Latest Fantasy Football Stock Watch, Post-Minicamps Edition
It's the calm before the proverbial storm.
The last lull in the NFL's offseason is underway, as teams break from OTAs before the mayhem begins in earnest when training camps start next month.
The madness is beginning for fantasy owners as well. With each passing week between now and September, more and more leagues will hold their annual drafts. Some leagues, especially existing dynasties, have already drafted.
In many respects, it makes sense to wait as long as possible. Any number of camp battles have yet to be resolved, and there's nothing worse than seeing a July draft completely annihilated by an August injury.
Of course, any fantasy owner worth his salt isn't just sitting on his hands right now. Preparation is a key to success in fantasy football, and there have already been a number of developments that could significantly impact the fantasy value of several players in 2014.
With that in mind, here's a look around the NFL at some of minicamp's biggest winners and losers, and how news from the past few weeks has affected their fantasy value for the upcoming campaign.
RISING UP: Robert Griffin, QB, Washington Redskins
What a difference a year makes.
At this point a season ago, Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin was only a spectator. The ACL tear that ended Griffin's rookie year prevented him from working with the team over the summer, and the result was a 2013 campaign that landed somewhere between awful and horrific.
In 2014, however, it's been a different story. Griffin showed up to OTAs fully healthy, with a new throwing motion and brimming with confidence, according to Dan Hanzus of NFL.com:
"Our expectations, are always, there is only one happy team at the end of the year," Griffin said. "You're either the Super Bowl champion, or you're not the Super Bowl champion, and we want to be Super Bowl champions. It starts one game at a time, and a week at a time, and we've taken care of that on this movement that we like to call, and we are looking forward to training camp.
And what exactly is "the movement?"
"The movement is just an identity for us," RGIII explained. "What's going to be our identity? 'The Hogs' had their identity. We're not the Hogs. We're a fast, explosive football team both on offense and defense."
Mind you, Griffin was a top-five fantasy quarterback two years ago from a points-per-game standpoint, and that was with a much less impressive array of weapons in the passing game.
Now, with wide receiver DeSean Jackson in town, tight end Jordan Reed healthy and a head coach in Jay Gruden who just coaxed Andy Dalton to a top-three fantasy finish, Griffin's fantasy value is trending upward in a big way.
SLIDING DOWN: Johnny Manziel, QB, Cleveland Browns
According to the early average draft position data at My Fantasy League, Cleveland Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel is currently the 17th quarterback being drafted, just behind Andy Dalton of the Cincinnati Bengals and ahead of Super Bowl champions Ben Roethlisberger, Eli Manning and Joe Flacco.
An argument could be made for that call in dynasty leagues, where fantasy owners have one eye on both the future and the present.
But that ADP is for redraft leagues, and that's just nuts.
Yes, Manziel was an electrifying player at Texas A&M, and in theory Manziel's scrambling ability could be a huge boost to his fantasy value.
That is, if he were starting.
The problem is, as of yet there's been no sign that's going to happen, at least early in the season.
In fact, despite the fact that Hoyer's been limited in practice as he rehabs, head coach Mike Pettine made it clear to Mary Kay Cabot of the Northeast Ohio Media Group that when training camp opens next month, Hoyer will start atop the depth chart:
"It's been hard to evaluate because Brian hasn't been able to take the 11-on-11 reps, but when we put the depth chart together, Brian will be No. 1,'' said Pettine at the conclusion of mandatory minicamp.
Pettine agrees with general manager Ray Farmer that Hoyer, who's eight months removed from surgery to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament, is substantially better than Manziel right now -- but is confident Manziel can catch up during the open competition in camp.
"I think when Ray made the comment, (it was) just because of the circumstances, that Brian had been here for those seven, eight weeks before the draft even started,'' said Pettine. "That was essentially a head start and I don't think it's insurmountable. Brian is securely ahead of him right now, but we will compete and we will decide."
Granted, things could change between now and September, and it's still reasonable to assume that at some point in 2014 Manziel will start a game.
However, given Manziel's struggles in minicamps, there's been no indication that's coming anytime soon, which leaves Manziel's redraft value floundering right now.
RISING UP: Jonathan Stewart, RB, Carolina Panthers
OK, now stop looking at me like that. I'm not crazy. Really.
