This is Part II in a two-part column providing takeaways from minicamp and OTA workouts with a fantasy football spin. Click here for AFC Team-by-Team Notes from early this week.
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I recently began delving seriously into Average Draft Positions, based on the latest mock draft data. It's early and ADPs will change before August, but I noticed no more shocking average draft slot than Rashard Mendenhall going late in round five. New coach Bruce Arians has already anointed Mendenhall a starter, but Arizona will inarguably struggle to run the ball behind a putrid line in the run-tough NFC West. And then Ryan Williams will get his chance, and Stepfan Taylor. And it won't help that Arians is a decidedly pass-first coach. Loyal Rotoworlders: Please don't draft Mendenhall in the fifth round. Or sixth, for that matter. ... Another Arizona depth chart situation fast crystallizing is 2012 first-round pick Michael Floyd's ascension to the starting Z receiver job, ahead of Andre Roberts. In early June, the Cardinals' website wrote, "it seems like Floyd has been targeted more than anyone during workouts – including Larry Fitzgerald." With significantly upgraded quarterback play on a pass-heavy team, Floyd is squarely on the fantasy breakout radar. Roberts will also continue to play plenty in Arians' base three-receiver offense.
New Falcons back Steven Jackson emerged from spring practices anticipating a major leap in receptions, which makes sense because OC Dirk Koetter likes to throw the ball. A lot. "You're throwing routes to him, and he's the size of Julio Jones and he's a running back," Matt Ryan told CBS Sports. "He has such soft hands, too." S-Jax will diversify the complexion of Atlanta's offense. Whereas old feature back Michael Turner couldn't function on passing downs, the pass game is a strength of Jackson's. Opponents always had a feel for what was coming when Turner was in the game. They’ll have to be less proactive and more reactive now. ... Julio Jones finished as the No. 8 receiver in fantasy points per game as a rookie. In 2012, Jones ranked tenth and tied for sixth in touchdowns (10). He's aiming for new heights. Julio cut beef and pork out of his diet, and has gone organic. “I feel l much better,” he told FOX Sports Atlanta. "Especially playing football, I feel that stuff sits on you.” Jones will be 24 1/2 when Week 1 commences and hasn't reached his ceiling. Over the final eight games last season -- including playoffs -- Jones racked up 49 catches for 703 yards and seven touchdowns.
Jonathan Stewart's health has been a concern since he entered the NFL requiring turf toe surgery to fix a college injury. But his medical outlook has never been quite this alarming. Stewart needed offseason surgery on both ankles, and GM Dave Gettleman was noncommittal this week on J-Stew's training camp availability. "We'll see," said Gettleman. "Time will tell." Reports from both ESPN and the Charlotte Observer have insinuated Stewart is unlikely to be healed by early August. He's basically donning a big, fat question mark. ... Carolina's de-emphasis of the zone-read play under new coordinator Mike Shula is an impact fantasy story. The Panthers scaled back their read-option usage in the second half of last year after making it the foundation of their offense early on. From Weeks 9-16, Cam Newton completed 145-of-240 passes (60.4 percent) for 1,920 yards (8.0 YPA) and a 14:3 TD-to-INT ratio. He added five rushing touchdowns and 49.6 rushing yards per game. Newton averaged 27.7 fantasy points per game during that stretch; in 2013, Drew Brees led all quarterbacks in fantasy scoring with a 27.3 points-per-game clip. The Panthers went 6-3 to close out the season, including wins over the Redskins, Falcons, and Saints at the Superdome.
The Bears spent the spring speeding up Jay Cutler's "clock" -- dropback, delivery, progression reading, everything -- in order to make him a better fit for first-year coach Marc Trestman's quick-hitting offense. Cutler has taken 148 sacks over the last four seasons, at a 2.64 per-game clip. During Rich Gannon's two healthy years with Trestman, he took just 1.97 sacks per game. Bad lines deserve plenty of blame for Cutler's sack totals, but the best NFL quarterbacks camouflage O-Line deficiencies. Cutler has not always been an oft-sacked passer; he absorbed a miniscule 1.38 sacks per game in Denver. Cutler is a sleeper for top-ten QB stats if the Bears get him to perform like Trestman desires. The volume will be there in Trestman's pass-first offense. ... Early ADP information pinpoints Martellus Bennett as the premier fantasy value pick of Bears skill players. You can get him, on average, in the middle of the 13th round. "The thing about him is he wants to be great," Cutler observed of Marty B. "He doesn't want to be good." Still only 26 years old, Bennett will push Matt Forte to rank second on Chicago in catches, behind Brandon Marshall.
Dez Bryant and Miles Austin are locked in as the Cowboys' X and Z wideouts, respectively. A competition is brewing for third-receiver duties between reliable, underrated, versatile Dwayne Harris and third-round rookie Terrance Williams. During OTAs, position coach Derek Dooley acknowledged Williams "has a long way to go." Look for Harris to break camp as the No. 3 and emerge as a fantasy sleeper if Bryant or Austin gets injured during the season. Harris can play Z and in the slot, and had just one drop last year. ... DeMarco Murray is experiencing his first career healthy offseason after missing most of his rookie-year training camp with a bum hamstring and rehabbing a fractured ankle all last spring. Much like Darren McFadden, however, Murray is a stiff, straight-linish, high-cut back who will likely always struggle with injury. This was one longtime NFL scout's assessment of Murray coming out of Oklahoma in 2011: "If you don't have the ability to make guys miss, you're going to take a lot of punishment. A downhill, one-cut runner might only have a two- or three-year window. This is not an elusive guy who has a lot of shift to his game."