This week we discuss the following:
- Brandon Marshall
- Jimmy Graham
- First running back to be benched?
- Tom Brady suspension
- Antonio Gates suspension
- LeVeon Bell suspension
The last time he changed teams, Brandon Marshall bounced back pretty strongly when he went from the Dolphins to the Bears. Can he bounce back again as he moves from the Bears to the Jets, or will he continue descending toward fantasy irrelevance?
Bob Henry: The only concern I have with Brandon Marshall is staying healthy. The Jets passing game should improve with the additions of Marshall, rookie Devin Smith, and offensive coordinator Chan Gailey.
James Brimacombe: Brandon Marshall seems to be a nice value play at wide receiver this year with all the negative vibes people are having about the Jets offense. I see a Geno Smith that has been given another chance to succeed and now has even more to work with in Marshall and newly drafted wide receiver Devin Smith. The Jets passing offense looks as good as it has in years and add in Eric Decker in his second year with the team and things could really start to open up for Smith to become a decent NFL QB. Marshall fought injuries last season and that was a big reason for his 61/721/8 line in 13 games. Eighty receptions and 1,000 yards seem very doable even in the Jets offense if he can play a full 16-game season.
Matt Waldman: I have Marshall producing 86-1078-9 this season. I am considering a decrease in those totals across the board, but not enough where I think he falls below WR2 range, which still makes Marshall a value versus his average draft position. I think about Marshall and the Jets offense this way: Steve Johnson was a WR2 for a few years in Buffalo with Ryan Fitzpatrick and Chan Gailey. Barring an extreme slide in Marshall's physical skills, the new Jets receiver is better now than Johnson was in his prime. If Geno Smith starts, it's likely he'll be as good as or better than Fitzpatrick in Buffalo. If not, then Fitzpatrick will be the starter and I have no problem projecting the Marshall-Fitzpatrick-Gailey combination to offer WR2 production for Marshall.
Daniel Simpkins: I agree with Bob that if Marshall is held back this year, it will be because he was injured again, not his situation. The fantasy community has bagged on Geno Smith, but we actually began to see him play well toward the end of last year. I also trust Chan Gailey to get the most out of his quarterback. At the very least, Smith can be functional enough to get the ball to Marshall. There are other wide receivers going around Marshall's current ADP that I think have much more upside (Martavis Bryant and Allen Robinson), but I don't think he'll be a wasted pick if an owner decides to take him.
Andy Hicks: Looks like I'm going to have to be the staff contrarian on this topic. I have Marshall ranked at the bottom end of the WR3s. He will be 31 years old, has Geno Smith for a quarterback, and will have competition for targets. Moreover, the Jets passed the ball 113 fewer times than the Bears last year. Both teams have new offenses this year, so maybe it's an apples and oranges comparison, but with Eric Decker, Jace Amaro, and eventually Devin Smith around there will be a struggle to get a fantasy starter out of this group, especially if the Jets prefer to run the ball. Marshall has been a fantastic player, but on his fourth team he will struggle to come anywhere near the WR2 slot he'll have to achieve to live up to his draft slot. There is no upside to taking Marshall in fantasy drafts and a downside is entirely plausible.
Stephen Holloway: I get that many are anticipating significant improvement for Geno Smith this year based primarily on a faith in Chan Gailey. But Smith's prior two seasons are remarkably similar and inefficient. Smith has had completion percentages less than 60% in both seasons, the exact same 6.88 yards per attempt, and more turnovers than touchdowns in each season. I do expect some improvement, but agree with Andy that Brandon Marshall will have more competition for targets than many think in Eric Decker, Jace Amaro, and the Jets running backs. The Jets could continue to lean on their running game if their defense is as strong as most anticipate. Marshall historically has been a very high-volume-target receiver and with the Jets this year, it seems doubtful that he will approach his average of 157 targets (not counting his rookie year) per season. I wouldn't label Marshall irrelevant, but likely not a WR2.
Chad Parsons: I only like handcuffs where (1) they are not inordinately expensive, say outside the top 100 or more preferred top 150, (2) they are sufficiently talented to reproduce a majority of the starter's production, and (3) there is a clear path to playing time if the starter misses time. Few backfields and reserve running backs fit those criteria.
