Fantasy Notebook: NFC West Preview; Stacy, Ellington On The Rise & More

May 03, 2014
Fantasy Notebook: NFC West Preview; Stacy, Ellington On The Rise & More

So far, the Fantasy Notebook has broken down NFC South, AFC South, AFC West, NFC East and AFC East. This week I'll take on the NFC West with the usual fantasy football-centric focus.


We'll get the ball rolling this week in St. Louis, where there's good news for fantasy owners: Zac Stacy isn't going to see a lesser role in year two. That’s right. The Rams see him as a workhorse.

You think?

"He should be more productive (in '14) because he should have more carries," general manager Les Snead said when asked if Stacy's role would transfer over to a new season.

According to St. Louis Post-Dispatch staff writer Jim Thomas, head coach Jeff Fisher also addressed Stacy's role going forward at the NFL owners meeting in March and added to the positive vibe.

"I think over time, he'll probably be that 70-percent of the carries guy," Fisher said.

This would pretty much be exactly what fantasy football owners are looking for from the second year man. Stacy had just one rushing attempt in the first four games of the season before being given the opportunity to start in Week 5 against Jacksonville. As the Sports Xchange reminded readers, he cemented his hold on the job with a tough running style that isn't fancy but is effective. He fell just short of 1,000 yards with 973 and had 250 carries, an average of just fewer than 21 per game in those he started.

Look for more of the same in 2014 -- with an emphasis on the more since the Rams obviously hope Stacy will start 16 games instead of 12.

Fantasy owners in Dynasty formats are undoubtedly pleased (especially those who probably got him as a great value). Re-drafters, however, were already going to have to pay up. The comments from Snead and Fisher will only add fuel to that fire.

That said,'s Nick Waggoner recently reminded fantasy owners who view Stacy as a first-round pick there are some potential drawbacks.

Stacy had a knack for racking up nagging injuries in 2013. None of those cost him full games but they did keep Stacy out for extended periods of time within games. Stacy's 3.9 yards per carry were relatively pedestrian and greatly hampered by late-season trips to face the tough defensive fronts of the NFC West.

Aside from a huge performance at home against Seattle, Stacy had 48 carries for 112 yards in those final three in-division games, an average of just 2.3 yards per attempt.

Then there's the bigger concern: Facing Arizona, San Francisco and Seattle six times a year figures to be a challenge and Waggoner recommends monitoring how the Rams continue to build the offensive line in the draft before you target Stacy early in your draft. It's great advice -- that will almost certainly be ignored by a large number of us in our never-ending quest for true feature backs to serve as our fantasy RB1.

Meanwhile, whether it turns out to be a fortuitous move for fantasy owners remains to be seen, but Kenny Britt should find some level of comfort with his new team. The wideout's new coach, Fisher, was head coach of the Titans when Tennessee selected Britt in the first round of the 2009 NFL draft. He coached Britt for two years.

Britt dropped off the NFL radar in 2013, but he promised to resurface.

"I am going to be a No. 1 receiver somewhere else if I am not here next year, and that is guaranteed," Britt told Nashville Tennessean beat writer Jim Wyatt back in December. "I am definitely going to be a receiver that makes plays on Sundays and makes something happen for a team."

I can think of worse teams than the Rams for Britt to make that happen.

Last season the Titans largely phased Britt out of their offense. He caught just 11 passes for 96 yards. But Britt had more than 700 receiving yards in both of his seasons playing for Fisher and the Rams would love to see Britt provide that kind of production again.

It's safe to say that's not a given.

Britt is a classic case of signing a guy just in case he finally achieves what many thought he might upon being a first-round pick in 2009. He's caught 157 passes in five seasons but never more than 45, and in three seasons he's played in 12 games or fewer.

In the early weeks of the 2011 season, it appeared that Britt was destined to become one of the best receivers in the game. With 136 receiving yards in Week 1 and 135 in Week 2, Britt was on his way. And then an ACL tear derailed him. The knee has been an ongoing issue since then.

