National Football League training camps opened this week, which means your 2014 fantasy football draft is right around the corner. Don’t be that guy who shows up with a magazine printed in May oblivious to this summer’s impactful injuries and suspensions.
Understanding how teams will deal with the following key losses will be the difference between winning and losing the 2014 fantasy football season.
Two important players will join Justin Blackmon and LaVon Brazill on suspension for the entire season:
Josh Gordon’s second failed NFL drug test was the breaking news bombshell on the second day of the 2014 NFL draft. Last year’s No. 1 fantasy wide receiver—who posted 15.8 points per game, according to KFFL—faced a possible 16-game suspension pending an appeal.
Then Gordon got clipped for speeding May 30 before his arrest for suspicion of DUI on July 5. These events guarantee he won’t play in ’14 and leave his career prospects with the Cleveland Browns and the NFL in doubt.
We're dealing with addiction. We're dealing with a disease," Hall of Famer Cris Carter said on ESPN’s Mike & Mike. "If Josh had cancer we'd put him in a treatment center. And right now that's what we need to do for him. But no one wants to do the hard thing. Everyone wants to keep coddling him, the same way they did him in high school, the same thing they did him at Baylor, where he had problems. Eventually it's going to blow up. Now it's blowing up in the National Football League, and his career is in jeopardy.
The Browns are left with three free agents at WR: the oft-injured Miles Austin and Nate Burleson and the underwhelming Earl Bennett. Tight end Jordan Cameron and Austin are the only ones worth drafting, as a starter and reserve respectively.
Gordon’s loss negatively impacts whoever wins the starting quarterback battle between Brian Hoyer and Johnny Manziel. The winner only has value in two-QB leagues or as a bye-week reserve.
Free-agent running back Ben Tate will face tougher sledding as well. Gordon’s loss renders Cleveland’s borderline offensive strides all but fully regressed for ’14.
Daryl Washington drew a season-long ban from the Arizona Cardinals for his second drug violation. His one-year probation on domestic violence charges probably contributed to the league’s harsh decision via a positive result for marijuana.
Few outside the 602 may be aware of the tremendous contribution Daryl Washington made to the league’s sixth-ranked defense. The talented young inside linebacker made NFL Network’s Top 100 Players of 2014 in spite of a four-game suspension.
It's completely unacceptable that Daryl has once again put us in this position. We all know what the consequences are and will deal with them,” Cardinals GM Steve Keim said in a statement. “From a personal standpoint, our hope is that this suspension will give Daryl the opportunity to accept the necessary help and guidance to get his life back on track and we will certainly support him however we can.
Second-year ILB Kevin Minter and veteran free agent Larry Foote are expected to fill the chasm up the middle left by Washington and free agent Karlos Dansby, who departed for the Cleveland Browns.
Losing Washington and Dansby simultaneously is a net negative for Arizona’s team defense. Fantasy Pros lists the Cardinals at No. 7 in its Expert Consensus Rankings, but the Cardinals are going fourth in average draft position.
That renders the Cardinals D a luxury pick that won’t be worth the asking price.
Ray Rice was slapped with a two-game suspension resulting from a domestic violence incident caught on tape in an Atlantic City casino. He won’t face felony assault charges against his fiancee because he’s entering an intervention program for first-time offenders.
The Baltimore Ravens Pro Bowl running back suffered a monumental decline in production in ’13, almost halving a four-year 14.5 points-per-game mark at 7.4 PPG. That tied him with a gimpy Tate in 37th place behind an underutilized Andre Ellington, an injured C.J. Spiller and committee head Pierre Thomas. That’s not what owners expected out of their first-round pick.
Rice’s average draft position of 26th among RBs and 68th overall—according to Fantasy Pros—is fitting given his regrettable performance both on and off the field.
Joe Flacco is focused on his upside: “I think we’ve looked really good, and [Rice] has done a great job of pressing, cutting, getting in there and having the explosion afterward. He’s shown a lot."
But fantasy owners should be focused on the risk.
New offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak should spark some life into Baltimore’s running game, but don’t expect Bernard Pierce or Justin Forsett to shine in Rice’s absence.
Ultimately spending a draft pick on Rice is a high-risk, high-reward proposition given his track record prior to last season. Make sure you have the pieces in place to start a respectable backfield if he remains in the tank.
Sean Lee’s torn ACL headlines the list of major offseason injuries.
The Dallas Cowboys inside linebacker’s injury history reads like laments to a fallen icon. … And he’s only 27.
This brands the Cowboys' already pathetic team defense completely untouchable—32nd in yards allowed last season.
