Fantasy Notebook: NFC East Preview; RG3 Rising, Eli Declining & More
After taking on the NFC South, AFC South and AFC West, the Fantasy Notebook continues its division-by-division look at the NFL offseason with a tour of the NFC East, where things have not only been rather hectic in recent weeks but where the developments have been of great interest to fantasy football owners.
We'll get the ball rolling this week in Washington, where there's been a lot of focus on the arrival of DeSean Jackson -- and rightfully so. But for all the attention surrounding his arrival and the circumstances leading up to it, there's much more to this one for fantasy owners.
And it's all centered around one Robert Griffin III -- which is totally understandable in the wake a less-than-impressive (he kindly said) 2013 campaign.
As the Sports Xchange recently suggested, if Griffin's record-setting rookie year hadn't been so spectacular, his second season wouldn't have been such a disappointment. His 82.2 passer rating with 16 touchdowns and 12 interceptions would have been respectable, especially coming off major knee surgery.
Instead, he received a flood of criticism before being benched the final three games, supposedly to ensure he would have a healthy offseason.
Since the end of that 3-13 run, the Redskins have gone to great lengths to clear Griffin's path back to the top, adding a more quarterback-friendly head coach in Jay Gruden and two new receivers in Jackson and former Cardinal Andre Roberts. The new receivers join promising young tight end Jordan Reed and veteran wideout Pierre Garcon, who led the NFL with a franchise-record 113 catches last season.
Griffin, too, should be better after a full offseason of work rather than rehabbing his knee.
Indeed, Jackson's signing might well be viewed as gravy.
"It's an exciting time to be a Redskin fan and a part of this team because the firepower that we have with all our guys," Griffin said. "Everyone needs to understand that we haven't won anything yet and these next few months will be about building those bonds and chemistry so that we can."
"I'm excited to have another weapon. The guy is mad fast and I think, overall, it definitely helps the offense," running back Alfred Morris said.
"DeSean is a great player," Garcon said. "He can help our offense, help our team. You know he's definitely going to open up things. We're going to make plays for each other and help get the ball into the end zone."
Of course, whether those comments turn out to be true will be determined this fall. But there's certainly ample evidence to believe they are accurate predictions.
Just ask Jackson's former teammate LeSean McCoy.
"Not playing with him this year is gonna definitely be different," McCoy told PhillyMag.com shortly after Jackson's release. "And playing against him is really gonna be different. I just imagine all the times we used to. ... Knowing defensive teams are gonna try to defend us and different things like that, and now we've gotta defend against him, so it's gonna be a little different."
The Eagles' star tailback added: "It's some big shoes to fill. DeSean was by far one of the best playmakers in the game and the biggest deep threat there is in the game."
I'll go ahead and point out the obvious: That deep-threat ability plays into a strength of RG3's.
While he struggled in that department (along with most other aspects of his game) last season, the book on Griffin coming out of Baylor prior to his rookie year included the following line: "Outstanding deep-ball touch and accuracy; can drop it in a bucket and place it in tight spots. ... Can uncork it with ease."
In his 2012 Rookie Scouting Portfolio, Matt Waldman listed Griffin at the top of the class in terms of arm strength and added, "What the Baylor QB can do from unbalanced positions is special."
Again, however; let me stress the addition of Jackson is only one change made to leverage Griffin's talents. I further contend that while exciting and helpful, it's not the most important. That distinction is reserved for the change at the top. The firing of former head coach Mike Shanahan and hiring of Gruden as his replacement speaks volumes about the desire to get Griffin back on track.
As Washington Post staff writer Dan Steinberg framed it: "One way to summarize Jay Gruden's approach to Griffin: Whatever Mike Shanahan did, do the opposite."
Asked last month how he planned to build his relationship with Griffin, Gruden replied: "Um, just try to be honest and open with him and not do things behind his back. I don't know what happened last year with coach Shanahan and him, and where the relationship went south, or if it did, or maybe the media blew it up."
