This week we discuss the following:
- Robert Griffin III and Sam Bradford
- Alex Smith and Jeremy Maclin
- C.J. Anderson
- Mike Wallace
- Older players: any gas in the tank?
- Baltimore handcuff
- Seattle handcuff
- Terrelle Pryor
We've got a couple former high draft picks who had impressive rookie seasons at quarterback trying to bounce back this season. Who has more upside potential: Robert Griffin III III or Sam Bradford? (Is the answer different depending on whether we're talking about just this season or their careers as a whole?)
Daniel Simpkins: Comparing them outside of their 2015 team structure and in a vacuum, I believe Robert Griffin III III has more upside than Sam Bradford at this point. While both have taken a physical beating, Griffin is much younger and basically has the bulk of his career in front of him. If Bradford sustains one more major injury, both his body and his psyche may not be able to handle the blow. Griffin has seemingly learned from experience that he will have to develop his game in the pocket if he has any hope of preserving his body. If 2015 goes poorly in Washington, it is almost a certainty that there will be another team out there intrigued enough to give Griffin a shot. When team dynamics are considered, I actually believe Bradford has the edge in 2015 due to operating out of the Chip Kelly system. If he can avoid injury (and that’s a huge if) he’ll outproduce the tepid Washington offense.
Stephen Holloway: I have lost faith in Robert Griffin III III. His rookie season was phenomenal, but he has just not been the same since his injury in the playoffs that year. Last season, he averaged fewer yards per attempt and had a worse touchdown-to-interception ratio than either Kirk Cousins or Colt McCoy. His inability to use his legs seems to have eroded his confidence as a whole and particularly his decision-making. In his rookie year, he passed for 20 touchdowns, ran for seven touchdowns and only threw five interceptions. In two seasons since then, he has thrown for 20 touchdowns, ran for one TD and thrown 18 interceptions. There seems to still be some disconnect between Griffin and Washington's coaching staff, which further limits my expectations.
I am not a Bradford believer, primarily because he has been so unreliable. Since being drafted number one overall by the Rams in 201, Bradford has only played in 49 games, missing 29 including all of the 2014 season. Even when he has played, he has only completed 58.6% of his passes and has a career 6.29 yards per attempt. He does have a great opportunity this year if he can remain healthy as the Eagles starting quarterback. Even though Coach Kelly loves to run the ball, his quarterbacks have averaged about 4,500 passing yards and 30 touchdowns. I am still not counting on Bradford staying healthy, but if he does he should be more productive that Griffin and could sign a long-term contract to remain with Philadelphia.
Andy Hicks: If we are talking fantasy then both have upside and a very low floor for this year. I think Bradford has the better upside due to the explosive offense and volume of stats he could accumulate. Griffin will be trying to restore his reputation and not be responsible for the downfall of another coach. I doubt Griffin becomes what he could have been based on his rookie season. His ego and injury seems like it will prevent him getting anywhere near the upside he could have had. I do have him ranked higher than any other staff member, but that is due to all the pieces around him being in place for him to succeed. No more excuses. I would evaluate all information on his training camp and preseason progress though as this situation could go south very quickly.
My concerns around Bradford are purely on his knee holding up. Same injury two years in a row is bad sign for the future. If he plays and comes to grips with the offense quickly then the sky is the limit. He is an excellent investment as his price is unlikely to be lower. If he can stay on the field then he will produce and do it well. If he gets injured again, especially a knee injury then he may not play again. He has the smarts and ability to be an elite quarterback...if it weren't for that knee.
Jason Wood: As an Eagles fan, I'm sure you all expect me to say Sam Bradford, but that would be incorrect. As others have already articulated, Griffin has the higher upside. Bradford is in a great system, sure, but we have five seasons of ineptitude from Bradford. He's had two ACL tears, shoulder problems and when he has played? Not good. For all the strife Griffin received since a dastardly knee injury ended his Pro Bowl rookie season, he's still been the much better player career-to-date:
- Completion Rate—Griffin (63.9%) vs. Bradford (58.6%)
- TD rate—Griffin (3.8%) vs. Bradford (3.4%)
- Yards-per-Attempt—Griffin (7.4) vs. Bradford (6.3)
- Interception Rate—Griffin (2.2%) vs. Bradford (2.2%)
- Passer Rating—Griffin (90.6) vs. Bradford (79.3)
Both have serious injury concerns, and both have fallen on hard times. And Bradford is in the best system of his career. But I'm still placing my chips on the younger guy that we've seen be ELITE at the NFL level.
Chris Feery: I like Bradford for 2015, Griffin long-term. Obvious concerns about Bradford staying healthy aside, I'll take a Chip Kelly quarterback all day. For Kelly to take this much of a risk by giving the keys to Bradford, he obviously views Bradford as great fit for his system. I'll go with the mad scientist on this one; Bradford's football IQ will come to the forefront this season and he will thrive in Philly. Long-term, I would say Griffin but with the caveat that I don't think it will be in Washington. He is a poor game or two away from being thrown under the bus by Gruden again; this has all the makings of a bad relationship that doesn't know when to throw in the towel. A change of scenery after this season could benefit both. Put Griffin in the right system and he could transition into a solid mid-level QB, I think his days of elite potential may be over but he can still carve out a long-term role in the league.
Matt Waldman: Short-term, I'm sold on the team that has the best offensive line and the simplest system for a quarterback and receiving corps to execute. The answer is Bradford. I understand why Jason Wood's stats point to Griffin, but Bradford never played behind a quality line or a system patterned to one extreme end of his talents. Griffin was pampered to the point of disadvantage with the Washington-Shanahan system. Once he got hurt, that system didn't work as well. And once the Washington organization's expiration date on functional organizational dynamics expired, Mike Shanahan was up to his old tricks, thumbing his nose at his own team and players to make a statement.
Cecil Lammey talks all the time about Mike Shanahan never calling a roll out for Jake Plummer after the quarterback went to a Pro Bowl and led the Broncos to the AFC Championship on the strength of this play as a major part of the offense. Lammey cited Shanahan's desire to insert Jay Cutler into the offense at an accelerated pace as the reason. In Washington, Griffin played behind a ton of max protection sets where he only had 2-3 receivers running routes against defenses that still had the horses to pressure this max protect scheme with a minimal amount of linemen while dropping enough defenders into coverage that the receivers were well covered.
Injuries, dysfunction, and coaching changes were big reasons Griffin's future looks cloudy at best. If the team can improve its pass protection and remain patient with Griffin while demanding him to be a pocket passer, Griffin has the tools to succeed beyond any expectations for Bradford long-term. While Bradford throws a beautiful deep ball and has more experience as a traditional pocket passer, Griffin has the arm and there's a lot of tape of him at Baylor where he displays good pocket presence. His pocket skills never got the early development in the read option offense during his first two seasons in Washington and Griffin regressed.
In terms of current skills, Bradford is the better player and the safer long-term option if he continues to play in the superior system with a better offensive line. In terms of upside potential based on physical skills, development of technical skills, and smarts, Griffin has a slight edge even with a bum knee that may force him to reset his game as a pocket player.
John Mamula: I agree with Chris as I want Sam Bradford's upside potential playing in the Chip Kelly offense. I believe Philadelphia made the investment in Bradford due to his quarterback intelligence. Bradford scored a high rating of 36 on the NFL Wonderlic Test prior to entering the league. This is a comparable score to other elite quarterbacks such as Matt Stafford (38), Andrew Luck (37), and Aaron Rodgers (35). Sam Bradford never got a chance to prove himself in the NFL due to injuries and a lack of supporting cast in St. Louis. I believe the trade to Philadelphia will do wonders for his career. Kelly's up-tempo offense will focus on Bradford getting the ball out of his hands in a fast and efficient manner.
I don't see the upside for Robert Griffin III III in 2015. Griffin will try to adapt to Jay Gruden's offense rather than taking the team on his shoulders as he did his rookie season. Griffin will be asked to be more of a game manager and I suspect we will see very few designed quarterback runs. Thus, Griffin may turn out to be a better real life NFL quarterback in 2015 rather than a quarterback that I want to target on my fantasy team.