The intrigue for IDP leagues is Dallas’ surprising trade for Rolando McClain. The ’09 Dick Butkus Award winner—given to the best college linebacker—and the Oakland Raiders first-rounder in ’10 was officially retired. Twice.
“I was feeling like Aaron Hernandez or something, like I just wanted to kill somebody,” McClain told ESPN the Magazine on April 22. McClain also failed a conditioning test with the Baltimore Ravens and hasn't played an NFL down since '12.
McClain still has to earn a spot, but he will make an interesting IDP sleeper if he does.
Kiko Alonso—the reigning Associated Press Defensive Rookie of the Year—tore his ACL while working out in Oregon. It’s a devastating blow as the league’s 10th-ranked defense restructures under new Buffalo Bills defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz.
“We feel badly for Kiko because he has worked very hard this offseason in preparation for the upcoming season, but we look forward to his return with his style of play that made him one of the league’s outstanding rookies in 2013,” said Bills GM Doug Whaley.
Rookie Preston Brown is the leading candidate to replace Alonso at weak-side linebacker.
Buffalo’s team defense already lost defensive coordinator Mike Pettine to the Cleveland Browns (head coach) and All-Pro Jairus Byrd to the New Orleans Saints via free agency. Pro Bowler Marcell Dareus faces a possible suspension on drug charges.
The result is a No. 16 rank from Fantasy Pros, dropping the Bills from a borderline No. 1 DST to a matchup start from the bench and/or waiver wire.
Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Sidney Rice announced his retirement on July 23, citing multiple concussions.
I was just thinking about things I’ve been through in the last few years,” said Rice. “I’ve hit the ground a number of times. I have quite a few injuries. It’s something I’ve always battled through and came back from.
But I just figure at this point I have the rest of my life ahead of me and I want to be able to function and do things later down the road.
The 27-year-old Pro Bowler’s retirement is not a major fantasy splash because he was expected to peak at WR3 on last year’s 26th-ranked passing offense—according to Pro Football Reference.
Percy Harvin and Doug Baldwin were already slated in the No. 1 and 2 slots after Golden Tate’s departure to the Detroit Lions via free agency. Jermaine Kearse and Ricardo Lockette will vie for the No. 3 position but are not currently relevant on one of the league’s most conservative offenses.
Robert Mathis is the most significant player to earn a suspension for using performance enhancing drugs. The league docked him four games because he tested positive for Clomid, a banned fertility drug.
The Indianapolis Colts outside linebacker pilfered 19.5 sacks in ’13, more than the two previous seasons combined—9.5 and 8 respectively. That tied him for 10th all time in single-season sacks with Aldon Smith (’12), DeMarcus Ware (’11) and Tim Harris (’95), according to Pro Football Reference.
Mathis achieved this feat at 32, while none of his contemporaries had even cracked 30—Ware was 29, Harris was 25 and Smith 23. The accomplishment was even more astonishing considering it was the first season Dwight Freeney wasn’t posted at the other end and drawing blockers away from Mathis.
One could choose to believe Mathis demolished his previous career-best 11.5 sacks through some sort of miraculous resurgence. Or one could follow the evidence left by other PED abusers and recognize Mathis used Clomid as a masking agent, not a fertility drug.
As a prescriber of Clomid, I know that (it's on the NFL's banned list)," said Dr. Samuel Thompson, a male infertility specialist for Urology of Indiana. "I wouldn't say every doctor knows necessarily what's banned by the NFL, but I'm a doctor who does this on a daily basis for male fertility. So, yeah, I was well aware it's a banned substance.
It's hard to imagine (a physician) wouldn't know. Or that either the doctor or patient wouldn't know. It's readily available on the Internet. You can look it up in two seconds. And it makes sense (to be banned). It's raising the level of a man's testosterone. That's abusable.
Mathis’ wife gave birth to their third child on July 19.
His suspension isn’t the only detraction from Mathis’ value in IDP leagues. Expect his sack rate to dip drastically without the aid of PEDs when he is reinstated for the remainder of ’14.
Dion Jordan also bought a four-game suspension for using “banned stimulants,” according to his statement in a Miami Dolphins press release.
Observers might speculate the Dolphins defensive end’s PED use was more significant, given the additional bulk and speed noticed by reporters and coaches alike. But the league only reports whether the drug in question was recreational or performance enhancing.
Jordan’s positive result, coupled with a disappointing rookie campaign, finds him buried on the depth chart behind All-Pro Cameron Wake and upstart Olivier Vernon.
Miami traded up to No. 3 in ’13 to pair the speedy pass-rusher from the Oregon Ducks with Wake. Now Jordan’s barely worth a sleeper pick in standard IDP leagues.