This week we discuss the following:
- Chris Johnson in Arizona
- Colin Kaepernick
- Eddie Royal
- Jaguars wide receivers
- Value at tight end
- Preseason Week 2
Dan Hindery: The acquisition of Johnson feels more like a depth signing than real competition for starter Andre Ellington. When healthy, Ellington is much more explosive than the 30-year old Chris Johnson and does everything Chris Johnson can do at an equal or higher level. The issue with Ellington has always been his ability to stay healthy though and his injuries during training camp have forced the Cardinals to keep adding depth at the running back position. But the addition of Chris Johnson shouldn't impact Ellington's touches or his outlook for 2015. If healthy, Ellington should get the bulk of the touches.
The addition of Chris Johnson may have a bit more impact upon David Johnson though. With the odds of Ellington going down at some point being relatively high, David Johnson had been an attractive handcuff, likely to take over and receive 20+ touches per game should Ellington be out. However, the addition of Chris Johnson most likely means we would see more of a committee approach at running back should Ellington be injured with both Chris Johnson and David Johnson receiving 10-14 touches each. In short, there is no longer a clear handcuff for Ellington and thus much less value in drafting David Johnson.
Stephen Holloway: Ellington was dynamic as a rookie, averaging 5.5 ypc on 118 rushes and catching 39 passes totaling 1,023 yards from scrimmage and scoring four touchdowns. He missed only one game, but never got more than 15 carries in any one game. One of his 15 carry games was his best game of the year rushing for 154 yards and adding two catches for eight yards with a touchdown.
He was more or less forced into a bell-cow situation in his second season as the Cardinals simply lacked effective options other than him. Their second leading rusher was Stepfan Taylor who had 63 carries for 208 yards. I believe that the team drafted David Johnson in the third round to be more than Ellington's primary back-up. I think that the plan was to use the two of them as a running back by committee, with each of them being used in similar situations, so that the offensive play calling was not dictated by which of them was in the game. Chris Johnson may have more to offer than I suspect and/or David Johnson may be side tracked with the hamstring enough to delay his participation in the team's regular season plans. However, the signing of Chris Johnson could be a fantasy boon for those players who trust in David Johnson as they will now be able to draft him much later at a much lower cost and the potential may for his production may not have decreased at all.
Daniel Simpkins: Dan hit the nail right on the head. Chris Johnson's signing has more to do with David Johnson not getting padded practice time due to his hamstring injury. It's not an indictment of Andre Ellington by any means. Early on, I was of the opinion that Johnson would challenge Ellington, as I feel Johnson is superior to Ellington in size, durability, and receiving ability. Johnson not getting back in a timely manner has forced Arizona to change their plans. I am still open to an Ellington injury opening the door for Johnson to shine in a committee role, but I’ve had to temper my expectations for this year significantly. Johnson was a late round flier a month ago, but should now be moved to the waiver wire speed dial category.
Jeff Pasquino: I agree with both Dan and Daniel. Chris Johnson is a solid backup option and smart depth for a team that needs someone to back up Andre Ellington, who has injury history. Johnson only gets the big money if he puts up 1,300 yards rushing and goes to the Pro Bowl; otherwise, he only makes $870,000 with no signing bonus, so I wouldn't worry about the price tag Arizona spent on getting him. Seems like a very smart acquisition to me for a team that has a good shot at a playoff push this season.
The signing does push the rest of the running back depth chart further down behind Ellington. David Johnson must not be showing enough in camp and causing Bruce Arians and the rest of the coaching staff to worry about the depth behind their starter. Johnson is one of the few vets that were on the open market that can provide that immediate insurance, and again, I think that was a smart move.
Matt Waldman: I agree that the signing is about the depth chart and not the starter. David Johnson has great physical talent and he can catch the ball as well as any back I've seen. Johnson also has rough spots when it comes to reading blocks, pass protection, and running routes. Bruce Arians may see Matt Forte in Johnson, but he's seeing that vision through a crystal ball rather than a pair of binoculars. Johnson needs time to develop.
Chris Johnson gives the Cardinals a similar style athlete and runner as Ellington, but without the same caliber of decision-making and maturity. In theory, the signing makes sense.
Chad Parsons: Chris Johnson being at the veteran minimum cost with 'pie in the sky' incentives is key aspect to the signing. Also, Johnson was in question even when he was on Tennessee in 2013 and the Jets last season. David Johnson has been slow to get going with his injury and the rest of the Arizona depth chart is filled with replacement-level NFL backs. Chris Johnson is not a threat to Andre Ellington's short-term appeal and does not affect David Johnson's longer-term outlook.
Jason Wood: Johnson is a 30-year old veteran several years removed from full-time productivity. History has not been kind to this kind of profile. As others have noted, this is more about a realization that David Johnson needs seasoning and conditioning. I'm disappointed because I thought Johnson stood a good chance to match, or exceed, Ellington's achievements this year. Yet preseason hamstring woes have worn thin on the veteran coaches. David Johnson is now in the dog house and will need a lot of good practice weeks before he gets major snaps. Chris Johnson will be Arrington's backup and be in line for 8-12 touches per game.
Andy Hicks: I think everyone here is on the same page. Chris Johnson is insurance all round. He'll be a similar player to Andre Ellington and will ensue Ellington doesn't get run into the ground like he was last year.
