Every day more news trickles in from training camps around the league and with it come the whispers of change as position battles rage and our preconceived notion of how things will shake out, get shaken up. Below are 4 early contenders to see their value plummet as the find themselves in the midst of the bad buzz machine that so often derails our fantasy preparations. (this is in no way ranked in order of importance.)
Terrance West – RB / Cleveland Browns – The second head in the two-headed monster in Cleveland last year has seen his stock take a hit with the continued surge of Isaiah Crowell as the lead back and the addition of third down specialist Duke Johnson. Word out of Browns camp is that West isn’t even safe in terms of making the 53 man roster. While I may not be ready to right the eulogy on his career in Cleveland, it’s a safe bet that West sees very little meaningful time on the field barring a catastrophic injury ahead of him.
Charles Clay – TE / Buffalo Bills – Any move that sees you go to a team like Buffalo has to make one pause when considering a players fantasy viability, but we all pointed to the freakish athleticism and the ability to be an impact player on a team that desperately needed one in the middle of the field as reasons why we considered Clay an obvious sleeper. Now, a full week into training camp, reports have Clay being targeted by Bills QBs a whopping 0 times. That’s right, you can’t divide by the number of time’s he’s been thrown at because it isn’t even a number. We’re a ways off from actual NFL games, and this could turn around for the gifted TE, but it’s a bad sign when a bad offense isn’t even TRYING to get you involved.
Darren McFadden – RB / Dallas Cowboys – Once upon a time McFadden was expected to blossom into an elite NFL runner. Then the injury history we all conveniently ignored became the present… and then the future. Now he’s becoming a frequent footnote in fantasy circles as well. What began as an off season filled with cautious optimism (for no reason other than we wanted to be right eventually) has turned into what we always knew it would be; another injury riddled campaign for the much maligned running back. A pulled hamstring is not the end of the world, but it is an other entry in the long list of obstacles that McFadden has to overcome to gain the starting gig… not least of which is that Joseph Randle now holds the keys to the castle. Steer clear of McFadden until the picks don’t matter; that way you won’t mind dumping him when he finds his way to the IR.
Marquise Lee – WR / Jacksonville Jaguars – A second round pick last year, Lee came into the league lauded as one of the top WR options in the draft; expectations where he’d immediately make an impact in the absence of suspended #1 Justin Blackmon. Inconsistency and injury derailed the promising players rookie year, and as we begin camps, it appears as though Lee is the odd man out with Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns playing their ways into starting roles, and several touches being siphoned by new RB TJ Yeldon and free agent TE Juluis Thomas. Lee is very low on my list of maybe-sleepers.
Honorable Mentions: Bishop Sankey – There’s been very little good news this off season for the first RB selected in last years draft. He has stiff competition in the form of rookie arrival David Cobb. Trent Richardson – Early reports had him cutting weight, now they have him on the outside of the bubble as Murray and Helu (on third downs) look to lock up the backfield. Joique Bell – This one has been beat to death so much that Bell seems to fallen out of favor with both fans and pundits as Ameer Abdullah continues to carry the torch as Bell returns from an injury. Unless he falls in drafts, his value is taking a major hit.
As we finish up team minicamps, we’re left to sift through copious homerisms about players beat writers love, and buzz killer articles for players they love to hate. How much of this information is useful? That is open to interpretation, but it it makes sense to keep an ear open for pre-season movers; otherwise how can we know who’s positioned themselves to be the next Arian Foster?
Speaking of Arian Foster, his old coach Gary Kubiak has made comments leading Denver Post’s Troy Renck to declare that the battle for RB touches in the Bronco’s backfield is all but over. Kubiak sounds like he’ll go with one feature back regardless of who is on the depth chart, preferening to avoid a committee. This is music to C.J. Anderson fan’s ears. I’ve been highly critical of the 3rd year back, choosing to take the under without knowing what he’s capable of over a full 16 games, but if he sticks and stays healthy, Anderson could finish at the top of the league in RB points.
This has less to do with anything McCoy has done in training camps or OTA’s and more to do with how awful the Bills QB situation has become. Matt Cassel has “look like the worst QB at Bill minicamps” according to sources, and this opens the door for perenial disappointment E.J. Manuel to win back the reigns. In the end, this offense will funnel entirely through McCoy, Rex Ryan tends to field a smash mouth running team anyhow. I expect that even if McCoy doesn’t put up the gaudy 5 YPC type numbers he’s capable of, 300+ touches is a given.
