AFC: What To Watch For As Training Camp Sets To Open

Our Ari Ingel provides analysis, and outlines situations to follow, for all sixteen AFC teams as training camp sets to open later this month. 

There are many fantasy questions that we are seeking clarity to as training camp sets to begin later this month. In this article I tackle all 16 AFC teams, with the NFC teams outlined here. Let's go!

Baltimore Ravens

Absolutely nothing in the Ravens offense is settled except that OC Marc Trestman's offense will once again be pass happy. The Ravens led the league last season with 676 pass attempts and his offenses have ranked in the top half of the league in pass attempts in every season he has been a play caller.

Joe Flacco is still working his way back from tearing his MCL and ACL, there are now four possible tight ends, four possible running backs and at least four possible receivers who could all start and shine. Unfortunately we don't know if any of these players will consistently help your fantasy team from week-to-week, but fortunately at current ADP levels, there is very little downside investing in some of these players.

Breshard Perriman could possibly be done for the season and Steve Smith Sr. is 37 years old and coming off of an Achilles injury.  I would be very hard pressed to draft either at this point, but both bare watching closely in the pre-season.

Mike Wallace and Kamar Aiken should see the field a ton this year and are both are still decent bargains at their current ADPs. Mike Wallace is finally playing with a quarterback that can actually deliver a deep throw and he remains one of the fastest receivers in the league. Kamar Aiken on the other hand emerged as a reliable possession receiver who put up a 50/611/3 line after Smith went down last year. He's a great athlete, who has good hands and runs solid routes. Rookie Chris Moore is certainly worth monitoring as a 6-foot-1, 206lb receiver with good long speed, solid vertical (37") and broad jump (10'10).  I also wouldn't be shocked if the Ravens saw a return of Anquan Boldin to truly muddy up the situation.

At the running back position, there is a bevy of players and we are looking at a four-way battle between 31 year old Justin Forsett, passing down back Javorius Allen, a supposedly in better shape Terrance West and dynamic rookie Kenneth Dixon.  My money is on Dixon eventually emerging. He's 5' 10”, 215lbs, who runs bigger than his size and is an all-purpose back that is a willing pass protector. He very well could be this seasons David Johnson. However, like in Arizona last year, it may take some time for him to fully take on lead duties, as Forsett and Allen are not going to go away quietly.

The tight end position is no less gluttonous, with potential starters in Ben Watson, Dennis Pitta, Crockett Gillmore and Maxx Williams.  Despite turning 36 years old this year, Watson should enter camp as the teams primary receiving tight end, but if Pitta is truly healthy and Maxx Williams makes the second year leap that he is capable of, this could be a very messy situation for fantasy purposes. As long as he stays healthy, Watson will see the field, particularly in redzone packages, but Williams is their tight end of the future and he runs good routes and has great hands, unfortunately it often takes three years for tight ends to properly adjust to the NFL game. I would shy away from all these tight ends in early drafts, but monitor closely as pre-season and the regular season progresses.

The biggest beneficiary of all of this is going to be Joe Flacco who is a steal at his current ADP of 15.06. While he has bouts of falling apart, he will be playing with the same Offensive Coordinator in successive seasons for the first time in four years.  Last year the Ravens were a top 5 team in total plays and passes. Look for that trend to continue, but with a better supporting cast.

Buffalo Bills

The health of Sammy Watkins is the major development to watch during the pre-season for the Bills, because if he is not healthy, you can forget about drafting Tyrod Taylor and it could cause this whole offense to stall. As Rotoworld's Evan Silva pointed out, when playing, Watkins accounted for nearly 40% of  Taylor's passing yards and 44% of his touchdown throws. Fortunately, according to our own Dr. Jene Bramel, the time frame on Watkins recovery from April surgery is 6 to 12 weeks, so he should be ready for the start of the season, if not the start of camp.  Robert Woods is a solid complimentary player, but he's best suited to be a NFL teams WR3.

The biggest battle for fantasy purposes is going to take place for LeSean McCoy's backup between second year player Karlos Williams, rookie Jonathan Williams, thir year player Mike Gillislee and newly signed veteran Reggie Bush. Last season Karlos averaged a solid 5.6 yards per carry, scored 7 rushing touchdowns and posted a 78.6 catch rate, but he reported to camp very out of shape and is now suspended for the first four games over PED use. Gillislee also performed well in spot duty, putting up 267 yards on just 47 carries, for an average of 5.7 yards a carry, while Reggie Bush is coming off kneee surgery and entering his age 31 season.

