QB: There’s no doubt that trading for Matt Schaub years ago turned out to be a profitable move for the Texans, but despite the team looking like perhaps the best club in football through the first three months of the season, it sputtered at the end of the year. That resulted in another disappointing exit in the divisional round of the playoffs, and if you ask Texan fans, Schaub’s a big reason for that failure. His numbers are fine, overall, but mediocre. In 16 games, Schaub completed 350/544 passes (64.3%) for 4008 yards with 22 TDs and 12 INTs. He tied for 20th among all QBs, with 18.0 FPG, so he was a low-end fantasy backup. But the problem for Schaub is that the NFL is a “what have you done for me lately” league, and at the end of the season, he was not playing well at all. He threw only 1 TD pass over his final four games, and in a six-game stretch from Weeks Twelve through Seventeen, he had 4 TD passes against 4 INTs. Over that six-game span, he ranked 28th among QBs, with 15.0 FPG, so he likely ruined the fantasy teams of anyone who put him in the lineup at that time. He had only two games over 300 yards this season (including his 527-yard, 5-TD performance against the Jags in Week Eleven, a big anomaly), and he had three under 200 yards, including one under 100 yards. In other words, he typically threw for mediocre yardage and mediocre TD totals. In today’s fantasy game, that isn’t going to cut it. Schaub is still a very good QB off the play action and boot action, in large part because Arian Foster and company pose such a big threat in the run game, but it seemed that this year Schaub’s physical limitations got the best of him more than in years past. He made some bad decisions on throws he should know he can’t make, and his play in the playoffs was uneven. And while WR Andre Johnson had a monster year and TE Owen Daniels was steady, Schaub just didn’t have much else in his arsenal. He’s due back in Houston on $7.5 million guaranteed next season, and the Texans obviously have no choice but to stick with him. They need to help him out with personnel, but Schaub is now considered one of the main culprits in the Texans’ inability to get over the hump.
· Fantasy situation to watch for 2013: Schaub had his worst fantasy performance since 2007 this past year. Can he get back to being a low-end starter, or at least a high-end backup?
RB: While he might not have been as dominant as in years past, it’d be hard to say any fantasy player was disappointed with what RB Arian Foster gave them if they used the #1 overall pick on him in August. In a full 16 games (maybe the best thing he did all year), Foster posted 351/1411/15 rushing (4.0 YPC) and 40/217/2 receiving (5.4 YPC), ranking #2 among all RBs, with 16.6 FPG. So even in what some called a “down” year for Foster, he was outpaced by only the historical season of the great Adrian Peterson. And frankly, it was a down year for Foster. His 16.6 FPG were his lowest as a starter, his 4.0 YPC were his fewest, and his receiving numbers were strictly pedestrian, as opposed to the huge numbers he’s put up in years past. By comparison, Foster had 53/617/2 receiving last season, in three fewer games. But the positives for Foster certainly outweighed the negatives. He had 20 touches or more in 11 of his 16 games this season, and he scored at least 1 TD in 13 of the 16 games, meaning he’s now scored in 22 of his last 29 games, and in 32 of his 45 games since the start of the 2010 season. That makes him as automatic a TD scorer as there is in the NFL. While we’ll still swear that counting on TDs is a futile business (just look at Calvin Johnson’s luck this year), Foster seems to offer a legitimate “nose” for the endzone. However, some of the few weaknesses of Foster’s game did creep up this season. He doesn’t feature elite long speed, he was often too patient this year in letting holes develop, and he fumbled 3 times over his final seven games. But the Texans had no choice but to rely on him because they really didn’t have much else in the backfield. It was a disappointing season for Ben Tate, who battled hamstring and foot injuries and played in only 11 games, carrying for 65/279/2 (4.3 YPC) and averaging 4.1 FPG, down big from the 8.5 he averaged in 2011. Ideally, the Texans probably would have liked to rotate Foster and Tate more, but Tate’s injuries made that impossible. He had only two games with double-digit carries in 2012 after having eight such games in 2011, which shows just how tough it is to count on a clear #2 back in an offense as a legitimate fantasy contributor. Tate will enter 2013 on the final year of his rookie contract, and coach Gary Kubiak has already made it known that he needs Tate to stay on the field and contribute. Remember, this is a player who has now missed 22 of a possible 48 career games. With Tate’s availability always a question mark (and with Foster’s injury history not exactly brief), the Texans may entertain bringing back #3 RB Justin Forsett. In 16 games, the speedy Forsett went for 63/375/1 (6.0 YPC) rushing and 3/38 receiving. While he’ll be known more for the weird long “TD” against the Lions on Thanksgiving, Forsett provided the Texans with a reliable rotational back, even if he wasn’t much of anything for fantasy (3.0 FPG).
