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AFC East – Buyer Beware

Over the next few weeks I’ll give an overview of the fantasy-relevant quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers and tight ends in each division. In the interest of keeping these columns under 10,000 words, rather than going into substantial detail on each player (there are plenty of sources for that), I tried to give you about a briefer Cliff Notes version of my opinion. I will update these entries as more news develops and once pre-season starts.

Tim Tebow & Chad Ochocinco – Someone in your league will draft them. Don’t let it be you.

AFC East – Buyer Beware – Once again, the Patriots are the team to beat in the AFC East and have the top-caliber fantasy players to match.  Aside from those players, and even including some Patriots teammates, this division is rife with potential land mines.

Buffalo Bills:  The Bills are the definition of mediocrity.  Only their mediocre record seems to come in an unusual way.  For two years now they start their season better than expected (especially last year), only to hit the skids and come crashing down to reality halfway through.  Keep that in mind before getting too excited about any of their early fantasy performances.

Ryan Fitzpatrick is a serviceable, mid-to-low-tier QB2.  Nothing more.

Fred Jackson was not a sexy draft pick last year, but he rewarded anyone who took a chance on him with solid RB1 performance.  Now, at 31 and coming off a season-ending injury, Jackson is again nothing to get excited about.  I see him as a decent RB2 (and would take him over Michael Turner and the like), but I wouldn’t expect him to last the season.

CJ Spiller, on the other hand, had a slow start last year but finished as a fantasy playoffs hero, filling in for the injured Jackson.  He’s currently being drafted around Jonathan Stewart, Willis McGahee and James Starks, all of whom he has more upside than, but beware of expecting too much.

Steve Johnson is a decent WR1, but is plagued with personal and team inconsistency and prone to penalties.  Currently being drafted in round 4, WR2 territory, I would avoid him in favor of Vincent Jackson or DeSean Jackson, who both have more upside.

David Nelson barely makes this list.  He had a couple attention-getting performances last year, but he or another player similar to him will always be available on the waiver wire throughout the season.

Miami Dolphins:  My 3 year old daughter loves the Dolphins, so I try to also, but boy are they frustrating.  Their quarterback quagmire doesn’t make fantasy performance any more promising.

Reggie Bush is the best thing the Dolphins have to offer, but even he is clouded with uncertainty due to a checkered injury history.  In my opinion, his performance last year was more a case of finally being in the right system than one-hit-wonder and would take him anywhere in the fourth or fifth round, and certainly over Michael Turner, Frank Gore and Roy Helu, who are all going around him.

Daniel Thomas is the natural between-the-tackles complement to Reggie Bush, but he failed to live up to high rookie expectations last year.  Now with similarly sized rookie Lamar Miller looming behind him, the pressure is on for him to perform, but I’m not sure that he will.

Lamar Miller has the size and power of an up-the-middle back, but his receiving skills make him more versatile.  Though a third-stringer to start the season, there’s ample probability for him to see more playing time and is definitely worth a late-round grab.

Davone Bess could be useful in PPR formats, but without knowing who’s throwing to him, and sharing targets with Reggie Bush, it’s hard to get too excited about him.

Brian Hartline is no Brandon Marshall.  His size and speed make him and exciting rookie prospect, but what good is a downfield receiver, if we’re not sure the ball will make it there?

Chad Ochocinco‘s primary role on the Dolphins will be as “Hard Knocks” fodder.  Someone in your league will draft him…don’t let it be you.

New York Jets:  Oy vey.  It will be interesting to see what goes on with them this season.  As an actual team, I think their defense (with the addition of LaRon Landry and Quinton Coples) will win a number of games for them, but they are a fantasy black hole.

It’s not often a backup quarterback is drafted ahead of the starter, but that’s what’s going on with Tim Tebow and Mark Sanchez.  Even if Sanchez gets his act together, his ceiling doesn’t seem excitingly high, but Tebow at least gives you the allure of the unknown.  Someone will take a late-round shot on him.  I won’t.

