When you earn a living as a professional fantasy football writer, your buddies tend to ask you a lot of lineup questions. But mostly, they just want you to run their league for them. Or maybe I’m just a control freak who wants to run every league I’m involved with. One or the other.
Anyway, I’ve been in a league with my high school friends since—well, high school. At this stage in our lives with jobs, significant others (none of us have kids yet, thankfully) and various other conflicts, it’s hard to nail down a draft day.
My buddy Doug is leaving for Asia next week, which poses a very real dilemma. Should we accommodate our friend of many years by having the draft this week or should we wait until closer to the season?
Well after Wednesday’s events, I’m glad we didn’t have it this week. I was pretty high on Kelvin Benjamin, probably high enough to take him above his 36.5 ADP on Yahoo. Instead Benjamin, a promising young receiver for Carolina and one of three rookies to go over 1,000 yards last season, will sit out the entire 2015 campaign with a torn ACL.
Wednesday served as another reminder that having your draft early in the preseason can sometimes be the kiss of death. Not that you’re any better off having your draft two days before the regular season—freak injuries don’t announce themselves. But certainly when you draft closer to Week 1, there’s less risk involved.
Though he’ll always be uttered in the same breath as Odell Beckham because they entered the league at the same time, Benjamin offers a much different skill set. Benjamin’s main asset is his height. At 6’5” and 243 pounds, he’s as big as any wideout in the game. That size advantage allowed him to reel in a team-high nine touchdowns during his rookie year.
With Benjamin down for the count, Devin Funchess and others will have to pick up the slack. If not for an injury-plagued junior year at the University of Michigan, Funchess might have been a first-round pick. Instead he slipped to the Panthers early in the second round. Rather than play a complementary role like most rookies, Funchess will be thrown right into the fray. If Cam Newton feeds Funchess as often as he fed Benjamin (146 targets last year), the 21-year-old will have a solid chance to return mid-round value.
Another player to keep an eye on is Greg Olsen. The eight-year veteran was one of the most consistent tight ends in fantasy last year with 84 catches for 1,008 yards. Both those totals were career-highs. Without Benjamin to compete with, those numbers are sure to rise.
For Newton, it’s a bit more complicated. Without his favorite target, Newton is likely to tuck and run on a more consistent basis. Russell Wilson’s penchant for scrambling worked to his favor last season, though it also put him at a greater risk for injury. The same will be true of Newton if he uses Benjamin’s absence to pad his rushing stats.
In theory, an increased emphasis on the run (we didn’t forget about you, Jonathan Stewart) could lead to fewer passing attempts for Newton. But if Carolina’s offense struggles to find its footing without Benjamin, the Panthers could find themselves playing from behind. When that happens, teams tend to air the ball out. By that logic, Newton’s passing numbers, at least from a pure volume standpoint, probably wouldn’t differ much from last season. The Benjamin effect appears to work both ways.
Those in dynasty leagues are probably wondering how to gauge Benjamin’s long-term future now that he’s headed for season-ending surgery. We won’t know for sure until he comes back, but recent success stories (Rob Gronkowski and Adrian Peterson come to mind) should give dynasty owners reason for optimism. Then again, Robert Griffin III has never fully recovered from his ACL tear. At least the 24-year-old Benjamin has youth on his side.
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A Fighting Epidemic
Why can’t everyone just get along?
Little scrums happen all the time in training camp and for the most part, we look the other way. We get it. Football, testosterone, male egos, pressure to make the team, 90-degree temperatures—none of these ingredients are conducive to good-decision making. But now things are just getting ridiculous.
A fight at Tuesday’s Rams/Cowboys joint practice got so out of hand that the two head coaches decided to call it off before anyone got hurt. For the second time this camp, Dez Bryant was involved in an altercation, this time with Rams cornerback Imoan Claiborne. Rams rookie Todd Gurley, who has been slow to recover from ACL surgery, even found himself in the mix.
“There is no excuse for it,” said Rams coach Jeff Fisher. “You can't blame it on anybody. It just happened. Fortunately nobody got hurt.”
Nobody got hurt in the Rams/Cowboys melee but last week when tensions boiled over at Jets camp, Geno Smith wasn’t so lucky. An argument over a $600 plane ticket left Smith with a broken jaw and IK Enemkpali without a job (for a few hours). Before that, the Redskins and Texans exchanged blows at a joint practice in Richmond, Virginia. The Texans could have just been hamming it up for Hard Knocks but Cam Newton’s tussle with teammate Josh Norman a couple weeks ago sure looked real. So did the dog pile at Steelers practice on Wednesday.
