It's getting real as the big dress rehearsal of Week 3 of the preseason and the heaviest volume draft weekends of the summer quickly approach. Many things are the same as what we thought coming into the preseason, but others are changing. Here's what's on my mind about NFC teams.
It feels like the classic sucker bet, but if nothing changes, Joseph Randle will be set up for strong RB2 numbers with a soft schedule to open. Just keep Lance Dunbar, Gus Johnson, and any back the Cowboys might sign after final cuts on your waiver wire speed dial… If you were looking for a development to make the Dallas offense more balanced with increased volume for the passing game, the loss of their best corner and one of the leaders of their defense qualifies. In Week 1, the Cowboys get maybe the most vulnerable secondary in the league vs the Giants, and the following run of Philadelphia, Atlanta, New Orleans, and New England should only force high-scoring game scripts that unlock Tony Romo’s value.
New York Giants
Andre Williams is generating buzz, but I’m not buying. He needs much better inside blocking than he’ll get from the Giants offensive line and their game scripts aren’t going to give the running game high volume. Not to mention Williams was abysmal last year. I believe players can re-invent themselves when I see affirmative evidence of it.... Victor Cruz’s status is looking a lot shakier to begin the season and Rueben Randle has also had some knee issues. There’s room for Odell Beckham to get the target share he got during his historic run last year. Shane Vereen, Larry Donnell, or even James Jones could also benefit from the issues at wide receiver… The offensive line could make this an uphill battle for Eli Manning and company this year, although maybe the worst defense in the league could force the Giants into a lots of catchup football to inflate his numbers. The Giants aren’t at the top of the dumpsterfire watchlist, but they’re on it.
Sam Bradford looks fine in this offense, but it’s hard to feel confident he’ll play 16 games. Keep Mark Sanchez on waiver wire speed dial if you’re a streamer or in two quarterback leagues… Jordan Matthews is the #1 receiver in this offense despite playing from the slot, but Nelson Agholor flashed the ball skills, run after catch creativity, and speed to be Jeremy Maclin plus in this offense if the team gives him the chance. The unveil vs. Atlanta in Week 1 could be huge for Agholor… This is an “offense by committee” and nowhere is that more apparent than in the backfield. I’ll be shocked if Demarco Murray gets more than 60% of the running back carries and Ryan Mathews gets less than 30. Darren Sproles will also figure into this picture. Expect frustration in weekly variance unless one of the top two backs goes down… Zach Ertz lost his chance to prove that he could be a bigger part of the offense by improving his blocking. His 2015 will likely look like his 2014 for fantasy.
Robert Griffin III III is in the midst of one of the more stunning NFL tragedies on the field in recent memory. His next injury seems like more of a case of when than if. The offensive line is doing him no favors, and his beleaguered pocket presence continues to make him a sitting duck… Desean Jackson should be fine with or without Griffin. He led the league in pass plays of over 40 yards last year, and got at least three from each quarterback that started for Washington… I didn’t see it at Florida, but wow Matt Jones, you have my attention. If the poor game scripts and two-down progile weren’t enough reason to avoid Alfred Morris this year, Jones’ potential to assert himself with his terrific feet, size, and combative style should be.
The Bears are transitioning to a new defense, they lost their impact rookie before the season started, and they have a quarterback that they are reluctant at best to embrace. They are jockeying with the 49ers to be #1 in the dumpsterfire watch. It didn’t ruin too many Bears’ fantasy seasons when they went south in 2014, but 2015 could be a different story… Eddie Royal remains fascinating in this smoke-filled building because of the potential to be Cutler’s security blanket for as long as he remains the starting quarterback… Alshon Jeffery having a muscle strain this early in the calendar feels like a bad omen. He should be at the bottom of the third round WR1/WR2 tier.
Get ready for the Ameer Abdullah to Zach Zenner (AA to ZZ) backfield. Joique Bell not being able to practice for the entire offseason can’t be a good thing. It won’t be difficult for both Abdullah and Zenner to outperform Bell. As long as we get rational coaching, the future is now in the Lions backfield… The revamped backfield, development from Eric Ebron and Corey Fuller, plus a highly motivated Calvin Johnson seem to point to Matthew Stafford having a high ceiling this year, but the Lions seem to want to put less on his plate, not more. He doesn’t have Jay Cutler’s apathy, but he has tendency to get static on his radio instead of music for stretches of or even entire games. Stafford is one of my least favorite bets at ADP at quarterback.
You can’t possibly project a negligible effect to Aaron Rodgers’ numbers downstream from the Jordy Nelson injury. The gap between Luck and Rodgers grows, and the gap between Rodgers and your QB3 shrinks.... the offense will have a tougher time running away with games, which could lead to more Eddie Lacy/James Starks game scripts. I’ve moved Lacy up to RB4 and a top five overall pick, and I’m probably still on the lower end of his rankings now… Davante Adams has a lot of hype, and I get spending your fourth rounder on a luxury pick, but I have other targets in that range. Even with a great offseason, lots of uneven play last year makes me hesitant to completely buy into a breakout. Richard Rodgers isn’t a good enough raw talent to get excited about either, but he should be on the waiver wire speed dial list.
It’s a new day in Minnesota with the return of Adrian Peterson. Even with a less than ideal offensive line, Peterson could stress defenses to the point of breaking when combined with a functional passing game. The results for this whole offense (and team) could be explosive… so far the preseason has given us no clarity on which of Mike Wallace and Charles to target earlier, but both remain good WR3 values… Kyle Rudolph is healthy (for now) and he should be the leading red zone receiver for the team. It’s very easy to make a case for “just wait on Rudolph” as your tight end strategy… As optimistic as I am about this offense, I am not making Teddy Bridgewater a top quarterback target because the team seems to love feeding the running back in the red zone (see Matt “three touchdown game” Asiata for an example).
