Jul 16, 2014
More often than not, the answers to each upcoming season’s burning questions wind up being important keys to the success of a fantasy draft, so they’re worth exploring in depth. 2014 seems to be a little more straightforward than 2013, but there are still some critical situations that need to be placed under the microscope. Here’s my top-10.
Is it time to pass on Andre Johnson?
The ultimate volume receiver, Johnson’s been in the top-5 in WR targets the last four times he’s played all 16 games, including the last two seasons. And dating back to 2006, Johnson’s recorded 100+ catches every season he’s played 16 games (he’s done it five times, including the last two seasons). But it might be time to let someone else draft him. Johnson is unhappy with his contract, and probably with the direction of the Texans, who are breaking in a new head coach and a
new QB. A trade is unlikely, since that would cost the team $11.96 million in dead money. He also has three years and $34.5 million left on his deal, so the Texans won’t restructure it. So let the holdout watch begin, and the longer it goes, the shakier a fantasy prospect he’ll be. Johnson’s a professional, but he’s 33 and seemingly due for an injury, something that could be precipitated by a lengthy holdout.
Is Rob Gronkowski worth a top-25 pick?
As far back as early-June, Gronkowski (knee) had his burst and was planting and cutting in practice with no apparent limitations, and he was expected to be ready for the start of training camp (although he should be limited early as a precaution). The return from an ACL is scary, but what’s scarier is the laundry-list of health concerns he’s had over the last 4-5 years. If all is well in August, his ADP will likely creep into the top-25 overall because everyone knows he’s a major difference-maker who can dominate a fantasy boxscore. I’ll be skeptical of such a high pick no matter what because he’s an incredibly physical player who gets banged around a ton, but if he’s good-to-go in August, it’ll be hard to argue with being aggressive and selecting him with such an early pick.
Is Cordarrelle Patterson worth paying for at his current ADP?
While Patterson has sickening upside due to his elite athleticism and movement, and while new offensive coordinator Norv Turner is excellent at scheming and designing a passing game, the answer may be “no” unless Patterson lights it up in the preseason. That’s not an indictment on Patterson; it’s more of a function of his already-high ADP of around 45 (as of the early summer). Patterson is an exciting pick no matter what, but a 4th-round selection is usually reserved for wideouts with a better body of work and who have more than 45 career receptions for an average of 10.4 yards per catch and not for a guy who’s been more of a gadget player than featured wideout.
Is Robert Griffin III back?
Physically, he is, so the question is will he be back to 2012 in a new offense? RGIII has shed the knee brace and looks more explosive this year, according to offensive coordinator Sean McVay. Griffin III has worked with QBs guru/coach Terry Shea this offseason, and Shea focused hard on Griffin’s fundamentals, including narrowing his base and getting his feet to turn with his body in the pocket and raising where Griffin held the ball. RGIII wants to be much more of a pocket passer this year, which I believe he can be, but it remains to be seen if he can produce big numbers for fantasy if he’s not running as much, and the preseason will give us some indications. It certainly helps that the offense is loaded with explosive playmakers and has a strong foundation rushing attack led by Alfred Morris.
Will the real Trent Richardson please stand up?
Richardson detractors might say he already has, since he averaged only 3.6 yards-per-carry as a rookie and followed that up with a miserable 2014 campaign in which he averaged a pathetic 3.0 YPC. But then again, how often do we see a top back get traded during the regular season? Richardson will get the first crack at the starting job, and the Colts would prefer to feature one workhorse. But if he continues to struggle, veteran Ahmad Bradshaw could breeze past him on the depth chart, and the rock-solid Vick Ballard could also be in the mix if his knee checks out (he did nothing in the OTAs and minicamps). Richardson was reportedly relying more on his instincts in the off-season, and he’s made strides in the classroom, but we’re not going to get a true feel for where he is until we see some real preseason game action. I’d bet on Richardson coming through as a relatively productive three-down back, but that’s more about his deflated ADP and the strong weaponry Indy has on offense than my confidence in his game.
Was 2013 just a bad year or has Ray Rice fallen off a cliff?
A humbled Rice has lost 20 pounds since last season and has regained much of his old quickness. Last season, he lost the ability to run away from defenders because he was too heavy and was struggling with hip and quad injuries, plus the OL was dreadful. That line should be better, and new offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak’s influence should be great news for the Raven running game. Rice is still only 27, but he’s a player with over 2700 college and pro touches on his resume, and the team has a backup in Bernard Pierce who can handle a healthy percentage of this rushing load. He may have to in September, since Rice is expected to be suspended for his off-field transgression (my guess is 2-3 games). If Rice is looking good in the preseason, I’ll be more optimistic, but my instincts are to let someone else draft him.
Is Montee Ball worth a top-10 pick?
Playing in RB utopia and benefiting from the “Manning Effect,” the only way I see the answer to this question being “no” in August is if Ball has more fumbling and pass-protection issues in the preseason. Ball lost only one fumble last year after Week Four, and it took some time for him to begin anticipating QB Peyton Manning’s audibles last season, so he should be much more comfortable protecting the franchise QB in year two. Ball has also displayed improved footwork during offseason workouts and better positioning during pass protection. With very little behind Ball, the Broncos view him as the veteran of their group, so they are going “all-in” on him. And so should fantasy players looking for a reliable and productive back in Round One.
Is the Giant offense a sleeper in 2014?
I think is it, so the question is how quickly everyone picks up the offense and how quickly they can start producing quality fantasy digits. I spoke with Eli Manning in June, and he’s re-energized by the new offense, one that should be much better for him at this stage of his career, with their still-suspect OL, and also for their receivers, since things will be much more defined pre-snap for their passing game. While we won’t truly know from the preseason action, a strong showing in the exhibition games will give us a glimpse as to how close they are to mastering Ben McAdoo’s West Coast offense.
Can Brian Hoyer stave off Johnny Manziel for more than a few games?
I respect Hoyer as an underrated professional who’s managed to go from being an UDFA in 2009, to sticking on Bill Belichick’s roster for three seasons, to being the presumed Week One starter for the Browns in 2014. But let’s be real: He’s Brian Hoyer coming off an ACL and this is “Johnny Football.” Hoyer may very well win the job coming out of training camp, but unless Manziel is brought down by an off-field incident, it’s only a matter of time until Hoyer is shown a seat on the bench. My guess heading into camp is 2-3 games. However, if Hoyer is clearly outplaying Manziel in the preseason, that will make the rookie less of an appealing upside backup.
Can Josh McCown lead the Buccaneers to be this year’s Chicago Bears?
The similarities between the 2013 Chicago Bears and McCown’s 2014 Bucs are fascinating, and McCown has already had a tremendous impact on this offense. Tampa’s OL won’t be as cohesive as Chicago’s was last year, but they did get an upgrade at LT in free agency with the addition of Anthony Collins, and Tampa actually has better depth at RB, WR, and TE than Chicago had last year. I’m fully expecting to be excited about their chances by August’s end.