The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are just beginning their pre-training camp vacation. Players will scatter outward from Tampa, using the next six weeks to rest, recharge and hopefully maintain what they have gained this offseason. Even Head Coach Greg Schiano will find some time to get away from football although, as he explainedafter the Bucs' final offseason practice on Thursday, he still has some camp preparations to complete.
Fantasy football players may not want to follow suit, however.
The truth is, if you're a fantasy player and you haven't started preparing for the upcoming season, you're probably already behind somebody in your league. In the ever-changing landscape of fantasy football, there are countless trends, team developments, sleeper suggestions, bust alerts and expert tips to keep on top of. With an entire offseason of free agency signings, draft picks and on-field developments now in the books, and NFL players catching one last break, consider the fantasy season now in full swing.
That's definitely the case on NFL.com, where the league's own fantasy game is already open for business. If you've already been running your league (or leagues, because who plays in just one these days?) on NFL.com, you can reactivate now, get your league-mates signed up and start the trash talking. If you haven't tried the fantasy game on the NFL's official site yet, you can create your own league now or simply join a public one. You can even put your league in the Buccaneers section of the NFL game, which will have its own leaderboard of competitors. The point is: There's no reason to wait.
Even if you're not ready to activate your league, or you already have, you can begin your research right now and stay ahead of your competitors. And this isn't simple stuff like positional rankings or the like; you can really dig deep in an effort to gain an advantage. For instance, here's a list of the defenses that gave up the most fantasy points, on average, to wide receivers last year…would you have guessed that New England and Green Bay ranked first and second?
And if you don't feel like digging too deep into the research on your own, the experts on NFL.com, led by Fantasy Editor Michael Fabiano, will break it down for you. Fabiano, who sat down with Buccaneers.com a year ago to go over the fantasy prospects of Tampa Bay's top players, has new tips for fantasy players almost every day, such as this observation that Randy Moss could once again pay big fantasy dividends in 2012.
Last year, Fabiano discussed the potential fantasy relevance of the Bucs' skill-position players, including Josh Freeman, LeGarrette Blount and Mike Williams. Tampa Bay's overall struggles in 2011 kept most of its players from reaching elite fantasy status, but 2012 is a new season and there are brand new reasons to consider the Bucs on your draft weekend.
Here are a few fantasy football issues worth considering this year that feature Buccaneer players in some way, as broken down by the experts on NFL.com.
1. Martin among top rookie options?
Cam Newton was one of the top fantasy scorers last year, exceeding almost everybody's expectations. In the end, he was the rookie that made the biggest impact in the fantasy world, but that distinction usually falls to a running back or wide receiver.
That's the way Fabiano sees it falling out again in 2012, and it's no surprise that he tabs Trent Richardson, the third overall pick in the draft, to have the biggest impact. The Cleveland Browns traded up a spot to get the Alabama star, and they're going to give him every opportunity to turn into a Adrian Peterson-type workhorse. Fabiano sees him getting 300 carries, which already would put him in a select group in the era of committee backfields.
Robert Griffin III, the quarterback taken second overall by Washington, is also an unsurprising pick as second on the list. However, it's Buccaneers running back Doug Martin who comes in third in Fabiano's predictions, and that involves a little bit more analysis. Whereas Griffin and Richardson presumably have enormous roles waiting for them in their respective offenses, Martin is still carving out his with the Buccaneers. Still, Fabiano expects him to see plenty of action. Check out his analysis here.
2. Is there a top rebound candidate in Tampa?
NFL.com's Adam Rank thinks so.
In neat little side-by-side columns Rank's "Likes" and "Dislikes," he starts the former category with a prediction that Josh Freeman is due for a nice rebound in 2012.
Freeman was flirting around the edges of the top 10 in the quarterback rankings a year ago after his 2010 season was highlighted by 25 touchdown passes and only six interceptions. Freeman did not end up as a top-10 fantasy scorer last year, but Rank thinks he can get back to that range.
Among the reasons Rank gives for predicting Freeman's rebound are the arrival of Vincent Jackson, the Bucs' new coaching staff and Freeman's four rushing touchdowns last year.
3. What about Bay area sleepers?
Looking for sleeper candidates for your draft? NFL.com's fantasy section makes it easy by taking six of their experts – Fabiano, Rank, Dave Dameshek, Elliott Harrison, Jason Smith and Matt Smith – and putting their columns of predictions together on a tabbed page. Several of them include both Freeman and Martin in their lists of prominent sleeper candidates.
There are also several other categories to peruse, including Bargains, Breakouts, Deep Sleepers and even Busts. Matt Smith includes Freeman as a "Deep Sleeper," but that's not likely to happen give that so many of his colleagues are pointing out the Bucs quarterback as a regular mid-round sleeper.
4. Should you consider the schedule when drafting Tampa Bay players?
It's another level of strategy, but Fabiano and his crew obviously believe you should consider a team's schedule when drafting just about any player after the first few rounds. That's why NFL.com provides detailed breakdowns on the collective opposition that each QB, RB, WR and TE will face.
And the schedule seems to favor one of the Buccaneers who will go highest in your fantasy drafts, former Charger wide receiver Vincent Jackson. On Fabiano's list of the receivers with the most favorable schedules, Jackson comes in third in the entire NFL, behind Seattle's Sidney Rice and San Francisco's Michael Crabtree.
Fabiano sees favorable matchups for Jackson in nine of his games, against Atlanta (twice), New Orleans (twice), Denver, Oakland, St. Louis, Minnesota and the New York Giants.