· Fantasy situation to watch for 2013: Can Foster play another full schedule and rebound in the YPC and receiving departments, where he posted career-low numbers? Can the Texans trust Tate to stay on the field to provide a viable rotation with Foster to keep him fresh? Will Forsett be back?
WR/TE: Thank the heavens for Andre Johnson. It seems we’ve been begging for the last four years for the Texans to please find a reliable #2 target at WR to help out QB Matt Schaub and Andre, but they still haven’t found one. Amazingly, that didn’t seem to affect Andre much. At the age of 31, he played his first full schedule since 2009, and he posted monster numbers. In 16 games, he went for 112/1598/4 on 162 targets (14.3 YPC, a ridiculous 69.1% catch rate), ranking tied for 8th among all WRs with 11.5 FPG. Obviously the TDs are a disappointment, but Andre has never been one to get into the endzone too often with respect to some of his peers (his career high is 9), and his dominant numbers in other categories made his lack of scoring more defensible. If you were in a PPR league, where Andre was 5th in scoring, the absence of TDs would be even less noticeable. Note also that Andre was absolutely huge over the second half of the season. From Weeks Nine through Seventeen, he ranked 3rd among all WRs with 14.2 FPG, and he posted 1154 receiving yards over that span, more than guys like Eric Decker and Victor Cruz had for the entire season. Andre had 10 games with 7 or more catches, and he had six 100-yard performances, so he did just about everything he possibly could to offset the lack of scoring. While Schaub struggled at times this year, the Texans still did a really good job of getting Andre down the field in favorable matchups off the play action, which is the most dangerous aspect of their passing game. Andre’s dominance was critical because the Texans had little else in terms of reliability at WR. Kevin Walter remains the most boring #2 WR in football, posting 41/518/2 on 65 targets (12.6 YPC, 63.1%), ranking 81st at the position, with 4.3 FPG and posting more than 4 catches only once in a game all year. Talented rookies Keshawn Martin (10/85/1) and DeVier Posey (6/87) clearly aren’t “there” just yet, and big Lestar Jean (6/151/1) is more of a handcuff to Andre than anything else. So if you’re taking notes, Andre had 49 more catches and 757 more receiving yards than the rest of the Texan WRs combined. Statistically, that’s an entire Sidney Rice between Andre and the rest of the Texan WRs. Ridiculous. Fortunately, the Texans got great production from their TE position. It was great to see Owen Daniels stay healthy for the most part. He missed one game with a hip injury, but in 15 games he posted a strong 62/716/6 receiving (11.5 YPC, 59.6%) and ranked 8th among TEs with 7.2 FPG. Essentially, this is the season we’ve been hoping Daniels would have for a while, and it’s ironic that it came when most had dropped him way down draft boards. But with the Texans lacking any explosion at WR outside of Andre, they needed Daniels to produce. And he was pretty consistent, catching at least 3 passes in 14 of the 15 games he played this year. Unfortunately for Daniels’ and Andre’s TD totals, the Texans replaced vulture Joel Dreessen with two of them. TE/FB/H-back James Casey is a really important part of the Texan offense because of his versatility, but for fantasy, he’s just a nuisance. He posted 34/330/3 on 45 targets (9.7 YPC, 75.6%), but averaged only 3.2 FPG. More traditional TE Garrett Graham also posted 3.2 FPG, with 28/263/3 on 39 targets in 14 games (9.3 YPC, 71.8%). Casey and Graham combined for 7 targets and 5 TDs inside the five-yard line, two more TDs than Daniels scored at that distance. But they really hurt Andre, who saw only 1 target inside the five (and scored on it). Between these guys and Arian Foster, it’s not hard to see why Andre struggles to score TDs.
· Fantasy situation to watch for 2013: At 32, will Andre be able to replicate his monster season? Can Daniels keep up his pace of being a solid fantasy starter? Will Casey, a free agent, be back?
Key Free Agents: FB/TE James Casey, RT Rashad Butler, RG Antoine Caldwell, RB Justin Forsett, NT Shaun Cody, LB Connor Barwin, S Glover Quin, CB Brice McCain, LB Barrett Ruud, LB Tim Dobbins, LB Bradie James, CB Alan Ball, CB Stanford Routt, S Quintin Demps, P Donnie Jones, K Shayne Graham.
