Archive for August, 2013

When Alex Smith was traded to the Kansas City Chiefs for a 2013 2nd round pick and a conditional pick in 2014 there were plenty of fans who said the price was too high for Smith, who could have presumably ended up a cap casualty for the 49ers, but with the regular season ready to get underway the Chiefs seem to have gotten a steal. The Chiefs went from the worst record in the NFL in 2012 to a trendy dark horse playoff pick that could challenge the Broncos (especially following the loss of Elvis Dumervil and suspension of Von Miller) for the AFC West title. The interesting thing is that Smith could have had a similar effect on several of the other teams he who were rumored to be interested in the former number 1 overall draft pick.

We’ll start with the Vikings who find themselves in the usual position of being an afterthought in the NFC North, even after earning a playoff berth in 2012. I understand, Percy Harvin is gone, and Adrian Peterson had one of the best season’s for a running back in the history of the game (a feat made only more impressive by his recent return from an ACL injury and the prevalence of pass heavy offenses in the modern NFL.) But just think if Alex Smith were under center this season instead of Christian Ponder. Immediately people are talking about how great it is that Ponder will finally have a mentor and the Vikes jump immediately into the conversation as a team that can really challenge the Packers in the North. The defense probably starts to earn more credit and the Kyle Rudolph hype train would go out of control. The Vikings have a better offensive line than the Bears, a better running back and with Smith they would have at least a more consistent QB. Not to mention we get to have Alex Smith vs. Aaron Rodgers twice a year in a battle of the ’05 draft’s top QBs.

Next we’ll move over to New York and the Jets. Okay, so this one isn’t really fair. The Jets are a mess and didn’t have the money to pay two QB $8 million in the same year, but it certainly would have settled the controversy and maybe, just maybe allowed Rex Ryan to keep from losing his cool in front of the media. Unfortunately for the Jets, Smith probably doesn’t make them playoff contenders. There is some talent on the offensive side of the ball, Chris Ivory holds a lot of potential, but Stephen Hill entering his second year suddenly becomes a much more intriguing player, and Smith probably also gets the best out of Jeremy Kerley in the slot. The AFC East seems pretty wide open this year so maybe with Miami losing Keller for the year and the Bills breaking in a rookie QB you could say the Jets would finish in 2nd in the division without people laughing at you.

The Jaguars find themselves in a similar situation. You have a lot of talent with an improved offensive line a healthy MJD, the emergence of Cecil Shorts and 12 games of Justin Blackmon with Ace Sanders and Denard Robinson as speedy x-factors, so having a guy in Alex Smith who could consistently get the ball in the hands of your playmakers makes anything seem possible, but honestly it wouldn’t even come close to putting them ahead of the Texans and Colts. Still, I have to think the fans of the Jaguars would feel a lot better about the season with Smith under center than Blaine Gabbert or Chad Henne.

The Cleveland Browns actually seem to have made out the best without Smith. Brandon Weeden has looked good running Norv Turner’s offense and there’s some cautious optimism surrounding the team. Considering the Browns still play in the same division as the Ravens, Bengals and Steelers that’s about all they could have hoped for from getting Smith under center as well.

I guess you can also call the Cardinals ‘winners’ in the succeeding without Alex Smith game. Carson Palmer fits Bruce Arians attack better, so had the Cardinals ended up with Smith there would have been constant questions surrounding his arm strength, and while Smith is clearly the better QB, the offensive line and running game are much bigger issues for Arizona in 2013.

I don’t know if he was even rumored to be connected to either of these teams, but I also think Smith could have had a big impact on the perception of the Buffalo Bills and Tennessee Titans. Of course if Buffalo surrendered it’s second round pick they would have missed out on Robert Woods, who I believe could be in for a big year. But for arguments sake, let’s say they gave up a 2014 first rounder instead so they can keep their whole draft class. Again you get Smith in a mentor role to a QB in EJ Manuel many thought would need time to develop. You also give Smith the two things he works best with, a good running game, and a West Coast offense. With Smith at the helm it;s likely the Bills and not the Dolphins who are being talked about as the biggest threat to the Patriots in the AFC East. The Titans I’m sure never really considered it, but they have a lot of talent at WR, a good looking run game and one of Alex’s favorite targets in TE Delanie Walker.

