Surely by the end of that Super Bowl, your mind was already wandering to the next season. Don’t mourn the 2013 NFL season, celebrate the birth of the 2014 offseason! The battle rages on, but the combatants are off of the field - front offices, scouting departments, coaches. Watching the direction of the prevailing winds that build in the offseason blow, in combination with context set by the 2013, can be the most important part of your 2014 fantasy football preparation. By the time we get to August, if you are just catching up on offseason developments, then you are too prone to be swayed by the preseason play of the week or buzz player of the moment to really absorb what the upcoming offseason has to teach us.
Get the drop on the competition by following these storylines throughout the offseason here at Footballguys and elsewhere around the very talented group of online football media providers:
Washington brought in new head coach Jay Gruden, who seemed to set Andy Dalton up for his best success (except in the playoffs), and he’ll have to do the heavy lifting in restoring Griffin’s confidence, since new offensive coordinator Sean McVay is a former tight ends coach who just turned 28. Meanwhile in Detroit, new head coach Jim Caldwell probably won’t be a “tough love” coach, nor will new offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi, who comes from a Saints organization that gave Drew Brees a long leash. Track the changes in scheme and news coming out of each organization to get a feel for the momentum in these potentially undervalued offenses.
9. Filling quarterback vacancies
The quarterback merry-go-round will continue to turn, and sadly for some fanbases, a few teams will take another ride after slapping a band-aid on the position in recent years via the draft or other means. The quarterback jobs for Oakland, Jacksonville, Minnesota, Houston, and Cleveland are all presumably up for grabs, and teams like Tennessee, Tampa, St. Louis, Arizona, and the Jets could lay the groundwork for a future solution even though they have at least a temporary one on the roster right now. Quarterback choices in the draft, veteran free agents like Michael Vick and Josh McCown, and potential trade targets like New England Patriot Ryan Mallett could all figure into the mix.
8. The free agent wide receiver market
There’s not a Vincent Jackson, Pierre Garcon, or Mike Wallace out there to save a team that needs a WR1. Those teams will need patience and a well-used pick from the bumper crop of wide receivers in the first or second day of the NFL Draft. What this class does offer is solid-to-good complementary #2’s (Eric Decker, Emmanuel Sanders, James Jones, Riley Cooper, Jeremy Maclin) and a few potential WR1 reclamation projects (Hakeem Nicks, Kenny Britt, and likely Santonio Holmes). Julian Edelman should be a fascinating case to watch, as he is surely more valuable to New England than any of the 31 teams he hasn’t played for. Anquan Boldin showed he is far from done last year, and he could be in the crosshairs a lot this season if he lands in the right spot.
7. The free agent running back market
There’s a glut of running backs on the market, and they’ll be facing competition from a very balanced and deep group of draft running backs. Ben Tate, Darren McFadden, Knowshon Moreno, Maurice Jones-Drew, and likely Chris Johnson will comprise a group of starter-level talents available for rental, with backs who can at least make strong contributions like Donald Brown, Toby Gerhart, Andre Brown, Rashard Mendenhall, and Rashad Jennings, James Starks, and LeGarrette Blount all peddling their services. Not all of them will end up in plum situations, but they will still alter the landscape of a backfield somewhere in the league. The possibility of McFadden being reunited with offensive coordinator Hue Jackson in Cincinnati is especially intriguing, since McFadden enjoyed his best games under Jackson’s watch in Oakland.
6. The New England tight end situation
For the second straight offseason, we’ll be monitoring Rob Gronkowski’s recovery from surgery, this time to reconstruct the ACL in his right knee. As you’ll see later, Gronkowski’s value could spike because of something he has nothing to do with, but he needs to get back on the field for that happen. He’ll be the biggest risk/reward player on the board again this season, and when that reward tips the scales may depend on what we can learn about the risk this offseason as he rehabs his surgically-repaired knee. In the meantime, the Patriots should draft or sign at least one other tight end in an attempt to recreate the two-tight end attack the worked so well the few times that both Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez were on the field together for a long stretch.
5. Bounce backs for 2013 running back busts?
Like a Civil War battlefield, the first round of 2013 fantasy drafts was littered with the bodies of running backs who were supposed to lead our teams to fantasy championships. Doug Martin was mired in a losing swamp of an organization before having his season cut short by a shoulder injury. Now new offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford is talking about a multi-back approach on an already offensively-challenged team. Ray Rice hurt his hip in week 2 and was never the same. Now was it just that hip injury, or has Rice hit an early cliff because of overuse? Trent Richardson was tentative and astoundingly mediocre for a back that was supposed to be the best prospect since Adrian Peterson. Arian Foster had back surgery and the running back-friendly Gary Kubiak system has gone to Baltimore. CJ Spiller battled a high ankle sprain all season and reinforced a reputation of ever-present risk to go with stellar talent. Taking a stand for or against drafting each of these backs at whatever their ADP settles around this summer will be one of the keys to navigating the position in 2014 fantasy drafts.
4. The second-year wide receiver leap
Josh Gordon and Alshon Jeffery were two of the big stories of 2013 fantasy leagues after completing striking leaps up to elite production and level of play for long stretches of the season. Justin Blackmon (for what little time he was on the field), Kendall Wright, Michael Floyd, T.Y. Hilton, and Marvin Jones Jr also looked like they had grown up between the 2012 and 2013 season. Looking for items like Jeffery and Floyd being under the wings of Marshall and Fitzgerald, and otherwise keeping tabs on potential second-year breakouts like Cordarrelle Patterson, Tavon Austin, DeAndre Hopkins, Justin Hunter, Robert Woods, Terrance Williams, Aaron Dobson, Markus Wheaton, Kenny Stills, and Stedman Bailey to get the next mid-to-late round savior at wide receiver in drafts this year should be high on your to-do list.
3. Filling running back vacancies
Running backs are lining up (at the combine, literally) to have a shot to fill open jobs around the NFL. Oakland, Jacksonville, Cleveland, Tennessee and the New York Giants offer the chance to start Week 1. Denver, Indianapolis, Miami, Atlanta, and Arizona all arguably have the need for at least a strong contributor in a committee approach. Opportunity is a bigger component of running back value than any other fantasy position, and there’s a good amount of it set to be doled out this offseason.
2. Watching new coaches for clues to draft values
Anticipating which of the new offensive minds installed in the 2013 offseason would be able work some instant magic in their new homes was a key to deciphering fantasy draft boards. Adam Gase, Marc Trestman, Chip Kelly, Norv Turner - these names (among others) made mountains move in fantasy leagues last year. Almost one-quarter of the league (Cleveland, Houston, Washington, Minnesota, Detroit, Tampa, and Tennessee) have new head coaches, and another large group of teams (Miami, Baltimore, Cincinnati, San Diego, New York Giants) have new offensive coordinators. Entire offenses can be lifted by offensive line repairs, new schemes and roles, and a general sense of a fresh start.
1. What position does Jimmy Graham play?
Graham is a free agent, and a strong candidate to get the franchise tag. The twist is that he stands to make a lot more money as a wide receiver than he does as a tight end. There is a valid argument to be made on Graham’s behalf that he is a wide receiver, no matter what Drew Brees or the Saints say to the contrary. If Graham can successfully argue that he is a wide receiver, then fantasy leagues will surely have to follow suit, and the curve at tight end will be completely re-calibrated, with ADPs in motion as fantasy owner attempt to grasp the impact of the situation. Graham’s dynasty owners have as much at stake as anyone this offseason, but the truth is that everything remains in motion even after the fields are covered and the lights are turned off for eight months. The lights will stay on here at Footballguys all offseason, so stay tuned!
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