James Brimacombe: Handcuffing running backs is the safe way to play fantasy football, and how often does the safe fantasy football player win his league? I would say not very often, and I do not like the idea of handcuffing in redraft leagues as it eats away at one of your bench spots where you could have drafted a higher-upside wide receiver or tight end or even QB2. The only time handcuffing makes sense to me is in a best-ball league such as a MFL10 or a dynasty league with bigger rosters since you can develop that player without taking a hit with him on your bench week after week. Running back is the one position where you can find some spot starters along the way off of the waiver wire as injuries happen to starters (and even running back handcuffs).
Daniel Simpkins: I think it really depends on the makeup of your league. I will almost never consider handcuffing in shallow-bench formats, but it begins to make more sense to do so when I am in a league with 25 or more roster spots such that emerging waiver talent is already stretched thin. I also am in a few leagues where the owners are very tight-fisted and there is almost no hope of trading to address an in-season need. In those leagues, I am more likely to consider handcuffing.
In deeper formats, I like to take other people's handcuffs late, especially if they are high-upside players. I've used them as leverage to execute trades with the team that owns the starter. In a few rare instances, the starter got hurt. I was then able to either trade the backup to the owner of the starter at a premium or enjoy his production until the starter returned.
Stephen Holloway: I agree with both Chad and James and rarely handcuff running backs on my fantasy teams. I much prefer to use later round picks on running backs that I expect to have upside potential, whether or not I have drafted the player that they are currently running behind in the preseason. League rules and scoring can also impact the viability of handcuffs. The best-ball format is one that I might be more apt to use them.
Andy Hicks: I am happy to handcuff depending on the league type and the roster size. Best ball, survivor or deep leagues and I'm in for sure. I look for situations where there are two clear backs on the depth chart, with the number three back and beyond there to contribute on special teams and emergency use only.
Ideally, if you want to handcuff, you want either a stud and a late-round clear backup, or both backs where the situation is murky.
Taking ADP into account, name a handcuff you really like this season?
Chad Parsons: Todd Gurley and Tre Mason are a duo I have been stashing away. Gurley received the green light to avoid the PUP list, but Mason will likely see significant work in at least the opening one-to-three weeks. Mason is talented enough to like independent of his depth chart status, and there is a clear path to touches if Gurley were to miss time.
James Brimacombe: I agree with Chad on the Todd Gurley and Tre Mason duo in St. Louis as the Rams will likely take it slow with Gurley to start the season, and both running backs should see quality work even when both are healthy and on the field.
My favorite handcuff would be Charles Sims and Doug Martin. I like the Buccaneers to rebound on offense this year with the addition of Winston at quarterback and I think that the running game will once again get on track and there will be some fantasy points to be had there. Both Sims and Martin's average draft positions are in nice shape right now and if you were picking at the 7/8 turn they make for a nice combo to take off the board together, especially if you have loaded up at other positions earlier in the draft.
Matt Waldman: I think the cheap handcuff is always a good one to consider. I also think it's important to look at the overall offense to pick a handcuff. Which teams run the ball well or have a great passing attack that consistently helps the ground game have a numbers advantage? Cleveland has a strong offensive line and with bad quarterback play last year, it was still seventh overall in running back fantasy production. It was spread among three backs, but I think this year we'll likely see it mostly distributed among two runners and it makes them a good best ball-backfield. Even in traditional league formats, the Cleveland backfield is a decent mid-round tandem if you're employing an Upside-Down Strategy.
I would consider the safest handcuff to be from a team that wants to run and has the quarterback to help the running game earn good looks. I can think of a few that I like that fit this description, but the easiest example is the Denver Broncos with Gary Kubiak's ground game and Peyton Manning at the controls. The fact that Montee Ball is available late in the 11th round doesn't hurt. I've always envisioned Ball in this role—a Chester Taylor-like option who starts behind a good team and gives that offense 1200-1300 yards on the ground, but whom the team never considers a long-term starter. Ball's value is lower than that of some handcuffs because his disappointing turn as a starter is fresh in fans' minds, and some fans may still think the Broncos are going to be a pass-crazy team.
