Jul 13, 2011
It looks like this lockout is going to end no later than the end of the month, so it is time to hit the books and prepare for the mayhem that will be ensuing. The following are the top-25 stories I’ll be following once the lockout is lifted. These only cover the skill positions and offensive production, which just goes to show how much uncertainty overall there is in the league right now.
#1 – Will DeAngelo Williams stay or go?
Of course this is a huge story because there will be ripple effects. My money’s on Williams being an UFA and signing with Denver. That would have a huge affect on Jonathan Stewart’s value, and also Knowshon Moreno. We’re told the Denver coaches don’t think Moreno is the guy, and John Fox will make the running game the foundation of the offense, with preferably two RBs sharing the workload. Williams is the perfect option for Fox, who obviously knows him well. If this happens, Moreno should be viewed as a flex starter at best, and Stewart would be a rock solid #2.
#2 – Will the Cardinals get a real QB?
It’s a huge question because WR Larry Fitzgerald’s 2011 season hangs in the balance. Clearly, the Cardinals are going to upgrade the position this summer, probably immediately after they’re actually able to. You’ve heard the Kevin Kolb rumors, and they are totally legit. The only way it doesn’t happen is if Seattle blows Philly away with an offer. The Seahawks have been enamored with Kolb for some time. Although the lockout and lack of offseason will be really tough on the new QB, having a capable player under center will help their running game, and it looks like the Cards will finally truly commit to the run, which in turn will help the QB. If the team acquires Kolb, rookie Rob Housler will be a great sleeper for the long-term. Kolb seems very comfortable throwing to the TE.
#3 – Will the Colts keep Joseph Addai around?
This is a very key story for obvious reasons. If Addai is an UFA, there’s a chance the team lets him go. That would be risky, but the Colts have set up a contingency plan by drafting Delone Carter, who is a different type of runner than they’re used to. He’s more of a physical interior runner, which could represent a shift in their offense. That shift may have been necessitated by what we saw transpire in 2010, when the QB threw it way too often. I’d guess Addai will be back, but that’s very far from a foregone conclusion.
#4 – Will Cedric Benson return to the Bengals?
I can actually answer this one. Yes, yes he will. If not, they are absolutely screwed because it’s highly unlikely they will find a suitable replacement, someone who can handle a heavy workload and take pressure off their rookie QB. I like backup Bernard Scott, but every single person we’ve talked to close to the team, including their play-by-play announcer Brad Johansen just this week, does not believe Scott can handle a larger workload. Benson will represent their best chance to actually have an NFL offense this year.
#5 – Will the Giants retain Ahmad Bradshaw?
Never say never in sports, but I’d be floored if Big Blue didn’t retain Bradshaw’s services. There really aren’t many teams out there whose need at the position would merit his soon-to-be large salary, so I fully expect him back in New York. They really found a great formula with him and Brandon Jacobs last year, and that should be on display again this year. Then again, he does still have to actually sign on the dotted line again with the G-Men.
#6 – Will the Titans acquire a veteran QB?
This is big as it relates to Chris Johnson. For Johnson’s sake, they have to find a way to acquire someone serviceable, like Matt Hasselbeck. But even if they do, there will be a continuity issue, especially with a new coaching staff and offense. Still, Hasselbeck or a Marc Bulger would be a huge upgrade over rookie Jake Locker, who simply isn’t ready to play. If Locker looks like he’s going to get on the field in September that would be very bad for Johnson.
#7 – Will Sidney Rice return to the Vikings?
This is absolutely paramount for the Viking offense, and of course Adrian Peterson. If the Vikings plan on starting rookie Christian Ponder for most of their games – or even if they bring in a decent veteran like Marc Bulger – they absolutely have to have a legit #1, and a sizable one at that, which Rice is. Otherwise, it’s going to be insanely hard for Peterson this year running behind a weak OL. He’ll tough it out and average over 4.0 yards a carry, but he should be over 5.0. If Rice is lured away by another team, that’s very problematic for the offense, and it would do no favors for wideout Percy Harvin, who needs to continue to be a movable chess piece and not a #1 guy on the outside.
