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The Lions’ first-string offense has two talented and accomplished return men in wide receiver Golden Tate and running back Reggie Bush, but neither of them is likely to be called upon to do so this season. Tate has said he’s happy to play special teams if the coaches ask him, while Bush has said he’d rather focus on just playing offense. From all indications, all of the kick returns will be handled by Jeremy Ross, who played well last year after the Lions signed him in the middle of the season.
This item is mainly for those who play in return leagues, but whether a team is willing to use a player on returns is sometimes an indicator of his role on offense. We know Bush will be involved (albeit less than in recent years), but the fact that the team doesn't want to use Tate on returns leads us to believe he's going to have a big role in the offense. For more on Tate's potential click here.
Now that Gary Kubiak is the Baltimore Ravens' offensive coordinator, newly re-signed Dennis Pitta expects to be the beneficiary of the tight end-friendly offense. "It's a fun system to play in and I'm excited to learn and grow," Pitta said, per the team's official website. "The system is set up for receivers to have big years and for tight ends to catch a lot of footballs. Owen (Daniels) has proven that over the years. Hopefully I can find a similar role." No offense targeted tight ends as much as Kubiak's Texans did the past three seasons. Daniels joined Kubiak in Baltimore and has helped Pitta learn the new terminology and patterns.
Pitta missed most of 2013 due to a hip injury and he was sorely missed in the Ravens’ passing game. Upon his return, he saw 33 targets in four games, putting him on pace to finish with the 3rd-most targets in the league. It’s not a solid sample size, but it’s still an indicator of what may come. (He finished with the 12th-most targets in 2012.) The big plus for Pitta heading into 2014 is the arrival of new OC Gary Kubiak who has been very TE-friendly throughout his career, specifically with the development of both Shannon Sharpe in Denver and Owen Daniels in Houston.
Patriots TE Rob Gronkowski was actually bursting, planting, and cutting during the early portions of Thursday’s practice open to the media, and doesn’t look like he’s having any limitations. Whether he’ll be ready to play in the first month of the season is another matter.
Gronkowski has been hugely productive when healthy, but his health is a major concern heading into 2014. He reportedly had surgery on Jan. 9 to reconstruct a torn ACL. It typically takes a full year to recover, though Adrian Peterson and Robert Griffin III have made quicker returns (with varying success). Gronkowski is tentatively expected to be ready for the start of the season, but don’t be surprised we don’t know his status until deep into August or even early September. This makes him a major risk in 2014 fantasy drafts. The ACL surgery was the eighth (known) surgery of his career.
The Steelers want to incorporate even more of the no-huddle offense into their game plan after the success they had last year. “I think it's something that we realized where we can be and what we did last year, and where we were successful, so I think we'll use it more,” quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said. The Steelers ran 239 no-huddle plays last year, or 23 percent of their plays. Roethlisberger was extremely successful in the offense completing 102 of 163 passes for 1,221 yards and 10 of his 28 touchdowns.
That equates to 7.5 YPA in the no huddle, which is a good bit higher than the 7.2 YPA he posted after huddling up. Interestingly his completion percentage was lower in the no huddle (62.6% vs. 64.8%) but his TD% was higher (6.1% vs. 4.3%). Roethlisberger is a nice value in the later rounds.
A couple of key quotes from Seattle Times columnist Larry Stone's piece on Seahawks RB Marshawn Lynch: My hunch is that Lynch still has some quality miles left in him. And that when it comes to the heat of the season — rather than the speculative nature of the offseason — Lynch will still be the Seahawks’ workhorse, and their go-to offensive weapon. There’s also the issue of Lynch’s plea deal in February, in which he agreed to a reckless-driving charge rather than go to trial on a DUI charge from his 2012 arrest in Oakland. Lynch’s attorney, Ivan W. Golde, told Bob Condotta of The Seattle Times that he was confident Lynch would not be suspended by the NFL. But given Roger Goodell’s track record in punishing off-field indiscretions, there are no guarantees.