Daniel Simpkins: I love taking Le'Veon Bell in the first and taking DeAngelo Williams in the thirteenth round. Usually, handcuffs just don't come that cheap, but folks are really down on Williams. The Steelers offensive line isn't wonderful, but it's far better than what Williams had to run behind last year with the Panthers. I don't buy the narrative that he's washed up. And wait, there's more! If you call now, you'll get two games of starter production from Williams, absolutely free! How many handcuffs do we draft at the beginning of the season where we know for a fact they'll get playing time? It almost never happens! The fact that Williams' ADP has hardly budged from where it was a couple of months ago is astounding to me. Even if you don't land Bell in your draft, I would consider taking Williams late. This is one of the top five offenses in the NFL right now, and if Bell were to get injured, Williams will surely carry the workload. That could be an absolute season-maker for your team.
Stephen Holloway: I like James' choice of Martin and Sims at Tampa Bay. If Joseph Randle does not see a vastly lowered average draft position later this summer, I might take a chance on taking both him and Darren McFadden. Almost everyone is so down on McFadden that his ADP could drop even without Randle's jumping up. The Dallas offensive line gives each of those guys a good chance of being productive at a fairly economical price.
Andy Hicks: Chad and Matt mentioned two I like in St. Louis and Denver, but for the cheap backup to an established starter I like Eddie Lacy if you can get him and James Starks. Lacy is a class act, but if he misses any time Starks is an able and proven replacement. He has averaged 4.3 yards per carry in his career and is a good receiver as well. Losing Lacy will hurt, but it will hurt much less if you can grab Starks.
Do handcuffs at other positions besides running back ever make sense?
Chad Parsons: I rarely handcuff non-running back positions. For 2015, I see two exceptions. The first is the Philadelphia quarterback position. Sam Bradford is in the high-upside QB2 territory, while supplementing him with Mark Sanchez is a near-free investment. Neither breaks the bank and securing both means locking up a high-tempo offense. At wide receiver, I like Justin Hardy as a sneaky handcuff. If Julio Jones or Roddy White miss any time, Hardy is ready to go as the new version of Harry Douglas, only with better agility and route-running. Douglas was a DFS favorite without Jones or White in the lineup in previous seasons and Hardy will be in the WR2/3 range under such circumstances in 2015.
James Brimacombe: I would say it is not worth trying to handcuff another position as roster spots are so valuable and using one of your bench spots on a handcuff that you are most likely never going to start makes no sense at all. The quarterback combo of Bradford-Sanchez in Philadelphia seems to have some merit but again unless you are playing in a start two quarterback league you are almost punished for using up that bench spot with a backup QB.
Daniel Simpkins: I think there are situations where it's warranted. For example, I think most of us agree that whoever the quarterback in Philly is this year will hold fantasy value. We just don't have complete clarity on who that will be at this point. With Bradford going in the twelfth round and Sanchez going largely undrafted, I think it makes sense for streamers to pick up both and see what happens. Even if Bradford does end up winning the job, his injury history is such that you might want to keep Sanchez handcuffed to him throughout the season.
Andy Hicks: Handcuffing different positions is practical in deeper leagues for quarterbacks, wide receivers, and tight ends in the right situation. Chad mentioned a good one for quarterbacks in the Philadelphia duo. Davante Adams is a great one for the Cobb and Nelson owner, and the same is true of Reuben Randle for Beckham or Cruz. At tight end, the obvious one is Ladarius Green with Antonio Gates, given that Gates is suspended for four games.
Is Jimmy Graham going to get enough targets in Seattle to remain the 1b to Gronkowski's 1a at tight end?
Bob Henry: I believe what Jimmy Graham loses in quantity he'll make up for with quality targets, particularly in the red zone where the Seahawks have struggled. The infamous Super Bowl play is one example. Russell Wilson's ability to run and pass combined with the threat of Marshawn Lynch is the perfect foil for Graham's talents. He'll easily finish with double-digit touchdowns and remain an elite fantasy TE.
