2012 Wrap-Up Report and Early 2013 Preview: NFC West

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Published, 1/30/13 

Also See: NFC East I NFC North I NFC SouthAFC North I AFC East I AFC South I AFC West
Arizona Cardinals
QB: If a team can’t even get a mediocre QB on the field, it’s going to have a lot of trouble succeeding. The Cardinals’ disastrous signal-caller situation probably wouldn’t have improved enough for a successful season even if Kevin Kolb stayed healthy, but it’s hard to ignore the fact that the Cardinals started 4-0 with Kolb under center. A nasty rib injury in Week Six knocked Kolb out for the rest of the season, a point up to which his play had at least proved respectable. In five starts (Kolb didn’t start Week One as he lost the off-season QB battle, but entered in relief), Kolb posted 109/183 passing (59.6%) for 1169 yards with 8 TDs and 3 INTs. He added 17/103/1 on the ground and ranked 25th among QBs with 17.8 FPG over that span. So he wasn’t much for fantasy, but he clearly gave the Cardinals some hope offensively, in that he at least seemed to have a clue out there. Kolb, unfortunately, isn’t the type of QB who can be expected to have a ton of success behind a brutal offensive line, and the Cardinals got off on the wrong foot before playing a snap when LT Levi Brown was lost for the season. That’s not to say Brown is any good or the Cardinal line would have been stout otherwise, but it became a line that was already bad and had backups starting. Kolb is a frenetic passer who lacks composure when faced with pressure. He can throw the ball fairly well (but probably not all throws), and he’s a tough guy, but he just has a malfunctioning internal clock, for lack of a better term. If new coach Bruce Arians can fix any one of the misfit toys the Cardinals have on their island, it could be Kolb, but that’s hardly a lock and this position for 2012 is way up in the air. His primary backup, John Skelton, seems to be the polar opposite of Kolb. Skelton is big and burly, features a cannon for an arm, and seems totally willing to stand in the pocket to take hits. That’s why he initially beat out Kolb for the club’s starting job during the summer, but he got injured in Week One and then lost out to Kolb based on performance. After Kolb’s rib injury, Skelton returned to the starting lineup in Week Seven for four games, but he was benched again in Week Eleven following a 2/7 start. From Weeks Seven through Nine, when Skelton played the majority of his football, he went 80/134 for 858 yards (59.7%) with 2 TDs and 3 INTs, ranking 21st with 17.0 FPG. But it was evident to then-coach Ken Whisenhunt that Skelton just didn’t see the field and process information well enough to be an NFL starter, so Whisenhunt went to sixth-round rookie Ryan Lindley. The rookie played in seven games, making four starts, but was clearly in way over his head. He threw for 312 yards in his first start against the Rams, but totaled only 317 yards in his other three starts combined. Lindley finished the year with 89/171 passing (52.0%) for 752 yards with no TDs and 7 INTs. Heck, even Patriot castoff Brian Hoyer got a start. The scary thing is it’s not incredible to say Hoyer may be their best option. The disaster of the QB position cost Larry Fitzgerald his fantasy value and Whisenhunt his job, and this mess will provide new head coach Bruce Arians with easily his biggest challenge of his new job.
  • Fantasy situation to watch in 2013: This is simple. Who will be playing QB for the Cardinals in 2013? Can Arians, who has a great reputation with QBs, fix Kolb? Will Hoyer, a free agent, return?
