Fantasy Football 2013: What Have We Learned from Early Camp Buzz, Injuries?
Training camps are underway across the National Football League, and Sunday's Hall of Fame game between the the Dallas Cowboys and Miami Dolphins marks the beginning of the 2013 preseason.
Fantasy draft season is also ramping into high gear, and one of the most important steps in insuring draft day success is keeping up to date on the latest news on injuries and camp battles.
After all, nothing sinks a draft quicker than finding out after the fact a player you were counting on to contribute to your squad is either dinged up or demoted.
Have no fear, intrepid drafter, because we have you covered.
Here's a look at the biggest fantasy football news from the first 10 days of training camp, and how it impacts draft strategy.
Jeremy Maclin Lost for the Year
It didn't take long for the injury bug to bite hard in Philadelphia. Wide receiver Jeremy Maclin, who led the team with 857 yards and seven touchdown catches in 2012, tore his ACL in practice and will miss the entire 2013 season.
Maclin's loss is a big blow to the Eagles and fantasy owners who already drafted the 25-year-old, but the bigger question now is what Maclin's injury means for the other pass-catchers on the Eagles.
On some level, it's something of a difficult question to answer, mostly because we have yet to see Chip Kelly's offense in action in Philly. Without knowing how the offense will look to distribute the ball, a lot of this is purely speculative.
The biggest beneficiary of the Maclin injury from a fantasy standpoint would appear to be DeSean Jackson. Jackson is now the unquestioned top receiver for the Eagles, and Maclin's loss should mean a significant bump in targets.
Kelly told the Eagles' website that Jackson is "the ultimate super ball. He bounces all around the field," and if he takes to Kelly's offense, 2013 could also see Jackson bounce back into the top 25 fantasy wideouts.
Maclin's replacement isn't known at this time. It was originally believed that it would be Riley Cooper, but as Marc Sessler of NFL.com reports, Cooper has left the team in light of the controversy swirling around his racist remarks.
The team could potentially turn to the likes of Jason Avant or Arrelious Benn, but until the dust settles, that trio of receivers are best left on the waiver wire.
Dennis Pitta Done for the Year
Jeremy Maclin's loss was big for the Eagles, but the loss of tight end Dennis Pitta was an absolute hammerblow for the Baltimore Ravens.
With wide receiver Anquan Boldin now in San Francisco the Ravens were counting on Pitta to be Joe Flacco's primary underneath target, but an end zone collision with a teammate resulted in a fractured hip that ended Pitta's season.
Ed Dickson will now become the Ravens' primary tight end, and the Ravens signed veteran free agent Visanthe Shiancoe, but neither of those players is close to the receiver that Pitta is.
If there's a silver lining in this fantasy-wise, it's that Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce could both see more action, as Baltimore leans more on the running game and short passes to the running backs.
It appears that the team may well be set to do that, as shortly after Pitta went down the team re-signed fullback Vonta Leach, who was the top player in the NFL last year at his position according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
Montee Not Running with the Ball
Heading into the summer, the general consensus was that rookie Montee Ball would be the primary running back for the Denver Broncos in 2013. That belief is reflected in their average draft positions, with Ball going a full five rounds earlier than Ronnie Hillman, according to My Fantasy League.
Well, you see, what had happened was...
What's happened is that Hillman isn't exactly fading into the background as expected. In fact, according to The Denver Post, Hillman has "his arm wrapped tightly around" the starting job at running back for the Broncos right now.
Ball freely admits that he also needs to improve his pass blocking if he's going to stay on the field, telling Mike Klis of the Post, "Honestly, it's 60 percent pass protection, 40 percent running the ball. In the NFL, it's no secret: It's a passing league. And on this team, when you have a great quarterback like we have, you've got to protect him."
Granted, at some point Ball is probably going to become Denver's lead back, Hillman isn't just giving up the first-team gig, and Knowshon Moreno's pass protection skills will all but certainly land him third-down work.
In short, Ball's sixth-round asking price is looking pretty steep at the moment.
Vereen Set to Break Out?
The fantasy stock of Montee Ball may be trending down, but Shane Vereen's arrow is pointing in the opposite direction.
With Danny Woodhead in San Diego and Aaron Hernandez in jail, Vereen is set for a much larger role with the New England Patriots in 2013, and Karen Guregian of The Boston Herald reports that Vereen is being used in a number of ways in training camp.
According to Guregian, the third-year running back has lined up in the backfield, in the slot and outside, as well as functioning as Tom Brady's "safety valve."
This "jack of all trades" role is one that teammate Stevan Ridley believes Vereen can excel in.
“Shane can do whatever the coaches ask him to do. Out of the backfield, or lining up at receiver, he can do it all,” Ridley said. “That’s something he had to do for Cal, and something he’s going to have to do for us.”
Vereen appears to, at the very least, have RB3/Flex potential in standard fantasy football leagues, and, in formats that award a point for receptions, his upside is considerably higher.
Jonathan Stewart Still on the Shelf
There probably isn't a player in the NFL whose draft stock is plummeting faster that Carolina Panthers running back Jonathan Stewart.
The reason for that free-fall is quite simple. Stewart is of no use to fantasy owners if he can't get on the field, and his balky ankles are keeping him off of it.
As Josh Katzowitz of CBS Sports reports, there is currently no timetable for the sixth-year veteran to make his way onto the practice field and off of the PUP list, with a source telling Katzowitz's colleague Dave Richard that "It could be any day or it could carry on into the regular season."
Given Stewart's injury history, it's hard to imagine it being the former, which makes drafting Stewart, as even a fantasy RB4, a very risky proposition.
Meanwhile, the stock of teammate DeAngelo Williams is on the rise, as with every passing day it seems more likely that the 30-year-old will open the season as the Panthers' starter.
Williams may not be as explosive as he once was, but the eighth-year veteran did top 900 total yards and score seven touchdowns last year while averaging 4.3 yards a carry.
There's a measure of risk involved in selecting Williams, but given the very real possibility of Williams opening the season (at least) as the starter and a relatively modest asking price, fantasy's football's top running back in 2008 has become an intriguing RB3 target.