Mark Wimer: I'm with Steve on Robert Griffin III III—he seems to have lost his way in the NFL since the serious knee injury and I don't think he makes it back to quarterback number one status in fantasy circles. He does have a strong supporting cast surrounding him so we could see some "flashes" of fantasy production when matchups are good—I have him at #17 on my quarterbacks board as of August 11, one of the higher rankings among the Footballguys.com staff—but #17 is a long way from starting quarterback status in fantasy leagues.
Regarding Bradford, all news out of training camp has been positive, and I am receptive to the idea of moving him up my boards but only IF he looks comfortable in the Philadelphia offense. Right now he's at quarterback 25 on my boards, so Bradford has a lot of room to move up. The chemistry we see or don't see with youngsters Jordan Matthews and Nelson Agholor in the preseason will determine whether I boost Bradford or if he stays mired in quarterback number three territory.
Daniel Simpkins: I think Maclin helps Smith’s fantasy prospects, but remember how low the bar is to begin with. Everyone was worried before the 2014 season about the Panthers’ receiving corps being the worst in the league, but in terms of production, it actually turned out that Kansas City’s was the worst. The receivers in this offense were so rotten last year that not a one of them scored a touchdown! While Maclin isn’t a revelation at the position, I do believe he’s much better than Dwayne Bowe at this point in his career. He’ll score four or five touchdowns this year to help boost Smith’s numbers, if only slightly.
Stephen Holloway: I definitely think that Maclin is an excellent fit for Coach Reid's offense and for Alex Smith's abilities. Maclin is good down the field, but he is also a great catch-and-run guy. Going to Kansas City is also a homecoming for him as he played collegiately at Missouri. As such, I am projecting a much better season for Maclin than most. I am the one of two staffers who rank him at WR20 or higher. Still since Maclin finished as WR9 last year in Philadelphia, even though I expect him to outperform his ADP and projections, Alex Smith will drag down Maclin's fantasy prospects more than Maclin will raise Smith's.
Andy Hicks: To reach his current ADP Jeremy Maclin needs to get about 130 fantasy points in a standard league or 200 in a PPR league. That would mean stats somewhere around 70-820-8, 70-1000-5, 70-1120-3 or 70-1300-0. The key figure is the touchdown one. The baseline is incredibly low for Maclin here and any touchdown will be an improvement on last year for the Chiefs. Maclin is an improvement on Bowe though. Reid and Bowe never clicked and Bowe may have been past his best anyway. All that said, I think it will be Smith who drags Maclin down ultimately though. Smith has a proven method for success, but it doesn't include a deep ball. Maybe Andy Reid tires of the limitations of Smith, but the backup options are unproven and if the move were unsuccessful it is likely to backfire heavily on Maclin owners. I would let someone else take the risk that it all works out for Maclin this year as the upside here is relatively close to his ADP. There are better options than Maclin in the same draft spot.
Jason Wood: Maclin will help Smith more than Smith will hurt Maclin. Maclin is a perfect fit for Andy Reid's system and Alex Smith had an abominable receiving situation last year. Everyone is fixated on the stat that Smith failed to complete a touchdown pass to a wide receiver last year, but let's not forget that he's completed plenty of touchdowns to receivers over his career, including several key throws in 49ers playoff games. To be clear, I think the overall conservative nature of the Chiefs offense assures Maclin can repeat last year's numbers, but he can still be a viable fantasy starter in 12-team leagues.
Chris Feery: Maclin helps Smith's fantasy prospects tremendously and I don't think Smith drags him down. Smith gets a bad rap as a game manager type and had horrific production from his receivers last season. Maclin provides an instant upgrade; I'm in the camp that believes he will really open up the Chiefs offense. Add in the familiarity with Andy Reid's offense from his days in Philly and he should be productive right out of the gate. A huge focus for the Chiefs in camp thus far has been looking to improve the downfield passing game. Maclin is the man to help Smith make that happen, I think he finishes the year in the top 20 for receivers but can be had later than that in drafts.
Matt Waldman: Maclin will elevate Smith—not enough to consider Smith more than a safe fantasy QB2 with a low fantasy ceiling, but Maclin's presence is a benefit. I have Maclin No.18 among fantasy receivers, which I believe is the highest among the staff. I've always viewed Maclin as an all-around competent starter, but I've never been a huge fan. Although Maclin can win versus contact and he has the speed to win in the open field, he's not a bully like Dez Bryant and he's not a formula one racer like Isaac Bruce back in the day. What he does well is get to the spot where he's supposed to be and make the play.
Alex Smith has not had this kind of player in Kansas City. Dwayne Bowe has been known for his lack of discipline and consistency. Bowe was always at his best as a screen receiver or a 50-50 catcher. Ask him to run precise routes and he isn't the technician that Smith needs. The rest of the receiving corps consists of castoffs, late-round picks, and size-speed misfits best for the slot. Smith is a competent NFL passer, but neither an athletic mismatch with his arm or legs nor a creative player outside the structure of the play. There's nothing special about Smith.
Maclin's consistency should gel well enough with Smith and bring out the best in the quarterback. Considering what Maclin did with Michael Vick and Nick Foles/Mark Sanchez, three guys with a wide spectrum of skills reading coverage, I think it's reasonable to consider Maclin in the 18-25 range among receivers. The Chiefs have a potentially great threat to complement him in Travis Kelce and two players in De'Anthony Thomas and Jamaal Charles who also have the skill to take a short pass a long distance. Maclin runs the routes Smith needs to have confidence in the receiver as a primary option. I think the route skills benefit Smith.
John Mamula: This one isn't even close. Alex Smith will drag down Jeremy Maclin's fantasy prospects in 2015. Since entering the league in 2005, Alex Smith's best season saw him throw for 3,313 and 23 touchdowns. Smith's typical output per game is 150-250 passing yards with 1-2 touchdowns. Smith has made comments in the past that he could absolutely care less about passing yards per game. He said that it is an overblown stat because if you're losing games in the second half your offense needs to go no-huddle to try to come back. Smith is the true definition of a game manager and not exactly the type of quarterback that I am excited to slot into my starting roster. Andy Reid's formula for success in Kansas City is defense and a steady dose of Jamaal Charles. This will continue in 2015.
C.J. Anderson is sneaking into the late first round of a lot of recent 12-team drafts. How comfortable are you that he'll be the featured back all season, rather than giving way to some kind of committee? Is his track record (about half a season as a starter) sufficient to warrant selecting around the 1/2 turn, or despite his admittedly high upside, do you perceive his floor to be too low for that kind of investment?
Bob Henry: The primary concern I have with Anderson is the same I have for any elite-level, first round running back—injury. If you play running back in the NFL (or any level for that matter), you're going to get hurt. It's when, not if. Anderson projects as a top five back in all scoring formats, although the loss of Ryan Clady is concerning. It seems like the general public has swept that nugget under the carpet while his ADP has consistently risen throughout the summer. Montee Ball is worth a late round hand cuff either way.
Daniel Simpkins: I’m extremely comfortable taking him in the late first. Anderson is competent, and backs that fit this description in a Peyton Manning offense always seem to thrive. I’m always disappointed when owners try to use whether a guy has a “good track record” or if he’s a “proven player” as their standard for selecting their draft picks. With that kind of thinking, how will you ever hit on incoming rookie talent? How will you find the hidden gems that emerge when they finally get a shot? More importantly, how will you ever win your league without taking risks? As Bob pointed out, if you are concerned about Anderson’s health, Ball is one of the cheaper handcuff options this year.