The Cardinals knew they had a problem when Ellington ran for 101 yards on 52 carries in his final four games before breaking down. David Johnson was supposed to be the solution, but his grade two hamstring came at a terrible time. Just when he would have got reps and learnt pass protection he was instead on the sidelines. Bruce Arians needs to trust David Johnson before he sees too much time. Chris Johnson allows Arians to take his time with David Johnson and ensure that when he is introduced he is fully ready to contribute. I'm still hopeful that it will be in the first half of the season, but understand that Arians won't rush things here with the signing of Chris Johnson.
James Brimacombe: Chris Johnson had every opportunity to be the guy for the Jets last season but had very little in the tank. I found it hard to put any trust in him at this point in his career and wouldn't go putting him anywhere close to Andre Ellington in terms of expected production this season. Ellington himself had a disappointing 2014 season while only averaging 3.3 yards per carry in a year where he was predicted to have a heavy dose of touches. With Carson Palmer getting injured the Cardinals offense seemed to play it rather safely on offense, but with a healthy Palmer back this year I can see them trusting Ellington once again and giving him the majority of the work this season.
John Mamula: I agree that Chris Johnson will share the backup role with David Johnson in Arizona this season. Currently, in redraft leagues, Andre Ellington is being selected as the 21st running back off the board in the 4th-5th round. While many of us at Footballguys believe Ellington's role has not changed, that belief may not hold in the general public. Chris Johnson still has name brand value from way back in 2009 when he rushed for 2,006 yards. We all realize that this is not the same Chris Johnson but the key is how the rest of your league views him and his role in the Arizona offense. I think the Chris Johnson signing can benefit those targeting Ellington as their RB2/flex position player this season. If Ellington drops to 6th-7th round in your league due to the Chris Johnson news, take advantage of the value and lock him up on your team.
Has the pendulum swung too far? After Kaepernick burst onto the scene in the latter half of the 2012 season, he was drafted as QB7 leading up to the 2013 season ... but went on to generally disappoint his fantasy owners over the next two seasons. Have fantasy owners gone too far in the other direction this year? Does his average draft position of QB18 inappropriately discount the potential he flashed in that 2012 season?
Matt Waldman: The swinging pendulum is an understandable reaction to Kaepernick's volatility. Fantasy owners often react strongly to the previous season's results. Box score and stats analysis is the most accessible information that fans have available. Kaepernick's production zagging when fans expected it to zig has left them disenchanted.
Many fans didn't want to believe the film analysis that revealed Kaepernick's limitations, scheme advantages, and flaws. He's a young quarterback whose initial success came with a veteran offensive unit, a strong defense, and read-option plays that caught the NFL off guard. Once the NFL learned to defend the read-option, opposing defenses exposed Kaepernick's flaws as a passer.
This is the year where Kaepernick must show that he can improve his skills reading the field and throwing from the pocket with timing and accuracy. Vernon Davis told the media that Kaepernick looked like a completely different quarterback this spring. What matters is whether Kaepernick can maintain these changes in games. I'm skeptical and so are fans.
It's rare for quarterbacks to make radical changes during a short period of time and succeed. I have Kaepernick 16th among fantasy quarterbacks. Count me among those that are waiting for proof that a strong team and unfamiliar read-option scheme bolstered Kaepernick's 2012 production.
Daniel Simpkins: The pendulum went in the right direction, but for the wrong reasons. Matt talked about how owners tend to put too much credence into the prior year’s results. That’s what was happening here. Yet the real reason to panic has more to do with the turnover of personnel. The 49ers lost nearly 40% of those who took defensive snaps last year to free agency and retirement. No other team in the league underwent that kind of change. When defenses have that much flux, they generally have some growing pains to go through before they can gel. We’ll see this defense struggle in 2015. The offense also had its fair share of losses. They expected to have Anthony Davis back from injury, but he instead retired. Frank Gore headed to Indianapolis, Mike Lupati left for Arizona, and Michael Crabtree took a short trip across the bay to Oakland. Extreme change on offense isn’t always bad (I’m a believer in what Miami did this offseason), but Torrey Smith and Reggie Bush are not upgrades at their respective positions. This team had been built upon superior defense and a strong offensive line with a running game that could salt leads away. Those days are gone and Kaepernick’s fantasy relevance has faded along with them.
Chad Parsons: Colin Kaepernick fits as an upside QB2 fantasy proposition. The passing has not developed much since entering the league—similar to Cam Newton—which makes for inconsistency and questions from fantasy owners. Kaepernick is older than most think and the 'light coming on' through the air is a less than 50-50 bet. Working for Kaepernick is the possibility of more volume than the anemic 479 attempts in 2014. A more up-tempo offense, plus a defense likely leading to more required shootout, put more than 500, or even 525 passes in play for Kaepernick. Another factor working for Kaepernick is rushing touchdown regression. After four and five scores on the ground in 2012 and 2013, Kaepernick regressed to a singular rushing score a year ago. Even an extra touchdown or two with his legs boosts Kaepernick up a handful of spots in position ranking. Kaepernick is one of the better QB2 bets to outproduce his cost (QB18) and a perfect pairing with a veteran option from the high-QB2 tier.
