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

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Published, 2/8/13


Also See: NFC East I NFC North I NFC South I NFC West I AFC East I AFC South I AFC North


Denver Broncos


QB: You have to credit Bronco president John Elway for knowing that magic can’t last, especially when it isn’t real. After Tim Tebow’s improbable run to the playoffs last year, Elway still saw the QB position in Denver as a weakness, and he took the rare opportunity to acquire a future Hall-of-Famer in Peyton Manning last off-season. That’s not to say that signing Peyton to a monster contract was free of risk; in fact, it was quite the opposite. But after missing the entire 2011 season with a neck injury, Manning proved why many still consider him the greatest to ever take a snap in the NFL. Playing a full 16-game schedule, Manning posted 400/583 passing (68.6%) for 4667 yards with 37 TDs and 11 INTs. He ranked 7th among all QBs, with 23.9 FPG. His completion percentage, TD totals, and FPG were the second-highest of his career, his yardage was third-highest, and each was perhaps the most amazing thing he’s accomplished in his brilliant career. And if not for a miracle season from Adrian Peterson, Manning would be NFL MVP (he did win Comeback Player of the Year). Manning battled back from his neck injury and battled through some arm strength issues, which were evident at various points throughout the season and playoffs. But, armed with two 1,000-yard receivers in Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas, plus some effective ancillary weapons, Peyton was a consistent fantasy starter and a great value for anyone willing to take a risk on him in 2012 drafts. Manning threw at least 1 TD in every game, multiple TDs in 12 of 16 games, and 3 TDs in nine of those 12 performances. He had nine 300-yard performances, and 10 games in which he completed at least 70% of his passes. So not only was he prolific, but he was very consistent, and it helped that he might have had the most talented offensive line he’s ever played behind (although LT Ryan Clady is now a free agent). As the season wore on, the Broncos started to incorporate more of the basic “dig” and “dag” concepts that Manning made so famous and so effective in Indianapolis, and by the end of the year, Manning’s offense had almost completely usurped the one OC Mike McCoy inserted at the beginning of the season. Now it’s about taking things to the next level. New OC Adam Gase and QB coach Greg Knapp will be tasked with increasing the tempo of the Broncos’ offense in 2013, and they’ll also work to get young backup QB Brock Osweiler ready to play in the event Manning (37 on March 24) isn’t healthy. But a full off-season after making it through 16 games healthy should mean Peyton will once again be drafted among the elite fantasy QBs. He’ll likely stay there until he hangs ‘em up for good, which hopefully isn’t any time soon. Manning has been clear that he wants to play for several more years.


·         Fantasy situation to watch for 2013: Can Manning replicate or improve on his awesome 2012? He should be healthier, but he’s also older. Where will he go in drafts in relation to 2012?


RB: While Peyton Manning was obviously the Broncos’ biggest story in 2012 and the reason they featured one of the most explosive offenses in the NFL, he was buoyed in large part by an strong run game that featured an underrated veteran and one of the more unlikely comeback stories in the league this year. The Broncos opened the season with Willis McGahee in the backfield, as expected, and McGahee was a rock-solid option and an ideal fit in a Manning-led offense. In 10 games, McGahee posted 167/731/4 rushing (4.4 YPC), with 26/221/0 receiving, to rank 14th among all RBs with 11.9 FPG. While McGahee had some significant fumbling issues, he was still a solid fantasy option and a reliable back for the Broncos. He topped 10 FP six times in PPR leagues, and likely was on his way to a seventh before a knee injury robbed him of the rest of his season in Week Eleven. But as reliable as McGahee was, his best fantasy production was still staggered to only a few games. McGahee topped 100 yards rushing three times during the season, and all 4 of his TDs were scored in those three games. That said, the Broncos were expected to be strapped when he went down, but they weren’t. That’s because great production came from perhaps the most surprising of sources. To make a long story short, fourth-year back Knowshon Moreno went from a clear bust and a healthy scratch on gamedays and relegated to the scout team to a vital part of the Bronco offense, basically overnight. After only 8 carries and 15 yards rushing through two weeks, Moreno was benched after a Week Two fumble and didn’t even sniff the field until Week Twelve, when he was surprisingly named the Broncos’ starting RB after McGahee went down. And in the six-game stretch as the Broncos’ starter, Moreno was a fantasy stud. He carried a whopping 131 times for 513 yards and 3 TDs (3.9 YPC) and added 20/155/0 on 25 targets as a receiver. Over that span, he tied DeAngelo Williams and Doug Martin for 7th among all RBs with 14.1 FPG, so it’s conceivable to think he was the best fantasy back on several fantasy championship teams, all that after being a healthy scratch for seven games. We still contend that Moreno is a mediocre talent who runs with stiff hips and not much lateral agility, but he does run hard, which helps to make up for his lack of ability and other areas. He’s a smooth pass-catcher, and – most important in a Manning-led offense – he was a reliable pass-protector. Assuming both Moreno and McGahee are back in Denver next season, there could be an interesting rotation here. That’s because rookie RB Ronnie Hillman also showed some promise as a role-playing option. In 14 games, Hillman only posted 84/327/1 rushing (3.9 YPC) and a disappointing 10/62/0 receiving, and he fumbled twice, but he showed something when he had to take over for an injured Moreno in the postseason, with 103 yards from scrimmage against the Ravens. However, Hillman must improve his pass protection if he wants to stay on the field with Manning. Still, he’s ahead of Lance Ball, who is a restricted free agent and had only 49 touches and 2 TDs this season, and Hillman still projects as a very active complmentary back.


