There are many fantasy questions that we are seeking clarity on as training camp sets to begin; in this article I tackle thirty-two of the most pressing. Let’s go!
Last season John Brown played 65% of the Cardinals’ snaps for the season and 72% of the snaps in the second half of the year. He also ran 44% of his routes from the slot as he went 46/655/5. With Larry Fitzgerald slowing down a bit, it is conceivable that Fitzgerald kicks inside more often, giving Brown even more chances for big plays on the outside. It is also conceivable that Brown overtakes Michael Floyd in two wide sets. We have yet to see Michael Floyd’s best days and Floyd has played well when Carson Palmer has been on the field, but Brown is too good and too explosive to keep on the bench. If Brown sees 80%+ snaps, his numbers will soar. It’s also worth noting that he has been working out with Carson Palmer during the off-season.
New Offensive Coordinator Kyle Shanahan usually runs a balanced offense and has stated that he is going to run a more up-tempo scheme this season. Unfortunately he hasn’t featured running backs in the passing game very often, but when your starters are Alfred Morris, Terrance West and Isaiah Crowell, it doesn’t leave you with much choice. Tevin Coleman and Devonta Freeman are destined to form a running back by committee this year, as we saw last season in Cleveland when Shanahan played the hot hand, rotating West and Crowell early and often. Both Coleman and Freeman will have value this year, but their upside will be determined once we see how Shanahan decides to divvy up their reps and utilize them. While my money is on Coleman receiving slightly more work, Freeman is probably the better value right now as his ADP is a full two rounds later at 9.02. He also graded out as PFF's #1 back in pass protection last season, which goes a long way in this offense. As things stand now, I wouldn't recommend targeting either as more than your RB3/Flex.
It’s all about this teams trio of rookies: running back Javorius Allen, wide receiver Breshad Perriman and tight end Maxx Williams. The Ravens need all three of them to step up in a major way and all could have a solid fantasy impact if they do. The Ravens will undoubtedly employ a running back friendly scheme under new OC Marc Trestman and Allen is a big bodied back with some decent wiggle to him that has drawn comparisons to Matt Forte. Perriman on the other hand is an eventual upgrade on departed Torrey Smith. Noted NFL analyst, Greg Cosell, mentioned that Perriman has all of the physical tools and traits to be a #1 receiver, and while he is not as purely explosive as Julio Jones coming out of Alabama, he has similar size and movement. In fact, he thought that Perriman could be the best receiver in this rookie class, which is saying a lot. Williams was the first tight end taken in this years draft and steps into a great situation with the departure of Owen Daniels. However it often takes tight ends at least a year or two to adjust to the NFL game and Crockett Gillmore showed he is capable of being more than just a blocker. We also just got word that Dennis Pitta was put on the active PUP list, so he can't be counted out just yet either. Perriman should be able to beat our veteran receivers Marlon Brown and Kamar Aiken sooner than later offering weekly boom or bust Martavis Bryant 2014 type numbers, while Allen and Williams will be harder to trust until we see how they develop, although I still like Allen to pass Lorenzo Taliaferro on the running back depth chart by mid-season.
Can the Bills defenders stay healthy in camp? If so, this unit, that finished third in fantasy scoring last season, will be down right scary and should be in consideration for the first defense taken off the board. With Rex Ryan in town this defense will be aggressive, with plenty of disguise up front and a lot of man-to-man coverage on the back. The team has explosive edge rushers on the outside in Jerry Hughes and Mario Williams and can stop the run with Marcell Dareus and Kyle Williams. They are weakest at the linebacker spot, but were confident enough in the development of both Nigel Bradham and Preston Brown that they traded away Kiko Alonso. They also have one of the better defensive back units with Stephon Gilmore, Leodis McKelvin, and Nickell Robey. Doesn’t it say something about this team that I’m only talking about their defense? Well, that’s because I’m not drafting a single player on their offense.
A Kelvin Benjamin regression is almost inevitable. He had a horrible catch rate (50.7%) and finished second in the NFL in drops (11) despite finishing as the 19th overall fantasy wide receiver in 2014. The main reason for this is twofold: 4 of his 9 touchdowns came in garbage time and he received 9 targets a game because he was the only decent wide receiver on the field. With the addition of second round pick Devin Funchess and Cam Newton continuing to be erratic in his passing, making much of leap is tough to expect for Benjamin. Benjamin has also not helped himself out by reporting to OTAs out of shape, leading him to pull both hamstrings. I honestly don’t view Benjamin as much of a question mark; he will be a backend WR2 that is currently being over drafted in the 3rd round by people chasing last years stats.
