Mike Clay

Offseason Low Down

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Unfilled Voids

Monday, April 9, 2012

The bulk of this year’s free agency period is in the books. Each NFL team made, at least, a few moves to fill holes on their roster. Highlights included Denver upgrading at quarterback (Peyton Manning) and tight end (Jacob Tamme, Joel Dreessen), Tampa Bay adding a game-changer at wide receiver (Vincent Jackson), Chicago adding security for Matt Forte (Michael Bush), and Washington overhauling their wide receiver unit (Pierre Garcon, Josh Morgan).

We also saw some teams upgrade via trade with Miami sending Brandon Marshall to Chicago and the Jets adding a new dimension to their running game by acquiring Tim Tebow from Denver.

We even saw a mix of both in one instance, when the Jets signed Drew Stanton before trading him to the Colts a few days later.

I only scratched the surface of the moves made so far this offseason, and you’ll notice that I only mentioned moves at fantasy-relevant, offensive positions (QB, RB, WR, TE). Today, I’ll be examining the Top 10 unfilled voids across the league at these positions and offering some guesses as to how each team will fill said void.

*Ignored are the Colts and Redskins quarterback situations as they’ll both be solidified after the first two picks of this month’s rookie draft.

10. Minnesota Vikings – Wide Receiver

Early in the 2011 season, when everyone was relatively healthy, Percy Harvin was used as a part-time player (although he was heavily utilized when on the field). The Vikings pulled Harvin out of the game on most running plays and a handful of pass plays, instead using the inferior Michael Jenkins and Bernard Berrian as their every-down wideouts. Berrian was eventually cut and Jenkins landed on injured reserve, which led to regular snaps for the likes of Devin Aromashodu, Greg Camarillo, and Stephen Burton. Yikes.

This offseason, Minnesota’s only movement at the position has been the re-signing of Aromashodu to a one-year deal, the addition of former Chargers benchwarmer Bryan Walters, and the decision to not renew Camarillo’s contract. That leaves Harvin, Jenkins, and Aromashodu as the team’s one-two-three punch at the position, which isn’t going to scare any defenses.

Void Filled – With pick No. 35 in the 2012 NFL draft, the Minnesota Vikings select Stephen Hill. Wide Receiver. Georgia Tech.

9. Cleveland Browns – Quarterback

This is the only quarterback situation I’ll be looking at today. The reason is simply because the position is so important that every team, at least, has a guy on the roster today that could start if need be. Even the Colts (Drew Stanton) and Redskins (Rex Grossman) fit the bill.

That being said, the Browns needed to add a quarterback this offseason that could make an immediate impact and they failed. They weren’t a serious contender for Peyton Manning, missed out on Matt Flynn, failed to upgrade via David Garrard, Jason Campbell, Kyle Orton, or Chad Henne, and were beat out by Washington for the second-overall pick, which will be either Andrew Luck or Robert Griffin III. The free agent market has dried up at quarterback and it looks like they’ll pass on Ryan Tannehill at pick No. 4, which means their only chance at landing a quarterback who will make an immediate impact is via trade. It’s either that or another year of Colt McCoy and Seneca Wallace, who would be playing ahead of rookie Brandon Weeden or a developmental quarterback like B.J. Coleman or Kirk Cousins.

Void Filled – Cleveland trades its 2013 fifth and seventh round picks to Tennessee for Matt Hasselbeck.

8. New York Jets – Wide Receiver

In 2010, it was Braylon Edwards. In 2011, it was Plaxico Burress. In 2012, it will be…Chaz Schilens?

The Jets have struggled to find a long-term solution at the ‘Z’ to pair with enigmatic ‘X’ receiver Santonio Holmes. With Burress all but gone via free agency, the team’s only move so far this offseason has been to sign Schilens. If week one was today, New York would be sending Holmes, Schilens, and slot-man Jeremy Kerley into the game in three-wide sets.

Locker-room and off-the-field issues have hurt Santonio Holmes’ image, but he’s still one of the game’s top talents at the wide receiver position. Although the Jets plan to return to their heavy rush attack in 2012, they’ll need to find a way to take pressure off their superstar wideout in passing situations.

Void Filled - With pick No. 47 in the 2012 NFL draft, the New York Jets select Alshon Jeffrey. Wide Receiver. South Carolina

7. St. Louis Rams – Running Back

For starters, the new Rams regime needs to start thinking about a long-term solution at the position. Steven Jackson will be 29-years-old when week one rolls around and has been one of the most utilized backs in the league over the last seven years. Consider that the 237 carries he handled in 2007 was his lowest total since 2005. Jackson’s contract expires after the 2013 season and it’s not crazy to think that it won’t be renewed. He’ll be in his thirties and closing in on 3,000 career carries.

As if that isn’t enough of a reason to add a young back in the early rounds, the Rams have almost no depth at the position. Cadillac Williams and Jerious Norwood were brought in on one-year deals last offseason, but neither is expected back. Quinn Porter is under contract, but is not a real threat for regular snaps, and Chase Reynolds was given a futures contract. At the absolute minimum, the Rams need to add a player who can carry the load should Jackson miss any action.

Void Filled – With pick No. 65 in the 2012 NFL draft, the St. Louis Rams select Chris Polk. Running Back. Washington.