Britt also has had multiple run-ins with the police since entering the league and was suspended for one game in 2012 after an arrest on suspicion of DUI.

Still, Fisher clearly believes that Britt's talent outweighs those concerns.

He joins a receiving corps led by Chris Givens, Tavon Austin, Austin Pettis, Stedman Bailey and Brian Quick.

As the Xchange recently noted, Givens seemed to take a step back from his rookie 2012 season, but some of the evaluation of receivers is skewed by Sam Bradford's injury and the fact that pass attempts went down with Kellen Clemens under center, especially in games where the running game was working well.

Givens did average 16.7 yards per catch, but had only 34 and never found the end zone all season.

Pettis played more in the beginning of the season than in the second half although he did get more snaps in the final few weeks.

The Rams had difficulty early getting the ball in Austin's hands in space, and his 10.5-yard average was hiked by an 81-yard touchdown play. He missed the final three games of the season because of an ankle injury. Fisher, however, believes that Austin is ready to take the next step in his development this season.

"One of the things that was misleading was he had two or three returns called back -- one against Dallas --and then he got hurt," Fisher said. "I think another year in the program, in the offense, OTAs, training camp, you'll see more production. I think we'll do a better job of using him now that we know what he's capable of doing. Kind of looking forward to see him improve from year one to year two."

Quick had a strong average per catch (16.8), but had just 18 receptions. The Rams believe his third season could be the one where he begins to make a bigger impact. Bailey was a standout on special teams in the first half of the season, and then started seeing the field more on offense late in the season. There was enough improvement to believe he can be a much larger factor in 2014.

Tight end Jared Cook, a former Titans teammate who joined the Rams last offseason, proved to be everything he's always been: A dangerous threat who can disappear at times.

In other words, if Britt can regain past form, he has a good chance of contributing. Given his physical attributes, Britt's ability to re-invent himself (or not) will be a story that merits our attention.

And finally, with the start of the Rams' offseason conditioning program two weeks ago, Bradford returned to work on a limited basis in his return from the torn ACL that ended his season early. "Sam's in a very good place considering what happened last year," Fisher said. "He's worked hard through the process, and I would expect him at some point to be throwing in OTAs."

Fisher went on to admit, "You're not gonna hear a head coach say he has a player on his team that's not ahead of schedule coming off an ACL. Everybody says they're all ahead of schedule. But he is realistically way ahead of schedule. He's working hard."

That said, Fisher doesn't expect Bradford to start working in team drills until June.


In Arizona, head coach Bruce Arians told reporters at February's NFL Scouting Combine that Arizona planned to "build our offense" around Andre Ellington. Arians added to that at the NFL owners meetings in March, when he suggested the second-year ball-carrier will get up to 10 touches per game as a pass-catcher out of the backfield.

Fantasy owners would agree that building an offense that keys on Ellington makes sense as he is the most dynamic runner on the roster. But does that mean he will get 25 carries a game?

Probably not.

"He is still not a guy who you will pound up the middle 30 times a game and survive," Arians said. "He can run the football 30 times a game if you do it correctly, but you'd rather have him have 10 catches and 20 carries and let Stepfan Taylor or (Jonathan) Dwyer have the rest of the carries."

The 5-9 Ellington has tacked on 10 pounds during offseason work -- putting him closer to 210 -- but his slight build puts him closer to the mold of Chris Johnson or Jamaal Charles than a bruiser. Given that, Arians expressed caution over designing too much of the playbook around one man. "You've got to watch that you don't create too much stuff and then he sprains an ankle and you don't have any offense because you put too much in one basket," said the coach.

Ellington's 2013 basket was filled with 118 carries and 39 catches. With Rashard Mendenhall retiring, it sounds like fantasy owners can expect more from Ellington this season.

How much more might depend on Taylor and Dwyer.

Dwyer, who played for Arians in Pittsburgh, knows the offense. In 2013, his role the Steelers' offense was minimal (49 carries for 197 yards). But in 2012 he showed that he can provide solid production, getting six starts and rushing 156 times for 623 yards.