I think the biggest question for Carolina is who is going to back up Jonathan Stewart, a running back that has proved incapable of staying healthy in his seven-year career. While on the field, Stewart will flirt with RB1 numbers, but when he goes down, who will replace him is yet to be determined. Most people assume it will be 5th round rookie Cameron Artis-Payne, but I wouldn’t count out Mike Tolbert stepping in or the team adding depth once the pre-season begins. With veterans like Ray Rice and Chris Johnson lurking in free agency, it’s a situation to monitor closely.
Kevin White will eventually start opposite Alshon Jeffery and may even supplant him as the teams’ number one receiver by the end of the season, as he is capable of having a Mike Evans type of rookie year. How soon that happens can only be answered in training camp, since according to Jay Cutler, White is currently sitting at #4 on their depth chart behind Jeffery, Eddie Royal and Marquess Wilson, not to mention Matt Forte and Martellus Bennett as well. White is still a little raw as a route runner, but longtime Bears beat-writer Dan Pompei described White as the most impressive rookie wide receiver he’s ever seen walk through the doors at Halas Hall. My money is on White starting at the X receiver spot by the time the regular season kicks off and settling in as a WR3 by mid-season with weekly WR2 upside.
While the battle between Marvin Jones Jr and Mohamed Sanu will be interesting to watch, it is the development of Tyler Eifert that is going to be the most intriguing situation to pay attention to during the Bengals training camp. Due to injuries and the presence of veteran tight end Jermaine Gresham, Eifert has failed to live up to his first round draft expectations. There was a lot of promise last season, but after catching three passes in the first quarter of the Bengals first game, he missed the rest of the season with an elbow injury. Finally healthy and with Gresham no longer on the team, Eifert should be a full time player and ready to roll. While the team has clearly started to lean more run heavy, if Eifert’s usage in that one game last season is any indication, he could easily be the teams second busiest receiver after A.J. Green. But before I go all in on Eifert, he has to stay healthy and show that he can beat out rookie Tyler Kroft, who actually may be a better blocker and who NFL analyst Greg Cosell compared to Zach Ertz,
If Dallas has the best offensive line in football, Cleveland is a very close second. On a team devoid of anything resembling a professional passing game, the Browns should run the ball early and often. In fact, the team has even stated that they will finish in the top five of rushing attempts this year. Undrafted free agent Isaiah Crowell was a revelation last year, averaging 4.1 yards a carry despite facing loaded boxes and losing Center Alex Mack to injury. Crowell looks like the best bet to take on lead duties, but dynamic rookie Duke Johnson Jr will see significant snaps as well. Johnson adds a speed element that Crowell and West just can’t match, especially once he gets to the second level. Johnson is also an excellent receiver and considered one of the best blockers in this year’s rookie class. This season Johnson should be the Gio Bernard to Crowell’s Jeremy Hill, limiting him to a flex play in PPR leagues, but if he proves he’s just as dynamic when the bullets start flying as he was in OTAs, he could eventually see the majority of snaps, pushing weekly RB2 status.
The Cowboys have the best offensive line in the league and we saw how dominant they can be when last season DeMarco Murray averaged 4.7 yards per carry and an amazing 2.5 yards before contact, carrying the rock 393 times for 1,845 yards and 13 TDs. He also added 57 catches on 64 targets for 416 yards. With Murray now in Philadelphia, there is a lot of value to be had in this offense. While Joseph Randle looks to be the early favorite to start, I’m not sold he has the talent or the mental mind set (as Greg Cosell likes to point out) to be a plug and play replacement for Murray. Fortunately for Randle though, Darren McFadden looks done and can never stay healthy and Lance Dunbar is best used in spots as a change of pace back. Although it’s also very likely that Dallas adds another running back during the pre-season as cuts start to be made. Possible candidates include Chris Johnson, Ray Rice, Bryce Brown, Zac Stacy, Zach Zenner, DuJuan Harris and Marion Grice. For anyone drafting early, be careful not to over draft any Dallas back, but once the picture clears up, be ready to pounce.