"[Shanahan's] obviously not here anymore," Gruden continued. "Now it's my job to get the most out of Robert. And I honestly believe that there has to be an open relationship between quarterback and coach-slash-play caller, to have the comfort level where he can come in and say hey, I honestly don't like this play, I don't feel good about it. Or can we run more of this. Or whatever it is. There has to be an open communication for the quarterback to be the most successful. And I welcome that type of atmosphere. Hopefully it will work out."
Those who follow the team closely believe it will. And it really can't get much worse, can it?
Grant Paulsen of 106.7 The Fan put it like this during a recent appearance with the FootballDiehards on SiriusXM Fantasy Sports Radio: "Shanahan spent four years trying to prove his way is the right way. Gruden seems to be more open to new things."
Or maybe just obvious things. During his extensive review of video of Griffin's games the past two years, Gruden has come to the conclusion that the young dual-threat quarterback has the capability to execute almost any type of scheme.
"It's fun to have a guy like Robert because I think there's really not much that I can throw at him that he can't do. I think he can do it all," Gruden said.
As he continues to compose his team's new playbook and decide how he will utilize Griffin, Gruden is striving for balance.
"I think I've seen him do everything," the coach told the Washington Examiner last month. "I've seen him be successful in quick game. I've seen him be successful from time to time in drop-back game. I've seen him roll out and make throws. I've seen the play action. I've seen the read option."
The offseason program, which began April 7, will prove valuable for Griffin, Gruden and offensive coordinator Sean McVay. It's allowed them to begin discussing football, plays, schemes, strategies and philosophies. During the on-field sessions, they've started experimenting with the playbook to figure out what Griffin does best, what he needs to work on, which plays he has the most confidence in and which plays don't suit him as well.
Gruden has already learned plenty about Griffin's work ethic -- and the coach was quick to praise the quarterback for it publicly. "He works out more than anybody I've ever seen," Gruden said of Griffin.
Gruden also said Griffin will continue running the ball, and that although there are concerns about injuries, he can't be so concerned about Griffin getting hurt that he takes away what makes Griffin special. "I think when you have the ability that he has, I think we'd be foolish not to have some kind of option as far as running the football with him," Gruden said.
Even assuming some of what the coach says about Griffin's work ethic and skills are hyperbole, getting on the good side of the franchise QB is always a good idea.
Ask Shanahan. Or Griffin, for that matter.
In sending out a headline about Gruden's praise to the 1.13 million fans who follow him on Twitter, Griffin said, "Coach supports his players, New Year."
In tweeting out a headline about offensive tackle Trent Williams defending Jackson for missing the first week of OTAs (Jackson had a vacation scheduled prior to his release by the Eagles), Griffin said, "Players have each other's back, New Year."
According to Profootballtalk.com's Mike Florio, those messages indicate that, in the old year, the coach didn't support his players -- and players didn't have each other's back. Clearly that's changed along with the coach. "New Year. New Team. One Goal. Win!!!" Griffin summed up.
Meanwhile, back on the field, Griffin is working without the knee brace he wore throughout 2013. "It's safe to say I won't be wearing the brace [in 2014]," he told CSNWashington.com last month.
The difference is apparently noticeable.
"He looks more comfortable, because he don't have to worry about that brace," veteran wideout Santana Moss told ESPN's John Clayton this week. "I think the brace was the big discomfort last year. You know, he's a young guy with those fiery legs that want to do so much, and that brace probably gave him a little pinch in the behind, because he couldn't do the things that he was normally accustomed to doing. You can already see, when we're out there in conditioning and stuff, he's running around, looking like the old Robert Griffin."
According to Steinberg, Chris Cooley recently hit a local field with Griffin and offered up equally positive reviews. This was before Griffin was permitted to work out with his teammates at Redskins Park; Cooley instead took the QB to his own gym. The men took turns running routes and throwing passes to each other. "It's unbelievable," Cooley reported. "He's another person right now. I was like, 'you're running unbelievably well.' It was silly to watch. ... When you watch him run, you're like 'You're a freak. You're seriously a freak.'"