QB: Colt rookie QB Andrew Luck came into the season with huge expectations as the #1 overall pick in the 2012 draft, and many wondered if he’d be able to carry that hype into fantasy production. Well, Luck certainly didn’t disappoint, leading the league’s worst team in 2011 to an 11-5 record and playoff appearance in 2012. He proved to be just as valuable for fantasy as well, finishing 9th among QBs with 22.9 FPG. Luck completed 339/627 passes (54.1%_ for 4374 yards, 23 TDs, and 18 INTs. Luck also showed he’s quite competent with his feet with 62 carries for 255 yards and 5 TDs. He did struggle a bit down the stretch, though, completing just 47.2% (84/178 passes) in his final five games of the regular season, and the good news for Luck owners in keeper and dynasty leagues is that there is clearly room for improvement from him. Luck did pay the price for a terrible offensive line as the year wore on, as he got sacked 41 times, the fourth-most in the league in 2012. You can be damn sure that GM Ryan Grigson knows he has to protect his investment. But his strategy appears evident. In a deep class, the Colts loaded up with talented skill players in the 2012 draft to go along with Luck, including RB Vick Ballard, WRs T.Y. Hilton and LaVon Brazill, and TEs Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen. So the Colts are expected to focus their attention on upgrading their offensive line and defense this off-season, so Luck should play behind a better group of guys next year. That’s great news because Luck looked like a seasoned pro in the pocket from the first time we saw him in the preseason, but even the best quarterbacks would’ve struggled behind the porous Colt offensive line. The pressure, coupled with Luck’s penchant for forcing some passes into tight windows, however, lead to the young QB tying for the third-most interceptions this year with 18 picks. Of course, the high number of INTs is a bit of a concern, but we like the confidence that Luck showed this year to throw the ball in tight spots. Former OC Bruce Arians really took Luck under his wing in 2012, so we’ll see how Luck adjusts to life without Arians next year. However, the Colts did bring in Luck’s former OC at Stanford to fill the position, Pep Hamilton, so Luck should have a smooth transition into 2012. Hamilton will run more of a West Coast offense, which could hurt Luck’s fantasy production a bit next year in terms of downfield throws, but we would be shocked if his completion percentage didn’t improve. Luck attempted a ton of passes (627) and averaged a whopping 12.9 yards per completion, so it will be tough for him to touch those numbers in 2013. Luck did play in all 16 games this year, despite getting pretty beat up throughout the year, but the Colts don’t want to play with fire much longer. Backup QB Drew Stanton is a free agent this off-season, so the Colts will have to decide what they want to do with their backup situation.
· Fantasy situation to watch for 2013: Can Luck put up even better numbers next year if the Colts address their O-line problems and their young skill players progress? Will Luck have a seamless transition back into his college offense under new OC Hamilton?
RBs: Colt RB Donald Brown started the year as Indy’s lead back, but by the end of the year, rookie RB Vick Ballard had taken his place on the mantle, and what he showed us suggested he could stay there for years to come. Ballard moved past Brown when the fourth-year back started struggling with injuries, and Ballard is now viewed as the team’s workhorse back, not bad for the fifth-round pick in 2012. Ballard finished with 211 carries for 814 yards and 2 TDs, and he added 17 catches for 152 yards and 1 TD to finish 35th among RBs, with 7.2 FPG. Ballard showed enough power, combined with enough elusiveness, to have some optimism for 2013. Ballard’s touches went up as the season went along, and he averaged 21 carries per game in his final four games of the year with Brown out of the lineup. Ballard also had 22 carries for 91 yards in a Wild Card Round loss to the Ravens. While we want to see his 3.9 YPC go up next season, the Colt offensive line really struggled this year, which could explain some of Ballard’s struggles. Yet the organization will likely put an emphasis on fixing the unit, which should be good news for Ballard. Despite being underused in the passing game, Ballard also showed some ability to catch the ball out of the backfield, including a spectacular touchdown catch to beat the Titans in overtime this year. He’s not flashy, but he’s a complete back, and he is certainly someone the Colts can saddle up with behind Andrew Luck. That’s good news, because Brown’s season ended in early December when the Colts placed him on the injured reserve with a high ankle sprain. Brown has now missed extended time in three of his four professional seasons, as 2011 was the only year in which he played all 16 games. Brown finished the year with just 108 carries for 417 yards (3.9 YPC) and 1 TD in 10 games this year to finish 50th among RBs. He has now failed to reach 4.0 yards or more in three of his four seasons. While Brown has been a huge disappointment since he was drafted in the first round in 2009, he’ll still likely be back next year with the Colts, as he has a reasonable cap number ($1.7 million) and can still contribute as a rotational back. But barring injury to Ballard, it appears that Brown’s time as a fantasy-relevant player is waning. Elsewhere in the backfield, RB Delone Carter was more of an annoyance this year and potentially next year, as he was used in just short-yardage and goal-line situations. Carter dealt with his own ankle issues in 2012, and he missed the last three games of the season and the playoff game against the Ravens. Carter played in just 10 games this year and posted 32 carries for 122 yards and 3 TDs, but he could be a potential touchdown vulture for Ballard in 2013. But remember that OC Bruce Arians is now gone, and Arians was the one who rotated Ballard out in goal-line situations. Let’s hope new offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton makes more of a commitment to Ballard near the endzone.