Let’s start with what we do know: 1) This team will lean more heavily on the run than they have in the past, making C.J. Anderson a great play 2) Emmanuel Sanders has openly stated he will not be catching as many passes as he did last year 3) We can feel fairly certain that Demaryius Thomas will still be a beast since he does most of his damage in the screen game and in yards after the catch 4) A combination of Thomas, Virgil Green, Owen Daniels and Cody Latimer will make up the production left behind by Wes Welker and Julius Thomas, the latter three mentioned players having only barely serviceable fantasy value from week-to-week.
Now for what we don’t know … at age 39 will Peyton Manning’s arm and body be able to hold up for the whole season. Unfortunately we aren’t going to know the answer to that in training camp, but at least we will get a glimpse. After throwing for a record breaking 55 touchdown passes in 2013, Manning had a total of only four touchdown passes in the whole month of December last season. Extrapolate that over an entire season and we are looking at around 17 touchdowns for the year. Now I’m not saying that Manning will throw 17 touchdowns, in fact I would bet through the first half of the season he will be putting up numbers at his usual brilliant pace, but after that, all bets are off. Yes Manning was playing hurt, but ask any 39 year old, and they will tell you, little aches and pains last a whole lot longer than they used to. Manning is quite possibly the greatest quarterback in NFL history, but at age 39, and after watching his body give out on him last year, it is really hard to trust him to last the whole year as a top notch fantasy quarterback when so many other good ones are available.
Even though Ameer Abdullah is a smaller back (5’9” 200lbs) he has the potential to be a true feature back as he runs low to the ground, with exceptional balance, power and burst and is also a great receiver. His only knock is that he has relatively small hands, coughing up the ball 13 times in college. If he can clean up his ball security issues and show that he can take a pounding in the NFL during the pre-season, he has the potential to be a RB1 by this time next year. The pedestrian (and currently injured) Joique Bell certainly isn’t going to stand in his way. It’s also worth noting that Abdullah never missed a game due to injury in college. Another player to watch closely is Eric Ebron who's head was swimming last year. If he can get it together in camp, it will be a major boost to both his and Matthew Stafford's value.
Green Bay Packers
After a mixed rookie season, DeVante Adams has a current ADP of 8.10. Reports from OTAs were positive, but talk is cheap this time of year and whether or not he can truly makes a sophomore leap forward to earn the trust of Aaron Rodgers is going to be interesting to watch. As Marc Sessler reported on NFL.com, number three receivers during the Rodgers and McCarthy regime have only averaged 41/570/4.6. Certainly not mind blowing stats, however, during that period, almost every single season one of the main three receivers was injured, which skews the stats slightly. If Adams shines in training camp, I think Rodgers is more than capable of taking advantage of all his weapons, giving Adams weekly WR3 value. If he doesn't, he will be too hard to trust on a week-to-week basis and is nothing more than a handcuff for Cobb and Nelson. But remember kids, Jordy Nelson is still rehabbing from injury.
Do the Texans have a quarterback that can actually get DeAndre Hopkins the ball? We all know what Brian Hoyer is, so for Hopkins sake we have to hope that Ryan Mallett is better than we think he is. With Andre Johnson now in Indy, Hopkins will have to deal with teams number one cornerbacks, something he rarely had to do last year. Facing 7 of PFF’s 8 top rated cornerbacks this year won’t be easy for Hopkins, so having competent quarterback play is going to be crucial. I wouldn’t count on it.
Since Pep Hamilton took over as offensive coordinator and the team drafted Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen, the Colts have always intended to run their base offense with two tight ends. However, that could change the season with the addition of veteran Andre Johnson, the emergence of talented second year wide receiver Donte Moncrief and spending a first round pick on speedster Phillip Dorsett to go along with number one receiver T.Y. Hilton. There is simply too much talent at the wide receiver position to leave these guys on the bench, and when you are playing with Andrew Luck, the fantasy implications are huge. For those expecting Fleener to repeat his stats from last year (51/774/8) you will most likely be very disappointed. I would also bet against an Allen breakout, even though I project him to put up better numbers than Fleener. If you want to own a piece of this offense, especially in best ball leagues, Dorsett and Moncrief are your cheap buy-ins.
