Fantasy Football 2013: Highlighting the Biggest Takeaways from NFL Minicamps
We're almost back to real football.
OTAs and minicamps are complete, and the entire league has a few moments to breathe before training camps start up at the end of July.
Of course, fantasy football drafts are already under way, and everyone is trying to get an edge by going over the news from the just-finished minicamps with a fine-toothed comb.
It's dangerous to read too much into the results of minicamps, given that they have no hitting and nobody wears pads.
But we still did learn some things over the past month, and throughout this article, we'll try to pull some of that useful information to give you a head start in your draft planning.
The Jets Quarterback Situation Still Should Be Avoided
Even subtracting David Garrard from the battle for supremacy under center isn't going to help any fantasy owner here.
Well, perhaps it's more useful to look at it this way: What we saw in minicamp says that this is a situation to stay away from at all costs, yet again.
Sanchez has struggled consistently for the past few years, and Smith is a rookie who will need at least a year to get acclimated to the NFL game.
On top of that, we're not talking about an offense with mounds of catching talent. Santonio Holmes hasn't been the No. 1 receiver the team hoped he would be, Jeremy Kerley is dynamic but limited, Stephen Hill is inconsistent and the tight end position is still unresolved.
Well, perhaps Kellen Winslow has upside, but he also has two battered knees.
This isn't something new, but it is a great reminder that, from a fantasy standpoint, players in the Jets passing offense—especially the quarterbacks—should be avoided.
This Is the Shakiest Patriots Passing Offense We've Seen
Tom Brady isn't usually fazed by the new weapons that each year brings to his passing offense.
Normally, he still has his regulars and relies upon them. Guys like Wes Welker, Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez have been a few of his favorite targets in recent years.
Unfortunately, Welker is gone and Gronkowski is fighting to get back in time for Week 1 and will have back surgery on Tuesday, according to ESPN.com. Brady therefore has a lot of new faces in his offense.
Danny Amendola should be a solid addition, if he stays healthy. However, behind Amendola are a ton of question marks.
Rookies Aaron Dobson and Josh Boyce are intriguing, but rookie receivers tend to struggle. Michael Jenkins has never lived up to his ability and isn't all that effective. Julian Edelman has stepped up in place of Wes Welker before, but can he do it consistently?
Normally, Tom Brady finishes within the top three fantasy quarterbacks every year, without fail.
Brady might finally struggle this season with so many new faces and so many injured weapons.
Still No Clarity in the Green Bay Packers Backfield
A lot of fantasy pundits and owners felt that by drafting Eddie Lacy in the second round and Johnathan Franklin in the fourth round, it meant that the Packers had narrowed the fantasy choices in their backfield down to two rookies.
Then, according to Tyler Dunne of the Journal Sentinel, Alex Green went and had a fantastic minicamp, emerging as the leader for the starting job.
All of which reminds us that there are always things in the spring that won't resonate in the fall.
We shouldn't dismiss Green because he is a talented back. However, you have to assume that Lacy and Franklin will get plenty of work this season, as will DuJuan Harris.
This is beginning to look a lot like a running back committee, which seems to be the case in Green Bay every year.
That said, since people were quick to assume that the rookies were going to walk away with the job, it's important to recognize that minicamps really did nothing to help us figure out who, if anyone, is worth picking up for this season.
Could the Panthers Secondary Be a Great Matchup?
The Carolina Panthers ranked 20th in the league against the pass last year.
That may not improve much this year.
There is some measure of uncertainty as to who the team will be able to rely upon in the defensive backfield going into the regular season. ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas says that while Charles Godfrey is penciled in at one safety spot, the rest of the secondary is a big question mark.
So this will be an area to focus on during training camp.
If the secondary stays chaotic, they could be a great matchup for opposing quarterbacks, tight ends and wide receivers.
Sure, if you have Drew Brees, you are going to roll him out every week, regardless of the defense he faces. However, if you are running guys like Sam Bradford, Josh Freeman or Ryan Tannehill, you'll want to know if they're worth starting when they see the Panthers this season.
So keep an eye on this come July. Will the secondary settle down? Will the front seven step up and get at the quarterback?
If we know that, we'll know how good of a fantasy matchup the Panthers will be this season.
Stay Away from Ted Ginn Jr.
Sticking with the Panthers, let's look at the offense and be honest: The Panthers have Steve Smith and a whole lot of "other guys."
They've added some new faces, but that hasn't helped. They also continue to lack a legitimate No. 2 option for quarterback Cam Newton.
So when fantasy owners hear that new Panther Ted Ginn Jr. "stood out" during minicamp, they might get giddy.
Don't be that guy.
In his six years in the NFL, Ginn has had one decent season, and he is mainly a kick- or punt-return specialist.