Yes, it's been a long time since Carolina Panthers running back Jonathan Stewart rushed for over 1,100 yards and found the end zone 10 times back in 2009.
Yes, Stewart has struggled with innumerable lower-body injuries in recent years, missing 17 games over the past two seasons.
Yes, last year Stewart set career lows in attempts and yardage, carrying the ball fewer than 50 times all season.
However, the 27-year-old turned heads in OTAs. As Joe Person of The Charlotte Observer reported, "Running back Jonathan Stewart, plagued by ankle and knee injuries the past two years, showed great burst every time he touched the ball."
Mind you, DeAngelo Williams is 31 years old and, just like Stewart, hasn't cracked the 1,000-yard mark since 2009.
Also, there's a great deal of uncertainty surrounding the Carolina passing game this year, and the Panthers were already seventh in the NFL in rushing attempts in 2013.
This isn't to say that you should run out and draft Stewart posthaste. However, at the very least keep an eye on reports from training camp. If Stewart continues this momentum into August...
Well, cheap running back depth is worth its weight in gold.
SLIDING DOWN: Knowshon Moreno, RB Miami Dolphins
Last year, Knowshon Moreno finally seemed to live up to his first-round billing. For the first time in his five-year NFL career, Moreno topped 1,000 yards on the ground, finishing the season as a top-five fantasy back.
Since then though, it's been all downhill.
After the Denver Broncos expressed little interest in bringing Moreno back, he signed a one-year deal with the Miami Dolphins.
Then came the reports that Moreno arrived in camp out of shape. While Lamar Miller worked with the first team, Moreno practiced with the reserves.
But wait, it gets better!:
And...Dolphins RB Knowshon Moreno will undergo arthroscopic knee surgery this week and miss four to five weeks, per ESPN sources.
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) June 23, 2014
The balky knee explains some of Moreno's struggles this spring, but it does little to assuage the growing doubts enveloping Moreno after his career year in 2013.
And before you start thinking that Miller could be a sneaky play this season, the good news didn't end with Moreno:
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) June 23, 2014
That means five new opening day starters for the league's worst offensive line in 2013. Outside free-agent acquisition Branden Albert, the other four presumed starters have a combined eight starts in the NFL.
RISING UP: Jordan Matthews, WR, Philadelphia Eagles
The Philadelphia Eagles were last year's "worst-to-first" surprise, rising from the NFC East basement to capture the division in Chip Kelly's first year at the helm.
Kelly hasn't been shy about putting his stamp on the team. He made that abundantly clear early in 2014, when the team surprisingly released DeSean Jackson, who led the team in receiving in 2013.
The Eagles took steps to address Jackson's departure in May's NFL draft, selecting Jordan Matthews of Vanderbilt in the second round.
The youngster didn't waste any time making an impression on his new team:
In limited media access to OTAs so far, Jordan Matthews has looked like the best WR on the team, in my opinion, and it hasn't been close.
— Jimmy Kempski (@JimmyKempski) June 10, 2014
Like Owens, Matthews stands 6-foot-3. Also like Owens, Matthews is known for being a hard worker and a workout nut. Throw in the fact that they both wear No. 81, and it is hard not to think it is Owens out there catching passes during Eagles practices.
The latest arms race-type fad in this league has teams clamoring for big, physical defensive backs in order to emulate the world champion Seattle Seahawks. But the natural answer to that will be even bigger and stronger receivers. Matthews has three inches and about 13 pounds on Maclin, and he's one hell of a physical presence.
Granted, there's still a long way to go before Week 1. It's relatively rare for a rookie wide receiver to make a big fantasy dent and Matthews isn't the first rookie wideout being selected in most fantasy drafts.
Of course, there's a difference between relatively rare and impossible (ask Keenan Allen's fantasy owners last year), and more often than not the first rookie wideout taken doesn't wind up finishing there (ask Tavon Austin's fantasy owners last year).
SLIDING DOWN: Zac Stacy, RB, St. Louis Rams
This one's kind of a toughie, because St. Louis Rams running back Zac Stacy hasn't really done anything "wrong" in 2014.