Jeff Pasquino: Everything is new again in San Francisco. New head coach. New offensive scheme. No Michael Crabtree, no Frank Gore. New defense as well, which means Kaepernick is going to have to lead this team more. A weaker defense (no Justin Smith, for example) will mean that San Francisco will be asked to score more points to compete, which points back to a need for more production from the offense and the quarterback. Kaepernick has stepped up this offseason, first by seeking out help from Kurt Warner and other quarterbacks coaches from the 49ers. He also worked on his mechanics to improve his ability as a passer. Even more important is that the new coaching staff, led by head coach Jim Tomsula, believes in Kaepernick and even wants him to be the weapon he once was as both a runner and a passer. The 49ers are planning in installing more read option plays this season, which will elevate both Kaepernick's confidence level and his fantasy value. I believe that he can get back to fantasy QB1 status with these changes along with the addition of deep threat Torrey Smith.
Jason Wood: As my colleagues have already said, the pendulum swing is on point. Kaepernick was never as good as his first fantasy season indicated, and it didn't take a lot of deep analysis to see that. If he couldn't expand his game under Jim Harbaugh and Greg Roman's watch, can we really expect growth this year under Geep Chryst? I don't think so. Add to that an abysmal offseason that saw the loss of key offensive linemen and half of the starting defense, and this could be a very tumultuous year for Kaepernick. He may have to throw more given the 49ers defensive falloff, but I would rather make a bet on another QB2 with a similar ADP.
Andy Hicks: This is going to be a different 49ers outfit than in recent years and Kaepernick will have to by default become a leader. He still has Anquan Boldin and Vernon Davis on hand, but the rest are either new to the team or inexperienced. The losses on defense are severe and expecting this unit to hold their own will lead to disappointment. Kaepernick also is likely to convert more of his runs into touchdowns. He had more runs last year that the two previous years, but only one rushing TD compared to four and five the previous years? The laws of probably will see that rise. Add in a highly likely increase in pass attempts due to an inexperienced running game/defense combination and Kaepernick is going to have to air it out. Now we can argue about his likely success in adapting to this kind of role, but he will have the opportunity to become a starting fantasy quarterback this year if he has made the necessary improvements to his game. He is a quarterback with a very high upside and he is going to be the starter all year unless he totally implodes. I feel his current draft slot is his floor. That makes him an almost certainty to out produce it.
Stephen Holloway: I agree with most of the others that Kaepernick has serious flaws as a quarterback. He was actually at his best his first two seasons when it appeared that there was less structure and more reaction. Harbaugh had a reputation as a quarterback developer, but he did not provide improvement for Kaepernick. This season is setting up to be a totally different San Francisco team as Jason said. However, the massive losses on defense will force the team to be playing from behind frequently. They have gone from one the NFL's top defenses to middle of the pack or worse. The offense will be largely in the quarterback's hands. I suspect that there will be more freedom for Kaepernick and that he will run more, like Andy suggests and will definitely be called on to pass more. The test will be whether he can avoid turnovers and keep the offense on the field. I give him a shot, primarily based on the fact that much more will be required of the offense.
John Mamula: The pendulum swing is correct for Colin Kaepernick. If you recall, Cam Newton was a fantasy darling in 2011 when he rushed for 706 yards and 14 touchdowns. Some became enamored with the rushing potential of Kaepernick the following year when he burst onto the scene. Many expected dual threat quarterbacks to take over the league when Newton, Kaepernick, and Robert Griffin III III all had their breakout seasons. This never materialized as defenses have adapted to limit most of their dual threat upside.
When targeting a backup quarterback for redraft leagues, I prefer to target a quarterback that has both a high floor and a high ceiling. If your starting quarterback goes down for multiple weeks, you will need to rely on your backup quarterback to weather the storm. While Kaepernick will have some high stat lines, he is not a quarterback that I consider to have a high floor. He will be more of a matchup based play this season. I agree with some of my fellow staffers that the SF defense will be much worse and Kaepernick will be forced to produce points. However, he will only be able to shootout with certain teams because SF lacks offensive playmakers. Keep an eye on Vegas lines for an opportunity to play Kaepernick this season. Target a week where SF has a high over/under (High 40/Low 50 total points) along with a tight game spread (within four points). This is the only week when playing Kaepernick will be a positive expected value decision. I prefer Kaepernick as an occasional daily fantasy quarterback for guaranteed prize pool tournaments, rather than a backup quarterback for redraft leagues.
James Brimacombe: Colin Kaepernick as QB18 seems just about right as we head into the 2015 season. The value that he offered back in 2012 was that of his legs as he could change a game with his running ability. The offense and team as a whole was also at its peak with talent but recently this year it is looking like they are taking some major steps backwards and are somewhat in a rebuilding phase. Trusting Kaepernick right now as anything more than a backup QB2 for your fantasy team would seem to limit your chances for success. If you do wait on quarterback and are planning a committee approach then you might consider having Kaepernick as part of that quarterback committee and play the quarterback matchups each week. For me I would rather draft one of the top 10 quarterbacks and not have to worry about picking the right week to start Kaepernick and hoping that he goes off.
What is Eddie Royal's realistic upside this season?
