Trent Richardson totaled 1,317 yards and scored 12 touchdowns over 15 games as a rookie while playing banged up and for a team that won just five games, and yet, it felt disappointing. That likely had to do with him rushing for fewer than 50 yards in nearly half his games (seven) and ending the season with a poor 3.6 YPC mark, but here’s a compelling argument why that last stat is mostly meaningless. Richardson had a better “success rate” (gaining at least four yards) on 1st and 10 runs than Doug Martin, Ray Rice, Arian Foster, Chris Johnson and Matt Forte, among many others. And let’s not underestimate the injuries T-Rich played through, as after he returned from knee surgery, he suffered a rib injury in Week 6 that was likely more serious than led on. Of course, his season ended early with a Week 15 ankle sprain, and he also missed most of mini camp with a lower leg injury, so at some point, the injury-prone label becomes a concern. Still, the fact remains Richardson missed just one game during his rookie campaign, and all signs point to him being 100 percent right now.
Moreover, Cleveland’s hiring of Norv Turner as the team’s offensive coordinator is terrific news for Richardson’s fantasy value, as Turner is already talking about giving the back 300+ carries. It’s not ideal playing for a team that faces the Steelers, Ravens and Bengals defenses in 37.5 percent of its games (and one that Las Vegas projects to win just six games), but Richardson has the pedigree (he was the third overall pick in 2012, and even while playing injured throughout his rookie season, his 40 broken tackles were the sixth most among running backs) and is one of the increasingly rare backs who projects to be on the field all three downs and at the goal line. The Browns improved their coaching staff across the board during the offseason, while Brandon Weeden has also received some positive reports (he might actually develop into a not terrible QB). Richardson should be a top-10 fantasy pick.
This kick return was impressive, but the following celebration was even better.
Over the final eight games of last season, Dez Bryant had 50 catches for 879 yards and 10 touchdowns. During that stretch, his 109.9 yards-per-game would have ranked second only behind Calvin Johnson over the full season (and Bryant’s 10 scores over those eight games were twice as many as Johnson had in 2012), and Bryant’s 17.6 yards-per-catch would’ve ranked third in the NFL (minimum 70 targets). And after initially being ruled out for the rest of the season, Bryant played the final three games (when he totaled 354 yards and three touchdowns) with a badly injured finger that suffered both a fracture and ligament tears, revealing quite a bit of toughness (after getting banged up some his rookie season, he’s missed just one game since). Over the last two seasons, Jordy Nelson is the only wide receiver who’s caught more TDs than Bryant, who started that stretch as a sophomore. His 14 missed tackles last year tied for fifth-most among receivers, and it’s easy to forget, but Bryant is still just 24 years old.
Most importantly, the knucklehead factor once associated with him seems to be gone, as the light switch has apparently officially turned on for the immensely talented receiver. Bryant was the third most valuable fantasy WR in most scoring formats last season despite a dozen other wideouts seeing more targets, and it’s safe to expect Tony Romo will be looking his way more in 2013. Just to reiterate, a 23-year-old Bryant scored 10 touchdowns over the second half of last season, and only two times in NFL history has a wide receiver recorded 20 touchdowns in a given season (and remember, this play ultimately didn’t count). On a team that struggles to run the ball and in a division that projects to feature a bunch of shootouts, Bryant should be in store for a monster year. He’s closer to No. 1 than he is No. 3 on my fantasy WR board.
With a different spin, the new “Jackass” movie looks intriguing.
Losing Percy Harvin certainly isn’t a good thing, but it sure seems like Russell Wilson has been getting downgraded at a much higher rate than he should be as a result. Wilson is coming off a rookie season in which he produced an 8.7 YPA with a 24:5 TD:INT ratio over his final 13 games (including the playoffs). This isn’t picking an arbitrary end point either, as the Seahawks decided to take the training wheels off their rookie after their Week 11 bye, when Seattle increased its use of the read-option (and gave Wilson a lot more responsibility). Over Wilson’s final eight games (again, including the playoffs, which best reveals how a team truly views its players), Wilson rushed for 424 yards and five touchdowns (while getting 7.4 YPC, which would qualify as the fifth-best YPC in a season in NFL history). And this all happened WITHOUT Harvin. I’m a huge fan of Harvin and talked about how terrific of a talent he is in last week’s column, but he was a luxury for Seattle.
Wilson deserved to be ranked in the 6-8 range among fantasy quarterbacks at the end of last season, so I see no reason why he shouldn’t be now, even if the loss of Harvin is recently in everyone’s mind. Wilson is clearly a budding superstar who had his team ahead on the road against the NFC’s No. 1 seed with 25 seconds left and the Falcons on their own 28-yard line. Seattle should remain among the most run-heavy teams in the NFL, so I can understand drafting Matt Ryan and/or Andrew Luck ahead of him, but it’s just not something I’d personally do. One quick side note: Golden Tate was one of my favorite sleepers for 2013 when last year ended, and now with Harvin’s injury he’s back up there. Tate’s 16 broken tackles last season were the third-most among wide receivers, which is even more impressive considering his 45 receptions were tied for 56th. Sidney Rice can’t stay healthy, he has a budding star at QB throwing to him, and he’s really impressed early on at training camp. I have Tate as a top-30 fantasy WR right now (with the potential to be higher), and it appears he won’t cost nearly that price.
