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Three and Out: Is Brady an elite fantasy option this season?

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Justin Boone, Scott Cullen
7/31/2013 10:05:46 PM
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TSN.ca's NFL Editor Justin Boone and Fantasy Editor Scott Cullen go head-to-head with their fantasy football rankings and debate some of the more notable differences in their opinions.

Tom Brady (Patriots) vs. Robert Griffin III (Redskins)

Cullen (Brady #5, Griffin III #9): In the last six seasons, Tom Brady has either thrown for 4,000-plus yards and/or at least 34 touchdowns in five of them, with 2008 the only exception because he got hurt in the first game of the year. I don't know if he can keep it alive with his cast of receivers, but if Danny Amendola is Welker-lite and Rob Gronkowski is reasonably healthy, then I'm inclined to see if Brady can drag production out of the rest of the unprovens on the Patriots' offence.

RGIII is obviously great, but it's also fair to be cautious considering part of what makes him great is his running ability and he's coming off a torn ACL that will likely keep him out for the entire preseason. If he's waiting right up until the bullets fly for real, shouldn't that present some uncertainty about his readiness for the season? Maybe a couple of series in the third pre-season game wouldn't mean much, but it would probably make me feel better about committing my 2013 fantasy hopes to him.

Boone (Griffin III #6, Brady #9): Not everyone has Adrian Peterson's Wolverine-like recovery ability, but all reports have Griffin on track to play in Week 1. On the first day of Redskins' training camp, Jim Corbett of USA Today said that Griffin "look(ed) explosive," which is all I need to hear to draft him at his current ADP in the sixth round (12-team leagues). Griffin will wear a brace on his knee this season, and hopefully that makes him think twice before taking contact. If he learns to scramble for a gain and then slide, it could also reduce his risk of another injury. If other owners in your league are like Scott, and want to pass on Griffin, don't hesistate to take advantage.

Brady is still one of the best quarterbacks in the league and the Patriots' offence will still put up points even after all the off-season turmoil. However, Bill Belichick is the type of coach that alters his scheme to fit the talent he has. Entering the season, the Patriots have an elite offensive line and a stable of versatile running backs, while their receiving corps is full of rookies behind Danny Amendola. If Gronkowski is healthy, he is one of the two best tight ends in the game, but he may miss time or be slowed early in the year. Unless rookie wideouts Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Thompkins learn the Pats' system faster than any other young receiver ever has, Brady's numbers will be impacted. I don't see Brady falling off the map, instead regressing closer to his 2006 numbers when a pedestrian talent like Reche Caldwell was his top receiver, something like 3,800 yards and 28 touchdowns.

Maurice Jones-Drew (Jaguars) vs. Alfred Morris (Redskins)

Cullen (MJD #8, Morris #13): Just as I hold concern for Robert Griffin III, it would be reasonable to have some skepticism regarding Jones-Drew, who only played six games last season and required off-season surgery for a Lisfranc injury in his foot. At the same time, he's one season removed from leading the league in rushing and is still the one and only threat in the Jaguars' offence, so as long as Jones-Drew doesn't suffer any setbacks in camp, he's capable of piling up 1,600-plus yards from scrimmage like he did in each of the three seasons prior to 2012.

There is lots to like about Alfred Morris and Mike Shanahan has had success with low-round draft picks in the running game, but I suppose I'm wary of Shanahan's fickle history with running backs and maybe a little concerned about Morris's heavy workload as a rookie -- only five backs in history have had more than the 335 carries as a rookie that Morris had in 2012.

Boone (Morris #6, MJD #14): Morris finished his rookie season second in the NFL in both yards (1,613) and touchdowns (13), yet somehow he is being drafted at the back end of the first round. Some people might doubt Morris and consider him a one-year wonder as a low-round pick in a Mike Shanahan offence, but you shouldn't. Morris' running style works perfectly in the Redskins' system and he runs hard on every play. He might not catch a lot of passes, but he doesn't have to if he is averaging over a 100 yards a game on the ground, which he did last season. The only thing that could hold him back is injuries, but that can be said about any running back. Morris is part of the endangered group of NFL workhorse backs and is easily a top six rusher heading into this season.

Jones-Drew has led the Jaguars in rushing the last five seasons, which is impressive since he only played in six games in 2012. However, MJD is coming back from a Lisfranc injury that is not something to be written off and can potentially be career threatening. While a healthy Jones-Drew is definitely the best option in the Jaguars' arsenal, I disagree with Scott that he is the only threat. Cecil Shorts showed that he can be a go-to receiver for the Jags and when Justin Blackmon returns from his four-game suspension, Jacksonville will feature two decent targets in the passing game. The Jaguars are also a team that will likely find themselves trailing, so they may need to spend their second halves putting the ball in the air as they play catch up. It's not that I don't like Jones-Drew, but the foot injury makes him too much of a risk in the second round where he is being drafted.

Victor Cruz (Giants) vs. Demaryius Thomas (Broncos)

Cullen (Cruz #3, Thomas #13): For the past couple seasons, I've leaned more toward Hakeem Nicks in the Giants' passing game, but I'm sold on Cruz, who has 2,628 yards and 19 touchdowns over the last two years, ranking fifth and sixth, respectively, in those categories among NFL receivers over that time frame. That production also included the 2012 season during which QB Eli Manning had his lowest passing yardage and fewest passing touchdowns since 2008, so slight improvement from Eli figures to bump Cruz's production too.

The challenge with forecasting the Broncos' passing game is knowing just how many balls will find their way to Wes Welker. If Peyton Manning treats Welker like he's Brandon Stokley in the slot then, sure, Thomas and Eric Decker will keep putting up big numbers like they did in 2012. If, however, Welker is good for 100-plus catches, like he has been for five of the past six seasons, then it becomes more difficult for Thomas (and Decker) to get the same number of targets that they did last season.

Boone (Thomas #6, Cruz #13): Thomas' targets will almost definitely see a slight decline with Welker on board, so Scott and I have finally found something to agree on. However, I think worries over Thomas or Decker seeing a massive drop in targets in overblown. Peyton Manning threw 583 times in 2012 and 264 of those targets went to Thomas (141) and Decker (123). While they may lose 10-20 combined targets to their new teammate, I believe the majority of Welker's targets will come from the departed Brandon Stokley (58 in 2012) and tight ends Jacob Tamme (85 in 2012) and Joel Dressen (58 in 2012). Thomas remains the most talented pass catcher in Denver and the best downfield threat. Manning will spread the ball around, but he won't forget about his number one receiver, who is coming off a breakout season where he had 1,434 yards and 10 touchdowns.

Two years ago, Cruz had 1,536 yards and helped countless fantasy owners reach their championship after they picked him up as a free agent after Week 1. The bar was set high and despite starting all 16 games last season, Cruz came up short with 1,092 yards. Teams began to key on Cruz and he was often unable to overcome the added attention. After signing a nice new contract this off-season, Cruz will only be focused on more and that worries me in a fantasy year where receiver is one of the deepest positions.

Tom Brady  (Photo: Jessica Rinaldi for The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

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(Photo: Jessica Rinaldi for The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
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