· Fantasy situation to watch for 2013: Can Ballard handle the rigors of being a full-time workhorse back? What will Brown’s role in the offense be if he does return? Just how many touchdowns will Carter vulture next year?
WRs/TEs: Rookie QB Andrew Luck revitalized a lot of players, coaches, and personnel in the Colt organization in 2012. In fact, the transition went about as smoothly as the Colts could have ever imagined, getting back to the postseason after only one down season. And no player was more revived by Luck’s presence than veteran WR Reggie Wayne, whose re-signing in Indianapolis on a modest deal was considered somewhat of a surprise, as many figured he’d just follow Peyton Manning. But Wayne remained loyal to the Colt organization, and Luck made his commitment worthwhile, starting by traveling down to Wayne’s hometown in Miami to work out with him in the off-season. The chemistry was evident from the get-go. Wayne had put together seven straight 1000-yard receiving seasons from 2004 through 2010, but that streak came to an end with Peyton out of the lineup in 2011 and QBs Kerry Collins and Curtis Painter substituted in. Even with Collins and Painter throwing to him, Wayne put together an underrated season in 2011 with 75 catches for 960 yards and 4 TDs. Still, Wayne came into the season a bit under the radar, and he rewarded vigilant fantasy players with his fourth career 100-catch season in 2012. Wayne recorded 106 catches (54.9% catch rate) for 1355 yards and 5 TDs to finish 20th among WRs with 10.3 FPG. Wayne appeared to be Luck’s first, second, and third option at times, as Wayne saw the second most-targets in the league this year with 193 looks (only Lion WR Calvin Johnson saw more targets with 201). Wayne did fade a bit at the end of the year, which is a bit of a concern for a 34-year-old wide receiver. Over the final five games, he hauled in just 22 catches for 250 yards and 2 TDs to finish 42nd among WRs with 7.3 FPG in that time. Yet Wayne did produce in the playoffs, with 9 catches for 114 yards against the Ravens, so he still has some juice left and could produce as a #2 fantasy WR in 2013, and should remain a rock-solid PPR option. While Wayne showed he still had plenty of life in 2012, rookie WR T.Y. Hilton proved that he could be an up-and-coming standout at the position for years to come. Hilton recorded 50 catches (56.8% catch rate) for 861 yards and 7 TDs to finish 29th among WRs with 8.7 FPG. Hilton’s 861 yards ranked him #2 among all rookies behind Justin Blackmon, and his 8.7 FPG ranked him #1, so his season was a huge success. The third-round pick out of Florida International emerged late in the season as he saw increased playing time, and Hilton provided the Colts with a much-needed vertical threat. Hilton actually outperformed Wayne in the final seven games of the year, as he hauled in 26/506/5 to rank 14th among WRs with 11.5 FPG from Week Eleven on. As Hilton emerged late in the year, WR Donnie Avery saw fewer opportunities. He finished the year with 60 catches (49.6% catch rate) for 781 yards and 3 TDs. Avery will become a free agent this year, and while he was effective at times for the Colts, he’s been largely a disappointment through five NFL seasons, so if he does come back, he’ll be the #3 WR behind Hilton. Avery and Hilton saw extended time this year after WR Austin Collie’s season ended. Collie suffered yet another concussion in the preseason, but he recovered enough to play in the season opener, when he ruptured his right patella tendon. You have to feel bad for the guy, but Collie, a free agent, seems to be snake-bitten at this point of his career, so we wouldn’t be surprised if both parties decide go different directions for a fresh start. Sixth-round pick LaVon Brazill didn’t see much action as the #4 WR, but he could see an expanded role in the slot next year if Avery and Collie move on from the Colt organization. In a rare move, the Colts drafted tight ends in back-to-back rounds in the 2012 draft with Coby Fleener (2nd round) and Dwayne Allen (3rd round). The versatile Allen actually outplayed Fleener, but neither player made too much of an impact in fantasy circles. Allen finished 27th among TEs with 4.4 FPG, on 45 catches (69.2% catch rate) for 521 yards and 3 TDs. Fleener recorded 26 catches (54.2% catch rate) for 281 yards and 2 TD to finish 36th among TEs with 3.3 FPG. Fleener missed four games dealing with shoulder and head injuries during the year. Yet there is some reason for optimism with his former Stanford OC Pep Hamilton taking over the offense in Indy. Fleener is the more talented pure pass catcher, but Allen was seeing more time at the end of the year because he’s the better all-around player and is someone the Colts can utilize in different looks and formations.