RB: The Cardinals might have had both the worst QB situation and RB situation in the NFL, which obviously is a recipe for failure. The Cardinals entered the year clearly wishing young Ryan Williams would quickly rebound from a season-ending injury in his 2011 rookie year to take the starting job from the ineffective and unreliable Beanie Wells. The desire for that to happen was justified when Wells, who has had injury problems of his own, was both ineffective and unavailable this year. Dealing with toe and knee injuries (the former landed him on short-term IR for eight weeks), Wells appeared in eight games and posted a horrendous 88/234/5 line (2.7 YPC), averaging 7.0 FPG (36th among RBs). Wells had 3 TDs in Week Fifteen, which really boosted his bottom line, but he was ineffective, never once averaging 4.0 YPC in a single game this season. And in Week Seventeen, when a disgruntled Wells said he was “auditioning” for other teams, he didn’t even play a snap. That should show where the Cardinals are with Wells, considering they sure can’t trust Williams. Presumably healthy from the patellar tendon injury that cost him his entire rookie season, Williams still couldn’t get going behind a patchwork line, posting 58/164/0 (2.8 YPC) rushing and 7/44/0 receiving in five games of action before a shoulder injury ended his sophomore season. Williams also fumbled twice, not a good sign for his chances to gain the trust of his new coaching staff. We love Williams’ talent, but the fact of the matter is he’s missed 27 of a possible 32 games in two seasons, and hasn’t been that effective when he’s actually been on the field. Clearly, we have not yet seen the best of this former #2 pick, and we might not ever see it in the pros at this point. The Cardinals’ leading rusher was actually the diminutive LaRod Stephens-Howling, who played in 14 games and posted 111/357/4 rushing (3.2 YPC) and 17/106/0 receiving, and he ranked 58th among RBs with 5.0 FPG. But while LSH had two 100-yard performances (Weeks Seven and Eleven), he topped 25 yards rushing only once more on the entire season, which probably isn’t surprising, considering he should be a rotational player at best. So that’s why the Cardinals couldn’t feature a single running back who had more yards than Adrian Peterson had in his two regular-season games against the Packers alone. Of the Cardinals’ four leading rushers – Stephens-Howling, Wells, Williams, and William Powell (59/216/0) – it’s questionable, if not highly unlikely, that any of them is the answer next season.
  • Fantasy situation to watch in 2013: Will the highly disappointing Wells be cut? Will Stephens-Howling, a free agent, look for a better fit next year? Will Williams return healthy? And, simply, who will be asked to step up in this backfield in 2013? It appears likely the Cardinals will go outside the organization.
WR/TE: If you’ve managed to make it to this section of potentially the most depressing team review we’ve ever put together, now might be the time to turn away. If you want to see how badly the Cardinal QB mess affected the entire team, look no further than stud WR Larry Fitzgerald’s numbers. Although he played a full 16-game schedule, Fitz had the worst year of his nine-year career, posting 71/798/4 on 153 targets (a career-worst 11.2 YPC and 46.4% catch rate), averaging only 6.5 FPG, which ranked him an awful 55th among all WRs, behind the likes of Golden Tate, Brandon LaFell, and Darrius Heyward-Bey. Fitz had only two 100-yard games this season, but more troubling were his seven games with fewer than 30 yards receiving. We obviously don’t have to go over Fitz’s talent, as he’s one of the top-five most gifted receivers in the entire game, but for the first time, his fantasy value was truly destroyed by the absence of Kurt Warner. Fitzgerald’s draft position in 2013 will be very interesting if the Cardinals enter the season with more question marks at QB, which seems inevitable. Bracket coverage on Fitzgerald helped open things up for other WRs on the team, especially Andre Roberts, who actually outperformed Fitz for fantasy purposes. In 15 games, Roberts posted 64/759/5 on 114 targets (11.9 YPC, 56.1%), ranking 45th among WRs with 7.3 FPG. Ideally, Roberts is a possession receiver who does his damage from the slot, but he can play outside effectively, especially when he sees single coverage, of which he got a lot this season. That’s because Fitzgerald was often doubled, and rookie WR Michael Floyd wasn’t nearly as effective as the Cardinals might have hoped from a first-round pick. In 16 games, Floyd posted 45/562/2 on 85 targets (12.5 YPC, 52.9%), ranking 81st among WRs with 4.3 FPG. Floyd’s involvement started to pick up in Week Eight, after which he caught 37 of his 45 passes on the year, and he posted 8/166/1 against the 49ers in Week Seventeen with Brian Hoyer at QB. Floyd took a while to pick up the offense and his routes were initially sloppy, but as the year wore on, it became evident he could help the team. The trick is finding out whether his numbers were more suppressed by his rookie struggles or the fact that he had no reliable QB throwing him the ball. As with the rest of the Cardinal WRs, we’ll give him the benefit of the doubt. At TE, the Cardinals got youngster Rob Housler involved, pretty much because they had to, given the injuries to Todd Heap. In 15 games, Housler posted 45/417/0 receiving on 68 targets (9.3 YPC, 66.2%), and because of the lack of TDs, Housler finished 43rd among TEs with 2.8 FPG. He still has yet to score in his NFL career, but he’s an athletic guy who reminds us a lot of Owen Daniels. He’s got a chance to make an impact down the road, but he needs a QB to help him out.
  • Fantasy situation to watch in 2013: Can the Cardinals improve the QB position enough to get Fitzgerald the numbers we know he can post? Will Floyd step up in his second season? Can the talented Housler establish himself as a legitimate fantasy option?
