Fantasy Football Questions Left to Be Answered in Training Camp
A lot of fantasy analysts structure their draft rankings and cheatsheets in the weeks after the NFL draft and before training camp. You know, when the league is at its quietest and every DWI and rolled up dollar bill in a Las Vegas bathroom is headline news.
Then, the preseason comes along and can change everything with injury, position battles and roster management.
We take a look at some of fantasy football's biggest questions left to be answered before fantasy football draft day, highlighting some position battles, looming suspensions, injuries and contract/team disputes. There are a lot more questions out there than anyone can ask, but we do our best to get you updated on the biggies here.
Fire up the mic and tape recorders. This media scrum is under way.
Who Will Be the St. Louis Rams Feature Back: Zac Stacy or Tre Mason?
Before May's NFL draft, you could have made a case for Zac Stacy being a late first-round pick in fantasy. The Rams' third-round selection of Tre Mason caused that to be thrown out the window.
The Rams have told Mason he will compete to be an immediate starter in training camp. Offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer told ESPN.com's Nick Wagoner during OTAs:
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 (June 18). 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.
Stacy was coming off a rookie campaign (973 rushing yards, 141 receiving yards and eight combined touchdowns) that should have made him an unquestioned starter. But the Rams drafted Mason a few rounds earlier than they picked Stacy one year prior, proving they weren't 100 percent sold at what they had at the position.
Stacy's starter and early-round fantasy status hinges on one of the NFL's biggest position battles going into training camp.
Stacy starts and plays the early downs, but he was a fantasy player whose value was based on volume. He had a lot of uncontested opportunities by the end of last season. He doesn't now. Mason is going to take a chunk out of Stacy and steal his thunder by midseason.
Will We See Enough of Rob Gronkowski in Preseason to Pick Him in Round 2 or 3?
Rob Gronkowski (knee surgery) certainly looks on track to play in Week 1 this coming season, much more so than at the same time last year. That has become increasingly clear. The question is just how much will fantasy football owners see of him in training camp and the preseason—likely not enough.
As Paul Perillo of Patriots Football Weekly wrote on the Patriots' official website:
At this point all signs point toward Gronk being ready to go in Week 1, but that's really not the important part of the equation for the Patriots. Can he withstand the rigors of an NFL season and put his injury problems behind him?
That might be the elephant in the room among all of fantasy football's question marks for 2014. Time will tell just how health Gronk is for the season and just how healthy he will stay. Unfortunately, time won't be on the side of those picking their fantasy football teams.
The Patriots bring Gronk along slowly in training camp and hold him out of the entire preseason, as they did a year ago. The Patriots have seemed to err on the side of caution with a lot of players, especially Gronk. He might even stay on the physically unable to perform list through the third preseason game. It should keep fantasy owners from picking him before early Round 3.
We are not going to get enough of a look at Gronk's health to pick him where his talent suggests. It will be a gamble even at his suppressed draft position—which is roughly a fourth-rounder—when you consider his myriad health woes as a pro.
Are Josh Gordon and Justin Blackmon Lost and Gone Forever?
It looked like the Detroit Lions had a burgeoning wide receiver star a few years ago. No, not Calvin Johnson; he is still No. 1 overall at the position. It was a name that is tough to remember. So tough this name might not mean a thing to you now: Titus Young.
Remember that guy? If you do, you don't remember him fondly.
It is conceivable now, 2013's No. 1 fantasy wideout, Josh Gordon, can be more closely compared to Young than Megatron. Justin Blackmon, another mercurial talent with off-the-field issues and currently serving an indefinite ban from the NFL, is in the same (sinking) boat.
No one would consider picking Young or Blackmon anymore. We might have to add Gordon's name to that group of wasted talents unfortunately.
Unfair? Piling on after Gordon's reported DWI arrest?
Nope. Pro Football Talk's Mike Florio reports it is possible the Browns consider cutting Gordon outright. Believe it. Gordon might not play another down of football.
Gordon is going to face an uphill battle in getting a reported year-long suspension overturned amid his recently alleged DWI arrest. He will prove to be as draftable in fantasy this year as Young or Blackmon. It is a shame too because these were (not are) really talented football players with the potential to help fantasy owners. They need to get help for themselves first.
Is Johnny Manziel Worthy of All This Attention?
Want to know what I find funny but not really funny at all? People who complain about how much media attention Johnny Manziel gets actually pay too much attention to the media themselves. We would hear nothing about Manziel from the talking heads if viewers didn't watch it all...every day, all day.
Admit it, you hate the fact I am mentioning Manziel right now. Yet you're still reading. Sure, you might click away, but you will just do yourself a disservice.
The media talks about Manziel because he is a lightning rod.
People talk about everything Manziel does. Rubbing his fingers together as if he has dollar bills between them on the stage of the draft. Trips to Las Vegas. Hanging out with Gronk. Rolling a bill in a Vegas bathroom, according to BustedCoverage.com. Wait...what the?
Manziel is made for TV. He is a walking reality show. He is also as potentially talented as Russell Wilson, Robert Griffin III...or the next Tim Tebow. It all combines to make him one of fantasy's biggest question marks heading into training camp whether you like it or not.
Odds are you cannot get enough of complaining about him. The opposite of love is indifference. We wish more of you were actually indifferent to the freak show that is Manziel.