T.J. Yeldon is a talented athlete, and despite his size (6’1” 226lbs), he runs like a smaller back with loose hips that can get “skinny” (as noted analyst Greg Cosell likes to say) at the line of scrimmage. Cosell also mentioned that he thought Yeldon was a more explosive inside runner than much hyped San Diego rookie running back, Melvin Gordon III. Yeldon actually reminds me a bit of Le'Veon Bell, a bigger back that has a little glide to him with quick feet. But the key to Yeldon’s success is going to be this the teams offensive line and whether or not they can open up holes for Yeldon and protect Blake Bortles. To help fix the line, the team hired former Bills Head Coach Doug Marrone and signed free agent Jermey Parnell to five year $32 million contract. The progress of former first round pick Luke Joeckel is also going to be crucial to the lines success, but with Marrone in town there is reason for optimism. If this line can gel, Yeldon should shine as a three down back.
Kansas City Chiefs
Jeremy Maclin broke out last year posting a solid 85/1318/10 line in Chip Kelly’s high-powered offense. We can confidently go into this season not expecting those sort of numbers, as Maclin never surpassed 70/1000 while playing for his reunited former head coach Andy Reid, who drafted him in Philly. Alex Smith is also a game managing quarterback that takes very few risks with the ball, rarely pushing it up field. That was on full display last year when the Chief’s finished the season without a single wide receiver scoring a touchdown. While some of the blame certainly rests with last seasons poor wide receiving core, that stat is a clear indication of the hurdle Maclin faces this season. How well Smith and Maclin gel in the pre-season is going to be tantamount to Maclin producing at least WR2 numbers in PPR leagues, where he could get peppered with short area passes, having to create touchdowns on his own. 85/1000/5 is probably his absolute ceiling.
The wide receiver core in Miami has been one the most discussed questions in fantasy circles, and while it will be interesting to try and see who Tanehill best clicks with, I don’t believe we will truly get any sort of clear picture during the pre-season beyond what we already know, which is that Jarvis Landry will catch a ton of balls out of the slot, Kenny Stills will play the deep role, Greg Jennings’ will work as a place holder for DeVante Parker and a healthy Jordan Cameron will look great as long as he stays healthy. I also doubt OC Bill Lazor will give away much of their game plan until the bullets start flying for real in September.
The far more intriguing question for fantasy owners should be how good Damien Williams and rookie Jay Ajayi look running the ball. Both backs are physically gifted and have shown in college that they have what it takes to be starters in the NFL. As we saw last year, Lazor is looking for more than just Lamar Miller to man the backfield and it is entirely possible that Ajayi splits carries with him, including at the goal line, while Williams also subs in on few series a game and also during occasional passing downs.
Will Kyle Rudolph ever stay healthy? I sure hope so. Despite being in the league for what seems forever, he is still somehow just 25 years old and has the talent to produce like a TE1 with a quality quarterback in Teddy Bridgewater and in a tight end friendly scheme courtesy of OC Norv Turner that saw Jordan Cameron (and Antonio Gates before him) light up the league. If he can just get through training camp healthy, it will be reason for optimism and he is a steal at his current 13.01 ADP.
New England Patriots
While the length of Tom Brady’s suspension is undoubtedly the biggest question mark for this team, we can’t do anything but sit and wait for the outcome of his appeal. If the suspension is not reduced, look for everyone to take a hit in those first four games as Jimmy “the Gent” Garoppolo is not a plug and play player in this offense.
Beyond Brady, the real question is who will take over the Shane Vereen role, as the Patriots have shown they will never rely on just on one running back; especially one that is not great at catching passes in LeGarrette Blount. In contention are running backs James White, Travaris Cadet, Dion Lewis, Tyler Gaffney, Brandon Bolden and Jonas Gray. Gray, Gaffney and Bolden are more in the mold of Blount, with Gaffney currently working behind both Blount and Grey in OTAs. Although Gaffney has some speed to him and Head Coach Bill Belichick supposedly loves him.
