We finally made it. Opening week of the 2013 NFL season, a moment Tampa Bay Buccaneer fans and fantasy football owners alike have been anticipating for the last eight months. If you happen to fall into both of those groups, then you have found the right Buccaneers.com regular feature. Each week, we will take a look at the Buccaneers and their current opponents and how the matchups between them may affect your fantasy football strategies.
This week's notes:
1. Proving Running Back Draft Value
Running backs always fly off the draft board first, and that was especially true in most drafts this summer. That fact is essentially the third certainty behind death and taxes. The questions is, how do you rank the top nine or 10 backs? Minnesota's Adrian Peterson, the 2012 NFL MVP was a fairly unanimous first-overall selection, but the number two spot was up for grabs and the remainder of the first round could fall out in a variety of ways.
As the 2013 Fantasy Football Draft season came to a close in the last few weeks, it was Buccaneers RB Doug Martin who found himself most often taken off the board at Number 2 most often*. With Week 1 within sight, the time will soon come for Martin to prove that draft spot against the New York Jets.
It would be a surprise if Martin didn't pick up right where he left off. Martin finished last year tied as the second-highest scoring running back in standard fantasy football leagues. And he will face a Jets run defense that allowed the 23rd most points to running backs last season. Martin is a workhorse back who figures to see the majority of the Buccaneers' carries. If Tampa Bay can get a big lead early in this game against a suspect Jets offense, Martin could see a lot of handoffs, leading to plenty of potential yardage and scores.
The New York Jets running backs are a far less predictable story. Going into the preseason it seemed that Chris Ivory would win the starting job, but it is Bilal Powell listed as number one on the depth chart. It's not clear who the main workhorse will be, but these are signs of a split in carries, translating into a split in fantasy points. Neither backs look to be a great fantasy football option this Week, going up against a Buccaneers defense that allowed the fewest total rushing yards and yards per carry in the NFL last season.
*According to fantasyfootballcalculator.com ADP rankings
2. Uncertainty in the Passing Game
The Bucs- Jets matchup creates a handful of questions in regard to the passing game. The Jets will start a rookie quarterback, Geno Smith, while the Buccaneers come in with Josh Freeman under center, coming off both the best fantasy season for a Bucs QB and an underwhelming preseason.
Freeman ended 2012 as the first Buccaneer quarterback to pass for more than 4,000 yards in a season. His 14.6 fantasy points per game landed him as the 13th highest scoring QB. He led a Buccaneers offense that vastly outplayed its ADP with Martin, Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams totaling far more points than projected throughout the season.
However, he leaves the preseason with a 12-for-26 passing line, with 101 yards and no scores. It is never a great idea to judge a player's performance based on their preseason numbers, especially for starters, but the lack of overall offensive production is enough to make fantasy owners look twice at the Buccaneers going into the first game.
Last season, despite then-Jet cornerback Darrelle Revis being sidelined with injury, the Jets had a solid pass defense throughout the season, led by cornerback Antonio Cromartie. Quarterbacks facing the Jets averaged just over 12 points per game, more than two points under the league average. The Jets' defense also allowed the sixth fewest fantasy points to opposing receivers.
Buccaneer owners, however, should go into the game with a bit of optimism. The 2013 Jets defense is not the 2012 defense, and starting opposite Cromartie at cornerback will be rookie Dee Milliner. While Buccaneers WR Vincent Jackson should still be counted on in all leagues, don't be shocked to see partner-in-crime Mike Williams step up this game against the rookie and make an immediate fantasy splash in Week 1.
Most owners are going to go with their top-drafted quarterback in Week One, so in many leagues Freeman will be on the bench this week, but he is a solid play at QB2 if you are in a two quarterback league. As for receiver, if you were lucky enough to scoop up either Buccaneer star, start them with confidence as signs in this matchup point to a good performance from all Buccaneers offensive starters.
As for Geno Smith, it would seem that the cards are stacked against him, fantasy-wise. His wide receiver situation is one of the biggest question marks in the league. In fact, the aforementioned running backs are the only Jets with a fantasy football average draft position in the top 160, meaning that if you look in your fantasy league, Chris Ivory and perhaps Bilal Powell will be the only NYJ names you see. No Jeremy Kerley, no Santonio Holmes, no Stephen Hill, no Jeff Cumberland. In addition, Holmes is questionable to even play. If that wasn't enough, simply being a starter in your first game as a pro is a significant hurdle, as we have seen in the past.
In just the past two seasons, we have seen seven rookies enter the season as Week One starters. In the past, you could almost count on that being a disadvantage to the rookie QB's team. Pre-2011, the highest Week One rookie quarterback passer rating was Matt Ryan in 2008 (137.0 rating, 9-of-13 passing, 161 yards, 1 TD), followed by Chris Weinke in 2001 (89.8 rating, 13-of-22 passing, 223 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT). Certainly neither of those lines are statistics that will get a fantasy owner excited.
Then Cam Newton happened. How about this line: 24-of-37 passing, 422 yards, 2 TDs, 1 rushing TD, 1 INT. He would go on to shatter more than a half-dozen rookie quarterback records, redefining our expectations for a first-time signal-caller. Robert Griffin III followed in 2012. However, as you can see in the chart below, those two are vastly distant outliers when it comes to Week 1 rookies and what they can bring to your fantasy football team.
Robert Griffin III
While Geno Smith could certainly have a very strong Week 1, neither his situation, or NFL history marks him as a fantasy starter. The Jets receivers should also be considered a stretch for the starting spot.
There could be quite the surprise fantasy bright spot in the Jets lineup however, and a sleeper pick that, if successful, you could brag about for the next five seasons or so. New York Jets tight end Jeff Cumberland could very well have the best fantasy showing of anyone wearing green. The Buccaneers ranked 29th in fantasy point allowed to opposing tight ends last year, giving up 8.3 points per game and three TE touchdowns in the last four weeks last season. Then again, Cumberland is owned in just 0.2 percent of leagues, and any tight end drafted before him would be a far safer bet.
3. Bucs' Defense Should Outgun Jets
The Buccaneers made a lot of noise in the offseason when it came to defensive maneuvering. From the free agency acquisition of All-Pro safety Dashon Goldson to taking Jim Thorpe award-winning cornerback Johnthan Banks in the draft to that under-the-radar trade involving someone named Darrelle Revis, it was a busy spring. And perhaps a very impactful one when it comes to fantasy defensive value.
Any fantasy owner with the foresight to pick that revamped defense up late in his or her draft could get a big payoff this week.
Last season, the Buccaneers defense averaged just 6.3 fantasy points per game, good for 23rd in the league. However, the experts over at NFL.com have them projected as the sixth-best play this week, with Adam Rank and Jason Smith going so far as to call the Buccaneers their favorite fantasy defense this week.
While the offseason moves are certainly one reason the Buccaneers have been gaining some fantasy cred, their opponent plays a significant role as well. The New York Jets' offense ranked second to last in points allowed to opposing fantasy defenses last year. Defenses facing the Jets racked up 13.2 points per game last year, 5.5 point more than the league average. And in the last six weeks of the season, the Jets allowed 17.7 points per game.
While that is more than enough to make the Buccaneers a promising play this week, add the fact that the Jets will start rookie quarterback Geno Smith, lost their 1,000-yard rusher Shonn Greene and go into the game with Santonio Holmes, arguably their best receiver, marked questionable.
So, while you may have landed a yearly favorite like the Seahawks, 49ers or Texans defense in the fantasy draft, now is your time to confidently show your Buccaneer pride, pick them up off the waiver wire and watch the points roll in.