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The Gut Check No.292 - Vets Holding Their Breath

Which players stand to see their fantasy stock change the most after the NFL Draft?

Beyond the impact that the NFL Draft has on the makeup of 32 teams, there's a human drama to the selection process. As rookies wait to see if their dreams come true, veterans learn just how much their teams value their services.

If the league could have "Reaction Cams" posted in the homes of pros during the NFL draft, they'd do it in a heartbeat. Although pro football players have years of experience at hiding the full depth of their feelings to national media, we'd still see extreme reactions on both sides of the spectrum. 

There would be the borderline starter, up and coming reserve, or journeyman who learns there will be no first or second-day draft pick competing for his spot on the depth chart...

and the poor guy who was unprepared for the gut punch (or further south) that comes with learning his future ended before it began. 

Watching how a weekend can transform hope into despondency isn't for the faint of heart. 

Even without the visual reactions, we can imagine the highs and lows that some veterans will experience this weekend as they find out their respective teams think of them long-term. Here is my list of 20 players who are about see their fantasy stock rise or fall by Saturday morning. 

Andy DaltonThe Bengals quarterback is finding out this offseason how short the collective patience is for fans, media, and the N(ot)-F(or)-L(ong). Cincinnati has a young, talented supporting cast on both sides of the ball and the front office has done an especially nice job of finding explosive, versatile skill players. However, nothing deflates an organization's trust in a quarterback than watching him dropping a steamer in its playoff punch bowl. The Bengals are 0-3 with Dalton, who has one touchdown, six interceptions, and a rate of completions below 57 percent.

There have been rumors that Cincinnati may take a quarterback and/or make deal that sends Dalton to another franchise to move up. The rumored names include Blake Bortles, Derek Carr, Tom Savage, and Teddy Bridgewater. If the Bengals are seeking a quarterback with more arm strength, Carr and Savage top the list, but neither strike me as upgrades at handling the pressure of AFC North defenses. On the other hand, Bortles and Bridgewater do flash the pocket presence and toughness to give the rumor some legs.

Verdict: I'm not buying a trade, but I am kicking the tires on the idea of Cincinnati taking a quarterback in the second round if it has a first-round grade on a rookie like Bridgewater, Savage, or Jimmy Garoppolo. Still, I doubt it happens. Dalton will still be dancing after Friday.

Nick Foles, Mark Sanchez, Matt BarkleyIt was a Pro Bowl season in 2013 for the Eagles' young quarterback. However, not everyone is convinced that Foles' performance is the dawn of a new era. Some believe Foles is the product of a Chip Kelly system and those wrinkles that caught NFL defenses off guard last year won't be as tricky in 2014. Others think Foles was less consistent than the stats indicate. I certainly witnessed enough poor reactions to pressure that Foles got away with--including throwing the ball up for grabs--that he cannot continue doing next year. 

The Kelly offense proved that it could thrive without a mobile quarterback, but Michael Vick was Kelly's first choice as the starter. It adds fuel to the pre-draft talk that Philadelphia is intrigued with Johnny Manziel and dealing Foles to move up to take the Hesiman Trophy winner is a possibility. Manziel is no Vick as a runner, but he has the point guard mentality to dish or take it to the hole.

While most people write off the addition of Mark Sanchez to the depth chart, a change in system and time on the bench could benefit a young player who helped the Jets get to consecutive AFC Championship games. At this point, the move looks most like a chance to solidify the Eagles depth chart and provide Matt Barkley competition this summer. 

Verdict: I think Manziel has more potential than Foles, but if I have concerns about Foles' long-term I have to think there are teams in need of a quarterback with similar scouting reports on the Eagles' current starter. Cecil Lammey has observed the Eagles coaching staff working with Wyoming quarterback Brett Smith, who could be a decent choice as a developmental player on Day Three who has the mobility, pocket presence, and quick release to intrigue Philadelphia. If this happens, Sanchez and Barkley might be competing with each other for the No.2 spot with the loser dropped for the team in favor of a more promising rookie. 

Sam BradfordThere's a ton of bad sentiment about Bradford in the media. The former No.1 overall pick in 2010 has missed 15 games in four seasons due to injury and a lot of the blame has been cast on him for the Rams' performance. At the same time, Bradford has thrown 59 touchdowns to 38 interceptions despite playing in multiple offensive systems and turntstiles for skill player depth charts. Not bad for little chance to develop rapport with experienced players. 