Stephen Holloway: Eddie Royal has had an up and down career, but the production spikes have gone largely unnoticed. As a rookie with Denver, Royal finished sixth in the NFL among wide receivers with 91 catches helping his quarterback Jay Cutler finish third among quarterbacks with 4,525 passing yards. We all know the success that Brandon Marshall had reuniting with Cutler, so there should be at least some suspicion that Cutler's familiarity with Royal will lead to instant success. With Marshall gone, the team's first round rookie sidelined for at least a major portion of the season, there is all the opportunity that Royal needs. With a current ADP of upper 50s, Royal can be drafted late and still become a consistent fantasy producer, particularly in PPR scoring leagues.
Jeff Pasquino: Eddie Royal has a ton of upside right now. He can be viewed easily as the WR2 for the Bears, and he should see the second- or third-most targets from Jay Cutler this season with no Kevin White this year. Royal has a good history with both Jay Cutler and Adam Gase from their days in Denver, where they overlapped in two of Royal's first three seasons (Cutler was there for both 2008 and 2010, Gase in 2010 as the wide receivers coach). Royal knows how to get open and find the end zone, something he has done quite a bit in his career. Over the past two seasons in San Diego, Royal had 15 touchdowns despite not being on the field as much as other players. This season I can see Royal with 100 targets or more with a reasonable 60-70 catches, 7-8 touchdowns and 700-800 yards.
Matt Waldman: Royal is a fine contributor, but he hasn't proven his value as primary option. It's Royal's need to operate as a role player that mitigates his upside. Even so, I think 65-70 catches, 850-900 yards, and 7-8 touchdowns is possible. I projected Royal for 61-770-7.
Chad Parsons: Eddie Royal has been underrated in recent seasons and had 15 touchdowns over the past two seasons on 109 receptions in San Diego. Kevin White is out of the picture in 2015 and the Bears have plenty of targets available with Brandon Marshall gone. Mid-WR2 production is Royal's upside if he keeps Marquess Wilson at No.3 on the depth chart.
Jason Wood: Royal's upside is 90+ catches, 900-1000 yards and 8+ touchdowns. Even with Kevin White shelved (for as much as the entire season), I'm not projecting Royal to reach his upside. I am, however, projecting him for 70 receptions, 750 yards and five touchdowns—which makes him a viable WR3 in PPR leagues.
Scott Bischoff: I see Eddie Royal as a player in a position to be a successful chain-mover in the Bears' offense. He has been at his best using his instincts to sit in the soft areas of the defense, and using his quickness to get open quickly. There are a lot of weapons in the Bears' offense, starting with number one receiver Alshon Jeffery and tight end Martellus Bennett, but the injury to rookie Kevin White is a big blow to what looked like a powerhouse on paper. This is where Royal comes in, but in no way as a replacement for White. Something to consider is the situation with the Bears offensive line, a unit that needs to stay healthy and get much better play out of right tackle Jordan Mills. Cutler is going to be pressured in the passing game, and a safety valve type like Royal could catch a lot of passes underneath the deeper routes that Jeffery and Bennett are going to be running. I think Royal has more value in a PPR format, and I agree with the others that 70 receptions is a realistic number, and I also agree that he is a viable WR3 because of the consistency he'll offer weekly as a pass catcher.
Andy Hicks: The size of Eddie Royal is the immediate limiter here. Five-foot-nine receivers generally aren't long term fantasy options. Royal did have two good years in San Diego as well as his stellar rookie season, but his other four years were about what you'd expect of a player of his size. Can he contribute this year? Of course, but his upside is limited. With Kevin White likely gone for the year and Alshon Jeffrey limited at the moment I would expect more from Marquess Wilson than Royal. At best I think Royal can be in the WR3/Flex territory, especially if Cutler is switched on. Wilson on the other hand can be a fantasy WR2 if he has developed. Royal will be a nice addition and has a higher floor than Wilson, but give me Wilson any day.
Daniel Simpkins: I don't think it’s wise to count Kevin White out for the season yet. Royal’s upside will really depend on what the team decides to do when White is finally healthy. If the Bears are still in contention and White is ready to go after the Week 6 mark, there’s a real possibility of Royal becoming the odd man out. If the Bears are a five or six loss team at that point, they may decide to keep White out for the remainder of the year and look toward the future. I'm comfortable taking Royal in or after the tenth round, but his ADP is certainly not going to stay in that range for long.
James Brimacombe: Eddie Royal has quietly had a resurgence his last two seasons in San Diego. In those two seasons alone he has a total of 15 touchdowns and finished as the 34th and 32nd best fantasy wide receiver while going relatively unnoticed. Can he once again find himself inside the top 35 by seasons end? I suppose he could and his current ADP would allow you to draft him at a fraction of the cost of some of the other top 35 wide receivers. He makes for a quality flex play option in PPR leagues as he has averaged 55 receptions over the past two seasons. A 55/700/5 stat line would be a safe prediction if he started in all 16 games for the Bears.
Stephen Holloway: I am unable to get behind either of these two Jaguar wide receiver options as I just do not have faith in Blake Bortles. Robinson is obviously the team's preferred option and has a lot of skills to be a productive NFL wide receiver, but the Jaguars as a whole do not seem ready to be a productive offense in year two of the Bortles regime. After his solid Week 10 effort against Dallas, where Bortles threw for 290 yards, but no touchdowns and one interception, his play tailed off. Down the stretch, he completed 57% of his passes, averaged 165 yards passing with three touchdowns and three interceptions.