Key Free Agents: QB Brian Hoyer, RB LaRod Stephens-Howling, C Rich Ohrnberger, OT D’Anthony Batiste, OL Pat McQuistan, LB Paris Lenon, DE Vonnie Holliday, DT Nick Eason, LB Quentin Groves, LB Brandon Williams (RFA), CB Greg Toler, S Rashad Johnson, S James Sanders.
San Francisco 49ers
QB: The 49ers went all the way to the NFC Championship last season, thanks to a great defense, strong ground game, and QB Alex Smith playing smart, conservative football. They looked to be following that blueprint once again this season with success until Smith was lost to a concussion in the team’s Week Ten tie against the Rams. Enter second-year QB Colin Kaepernick, who’d actually appeared in five previous games, but only in certain formations to take advantage of his superior running ability. When Smith wasn’t cleared in time to face the Bears in Week Eleven, Kaepernick got his first start and played quite well, completing 16/23 for 243 yards with 2 TDs. At that point, HC Jim Harbaugh had a decision to make and instead of going back to Smith, he decided to stick with Kaepernick at a time when the team was 7-2-1 with Smith under center for 6 of the 7 wins. It was a very controversial move, but one that made sense if you were looking at the big picture. Sure, the 49ers had a lot of success since 2011 with Smith starting, but there was clearly a lower ceiling and a lower margin for error. That’s because Smith doesn’t have a big arm and can’t make all the throws Kaepernick can, so the team played conservatively and just asked Smith to take care of the football. While breaks might help you get far with that philosophy, it doesn’t really fit in with an NFL game that’s always evolving, especially when it came to offenses. You need to throw the ball with a lot of success to win the way the game is played today, so having a QB like Kaepernick out there with his fantastic arm and dangerous running ability, raises the ceiling significantly and gives the team a better chance of scoring more points on a regular basis. Under Kaepernick, we saw that this can be a great offense, and a very creative and challenging offense, and they certainly have some nice weapons. And unlike Smith, Kaepernick will take some chances throwing the ball because he has a naturally strong arm, and that's usually better for fantasy purposes, which is why Kaepernick was 10th in FPG among QBs from Week Eleven (his first start) through the end of the season. Kaepernick’s downside is limited more than other players because of how effectively he runs the football. And frankly, once he took over the starting job, we saw him make some monster throws that Smith couldn't even dream of making. High-upside performances like the ones Kaepernick had during the season and in the playoffs are what Harbaugh had in mind when he named Kaepernick his starting QB in the first place, and if you bought into that same theory, he helped your fantasy team out in a big way down the stretch, since you don’t often find fantasy starters with that kind of upside late in the season. While Kaepernick’s ability to run the read-option and pistol schemes made him dangerous with his legs, it’s his great arm that made defenses have to respect him being a legitimate duel threat. That’s what took the 49ers to the next level and why Harbaugh looks like a genius with the 49ers advancing to the Super Bowl. Kaepernick may have started only seven games, but he appeared in 13, going 136/218 (62.4%) for 1809 yards with 10 TDs and 3 INTs while adding 63/417/5 on the ground, putting him at 15.6 FPG for the season. It should come as no surprise to hear reports that Smith will request his release to enter free agency heading into 2013. Kaepernick isn’t quite there yet, but all signs point to him emerging as an NFL superstar.
·         Fantasy situation to watch for 2013: Can Kaepernick keep this going for an entire season? Will Kaepernick be able to get others outside of WR Michael Crabtree more involved on a consistent basis?
