For most fantasy football leagues the season came to an end a couple of weeks ago and after five months of working the waiver wire, making trades and tough lineup decisions there is that empty feeling. Unless you are in a playoff fantasy contest and there is an excellent one right here at FantasySharks.com, then it may seem like time to sit back and just watch some good old fashioned NFL playoff action.
It's a relaxing time of year when we can tune in to the NFL combine, then wait for the draft in April and then for mini-camps to open before many fantasy owners begin to focus on the upcoming season.
Not so fast my friends. The NFL playoffs represent an excellent opportunity to begin the scouting process for the 2013 season. There is valuable information to be gleaned from how and when certain players are utilized in the playoffs and how that influences their fantasy value moving forward.
Pittsburgh Steelers running back Isaac Redman put his name on the fantasy radar by having a very nice 7.1 yards per carry average in their loss to the Broncos and Denver's Willis McGahee also reemerged as a fantasy name to consider after posting 156 total yards and a touchdown in the 2011 post season. Former Giants' wide receiver Mario Manningham parlayed his big playoff catches into not only a new deal with the 49ers, but also improved his fantasy value heading into the 2012 season.
So, let's take a look at a few names that have interesting fantasy ramifications heading into Wild Card weekend.
Ben Tate, RB, HOUSTON: Tate had a very tough regular season for the Texans as he battled hamstring and foot issues much of the year limiting him to 65 carries for 279 yards and a pair of touchdowns. The Texans offense has struggled mightily late in the season and starter Arian Foster has looked less than himself, even leaving the week sixteen loss to Minnesota with an irregular heartbeat. Foster was healthy enough to rack up 96 yards and a score in week seventeen, but the Texans fell to the Colts and tumbled to the number three seed for the playoffs.
Houston will go back to the future against the Bengals and attack the defense with the two-headed running back style that worked so well for them in 2011. Look for the Texans to try and get Tate involved early in the game against Cincinnati as they try to keep Foster fresh to be able to run out the clock if they have a late lead. Tate could be a starter on many teams in the league and his contract is up after next season so you can bet the Texans will be looking to see what they've got in him between now and then. That makes him worth keeping a careful eye on this weekend.
Marvin Jones, WR, CINCINNATI: Jones is a very interesting name to consider heading into this weekend's action as he looks to be the number two receiving option for the Bengals. After recovering from an early season MCL injury, the rookie from California has really come on late in the season. He finished the year with 18 receptions for 201 yards and added another 47 yards on the ground and scored one touchdown.
In the season finale, a victory over Baltimore, he led the Bengals with eight targets and had five receptions for 45 yards and a score. More interesting is the fact that over the last four games he was targeted 23 times and hauled in 13 catches for over 150 yards. A big playoff game against the Texans will go a long way to cementing his position as the starter opposite A.J. Green heading into next season and that means excellent fantasy potential.
Coby Fleener, TE, INDIANAPOLIS: While most fantasy pundits assumed that Fleener and fellow Stanford alum, Indianapolis starting quarterback Andrew Luck would have instant success together in the NFL, that was not the case. It was actually fellow rookie Dwayne Allen that led the Colts in receptions at the tight end position with 45 to only 26 for Fleener.
Both rookies averaged over 10 yards per reception and Allen had three touchdowns to two scored by Luck's former college teammate. It will be interesting to see as the pressure of a playoff game arrives just which tight end Luck will favor against the Baltimore Ravens this weekend.
There is room to attack the banged up Baltimore linebackers over the middle (even with the return of Ray Lewis) and look for the Colts to do just that. As the Ravens look to pressure Luck from all sides, the smart money says that he will look to a familiar target as a bail out option and feed Fleener the ball a lot. Watch this game carefully to see if the chemistry between the two former Cardinal players kicks in, and if that is an indicator of things to come.
Jarius Wright, WR, MINNESOTA: Wright had a very nice week seventeen game against the Packers with three grabs for 90 yards and a touchdown. He's seen 14 targets in the last two games and hauled in eight passes for 143 yards and a score. The Vikings will be hard pressed to repeat the offensive output they had last week at home against Green Bay, but if they have any chance to win Wright will need to produce another big game.
Wright has been unfairly saddled with comparisons to the injured Percy Harvin, and is far from the offensive weapon that Harvin has been for the Vikings. The fact of the matter is that Harvin and the Minnesota organization are not on good terms and things could get worse as the 2013 offseason progresses. That puts Wright in a prime position to be a top two wide receiver for the Vikings next season and this game will be an audition for that role. How much, and where on the field the Vikings use the rookie, will be very interesting to watch and evaluate.
So there we have it folks. Some interesting names to keep an eye on as the NFL playoffs kick off. It's never too early to begin examining potential fantasy prospects for next season and that time starts this weekend. Let's face it. There is no offseason and we love it!