- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 3, 2014

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

This past weekend included a typical Final Saturday Before The NFL Regular Season Begins.

I awoke early on fantasy football’s Christmas morning, penned two lists encompassing the top 200 players — one overall and the other broken down by position — made a batch of scrambled eggs with the perfect amount of cheese (despite what my wife says), gave half of them to my 3-year-old son and sat down to drink the day’s first cup of coffee while mentally preparing myself for three straight hours of drafting.

By noon, the two drafts were complete, so I took my son to the park. On the way back, it just so happened that the fantasy sports radio station was about to begin its “experts fantasy draft.” The boy and I took the looooong way home.

This is my 24th year playing fantasy football. I realize some people think it’s silly, but I keep playing because like watching my son on the swings, it makes me happy. It also makes me swear on occasion, but my son does that, too.

Redskins receiver Pierre Garcon likely won't approach triple digits in receptions again. (Andrew Harnik/The Washington Times)
Redskins receiver Pierre Garcon likely won’t approach triple digits in receptions again. ... more >

The point is, my obsession with fantasy football is nothing new. What is new, however, is the Redskins’ offense, and that’s what we’re going to analyze on the eve of the regular season (We’re not going to analyze the effectiveness of that transition).

Robert Griffin III is no Andy Dalton: New coach Jay Gruden was hired in large part because of his work with Dalton as the Bengals’ offensive coordinator. In three years under Gruden’s tutelage, Dalton — who has never been considered an elite quarterback — threw 80 touchdowns, including 33 last year. Those 33 TDs were interspersed with 20 interceptions, but Dalton had enough big games to end the season as a top five-fantasy QB.

Meanwhile, RG3 struggled in his second season. Still recovering from offseason knee surgery, the explosiveness of his rookie year was gone, and many of his touchdowns came in garbage time. They still counted in fantasy, and Griffin actually put up decent numbers early on against prevent defenses in the second half of games. But eventually, it was clear that he was not the same player that won Offensive Rookie of the Year honors, and his feud with former coach Mike Shanahan culminated with him being benched for the final three regular-season games.

No matter how you break down the final numbers (16 TDs, 12 INTs, 489 yards rushing), Griffin was one of 2013’s biggest fantasy disappointments. Therefore, it is interesting that Griffin continues to be drafted as a starter in many fantasy leagues, while Dalton is barely on anyone’s radar. The assumption for both is that last season was a fluke. I’m not so sure. Dalton signed a contract extension recently, he has played well in the preseason and his new offensive coordinator, Hue Jackson, is no slouch.

Griffin, on the other hand, looked terrible in the preseason. The scores might not count, but the Redskins’ franchise player seems to be regressing for real. It’s doubtful he’ll ever regain the aforementioned explosiveness, but it has always been expected that he would succeed as primarily a pocket passer. However, he has looked uncomfortable throwing the ball, and his decision-making against the Browns and Ravens was puzzling.

Maybe the Gruden-Griffin pairing just needs time, which is fine for a first-year head coach and a young quarterback over the course of a season and beyond. But as a fantasy option, you’re just digging yourself a hole if you’re counting on Griffin right away.

Alfred Morris is the key: The third-year running back, who set the team record for rushing yards as a rookie and last season managed to gain almost 1,300 yards despite being a two-down back on a 3-13 team, is the one player who will benefit the most if Gruden is adaptable.

The Bengals were 18th in rushing last season, throwing 106 more times than they ran during the regular season. Morris, though, is better suited as a workhorse back than either of Cincinnati’s top two backs in 2013 — BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Giovani Bernard. In Morris, Gruden has the option of protecting his quarterback and giving his offense time to jell if he so chooses.

The wide receiving corps looks great on paper: While Pierre Garcon (113 catches in 2013), DeSean Jackson (1,332 yards, 9 TDs) and Andre Roberts (471 yards, 2 TDs) appear to be a formidable trio, it will be no small challenge to get consistent production out of all three when neither Garcon nor Jackson is a true No. 1 and Jackson and Roberts have yet to play a meaningful down with Griffin.

Garcon is likely to lead the team in receptions again, but he’s never been a red-zone threat (5 TDs in 2013), and with the likelihood that he won’t approach triple digits in receptions again, his overall value will be diminished. Jackson is a degree-of-difficulty receiver in more ways than one. Like Garcon, he’s coming off a career year, but he’s an injury risk who has been more miss than hit as a dependable fantasy option during his career.

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