RB: Frank Gore was the foundation of the 49er offense in 2011 and it certainly looked like he’d play a big role once again in 2012. However, we did have some worry about him after he slowed down significantly in the second half of last season. The team brought into RB Brandon Jacobs, and we thought he’d be the one to spell Gore to keep him fresh, at least in short-yardage and goal line situations. Well, Gore didn’t need a lot of help this season, but when the 49ers did get another back involved, it was second-year RB Kendall Hunter, who was outstanding in a somewhat limited role. Unlike 2011, Gore stayed relatively healthy outside of a rib injury toward the middle of the season, and for the second straight season, he played in all 16 games. Gore continues to be a tough, between-the-tackles runner, which is how he was primarily used, although we did see a slight uptick in his role as a receiver compared to 2011. Having a strong OL certainly helped, but so did the commitment to the run, which didn’t change when QB Colin Kaepernick took over under center. While Kaepernick’s role saw the team use him as both a dangerous passer and a runner, we continued to see Gore have success with the team using the pistol and read-option schemes. Gore carried 259 times (compared to 282 in 2011) but had one more yard, finishing with 1212 (4.7 YPC) and 8 TDs while adding 28/234/1 on 36 targets, putting him 12th among RBs at 12.4 FPG. Hunter was used as a change-of-pace option and was able to give Gore a breather to keep him fresher for the entire season, which actually worked out quite well before he tore his Achilles in late November, which landed him on the injured reserve. In 11 games, Hunter ran 72 times for 371 yards (5.2 YPC) and 2 TDs with 9/60 on 12 targets, good for 5 FPG. Hunter was used mostly as the backup to Gore and had a lot of his runs to the outside, although we could see him developing into something more, especially with Gore turning 30 in May. He never really had strong fantasy value, but did a fine job in his role. Hunter was out of his walking boot in late January, but there is no timetable for his return with training camp possibly being in jeopardy. Jacobs ended up being active for just two games, rushing 5 times for 7 yards, but he was eventually suspended for the final three games of the season after complaining about his role. He was released the day after the regular season ended. Instead of Jacobs stepping up when Hunter went down, the team called on rookie RB LaMichael James instead. James wasn’t even activated until the final four games of the season, but he did flash, as he has some quickness, but not a lot of size at 5’8”, 194 pounds. He did a fine job, and the team seemed to show more trust in him with each game. James ran 27 times for 125 yards (4.6 YPC) and caught 3/29 on 5 targets for 3.9 FPG. We saw some of the bigger Anthony Dixon as well, as he had 21/78/2 (3.7 YPC) with appearances in all 16 games.
·         Fantasy situation to watch for 2013: Can Gore keep it going at a high level for another year? How will Hunter return from his injury? Can Hunter and/or James become more valuable for fantasy?
WR/TE: WR Michael Crabtree had been doing just fine with QB Alex Smith under center and appeared to be developing into a reliable route-runner and top option for the 49ers since 2011, but his production jumped significantly once QB Colin Kaepernick became the starter. From Weeks One through Ten (all Smith starts), Crabtree had 44/510/4 (11.6 YPC) on 59 targets and was tied for 34th at 8.4 FPG in nine games. That’s in line with what we saw from him in 2011 (he was 33rd in scoring that year). When Kaepernick took over as the starter in Week Eleven, Crabtree had 41/495/5 (14.5 YPC) on 66 targets and was 5th among WRs at 12.8 FPG. Crabtree was never really considered a deep threat, but he’s tough to bring down after the catch and was able to pick up extra yards as a result. Unlike Smith, Kaepernick had the arm to not only throw Crabtree open, but also attempt passes to Crabtree that Smith would never even think about. The two developed a great rapport quickly and are a big reason the 49ers saw their passing game become significantly more productive. Even with the “slow” start playing with Smith, Crabtree managed to finish 19th with 10.3 FPG in 16 games thanks to 85/1105/9 (13 YPC) on 125 targets (68% catch rate), all of which were career highs. The addition of WR Mario Manninghamas a downfield threat was a solid one, as he posted 42/449/1 (10.7 YPC) on 57 targets (74.7% catch rate) and 4.8 FPG in 12 games before tearing his ACL and PCL, which has certainly put his status for 2013 in doubt. Veteran WR Randy Moss was mostly a role player during the season, although he was elevated to the starting lineup when Manningham went down. He didn’t have much fantasy value, but did a fine job, catching 28/434/3 (15.5 YPC) on 49 targets (57.1% catch rate) for 3.8 FPG. He doesn’t have the same speed he once had, but he could still make plays downfield and was a nice, big target in the red zone. Rookie WR A.J. Jenkins wasn’t even activated until Manningham got hurt, but in those three games, he didn’t register a target. Jenkins is considered to be a speedy receiver, who can line up inside or outside, but isn’t that strong. It was pretty clear the 49ers weren’t happy with Jenkins’ lack of development this year. He never got a real chance in 2012, and while some of that is on Jenkins, that fact should change in 2013. TE Vernon Davis drove fantasy owners nuts in 2012 after being a reliable fantasy option in the three previous seasons. He didn’t miss a game for the fourth straight year, but never seemed to find a consistent role in the passing game. He ended up with just 41/548/5 (13.4 YPC) on 60 targets (68.3% catch rate) and 5.3 FPG, putting him 19th among TEs. That’s a drop of almost 2 FPG from 2011. Davis expressed frustration with both Smith and Kaepernick, although it never spiraled out of control, but winning can cure those issues. Versatile backup TE Delanie Walker also played in every game, catching 21/339/3 (16.1 YPC) on 39 targets (53.8% catch rate) for 3.2 FPG.
