The Baltimore sports scene is blessed with a bunch of talented bloggers who bring their unique perspective to the conversation. Each week, I hope to chat with one of them in a regular feature called Blogger on Blogger. This week, I exchanged emails with Dan Ciarrocchi, a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association who writes about fantasy football for Pro Football Focus and the Redskins for Hogs Haven, an SB Nation website.
MV: Which rookie backs will have the most fantasy impact in 2013? Any worth drafting in the top 20?
DC: Denver’s Montee Ball and Pittsburgh’s LeVeon Bell are early frontrunners to receive the volume of carries that would make them viable fantasy options this season. Ball could see lots of goal-line opportunities with a potent Broncos offense, and his biggest competition at the position, Willis McGahee, is 31 years old and coming off of a torn MCL. But then again, head coach John Fox tends to trust his veteran backs over young ones, so even a forgotten back like Knowshon Moreno could become an obstacle for Ball. In Pittsburgh, Bell will have to fend off Isaac Redman and Jonathan Dwyer to earn snaps, but if the Steelers were set on the two of them carrying the position, I don’t believe they would have invested a second-round pick on Bell. Green Bay’s Eddie Lacy is also worth a mention, but fellow rookie Johnathan Franklin could throw a wrench in his early opportunities. Franklin excels in pass protection, and a pass-heavy team like the Packers could keep Franklin in the huddle enough to vulture chances away from Lacy. With that said, while I heavily value running backs in fantasy leagues, there are just too many better options to use a top-20 pick on than any rookie this season.
MV: What about rookies at the other positions? Do you see any quarterbacks, wide receivers or tight ends who will become viable fantasy starters by the middle of the 2013 fantasy season?
DC: Rookie quarterbacks can be an afterthought for 2013, but there are definitely receivers and tight ends worth monitoring, and it begins with Dunbar product Tavon Austin. The Rams often relied on Danny Amendola when he was healthy, and a receiver of a similar mold in Austin could see the same volume. To put it in perspective, Amendola was targeted once every 5.5 snaps in St. Louis during the 2012 season, and Austin’s dynamic enough to do great things with those chances should he get them. And because he was drafted eighth overall, whether those targets come is more a matter of “when” and not “if.”
DC: I think you nailed it with Bush and Welker. Amendola, who is filling Welker’s vacancy in New England, may be in line for a breakout season now that Tom Brady is throwing his way. But my favorite guy in a new uniform is Chris Ivory. He should have no problem earning the lion’s share of touches in the Jets backfield, but this isn’t just about volume. Ivory is a sleeping giant who has done great things when the ball has been put in his hands. The tape shows a dynamic runner in space capable of eluding tacklers of all speeds and sizes, and the numbers back that up as well. Pro Football Focus charted 54 missed tackles from defenders on 156 career carries from Ivory, essentially saying he makes a guy miss one in every three times he touches the ball. Of course, there are dangers from generalizing from a small sample size, but what he’s flashed on tape suggests his best is yet to come.
MV: If you had to draft a team right now, who would be the top five or six players on your board?
DC: I’m a proponent of value-based drafting, which means not necessarily going after the players who score the most points, but the players who outscore others at their positions by the biggest margin. There are plenty of quarterbacks and wide receivers who will give you consistent points each week, and when the season is all said and done, there isn’t much difference between the second tier and the third or even fourth tier. You can’t say the same for running backs because the league is shifting more toward a running-back-by-committee approach. For that reason, if you have the chance to grab an elite three-down back, take him. I would target Adrian Peterson, Arian Foster, Ray Rice, Marshawn Lynch, Trent Richardson and Alfred Morris before I’m looking at anyone else. Doug Martin, LeSean McCoy, Jamaal Charles and Matt Forte would also warrant early looks, especially in points-per-reception (PPR) leagues.
DC: Flacco’s last eight games were incredible by any player’s standards, but that’s not what makes his run so unique. The compelling thing is that those numbers were the product of a player, who up to that point, was riddled with inconsistent stretches of games. In the six full games Flacco played after Jim Caldwell was hired as offensive coordinator, Flacco threw for 1,703 yards, 15 touchdowns and one interception. When that pace is projected over a 16-game season, those totals come to 4,541 passing yards, 40 touchdowns and just under three interceptions. So, yes, that performance would be a shoe-in for a top-five finish among fantasy quarterbacks, but that touchdown to interception ratio isn’t sustainable for Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady, let alone Flacco.
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