Training camp news went from a drizzle to a downpour in a matter of hours, and the storm isn't going to clear for a while. It's hard enough to keep from drowning in the deluge of news, using it to improve your cheatsheets and approach to upcoming drafts can be overwhelming. One of the best ways to organize your news gathering is by situations that need more information before we can know how to act with clarity. Here are my top 40 most important storylines to follow in training camp:
40. Cleveland passing game - Rob Chudzinski is a tight end-friendly coach and the team made no moves to upgrade from the best returning, but vastly unproven tight end Jordan Cameron. Cameron has the basketball background and smooth ball skills that go with it, making for some of the more memorable fantasy tight ends of recent years. He has also been cold to start training camp. Greg Little has carried over his confidence and sure hands from the second half of last season. Someone will have a chance to step into a larger role while Josh Gordon is suspended for the first two games, and that could equal value that persists well into the season.
39. New York Jets pass offense - Someone has to catch the ball, right? For that matter, someone has to throw it, too. We have a quarterback battle, a wide-open wide receiver corps that could be missing the #1 Santonio Holmes for a long time, the attempted comeback of Kellen Winslow, and a lot more. The Jets pass offense might not yield a relevant fantasy for any but the deepest of leagues, but it is still worth monitoring to prioritize possible early-season waiver wire pickups.
38. Baltimore pass offense - With Anquan Boldin and Dennis Pitta gone, we know Torrey Smith will be the #1 receiver, but who will fill the target vacuum? Jacoby Jones has always been talented enough to produce more than his inconsistent play on the field has yielded. Ed Dickson should pick up the slack for Pitta, but will it be enough to make him a fantasy TE1. Don't forget about Ray Rice, whose targets out of the backfield went way down after Jim Caldwell became offensive coordinator. We'll also be watching to see if Smith seems ready to conquer the #1 role and double teams he'll constantly face.
37. Dallas backup running back - The team drafted Joseph Randle, but Lance Dunbar and Phillip Tanner will both have something to say about who backs up the oft-injured Demarco Murray this year. The winner will be one of the most likely to see the field as a starter of any backup running back in the league.
36. Oakland backup running back - We would all be more shocked by Darren McFadden playing 14 games than we would by him missing 14 games, so knowing his handcuff is crucial for the owner that takes him in the third or fourth round this year. Sixth-round pick size/speed back Latavius Murray is off to a good start, and could beat out Rashad Jennings. We'll also want to monitor whether Marcel Reece is still being used a tailback, because the Raiders seemed to be moving away from that after having him start while McFadden was out last year.
35. New Orleans #3 wide receiver - Joseph Morgan showed he could make the circus catch downfield last year, but what about the rest of the route tree? With Devery Henderson gone, Morgan, 2012 fourth-round pick Nick Toon (who missed the season with a foot injury), 2013 fifth-round pick Kenny Stills, and even the "other" Chris Givens or unknown speed merchant Saalim Hakim could push to get on the field more this year in one of the most potent pass offenses in the league. Toon has been the standout so far, and he could supplant Morgan as the best "end game" pick soon.
34. Titans run read option? - The Titans haven't gotten much from the 2011 #8 overall pick entering his third season, but the addition of read option runs to the offense could leverage off of Locker's top-notch athleticism and toughness. Locker mentioned that more read option looks would be incorporated this year, and some speculate that it was coming last year if he hadn't gotten hurt. It would vault Locker into the mid-to-high QB2 range and also give a small boost to Chris Johnson's prospects for big plays this year.
33. DeAndre Hopkins - Hopkins is the classic "rookie who looks like a veteran" so far, and he is a shoo-in to start opposite Andre Johnson Week 1. He could have a bigger red zone role than Hopkins, and also get the character of the Houston offense a little more pass-friendly. Hopkins has the potential to at least be a rosterable bye/injury/emergency receiver in deeper leagues, if not more in the event of another Andre Johnson injury. The more the Texans ask of him this month, the more you should be willing to take him in the double digit rounds.
32. Cordarrelle Patterson - The receiver Minnesota took with their third first-round pick is an unbelievable talent for running in the open field and a short track record at high levels of college football. His attitude and ability to learn have been questioned, but so far, he is generating buzz. Patterson has the potential to hit right away and force his way into the old Percy Harvin role in Minnesota. We'll have a better idea of the chances of that happening as we hear and see more out of Mankato.
31. Jacksonville quarterback - Chad Henne and Blaine Gabbert might seem like the least essential quarterback battle in the league, but don't tell that to Cecil Shorts, Justin Blackmon, Marcedes Lewis, or their fantasy owners. Henne was good enough to make Blackmon and Shorts top 10 receivers in PPR leagues once he took over last year. Gabbert was not. It's clear who fantasy owners should be rooting for here.