·         Fantasy situation to watch for 2013: Can Crabtree build on his hot finish with Kaepernick? Will Davis become a bigger part of the offense again? How will Manningham’s injury affect his status? Can Jenkins step up and show the team he belongs on the field?
Key Free Agents: WR Randy Moss, WR/KR Ted Ginn, RG Leonard Davis, TE Delanie Walker, NT Isaac Sopoaga, DT Ricky Jean-Francois, LB Clark Haggans, LB Larry Grant, LB Tavares Gooden
St. Louis Rams
QB: Ram QB Sam Bradford took some small steps in his development in 2012, but, overall, Bradford’s season was a disappointment once again this year, for both Ram fans and fantasy players. That’s in large part because the Rams selected him #1 overall in 2010, so Bradford has inflated expectations. Still, we did see some reasons for optimism heading into his fourth NFL season, which really could be a make-or-break year for Bradford, as the Rams will be expecting a leap in his performance, and he’s going to have offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer for the second consecutive season, the first time he’ll have a coordinator in back-to-back seasons in his career (notable, as Schottenheimer’s system is considered difficult for QBs to learn quickly). He established career highs in passing yards (3702), touchdown passes (21), passer rating (82.5), and yards per attempt (6.7). Bradford finished 20th among QBs this season, with 18.0 FPG. Bradford posted three 300-yard performances, but he had five games below 200 yards, and four games without a TD pass, which really curbed his value. But overall, it was a bounce-back season for Bradford after he regressed in 2011, with just 6 TDs in 10 games. He ended up missing six games that year because of a high ankle sprain, but he was sacked 36 times in just 10 games. Bradford did look much healthier this year, and he moved much better in the pocket than ever before, with 127 rushing yards. Bradford also improved at looking off receivers and hitting check-down receivers late in the season. Bradford had five fourth-quarter comebacks, two of which were erased by his own defense. And let’s not underestimate the value of Schottenheimer’s return. Bradford played under Pat Shurmur and Josh McDaniels in his first two seasons, so we’ll see if the continuity helps Bradford as the Rams offense will be able to hit the ground running in the off-season. In fact, Bradford may have some extra fantasy value next summer, as HC Jeff Fisher hinted after the season that the Rams will run more up-tempo and no-huddle aspects in the offense next season. In fact, Fisher said by the end of the season Bradford was comfortable enough in the offense make calls at the line of scrimmage. Bradford’s receivers could look a bit different next year, though, as Danny Amendola, Brandon Gibson, and Steve Smith are all free agents. We feel that Amendola’s loss would be the only major blow, as 2012 rookies Chris Givens and Brian Quick should have increased roles next year. The Rams could be in the market for a new backup QB with Kellen Clemens becoming a free agent this off-season, and a decent backup is essential with Bradford’s ankle issues in the past.
·         Fantasy situation to watch for 2013: Will Bradford take the next step in his development and start living up to the high expectations of being the #1 overall in 2010? Will the Rams keep Bradford’s favorite target Amendola around next year?
RBs: Unexpectedly, Ram RB Steven Jackson spent the first half of the year in a timeshare with rookie RB Daryl Richardson because Jackson was dealing with a groin injury. Jackson got healthier in the second half of the year, though, and he returned to being the primary lead back. Jackson has now topped 10,000 career rushing yards, and he posted his eighth consecutive 1000-yard season, a feat only five players have accomplished in NFL history. Jackson finished the year with 257 carries for 1042 yards (4.1 YPC) and 4 TDs, and he added 38 catches for 321 yards. Jackson ended the year 25th among RBs, with 10.0 FPG, but he finished 11th among RBs in the final eight games of the year with 13.0. And it could be a poetic way to go out for Jackson, playing at the top of his game. That’s because Jackson may have played his final season with the Rams with his contract expiring this off-season, but he didn’t let his contract situation affect his play. Jackson has yet to accept or decline $7 million player option for 2013, although it’s long been assumed that he’d decline the option and become a free agent. Jackson has until the first day of free agency on March 12 to make his decision, and it’s now believed the Rams would like him back, something that might not have been said at the beginning of 2012. Jackson has also hinted that he might retire if he doesn’t get a contract that meets his demands. If Jackson does in fact leave the organization, the rookie Richardson will surely play a bigger role in the Ram offense in 2013. Richardson certainly flashed early in the season with his good speed but also his solid inside running, but he hardly found the field late in the year with Jackson at full health. He had 82 carries for 451 yards in the first 11 games but only 16 carries for 24 yards in the last five games. Richardson also had 24 catches for 163 yards to finish 70th among RBs for the year with 4.0 FPG. His burst is clearly visible, however, and when he’s on the field, defenses have to key on him because he can take it to the house on any play. Richardson beat out rookie RB Isaiah Pead for the #2 job in the preseason, after Pead missed most of the 2012 spring because his college was on the quarter system. We’ll see if Pead gets a crack to see more playing time next year with a full off-season of workouts. That’ll be interesting to watch, as Pead was the more touted prospect over Richardson, with Pead drafted in the 2nd round last April and Richardson went in the 7th round. HC Jeff Fisher compared Pead to his former Titan RB Chris Johnson last summer, so there’s potential here, despite his seeing just 26 touches in 2012.