Stephen Holloway: I am hesitant to take Anderson that early, particularly if we are talking about PPR-scoring leagues. In those leagues, I tend to rank the top tier wide receivers similarly to running backs. Even though Anderson is my RB8, I would likely not draft him till toward the end of the second round. HIs lack of a track record is an issue, because the majority of his carries and production came in weeks 12-17, when Montee Ball was out. Over the first nine weeks of the season, Anderson had only 17 carries for 82 yards, four catches for 34 yards and no touchdowns. The remainder of the year, he had 162 carries for 767 yards, 30 catches for 290 yards and 10 touchdowns. The lack of a capable back-up during his productive stretch allows me to wonder whether Anderson's number of carries will be reduced by Ball's availability. Ball had success as a rookie, averaging 4.7 yards per reception on 120 carries before missing most of last year with injuries.
Andy Hicks: I would love C.J. Anderson if John Fox and Adam Gase were still around. The change to Gary Kubiak and Rick Dennison is a boon for the running game so there is that going for it, but which running back do they like best? After trying and failing with Ron Dayne at the beginning of their Texans tenure they had moderate success with the lowly rated Steve Slaton and then incredible success with the undrafted Arian Foster. Add in an implausible resurrection of Justin Forsett in Baltimore last year and they have a proven track record of backs that other teams shy away from. C.J. Anderson will be given first shot, but are there backs they like better? Maybe Montee Ball is fully fit and becomes what he was expected to be last year? Maybe Ronnie Hillman suits this team? Juwan Thompson, Jeremy Stewart or whoever else is on the roster all have a chance to impress. We don't know who this staff is going to like best or who will make the final roster. Even if Anderson is first on the ground, does he suit their scheme as much as another guy that makes the roster and they want to see eventually running the ball. The price of a first round pick is too much to bear for me and as we saw in Montee Ball last year it doesn't always work out the way people expect. If Anderson is the guy they like and all other things are equal then he is likely to finish as an RB1...easily. He is a good risk, but a risk nonetheless.
Jason Wood: I'm absolutely comfortable with Anderson. Anderson was dominant once he got on the field, and the new coaches have done nothing to suggest Anderson isn't their guy. We know Kubiak's system is ideally suited to Anderson's style, and most importantly, Kubiak believes in using one workhorse on three downs. He's got the talent and the opportunity to thrive. What's not to love?
Chris Feery: Jason nailed my thoughts. I'm 100% comfortable with Anderson in the first round. Perfect fit for Kubiak's system, Broncos will be looking for more balance on offense to reduce the strain on Manning and he has the talent to succeed as a three down back. Ball is the handcuff for injury concerns and will see some change of pace snaps, but Anderson is the man in Denver. Draft him.
Matt Waldman: I fear placing too much importance on one pick and yes, I believe a half a season as a starter is enough to see what a player can do if you're watching for the correct factors. Corey Dillon started six games as a rookie in 1997 and his output was the first of six consecutive seasons with at least 1100 yards rushing. Steve Slaton had nearly 1300 yards rushing as a rookie in 15 starts and it was the beginning of the end.
Dillon, and running backs like him with limited starts early who thrive long-term, display smart decision-making, skill after contact, and the requisite physical skills commensurate with a starter. Whether you're a big, strong back or a smaller, agile runner, these three basic factors matter.
Slaton, a promising scat back with excellent receiving skills, proved to be a determined runner in the sense that he'd keep his legs moving after contact. But he didn't display great decision-making between the tackles. It seems odd to say this about a back that rushed for 1282 yards and nine touchdowns as a rookie, but it happens. Look at Nick Foles' 2013 season and all of the games where he benefited from defenses not making the quarterback pay for errant throws under pressure—including a few near-interceptions that the defense tipped into Philadelphia touchdowns. Foles returned to earth in 2014 and displayed the same issues he had in 2013, only with defenses capitalizing. Derek Anderson and Scott Mitchell also had one great season only to fail over the course of their careers as starters. Slaton had several runs in 2008 where he should have been tackled in the pile, but blindly spun out of the mass for large gains because defenses failed to keep their collective eyes up and wrap up. Defenses did a better job exposing Slaton's weaknesses in 2009 than they did in 2008. Slaton's decision-making and skill after contact proved to be lacking.
Anderson has shown enough well before he earned his starting opportunity that he has the burst, lateral agility, decision-making, and power to start in the league. He's also paired in an offense and with a quarterback that has turned journeymen into reliable fantasy starters (Kubiak, Justin Forsett and Slaton for one year; Manning, Dominic Rhodes and arguably Knowshon Moreno). I want Anderson as one of my first two backs.
Justin Howe: At the moment, here's the split I have projected for Denver's rushes (I only project 97.5% and leave the rest to fullbacks, wideouts, and deep reserves):
- Anderson 61% (278 rushes)
- Ball 23.5% (100 rushes)
- Hillman 8% (34 rushes)
- Manning 5% (23 rushes)
Last year as the starter, Anderson saw 71% of team rushes. So this projection would be a pretty sizeable drop-off, as though the team was firmly committed to cutting Anderson's workload (why?) and/or getting more Ball and Hillman onto the field (why?). And ultimately, even my "pessimistic" projections make Anderson the number three per-game running back—behind only Le'Veon Bell and Arian Foster, both of whom are missing chunks of the year.
I can't imagine Anderson turning in anything less than a fantasy RB1 workload. Kubiak doesn't split the ball among his backs as some kind of rule; the only time he's done that recently is when managing the fragile Arian Foster. Aside from two very banged-up seasons, Foster posted 21.2 rushes a game as Kubiak's starter. Prior to that, we saw him give RB1 workloads to the likes of Steve Slaton and Ron Dayne. In Anderson, he has a Peyton-approved dual threat for a high-octane, high-volume offense. Nothing within 260-300 carries would surprise me.
John Mamula: I am confident that C.J. Anderson will be the featured back all season or until injury gives way to Montee Ball. Anderson floor should be high enough to warrant a first round pick but I am not sure about his ceiling. Other first round running backs, Le'Veon Bell, Adrian Peterson, and Jamaal Charles, all have significantly higher ceilings as compared to Anderson. I would only draft Anderson in the late first round in standard, non-PPR leagues. In PPR leagues, It is imperative to target elite wide receivers, such as Odell Beckham Jr Jr., Dez Bryant, and Julio Jones, in the late first round. If you draft Anderson at the end of the first round, you are starting your core roster off with a fantasy running back that is graded below the other top running backs (Bell, Pederson, Charles), that are being drafted earlier in the same round. By targeting an elite wide receiver in the end of the first round, your team has access to a higher overall ceiling from a different position as compared to the teams slotted at the top of the draft. I have found that this is a better recipe for success in winning your PPR league as long as you can hit on your running backs in rounds 2-5.
Will Mike Wallace be a better fit in Minnesota than he was in Miami?
Daniel Simpkins: I think so. Wallace and Tannehill did ok together (better than public perception if you actually look at the numbers), but they seemed to be out-of-sync a majority of the time when it came to connecting on the long pass. By all accounts, Wallace and Teddy seem to have the rapport flowing in camp. Observers also recount that Teddy’s deep ball looks better. He attributes that improvement to the muscle that he’s put on during the offseason. I’m advocating picking Wallace in the seventh round of drafts or later.
Stephen Holloway: I agree with Daniel. I think that Wallace comes into a situation that is a much better fit for his skills than the Miami offense. Daniel is also correct in that Wallace's production in Miami was better than most realize. He caught 140 passes for 1,792 yards and scored 15 touchdowns in his two seasons there, even though he managed only 12.8 yards per reception against his career 15.6 yards per reception. In non-PPR scoring, Wallace finished as WR25 and WR18 in his two seasons in Miami. He public perception was more about failing to live up to the high contract that he signed and the poor attitude that he displayed, possibly somewhat a result of the media and fan disappointment. I think that he is an excellent choice to outperform his current ADP of WR31 and his average staff ranking of WR28.
