Despite the fact that there are many NFL and fantasy football fans who pick over offseason news with a fine-tooth comb, we understand that there are still a lot of you out there who simply don't have time to keep up with player movements or the happenings of each team. That's why yours truly is here to give you the lowdown on the recent 2014 news of each team, both AFC and NFC and how it impacts your fantasy football league/team.
Since we're almost at the end of the series, and with one preseason game already in the books, it's time to kick it into high gear and finish out the rest of the NFC South (Buccaneers) and go through a quick rundown of the entire NFC West.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Quarterback - The Buccaneers are looking to make a statement this year after finishing off the 2013 season with a dysmal 4-12 record. The first move was signing long-time veteran QB Josh McCown. To say McCown has been around the block would be an understatement. After bouncing around the league, while playing for 5 different teams, the Bucs bring in veteran presence that they sorely lacked last year. But how will that translate to McCown's fantasy football numbers? Appearing in 8 games for the Bears while QB Jay Cutler was out with injury, McCown averaged an impressive 228.6 passing yards a game. Although he only threw for 13 scores. The Bucs receiving corps is not only impressive, but big in terms of size. WR Vincent Jackson comes in at 6'5/230 pounds, and rookie WR Mike Evans comes in at an almost identical 6'5/231 pounds. McCown revealed that it helped his passing game having WR Brandon Marshall and WR Alshon Jeffery in Chicago. Will size make a difference again? While McCown might have another magical season as the 2014 Bucs starter, I wouldn't view him as even a low-end QB1. Quarterbacks don't magically become stars overnight. Especially ones who have been in the league for 11 years. Lock McCown in as a QB2 with potential for QB1 numbers in a game here and there throughout the season.
Running Backs - The Bucs running game seems to be a bit dicey this year. RB Doug Martin is sealed in as the starter, but there's been some questioning on just how many touches he'll see under HC Lovie Smith. And since the new front office didn't draft Martin, the news that the team wants to use a rotation could have a big impact on Martin's value.
In his rookie year, Martin carried the ball 319 times. That's not going to happen this year. The Bucs used a high pick on rookie RB Charles Sims, who is expected to take away a chunk of receptions. RB Bobby Rainey and RB Mike James are also in the fold, although one figures to be cut before the season. Sims' value is greater in dynasty leagues as he could be viewed as the future starter if Martin falls out of favor with the coaching staff. He's signed for 2 more years, but he'll need a strong year before contract talks pop up.
Martin's current ADP is at the very bottom of round 2 in PPR leagues. He's also ranked at No. 11 amongst his running back peers. Martin should still be viewed as a low-end RB1. With all the question marks surrounding his role for the upcoming season, it might be wise to either skip him or draft him as an RB2. While his value isn't dead in the water, Sims could have more of an impact than some people are reporting. Rainey and James are waiver wire fodder. They won't make much of an impact outside of an injury.
Wide Receivers - Despite the drafting of WR Mike Evans, Lovie Smith has already declared WR Vincent Jackson as the team's No. 1 receiver. Jackson has been been a huge fantasy football asset while in Tampa, racking up over 70+ catches and 1200+ yards in each of his last two seasons. I don't see that changing this year. The addition of Evans will help spread defenses out and give Jackson more room. However, Jackson's PPR value will take a hit. He's valued as a WR2 right now, which is where he should be. He doesn't catch as many passes as other top fantasy receivers, but he makes up for it with yards-after-catch averages. In 2012, V-Jax averaged 19.2 ypc and 15.7 last season. Some might be tempted to take him as a WR1, and I would have thought the same before the presence of Evans, but that's simply too high for a player who has yet to top 80 receptions in his career.
Evans has as high a ceiling as any other top receiver this year, but drafting rookies in redraft leagues is tricky because they can either sink or swim. It helps that Jackson will be on the field to take away some of the defensive burden, but I wouldn't look at Evans until the mid rounds once I have at least 2 strong receivers ahead of him. Looking at his ADP, Evans is going in the mid-to-late 7th round. That might seem high to some, but he's listed as the 32nd receiver taken off the board. Evans' value is right where it should be since he's predicted to be heavily involved near the end zone, possibly double-digit touchdowns because of his size, and he could flirt with 800-900 yards. Drafting him any higher isn't advised.
I've given Tampa tight ends too much love over the years. I'm not doing it again. TE Brandon Myers should claim the starting job, but he has proven his 2012 Raiders season in which he caught 79 passes was a clear fluke.
Quarterback - QB Carson Palmer is heading into his second season as a Cardinal, but that doesn't mean his fantasy football value has improved much. Despite topping 4,000 passing yards in 2013, his 24-22 touchdown-interception ratio is a glaring problem for a team that has already had offensive line problems. Just like last year, view Palmer as a very VERY low-end QB2.
Running Backs - Ever since the beginning of the offseason, RB Andre Ellington's value and status in the Cardinals backfield has gotten bigger and bigger each week. A smallish back at 199 pounds, it's hard to see Ellington act as the "bellcow for the Arizona running game" like the Cardinals coaches view him. Even though he reportedly added up to 10 pounds of muscle, Ellington isn't going to be a 300+ carry guy in 2014. His size could hold him back and he could struggle early if the Cardinals try to make him something he isn't. That's not to say he doesn't hold PPR value. Ellington caught 39 passes despite being in a committee last year. That's where he could have the biggest payoff. Ellington is currently being drafted as a top-end RB2. Sorry, that's too high for me. If he struggles early, RB Jonathan Dwyer and/or RB Stepfan Taylor could make this another committee backfield. Draft Ellington as an RB3 if he's still on the board as there is much higher value without the risk.