Far from it. Stacy was a hit for the Rams and a revelation for fantasy owners as a rookie last year, posting top-10 fantasy numbers among running backs over the season's second half.
However, from an NFL perspective, Stacy wasn't as effective. The former Vanderbilt standout averaged only 3.9 yards per carry, and Stacy ranked a mediocre 31st among NFL running backs last year, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
Those numbers may have influenced the Rams' decision to select Auburn's Tre Mason in the third round of May's NFL draft. Mason's selection, in turn, has had Stacy's dynasty owners wringing their hands since the moment it happened.
Offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer's recent comments to Nick Wagoner of ESPN did little to calm their anxiety:
Well right now, competition is for who’s the starter. We’re just going to let them all roll and see what happens. You saw some guys that worked with the young guys today. Zac’s obviously a really, really good player, but we’re going to create competition for all the guys. That’s a long way off, but we know we have a good stable group of backs and they all have different skill sets, which we’ll try to use throughout the course of the year.
Granted, talk of "competition" in June is classic coachspeak, and Mason hasn't even taken part in a full-contact practice yet, much less a game. The idea of the rookie supplanting Stacy altogether by the beginning of the season is likely a long shot.
The thing is, Mason doesn't have to pass Stacy to ruin him for fantasy owners. With Stacy being drafted inside the top 15 at his position in many early fantasy drafts this year, it wouldn't take much siphoning of touches from Mason to make it awfully hard for Stacy to justify his draft-day asking price.
One year after half of the top 10 preseason running backs in PPR leagues busted, this isn't the kind of backfield news fantasy owners want to hear.
RISING UP: Heath Miller, TE, Pittsburgh Steelers
Two years ago, Pittsburgh Steelers tight end Heath Miller was putting the finishing touches on a career season. The 31-year-old had set career highs in yardage and touchdown catches. Miller was a top-five fantasy option in leagues that award a point for catches.
Miller's 2012 campaign had a bitter ending though, with an ACL tear ruining an otherwise great season.
That same ACL tear clearly affected Miller's play a season ago. His receiving yardage was its lowest since 2010. Miller's one scoring grab was a career low.
For many fantasy owners, that was it. The end of the line for Heath Miller as a fantasy-relevant player.
Still, the reports of Miller's demise may have been premature.
Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was talking up his tight end recently, while speaking with Alan Robinson of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review:
He has looked healthy right from the get-go, looks kind of like the old Heath. One of the practices, he caught a pass about 12 yards downfield and made a move and actually made a guy miss, and he finished all the way down the field. That was the Heath Miller we love to see.
Yes, Miller's the wrong side of 30, but he isn't ancient. He also has a great rapport with his quarterback in a Steelers offense that just lost wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders.
At 100 percent (or even close to it), Miller's an excellent bet to sail right past his early average draft position of 25th among tight ends at My Fantasy League.
SLIDING DOWN: Doug Martin, RB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The running back position, once far and away the most valuable in fantasy football, has now become the diciest bet in the game.
To see just how quickly the fantasy fortunes of backs can change, one need look no further than Doug Martin of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
As a rookie in 2012, the "Muscle Hamster" topped 1,400 yards on the ground, finishing as a top-five fantasy option. Martin was the first overall pick in more than a few fantasy drafts in 2013.
The results were a disaster. Martin came out of the gate running in molasses and then got hurt. Martin averaged an anemic 3.6 yards a carry, and gained less than 500 yards on the ground.
Despite last year's meltdown Martin was still being selected as a low-end fantasy RB1 in many early drafts, but as more time passes that's becoming a tougher and tougher pill to swallow.
That's because reports have been all over the place the past several weeks regarding Martin's 2014 workload.
First, it was Tampa offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford telling Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times that the Buccaneers plan to "alternate" backs in 2014:
I think you have to alternate. Even when we had two, 1,000-yard rushers (at California), J.J. Arrington was a 2,000-yard rusher and and we had a couple times guys had a thousand yards apiece. But I don’t believe that one back can carry the load. It’s just too physical. I think you probably need to have two to three guys to bring different things to the table. But I think you at least need to have two to be able to spell them here and there and keep them healthy and tat type of thing.
