2013 Offseason All-Hype Team
The opening of NFL training camp means we can put another offseason to bed, much to the delight of fantasy freaks everywhere. However, while it is often said that now is when the real news begins to trickle in, that does a disservice to those who were faithfully keeping the torch burning with their diligent analysis and mock drafting.
By the time casual fans re-emerge, the degenerates that were fake drafting fake football teams in February will have set baseline average draft positions (ADP) that will heavily influence when players are selected this summer. Perception is reality, and the ADP gyrations that took place this spring will shape the fantasy teams of the fall. So pat yourself on the back if you mocked yourself silly this offseason, as we celebrate the 2013 All-Hype Team – and try to figure out if they landed in the right place.
For this exercise, we will use ADP figures from fantasyfootballcalculator.com, in large part because they record mock draft results from different points of the offseason. The focus will be on redraft leagues with standard scoring. MyFantasyLeague.com post-July 1 ADP data was also consulted to filter out any major data divergences, and fortunately all differences were minor. We have also included some of our favorite offseason pieces on each player.
Quarterback – Jay Cutler (ADP Feb. 1 = 13.05; July 25 = 10.08)
Smokin’ Jay has jumped more than two and a half rounds this offseason, and much of those gains have been with new head coach Marc Trestman’s offense in mind. It is a mortal lock that Trestman will have Cutler throw more often than 434 times – which was nearly 50 fewer than Christian Ponder attempted while the Vikings tried their best to pretend they didn’t know him. The Bears’ impending free agent passer has become a favorite of late-round quarterback aficionados and advocates of signal caller streaming.
In what has become a theme in recent seasons, Cutler was sacked 37 times in 2012, the fifth most in the league. He was under pressure on 37.7 percent of his 496 dropbacks, which placed him sixth on that embattled list. Cutler essentially had only one high-quality receiver to throw to, which he did quite often – making Brandon Marshall the second-most-targeted wideout. Conditions should improve in 2013, not only because of Trestman’s arrival, but because Cutler will be surrounded by more pass-catching and blocking talent. Considering Chicago’s apparently mild schedule, his current place as the 17th quarterback chosen is not unreasonable – despite the rapid ascent up draft boards. Verdict: Right Amount of Hype
Backup Quarterback – Sam Bradford (ADP Feb. 1 = 14.05; July 25 = 13.06)
Bradford could be the most polarizing player of the offseason, and it is not hard to find arguments both for and against his chances of fantasy fortune in 2013. One would expect his ADP to be higher based on the buzz that has surrounded him and the fact that most expect the Rams offense to improve due to talent upgrades. The tricky part is determining which skill position players will garner most of the playing time. One school of thought is the best way to parlay this uncertainty into fantasy profitability is to draft Bradford, the guy who will handle the ball on every snap. That makes some sense, as does his ADP – given that he likely will be no more than a QB2 and streaming candidate. Verdict: Right Amount of Hype
Running Back – Lamar Miller (ADP Feb. 1 = 11.03; July 25 = 3.04)
There is a palpable buzz surrounding Miami’s undeniably talented runner. Miller has rocketed up draft boards and possesses the explosiveness to be a scoring threat from anywhere on the field. With his rookie season in the rearview mirror, and plenty of complementary offensive talent having been imported, big things are expected out of the former fourth-round pick.
The problem with Miller getting so much attention (which is the same issue Steven Jackson has) is that there is not much value to be had at his elevated ADP level. Miami was a poor run-blocking team in 2012, garnering a collective -5.2 grade from PFF (23rd in the league). Projected starters Jonathan Martin and John Jerry were truly awful in that department while earning -6.0 and -8.8 grades, respectively. Former Falcon Tyson Clabo, historically a strong run blocker, will help in this area – though newly signed tight end Dustin Keller certainly will not. Miller’s pass protection is still a question mark despite encouraging reports, and it is not definite that he will be the true bell cow back owners pay for based on his ADP. Verdict: Over-Hyped
Running Back – Shane Vereen (ADP Feb. 1 = 10.11; July 25 = 6.07)
A virtual forest has been razed by fantasy pundits in the name of touting this versatile back. Of course, unforeseen circumstances that directly impact his place in the Patriots’ offense have been goosing Vereen’s value all offseason. The bottom line is that the Patriots must find mouths to feed the 641 passing and 523 rushing attempts that comprised their league-leading play total in 2012. The plan was to get him more heavily involved way back at the outset of the offseason, and since then it has become clear that the Patriots have no other choice. Incredibly, he is still being chosen behind rushers that he will out-produce in 2013. Verdict: Under-Hyped
Wide Receiver – Tavon Austin (ADP April 29 = 8.10; July 25 = 6.10)
The most buzz-worthy receiver in the NFL draft has seamlessly transformed into the most-hyped rookie in fantasy drafts. Comparisons to Percy Harvin are apt, and Austin will get the ball in a multitude of ways this season. Out of the quagmire of Rams skill position candidates, he is the surest thing for fantasy owners.
