Adam Levitan

Offseason Low Down

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NFC Team-by-Team OTA Notes

Friday, June 20, 2014



NEW ORLEANS SAINTS

We know the Saints are going to be a fantasy juggernaut. An ability to project how all their new pieces will fit in is going to be a key to the fantasy season. … First up is Brandin Cooks, who the Saints traded up to get in the first round. Due to an NFL rule that needs to be changed, Cooks missed OTAs because Oregon State is on the quarter system. He was forced to study the playbook online. It’s not ideal, but it shouldn’t prevent Sean Payton from cooking up ways to get this speedster the ball a ton. A recent beat writer prediction of 800 yards, 5-6 receiving touchdowns and a punt return score sounds realistic. … Cooks’ selection put a damper on Kenny Stills’ potential Year 2 breakout. He’s still a rare, highly efficient deep threat, but volume is a question mark. Robert Meachem and Devery Henderson were never reliable fantasy players in this scheme. ... 32-year-old Marques Colston says the plantar fasciitis that has plagued him over the last couple years is completely healed. If you believe him, he’ll be a value pick in the middle rounds. I’ll be passing on him in favor of more ascending talents without the injury question.

Over the last three seasons, Darren Sproles averaged 77.3 catches, 660.3 receiving yards and scored 16 receiving touchdowns. Replacing him is going to be a committee effort. … Pierre Thomas has been getting a lot of snaps in packages previously occupied by Sproles. I like the PT Cruiser to get 75-plus catches again as a low-upside PPR option. Cooks is also going to do a lot of Sprolesian things, as mentioned above … The other way to compensate for Sproles' absence is by using more of the power running we saw out of the Saints late in 2013 and against the Eagles in the Wild Card win. I think Mark Ingram is a volume back that won’t get it in New Orleans, but Khiry Robinson is a unique player as described by Chris Wesseling here. There’s some late-round flier appeal in Khiry. … Shayne Graham is ahead of Derek Dimke in the kicking battle. Dome kicker in an explosive offense equals fantasy consistency.

I grew sick and tired of these Jimmy Graham franchise tag stories months ago. He’s going to be playing for the Saints this season, the only question is if it’ll be for $7 million or $12 million. Graham is a no-brainer first-round fantasy pick.  


NEW YORK GIANTS

There’s reason to believe the Giants’ broken offense will be fixed this season. New OC Ben McAdoo has been busy installing his Green Bay west coast style offense, which will feature a much faster pace, a three-wide base and less of the option routes that were so problematic. … Rueben Randle took a lot of heat from the front office and teammates during the winter and early spring. I’m beginning to think that was a motivational tactic for a player they’re counting on to rise up and help replace Hakeem Nicks. Randle was singled out as a standout player during both OTAs and minicamp, showing improved crispness with routes and an understanding of the offense. If he can free up his mind and just let his physical traits take over, Randle is going to be a stud. He’s consistently made “wow” plays on the limited opportunities he’s been given. … Meanwhile, Odell Beckham missed the majority of practices with a hamstring injury and is falling behind a little. I’d take Randle in the fifth or sixth round, and probably pass on Beckham all together. … Jerrel Jernigan is buried again, running as a backup to Victor Cruz in the slot and a backup to Beckham’s “X” spot.

Eli Manning’s ankle procedure quickly became a non-issue. He’s back participating at minicamp and will be a back-end QB2. … Rashad Jennings has been working as the first-string tailback, as expected. But he’s going to be pushed by rookie Andre Williams, a Boston College guy who could quickly endear himself to former BC head coach Tom Coughlin. We also can’t rule out David Wilson (neck surgery) gaining clearance ahead of camp and contributing as an early-down change-of-pace player. It’s a backfield I’ll be avoiding. … The Giants have been lightly linked to free agent Jermichael Finley, but they’ve done nothing at the tight end spot. Adrien Robinson has been getting the first-team reps and is someone to monitor closely at camp as a potential sleeper. He’s 6’4/265 and has 4.56 speed with a 11-foot-3 broad jump.   


