Training camp openings are coming, so it's time to focus our attention on the changes, injury recoveries, and position battles that will inform our last tweaks to our draft boards before we draft. It's also good to record our thoughts on the direction of the offense as it affects fantasy bottom lines before camp and preseason twists and turns make us doubt what we have spent months mulling over waiting for football to come back. I'll try to give insight into where I think the puck is going with these teams, because like Wayne Gretzky said, we should skate there instead of where the puck has been, i.e. last year's results.
Offensive Change(s) to Watch: By far the biggest change here is the installation of #4 overall pick Ezekiel Elliott in the backfield - pending the league investigation into domestic violence accusations. Elliott has a chance to get a 2014 Demarco Murray-sized workload behind a line that is even better than that one, and he has the talent to outproduce Murray’s prodigious season. If the Cowboys appear to giving him all the touches and snaps he can handle in practice, then Elliott’s status as a first-round pick in fantasy drafts despite being a rookie will be solidified.
Injury Situation(s) to Watch: Dez Bryant’s foot is the big story here, with recovery from a second foot surgery in January casting a shadow over his offseason. The good news that he won’t open camp on the PUP list, so he’s on track to being a solid late first-round pick. Darren McFadden is recovering from a broken elbow that could threaten his Week 1 status. Bleacher Report’s Jason Cole reported that his recent scans were positive and McFadden was on track to return for the season opener against the Giants, but we know McFadden getting back to game shape without incident is far from a given. Alfred Morris’s early season value hinges on McFadden’s status. Second-round pick LB Jaylon Smith is also on the NFI list, but he is not expected to play this season. Lance Dunbar was a receiving back extraordinaire before tearing his left ACL, MCL, and patellar tendon last year. He’s on the PUP list and likely to stay there into the regular season. Tony Romo’s collarbone was surgically repaired after being broken in at least six places. He’s a full go for camp, but we will holding our breath on every hit this preseason and into the regular season.
Position Battle(s) to Watch: This depth chart is basically set, with lots of offseason indications that late-season flash Brice Butler is far from pushing Terrance Williams at #2 wide receiver, and McFadden’s injury denying us a McFadden/Alfred Morris backup running back battle. Watch seventh-round rookie and SPARQ star RB Darius Jackson to see if he can secure a roster spot, or if the Cowboys feel comfortable exposing him to the rest of the league on a trip to the practice squad.
Skate to Where the Puck is Going to Be: There’s not going to be much subtlety to this offense. Elliott, Elliott, Elliott, a hundred or two hundred carries split up among the other backs, and lots of Dez Bryant when they do pass. Romo’s health is key to Bryant’s value, but not Elliott’s, as Darren McFadden illustrated last year. Of course, Elliott drafters want Romo healthy to maximize value, but Bryant is the more fragile first-rounder here, as he’ll lack the target base to approach Julio/Beckham/Brown value.
New York Giants
Offensive Change(s) to Watch: Second-round pick Sterling Shepard has dazzled onlookers since he suited up this spring and seems to already be installed as the #2 receiver in what should be a pass-heavy offense. Victor Cruz has been cleared to practice and will be trying to secure the #3 receiver role after missing all of 2015 following setbacks in recovery from a patellar tendon injury. Fifth-round pick and jump cut artist Paul Perkins will try to shake up a backfield that Rashad Jennings controlled at the end of the season.
Injury Situation(s) to Watch: Cruz is healthy - for the moment - and we’re certainly rooting for it to stay that way. Orleans Darkwa apparently passed his conditioning test after a broken leg wiped out his offseason. He’ll be pushing Andre Williams for a roster spot at running back.
Position Battle(s) to Watch: The wide receiver depth chart is wide open after Cruz, and if Cruz stumbles, that would open up another spot. 2015 UDFA Geremy Davis might have the advantage because of the time he has spent with the team, but 2016 UDFAs Roger Lewis and Darius Powe have impressed the team this spring and could make it very hard to cut them. Rashad Jennings looks like the starting running back going into the season, but the size of his workload is subject to the speed of the rookie Perkins’ start. Will Tye will be trying to hold down the starting tight end job after he filled in admirably when Larry Donnell suffered a neck injury.
Skate to Where the Puck is Going to Be: This is going to be a pass heavy offense, and Shepard appears to be poised to benefit the most. Tye and Cruz could creep onto the fantasy radar as complements, with Dwayne Harris still figuring in on the depth chart, but this will likely be the Beckham and Shepard show. Rashad Jennings finished the season with a run of RB1 production and he could be a good pick for Le’Veon Bell drafters who need an early season jolt to get back his suspension.