As for passing downs, according to reports, White has looked great while lining up all over the formation and coming out of the backfield. Unfortunately he also looked great last season at this time before fading during the regular season. Despite his size (6’1” 210) Cadet is not a physical runner but he does run great routes and has good hands. Long time Patriot beat writer Christopher Price predicts he has the inside track on third down duties, but Cadet's development as a pass protector will go a long way in determining whether he sees the field. Lewis on the other hand has bounced around the league since being drafted in the 5th round in 2011 and is most likely on the outside looking in. My bet is on White to seize the passing down role, which should come with decent flex PPR value, but with Belichick you never really know, as he likes to switch things up almost on a whim (Gray rushed for 201yds and 4tds in week 11 last year and then barley saw the field the rest of the season), making this whole situation for the sane owner, one to avoid.
New Orleans Saints
Despite moving to a more balanced offensive approach, most fantasy experts are predicting Drew Brees to once again throw for more than 4,000 yards, with the experts on Footballguys predicting he throws for between 4,400 and 4,600. Even if Brandin Cooks has 1,200 yards, Marques Colston 900 yards, C.J. Spiller 820 yards and the Tight Ends combine for another 800 yards, which is all really aggressive, there is still 1,400 to 1,600 yards of passing unaccounted for. So either Brees is going to regress greatly (he hasn’t thrown for less than 4,388 yards since 2005) or someone else in this offense is going to be involved more than anyone is predicting. You can bet your money on the latter, which means that whomever wins the third wide receiver job is going to hold at some fantasy value.
The three main receivers vying for this role are Nick Toon (6-4, 218 lbs), Brandon Coleman (6-6, 225lbs) and Seantavius Jones (6-foot-3, 200lbs). After going undrafted last year, both Coleman and Jones have received rave reviews in OTAs while Nick Toon’s career has been plagued by injuries up to this point, but he did finish the final six games of last year strong, going 17 /215/1. Toon should be given every opportunity to win the job, but I would put my money on Coleman to emerge at some point, especially in the redzone where he could score plenty of TDs with Jimmy Graham now in Seattle.
New York Giants
How good Victor Cruz looks in the pre-season is one of the more intriguing questions in Fantasy this year. I would advise fading Cruz regardless of how he looks, since ruptured patellar tendon injuries have been known to sap a players explosiveness, but his health will greatly affect the fantasy value of all the other skill players, save for Odell Beckham Jr Jr. I'm talking about you Shane Vereen, Larry Donnell and Rueben Randle.
New York Jets
On paper there is a lot to love here, but when the bullets start flying, it becomes hard to trust Geno Smith. Let’s start with the bad: early reports from OTAs were that Geno was been up and down as usual, and as we saw last year he often makes poor decisions, misreads coverage and can be widely inaccurate with his throws. Now with the good: Geno works hard and can certainly make every throw, and in his defense, his supporting cast last year was atrocious. This year he has a legitimate receiving core with Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker on the outside, Jeremy Kerley in the slot, intriguing second year tight end Jace Amaro in the middle and exciting rookie Devin Smith to stretch the field. The Jets also have a solid offensive line and a new offensive coordinator in Chan Gailey that isn’t afraid to push things. There is no way you can trust Geno as your starter, but if he can finally put it together, Marshall, Decker and Smith could all have more value than currently projected.
Similar to Geno Smith in New York, whether or not Derek Carr can make the leap this year will determine what sort of value Amari Cooper, Latavius Murray, Roy Helu and Michael Crabtree truly will have. The Raider’s upgraded their offensive line (currently ranked #14 on our site) and Carr showed last year that he is capable quarterback, throwing 21 touchdowns and only 12 interceptions with an absolutely horrendous supporting cast. Unfortunately for the aforementioned players, Carr very well may be Alex Smith part two as he was captain check down last season and very rarely pushed the ball downfield. Cooper should certainly catch 85+ passes this season, but consistent big plays in this offense will be hard to come by unless Carr steps it up.
While the health of Sam Bradford is the most pressing pre-season question in real life football, in fantasy it is not that big a deal. Under Chip Kelly, Eagles quarterbacks have produced top 10 numbers no matter who is starting, so if you draft Bradford, you are also drafting Mark Sanchez. In fantasy, the more intriguing question will be how Chip Kelly deploys his three talented running backs; DeMarco Murray, Ryan Mathews and Darren Sproles. There have been hints that Sproles role won’t change that much as the occasional change of pace back and return man, but when healthy (which is a big but), Mathews is arguably just as talented a runner as Murray. The Eagles had the 7th most rush attempts last season and that number could certainly rise. Will Chip rotate Murray and Mathews every few series, ride the hot hand or will Mathews just be the backup? My bet is that Murray takes the lead, but there is more than enough volume to go around, especially since the Eagles don’t change personnel too much when they are attacking, making Mathews a viable flex option in PPR leagues every week at worst.