St. Louis added Shaun Hill to the depth chart--one of the better backups in the league--which has some pundits thinking that the Rams might be thinking about adding a rookie quarterback and trading Bradford to Cleveland for the pick that will net them Manziel. Cleveland gets a strong armed quarterback with the selectivity to find open receivers under pressure that it lacked with Brandon Weeden and St. Louis can start Shaun Hill until it feels Manziel is ready to take the field. 

Verdict: As nervous as some Cleveland fans would be about this deal, I like the sound of it if the organization isn't sold on Manziel. While I'd prefer the combination of Manziel's upside and innocence to the rigors of the league over the harsh fate that may have dealt a blow to Bradford's psyche, I think the body is more broken than the spirit. This is the deal that I think makes the most sense for both sides as Jeff Fisher has had success with scrambling quarterbacks. If he believes, Manziel's study habits are more like Steve McNair's than Vince Youngs, the Rams could pull the trigger. I'd be surprised if it happens though. Give St. Louis a big receiver like Mike Evans, run the ball with Zach Stacy, play good defense, and Bradford has a chance to give the media experts the horns.

Brian HoyerI have long believed that Hoyer had the talent to develop into an NFL starter. After bouncing around the league like a beachball at a music festival, Hoyer had two impressive starts and was on his way to a third before tearing his ACL. With Weeden in Dallas competing for a backup role and Jason Campell in Cincinnati, Hoyer stands alone as the Browns' starter entering May with offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan bringing in Rex Grossman as the experienced commodity to help the team learn the new system. 

As Chase Stuart has noted on Twitter, two games is too small of a sample size for most sensible people to determine how good a quarterback can be in the NFL. As much as I like Hoyer for his aggressiveness, anticipation, and pocket presence, I can understand how a coaching staff--old or new--wouldn't be completley sold on him at this point. 

Verdict: If the team drafts Manziel, it's a slam-dunk that it's moving in a different direction. If it takes Carr--a player fans might one day name "Weeden 2.0"-- and a player with similar strengths and weaknesses, but I'm not confident in say the number improvements over the earlier model will be enough to make a major difference, Hoyer may still be a factor. I do expect Hoyer to see competition for his job in the form of a rookie quarterback taken within the first three rounds.

Christian Ponder and Matt CasselLet's see...new coach? Check. New offensive coordinator? Check. Underwhelming quarterbacks? Check. Rookie passer in 2014? Likely.

Verdict: While Cassel's completion percentage (60.2) in relief of Ponder wasn't bad and he had a Pro Bowl season in 2010, he's 31 and looks more like the part of the early-season starter while the Vikings groom a youngster to take his place. The assumption is that Norv Turner will lobby for a big-arm quarterback and with the eighth pick, I won't be surprised if Carr is there for the taking as Manziel is the hot property for a trade. However, I think there's a better than even chance that Cassel is dancing with a horned helmet in his living room and the Vikings go a different direction in the first round and take a chance on mid-round passer, giving the veteran at least a year to prove he can lead Turner's offense.          

Ryan FitzpatrickJadeveon Clowney and Khalil Mack seem like strong possibilities as the No.1 overall selection for the Texas. Although there's talk about taking Bortles, it seems like a curious selection because Bill O'Brien is said to favor strong-armed quarterbacks and Bortles is more Matt Hasselbeck than Ben Roethlisberger in this department. If that strong-arm favoritism is nothing more than a smokescreen, then it's also possible that Houston doesn't see a lot of separation between Bortles and Bridgewater, or another quarterback that could be had with a trade back into the first round or wait until the early second. 

Verdict: Whether the Texans take a quarterback in the first or second round, I doubt Fitzpatrick ever had delusions of grandeur about his role in Houston. He'll play early, but not for more than a year.  

Shonn Greene The former Jets runner wil turn 29 in August and despite two 1000-yard season in the past three years, he's a volume runner. Ken Whisenhunt likes to run the football and use the tight end in the passing game, so Greene could still have a prominent role as a two-down back while using Dexter McCluster as the unit's Danny Woodhead. Still, Greene's career yards per carry efficiency is low and he's not an all-around option.