You want more?
Former NFL QBs coach Terry Shea spent a week with Griffin in March working on fundamentals and mechanics and came away feeling like the old Griffin was back. "He looked 100 percent healthy," Shea said. "I put him through a gantlet of drills. And Robert made all the throws, showing great skills. It sure appeared to me that he took that next step as a pocket passer."
Shea should know. He was the guy who tutored Griffin prior to the 2012 draft as part of the effort to prepare the QB for NFL play.
"I didn't let up on him and, boy, he kept coming," Shea said of last month's sessions. "He reminded me of the old Robert Griffin that I knew coming out of Baylor for those 8-10 weeks we worked together in 2012."
Shea stressed footwork after watching Griffin throw too many passes with improper technique last season and felt that Griffin cleaned up much of what was wrong during their time together. Shea also feels the additions of Gruden and Jackson will be a big boost to a player that needs one after a rocky second year in the NFL.
So, in case you couldn't tell, I'm kind of bullish on Griffin at this point. That could change over the next few months, but unless his ADP climbs to an unreasonable level (his current MyFantasyLeague.com ADP is 11th among all QBs), RG3 will remain very high on my radar.
Other notes of interest: According to RealRedskins.com's Rick Telander, others who stand to benefit from Gruden's arrival are Reed and Roy Helu.
"Except for brief stretches we never really saw the Shanahans get creative at all in trying to utilize Fred Davis' talents," Telander wrote. "In the three years that Gruden was in Cincinnati tight end Jermaine Gresham caught 15 touchdown passes. In that same time span all Redskins tight ends have combined to catch 11 TDs.
"Gruden seems to be better suited to figuring out how to best deploy a weapon like Reed."
Reed has recovered from the concussion symptoms that ended his rookie season prematurely, and he is back to training in preparation for his second NFL season. Paulsen considers Reed one of the three best receiving tight ends in the league.
As Post staffer Mike Jones suggested, Reed very well could take over as the starting tight end, although veteran Logan Paulsen also is no slouch. Jones went on to explain that while Reed is a versatile pass catcher, Paulsen is more complete as a blocker, and also has the ability to line up at fullback. We can probably expect to see a number of formations that feature both of them on the field at the same time, perhaps even more than last season with Gruden calling the plays.
Also worth noting, McVay was previously the Redskins tight ends coach; if anyone knows how to maximize Reed and Paulsen's talents, it's him.
As for Helu?
It's no secret that Morris' hands haven't matched his legs when it comes to production. His involvement in the Redskins' passing game has been minimal. And while Gruden would like to see that change, Morris is unlikely to turn into anything more than an occasional threat.
Even that would be more than what Morris was during his first two seasons when he caught a combined 20 passes.
"It's something that, obviously, you want to have him be an all-around back. His hands aren't the most natural but it's something you can work on," Gruden said. "You don't have to run go-[routes]. If you can catch a standard checkdown or screen pass, he could catch 20 to 25 balls a year. It just adds to his resume of being one of the top backs in the league. Yeah, we'll work on him quite a bit as far as catching the ball."
But as ESPN.com's John Keim suggested, that doesn't mean Morris will suddenly turn into Giovani Bernard, Gruden's pass-catching back in Cincinnati.
Gruden went on to point to Helu and Chris Thompson as more realistic possibilities in that regard.
"We have some guys in-house we feel like can do it, but obviously you like to have some versatility and the ability to have another guy who could be a specialty-type third-down guy," Gruden said. "But with Roy and Chris, we have those guys who could possibly take that role. But we'll keep looking."