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In a bit of a head scratching move the 49ers have traded wide receiver AJ Jenkins for Chiefs wide receiver Jon Baldwin. Jenkins has struggled to gain a foothold in a surprisingly crowded group of receivers in San Francisco. Baldwin on the other hand seemed set to start opposite Dwayne Bowe in the Chiefs line-up, but the 3rd year receiver has struggled with drops and clearly failed to impress new coach Andy Reid.

While at first glance this deal seems to favor the 49ers (who also looked like early winners in the Alex Smith trade with these same Chiefs) I think it’s a matter of addressing a need for both teams. I have a draft saved of a post that called out the 49ers on having too many receivers that seemed to fit the same role. Perhaps I’m painting with too broad a brush but Jenkins, Manningham, and even Kyle Williams all struck me as slight variations of the same guy: good speed, good hands, some positional versatility, but lacking elite size and not true #1 talents. Jenkins was the least developed and with Williams recovered and Manningham progressing on schedule Jenkins was a spare part. Not to mention I think the coaching staff has been impressed with Chad Hall, who can also contribute on special teams.

Here’s a breakdown of each guys measurables from their NFL combine performances:

Jenkins
Height: 6’0
Weight: 192lbs
40 yard dash: 4.39 sec.
Vertical: 38.5 in.
Hand size: 9 1/2in.
Pick: 30th Overall (2012)

Baldwin
Height: 6’4
Weight: 230lbs
40 yard: 4.50 sec.
Vertical: 42 in.
Hands: 10 1/8
Pick: 26th overall (20110

By adding Baldwin the 49ers get a guy who can be a huge red zone threat given his height and leaping ability. He’s not a fluid route runner, but the 49ers have plenty of those and likely envision Baldwin as more of a deep threat (something else they have been in dire need of) anyway. The 49ers also have Anquan Boldin to act as a mentor to the young receiver and hopefully help him harness some of that raw ability. San Francisco also has the ability to bring Baldwin along slowly this year if need be, something the Chiefs never really were able to do. Ultimately what it comes down to is Baldwin no longer fit the Chiefs offense, and the drops made him a liability in Andy Reid’s high efficiency West Coast attack. It just so happened however that he was exactly the type of receiver the 49ers have been looking for, a big target for Kaepernick to target deep and in the endzone.

And while you might not know it from gut reaction of some fans, this trade should work out equally well for the Chiefs. Jenkins is smaller, but a more fluid route runner. He struggled to break through in San Francisco, but I can’t help but think that was largely due to his aforementioned lack of ability to contribute on special teams and the overload of receivers with similar skill sets and more experience. It’s also worth mentioning that Chiefs QB Alex Smith, spent last season with Jenkins and likely became more familiar with the young receiver after losing the starting QB job to Colin Kaepernick midway through last season. It’s hard to imagine that the Chiefs didn’t at least run the trade by Smith given his prior knowledge of the second year wide receiver. It seems possible that Smith and Jenkins clicked in practice and Jenkins just failed to catch on the same way with any of the other QBs.

Bottom Line: This trade was all about acquiring players who better fit each teams scheme, and honestly could pay huge dividends on both sides, or end with both players out of work by this time next year, only time will tell.

Fantasy Impact: Minimal. Jenkins gains sleeper status if he can prove he’s got chemistry with Alex Smith, but unless he’s a starter it’s hard to expect much and even then WR is deep this year. Baldwin faces about the same deal. His value drops as he was mostly assumed to be a starter in KC, but likely won’t be higher than #4 in SF unless he really impresses them in the next few weeks. If Baldwin does, somehow find himself starting in San Francisco his size and speed make him very appealing, but until then his ceiling is having a few big games where he catches a deep touchdown.

