Offensive coordinator Chan Gailey still is figuring out ways to deploy Matt Forte, the NFL's most prolific pass-catching back since his rookie year, 2008. When asked how Forte fits into his system, Gailey replied, "That's not the question. The question is, how do we adjust the system to fit Matt Forte?"
A good reference point might be C.J. Spiller, formerly of the Buffalo Bills. From 2011 to 2013 under Gailey, Spiller caught 115 passes. Gailey moved him around the formation, sometimes lining him up wide or in the slot. Forte has that kind of versatility.
Spiller caught 115 passes in three years under Gailey as a part-time player. In the 12 games that then-starter Fred Jackson missed, Spiller averaged 3.42 receptions per game. Forte may lose carries to Bilal Powell and/or Khiry Robinson, and is unlikely to score many rushing touchdowns. But if he's utilized regularly in the slot, he should be able to catch at least 50 passes, maybe more. Jets running backs caught a total of 90 balls last season under Gailey.
Jameis Winston and Buccaneers receiver Mike Evans worked through countless routes and were together on and off the field. Winston invited Evans over to his house several times this offseason to break down film before watching Golden State Warriors games.
Tim Grover, who has worked with NBA greats Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant, received a call in early February. Grover agreed to meet and establish a preliminary workout but under one condition: Winston would have to abide by strict guidelines and show improvement by Grover's next visit.
"I have to put my stamp on him," said Grover, who is very selective about the high-profile clients he trains. "When it's actually time to follow up on it, sometimes athletes don't do it. I wanted to make sure not only was he saying the right things but was doing them."
Grover was pleasantly surprised when he resumed workouts with Winston a month later.
Without depriving Winston of his favorite foods but rather modifying his eating schedule, Grover helped him drop 18 pounds since February. Grover would prefer Winston lose about five more pounds to reach a goal weight between 225 to 229 pounds.
Winston was the #13 fantasy quarterback in his rookie season thanks in large part to his six rushing touchdowns. He may not be able to repeat that feat, but he should be able to improve as a passer and post a similar finish in 2016.
The plan is for Murray to be the starter, and to get the bulk of the carries. And he’s been impressive so far. I expect him to have success. But henry is going to get his share of carries as well, and you know how this works – if one guy is tearing it up, he’ll get more opportunities. We’ll just see how things play out.
Murray's stock took a hit when the Titans curiously spent a second round pick on Henry. He should still be a good bet for 300 carries, provided he stays healthy, but he'll have to outplay Henry to keep his job.
Justin Forsett was a breakout player for the Ravens in 2014, totaling 1,266 yards rushing — more than twice as many as any of his previous six seasons — and eight touchdowns. In Forsett’s absence, Javorius Allen started the last six games of 2015 as a rookie.
Forsett's YPC (4.25) was better than Javorius Allen's (3.75), but the rookie showed good receiving chops, hauling in 45 catches for 353 yards and two touchdowns. Allen was the #6 RB in standard formats (#3 in PPR) from Week 11 to Week 17, while Forsett was sidelined with a wrist injury. Forsett was #17 in standard and #12 in PPR through the first 10 weeks. According to HC John Harbaugh, the two will compete for touches in 2016. Forsett will be a great value if he gets starter's touches and stays healthy. Dixon is the dark horse in Baltimore.
With Austin Seferian-Jenkins battling injuries a year ago, TE Cameron Brate stepped in to become the Bucs’ leading receiver at the tight end position. Brate, who was waived at the start of last season and briefly claimed by the Saints, has looked strong in both of the Bucs’ open OTA practices. He caught several passes during each of the two practices, including a one-handed catch behind his back on Thursday.
Earlier this month, HC Dirk Koetter implied that Brate has a chance to start ahead of Seferian-Jenkins if he has a good summer.
Ravens.com writer Kevin Byrne:
It’s only minicamp, but last year’s No. 1 pick, receiver Breshad Perriman, is startling. That’s one big and very fast wideout flying down the field. I know, he has to prove he can be healthy and beat NFL corners, but he leaps out when you watch practice.
Due to the opportunity in the Ravens' receiving corps, Perriman looked like a nice sleeper prior to his injury. The Ravens signed Mike Wallace, while Steve L Smith is back and Kamar Aiken emerged as a viable WR2, so Perriman is not guaranteed starter's snaps even though he brings deep speed to the receiving corps. If this buzz continues, however, he should be able to beat out the recently disappointing Wallace for a starting job.
While Jordy Nelson’s surgically repaired knee feels good to go, he understands the Packers' reluctance to push him out of the recovery nest. They don’t hand out Lombardi trophies in May. It’s about making sure he’s 100 percent when it counts.
“Everything I’m doing I’m comfortable with,” Nelson said. “I’m not worried about anything else. We’re still progressing and dealing with the situation that we’re in. Obviously, we don’t need to push it too much. We’re still in May. Our goal is obviously August and September.”
Nelson alluded to a potentially light schedule at OTAs when he met with the Green Bay media at the start of the offseason program, saying his participation would be “up for discussion.”
Right now, it’s all about finding a happy medium between Nelson’s ambitions and erring on the side of caution. Individually, Nelson has no limitations in what he’s able to do.
Nelson has had three healthy seasons in his last five, and in those years he finished #2, #11 and #2 in standard wide receiver scoring. He’s currently going in the 2nd round of early fantasy drafts. If he continues to have a healthy offseason then a return to the top 5 is a real possibility.
