allowed to opposing wide receivers.
With the Patriots’ Tom Brady expected to open the season without his five top 2012 pass-catchers in terms of receptions, yards and TDs, it’s more than fair to wonder if the QB’s fantasy stats are headed back to the pre-Wes Welker/Randy Moss days of 2001-06. Over that six-year span, Brady’s average season totals went like this: 316-of-510 for 3,593 yards, 32 TDs and 13 interceptions. He finished among the top-10 fantasy QBs four times in that six-season span. In his five full seasons since – discarding his 2008 season lost to a Week 1 knee injury – Brady averages are 379-of-577 for 4,633 yards, 37 TDs and nine picks, and he’s been a top-seven fantasy quarterback in all five of those seasons.
Talk about a Super Bowl hangover: The Raiders haven’t been back to the playoffs since getting pummeled by the Bucs 11 years ago in Super Bowl XXXVII, and rank only above the Lions (48) with only 49 wins in the past 10 seasons. The Silver & Black’s fantasy fortunes echo the decade’s misery with the team owning only seven season-ending individual top-10 fantasy finishes, with two of them belonging to kicker Sebastian Janikowski and none of them attributed to a quarterback or receiver. Finally, only one of those seven top-10 fantasy finishes – a second-place Janikowski showing in 2010 – was of the top-five variety.
Here’s where we separate fantasy from reality. Coming off an amazing 11-TD, no-interception run to the Lombardi Trophy, the numbers say the Ravens’ Joe Flacco has been one of the NFL’s best QBs since he entered the league five years ago. He leads the NFL in postseason wins (9), passing yards (2,672) and TDs (19) over that span, and only the Falcons’ Matt Ryan (56) has won more regular-season games than Flacco (54) during that same period. However, Flacco hasn’t finished any of those seasons ranked among the top-10 fantasy quarterbacks – his highest was a 12th-place showing (296 points) in 2010 – and never has finished a year with more than 300 fantasy points. Things aren’t looking up in 2013, either, as Flacco opens the season without his two top pass catchers (traded WR Anquan Boldin and injured TE Dennis Pitta) from a year ago.
Remember when the Steelers were the feared rushing-oriented, ground-and-pound Steelers of Franco Harris, Rocky Bleier and Jerome Bettis? Memories are almost all that’s left of one of the league’s most potent games as the Steel City hasn’t fielded a top-10-ranked rushing attack or averaged more than 125 yards per game since 2007. In each of the past three seasons, the team’s average rushing yards per game has fallen – going from 120.3 in 2010 to 118.9 in ’11 to 96.1 this past season – and its league rushing rank has dropped right along with it, falling from 11th in 2010 to 14th in ’11 to 26th last season. Pittsburgh spent a second-round pick on Michigan State’s Le’Veon Bell with the idea of reversing the trend, but the rookie already has suffered a preseason foot injury, raising questions anew about the state of the Steelers’ ground attack.
Don’t look now but the league’s heaviest workload may be starting to weigh on the Texans’ Arian Foster, who hasn’t played this preseason due to calf and back issues. Over the past three seasons, the RB has logged 1,115 offensive touches – 60 more than the next-closest player (Ray Rice) – and has led the league in that category in two of those three seasons. And here’s where it starts to get telling as Foster’s total yards from scrimmage (2,220 in 2010 to 1,841 in ’11 to 1,641 last year), yards per rush (4.9 to 4.4 to 4.1) and yards per touch (5.65 to 5.56 to 4.20) have fallen each season.
A season ago, the 6-10 Titans boasted fantasy’s fifth-best defense/special teams with 143 points (Huddle Performance scoring), thanks to a league-leading nine TDs from those units (4 interception returns, 4 special-teams scores and 1 fumble return). But don’t bank on that happening again. Of the past five D/STs to lead fantasy in TDs, all five have seen their TD totals drop the following season by an average of 4.8 scores. Those five team defenses also dropped an average of 23.4 fantasy points and 5.6 spots in the rankings the ensuing season.