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Hi all, this is Sky speaking to you in italics.  I’m simply here to remind everyone we’re doing Razzball Commenter Leagues this year again.  If you’d like to join one of our leagues or to create your own, go check out our 2012 RCL sign-up.  Alright, now back to your regularly scheduled Kevin. 

Rookie production in 2011 was a mixed bag. If you took a late-round flier on Cam, or reached for AJ Green, you likely made your league’s playoffs. If you went all-in on Mark Ingram, or swore that Belichick was going to ride the Ridley/Vereen combo to take the pressure off Tom Brady, then you probably spent your Sunday’s looking forward to the newest episode of Homeland. And much like Claire Danes won’t remember anything that happened last season, many fantasy owners are in the same boat.

For example, in his 7 full games, Christian Ponder scored 13 or more points 5 times. Not spectacular, but on that disgrace of a Vikings team? Not terrible. On the other hand, Julio Jones managed more than 5 receptions in only 3 games all season, yet he’s being drafted as a top-7 receiver this year. For a guy whose hands were questionable coming out of college, it would be nice to see a little more stickum on those gloves. The point is that sometimes fantasy owners can fall in love with highlights, without looking at the actual numbers.

The Rookie Class in 2011 will be remembered for Cam at QB, the Green/Jones combo at WR, and the lack of production at RB, but sophomore production is subject to change. Whether it’s an adjustment of supporting cast, defensive scheming, strength of schedule, or their girlfriends reading 50 Shades of Grey, we will assuredly see slumps and jumps from last year’s rookies. In looking for slump candidates, it’s best to start with individual performers who are likely to regress, even if they are still productive. When identifying contenders for a jump in production, I looked for characteristics that pointed to improvement, and then found players that fit that mold.

Slumps

Cam Newton

Just like your one friend regrets staying in the night you and your buddies ran into Jamarcus Russell and did shots of purple drank, fantasy owners who missed out on Cam in 2011 are likely to overcompensate this year. Don’t let the power of regret get the best of you and manage your expectations for Cam.

Defenses now have 16 professional games and 25 Under Armour commercials worth of tape on him, so I expect a slight regression in overall performance. On top of that, the Panthers didn’t do him any favors in terms of supporting cast. Steve Smith is one year older, the Williams/Stewart combo should vulture away some rushing TDs, and Jimmy Clausen might be their best bet at WR2.

He’s currently being taken as the fourth QB off the board, which I have no problem with. I do have a problem with him going in the late first round of many drafts. Instead of taking Larry Fitzgerald, Darren McFadden, or one of the top two Tight Ends, owners are banking on another 14 rushing TDs from Cam. I would much rather wait another four rounds and take Eli, Romo or Rivers. Drafting Cam is exciting, but so is dating a gymnast, and either one is liable to leave you sore the next day.

 

DeMarco Murray

Murray had a 6-game stretch in 2011 where he averaged over 16 points a game and was a waiver-wire sensation for many teams. Injuries ruined the rest of a promising rookie campaign, and now he’s being taken in the third round as the 13th back off the board. Despite being the primary ball carrier in only seven games, Murray led the Cowboys in rushing attempts (164), yards (897), and TDs (2. Seriously, 2) in 2011. These less-than-impressive stats have been a theme for the Cowboys since 2008, where no Dallas RB has exceeded 238 carries, 932 yards, or 7 TDs. Like Jessica Simpson and Carrie Underwood before them, Murray owners will find that being by Romo’s side on the red carpet or in the backfield often leads to heartbreak. This is a passing team in a passing league, and with the always-disappointing-yet-over-hyped Felix Jones and deep-sleeper Phillip Tanner still in the mix, I would much rather spend my third round pick on Greg Jennings or Roddy White.

 

Titus Young

Matthew Stafford showed us his ceiling as a fantasy performer in 2011. He played all 16 games for the first time in his career, threw for the fifth-most yards ever, and led the league in passing attempts. So the chances of Stafford improving on those numbers are as likely as Jonah Hill getting back-to-back Oscar nominations.

Which brings us to Titus Young, who joins the conversation with standup comic Chris Titus and former Ohio State benchwarmer-turned-blogger Mark Titus as the most famous Titus in the world today. After a rookie season where he put up a 48/607/6, many people are predicting a breakout for Mr. Young in 2012. But with Megatron, Pettigrew, Burleson, and rookie Ryan Broyles (107 receptions per year in 2010-11 at Oklahoma), along with likely regression from Stafford, I can’t see Titus improving on his 2011 numbers. He’s being taken in the 11th round ahead of Malcom Floyd, Ronnie Hillman, and several other players who are in better situations for fantasy production.

 

Jumps

Solid QBs with New Toys

Cam Newton was in a class by himself in terms of rookie QBs in 2011, but there were five other quarterbacks taken in the first 36 picks of that draft. While Blaine Gabbert could barely handle the snap, there were signs of life from other early-round QBs, some of whom have new weapons in 2012.