#8 – Will James Jones be a Packer?
The answer is “probably not,” and if he isn’t that’s huge news for Jordy Nelson, who would very much be worth drafting as a #4 WR. It’s very possible that he essentially takes over as the “No. 2” wideout here, given Don Driver’s advancing age. And wherever Jones goes, he presumably lands as a starter. He could easily star for Carolina or Jacksonville, for example.
#9 – How will the Jet WRs corps look?
The Redskins are reportedly interested in Santonio Holmes, but Holmes is a major priority for the Jets, and he’ll likely return. The guy to focus on is Braylon Edwards, who was quite solid last year and actually consistent. If Edwards gets a significant offer elsewhere, he’s gone. If not, he could be back. If Edwards is gone, that would be a blow to the Jet passing game, but it would be good news for TE Dustin Keller, and they could replace him with a veteran like Plaxico Burress or Randy Moss.
#10 – Will Carolina trade Steve Smith?
I’ve been disappointed with some of Smith’s antics the last few years, and while I clearly understand his frustrations, he could have been a little more professional with how he’s handled the ugliness. That said, I still love him as a player and firmly believe he still has a lot left in the tank (15 yards a catch in 2009). So I’m very interested to see how his situation in 2011 plays out. If he lands in a good situation like in San Diego, the depth at the WR position as far as I’m concerned improves noticeably, since I think Smith can still put up top-20 numbers, even on a new team.
#11 – Will Reggie Bush be a Saint?
Those I talk to continue to believe that Bush won’t be back, and that would be huge news for Pierre Thomas. With Bush gone and Mark Ingram added to this backfield, Thomas can settle into an active complementary role as a guy who gets 6-7 carries a game and a lot of action as a receiver out of the backfield. If that formula results in Thomas actually staying healthy, he’ll be a terrific flex starter. And of course, wherever Bush goes the fantasy depth chart there will be affected.
#12 – Will the Ravens keep RB Willis McGahee?
This is a big story. If the Ravens let McGahee walk, they may opt to give Ray Rice the bulk of the goal-line carries, and Rice may be able to handle that role well. I spoke this week with the Stan White, who is the Ravens’ Radio color analyst, and he was pretty strong with his opinion that Rice can be a good goal-line back. He isn’t MJD, but he’s quite sturdy and physical for a little guy. That would be a huge development, and it might actually prompt us to shockingly move Rice up to #3 in our RB rankings (we’ve already moved him up this past week). That may sound crazy, but where’s the downside for Rice in a good offense if he’s the lead back, the goal line back, and the 3rd-down back?
#13 – Can the Falcons keep their OL intact?
The Falcon offense still works off the run game and Michael Turner, and with the team hoping to make a run deeper into the playoffs, the offensive line will play a key role. G Justin Blalock, T Tyson Clabo, and G Harvey Dahl are all free agents, and it’s unlikely they’ll all be back. Clabo in particular will command a lot of money, as he’s coming off a Pro Bowl season, and he and Dahl have started the last three seasons. Of the free agents, Blalock appears most likely to return, and it seems that the best hope is to re-sign two of them, with Clabo probably heading elsewhere. The Falcons allowed just 23 sacks last season – 3rd fewest in the league – and offensive line consistency has helped the team’s stability over the last few years.
#14 – Who’s quarterbacking the Seahawks?
Ideally for fantasy, we want it to be Matt Hasselbeck, who had a nice mojo going with WR Michael Williams. Williams doesn’t have a large margin of error because he’s pretty slow and not very sudden, but if he has a quality guy tossing him the rock, he can put up very nice numbers as a volume receiver. All bets are off for him and the whole offense if Hasselbeck is gone, though.
#15 – How will the Charger WR corps shape up?
This is a big story on so many fronts. For one, we have to first see if Vincent Jackson is going to be back for sure (I think so) and relatively happy (that I don’t know). We also have to see if they will let Malcom Floyd leave, which they likely will, along with Leg Naanee. And of course, there’s that dream scenario in which they acquire Panther Steve Smith. That might be too good to be true, but it’s nice to dream. Obviously, they can sign someone off the street and produce with him, so seeing how this WRs corps gets settled is a big story.
