Fantasy Notebook: NFC East; Murray, Wilson, McCoy & More
Now that the Super Bowl is over, the 2013 season has officially begun. ... Okay. I might be jumping the gun just a bit with the "officially" part. But for serious fantasy owners there is no offseason. Indeed, this is the time of the year to begin building the baseline of information necessary to get the ball rolling on a successful season.
No, we won't have a lot of hard and fast information at this point. There will be no shortage of speculation and ample connecting of dots. Things will change as September draws nearer. But understanding what has changed over the course of time, why it's changed and what the change means requires year-round attention and will give you a depth of information others won't enjoy.
So, in the coming weeks I'll be taking a division-by-division run through the NFL, talking to daily observers of each team and asking them fantasy-specific questions about the teams they cover. The fun begins this week with a look at the NFC East. ...
As DallasCowboys.com staff writer Nick Eatman first advised readers in an article published Feb. 7, "However you slice it, look for the running back spot to look vastly different for the Cowboys in 2013.
"And that doesn't even include a change at the top as DeMarco Murray is expected to return as the featured tailback.
"After that, it's anyone's guess. ..."
That said, some of the guesses might be easier than others.
For example: Felix Jones is an unrestricted free agent and as such isn't expected to return to Dallas this season with Eatman noting that after five years, the former first-round draft pick doesn't have a defined role anymore. He doesn't start, hasn't returned kickoffs on a regular basis and isn't the regular third-down back.
ESPN.com's Calvin Watkins was more to the point: "Jones' health and his mediocre play the last two years are just too much to overcome."
Watkins, however, went on to suggest that "maybe, just maybe," Jones can sign a one-year contract and become a dependable backup to Murray.
While I think it's safe to assume that Jones, who is just 26 years old, will be a solid No. 2 for somebody, that somebody isn't likely to the Cowboys.
During a Feb. 9 appearance with the FootballDiehards on SiriusXM Fantasy Sports Radio, Eatman explained why: Murray is an every-down back, capable -- in fact demanding -- of a featured role. Health has been an issue for him also (dating back to college, by the way).
This past year, The Cowboys had the worst running game in team history in terms of yards per game (79.1) and tied for last in attempts (22.2). The biggest reason was the absence of Murray, who missed six games with a sprained foot. His 663 yards were the lowest for a leading rusher in 23 years.
Yes, there were other issues. As the Sports Xchange pointed out last week, the inability of the offensive line to open holes and the team's propensity to fall behind in games, forcing it to abandon the running game were also problems. The Cowboys called the fewest running plays in team history.
Still, Murray's penchant for getting hurt and missing significant time during the season calls for running back to share the load and be counted on to start when Murray is sidelined
Jones is not that guy.
"They missed," Eatman said of Jones. "They completely missed on him."
In his defense, Jones wasn't drafted to be that guy.
"The real miss was Marion Barber," Eatman explained. "They thought he could be the starter and Felix would be the complement."
Barber's run as the primary back was short and the more well-rounded Murray rendered the complementary role envisioned for Jones irrelevant.
"Time is up on him," Eatman said in summing up Jones' chances of remaining with the club. So who handles that No. 2 role going forward?
Phillip Tanner and Lance Dunbar are both under contract and will remain in the mix. But they've carried the ball a combined 68 times since entering the NFL. At this point there's no real reason to believe either man is capable of jumping into the featured role if/when Murray goes down.
And Eatman is convinced that just won't do.
"The Cowboys should be done with complementary backs," Eatman said. "They need to look for a guy who can replace Murray in the featured role if Murray is hurt."
Given their needs at other positions, the Cowboys need to look elsewhere with their draft picks this year. That being the case, the list of free-agent running backs most capable of handling the primary role if Murray were to go down includes Shonn Greene and Rashard Mendenhall. ... Or. ... How about Ahmad Bradshaw?
Assuming the former Giant, who has played his NFL career on a pair of troublesome feet and started his offseason with another surgery, recovers fully in advance of training camp, why not? NFL.com's Gregg Rosenthal recently noted that coming off another surgery, it's not like Bradshaw will command top dollar.