My money is on the talented rookie, Jonathan Williams, who just got popped with a DUI but probably won't be suspended until next season (if at all), as the case still has to run through the courts. Noted NFL talent evaluator Greg Cosell stated before the draft that he thought that Jonathan Williams was quicker and more powerful than Ezekiel Elliot. How soon things click for him at the NFL level will be key to determining the pecking order on a team that will lean heavily on the run, averaging 32 rushes a game last year. McCoy also has a lot of wear and tear on his tires and is probably not a good bet to stay healthy the whole season with that sort of workload. 

Cincinnati Bengals

With Tyler Eifert dealing with a significant injury and Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones Jr off the team, the number two-receiver job in Cincinnati is up for grabs along with their 152 targets. Brandon LaFell underwent foot surgery before the 2015 season and never looked right once he returned in Week 7 after missing the entire pre-season program. This season he has acclimated himself well to the Bengals and there is reason to believe he can fined the form that saw him go 74/953/7 as a part time player for the Patriots in 2014.

LaFell's competition is rookie Tyler Boyd who is a great route runner that fights for the ball, but lacks athleticism and the ability to create separation at the line of scrimmage. While he was very productive in college, will he be able to get away with these limitations in the NFL? It's also not as easy as guys like Odell Beckham and Amari Cooper make it seem to adjust to life in the NFL.

In OTA's Andy Dalton said he felt comfortable with LaFell, who is also comfortable playing all three wide receiver positions. A bounce back looks likely.

Cleveland Browns

Corey Coleman's talents are not a question and in dynasty, I'm all in on him. He's a SPARQ freak who clocked a blazing 4.37 40-time with a 40.5 inch vertical. He was also lasts season Biletnikoff Award winner, given to the top wide receiver in college and long-term comparisons to ODB are not crazy. But it's also not easy being the man, and without any sort of viable receiver on the team right now, Coleman is going to see a lot of #1 cornerbacks. Sammy Watkins got this treatment and posted a 65/982/6 line his rookie year, so production is possible, but Coleman also isn't as talented as Watkins was coming out of college.

I actually think Coleman's numbers would benefit with the addition of Josh Gordon who is eligible for reinstatement on August 1st. If the Browns get Gordon back, it will be a huge boost for the whole Browns offense, pushing Coleman into WR2 territory and Gordon a WR1. If not, then this offense could be tough to predict from week-to-week. Gordon is the Browns Jordy Nelson, he opens up the whole field.

Another player to monitor is running back Isaiah Crowell.  As long as reports continue to be positive, he is going to be the teams early down and goal lines back and new HC Hue Jackson has stated (and shown in his previous stops) that the team will lean heavily on the run. Jackson's teams have finished in the top seven of both rush attempts and touchdowns every season he was either Head Coach or Offensive Coordinator. Furthermore, respected Browns beat reporter Mary Kay Cabot recently said she believes Crowell will have a 1,000 yards this season. With an ADP in the late 9th round, it's worth acquiring some shares. 

Nonetheless, Crowell's production is capped by the presence of Duke Johnson Jr, who is the better player to own, especially in PPR leagues. The Browns also look to have a negative game script in almost all of their games per Vegas odds. A negative game script should help Duke Johnson Jr more than Crowell as the team will need to pass more to try and win, and if Crowell falters, Johnson is a good bet to put up RB1 numbers. Johnson's current 5th round ADP is fare in PPR leagues and could possibly rise. 

Denver Broncos

Let's start with what we know: This offensive line has been upgraded with the addition of Russell Okung, albeit the line as a whole is still shaky; C.J. Anderson should be the foundation of this offense and led the NFL in yards-per-carry average from Week 6 on (5.93); and  Emmanuel Sanders and Demaryius Thomas are arguably the NFL's top wide receiver tandem and are still both in their prime. 

Now for what we don't know: Can Mark Sanchez become a game managing quarterback that doesn't turn the ball over too often?  Unfortunately he has bouts of decent play, but that inevitable interception will always come. He has the weapons to succeed and shouldn't be asked to do too much, unfortunately at the expense of the teams' wide receivers, but to the benefit of the run game. 

