NFL training camps have arrived. Translation: it’s no longer nerdy to be talking about fantasy football. We’re now roughly two weeks away from the first pretend NFL game, which inches us closer to that disgustingly awesome 2014 NFL opener between the Green Bay Packers (my favies) an the defending Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks.
But back to fantasy football. It’s relevant again, and it’s high time we all started putting in the prep work to dominate our fantasy leagues. To help get started, let’s take a quick trip around the nation and stop in and check on one burning question with all 32 NFL franchises. Someone left or arrived, an injury could be a big deal or roles are changing. Whatever the case, one question stands out for each team when you think fantasy football, and we’re going to cover it right flippin’ now:
1. New England Patriots – Can We Trust Rob Gronkowski?
Our own Tim Young doesn’t really think so, and it’s hard to blame him. The Gronk has missed 14 of his last possible 32 regular season games, racking up ankle, arm, back and knee injuries over the past three years. Clearly he fits the bill for an “injury-prone” player. With that said, Gronkowski is recovering quite well from his latest injury and is eyeing a week one return. In fact, he even said recently that he fully intends on playing a full 16-game season for the first time since 2011. He certainly comes with risk (so no, you can’t fully trust him), but if he slides in drafts he remains a steal with elite upside. As in, a serious contender to dethrone Jimmy Graham as fantasy football’s #1 tight end, upside.
2. New York Jets – Will New York’s Offense Improve?
How can it not? This is pretty general, but mostly aimed at new additions, Chris Johnson and Eric Decker. Decker is a two time top-10 receiver who now takes over as Gang Green’s ace receiver, while CJ?k looks like he’s either primed for one last run at glory or will limp out on his last leg. Regardless, it all comes down to quarterback. I’m not a believer in Geno Smith, so if he’s under center things could be ugly. With that said, Decker is the one that carries far less risk. Not only could Johnson struggle in New York, but he could also lose touches to Chris Ivory and/or Bilal Powell. Decker has a very concrete role, though, and is a pretty underrated talent. He’ll return WR3 value at the very worst and is probably a more rock solid WR2 than people give him credit for.
3. Miami Dolphins – Who Can You Trust at Running Back?
No one. Lamar Miller is a flashy talent, but he lacks fundamentals. You know, blocking, holding onto the football – those annoying things. He flashed brilliance at times last year, so he’s still worth a flier, but if you take him as a key player in your lineup you could be asking for trouble. Daniel Thomas needs to not be owned and Knowshon Moreno is extremely troubling, as well. Moreno was awesome last year but it had so much to do with his system and so little to do with his actual talent. He showed up to minicamp out of shape and already had a knee surgery. It’s probably Miller or bust in 2014.
4. Buffalo Bills – Was Last Year the Real C.J. Spiller?
Heck no. All these reports suggesting Spiller will be nothing but another part of the rotation are bogus and will be seen as so given time. Bryce Brown is a high upside depth add but can’t run inside and fumbles too much, while Fred Jackson is going on 80. This is still Spiller’s backfield, folks. He’s one of the most explosive threats in the league and even turned in decent production despite dealing with a dreadful high ankle sprain for much of 2013. He’s sliding in drafts and is going to return amazing value.
5. Cincinnati Bengals – Will Andy Dalton Repeat His Top 5 Finish?
When hell freezes over. That was a fluke season and Cincy knows it. Even if they bought into his 33 touchdown passes, they couldn’t have liked his 20 picks. The way to win with The Red Rifle is to run a balanced offense and let him build off of the run. It looks like that is exactly what the Bengals will do, which should drop Dalton significantly in the ranks. He still has A.J. Green and is actually a fairly underrated talent, but he probably won’t be seen inside the top-10 in 2014.
6. Baltimore Ravens – Will Ray Rice Bounce Back?
I think he can. It’s pretty hard not to considering he’s still just 27 and last year was as ugly as it gets. He wasn’t healthy and looked a step slow, but is said to be “lighter on his feet” this year. Oddly, his biggest obstacle is going to be his looming suspension from punching his now wife. He’s a mid-round steal when you consider his upside, though.