·         Fantasy situation to watch for 2013: With McGahee, Moreno, and Hillman all under contract, what will be the Broncos’ rotation at RB moving forward?


WR/TE: One of the major points of defense for the play of QB Tim Tebow in Denver last season was that he “lacked weapons” or “had no one to throw to.” Well, it’s amazing what Peyton Manning can do for an offense then, isn’t it? While the presence of Manning helped the Bronco receivers put up some massive numbers overall, he couldn’t have done it if the players weren’t supremely talented in the first place, revealing the Tebow defense to be shoddy at absolute best. The Bronco passing offense, in large part, went through the supremely gifted Demaryius Thomas, who broke out in his first season playing with Manning. In 16 games (the first time he’s stayed healthy, granted), the third-year receiver posted an amazing 94/1442/10 on 138 targets (15.3 YPC, 68.1% conversion rate), ranking 4th among all WRs, with 12.8 FPG. Thomas had seven performances with at least 100 yards receiving and 11 games with at least 5 catches, so he dominated for both standard players and PPR players. In fact, only twice all season did he fail to top 10 FP in a PPR league. He was the Broncos’ most viable deep threat, but he also made a lot of plays on bubble and rocket screens, with which the Broncos utilized his great YAC ability (he averaged 6.0 YPC this season). Thomas’ huge season could push him as high as the second round in fantasy drafts in 2013, and it was great to see he stayed healthy, but he does have to work on dropped passes. The Broncos also got huge numbers from “#2” WR Eric Decker, who posted 85/1064/13 receiving (12.5 YPC, 70.2%), ranking 8th among all WRs, with 11.5 FPG. Decker was a little more inconsistent that Thomas, posting only two 100-yard games, with a lot of his overall fantasy production concentrated in the four games in which he posted 2 receiving TDs. But he was below double digits in a PPR league only twice as well, catching 5 or more passes in nine games. More of a possession and red-zone guy than Thomas, Decker led all NFL WRs with 25 red-zone targets and 12 red-zone TDs (including 6 goal-line targets and 3 TDs). What’s amazing is that Decker came up just short of about 5 more TDs this season, so he could have had an all-time great year in that department. We know that TDs are very fickle in the NFL, and we have to be careful about evaluating Decker based on that stat, but it’s clear that Peyton trusts him in tight quarters, and their chemistry was operating on a high level at the end of the year, when Decker had 5 TDs over the last three games. Speaking of chemistry, the Broncos’ #3 WR this year was Brandon Stokley, a 36-year-old veteran who hadn’t been productive since 2008. But Stokley has always had a great rapport with Peyton, and he parlayed that into 45/544/5 receiving (12.1 YPC, a ridiculous 78.9% catch rate) out of the slot. He ranked 68th among WRs, with 5.6 FPG, so he wasn’t exactly a fantasy stud, but he was definitely a guy you could plug into your lineup in a pinch as a #3 WR and he could produce (he had six games with 4 or more catches). Stokley’s a free agent, but he hopes to return to the Broncos. But the Broncos’ #3 target in the offense was often a TE, whether that be Jacob Tamme or Joel Dreessen. It was interesting to hear Peyton describe Tamme as the key to how the Broncos play offense, based on how teams defend him, because he actually played fewer than half the club’s snaps pretty often. In 16 games, Tamme had 52/555/2 receiving on 83 targets (10.7 YPC, 62.7%), and ranked 29th among all TEs with 4.2 FPG. Tamme wasn’t often a reliable fantasy guy, however, with only six games with 4 or more catches, and seven games with 2 or fewer. And with only 2 TDs, you basically had to cross your fingers Tamme was a featured part of the Broncos’ offense on any given day. But just because he wasn’t catching passes didn’t mean he wasn’t important as a way for the defense to show its hand. The better blocker Dreessen was even less consistent than Tamme, posting 41/356/5 on 58 targets (8.7 FPG, 70.7%) and a 30th-ranked 4.1 FPG, despite playing consistently more snaps than Tamme. Dreessen continued his showing from Houston as a dangerous red-zone threat, tying for 8th at his position with 14 red-zone targets. Dreessen was better gamble than Tamme for fantasy to get in the endzone, but he was also a bigger “bust” threat, catching 2 or fewer passes in 10 different games. It’ll be interesting to see if talented youngster Virgil Green (5/63 receiving) can get more action in 2013, but Tamme and Dreessen are still an effective pair of TEs, although a headache for fantasy. Denver also has the extremely athletic Julius Thomas, who dropped the forth on the depth chart but remains an intriguing talent.