The other situation to watch is the development of Devontae Booker. Some people have been touting him as the next big thing, but I'm not so sure. He is a 24 year old rookie, who often shuffles his feet as he hits the line of scrimmage, hindering his ability to be a sustainer. There is no doubt he has great pass catching skills and is elusive with the ball in his hands, but he may be more Jeremy Langford than David Johnson

Houston Texans

All eyes will be on Brock Osweiler this pre-season as he is clearly the teams biggest question mark. Throwing 10 TDs and 6 Ints in 9 games last season with a better receiving core, Brock has a lot to prove to live up to his big new contract. The jury is out if Brock is even an upgrade over departed starting quarterback Brian Hoyer who had a decent year under head coach and quarterback guru, Bill O'Brien. It's telling that John Elway was willing to let Brock walk after years of up close evaluation, but hopefully O'Brien can work his magic with Brock like he did with Hoyer, otherwise Andre Hopkins could be in jeopardy of not living up to his first round fantasy grade.

Speaking of Hopkins, it's worth noting that that during the first half of last season, he averaged 14 targets/game for an average of 109 yds/game when the team regularly playing from behind, while in the second half of the season he averaged 10 targets/game and around 81 yds/game, when the team went on a win streak. His saving grace was that his touchdown numbers stayed relatively even.

The good news for Lamar Miller owners is that Texans OC George Godsey mentioned that the running game will remain the "foundation" of Houston's offense, I'm buying him as a rock solid RB1.

Need further proof?  Here are some stats courtesy of ESPN's Matthew Berry:

  • Since the start of 2014, Le'Veon Bell has 403 carries for 1,917 yards and 11 rushing touchdowns.
  • Since the start of 2014, Miller has 410 carries for 1,971 yards and 16 rushing touchdowns.
  • In his two years under O'Brien, Arian Foster averaged 23 touches a game. That would work out to be 368 touches in a full 16-game season.
  • Last season, on 241 touches, Miller was the sixth-best running back in fantasy.

Beyond Miller, the only Texan I'm actively targeting right now until late in the draft is the teams defense. However, it's worth pointing out that early reports seem to state that rookie Will Fuller will be a spot player in three wide sets with second year player Jaelen Strong having a strong off-season. It's something to monitor during camp. 

Indianapolis Colts

As long as everyone on this offense can stay healthy during the pre-season, all the teams starting skill players should see a major bounce back and far out score their current ADP's.  Donte Moncrief and TY Hilton should both put up WR1 numbers as this team participates in weekly shoot-outs with a suspect defense that gave up the 8th most points of any team last year. You want to get a piece of this offense, including 33 year old Frank Gore who quietly rushed for nearly 1,000 yards and 6 TDs last season with absolutely no help. 

For those that like to handcuff, keep an eye on undrafted rookie Josh Ferguson. The Colts supposedly considered taking him with a mid-round pick and were fortunate to grab him after the draft. Colts beat writer, Stephen Holder, reported that Ferguson "made a distinct impression" during OTAs,” and outside of Gore, this team doesn't have much. I wouldn't be surprised if Arian Foster ended up here as he fits this teams offensive philosophy well.

Jacksonville Jaguars

There is lots of talk about regression because the Jags defense won't be a sieve this season, but I'm not fully buying that. While Allen Robinson might not score 14 TDs again, I think he is a good bet to catch more than the 80 passes he caught last year and is an ascending talent. However, I am buying Julius Thomas (and a healthy Marqise Lee) eating into Allen Hurns totals.  With all the garbage time and catch-up ball the Jags played last year, Hurns still only managed 64 catches and his fantasy value soared due to his 10 TDs. Thomas was injured yet again last season, so health is key here, but when healthy, he's a matchup nightmare down the seem and in the redzone. Expect Hurns TD total to go way down.

I'm also paying attention to the ascension of second year running back T.J. Yeldon, who despite his size (6'1” 226lbs), he runs like a smaller back with loose hips that can get “skinny” (as noted analyst Greg Cosell likes to say) at the line of scrimmage. Yeldon actually reminds me a bit of Le'Veon Bell, a bigger back that has a little glide to him with quick feet.  But the key to Yeldon's success is going to be to Chris Ivory's availability.  Ivory is a very physical runner who actually showed better hands last season.