7. Pittsburgh Steelers – Will LeGarrette Blount Kill Le’Veon Bell‘s Value?
No. The Steelers lacked any real talent or depth behind Bell last year, and that’s what prompted them to bring in Blount, who was quite solid with the Patriots in 2013. Bell remains the feature back and should get the bulk of the carries, including work near the goal-line and on passing downs. Blount will have a role, but Bell can safely be targeted in drafts as a potential RB1.
8. Cleveland Browns – Should We Believe in Johnny Football?
I have had him somewhere between 12 and 15 all summer because I’m already there with my belief. The off-field stuff is slightly discouraging, but I still think he’s going to take the league by storm. That doesn’t mean you roll into 2014 with Manziel as your QB1. I think even a conservative projection has him as a borderline QB1, but he’s not even the starter yet. I’d rather take him over guys like Andy Dalton, Ben Roethlisberger, Alex Smith and Eli Manning, though. Fantasy football is all about upside and Manziel has it in spades.
9. Indianapolis Colts – Can Trent Richardson Find His Groove in Indy?
He better. It’s only his third season in the league, yet the formerly hyped running back looks to be at a bit of a crossroads. Truly, there isn’t anything to get you excited about Richardson. All we know is that he supposedly didn’t understand the offense fully and Indy’s offensive line didn’t block the best on a consistent basis. Richardson also looked slow and ran into piles like a guy who never played the position before. He’s a former first round pick that has the talent to succeed, though, so he’s worth spending a mid-round pick on. Just don’t expect elite RB1 production.
10. Houston Texans – Is Anyone Not Named Arian Foster Worth Owning?
Foster will beast out if he can stay healthy, but is there anyone worth drafting in Houston after him? Obviously Andre Johnson would be the close second, but his holdout situation is scary. He could get traded, naturally regress or pout, or even sit like Carson Palmer did a few years back. If any of that happens, DeAndre Hopkins is going to hold a ton of value. He’s currently being drafted super late and needs to be a drafted flier in all leagues.
11. Tennessee Titans – Is Jake Locker Finally Going to Get it?
Probably not. I like the guy and he’s immensely talented, but he’s not accurate and his pocket presence leaves a ton to be desired. With that said, Ken Whisenhunt has revived the careers of Kurt Warner and Philip Rivers, so it’s not like Locker is hopeless. He also showed flashes of getting it before getting banged up twice in 2013. He’s not worth spending a pick on in standard fantasy drafts, but he could be worth a stash in deeper leagues. For the most part, he’s just a guy that needs to be monitored.
12. Jacksonville Jaguars – Is Toby Gerhart the Real Deal?
Yes. Not only was he impressive as the top backup to Adrian Peterson for four years, but he has the skill-set to be a feature back in the NFL. He’s no burner and he doesn’t make people miss, but he has a Marshawn Lynch-esque running style. He can block, catch and punish defenders with his size and strength. Some are acting like he’s being overhyped, but the reality is he’s actually being undervalued.
13. Denver Broncos – Will Montee Ball Be Knowshon Moreno?
No, but he could be better. Either way you shake it, Ball is a risk. He was a hot fantasy sleeper going into his rookie year last season, and flamed out due to ball security, catching and blocking issues. He seems to have ironed all those flaws out, but it’s not completely impossible they become an issue again, is it? In the name of David Wilson and Lamar Miller, we’re quite aware of how possible everything really is by now. With that said, he’s in Denver’s amazing offense and should reap the rewards simply by default. He’s the superior talent in comparison to Moreno and could be an even better fantasy option, but we should probably curb our expectations a bit. After all, Ball isn’t guaranteed to finish as fantasy’s 5th best back just because Moreno did a year ago. But that’s what we’re assuming by taking him in the first rounds (and climbing). I’d prefer to get him in round two as my RB2, if possible.
14. San Diego Chargers – Has Ryan Mathews Shed His Fragile Label?
We’ll see. I still don’t trust the guy. He was really impressive last year, both as the Bolts’ feature back and how he stayed healthy. However, that was the first time he ever played in more than 14 games. I’m not exactly sold on him being able to do that two years in a row. Color me skeptical.
15. Kansas City Chiefs – What KC Passing Options Can You Draft?
Dwayne Bowe and that’s probably it. He’s been non-existent the past two years and seems to have lost a step, while he and Alex Smith don’t seem to have great chemistry. Tight end Travis Kelce could also soar up the ladder and be a factor, but Jamaal Charles is probably going to lead this team in receptions again. Bowe still has a shot at rebounding, but if you’re drafting him as anything more than a WR3 you’re playing with fire.