Andy Dalton was more effective on the field than on the stat sheet, which bodes well for Bengals fans, but we fantasy owners need those numbers!  AJ Green is clearly a stud, and Jermaine Gresham is a nice safety valve, but there was no clear cut #2 receiver and Cedric Benson wasted 273 carries last year. With Benson gone in 2012 and promising rookies Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones at his disposal, the Red Rocket has a chance to be a lower-tier QB1 this year.

Jake Locker hasn’t even won the starting job on his own team, but I can see him being the surprise QB of this fantasy season. Once he takes over the reins from Old Man Hasselbeck, Locker will have a hell of a lot more than Nate Washington to target. Kenny Britt returning from injury, a more experienced AJ Cook, and the addition of first round pick Kendall Wright form an impressive young receiving corps. Jake’s legs will provide some points as well, though they increase the odds of a Hurt Locker.

 

Recently-Healthy “Rookie” RBs

In early fantasy drafts last year, two names climbing the draft boards were Ryan Williams and Mikel Leshoure. Before their promising rookie years could begin, Williams hurt his knee and LeShoure tore his Achilles, sidelining both of them for the season. On the bright side, this gave them a full year to recover and prepare for 2012. Williams spent the offseason working to solidify himself as oft-injured Beanie Wells’ backup, while Leshoure caught up on Weeds and got a little carried away with the subject matter. Regardless, these backs present value as handcuffs for fragile starters, and many fantasy owners have forgotten about them entirely.

 

Big-Play WRs with Increased Roles

Randall Cobb scored 2 TDs in the first game of the 2011 season, a 32-yard catch and run and a 108-yard kickoff return, then didn’t score again for the rest of the season. Vincent Brown had 7 catches for 98 yards and a score in Week 10 with Malcom Floyd out, and never broke 8 fantasy points again. Both these guys play in passing offenses with top quarterbacks, and both averaged over 15 yards per catch. But both need a bigger role in their respective offenses to become fantasy-relevant, and the Mayans predict it will happen in 2012.

When Vincent Jackson signed with Tampa, two things happened. First, Vincent Brown didn’t have to change his name to Vinnie to avoid confusion at receiver’s meetings. But more importantly, it left a void at WR1 for Philip Rivers, who has averaged 4400 yards and 30 TDs over the last four seasons. Even if Floyd, Gates, and newcomers Robert Meachem and Eddie Royal take 80% of that production, Brown is still a WR3. Not bad for the 53rd receiver off the board.

The path to relevancy is a little more crowded for Cobb, but luckily he plays in the most high-powered passing offense in the league. He will compete with Donald Driver for the slot receiver role and, dancing skills aside, he has the talent to emerge as Aaron Rodgers‘ version of Wes Welker. Your PPR-league mouths should be foaming over how many throws Cobb will see this year, and everyone will be doing the Dougie over what happens after he catches it. He’s likely going to be active in the return game as well, possibly getting you a cheap 6 points before A-Rod and the gang can even take the field.

  1. JP says:
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    Hi guys,

    My league is going with a 0.5pt PPR this year and wanted to get some advice on how to approach the draft. SHould I go with a standard scoring ranking or a PPR ranking.

    Thanks!

    • Kevin Kumpf

      Kevin Kumpf says:
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      @JP,

      I play in a 0.5 PPR league as well, and I’m a huge fan. It puts the RB/WRs on a more level playing field with QBs in terms of overall points without making a guy like Welker a first round pick.

      If you have to choose one set of rankings, I’d go with PPR as it will show you who benefits the most from the scoring system. But last year this site did come out with a 0.5 PPR cheat sheet, so that may be on tap again for this year as well. Stay tuned…

      • JP says:
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        @Kevin Kumpf, great, thanks!

  2. I’m in a 10 team, 4-keeper PPR league. As my forth option should I keep Graham, Welker, or Brandon Marshall? My other three keepers are Megatron, Stafford, and Ray Rice. Thanks!

    • Sky

      Sky says:
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      Tough between Wes and Brandon. I’d probably lean Brandon but it might be a toss-up.

    • Kevin Kumpf

      Kevin Kumpf says:
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      @Shoun Hil,

      Assuming you just lose your top 4 picks for these keepers, I’d keep Graham. Looking at ESPN’s ADP, your top tight ends available after pick 40 are Gates/Vernon/Witten and the top WRs are Dez/Colston/Austin. I think the dropoff from Graham is more severe than from Welker or Marshall. Age also comes into play in keeper leagues, and Graham has them beat in that regard as well.

      Either way you’re in an enviable situation with whoever you keep. Congrats!

      • Sky

        Sky says:
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        How did I read Graham as Gresham? Kevin’s right, I’d go Graham there.

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