Fantasy Football 2014: Highlighting the Biggest Takeaways from NFL Minicamps
The offseason just kicked into a higher gear, as teams went from optional organized team activities to mandatory minicamps. With it comes some tangible news with which to mold fantasy football opinions.
Granted, opinions are constantly in flux, and offseason practices aren't exactly preseason games. But there have been some interesting goings-on, as teams have begun minicamps, on and off the field.
Here are 10 early takeaways from minicamps that could have an impact in the fantasy football realm this fall.
Knowshon Moreno Off to a Slow Start
And Joe Philbin has already acknowledged that Moreno’s fitness probably needs some improvement.
Moreno, for his part, agrees.
“I’m definitely not there,” Moreno said when asked by The Miami Herald if he’s where he needs to be physically. “This is just the beginning. It’s just the beginning, getting your feet wet, and when you have time off, working at those little things, getting back to where you need to be, and once camp comes, it’ll be good.”
Perhaps that is why he is stuck practicing with the third- and fourth-string players in minicamp.
It's unlikely that will remain the case as the season approaches, but Moreno is certainly off to a slow start in Miami. He was the de facto starter once he was signed, thanks to a lackluster year by Dolphins running backs in 2013, but it seems he has opened a door for others to steal playing time.
Namely, Lamar Miller has looked good thus far, while Moreno has stumbled out of the blocks. Miller was a big disappointment last season, but an improved line and offensive coordinator could do wonders for the third-year back.
All this to say, Moreno should give fantasy owners pause right now. If he works his way back into game shape before training camp, he figures to be the starter in Week 1 and provide a decent fantasy output. But if he continues to integrate into the offense slowly, he may be in for a timeshare.
Jordan Matthews May Have Been Overhyped Early
There was some celebration among draft analysts and fantasy football aficionados when the Philadelphia Eagles drafted receiver Jordan Matthews.
The Vanderbilt product is set to replace DeSean Jackson, whom the Eagles cut earlier this offseason. Even though Matthews isn't nearly the same kind of player as Jackson, he is a big receiver with great hands who could do big things in the NFL.
Just don't place a big bet on him as a rookie, at least as Geoff Mosher of CSN Philly puts it:
In the same vein, comparisons between Jordan Matthews and T.O. -- or any top-flight wideout -- are a wee bit overboard. Matthews is doing a nice job catching passes and seems like a hardworking, determined guy, but I’d be real careful about sky-high expectations for the kid in Year 1.
Two AFC scouts told me Matthews struggled at the Senior Bowl against press coverage, which isn’t a big deal since he wasn’t among the first seven receivers drafted and wasn’t a first-round pick.
The reality is that Matthews is at least behind Jeremy Maclin and Riley Cooper, with Arrelious Benn and fellow rookie Josh Huff to contend with as well. It seems like a better idea to draft a receiver with guaranteed playing time than to take Matthews this year, at least until we know more about the depth chart.
Aaron Dobson Is Behind the Eight Ball
The wide receiver position is still a bit unsettled in New England, with second-year receivers Aaron Dobson, Josh Boyce and Kenbrell Thompkins vying for playing time this season along with newcomer Brandon LaFell. Unfortunately for Dobson, he is already behind the eightball this offseason.
Dobson is unlikely to participate in New England's minicamp, allowing his peers and rivals to pull ahead, with more practice reps to go around. Per Nick Underhill of Masslive.com, Dobson is recovering from foot surgery he had in March.
The surgery has a recovery time of up to three months, which means he could be out until training camp hits in full force. With so many receivers vying for playing time with quarterback Tom Brady, this was a blow to Dobson and potential fantasy owners.
Unless he makes up for it quickly, later this preseason, Dobson may be too risky to draft over other receivers near him in value.
Vernon Davis and Jimmy Graham Owners Need Not Be Worried
Tight ends Jimmy Graham and Vernon Davis—the two top fantasy scorers from a year ago—are embroiled in very different contract disputes that are keeping them from attending minicamp. Is there anything to be worried about?
The likelihood either of them misses any significant time is low. Davis seems hell-bent on a new contract, and he may well hold out into training camp.
Graham isn't attending minicamp due to the arbitration hearing surrounding his franchise-tag designation, which should be decided soon.
Neither situation should really concern you as a fantasy owner right now. Despite their absences at minicamps, these are great players on established offenses with a rapport with their quarterbacks. They'll be fine.
Marshawn Lynch Rides Again
Marshawn Lynch's fantasy stock has taken a nosedive in recent weeks.
Once considered a consensus top-four running back, Lynch has taken a tumble thanks to a strong performance by second-year back Christine Michael and a short-lived holdout.
Lynch was absent at Seattle's organized team activities—optional workouts, to be sure, but still noteworthy—as part of a bid to get a new contract. He went even further, intimating he was "contemplating retirement," per Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (via John Breech of CBSSports.com).
Whether or not Lynch was bluffing is now irrelevant, though—he showed up for minicamp, according to Ryan Wilson of CBS Sports.
This is good news for fantasy owners, though how much remains to be seen. Seattle offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell did say earlier this offseason that the backfield would be in a timeshare, though he later clarified he meant in preseason workouts, per Brady Henderson of MyNorthwest.com.
Lynch is the best back in Seattle, but it stands to reason the Seahawks will work in a bit of a timeshare during the year. He is 28 years old, and there is no denying the talent Michael brings to the table.
Even so, it's difficult to advocate bypassing Lynch in the first round of your fantasy draft, unless you sit at the top of the order. The likelihood is that Lynch opens up the season as the starter and will still garner the majority of touches in that backfield, barring further developments this offseason.
Jordan Reed Is Healthy and Turning Heads
Tight end Jordan Reed was on his way to a nice rookie season before injuries struck.