Soon after, head coach Lovie Smith helped lower the collective blood pressure of fantasy owners ever so slightly, insisting to the Times' Greg Auman that Martin will remain a big part of the team's plans:
What I've said is I like Doug a lot. Doug's a good football player. Everywhere I've ever been, if you look at my history, our history, we've played more than one running back. We had a great running back in Thomas Jones, and we drafted Cedric Benson and played them both. One running back just can't make it through the season.
Throw in the third-round selection of West Virginia's Charles Sims by the Buccaneers, and the odds of Martin seeing the 368 touches he got two years ago (or even 350) aren't looking good.
RISING UP: Toby Gerhart, RB, Jacksonville Jaguars
There may not be a starting running back in the National Football League who fantasy owners are less enthusiastic about than Toby Gerhart of the Jacksonville Jaguars.
However, savvy fantasy owners should reconsider, as it appears there may be more to Gerhart than meets the eye.
For starters, the Jaguars have raved about Gerhart since signing the fifth-year pro. As Ryan O'Halloran of The Florida Times-Union reported, the Jags have lauded Gerhart's receiving skills and ability to gain yards after contact, while touting the former Stanford star as an every-down back:
"He’s a horse," explained RBs coach Terry Richardson. "He’s a big guy, and I talked to one of his former [position] coaches, and he was saying Toby had the strongest legs he’s been around in terms of his leg drive and leg power."
Gerhart, for his part, told USA Today (via Mike Coppinger of NFL.com) that he's ready to carry the load:
Gus (Bradley) comes from the Seattle Seahawks' model of playing good defense, relying on the run game where Marshawn Lynch was their 'Beast Mode' out there. Hopefully, I'll be the 'Beast Mode' down here for the Jaguars. I want to be a guy who helps turn this program around with a physical, punishing offense.
The Jaguars' coaching staff apparently aren't the only people who think Gerhart can pull it off:
Here's a name that keeps coming up in my talks with personnel guys around the league: Toby Gerhart. High expectations for 2014.
— Daniel Jeremiah (@MoveTheSticks) June 25, 2014
Yes, Gerhart isn't the most explosive back in the NFL, nor is the Jacksonville offense going to be confused with the Broncos any time soon.
With that said though, Gerhart has averaged 4.7 yards a carry over his career. He can catch the ball out of the backfield and is good in pass protection. In 2011, when Gerhart saw the most action of his career due to Adrian Peterson's injury, he ranked ninth among NFL running backs in yards after contact per attempt.
There's a lot of potential there for a player with an average draft position of RB27 at My Fantasy League.
SLIDING DOWN: Terrance West, RB, Cleveland Browns
On some levels, this isn't a accurate label for rookie running back Terrance West. West's fantasy stock is hardly falling. Quite the opposite.
There isn't a more popular "sleeper" pick in all of fantasy football this year. The third-round pick of the Cleveland Browns has appeared on so many sleeper lists that he is officially 100 percent awake.
And that's the problem. As the hype around West continues to build, the youngster's ADP continues to climb. In a recent industry draft I participated in (with other fantasy writers and high-stakes contest winners), West was drafted at the end of the sixth round.
The really eye-popping part? West's ascent doesn't have anything to do with West.
It isn't like West has been phenomenal in OTAs (although reports have been positive). No, all it took was Ben Tate being held out of some workouts for fantasy owners to start logic-leaping like a kangaroo on meth.
Since Tate (he of the rather lengthy injury history) is nicked up already, it's only a matter of time until he's out of action and West is starting. Since West certainly looks the part of an NFL feature back, it's only a matter of time until he's a weekly fantasy starter.
Granted, neither of those presumptions is wacky in and of itself. Tate has had all kinds of problems staying on the field. West is a talented young back with a great combination of speed and power.
However, some drafters are selecting West as if those presumptions are certainties.
Sure, West looks the part, but he hasn't even been hit in practice yet, much less a game. Tate, on the other hand, has shown the ability to be an effective running back in the NFL, to the tune of 4.7 yards a carry over his three-year career.
Even if Tate did go down, the assumption that West would assume a feature role is a dangerous one, especially with fellow rookie Isaiah Crowell in the fold.
In fantasy football, success is about finding value, and right now Terrance West's rising price tag is causing his to steadily drop.