·         Fantasy situation to watch for 2013: Can Thomas and Decker build on their huge 2012 seasons, or is it possible they capped out their production in a dream season? Will Stokley return to the fold? Can either Tamme or Dreessen become a consistent fantasy tight end in 2013?


Key Free Agents: LT Ryan Clady, WR Brandon Stokley, WR Matt Willis, RB Lance Ball (RFA), C Dan Koppen, OL Chris Clark (RFA), CB Tracy Porter, LB Keith Brooking, DT Kevin Vickerson, DT Justin Bannan, DT Ty Warren, DE Jason Hunter, S David Bruton, S/KR Jim Leonhard.


Kansas City Chiefs


QB: The Chiefs obviously have a lot of needs and holes to fill this off-season coming off a 2-14 record, which earned them the #1 pick in the 2013 draft. And the single greatest need for the Chiefs is a starting QB. That’s a problem because this year’s draft lacks any consensus top-end prospects like an Andrew Luck or Robert Griffin III, at least as of early February. One thing that is a consensus: New HC Andy Reid stated at his introductory press conference on Jan. 7 that he’ll be looking for the team’s next Len Dawson this off-season, and we’re 100% sure he won’t find him on the current roster. QB Matt Cassel has been a huge disappointment since he signed with the organization back in 2009. He’s owed about $7.5 million in 2013, and the Chiefs are all but guaranteed to cut him this off-season. Cassel played in nine games this year, completing 161/277 for 1796 yards, 6 TDs, and 12 INTs. He also lost an astonishing 7 fumbles in that time. Cassel didn’t play a single snap from Week Twelve on, as the Chiefs turned to the equally inept Brady Quinn. He saw action in 10 games this season, completing 112/197 passes for 1141 yards, just 2 TDs, and 8 INTs. Quinn is a free agent this off-season, and the Chiefs will likely cut ties with him even as a backup quarterback. In fact, Quinn has been so bad since he came into the league in 2007 that he might have trouble finding work anywhere in the league, even as a backup. So what does it say about #3 QB Ricky Stanzi if he couldn’t even play a single snap behind the dreadful Cassel and Quinn? If Stanzi had any potential or any future in the league, he should’ve at least been given a chance to see a little bit of action in 2012, but the old coaching staff didn’t believe in him, and it’d be surprising if Reid did, either. Stanzi is yet another Chief QB from 2012 that more than likely won’t be on the roster in 2013, so Kansas City will have a complete overhaul at the position. The biggest question is whether the Chiefs will address the position through draft, in free agency, or a combination of both. The Chiefs picked a bad draft to have the #1 pick with no elite QB prospects, so they could either overdraft at their current spot (a huge mistake unless Reid fully believes in the talent of one of the players available), trade down in the first round, or wait until the later rounds to select a QB. No matter what the Chiefs decide to do, it should be an interesting off-season for the QB position.


·         Fantasy situation to watch for 2013: Who will be the starting QB in Kansas City next season with Cassel and Quinn likely gone? What will the Chiefs do in the draft without any projected elite QBs and the #1 overall pick?