Offensive Change(s) to Watch: The Eagles pulled the plug on the Chip Kelly era in 2015, and turned to Doug Pederson, a protege of the last head coach before Kelly, Andy Reid. In theory, everyone’s role is up for re-evaluation, but so far it looks like Jordan Matthews will remain mostly in the slot, with Nelson Agholor, Rueben Randle and Josh Huff fighting for snaps on the outside. Zach Ertz remains the top tight end, and with the trade of Demarco Murray, Ryan Mathews is the lead running back. Mathews will share with recently extended Darren Sproles, fifth-round rookie Wendell Smallwood, and Kenyon Barner in a committee approach. Sam Bradford will be the starting quarterback to open the season, but backup Chase Daniel and #2 overall pick Carson Wentz could see time this year. The most important change to watch here is the tempo and philosophy from Kelly to Pederson. Andy Reid’s offense in Kansas City was one of the slowest in the league while Pederson was his offensive coordinator, but Pederson has indicated that he won’t be quite as sluggish in the pace of his offense - although he won’t come near Kelly’s plays per game level, either.
Injury Situation(s) to Watch: Ryan Mathews pre-camp ankle injury that landed him on the NFI list is the story to watch here. He supposedly should be back within a week, but we’ll believe it when we see it.
Position Battle(s) to Watch: The backfield is in flux with Murray gone, and while Mathews should be slated to get the largest part of the workload, Sproles, Smallwood, and Barner should all have a role and the size of their roles will greatly affect Mathews’ weekly and season-long ceiling. Rueben Randle and Chris Givens will try to push 2015 first-round pick Nelson Agholor and Josh Huff to start at outside wide receiver. Sam Bradford wasn’t seen as in danger despite a rocky offseason that cast doubt on his desire to be the with Eagles this year, but anything can happen in camp and none of the quarterbacks on the roster have gotten off to a particularly strong start.
Skate to Where the Puck is Going to Be: It’s hard to endorse an offense that has instability at quarterback and a lack of proven depth at wide receiver and running back. Jordan Matthews, Zach Ertz, and Ryan Mathews could be profitable picks on volume alone, but Matthews and Ertz had that on their side last year and still disappointed. This offense is likely to come in as one of the worst in the league, making it difficult to include Eagles as part of your draft plan unless they fall significantly from established ADP levels.
Offensive Change(s) to Watch: Matt Jones is installed as the starting running back with Alfred Morris gone to Dallas in free agency. Ball security and staying healthy will be big for him this summer. Chris Thompson and seventh-round pick Keith Marshall can win roles in the backfield and Jones injury upside with good camps. First-round pick Josh Doctson should add red zone punch and talented depth at wide receiver. Vernon Davis was added at tight end and could push Niles Paul for snaps, in addition to waiting in the wings for a larger role if Jordan Reed goes down.
Injury Situation(s) to Watch: Marshall had a hamstring injury in the spring, and if he can’t stay healthy, he isn’t even assured of a roster spot. It has been so far, so good for Marshall in camp, but we’ll be tracking one closely. First-round pick Josh Doctson’s achilles issue has been lingering for two months now and kept him from starting training camp on time, which could portend a quiet rookie year unless there are injuries ahead of him on the depth chart. Jordan Reed missed some time this spring with an ankle injury, but it hasn’t been an issue at the open of camp.
Position Battle(s) to Watch: Jamison Crowder appears to be entrenched as the #3 and slot receiver, but a strong camp could increase his role in the offense. Veteran Vernon Davis could push Niles Paul for the #2 tight end job, one that would become more important if Jordan Reed goes down. A healthy Marshall should lock up the #3 running back job, but 2015 practice squad back Mack Brown and 2016 UDFA Rob Kelley will be waiting in the wings if Marshall gets dinged.
Skate to Where the Puck is Going to Be: Washington’s pass offense was marauding through the league in the second half of last season, fueling Cousins to top 5-6 numbers over that stretch in most leagues. He could have a Nick Foles-esque post-breakout collapse, but unlike Foles, Cousins is still going outside of the top 10-12 quarterbacks. This has the makings of a pass-heavy offense that could make Reed, Pierre Garcon, DeSean Jackson all ADP values, and put Doctson and Crowder on our waiver wire speed dial lists.