“I think it was really frustrating, especially early on, just dealing with the foot injury and having a repeat of it,” Dolphins QB Ryan Tannehill said of WR DeVante Parker. “I think you saw – the last six to eight games of the year – his confidence start to build. He made more and more plays it seemed like as the weeks went on.
“He got more comfortable and more confident and was attacking the football. He’s starting at that point now. We can build from where he is at now, and the sky is the limit for him.”
That doesn’t mean he’ll immediately develop in to a star receiver.
Parker has been solid, not dominant, in early offseason practices. Cornerback Bryon Maxwell, acquired in a March trade, has been the star so far — and sometimes at the expense of Parker.
For the final six games of his rookie season, Parker played at a 59-1187-8 pace, which are solid WR2 numbers. He’ll likely play the “X” receiver in Adam Gase’s offense, a position which has yielded 6.0-90-0.44 from Alshon Jeffery and 6.9-101-0.69 from Demaryius Thomas over the past two seasons. The former 1st round pick has a big green arrow next to his name heading into the 2016 season.
Quarterback Blake Bortles said that he and Thomas have been working to develop the kind of chemistry that leads to a spike in production.
“We had a chance this offseason to sit down multiple times, watch film and talk about things,” Bortles said, via ESPN.com. “Talk about what he wanted from me and what I wanted from him and how we can quickly get on the same page to grow together. He’s been unbelievable. He’s obviously a freak athlete and he’s continued to prove that and make plays.”
Thomas missed the first month of the season with a hand injury, but returned in Week 5 to post #11 TE numbers (PPR) the rest of the way. He has missed seven games over the past two seasons due to injury.
Detroit Lions running back Ameer Abdullah underwent surgery to repair a torn labrum in his shoulder in January and could miss the rest of the off-season, a person with knowledge of the procedure but not authorized to speak about it publicly told the Free Press today.
Steelers TE Ladarius Green is sitting out OTAs after offseason ankle surgery and doesn't know the exact date for return (the expectation is training camp). "I just want to see if I can prove it to myself that I can go out there and be the best," he said.
This doesn't sound too serious. Green landed in an optimal situation in Pittsburgh, playing with an elite quarterback and in a high-octane offense. It also doesn’t hurt that Martavis Bryant is suspended for the year; the team is likely to lean on Green’s size in the red zone. In four games that Antonio Gates missed in 2015, Green averaged 4.5 catches for 55 yards and 0.75 TD (on 6.8 targets per game). In the 13 career games where he has seen at least five targets, he has averaged 7.5 fantasy points (standard), which would have translated to #7 TE numbers in 2015.
Lions.com writer Tim Twentyman was asked via Twitter who will lead the team in catches. His response:
I think it will be hard for Theo Riddick to reach 80 catches again this season. Teams will scheme hard against him.
I expect Eric Ebron’s stats to take another significant increase in year three, but the 90-catch range is probably a bit high for him.
In the end, I expect Tate and Marvin Jones to be right there, with Tate edging Jones out.
Jones had a career-high 65 catches in 2015, so it's tough to see him pushing Tate, who has back-to-back seasons with 90-plus catches. Tate looks like a great value, especially in PPR formats.
Benjamin Watson is the new addition, Crockett Gillmore is the presumed starter, and Pitta is the popular veteran looking to complete what would be an uplifting comeback. Maxx Williams, a little more than a year after the Ravens traded up in the second round to get him, has become a forgotten man of sorts. But he can change that real quick by building off the solid finish to his rookie year.
This take is a bit surprising considering that the team signed Ben Watson and used a 2nd round draft pick on Williams last year. Rookie tight ends rarely make much of a fantasy or real-world impact, so there's no sense in writing off Williams at this point. Gillmore is recovering from offseason shoulder injury.
Moments after saying he would prefer not to hype anyone’s performance this early to avoid the potential for complacency, Colts coach Chuck Pagano proceeded to sing the praises of his No. 1 receiver.
“(T.Y. Hilton) is having as good an offseason as anybody, probably better than anybody,” Pagano said Tuesday. “…I’ve never seen this guy practice as fast as he's practicing right now. … He’s done it day in and day out.”
That's no embellishment. Hilton has caught just about everything thrown his way – over the middle, on the sideline, falling out of the end zone. On those occasions when he’s matched up against No. 1 cornerback Vontae Davis, Hilton seems to have won more of those battles than he’s lost.
I asked Hilton what gives. He offered a simple explanation.
“I’m more motivated, more hungry,” he said. “I’m just ready to go, man. After watching the playoffs last year and not being in there, I’m just ready to get back to that point and continue to lead this team.”
In 22 games over the past two seasons with an active Andrew Luck, Hilton has averaged 5.1 catches for 86 yards and 0.45 TD. Those are fringe WR1 numbers in PPR formats and solid WR1 numbers in standard leagues. With Luck back under center, Hilton should have a bounce back season after finishing #22 in both formats.
Our injury expert, Russell Manalastas, says that barring any setbacks the recovery timetable for this type of surgery is 3-4 months, which would put Eifert back sometime in late-August to late-September. He could return by Week 1 or miss up to three games if his recovery is on the slower side. Manalastas also said that players going through that sort of surgery may have to deal with secondary issues like a sore Achilles. We will assume that he's going to miss two games in our rankings and adjust from there. A.J. Green, Tyler Boyd, Brandon LaFell and Tyler Kroft all get a small bump if Eifert is out.