Don’t look now, but 3rd year QB Blaine Gabbert put in a surprising performance against what should have been a pretty decent Jets secondary. Full disclosure, I didn’t actually watch the game, but the stat line speaks for itself: 13/16 for 165 yards and a TD. Obviously, it’s only week 2 of the preseason and the Jets aren’t expected to have an elite unit, but what makes this an especially noteworthy performance is that Gabbert succeeded as the starter, while his competition faltered. Chad Henne completed only 4 of 10 passes for 30 yards and an INT.

After a pretty miserable first week of the preseason where Gabbert was 5 of 10 for 19 yards and a pick in his start against the Dolphins many were ready to write off the young QBs 3rd season with the Jaguars as a waste and awaited the appointment of Chad Henne (who was 8 of 11 for 87 yards in the game against Miami) as the new starting QB. The Jaguars instead stuck by Gabbert and were rewarded with a performance that finally seemed fitting of a top 10 pick. I’ll say again that it was the preseason against a Jets team that does not figure to be great, and as such I’m not saying Gabbert is all of a sudden an elite QB, but he showed a glimmer of hope and should have secured the starting job for another week and with week 3 of the preseason typically featuring more playing time for starters it gives Gabbert another chance to prove himself as the clear cut starter at QB and erase any questions of a competition headed into the season…That may not seem like a huge accomplishment for a former 1st round pick, but given Gabbert’s rocky first two seasons in Jacksonville, it’s a good place to start.

I’m hoping to do a more complete list at some point as their are a lot of guys I think might be flying under the radar this season, especially at WR and TE, but since I’m already behind here are a few of my favorites:

Quarterback

Alex Smith, Chiefs:

Maybe I’m just the last guy to give up on Alex Smith’s fantasy value, but I think he has a chance to be a consistent fantasy QB this year, and as deep as QB is this year things get dicey after the elite guys, and the biggest question, especially once you pass the top 10 guys is consistency. Smith’s upside is he’s accurate, he’s mobile and he has everything to prove. He also left behind a very run friendly San Francisco offense and now leads Andy Reid’s pass happy attack. He also may have the most complete complement of weapons either coach or player has ever had: Bowe can be a true #1, Baldwin should be primed to produce and Avery, looks to prove he can be a consistent target. Add Jamaal Charles and Dexter McCluster as guys who can really move with the ball in space, and TE Tony Moeaki and Anthony Fasano as red zone targets and what you get is a QB with a high floor and plenty of upside.

Sam Bradford, Rams:

Bradford is a perennial sleeper candidate ever since he teased fantasy owners with a promising rookie campaign, only to fall short of anyone claiming to be sure of his fantasy relevance, but this year might actually be different. Bradford found a connection with last years 4th round pick Chris Givens and while it’s still only preseason Tavon Austin is rumored to be living up to the hype that made him the #8 overall pick in the 2013 draft which means Bradford should have the most complete group of receivers in his Rams tenure. It’s also worth mentioning that Jared Cook adds a big bodied presence in the middle of the field and that Jake Long also figure to be the best blindside protector Bradford’s ever had. This will be Bradford’s first year without Steven Jackson, and with the run game up in the air and the current leader for the starting job (Daryl Richardson) being a talented pass catcher Bradford will be throwing often.

(Editor’s Note: My first draft featured Miami Dolphin’s 2nd year QB Ryan Tannehill rather than Sam Bradford, but I credited a good deal of Tannehill’s sleeper value to TE Dustin Keller who will now miss the entire season after tearing multiple ligaments in his knee.)

 

Running Back

Giovanni Bernard, Bengals:

Been high on Bernard since the pre-draft process, and I like the fit with the Bengals. He’s going to be splitting carries with BenJarvus Green-Ellis, but he’s the more versatile back and assuming he stays healthy he could have the Law Firm relegated to Goal Line and short yard work by mid season.