Training camp brawls can be entertaining in small doses, but when they involve important players like Newton and Bryant, that’s when fantasy owners start to get concerned. Which begs the question, why do teams insist on having so many joint practices?
"I'm not a big fan of those,” said Packers center Josh Sitton. “It's kind of stupid. It's just inviting fighting. It happens every single time.” Maybe that’s why Green Bay hasn’t shared the practice field with another team since 2005.
Saints coach Sean Payton agreed there are some teams that just can’t play nice. That’s why his squad is practicing with the no-nonsense Patriots for the third time in five years.
“We know it's gonna’ be about improving both teams,” said Payton. “We're both trying to do the same thing at this period of training camp.”
Of course, with social media invading nearly every inch of our existence, fights that used to go unreported are now going viral. “For as much as we're harping about avoiding it, hell, the network puts it on 11 times,” said Payton.
ESPN’s Bill Polian thinks the league should put rules in place to discourage fighting at camp. “Anyone caught in the vicinity of a fight, [gets fined] $10,000, immediately.” He also recommended $15,000 fines for players who throw punches and suspensions for “egregious” acts. Polian pointed out that all of these rules apply during the regular season.
As a fan of football, I love watching competitive players. It’s hard not to root for a guy giving it his all. But when your starting quarterback is getting punched in the face or your prized rookie has someone in a headlock, you need to take a step back and ask yourself, is this helping my team? We’ll see if cooler heads prevail as training camp continues over the next few weeks.
Quick Hits: Raiders wideout Andre Holmes will miss 3-to-4 weeks after breaking his hand at practice on Sunday … Ken Stabler is already a finalist for next year’s Hall of Fame induction. The former Raiders QB died of colon cancer last month … Cardinals left guard Mike Iupati is headed for a knee scope. He’ll be sidelined 6-to-8 weeks … Chris Johnson could get a chance to start for the Cardinals if he outperforms Andre Ellington. “I’m open to anything once you win it,” said coach Bruce Arians … Percy Harvin is dealing with a hip issue and recently had a pain injection. Rex Ryan is still hopeful Harvin will be ready for Buffalo’s third preseason game August 29 against the Steelers … Red Bryant signed with the Bills on Wednesday. Last season he finished 31st out of 59 qualified 4-3 defensive ends in PFF’s year-end rankings … Vic Carucci of the Buffalo News said there’s “zero chance” the Bills would consider signing Ray Rice. That report came only a few hours after Mike Garafolo of Fox Sports tweeted that Buffalo had “internal discussions” about adding Rice … New Jets quarterback Matt Flynn will need at least another week to recover from a hamstring injury. Expect plenty of Bryce Petty Friday against the Falcons … Brandon McManus drilled a 70-yard field goal at practice on Tuesday. Last year, he was used on kickoffs while Connor Barth handled Denver’s place-kicking duties … Broncos coach Gary Kubiak wasn’t happy with how practice was going on Wednesday so he made the team start over … Sean Payton said C.J. Spiller should be fine for Week 1. Spiller had arthroscopic knee surgery last week … According to Drew Brees, Ben Watson will start at tight end for New Orleans. There goes Josh Hill’s fantasy value … Tough break for Dolphins safety Louis Delmas. He tore his ACL for the second time in nine months on Wednesday … Bucs rookie Kenny Bell said his roommate Jameis Winston keeps him up at night by giving him football pop quizzes … Bengals corner Pacman Jones thinks he would have made $100 million by now if he hadn’t been suspended so many times early in his career … Marvin Jones practiced with the Bengals first-team offense on Wednesday … Eli Manning refuted a report that he wants to be the highest-paid player in the NFL. “The reports are wrong. That’s never been said, it’s never come out of my mouth” … The Seahawks released LB Nate Boyer on Tuesday. The 34-year-old was a Green Beret in the U.S. Army … Jacksonville’s Marcedes Lewis said he hasn’t felt this good at camp in three years. Too bad he’s buried behind Julius Thomas on the tight end depth chart … Marqise Lee’s hamstring is still bothering him. He’ll need at least two more weeks to heal … Tom Brady will be back in court on August 31 for another Deflategate hearing. Judge Richard Berman warned both sides not to hold him to a September 4 ruling … Rookie Melvin Gordon suffered a minor ankle injury at practice and might miss Saturday’s preseason game against Arizona … There hasn’t been any change in Kam Chancellor’s status. The Seahawks Pro Bowl safety is holding out for a new contract … Chicago comedian Hannibal Buress isn’t a fan of Jay Cutler. “It’s something about his face. You look at his face and you’re like, ‘man, I don’t like that dude.’”