NFL training camps are as important to fantasy football draft preparations as Questlove is to the Roots.
Starting jobs are decided, depth charts are shuffled, players are released, holdouts are signed, injuries sideline superstars and rookies learn the ropes.
Fantasy football owners’ cheat sheets and draft lists depend a lot upon what transpires during training camps and in preseason games. And even though only one week’s worth of exhibition games have been played and guys have barely started sweating at camps, many questions fantasy owners had have already been answered.
So here are four key questions that have already been answered in training camps:
Who will be the Cleveland Browns’ starting quarterback?
The answer is Brandon Weeden, which should be no surprise unless you are a diehard Texas Longhorn supporter, the president of the Colt McCoy fan club or delusional.
Weeden was not brought in to hold a clipboard or play catch with Seneca Wallace. He was drafted so he could step in and start right away, and obviously the Browns saw all they needed to see within the first week of camp because Weeden won the job without even playing in a preseason game.
McCoy got a raw deal the last two years because he was surrounded by about as many playmakers as Tony Parker is on France’s Olympic basketball team. Cleveland’s running backs and receivers were among the worst corps of skilled position players in the NFL last season.
But with third pick overall Trent Richardson starting at tailback (once he returns from his minor knee surgery) and super sophomore Greg Little and a couple fast rookies as the wide receivers, Weeden is in a better position to succeed and put up decent fantasy numbers.
Weeden will not be a top-10 or even top-15 fantasy quarterback this season, not when he has to face the above-average defenses of Pittsburgh, Baltimore and Cincinnati a collective six times. But it would not be surprising to me to see him have a season similar to what Cincinnati’s Andy Dalton had in 2011.
Is Ryan Mathews durable enough to be a top-10 fantasy RB?
This question was answered in one seemingly harmless carry. In San Diego’s opening preseason game, Mathews took a toss, sprinted through a sizable hole, was squashed by a couple defenders and immediately had his clavicle broken.
It’s official: Mathews is not the Brett Favre of running backs.
Mathews has been hampered by nagging injuries in the past which cost him four games in 2010 and two more in 2011. But when he was healthy last season he proved he had the makings of a big-time fantasy RB because of his speed and receiving ability. His 1,546 combined yards made him appear like a late first-round pick or early second-round pick in 2012 fantasy drafts.
With Mike Tolbert in Carolina and out of his way, Mathews was primed for a humongous year—if he could stay healthy. Fantasy owners knew that “if” was bigger than Aldon Smith’s appetite for sacks, and this clavicle injury confirmed our worst fears. He will miss four to six weeks and will probably miss a game or two at the start of the season.
Is DeMarco Murray the top tailback for the Dallas Cowboys?
There was some slight doubt surrounding this question heading into training camp. While Murray had burst onto the fantasy scene by torching front sevens for 601 yards during a four-game span in the middle of the season, he slumped once Felix Jones returned and then ended up fracturing his ankle.
Meanwhile, Jones ran like Tony Dorsett down the stretch when Murray was absent. Jones rushed for 100 yards in back-to-back December contests and made a valid attempt to be considered the No. 1 RB in 2012.
But any chance Jones had of dashing past Murray and reclaiming his starting role was flushed down the fantasy drain when Jones failed Dallas’ conditioning test at the start of camp. Forget about him overtaking Murray on the depth chart. Now Jones has to prove he can be the backup and the top kickoff returner.
Jones, like the aforementioned Mathews, has been labeled as injury-prone throughout his career and rightly so. Obviously coming off offseason shoulder surgery and not being in condition at the onset of camp does not help him. The No. 1 RB spot is Murray’s to lose.
Will Maurice Jones-Drew’s holdout be long and ugly?
While Baltimore’s Ray Rice and Chicago’s Matt Forte signed contract extensions so they could finally be happy and get to training camp on time, Jones-Drew did not and does not look like he will be inking a new deal anytime soon.
There had been a prevailing thought that his holdout would not last long once Jacksonville’s camp started because he would be facing fines. Losing money has not scared him. He is still nowhere to be found while Jacksonville installs its new offense under new head coach Mike Mularkey.
Fantasy owners can already see the writing on the wall when it comes to what will probably happen to Jones-Drew once he does sign and starts playing in games that count. They just have to remember what happened to Tennessee’s Chris Johnson when the same scenario played out with him last August.
Johnson held out for most of training camp, and for the first half of the season he ran like he had Vince Wilfork wrapped around his ankles. His did not regain his explosiveness until late in the season and was a shell of his former self. He made fantasy owners cry like emotional girls who watch The Notebook every time it is on cable.
No camp could lead to slower legs and possible injuries for Jones-Drew. And adjusting to a new offense will not help, either. The odds of MJD successfully defending his rushing title are dwindling by the day, so he will likely be slotted lower on people’s cheat sheets the longer he holds out.