RB: Chief RB Jamaal Charles was one of the few bright spots for the Chief organization, and he had an exceptional season, considering he was coming off knee reconstruction surgery, in 2012. Even in the pitiful KC offense, Charles managed to rank 9th among RBs, with 13.2 FPG, on 284 carries for 1513 yards and 5 TDs. He also added 36 catches for 236 yards and 1 TD. Charles joined Priest Holmes and Larry Johnson as 1500-yard Chief RBs, and he averaged 5.3 YPC, despite his ACL surgery. His 5.3 YPC actually tied for his worst career average since his rookie year in 2008, but we certainly aren’t going to complain about that mark, especially in this otherwise dreadful offense. Charles posted seven 100-yard rushing performances, including two performances over 225 rushing yards. He also had two more games in which he topped 100 yards from scrimmage, so while he was underutilized at times (including three dud games with 10 or fewer rushing yards), he was still a fabulous fantasy option and a great value coming off injury. New HC Andy Reid will bring his West Coast offense to Kansas City, and Reid was often criticized in Philadelphia for his pass-heavy attack. And it’s true that RBs Brian Westbrook and LeSean McCoy were often underused in the running game, at least on a game-to-game basis, but both players were always heavily involved in the passing game. Charles has always been an excellent receiver out of the backfield, so he’ll have even more PPR value next year. The Chiefs can’t get much worse at quarterback in 2013, so Charles could easily be a first-round fantasy pick next summer. RB Peyton Hillis was brought in this year to form a thunder-and-lightning tandem with Charles, but Hillis ended up having an absolute dismal season. In 13 games in 2012, he finished with just 85 carries for 309 yards and 1 TD to finish 75th among RBs, with 3.3 FPG. Hillis looked totally pedestrian with no special qualities, even in short-yardage situations (where he had fumbling issues, a big no-no for a short-yardage back), and Hillis really hasn’t been special since his one good season in 2010. Hillis is an impending free agent this off-season, and Reid tends to use just one featured back, so Hillis has likely played his one and only season in Kansas City. RB Shaun Draughn was pretty active early in the season, but his playing time really trailed off after Week Six, as he finished with 59 carries for 233 yards and 2 TDs. He should be around to compete for the backup spot, but Reid will likely bring in some competition via free agency or the draft to compete for the backup spot. Rookie RB Cyrus Gray also played sparingly in 2012, but he could get an extended look next preseason. Gray is a smaller back with some burst, so he fits the Reid profile fairly well.


·         Fantasy situation to watch for 2013: Will Charles be used like former Reid RBs Westbrook and McCoy, who were both very active in the passing game? Will Reid try to run the ball more with a fresh start in Kansas City?


WR/TE: Chief WR Dwayne Bowe had his talents totally wasted this season, and it was in no way Bowe’s fault. The sixth-year WR had his worst season since 2009, largely because the Chiefs couldn’t find a quarterback to get him the ball. He still finished with 59 catches (52.2% catch rate) for 801 yards and 3 TDs in 13 games, ending the season 41st among WRs, with 7.5 FPG. After posting 100-yard games in Weeks Two and Four (in which he scored a combined 3 TDs), Bowe didn’t top 100 yards or get in the end zone the rest of the season, which made him a fringy bench player for fantasy. Bowe’s season ended, mercifully, in Week Fourteen after he broke his ribs against Cleveland. He played the season under the franchise tag, and he’ll be one of the most coveted free agents this off-season. It looked like a foregone conclusion that Bowe had played his last season with the Chiefs in 2012, but there is some new hope in Kansas City that Bowe could return with HC Andy Reid and a new front office in charge. Bowe will still hit the market as the top free agent wide receiver, but the Chiefs could now be in the mix to re-sign Bowe. Reid placed an emphasis on wide receivers later in his tenure with the Eagles, but he usually did it through the draft. Bowe’s decision to return could come down to what the Chiefs decide to do to upgrade the quarterback position. The Chiefs have another 1st-round talent on the roster in Jonathan Baldwin, but the WR had another disappointing season in his second year. Baldwin finished with just 20 catches (44.4% catch rate) for 325 yards and 1 TD in 15 games this year. Obviously, the Chiefs’ QB play this year didn’t help Baldwin at all, but most of his poor play has to fall on Baldwin’s shoulders. The big and talented WR simply hasn’t looked like an elite talent in two seasons, and 2013 could be a make-or-break year for the former 1st-round pick. WR Steve Breaston was a huge disappointment in 2012, a year after he posted 61 catches for 785 yards and 2 TDs. Breaston finished 2012 with just 7 catches (46.7% catch rate) for 74 yards, and he was a healthy scratch in five of the Chiefs’ final six games in 2012. It’s difficult to envision a scenario in which Breaston plays out the final three seasons of his five-year contract signed in 2011, but his chances should improve with Reid in town. WR Dexter McCluster posted nearly identical receiving numbers in 2012 (52/452/1) compared to his 2011 numbers (51/447/1). However, McCluster was completely underused in the Chief running game (12/70), as he carried the ball 112 fewer times for 446 fewer yards. Reid could get McCluster more involved in the offense in 2013, but it’s difficult to get too excited about McCluster, who is a tweener between a wide receiver and a running back and doesn’t really produce enough to be a fantasy option at either position. TE Tony Moeaki got off to a slow start in 2012, coming off a season-ending knee injury in 2011 preseason. He picked up the pace a bit after Week Eight, with 23 catches for 359 yards and 1 TD in nine games. Moeaki still finished with just 33 catches (60.0% catch rate) for 453 yards and 1 TD to end the year 35th among TEs with 3.4 FPG. Moeaki is only 25 years old, and he does have some talent. Reid’s offense can be an excellent one for the TE, so depending on who they get to be the QB, Moeaki could be a nice sleeper in 2013.