Thompson's rookie season ended with a torn labrum in his shoulder, which followed knee and back injuries at Florida State. Gruden called Thompson "one of the most exciting backs" while at Florida State. But he also wondered about his durability. "He's a guy who has to stay healthy and do his best to get on the field so we can see what he can do," Gruden said. "Interesting guy. He's very, very exciting when he gets the ball in his hands, but it's hard to get the ball in his hands when he's not out there."
The problem, according to Grant Paulsen, is that while Thompson has the speed to run away from anybody, he's 5-6 and "frail."
Helu is the more proven commodity, but he's struggled with consistency and injury issues of his own since arriving in Washington. It'll be interesting to see whether Gruden can help him with the former issue.
In Philadelphia, how badly did the Eagles want to get rid of Jackson?
Well, his release came within hours of a Newark Star-Ledger report claiming the Eagles had "serious concerns" about the wide receiver's continued association with reputed Los Angeles street gang members tied to a pair of homicides. Jackson denies having any gang affiliations.
In addition to the gang issues, the Star-Ledger report also questioned Jackson's attitude, work ethic, chemistry with head coach Chip Kelly and penchant for missing team meetings to hang out with friends.
While the reporter who penned the report subsequently claimed that Eagles officials weren't his sources, the timing was certainly curious. And Philadelphia Inquirer staff writer Jeff McLane made it clear that Jackson never changed but "the Eagles did when Kelly became head coach."
"The Eagles knew about Jackson's alleged gang connections, his problems with authority, and his locker-room dramas long before they released him," McLane wrote. "They knew what they were getting when they drafted him in 2008. So for the team to imply that his off-the-field behavior or a report that detailed his alleged connection to reputed members of the Los Angeles-based Crips gang had anything to do with the receiver's release would be disingenuous.
"The reasons the Eagles cut ties with Jackson after six seasons were many, but the overriding motive was a simple one: Kelly didn't want him on the team anymore."
And that means the Eagles move forward with Riley Cooper and Jeremy Maclin as their top wideouts. Recently-acquired Darren Sproles will also be a factor in the passing as will second-year tight end Zach Ertz. McCoy is also a capable enough receiver to help pick up the slack.
In fact, McCoy believes the arrival of Sproles will benefit him and the entire offense immensely.
"Sproles helps me out as a running back," McCoy said. "I can go in a game even more fresh because I'm getting less carries and less attempts. I had 366 touches (in 2013), which is a lot. I think me having less attempts can help me be more productive and more deadly. Being fresh in the fourth quarter, things that you don't think matter really do make a big difference. Now defenses have another guy that they have to prepare for. They have to watch out for so many different things, and it's hard. They only get a week to prepare for us."
Now that Jackson is no longer in the picture (and that appeared to be the plan all along), it's a little easier to understand Sproles' presence and potential role. Sproles will be a backup to McCoy but also likely play some wide receiver in the Eagles' up-tempo offense and contribute to the return game. There's no doubt Kelly will find multiple uses for the 30-year-old (31 in June), 10-year veteran.
"Darren Sproles is an unbelievable offensive weapon," Kelly said. "He can do it all: run, catch, plus he's a proven winner. And on top of that, he can bring all of those dynamic skills to the return game as well. There is no question we were all excited once we found out we were going to be able to trade for him.”
That he'll remain behind McCoy, however, will limit his fantasy value..
McCoy had 314 carries in 2013 and only one other running back had more than 300 (Marshawn Lynch, 301). As the Xchange suggested, for preservation, spotting McCoy is logical but Sproles is not accustomed to that role, averaging no more than five carries per game with the Saints.
In other words, fantasy owners looking to roll with McCoy are still going to have to pay a premium to secure his services.
Maclin was betting on himself when he decided to sign a one-year contract with the Eagles this offseason. He has a chance to cash in with a big 2014, and that chance got better when Jackson was released.
"I didn't really think about it," Maclin said. "I think my value is my value, regardless of who I have playing around me. That's my mindset and how I approach the situation."
As ESPN.com's Todd Archer points out, however, the question for Maclin is his knee injury.