While we do believe that the team will follow through and get Christine Michael more involved, Lynch will still be the clear RB1. We currently project him to be the #7 RB in standard formats. But Stone's column is a reminder that the NFL could still suspend Lynch for his reckless driving plea deal (stemming from a DUI charge).
Sunday, June 8, 2014, 10:34am
Now that he’s finally at full strength for the first time as a Patriot, Josh Boyce has strung together a pair of performances fitting of a player who belongs. His resurgence is going to make the competition for the final wideout spot all the more intense over the next three months. Boyce isn’t afforded the time for that anyway as the Patriots press onward with a tough battle for jobs. Talents notwithstanding, Julian Edelman ($5 million signing bonus), Brandon LaFell ($3 million signing bonus), Danny Amendola ($4.8 million cap hit if released, plus loss of $2 million in guaranteed cash in base salary) and Aaron Dobson (a 2013 second-round pick) are locked into the roster based on business standards. Since the Pats haven’t carried more than five receivers on the 53-man roster in each of the past five seasons (not including special teams captain Matthew Slater), that leaves one spot for Boyce, Kenbrell Thompkins and seventh-rounder Jeremy Gallon if the pattern holds. Thompkins became a fan favorite after a blistering start in 2013 while Boyce never distinguished himself. It’s been much different during OTAs. Boyce’s speed and quickness have been apparent during practices, as his footwork and precision have helped him separate at times while he gets in and out of his breaks.
The Patriots' WR corps is crowded, but it looks like Boyce or Thompkins are fighting for one spot.
With two solid pass-catching running backs in Shane Vereen and fourth-round draft choice James White, one consideration for the Patriots is putting them on the field together. We know this much: The two-running back package is part of the team’s deep playbook as evidenced by one play in last year’s AFC divisional round playoff win over the Colts. It was the only time all season the Patriots used the two-RB grouping – with Vereen and Brandon Bolden – and it produced a 25-yard catch-and-run reception over the middle by receiver Julian Edelman. The Patriots like to manipulate matchups with various personnel groupings and that play against the Colts provided a snapshot of how a two-RB package (with 2 WRs and 1 TE) can put stress on a defense. The Colts matched in their 4-3 base, the Patriots sent both RBs into pass routes (Bolden to the left flat, Vereen up the right sideline), and there seemed to be just enough confusion between the linebackers and defensive backs on how to handle it that it opened things up for Edelman underneath. Vereen, by the way, made one of the best plays in Thursday’s organized activity by beating linebacker Jerod Mayo down the sideline for a big gain in the passing game. When a running back draws a one-on-one matchup with a linebacker, that’s usually something Brady will take every time. Backs on 'backers – we wouldn’t be surprised if that becomes a bigger part of the Patriots’ attack this year because of the solid pass-catching combination of Vereen and White.
Vereen figures to be a productive back, especially in PPR formats. It will be interesting to see just how many snaps the rookie White plays compared to Vereen, Stevan Ridley and Brandon Bolden. Anything can happen with the Patriots.
Sunday, June 8, 2014, 10:16am
Patriots beat writer Mike Reiss: RR Danny Amendola once again looks like the player who caught the eye in these practices last year. For Amendola, the question remains the same as it has in recent years: Does that change, and do the injuries continue once the pads come on?
Sunday, June 8, 2014, 10:08am
"The one guy I like more and more every day I work with is Andrew Hawkins," Browns QB Brian Hoyer said. "The guy runs his routes so hard. It reminds me a lot of my time in New England with (Wes) Welker, where the guy runs every route to win. He's going full blast. You see him out there and you can tell when he walks back to the huddle, he gave his all on every play. He's just a competitor, and I think the more guys you get like that, the better your team becomes." He is convinced that he'll be featured much more in the version of the West Coast offense implemented by new Browns offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan than the system used by former Bengals offensive coordinator and new Washington Redskins coach Jay Gruden.
Hawkins posted a solid 0.17 FP/snap for the Bengals, but he only played 20% of his team’s snaps in 2013. Now he joins a Browns team that will likely be without Josh Gordon, who is reportedly facing an 8-16 game suspension. Without Gordon in the lineup, Hawkins’ main competition for receiver targets may be Miles Austin and Nate Burleson. He could make a living in the slot and become a fantasy factor, especially in PPR formats.
