Last year nine teams had three or more fantasy starters in the top 60 and it is likely that it’ll continue to be that way in 2014. This series: Dressed for Success, will look at NFL teams going into 2014 that have assembled the right players to be a treasure trove of fantasy studs.
Last year’s Washington football team was a far cry from its 2012 version. Washington was tied for the second most generous team on defense compared to 2012 when the team was only 22nd. Similarly, Washington’s offense also fell off from being one of the league’s best in 2012, finishing fifth in scoring, to one of the league’s worse at 23rd in 2013. Part of the overall team stagnation was the increase in turnovers, from 14 in 2012 (8 interceptions versus 6 fumbles), to 34 turnovers in 2013 (19 interceptions, 15 fumbles) and the whole starting of Kirk Cousins with three games left. (Kirk Cousins threw 7 interceptions in 5 games).
A summary of the 2013 season in a gif
But the bright side of the story for Washington is that even with an absolutely abysmal season, the team still bottomed out as only the 9th worst scoring offense. Beating out a quarter of the league on a year where your head coach is mind warping everyone in the organization is a pretty good indicator of talent in my book. The fantasy relevant players of Washington were able to find individual success, with Pierre Garcon finishing at 13th, Alfred Morris finishing at 14th and RG3 finishing at 19th while missing the final three games. If RG3 had started those last three games of the fantasy season (which were against the generous Falcons, Cowboys, and Giants) and maintained his average, he would have broken into the top 15 at the QB position, which still isn’t phenomenal, but after the terrible season Washington had in 2013, 15 isn’t all that bad. Jordan Reed, playing 9 games as a rookie, finished 22nd in scoring amongst TEs, but averaged 7.7 a game, good for 11th on average.
RG3 in 2013 was clearly skittish and his explosive running was limited, culminating in one of the worst cases of a sophomore slump. But his stats were all a mirage because he was encumbered with the knee brace for the whole season. Despite being in a knee brace and only playing 13 games, RG3’s 484 rushing yards were only 37 yards less than a fully healthy Colin Kaepernick who played all 16 games and only 103 yards less than a fully healthy Cam Newton who played all 16 games. When healthy and without a knee brace, RG3 can lead the QB pack in rushing yards as he did in 2012. By his own declaration, that knee brace is gone. But the progression he can be expected to make in the passing game is going to make him much more valuable.
In RG3’s 2012 season, he threw 394 passing attempts and saw his attempts increase to 457 in 2013. That was an increase of about 11 more attempts a game, from 24 to 35. Andy Dalton, Gruden’s former QB, threw about 36 passes a game for 586 on the season, 1 more than RG3’s average in 2013. In fact, Dalton has always averaged at least 30 passing attempts a game since his rookie season.
I expect RG3 to be more acclimated to being a passer first after a season of being called on to throw more passes. While that might keep him from gaining valuable rushing yards, it’ll keep RG3 fresh throughout the season and hopefully lead to better passing totals.
Finally, another aspect of improvement in RG3’s passing game is his receivers. The three leading WRs last year for Washington were Pierre Garcon, Santana Moss, and Leonard Hankerson. Garcon’s total yardage at 1346 was nearly equivalent to the combined yardage of Moss, Hankerson, Aldrick Robinson, and Josh Morgan, which was 1406. 2013’s WR group was not exciting for RG3. But going into 2014, the signing of DeSean Jackson and Andre Roberts really makes the WR group more dynamic. While it may be hard to predict which WR will really do well, it’ll be certain that RG3’s passing numbers will make a giant leap upwards. With his running ability and a revamped offense around him, I’m confident that RG3 finishes the season in the top 5 in fantasy at the QB position.
What will happen when you pair the league’s 13th and 10th best receivers Pierre Garcon and Desean Jackson on the same team?