Verdict: Carlos Hyde, Jeremy Hill, and Charles Sims are all big enough backs with the receiving skills to provide the Titans greater versatility in an every-down frame. Look for Tennessee to pick at least one back between after the first round. Greene will have to earn his starting role and work hard to maintain it all season.

Michael FordThe Bears' depth chart at running back is Forte and Ford. Period. Ford has enough size, burst, and power to open the season with the team, but I have doubts that he's a future starter in this league. If there is a team in need of running back depth, Chicago is at the top of the list. 

Verdict: Sims, Marion Grice, James Wilder, Jr., and Ka'Deem Carey are all good pass catchers with mid-round grades that could displace Ford as the No.2 on the depth chart eventually earn an active role as a potential successor to Forte.  

Matt AsiataI like second-year fullback Zach Line as a runner more than I do Asiata. I doubt the Vikings feel the same right now, but I will be surprised if Asiata is the projected No.2 to Adrian Peterson entering training camp. The Vikings' runner is 29, has accmulated 2241 touches, 11761 yards, and an ACL surgery. Peterson is still going strong and I won't be surprised if he's still starting 2-3 years from now. However, NFL cliffs for running backs are hard to see, sudden, and steep. 

Verdict: James Wilder, Jr. reminds me of Peterson in style, but not in total talent or durability. However, he could be helpful late-round pick if the team wants to find a player who can approximate Peterson's powerful style. If Minnesota's front office has a simialr view as other teams then Isaiah Crowell, Jeremy Hill, Ka'Deem Carey, and Terrence West could also be fits. It's possible the Vikings decide to go a completely different direction to build depth rather than seek potential bell-cow who they aren't sold on. Either way, Asiata is a special teams player more than an offensive contributor. 


Chris Owusu - If it weren't for multiple concussions, the third-year receiver from Stanford would have been drafted as a prospect with starter potential. Speedy and physical, Owusu has potential as a vertical threat and after-the-catch gamebreaker. The Buccaneers like Owusu after they picked him up from the 49ers' waiver wire two summers ago. Apparently, Lovie Smith's crew has praised Owusu's early returns during their initial impressions of the Tampa Bay cast. 

Verdict: Owusu is a player to monitor this spring and summer. If he hits, he's a player whose skill types I compared with Joey Galloway in the 2012 Rookie Scouting Portfolio. It's best to approach Owusu with low expectations. He's most likely a contributor more than a starter and his use will depend on the health of the starters and the nature of the Jeff Tedford offense. Expect Tampa to draft at least two receivers this week becuase neither Owusu nor Jackson offer everything that an offense seeks from a fully dimensional passing game. 

Cecil ShortsThe Jaguars receiver isn't holding his breath about his roster spot, but he has to be hopeful for a quarterback capable of elevating the Jacksonville offense. Shorts had his share of drops last year, but Football Outsiders' columnist Rivers McCown explains that significant number of these drops came on back-shoulder fades. These are difficult routes and communication between quarterback and receiver is a heightened requirement for success. With Justin Blackmon unlikely to play in 2014, Shorts not only needs help at quarterback, but also a complementary target. there are 10 other receivers currently on the Jaguars' depth chart and none are big-bodied possession talents with red zone skills. 

Verdict: A first-round quarterback is possible, but so is a LEO pass rusher in Gus Bradley's system, another tackle, or a wide receiver. I think Jacksonville is waiting until the second round or trade back into the first for a quarterback. I woudn't be surprised if Jimmy Garoppolo or Teddy Bridgewater are two option that the Jaguars are considering at that point. Neither will elevate Shorts' game beyond WR3 status in fantasy leagues this year unless one of the team's opening picks is a receiver like Sammy Watkins. 

Jarrett Boykin Jermichael Finley and James Jones are gone and it leaves Boykin as the third man in a balanced offense with one of the top quarterbacks in the league. There's enough of a production void to fill that Boykin could offer fantasy WR3 potential if he makes the jump from athlete with good hands to complete route runner with consistent execution. That fantasy projection could take an addition jump if either Nelson, Lacy, or Cobb gets hurt. The determining factor is whether Green Bay selects a tight end, wide receiver, or both this week. 