·         Fantasy situation to watch for 2013: Will the Chiefs make a bid to keep Bowe around next season with HC Reid now in charge? Can Baldwin finally start to look like a former 1st-round pick and make some contributions to the Chief offense? Will the Chiefs upgrade their quarterback spot enough to get Moeaki more involved?


Key Free Agents: WR Dwayne Bowe, RB Peyton Hillis, QB Brady Quinn, LT Branden Albert, LG Ryan Lilja, DE Glenn Dorsey, ILB Brandon Siler, RG Russ Hochstein, SS Abram Elam, P Dustin Colquitt.


Oakland Raiders


QB: Raider QB Carson Palmer was hardly a special player in 2012, but he certainly wasn’t one of the glaring problems for a very flawed Oakland team. Palmer put up solid numbers for fantasy purposes, completing 345/565 of his passes for 4018 yards, 22 TDs, and 16 INTs. If you watched the Raiders this year (which we hope you didn’t have to often), Palmer did a lot of his work in garbage time after the Raiders fell behind in the second half. Luckily, garbage-time production counts just the same for fantasy, and Palmer had six games with at least 300 yards passing this year (including one 400-yard performance). He ended up finishing 16th among QBs this year with 19.9 FPG while playing in 15 games. Palmer played in just a few snaps in his last game in Week Sixteen, so he was 13th among QBs with 21.2 FPG through Week Fifteen, when he got most of his playing time, so he was actually a borderline fantasy starter. Palmer cracked his ribs and bruised his lung against the Panthers late in the season and missed the final game of the year, but he’s expected to make a full recovery and be ready for off-season workouts. Palmer is due to make about $13 million next season, but the Raiders would face salary cap problems if they tried to cut him, so Oakland could look to restructure Palmer’s contract. Either way, it looks like the 33-year-old Palmer will be back as the starting quarterback in Oakland at the beginning of 2013. Second-year QB Terrelle Pryor started for Palmer in Week Seventeen, and he didn’t do terribly, considering the circumstances, completing 13/28 passes for 150 yards, 2 TDs, and 1 INT. Pryor also added 9 carries for 49 yards and a TD. Despite a decent first career start, Pryor is still seen as a work in progress to be kind, so he’d really have to show a lot of progress in the off-season and preseason to even have a chance of winning the starting job to start the year. Still, if Oakland gets off to a slow start once again next year, we wouldn’t be surprised to see Pryor get a shot. We’d also be remiss to not recognize the infiltration of the zone-read into the NFL, thanks to young QBs Russell Wilson, Colin Kaepernick, and Robert Griffin III. Although his arm strength is significantly less than the aforementioned players, Pryor might be intriguing enough an athlete to tempt the Raiders to try a zone-read offense, but he just severely lacks the polish to run an NFL team at this point. We’ll have to see if HC Dennis Allen and new OC Greg Olson want to get Pryor more involved in the offense next year, even as a gimmick-type player.


·         Fantasy situation to watch for 2013: Can Palmer produce for fantasy outside of garbage-time opportunities? Will Pryor get the chance for extended playing time as the zone-read becomes more popular in the NFL?


RB: Raider RB Darren McFadden came into 2012 with great expectations, but Run-DMC never came even close to fulfilling his lofty first-round fantasy draft status. The problem was that not only did durability concerns creep up yet again with McFadden, but he didn’t produce at a high level even when he was healthy. McFadden once again missed plenty of time this year because of injuries, and he just never fit into OC Greg Knapp’s zone-blocking offensive scheme, which McFadden made evident with his comments after the season ended. On the season, McFadden finished with 216 carries for 707 yards and 2 TDs in 12 games, and he added 42 catches for 258 yards and 1 TD. McFadden ended the year 28th among RBs, with 9.5 FPG, and while he had averaged 4.75 YPC in his first four seasons, he managed a miserable 3.3 YPC this year. McFadden proved to be an atrocious fit for Knapp’s zone-blocking scheme, and Knapp lost his job in large part because of McFadden, ostensibly the team’s best offensive player, couldn’t get going. The Raiders brought in Greg Olson from the Jaguars to run the offense this year, and the power running proponent Tony Sparano, and the Raiders are expected to get back to a power-blocking style. McFadden is an explosive, vertical runner, but he showed surprisingly little ability to move laterally. As a result, he had only three 110-yard performances, and only twice all season did he top 4.0 YPC in a single game. In other words, if he wasn’t getting volume, he wasn’t producing, and that’s dangerous. Of course, McFadden’s famous injuries cropped up once again this year. This time a high ankle sprain forced him to miss four games, giving him 23 missed games in just five seasons. McFadden should be better next year going back to a power-running style, and 2013 is a contract year for him, but it’s still tough to get too excited about an injury-prone running back who has never played more than 13 games in his five seasons. The Raider offense also isn’t very good, so it’s not like he even gets a ton of red-zone and goal-line opportunities. In fact, backup RBs Marcel Reece, Mike Goodson, and Jeremy Stewart all looked more comfortable than McFadden in the zone-blocking scheme. If you factor injuries into the equation, Goodson’s first season in Oakland also went down as a bust, as he happened to hurt his ankle in the same game that McFadden got injured. Goodson never really got the chance to see a ton of carries even with McFadden getting injured, but he did flash on occasion with some splashy plays. He had only 51 touches in 12 games, but with 416 yards from scrimmage, he averaged 8.2 yards per touch. Goodson will once again hit the free agency market this off-season, so the Raiders have to decide if they want to bring back Goodson or look for another backup. Reece was actually the most effective back in the Raider offense in 2012, ranking 12th among RBs, with 13.3 FPG with McFadden hurt between Weeks Ten and Twelve, but he’s more suited to play fullback or contribute as an H-back. On the year, Reece totaled 59/271/0 rushing and a whopping 52/496/1 receiving, so he should have a spot here. Stewart was a frequent inactive and HC Dennis Allen clearly thinks very little of speedster Taiwan Jones, who saw very little time this year and was actually behind Stewart, who was signed off the scrap heap. The Raiders are clearly focused on making McFadden the focal point of the offense (evidenced by the Knapp firing), but Oakland needs a reliable backup based on DMC’s lengthy injury history.