Right now both running backs are weekly headaches in the making at their current ADPs in the 7th and 8th rounds. I would lean towards Ivory in standard leagues that value touchdowns, but neither should be relied on to start the season as anything more than a bye week replacement or flex option. If one gets hurt though … the other is an immediate high end RB2.

Kansas City Chiefs

There isn't much mystery to this team. When healthy, Jeremy Maclin makes for a rock solid WR2, going 87/1088/8 last season, once again battling injuries. Travis Kelce is a beast of a talent that is capped by this offense. Last season he went 72/875/5 receiving on 103 targets and played on 92.1% of the teams snaps. Unfortunately Kelce finished with fewer than 10 fantasy point in half of the games, hitting 13 plus fantasy points in the other 8. We can expect more of the same this year.

Jamaal Charles has super human healing powers and rushed for 1,509 yards and 7 touchdowns, adding another 35/236/1 through the air after his last knee injury in 2012. He was on a 1,731 yard and 16 TD pace before injuring his other knee last year. This team is built on the run game and a healthy Charles is an absolute lock to put up over 1,250 total yards and 10 TDs.

The sleeper to watch here is Spencer Ware. In order to keep Charles healthy they may use Ware heavily on short yardage downs and near the goal line. He's a violet runner, with good balance that rarely goes down on first contact. Last season he had 5 TDs on just 7 runs inside the five-yard line. I expect that number to go up and he may push 10 TDs himself, making him a viable standard league flex option.

Miami Dolphins

Through this air this will still be the Jarvis Landry show, who will again catch 100+ balls. Ryan Tannehill just trusts him and if Landry hadn't run a poor 40 during the combine, there would be no questions about his talents, because on the field, he produces. 

New Head Coach, Adam Gase should get the most out of Tannehill, which won't include him connecting on many deep shots, so we should expect a lot of quick, short passes to Landry, Devante Parker, Jordan Cameron and Jay Ajayi. Sorry Kenny Stills.

During camp we will be watching to see if Parker can live up to his off-season hype. He's big (6'3” 218lbs) and fast (4.45 forty), but he is not a disciplined route runner and doesn't always show the physicality he is capable of. Gase would love to use him as he did with Demaryius Thomas and Alshon Jeffery in Denver and Chicago respectively. Can he make that leap? Another receiver to watch for is rookie Leonte Carroo who is working out with Landry during the pre-season. He's  built like a running back, is a great route runner and has very good hands.  The Dolphins traded up to snag him in the third round and it wouldn't surprise me if he is being drafted in fantasy over Parker this time next year. 

We should also expect a bounce back year for Jordan Cameron who went criminally underused, like most of the pieces on this offense, last year.  Cameron is a freak athlete, standing 6'5” 254lbs running a 4.59 forty and posting a 37.5 inch vertical. Gase helped make fantasy studs out of Julius Thomas (in Denver) and 31-year-old Zach Miller (in Chicago) on his last two stops, which is one reason Cameron was willing to take a pay cut was the play under Gase this year.

Except to see Jay Ajayi as the teams' unquestioned workhorse back, especially if he can refine his route running before camp opens. Ajayi does have good hands, going 50/535/4 through the air in his final year of college.

There is a lot of buzz about rookie Kenyan Drake stealing all third down work, but I'm not buying it. Noted Rotoworld draft analyst, Josh Norris, said that Drake was “the worst pass protector” he had ever seen. “Ever. Ever.” Drake is not a feature back, shuffling his feet far too much and going down on first contact as he often tries to bounce runs to the outside. He also fumbled the ball 7 times on just 279 touches. He is a good pass catcher, but to get on the field, he is going to have to learn to pass protect. A tall order for a rookie running back. Damien Williams should continue to see spot duty as he did last year.

New England Patriots

The guy to watch this pre-season is newly acquired Tight End Martellus Bennett and how he clicks with Tom Brady. While Bennett may not have the same run after the catch ability as Aaron Hernandez, I can see the Patriots using a two tight-end set as their base offense for much of this season. He's been working with Tom Brady a lot one-on-one and ESPN Boston's Mike Reiss thinks that Bennett will be a "big factor" in the Patriots' offense. Still only 29, there is no reason Bennett can't catch 10 TDs and finish the season as a Top 5 tight end.