Andy Hicks: I am optimistic about Mike Wallace. Like Daniel and Stephen, I think his performance in Miami is considerably underrated. He finished as a WR2 in both years there and never really connected with Ryan Tannehill. Obviously he needs to build a rapport with Teddy Bridgewater, but most observers seem to think Bridgewater has a much better deep ball than Tannehill and Wallace should find a new lease on life in Minnesota. I currently have the highest rating of all staff on the guy, but am well aware that he has an element of risk. The situation, however, is perfectly set up for him to even finish as a WR1 this season. Incredible upside for a guy currently going as the 31st wide receiver on draft boards. Adrian Peterson has to be respected by most defenses, while the combination of Kyle Rudolph, Jarius Wright, Cordarrelle Patterson and Charles Johnson are going to keep the middle of the field honest. If Wallace is motivated and on the same page as the rest of the offense, look out. All things considered, his draft price is well worth the risk.
Jason Wood: Absolutely. Wallace is a talent, and his inability to synch up with Tannehill is just one of those oddities of NFL life. Norv Turner's offense is built around a ground attack and an effective play-action that draws in the defense and then goes over the top. Wallace's best trait (but not his only one) remains his ability to make plays vertically. It's a perfect match.
Chris Feery: Definitely a better fit in Minnesota. As Jason said, Wallace is a perfect fit for the Norv Turner offense. Minnesota's offense as a whole should be much improved this year with an expected leap forward from Bridgewater and Peterson on a mission to run through everything. As others have mentioned, Wallace's production in Miami was not horrible but his attitude was. I expect him to be sufficiently motivated to prove that his time in Miami was simply a bad fit and that he has plenty left to offer. Wallace could end up being a steal at his current draft position.
Matt Waldman: Wallace should have a better year in Minnesota if for no other reason than he admitted that he became part of the problem in Miami and he knows that he needs to rebound if he wants to rehab his reputation and still have a future in the NFL. As for on-field reasons, Teddy Bridgewater still has some development ahead of him in the NFL, but he's ahead of Ryan Tannehill as a passer when judging them based on their first seasons in the league. Bridgewater has better feel for the pocket, better touch, smarter with the play breaks down, and more overall intelligence for the position than what I saw from the Miami QB—and I have always liked Tannehill.
I also think Minnesota has a better offense. Wallace and Johnson are better now as a 1-2 punch of starters than whatever 1-2 punch the Dolphins piece together with its top four options. Miami has more depth and DeVante Parker will eventually go a long way towards evening the playing field, but today Wallace-Johnson-Rudolph are smarter and more versatile. The ground game in Minnesota also outclasses the Dolphins' unit and sets up more play action opportunities. I won't be surprised if one of the Dolphins receivers out-plays Wallace and Johnson this year statistically, but I think Wallace should improve his YPC average in this system while approaching 8-10 touchdowns.
John Mamula: Most definitely. I agree with Jason Wood's comments regarding Norv Turner's offensively system. Mike Wallace is a great fit for this offense as defenses will be keying on Adrian Peterson. The play action passing game sets up perfectly for Wallace in this system. Wallace was never a good fit in Miami due to Ryan Tannehill's lack of a long ball. In an earlier roundtable on the Dolphins passing game, Justin Howe mentioned some numbers that shocked me. In 2014, Tannehill only had three TD passes of 20+ yards or more. In Norv Turner's system, Wallace has a good chance to best those numbers before the quarter mark of the season. In daily fantasy leagues, Wallace makes a great GPP play as he will have the potential to always unleash an 80-yard touchdown.
Mark Wimer: I agree with Jason that the fit in Minnesota is better for his skill set, and I think Wallace is in the mix for finishing among the top-20 fantasy wide receivers this season. He's not a top tier prospect, but he should be a respectable fantasy WR2.
There's a saying that it's better to give up on a player a year too early than a year too late. The following players are all being drafted as fantasy starters (in 1/2/3/1/1/1 leagues). Which ones are most likely to leave their fantasy owners regretting that they hadn't jumped off the bandwagon sooner?
Bob Henry: The only one I'm leaning towards is Peyton Manning although my reservation there has more to do with an increased focus on running the ball and less about his physical decline or waning arm strength. By emphasizing the running game more, Gary Kubiak might actually help Peyton play at a higher level longer into the season. I still expect him to reach 30 touchdowns and 4,000+ yards, but in today's NFL that won't be enough to crack the top five. I wouldn't be surprised if he finishes closer to the bottom end of the QB1 rung either, but not because he has run out of gas.
As for Gore and Johnson, I'm fully onboard for their renaissance with the Colts, arguably the league's most potent offense. If anything, I expect an uptick in production for both. The Colts should fully use Gore as a receiver, unlike his past few years in San Francisco, and Johnson will benefit from working with an elite quarterback for the first time along with a loaded group of skill players surrounding him and a healthy amount of targets to boot.
Witten is like clockwork. Any gradual decline in his physical abilities could be offset by a Cowboys offense that might need to pass more often than last year. The running game could continue to fire on all cylinders without DeMarco Murray, but there's a non-zero chance it doesn't, and even a slight decline in the run-pass ratio will be enough to keep Witten firmly among the top five to ten PPR tight ends.
Daniel Simpkins: I’m going to pick Jason Witten. I’m a Volunteers fan, so I saw plenty of Witten as a college prospect. He was so much fun to watch in college and then as he made a splash in the pro game. There’s no question he’s had a hall-of-fame-worthy career. When I watch 2014 Cowboys games, I can see clearly that he’s slowing down. Though I am predicting the Cowboys to have a need to pass more this year without Murray in the running game, I think the extra targets will go primarily to Bryant, Lance Dunbar, and Cole Beasley. Witten is one of those picks people make because he’s “safe.” At 33 years old and with no real upside, I would argue he is anything but “safe” for fantasy owners. By taking him so early, you are likely missing out on guys drafted well after him that will likely match his production and have so much more upside. Dwayne Allen, Tyler Eifert, and Austin Seferian-Jenkins come to mind.
Stephen Holloway: Frank Gore is my pick. Even though Gore has been extremely productive running for over 1,100 yards in each of the previous four seasons and not missing a single game, he enters training camp at the age of 32 and has 2,443 NFL rushing attempts. Since 2000 there have been only three running backs at age of 32 or greater that topped 1,000 rushing yards, with Ricky Williams being the last six years ago in 2009. Since Andrew Luck has been with the Colts, their rushing attack has been pathetic, with running back rushing attempts dropping each year to 337 last year and all three years averaging under 4.0 ypc. The strength of the Colts is Andrew Luck and their amazing group of receivers. The Colts return T.Y. Hilton (82 rec), Coby Fleener (51), Dwayne Allen (29) and Donte Moncrief (32) and replace Reggie Wayne (64) with Andre Johnson (85 with Houston). They also added their first round pick, Phillip Dorsett who has speed and can take the top off defenses. The team might run a little more this year and Gore should be more efficient than the Colts recent running backs, but even with 1,103 rushing yards last year Gore finished as RB16 in standard scoring and RB21 in PPR scoring. He is a year older, on a new team and currently going at RB15 and has a staff ranking of RB13. I doubt he produces this year to his expectations and next year his opportunities may be gone.
Andy Hicks: I think the risk is directly associated to their current average draft positions.
Jason Witten is an eighth round draft pick this year that has been gradually declining since his number one ranking of 2010. At age 33 it would be a surprise to see a resurrection, but it happened with Antonio Gates last year and Tony Gonzalez before that. His current draft price is acceptable for a probable decline and the small chance of upside.
Andre Johnson is an early fifth round pick. At age 34 and on a new team he still has possibilities for improvement with a quarterback of the quality of Andrew Luck. It is also theoretical that with the depth the Colts have at receiver he gets squeezed out and is in his last year. Out of all the elite and former elite wide receivers of recent years, his touchdown numbers are among the poorest. This is a reflection of the run dominated Texans and poor quarterback play. He is an acceptable risk and has considerable upside if these touchdown numbers improve.