30. Indianapolis pass offense - With Bruce Arians now piloting Arizona, there should be less emphasis on downfield passing, but exactly how much less? We'll be watching how Darrius Heyward-Bey fits in, along with the use of second-year tight ends Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen. Even former Luck teammate Griff Whalen is generating buzz and looking interesting as a possible WR4 to seize the opportunity created by Lavon Brazill's four-game suspension.
29. Detroit #2 receiver - 2012 second-round pick Ryan Broyles has bounced back quickly from his second ACL tear, which could keep veteran Nate Burleson from having early-season fantasy value. The identity and ability of the #2 receiver could also affect tight end Brandon Pettigrew's value in a potential bounce-back season. We'll also be watching sixth-round pick Corey Fuller to see if the former track star can stick as a deep threat who can hurt defenses that focus too much on Calvin Johnson.
28. Kansas City pass offense - We know what Andy Reid can make out of leftovers at quarterback from a fantasy standpoint. Between reports that the early camp practices have been pass heavy and the hiring of Pistol guru Chris Ault, the Chiefs offense will look very different this year. Alex Smith's fantasy value, Jamaal Charles' involvement in the passing game, the use of rookie tight end Travis Kelce, slot receivers Dexter McCluster and Devon Wylie, and disappointments-to-date Jon Baldwin and Donnie Avery will all come into focus as camp and the preseason go on, and there will be fantasy football repercussions. With Avery and Baldwin off to cold starts in camp, look for a surprise #2 target to emerge.
27. New York Jets running back - Chris Ivory is already hurt, Mike Goodson is away dealing with personal stuff (and is facing serious legal trouble), Joe McKnight needed time to pass a conditioning test, and Bilal Powell has only looked mediocre to date. Matt Waldman favorite Chad Spann was signed last week. Any running back that makes the Jets roster could have fantasy relevance at some point this year, so we need to know who is looking good, and where they stand on the depth chart behind Ivory. Whether or not to take the plunge on Ivory in fifth or sixth may also come down to how much he can show good health this month.
26. Arizona pass offense - There is competition at both tackle spots plus the addition of the highest drafted guard in decades to the downright horrible offensive line from 2012. Carson Palmer gives the team their best passer since Kurt Warner, which should revive Larry Fitzgerald. There is also room for another receiver to emerge for fantasy, but will it be tight end Rob Housler or 2012 first-round pick Michael Floyd.. or maybe both - which would then point to Palmer returning to near QB1 status in fantasy. The Cardinals are not rolling over for the bullies in their division, so look for a renewed emphasis on the passing game.
25. Buffalo starting quarterback/offense - Kevin Kolb wasn't bad last year, in fact, he was a winning quarterback on a team that went in the tank after he got hurt. Still, he's not the quarterback that new head coach Doug Marrone took in the first round of his first draft. Running quarterbacks often put up QB1 numbers as rookies because they have to rely on their legs more while they are learning the ropes. Manuel also has a terrific deep arm to get T.J. Graham and Marquise Goodwin's speed into play. If Kolb wins, we'll still see Manuel later this year, but if Manuel wins, it means he's ahead of schedule. Either way, this is going to be an exciting uptempo offense that uses all of the weapons it can bring to bear, which means a much different fantasy picture than we had in 2012. CJ Spiller could have #1 overall upside if the offense clicks this year.
24. Philadelphia starting quarterback - Maybe the most compelling training camp storyline in real football, the identity of the winner of this competition will at least determine whether defenses will have to account for Mike Vick as a running threat, or instead prepare for more of a quick strike west coast offense passing game with Nick Foles or Matt Barkley. We'll want to know who the favorite targets from the new/old cast of characters are too. Either way, this team is going to run a lot of plays, and use a lot of multi-TE sets.
23. Ryan Tannehill/Miami passing game - Barely anyone noticed, but Tannehill (who is an outstanding athlete) ran more read option late last year, and with success. Tannehill will also benefit greatly from the addition of Dustin Keller, Brandon Gibson, and most importantly, field-stretching wide receiver Mike Wallace. Listening for good news about Tannehill and Wallace's chemistry (which there has been little of so far) will give us clues to their values, in addition to the supporting cast, including Brian Hartline, whose situation will improve greatly this year.
22. San Diego offense - The Chargers look like a potential trainwreck if they can't get their offensive line together. Philip Rivers' viability as an upside QB2, Ryan Mathews ability to remain startable, Danny Woodhead's role size as a function of game scripts, and the installation of a quick/short passing game that could boost Vincent Brown and maybe even Keenan Allen while hurting Danario Alexander and Malcom Floyd are all important storylines to follow here.
