Training camp openings are coming, so it's time to focus our attention on the changes, injury recoveries, and position battles that will inform our last tweaks to our draft boards before we draft. It's also good to record our thoughts on the direction of the offense as it affects fantasy bottom lines before camp and preseason twists and turns make us doubt what we have spent months mulling over waiting for football to come back. I'll try to give insight into where I think the puck is going with these teams, because like Wayne Gretzky said, we should skate there instead of where the puck has been, i.e. last year's results.
Offensive Change(s) to Watch: Peyton Manning and Brock Osweiler are gone, and Mark Sanchez is leading the replacement charge - at least for now. 2015 seventh-round pick Trevor Siemian is being talked up to push Sanchez, and 2016 first-round Paxton Lynch could put himself in the conversation with a good summer. Fourth-round pick Devontae Booker has already impressed the team enough to move ahead of Ronnie Hillman and he could become the complement to returning lead back CJ Anderson. Owen Daniels has been released and might retire, leaving Virgil Green, 2015 third-round pick Jeff Heuerman, and former Kubiak tight end Garrett Graham to vie for snaps. The offensive line is in flux with four new starters, including free agent signing Russell Okung.
Injury Situation(s) to Watch: The Broncos have no key fantasy players returning from major injuries.
Position Battle(s) to Watch: The quarterback battle is the most important one, but really it is not the open competition it has been made out to be. If it is still in question heading into Week 3 of the preseason, that is a terrible sign for the team’s confidence in Mark Sanchez. Ronnie Hillman was re-signed, but if he can’t catch the rookie Booker on the depth chart, he might not make the team. The battle between Green, Graham, and Heuerman for tight end supremacy would be more exciting if the Broncos had a better quarterback and less capable wide receivers. Third-year wideout Cody Latimer needs to decivisely win the #3 wide receiver job over Bennie Fowler and Jordan Norwood if he wants to hang onto a roster spot in our dynasty leagues.
Skate to Where the Puck is Going to Be: This is going to be a very boring fantasy offense outside of CJ Anderson’s high ceiling if he can string together 16 quality injury-free games for the first time in his career. If he can’t, Booker becomes a player of interest. Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders are still one of the best wide receiver combinations in the league, but the lo-fi offense and hi-fi defense will keep their ceilings as low as they have been during their time with the Broncos.
Offensive Change(s) to Watch: The Chiefs offense has complete continuity from the 2015 offense, at least the offense at the beginning of the season. Jamaal Charles went down with an ACL tear in Week 5, but all signs point to Charles being ready for Week 1. The biggest question is whether the team will use Spencer Ware and Charcandrick West, signed to modest extensions this offseason, to spell Charles more than he has been given breathers in the past. Chase Daniel left in free agency to follow new Eagles head coach to Philadelphia, so the team will have a new backup quarterback. The team also added Mitchell Schwartz in free agency to upgrade the offensive line at right tackle, and they are still hoping they will get something approaching first-round left play from former #1 overall pick Eric Fisher.
Injury Situation(s) to Watch: Charles' recovery is the story here. His second ACL tear was to his right knee, not the left knee he injured in 2011, so that’s a plus. We’ll be watching to see if he has his old burst and suddenness in space.
Position Battle(s) to Watch: The Chiefs should pray that Alex Smith plays 16 games, because if he misses time, they will have to turn to Aaron Murray, Tyler Bray, or rookie Kevin Hogan. Albert Wilson has the inside spot for the #2 receiver job after holding it down last year, but athletic freak and 2015 third-round pick Chris Conley will make a bid for the job, with free agent pickup Rod Streater vying for a spot in the slot in three-wide sets. At running back, Knile Davis will be trying to hang on to a roster spot, and he could be picked up by an RB-poor team if the Chiefs decide to let him go instead of carrying a fourth back.
Skate to Where the Puck is Going to Be: The talk of Charles getting spelled more often by West and Ware could be the plan going into the season, but as long as he looks like he did before he went down, that plan should go out the window and make him a solid value in the second round. Players like Alex Smith, Travis Kelce, and Jeremy Maclin could outproduce ADP if Justin Houston’s likely absence for the beginning, if not most of the season, gets the Chiefs into more high-scoring games. Houston’s stretch
Offensive Change(s) to Watch: The Raiders up and coming offense returns intact, and even upgraded with the addition of mauling guard Kelechi Osemele to give them the best interior offensive line trio in the league with Rodney Hudson and Gabe Jackson. Fifth-round pick DeAndre Washington could end up being the best running back on the roster by the end of the season, and he should represent improvement from 2015 backups Taiwan Jones and Roy Helu.
Injury Situation(s) to Watch: Roy Helu had hip surgery this offseason and will be on the PUP to open training camp. He might have an uphill battle to make the team.
Position Battle(s) to Watch: Washington probably won’t push Latavius Murray for the starting job to open the season, but he can certainly give the team a lot to think about if he flashes this summer and Murray continues to look like one of the most replaceable running backs in the league. It’s not a true position battle, but third wide receiver Seth Roberts and tight end Clive Walford are both ascendant second-year talents, and they are trying to assert themselves as the third target in a pass offense that is growing, with a possibility of fantasy relevance if one of the top two wide receivers go down.
Skate to Where the Puck is Going to Be: The Raiders are improved on both sides of the ball and appear to be one of the most likely breakout teams of 2016. The running game and passing game could improve in concert with each other and elevate all of their key offensive players with a larger offensive pie to divide up. The division of that pie is the important part to nail, including questions about whether Amari Cooper will emerge as the true #1 wide receiver in this offense and live up his 2nd/3rd round ADP, or alternatively, he and Michael Crabtree will be more of a 1 and 1A, and whether Latavius Murray can hold off DeAndre Washington all season and have the opportunity to get 300+ touches again, but in an even better offense that will elevate him to RB1 status. Washington and Crabtree could be extreme values if everything comes together and they maximize their roles this year.
Offensive Change(s) to Watch: Ladarius Green is gone to Pittsburgh in free agency, but Antonio Gates is back, so the possible Hall of Famer will be central to the pass offense yet again. Malcom Floyd retired and the team signed Travis Benjamin to replace his downfield threat and add more speed to the offense.
Injury Situation(s) to Watch: Melvin Gordon III had microfracture surgery this offseason. He was able to practice without limitations this spring, but he should still be watched closely to see if his old burst and agility are back. Danny Woodhead had an ankle injury scare this spring, but all indications are that he will be full-go for the open of training camp.
Position Battle(s) to Watch: There are no important depth chart spots up for grabs, but the running back position is still a bit of puzzle with Gordon getting worked hard last year to no avail and Woodhead still the most valuable back on the roster. The offensive line hasn’t been decimated by injuries yet, so if they can look like a more effective run blocking unit, perhaps Gordon’s bread and butter runs (reunited with his college fullback and sixth-round pick Derek Watt) might take a more central place in the game plan. Tyrell Williams impressed with an 80-yard touchdown in the last game of the season, and he will try to build momentum from a good offseason to overtake Dontrelle Inman on the depth chart and situate himself for a lot more playing time if Stevie Johnson can’t stay healthy again this year.
Skate to Where the Puck is Going to Be: The Chargers were a pass-heavy offense last year, and a very good one before Keenan Allen went down. Benjamin represents an upgrade from Floyd tactically, even if the team loses the chemistry built between the veteran and Rivers over the course of their decade together. Even though the team wants to feature Gordon in a strong running game, chances are the offense will continue to revolve around Rivers, Allen, Woodhead, and Gates, especially if the defense continues to hover in the bottom quarter or half of the league.
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