As we move up the draft board the risk and price becomes less tolerable. Peyton Manning is an early fourth round pick right now and 39 year old quarterbacks with fantasy pedigree are scarce. Add in a new head coach, a likely domination of the running game and two departing receivers in Wes Welker and Julius Thomas and the odds of Manning getting anywhere near his ADP are slim. Manning was almost unstartable in his last five games with only five touchdowns and six interceptions. I hope I'm wrong about the great man, but he has the potential to ruin many drafts this year.
Ultimately onto the guy I want to talk about in Frank Gore. Like Stephen, I am concentrating on the historical side to point me in the right direction. People have been writing off Frank Gore for years and he has proven them wrong. That was when he was on the team that drafted him. The history of guys with 2000+ carries, moving to a new team after the age of 30 is horrific.
Here's how they have done in the last 20-25 years, with their age and fantasy ranking in their first year at a new club:
- Emmitt Smith 34—62nd
- Edgerrin James 31—98th
- Eric Dickerson 32—33rd
- Eric Dickerson 33—49th
- Franco Harris 34—103rd
- Tony Dorsett 34—30th
- Thurman Thomas 34—69th
- Eddie George 31—41st
- Steven Jackson 30—32nd
- Warrick Dunn 31—33rd
- Fred Taylor 33—83rd
- Shaun Alexander 31—141st
- O.J. Simpson 31—52nd
- Ricky Williams 34—51st
- LaDainian Tomlinson 31—16th
- Thomas Jones 32—24th
- Marcus Allen 33—5th
These guys aren't schlubs, these are hall of famers or thereabouts in almost all cases. Only one guy exceeded Frank Gore's current ADP in Marcus Allen. I repeat the only one was 22 years ago.
Of course everyone thinks Frank Gore will be different, but hindsight is a wonderful tool. I'll take foresight with historical perspective as my guide on this one.
Jason Wood: None of them. I'll never peg Manning as a bust without another injury. He's pretty much a football cyborg. Gore is a PERFECT fit in Indianapolis. Let's remember Ahmad Bradshaw was a top 10 fantasy running back before getting hurt last year; and Gore is better than Bradshaw in every way. Andre Johnson worries me a LITTLE bit, but I can't bet on a total flop this year. As for Witten? He was TE10 last year in what was considered a down year. To predict a falloff, I need to see a decline in his underlying metrics and that hasn't happened. Witten averaged 11.0 yards per catch last year—right in line with his career mark, and his catch rate (71%) remains elite.
Ari Ingel: The only one of these guys I'm staying away from is Peyton Manning.
Manning is quite possibly the greatest quarterback in NFL history, but at age 39 and with a gimpy arm, he absolutely scares me. He only had four touchdown passes in the last four weeks of the season last year. That is not someone you spend a fourth round pick on. While I have no doubt he will start the season strong and will put up some monster numbers, one good hit and it could all unravel. The team is also moving towards a more run-heavy offense and Emanuel Sanders has come out openly to state that his numbers are going to decline. Unless he falls into the ninth round, I'm rather grabbing guys like Stafford, Tannehill, Eli Manning, Romo and Bradford.
One note on Witten, while he has certainly slowed down, Romo still looks his way often. Dallas also has a monster offensive line so he is not needed as a blocker like some teams need their tight ends. As long as you don't reach for him, I'm fine with Witten at his current ADP of 9.07.
Chris Feery: Gore. I don't think he can elude father time much longer. Andy did a phenomenal job breaking it down, a back with his career workload and switching teams after the age of 30 has not been a good bet historically. I also have to go by the eye test, there were several instances last year where I watched Gore handle the ball and thought to myself that I was watching a back with declining skills. Could that have been a product of Kaepernick and the 49ers struggles on offense? Perhaps, but i can't shake what I saw. Short story is i think Gore can still be productive, but I'm not salivating over his upside as the Colts featured back.
Manning would be second for the obvious injury concerns and the expected reduction in attempts, but still see him finishing as a top five quarterback for 2015. Johnson and Witten should be fine, I have no concerns on either.
Matt Waldman: Zero. Zilch. Zippo. Bupkis.
Gore is healthy, savvy, and played in an offense where he was he engine of the 49ers scheme. I can't wait to see teams throw eight in the box against Gore with Luck and that offense in front of runner. Gore faced more defenders in the box in San Francisco last year than any runner in the league and he still compiled 255-1103-4 on a team where Anquan Boldin (at three-quarters the speed of his prime) was the best option in the passing game.
Using history with age is a nice idea and it appears compelling, but there are too many variables involved with each player for me use it as a guide. One of those variables in Andy's list is that many of these players didn't come to their new teams where the expectation for the team was for them to start.
LaDainian Tomlinson finished 16th on Hicks' list and it was Shonn Green who was the starter to begin the year. Granted, Rex Ryan Benched Greene late in the half, but many of these players listed weren't considered full-time starters. Even Allen didn't start his career in Kansas City as the lead back. It means that using that list as a guide when the expectation for most of these backs wasn't starter production isn't a fair comparison to Gore's situation:
Dunn had two 1100 yards seasons and a third 700-yard season in his thirties for the Falcons before returning to Tampa as an insurance policy for Cadillac Williams' recovery.
Eddie George was the insurance policy for early pick Julius Jones and George only started because Jones fractured his shoulder early in Week 2 and didn't return until Week 10.
Thurman Thomas had a combined 129 carries for 533 yards during his final two seasons in Buffalo before going to Miami where Lamar Smith was acquired as the starter and earned 300 carries and 1100 yards. Does this sound comparable to Gore's situation?
Using Eric Dickerson twice doesn't really make sense to me, but here we go: The first time, we've learned very clearly that Al Davis brought in Dickerson and Roger Craig to mess with Marcus Allen. By that time Dickerson had already declined in production for two straight years in Indianapolis. Those two seasons with the Colts, Dickerson tallied fewer yards on the ground (90-91) than he did in 1989 alone. Gore has had no notable decline in production. The second season mentioned, if you're going to go there, involved a 6-10 Atlanta team with Jerry Glanville as the head coach. The team was 6-10 the year before and looking to make a splash. Its' the same regime that only used Brett Favre as a circus oddity for making bets pre-game with other coaches about whether Favre could throw the ball into a certain section of the stands.
Thomas Jones was insurance for Jamaal Charles who had an 1100-yard season before Jones arrived and followed up with a 1400-yard season when Jones was there. And Jones still had over 800 yards and six touchdowns on that squad while splitting touches with Charles. I don't see where the Colts drafted a future Jamaal Charles—all apologies to Josh, "the little engine that could" Robinson.
Franco Harris was essentially an emergency signing by the Seahawks in 1984 after 1983 Pro Bowl running back Curt Warner, who ripped up the league with a 377-1774-14 rookie year from scrimmage, suffered a season-ending injury in Week 1 of 1984. Granted, Harris did have a 279-1007-5 rushing season the year before, but his 3.6 ypc average was the worst mark he had in five years and the second-worst during his career with the Steelers. Gore's ypc the past two seasons has been 4.4 and 4.3, respectively.
Edgerrin James was already in steep decline after moving on from the Colts to the Cardinals. James had 360-1506-13 with the Colts in 2005; 337-1159-6 with the Cards in 2006; and 324-1222-7 in 2007. But in 2008, James had 133-514-3 in 13 games with the Cards before moving onto Seattle. That's a pretty steep drop that Gore didn't have.
Steven Jackson stands out as the one player on this list comparable to Gore stats-wise. The only difference in context is that Jackson wound up on a team decimated with injuries during both seasons.
Fred Taylor started 13 games in Jacksonville and only managed 556 yards and a score before leaving for New England in 2009, where he looked good in five games (63-269-4) before sidelined with an ankle injury.
Tony Dorsett had 1204 yards and six touchdowns during his final two 25 games in Dallas (only starting 18 of those games) before posting 181-703-5 in Denver. I'd think that exceeded expectations.
O.J. Simpson was damaged goods in San Francisco and the 49ers admitted that they didn't realize it until they got him.