The first question is can an offense score enough to make both players fantasy relevant. In some unscientific addition consider the following: Chicago’s trio of Brandon Marshall (6th in scoring), Alshon Jeffery (9th in scoring) and Earl Bennet managed to score 444 point; Cincinnati under Jay Gruden in 2013, AJ Green (4th in scoring), Marvin Jones (21st in scoring) and Mohammed Sanu scored 405 points. The combined scoring of Garcon, Jackson, and odd-man out Andre Roberts in 2013 was 413 points. Individually, all the receivers could put up fantasy stats and it’s hard to believe in Gruden’s passing offense the receivers won’t be able to take advantage of the opportunity.
Considering that none of the running backs in Washington are well recognized pass catchers, there’s a strong chance that all the passes intended for running backs will be slotted over to WRs, further increasing the number of targets Garcon and Jackson will be getting.
I expect to see Garcon and Jackson both finishing in the top 15 at WR in 2014. RG3 and Jackson both thrive off the play action deep ball and the Redskins have a convincing running game. Jackson was second in the NFL with 25 catches of 20+ yards in 2013. You could discount 2013 as a fluke or big a part of Chip Kelly’s new offense, but I would attribute Jackson’s poor stats in previous years to Andy Reid’s conservative play calling.
Garcon likely won’t lead the league in targets again with the addition of Jackson. But Garcon should be able to increase his yards after catch, which he was already second in the league at for the WR position, with the decreased coverage he’ll be getting.
The sky’s the limit for both players, with ever the slightest edge going to Jackson because he gets to play his ex-teammates, the Eagles, at Fedex field for the fantasy playoff championships. You might as well collect your league prize early if you make it to the championships with Jackson. If you value consistency, Garcon is your man. If you want a fantasy explosion, win you two or three weeks a season guy, Jackson is your man.
One thing is certain, Garcon and Jackson will lead the league in excessive celebration penalties
Rookie Lache Seastrunk is unfortunately stranded as a hapless poor pass catcher on Jay Gruden’s passing team. Alfred Morris is just as much stuck in a poor situation, managing nine catches in 2013. Nine was such an abysmally low number of catches amongst fantasy backs that the next lowest number of catches amongst the top 20 backs was 16 and the average was 45. If Cincinnati’s 2013 stats are any indicator of how things will go under Jay Gruden, don’t expect much catching for Morris. BenJarvus Green-Ellis caught four passes on the season compared to Giovani Bernard’s 56.
Does this mean that we should all start drafting Roy Helu and abandon Morris’ 1991 Mazda 626? Fantasy owners would be remiss in leaving Morris off their draft board. While Morris may only catch a few passes a season, most of his undeniable value has been running the ball and with no worthwhile pass catcher to significantly take away snaps from him, I expect him to maintain a place in the top 15. No one should ever mistake Roy Helu for Giovani Bernard. While Morris will play against some of the best running defenses in NFC West, the rest of his match ups include porous running defenses in the AFC South and NFC East. Additionally, he hasn’t missed any game time in the past two seasons, so health hasn’t been an issue. Alfred Morris deserves to be a second round pick, but don’t put too much into the stories of Morris learning to catch more, because that stories been told before.
If he does become the cover of NFL Madden 15, I would cross him off the board immediately because the Madden curse is real! Although he certainly makes a compelling point.
The final player to talk about here is Jordan Reed. I like the potential here for Reed because of the lack of a quality pass catching RB in the Washington offense. While Jordan Reed’s combine performance doesn’t jump off the page, he gets enough separation in the middle of the field and can make a leaping catch. He can certainly be similar to former nfl player Aaron Hernandez in being an athletic TE. Let’s hope the similarities stop there; never mind that they are both from Connecticut and both played college football at Florida.
Despite having all these weapons on offense from the WRs to the RBs, I still wouldn’t be afraid to draft Reed. Similarly placed TEs such as Julius Thomas and Martellus Bennett both broke into the top 10 at the TE position in scoring. Not to mention the TE depth chart doesn’t leave a lot of competition behind Reed.
Given the depth at TE, anyone looking to draft Reed can easily wait until the 6th round or later to pick him up. As of right now I would only rank Vernon Davis, Jimmy Graham, Rob Gronkowski, and Julius Thomas in separate tiers over Reed. He has TE1 upside and has a pretty good chance on being a draft day steal.
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