·         Fantasy situation to watch for 2013: Can McFadden get back to being an explosive runner with Knapp and his zone-blocking scheme out of town? Will DMC actually stay healthy and play a full season for the first time in his career? Where will the Raiders turn for their backup RB?


WR/TE: The Raider receiving corps didn’t have huge expectations entering the 2012 season, but the group, led by Denarius Moore and Darrius Heyward-Bey, had the potential to show some improvement and become reliable fantasy options. But after a hot start, the young Raiders WRs did the opposite this year, taking some steps backward as the year went along. Moore has the potential to once again be a fantasy sleeper next season (it’s rare to say that two years in a row), but that’s only because he had a dismal second half of the year. Moore missed the first game of the year because of a nagging hamstring injury, but he averaged about 69.3 yards per game and had 4 TDs in his first seven games. However, Moore severely disappointed in his final eight games, averaging 32.0 yards per game, including three games in which he had just 1 catch. Moore ended up finishing 39th among WRs, with 7.7 FPG, on 51 catches (45.5% catch rate) for 741 yards and 7 TDs. Moore has been hampered by hamstring issues during his brief career, but he appeared to be healthy once he returned this year after Week One. Yet, he has reliability issues for Palmer and the two weren’t on the same page. It’s safe to say Moore was at fault, which landed him in the doghouse. Moore is still supremely talented, so the Raiders would be wise to get him more involved next year, but he has to prove he can stick and be relied on. Heyward-Bey may have played his final game with the Raiders in 2012. DHB is due close to $8 million next year, and he has plenty of durability issues, so his future is up in the air. Oakland also has some young talent at WR that might get a few more looks next year, lessening the need to bring back DHB. Heyward-Bey finished with 41 catches (55.4% catch rate) for 606 yards and 5 TDs to finish 54th among WRs, with 6.6 FPG. DHB dealt with hamstring issues and a nasty concussion this year, but he still managed to play in 15 games. However, Heyward-Bey was outplayed by Moore and rookie WR Rod Streater at times, and that’s relatively unacceptable for a top-10 pick who was in his fourth season. Streater made a name for himself in the preseason with some big performances, but he did disappear early in the year. Streater ended the year with 39 catches (52.7% catch rate) for 584 yards and 3 TDs, but he caught fire late in the season as the clear #3 WR. Streater hauled in 18 catches for 351 yards and 1 TD during the final five games, and he’s carved a role out for next year. He’s not a great athlete, but he did make downfield plays in 2012 and with his size he has the potential to be a solid #1 guy here. Rookie WR Juron Criner fell behind Streater and free agent Derek Hagan, and the snake-bitten Jacoby Ford missed the season after he needed Lisfranc surgery, so the depth at WR in Oakland wasn’t as strong as they might have anticipated in July. As a result, TE Brandon Myers actually turned out to be the best Raider receiver, and he demonstrated a great chemistry with QB Carson Palmer on underneath passes. Myers had just 16 catches for 151 yards last year in 16 games, but he jumped up to 79 catches for 806 yards and 4 TDs to finish 11th among TEs this year with 6.5 FPG. Myers is a free agent and he may test the market, but he’s unlikely to draw a ton of big-money attention because he isn’t really a special player physically. However, Myers really did show a great rapport with Palmer, including posting nine games with 5 or more catches, so he has some value if he’s paired with Palmer next year. What was disconcerting, however, was how he wallowed in mediocrity to finish the season. He posted only 10/85 receiving on 17 targets over his last four games, after posting 14/130/1 in Week Thirteen alone.