Verdict: If Eric Ebron were to fall or they have a high grade on Jace Amaro, I can see the Packers going with a tight end early. However, they might also decide to look into a bigger option with excellent potential as a blocker--signaling a potential change in offensive philosophy to pound the ball with Lacy and Starks. There's also the thought that second-year option Chris Harper can become a hybrid tight end. Either way, I do think Green Bay takes another receiver with size and/or big-play potential from this deep class. Boykin did well last year, but without James Jones I have doubts Boykin could be as effective for this offense if Jordy Nelson gets hurt. 

Stedman BaileyI'm a fan of Bailey's all-around potential as a possession threat with some vertical skill. However, Tavon Austin is the priority as the puzzle piece that the Rams want to figure out. It's also likely St. Louis will be seeking a big-play complement with height and muscle. It means Bailey will have to beat Chris Givens for a spot on the perimeter and that might still be a part-time role when considering offensive alignments that feature Austin, Jared Cook, Zac Stacy, and a big, vertical receiver. 

Verdict: Bailey is worth monitoring, but a player like Mike Evans would help Sam Bradford--or the quarterback the Rams acquire if they deal Bradford- and displace Bailey from regular rotation. Cody Latimer, Martavis Bryant, Allen Robinson and Donte Moncrief also fit the bill as potential candiates that St. Louis could think fit the mold.  

Greg LIttle - Not only is Little holding his breath about competing for a spot in the starting lineup, but the addition of Andrew Hawkins and Nate Burleson could mean Little will be scrapping for a roster spot. After a 709-yard rookie year, Little's production has dipped in consecutive seasons from 647 yards to 465 yards. Different systems, quarterbacks, and coaches certainly are a contributing factor, but so is dropping the football. Hawkins and Burleson are two things that Little isn't when it comes to football--disciplined and scrappy. If the Browns add promising rookie, Little's days are numbered. 

Verdict: I think Little won't be in Cleveland unless injuries decimate the depth chart. The wishful thinking among many draftniks is that Cleveland picks two from a Sammy Watkins/Mike Evans and Johnny Manziel/Teddy Bridgewater combination. It's possible and both scenarios would mean Little is expendable immediately. 

Tiquan Underwood and Tavarres KingWhat exactly is Carolina doing? They parted ways with Steve Smith, which on the basis of age is somewhat understandable. However, replacing Smith with Jerricho Cotchery and Jason Avant--two proven slot receivers lacking big-play potential--is odd, at best. Underwood has big-play ability and he has averaged over 15 yards per catch--18.3 last year--but never exceeded 30 targets during these past two seasons. The fifth-year journeyman is also a 6-1, 184-pound option who lacks Steve Smith's vertical skill to win the ball in the air.  

King isn't that different. He has more potential as a route runner and good hands, but his athleticism is a step up from Cotchery. However, he's not a potential superstar. Carolina has to be thinking wide receiver in the early rounds. 

Verdict: One of Underwood or King might see time in a rotation, but the depth chart looks like it's crying out for a gamebreaker--especially one capable of developing into a good option on fades at the boundary and in the red zone. Latimer, Robinson, Moncrief, and Davante Adams could prove to be options the Panthers have an eye on. Maybe Brandin Cooks is considered for a reprisal of a Steve Smith-like option. Paul Richardson could prove to be a bargain in the mid-rounds due to his vertical game and hands.

Levine Toilolo - Big, and agile for his size, the Falcons gave the usual PR-related optimism that Toilolo has a chance to develop into an all-around starter. However, "agile for his size" doesn't mean he's agile for a passing-down tight end. This is still a relative unknown for the second-year player from Stanford who had some draftniks considering him as a potential developmental tackle prospect. With Julio Jones returning from an injury that could prove chronic for his career, Roddy White getting older, and Harry Douglas proving that he's not much more than a nice third option, Atlanta needs another consistent weapon in the passing game to keep this offense from sinking into a morass if one of its starting receivers gets hurt.

Verdict: Toilolo is a reasonable option to monitor this spring, but if the Falcons think Austin Sefarian-Jenkins is healthy enough or Troy Niklas has receiving potential, they might opt for one of the after the first round. Of the post-first-round options, C.J. Fiedorowicz might have the most potential to develop into a decent run blocker with reliable skills in the short zones. I expect to see Atlanta consider a tight end and a receiver in this draft. Don't get too attached to Toilolo as a future commodity just yet.