Daryl Richardson, Rams:

Coach Jeff Fisher has come out and said that Richardson is the leader for the starting job so far and I just don’t see him giving it up that easily. He’s already the more experienced back and he’s making the most of his first team reps. Not to mention Pead still has a one game suspension to serve so unless either Pead or Stacy set the field on fire in the next few weeks, I think Richardson runs away with the job and doesn’t look back. He’s a bargain in the mid/late-rounds and well worth the pick if you end up missing out on an elite runner in the early rounds and are hurting for RB depth.

Wide Reciever

Kenny Stills, Saints:

If you’ve been watching the preseason this shouldn’t come as a surprise for you. The Saints have been giving Stills special attention in games, presumably to help him develop chemistry with Drew Brees. (He had 4 receptions for 64 yards and a TD in game 2 and a few nice catches to go with a few close misses in Game 1) Now of course preseason numbers don’t count for the season, but Still projects to the Devery Henderson role of deep target, and he’s probably no better than the 3rd or 4th option behind Colston, Graham and maybe Lance Moore, but he’ll have some big games and some bad games, but that should make him worthy of a late round flier.

Chris GivensRams:

This should be a no brainer. Givens emerged as a favorite target of Sam Bradford last year and the additions of Tavon Austin and Jared Cook only means more one on one match-ups outside for the second year burner out of Wake Forest. You can draft Givens as a #4 receiver and he has #2 upside. The Rams will be better this year and when all is said and done Givens is going to be the guy Bradford looks for.

Tight End

Jordan Cameron, Browns:

I’ve been high on Cameron since the Browns failed to sign Fred Davis away from Washington, and his stock has shot through the roof since then, but he’s still flying under most people’s radars due to the depth at TE and emergence of the position as a legitimate offensive threat. What’s going to set Cameron apart is earning the trust of his 2nd year QB playing for a team in need of playmakers in an offense that isn’t afraid to showcase the TE. (see Gates, Antonio)

Rob Housler, Cardinals:

Similar to Cameron, I’m not quite as high on Housler, but Larry Fitzgerald can’t do it alone and we learned last year that Carson Palmer likes to check down to his tight end. Not to mention the aforementioned Larry Fitzgerald has praised Housler’s hands. And even at 6’5, 250lbs the third year has plenty of speed to keep up with new Head Coach Bruce Arians vertical passing game. He’s well worth a late round flier and could make a steady stand-in with plenty of upside if you’re also drafting Rob Gronkowski.

Defense/Special Teams

Colts:

Coach Chuck Pagano may have been away from the team much of the 2012, but he’s back on the sidelines, and with another offseason to help build his defense this should be a much improved unit. Remember Pagano is a defensive guy, and the Colts quietly had a very nice offseason. Aubrayo Franklin should be a solid addition at Nose Tackle and could hopefully mentor rookie Montori Hughes. Adding versatile former 49ers Defensive Lineman Ricky Jean Francois is great for depth. The pass rush could be much improved if Erik Walden plays up to his contract and Bjorn Werner plays up to his draft status. The secondary looks to at least be a more physical unit with LaRon Landry coming in at Safety and former Cardinal Greg Toler at Cornerback.

Chiefs:

This is another unit that stands to be much improved after being pretty terrible last year. The offense will be better, which should help keep the defense fresh, and assuming they can stay healthy this is a formidable secondary featuring Eric Berry at Safety, and an impressive trio of CBs in Brandon Flowers, Sean Smith and Dunta Robinson with nearly across the board pro bowl linebackers and what looks to be an improved defensive line. Dontari Poe has a full season under his belt and looks to improve, and adding Mike DeVito at DE could be a difference maker.

Kicker

Kai Forbath, Redskins:

I know, a kickers a kicker to most people, but Forbath seems to have gotten lost behind the emergence of Blair Walsh and Greg Zuerlein, but after taking over full time kicker duties midway through last season Forbath didn’t miss a kick. I’m not saying reach for him, but if your pick is in the later half of the final round he should be sitting there and should be a solid option all season long.