James Brimacombe: When Jimmy Graham first got traded to the Seahawks my initial thoughts were that he took an immediate hit on production; but then I got thinking about the possibilities with the Russell Wilson pairing. The Seahawks really don't have a legit threat out of their wide receiver core, so in comes Graham, who is a beast in the red zone and over the middle of the field. The Seahawks have such a well-balanced team and so are never forced to focus on just one area in their offensive game, and that could hurt Graham and his targets. It is still hard not to see the Seahawks getting Graham five or six receptions a game and giving him plenty of looks at the end zone. He is still the 1b to Rob Gronkowski solely due to his redzone targets.
Matt Waldman: I have Jimmy Graham's production at 75-1012-12 for the season. We're talking 4.68 receptions, 63 yards, and 1.33 scores per game. There are a lot of similarities to how the Seahawks open passing lanes for Russell Wilson and Drew Brees when the team throws the ball, even if the starting formation is different. The key is movement: partial rolls, full roll outs, and play action are a part of it. I know some folks in the football community who are concerned that Wilson's accuracy up the seam between the linebacker and safety isn't proven. I watched a lot of tape of Wilson at N.C. State and saw some excellent throws from Wilson under pressure that dropped the ball into the bucket under these circumstances. Graham's size and rebounding ability also mitigates some of the need for absolute pin-point accuracy.
Although I have Rob Gronkowski ahead of Graham in fantasy rankings and projections, I wouldn't be surprised if Graham has a better season. Russell Wilson's career completion percentage is 63.4. I have Wilson attempting 470 passes, which is 18 more than he threw in 2014 and would be a career high. At the same time, I have Wilson completing only 62 percent of his targets, which would be a career low in that area.
Graham's presence could actually help Wilson improve his completion percentage. Graham is that big, downfield receiver that Wilson hasn't had since Sidney Rice. And other than that Brett Favre season in Minnesota, Graham is much better than Rice was in this area of the game. One might argue that Wilson will be more daring with his targets to Graham and his completion percentage will drop slightly. But it's just as likely that Wilson's percentage will rise because Graham's presence will create easier targets for his teammates and open the field for Wilson.
Daniel Simpkins: I think so. There's been a major hole in that passing game for a long time. Trading for Percy Harvin in 2013 was an attempt to address that, but the experiment did not pan out. Golden Tate has really been the closest thing they've had to a number one, and he never made it over 1,000 yards or into the double-digit touchdown range. Doug Baldwin, Jermaine Kearse, and Luke Wilson are all fine complimentary options, but the team needs a receiver who can be physically dominant. Graham is that kind of player and he will be able to fill the void. While we would be fooling ourselves to expect him to put up numbers on par with the 2013 version of himself, I think double-digit touchdowns and the 900 yard mark are well within his reach. That should put him just behind Gronkowski. As an aside, I feel Travis Kelce is the only other tight end who might approach those kinds of numbers if Andy Reid can stop being stubborn and make getting him the ball a priority.
Andy Hicks: Again I'm going to appear to be a contrarian. One thing about playing fantasy football for 20 years is that you see the same mistakes made over and over again. One of my favorites is expecting a successful system to change because of the addition of one player through either the draft or free agency. Sure it can happen, but the odds are against it. The Seahawks under Pete Carroll have been a dominant outfit led by the running game and awesome defense. They have tried for five years now to bring in a big playmaker to the passing game.
Sidney Rice was brought in after finishing eighth a couple of years before. Injuries obviously affected his play, but his 30th ranked finish in 2012 ranks second on this team in the last five years behind Golden Tate's 28th finish in 2013. We saw how good Tate was in Detroit last year away from the Seattle system.
Percy Harvin was tried and failed.
Initially Zach Miller was brought in to help in 2011. He was fresh off two seasons as a fantasy starter in Oakland. His best with the Seahawks was fewer than 400 yards and five touchdowns.
Of course people will say Jimmy Graham is different, but let's just take a step back. He will be 29 this season and clearly will have given New Orleans his best years. The Saints were keen to offload him after the contract squabbles or maybe they knew he was past his prime and got value while they could. Graham has never been a good blocker and his reputation in this area is almost a joke. At least Zach Miller stayed on the field because he could play his part here. How patient is Seattle going to be if he misses blocking assignments or makes major mistakes that stall drives or cause turnovers? Eagles coach Chip Kelly stated late last year before the trade that Graham wouldn't see many snaps in his offense because he couldn't block. Pete Carroll is keen to try, but this offense isn't going to change a great deal. Graham will either play as a wide receiver or will be used as a redzone threat. He clearly will not approach his 120-plus-target days with the Saints and as such has to be a considerable risk to get anywhere near his average draft position. I can see touchdowns, but week-to-week production and lots of receptions are going to be very difficult unless either Pete Carroll has changed his approach or Jimmy Graham takes and makes his blocking assignments.