At every turn before Week 1 of the NFL season, we will get a reminder of why Manziel is Johnny Football. He will flash his talent as much as his immaturity and recklessness.
He could wind up the Cleveland Browns' starter and a fantasy-worthy sleeper. Or he could wind up as useful in fantasy as Titus Young, Josh Gordon and Justin Blackmon. He is closer to the former, despite your hopes to the contrary.
Which Knowshon Moreno Did the Miami Dolphins Sign: Version 2013.0 or Preteen?
Like the preceding Johnny Manziel slide, laugh at the pertinence of this one all you want. Thousands laughed when I wrote last August Knowshon Moreno was a potential fantasy football sleeper for 2013 too.
Moreno wound up being a 1,000-yard, 10-touchdown back. Argue he is a product of Peyton Manning all you want, but Manning was a Denver Bronco the year prior too.
Moreno won't be ready for the start of training camp after needing four-five weeks recovery time from arthroscopic knee surgery, according to NFL insider Adam Schefter. But there is still enough time for him to prove healthy and effective in a potential position battle with third-year running back Lamar Miller.
Buy into the Miller OTA hype all you want, but the reality is they liked Miller and Daniel Thomas so much they decided to spend a sizable free-agent contract on Moreno under NFL market conditions that were clearly down on running backs this winter.
Moreno will recover in time to compete for the Dolphins starting running back job. He won't be good enough to pick as a certain fantasy starter, but he will do enough late in camp and the preseason to keep you from being lured into picking Miller as a fantasy starter. Moreno is going to show his flashes this season, even if Miller proves to be the Dolphins' running back of the future by year's end.
How Will the Houston Texans Appease an Unhappy Andre Johnson?
Andre Johnson has every right to be upset with the Houston Texans. The fact they picked No. 1 overall and currently list has-been, never-will-be Ryan Fitzpatrick as their starter is one of the biggest indiscretions of a busy NFL offseason.
Johnson wants out and is willing to rework his contract to facilitate a trade, according to NFL insider Ian Rapoport on Thursday night. Johnson has earned the right to complain about his team's direction at this stage of his career, just as he has earned his untradable contract.
The Texans need Johnson a lot more than Johnson needs them, even if the team holds a lot of leverage in this situation. Clearly, there is some work to be done here.
The odds of a trade are pretty slim because of Johnson's contract, so any work the Texans do to get Johnson to report to the team and play this season without a scowl will have to be done with more words than actions.
We don't see a team taking on Johnson's financial commitment, not at age 33 (Friday, July 11 is his birthday, by the way). Johnson won't get a better quarterback or team to play with. He needs to decide if he is OK with that. The Texans have some convincing to do.
What Is the Statute of Limitations on the Bill Belichick Running Back Doghouse?
Frankly, the running game means just as much to the Pats' success in Brady's waning years.
You can love Shane Vereen as the Pats' feature back all you want. The reality is Vereen hasn't been a full-season feature back before. Ridley was a 1,200-yard, 12-touchdown back in 2012. He could have been a 1,300-yard, 13-touchdown back if not for landing in the Belichick running back doghouse because of a few of lost fumbles.
Tiki Barber had fumbling issues in his career too. Head coach Tom Coughlin corrected them, and Barber became a dynamite New York Giant. We will remind NFL fans about the Super Bowl scorecard between Coughlin and Belichick: Coughlin 2, Belichick 0.
Belichick needs to put the best back in the Patriots attack and allow him to work through his issues. We will see in training camp if this is going to happen.
Vereen starts the season as the Pats' starting running back perhaps, but Ridley winds up finishing it like the departed LeGarrette Blount did last season. We will see if Ridley gets a chance to regain his feature-back role sooner than later.
And, the Leftovers...Here Are 5 Smaller-Scale Fantasy Questions Looming:
- Is the New York Giants' David Wilson (neck) going to be healthy enough to compete?
- Is Jermichael Finley (neck) going to sign with someone and play again?
- Is Jimmy Graham going to be a New Orleans Saint for life, or will he get a one-year tender and be in another contract year?
- How many rookie quarterbacks are going to start Week 1?
- Is Santonio Holmes going to be a candidate to sign with a receiver-needy team like the Cleveland Browns or Carolina Panthers?
- Yes, but he is not built to be a feature back, even if he could be a fantasy star like C.J. Spiller was once thought to be.
- Yes, but we shouldn't consider him anything more than a late-round pick as a low-end fantasy starting option even if he signs in the best scenario(s) imaginable: Green Bay Packers, New England Patriots or New York Giants.
- The Saints will have to get a long-term deal done with Graham whether that happens before training camp and the tender deadline or not.
- A couple, but which ones is the even more intriguing thing we will discover in the preseason.
- We should hope so. Holmes has something to give in fantasy football still, especially if he can play with an elite quarterback like Cam Newton.
Questions are like fantasy football kickers; everybody has one. Here are five more questions we hope to have answered in the coming weeks before fantasy draft day. These questions might not significantly alter fantasy draft plans, which is why we don't go in depth on them here:
Again, there are dozens of questions, if not hundreds we could ask. We cannot wait to start getting the answers come August.
Eric Mack, one of the giants among fantasy writers, was the Fantasy Football Lead Writer for Bleacher Report this past season. He is now an NFL featured writer here. Follow him on Twitter, where you can ask him endless questions about your team, rip him for his content and even challenge him to a head-to-head fantasy game.