·         Fantasy situation to watch for 2013: Can Moore and Heyward-Bey rebound next year to have some fantasy draft value? Will DHB even be back? Will the Raiders decide to give Streater more of an opportunity to become an every-down WR? Will the Raiders decide to bring back Palmer’s main man Myers for 2013?


Key Free Agents: TE Brandon Myers, RB Mike Goodson, WR Derek Hagan, RT Khalif Barnes, LG Cooper Carlisle, DT Richard Seymour, CB Shawntae Spencer, FS Matt Giordano, MLB Omar Gaither, OLB Philip Wheeler, DE Matt Shaughnessy, DE Andre Carter, CB Joselio Hanson, CB Phillip Adams (RFA), QB Matt Leinart, P Shane Lechler.


San Diego Chargers


QB: It’s officially time to wonder what is wrong with QB Philip Rivers. 2011 was certainly a disappointing season compared to previous performances, but he was still worthy of being called a fantasy starter. That was far from the truth in 2012. Rivers ended up tied for 20th among QBs at 18 FPG. He went 338/527 (64.1%) for 3607 yards with 26 TDs and 15 INTs, but also had 15 fumbles and was sacked a career-high 49 times. We weren’t serious supporters this past summer, but we’ve tried to give him the benefit of the doubt with the belief that he’s been playing hurt and keeping it quiet, but Rivers hasn’t missed a game since becoming the team’s starter in 2006. What we saw again in ’12 was a player whose arm isn’t as strong as it once was. He never had a true rocket, but his intermediate and deeper throws didn’t come out with the same velocity this past season, and they didn’t in 2011, either. Because of his unorthodox delivery, it was tough to judge just how well Rivers was throwing the ball, but it’s clear he had trouble driving the ball. Unfortunately, that goes against his typical aggressive mindset of attacking downfield when he feels he has an opportunity based on coverage and/or pressure. Not only was Rivers’ struggling to get the ball down field, but at times, he wasn’t getting a clear picture, so he’d either miss open receivers or try to stick balls into tight windows that turned into interceptions. Because the team ran a lot of isolation routes, it makes the receivers win against man coverage, which means those are small windows that need precise ball location. When Rivers was on top of his game, he could make those throws, but it’s clear he’s been struggling with ball location and overall accuracy, which not only affected the tough throws, but the routine ones, as well. That’s a big concern, especially if he’s losing arm strength. Rivers remains one of the better QBs in the league before the snap when it came to recognizing the blitz and setting protection, but because the Charger OL was so bad, too often Rivers didn’t have a comfortable pocket, which explains the 49 sacks. The loss of WR Vincent Jackson to free agency and WR Vincent Brown to a broken ankle in the preseason didn’t help, but neither did an aging TE Antonio Gates or the frustrating backfield, thanks to another disappointing season from RB Ryan Mathews. Rivers will be working with new HC Mike McCoy, new OC Ken Whisenhunt, and new QB coach Frank Reich in 2013, and their task will be to “fix” Rivers. We’d just like to see Rivers find some consistency since that was severely lacking in 2012, but he’ll need help at RB and WR if he’s to ever even approach his level of play from 2008-2010.


·         Fantasy situation to watch for 2013: Can Rivers return to the player we considered one of the better QBs in the league? Will the Chargers look to draft a QB who could become Rivers’ eventual replacement?


RB: If you’re sick of RB Ryan Mathews after just three seasons in the league, we completely understand. Injuries, fumbles, and just general bad luck have plagued this talented player early in his career, making his name synonymous with failure in fantasy football. Mathews opened the season with a broken collarbone in August on his first preseason carry, which delayed his debut until Week Two. He didn’t miss another game until breaking his other collarbone in Week Fifteen. While breaking both collarbones in a fairly short period of time is considered freaky, the injury-prone tag on Mathews is tough to ignore for fantasy owners looking for a reliable back. Reports out of the team indicate they have some doubts as to whether Mathews can develop into the player they were looking for when they traded up to take him in 2010. What’s working against Mathews is the lack of connection he has to the new regime. With GM A.J. Smith and HC Norv Turner gone, Mathews has to prove himself to the new brass and new HC Mike McCoy. The good news is he’ll be 100 percent well in advance of OTAs, but we have to wonder if the team will look to draft and/or bring in a complementary back to go along with Mathews. While he missed time only for the broken collarbones, Mathews did battle ankle and neck issues during the season, so the concern is his carrying the load of a typical lead back. In 12 games (9 starts), Mathews had 184 carries for 707 yards (3.3 YPC) and 3 TDs while adding 39/252 on 56 targets, to put him 30th among RBs, at 8.5 FPG. Obviously, the injuries hurt those numbers, but Mathews also dealt with a shoddy OL and the threat of RBs like Ronnie Brown and Jackie Battle stealing touches. Brown seemed to act as the team’s hurry-up back and did see a lot of time on passing downs. He appeared in 14 games, rushing for 220 yards on 46 carries (4.8 YPC) and caught 49/371 on 59 targets, which was good for 4.2 FPG. Battle wasn’t quite Mike Tolbert in his vulture role, but the team did put some trust in him in goal-line and short-yardage situations. He played in every game, rushing 95 times for 311 yards (3.3 YPC) and 3 TDs and had 15/108/1 on 15 targets for 4.1 FPG. Both Brown and Battle are free agents, but we’d expect the team to look for an upgrade over them to go along with Mathews.