· Fantasy situation to watch for 2013: How much longer can Wayne continue to produce like an elite wide receiver? Will Hilton have a breakout season in his sophomore year after finishing 2012 strong? Will Allen or Fleener emerge as the main TE, or will they continue to split time and production?
Key Free Agents: WR Donnie Avery, WR Austin Collie, OLB Dwight Freeney, RT Winston Justice, DT Fili Moala, NT Antonio Johnson, CB Jerraud Powers, CB Cassius Vaughn, CB Darius Butler, QB Drew Stanton, RB Mewelde Moore, LG Jeff Linkenbach.
QB: The Jaguars came into 2012 willing to give QB Blaine Gabbert another shot at the starting job after a miserable rookie season. Unfortunately, it didn’t get any better for Gabbert, and his future is now more in jeopardy than ever before. We knew Gabbert had a good arm and a chance to be a decent player, but his unwillingness to stand strong in the pocket under pressure is something that really can’t be coached and needs to change if he’s going to stay in the league. After taking 40 sacks in 15 games as a rookie, Gabbert was sacked 22 times in 10 games this past season. He was tough enough to play through a foot injury in 2011 and try to gut it out with shoulder and forearm injuries this season, but shying away from contact is a big no-no in the NFL. On top of that, Gabbert continued to make bad decisions and miss easy throws. We were willing to give him a break as a rookie, especially with possibly the worst receiving corps in the league, but the Jaguars made improvements with the addition of WR Laurent Robinson and the drafting of WR Justin Blackmon, not to mention the continued development of WR Cecil Shorts. Unfortunately for Gabbert, the non-throwing shoulder injury, as well as a forearm injury, landed him on the IR after just 10 games. He had surgery in late November for the shoulder, but had been benched before landing on the IR. Gabbert finished 162/278 (58.3%) for 1662 yards with 9 TDs, and 6 INTs, putting him in a tie for 38th with 12.5 FPG. Veteran QB Chad Henne stepped in for Gabbert and was told he’d be auditioning for the starting job in 2013. He got off to a great start in Week Eleven, going 16/33 for 354 yards and 4 TDs, but was mostly up-and-down the rest of the way. Henne was able to connect well with Blackmon and Shorts and did seem to spark the offense a bit and while that didn’t turn into great output, it was certainly better than Gabbert. Henne had six starts in his ten appearances and went 166/308 (53.9%) for 2084 yards, 11 TDs, and 11 INTs, while adding 64 yards and a TD on the ground, which was good for 28th among QBs, with 16.1 FPG. With a new coaching staff and GM, the QB competition will be open between Henne, Gabbert, and others the team plans on bringing in to compete. New GM David Caldwell admitted he thought Gabbert would be a “long-term project” and noted the young QB worked under two coordinators in his first two seasons, so expect Gabbert to get one more shot. But he’s lucky he’ll have even that.
· Fantasy situation to watch for 2013: Who will end up as the starter in 2013? Can Gabbert stick around for a while? Will the team look to draft a QB early and/or bring in other veterans to compete?
