The NFL released an absolutely shocking press release today, saying that between 22 and 27 New Orleans Saints defensive players had carried on a “bounty” program from 2009 through 2011, putting money in a pool and then paying it out not only for fumbles and interceptions but also for “cart-offs” ($1,000 when an opposing player was carted off the field) and “knockouts” ($1,500 when an opposing player couldn’t return). Bonuses were sometimes doubled or tripled during the playoffs.
In the quiet of the Carolina Panthers’ training room, Jon Beason and Thomas Davis greet each other the same way each morning when they arrive at Bank of America Stadium for another day of rehab and weightlifting.
“We working?” one of them will ask.
The other will nod, and with that, the two veteran linebackers resume the business of getting their bodies back to 100 percent.
Fans of the Carolina Panthers can actually be somewhat proud of their losing season this past year. Despite their 6-10 record, Carolina had a pretty exciting season considering; and it was all thanks to their new quarterback Cam Newton. A rookie quarterback who arguably had the best rookie season of any quarterback who has ever entered the league. With a guy like this who is looking like he has what it takes to be a leader for years to come, the team might have a better future depending on the help they get around him. Not to mention Newton’s main weapon, Steve Smith, and two producing running backs in De’Angelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart who pose a threat to defenses; but when they are off the field, that is when problems arise. First things first:
On Monday, I asked all of you to go and vote on a poll we had. The poll asked which RB performed at a higher level this season. Obviously, you had to choose between D-Will and J-Stew.
I’ve already received some criticisms based on some of the players I think the Panthers should take in the upcoming NFL Draft, but I still want to get my thoughts out there.
These following picks are the players I would take to try and fit the needs the Panthers have to address this offseason. I tried to stay as realistic as possible, not imagining Justin Blackmon or Matt Kalil falling to us at 8/9.
Again, I welcome all ideas and criticisms and would love to hear what you have to think. Enjoy!
Can you list your top 10 fantasy players for next season? — @mwilson1979 (via Twitter)
Michael Fabiano: I’m going to go with three running backs first, because featured players at that position have gone the way of the dodo bird. So I’ll start with 1. Arian Foster, 2. LeSean McCoy and 3. Ray Rice. The next three players are quarterbacks – 4. Aaron Rodgers, 5. Drew Brees and 6. Tom Brady. I’ll move to the running back spot again with 7. Maurice Jones-Drew, and I like 8. Calvin Johnson next on the list. The last two players are a pair of quarterbacks, 9. Matthew Stafford and 10. Cam Newton. Rob Gronkowski and Ryan Mathews just missed the top 10.
Do you think Cam Newton’s numbers will fall off next season, much like Michael Vick‘s in 2011? — R. Todechine (via Facebook)
M.F.: As I mentioned above, I have Newton ranked among my top 10 players for 2012. He’s a lethal weapon, combining a rocket arm with the running skills to amass piles of fantasy points. I temper expectations in a case like this, however, and I do find it hard to believe that Newton will score 13 rushing touchdowns in back-to-back seasons. This is the same opinion I had about Vick, who had a magical 2010 campaign that was going to be almost impossible to duplicate — he would go on to rush for eight fewer touchdowns compared to the previous year. Does that mean Newton is going to be a complete bust? No, and I think he has a much better season in 2012 than Vick did in 2011. However, I do think fantasy owners need to be smart about his production.
How will the addition of new offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter affect the value of Matt Ryan next season? — @JerDavis05 (via Twitter)
M.F.: I don’t see Ryan experiencing a decrease in value, if that’s what you’re concerned about. Koetter runs a similar system to that of former coordinator Mike Mularkey, and he’s also promised to use the no-huddle packages that Ryan has had so much success with in the past. Despite a slow start, the Boston College product still finished eighth in fantasy points among quarterbacks with career bests in yards (4,177) and touchdown passes (29) last season. What’s more, he has the most favorable schedule among quarterbacks next season with matchups against his NFC South rivals, the AFC West and the Green Bay Packers. I consider Ryan a low-end No. 1 fantasy quarterback and well worth a middle-round selection in most fantasy draf
You have been saying that more quarterbacks will be drafted in the first round then ever before. Doesn’t the fact that there are so many good players at that position make it less valuable to target one in Round 1? — B. Lamberto-Piquetti (via Facebook)
M.F.: To be honest, it’s more about draft value than depth at a particular position. Once Foster, McCoy, Rice and Jones-Drew are off the board, do you really think someone like Mathews, Marshawn Lynch or Matt Forte is worth taking over an elite quarterback like Rodgers, Brees or Brady? I don’t, not in this NFL. As I mentioned in an earlier column, there are just too many questions at the running back position to take a pass on an elite quarterback. If you do end up going after running backs and wideouts in the earlier rounds, I agree that you can still land a nice signal-caller like Ryan or Ben Roethlisberger at some point in the middle rounds. But I just can’t pass on that elite quarterback in favor of a running back who’s no lock for high-end statistical success.