One other situation to monitor closely will be if second year receiver Josh Huff can make the leap to grab ahold of the teams third receiver job. Jordan Matthews will most likely play most of his snaps in the slot, so significant snaps on the outside would yield good value for a player currently going undrafted in most leagues. There is probably no better last round flier.
Martavis Bryant exploded on the scene last year going 26/549/8 in just 10 games, with a 54% catch rate. The poor catch rate can be attributed to him being used mainly as a deep threat, which is something that should hopefully change this year, at least that is how people are currently drafting him, with an ADP in the 5th round. Bryant is big (6’4”, 211lbs) and fast (4.4 forty), but he is still raw as a route runner and doesn’t always play with the most physicality. In college, fellow teammate Sammy Watkins went 101/1464/12 while Bryant mostly did his damage on deep routes going 42/828/7. Whether or not Bryant can refine his route running and not only win the starting role opposite Antonio Brown, but really command the ball, will go a long way in determining whether his ADP will be validated. Markus Wheaton aside, the Stealers spent the 87th pick of this years draft on a Bryant clone in wide receiver Sammie Coates Jr, who actually may be even more of a physical freak, albeit with even worse hands. That said, Bryant has certainly made all the right moves this off-season training with Odell Beckham Jr Jr., adding ten pounds of muscle and taking up mixed martial arts to help fight off defenders with better hand technique. I am optimistic that he takes the next step forward.
San Diego Chargers
After a very impressive rookie season, Keenan Allen took a slight step back in his sophomore season, struggling through injury at times to finish with a 77/783/4 line. Part of the regression is a result of fewer touchdowns (which can be fluky) and to catching shorter thrown passes, leading to a lower yardage total. However, Allen seems to have recognized it may take more work ethic to really thrive in this league and has hinted that he didn’t prepare last season as he should have. Philip Rivers stated that he has seen “more focus and determination" from Allen who has also lost some weight so he can play faster. It often takes wide receivers three years to fully break out; hopefully last seasons “slump” will lead to Allen taking the next step this year. While not a physical freak, it is not inconceivable that he can make an Antonito Brown type leap, especially playing with a great quarterback like Rivers.
San Francisco 49ers
If Colin Kaepernick and Torrey Smith can get on the same page during camp, Smith will reward his owners greatly at his current 11th round ADP. Between a coaching change, all the players that left via free agency (Frank Gore, Mike Lupati, Dan Skuta) and all the players that retired this year (Patrick Willis, Chris Borland, Anthony Davis, Justin Smith) the 49ers are not going to be very good. The team also has a worse offensive line this season, a harder schedule and Carlos Hyde only averaged 1.5 yards before contact last year (Frank Gore averaged 2.2 yards). So this is a team that should be playing from behind, or trying to play keep up, quite a lot this season. This bodes well for Smith, who should see a good number of deep bombs tossed his way every game, and Kaepernick has the arm to take advantage of Smith’s deep speed. It also bears watching how Reggie Bush plays in the pre-season since he looked good in OTAs and could be used a ton as the teams passing back and in the screen game, one that was largely abandoned under former Head Coach Jim Harbaugh.
Who will back up Marshawn Lynch this year and become is heir apparent is going to be intriguing to watch during the pre-season. Even though there are no signs of slowing down, due to the nature of Seattle’s run based offensive, handcuffing the 29 year old Lynch, especially in dynasty leagues, is a must. Christine Michael has looked explosive at times during the brief time he has seen the field, but as they say, potential has a shelf life, and if Seattle thought he was ready, they most likely would not have extended Lynch this past off-season. There has actually even been some rumors that Michael's gets cut, which would bode well for running back needy teams like Dallas, but with Robert Turbin working his way back from injury, I wouldn't count on it. More worrisome for Michael is the addition of undrafted free agent Thomas Rawls, a 5’9” 215 pound beast of a man that runs bigger than his size and explodes into would be tacklers. Rawls also has outstanding balance and lateral shiftiness who can run with power. Some character issues caused him to fall off draft boards, but if he continues to play like he did in OTAs, we wouldn’t be surprised for him to see the field ahead of Michael.