A lot of us have been projecting a Kyle Shanahan revitalization of the Falcons running game, but the offensive line being a bit less effective than Cleveland’s and missed practice time for the top two backs could make it a slow start for Tevin Coleman and Devonta Freeman. The correct answer for which to draft is “neither”... Roddy White has had a great run, but the trajectory of the downward slope of his curve is getting steeper. Leonard Hankerson could be a big part of this pass offense, which isn’t a good thing. With no viable receiving tight end, Julio Jones should catch 120 balls if he stays healthy.
Devin Funchess is not Kelvin Benjamin. Benjamin was inconsistent at Florida State, but flashed the unstoppable ball skills and my ball mentality to be a difference maker, even if sporadically. Funchess has a lot to learn/build to win contested balls and won’t scare defenses as much as Benjamin did… This offense is trouble and should be avoided for fantasy, with the possible exception of Jonathan Stewart. Stewart has to stay healthy, but as long as he does and plays at the level he did at the end of 2014, he should be a true workhorse, assuming the Panthers defense can keep most games close… Cam Newton is going to be too inconsistent week-to-week to trust as your QB1. Let someone else take him.
The Brees-to-Cooks buzz is making the ADP needle move and I get it. Brees is back in my top five quarterbacks and Cooks is well worth a third-round pick in PPR leagues if you aren’t going for a running back there… Mark Ingram II is going to get a shot to be the feature back we all hoped for when the Saints moved back into the first round to get him five years ago… If CJ Spiller’s knee surgery really was minor (and there are no signs it wasn’t), then the ADP drop he has seen since the announcement of the surgery is a good discount for the same risk/reward package he presented before the surgery. He’s perfect (along with Arian Foster) for the wait on RB approach… Don’t forget Khiry Robinson, who we know is good and in an offense that sets up backs for success. He might be the #1 handcuff unless you consider Ryan Mathews one… Josh Hill has fallen off of the draft map, but that could be as much of an overreaction as putting him in the top 10 tight ends after Jimmy Graham was traded. Then again, Ben Watson could end up being a low-end TE1 in this offense searching for players to fill the void Graham left. Be ready to adjust your understanding of this situation quickly, especially if Marques Colston looks like he is the decline phase to open the season.
If you were waiting on some show of positive play from Jameis Winston in the preseason before investing in Tampa commodities, you got it last week. Winston’s natural arm talent, poise, and anticipation put him ahead of the usual rookie quarterback curve… There’s no denying that Vincent Jackson is more prominent in Winston’s mind than Mike Evans. I’ve cooled a bit on Evans and warmed even more to Jackson… Doug Martin is coming on, but the accompanying ADP rise is probably putting him out of my price range. I would rather take upside plays like Arian Foster, CJ Spiller, or maybe even *gulp* Joseph Randle in that area of the draft. Martin 2012 didn’t have to share with a passing down back, and the run blocking of this group could still be a net negative. The Bucs will also more likely than not be a play from behind team.
Michael Floyd is getting healthy in time for the opener, but don’t underestimate the Palmer-to-John Brown connection. Brown is going to be viable as more than a deep threat this year, and he clearly riffs with Palmer. We just need Palmer to stay healthy to realize the profit on Brown selections - even at a 6th/7th round price. Floyd is also worth targeting if he keeps falling to the 12th or later… Larry Fitzgerald hasn’t gone anywhere and should be a very good high WR3 (again, as long as Palmer is healthy)... Y’all know what I think of Andre Ellington. Last week is his “won’t hold up under a full workload” floor. I’m not sure what his ceiling is, but in this offense it definitely in the low PPR RB1 level he established last year while playing hurt.
How many more signs do we need that this team is going into a major rebuilding phase? Break all ties against 49ers in your drafts… That especially applies to Carlos Hyde, who just won’t get enough favorable game scripts to contribute consistently to your fantasy team in a backfield that includes Reggie Bush… Generally as the team goes, so goes Colin Kaepernick. I have doubts about his ability to consistently throw touch passes well enough to unlock Bush’s value. The deep balls to Torrey Smith will suffer unless game script and running game quality can set them up off of play action. Kaepernick might not have started the dumpsterfire, but he could be consumed by it.
Where’s the beef in this offense? The offensive line is a mess and Nick Foles has turned back into a pumpkin outside of Philadelphia. With the team having every incentive to take it slow with Todd Gurley, what does this offense hang its hat on, other than the occasional defensive feeding frenzy that makes everything easier? I’m fine with having no Rams on my fantasy team this year… Tre Mason will get more work than Gurley early, but the Rams also face a tough opening frame of SEA @WSH PIT @ARI @GB. With the exception of the Washington game, I’m not excited to play Mason even as a flex, even if Gurley is inactive.
The interior offensive line worries around the Seahawks are something I’m trying to factor in if they don’t improve in the dress rehearsal game this weekend. Asking Tom Cable to work his magic on this group might be too much. I’d still take Marshawn Lynch in the first round, but not in the top half of the first… Russell Wilson’s fantasy stock might actually be helped by this development, with more passing game scripts and more forced scrambling. I can’t get a fix on where to put him in relation to Ben Roethlisberger and would probably take whichever one goes later if I am targeting a QB in the QB4-6 range… The more I have meditated at Jimmy Graham’s profile this summer, the more I have backed away from him as a target. Travis Kelce’s ceiling is just as high at a cheaper price, and we have forgotten that Graham is a resident of the injury report in the second half of every season. Graham could still work out if the Seahawks have to pass more because of the new look interior offensive line.