Dustin Keller is probably not worth mentioning, except that I’ve seen him pop up a couple times as a potential “sleeper” tight end.  Don’t drink the Kool-Aid.  Even with Sparano’s new offense, he’ll be nothing more than a bye-week filler and not worth wasting a roster spot.

Shonn Greene is the number 1 back in a run-first offense–should be a gimme, right?  Wrong.  He’s ok, but it’s hard to see him improving much on his average numbers from last year, and he’s now muddled with Tebow’s role in the backfield.  That said, he’s a fairly reliable flex option and should be worth a 5th or 6th round pick.

Joe McKnight will be used for a handful of passing/screen plays per game, taking the place of LaDanian Tomlinson, but, again, with this nebulous Wildcat/Tim Tebow option out there, I think there are better ways to spend even late round picks.

Santonio Holmes is one unhappy Jet.  He’s a talented receiver with an attitude problem, because the Jets can’t get him the ball as much as they should.  If Sanchez improves, along with Holmes’ attitude, he could be a dangerous part of their offense.  But that’s a lot of ifs.

New England Patriots:  As I write this column from deep in Patriots territory (Martha’s Vineyard), I find myself wanting to counter-balance the overwhelming enthusiasm around me, but, the truth is, there’s not a lot bad to say about them (except they lost to the Giants…again.)  For fantasy purposes, they have more than their fair share of contributors, plus another handful of players that will be worth the risk.

Tom Brady may be past the peak of his career, but there’s no question an over-the-hill Brady still beats the pants off of almost every other quarterback out there.  He should and will be picked as the #2 QB in most leagues, a ranking that I think deserves a top 8-10 pick overall.

Rob Gronkowski set an unprecedented and unbelievable ceiling for tight ends last year.  I admit, it was exciting to watch him carry defensive ends around his waist to gain an extra ten yards.  Even if he can’t repeat those numbers, he still stands to be well above the rest of the TE field.  Gronk will easily be picked by mid-2nd (and possibly late-1st) round in most leagues, but I’m willing to bet the team that picks him will not be holding your title at the end of the season.

Many teams don’t even have one tight end worth drafting, but with Aaron Hernandez the Patriots have two.  Hernandez’ numbers from last year would lead you to believe he’s the only TE on the Pats, and another solid performance is expected.  My problem is that I expect all tight ends to be over-valued this year….

Stevan Ridley is, as of now, the named starting back in a crowded Patriots backfield.  Still, it’s been crowded in the past and Ben-Jarvus Green Ellis was able to emerge as a reliable fantasy RB2.  Will Ridley be the new BJGE?  Fortunately, his 8th or 9th round draft position reflects that uncertainty.

Joseph Addai was brought in this year after BJGE departed, but don’t let his history as a starter in Indy fool you.  His injury record and limited upside suggests you shouldn’t waste a roster spot on him.

Despite the official roster reports, Shane Vereen is the early favorite to emerge as the Pats starting back by season end.  He’s on the small side and injury prone, but could be worth a 10th or 11th round pick.  Don’t be too bummed if you miss him–chances are you may see him again on the waiver wire once bye weeks start to set it.

Danny Woodhead is worth keeping an eye on, but he’s the kind of guy who will have one great game on your bench, and then once you have the guts to start him, he’ll do nothing.  Still, injuries might make him worth picking up later in the season, just don’t draft him.

Wes Welker had a career year last year, but wasn’t able to agree to a long-term contract, so many believe this is his last year in New England.  Will he go out with a bang to prove his worth to other teams?  I think so.  If not repeating those numbers, he’ll sure come close, making him a solid WR1 on draft day.

Brandon Lloyd is Belichick’s new flavor of the month as a big play-maker.  Reunited with Offensive Coordinator Josh McDaniels, he stands to make more of an impact than Ochocinco did, but with Gronk, Hernandez and Welker around, don’t expect Randy Moss circa 2007.  A 6th round pick seems right for him.

Assuming Jabar Gaffney doesn’t get cut during preseason, he’s an interesting receiver to keep an eye on.  He’ll only be relevant if there are injuries, or in the off chance Welker implodes, but he’s a solid route runner and has been in the Patriots system in the past, so he’s worth keeping on your radar.

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