Shaun Alexander's decline, like several of the players on this list came two years before he arrived in Washington. After a 370-1880-27 campaign in 2005, Alexander has 459-1612-11 in 2006-2007 in 23 games and his average per carry those two seasons was 3.6 and 3.5 compared to the 5.1 average he had in 2005. By the way, Alexander never dropped before 4.0 ypc before that 2006 seasons.
When I look at this list, only Jackson's stats-age-new team scenario remotely makes sense to compare to Gore. So I beg to differ with this road map. If Gore fails, using this list won't be the right reason.
Justin Howe: I don't own a single Andre Johnson share through thirtyish MFL10 drafts. And I doubt I'll pick up any this August. His average draft position is unsightly; I wouldn't roll the dice on Johnson before the eighth or ninth round.
Because it is absolutely a dice roll. Johnson is upgrading majorly at QB, but that's far from the only circumstance changing drastically in 2015.
For years, Johnson has dominated his team's target count like no other. But is he going to see anything close to that while contending with this many weapons? Give him a fair 18.5% of a projected 628 Luck targets, and you're looking at 116 targets. There are certainly number two wideouts who can maximize that count into big numbers, but a 34-year-old Johnson isn't one of them.
Johnson has been a studly WR1 for years on the heels of catching everything thrown his way and posting gaudy reception totals. His career catch rate is great, though it's dropped off noticeably post-Matt Schaub. We're hearing about how Luck is so good that he'll make Johnson even better. But how?! Is Johnson really going to recapture the days of catching 65% of his looks this year? At 34? (He'd better, because his volume will be dropping markedly.)
Also note also that Luck's career completion rate (58.6%) is below average; feeding gobs of targets to possession types isn't really his thing.
Is he at least going to score touchdowns steadily? Well, he never really has, so I doubt that will change here. Johnson's TD failures have gone far beyond his quarterbacks—he simply hasn't been thrown to much there. From 2010-13, he drew just 0.82 red zone looks per game, well below the average for his high-volume peers. Yes, last year Johnson was targeted an obscene 26 times in the red zone and seven times inside the five. But he did little with that opportunity: those 26 red zone throws resulted in just three touchdowns, one of the league's worst ratios.
Investing heavily in Johnson means investing heavily in a high-mileage 34-year-old switching teams—becoming the number two on a very crowded offensive roster—and surviving a massive drop in volume to again post WR2 numbers. A guy who's never been a touchdown scorer and has two athletic marvels breathing down his neck. I say there's no chance; he's not even a lock to finish a top-40 wideout to me. I have him projected at 69-864-3. He should be great for the Colts, disappointing for fantasy owners.
John Mamula: I agree with Justin and I doubt that I will roster Andre Johnson on any of my re-draft teams in 2015. A fifth round ADP is ridiculous for the amount of mouths that Indianapolis has to feed. Many are expecting Johnson to produce Reggie Wayne 2012 type numbers (106 receptions, 1,355 yards, five touchdowns) this season. Andrew Luck has improved to an elite level quarterback over the past two seasons. He has done this by using all the offensive weapons on the team. In 2012, Luck would often lock onto Reggie Wayne when in trouble. Similar to what we have seen in the past with Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall.
Houston releasing Andre Johnson is a statement to where he is at in his career. Houston is looking to go in another direction with Cecil Shorts or Keshawn Martin as a starting wide receiver over their franchise WR, Andre Johnson. Think about this for a minute. Johnson had only one game last season with more than seven receptions or 100 yards. That is a horrible ceiling for a fifth round draft pick. I am targeting a wide receiver in the fifth round, I prefer higher upside receivers such as Jordan Matthews, Keenan Allen, DeSean Jackson, or Amari Cooper.
Mark Wimer: I agree with Andy that Manning's decline in December and January of last season was precipitous and very unwelcome for his fantasy owners. However, I've been drafting him much later than the early fourth round this season and I think if you land Manning in the mid rounds and pair with another high-upside starter (like his brother Eli Manning) then Peyton Manning is a reasonable risk to take. The connection with Demaryius Thomas should be an explosive one throughout the season, for the same reason that Andy cites (less surrounding talent at receiver and tight end). Just be sure you have a reliable quarterback two to lean on during December if the Broncos' passing game hits the wall then (or if they run away with the AFC West and elect to rest Peyton Manning for a portion of fantasy playoff weeks).
Bob Henry: Three months ago, I would have put my chips on Javorius Allen as Forsett's handcuff. Now, I'm not so sure. Taliaferro improved his conditioning during the offseason, reporting to camp in better shape, down a few pounds and has reportedly looked the part. Allen has better chops for the passing game, but if Forsett gets hurt, I don't think we would see either one emerge over the other. Taliaferro could be the top option for early down, Allen on third downs or obvious passing situations, while Allen could also emerge as a better option in short yardage or goal line situations.
Daniel Simpkins: Though Forsett's and Allen’s body types and running styles differ significantly, I’m going to go with Javorius Allen here. Allen is already a competent blocker and a surprisingly good receiver for his size. I think the team understands that Taliaferro is just a guy and knows that Buck is capable of doing a better job leading the way if called upon. Allen actually has a decent shot at seeing time this year, as I don’t think Forsett will be able to continue to hold up to the beating he’s taking as an undersized back.
Stephen Holloway: I’m going to agree with Daniel and also lean to Javorius Allen here. In his last two seasons at USC, he had 63 receptions for 710 yards. His best opportunity to see the field is to spell Forsett and running backs that are capable receivers is a plus in a Marc Trestman offense.
Andy Hicks: Everyone always jumps to the rookie, which is no surprise as we haven't seen them struggle or take their time to adapt to the NFL. Both Allen and Taliaferro were picked in the fourth round and between 120 and 140th overall. Taliaferro has one year NFL experience that Allen does not have. Fourth-round backs and beyond are that for a reason. They either never work out or struggle when given the chance. The rare few that become starters and then successful starters form a limited list. Let's look at this a bit more closely.
We can't really evaluate the class of 2014 & 2015 yet and even 2013 is unknown to a degree, but between 2004 and 2013 there have been approximately 115 running backs taken between the fourth and end of the seventh round.
Here is a list of the ones that were good to great:
- Class of 2004—Michael Turner
- Class of 2005—Marion Barber, Brandon Jacobs, Darren Sproles
- Class of 2006—No One
- Class of 2007—Ahmad Bradshaw
- Class of 2008—Justin Forsett
- Class of 2009—Rashad Jennings
- Class of 2010—No One
- Class of 2011—No one
- Class of 2012—Lamar Miller, Alfred Morris
- Class of 2013—Joseph Randle, Latavius Murray
I have been generous with Randle and Murray as they have more than likely been handed the keys for this year. The odds are that they will fail though.
Three of the first seven were either on their second team or journeymen. The last four haven't got a complete story yet.
The fact that only 11 out of 115 are even worthy of mention is scary. Sure there are types like Wali Lundy, Jerome Harrison, Michael Bush, Tim Hightower, James Starks, Roy Helu, Jacquizz Rodgers and Zac Stacy who had short term success, but we are looking at a very high failure rate. Look at the class of 2011 for a good example. 15 running backs were taken from round four to seven. Only three are still on an NFL roster and none are anything better than a second or third option on their team.
Let's also look at the undrafted running backs in the same time frame:
- 2004—Willie Parker
- 2005—Ryan Grant
- 2006—No One
- 2007—Pierre Thomas
- 2008—BenJarvus Green-Ellis
- 2009—Arian Foster
- 2010—Joique Bell, Chris Ivory and LeGarrette Blount
- 2011—No One
- 2012—No One
- 2013—C.J. Anderson
- 2014—Isaiah Crowell
Which list looks better?
In short I don't like either Lorenzo Taliaferro or Javorius Allen to be anything other than a stop gap solution should Forsett go down. Save your draft pick and try and beat the others to the waiver wire to get whichever one the coaching staff has anointed.
