Players to Watch for 2013 - Conference Championships 5 years ago

And then there were four. It is truly down to crunch time in the NFL playoffs and the final four is set. Can the Patriots hold off the Ravens in a rematch of last year's conference championship? Can the Falcons solve the riddle that is stopping San Francisco's new look read option offense?

It will be an exciting weekend of NFL action next Sunday and there are names to examine as potential 2013 fantasy studs and sleepers. For the dedicated fantasy owner it is never too early to start formulating ideas and strategies for next season's draft and here are some interesting names to keep in mind while enjoying the conference championship games.

Torrey Smith, WR, BALTIMORE: Smith lit up the Broncos last weekend to the tune of three receptions for 98 yards and a pair of touchdowns. More impressive was the fact that he was consistently beating Denver's top cover man, Champ Bailey, like he stole something. The damage was mainly done in the first half, as Smith would haul in only a single pass in the second half for seven yards.

Last Saturday's game was a nice snapshot of Smith's season 2012 season. Up and down numbers littered with eye-popping catches followed by stretches of ‘is he even on the field?' moments. He has the size and speed, coupled with a strong-armed quarterback in Joe Flacco, to be a top ten fantasy wide receiver. The inconsistency factor on a game-to-game basis can be maddening for Smith owners. It will be worth watching closely next week to see if Smith can deliver big again and just what that could mean for his 2013 prospects as a top fantasy wide receiver.

Colin Kaepernick, QB, SAN FRANCISCO: Wow! The record setting performance that Kaepernick put up against the Packers last Saturday was simply amazing. Over 445 total yards and four touchdowns vaults him into the conversation of being a top ten fantasy quarterback heading into 2013, maybe even top five. Kaepernick finished the regular season with 1,814 yards passing as well as another 415 yards on the ground with 15 total touchdowns against five turnovers. That was enough to put the dual threat QB out of Nevada on the map as a potential top-15 fantasy quarterback and his post-season performance is enhancing his value even more.

This kid is has the potential to lead all of fantasy football in scoring for 2013 by a wide margin. He can make all the throws and has a deceivingly fast long stride that propels him into the second and third levels of the defense before they have time to react. He's also showed the smarts to slide at times, as well as get out of bounds before taking a hard hit. Kaepernick is fantasy gold for next season and the main reason to watch him the rest of this post season is to make sure he stays healthy.

Delanie Walker, TE, SAN FRANCISCO: The versatile Walker has been a jack of all trades type of player for San Francisco over the years but had a rough game against the Packers last week, managing to haul in only one of the five targeted passes he saw for 17 yards. It was a disappointing performance as he had a couple of early drops and was a non-factor as the 49ers rolled over Green Bay. The 49ers have not utilized the tight end position very much since handing the reins to Kaepernick, but when they have, Walker has been the young quarterback's favored option.

Walker has seen four more targets than teammate Vernon Davis since Kaepernick took over in Week 11 and has caught 15 passes for 272 yards and two touchdowns. By comparison, Davis has 13 receptions for 188 yards and one touchdown in that same time frame. Seattle tight end Zach Miller lit up the Falcons defense for eight receptions, 142 yards and a touchdown on Sunday and it will be interesting to see if the 49ers choose to attack that weakness in the Atlanta defense as well. Walker is a free agent after this season and just how much Kaepernick looks his way next week may give us a clue as to whether or not he remains by the Bay for the 2013 season. If he's allowed to walk then monitor where he lands as he can be a sneaky good sleeper option at TE for 2013.

Michael Turner, RB, ATLANTA: The Falcons came out determined to establish the running game against Seattle in the divisional round and Turner was an integral part of the game plan. He churned out 98 yards on 14 carries and showed some excellent shiftiness and surprising speed in getting around the edge against the Seahawks. There has been much written and spoken about the demise of Turner and the decline of his skills but there was little sign of that on Sunday.

I'll be perfectly honest here and admit that Turner has never stood out as a particularly fast running back to me, so I'm late to the ‘Turner's fantasy worth is over' party. While he has posted five runs of over 70 yards in his career, he has mainly been a solid workhorse type running back for the Falcons. He may plod, he may just bull his way into the line for small chunks of yards, but he also scores touchdowns. He's the consummate goal line back and has punched in double-digit touchdowns for five straight seasons.

His role may be diminishing as he has passed 30 years of age but I'm not ready to say that Turner will hold no value moving forward. Examining how the Falcons utilize him next week against another strong defense may give a glance at what his role may be in 2013.

Vernon Davis, TE, SAN FRANCISCO: After a very promising Week 11 game, the first start with Colin Kaepernick under center, in which he tallied six catches for 83 yards and a touchdown, Davis has been persona-non-grata in the 49ers offense. In the playoff victory over Green Bay, he managed one catch for 44 yards while being targeted five times. He's managed only 188 yards receiving in the eight games since Kaepernick took the helm in San Francisco and scored a single touchdown.

The 49ers offense has taken flight with Kaepernick at quarterback but Davis remains stuck in the hangar. As they make their push to the Super Bowl, San Francisco will need another receiving option besides the emerging Michael Crabtree, who has racked up 50 catches, 714 yards and seven touchdowns since Kaepernick became the starter in week eleven.

It may take the offseason for Davis to be fully incorporated into the offense and develop chemistry with the second year quarterback out of Nevada but if they want to win it all this year then the 49ers would be wise to speed up that learning curve.

It will be interesting to see how they utilize both tight ends against the Falcons next Sunday and an early indicator of where Davis may fit among fantasy options for next season.

Shane Vereen, RB, NEW ENGLAND: An early game thumb injury to Patriots running back Danny Woodhead opened the door for Vereen to see extended action on Sunday and he took full advantage. Vereen exploded for 124 total yards from scrimmage and scored three touchdowns for the Patriots while sharing the load with Stevan Ridley. Flashing excellent speed and elusiveness, Vereen was often split-out wide to create mismatches against the Texans after tight end Rob Gronkowski also left the game due to injury.

The Patriots may have found their Larry Csonka and Jim Kiick (I'm really dating myself here) duo moving forward with Vereen and fellow second year running back Ridley. Regardless of whether or not Woodhead is healthy enough to return to action this post season, Vereen has arrived and will have a prominent role in the New England offense moving forward. Monitor his usage as the post season plays out to get a feel for just how much his fantasy value rises heading into 2013.

A quick glance at one of the names to watch in the divisional round is a bittersweet one. DeVier Posey had racked up three receptions for 47 yards and a very impressive touchdown catch before tearing an Achilles tendon in the fourth quarter against the Patriots. He was making headway in surpassing Kevin Walter as the number two wide receiver in Houston but will now have a very uncertain future as he looks to return from the injury. He'll struggle to even be on the the field, let alone be a fantasy factor next season so his value plummets.

It's on to the Conference championship round and then to the big game! Enjoy the playoff action and keep a careful eye on these names that could produce fantasy goodness in 2013.

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WR PHI (10)
QB BAL (10)
TE TEN (8)