·         Fantasy situation to watch for 2013: Will Mathews ever stay healthy enough to reach his potential? Do the Chargers believe in Mathews, especially with those who drafted him now out of the picture? Will we see the team draft and/or sign a complementary back to take significant snaps away from Mathews?


WR/TE: With WR Vincent Jackson departing for Tampa Bay in free agency, there were certainly some questions to be answered when it came to the Charger receiving corps in 2012. Things certainly didn’t go as planned with the negatives outweighing the positives, and the team’s best receiver wasn’t even on the roster until a third of the season had already passed. The Chargers got their first bit of bad news in the preseason, when second-year WR Vincent Brown went down with a broken ankle. Brown had flashed as a rookie and was coming on like gangbusters in the preseason. He was expected to play a bigger role with Jackson gone, but he was never able to come back from the injury and missed the entire season. The good news is he was able to return to practice late in the season, but it wasn’t worth risking injury with the Chargers long out of the mix by then. The team signed WR Robert Meachem away from the Saints as another way to cushion the blow of losing Jackson, but he ended up being a complete bust. Meachem had 15 appearances, but started just three games and finished with 14/207/2 (14.8 YPC) on 32 targets and a measly 2.3 FPG. WR Malcom Floyd had one of his best seasons because he was actually able to stay healthy, for the most part. Floyd landed on the injured reserve for the last two games of the season due to an ankle sprain, but started the other 14 and caught 56/814/5 (14.5 YPC) on 83 targets (67.5% catch rate), which put him 35th among WRs, with 8 FPG. Floyd has typically been a downfield threat in the Charger offense, but he was probably held back a bit by the struggles of QB Philip Rivers, who wasn’t throwing the deep ball as consistently as he’d done in the past. Amazingly, the team’s best receiver was probably Danario Alexander. Alexander was released by the Rams in late August and didn’t up with the Chargers until mid-October. He made his Charger debut in Week Eight and ended up starting in six of his ten appearances. Although knee issues have plagued Alexander since entering the league in 2010, he was able to play significantly more snaps in 2012 compared to his two years with the Rams. Alexander dominated at times and made some big plays, connecting with Rivers quickly. He finished with 37/658/7 (17.8 YPC) on 61 targets (60.7% catch rate) and was tied for 14th among WRs, at 10.8 FPG. Alexander is a free agent heading into 2013 and should draw interest around the league, although teams will be wary of his past knee issues. Alexander was a great story in 2012, but that doesn’t mean he’s past his injury problems, and his knee issues will likely flare up again. TE Antonio Gates was confident in his ability to return from the foot issues that plagued him in 2011. The only game he missed was in Week Two, thanks to a rib injury, but it was clear Gates wasn’t moving the way he used to before the foot issues. Gates didn’t gain separation nearly as much and wasn’t as much of a mismatch as years past, which had always made him such a reliable target for Rivers. Rivers’ struggles didn’t help much either, but it was tough to call Gates a strong fantasy option at any point in 2012. He ended up with 49/538/7 (11 YPC) on 79 targets (62% catch rate) and was 13th among TEs at 6.4 FPG.


·         Fantasy situation to watch for 2013: Can Brown bounce back to give this receiving corps a boost? Will the team look to bring Alexander back? Is it time to prepare for life after Gates?


Key Free Agents: WR Danario Alexander (RFA), LG Tyronne Green, LG Rex Hadnot, RG Louis Vasquez, RT Brandyn Dombrowski, TE Dante Rosario, RB Ronnie Brown, RB Jackie Battle, RB Curtis Brinkley (RFA), NT Aubrayo Franklin, DE Vaughn Martin, LB Shaun Phillips, LB Antwan Barnes, LB Demorrio Williams, CB Quentin Jammer, CB Antoine Cason, PK Nick Novak.



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