Fantasy Need-To-Know Nuggets: NFC

Ken Pomponio, @kenpomp

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Sixteen NFC teams, 16 need-to-know nuggets before applying the finishing touches to your fantasy draft board.

While the Bears didn’t feature a top-20 fantasy quarterback last season with Jay Cutler missing five starts, Chicago’s QBs produced a top-four finish at the position. Combined, Cutler and backup Josh McCown threw for 4,450 yards and 32 TDs, amounting to 375 fantasy points (Huddle Performance scoring). That total would’ve trailed only Peyton Manning (497 points), Drew Brees (437) and Andy Dalton (377).

Over the last 30 seasons, QBs have produced 77 275-point-plus fantasy seasons (awarding six points for TD passes and a point for every 25 passing yards), but the Buccaneers are one of seven franchises – joining the Bears, Bills, Browns, Chiefs, Jaguars and Jets – who have failed to crack that club. Ex-Buc Josh Freeman came the closest with his 264-point season in 2010.

There’s been only one season (2006) in Larry Fitzgerald’s decade-long run with the Cardinals that he hasn’t led the squad in fantasy receiving points. However, second-year wideout Michael Floyd was only 22 points (156-134) off Fitz’s fantasy pace last season and will almost certainly eclipse him if he comes anywhere close to matching the 68-point fantasy leap he made from his rookie to sophomore season.

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They say everything’s bigger in Texas, but just how big of a fantasy mark has Cowboys’ TE Jason Witten made in his 11 seasons in Big D? There are several ways to slice Witten’s impressive stats, but try this one: Since 2003, currently active TEs have produced 30 seasons with at least 60 receptions, 750 yards and 110 fantasy points. Witten has accounted for nine – or 30 percent – of those 30 seasons.

The Eagles’ LeSean McCoy not only is in a select class of current fantasy RBs, but he’s part of an elite historical contingent as well. McCoy is one of four backs in NFL history to compile at least 270 receptions, 7,500 yards from scrimmage and 45 TDs in his first five seasons. And here’s where the “historical” angle comes in: The other 3 members of the group (Marshall Falk, Marcus Allen and LaDainian Tomlinson) are in the Hall of Fame or are headed there real soon.

In each season since taking over the Falcons’ starting QB gig as a rookie in 2008, Matt Ryan has had at least two WRs, TEs and/or RBs top 140 fantasy points. That is until last season, when there were none. Stunningly, Ryan still ranked among the top 10 fantasy QBs in 2013, dropping only four spots in the rankings while losing 49 points (384-335) considering that his top three targets – TE Tony Gonzalez and WRs Roddy White and Julio Jones – combined for fewer than 77 receptions, 1,329 receiving yards, 12 TDs and 209 fantasy points while playing in 14 fewer games than they did in 2012.

Back in the day, Forty-Niners’ RB Frank Gore was a PPR stud. That is until run-heavy coach Jim Harbaugh took the team’s reins in 2011. In the three ensuing seasons, Gore has averaged 20 catches, 163 receiving yards and a receiving TD a season. Contrast that with his averages in the five seasons prior to Harbaugh’s arrival: 51 catches, 521 receiving yards and 2 TDs per year.

In leagues where fantasy QBs are penalized the standard two points for turnovers, Eli Manning has cost his owners dearly over the last five seasons. Specifically, the Giants’ QB has lost a whopping 334 points due to interceptions and fumbles, giving away a league-high 117 turnovers during that span. Eli’s 97 interceptions since 2009 lead the league, and his 20 lost fumbles are second only to Philip Rivers’ 21, leaving Manning as the only QB in the league with triple-digit turnovers over the last five seasons. And, even more alarming, his 29 turnovers (27 picks and 2 lost fumbles) led the league last season and represented a career season high.

Few would argue that Calvin Johnson isn’t the best fantasy WR, but is Megatron the most dominant of any of skill-position leaders? The raw numbers certainly make a case for the Lions’ wideout. Over the past three seasons, Johnson has totaled 21.7 percent more fantasy points than the next highest WR (Brandon Marshall). That’s the best percentage among the four position-group leaders, which also includes QB Drew Brees (13.1 percent), McCoy (0.4 percent) and TE Jimmy Graham (21.1 percent).

For those inquiring minds wondering if Packers second-year RB Eddie Lacy will turn out to be a fantasy flash in the pan, recent history answers with a fairly definitive “not likely.” From 1994 to 2011, 14 backs topped 200 fantasy points in their rookie seasons. A full 12 of the 14 went on to post another 200-point season, and 11 have repeated the feat multiple times. The only exceptions during that span have been Steve Slaton and Robert Edwards, who is deserving of an asterisk with his NFL career effectively ended by his devastating Pro Bowl flag football knee injury in 1998.

Cam Newton has finished as top-five fantasy quarterback in each of his first three seasons, but that run faces a fairly significant road block in 2014. With the Panthers completely overhauling their WR corps, Newton has lost targets who accounted for a combined 53.4 percent of his completions, 58.7 of his yards and 62.5 percent of his passing TDs last season.

Jeff Fisher: Friend to fantasy RBs. It’s all in the numbers for the current Rams’ head coach, who is entering his 20th season as an NFL coach. In fact, Fisher’s last 18 teams have featured a top-25 ranked fantasy backs, with eight different RBs accomplishing the feat. The latest, of course, was rookie Zac Stacy last season. In 15 of Fisher’s 19 seasons, his top RB has been a top-20 fantasy performer and on nine different occasions, he’s had a back finish among the fantasy top 12 – nearly accounting for half of his seasons as a head coach.

Surprised to see the Redskins’ Jordan Reed with the sixth highest ADP among tight ends this summer? Don’t be. Reed ranked 21st among all TEs as a rookie last season with 70 total fantasy points but averaged the seventh most fantasy points per game (7.74) among TEs who played at least eight games. Reed had 45 receptions for 499 yards and 3 TDs but played in only nine games due to concussion issues.

Quick, which NFL RB had the most receptions in 2013? We’re talking Saints here, but, no, it wasn’t Darren Sproles. Try Pierre Thomas with 77 grabs out of 84 targets for an eye-popping 91.7 percent conversion rate. Moreover, combining the last three seasons, only the aforementioned Sproles (232), Ray Rice (195) and Matt Forte (170) have reeled in more receptions than Thomas’ 166. And, now, with Sproles having been traded to the Eagles in the offseason, Thomas is the Saints’ top RB target. Keep that in mind, particularly in PPR leagues.

Late-round WR sleeper seekers shouldn’t sleep on Seahawks’ WR Doug Baldwin, who last season led all fantasy wideouts who had 50 or more catches with an average of 10.7 yards per target. Baldwin had 50 receptions for 778 yards among his 73 targets, and his 10.7 average ranked just ahead of fantasy studs DeSean Jackson (10.6), Josh Gordon (10.4), Jordy Nelson (10.3) and Demaryius Thomas (10.1).

In standard-scoring leagues, your top WR during last season’s fantasy playoffs was none other than Vikings’ rookie Cordarrelle Patterson, who rolled up a combined 64 fantasy points in Weeks 14-17. In the four games, Patterson had 15 catches for 215 yards and 3 TDs and added 129 rushing yards and a pair of scores on eight carries to accumulate 61 percent of his 105 total fantasy points in the final quarter of the season.

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