The former Florida Gator was only able to play nine games total before he suffered a concussion. He still wound up leading all rookies with 45 catches for 499 yards while adding three touchdowns in that span.
His rookie season sparked injury concerns for Reed going forward. For now, those injuries are behind him, and he already looks fantastic in Washington, per Chris Russell of ESPN980.com:
Fellow tight end and the much more important one, Jordan Reed had another eye-opening day. Kirk Cousins drilled a strike to him as he was wide open. We mentioned the coverage of Meriweather on one play and Amerson on another, but Reed is going to be such a big part of this offense if he can stay healthy.
If he can stay healthy, Reed could have a huge fantasy season. Of course, if the buzz is building for him now, he might be too expensive by the time your real draft rolls around.
Nick Foles Is Continuing Where He Left off
One of the more intriguing storylines in fantasy football this offseason will be whether Nick Foles will be able to build on his fantastic season or if he will regress in 2014.
Foles came out of nowhere to average the sixth-most fantasy points per game last season, but some question whether he was merely a product of his offense or if he can do it again in 2014. Thus far this offseason, it seems like Foles wasn't a one-year wonder, per Geoff Mosher of CSN Philly:
Nick Foles made a few nice throws on the run, moving to his right side. It’s one of the strengths he’s shown in his first two years, but it’s become more recognizable now that he’s getting all the first-team reps.
On one pass in team drills he moved to his right, kept his eyes downfield and found Jeremy Maclin sitting in a zone about 15 yards downfield for a connection.
It will be interesting to see how Foles fares without his top receiver from a year ago. What's more, minicamp practices are hardly game situations. How will Foles react when the bullets are flying this year?
Even so, it is an encouraging start for Foles and his potential fantasy owners. Taking him will require a relatively significant investment, especially when compared to a year ago—he is currently being taken as the seventh quarterback off the board over at MyFantasyLeague.com.
So far, it seems that you will get a nice return on that investment.
Geno Smith or Michael Vick? Few Answers so Far
Despite statements to the contrary by his head coach, Michael Vick says he's not in a quarterback competition, at least not in the traditional sense, according to Lorenzo Reyes of USA Today.
Coach Rex Ryan said in March, the month when Vick signed with the Jets, that there would be an open competition between the quarterbacks while opining Smith was "going to be hard to beat out."
Smith took the first-team repetitions during position and team drills during Tuesday's practice while Vick lined up with the backups. ...
We're not competing with one another," Vick said. "We're competing with ourselves. I've got to be a better Michael Vick today than I was yesterday.
"So it's a constant battle with yourself. When you start trying to compete with other guys, it all goes haywire. You can't do that."
Vick might be losing the battle to himself if minicamp practices are any indication.
According to Dan Consentino of NJ.com, Vick and Smith have been "fairly even" thus far. Others haven't painted such a pretty picture for Vick, though. Bart Hubbuch of the New York Post tweeted that the veteran quarterback has looked awful at minicamp thus far.
Smith certainly has the advantage of knowing the offense, even if he had a wildly inconsistent rookie year. He hasn't been terribly impressive either, however, and Vick might close the gap quickly once he fully acclimates to his new team.
Neither really seems like a viable fantasy option at this point. Vick is certainly the more enticing of the two from a fantasy standpoint, given what we have seen from him in the past. But it seems more likely that Smith wins the job.
Even with an improved arsenal, there are many quarterbacks who are better options to take in fantasy leagues.
Paul Richardson Is Making an Early Impression in Seattle
The Seattle Seahawks needed some help at wide receiver this offseason, and they drafted some in the form of Paul Richardson out of Colorado.
The speedy receiver was brought in to stretch the field for the Seahawks. The question is whether he would get much of an opportunity to do so as a rookie.
Percy Harvin, Doug Baldwin and Jermaine Kearse figure to be the top guys on the depth chart, not to mention Sidney Rice, who could get some play if he can finally stay healthy. So far, however, Richardson is making an impression that might be difficult to ignore if he keeps it up.
Here is what Bob Condotta of The Seattle Times had to say about Richardson as Seattle's minicamp got rolling:
But Richardson, who has missed time this offseason because of minor injuries, showed the speed that made him coveted.
He was able to free himself from starting cornerback Byron Maxwell over the middle for a catch, then came back a few plays later, found an opening in the middle of a zone and hauled in a pass from Russell Wilson. His burst really stands out, even to the untrained eye.
Richardson will have to prove he is more than just a minicamp deep threat if he is going to seriously vie for playing time, though. If he plays his way to the No. 3 receiver role or there is an injury in front of him on the depth chart, though, he will be well worth a late-round flier in fantasy leagues everywhere.
Levine Toilolo Is No Tony Gonzalez
Looking for some late-round value at tight end? Think Levine Toilolo can fill Tony Gonzalez's shoes in Atlanta?
Granted, who could possibly live up to the Hall of Fame tight end? Toilolo figures to step in to the starting role in Atlanta, but his production will be a far cry from his predecessor's. That may be self-evident, but his teammates paint a picture that says "stay away," per Jay Adams of AtlantaFalcons.com:
Ryan has said that even Gonzalez's heir apparent Levine Toilolo won't be asked to do the same things as Gonzalez.
White was asked Tuesday about replacing the future Hall-of-Fame tight end and the wideout said he'd be doing his part to pick up the slack: "I don't think it'll be too much different. We'll probably stay in a lot of three wideout, four-wideout sets. We lost Tony, but we've got Harry (Douglas). We've got Devin Hester, and those guys are really quick, fast, can-make-you-miss guys."
Toilolo might be a good fantasy starter for one or two weeks in the year, but it will be difficult to predict when he might cash in with a touchdown. It's likely he will simply be a fantasy disappointment.