Jeff Pasquino: Hurns is cheap, cheap, CHEAP in Jacksonville, but it is the Jaguars, an offense I am very hesitant to trust. I know that my fellow staffers certainly like Allen Robinson, but I cannot get behind any receiver who has to trust Blake Bortles to get them the ball with consistency. I'd much rather take a different wide receiver in the WR30-36 range like Vincent Jackson.
Matt Waldman: I like Hurns better at WR74, especially if you don't trust the Jaguars' passing game enough to invest in Allen Robinson at his higher ADP. To defend Blake Bortles and the Jacksonville offense, last year's offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch installed an overly complex offensive scheme. Folks I know in the NFL told me that the concepts and jargon would be difficult for a good veteran quarterback to learn. They said Fisch refused to make adjustments and the entire offense struggled.
This year's offense is streamlined and easier to grasp. I believe it will help Blake Bortles and Matt Harmon's Reception-Perception analysis casts Robinson in a favorable light. Even so, I have greater confidence in other receivers within Robinson's ADP range.
Chad Parsons: Allen Hurns looks like a significant value through the lens of 2014 production versus 2015 ADP at WR74. However, Hurns is not a special talent. Hurns likely had his career year as a rookie, thanks to Allen Robinson and Marqise Lee missing time and the perfect storm of opportunity and a few random touchdowns and long gains. Even if Hurns outperforms his ADP by being in the WR40-50 range, he is a middling bye week or injury Band-Aid from a fantasy perspective, not fueling any 2015 fantasy titles.
Allen Robinson is the play in Jacksonville with his prototypical size and outstanding metric prospect profile. A mid-WR3 is closer to Robinson's floor than ceiling. With an uptick from Blake Bortles and the Jaguars offense overall, Robinson will be a weekly WR2 or better.
Jason Wood: Allen Robinson is in my Top 20 in PPR formats, and my Top 25 in standard leagues. While Hurns may technically rank higher at year end than his current ADP, we're talking about a guy who projects as a WR4/WR5 on your roster. Robinson could be special. I'm absolutely comfortable with Robinson as my WR2 if I'm drafting my second receiver in the fifth round.
Scott Bischoff: One thing to consider with Hurns is that he knew Jedd Fisch's offense in Jacksonville in year one because he played under Fisch at Miami (Fla.) in college. He was realistically ahead of any other player on that offense last year, but there is a ceiling with Hurns that isn't a limiting factor for Robinson. A agree with Matt that there are other receivers in and around Robinson that I might prefer, the reality is that Robinson has the ability to be a big factor in your fantasy offense, while Hurns (even in a situation where he exceeds expectations) will just be a guy on your roster, not really a player who can make a difference.
Andy Hicks: Allen Robinson was the higher draft pick in the late second round, while Allen Hurns was an undrafted free agent. There are many very good judges on staff who absolutely love Robinson this year and I can see why. If his ADP stays where it is, then he is incredible value and has a very high ceiling. Hurns on the other hand, as Scott said, has a much lower ceiling. I don't want a guy that might be a good WR3 at best. I want a guy that could be a fantasy WR1 or WR2. I like what Jacksonville is doing on offense and although it is still on an upward climb through this year, it should start bearing fruit through the second half of this year. Blake Bortles will be a fantasy starter within a year or two and Robinson looks like he has the best shot to join him in the elite bracket. I am still unsure of how the pecking order between Robinson, Hurns, Marqise Lee and Rashad Greene Sr eventually works itself out though, but Robinson is a great bet this season if he doesn't get taken way ahead of his ADP like in all the staff leagues.
Daniel Simpkins: I'm ecstatic about Robinson’s potential this year. Bortles may not be a revelation at the position, but history tells us that a good wide receiver just needs a competent quarterback. Randy Moss is an excellent example. His play revived a quarterback many considered to be washed up in Randall Cunningham. Moss made the aging Jeff George relevant again. Even Daunte Culpepper, who never again enjoyed success after Moss, was invigorated by his play. I'm certainly not proclaiming Robinson as the next Moss, but to say Bortles’ can’t keep Robinson’s value afloat is silly. Robinson presents as a solid WR2 option who will have weeks of WR1 upside.
James Brimacombe: Hurns is super value right now at his WR74 ADP. He posted a 51/677/6 stat line last season as a rookie in Jacksonville. Hurns showed potential to have big multi touchdown games posting a two touchdown game twice last season in Week 1 against the Eagles and again in Week 9 against the Bengals. At this point I would not go overpaying for Allen Robinson as his ADP continues to rise; I would rather find value around the time he goes off the board and if I did want a piece of the young Jaguars wide receivers I would be targeting Hurns instead very late in drafts.
Which mid-range tight end has the best opportunity to break into the top six this season?
