As the first full weekend of preseason approaches, this is a good opportunity to spin around the league with news and notes from the first two weeks of training camp. In addition to passing along nuggets and analyzing their fantasy impact in this column, I will focus on previewing what each AFC club's 2013 offense might look like. Offensive strategy can be almost as meaningful for fantasy production as talent, and early-camp reports have shined some light on how each team plans to go about things.
For Adam Levitan's NFC Notes column, bang it here.
Nate Washington. Jon Baldwin. Jerricho Cotchery. Jason Avant. Austin Pettis. Those are a few trade/cut possibilities to keep in mind as the Ravens seek to replace Anquan Boldin and Dennis Pitta's 2012 combined receiving line of 126/1,590/11, without a single offseason addition of note. The Boldin trade and Pitta injury leave Baltimore without an established "sustainer" pass-game weapon capable of reliable chain movement. In Torrey Smith, Deonte Thompson, and Jacoby Jones, the Ravens are flush with fast-forty but low-percentage receivers. GM Ozzie Newsome needs to get creative, because his passing attack has major short-to-intermediate voids. ... If Baltimore stands pat, it could lean more heavily on a deep backfield to provide that sustaining element. Ray Rice is Ray Rice, and ascending second-year back Bernard Pierce is a composed if violent power back who could start for most NFL teams. It's entirely possible OC Jim Caldwell installs a run-heavy, shot-play offense, matching his scheme to personnel. Due to the likely reduction in pass attempts, it just wouldn't be a great development for Joe Flacco's fantasy value.
Early-camp signals point strongly to E.J. Manuel starting the September 8 opener versus New England. Coaches were thrilled with Manuel's play in Monday's intrasquad scrimmage, and Buffalo's offensive intentions are clear: They want to play faster. Dual-threat Manuel, movable receivers Robert Woods and Stevie Johnson, burner wideouts Marquise Goodwin and T.J. Graham, and halfback C.J. Spiller form a potentially explosive nucleus where read-option is sure to be utilized in what rookie OC Nathaniel Hackett promises will be one of football's fastest-moving offenses. The Bills want more up tempo, and they want more big plays. I'm not saying that'll be the result, but that's the plan. ... Handwringing over Spiller receiving goal-line carries -- coach Doug Marrone has yet to publicly commit to a goal-line back -- is a waste of fantasy owners' time. I do think Spiller will ultimately get the job, primarily because the Bills would be fools to bench their best playmaker in scoring position. But it isn't as if Spiller needs goal-line carries to score. He's reached pay dirt 16 times in his NFL career, and only three have come from inside opposing five-yard lines. ... I found this funny, via the Buffalo News: A radio guy recently asked playcaller Hackett if Spiller would be the "focal point" of Buffalo's offense. Hackett "laughed incredulously and wondered why anyone would think otherwise."
Aware of Andy Dalton's talent limitations, the Bengals invested heavily in his supporting cast this offseason. First- and second-round picks Tyler Eifert and Giovani Bernard are buzzing loudly in camp, and second-year wideouts Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones have benefited from extra reps with A.J. Green nursing a minor knee injury. Despite sub-average arm talent and athleticism, Dalton offers intrigue as a QB2. Cincinnati is rich with playmakers, and its strong offensive line returns all five starters. ... "We didn't draft him to sit the bench," OC Jay Gruden said of Bernard on Tuesday night's debut of Hard Knocks. "We drafted him to play, a lot." The Bengals will keep early-down hammer BenJarvus Green-Ellis involved in the early-season running game, but Bernard is going to make himself impossible for Gruden to keep off the field. He is cat-quick with explosive lateral moves and outstanding versatility, like a younger Brian Westbrook. In fantasy drafts, think of Bernard as an ideal flex with upside to be a steady RB2, especially in PPR.
Resident O-Line guru Lance Zierlein made a great point about Trent Richardson's 2013 fantasy outlook in Monday's Smash Mouth column, noting the significance of Cleveland's improvement on defense. Free agency brought stud DE Desmond Bryant and OLB Paul Kruger, and the draft explosive edge rusher Barkevious Mingo. Jabaal Sheard was retained amid trade rumors, and has been the early star of camp. NT Phil Taylor is 100 percent after missing half of last season. Cleveland's front-seven talent rivals any in the league and will keep this team in games, allowing Richardson to rack up rushing attempts. I don't mind at all that Richardson has missed a few practices after getting kicked in the shin. Fewer reps will keep his powerful legs fresher. ... I'm excited about ex-basketball player Jordan Cameron's breakout potential in Rob Chudzinski and Norv Turner's unfailingly tight end-friendly offense, but wish Cameron was generating more early-August buzz. He is a player to watch closely this preseason. Cameron first jumped out at me last preseason on a leaping, highlight-reel catch over the top of coverage for a 42-yard gain in the exhibition opener against the Lions. Cameron gained another 16 yards on swing pass. His athleticism is for real, but Cameron must demonstrate durability and play with more physicality.
Second-year back Ronnie Hillman opened camp atop the depth chart and has been turning heads since the spring after adding weight and improving in pass protection. But the camp battle is far from decided. Rookie Montee Ball outplayed Hillman and Knowshon Moreno in Denver's intrasquad scrimmage last Saturday, and offers the best pure running ability on the roster. Preseason games will provide a clearer picture for the Broncos' run-game distribution. Denver opens the exhibition season Thursday in San Francisco. ... Broncos TE Julius Thomas' basketball background and ascension onto the first string provide some surface-level fantasy appeal, but a full understanding of Denver's 2013 offensive approach should dampen enthusiasm. With Wes Welker added to Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas, the Broncos will be a three-wideout team as opposed to a "12 personnel" offense with two tight ends. There'll be one tight end in the game on the majority of snaps -- either Thomas or now-injured Joel Dreessen -- and his role will be to block. I will keep close tabs on Thomas throughout August, but he's just a dynasty league prospect for now.