RB: Despite all the struggles the Jaguars have had for the past few seasons, the one player we’ve always been able to rely on is RB Maurice Jones-Drew. Outside of missing two games at the end of 2010 with a knee injury, Jones-Drew has been one of the best fantasy options and was heading into 2012 after leading the league in rushing the previous season. Jones-Drew got off to a slow start and inexplicably had 20+ carries just once through the first five games. Unfortunately, he wouldn’t get a chance to do much more after going down with a foot injury in Week Seven. The team and Jones-Drew held out hope he’d be able to return, but he ended up going on the injured reserved before the last game of the season and admitted he should have gotten surgery on what was called a mid-foot fracture sooner. Perhaps he was trying to prove his worth after holding out in the preseason for a new deal, which he did not get. Jones-Drew said he hopes to begin rehabbing next month and expects to be cleared by early summer. Going into the final year of his deal, MJD won’t hold out or demand a trade, so he’ll have to regain his old form if he hopes to land a big contract after 2013. He finished 2012 with 414 yards and a TD on 86 carries (4.8 YPC) while adding 14/86/1 on 18 targets, putting him 24th among RBs with 10.3 FPG. RB Rashad Jennings, who did a fine job as the team’s #2 behind Jones-Drew in 2011, stepped into the starting role, but he never really got going, and it was clear how much the team missed MJD. Jennings was sluggish and appeared to have trouble handling the heavier workload. He battled concussion issues and a shoulder injury that eventually landed him on the injured reserve after Week Thirteen. Jennings failed to top 60 rushing yards and didn’t play much of a role in the passing game outside of his first two starts when Jones-Drew went down. Jennings appeared in 10 games (6 starts), rushing 101 times for 283 yards (2.8 YPC) and 2 TDs with 19/130 on 26 targets, putting him 57th among RBs at 5.1 FPG. He’ll be a free agent heading into 2013 and isn’t a lock to return under the new regime. Jennings actually lost the starting job to RB Jalen Parmele for a game, but Parmele injured his groin and also landed on the injured reserve. He had 143 yards on 50 carries and 7/60 on 9 targets. Parmele had surgery on the groin in December and his future is unclear with the team, as he’s a free agent. With three backs on the IR, the team turned to fourth-string RB Montell Owensto start the final four games of the season. Owens, who has been a core special-teamer for the Jaguars since joining the team in 2006, started the final four games of the season and did an admirable job. He ran for 209 yards and a TD on 42 carries (5 YPC) and added 8/113 on 10 targets. He ended up missing the final game of the season with a knee injury, and the team indicated they wanted him to go back to his role on special teams next season.
· Fantasy situation to watch for 2013: Can Jones-Drew rebound from the biggest injury of his career? Will the Jaguars look to draft and/or bring RBs under the new regime?
WR/TE: After having the worst receiving corps in the league back in 2011, the Jaguars seemed intent on making upgrades at WR a priority in the 2012 off-season. They did so with the signing of WR Laurent Robinson and the selection of WR Justin Blackmon in the draft. Robinson failed to stick on anywhere before a surprisingly productive year with the Cowboys in 2011, which earned him his first big contract with the Jaguars. The injury bug had really been a detriment to his career, but he was able to overcome it in his one season in Dallas. Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to escape injury with the Jaguars, suffering four concussions in four months, which eventually landed him on the injured reserve in late November after he had fallen behind WR Cecil Shorts on the depth chart. Robinson started four of his seven appearances, finishing with 24/252 on 43 targets and 3.6 FPG. With so many concussions coming in such a short period of time, Robinson’s career is in jeopardy. Blackmon got off to a slow start, which could have been due to some rookie growing pains, but also thanks to the struggles of QB Blaine Gabbert. He eventually settled into being a solid possession receiver, but that didn’t come until QB Chad Hennetook over. He registered more than five games just once through Week Ten, but when Henne took over in Week Eleven, Blackmon started to get going. He had at least 6 receptions in the final seven games of the year, including a ridiculous 7/236/1 on 13 targets against the Texans in Week Eleven, although that was the only time he hit the 100-yard mark all season. Blackmon might not have been a burner or showed a lot of athleticism, but his numbers were solid when it was all said and done. He started in 14 of 16 games and caught 64/865/5 (13.5 YPC) on 129 targets (49.6% catch rate), which put him in a tie for 43rd at 7.4 FPG. The somewhat surprising breakout star for the Jaguars was Shorts. The second-year receiver ended up passing Robinson on the depth chart after the first five games and proved to be a dangerous deep threat, giving the team a shot of life in the passing game they haven’t had in years. He caught 55/979/7 (17.8 YPC) on 103 targets (53.4% catch rate) and was 21st among WRs at 10 FPG. Unfortunately, he suffered concussions in two of his final three games of the year and was on the IR for the season finale. The good news is Shorts was cleared for football activities in late January, so this doesn’t appear to be an issue that will linger in the off-season, which is good, since Shorts has proven to be a reliable fantasy option on a team that had shaky QB play. TE Marcedes Lewis bounced back after a disappointing 2011 campaign, but still didn’t have a lot of fantasy value. He played in every game, catching 52/540/4 (10.4 YPC) on 77 targets (67.5% catch rate) and was tied for 22nd among TEs at 4.9 FPG. He’s still a big target, but he doesn’t have a lot of upside, thanks to a complete lack of speed.