Still, Taylor is a guy I'll be watching closely this offseason.

According to's Josh Weinfuss, it's clear that Arians wants to ride out Ellington as his primary rusher with Taylor as the second option. Taylor was used primarily as a between-the-tackles rusher, but he was able to show his speed bursts at times.

During his combine press availability, general manager Steve Keim offered praise for Taylor's pass protection (as well as his ability to run between the tackles). Keim said the team has "big expectations" for Taylor in 2014. Keim said the team planned to use a "platoon of backs," mainly because of Ellington's build.

So assuming both Arians and Keim are men or their word, let's go with Ellington as leader of the committee until we see otherwise.

What about Ryan Williams?

Weinfuss advised readers that the start of the team's off-program marked the start of the most important stretch of Williams' career. If his knee is healthy and can stay that way, Weinfuss believes that Williams may have a chance at making the roster in 2014. But any setback during the offseason will put his roster spot in jeopardy for training camp.

Also in Arizona, while nobody should rule out the possibility of Arizona drafting a quarterback next week, Arians recently made it clear he's fully sold on Carson Palmer, calling him a Super Bowl-level passer who's far from finished as an NFL starter. "There's no doubt," Arians said. "He's got plenty of juice left in the tank and he's in great condition and he's always been in great condition, so I would think he can play up to 36, 37."

Arians knows what he's talking about when it comes to QBs after developing Ben Roethlisberger with the Steelers and Andrew Luck with the Colts.

But Arians isn't looking to develop another just yet.

"If I thought there was a guy that was in (Roethlisberger or Luck's) caliber, yes, but I don't think quarterbacks learn anything holding clipboards," Arians said, adding the Cardinals are fully on board with Palmer.

"There's no doubt in my mind," Arians said. "The way he played at the end of the season, he's still got enough and having played against him all those years in Cincinnati, he's still got plenty. He can make all the throws."

The veteran signal caller does have a pretty solid receiving corps in Arizona.

Although they lost Andre Roberts to the Redskins in free agency, the Cardinals signed former Panther Ted Ginn to a three-year contract.

Ginn scored five touchdowns on offense for the Panthers last year, or one fewer than the former first-rounder had scored in his first six seasons in the league. He's also continued to be a threat as a return man and with the Cardinals, there's no pressure on him to be more than a third option and a special-teamer.

Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd, who finally began to emerge last season as the kind of play-making threat the Cardinals envisioned when they drafted him in the first round of the 2012 draft, offer Palmer plenty of down-field firepower and combine with Ellington to present difficult matchup problems for opposing defenses.

But fantasy owners probably shouldn't consider the Cardinals' tight ends part of the regular arsenal. At least not if you listen to Arians.

"The tight end for me, I'm old school. You've got to block first and catch passes," he said at the combine.

The proof goes beyond that, however.

Rob Housler was the Cardinals' leading pass catcher among tight ends in 2013, hauling in 39 receptions for 454 yards and one TD in 13 games. He was targeted 57 times -- about four times per contest. The Cardinals' three most-targeted players in 2013 were all wide receivers: Fitzgerald (134 targets), Floyd (112) and Roberts (76).

Despite the widely-held view that Housler is capable of more, sounds like Arians isn't as interested in the position as the rest of us.

One last note here: Rumors of a Fitzgerald trade to the Patriots died down once the veteran wideout restructured his contract in February, lowering his $18 million cap hit to something more manageable. To hear Keim tell it, the Patriots' interest never went beyond the speculation stage. Indeed, Keim never received a phone call from the Patriots about the wide receiver.

As's Gregg Rosenthal noted, it will be interesting to see if that changes next offseason when Fitzgerald carries a salary-cap charge of $23.6 million.

In a subsequent interview with Pro Football Talk on NBCSN, Keim recognized that at some point Fitzgerald may have to take a pay cut to stay in Arizona, and Keim admitted that an outsider could believe based on the cap number that Fitzgerald may not retire with the Cardinals.

For now, the Cardinals have Fitzgerald under contract for one more year. But it will be an issue next offseason.


