Fantasy Football Nuggets: AFC Teams

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16 AFC teams, 16 quick-hitting, need-to-know nuggets to digest before checking into your fantasy draft rooms:

Talk about quiet production: The Bengals’ new lead running back, BenJarvus Green-Ellis has 24 rushing TDs over the past two seasons which is tied for second most in the league with Adrian Peterson and LeSean McCoy. The Texans’ Arian Foster is tops with 26.

Can a guy get a little help around here? Of 2011’s top-12 quarterbacks, ranked by total fantasy points (Huddle performance scoring), only the Bills’ Ryan Fitzpatrick didn’t have a top 20-ranked wide receiver or tight end to throw to. Moreover, each of the other 11 QBs had either a top-10 receiver or tight end at their disposal.

The Mile High City is about to rediscover the tight end position with Peyton Manning now in town. During the past 3 seasons, Broncos’ tight ends have totaled 116 receptions and six TDs, including only 30 catches and three scores in 2011. During Manning’s final four seasons (2007-10) in Indy, Colts tight ends averaged 112 receptions and nine TDs per year. Translation: Jacob Tamme and Joel Dreessen definitely belong on fantasy rosters.

Young skill-position players Brandon Weeden, Trent Richardson and Greg Little are out to change Cleveland’s recent (and deserved) reputation as a fantasy wasteland. Surveying the past four seasons of fantasy leaders, Peyton Hillis (second among RBs in 2010), Benjamin Watson (12th among TEs that same season) and Kellen Winslow Jr. (tied for 20th among TEs in ’08) have been the only Browns finishing among the top 20 at any of the four major offensive positions.

This (not) just in: Chargers’ tight end Antonio Gates is good – as in fantasy and reality Hall of Fame good – and he has the stats to back it up. In each of the eight seasons since his rookie year in 2003 – when he signed as an undrafted free agent following a basketball career at Kent State – Gates has finished among the league’s top four TEs in average fantasy points per game. He’s also had at least seven receiving touchdowns in each of those campaigns.

Can the two-back system work with the Chiefs this season? The last time K.C. tried it with two healthy backs, it led the NFL in rushing in 2010 with 2,627 yards on a league-leading 556 attempts, with both Jamaal Charles (4th) and Thomas Jones (25th) finishing among the top-25 fantasy backs. Oh, and by the way, the second-best fantasy RB overall in 2010 was Hillis playing for the Browns and offensive coordinator Brian Daboll. Both Hillis and Daboll are in K.C. this season along with Charles, who’s nearly a year removed from his Week 2 ACL tear suffered last season.

The odds of Colts No. 1 overall pick Andrew Luck finishing among the top-20 fantasy QBs are pretty good. In four of the past six seasons, the first QBs drafted (Cam Newton in ’11, Sam Bradford in ’10, Matt Ryan in ’08 and Vince Young in ’06) all ended their rookie campaigns in the top 20. As for the other two, Matthew Stafford finished 25th in ’09 and JaMarcus Russell played in only four games in ’07.

Reggie Bush had an unexpectedly strong – albeit strange – season for the Dolphins in 2011. Playing in his sixth pro campaign, Bush finished 13th among running backs with 180 fantasy points. To get there, he rushed for a career-high 1,086 yards (almost doubling his previous best of 581) on a career-most 216 attempts (59 more than his previous high of 157) while playing in 15 games (for only the second season in his career). To cap his odd year, Bush finished with 43 receptions (the second-lowest single-season total of his career).

A.J. Green and Julio Jones showed the way last season. Now, the Jaguars' Justin Blackmon will try to follow suit. Charting the past decade, Green and Jones became the first receivers selected in the top 10 of the NFL Draft to rank among the top-20 fantasy receivers as rookies, finishing 14th (153 points) and 17th (150), respectively. They were able to do what the 11 previous top-10 drafted wideouts couldn't, and it's a list that includes Calvin Johnson (35th with 111 fantasy points in '07), Larry Fitzgerald (30th with 127 points in '04) and Braylon Edwards (58th with 69 points in '05). Blackmon was selected fifth overall this past April.

Are the Jets taking to the air? That's been the pattern over the past three seasons under coach Rex Ryan as the team's rushing yards, attempts and average per carry have declined each year while New York's passing yards, attempts and TD tosses all have undergone yearly increases. The Jets, however, have added just the player who could shift that trend into reverse. Last year under QB Tim Tebow, the Broncos finished first in the league in rushing yards and attempts, last in passing attempts and second to last in passing yards.

The question with the Patriots’ passing game this season is will there be enough footballs to go around? In 2011, no fewer than four current Pats finished among the top seven in targets at wide receiver and tight end. Wes Welker ranked second among wideouts with 173 passes thrown his way, while new teammate Brandon Lloyd finished fifth with 150 targets playing for the Broncos and Rams. Meanwhile, at tight end, Rob Gronkowski ranked third with 124 targets and teammate Aaron Hernandez was seventh with 113. Tom Brady did hit career highs in attempts (611), completions (401) and yards (5,235) in 2011, and expect the QB to approach those numbers again, even after factoring in a logistical decrease in targets across the board for each of his weapons.

Fantasy GMs know almost exactly what they’re getting with Ravens QB Joe Flacco. Just check out Mr. Consistency’s stats from the past three seasons. Having played in a full 16 games each year (stats listed from 2009-11), Flacco has finished with the same relative number of passing attempts (499, 489, 542), completions (315, 306, 312), passing yards (3,613, 3,622, 3,610), TD passes (21, 25, 20), interceptions (12, 10, 12) and even rushing yards (56, 84, 88) and TDs (0, 1, 1). In a word, uncanny.

 The continuing draft-day allure of Raiders RB Darren McFadden, who has missed a dozen full games over the past two seasons, is explained by this one number: 16.65. That’s Run DMC’s average fantasy points per game during that two-year span. It’s also a figure that trumps the two-year average of any other non-QB in the league, aside from the Texans’ Foster (20.20) and Eagles RB LeSean McCoy (16.77). Foster, and McCoy, own 2012 ADPs of first and third, respectively, while McFadden is being selected ninth on average.

For anyone still wondering why it’s highly advisable to wait until the final round or next-to-last round to select a team defense of fantasy drafts, we give you the 2011 Steelers. Pittsburgh was the first team D selected in terms of ADP last season, but the Steel Curtain wound up tied for 30th with the 2-14 Colts in the final fantasy team defense rankings, totaling only 81 points.

So Foster looks as if he’ll wind up as the player selected No. 1 in most fantasy drafts this preseason, but that wouldn’t be the best of news for the Texans’ multi-talented tailback. Looking back over the past 10 fantasy seasons, the player with the top preseason ADP has finished that season with the most fantasy points only once – the Chargers’ LaDainian Tomlinson in 2006. Last year, ADP front-runner Adrian Peterson played in 12 games and finished 37th overall and eighth among running backs, extending the current trend to five years in which the No. 1 ADP player has gone on to rank no higher than 10th overall in total fantasy points.

Titans RB Chris Johnson experienced a hard fall (and winter) last season, and it can mainly be blamed on the lack of touchdowns. Johnson’s total yards from scrimmage dropped by only 144 from 2010, but he reached the end zone only four times in 2011 after racking up 38 TDs over his first three seasons. His also only had three 15-point fantasy games last season after notching 25 over the previous three campaigns.

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