Dan Hindery: While each of these guys has a real opportunity to break out, Tyler Eifert is the most likely due to his sheer physical talent. Eifert used a monster final season and exceptional combine performance to vault into the mid-1st round of the 2013 NFL draft. He had a relatively rookie season for a tight end with 39 receptions and 445 yards. Tight ends nearly always struggle as rookies and then breakout in their second or third seasons. Eifert entered his second season poised to have a massive breakout and started hot, hauling in three receptions on his first eight snaps of 2014 before going down with a grisly elbow injury in the first quarter of the Week 1 game against Baltimore. He missed the entire season and became a bit of a forgotten man. However, Eifert has had an exceptional training camp again in 2015 and again looks poised for a major breakout season as he enters his third year. Eifert has an elite combination of size, speed, fluidity and ball skills that make him one of the most dangerous receivers at his position. He also is in an advantageous situation as the Bengals look for a second option to emerge behind star wideout A.J. Green. Marvin Jones Jr has suffered through his own injury issues and Eifert has outplayed him thus far this offseason, so Eifert is currently the favorite to win the second job. A realistic projection for Eifert is 72 receptions, 800 yards and eight touchdowns which should be enough to finish in the top six overall at the tight end position.
Stephen Holloway: I agree with Dan on the choice of Eifert, based on the combination of his athleticism and his opportunity to the Dalton's second favorite target. The other tight end that I would favor among this group is Delanie Walker. Walker has been productive for the past two seasons for the Titans, catching over 60 passes in each year and totaling 1,461 yards and 10 touchdowns. The quarterback play should be improved this year with Marcus Mariota, a player known for stretching the pocket and finding the open man. Walker led the team last season in targets, catches and receiving yards and averaged 14.1 ypc, a career high for him. Look for Walker to become Mariota's preferred safety valve and second favored target behind Kendall Wright, giving him an opportunity to finish among the top six tight ends.
Jeff Pasquino: Of the two that Dan (Eifert) and Stephen (Walker) mentioned, I would probably choose Eifert only because we have been waiting for what seems like forever for Walker to step up to the plate and perform as a true top tight end. I still like Walker, but I do not think he will ever quite get to that level. Eifert still has upside as he is only in his third season, with last year a virtual loss due to the bad elbow injury.
So who am I choosing? Neither of those two. I am going to go with the tight end who actually has been a top tight end and a Pro Bowler from this list, and that is Kyle Rudolph. Rudolph posted nine touchdowns in 2012, the last year he played more than nine games in a season. With Teddy Bridgewater showing improvement over the back half of 2014, I can see him looking at Rudolph early and often all season long. I would much rather take him over anyone else on this list.
The only other tight end I would consider here is Dwayne Allen, who is a forgotten man in Indianapolis because he was also hurt last season. Coby Fleener played well down the stretch for Indianapolis, but Allen had eight touchdowns in just 13 games last year, tied for sixth best in the league (with Fleener). The value of both tight ends are diminished by one another, which is why I am picking Rudolph.
Matt Waldman: I'll opt for Rudolph and Walker as the most likely candidates from the list. Teddy Bridgewater spreads the ball around and the big-play ability of the receivers and backs in this offense will open the middle of the field for Rudolph. Adrian Peterson's presence will also open the red zone for Rudolph. I'm not projecting it, but I won't be surprised if Rudolph earns between 8-12 receiving touchdowns this year.
Despite the Titans plans to start a rookie quarterback, that rookie has success working with move tight ends. Marcus Mariota developed a strong rapport with Oregon studs Colt Lyerla and Pharaoh Brown. Walker's athleticism, experience, and role in the offense make him one of the two most-targeted options in this offense. If Zach Mettenberger and Charlie Whitehurst can make Walker a top-10 fantasy option during Walker's first year in Tennessee, I think Mariota (or Mettenberger if the rookie falters) can help Walker build on that productivity, especially if the ground game improves with David Cobb and Dorial Green-Beckham can consistently threaten the deep zones.
Daniel Simpkins: These are all options I’m commonly pairing together later in drafts, with the confidence that I will hit on at least one. If asked to select only one who will break into the top six, I’ll put my chips on Eifert. Dan is absolutely right about Eifert’s physical upside and how the Bengals were featuring him before his injury. He was a first round pick by the Bengals in 2013, a heavy investment in the position by today’s standards. During the 2014 offseason, the Bengals constantly talked about how they wanted to get him heavily involved in the offense. We saw the signs of that before the injury occurred. The team has also made those statements during the current offseason, signaling that their intent has not changed. Eifert is usually available in the eleventh round of twelve team drafts. Top six upside that late is a no-lose proposition.
Chad Parsons: Historically, the perfect scenario for a top tight end is being paired with a top (or at least QB1-level) quarterback on a team without a dominant number one wide receiver. Vernon Davis, an uber-talent on an individual level, had his peak season with Alex Smith but met the receiver criteria. Rob Gronkowski is the gold standard in terms of meeting the requirements in recent seasons. Oh, and he is Rob Gronkowski. Back to the list and handicapping the quintet of options:
Delanie Walker is out because Marcus Mariota is highly likely to be a hindrance. The receiver group in Tennessee fits the 'non-dominant' mold though. Plus Walker is past the prime age window to peak for tight ends historically.
Dwayne Allen has Andrew Luck, but the passing game is loaded with competent weapons, including Coby Fleener at tight end. With the odds of Allen seeing high enough volume, his top-6 outcome depends on having a Vernon Davis-like level of touchdown rate.
Tyler Eifert has A.J. Green at receiver and Andy Dalton is average-at-best at quarterback. While Eifert has strong draft pedigree and Round one tight ends are near-locks to put up a TE1 season or two in their careers, he is not the best option of this group to get up to top-6 outside of an extended Green injury.