In Seattle, as's Terry Blount recently underlined, the Seahawks' offense is based on the power running game and it all revolves around Marshawn Lynch. He is the key to what the team wants to accomplish as an offense.

Lynch is coming off his third consecutive season in which he topped 1,000 yards rushing, and tied his career high of 12 regular-season rushing touchdowns. Lynch also had 36 receptions for 316 yards and two receiving TDs. He epitomizes Seattle's physical style of play, a punishing runner who will run over would-be tacklers -- but one who also can run around them.

Remember, Lynch became the first running back last season to top the 100-yard mark against the 49ers with 109 yards on 22 carries. That included a 40-yard TD in the third quarter that further demonstrated there's more than power to Lynch's game.

The 36 catches were Lynch's most since he pulled in 48 during his second season with Buffalo.

So while nobody should be ready to bail on Lynch just yet, fantasy owners who haven't already done so might want to get Christine Michael on their radars.

The Seahawks' top draft pick in 2013, Michael appeared in just four regular season games as a rookie for Super Bowl-champion Seattle. A second-round pick from Texas A&M, Michael rushed for 79 yards on 18 carries in the regular season. He didn't play in any of the team's postseason games, either. But the 5-10, 221-pound youngster had a productive preseason for the Seahawks, rushing for 201 yards on 40 carries and catching three passes for 47 yards.

Now, Michael appears to be in line to get more of a shot this season. This after head coach Pete Carroll began talking him up at the NFL Scouting Combine.

"He's really talented and a really exciting guy in our program," Carroll said of Michael. "Probably has the most breakout potential of anybody because we haven't seen much of him yet. We've seen him; we know that he can do really special stuff. He played in a very competitive position. It was hard to get in there with Marshawn and Robert Turbin.

"But he'll give those guys a real run when we come back to work."

ESPN710 Radio's Liz Mathews and NFL Network's Adam Rank have both told the FootballDiehards on SiriusXM Fantasy Sports Radio the same thing. The worst-case scenario? If Michael develops, a Seattle offense already boasting pretty solid depth across the board will be even stronger.

Also of interest: Seattle hopes that a full and healthy year from Percy Harvin will make up for the loss of Golden Tate, who signed with Detroit as a free agent. Still, Seattle could use some depth at this spot, particularly bigger receivers -- the only receiver on the roster with NFL experience taller than 6-2 is Sidney Rice, who is coming off an ACL injury and caught just 15 passes in eight games last season.

Rice could be ready for the start of the 2014 season, general manager John Schneider said Wednesday. "Yeah, absolutely," Schneider told reporters when asked if Rice might be available for Seattle's opener against Green Bay on Sept. 4, which would be a little over 10 months after the receiver was hurt.

As notes, if Rice -- who has battled knee issues for several years -- can stay healthy, he is a good outside complement for the defending Super Bowl champs. And perhaps even a viable fantasy threat who will be available at a reasonable value.

For what it’s worth, Rank, appearing on last week's FootballDiehards show, predicted that Jermaine Kearse will plenty of opportunities to show his stuff working behind Harvin, whose recent injury history hasn't been all that great. It should be noted that Doug Baldwin will have something to say about Kearse's playing time too.

And what about Harvin? How much should fantasy owners be willing to invest to secure his services come draft day?

Given his current ADP of 15, I'd suggest you'll probably have to draft him as a top-10 receiver. That's based on the assumption Harvin remains healthy throughout the off-season program, OTAs, mini-camps, training camp and the preseason. Because health is the only thing that might keep us from biting on him early, right?

After undergoing hip surgery last August to repair a torn labrum, Harvin played in only one regular-season game and two playoff games. But he was mighty impressive in those brief glimpses.

Harvin was the surprising leading rusher in the Super Bowl against the Broncos -- two carries for 45 yards on end-around plays, but he put the game out of reach when he returned the opening kickoff of the second half 87 yards for a touchdown.

