John Brown burst onto the scene with fire during his rookie campaign. The Arizona Cardinals' speedster posted 48 receptions for 696 yards and five touchdowns, with several of those scores being of the big-play variety.
However, his production waned late in the season. Brown posted just 127 yards on nine catches the final month of the regular season, including a goose egg in Week 14. He then compiled just 34 yards on four catches in the playoffs.
While the atrocious quarterback situation played a big part in Brown's production reduction, his body also began to break down.
"At the end of the season my body started going down, I started losing weight," Brown told the team's official website. "This year I'm trying to focus on being able to keep this weight on as the season goes on."
After playing at 173 pounds in 2014, Brown said he is already up to 183 and plans to add more weight through the offseason.
The hope here is that the added weight doesn't negatively impact his speed. Brown finished as the #49 WR in standard formats and #53 in PPR. He saw a hefty 103 targets as a rookie, and with Larry Fitzgerald back and Michael Floyd still in the mix, it's doubtful that Brown's usage will increase too much. If Carson Palmer is healthy, however, the whole passing offense could take a step forward, and that would push Brown into fantasy-relevant territory.
"I'm nowhere near finished, man, and I want to prove that to the world and everybody," Nicks told FOX Sports' Mike Garafalo recently. "That's definitely my mentality, but I don't even want to talk about it. I feel like I got into that situation last year talking about it. I'm about to just go out there and prove it.
"I can't even describe the feeling to you. It's like a burning sensation inside of me. I just want to be the best. I know I have to work hard at it; it's something that's in me. It's just in me and takes over me."
Nicks was underwhelming in Indianapolis, catching only 55% of his targets while posting 38 catches for 405 yards and four touchdowns. The Titans also added Harry Douglas this offseason, so he and Nicks will join a receiving corps that already includes Kendall Wright and Justin Hunter. There isn't much fantasy value here.
Chargers RB Branden Oliver is driven with an insatiable desire to make a bigger impact in 2015. True to form, he is not resting on his laurels, stressing a number of areas he wants to improve upon in order to fulfill his potential.
“My power, strength, speed and agility I am focusing on,” he said after a recent workout at Chargers Park. “I want to get better at everything. I don’t really focus on just one particular thing. I like to be well rounded and won’t limit myself to one area. It is always best to work at everything. I worked out the entire offseason Monday through Saturday. I took three weeks off after the season ended but worked out every week after that.”
Still, there is one aspect he wants to improve upon the most. “I want to break more tackles. I would also like to be a little more explosive.”
Oliver is also confident he can take his game to the next level in 2015 because he is far more comfortable than he was as a rookie.
“They will come easier this year because I’m more comfortable and know the offense. Now I can just go out there and ball. This year is very different. I feel so much better coming in. I’m more confident. I’m gelling with the guys and am more open to them because I know them better. It’s really just crazy to be going into my second year already! But I feel real good.”
When asked about the state of his running back corps, GM Tom Telesco said, "I'm not saying we wouldn't add somebody, but we don't need to." This is a situation to watch during the draft -- if the Chargers don't add a runner during the first two days, it's very possible that Oliver will go into the season as the starter with Donald Brown as his primary backup and Danny Woodhead as the passing down back. In that scenario, Oliver’s ADP would rise from its current level (12th round) and Woodhead would be a nice value in PPR formats.
Raiders WR Michael Crabtree admitted he has a chip on his shoulder after a frustrating free-agency experience left him with a one-year, prove-it deal that guarantees him only $1.3 million. (He can make another $400,000 for 70 catches or 900 yards, $1.4 million for 100 catches for 1,400 yards and $400,000 for being named to the Pro Bowl.)
“I have a lot to prove,” Crabtree said. “A lot to prove. Ain’t got nothing to lose and have a lot to prove.”
“I would say the year prior to last year was me recovering, trying to get back right,” Crabtree said. “This year I don’t feel a thing. Just go out there and play.”
Part of that breath of fresh air has to include playing with Andrew Luck after cycling through several quarterbacks while with the Texans. Matt Schaub was the most accomplished player of that group and Johnson showed them all some kindness by putting a unnecessary qualifier on his assessment of Luck’s skills.
“He throws a great ball,” Johnson said. “Probably the best quarterback I’ve ever played with. I’m excited about the opportunity.”
Johnson will likely start opposite T.Y. Hilton. It’s a big upgrade from a quality-of-quarterback standpoint, as he has never played with one as good as Andrew Luck. His targets are likely to take a hit, however. He averaged 9.7 T/G in 2014, while Hilton and Reggie Wayne led the Colts with 8.7 and 7.7 T/G, respectively. So this looks like a case of the targets dropping but the quality of those targets increasing. After finishing in the top 10 (in PPR) in five of his previous six seasons, Johnson finished #28 in 2014. He’s turning 34 this offseason, so it may be foolhardy to expect a huge bounceback season, but low-end WR2 numbers in PPR formats seem reasonable.
Cardinals WR Larry Fitzgerald, who signed a two-year, $22 million contract in February, cautioned against expecting the same kind of production we saw during his prime, when at least 90 catches, 1,100 yards and 10 touchdowns seemed to be the norm.
"No, it's not possible," he said. "And it's only that reason because of the role that I play. It's a different role. I just don't have the opportunities down the field. I'm more inside, I move the chains a lot more.
"In terms of putting up the big numbers, it will be difficult, but in terms of my effectiveness, of providing first downs, being able to make tough catches for my team, I'm still going to be able to do that."