6. Miami Dolphins – Wide Receiver

Gone to Chicago is Brandon Marshall, which has left Miami with a very underwhelming wide receiver unit. Slot man Davone Bess and vertical “threat” Brian Hartline currently project as the team’s starters, with speedy second-year receiver Clyde Gates kicking Bess inside in three-wide sets. An expanded role for Anthony Fasano and potentially more two-tight end sets in order to get Charles Clay on the field is likely, but that still means 50+ snaps per game for Hartline. Additionally, new coach Joe Philbin is fresh off coaching a dominant Packers offense built on spreading the ball around.

Void Filled – Draft Day Trade – Miami trades pick No. 103 and a conditional sixth-round pick in 2013 to Green Bay for James Jones.

5. Cincinnati Bengals – Wide Receiver

A.J. Green’s emergence into an elite talent at the position keeps Cincinnati from popping up later in this article. Unfortunately, the team’s first-round pick a season ago has very little help. Gone via free agency are Jerome Simpson and Andre Caldwell – the team’s No. 2 and No. 4 wideouts in 2011. Jordan Shipley returns to the slot, but missed a majority of the 2011 season with a torn ACL and MCL. The team expects Armon Binns to step up and compete for snaps with Andrew Hawkins and Ryan Whalen, but a void still remains in the starting lineup.

Void Filled – With the No. 21 pick in the 2012 NFL draft, the Cincinnati Bengals select Kendall Wright. Wide Receiver. Baylor.

4. Cleveland Browns – Wide Receiver

Very much like the Bengals, the Browns addressed the wide receiver position early in the 2011 draft. Unfortunately for Cleveland, Greg Little did not emerge the way A.J. Green did in year one. Little still has plenty of potential, however, and will stick as the team’s ‘X’ receiver. For now, Mohamed Massaquoi projects as the starting ‘Z’, with Jordan Norwood and Josh Cribbs providing what is rather underwhelming depth.

Picking fourth overall, there’s a chance Cleveland could pounce on Justin Blackmon, but it seems unlikely considering their needs at quarterback, running back, and cornerback. Additionally, Blackmon fits the profile of Little, which – if inserted into the starting lineup – leaves the team without much of a deep threat.

Void Filled – With the No. 22 pick in the 2012 NFL draft, the Cleveland Browns select Rueben Randle. Wide Receiver. Louisiana State.

3. St. Louis Rams – Wide Receiver

Brandon Lloyd was a target monster down the stretch in 2011, but he’s long gone after signing with New England in March. St. Louis does still have a lot of depth at wide receiver, however, but a majority of the young talent is made up of possession receivers. Additionally, a whopping three of the team’s top four projected wide receivers – Danny Amendola (Restricted Free Agent), Greg Salas, and Steve Smith – ended the 2011 season on injured reserve. The one who didn’t? Injured list board member Danario Alexander. On top of all that, Austin Pettis is suspended for the first two games of 2012 for violating the league's policy on performance-enhancing substances. Brandon Gibson returns to the mix, but isn’t a guy you want in your starting lineup every week.

Although it’s a new regime in St. Louis, Salas and Pettis were early-round picks in 2011, meaning, at least, one of them is likely to get a long look for regular snaps. Smith has a 100-catch season under his belt and has a chance at a starting job if he’s back to full health. Amendola will be the team’s top slot man if St. Louis doesn’t let him leave. Alexander is the team’s only real deep threat and would see regular action at the ‘Z’. Again, there’s a lot of depth here, but no elite talents. It’s a situation that must be addressed early in this month’s draft.

Void Filled – Draft Day Trade – St. Louis trades pick No. 6 (QB Ryan Tannehill) to Kansas City for pick No. 11 (WR Michael Floyd), pick No. 107, and Kansas City’s sixth-round pick in 2013.

2. Indianapolis Colts – Tight End

Although the position isn’t likely to provide us with a fantasy football superstar like it did when Peyton Manning was in town, the Colts are desperate for some help at the tight end position. Gone are Dallas Clark and Jacob Tamme, leaving only blocking specialist Brody Eldridge as a real threat for snaps in 2012.

Although, contrary to popular belief, there is no statistical evidence that rookie quarterbacks lean heavier on the tight end than veterans, Colts’ management will need a pass-catching weapon at the position due to an underwhelming group of wide receivers. The team also hopes to be able to run the ball more often than they did in the Manning years, which means more two-tight end sets.

Void Filled – With pick No. 34 in the 2012 NFL draft, the Indianapolis Colts select Coby Fleener. Tight End. Stanford.

1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Running Back

Only the Lions called a pass more often than the Buccaneers in 2012, but the Greg Schiano regime is expected to lean more on the run game. This will mean making some additions at the tailback position. Currently, only LeGarrette Blount and Mossis Madu are under contract, leaving a massive hole at the position. Blount has had fumble issues and, although he’s very much a force on early downs, is a non-factor as a pass-catcher. Madu isn’t a candidate for regular snaps and will eventually be on the roster bubble.

The Buccaneers figure to hope for Alabama’s Trent Richardson at pick No. 5 in this month’s draft, but they could get sniped by the Browns at No. 4. If Richardson heads to Cleveland, the Bucs will need to pounce on a back with their second-round pick.

Void Filled - With pick No. 36 in the 2012 NFL draft, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers select Doug Martin. Running Back. Boise State.

Honorable Mention: Cardinals QB, Ravens RB, Bills WR, Panthers WR, Browns RB, Cowboys WR, Packers RB, Colts WR, Giants RB, Jaguars WR, Chargers RB, Texans WR/TE

Mike Clay is a football writer for Rotoworld.com and the Founder/Managing Editor of Pro Football Focus Fantasy. He can be found on Twitter @MikeClayNFL.
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