Mostly NFL Notes: Is Darren McFadden worth the risk?

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Over his last 19 games (not counting Week 7 of last year when he immediately left with what would turn out to be a season-ending foot injury), Darren McFadden has totaled 2,428 yards with 15 touchdowns. While looking like something of a bust after being taken 4th overall during the first two years of his career, he now looks like one of the very best backs in football, at least when on the field. McFadden still has never played more than 13 games in any of his four seasons in the league, and while he claims the injuries have been bad luck, at some point it has to be consdered more than that. That said, if he were to stay healthy over a full season, he'd almost certainly be a top-3 fantasy asset, especially in what looks like an Oakland offense with sneaky upside and with Michael Bush now gone — an underrated aspect of Run-DMC's game: he's 6-for-7 at the goal line over the past three years. There's some concern with the new coaching staff implementing a zone-blocking scheme, which has proven in the past to be unsuited to McFadden's strengths, but conversely new OC Greg Knapp typically uses a run-heavy system. It seems crazy to consider someone as injury-prone as McFadden as a top-8 pick, but with so many other question marks surrounding running backs, it suddenly becomes more reasonable, especially if you make sure to grab Mike Goodson later on.

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I've spoken plenty about being someone who waits to draft quarterbacks, but I really can't blame those taking Tom Brady early this season. I worry some the defense could improve greatly, especially after adding three players in the top-50 picks of this year's draft, but New England tends not to be concerned about running scores up. And while Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen will likely improve the backfield, BenJarvus Green-Ellis' strong ability at the goal line is gone. Speaking of which, do you realize which QB had the second-most rushing attempts inside the red zone, 10 yard line and 5 yard line last season? That's right, it was Brady. At age 35, he's past his physical peak, but Brady is a relentless worker both on the practice field and in the film room, and you can bet he will be extra motivated coming off his second straight Super Bowl loss. He got 8.6 YPA last season. To put that into perspective, he got 8.3 during his historical 50-TD year in 2007, and he actually attempted 33 more passes last season compared to his record-setting campaign, making it all that much more impressive. Deion Branch tied for the most targets inside the 5 in the NFL last season, and a premier red-zone target in Brandon Lloyd will be replacing him (and the horribly ineffective Chad Johnson), joining the likes of Wes Welker, Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez with two athletic backs capable of catching passes in an embarrassment of riches. It's certainly not a stretch that Brady approaches 50 touchdowns again in 2012.

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So what do we make of the running back situation in Buffalo? Fred Jackson was the NFL's leading rusher when he went down with a fractured right fibula in Week 11 last year, and the former undrafted back also had 442 receiving yards at the time, making him one of the bigger surprises in fantasy football. He was as impressive as it gets, leading all backs with 5.5 YPC (minimum 100 rushing attempts), thanks in no small part to an NFL-high 3.75 YPC after contact. He was also a terrific blocker and had zero drops. Pro Football Focus graded him as the NFL's No. 1 RB, a fact made all that more impressive when you realize it's an aggregate score, and Jackson missed the final 6.5 games. Still, he's coming off a serious injury, will be 31.5 years old this season (a dangerous age for running backs) and will have to compete with C.J. Spiller for touches.

Spiller didn't receive double-digit carries in any of the first 24 games of his career, but when Jackson went down he responded surprisingly well. Over the final six games, Spiller totaled 633 yards with five touchdowns. He improved greatly as a blocker, proved to be a major threat as a receiver and got 5.2 YPC while holding up just fine with a bigger workload. He's capable of finishing as a top-10 fantasy back in 2012, were he given the opportunity. However, Jackson should return 100% and is clearly the favorite for touches, and Buffalo likely remains skeptical whether Spiller could hold up with a full workload over a full season. I can certainly understand the reasoning, but it's still pretty crazy that a 31+ year old undrafted back coming off a serious injury has such a higher ADP (26) compared to his teammate (44), who's 25 years old with a top-10 pick pedigree and totaled 405 yards with four touchdowns over the final three games last season. It's an interesting situation likely to result in a committee, resulting in disappointed fantasy owners.

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I totally agree Jordy Nelson's 15 TD catches with 68 receptions last year was an unsustainable rate. The same goes for his 13.2 YPT mark, which was by far the highest by any receiver with at least 90 targets since the stat has been recorded. A WR who gets 18.6 YPC while catching 73.1% of his targets is like a pitcher who posts a .200 BABIP — it's simply not something savvy fantasy owners want to bank on repeating. But it also feels like he's almost getting punished in drafts for doing so well last season. Even if we regress his production by 20%, you would still get top-5 type fantasy WR numbers (1,010/12). And while the efficiency will almost certainly regress, what if he gets more targets? After all, 35 receivers saw more looks than him last season, and this is a guy who's 6-3, 217 who had just two drops and forced more missed tackles than Brandon Marshall and Roddy White in 2011. Greg Jennings is two years older and may currently be dealing with a concussion issue that's moderately serious. Nelson is coming off a season in which he scored 15 touchdowns, has the best player in the NFL as his QB and has an ADP currently outside the top-50. Go get him.

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Especially with the Trent Richardson and Ryan Mathews injuries, I'm warming up to Matt Forte as a first round pick. He had 1,487 total yards while racking up 52 receptions in just 11.5 games last year before a sprained MCL forced him to miss the season's final four games. Despite running behind an offensive line that was among the worst in football, Forte's 4.9 YPC was easily a career high, and his 12 carries for 20-plus yards were the second most in the NFL. Fantasy owners seem to be worried about the addition of Michael Bush, who will take over goal-line duties, but Forte has scored just three times from the GL over the past three seasons (going 3-for-33 there), so albeit not ideal that he'll no longer have the opportunity, not much will change from the past as far as production from in close is concerned. Forte's knee injury was minor, as he even played in the Pro Bowl, so he'll enter 2012 fully healthy, and with the return of Jay Cutler and the trade for Brandon Marshall (not to mention the loss of pass-happy OC Mike Martz), Forte's environment in Chicago has been greatly improved. He's among the favorites to lead the league in yards from scrimmage, and while he won't get goal-line carries, as someone who catches a lot of passes and is capable of scoring from far out, 6-10 touchdowns are reachable.

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