He's only 26. He has produced on the field. And should the opportunity arise, do you think he'd be sufficiently motivated working for a divisional rival of his former club?
Yeah. Me too. ...
Which brings us to the Giants. ... Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPNNewYork.com also joined us and while he believes Bradshaw's release makes David Wilson the man fantasy owners want to have on their rosters this season, he acknowledged that Wilson's shortcomings as a pass blocker remain a concern.
So does the presence of Andre Brown, who proved to be a very effective power back before he was injured last season.
The bottom line from a fantasy perspective?
"Wilson is the guy you want to have" Youngmisuk told us. "But it might not be wise to overpay."
I think, however, many will do just that. If that turns out to be the case, Brown has the look of a killer value play.
Remember: Brown had 73 rushing attempts, 385 yards (5.3-yard average) and a team-high eight rushing touchdowns. Wilson had 71 rushing attempts, 358 yards (5.0-yard average) and four TDs. And while Wilson is the starter in waiting, New York Post beat man Paul Schwartz reminded readers this week that Brown was ahead of Wilson on the depth chart before he broke his left fibula Nov. 25 in a rout of the Packers.
As for the team's receiving corps, you can add Youngmisuk to the list of those who believe Rueben Randle is on track to move into the No. 3 spot this season.
As Giants.com staff writer Michael Eisen recently noted, Randle finish his rookie year well, including a four-catch, two-touchdown performance in the season-ending victory over Philadelphia. He caught 19 passes in 16 games -- 10 of them in 2 games (6 against Cleveland and 4 against Philadelphia).
Assuming the second-year man stays healthy, Eisen advised his readers it would be a surprise if Randle didn't at least double his number of receptions next season. ...
Speaking of talented young wideouts, John Keim of the Washington Examiner joined us during that Feb. 9 broadcast and offered some insight into why Leonard Hankerson, who certainly appears to have the physical attributes and raw talent to be a more productive player, hasn't been able to contribute on a more consistent basis.
First and foremost, Keim pionted out that after the NFL lockout wiped out OTAs his rookie year and rehab from the hip injury he suffered during that first season kept him sidelined during the offseason program a year ago, the 2012 season was essentially "year 1A" for Hankerson.
So Hankerson should pick up the pace this year, right?
Not necessarily. Keim isn't sure the former University of Miami star will ever be consistent enough to be a solid No. 2 receiver.
According to Keim, while Hankerson fares well enough against zone defenses, he struggles noticeably in press coverage. Hands and concentration are also issues. Speed isn't. Coaches say he's good coming off the line -- but he doesn't get separation.
In fact, Keim told us that Pierre Garcon and Hankerson have similar speed.
So what's the difference?
"Garcon plays hungry," Keim said. ...
And now that Keim put it out there like that, it kind of shows doesn't it?
Yes, McCoy is coming off a disappointing 2012 season in which he missed four games after suffering a concussion. He wound up with 840 yards on 200 carries. More troublesome for fantasy owners, McCoy got in the end zone just twice after scoring 17 rushing touchdowns in 2011.
He added 54 catches for 373 yards and three scores as a receiver.
Brown had games of 178 and 169 rushing yards when McCoy was hurt but lost three fumbles in those two games and offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur told reporters this week that both will get ample opportunity handle the ball. "I think it's important that you use more than one running back," Shurmur said. "It's a long season, and a guy can run out of gas quickly."
Nonetheless, McPherson told us to look for a "huge rebound" by McCoy.
It makes sense. PhillyMag.com's Sheil Kapadia noted this week that while much of the conversation in Philadelphia has focused on the quarterback position, new head coach Chip Kelly's college offense focused on running the football.
Last year, Kapadia reminded readers, Oregon led the nation, averaging 5.97 yards per attempt. The Ducks ran for 48 touchdowns, tied for tops in the country. Only two teams -- Army and Air Force -- averaged more rushing yards per game than Kelly's (315.2).
Based on last season's finish, McCoy's status as a top-three draft pick will certainly take a major hit. That doesn't mean his production will take a similar knock. Go ahead and put him on your list of likely value picks this summer.