Harvin should be 100 percent healthy for 2014 and is expected to be a major contributor to the offense and special teams. If that's the case, Blount's assessment should be something fantasy owners keep in mind: "He is one of the fastest players in the NFL and has the athletic ability to be the best player on the team."

Also worth noting, Russell Wilson isn't satisfied with claiming one Super Bowl title so early in his NFL career. Wilson has a big goal in mind: Be the greatest quarterback in NFL history.

"Why can't I be the best quarterback to ever play the game one day?' Wilson said. "I'm not right now. I've got a long way to go. But one day, you know?"

Wilson's focus is now is on how he can improve as both a player on the field and as a leader."I think a great leader is consistent every day," Wilson said. "That's how I try to be in terms of my work ethic on and off the field and being the first one in and the last one to leave and all those things. But it's the same every day thing. There's no time to sleep and that's what I try to tell my teammates all the time. My job in playing football is to help the other 10 guys in the huddle get better. If I can do that, if I can help facilitate the ball to the right guy at the right time, I'm doing my job."

That's just the kind of approach fantasy owners want in a quarterback.

Speaking of quarterbacks, for those of us wondering if Terrelle Pryor might be more than Wilson's backup, the answer at this point is no, according to Schneider, who was happy to acquire Pryor for Seattle's seventh-round draft pick.

As the Seattle Times noted this week, when the trade was made, rumors swirled that the Seahawks might experiment with Pryor at other positions, because Seattle seems set at quarterback with Wilson as the starter and veteran Tarvaris Jackson returning as a trusted backup.

Schneider, though, said there has been no talk of using Pryor, a 24-year-old former Ohio State star, as anything but a quarterback.

"Right now, he's learning the quarterback position and (playing another spot) is not even an option,'' Schneider said. Schneider acknowledged that it's hard not to look at the physical attributes of Pryor and not be intrigued by the non-quarterback possibilities. Pryor is listed at 6-4 and 245 pounds. He was once timed in the 40 in 4.36 seconds. "The fantasy football guy in me is like, 'Yeah, Kordell Stewart was great at it,''' Schneider said, referring to the former Pittsburgh QB who also played receiver.

Still, Schneider maintains the team acquired Pryor with the idea of adding depth and competition at quarterback.


In San Francisco, as the Xchange noted this past week, the start of the offseason conditioning program couldn't come soon enough for the 49ers.

After having dealt with trade rumors involving head coach Jim Harbaugh and numerous off-the-field incidents involving key players, general manager Trent Baalke has to be feeling a sense of relief knowing his players are returning to the team's facility this week.

Indeed, the 49ers have had one of the team's most difficult offseasons in recent memory, highlighted by an incident report involving quarterback Colin Kaepernick, receiver Quinton Patton and former 49ers receiver Ricardo Lockette. The incident report was filed in early April when a woman said she had visited an apartment in an upscale hotel in Miami and was asked to drink shots of alcohol and take "hits out of a bong" that allegedly contained marijuana.

No charges have been filed, nor was there anything in the reports of the incident that implicated any wrongdoing on Kaepernick's behalf, but the investigation remains ongoing.

The timing of the incident couldn't be worse for Kaepernick, who is in the midst of negotiating a contract extension that could make him one of the highest-paid quarterbacks in the league. According to reports, Kaepernick's camp is reportedly looking for more than $20 million per season, which would rank him in the top five at the position.

Since the incident in Miami, the team has tabled those negotiations while the investigation continues to play out.

But Harbaugh came out with strong comments in support of his QB. "Looking at Colin Kaepernick's situation, at some point there needs to be a resolution to some of this jump-the-gun, witch-hunt scenario we're seeing," the coach said last week.

"I've seen one side reported. I've heard the other side," Harbaugh added. "I feel very good there'll be a good resolution, and hopefully a just one, too. I hate to see his reputation be the victim. ... Winston Churchill had a great quote: 'A lie will get halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to put on its pants,' At some point there needs to be a resolution to this scenario. The only victim in Colin's case is Colin's reputation."

