As we approach the NFL draft, there are still some players that have yet to be signed to a team. There are some players that are still looking for long-term contracts, but the biggest news comes from those that had off-season surgeries. Voluntary minicamps have started taking place, and that’s where the news is coming from. (See, I told you it was a slow time of year for the NFL). For now, we are just looking at how players adjust to their new teams, how veterans are coming back from injuries and how rookies might fare during their sophomore season.
Trent Richardson, RB, CLE
During his rookie season, when he played through cracked ribs, Richardson racked up 950 rushing yards, 11 touchdowns, 51 receptions, 367 receiving yards and a receiving touchdown. The arrow is pointing up for his sophomore season. He will be the workhorse back in Cleveland, in an offense that is showing more signs of life than it had last year. With the offseason to let his ribs heal, Richardson should return to training camp healthy. He proved that he had no issues with toughness either, as he admitted to having trouble sleeping because of the ribs, yet he showed up on the field and played hard. Richardson is looking like a RB1 for this year’s draft. He should be durable enough to get you through the season.
Peyton Manning, QB, DEN
As the Denver receiving corps improves, so does Manning’s Fantasy outlook. He’s 37 years old and coming off multiple neck surgeries, however, he now believes his arm strength is greater this year than last year. Manning was a risk to be drafted in 2012, but Fantasy owners were very happy with his numbers – 4,355 yards, 34 touchdowns, 11 interceptions. Since 1999, Manning has had over 4,000 every year he’s played except for one. He’s also thrown over 25 touchdown passes every year. With Wes Welker as a target now as well, Manning’s Fantasy arrow is still pointing up. He has said he wants to use the no-huddle offense more and speed up the offense. Welker, in addition to Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas, should be fine with that as well. All three receivers should be looking forward to working with Manning (either again or for the first time) and the lack of double- and triple-coverage that they will see. With so many offensive threats, the passing offense has the makings to be one of the league’s best in 2013.
Aaron Hernandez, TE, NE
While it has been Rob Gronkowski that has been stealing the headlines for the Patriots tight ends, it was revealed that Hernandez had shoulder surgery in the offseason and may miss some of the minicamps before training camp. He should be fine for training camp, but any offseason surgery can be a concern. Hernandez has said that he wants to focus on staying healthy, as he has missed 10 games over the past two seasons. Hernandez is poised to have a great season, and assuming that he does resume practicing for training camp, he should still be drafted as a top TE. Gronkowski, on the other hand, may end up missing not only training camp, but also Week 1. It is too early to say, but Hernandez may be a better draft pick than Gronk. With both Patriots tight ends having injury concerns, Jake Ballard may be a sneaky Fantasy option if both Gronk and Hernandez end up missing time. While he didn’t play in the 2012 season, he should be fully recovered from the torn ACL that he suffered in the Super Bowl in February 2012.
Andre Brown, RB, NYG
Along with David Wilson, Brown will be someone to target from the Giants running back corps this season. Brown looks to be the goal-line back, in a Brandon Jacobs-esque role. While Brown has made optimistic goals for himself (scoring 22 touchdowns) that he likely won’t hit, he should still be on the Fantasy radar. He scored eight touchdowns in 10 games last year before suffering a broken leg. He’s appears to be completely healed and is ready to play. Wilson will take on the Ahmad Bradshaw role, with the benefit of having kickoff return yards for leagues that reward return yardage. In 2012, Wilson had 358 yards and four touchdowns. He added four receptions for 34 yards and a receiving touchdown as well. With Bradshaw gone, the ceiling is high for both backs. PPR leagues should target Brown as a RB2 followed by Wilson. Non-PPR should have the backs reversed in order.
Emmanuel Sanders, WR, PIT
The Pittsburgh Steelers were able to match the offer that the New England Patriots had on the table for Sanders, allowing him to remain a Steeler for at least another year. With Mike Wallace gone, there is a possibility for Sanders to have more Fantasy value that he did last year. In 2012, he had 44 receptions for 626 yards and a touchdown. He and Antonio Brown are currently the top two receivers on the team, and that will likely stay that way. At 26 years old, he will likely be drafted as a WR3 for Fantasy leagues. The running game in Pittsburgh is left in the hands of Jonathan Dwyer and Isaac Redman unless the Steelers draft a RB, so there will need to be a better passing game. Sanders, almost by default, is going to end up playing a decent role in the Steelers offense. Draft him accordingly.
Maurice Jones-Drew, RB, JAX
Fantasy owners likely don’t have to worry about MJD holding out again this year. That experiment failed terribly and ended up backfiring for Jones-Drew last year. He ended up playing in six games before suffering a foot injury that required Lisfranc surgery. He reportedly is hoping to be back to full practicing for minicamps in June and should be healed for the regular season. His Fantasy value has taken a hit, however. Sure, if you look at his 2011 season numbers (1,606 yards, eight touchdowns), he’s an RB1. But if you ask those that drafted him as their RB1 in 2012, they will tell you that was a gamble not worth taking. He’s in an offense that has struggled and will continue to struggle. MJD is a low RB2 at this point, with potential to exceed those expectations.