21. Indianapolis running back - Ahmad Bradshaw "hopes" to practice sometime in mid-August. He is reassuring us that he'll be ok for the season, but this sure sounds like the kind of back who will not be trusted to carry the ball more than 15-18 times a game, at most. Bradshaw as every-week starter looks dicier the longer it takes for him to get back on the field, and Vick Ballard continues to look like a more viable bench pick by the moment.
20. New Orleans running game - There has been buzz that Sean Payton will focus more on the run and balance in the offense, which could finally get Mark Ingram delivering on his fantasy potential, as he is 100% entering camp for the first time in his career. Pierre Thomas could provide more return on his perennial underrated status, too.
19. Chicago pass offense - Marc Trestman will be the latest to try to unlock Jay Cutler's significant NFL and fantasy potential. The weapons are there now beyond Brandon Marshall, with Alshon Jeffery entering his second year and the addition of Martellus Bennett. Perhaps more important than how Cutler and Trestman riff is how the offensive line comes together with new left tackle Jermon Bushrod and J'Marcus Webb now on the right side, along with the likelihood of two new guards. Matt Forte could also get a bump as the top pass catching running back under a head coach who heavily utilized backs as receivers in previous incarnations (but did not use the tight end...).
18. Pierre Garcon - Garcon looked like he was going to be a top 10 (or higher) receiver before hurting his foot in the season opener, then he was able to be a solid WR2 after he rested the foot for a few months. Opting to rest the foot instead of having surgery this offseason, we'll be watching to see how hard Garcon can push himself to have a better idea of how effective he'll be and how many game he'll play, not to mention the viability of the other targets in the passing game for fantasy as they relate to Garcon's value this year.
17. Denver pass offense - The big debate after Wes Welker was signed revolved around two questions - 1) Will Welker be a 100-catch receiver again? 2) Which wide receiver (if any) will be hurt by his arrival? Talk about the Broncos going uptempo could make the whole passing pie bigger and keep everyone fed, including potential breakout tight end Julius Thomas, who has been winning over converts since the offseason. Luckily, we have our Cecil Lammey at Dove Valley for most every practice to tell us what he is seeing.
16. New York Giants running back - David Wilson is going to be good this year, but how good? The difference between Andre Brown being a finisher/third-down back/goal-line back and being a true committee-mate is the difference between Wilson having RB1 upside and RB2 upside, not to mention important information for Brown's draft stock.
15. Vernon Davis - The push to get Davis more involved as a wide receiver seems to have ceased in training camp, but he is still easily the most talented passcatcher on the roster that will be on the field in week 1. Davis has been an elite fantasy tight end before, but he has also teased up with playoff breakouts that don't carry over before. Davis in the mid-rounds could be the right answer at tight end.
14. Maurice Jones-Drew - It seems like Jones-Drew's severe foot injury has completely erased the "elite fantasy running back regardless of situation" reputation he earned in 2011. He's 28, so this could be cliff coming up a little early, but we've been burned betting against talents of Jones-Drew's magnitude in the past. Hopefully he'll give us some good clues this summer as to whether he'll be Jones-Drew of old.
13. Kenny Britt - It's now or never for Kenny Britt in Tennessee. He has top five fantasy wide receiver upside, and worthless bench fodder downside. He appears to be healthy and motivated. If he can keep that going through camp and flash his prodigious talent in the preseason, he'll look like a steal at his current 7th/8th round ADP.
12. Pittsburgh running back - The Steelers tend to not trust rookies for big roles right out of the gate, but Le'Veon Bell was clearly drafted to be their lead back... eventually. Whether the team chooses to make him a featured back from day one or eases him into the large role he'll occupy in time is integral to his fantasy value. Their approach and use of Bell in August will be the best clue we can get to where they will fall on that spectrum.
11. Cincinnati offensive rookies - There's no doubt that second-round pick Giovani Bernard has momentum. His presumed role for 2013 has gone from change of pace/receiving back to 50/50 back, and the arrow is pointing towards Bernard being the lead back sooner than later. Running back gets desolate after the top 24, but Bernard could increase that number by one if his surge continues. Tyler Eifert has also come out of the gate strong and could climb up to #2 target status before we know it. If the Bengals do up the speed of their offense, that could create more than enough opportunity for Eifert to be a borderline TE1 this year.
10. St. Louis running back - This will probably end up being a "none of the above" backfield by virtue of all three backs being used in ways that take advantage of their strengths (Richardson-speed, Pead-elusiveness, Stacy-balance), there is a chance that one of them could separate from the others during camp and the preseason.
