With the start of NFL training camps a little over a month away, some very unhealthily-obsessed fantasy football players (me) have already started to mock draft. Let’s get this squared-off right away: players’ positions are volatile right now due to several obvious (and not so obvious) depth chart battles. Here are eight position situations you should be on the lookout for heading into July:
Denver Broncos Receivers
We’ll qualify this as a not-so-obvious depth chart battle––one that people have not been watching terribly closely. With the loss of two major offensive weapons, Julius Thomas and Wes Welker, fantasy owners should be eying the newest target candidates in Peyton Manning’s high powered offense. It’s no secret that any tight end and receiver who has stepped into a Manning-led offense has instantly seen fantasy success – so the fact that this situation has been so quiet among fantasy circles is puzzling.
An obvious benefactor is tight end Owen Daniels who was signed in the offseason from the Ravens (after a long career with the Texans). He seems to be in line to take at least some of Julius Thomas’ TE duties. However, my guess so far to step in and instantly jump to fantasy success would be wide receiver Cody Latimer. Latimer was touted through the entire 2014 offseason as a potential sleeper on the Broncos. Surprisingly, he wasn’t used at all. However, the 6 ft 3 receiver is currently seeing 1st team reps and is rumored to be a lock as the team’s third receiver. Due to his size, expect Latimer to start seeing Julius Thomas’ old red zone work.
Detroit Lions Running Backs
With the departure of running back Reggie Bush, it seemed like the Lions’ Joique Bell was in line for a high-volume season. That is, until Detroit drafted rookie runner Ameer Abdullah in the second round of the 2015 NFL Draft. He has been touted as the third best runner in the draft, just behind the generational talents Melvin Gordon and Todd Gurley (for those who don’t know this year’s rookies, that’s high praise).
The fantasy world has been buzzing with rumors of Bell losing his starting position to Abdullah; that’s a situation I find incredibly unlikely. Bell has found himself as a top 20 fantasy runner for two straight seasons despite being second on the Lions’ depth chart. Even if Abdullah jumps in to an immediate impact role, Bell is a lock for more touches than he’s had in the past. The result? Abdullah might make a name for himself instantly and provide good flex value, but Bell is a sure-bet to finish in the top 15 at his position. The only player whose value has been seriously damaged by Abdullah is the Lions’ project runner, Theo Riddick. He had been highly valued as a great pass-catching runner who could have emerged as an excellent PPR player in 2015. However, the backfield is too crowded for him to get enough touches.
Miami Dolphins Receivers
Miami’s offense has been completely revamped and is starting to look like one of the most cramped situations in the NFL. If the team was previously worried about franchise quarterback Ryan Tannehill not having enough weapons, they can confidently say he’s fine now! The Dolphins traded away receiver Mike Wallace to Minnesota in the off-season, as Wallace just never seemed to find a rhythm with the quarterback.
The current receiving depth chart consists of the returning receivers: Kenny Stills and Jarvis Landry (who came on strong late in the 2014 season); and the new acquisitions: Greg Jennings and rookie DeVante Parker. Stills already has a decent rapport with Tannehill as he poached almost 1,000 receiving yards last season––but with all of this new talent coming in, who knows who will be the biggest beneficiary in Miami’s updated offense? If things weren’t jumbled enough, the team also brought in an elite tight end, Jordan Cameron, to steal targets. Cameron should be a lock as a top-tier tight end; as for the others, keep your eyes peeled on that depth chart.
Baltimore Ravens Receivers
The Ravens cleaned house after 2014…seriously. They cut receiver Jacoby Jones, running back Bernard Pierce, veteran tight end Owen Daniels and, most surprising of all, stud receiver Torrey Smith. Torrey has been the leading receiver on the team for a few years and was QB Joe Flacco’s deep threat; that’s a highly-touted position, as Flacco is known to have the strongest arm in the entire NFL. The receiving core of an elite quarterback now consists of… Steve Smith Sr.?
While Smith Sr. has had a legendary football career, his best days are certainly behind him and he can no longer flaunt himself as a true No. 1 receiver. Enter first round draft pick Breshad Perriman, who scorched the combine with a 40-time of 4.24 seconds (really really really reeeeeeaaaaaalllyyyyy fast). Do you think the team was looking for Flacco’s next deep-threat? That being said, Perriman is a rookie and is very much a raw talent; he’ll certainly be fantasy relevant in the coming years––but who’s to say how he’ll perform out of the gate? Fantasy owners will want to monitor Perriman, Smith, and receiver Marlon Brown through training camp to see how they’re used. Someone’s going to benefit from Flacco’s big arm, right?!