· Fantasy situation to watch for 2013: Can Blackmon and Shorts solidify the team’s receiving corps? How will the QB position affect these receivers? Will Robinson ever return?
Key Free Agents: LG Eben Britton, C Brad Meester, TE Zach Potter (RFA), QB Jordan Palmer, FB Greg Jones, RB Rashad Jennings, RB Jalen Parmele, DT Terrance Knighton, LB Daryl Smith, LB Kyle Bosworth (RFA), CB Rashean Mathis, CB Derek Cox, CB William Middleton.
QB: Obviously, the Titans would have liked their first year with their young QB to go better than this. Perhaps with some “influence from above,” Tennessee named second-year man Jake Locker their starting QB shortly before the beginning of the 2012 season. But when Locker was actually on the field, it was obvious why the coaching staff might have had some reservations about it. Although he flashed at times with his big arm and excellent mobility, more often than not, Locker was erratic and inaccurate, with little feel for the position and what he was seeing on the defensive side of the ball. In 11 starts, Locker posted 177/314 passing (56.4%), for 2176 yards with 10 TDs and 11 INTs. He added 41/291/1 (7.1 YPC) as a rusher, and finished tied for 25th among QBs with 16.7 FPG. Given our “look for legs” mantra when selecting backup QBs, Locker’s finish was a disappointment, even though he played hurt for most of the season after dislocating and breaking a bone in his non-throwing shoulder early in the season. Locker will need surgery to repair the injury and might not be ready for post-draft minicamps. Still, the Titans haven’t used the injury as an excuse for Locker. Coach Mike Munchak, who will be hanging on by a thread in 2013, told reports that Locker’s development must take a major step forward next season, and the Titans will work to find an offensive coordinator/QB coach pairing that will assist in that. The Titans are also simplifying things for their receivers, noting that former OC Chris Palmer’s option routes slowed down Locker. There’s a long way for Locker to go, and this off-season will go a long way to determining if he has a long-term future as the Titans’ starter. Behind Locker, veteran Matt Hasselbeck played in eight games, starting five. In those five starts, he went 115/184 (62.5%) for 1125 yards, with 5 TDs and 3 INTs. He finished 25th among QBs over that span with 16.0 FPG. Hasselbeck is entering the final year of his contract and has expressed no discontent in being Locker’s backup, but it can be argued that he played better than Locker when he was actually in action, if not significantly so.
· Fantasy situation to watch for 2013: Who will the Titans tab to develop Locker? Can Locker avoid the “bust” label with a strong 2013?
RB: If there’s one thing you’ve got to give Chris Johnson credit for, it’s being reliably on the field each and every week. While his performances are less consistent than you might hope from an early fantasy pick, he’s never missed a game due to injury and has now played 16 games in four consecutive seasons. In 2012, Johnson had another rock-solid year overall, carrying for 276/1243/6 (4.5 YPC), adding 36/226/0 as a receiver, to rank 18th among RBs with 11.4 FPG. His lack of TDs and surprisingly disappointing production as a receiver hurt his bottom line, but there’s value in having Johnson out there every week. He finished with five 120-plus yard games despite four of his five projected starting linemen going down with injuries during, the year, and he really started to pick up steam when the injuries began, so his season, in theory, could have been better. The issue with Johnson, as usual, is that he seems to be amazing when he’s on, but terrible when he’s bad. As mentioned, he topped at least 120 yards in each of his 100-yard performances, but he also had six separate games in which he finished with fewer than 50 yards rushing, and was under 3.0 YPC in each of those games as well. While Johnson’s effort and determination seemed better in 2012 than it was in 2011, at least overall, we still saw some of the poor tendencies to bounce and shy away from contact that make him a frustrating player in the first place. And it turned out that the Titan offense never really got going with mobile QB Jake Locker the way the club would have liked, which might have helped Johnson find more holes. The club seems to have acknowledged Johnson’s inconsistencies and is worried about them, which led to the dismissal of RB coach Jim Skipper this off-season. Skipper was classy in his firing, saying Johnson is heading “in the right direction,” but was pretty blunt in saying he can’t create “his own holes.” It’s a fair analysis, and we still tend to think Johnson would work better as part of a two-man RB rotation. But the Titans don’t have another back they can rely on. An elbow infection and a season-ending knee injury limited Javon Ringer to only 2 carries on the season, while second-year bruiser Jamie Harper had only 19/30, frustrating fantasy players by vulturing 3 short-yardage TDs on his only carries inside the five. It’d probably suit the Titans well to get a reliable second option behind Johnson.