#16 – Will the Bears acquire another WR?
I still don’t think a big receiver like Plaxico Burress makes sense for them, since that’s not what this offense is all about. Then again, it did morph into more off a possession passing attack in 2010, due to their poor OL. The best free agent fit here is Santana Moss, and if he goes that’s going to change the Redskin depth chart and obviously affect Johnny Knox and Earl Bennett.
#17 – Will Miami bring in another RB?
They likely will, so the real question is, will this player contend for the lead job? Rookie Daniel Thomas’ fantasy value depends on the type of runner they bring in. If it’s a Darren Sproles type, Thomas is good to go. If it’s DeAngelo Williams, Thomas is hosed.
#18 – Is rookie Andy Dalton the guy for Cincy?
It’s looking like the team is going to give him the chance to open the season atop the depth chart. As rookies go, he’s NFL-ready, but very few rookie are actually “NFL ready,” so this is going to be a tough situation. Tied into this question, of course, is the status of Carson Palmer. Based on the people close to the team we’ve talked to, you can probably drop Palmer from your keeper team now.
#19 – Will the Cowboys release Marion Barber?
While there have been some whispers that Barber will take a pay cut to stay with the club, it’s still almost a foregone conclusion that Barber and his salary of roughly $5 million are gone. That was clear when they drafted DeMarco Murray in the 3rd round of April’s draft. Barber’s going to find a home – the Broncos could be a possibly if they don’t sign Williams – and affect that team’s depth chart, plus with him out the mix the “starting” job in Dallas will likely be cleared for Felix Jones and Murray to battle for. I think Tashard Choice absolutely should be in the conversation, but the team does not appear to view him as a potential lead guy.
#20 – Who’s under center for the Redskins Week One?
It’s certainly going to be interesting to see how this situation unfolds. And while expectations will likely be low no matter who’s starting, this is obviously one of only 32 teams in the NFL, so it’s a key story. At the very least, for their running game and for TE Chris Cooley it is.
#21 – Will the Pats pick up a veteran wideout?
I continue to hear the name Chad Ochocinco when it comes to the Pats potentially adding a veteran wideout. I understand the interest in one, as youngster Brandon Tate is not ready for prime time, but part of me is hoping they don’t bring in #85 because that would be a monkey wrench when it comes to a guy like Deion Branch. Branch is far from a stud but is worth strong consideration because he’s a clear starter on the outside with Tom Brady, who he clicks well with.
#22 – Will the Raiders sign a veteran WR?
They could use certainly use one, but this point is almost completely tied to second-year guy Jacoby Ford. I love what Ford showed last year, but you always have to handle Raider receivers with kid gloves. You can’t expect the world, but at least with Ford you can hope for it because he’s got a lot to offer, and they like him a lot. But if they bring in a veteran, that would hurt his chances.
#23 – What will the Eagles do at backup RB?
This is big as it relates to starter LeSean McCoy’s value. If we’ve learned one thing about HC Andy Reid and RBs, it’s that he’s hesitant to hand young backs a key role, so you can forget about rookie Dion Lewis making much of an impact this year. One need to keep in mind is Brian Westbrook. He’s a veteran who would love to play on the East Coast, plus he looked pretty darn good last year and obviously knows the system. If they bring BW back, that’s going to affect McCoy’s value.
#24 – Where will veterans Chad Ochocinco, Randy Moss, and Plaxico Burress land?
None of these veterans will command a high pick in fantasy, but what they will do is affect the depth charts on the teams they sign with, so their movement will have fantasy implications, perhaps big ones.
#25 – Will the Rams pick up a veteran wide receiver?
It’s interesting because there’s great quantity here, but we’re not yet sure if there’s quality. I actually think Donnie Avery is a great fit for the new scheme, but the lockout will hurt the implementation of that scheme. If they bring a guy like Burress in, it’s probably because they still don’t trust the talented Danario Alexander. That could also affect their interest in re-signing veteran Mark Clayton.