I doubt that going into the offseason anyone would have pegging Robinson as an early riser. The Jacksonville offense was anemic to say the least, but with Marqise Lee proving he’s not a legitamite #1 and with Justin Blackmon suspended (again), Robinson has seemingly run away with the starting gig, and his performance so far has people applauding the young receiver. If he wins the favor of strong armed QB Blake Bortles, Robinson should see a ton of targets and will likely still be a value pick come draft day.
While Tennessee struggles to nail down a deal with 2nd overall pick Marcus Mariota, Cobb has quietly positioned himself to steal the lions share of carries from incumbent starter Bishop Sankey. Despite that this team invested heavily in the passing game with Mariota and Green-Beckham, this will remain a run first team and Cobb should be the guy that eats up the yards. As far as rookies go, he’ll fly well under the radar, and I expect him to be worth far more than several of his contemporaries.
The news being leaked about the Bronco’s shopping Manning prior to his pay cut can’t be helpful when evaluating how much Manning has left in the tank. While the team attempts to become more balanced, and try and replace the quality receiver in Julius Thomas that it lost, expectations for Manning continue to fall. At his current ADP (34.4) he’s a huge risk, and the reward is likely to be in the QB2 range.
The man being asked to fill Jimmy Graham’s shoes after his departure has shown very little so far in mini camps. It’s led to speculation that veteran TE Ben Watson may actually find himself on the field a great deal more. As this team prepares to hand a larger role over to RB’s Mark Ingram and CJ Spiller, expect Hill to be a huge bust.
Another NO “starter” finds himself on my falling list. The reports out of New Orleans is that CJ Spiller has looked electric, and will find himself on the feild in most passing situations, severly limiting Ingram’s value if the Saints D looks as bad or nearly as last year. Couple that with the fact that Ingram has shown very little prior to last year in the way of staying healthy, he could be a huge mistake on draft day if injuries of Spiller keep him from repeating a solid season.
Steady Freddy may find himself without an NFL team come the end of minicamps, and he’s echo’d as much himself. Although I find it hard to believe that he’ll be cut after his history with Buffalo, it’s clear the writing is on the wall. While he’s managed to stay fantasy relevant, this could be the year he falls off the radar completely. With McCoy in the fold and capable of 300 touches across all three downs, Jackson is a handcuff only pick.
It’s a simple fact that today’s NFL features a large number of teams that have shifted philosophies away from three down backs and towards a two or three back committee. This fact impacts fantasy preperation in two different ways: 1. It adds value to players like Marshawn Lynch who will dominate the touches in the backfield and 2. it creates a shroud of mystery around backfields with two good or great backs.
If you’re smart (lucky) enough to sift through the conjecture and select a back that emerges from a committee to workhorse (eg. Lamar Miller over Knowshon Moreno in 2014, or Moreno over Montee Ball in 2013) then you’ll avoid the fantasy pit that can suck your whole team in if you’re wrong. You can mitigate this risk by correctly evaluation these situation and valuing backs correctly.
Committee’s to Avoid
Cincinnati Bengals: Much like last years pre-season hype surrounding Giovanni Bernard, Jeremy Hills usurping of the throne has created a false sense of security in the Bengals backfield. If you look at the fantasy performance, Hill bested Bernard in Yards (1100 to 650) but he scored at roughly the same clip, only cresting 15 points a handful of times in PPR formats and averaging less than .05 points better per touch than Bernard. If you think the Bengals are going to just hand over the reigns to Hill you’d be wrong. Bernard will still be a big part of the offense, and may actually carry better value in PPR leagues due to his 3rd down ability. The chance for him to steal the starting job back from Hill is very real, so this is a backfield I’m staying away from at all costs if I can.
Arizona Cardinals: Andre Ellington had a rough year, but much of that could be attributed to the overall inconsistency in Arizona’s offense last year. The problem for Ellington is that they added RB David Johnson in the draft who should push Ellington for starting time and will likely eat into his production. Ellington was nothing to write home about without a young stud waiting in the wings and I’d argue that his value takes a steeper hit this year with a player who could potentially replace him as the starting RB.
Detroit Lions: One of the more underrated draft selections, Ameer Abdullah may not be running Joique Bell off the field, but his ability should keep Bell from being the defacto guy on all three downs in Detroit. A team that likes to throw the ball, there may not be as many touches for Bell to retain his value, causing me to avoid him at his current ADP.