While ACL comebacks are more common these days, the rehab is still a tedious process. Maclin is expected to be ready to go when training camp begins, but the Eagles could limit his work in the offseason program. Archer went on to note that Maclin has big-play ability -- 26 touchdown catches in four seasons -- but he has never had more than 964 yards in a season. He has never caught more than 70 passes in a season. While he knows what Chip Kelly's offense is about after being around the team, he hasn't gone through it on the field before.
So while fantasy owners should keep a close eye on Maclin, they probably shouldn't bite too hard until they feel confident in both his health and fit in the offense.
And what about Cooper, who signed a five-year $25 million deal to remain in Philadelphia earlier this offseason?
As NFL.com's Chris Wesseling suggested, there was a question about whether Cooper "fit" Chip Kelly's system well, but the coach is clearly happy with Cooper's contributions.
"Riley is one of the toughest and hardest-working guys in our locker room," Kelly said today. "We talk a lot about how players have to make the most of their opportunities, and he did just that last year. He used his size, strength and speed to make a lot of big plays for our team and I'm excited to watch him build upon his success."
Remember: Jason Avant, the team's primary slot receiver for the last six years, was also released this offseason. The Eagles also lined up Jackson in the slot a lot last season. Although he played outside last year, the 6-3, 230-pound Cooper can play the slot, too.
While I won't dispute the fact that Cooper was as good a wideout in the league for at least one stretch last year -- Weeks 6 through 10, I'm not sure he'll continue to be that without Jackson drawing coverage away from him.
ESPN.com scout Matt Williamson recently told FootballDiehards listeners that Jackson's speed is something opposing defensive coordinators dread. That ability to take the top off the defense is something they have to account for on every snap.
"He scares defenses," Williamson stated.
Cooper and Maclin still have to prove they can do that and I think it's far from a lock they can. The bigger question for fantasy owners is what all this means for Nick Foles.
While Foles will have a better handle on Kelly's offense in his second season with the coach -- and he'll gain further from taking all the off-season reps as the undisputed starter, how worried should we be about Jackson's absence?
Those who argue that Foles can continue to excel point to the presence of McCoy, the arrival of Sproles and perhaps most importantly, an improved offensive line to back their contention. NFL Network's Steve Wyche argues that having McCoy and Sproles together in the backfield means only a few teams -- maybe just Seattle -- will be able to use their base defense against Philadelphia.
"Do you play nickel and let those running backs thrash you (by running the ball and contributing in the short passing game)?" Wyche wonders. "Or do you play base set and let Foles pick and choose from a multitude of weapons?"
Foles early MFL ADP is seven. A little rich for my blood (especially with guys like Griffin lasting much longer), at least until I get a better feel for how Kelly will use his current stable of skill players (and any who might be added in the NFL Draft) to threaten opposing defenses.
In New York, Eli Manning will miss the next six weeks after undergoing minor ankle surgery last week. The Giants' offseason program starts on Monday, April 21 with two weeks of strength and conditioning and rehabilitation. They will then hold OTA's May 28-30, June 2-3, June 5, June 9-10, June 12-13, and a mandatory minicamp June 17-19.
As Giants.com's Michael Eisen noted, the new coaches on the offensive side of the ball are coordinator Ben McAdoo, quarterbacks coach Danny Langsdorf and running backs coach Craig Johnson. Sean Ryan and Kevin M. Gilbride have new assignments this season as Ryan will coach the wide receivers and Gilbride will oversee the tight ends. Ryan had served as quarterbacks coach and Gilbride the wide receivers coach the previous two seasons.
In addition, an issue that's been raised in discussions of Manning's struggles last season was a lack of offseason work with Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks. Both men elected not to attend OTAs and other workouts. Cruz has openly suggested the lack of time spent working as a unit last offseason was a problem once the regular season started.
The offensive line was also a limiting factor. Manning was sacked a career-worst 39 times, but it's not a reach to believe the fact Manning threw 27 interceptions against only 18 touchdowns might have been a function of the offseason time not spent working with his top two receivers.