16. Oakland Raiders – Darren McFadden or Maurice Jones-Drew?
Odds are the pick is actually going to be Latavius Murray. He’s a fantastic athlete and needs to be owned in deeper leagues. However, between these two guys, the picks remains McFadden. He’s the vastly superior talent at this stage in both of their careers, while MJD looked two steps slow at times in 2013. This competition is being pumped up, but I’d be shocked if MJD ends up being the starter.
17. Philadelphia Eagles – How Big of a Loss is DeSean Jackson?
Probably pretty small, believe it or not. A healthy Jeremy Maclin can effectively take over that role, while rookie Jordan Matthews probably can, as well. Philly plans to offset the loss of D-Jax by using their tight ends more, as well as Darren Sproles out of the backfield. The offense won’t necessarily be hurt by the loss of Jackson, it will just be a little different.
18. Dallas Cowboys – How Good Can DeMarco Murray Be?
He seriously could have a shot at the #1 spot among running backs this year. Scott Linehan loves to use his running backs in a variety of ways – one being as a receiver – a lot. Murray could establish career highs in receptions and total touches. He could also in turn put up his best yardage, as well. The trick with him is all about staying healthy. He did find a way to stay on the field for most of 2013, so that upside appears to be beaming right now. The best part is you can still get him as a RB2 in a lot of drafts.
19. New York Giants – Is Rashad Jennings a Sneaky Gem?
I don’t think he is. There is a decent argument to support why he can be a good fantasy back, but the reality is he looked dead in the water in his last season with the Jaguars and he went off on a bad Raiders team in 2013. Seriously, go look at the defenses he torched in 2013. It’s not an impressive list of victims. Jennings is 29 and has never been counted on as a feature back, and probably for pretty good reason. It’s a fairly valid question to ask if he can even hold up under the suspected big role, but it’s another to wonder if he’ll be effective enough to hold off all of David Wilson, Andre Williams and Peyton Hillis. It’s not impossible, but I think fantasy owners who take him will end up being disappointed.
20. Washington Redskins – Which Version of RG3 Will Show Up?
The rookie version, or something close to it. I think a huge part of Robert Griffin III’s rough sophomore season was that stupid knee brace, as well as the fact that he rushed back too quickly. Not seeing a down in the preseason certainly didn’t help, either, while defenses also had tape to help defend Washington’s read-option packages. It made him an uncomfortable pocket passer – a role he didn’t appear to be fully ready for. Jay Gruden is an offensive wiz and solid additions in DeSean Jackson and Andre Roberts will only help matters. He’s still a work in progress from the pocket, but RG3 is going to be a legit top-10 fantasy quarterback, regardless.
21. Green Bay Packers – Who is the Tight End to Own?
Jermichael Finley still wants to play for the green and gold, but for now it looks like rookie Richard Rodgers is the Packer tight end to watch. I also am keen on undrafted rookie Colt Lyerla, but he’s further down the depth chart and probably needs a killer camp and preseason to make the team. None of these guys are going to be concrete options right off the bat, but Rodgers probably has the best shot early on.
22. Chicago Bears – Can Jay Cutler Stay Healthy?
Judging on his history, probably not. The hope needs to be that he at least will be healthy down the stretch, or that whatever ails him this year will only cost him a handful of games. I think he can get back to being a 14-15 game guy, though, and if he does he has legit top-5 upside.
23. Detroit Lions – Will Eric Ebron Make an Immediate Impact?
Yes, but not big enough. His impact will be felt more in real life as defenses will have to honor him over the middle and in the red-zone. In turn, it should free up Detroit’s wide receivers more. Ebron is an elite talent for the tight end position, but still has Brandon Pettigrew to contend with. He’s also a solid blocker but still could be better, so if he doesn’t make major strides here it could hurt his playing time. Tight ends also don’t tend to bust out as rookies, so we can expect mere flashes from him in 2014.
24. Minnesota Vikings – Is Cordarrelle Patterson Ready to Meet the Hype?
Yes. I loved him coming out of Tennessee last year, and while I was half a year too soon (he really did tear it up in the second half of the year), I think he’s now primed for a mammoth breakout season. Norv Turner’s vertical system helped Josh Gordon turn into a household name in 2013 and the same might happen with C-Patt in 2014. I like his situation even better if rookie passer Teddy Bridgewater can unseat the average Matt Cassel.