Tennessee Titans: Bishop Sankey was a huge disappointment for fantasy owners who drafted him last year after being the first back selected in the NFL draft. He struggled to find holes and never really live up to the pre-season hype. The Titans went out and revamped each of their skill positions, adding Marcus Mariota, David Cobb, and Dorial Green-Beckham signaling a shift in offense. Sankey’s underwhelming performance and questions around his ability to transition to the NFL game could open the door early for Cobb to steal the starting spot. I would avoid Sankey in drafts and maybe look at Cobb late if he falls far enough.
New York Jets: This team seems to be a mess in the backfield every year. The experiment to add Chris Johnson did nothing to foster competition, and Chris Ivory plodded off with the starting role. Despite having a solid yet unspectacular year, the Jets showed they have little faith in him by adding cast off’s Stevan Ridley and Zac Stacy to compete. All three are capable NFL backs, but none of them are three down workhorses. If Ridley can hold on to the football, he may have the best chance to steal the bulk of the carries, but this is a committee I won’t touch with a ten foot pole.
With the 2015 NFL draft complete, and exciting young players folding into NFL rosters, it’s time to take a look at what the new fantasy landscape looks like.
To assess these players and their impact on their new teams, it’s essential to understand who is in front of them on the organizational depth chart. Will they supplant the incumbent starter? How many touches should they see? Lets take a look at where our top offensive prospects landed.
Todd Gurley / St. Louis Rams : If you’re a Zac Stacy fan, this one stings. Gurley should be eased into the starting role due to his recent injury status, but come playoff time it’s likely he’ll have taken over the bulk of the playing time from Stacy. The Rams threw 3 of their first 5 picks at offensive line players, so a renewed focus on a running game to balance with new starting QB in Nick Foles could mean moderate fantasy relevance for Gurley.
Melvin Gordon / San Diego Chargers : This was a uniquely perfect landing spot for the speedy Gordon. His ability to play on passing downs means he should have an immediate impact for fantasy owners willing to draft him. In PPR leagues his value jumps as San Diego has shown a willingness to use it’s backs in the passing game. With the departure of Ryan Mathews, Gordon slide into the starting roll week 1.
T J Yeldon / Jacksonville Jaguars : Yeldon has elite speed, and shows a lot of promise, but has a spotty history in terms of in the field health. Toby Gerhart is not the answer so expect the Jag’s to give Yeldon the chance to win the spot out of camp.
Ameer Abdulah / Detroit Lions : Great speed, and can be an asset in the running game, but has been labelled as a player who puts the ball on the ground. In my opinion, he’s not a threat to eat into Joquie Bell’s touches too much; view as a late round flier, and only if you think Bell may get dinged up.
Tevin Coleman / Atlanta Falcons : Billed as an extremely violent, top speed type player, Coleman could very well impress and steal the job from under Devonta Freemans nose. Freeman has not shown he can be healthy enough to hold the reigns on the starting spot, so Coleman could be a candidate to slide in drafts and still take the bulk of his teams carries.
Duke Johnson / Cleveland Browns : Drafted by the mess that is the Cleveland Browns, Johnson has the tools to be a good passing down back, but has quite an uphill climb with Isaiah Cromwell and Terrance West ahead of him. The only saving grace is that Cleveland experimented in the backfield frequently after Ben Tate flamed out. If Cromwell or West struggle early, Johnson could find himself on the field.
David Johnson / Arizona Cardinals : A big, physical back, Johnson has great hands and can catch the ball too. His skill set has been compared to that of Pittsburgh’s Le’Veon Bell. More importanty, the underwhelming Andre Ellington sits in front of him on the depth chart. They should compliment each other early on, but if Johnson impresses, could take the reigns later in the season.
Matt Jones / Washington Redskins : Matt Jones is a big boy, and runs like it too. Unfortunately, he sits behind Alfred Morris. He’s unlikely to have much fantasy relevance unless Morris misses a big chunk of time.
Jay Ajayi / Miami Dolphins: Ajayi has one of the best skillsets in the draft, but concerns about his knee injury saw him fall to the Dolphins in the 5th round. Reports of his knee have been said to be greatly exagerated, and if healthy, Ajayi could be a gem in an offense that showed commitment to getting it’s RB’s involved. This could mean Miller’s time in Miami is numbered.
David Cobb – RB / Tennesse Titans : Cobb was an under the radar favorite of pundits and draft experts. More of a compact power runner, Cobb finds himself only slightly behind incumbent starter Bishop Sankey. Sankey failed to impress in his rookie year, but the question remains how much of that can be attributed to an awful passing game? Cobb will have opportunities to steal the job with rookie QB Marcus Mariotta taking over the reigns, but it’s Sankey’s job to lose (for now).