Eagles TE Zach Ertz played a total of 450 offensive snaps, 41 percent of the team's total, in 2013. As for his role in 2014, Ertz thinks the latter half of his rookie year offered a preview. "I think you saw it in the second half of the season, what kind of went on as I was used all over the field," Ertz said. "Hopefully some more of that."
Ertz averaged 2.8-32-.56 over the final nine games of the season (including the Eagles' sole playoff game) and that included two goose eggs in Week 10 and Week 14. That equates to 6.6 fantasy points per game, which is what Martellus Bennett averaged as the #10 TE in fantasy football. With Jason Avant and DeSean Jackson gone, Ertz could play a lot in the slot, though the arrival of WR Jordan Matthews may limit Ertz’s snaps there. If he can take a step forward in the blocking department, it will help his overall fantasy outlook.
RB Jeremy Hill has already started mixing into the Bengals' plans at running back. He's had first-team snaps alongside Giovani Bernard and been part of the second unit during the open organized team activity practices. He stands a very real chance of making an impact simply because of the Bengals' plans of having a more physical, run-based offense. His ability to catch passes out of the backfield and his knack of avoiding fumbles also are positives that are in his favor
Hue Jackson is calling the plays in Cincinnati, and he’s planning to run a run-heavy scheme that will feature Giovani Bernard, but Hill has seemingly taken over for BenJarvus Green-Ellis as the team's RB2.
Saturday, June 7, 2014, 5:08pm
"He wants to play fast," Dolphins QB Ryan Tannehill said of new OC Bill Lazor, who is widely credited for the emergence of Nick Foles, who led the league in passer rating and set an NFL record for touchdown-to-interception ratio (27:2). "I think that's his biggest point at this time is just getting to the line, playing fast, putting pressure on the defense. We're going to huddle. We're going to take our time in that standpoint, but once we break we want to put pressure on the defense."
If Lazor is half as successful as Chip Kelly was in his first year calling plays in the NFL, then the Dolphins will have several fantasy relevant players on the roster. Tannehill, Mike Wallace, Brian Hartline, Charles Clay and Knowshon Moreno are players to monitor this summer.
"I can't tell you (what my role will be) during OTAs, but it looks like I'll be involved a little more than last year so far," Lions RB Mikel Leshoure told MLive this week. "As far as the role, I don't know. That could change weekly. But I think I'll be more involved." If Leshoure can outshine second-year runner Theo Riddick, he's a solid candidate to see a role similar to what Chris Ivory played before his trade to the New York Jets. If that doesn't happen, Leshoure's time in Detroit is likely up.
We currently project Leshoure to carry the ball 31 times for 142 yards.
Saturday, June 7, 2014, 11:55am
Panthers beat writer David Newton on the team's WR corps: "I see Jerricho Cotchery, Benjamin and Tiquan Underwood as the top three, with Jason Avant in the mix as well."
Underwood posted the #10 FP/T in a limited workload as the Buccaneers de facto WR2 after Mike Williams went down. Now he joins the Panthers, who are desperate for WR help. He has world class 4.31 speed and should fill Ted Ginn’s role in the Panthers’ offense. Plus, he’s getting a major QB upgrade from Mike Glennon to Cam Newton.
Panthers beat writer David Newton predicts eight TDs for rookie WR Kelvin Benjamin: "If Kelvin Benjamin doesn't score more than four touchdowns, I would be surprised. One of the reasons the Panthers drafted Benjamin was because at 6-foot-5 and 240 pounds he is a huge target in the red zone. From what I've seen so far there will be little hesitation to throw it up high and let him go get it. I'll go one step further. I wouldn't be shocked if Benjamin equaled or surpassed Steve Smith's touchdown total (eight) of the past two seasons combined."
Kelvin Benjamin figures to play right away for the Panthers even though he’s something of a project as a route runner. At 6’5”, he should be a factor in the red zone at least.