Indianapolis Colts receivers
In the wonderful, whimsical fantasy land, quarterback Andrew Luck is being held in an elite tier with Aaron Rodgers––the two are being praised as the undisputed QB kings for 2015. Of course that means you’ll want to jump on every single Colts and Packers receiver, right? Wrong (well, for the Colts at least). Let’s throw in the names of the Colts players battling for targets: T.Y. Hilton, Andre Johnson, Dwayne Allen, Coby Fleener, Ahmad Bradshaw, Frank Gore (he was actually a receiving back not too long ago), Donte Montcrief, and first round draft prospect Phillip Dorsett. Sound like a lot of names?
While fantasy owners might be excited by the idea of Andre Johnson jumping in to a scheme with an elite quarterback like Luck, they might be missing the insane list of mouths to feed in Indy. T.Y. Hilton will likely suffer a loss of targets to Johnson, while Johnson bleeds targets to the rest of the Colts roster. To boot, Luck is known for spreading the ball around; I’d avoid Colts receivers until Luck shows signs of a true favorite, there’s just too much going on in Indianapolis.
Dallas Cowboys Running Backs
I‘ve been pointing out situations that haven’t been particularly spoken about––well here comes the highlighted battle of the entire 2015 offseason: who will be the next runner blessed by running behind the league’s most dominant offensive line? Last season, Dallas produced fantasy’s No. 1 runner in DeMarco Murray who, not to take anything away form his own running ability, had lanes big enough for an F15 to run through. With Murray departing, who will be the next winner of the Dallas running back lottery?
All signs point to either one of Darren McFadden––the underwhelming veteran––or Joseph Randle, the explosive rookie with off-field issues. Despite early reports guessing at McFadden, Randle seems to be the runner getting first-team looks. Despite this, analysts question his abilities as a three-down back. Last season, he averaged a stellar 6.7 YPC, but the young back didn’t have enough playing time to adequately judge his ability in pass-protection or in the short receiving game. That being said, on the 1-2 plays that Randle was forced in to pass protection, he passed with flying colors. I’d personally put my chips on the younger runner, but be sure to keep an eye on McFadden entering the season as he’s never had the opportunity to run behind an O-line like this.
Philadelphia Eagles Quarterback
I’d like to go on a tangent here as much as any other writer about all of the crazy Chip Kelly shenanigans––but I’ll get to the point as quickly as possible. There were rumors of Kelly wanting to trade around in the draft to pick up rookie quarterback Marcus Mariota. Whatever the reasons, those plans fell through and now the Eagles are stuck with the mildly entertaining group of Sam “two torn ACLs” Bradford, Mark “Butt-Fumble” Sanchez, and Tim Tebow….let’s pause and let that sink in a while.
So I’m going to jump out on a limb here and say that Tim Tebow is out of the running. This leaves Butt-Fumble and Bradford to duke it out. The initial edge would have gone to Bradford as the decent experienced veteran thrower; however, Sanchez had a decent run with the team last season (netting a 64.1 completion percentage) and has been reportedly getting first team reps. This may be due to Bradford’s questionable health, but it gives Sanchez a shot none-the-less. Either way, it’s a situation worth watching as it’s no secret the Eagles produce great fantasy players.
Cleveland Browns Running Backs
While Cleveland’s run game may not excite some, they played from behind for quite literally the entire 2014 season and still managed a team total of 477 rushing attempts. In addition, their offensive line was by no means bad. This leaves a lot of attempts, a lot of yards, and a lot of potential fantasy points for whoever takes the lead.
The two contenders for the position are last year’s backup tandem of Terrance West and Isaiah Crowell. When 2014’s starter, Ben Tate, went down with an injury, the two backups combined for 132 yards and two touchdowns. Over the course of the season, West gained more touches but Crowell managed a higher YPC average. The result is a muddied backfield that, in all likelihood, will end in a committee approach. Despite this, the general consensus in fantasy land seems to be that Crowell will emerge as the undisputed star in Cleveland––the result of which is a higher price tag come draft day. Until proven otherwise, I feel they both present a high floor as they’ll likely both notch 200+ carries on the season.
Photo: Associated Press