St. Louis Rams
Todd Gurley is currently being drafted in the 5th round, which is either a steal or a wasted pick depending on the progress he makes during the pre-season, as he works his way back from an ACL injury. When healthy, in college Gurley was an extremely explosive, tough and physical back that ran with power and had soft hands when catching the ball. He’s been called the most elite running back to come out of college since Adrian Peterson, although they also said that about Trent Richardson, and we all know how that worked out. That’s why it would be great to actually see signs of life from Gurley before spending an early round pick on him. But Gurley is still very young, turning 21 only next month, and can beat teams with his elusiveness and much as his power to run right over you. He is even former track star who ran hurdles for the USA national team in the world youth championships. All that said, the Rams offensive line was dismal in 2014 and this site currently ranks them as the worst offensive line in the league. Tre Mason was stuffed on 25% of his runs last season and the team did very little to upgrade their interior linemen, although LT Greg Robinson and rookie RT Rob Havenstein could provide some running room on the edges. So even if Gurley gains health, it may be too much to ask to rely on him as your RB2, but as we’ve seen with the truly gifted runners like Adrian Peterson and Marshawn Lynch, poor line play can be overcome by extraordinary talent. We just need to see if Gurley has that sort of talent this year.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Neither Charles Sims nor Doug Martin instilled us with much confidence that they could be great running backs in this league after they both had very lackluster seasons. While the Tampa backs averaged 2.1 yards before contact, they combined to break only five tackles all season long and averaged a dismal 1.5 yards after contact. That means that the Tampa offensive line actually did a better job then we thought, but their backs were just pathetic. Doug Martin showed some signs of life in week 15 against Carolina (rushing 14 times for 96 yards) and week 17 against New Orleans (19 rushes for 108 yards). Unfortunately he only averaged 3.7 yards on the year, put up a dud 10 rushes for only 17 yards in week 16 and he also graded out as PFF's worst running back in pass protection last season, coming in at #148. Nonetheless Martin has slimmed down 15 pounds during the offseason and looked good in OTAs. Sims on the other hand, broke his ankle last pre-season and missed the first 8 games; never looking quite right after his return. The team would love for Sims to take on lead duties and he certainly looks like the safer choice, especially in PPR leagues, as he is the far superior pass catching back, drawing pre-draft comparisons to Matt Forte. At the moment Sims' 11th round ADP is much easier to swallow than Martin's 8th.
It’s all about the rookies for the Titans. How quickly Marcus Mariota, Dorial Green-Beckham and David Cobb develop will go a long way in determining whether any of them are worth drafting as anything more than late round fliers. Mariota has impressed so far in OTAs, showing more accuracy than expected and he should put up some decent fantasy points every game with his feet. At his best, there is no reason Beckham can’t put up Kelvin Benjamin rookie type numbers on a team that will most likely be playing from behind a lot this year, making him a potentially fantasy season winning late round pick. And winning your league is what it's about. As for Cobb, he should see some early down and goal-line work in a committee with Bishop Sankey to start the season, and could very well take over lead duties as the season progresses. Right now, Kendall Wright looks like a safe option as a WR3/4 in PPR leagues, Delanie Walker a safe low end TE1 and Bishop Sankey someone to avoid completely. As for the rest, the pre-season games should be telling.
Unlike the situation in Philly, this all comes down to the quarterback and how well Robert Griffin III III plays this year. Can RGIII return to the player he was as a rookie or will he continue his slide under HC Jay Gruden. The hiring of quarterback coach Matt Cavanaugh should certainly help after Gruden took on those duties last year with little success. But if RGIII tanks again, so will the rest of Washington’s skill players.
One other situation to keep an eye on is the development of Niles Paul. Paul doesn’t have ideal size for a TE ( 6’1” 240lbs) but he did a great job filling in for the often injured Jordan Reed; going 18/253/1 in his first three starts before the whole team essentially imploded. If Reed gets nicked up in camp and RG3 looks like he is turning things around, Paul could surprise once again. That’s a lot of “ifs” though.