Stephen Holloway: I believe that Graham has the highest upside of any tight end besides Rob Gronkowski and agree with Daniel that there has been a major hole in Seattle's passing game for a long time. But for Russell Wilson's entire career as the Seattle quarterback (since 2012), the team has not had any receiver that received 100 targets on the season. Graham should break that barrier in 2015, but he still could fall short of the 135 he averaged with New Orleans. Even though I still consider him the number two fantasy tight end this year, another thing that has me a little concerned is how often he was taken off the field for the Saints in running situations. Seattle has a well-deserved reputation as a smash mouth football team on both sides of the ball and Graham has been known more as a receiving specialist. He'll need to score a lot of touchdowns to stay within hollering distance of Gronkowski.
Which starting running back (as of the opening of training camp) will be the first one to lose his starting job this season?
Bob Henry: I'll go with Bishop Sankey because I believe David Cobb is simply a better back. Sankey failed to impress as a rookie and Cobb should overtake Sankey at some point, perhaps with a strong preseason. Otherwise, LeGarrette Blount is another candidate due to his Week 1 suspension. Bill Belichick won't hesitate to shake up the pecking order if Jonas Gray, Tyler Gaffney, or James White produces in his absence. They don't have a lot invested in Blount, either. If we want to speculate about which back might lose their spot due to injury, one has to look at Rashad Jennings, Jonathan Stewart, and Joique Bell. Bell is still working his way back from offseason surgeries and Ameer Abdullah is probably a better all-around back anyway. Stewart has a long history of foot/ankle injuries. Similarly, Jennings doesn't have a good track record for staying healthy either.
James Brimacombe: I would have to think that a fantasy running back such as Isaiah Crowell would be first in line to lose his starting job. The Browns have a three-headed running back depth chart right now with Crowell, Duke Johnson Jr, and Terrance West. The competition is inviting for the struggling Browns and it is going to be the hot hand that wins in that backfield.
Matt Waldman: I definitely agree with Bob on Sankey. Cobb has nowhere near the metrics of Sankey, but last year Sankey had nowhere near the understanding of how the play the position at the NFL level that I believe Cobb will show. If Sankey doesn't show a night-and-day difference with his footwork, reads, and overall vision, he won't last long as the starter.
I also agree with Bob about Ameer Abdullah and Joique Bell. I love Bell's skills, but I think this rotation gets relegated to a committee with Abdullah as the lead—and pretty early in the season. What Abdullah offers that will be difficult to relegate him to a small sample of playing time is burst. Abdullah's short area quickness is special and the former Nebraska back has excellent vision and terrific hands. Although Abdullah's pass pro is a weakness, he will make a good option to split from the formation and use in combination with Bell to pass protect. Of course, there's the chance Theo Riddick could be the Lion's solution for that role and it negates Abdullah in the receiving game. I don't think this happens, because the team is already pleasantly surprised with just how good of a receiver Abdullah is.
Daniel Simpkins: Though Bob and Matt touched on it, I want to spend a little more time making the case for Abdullah to replace Joique Bell as the lead back. We've heard nothing but high praise for Abdullah, both in the draft process and out of OTAs. By all accounts, Abdullah had an extremely impressive showing. Now Joique Bell is spending time on the PUP and Abdullah is getting first team reps over the likes of Theo Riddick and George Winn. I think that we can conclude from this that his performance in OTAs really opened the eyes of the coaching staff to what they have in Abdullah. With the genie out of the bottle, I think Bell ends up being the complementary option to Abdullah, not the other way around as many predicted initially. I also love taking Abdullah at his current early seventh round price point in 12-team leagues. My money is on him being the steal of the year at running back.