Beyond Bennett's rapport with Brady, the other issues we are watching closely are: 1) the health of Dion Lewis knee (ACL); 2) the health of Julian Edelman who underwent a second foot surgery in April after he "didn't feel comfortable cutting to his left and pushing off the outside of the foot" during workouts; 3) the development of rookie receiver Malcolm Mitchell who runs good routes, plays physical and has great hands. Early reports have been positive on his ability to grasp the offense and he could shine if he wins the starting job outside 4) and of course the looming suspension of Tom Brady. I would be surprised if Brady wasn't suspended for four games, and if you throw in the Patriots bye week, that is nearly a third of the fantasy season without Brady at the helm of this offense. That is a knock on this whole offense.

New York Jets

As long as Ryan Fitzpatrick returns to the team before the start of training camp, expect to see both Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker putting up big numbers once again. I actually think Geno isn't much of a downgrade on Fitzpatrick, but the locker room and the fan base don't seem to like him very much.

The other thing to watch for in camp is how running back touches are going to be split. Matt Forte is going to see a good number of touches and should be a solid RB2 in PPR leagues in the Jets vertical four passing system. But entering his age 31 season, he is not going to be a true feature back. The team loves Bilal Powell, especially in the pass game, and newly signed running back, Khiry Robinson, could see his fare share of goal-line touches and even steal some early down work. Powell is a must own handcuff for Forte owners, and could have stand alone flex value in PPR leagues regardless. Robinson is only a standard league deep bench option until we see how things pan out. 

Oakland Raiders

Latavius Murray is the picture of mediocrity. While year-end numbers look fine (1066/6 rushing for 4.0 YPC with 41/232/0 receiving on 53 targets), further inspection show a running back with a lot of warts. With a big hole, Murray is able to eat up yardage, but he's a stiff runner, who despite being a true workhorse back, he did not have a single top-12 performance between Weeks 3 and13 and topped 10 FP in just two of his final seven games. In total Murray had two 100-yard rushing games and just one more game in which he topped 100 yards from scrimmage.

A couple of stats to drive this home courtesy of PFF: 1) Since 2001, of the 92 cases of a RB amassing 260 carries and 35 receptions in a season, Murray's 2015 ranks dead last in fantasy points scored and 2) Among 68 RBs, Murray was rated the 63rd receiving back.

What saved Murray was that the Raiders have a top 5 offensive line that can make men of mice.  But the Raiders went into the NFL draft looking for that Gio Bernard / Charles Simms compliment to Murray and they certainly found it in DeAndre Washington.

Washington is a smaller back (5'8” 204 lbs), but he's built solidly like Maurice Jones Drew and Devonta Freeman. He runs tough, is willing to absorb hits and he has the low center of gravity and balance to bounce off of poor tackles. He also had 124 catches in his four-year college career, making him one of the most accomplished receiving backs in the entire draft.  Moreover, Raiders GM Reggie McKenzie recently stated that he was "more than just a third-down back; he's a complete back, who can pound it up in there." He went on to add: "When he gets out in space, he can make you look silly. He can catch the ball, but he can run between the tackles as well as well as bouncing it outside. We think he's the total package as a runner." 

Ladies and gentleman, meet your new starting running back for the Oakland Raiders.

Pittsburgh Steelers

With Martavis Bryant suspended for the year, there is a lot of value to be mined from this offense, particularly on the deep shots that OC Todd Hayley likes to take every game. The big issue we will be following in camp is who is that deep-shot player going to be?

At this point we know what Markus Wheaton is, a solid complimentary receiver that is best used as a NFL teams third wide receiver.  Wheaton stands 5'11”, 182lbs with 4.45 forty speed but hasn't developed into a great deep threat. He is a good route runner and tends to do most of his damage in the short and intermediate game, making him a better slot receiver than an outside threat. While best used as bench depth in fantasy leagues, it should be noted that over the final six games of the regular season, he actually ranked 17th among WRs with a 16.6 FPG average. All of this said, Wheaton will 100% be the Steelers receiver in all two wide sets.

