NFL training camps open in just over five weeks. Since free agency and the draft, the only real "action" of the offseason has consisted of no-contact, pad-less practices called Organized Team Activities (OTAs) and minicamps. To get you up to speed on the studs and duds of t-shirt-and-shorts workouts, I'll pinpoint notable fantasy-related happenings around the AFC in this column, and around the NFC in a column soon to follow.
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The defending champs have retooled and gotten younger on defense. They'll play faster in 2013. With Elvis Dumervil bookending a healthy, slimmed-down Terrell Suggs on the edges of an improved line, Baltimore's defense is primed for resurgence into the NFL’s top ten. They ranked 17th in total defense last season, and tied for 15th in sacks. New LE Chris Canty reportedly looked "dominant" throughout OTAs. Top CB Lardarius Webb (torn ACL) took part in individual drills and is another huge addition. ... Following the Anquan Boldin trade, the Ravens' lack of a reliable No. 2 wide receiver gives TE Dennis Pitta a great chance to lead the team in catches. The returning No. 7 overall fantasy tight end, Pitta quietly finished only four receptions behind Boldin's team-high 65 last year. ... Baltimore's need to talk up spring flash players like WR Deonte Thompson, and No. 2 TE Ed Dickson as a candidate for an expanded receiving role, speaks to one of two things: they're going to lean on Pitta and Torrey Smith more, or GM Ozzie Newsome still needs to make a move for a starting receiver. Expect Newsome to closely monitor other teams' training camp cuts.
Stevie Johnson was limited in OTAs with a "slightly" fractured L-5 vertebra. While Johnson will be a full participant on the first day of training camp, it's worth wondering just how much his numbers will dip under run-first coach Doug Marrone. Johnson was the featured player in Chan Gailey's five-wide spread offense for the last three years. C.J. Spiller will be Marrone's new No. 1 offensive option, and Buffalo has strengthened its receiver corps. I have a feeling we've seen the best of Johnson in fantasy. ... Whereas Gailey often removed Spiller from red-zone situations, Marrone intends to increase his usage both in scoring position and the passing game. Spiller will get goal-line carries. An offensive line coach at his core, Marrone spent four years as the head coach at Syracuse (2009-2012). In all four, Marrone's offenses finished with more rushing attempts than passes. Spiller is ticketed for a hefty workload. ... Camp battles to watch: Kevin Kolb versus E.J. Manuel at quarterback. Robert Woods, Da'Rick Rogers, T.J. Graham, and Marquise Goodwin at outside receiver. Both outside spots are up for grabs with Johnson expected to focus on the slot.
We’re all searching for breakout candidates this time of year, and sophomore WR Mohamed Sanu has gotten love in fantasy land. Tread lightly. While Sanu is the tentative favorite to start opposite A.J. Green, he'll be fighting for scraps with Jermaine Gresham, first-round TE Tyler Eifert, dynamic slot weapon Andrew Hawkins, and rookie "space" RB Giovani Bernard behind Cincy's target monster No. 1 receiver in an Andy Dalton-led offense. Barring a Green injury, Sanu will struggle for WR4 value, let alone emerge as a viable WR3. ... Bernard is slated for heavy work in the passing game, but admitted publicly he expects to be a "complementary" back as a rookie, rotating with BenJarvus Green-Ellis. Bernard is far more talented than Lawfirm and his role should grow as the year progresses, but the Cincy backfield could be an early-season headache for fantasy owners. ... Tight end sets up as another fantasy quagmire. Early indications are Gresham will be the in-line tight end, with Eifert as the "move," receiving-oriented option. It's conceivable that Gresham and Eifert cut into each other's production, leaving neither as even a low-end TE1.
Emerging star WR Josh Gordon's two-week suspension for a positive codeine test will cost him games against the Dolphins and Ravens. He'll return in Week 3 at Minnesota. Davone Bess, Greg Little, Travis Benjamin, and David Nelson figure to form a receiver committee in the meantime. The biggest fantasy beneficiary may be athletic phenom TE Jordan Cameron, a college basketball player Cleveland's new tight end-friendly coaching staff has penciled in as a starter. Cameron, though, suffered two muscle pulls across the Browns' 16 spring practices and must demonstrate durability to earn Norv Turner and Rob Chudzinski's trust in a featured pass-game role. ... Trent Richardson's injury situation -- he sat out OTAs with a strained right shin -- generated ESPN headlines because Richardson is a big name and there wasn't a whole lot else to talk about. So something like that quickly becomes overblown. The coaching and medical staffs are simply exercising caution on Richardson, and may continue to into the preseason. Remember: Turner almost never gave LaDainian Tomlinson carries in exhibition games. Seems that worked okay.
Do you believe in OTA depth charts? That is the question. A debate has developed within the fantasy community as to the worth of second-year tailback Ronnie Hillman's spring placement atop Denver's depth chart. Hillman took roughly 75 percent of Denver's first-team running back reps, while Montee Ball handled the rest. As a rookie, Hillman showed essentially nothing that would lead any unbiased observer to believe he's ready for a feature back role. Hillman ran small, struggled mightily inside the tackles, averaged 3.88 yards per carry, and was unceremoniously usurped by weekly healthy scratch Knowshon Moreno following Willis McGahee's injury. At the beginning of the offseason, VP of Football Operations John Elway referred to Hillman as a "change-of-pace type guy." Rotoworld will throw all of its support behind Ball as the superior fantasy pick, but it's a camp battle to closely monitor. Under new coordinator Adam Gase, the Broncos are going to rip off plays in an up-tempo offense, and rack up yardage and points.