He can look good on the field at times, but put him up against good corners or have him get hit by a safety and you can be sure that we'll start seeing a huge regression.
As a fantasy owner, you want to be on the lookout for this year's breakout player, and everyone will want that guy.
Unfortunately, that guy will not be Ginn.
Panthers Run Game Might Be More Straightforward
The good news is that, according to ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas, the Panthers might finally be running a more traditional—and from a fantasy standpoint, more productive—running game.
The bad news is that Jonathan Stewart is battling ankle injuries already.
Could this be the year for DeAngelo Williams to return to prominence in the fantasy football world? You have to admit, for a guy who's paid as well as Williams, he's criminally underused.
Stewart has tremendous talent too, and there isn't a worry (yet) that he will miss training camp or the start of the season. But if he does, Williams has proven that he can play very well.
Coupled with the supposed "straightforward" scheme, Williams could be a fringe No. 1 fantasy running back.
We have to watch Stewart's progress as we hit camp and the preseason, but we may have a clear leader in the backfield if he isn't ready to go.
This Could Be Larry Fitzgerald's Best Season Ever
It staggers the mind that, given how bad his quarterbacks have been throughout the last few years, Larry Fitzgerald has still been a productive receiver.
With new head coach Bruce Arians in town, along with quarterback Carson Palmer, he could put up better numbers than he has in years—or maybe ever.
As ESPN.com's Mike Sando points out in an excellent piece about expectations for Fitzgerald, Arians fired up Reggie Wayne when people thought he was done last year. He could do the same for Fitzgerald.
The Arizona receiver certainly has a lot more left in the tank than Wayne did. The problem has been, and remains, that the rest of the offense is lackluster.
Palmer isn't an elite quarterback. In fact, you can argue that he's incredibly mediocre. He can throw the ball well enough and find Fitzgerald, though. It all comes down to whether or not the offensive line can give him the time to do it. If they can, Fitzgerald will see a lot of Palmer passes thrown his way.
Even this slight bump in quality under center could make Fitzgerald's numbers go sky high in 2013.
Trent Richardson's Health Might Be a Legitimate Concern for Fantasy Owners
Despite the fact that I just picked him up in a fantasy draft, I have some concerns about Trent Richardson heading into this season.
The second-year back can add a pulled shin muscle to the laundry list of bumps and bruises that he has had in his first year-and-a-half as an NFL running back.
As ESPN.com's Jamison Hensley points out, Richardson has yet to play healthy and may never do so.
He will hopefully be right by training camp, but if he isn't, you have to worry about him.
As it stands, you might want to make sure you have a very solid backup for Richardson in case he misses a few games in the 2013 season.
Montee Ball Is the Man at Mile High
We already suspected that the second-round pick out of Wisconsin was going to see a lot of action, but the Broncos cutting ties with Willis McGahee last week makes it almost certain. Ronnie Hillman will get work to be sure, and Ball was always going to get a big share as well. This move just clears the way for the three remaining backs on the roster.
Ball is a versatile, hard-hitting back. He'll probably give way to Hillman on third down while his pass protection gets up to snuff, but he should see a ton of carries and no stacked fronts due to Peyton Manning and the team's passing offense.
Ball could have a tremendous rookie season.
Miami Dolphin Receiver Gibson Is a Guy to Watch, the Running Backs May Not Be
I've been a fan of Brandon Gibson's potential ever since I met him as he was training for the 2009 draft at Elite Athletics in Los Angeles.
He's just never quite found the right spot. He looked solid at times in St. Louis, but he still seemed to be missing something.
He might have finally found his place in Miami. According to ESPN.com's James Walker, since the Dolphins traded Davone Bess to Cleveland, Gibson has played inside and has really hit his stride in minicamp.
Currently, he's stuck behind Mike Wallace and Brian Hartline on the depth chart, and he might have to contend with tight end Dustin Keller as well. That said, if Gibson can be consistent with his hands (an issue he had at times with the Rams), he could become a trusted target for second-year quarterback Ryan Tannehill.
So he is definitely worth keeping an eye on.
Elsewhere, Walker also reports that all three running backs in Miami have been mediocre at best and just flat-out bad at worst. You would expect Mike Gillislee to struggle a little as a rookie, but Daniel Thomas and Lamar Miller have no excuse. Thomas is especially on a short rope, as he was terrible at times in 2012.
The hope is that, minus the pads and against a good run defense with a shaky offensive line, we just did not see these running backs at their best. However, it's enough of a concern to make fantasy owners watch the Miami backfield very carefully.
What did you take away from minicamps this past month? Let us know in the comments below.
Andrew Garda is the former NFC North Lead Writer and a current NFL analyst and video personality for Bleacher Report. He is also a member of the fantasy football staff at Footballguys and the NFL writer at CheeseheadTV.com. You can follow him at @andrew_garda on Twitter.