A CASE FOR THE EVERY-DOWN BACK
LAST SEASON ONLY TWO RUNNERS—MAURICE JONES-DREW and Michael Turner—reached 300 carries, the fewest backs to do so by far since 1993 and five fewer than in 2010. While the number has trended down over the past dozen years, the dramatic drop-off of bell-cow runners in '11 had much to do with an unusually high injury rate among backs, most likely the result of inadequate off-season conditioning programs because of the lockout. With everyone enjoying a regular conditioning program this year, look for a spike in the number of 300-carry runners, since players such as Baltimore's Ray Rice, Philadelphia's LeSean McCoy, Houston's Arian Foster, Seattle's Marshawn Lynch, Tennessee's Chris Johnson, Cleveland's Trent Richardson, Dallas's DeMarco Murray, St. Louis's Steven Jackson and Tampa Bay's Doug Martin are all in position to join Jones-Drew and Turner in the 300 club.
DOUBLE TIGHT ENDS ARE THE NEW TREND
IN THE ULTIMATE COPYCAT LEAGUE, WHEN SOMETHING works well for one team, other teams are sure to follow. Such was the case with the West Coast offense, the Tampa Two defense, the Wildcat formation and even, for a time, barefoot kickers. Now it's the era of having two pass-catching tight ends, and the fantasy implications run deep.
Some teams regularly lined up with two tight ends in previous eras (Kellen Winslow and Pete Holohan of the 1980s Chargers), but what's different today is the catch-and-run ability of bigger, stronger, faster athletic specimens such as New England's Rob Gronkowski (6' 6", 265 pounds) and Aaron Hernandez (6' 1", 245), the prototypical pair of the new age. Many teams are trying to duplicate the success that the Pats duo enjoyed last year (combined 169 catches, 2,237 receiving yards, 24 touchdowns), but only a few have the personnel to pull it off. The Broncos (Joel Dreessen and Jacob Tamme), Lions (Brandon Pettigrew and Tony Scheffler), Ravens (Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta) and Vikings (Kyle Rudolph and John Carlson) all help make the tight end pool that much deeper.
Two tight ends, Graham and Gronkowski, will be gone by the end of the second round, but because of the new emphasis on the position, there's a glut of solid options, creating a situation in which fantasy owners can hold off on drafting a tight end until the middle to late rounds.
THE WORLD AFTER MEGATRON
EVERYONE KNOWS THAT DETROIT'S CALVIN JOHNSON should be the No. 1 receiver on the draft board, Madden Curse and all, but who goes No. 2? A case can be made for a dozen or so candidates, but all come with risk. Giants salsa sensation Victor Cruz became the most dangerous member of the Super Bowl champs, but he's had no other pro or major college success that would make a fantasy owner feel comfortable that Cruz can repeat his year. Panther Steve Smith played as if reborn in his first season with Newton, but he's a 33-year-old receiver in a run-first offense. And fantasy owners would love to have Aaron Rodgers's favorite receiver on their rosters; if only determining that receiver—Greg Jennings or Jordy Nelson?—were so easy (hint: Jennings).