I want to go left field and take Joseph Randle as I think the Cowboys are going to end up with major egg on their face in letting DeMarco Murray go, but that is more gut feel than logic. Bishop Sankey is the logical choice, but I think that is harsh. The guy being tipped to take his place was the 12th back taken in this year's draft, and we've seen how tough Ken Whisenhunt usually is on his rookies. Sankey could be an outright bust, but they have to give him a reasonable chance at the job, otherwise it's an indictment on a regime that is in serious danger of another overhaul. I therefore end up with Andre Ellington. I know the Cardinals offense struggled a lot when Carson Palmer and then Drew Stanton went down, but Ellington recorded 52 carries for 101 yards in the final four games of the season. Trent Richardson would be an upgrade over that. The Cardinals drafted David Johnson in the third round to be their starter. He has better size and skill to be a first- and second-down back, and the Cardinals can move Ellington to the much more suitable role of third down back.
Stephen Holloway: A player currently not listed as the starter whom I like to out-produce his counterpart is C. J. Spiller of the Saints. Mark Ingram II had a much better season a year ago, but I really like Spiller to become the preferred receiver out of the backfield for the Saints and on turf, he has the ability to be just as effective runner as Ingram. Spiller may not ever be considered the starter and may not have as many rushing attempts as Ingram, but I much prefer his opportunities over the season, particularly in PPR leagues.
Assume Tom Brady sits the first four games. Does that kick him outside the top 15 fantasy quarterbacks, or is there an argument that he's still a fantasy QB1 when he plays, and therefore a borderline QB1-QB2 overall?
Chad Parsons: With the depth of the quarterback position, Brady shifts down quite a bit on my board. Even waiting until 10+ other owners have their starting options, Tony Romo, Eli Manning, Philip Rivers, Teddy Bridgewater, and Sam Bradford will likely be available. I would rather go with a committee of two of them over stashing Brady on the pine for four games, especially in shallow- to moderate-depth leagues. I want the early-season flexibility to hit lightning in a bottle with another two quarterbacks—or save the roster spot with a higher-tier option to add a running back or wide receiver flyer.
James Brimacombe: Tom Brady was already on the borderline of a QB1 in fantasy even without the suspension. The past two seasons he played full 16 game seasons and finished as the 13th and then the 10th best fantasy quarterback. What makes Brady great is his ability to lead his team to big wins while making the big plays when it counts. With a lack of big time playmakers except for Rob Gronkowski, Brady has been forced to spread the ball around more than ever; and taking four games off of his 16-game season puts you in a bigger hole if you were planning on running him as your QB1. I have to agree with Chad that taking Romo, Rivers, Tannehill, Manning, or Bridgewater is going to help your team right from the get-go and they have every bit of a similar chance to put up the same numbers as a Tom Brady would even in a full 16 games.
Matt Waldman: If Brady falls a couple of rounds lower than his 8th-round ADP, which happens more than you think, I'll take him. He can offer low-end QB1 production. The difference between low-end QB1 numbers and high-end QB2 stats tends to be pretty close so as long as I'm going with a committee, Brady works for me there.
Daniel Simpkins: I agree with Chad and James that the unprecedented depth at quarterback has me looking away from Brady this year. In all the mocks and real drafts I've participated in up to this point, he's typically going earlier than the seventh round in 12-team formats. Where Brady is going off the board, I'm instead looking at depth wide receivers and running backs (Ameer Abdullah, Michael Floyd, et al.) with high upside. I believe some of the other quarterbacks going later (Ryan Tannehill, Phillip Rivers, Eli Manning, et al.) will have better seasons, giving me more incentive to pass on Brady.
Stephen Holloway: I agree with Matt that if Tom Brady's ADP stays as low as it is currently (QB11 and 88 overall), I will gladly add him to my fantasy roster. A year ago, the Patriots offense started slowly, but between Weeks 5 and 15 (ten games), Brady averaged over 300 yards passing and threw 28 touchdowns and only six interceptions. There is much more continuity in this year's offense than the past two and I suspect that Brady will be locked in as soon as he returns from suspension; and if something happens between now and the opening weekend to lessen or put off that suspension, that is just added production.
Andy Hicks: Due to the missed four games he sits just outside the top 12 for me. It is possible to miss four games and still finish as a fantasy QB1. Michael Vick did it in 2010, finishing third overall despite only playing 12 games. Brady though isn't going to rush for nine touchdowns is he?