Can you see A.J. Green being the No. 1 wide receiver in fantasy football next season? Where would you rank him? — @occupado333 (via Twitter)
M.F.: Let me answer that with a question. How many wide receivers who finished in the top five in fantasy points in 2009 also finished there in 2010? The answer is zero. Now guess how many wide receivers who were in the top five in 2010 also ranked there last season? Same answer — zero (Calvin Johnson was sixth in 2010). As a rookie, Green finished 14th in fantasy points at his position. And unlike Mike Williams, I don’t see a sophomore slump. This kid is the real deal, and he’s in a great position to find continued success. Couple that with the ridiculous turnover in the top five at the position, and I wouldn’t be shocked if Green earned that status in 2012. I don’t know if he’ll be No. 1 overall, but stranger things have happened — see Brandon Lloyd in 2010. As it stands, Green is my No. 9 wide receiver heading into next season.
What sort of value will Peyton Hillis have if he remains with the Browns? He was a terrible bust in 2011. — P. Steele (via Facebook)
M.F.: With the Madden curse behind him and a potential featured role in the offense for coach Pat Shurmur, I can see Hillis climbing back into the top 20 running backs in fantasy football. That would make him worth adding in one of the first five to six rounds in standard leagues. At 26, Hillis is still a young runner with little wear and tear on his body. He’s also a favorite for goal-line work, which makes him that much more of an option. Of course, this assumes he’s back at 100 percent, and the Browns don’t choose Alabama’s Trent Richardson in the first round of April’s draft.
Let’s say that Adrian Peterson’s recovery process from knee surgery goes well, and he’s expected to play in Week 1. When would you draft him? — @adelmann91 (via Twitter)
M.F.: I’ve been doing some research on running backs coming off ACL operations, and the numbers aren’t good. From Jamal Anderson (2000) to Edgerrin James (2002) and Ronnie Brown (2008), no one had what you would call a great season in their first year back from the surgery. Deuce McAlister posted decent totals in 2006, rushing for 1,255 yards and 10 touchdowns coming off an ACL tear. Of course, he was injured in the sixth game of the 2005 season and had more time to heal. Peterson went down in Week 16, which is about as bad a scenario as is possible for a back suffering this sort of ailment. In the event that he’s expected to be back in time for the start of the 2012 campaign, I’d consider him in the second or third round at best. Even then, I’d consider it a roll of the dice.
If you had to guess, where will Peyton Manning be playing in 2012? — R. Thompson (via Facebook)
M.F.: I’ve said it ever since reports surfaced that Manning might be released by the Colts — I would love for him to end up in Arizona. Imagine what a healthy Manning could do with a stud wide receiver like Larry Fitzgerald in the pass attack? No offense to Marvin Harrison or Reggie Wayne, but Fitzgerald is on a different level than even those great wideouts. Manning would become a No. 1 fantasy quarterback again, and his presence would improve the value of every member of the Cardinals offense. Obviously, Manning will be the top story of the NFL offseason.
I need to retain three players from Rodgers, LeSean McCoy, Ryan Mathews, Greg Jennings, Vincent Jackson, Julio Jones and Jimmy Graham. I can retain just one player per position. What to do? — @ekborg (via Twitter)
M.F.: You don’t need to be a fantasy expert to know that Rodgers and McCoy are your two best options. In retaining that dynamic duo, you have secured two of the top five players in fantasy football. The third player to retain is Graham, because he’s just on a different level as every other player at his position not named Gronkowski. In fact, the Saints tight end would have finished fifth in fantasy points among wide receivers based on his 2011 totals! There’s no reason to believe his success won’t continue with a star quarterback like Drew Brees under center, either.
Where would you draft Kenny Britt next season? I had him in 2011 before he was injured, and his numbers were just fantastic. Do you see him being a No. 1 fantasy wide receiver? — T. Harris (via Facebook)
M.F.: Much like Jamaal Charles, Britt has the advantage of having suffered his ACL injury early in the season — that gives him a lot of time to rehab and recover. In fact, reports out of Tennessee suggest that the talented wide receiver is “ahead of schedule” in his recovery from his reconstructive knee procedure. The fact that Britt has been a bit prone to injuries at the NFL level is a concern, but his upside is ridiculous. Barring any setbacks in his return to the gridiron, I’d project Britt has a high-end No. 2 fantasy wideout with No. 1 potential.