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By: Russell Shaffer
February roster cuts in the NFL are nothing new, and the league’s story-starved reporters typically do a decent job not overplaying a move’s relevance in a post-Super Bowl content wasteland. That’s because most of these cuts are salary cap motivated reductions of overpaid offensive or defensive lineman or linebackers and defensive backs who do not fit a new coach’s scheme. Occasionally you’ll see an aging QB or fringe WR be shown the door, but for the most part these types of post-season shufflings have little impact on fantasy leagues.
Then along comes news last week the New York Giants decided to cut ties with starting RB Ahmad Bradshaw and his reported $2.7M cap figure for 2013. Despite being a major contributor on two Super Bowl championship teams and amassing a very respectable 1,050 rushing yards in 14 games in 2012, when you stop and assess this move it really should have come as no surprise.
Bradshaw is an oft-injured back who is beginning to reach the end of his shelf life. Chronic foot problems make him a sure bet to miss a few games each year and even when he’s “healthy,” he always seems to be shrouded in speculation regarding his game day status. He’s about as tough as they come, but sometimes intestinal fortitude can only cover up so much when the body begins to break down.
When Bradshaw’s injury woes cropped up early in the season, it wasn’t Wilson but the well-travelled Andre Brown who got the starting nod. Brown responded with a huge game that helped him become a hot fantasy pick up and even stirred rumors he would unseat Bradshaw for the starting role upon his return. That didn’t happen, but Brown did find himself as the primary backup and goal line back upon Bradshaw’s return to the lineup. All of this left Wilson a forgotten man.
That is until a transcendent performance in Week 14 against the New Orleans Saints thrust Wilson not only back into the Giants’ game plan but into the collective consciousness of NFL and fantasy fans everywhere. That’s when injuries to Brown and Bradshaw gave Wilson the opportunity to package 100 yards rushing and a 97-yard kickoff return into a 327-total yard, 3 TD performance that cemented his place in franchise records with the highest single-game total yards tally in the Giants’ illustrious history. It also opened the door for more carries down the stretch which Wilson turned into season end totals of 358 yards, 5.0 YPC and 4 rushing TDs. A pretty good rookie campaign for a back that was all but forgotten until that Week 14 performance and likely enough to convince the front office they could part ways with Bradshaw in favor of the younger, cheaper Wilson.
So what does all of this mean for David Wilson's fantasy value entering 2013? Before you go moving Wilson up to the top of your RB wish list, to quote Lee Corso – “not so fast my friends”. I have seen some fantasy pundits say Wilson has vaulted into the top 10 and could finish as a top 5 talent. Sure, anything is possible. But tell me, who are you going to bump? Certainly not Ray Rice or Marshawn Lynch and probably not fellow second-year backs Doug Martin, Alfred Morris or Trent Richardson. You probably wouldn’t even take him over oft-injured yet explosive when healthy types like Darren McFadden or Demarco Murray.
The point is, RB entering 2013 drafts is a lot deeper than it was to start 2012 and Wilson’s abbreviated audition, while promising, is not a large enough sample to convince me to back flip him over other more proven backs.
For starters, many expect Brown to be back with Big Blue as the short yardage and goal line back which translates to TD Vulture in fantasy vernacular. That means Wilson will need to break big runs to score TDs, and breaking long runs is a lot easier when you are a change-of-pace versus when you become The Man. Wilson is also going to need to demonstrate an appitude for picking up blitz reads and catching passes (he only had 4 catches on 9 targets) if he wants to be an every down back like fellow 1st rounders Martin and Richardson.
All of that leaves me seeing Wilson (for now) somewhere around the 18-20 range for RBs – just behind the likes of McFadden and Murray and just in front of guys like Ryan Matthews. For me, that makes him no higher than a 5th round pick. That certainly could change with the rest of the off-season and all of training camp to come, so check back in August.
As for Bradshaw, don’t count the 27-year-old out. Some published reports speculate he could re-sign in New York for less money which would blow up all of the proceeding conjecture. That probably won’t happen, but if Bradshaw finds a home with a currently atrophied running game (Green Bay or Arizona, anyone?) he himself could still be a solid #2 fantasy RB worth a 5th or 6th round selection.
If that happens, that would make this news the best possible scenario for fantasy owners as it would only deepen what is shaping up to be the richest RB crop in recent memory.
Follow Russell Shaffer on Twitter @RussellShaffer