When he plays, his upside is high, maybe even top six depending on if the Patriots want to stick it to the NFL similar to their 2007 season. Brady, however, will be 38 this year, and there is no Randy Moss here.
How will his absence affect the rest of the offense? Does it hurt Gronkowski?
Chad Parsons: The absence of Brady tempers Gronkowski's ceiling somewhat (a few fewer redzone opportunities, downshift in accuracy on his targets), but remains the number one tight end over the opening month. The perfect combination for fantasy tight end gold is a top talent (check) on an offense lacking a true number one receiver (check) with an elite quarterback (uncheck). Gronkowski would still have two of the three ideals in spades until Brady returns.
Daniel Simpkins: Brady's suspension doesn't hurt Rob Gronkowski as much as it hurts Julian Edelman and Brandon LaFell. I think Belichick will see the wisdom in taking the ball out of the air as much as possible with Garoppolo under center. When the Patriots do need to pass, Gronkowski will see the bulk of the targets. That said, temper your expectations for Gronkowski in September. You won't be disappointed you took him when an angry Brady returns in October.
Stephen Holloway: I expect that Gronkowski will get similar targets early in the season, whether Brady is playing or not. The offense will likely not be as efficient without Brady, however, so a decrease in their offense will reduce scoring and also mean a decrease in redzone chances for the team and therefore Gronkowski could score fewer touchdowns. He remains the number one tight end regardless.
Andy Hicks: As long as Jimmy Garoppolo can be halfway competent, the offense should be capable in Brady's absence. Gronkowski may not be as dominant as he is with Brady, but he will still be the clear number one target
Chad Parsons: The best case for Ladarius Green is to bump open the door for regular playing time with a strong first month of the season. Antonio Gates will return, but in a dual role instead of Green the overt secondary tight end and/or oversized slot option. Eddie Royal moving on to Chicago helps Green's chances for a playing time uptick.
James Brimacombe: Ladarius Green is now entering his fourth season in the league and in that time he has played 33 games and although in a limited role behind Antonio Gates he still has only managed 40 receptions. It is no secret that Philip Rivers loves looking for Gates over his career and you would think with Gates missing in action that Rivers would automatically shift his attention to Green. I can see four or five targets for Green a game and what he does with that opportunity is up to him if he wants to earn the trust of Rivers and the Chargers coaching staff. The Chargers have a well balanced offense and with the addition of Melvin Gordon III that should only reinforce that fact. I would rather pass on Green in drafts at this point and take my chances with a tight end such as Richard Rodgers who is at a lesser ADP and pair him with Gates who you should be able to get later in drafts because of the suspension. I suspect once Gates returns to the team he will continue to have that strong connection with quarterback Philip Rivers.
Matt Waldman: I've never been a huge Ladarius Green proponent. Last year was the first time I even took him in a league. I think my disappointment with the result of that choice has left me biased against him as a full-time fantasy starter. The athleticism is there, but need to see more as a route runner and receiver in tight coverage to believe he's more than an athlete who benefits from open seams created by other players. That's probably too harsh of an assessment. Let's just say that I think Gates' job upon return from suspension is safe for another year.
Daniel Simpkins: I am a Green believer. At 6'6 and 240 pounds, the man oozes physical prowess. He's a matchup nightmare when used properly by the team. The Chargers have to know that the Gates, now thirty-five, isn't much longer for the league. A fan favorite, they were most likely hesitant to demote Gates, especially with him playing so well last year. The suspension offers them a chance to gracefully make the transition. This is Green's contract year, too, so I think there will be extra motivation on his end to make the most of his audition.
Stephen Holloway: I just have not been impressed with the progress of Ladarius Green to this point. I suspect that the additional opportunities will go to one or more of the wide receivers (Keenan Allen, Steve Johnson or Malcom Floyd) until Gates can return. Even though Gates had already indicated that he might see less playing time, be assured that he will be involved as the receiving tight end, particularly in the red zone once he returns from suspension. I am not expecting Green to shine early and would not use one of my draft picks on him.