9. Philadelphia offense - We can guess with some certainty that Chip Kelly's offense will be uptempo with zone running plays and lots of multi-tight end sets. It will also have one of the best offensive lines in the league up front. What we can't know for sure is how long it will take to iron out the wrinkles and get all of the players on the same page. We also want to monitor how targets are distributed in the wake of the loss of Jeremy Maclin.
8. Carolina running back - Jonathan Stewart is nowhere to be found, and no one knows when we'll see him on the field again. Stewart might be ready for the season, but it's hard to feel like he's going to last well into the season or hold up under a heavy workload. DeAngelo Williams is sitting there as a possible solid RB2 that you can get well after the top 25 backs are gone, and Mike Tolbert's relevance would also be revived.
7. St. Louis pass offense - Matt Waldman put it best on the second night of the draft when he told me "they are trying to recreate Oklahoma's pass offense". If the Rams can stay healthy on the offensive line, their plethora of size and speed weapons in the passing game could intersect with Bradford's past success in a spread passing game. Sam Bradford, Tavon Austin, and Jared Cook could outperform ADP by a good margin if it comes together quickly.
6. Denver running back - John Fox backfields have been vexing for fantasy football at times, and yet Willis McGahee and Knowshon Moreno were both low RB1 level plays last year despite possessing only mediocre talent. This is a seductive backfield for fantasy, and it just seems right that Montee Ball would get a chance to run with this job after the Broncos took him in the second round. Ronnie Hillman has been the lead back early in camp, but this is far from settled. You'll have to pay a price for Ball that presumes him winning the job (assuming there is a job to win - a committee is a strong possibility), but if he does, he'll deliver a profit for your team even at that inflated price. Hillman is an afterthought who could have flex value out of the gate. Moreno is still there and he might be more appealing to Fox and Peyton Manning than the youngsters in some situations. This could be a situation where the more the find out, the more confused we get, but it is an essential situation to monitor if you play fantasy football.
5. Green Bay running back - No Eddie Lacy fat jokes here. It sounds like he is fitting in and providing that power back profile that Cedric Benson did well for a few games last year. Johnathan Franklin is also impressing (except in pass pro, uh oh), and Alex Green (in year two removed from an ACL tear) and James Starks aren't done yet. DuJuan Harris might be the best returning back, but he likely has to get on the field to make the team. The Packers were surprisingly balanced last year despite poor running back play. If they can get good play from their backs, numbers will come. The Packers showed a tendency to lean on just one back last year, so camp/preseason performance should be under the microscope.
4. Seattle pass offense - Percy Harvin is out until at least November, Sidney Rice is in Switzerland, and Zach Miller has foot and knee issues. Youth could be served as Golden Tate and Doug Baldwin step into bigger roles. Rookie wideout Chris Harper and tight end Luke Willson are both good enough to fantasy relevant if given the chance, and Cardinals castoff Stephen Williams is turning heads in camp. Russell Wilson really ties the room together and his talent forces us to give value to any passcatcher who gets on the field regularly.
3. New England wide receiver - There is an opening at wide receiver in New England, and the two leading candidates right now seem to be second-round rookie Aaron Dobson and undrafted rookie Kenbrell Thompkins. Let's not forget fourth-rounder Josh Boyce, who has already had his moments in camp, and even veteran Michael Jenkins, who had the best spring. Julian Edelman is the only returning wide receiver on the roster, did I mention him yet? The team could go to a platoon and nullify the value of the role, but if one wide receiver emerges, they could be the surprise of fantasy drafts, especially if Danny Amendola and/or Rob Gronkowski add to their lengthy injury histories. Tom Brady's fantasy value should also tick up or down depending on how good the WR2 is and how well utilizes them in the preseason.
2. Rob Gronkowski - Speaking of the Gronk, we haven't heard his name in the news for a while, which is probably a good thing for his fantasy prospects. As we get deeper into August, some more specific details are going to emerge about his likely return. I would tend to bet on him missing few, if any, games, and try to lock in his third round value while you can, but it is always possible that a longer timeline than expected could be revealed. Either way, his ADP will not remain static.
1. Tempo - The biggest story isn't about a specific situation. New England generated strong rushing and passing numbers last year with an uptempo offense, and this year they should be joined by at least Buffalo and Philadelphia, if not Chicago, Cincinnati, and many more teams. Greg Cosell said he expects the use to uptempo offenses to spread this year. More plays equal more stats and a whole new conception of how to visualize a team's ability to produce fantasy-friendly numbers in both the running and passing game. The groundwork for an uptempo offense is laid in practice, so we should have a better idea of who to put in the fast break column as camp and preseason go on. Fasten your seatbelts, folks.