In the battle of third-down backs, James White looks like a carbon copy of Shane Vereen. He’s lined up in all the same places, and turned in some spectacular catches, particularly on wheel routes coming out of the backfield. He’s made a few drops, but all in all, looks great. It’s important to remember he also looked great last year at this time before falling off the map.
Free agent pickup Dion Lewis has earned praise on the field from Brady for his route-running. He’s also been a primary kick returner in drills. He has some giddy-up in his step.
Travaris Cadet, another free agent who was the third down back in New Orleans, has had some good moments.
“If they don’t look good in shorts and t-shirts, we got a problem,” running backs coach Ivan Fears reminded us last week. “Let’s wait ’til the bullets start flying.”
There was a similar report last week that Cadet had the lead in the competition, so this job is still very much up in the air. If one player takes over Vereen's role, then he'll be immediately relevant in PPR formats.
Redskins beat writer John Keim on the team's backfield split:
Last season Alfred Morris took 66 percent of the Redskins' 401 carries. And in his first three seasons with Washington, Morris took 64 percent. That's a good number for him, and if he's running well then I'd expect that to continue. I think the other part is that we don't know how well Matt Jones will run the ball in the NFL. If he's running well, then I could see him getting a handful of carries per game. Regardless, he'll have a role as a third-down back. Also, if the Redskins are as committed to the run as they say, then they should have at least 50 more carries than last season's total of 401. That won't change the percentage, but it would mean more chances for both. Another factor is how often they use the zone-read option. If it's less of a factor, then that's more carries for Morris/Jones to split.
Morris should continue to be a fringe RB1 in standard formats and a solid RB2 in PPR leagues. It sounds like Jones will take over the role vacated by Roy Helu.
Saints beat writer Mike Triplett on the fantasy value of the team's running backs:
It's pretty close between C.J. Spiller and Mark Ingram. I'm really excited to see what Spiller will do in this offense as both a runner and receiver - mostly because you can tell that Sean Payton is really excited about the possibilities when he talks about Spiller. I think Spiller and Ingram will be very close in total yards from scrimmage - right around 1,000 yards each, with Ingram gaining almost all of those yards as a rusher and Spiller having a pretty even split between rushing and receiving yards. Spiller will get a boost in point-per-reception leagues. Ingram will probably score more TDs, though.
Senior Editor laid out The Case for C.J. Spiller earlier in the offseason. It's not inconceivable that Spiller posts top 5 PPR numbers a la Darren Sproles in 2011. Ingram should get his share of touches, though a healthy Khriy Robinson is a concern. Spiller would be our choice for PPR formats, with Ingram coming in higher in standard leagues.
Saints beat writer Mike Triplett on the Saints' TE situation:
I've written a lot about Josh Hill this summer, as well. I think he'll pop up on the fantasy radar since he'll get an opportunity at more touches with Graham gone. But I'm not expecting a major breakthrough. I think Hill's 5 TDs last year were a bit misleading since he was usually benefitting from being the "open man" on those plays instead of a red-zone monster. He had only 14 catches overall. I actually think tight end Ben Watson could be a sleeper late-round pickup in deeper leagues and during bye weeks, etc. Watson might have led the Saints in catches during the OTA and minicamp practices that were open to the media. He won't have a breakout year at age 34, but he'll be regularly involved.
Jimmy Graham, Hill and Watson combined for 1,634 snaps last year, with Watson playing 50 percent of the team's snaps. Sean Payton said that Watson's role won't change in 2015, but didn't say if that meant he would play about the same number of snaps. Hill's snaps should at least double (to 50 percent) and he even has upside from there since Jimmy Graham played on 68 percent of the snaps. It was worrisome that Payton mentioned "two-TE sets" when discussing Hill's potential playing time, since it indicates that he's not going to start. At the end of the day, the Saints are looking for playmakers in the passing game, so while we're not as bullish as we were a month ago on Hill's upside, he's still looking like a nice pick in the later rounds of fantasy drafts. If he's producing, he'll play.
"He's doing a great job for us,'' Eagles head coach Chip Kelly said of TE Zach Ertz. "He's got an unbelievable work ethic, has really had no offseason in terms of what he did this past; from when our season ended against the Giants to when we started the offseason program in terms of what he did to work on his craft and make himself better not only as a receiver but as a blocker."
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 -- first DeSean Jackson and then Jeremy Maclin -- in back-to-back seasons, so there will be opportunity from a targets standpoint. It's good to hear that Kelly is happy with his blocking -- that's the key to more playing time.
Montee Ball had a disappointing 2014 season in which he was supposed to run away with the starting job. While Ball’s downfall can be linked to his appendectomy before the season, this season he finds himself behind Denver’s breakout star from 2014 C.J. Anderson.
While Ball remains optimistic that he’ll find a way to regain his position as Denver’s featured back, Troy Renck says his time has come and gone.
“If C.J. Anderson stays healthy, his commitment is at a new level,” Renck said. “I don’t see Ball getting the chance to prove that anymore. I think the window closed on him last year. It’s a bellcow offense, the back doesn’t rotate in and out.”
Anderson began to see starter-type touches in Week 10 with 17 touches for 163 yards and a touchdown against the Raiders. Over the final eight weeks, he averaged 24.0 touches for 132 yards and 1.3 TD, and was the #1 RB in that span. If the Broncos commit to Anderson (and why wouldn’t they?), he should thrive under new HC Gary Kubiak, who just coaxed a career year out of journeyman Justin Forsett.
Greg Cosell of NFL Films discussed the 49ers' offseason:
People tend to forget with Colin Kaepernick, because he had such great success early, that he's only been a full-time starter for two years. He's still a young quarterback, he's still learning the craftsmanship of the position and the subtleties of the position. With a new coordinator, I think Geep Chryst, my sense is, I think he'll try and be a little more expansive and explosive with the pass game. So I'm anxious to see that. I think they'll try very hard to get Vernon Davis back into it. So I think it's important for people to remember that Colin Kaepernick is still a young quarterback learning.