·         Fantasy situation to watch for 2013: After a strong finish to 2012, will Jackson pick up his player option and return to St. Louis for a 10th season? If Jackson does leave the Ram organization, will Richardson or Pead be capable of becoming every-down NFL backs?
WRs/TEs: Ram WR Danny Amendola has proven to be a better-than-solid NFL wide receiver when he can stay on the field. The “staying on the field” part has proven to be a huge caveat, though, as Amendola struggled with injuries all year long, and has throughout his career. Amendola missed five games and was limited in three other games because of foot and collarbone injuries. He still posted 63 catches (63.6% catch rate) for 666 yards for the second-highest totals of his career. Amendola added 3 TDs to finish 36th among WRs this year 7.8 FPG. He has now missed 20 of a possible 32 games over the last two seasons, and Amendola seems to always be playing through an injury when he is on the field. It’s not exactly shocking that the Rams are more than a little hesitant to offer Amendola a long-term contract or place the franchise tag on the pending free agent. Still, the Rams are desperate for a #1 WR, so they’ll have a tough decision to make on Amendola. He did look a little out of sync with QB Sam Bradford after he returned from his second injury, plantar-fasciitis, but Amendola proved by far to be Bradford’s favorite target, posting seven games with at least 5 catches, including games with 11 and 15 catches. He also evolved into being more than a slot receiver, since he played significant snaps on the outside in 2012, with success. At least Bradford developed some chemistry with another receiver, rookie WR Chris Givens, who will definitely be in St. Louis next year. He led the team in receiving yards, and he became the first player since 1966 to have a catch of 50 yards or more in five consecutive games. Givens finished with 42 catches (52.5% catch rate) for 698 yards and 3 TDs to finish 63rd among WRs with 5.9 FPG. Givens gave the team a much-needed deep threat, but defenses did adjust in the second half of the year, as he had just 9 catches for 139 yards in his final four games. He did have one promising game in Week Eleven, when he was used strictly as a possession guy, and he responded with 11 catches for 92 yards. Givens did have some character issues coming out of Wake Forest last year, and they cropped up in 2012 when he was inactive against San Francisco for missing curfew. Still, Givens didn’t have any other major issues, and he’ll surely be penciled in as starter next year with Amendola and Brandon Gibson set to become free agents. The solid but ultimately unexciting Gibson had his best year as a Ram (51/691/5) in his fourth career year, but he doesn’t necessarily fit into the Rams plans going forward, with rookie Brian Quick expected to get more chances in 2013. Quick was a project and extremely raw coming out of Appalachian State, so the Rams are expecting him to step up and win the outside WR spot next season. Quick has the physical tools to be a productive #1 WR here, but he has to continue to develop on the field and with Bradford. WR Austin Pettis became an unexpected red-zone threat in the second half of the year, and he would be the in-house candidate to replace Amendola in the slot should he leave. Pettis isn’t nearly as talented, though, so he would be a major downgrade in the slot. TE Lance Kendricks really improved as a blocker out of the fullback/H-back spot, and he became a more complete player all over the field, in general. He may have been the team’s most improved player this year, as his 519 receiving yards were the most by a Ram tight end since the move to St. Louis in 1995, and his 42 catches were the second-best. He ended up finishing 25th among TEs with 4.7 FPG. Kendricks also eliminated a number of his drops from his rookie year, and he caught 65.6% of his passes. He’s talented enough to take the next step toward fantasy relevance, but he’s a guy who has teased before, so keep an eye on him as a potential late-round flyer.
