1. T.Y. Hilton will be a WR2 in 12-Team Leagues Next Season
If anyone has reservations about Colts rookie receiver T.Y. Hilton over the fact that he was generally no more than modestly hyped as one of the last picks in the third round from a little known Sun Belt school, they should let go of them as soon as possible. The numbers he's shown the last two months are no fluke, and with fellow receiver Donnie Avery either likely gone in 2013 or in a reduced role, Hilton could be a top-24 fantasy receiver next year.
Although he had a fairly slow start, which is far from rare for a rookie, Hilton has 592 yards from scrimmage and six touchdowns (one on a punt return) in his last seven games, and that's with him usually playing fewer snaps than Avery. For the year as a whole, Hilton has 735 yards from scrimmage and seven total touchdowns in 13 games, while Avery has 752 yards and three touchdowns despite playing significantly more. This is one lineup change that is too obvious for the Colts not to make in this offseason.
Hilton isn't just the beneficiary of playing in an ideal situation, either - he's a big-time talent. It certainly makes life easier for him since he has a talented quarterback throwing him the ball in a pass-happy offense, and Reggie Wayne distracting most of the double coverage helps, too, but Hilton dealt with the opposite in college - bad quarterbacks and every bit of attention the defense has to offer - and he still dominated in all of his four years at Florida International. He's basically a DeSean Jackson without the attitude issues who can make his living on short routes as well as deep patterns, and he has the open-field running skills to break free for long gains even if teams start sitting deep on him in light of his recent emergence. Luck is on his way to becoming a great NFL quarterback, and it's possible that Hilton may be his top receiver over the next four years (Wayne will be 35 in November next year). There could very well be WR1 production here eventually.
2. Lamar Miller is a Good Gamble Pickup in 17-Week Leagues
He's not worth starting as long as Reggie Bush is taking up the lead role in the Miami backfield, and for that reason Lamar Miller isn't worth starting this week, nor is he worth dropping a player you know you can use in the meantime, but for leagues that leave something at stake in Week 17, he's probably the most high-upside option among the runners realistically available in redraft leagues.
The Dolphins have no reason not to put their younger players on the field in these last two weeks, but it's especially true in Miller's case. The team knows, or should know, anyway, that Daniel Thomas might not even be a legitimate NFL backup, let alone a starter, after averaging just 3.5 yards per carry as a 256-carry off-the-bench player, and Reggie Bush is an impending free agent who the team should be more than a little uneasy with handing a long-term investment. The two productive years Bush has had in Miami are an obvious anomaly compared to the other five he's spent in the league. Injuries will always be a worry with him, additionally, and he seemed to break down a bit in the middle of this year, totaling just 206 yards rushing over six games before coming back to life the last four weeks.
Even if Miami keeps Bush around, it will need to identify a good backup because Thomas ended up with 256 carries the last two years, and the team won't want that to happen again. The Dolphins should, therefore, look to get Miller more snaps in these next two weeks so they can determine whether he can at the very least fill Thomas' role in 2012. If Bush should get slightly nicked up this week it wouldn't be a surprise if the Dolphins held him out for Week 17, and in the presence of such an announcement Miller would become a viable flex option as a starter.
3. Don't be Misled by Trent Richardson's Rushing Average
Some may be inclined to look at Trent Richardson's 3.5-yard rushing average and conclude he's disappointed from an effectiveness standpoint, but this is one case where all observers should confidently chalk up Richardson's poor efficiency to the dysfunction around him rather than anything under his control. Concern with Richardson's outlook, especially in the long term, is silly. The idea that Montario Hardesty is any threat to him at all, in particular, is just out of the question.
Stated simply, coach Pat Shurmur is in over his head in Cleveland. This is especially obvious in games, where the playcalling in particular is quite questionable, and falling short in that area likely means his practices and gameplans are poorly conceived, as well. So Richardson, who immediately became the top (if not sole) concern of opposing defenses because of his reputation alone, came into a situation where he dealt with ill-timed play calls that may have been poorly-designed to begin with, with predictability another plausible risk, and had to deal with an ineffective passing game that floundered at the hands of a rookie quarterback and young receivers, both of whom had questionable skills.
