Jul 4, 2013
While there are plenty of situations around the NFL that are crystal clear, I do feel there are also a lot of them this year that are fluid and won’t sort themselves out until we’re well into training camps and the exhibition season – so August could be a pretty chaotic month in the fantasy world.
There are always questions that need to be asked as we head into each preseason, but this year many of these key questions have significant fantasy implications.
I probably have about 40 questions that I’d like to see answered – and we’ll obviously be all over them this summer. But for the purposes of this post here’s the top-10 on my mind:
Will Robert Griffin III be back?
He said as the team wrapped up their off-season that he’s ahead of schedule with his recovery from ACL and LCL surgeries, and that he’s had no setbacks and is confident he’ll be ready to participate when training camp opens. He’s been through this process before, so he should know what it’s like. If he’s back to his old self, then the team will continue to use plenty of zone-read plays, which means his upside is still high. His completion rate of 65.5% and 8.1 yards per attempt would look good for any QB, much less a rookie, and even though he wasn’t 100% all year, he was 5th among QBs with a healthy 24.4 fantasy points per game. The team revealed little with RGIII last summer, so we may not see a lot from him in the preseason, but we’ll probably know if he’s ready to rock and roll. The key for RGIII is to play a little smarter and take fewer risks when he does run, which is the plan.
Can David Wilson gain the trust of his head coach?
It’s obviously the key to his fantasy value in 2013. I loved Wilson last year, but that was with an ADP of 90-100. While I’m still drooling over his talent, he is still raw and unproven as an NFL runner, and he does have to prove to the coaches that he deserves a fairly sizable margin for error. He will certainly have a larger one than he had last year, but veteran Andre Brown is back and is very capable, so it may not be large. We’re going to get only so much insight from his work in training camp and the exhibition games, but we’ll certainly know a lot more than we did in July.
Who’s Tom Brady throwing to?
This is obviously a huge story, since Brady’s lost a whopping 440 targets from 2012, and that’s not even counting TE Rob Gronkowski, who might open the season on the PUP list and miss time. Brady’s an all-time great, but it’s going to take a seriously close inspection of his receiving corps this August to determine if he’s worth drafting at his ADP, which could drop but will still likely be relatively high. His chemistry with new slot man Danny Amendola is a major storyline, as well as the health of veteran Julian Edelman and the progress of their rookie wideouts Aaron Dobson and Josh Boyce. They also have an UDFA out of Cincinnati named Kenbrell Thompkins who made some noise in the spring and bears watching. And finally, the assimilation of veterans Donald Jones and Michael Jenkins should also be a key thing to monitor.
How will the 49ers replace Michael Crabtree?
It’s very important for QB Colin Kaepernick, who leaned heavily on Crabtree in his first season as the starter last year. We all know veteran Anquan Boldin will pick up some of the slack, but while Crabtree is not a burner, Boldin is not the big-play threat the injured 49er is. The two players to watch are TE Vernon Davis and second-year WR A.J. Jenkins. Davis has been seeing time at WR, which is likely a result of the Crabtree injury. Davis has to find a way to get on the same page as his QB, and the coaches need to find better ways to maximize his unique talent (and minimize his limitations). As for Jenkins, he has clear ability, and he’s improved this off-season while running with the starters. But the real test for Jenkins will come when the pads go. Any meaningful contributions from veterans Mario Manningham and Kyle Wilson, both coming back from serious injuries, and rookie Quinton Patton will help.
What will the Ram offense look like?
We all assume that we’re going to see a lot of spread concepts, which would make sense given the additions of dynamic slot receiver Tavon Austin and an athletic joker TE in Jared Cook, plus QB Sam Bradford’s experience in the spread in college. The OL should be stable, and
Bradford has the skills to take full advantage of his weaponry, so there’s reason for optimism in St. Louis. But we also need to see what the expected roles are in this backfield, specifically for RBs Daryl Richardson and Isaiah Pead, who are similar players, but also for rookie Zac Stacey. There’s a lot to see here and a lot of intrigue.
Can the young RBs pass-protect?
With RBs flying off fantasy draft boards earlier this year than we’ve seen in at least a few years, the progress of the rookie backs in line to start are huge stories. In Pittsburgh, Le’Veon Bell is a shoe-in to settle in as the lead guy, but all bets are off if he struggles in pass-pro. He’s off to a good start and isn’t considered a liability entering the league, but he still has to prove to the coaches that he can be trusted. For the Broncos, Montee Ball is also considered a fine protector, but lead backs in college aren’t usually asked to protect that much, so Bell will have to prove to his coaches – and to Peyton Manning – that he can be trusted. If he has issues, Ronnie Hillman has a year’s worth of experience, and veteran Knowshon Moreno is a very willing and capable blocker, so protection is a big factor for Ball, as it is for Bell. In Miami, there’s only one thing that should keep Lamar Miller off the field, and it is pass protection. He’s not exactly the most physical player, so this is something we’ll be honing in on this August.
Will Maurice Jones-Drew be healthy?
It’s a huge season for Jones-Drew, who should have several serious suitors as an unrestricted free agent in 2014 if he remains on the field in 2013. MJD said in the spring his foot is completely healed after his Lisfranc surgery, and that he was working on strengthening his ankle. MJD still has a lot of work to do to get back into shape, as he could barely move because he didn’t want to break the screws in his foot. He’s no guarantee to be ready for the start of training camp, and he was hoping to play at a lighter weight this season, since the team’s offense is going to be more up-tempo and fast-paced. So there’s a lot to watch out for this August.
Can the Dolphin offense come together quickly?
You have to be impressed with the team’s interest in surrounding their incredibly intriguing QB Ryan Tannehill with more weapons. But can the second-year player take immediate advantage of new receivers Mike Wallace and Dustin Keller, and can he do it with a new and inexperienced lead back in Lamar Miller and without their starting LT from 2012? A positive summer in Miami certainly won’t guarantee success during the regular season, but it sure would be nice to see nothing but good vibes near South Beach in the late-summer.
Who’s going to be the Eagle’s starting QB?
While new head coach Chip Kelly’s offense is still something of a mystery, it’s certainly a worthwhile question to ask. Veteran Michael Vick would certainly be worth a later pick as a backup if he wins the job, but that’s hardly a foregone conclusion as the team kicks off training camp. In fact, second-year man Nick Foles may have pulled slightly ahead of Vick in their final few off-season workouts. Foles had some mojo going with wideout Jeremy Maclin last year, so having him in the lineup could actually help Maclin. Having Foles in the lineup could also help the RBs, since he’s not a threat to run, especially inside the 10 yard line, as Vick is.
Can Eddie Lacy take control of the Packer backfield?
I view this storyline as a potentially big one, since I believe in Lacy’s talent, and I do think this is a good situation. The Packers would love Lacy to dominate in the preseason and win the starting job going away, but they’re not going to hand him anything. His margin for error may be shaky all year, but he’ll be given every chance to emerge from training camp as the lead guy. If he does, there’s tangible upside for arguably the 2013 draft class’ only true foundation back and a guy who can be a three-down back in the NFL. He’s the most talented back they’ve had since Ahman Green, and he has top-15 potential if all goes well.