PHILADELPHIA EAGLES

Can Nick Foles do it again, this time without DeSean Jackson? Regression is obviously going to come when a second-year player throws 27 touchdowns against two interceptions en route to a 119.2 passer rating. He does have things working in his favor: A full offseason as the starter, an elite offensive mind in Chip Kelly and the game’s best o-line. I’m still hedging my bets some, placing Foles ninth among fantasy quarterbacks. … The Eagles are trying to be even faster this season, with observers likening practice to a “drag race.” More plays mean more yardage and more points. … In terms of replacing Jackson, it’s going to be a committee effort. Jeremy Maclin (ACL) has looked healthy and participated in every OTA and minicamp, often lining up at the “Z” spot where Jackson did most of his work last season. If you are OK taking guys one year removed from a knee reconstruction, there are few WR3s with more upside.

Another part of the committee will be Zach Ertz, who is working on his blocking so he can be on the field more. Kelly loves to throw out of run sets and run out of pass sets, forcing defenses to cover every inch of the field. That requires his players to be well-rounded, so Ertz’s progress as a blocker is big. He’s one of my favorite tight ends to target in the middle/late rounds. … I’m not on Darren Sproles. He’ll be 31 in June, isn’t fast enough to the edge in the run game anymore and won’t see the kind of volume he got in New Orleans. A 6-8 touch per game projection feels right. … I’m also not on Riley Cooper, a jump-ball guy and blocker who fluked his way to 835 yards and eight touchdowns last year thanks to Jackson’s ability to draw safety coverage. … Rookie slot man Jordan Matthews is a fine late-round stash. He’s starred at OTAs/minicamp, drawing comparisons to Terrell Owens. I’d bet on him passing up Cooper for reps in two-wide sets before the season is over, and we can't count on Maclin to sustain health.  


SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS

Since 2011, the 49ers have not ranked higher than 31st in pass attempts. They are practicing as if they’ll come off that ground-n-pound style some this season. It makes plenty of sense as Colin Kaepernick is in his second full season as a starter, the offensive weaponry has been upgraded massively and the defense is not as formidable. Kaepernick’s box score was often hurt by the blowouts last season (and the lack of passing plays), yet he still finished as fantasy’s No. 12 QB. No borderline QB1s have more upside. … Vernon Davis’ holdout from mandatory minicamp does not concern me. He has very little leverage as the third-highest paid tight end in the league, and loves headlines. Davis is a good bet to report at some point during training camp. … That said, Davis’ role in the pass game is going to be mitigated with Michael Crabtree back healthy, Anquan Boldin still reliable underneath and Stevie Johnson entering the fray. … Marcus Lattimore (knee, hamstring) is looking better at this week’s minicamp than he did at OTAs, but lower-leg complications are going to hang over his head. I’m taking Carlos Hyde as Frank Gore’s backup.


SEATTLE SEAHAWKS
Marshawn Lynch may think he deserves a raise, but he has no leg to stand on. He's 28 years old, has 901 carries the last three seasons and Christine Michael is ready to pop. Lynch's rumored "retirement" threats were obviously unfounded as he'd be leaving $7 million in 2014 compensation on the table -- not a realistic move for someone who wants money. Lynch showed up for mandatory minicamp this week, confirming this was an overblown story. ... What's not overblown is Michael's ability. Former NFL personnel man Louis Riddick said Michael is the most gifted running back drafted in the last five years, and added that a Texas A&M strength coach who has worked with both Adrian Peterson and Michael said their athletic explosiveness is on even ground. Lynch is still the workhorse and starter here, but Michael is going to get 6-8 early-down carries per game because he's too good to keep off the field again. I'd drop Lynch, a two-down back losing volume, into the mid/late second round of fantasy drafts. ... Newly extended Doug Baldwin is moving into the "X" spot this season after spending most of his previous time inside. Percy Harvin will be at "Z" and Sidney Rice will be a backup on the outside if he can get his knee right. I like Baldwin as a nice role player for the Seahawks, but he's not a fantasy option for me. Golden Tate, a better athlete and playmaker, never topped 70 catches or 900 yards in Seattle. They just don't throw enough and when they do, it's by committee.