Jason Wood: Dan Simpkins summed up my thoughts beautifully. Taliaferro is just a guy. And to Andy Hicks' point, while Taliaferro does have a year of experience, it's playing for a different offensive coordinator. All bets are off when it comes to Trestman's system. To that end, I think Buck Allen a better option on third downs than Taliaferro, and I also think he's got a better all-around game that would be required if Forsett got hurt. For my money, Buck Allen is a must draft player late in drafts. I'm rostering him everywhere I can.
Chris Feery: My original inclination was to lean towards Taliaferro going into camp, but I am now firmly in Allen's corner. As Stephen mentioned, a pass catching back will thrive under Trestman. Add in Allen's strength as a pass-protector and we're looking at a rookie who will carve out an immediate role with the Ravens. I see Taliaferro receiving time early in the season to spell Forsett but gradually fading away as Allen flashes his potential. Allen makes a fine pick as a handcuff to Forsett and as a late round choice in PPR.
Matt Waldman: I'm not targeting either. They'll each have a role. If forced to choose one, I'm taking Allen because I see a little more burst and polished versatility.
Justin Howe: In my early MFL10s this February and March, I went in for several shares of Taliaferro. He cost a lot more to acquire back then, pre-Allen, but I stand by the picks. I think he's underrated as a runner. He ran for 27 touchdowns in his final year of school, and that ability seemed to carry over as a rookie. He was awesome for the Ravens near the goal line, scoring four of his seven carries from inside the five. All told, he cranked out 0.519 fantasy points per snap—the sample size is small, but he outdid part-time darlings like Roy Helu and Knile Davis. And I disagree with the narrative that he's some lurching, anti-athletic pile-pusher. At last year's combine, he posted an excellent 6.88 3-cone drill at 230 pounds. That's better than Giovani Bernard (202 pounds), Melvin Gordon III (215)... and Javorius Allen (221).
Obviously, much of the shine is off his apple with Allen on board. But Taliaferro is still an intriguing talent who'd almost certainly be in line for a major role if Justin Forsett falters. He's the ideal late-round dart throw—a fantasy RB4 floor and a fantasy RB2 ceiling.
John Mamula: Daniel Simpkins summed it up great. Javorius Allen is the better fit for the style of offense that Marc Trestman is bringing to Baltimore. Justin Forsett will get the bulk of the touches/targets in this offense. Matt Forte caught 102 receptions in the offensive system last year. While Forsett will not reach those lofty totals, 80 receptions is well within reach with the workload that he is projected to receive. If Forsett goes down, Allen becomes an every week starter. Allen is definitely worth a late round flyer in redraft leagues.
Who is Marshawn Lynch's handcuff?
Bob Henry: I don't expect any changes regarding the pecking order in Seattle. Robert Turbin appears to be fine following off-season surgery. With UDFA Thomas Rawls impressing the coaching staff, I wouldn't be surprised at all to see Christine Michael dealt to another team during the preseason.
Daniel Simpkins: Anyone who knows me well knows how much I love Michael as a talent. As much as I want to say Michael here, I think the team trusts Turbin more. Though Turbin doesn’t possess the physical upside of Michael, he’s still very good in his own right and seems to have his head screwed on much straighter. Michael has a reputation of being a bit immature and making some poor decisions. I gather from some of Michael's recent Twitter comments that he is frustrated and wants a chance to start elsewhere. Beyond this year is where things get really interesting in the Seattle backup situation. Turbin is a free agent, and the team hasn’t made any moves to re-sign him at this point. Michael has two years left on his contract, but the rift between he and the team seems to be growing. The team also seems to be enamored with rookie Thomas Rawls, who has a three year deal in place with Seattle. How it turns out is anyone’s guess, but my money is on the team re-signing Turbin and hanging on to Rawls. As Bob suggested, I think they’ll look for a trade partner to at least recoup some of the second round value they invested in Michael.
Stephen Holloway: I was an eyewitness to one of Christine Michael's big days collegiately at Texas A&M and I know that he has the talent to be a productive player at the NFL level. However, he is entering his third season with Seattle and he has just not been able to get on the field. He has played in only 13 of 32 games and has only 52 carries. Meanwhile, Robert Turbin has not missed a game and although his opportunities have been limited, he has logged 231 rushes and caught 43 passes. Even though Lynch ha one of the most vicious running styles today, he has played in all but one game over his five seasons in Seattle, so I am not likely to draft his handcuff. If I had to pick, it would be Turbin, but I am not at all likely to draft him.
Andy Hicks: Talent is irrelevant if the player doesn't buy into the team ethos or is incapable of protecting the quarterback. Most observers clearly think Christine Michael is a superior talent to Robert Turbin, but in two full seasons he has 54 carries and one reception. Robert Turbin in the same timespan has 151 carries and 24 receptions. It is almost painfully obvious than Michael is going nowhere in Seattle, for whatever reason. Robert Turbin is a limited upside player, but he will be the backup barring injury and even if he is it doesn't look like the Seahawks trust Michael anyway.
Jason Wood: There's no mystery here, it's Robert Turbin. We can all second guess Pete Carroll all we want, but the evidence is completely in Turbin's favor.
Chris Feery: All of the signs are pointing to Turbin but I would not be inclined to draft him, Lynch has been too durable to make his backup relevant. Rawls has emerged as a coaches' darling and may have a large role in the future, but I think it's way too early to expect anything out of him in 2015. I'll echo the thoughts on Michael, great talent but doesn't appear to be in the Seahawks plans. They very well may move him, as Bob suggested, to recoup some value.
Matt Waldman: Robert Turbin. He's healthy and looking good. The rest of the players are part of that late summer sunshine in the Pacific Northwest that soon gives way to dreary, misty days and nights. Is Turbin a great handcuff? I don't think any of them are. Lynch is a special player and he helps the line and this offense more than any of the other backs could. Otherwise, Seattle would have let Lynch walk last year with this stacked depth chart. Turbin is a solid player, but not a starter you want to win with. He may have some inspired games or moments, but he's not starting for 90 percent of the teams in the NFL. Michael has that special physical ability, but he apparently doesn't do the little things that Turbin does to endear himself to the team. Rawls is that same sunshine Pete Carroll and the Seahawks gave Kevin Norwood and Paul Richardson Jr last year. Rawls is a Travis Henry type with good eyes to find odd cutbacks, but he may prove to be a little slow for a long-term option.
Justin Howe: It's frustrating, but Turbin is the one to own. Both he and Michael are draftable as RB5 types, but Turbin is the clear handcuff. He's much more trusted by the staff—especially in the passing game, where he brings stability and maximizes opportunities while Michael remains raw and untested.
Make no mistake: Turbin is about as low-upside as they come. He has yet to run for a touchdown in three NFL seasons. Makes sense: he has just two runs of 20+ yards among his 231 carries, and he rarely gets the call in the red zone. Turbin stepping in for Lynch would blow up this entire fantasy landscape. Not only would fantasy owners struggle to squeeze production from Turbin—the Seahawks running game itself would likely slow to a crawl.
The necessary shot in the arm, it seems, could come from the electrifying Michael, and it's likely that's what we'd see play out. Darrell Bevell would probably incorporate both backs: Turbin as the 15-carry banger, and Michael as the situational mismatch while capable of stealing the show at any moment. I think that would result in fairly even weekly fantasy scoring. Both would carry their own brand of upside: Michael could explode for 15-110 and a long score, while Turbin could milk ball-control games and turn in a 30-125 here and there. I like Turbin's chances better, but his ceiling is very clearly defined, while Michael's is shrouded in mystery.
As it stands now, with Lynch healthy and productive, Turbin deserves higher fantasy priority in a vacuum. He's the clear second banana and as such simply projects to more usage and production. But Michael's ceiling is almost immeasurable. Which back deserves more attention from you depends upon the makeup of your running back stable, whether you're steady on your bench or in need of a fantasy RB1 dark horse. Could your RB5 slot use a low-variance workhorse held in reserve, or the potential for a world-beater?