The more intriguing players to watch are second year receiver (and Martavis Bryant type clone) Sammie Coates Jr and newly acquired tight end Ladarius Green.  Coates is big (6'2”, 212 pounds), fast (4.43 forty), strong (23 bench reps, 41 inch vertical) and is also a big play waiting to happen. He has also been prone to drops and poor route running, but fortunately the 9 route just requires him to run straight down the field. He showed up to OTA's in great shape and reports from coaches have been positive.

Ladarius Green is another physical freak who stands 6'6” 238lbs and runs a blazing 4.53 forty. Green has shown well both as a pass catcher and a blocker at the tight end position, playing behind one of the NFL's best ever tight ends, Antonio Gates. Finally a bonafide starter, Green's upside is immense and he should dominate any safety or linebacker trying to cover him.

The sleeper of the crew is veteran Darrius Heyward-Bey who stand 6'2”, 210lbs and still runs close to the 4.30 forty he ran at the combine years ago. If Coates falters, the Steelers won't think twice about turning to DHB, and as Rotoworld's Richard Hribar mentioned on a recent Footballguys podcast, he might just be this seasons Ted Ginn, who did nothing but catch deep touchdowns all season long for the Panthers.

Right now I see Wheaton playing his complimentary role as the teams wide receiver two, putting up pedestrian wide receiver four numbers in PPR leagues, with Green making his money down the seam and in the redzone at the expense of Wheaton (and maybe Antonio Brown) and with Coates (or possibly DHB) putting up a Ted Ginnian 44/739/10 line.

The health of Le'Veon Bell’s knee is something to track closely. So far all signs have been positive and he claims that he is already running and cutting.  If all goes well, he should be ready for the start of the season, but with knee injuries, setbacks are always possible. It is imperative for every Bell owner to grab DeAngelo Williams, who currently has an ADP in the 10th round. It would even behoove Bell owners to be aggressive in acquiring Williams as early as the 9th, since together they combine to be the top running back in fantasy. 

San Diego Chargers

After a strong start last season, this team was decimated by injuries. By mid-season they were starting third string linemen and third string wide receivers. This is yet another team that just needs health in order to perform well. But there have also been some solid upgrades. An already decent offensive line was made better with the signing of Bears' center Matt Slauson, a proven leader.

On offense, the team added a bonafide deep threat in Travis Benjamin who should open up the field for both Keenan Allen and Steve Johnson. Benjamin is a better standard, best-ball and DFS receiver where he will score three touchdowns some weeks and have just 2 catches for 20 yards in others.

Stevie Johnson struggled as the teams number one receiver last year, just as Randall Cobb did in Green Bay, proving that running an offense through a slot receiver is not very easy. But he acclimated himself well to Phillip Rivers and should provide good WR3 PPR value this season that saw a lesser talent in Eddie Royal score 8 touchdowns in this offense under returning Offensive Coordinator Ken Whisenhunt. If you don't believe in Johnson's talents, check out this piece by our own Matt Harmon.

The true breakout player on this team is fourth year receiver Keenan Allen who was on pace for a 134/1,450/8 line before he went down in Week 8 last season with a lacerated kidney. I preached last pre-season that he had Antonio Brown upside and he was proving me right. The only reason he isn't considered amongst the top tier yet and the only reason he was drafted in the third round in the NFL draft is because he ran a 4.71 forty at his pro day after not being able to run the forty at the combine due to a broken ankle. Trust me when I tell you he plays much faster than that and only ran such a poor forty due to his broken ankle. He has a shot to finish as a Top 5 wide receiver this year.

Tennessee Titans

Dorial Green-Beckham is a big time talent that is in danger of becoming Justin Hunter 2.0.  Standing 6'5”, 237lbs with 4.49 forty jets DGB has Calvin Johnson type theoretical upside. He's a very fluid runner that eats up yards because of size and did average 17.2 yards per catch last season. Unfortunately he was prone to lapses and things haven't completely clicked just yet.

HC Mike Mularkey has tried to motivate DGB to put in more effort before camp by playing him behind rookie Tajae Sharpe during OTA's.  It seems to be working as DGB has said that he intends to spend the time before camp mastering the playbook so he can play fast once camp opens. At his current ADP of 8.08, he's a major boom or bust play. The boom is just so tantalizing though. 

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