He was the #14 QB in 2014 after finishing #9 the season before, though his overall production only dipped by 11 fantasy points. He's a bounce-back candidate provided new OC Geep Chryst can design an offense that can move the ball. Chryst previously served as the OC for the Chargers in 1999 and 2000, but his offenses ranked 26th and 28th overall in that span. Any gains that Kaepernick can make as a thrower (due to his offseason work with QB coach Dennis Gile and former Rams/Cardinals QB Kurt Warner) will only help his overall value.
As for Davis, he's quite a bit better than the numbers he posted last year. His 50 targets were his fewest since 2008, and his usage was way too low considering he has finished in the top 8 at his position in four of the last six seasons. He was targeted just once in the red zone after seeing 20 red zone targets in 2013.
"Tavon Austin's had a great offseason," new Rams OC Frank Cignetti said, via the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "It starts in the classroom. He's learning. He's paying attention. He's bringing it to the practice field.
"You just see it from his route running. What a difference. His effort, his attention to details. Every day out there, the guy's made plays."
Whether it's because paint-by-numbers former offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer couldn't maximize the receiver/running back hybrid's talents or because Austin lacks any semblance of tackle-breaking power, the development simply hasn't been there.
It's difficult to see Austin making much of a fantasy impact unless Cignetti's able to figure out a way to maximize his skill set.
Bears WR Marquess Wilson is still in the mix, even though Chicago drafted Kevin White No. 7 overall. Because White missed the final week of practice, Wilson received increased reps with the first and second teams. HC John Fox seems impressed by Wilson, who suffered a broken collarbone in training camp last year that derailed his sophomore season.
Bears WR Eddie Royal is a rare breed. He is smart and talented enough to do the dirty work on the underneath routes, but fast enough to catch a slant and take it to the house. It’s hard to remember the last time Chicago had such a versatile receiver on the roster.
Saturday, June 20, 2015, 10:53am
Fred Davis’s tenure in New England didn’t last long.
Davis, the tight end who signed with the Patriots last month, was released by the team today. The Patriots apparently decided after this week’s minicamp that Davis simply didn’t fit on a tight end depth chart featuring star Rob Gronkowski and veterans Michael Hoomanawanui and Scott Chandler.
Who starts at running back for the Titans isn’t the biggest concern. Bishop Sankey started only nine games last season, but he wound up with 58 more carries than anyone else. David Cobb could wind up in a similar situation this season. The Titans intend to be a committee, but Cobb is the better inside running option and should be the guy in short-yardage and goal line situations. The starter? I don’t know that it matters. Sankey is in line to be better than he was as a rookie, but Cobb should get a good deal of work and depending on the game, he could be the first back they turn to.
The Titans were 26th in total rushing yards last season, so if they're planning to split the work between Sankey and Cobb, there's a good chance that neither player is trustworthy from a fantasy standpoint.
Saints HC Sean Payton indicated that he is experimenting with plays specifically with C.J. Spiller in mind.
"When you sign a player like that ... you are anxious to see how it fits with what you are doing and you begin to expand some things," Payton said.
Quarterback Drew Brees said he envisioned plenty of snaps for Spiller, not only because of his explosiveness, but also because at 5-foot-11, 200 pounds, he's sturdy enough to run inside and even block in pass protection, as former Saints running back Pierre Thomas did.
"He's got some of the quickness and the speed and kind of that slash element like a Sproles," Brees said of Spiller. "But he's bigger in stature like a Pierre, and so there's really not anything he can't do."
While New Orleans may not be an ideal landing spot in the carries department, Spiller should have a big role in the passing game with Pierre Thomas, Jimmy Graham and Kenny Stills no longer on the roster. He’ll likely take over the role of Thomas, who averaged 11.6 touches in the last two seasons. Thomas finished with a top 30 PPG (PPR) in six of the last seven seasons, so that's a reasonable baseline for Spiller. New Orleans running backs caught 275 passes in the last two seasons, so there are plenty of catches to go around. In short, he has significant PPR upside in this offense, but his workload will be somewhat limited since he'll be part of a committee.
Shocker, right? The way he moved around the practice field this month was unlike any player of the Caldwell-Bradley Era. For a franchise that’s been without difference making players, Thomas checks that important box.
If Thomas wasn’t leaping to catch a Blake Bortles catch down the seam — with a linebacker trailing him, he was running a post pattern to catch a Bortles offering — with a safety scrambling to cover him.
It's not shocking, but maybe a bit surprising. Thomas was a very productive tight end in Denver, but we're worried about the quarterback and offense downgrade to Blake Bortles and Jacksonville. He should offer at least baseline fantasy TE1 numbers, but we're dubious about a top 5 finish.
A quick canvas of the league revealed 10 No. 1-caliber receivers: Calvin Johnson, Julio Jones, Alshon Jeffrey, A.J. Green, Dez Bryant, DeMaryius Thomas, Jordy Nelson, T.Y. Hilton, Odell Beckham and Antonio Brown.
Robinson, the Jaguars’ second-year receiver, is below that level, but on this team at this moment, he’s the best.
Robinson averaged 5.2 catches for 61 yards and 0.22 TD from Week 2 to Week 10, which extrapolates to an 84-974-3.6 over the course of a full 16-game season. He posted fringe WR2-type numbers before suffering a stress fracture in his foot. The Jacksonville receiving corps should feature Robinson, Marqise Lee and Allen Hurns. If QB Blake Bortles can progress, this could be a dangerous passing game, and Robinson would be the primary beneficiary.