And yet, through 14 games, Richardson has 1,249 yards from scrimmage and 12 total touchdowns. Watching Richardson play, moreover, you almost always see something in a relatively short amount of time that shows he's a future star, if not one already. Anyone getting skittish on him in multi-year formats is ripe for robbery. He'll be a justifiable top-five pick in all formats next year. Also, we shouldn't forget that there was another running back selected in the first five picks of his NFL Draft with a disappointing rushing average as a rookie back in 2001. Despite averaging just 3.6 yards per carry as a rookie, LaDainian Tomlinson ended up being safe from Terrell Fletcher. Richardson versus Hardesty will be laughed at similarly not long from now.
4. Try to Sell Brandon Weeden in Dynasty Leagues
If you're on the hook for Brandon Weeden in dynasty leagues, it would be best if you tried to dump him on someone else, even if you don't get anything in return. If you keep him around, you might find yourself devoting team resources to a quarterback who can't find a starting job.
If coach Pat Shurmur gets kicked out of Cleveland - and there is every reason to believe he will - there won't be anyone of importance with the Browns with any obvious fondness for Weeden. Instead, you'll have a new regime that correctly identifies many of the current personnel as ill-advised investments, and after getting handed a season's worth of tape of the 29-year-old Weeden primarily failing as a starting quarterback (57.2 percent of passes completed, 6.6 yards per attempt, 14 touchdowns and 17 interceptions), it's difficult to see why the new decision makers wouldn't make it a priority to secure a new prospect at the position - a new prospect that could in all likelihood provide Weeden's ineffectiveness at seven to nine years younger, at the very least, and with much more realistic hope for future growth.
Browns CEO Joe Banner said in November the team must decide by the end of this year whether Weeden is the team's quarterback of the future. Given that Weeden will be 30 in October 2013 and clearly needs a lot of work, it will probably be easy for Banner and company to identify greener pastures. This is particularly true given that the team generally has at least one promising player at most other key positions. Joe Thomas is a rock at left tackle and Mitchell Schwartz is a second-round investment at right. Joe Haden is one of the league's brightest talents at cornerback, Josh Gordon has been a pleasant surprise at receiver, and three-fourths of the team's starting defensive line is set with Jabaal Sheard, Ahtyba Rubin and Phil Taylor. And with a 5-11 finish likely with road games against Denver and Pittsburgh up next for the 5-9 Browns, Cleveland should be within range of selecting any quarterback the team highly values. The Browns have every reason to replace Weeden, and they'll have a very realistic chance to make it happen if they choose.
5. Don't Overvalue Joique Bell
The slight decrease in Mikel Leshoure's workload and the corresponding trend of Joique Bell routinely outdoing Leshoure on a per-play basis can understandably give the impression that the latter might be better than the former, but this is unlikely. Betting on Bell to emerge as anything more than an RB4 type outside of PPR leagues, or selling on Leshoure for fear of him falling into RB4 territory, are not good courses of action. Leshoure should remain a mid-to-low level RB2 in most cases, while Bell is unlikely to reach such status without an injury to Leshoure.
Although Bell is certainly a legitimate passing-down back who provides intensity as an off-the-bench runner, it's not likely that he has the talent to avoid a drastic diminishing return if his workload gets increased as a runner. He's well-rounded and has quick feet, but the intensity and hard-running Bell makes his living with are much harder to sustain when you approach double-digit carries per game for a full season, and luck in general is easier to find when you're playing off the bench as a running back. One only needs to recall the likes of LaMont Jordan, Stacey Mack, Kevan Barlow, Troy Hambrick, Jerious Norwood, Tashard Choice, etc. to witness the distortion of perceived effectiveness that can come from watching a change-of-pace runner.
In addition, many likely underestimate Leshoure. His 3.9-yard rushing average is indeed far from great, but is a 925-yard, 10-touchdown pace as a runner not somewhat of a pleasant surprise for a player in his first year back from an Achilles' tendon tear? Leshoure is definitely a standout athlete for a 227-pound runner, and he has big-play ability that hasn't come through yet. Leshoure's disappointing rushing average could have more than a little to do with the fatigue the builds up over an NFL season, too, which applies especially to Leshoure given that he never played more than 13 games in a college season and sat out all of last year. Between better health and more NFL-level conditioning, Leshoure should hold off Bell next year, and probably in the meantime, too.
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