As notes, Harbaugh leaves no doubt where he stands on the matter -- even if the Niners' decision to pull the plug on contract negotiations until the incident is resolved suggests the team will use the issue against Kaepernick once talks resume.

But when all this blows over, fantasy owners shouldn't overlook Kaepernick, who should be back to his more mobile self to open the 2014 season.

As's Matt Maiocco reminded readers, Kaepernick claimed to have a hangnail on the "pinkie toe" of both feet early last season. And while he didn't get into any specifics at last month's NFL owners meetings, Harbaugh did not minimize his quarterback's undisclosed early-season foot injury.

"I noticed it, especially in practice," Harbaugh said. "I think anytime you have a foot, a hand or a finger, it affects you throwing and running."

Kaepernick first appeared on the 49ers' injury report in the days after the Week 2 loss against the Seattle Seahawks. He never missed a practice or a game. In early November, Kaepernick was no longer listed on the injury report with the foot injury.

"I can see it," Harbaugh said of Kaepernick's foot. "He doesn't verbalize it and he says he's fine and he's going to play through it, which I respect. If it ever got to the point where I thought it was hurting him or an injury could be worse or he was hurting the team, I'd step in."

But the 49ers did step in, Harbaugh admitted, to reduce the number of times the 49ers called plays in their quarterback-driven run game early in the season. Kaepernick rushed 94 times for 524 yards during the regular season.

He added 243 yards on 26 rushing attempts in just three playoff games. Sounds like the latter might be closer to the norm if he can avoid the nicks early this season.

Also of interest: A year after the 49ers took him in the fourth round of the NFL draft, running back Marcus Lattimore says he's healthy enough in recovery from the gruesome knee injury that ended his college career that he could take the field today. Lattimore said his next steps aren't about rehabbing his knee, they're just about convincing Harbaugh that he deserves significant playing time."If he wants to put me in, he'll put me in," Lattimore said. "If I prove it in practice, I don't think there's no excuse why I can't play. I'm ready."

Lattimore has heard the reports that backup running back LaMichael James is not in the 49ers' long-term plans (although Baalke claims the notion that James is available via trade is unfounded), which means Lattimore would move up to third on the depth chart behind Frank Gore and Kendall Hunter.

"If that happens, it does put me in that No. 3 spot," Lattimore said. "But I've just got to go in there and work hard. I can pass-protect and run the ball. I've got to show that."

And if he does, Lattimore's future is intriguing given Gore's advancing age -- even if Harbaugh thinks the veteran has plenty left in the tank.

Gore has one year remaining on his contract, but Harbaugh believes the nine-year veteran has a future well beyond this season. "I really think Frank has three more good years," Harbaugh said at the owners meetings. "I truly believe that. But we're in a game of taking it one year at a time."

Gore, who turns 31 this month, is scheduled to earn $6.45 million this season. He rushed for 1,128 yards and nine touchdowns last season. Gore is the 49ers' all-time leading rusher with 9,967 yards. He has eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark in seven of his nine NFL seasons.

And while the Niners are comfortable with their depth at the position, they haven't used it much up to this point. In the meantime, Gore continues to quietly provide solid fantasy value on an annual basis. Can he do it three more years? That seems like a reach, but one good year doesn't seem unreasonable.

And finally, Brandon Lloyd is back for a second tour with the team that drafted him 11 years ago after the 49ers signed the 32-year-old receiver to a one-year contract.

Lloyd last played in 2012, catching 74 passes for 911 yards and four touchdowns for New England. The 49ers pursued him in free agency last offseason, but Lloyd spent the season away from the game. Lloyd spent his first three seasons with the 49ers (2003-2005) before joining the Redskins (2006-2007), Bears (2008), Broncos (2009-2011), Rams (2011) and Patriots (2012).

He has caught 385 passes for 5,695 yards and 35 TDs in his NFL career. In San Francisco, Lloyd will likely contend for a complementary role in the offense. Michael Crabtree and Anquan Boldin are the 49ers' top targets at wideout, with Vernon Davis one of the game's top tight ends. Beyond those three, however, there's room for a contributor. Lloyd could be it.

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