Songs of the Week: Here’s a new single from TV on The Radio: “Mercy.” I just started getting into Macklemore, and man, this song is pretty good. Then again, neither of my first two suggestions have anything on this guy. (H/T Chris Liss)
Headlines of the Week: Dog Eats Paralyzed Man’s Testicle...Girl Weighing 13.47 lbs is Germany’s Largest-Ever Baby – And She Was Born Without C-Section...Family Reels After Married Dad Vanishes For 16 Years, Reappears Gay...To Clean The Air, Dutch Scientists Invent Pavement That Eats Smog...Man Wakes to Discover He Shot Himself in Sleep...Drunk Man Passes Out, Wakes Up Without His Penis.
Vernon Davis is one of the more volatile fantasy picks right now. On one hand, the tight end totaled just six catches (on 12 targets) for 61 yards and no scores over the final six regular season games last year after Colin Kaepernick took over as San Francisco’s starting quarterback. On the other hand, VD racked up 12 catches for 254 yards and a score over the team’s three postseason games (and weirdly, he also had six receptions for 83 yards and a TD during Kaepernick’s first NFL start). Davis remains a physical freak at age 29 who once scored 13 touchdowns in a season (tied for the second most ever by a tight end). In fact, the previous three seasons before last year, Davis averaged 890.3 yards and 8.7 touchdowns. He enters 2013 with one of the league’s brightest quarterbacks throwing to him on a team with a gaping hole at wide receiver with Michael Crabtree out for (most) of the season, so it’s a near certainty he’s going to see a major increase in targets, even if reports of him lining up out wide this summer have been a bit overblown.
Jimmy Graham is the clear cut No. 1 fantasy TE (he’s atop his own tier more so than any other player at any other position this year), and it probably still makes sense to bet on Rob Gronkowski’s upside next, but I could see gambling on Davis as the TE3. It’s hard to bet against Tony Gonzalez at this point, but he’s 37 years old. Jason Witten is the bigger argument, as he just set an NFL-record for most catches in a season by a tight end with 110. But all those receptions and 148 targets resulted in only three touchdowns, which is nothing new for Witten, who’s often struggled in the red zone throughout his career. Witten has played 10 seasons (159 games), and he’s scored 44 touchdowns. Davis has played seven seasons (104 games), and he’s scored 40 touchdowns. Gonzalez and Witten have a higher floor, but Davis has the higher ceiling. I personally have Davis as my No. 3 fantasy tight end, but I’m admittedly biased, since I was at this game.
Police Blotter: Here’s video catching an inmate escaping in a surprisingly easy fashion...Spanish Train Driver Was “on phone and reading” at time of crash that killed 79...Police Sergeants Arrested After Allegedly Robbing Men in Detroit...Couple Breaks Into High School For Sex; Damage Vending Machine due to Beer Munchies...Dad Charged After Tow Truck Driver Towed Car With Kids Inside.
Reggie Bush averaged 1,330 yards and 7.5 touchdowns over his two seasons in Miami, as he suddenly became durable (he missed just one game) despite establishing career-highs in rushing attempts in each campaign. Detroit has been one of the most pass heavy offenses in NFL history the past two years, but Bush reached those yardage totals in Miami averaging a still modest 221.5 carries, and it’s clear he’s going to threaten 80+ receptions with the Lions if he stays healthy. In fact, Joique Bell racked up the sixth most targets among all running backs last season despite not starting a single game, and Bush (who hauled in 88 catches his rookie season) is far more talented, so he’s a legitimate mid-second round pick in PPR leagues. Bush is going to be the unquestioned feature back (Mikel Leshoure faced eight men in the box fewer times than any other RB last year, and his longest run of the season was 16 yards. 16! Bush, meanwhile, ranked fifth in the league in percentage of total rushing yards to come from runs of 15 yards or longer, according to Pro Football Focus) for a Detroit team that averaged the third most yards-per-game last season. It’s often come in unconventional ways, but don’t forget just how valuable guys like Jahvid Best and Kevin Smith have been at times when given the opportunity as lead back for the Lions. Bush enters 2013 as a top-15 fantasy running back (even in non-PPR formats) on my board.
Longread of the week: “$40,000-a-Night Escorts: Secrets of the Cannes Call Girls.”
If you are solely a football guy and don’t like baseball but a fan of my random links, check out my latest MLB column here.
Quick Hits: In case you missed it, here’s a recent picture of Eddy Lacy that’s a bit unflattering. Some are blaming a poor angle and suggesting NFL teams won’t let players out of shape practice. I’ll let you guys form your own opinion, but I I’m leaning toward Occam’s Razor here…I wouldn’t put too much stock into this because Adrian Peterson is a physical freak in a tier of his own, but this chart highlighting the drop in production from running backs following their 2,000-yard rushing seasons is pretty interesting nevertheless...Brandon Marshall was targeted on an insane 40% of the Bears’ passing attempts last season…Incredibly, 9% of Darren McFadden’s rushing yards last season came on one play…Going back to my aforementioned stat about Mikel Leshoure facing the fewest instances of eight men in the box, Frank Gore was the opposite, facing the most in the NFL last season. He averaged 4.7 YPC nevertheless, rushing for the second most yards in a season in his career. Still, “The Inconvenient Truth” has been injury prone throughout his career (although he hasn’t missed a game since 2010), is now 30 years old and fast approaching 2,000 career rushing attempts, so there’s some concern he’ll soon breakdown. Unfortunately for fantasy owners, there isn’t a clear RB2 in San Francisco. If forced to choose, I’d take the less popular opinion and draft Kendall Hunter over LaMichael James right now.