Kyle Rudolph is a wildcard as Mike Wallace or Charles Johnson do not fit the established criteria of a locked-in No.1 receiver. Teddy Bridgewater has his QB1 moments, but Adrian Peterson's return signals a running game return to Minnesota.
My favorite of this group to be a 2015 difference-maker is Josh Hill. Marques Colston is past his prime and Brandin Cooks, while a potential difference-maker in his own right, is not the prototypical receiver in the sense of this study. Drew Brees fills the quarterback requirement, making Hill the best combination. Hill has been a high-touchdown rate performer in limited duty and the red zone opportunities are wide open with Jimmy Graham gone. The WR3 spot is also in-flux in New Orleans, giving Hill a boost even with Colston and Cooks performing ahead of him in the passing game pecking order. Of this tight end group, Hill, along with Dwayne Allen, has the best chance for 10+ touchdowns.
Jason Wood: Delanie Walker has been a top 12 fantasy tight end each of the last two seasons (his only two seasons in Tennessee), so he doesn't have to show material growth to reach a Top six finish. That said, I would rather bet on Dwayne Allen or Tyler Eifert. Eifert has been unlucky with injuries but is now 100% healthy. His lack of productivity has nothing to do with an unhoned skill set, and I expect Eifert will be the Bengals' second most targeted option (behind A.J. Green) this year. Allen won't touch the Top six if Coby Fleener stays healthy, but if Fleener gets hurt, Allen could be an 800 yard, 10+ TD performer. By the way, the same holds true for Fleener if Allen gets hurt (again).
Andy Hicks: I have those five ranked in the following order
Eifert seems to be popular among the other guys and with good reason. He was slated for a big role last year before injuring himself in Week 1. He will be a much better player in year three and with Jermaine Gresham gone will see most of the snaps. The receivers opposite A.J. Green are all good, but not great. Eifert will be a monster if he can stay healthy. Not a sure thing, but the best in this group.
Kyle Rudolph will have opportunity, but his injuries over the last two years are a concern. If he can stay on the field this year he should threaten the top six. Adrian Peterson on the ground and Mike Wallace to stretch the field. Rudolph will be a big threat.
Delanie Walker is sort of stuck in the Titans mess. At age 31 I don't know if he has the upside to make the top six, but he can definitely be a contributor.
I think Dwayne Allen struggles to make the top six. Not only does he have the very capable Coby Fleener at the same position, but the Colts have a strong receiving group to ensure it will be difficult for either Fleener or Allen to post regular strong games.
I'm concerned that people are projecting too much of what Jimmy Graham did with the Saints onto Josh Hill. Either the talk of split starting with Benjamin Watson or even of Watson starting is a smokescreen or Hill will struggle to see the field as much as some people would think. You don't replace a player of the quality of Jimmy Graham with anyone. I'd want to see Hill at least get close before I invest anything in him.
James Brimacombe: Kyle Rudolph—Rudolph seems to be the guy that I am targeting for my mid-range TE. I believe he is coming at a big discount right now because of his injuries over the last two seasons (only playing 17 games total in past two seasons). The Vikings have a competitive offense all around this year and Bridgewater has been favoring Rudolph whenever he is looking for a big play down the field. Rudolph has only played a full 16 game season once in his four year career but that one time he did score nine touchdowns so I have to believe that he is great value at his current ADP and will be banking on a healthy 16 game season ahead for him.
John Mamula: I agree with Jeff and James that Kyle Rudolph has the best opportunity to break into the top six tight end this season. Norv Turner has a track record of producing elite tight ends. A Turner coached tight end has produced a 100-point fantasy season six times since 2007. Five of those going to Antonio Gates and the other to Jordan Cameron's impact season in 2013. While Rudolph is not Gates, he is in a similar situation as Cameron was back in Cleveland. Bringing in Mike Wallace will help stretch the field and open up the middle for Rudolph. Similar to how Josh Gordon opened things up for Cameron to flourish. Defenses will be keying on stopping Peterson and Wallace. As long as the key pieces (Teddy Bridgewater, Adrian Peterson, and Mike Wallace) all stay healthy, Rudolph will benefit with a career season.
Name one player or situation that you'll be watching in this week's games with the potential to have the greatest impact on your player rankings.
Dan Hindery: One of the big things I will be keeping an eye on in Week 2 is the performance of Chargers running back Melvin Gordon III. (This is assuming he plays despite his minor ankle injury.) Rookies with no track record in the NFL have much more to prove in the preseason than veterans.
Gordon's current ADP of 31st overall seemed just right entering training camp but there are starting to be some real questions about whether or not the rookie will be able to quickly and effectively transition to the NFL. Gordon had an underwhelming Week 1 performance in which he rushed for just 11 yards on six carries, though much of the blame for the lack of production can be attributed to the poor play of the offensive line. More concerning than just the small bit of preseason action though are the reports that Gordon has struggled at times in camp picking up his pass blocking assignments and adjusting to the mental aspects of being an NFL back. We have seen rookie running backs struggle and fail to live up to fantasy expectations regularly in recent years, with Bishop Sankey a perfect example from last season.