So with new coaches, the departure of Nicks, addition of former Giant Mario Manningham and the hoped-for rise of young talent like Rueben Randle and Jerrel Jernigan, Manning missing time this offseason has to be of at least some concern to all of us.
Adding to that concern was a recent article by ESPN.com's Dan Graziano, who advised readers there are those who wonder whether Manning is a player in decline at age 33. Graziano added: "This is a question that has not gone unasked within the ranks of the Giants' front office."
According to Graziano, it is part of the reason the Giants decided not to try this offseason to extend Manning's contract, which runs through 2015, even though doing so would have offered them significant salary cap relief. They would like to see him pull out of his downward trend before they commit to his late 30s.
Their hope is that he has a big year and that extending him next offseason makes sense.
Asked about Graziano's report, outgoing offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride wasn't buying it. Indeed, Gilbride characterized the notion as "ludicrous" earlier this week.
"There's been no deterioration of his arm strength, there's been no lack of preparation and effort," Gilbride said during an appearance on Pro Football Talk Live. "I think he's going to be fine as soon as they solidify the offensive line ... and as soon as they get somebody that's going to be productive for them as an outside receiver.
"Victor Cruz is terrific, but they need somebody that when they go match up, bump and run [and] go win for them."
Could Randle be that guy?
"We have high expectations for Rueben," head coach Tom Coughlin said in addressing Nicks' departure. "Rueben has to continue to develop, continue to become a better pro -- focus, concentration, production on the field, consistency, day in and day out."
The coach added: "You've seen the plays the guy can make. He's made great plays. ... We have a lot of belief and stock in his development."
Randle heads into his third year as a pro with a prime opportunity if he does what Coughlin says. Randle scored six touchdowns this past year. No one else on the team scored more than four. He caught 41 of his 80 targets for 611 yards, and some of the plays he made were highlight-reel quality. But he also struggled at times to get on the same page as Manning, and some of their difficulties in that regard led to interceptions.
So, as Graziano put it, "We'll see. Randle has the size and skill to be a very good NFL wide receiver. He just needs to develop, which not everyone does at this very difficult level."
Potential upgrades on the offensive line and perhaps at running back could also help Manning.
Former Jaguar and Raider Rashad Jennings is viewed by the Giants as a more versatile, well-rounded player than they've had at the position in the past. Though he's 28 years old, Jennings has had limited chances to show what he can do as a starter, as he played behind Maurice Jones-Drew in Jacksonville and Darren McFadden in Oakland.
He can catch the ball out of the backfield, which is a skill the Giants hope to use more under McAdoo.
According to New York Daily News staffer Ralph Vacchiano, Coughlin continues to express optimism about Wilson's availability this season. Coughlin told reporters last month that he's "counting on" Wilson this year, but pressed further, the coach said: "All in due time with David. Just pray. You're praying that he has a return to excellent health and that the doctors are totally convinced that he is recovered and ready to go. When that time comes, you'll have another contributor who, if he gets a step, he's gone."
Coughlin continued, "I'm counting on him, but I am not going to put him in any circumstance until it's an absolute that he's 100 percent. I'm not going to mess with that one."
Again, Wilson still must be cleared from a neck injury that is/was career threatening. And while it's far from certain that Wilson will be ready and/or cleared for training camp let alone the regular season, there's no denying the increasingly optimistic tone coming from Giants officials. Wilson would be a welcome addition -- but not a required one.
He's of interest based on play-making ability, but even if cleared Wilson has a long way to go to re-establish himself as a fantasy football prospect.
In Dallas, owner Jerry Jones told reporters at last month's NFL owners meetings in Florida that Tony Romo, who underwent back surgery in December, is ahead of schedule in his rehab.
Romo has not started throwing passes yet, but is expected to take part in the team's offseason program, which begins April 21.
"He is ahead of expectations. He is ahead of where we expected him to be," Jones said.