· Fantasy situation to watch for 2013: Can we count on Johnson to play another 16-game schedule? Will the Titans find a reliable #2 back so they can rotate Johnson and perhaps increase his effectiveness?
WR/TE: The Titans might have been the NFL’s biggest example of talent not matching the actual production on the field. That was true at QB, somewhat true at RB, and especially true at the WR position. But the Titans’ skill players on the perimeter can only go as far as the QB will take them. That’s why the Titans want to bring in a new offensive team to help tutor both the QB and WRs, removing former OC Chris Palmer’s “option routes” from the playbook, as they supposedly slowed the offense down. It was anticipated that the Titans would enter 2012 with Nate Washington their most trustworthy guy, and we had high hopes for him because he put up solid numbers in 2011 in the few instances he got to play with QB Jake Locker. But that appeared to be a small-sample fluke, at least if 2012’s results are any indication In 16 games, Washington went for 45/729/4 (16.2 YPC) on 87 targets (a dismal 51.7%), and he ranked 61st with 6.1 FPG. In comparison to last season, Washington was up big in YPC (13.8 in 2011), but down in most other categories, as he posted 74/1023/7 on 121 targets (61.1%) last season. In 2012, Washington had more than 4 catches in a game only twice, and seven times he had 2 catches or fewer. His only 100-yard performance of the season came in Week Three. So it’s clear that something went absurdly wrong with the Titan passing game. Not having talented but troubled stud Kenny Britt at 100% was probably a factor. In 14 games, Britt posted 45/589/4 (13.1 YPC) on 90 targets (50%) and ranked 63rd among all WRs with 5.9 FPG. He had only one 100-yard performance (8/143 against the Colts in Week Fourteen), and his boost up the fantasy charts late in the season was TD-driven, as he caught 3 or fewer passes in six of his final seven games of the year. But Britt admitted he was less than 100% after his reconstructive knee surgery last year and a meniscus tear this year in the opposite knee, and missing training camp caused him to lose out on the explosiveness that makes him a borderline elite talent when he’s healthy. Britt says he’ll be 100% heading into 2013, which would be a big boost for this passing game, assuming Britt can stay out of trouble. That, of course, is already in question following a January stabbing incident, so that is something that has to be monitored. A pleasant surprise for the Titans might have been the fact that rookie WR Kendall Wright was their most reliable WR. In 15 games (he missed one with a cracked rib), Wright went for 64/626/4 on 104 targets (61.5%), and finished 65th among WRs with 5.8 FPG. For PPR owners, he was a sneaky play, as he caught at least 5 passes in seven different games. However, a big head-scratcher was the fact that Wright averaged only 9.8 YPC and didn’t have a single 100-yard game, puzzling considering how effective a deep threat he was in college at Baylor. However, if Wright can get some of that vertical production back in 2013, his development as an underneath and screen receiver in 2012 could reap big dividends, as he works to become a complete player. At the TE position, the Titans have perhaps their most talented but frustrating player. In 13 games, Jared Cook posted 44/523/4 on 71 targets (11.9 YPC, 62%), and he ranked 16th among all TEs with 5.9 FPG. Cook took a step back from last season’s promising career year, and while he flashed at times, he never put together a dominant performance, capping out at 77 yards in Week Three and topping 50 yards only four times. Cook’s season ended prematurely with a torn rotator cuff, a blow going into free agency. But that didn’t stop Cook from criticizing the offense, blaming most of his struggles on the coaching and play-calling. Should Cook depart in free agency, the Titans would look to veteran Craig Stevens (23/275/1) and gifted youngster Taylor Thompson (6/46/0) to fill the void.
· Fantasy situation to watch for 2013: The Titans need Britt at 100% to reach maximum capacity for their offense. Will he get there? Even if he does, will his off-field concerns prove too much for the club to handle? Can Wright build on a promising rookie season and add some vertical elements to his game? Will Cook return to the team?
Key Free Agents: TE Jared Cook, K Rob Bironas, RB Javon Ringer, FB Quinn Johnson, RB/KR Darius Reynaud, RG Leroy Harris, C Fernando Velasco (RFA), DT Sen’Derrick Marks, DE Dave Ball, DE Jarius Wynn, LB Zac Diles. LB Will Witherspoon, S Ryan Mouton.