ST. LOUIS RAMS
Zac Stacy is a 2013 fifth-round pick who averaged 3.89 YPC last season, and the Rams added Tre Mason in the third round of this year’s draft. So I wasn’t that surprised when OC Brian Schottenheimer said Stacy is “not guaranteed” the starting running back job. But when the chips are down, a 70 percent share of the carries for Stacy and all of the passing-down reps sounds about right. It’s a big job on a team with a potentially road-grating offensive line that wants to run the rock and play defense to win. … I’m not buying Tavon Austin “gets it” now puff pieces. He’s always going to look good in non-contact practices – his issue is making plays in the small spaces he’ll find on Sundays. … Back with old friend Jeff Fisher, Kenny Britt is healthy and impressing. Always long on talent, he’s a guy I’d gamble on ahead of Brian Quick, Chris Givens or Austin Pettis.


TAMPA BAY BUCS
One offseason story line I am buying is a decline in usage for Doug Martin. Remember that this is a guy who was drafted by the old regime and then averaged just 3.59 YPC in six games last year before sustaining a season-ending shoulder injury. The Lovie Smith regime then comes in and surprisingly takes Charles Sims at No. 69 overall, immediately pegging him as a passing-down back. OC Jeff Tedford used the term alternate. “Everywhere I’ve ever been, if you look at my history, our history, we’ve played more than one running back. … One running back just can’t make it through the season,” Smith said.  With offensive line concerns on top of these new volume concerns, I won’t be on Martin in the first three rounds.

The quarterback situation is intriguing in two-QB formats because of the touchdown-scoring talent. Assembling a basketball team on grass, there are a lot of jump balls to be had between Vincent Jackson, Mike Evans and Austin Seferian-Jenkins. Josh McCown has been running as the starter throughout practices and will almost certainly stay there through the beginning of the regular season. I’m not buying organizational claims that the Bucs suddenly had a change of heart on Mike Glennon after trying to trade him at the draft. They just couldn’t get the compensation that they wanted.


WASHINGTON REDSKINS

The star of Redskins workouts has been Jordan Reed, who is over his latest concussion and practicing in full. If this Aaron Hernandezesque on-field talent can sustain health, he’s going to be a top-five fantasy tight end. DeSean Jackson will run vertical routes and Pierre Garcon will gobble up defensive attention, leaving Reed to own the middle of the field. “Reed is going to be such a big part of this offense,” ESPN 980 said Wednesday. … Top beat writer John Keim wouldn’t be surprised if Jackson ends up third in catches, and I agree. He’s going to run a lot of clear-out routes because Garcon is a better at breaking tackles on the short screens and hitches. … I’ve talked about this plenty already, but Robert Griffin III is my favorite bounce-back candidate. Now 18 months removed from his knee tear, RG3 has ditched the brace that bothered him so much last year and reportedly “looks like a different QB” while moving effortlessly. Jay Gruden turned Andy Dalton into fantasy’s No. 5 quarterback last year. ... The Redskins are sticking with the zone-blocking running scheme even though Mike Shanahan is gone, but I’m still very skeptical on Alfred Morris. He’s been great, but guys like Mike Anderson, Rueben Droughns and Tatum Bell were also great while playing in the Shanahan and Son scheme.



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Adam Levitan is in his sixth season covering football and basketball for Rotoworld. He won the Fantasy Sports Writers Association award for Best Series in 2011 and 2009, and ESPN's overall fantasy football title in 2000. Find him on Twitter.
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