Fitzgerald averaged 5.3 catches for 81 yards and 0.33 TD in six games with a healthy Carson Palmer. Extrapolate that pace over a full season (85-1,296-5.3) and it's about what Mike Evans (PPR) and Golden Tate (standard) scored as last season's #13 WR. If Palmer stays healthy, Fitzgerald should be a great value at his current 9th-round ADP in early PPR drafts.
Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz's rehabilitation from a serious knee injury has so far gone as planned. Both the Giants and Cruz expect him to be ready for the season opener on Sunday night, Sep. 13, against the Dallas Cowboys.
"Absolutely. There is not a doubt in my mind that I'll be out there playing on the field [Week 1]," Cruz said Thursday. "Obviously it's just a matter of getting myself back to 100 percent.
"I definitely, as of right now, there is zero doubts in my mind that I'll be playing in that first game and continue to be at 100 percent and playing at the level I'd like to be playing."
Cruz tore his patellar tendon in mid-October, and despite Cruz's confidence, it's no sure thing that he'll be back for the start of the season. He's probably a player to avoid this season unless his price drops so much that he becomes a value in the later rounds. He's not going to get the same number of targets given Odell Beckham's emergence as a top-flight wideout.
Saints WR Brandin Cooks was really starting to hit his stride when he suffered a season-ending thumb injury in Week 10 last year. Of all the rookie receivers who burst into the scene in the NFL last year, Cooks was actually leading all rookie receivers with 53 receptions at the time of his injury. And the Saints were starting to consistently hit on some deep balls to the 5-10, 189-pound speedster.
Drew Brees said he and Cooks have already spent some time training together this offseason in San Diego, where Brees calls home base when he's not in New Orleans.
"Oh yeah. Yeah, yeah," Brees said when asked if Cooks is one of the guys he's excited to watch develop. "Man, I love everything about him, his makeup, and then just his physical ability. I mean he's got all kinds of talent."
Jagaurs QB Blake Bortles said he spent two months in the offseason in California and was mentored at times by quarterback guru Tom House.
“Tightening mechanics,” Bortles said in explaining what House did for him. “Throwing with not just all arm, using the whole body and figuring out how to do that. Having a checklist and being able to say it was a bad throw and this is what went wrong and this is how you fix it.”
The Jaguars coaches weren’t allowed to start working with Bortles and the other players until the offseason program started this week, so the two-month workout helped Bortles work on fundamentals.
Bortles also got his weight down to 238 after finishing the season at 250.
Bortles averaged 12.0 fantasy points per game, which led to a #24 finish at his position. He's a passer who could make a leap in his second season if the Jaguars can give him time to throw and he can clean up his fundamentals. The receiving corps is young but talented, with Allen Robinson, Marqise Lee, Allen Hurns and potentially Justin Blackmon all capable of producing when given the opportunity. The team signed Julius Thomas to provide a dangerous weapon at tight end. Bortles averaged nearly 30 yards rushing, so he offers some baseline production as a runner.
Tuesday, April 21, 2015, 11:33am
It certainly looks like TE Dennis Pitta wants to at least keep the door open for a possible return. In a video posted to the Ravens' website from Monday’s kickoff to the offseason workout program, Pitta is seen working out alongside his teammates in the weight room.
Pitta’s presence may keep the door ajar, but it probably doesn’t change the Ravens’ feelings about needing to add a tight end in the draft. With Owen Daniels gone, the team’s thin on players they know will be there in September.
Monday, April 20, 2015, 5:30pm
Brown has three years remaining on his current contract which will pay him an average of $7.65 million per season. Holdouts are never good, so this is a situation to monitor this offseason. Brown was the #1 receiver in PPR formats in 2014 after finishing #3 the year before.
Eagles TE Zach Ertz did his homework and was told that retired offensive line coach Hudson Houck still trained players. So he called Houck, who mentored Hall of Famers Anthony Munoz and Bruce Matthews at Southern Cal and coached the great Cowboys lines of the 1990s, out of the blue. Soon after, they spent two weeks together in San Diego working on blocking.
Ertz' time with Houck was just one part of his offseason plan. He spent a month focusing on strength training, another on circuit training and additional time on mixed martial arts training. He also sought out former tight end great Tony Gonzalez, who instructed Ertz on the importance of preparation and tenacity.
The 24-year-old Ertz's goals are high. He said he wants to be mentioned someday alongside Gonzalez and others in the NFL pantheon of tight ends. But he knows he can't get there if he's playing only 50 percent of offensive snaps, as he did last season.
There's ample reason, though, to believe that Ertz will finally become a focal point of Chip Kelly's offense. He caught a franchise-record 15 passes against the Redskins in the penultimate game of last season. And when asked to explain last month how he'll compensate for the loss of wide receiver Jeremy Maclin, Kelly prominently mentioned Ertz.
"I think he's still growing, and I think Zach will be the first one to tell you that," Kelly said at the NFL meeting. "I think he's working extremely hard in the offseason at continuing to get better."
Ertz was the #13 TE in both standard and PPR formats despite only playing half of the Eagles’ snaps in his second year. Ertz played mostly (73%) on passing downs, so if his playing time is going to increase, a majority of the additional snaps are likely to come in run formations. Still, there’s upside with Ertz if he begins to see starter’s snaps. The Eagles lost their leading receiver -- DeSean Jackson and then Jeremy Maclin -- in back-to-back seasons, so there will be opportunity from a targets standpoint. If Chip Kelly moves Jordan Matthews outside, then Ertz is a candidate to fill Matthews role in the slot, assuming Kelly is willing to play more two-TE sets to get Ertz on the field. Ertz is currently going in the 8th round of early PPR drafts.
Sunday, April 19, 2015, 8:39pm
Tebow is scheduled to arrive in Philadelphia -- and get a deal done -- in time to be in attendance for the start of the Eagles off-season program Monday.
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