Andy Hicks: Ladarius Green took a big step backwards last year and he looks like a four-week deal only. Unless the Chargers unearth another option during training camp, which is unlikely given that John Phillips and David Paulson are the favorites to win roster spots, Green will be the starter while Gates is suspended. Sometimes tight ends take a while to put together the pieces necessary to contribute as receivers and maybe this is the year that Green does it, but unless he blows the doors off in his four games, then Gates will be the dominant tight end when he returns.
Aside from Green, who in the Chargers offense will benefit most from Gates' absence?
Chad Parsons: Stevie Johnson is another pass-catcher with a golden opportunity to start hot. Johnson was used in the slot quite a bit his final year in Buffalo before San Francisco in 2014 and now San Diego.
Daniel Simpkins: Like Chad, I'm picking Stevie Johnson to benefit the most from the Gates suspension outside of Green. He and Rivers have shown good rapport so far in the offseason, which is something fantasy owners like to hear. Remember also that the Chargers like to run those three receiver sets. He was going to get some work in the slot with Eddie Royal's departure anyway, but Gates' absence may mean a few extra targets a game for “Stevie Stylez.”
With Le'Veon Bell's suspension reduced to two games, is he your number one pick in standard leagues? Or if you're going to pick a running back first, are those two games enough to push Jamaal Charles, Eddie Lacy, or Adrian Peterson ahead of him?
Chad Parsons: Le'Veon Bell has a high enough floor and ceiling to warrant the number one selection even with a two-game waiting period to get him into fantasy lineups. Options like Tre Mason or DeAngelo Williams can cobble together decent production early until Bell returns. While the season is a sprint, a fantasy team starting 1-1 or 0-2 is not a death knell with a 20+ PPG ceiling player like Bell returning for Week 3.
James Brimacombe: No matter the suspension level for Le'Veon Bell he was always going to be my number one pick in redraft leagues. Now with a suspension reduced to just two games it makes it even a little easier to make the selection. Bell has everything you want in a first overall selection with how the Steelers use him in the offense. The Steelers offense also continues to evolve and the rumors are they have a goal to score 30+ points a game on offense. Well for that to be the case it is going to have to run through Bell, and his 1,361 rushing yards, eight rushing touchdowns, 83 receptions, 854 receiving yards and three more touchdowns through the air from last season are some of the best numbers we have seen from a second year RB. Coming into his third season in the NFL, the time is now for Bell to continue his dominance at the position; and sure those two games missed affects your fantasy team, but he should more than make up for it throughout the season while giving you a huge advantage over your competition.
Matt Waldman: In leagues that don't awards points for receptions, Bell is my number two behind Marshawn Lynch. In PPR leagues, Bell is my clear number one overall. I like Lynch's redzone potential more.
Daniel Simpkins: Unquestionably, Bell is my number one overall back. The beautiful thing is that you still have a chance at getting him even if you don't hold the top pick in your draft. I'm commonly snagging him when I draft from the five spot, but I've seen him fall as far as eighth overall in a few drafts I've been in. Folks, he's going to give you a positional advantage when he returns. All you have to do is make a plan to deal with the first two weeks. My go-to move is to take DeAngelo Williams in the thirteenth round.
Stephen Holloway: I love Le'Veon Bell's abilities and involvement in the productive Steeler offense, but I just can't rank him as the number one pick, particularly in standard scoring leagues. Even with the reduced to only two games suspension, he will miss 15% of the games in a thirteen-week fantasy season. I am also not a huge proponent of strength of schedule, especially for running backs, but the Steelers do face a challenging schedule this season on top of Bell missing the first two games. On a per-game basis, I expect him to contend for RB1 in standard scoring leagues and likely be RB1 in PPR scoring leagues, but to forecast him to out-produce everyone else by just over 15% does not compute for me.
Andy Hicks: When the suspension was three games I had him behind Eddie Lacy, but the reduction to two is enough for me to move him up to number one. Missing three games is much worse than two, obviously, but that extra game off would have made his Week 4 debut on Thursday night against the Ravens a difficult game to come back in. Now he starts against the Rams in Week 3, which is also a hard game, but it will be a game dominated by the run and a good workload is expected.
That will do it for this edition of the Footballguys Preseason Roundtable. Please join us again next week.