Romo had surgery to relieve the pressure of a herniated disk on Dec. 27, two days before the Cowboys' regular season ended with a loss to the Eagles in Week 17.
As the Xchange reminded readers, the starting quarterback has undergone two back procedures in the past year. Romo also had a cyst removed from his back last spring.
"You don't rebuild with Romo," Jones said. "The firepower we have on offense and where we are with our running backs, and our receivers you don't rebuild with an offense that's got the capability we've got. We didn't bring [Scott] Linehan in here to rebuild."
Former Cowboys QB and current FOX analyst Troy Aikman told the DallasCowboys.com this week that while it's important the quarterback and play-caller have chemistry, the importance of that switch depends more on the talent of the play-caller.
"A lot of times I'm asked, especially with young quarterbacks, not so much someone the age of Tony, about changing the offensive play caller and how that may hurt a young quarterback," Aikman said, "and I always say it depends on who the coordinator is and whether or not he's any good."
So what does Aikman think of the Linehan addition?
"I think Scott Linehan certainly has a track record," Aikman said. "He's been good at virtually every stop. I like his philosophy. He has a working relationship, a past working relationship, with Jason. I think it's going to be a good fit. I really do. They'll be an attacking offense. It's a vertical passing attack. They like to get the ball down the field. We saw it when he was at Minnesota. We've seen it in recent years with Detroit, and Dallas has the personnel to do that here."
Of some interest, Romo's sway over the offense will be even greater with Linehan on board.
"Romo will have more power under Linehan," Jones said. "Romo was ecstatic about Linehan ...They will be joined at the hip."
As NFL.com's Gregg Rosenthal suggested, more power for Romo and Linehan means less power for head coach Jason Garrett. Linehan will truly run the show on offense with Garrett having far less say.
Jones revealed in February that Garrett was essentially the offensive coordinator last season, even though Bill Callahan had the title. Garrett even called the plays, especially in the red zone, despite the Cowboys' constant public statements that Garrett was giving up play calling. That became a problem for Callahan. Now Linehan will have final say on the offense. Garrett will focus more on the defense, special teams, and all the other responsibilities of a head coach.
From where I sit, fantasy owners can expect Romo to continue being Romo.
Austin, who turns 30 in June, has struggled to stay on the field, struggling with several hamstring injuries and he was coming off his worst season with the Cowboys. Austin had only 24 catches for 244 yards and no touchdowns in 11 games in 2013 (only eight starts).
According to Dallas Morning News staffer Brandon George, the Cowboys were pleased with the production and development of Williams as a rookie last season (44-736, 5 TDs). He'll be a player worth watching a little later in your drafts this summer. And Bryant, of course, will remain one of the top wideouts taken in all formats.
Other notes of interest: NFL.com recently reminded readers that leading up to the trade deadline last October, the Cowboys were questioning whether DeMarco Murray was reliable enough to go forward as the featured back.
Six months later, running backs coach Gary Brown views Murray as a perennial Pro Bowl selection.
"He's just scratched the surface," Brown told the team's official website. "I think he's one of the better backs in the league -- he just has to go out and prove it now."
Murray led all qualifying running backs in yards per carry (5.7) against base defenses last season, according to Pro Football Focus.
Finally shaking the injury bug, he averaged 17 carries and 95 rushing yards over the last seven games of the season. The fact that Dallas wasn't in the mix for Chris Johnson when the Titans released the speedy veteran is an indication of the level of trust Cowboys officials now have in Murray.
Should fantasy owners share in that trust? I'm starting to.
In fact, as I look at the running back landscape heading into training camp -- and I consider the historic rate of turnover in the year-to-year turnover among the top-10 fantasy backs, my primary goal is trying to identify players capable of moving into the top five and Murray is certainly that. Doesn't mean he will; but the talent, speed and skills are there.
His current ADP -- Murray is currently being selected as the 10th running back -- ain't bad either.