John Mamula: It looks like it is Robert Turbin but Seattle is not a team I am targeting to draft a fantasy running back handcuff. Marshawn Lynch has only missed one game over the past four seasons and is still only 29 years old. We have 1-2 more years of Lynch production before Seattle transitions to another running back to take over the full time running back duties. If Lynch happens to go down with an injury, Seattle will open up the passing game along with using a fantasy running back by committee with both Turbin and Christine Michael.
What kind of upside potential does Terrelle Pryor have as a fantasy wide receiver in dynasty leagues?
Daniel Simpkins: I think Pryor is clearly a long shot to make the conversion. From a historical perspective, there have been very few who have ever achieved the quarterback to receiver transition. Hines Ward and Julian Edelman are the only two modern guys who I can recall that did it and had sustained long-term success. It also doesn’t help that Pryor is attempting this transition on one of the worst passing offenses in the NFL. Perhaps I would care more if he had better mentors or an offense that I could be excited about. To me, this is more about how desperate the Browns are for receiver production than how good Pryor is. I recently had a chance to nab him in my favorite dynasty league and I passed. I think your waiver bucks or priority is better spent somewhere else.
Stephen Holloway: Pryor's upside potential is limited, but still higher than his chances to actually make an NFL roster. Pryor is 26 years old and has practically no experience playing wide receiver at any level. Even among the Cleveland Browns wide receivers, who are not a very talented group, Pryor is currently listed as their seventh wide receiver. And on top of that, he is currently not practicing due to an injured hamstring. He has big a big frame, measuring over 6'-4" and weighing 230. He ran a 4.4 at the NFL Combine back in 2011, but his other numbers were not at all noteworthy, for someone recognized as being very athletic.
Andy Hicks: Like Daniel and Stephen, I think Terrelle Pryor has his work cut out to make the final roster, let alone be worth considering as a dynasty option or future starter. If a guy makes a positional switch from high school to college or college to NFL there is a chance they can make it and there are plenty of examples of those who did. Once they have been in the NFL for four years and make a switch it is almost impossible. Good luck to the guy, but let someone else take the gamble.
Jason Wood: I'm taking a different tack with Pryor. I think he's got an excellent chance of making the 53-man roster. Pryor is a world class athlete, and let's not forget that other quarterbacks have transitioned well into the NFL as receivers. Recent examples were Ron Curry and Matt Jones. More prominent successes were Antwaan Randle El and Bert Emanuel. While none of these guys are Hall of Fame receivers, they had respectable careers. Does Pryor ever achieve relevance in fantasy circles? I'm less certain of that, but he's one of the players I'm most interested in watching this preseason.
Ari Ingel: Pryor is an elite athlete standing 6'4" 240lbs and running the 40 at his pro day somewhere between 4.32 to 4.54 seconds. That's the good. The bad is that he scored a seven on the wonderlic and was never able to fully grasp the nuances of the quarterback position, rather relying on his athletic ability. While it is easy to say, sure, he will be great, the reality is that we have no idea. Cordarrelle Patterson, another freak athlete, has been playing the wide receiver position for years and has yet to polish his game enough to earn a starting job with the Vikings. And he was a first round wide receiver pick in the draft. Noted NFL analyst Greg Cosell doesn't seem very optimistic, mentioning that the wide receiver position depends on a lot more than just athletic ability.
All that said, in answering the question ... If we are talking about dynasty upside, the upside is huge. Guys that move like he does at that size are a rare bread. So as a dynasty flier, you can't find more upside, but he is certainly no guarantee.
Chris Feery: While i think he'll have a hard time with the transition—especially the longer he sits out—the Browns are reportedly sold on him and he appears to be a safe bet to make the final roster. An elite athlete, Pryor may have an early role on gadget plays as he transitions to his new position. As Stephen mentioned, he's pretty low on the depth chart at the moment. That being said, these are the Browns wide receivers we're talking about. If Pryor can show any semblance of hands and route running to go along with his speed, he'll definitely get a valid shot to make the switch.
Matt Waldman: I'm buying Pryor in dynasty leagues whenever I get the chance and I'm the same guy who wrote a blog piece about NFL organizations looking at Pryor's quarterback potential with the football equivalent of Beer Goggles. Daniel noted that Julian Edelman and Hines Ward were the only two players to recently make the conversion. Both played quarterback in college football for at least a season.
Other players with success included former Rice quarterback Bert Emmanuel with the Falcons and former UCLA quarterback Drew Bennett of the Titans. If not for a drug problem and lack of professional discipline at his craft, former Arkansas quarterback and Jaguars wide receiver Matt Jones would also earn consideration. Josh Cribbs had a 41-518-4 season as a receiver for the Browns in 2011, but by that time he was considered one of the two best return men in the game.
There isn't a large enough sample of conversion attempts or successes to give an accurate statistical likelihood on the history of the switch.
Based on watching the players that succeeded (or in Jones' case, should have), there are some common characteristics that these players displayed as athletes or developed just enough to pass muster as a productive receiver:
- Good stop-start ability: This matters with route running and skill after the catch.
- Precise footwork: Most quarterbacks have to learn these skills, albeit in a different application, with drops.
- Comfort with physical play: If you take hits while throwing the ball in the pocket, it's not that different than getting smacked while in the act of catching the ball.
- Hand-eye coordination
- Reading defenses
Pryor has already displayed the hand-eye coordination and physicality that you want to see from a receiver with his size. That's a baseline need for Pryor to become a successful receiver. The route running will take at least this year, the offseason, and next for it to really come together. What's promising is that right now, coaches have remarked that there are some reps where he executes a rep so well as a route runner that he looks like he's been playing the position his whole life and then he'll get his feet tied on the next rep. You should be expecting the latter from a player new to the position, not the former. It's why I believe the excitement over his potential long-term is warranted.
This year Pryor will have moments where writers will comment on his lack of quickness, don't interpret this analysis as Pryor lacking athleticism to do the job. The correct interpretation is that Pryor is mentally adjusting to the demands of his new role and he's responding slower as an athlete because he's forced to think about what he's experiencing on the field.
The biggest factor with Pryor's success will be staying healthy and working smart to develop his game. He's the perfect late-round pick to acquire in dynasty leagues because the upside far outweighs the risk. In re-draft leagues, he's a waiver wire option. I anticipate the Browns will use him on fades, try him on slants, and target the new receiver on screens. I won't be taking him in most re-draft leagues, but he's done enough to pique my interest long-term.
John Mamula: Living in Western Pennsylvania, I had the pleasure of watching Terrelle Pryor dominate at the high school level. He was two levels above everyone else on the field due to his speed advantage. Pryor was the last pickup by Raiders owner Al Davis. It is widely known that Davis was enamored with players who had fast wheels. Thus, a 40 yard dash time of 4.38 seconds was something that Davis took notice of. Pryor flashed his potential in 2013 vs. the Steelers. He opened the game with a 93-yard run for a touchdown, the longest in NFL history for a quarterback! The week after that Pryor sprained his MCL and his time in Oakland was coming to an end. Pryor had been set on playing quarterback in the NFL and did not relinquish this dream until after being cut by four teams.
Flash forward to today. The Josh Gordon suspension will help free up a Cleveland Browns wide receiver roster spot for Pryor. Looking at the Browns depth chart, Dwayne Bowe, Brian Hartline, and Andrew Hawkins are locks to make the roster. The rest of the Browns starting wide receivers are made up of mid-card jobbers and curtain jerkers. We have Travis Benjamin, Vince Mayle, Marlon Moore, Rodney Smith, and Shane Wynn. It shouldn't take much for Pryor to beat out these guys and land a spot on the 53-man roster. If Cleveland can carve out a role for Pryor on their team, he will once again flash the speed that brought him to the big dance. Thus, it is worth spending a late dynasty pick on Pryor and taking a wait and see approach.
Mark Wimer: I'm in wait-and-see mode with Pryor as he's battling an injured hamstring right now—it may be a few weeks before we get to put him to the eyeball test.
That will do it for this edition of the Footballguys Preseason Roundtable. Please join us again next week.