However, in standard scoring redraft leagues, Austin represents a risky sixth-round pick. While we assume that he will be on the field more often than his peers in St. Louis, this is not necessarily the case relative to his peers around the league. It is the rare rookie wideout who makes an immediate impact, and if Austin takes time to get up to speed in the pro game, those that compete in head-to-head leagues will have spent lavishly on an under-performing asset that they feel obligated to have in their lineup for an important chunk of their fantasy season. Austin also has a bye in Week 11, followed by tough matchups with the Bears, 49ers, and Cardinals. Verdict: Over-Hyped
Wide Receiver – Larry Fitzgerald (ADP Feb. 1 = 4.12; July 25 = 3.05)
No matter when you looked, from March through July, and at every point in between, there has been no shortage of opinions on the once, and perhaps future, stud fantasy wideout. The reasons that we can expect an improvement on last season’s horrific returns abound – including a quarterback upgrade (although Kolb got a raw deal), improved blocking (cannot be any worse), better surrounding talent (Michael Floyd and Rob Housler will develop), and a new offensive scheme (discarding the “Chuck Ducks, and Duck”).
The only question remains whether Fitzgerald has been hyped beyond what his production will warrant. It is pretty much a foregone conclusion that he will not be a tremendous value at his current ADP. But considering he has enough of a supporting cast to at least give him a puncher’s chance – something that he proved in 2011 is all he really needs – he will once again take his rightful place among the best pass catchers in the NFL and fantasy. After all, if not for his undeniable talent, what would all the buzz be about anyway? Verdict: Right Amount of Hype
Reserve/Suspended List – Josh Gordon (ADP Feb. 1 = 10.08; June 5 = 7.03; July 25 = 8.12)
After a heady spring in which he became one of fantasy’s darlings, Gordon has seen his ADP slide toward ninth-round territory since news of his two-game suspension surfaced. Considering he will be on the shelf for nearly 20 percent of the fantasy regular season, and some of the pass-catching options available in his ADP range, he needs to slip further. Verdict: Over-Hyped
Tight End – Jared Cook (ADP Feb. 1 = 12.04; July 25 = 9.06)
The Rams did not guarantee Jared Cook $19 million to have him on the field for roughly half of their offensive snaps like the Titans did in 2012 (56.9%). Cook placed fourth last year in our fantasy points per snap (PPSnap) metric, behind only Jimmy Graham, Rob Gronkowski, and Dennis Pitta. However, he has been a sporadic participant in a steadily sinking offense for several seasons, making it tough to form definitive judgments. Knowing that NFL Films guru Greg Cosell once compared his explosiveness to that of Shannon Sharpe helps to alleviate worries about his receiving upside. Playing more snaps and catching passes from the best quarterback of his career should be enough for the ultra-athletic tight end to finally make good on past predictions of dominance, as well as his considerable offseason buzz. Verdict: Right Amount of Hype
Tight End – Dennis Pitta (ADP Feb. 1 = 12.10; July 25 = 7.06)
Offseason hype has pushed Dennis Pitta’s ADP to the cusp of fantasy’s top tight ends (non-Grahamkowski division). The buzz has been deserved, as his elevated spot in the pecking order of the Ravens’ offense is undeniable. More available targets mean more opportunities for a player who made the most of them down the stretch and during the 2012 playoffs. Pitta ranked ahead of Graham himself for first in points per opportunity (PPO) over the second half of the season, among tight ends who saw half of their teams’ snaps. Graham had 96.2 points to Pitta’s 69.3 in nine games for each, but his 81 targets were 38 more than Baltimore’s now high-priority passing game option. So Pitta matched 72 percent of Graham’s point production on only 47 percent of his targets. Verdict: Under-Hyped (Editor’s note: Pitta suffered a dislocated and fractured hip on July 27, and he is expected to miss the entire 2013 season.)
Pat Thorman is a Lead Writer for PFF Fantasy. You can follow him on Twitter at @Pat_Thorman