·         Fantasy situation to watch for 2013: Will the Rams decide to keep Amendola around next year despite his rash of injuries the last two years? Can rookies Gibson and Quick make progress this off-season and step into bigger roles if needed next season? Can Kendricks continue to eliminate dropped balls and become a reliable option for Bradford?
Key Free Agents: RB Steven Jackson, WR Danny Amendola, WR Brandon Gibson, WR Steve Smith, QB Kellen Clemens, LG Robert Turner, RT Barry Richardson, OLB Rocky McIntosh, SS Craig Dahl, CB Bradley Fletcher.
Seattle Seahawks
QB: Seahawk coach Pete Carroll made a risky decision following the team’s impressive preseason. Instead of going with the assumed move and putting big-money free agent QB Matt Flynn under center, Carroll opted to give the chance to third-round rookie Russell Wilson, who outplayed Flynn in the preseason. For a while, Carroll’s talk about the Seahawk QB job being an “open competition” seemed to be only talk, a way to motivate Flynn and to keep him plugging along, despite signing his big contract. But Carroll was very serious, and Wilson’s strong (and near-perfect) preseason earned him the starting job. By the end of the season, we were praising both Wilson for his play and Carroll for his gutsy call. Overall, Wilson’s numbers were extremely impressive. In 16 starts, he finished 252/393 (64.1%) for 3118 yards with 26 TDs and only 10 INTs. He added 94/489/4 as a rusher, and he ranked 12th among all QBs with 20.8 FPG. But really, Wilson’s year was a tale of two seasons, statistically. Understandably, the Seahawks wanted to limit what Wilson had to do early, and his first half of the season was unimpressive statistically. A few times, we wondered openly if a change to Flynn might be coming. Wilson’s low point of the season was a Week Seven loss to the 49ers, in which he posted 9/23 passing for 122 yards with a pick. Up to and including that week, Wilson had a total of 1230 passing yards, with 8 TDs and 7 INTs, and he ranked a miserable 32nd among QBs, with 15.1 FPG. In that span, he threw for fewer than 200 yards five separate times. But Carroll stuck with Wilson, and then something flipped. Over the final nine games of the year, Wilson was spectacular. He completed 67.9% of his passes, threw 18 TDs against only 3 INTs, and ranked 4th among all QBs, with 25.3 FPG. Wilson still wasn’t asked to do too much, which is a credit to the Seahawks’ coaching, but they did start utilizing the read-option around this time, so one can only assume it was a big key (it certainly helped his fantasy production on the ground). Wilson never attempted more than 37 passes in a single game, and he didn’t throw for 300 yards once as a rookie. But he almost totally eliminated mistakes from his game. Despite his 5’11” frame, Wilson is an accurate passer with a good arm, and he’s incredibly poised and patient in the pocket. He can run, but he never uses it as a crutch, and his decision-making when the Seahawks added some read option elements to their offense was fantastic. With added weapons, Wilson could be a certifiable fantasy going forward, as he proved over the second half of the 2012 season. The Seahawks have developed him really well, and Wilson has bought into what offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell is selling.
  • Fantasy situation to watch in 2013: Can Wilson take a step forward to becoming a high-end fantasy starter? If Flynn is traded, as expected, who will be Wilson’s backup?
RB: Although it was rookie QB Russell Wilson who stole the show and the headlines for the Seahawks this year (and for good reason, overall), the Seahawk offense was able to “go” because it ran through RB Marshawn Lynch. Lynch’s career was resurrected in 2010 when he was dealt to the Seahawks, and he has since parlayed that trade into back-to-back career years. In 2012, Lynch was one of the most reliable players in fantasy football. In 16 games, he carried a career-high 315 times for a career-high 1590 yards, averaging a career-high 5.0 YPC along the way. He scored 11 rushing TDs, one fewer than 2011, and added 23/196/1 receiving to average a career-high 15.7 FPG. Lynch ranked 4th among all RBs in that category, but the thing that was perhaps most impressive was how consistently reliable he was. He touched the ball at least 20 times in 12 of the 16 games this year, and in three of the four games in which he didn’t, he had at least 100 yards rushing and a TD. In a standard-scoring league, he had fewer than 9.0 FP only twice (Week Six and Twelve), and he had more than 15.0 FP nine separate times. Lynch runs incredibly hard and he’s very patient, and his vertical speed is better than you might suspect. While you worry about a guy with Lynch’s style of play breaking down, he’s clearly at the peak of his game right now, and as such, should be a top pick in fantasy drafts in 2013. But in the event Lynch’s balky back or another injury should crop up in the near future, they did add a young back who looks to have a future in the league in Robert Turbin. In 15 games, Turbin posted 80/354/0 rushing and 19/181/0 receiving. He saw more than 10 carries only once, but he impressed in that instance, rushing for 108 yards on 20 carries against the Cardinals in Week Fourteen (Lynch was taken out of the game early in a blowout Seahawks win). Turbin has similar skills to Lynch, but he has more speed and also excels in third-down situations. The main question with Turbin is can he consistently break tackles and run over people in the NFL. If so, he could be a fantasy stud in this system in a couple of years. At the least, he looks like a great Lynch handcuff for 2013. The only other tailback to get a carry for the Seahawks was return specialist Leon Washington, who had only 114 yards from scrimmage and a TD during the season.
