Training Camp Preview: 12 Burning Questions in the AFC East and AFC North
Training camps are kicking off this week, so it’s a good time to preview the position battles that will continue to shape our rankings over the next month. In this installment, I’ll cover the AFC East and the AFC North. You can find links to the others below as they become available.
AFC South & AFC West | NFC East & NFC North | NFC South & NFC West
Are Dion Lewis and LeGarrette Blount healthy? Will Chris Hogan start on the outside?
Lewis is coming off of a torn ACL but was cutting at OTAs and is reportedly on track for Week 1. If he’s ready to go, he’ll be a great value in the 4th round of PPR drafts. Lewis was New England’s best fantasy back through the first eight weeks of the season before tearing his ACL in Week 9. In six healthy games in that span, he averaged 12.8 touches for 95 yards and 0.67 TD. Big production, people. On a per game basis, he was #10 in standard and #5 in PPR at the time of his injury.
Meanwhile, Blount missed all of spring workouts with a hip injury, but the Patriots didn’t draft a running back and Blount is poised to resume his “big back” role in the offense. In 19 games over the last three years where he’s faced a bottom half rush defense, Blount has averaged 12.8 carries for 60 yards (4.64 YPC) and 0.47 TD. Arian Foster landing in Miami also helps Blount’s cause.
Finally, Hogan reportedly looked great in spring practices but it’s unknown if he’ll start on the outside. He has the size (6’1”) and decent speed (4.55), and could post a 2014 Brandon LaFell-type season if things break his way. On the flip side, he might be the fifth option in the passing attack behind Julian Edelman, Lewis and the two tight ends.
Will Ryan Fitzpatrick re-sign? How do the Jets plan to use Matt Forte and Bilal Powell?
If FitzMagic re-signs, both Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker will get a bump in our rankings, and Fitzy will probably be ranked in the high teens, making him a decent QB2 option in most formats. (He finished #11 last year.) One wonders if the Jets saw enough from Geno Smith in OTAs to give him a chance to win the job early in camp before they commit big money to Fitzpatrick. I think he's playing with fire.
In the backfield, Forte is expected to be the lead back, but he has a similar skill set to Powell, who played well last year. Jet running backs caught 90 passes last year, so Forte’s PPR value should stay relatively strong with 50-60 catches. I do think there’s a good chance that power runner Khiry Robinson serves as the team’s goal-line back, since that's not Forte's...wait for it...forte. (Sorry.)
Is Sammy Watkins healthy?
Watkins’ finished last season on a tear, playing at a 86-1600-12.5 pace over the final nine games. He’s dealing with a foot injury, but recently released a video of himself doing a full sprint in pre-camp workouts. He should be able to play Week 1, but I wonder how close he’ll be to 100 percent and how he’ll hold up throughout a full season. His presence also impacts the stock of one of my favorite QB sleepers, Tyrod Taylor.
Who will be the second option in the Bengals’ passing game?
The answer should be Tyler Eifert, but he’s questionable for Week 1 after undergoing ankle surgery. Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu are both gone, so it’s up to Brandon LaFell and/or Tyler Boyd to pick up the proverbial slack. One thing’s for sure – it looks like A.J. Green will get a boatload of targets this year.
Will Markus Wheaton get the second-most targets in Pittsburgh? Is LeVeon Bell healthy?
Bell posted a video of himself dunking a basketball which indicates that his knee will be fine for Week 1, but will he hold up? That’s the $10,000 question for those owners thinking about taking Bell in the 1st round of fantasy drafts. He’s so productive when healthy, but he has missed 13 games in three seasons.
As for Wheaton, he averaged 4.7 catches for 79 yards and 0.67 TD (on 7.8 targets per game) over the final six games of the season, and finally got on the same page as his quarterback. Sammie Coates is generating buzz and may pick up most of Martavis Bryant’s snaps. But will Wheaton out-target Coates? I think he will, but if Coates has an outstanding camp, that thinking could change.
Who will start at receiver for the Ravens? Running back?
Steve L Smith played at a Pro Bowl level prior to tearing his Achilles, but he’s 37 and one wonders how quickly his speed and agility will return. Breshad Perriman had another knee scare, but should be ready for Week 1. Mike Wallace arrived via free agency, and is looking forward to playing with Joe Flacco and his strong arm. Finally, Kamar Aiken is the forgotten man after racking up 75-944-5 last year. All four players will merit watching as camp progresses since they play in Marc Trestman's pass-happy offense.
In the backfield, the beat writers are calling Justin Forsett the clear starter, but he’ll have to hold off Javorius Allen – #6 RB in standard formats (#3 in PPR) from Week 11 to Week 17 – and talented rookie Kenneth Dixon.
How will the Browns divvy up touches between Isaiah Crowell and Duke Johnson? Will Josh Gordon be reinstated?
We know this – Hue Jackson likes to run the ball. His presence is good for both players, but which player will emerge as a viable weekly starter? Our money is on Johnson in both formats. The Browns figure to trail far more often than the 2015 Bengals, and that means Johnson should be on the field as the Browns are forced to pass more than they’d like.
As for Gordon, we're not optimistic about his chances of reinstatement, but after a failed marijuana test in March, the league didn't close the door on the possibility that he'll be able to play this season. He's eligible to apply again on August 1st, and according to Cleveland great Jim Brown, he's been in rehab this summer (after reportedly living with Johnny Manziel in the spring). If he's reinstated, he would change the fantasy landscape in Cleveland, assuming the Browns bring him back. He last played five games in 2014, averaging 4.8 catches for 61 yards per game.