25. New Orleans Saints – Kenny Stills or Brandin Cooks?
This is a tough one, as Stills really looked good as a rookie last year and should only see his role increased. Cooks is probably the more versatile talent, though, and could be used in a number of ways. I really like both, but I think Cooks carries a little more upside – even as a rookie.
26. Carolina Panthers – Can We Count on Cam Newton?
Absolutely. I’m tired of everyone undervaluing this guy, as if losing Steve Smith and Brandon LaFell really crushes him. Smith was an aging, regressing receiver and LaFell was never any good. Those aren’t losses, it’s addition by subtraction. Jason Avant and Jerricho Cotchery aren’t world beaters, but they are veterans who run solid routes and can catch the ball. Newton also still has Greg Olsen (who happened to career last year) and he’s also still one of the best running quarterbacks in the league – if not the best. Sure, the Panthers might not be as good as they were a year ago and Newton might even throw more picks. But he hasn’t finished outside of the top-four yet in his three-year career. Even if he does finally in 2014, it won’t be by much.
27. Atlanta Falcons – Can We Trust Julio Jones?
No, but you don’t have a choice. The guy is insanely talented and was well on his way to becoming the #1 receiver in fantasy football last year before his foot acted up for the second time in three years. He’s a stud when healthy, so you need to take that shot. Hopefully it’s only in round two or three, though.
28. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Can Josh McCown Do What He Did Last Year?
No. He was in such a great situation and Marc Trestman truly is a quarterback whisperer. As good as the set up is in Tampa Bay, a collection of Vincent Jackson, Mike Evans and Austin Seferian-Jenkins simply isn’t Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery and Martellus Bennett. I think McCown will be fine and the Bucs will be better, but he put up 13 touchdowns to just one pick. He also didn’t face tough competition in most of his games. And this is still Josh friggin’ McCown we’re talking about. He’ll probably have his best season he’s ever had, but that doesn’t mean he’ll be elite.
29. Seattle Seahawks – Is Marshawn Lynch Headed For a Fall?
It’s inevitable. Christine Michael is an awesome talent that the Seahawks won’t be able to keep off the field much longer and Lynch’s 1,000+ carries over the past three years are going to start to catch up to him. I don’t think it crushes his fantasy value completely, but there’s a reasonable change he’s not the studly elite back we’ve witnessed over the past three years. I’m not in love with him in the first round of drafts this year.
30. San Francisco 49ers – How Much Can We Expect Out of Frank Gore?
The early word is that he could lose about 40-50 carries. That sounds about right for a still effective but aging back. Gore is on the wrong side of 30 and is surely nearing an inevitable end, but he’s still a very good running back that the Niners aren’t just going to suddenly stop using. Marcus Lattimore may never be healthy, Carlos Hyde is just a rookie and Kendall Hunter is merely a change of pace option. Gore won’t threaten for RB1 value in the least and may wear down again down the stretch, but he remains a fairly undervalued RB2 going into 2014.
31. Arizona Cardinals – Can Andre Ellington Be Elite?
Absolutely. He’s pint sized and going to be susceptible to being broken in half, but Bruce Arians is an offensive genius and there’s enough going on in the passing game to help keep defenses honest. Ellington’s 5.5 yards per tote as a rook aren’t a fluke. The production won’t be quite that gaudy with more touches, but he has the elite ability to do major damage. Add in his versatility, and that’s even more so the case. His NFC West schedule is brutal, but the rest of his lineup actually is quite soft. If you draft him as a RB2 you’ll be happier, but he does carry RB1 upside.
31. St. Louis Rams – Is Tre Mason a Real Concern For Zac Stacy Owners?
I don’t see why not. St. Louis drafted the more versatile and more explosive Mason for a reason; because Stacy leaves something to be desired in both areas. Mason needs to improve as a blocker and hold onto the football when he gets his chances, but there should be a role for him early on. If Stacy proves to be the pure volume back he looked like down the stretch last year (just 3.9 ypc over his rookie year), Mason could end up being a problem. Good solution? Handcuff Stacy with Mason.