Gordon needs to start showing some real improvement in Week 2 to maintain his status as a third round fantasy value in 2015. There are too many other attractive running back options (Frank Gore, Mark Ingram II, Joseph Randle, Latavius Murray, T.J. Yeldon, C.J. Spiller, etc.) going off the board in the late-3rd to early-5th round range to use such a high pick on Gordon unless he starts to flash the elite rushing ability he possessed in college on a regular basis in NFL preseason action. Another mediocre performance in Week 2 should drop Gordon to the late fourth round of redraft rankings (or maybe even fifth round if he really struggles).
Jeff Pasquino: I'm looking at Tyrod Taylor. Someone is going to be the starting quarterback for Buffalo, and I think it could very well be him. Rex Ryan wants to run the ball, and I watched a lot of Taylor when he was at Virginia Tech. He is a smart quarterback with a solid arm and he can improvise and run the ball. He's not Michael Vick from 15 years ago, but Taylor offers the most upside of all three options that Buffalo currently has to put under center. Taylor is going to start the Week 2 game for the Bills, and if he can fill the role I think he might be the starter for 2015, and could have some fantasy value as a threat to run or pass for Buffalo.
I would also like to see some younger offenses (Tampa Bay, Tennessee) start to gel more, but this is still early in the year. I am curious if Chris Johnson plays much or shows much for Arizona this week, but after that I do not know if I am holding my breath for any big performances. I will look for C.J. Spiller's backup, Khiry Robinson, to look good for the Saints as he may be an interesting flier pick.
Lastly, Victor Cruz might play this week. If he does, that's amazing, and I don't care if he doesn't even get a target. All I want to see his running ability in a game situation.
Matt Waldman: I'm hoping to see Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman. Freeman had the lead for the starting job until hamstring injuries sidelined both backs. Both runners are back at practice. I want to see Coleman earn first-team reps between the tackles against a first-team defense. I have concerns about his power and change of direction in tight spaces. I believe Coleman be a boom-or-bust performer if he cannot display these two things when the competition is at its highest level.
Chad Parsons: I am definitely in the 'underreact to the preseason' camp. While it is nice to see the rookies in the NFL mix and actual padded football for the first time in months, the results mean little to my board. I do watch individual player traits, especially ones with limited NFL profiles to-date, but fleecing out the lack of game planning, schemes, and Rolodex of personnel changes is difficult. Like college prospects, is there really value to seeing a player run unobstructed for a touchdown due to a defensive breakdown?
More than the short-term relevant young players and rookies, I like the preseason for the deep dynasty-level names. This is likely to be the only time this season we see them getting offensive touches. Guys like Zach Zenner, Malcolm Brown, Tyler Varga, or Dreamius Smith at running back qualify. Wide receivers Tre McBride, Jeff Janis, Josh Boyce, Darren Waller fit the mold as well.
Jason Wood: I'll choose the Patriots. Garoppolo had his moments but I want to see how he plays with more of his starting cast in the lineup. I'm fairly high on all the Patriots skill players, and that goes beyond Rob Gronkowski to include Julian Edelman and Brandon LaFell. I also want to see if Jonas Gray and James White get the same roles as we saw last week; which is to say the lead inside rusher and lead third down receiving back. If we see other Patriots runners start with the 1st, we're back to the drawing board and assuming a jumbled mess of a committee.
Andy Hicks: Simply put I am looking at the rookies at this stage of the year. Last year Andre Williams, Jeremy Hill and Branden Oliver all ranked in the top 10 in the preseason. They all made significant to outstanding contributions during the season at virtually no cost during your draft. Allen Hurns was in the top 10 receivers during preseason.
If I had to narrow it down to one game I'm looking at Miami at Carolina. I feel that Lamar Miller and Jonathan Stewart are both vulnerable starters and if any running backs shows anything this week or next, they will be excellent investments at a cheap price.
Daniel Simpkins: Kelvin Benjamin will miss the season with a torn ACL. I will therefore be watching the Panthers intently to see who, if anyone, will take the lead wide receiver role in that offense. Can Devin Funchess step up to the plate? Yes, he’s raw, but arguably, so was Benjamin last year. I believe Funchess has the greater physical upside of the two. I’m open to him having a similar impact in year one if he gets the volume that Benjamin got last year.
James Brimacombe: Carlos Hyde and the whole 49ers offense. They are the one team that everyone is seeming to avoid drafting offensive players from and Hyde being the first one usually drafted from the team. Hyde's ADP seems to be going down over the offseason and with Frank Gore out of the picture I see no reason for this. Hyde is a big running back at 6'0" and 235 lbs., and could use that to his advantage and become the 49ers key offensive player. Because he rushed only 83 times last season for 4.0 yards per carry, it is hard to predict what Hyde can do while given a full load of work. If we can see Hyde get more than the two touches he received last week that would be great and the more touches he gets during the preseason the more we can draw conclusions entering the regular season.
John Mamula: The game that I will be tuned into this weekend is Eagles vs. Ravens. Chip Kelly's offense is one of a handful of teams that has the potential to lead the league in scoring this season. The last time that I checked scoring is good for fantasy football. I will be eagerly watching Sam Bradford's comfort level in this offense. I want to see if he is on the same page with his starting receivers and if they can move the ball. If Bradford passes the eye test, he will ascend my quarterback rankings as a player that I will be targeting this season.
That will do it for this edition of the Footballguys Preseason Roundtable. Please join us again next week.