  • Fantasy situation to watch for 2013: Can Lynch keep up his excellent pace set the last two years? Will Turbin’s role be increased in his second season?
WR/TE: The Seahawks got excellent play out of QB Russell Wilson and the weapons they had available at the WR and TE positions, but they probably could stand to add some depth and more versatility. Seattle was really helped by WR Sidney Rice staying relatively healthy throughout the season. He dealt with concussion problems and a nagging knee issue, but he managed to play through them for his second 16-game schedule of his six-year career. In those 16 games (only 15 of which he recorded any stats), Rice posted 50/748/7 on 80 targets (15.0 YPC, 62.5%), ranking him 36th among WRs, with 7.8 FPG. He was a solid enough #3 fantasy receiver, a guy who wasn’t going to go off but could always get into the endzone. Only four times did Rice have more than 60 yards receiving, but he had 10 games with at least three catches, so he was always a worthy risk to put in your lineup. He moved the chains, and he has solid enough deep speed that Wilson was able to hit him with some long passes. And after Wilson “broke out” following his Week Seven struggles against the 49ers, Rice ranked 26th at WR with 9.3 FPG. So you obviously could have done worse for a guy who was typically a 9th-11th-round pick in fantasy drafts. But almost as productive as Rice was WR Golden Tate, who likely wasn’t drafted in most leagues. While he’ll be famous for the “Fail Mary” TD that shouldn’t have counted except for a bad call by the replacement officials, as the season wore on, Tate became the moveable chess piece in the Seahawk offense. In 15 games, Tate finished with 45/688/7 on 66 targets (15.3 YPC, 68.2%), ranking 41st among WRs, with 7.5 FPG. But like Rice, he saw a big boost in his consistent after Week Seven, posting a 32nd-best 8.4 FPG among all WRs after that point. Tate could make plays from both outside and in the slot, and he also saw the occasional snap out of the backfield. We don’t think he’s a particularly special talent, but he developed chemistry with Wilson and it showed. In fact, he was the guy who was more likely to have a big play than Rice because he was often used to exploit mismatches. Elsewhere, slot WR Doug Baldwin had a disappointing year, posting 29/366/3 on 49 targets (12.6 YPC, 59.2%), and averaging only 3.9 FPG. But Baldwin made some plays late in the year and in the postseason that could mean increased involvement for him next year, with Wilson having another year under his belt. We hope the case is the same for talented TE Zach Miller, who was a fantasy zero during the regular season but made a big impact in the playoffs. In 16 regular-season games, Miller posted 38/396/3 on 52 targets (10.4 YPC, 73.1%), ranking 33rd at the position with 3.6 FPG. But in the postseason (two games), Miller was a major force, with 12/190/1 on 15 targets. Miller has always been an underappreciated talent, and until the postseason, he was also grossly underutilized in a Seahawk uniform. We don’t exactly want to push Miller as a legit fantasy option for next year, but it wouldn’t shock us at all if his budding chemistry with Wilson led to numbers more in line with his body of work with Oakland in 2013.
  • Fantasy situation to watch for 2013: Will the Seahawks add some depth at WR, or do they like what they have? Can Miller step up, in line with his postseason performance, to become a legitimate option at the TE position?

Key Free Agents: K Steven Hauschka, OL Frank Omiyale, TE Cameron Morrah, DT Alan Branch, DE Jason Jones, DT Clinton McDonald (RFA), LB Leroy Hill, CB Marcus Trufant, S Chris Maragos (RFA), K Ryan Longwell, LS Clint Gresham (RFA).

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