Wide Receivers - Once a top WR1, WR Larry Fitzgerald has seen his value drop over the last 2 seasons as he has been unable to crack the 1,000 yard barrier. Age (set to turn 31) and continuing problems at the quarterback position could add yet another lackluster year to Fitz's resume'. Currently listed as the 19th wide receiver off the board, don't draft Fitz as anything more than a WR2. 2014 is likely going to be his last year as a Cardinal as he is set to receive an $8 million roster bonus in March.
As Fitzgerald falls, WR Michael Floyd's fantasy arrow is pointing up. Coming off his first 1,000 yard season of his career, there is belief that Floyd could take a bigger leap after he reportedly caught nearly everything thrown his way early on in OTAs. Since defenses still have to account for Fitzgerald, Floyd could top his 2013 numbers. He's definitely not a WR1, but he's slowly making his way up the WR2 ladder.
For dynasty owners, keep an eye on rookie WR Josh Brown. WR Ted Ginn is currently penciled in as the No. 3 receiver on the team's depth chart, but Brown has been turning heads in practice so far. Defenders are having a hard time covering him, and NFL.com's Gil Brandt says the Cardinals predict Brown will be a special player. Brown clearly won't make much noise this year. But if/when Fitz is gone, he could push for starting duties as early as 2015 if he shows he can handle himself on the field this season. He should not be on any dynasty waivers at the moment.
Just like the Buccaneers, the tight end position for the Cardinals should be passed on. TE John Carlson is expected to get the starting job, but Arizona's offense doesn't feature the tight end in the passing game.
San Francisco 49ers
Quarterback - QB Colin Kaepernick's value is looking steady, but it could improve after OC Greg Roman threw out the possibility that the team would like to pass more this year. Coming off a 92 rush season with 21 touchdown passes, CK will be a QB1 once again in 2014.
Running Backs - Having just turned 31 in May, RB Frank Gore's days as a dominant running back could be coming to a close. His yards-per-carry average of 4.1 from 2013 looks pretty good on paper, but he slumped down to 3.5 over the last 10 games. Gore's days as an RB1 are clearly over. After the 49ers used a second-round pick on RB Carlos Hyde, even Gore's value as an RB2 is on shaky ground. There is belief that the 49ers will give 50 fewer carries to Gore while allowing more time for Hyde on the field. Once considered one of the few three-down backs in the league, Gore could find himself in a committee with Hyde and...well, whichever running back wins the No. 3 job between RB LaMichael James and RB Marcus Lattimore (Both of whom are injured). Draft Gore as an RB3 and hope you can get one last ounce of fantasy value out of him.
Hyde's value is starting to pick up in redraft leagues, along with his high draft spot in dynasty leagues. While we don't know exactly what his role will be, he's been getting a lot of work in camp due to injuries to the rest of the running back unit NOT named Gore. The rumors that Hyde could push Gore for the starting job as soon as this year has pushed his value up to the 32nd overall running back drafted in PPR leagues. However, just like we don't know how Gore will be used, we also don't know how Hyde will fit in the equation either. Like Gore, Hyde is an RB3/flex option at best until we see how this backfield plays out.
Wide Receivers - There's nowhere to go but up after WR Michael Crabtree suffered an Achilles' injury that knocked him out for 2/3 of the 2013 season. Playing in a contract year, Crabtree has to play top notch in order for him to receive a fat contract. While some might be a bit nervous about drafting a player coming off such a debilitating injury, Colin Kaepernick had this to say about Crabtree:
"He has a burst out of his routes. He has burst when he catches the ball. He looks really good out there."
Because Crabtree's injury happened so early in the season, he's ahead of the game in regards to rehab. Some owners might be nervous about taking someone like Crabtree. I wouldn't be. Players have an extra incentive in the last year of their current deal, so there isn't much reason Crabtree can't have a major bounce back campaign in 2-14. Draft him as a WR2 and rest easy. Clearly his recent injury is behind him.
Because of Crabtree's absence, WR Anquan Boldin outplayed his 2013 ADP by putting up 85 catches, 1179 receiving yards and 7 scores. Don't be the sucker who thinks he'll match that production. Despite the fact that Boldin was able to parlay his 2013 season into a new two-year, $12 million contract with $5.5 million guaranteed, his numbers will come down considerably as long as Crabtree stays healthy. Don't think I'm saying Boldin should be avoided period. He still has some value left. But in fantasy football, he's nothing more than a low-end WR3 with very little upside.
WR Stevie Johnson might be a tempting name to look at, but I wouldn't look his way. Nor would I consider any other receiver NOT named Crabtree or Boldin as a fantasy football option. The 49ers have a lot of depth behind their starting duo.
TE Vernon Davis finally showed up in the fantasy world after his disappointing 2012 season. Of course much of his 2013 numbers were also due to Crabtree's absence. This makes me wonder if he's being overdrafted as his current value is as the 5th tight end off the board. Davis is still very much a TE1, but I wouldn't draft him over guys like Redskins TE Jordan Reed or Cowboys TE Jason Witten. Reed has a higher ceiling. Witten is the safer option. Let someone else draft Davis high. If he winds up falling to you as a lower-end TE1, snag him. I see 60-65 catches, 750-800 receiving yards and 8 touchdowns tops. 10 would be a miracle. Davis isn't going to reel in another double-digit scoring season like the 13 he put up last year.
Quarterback - Judging from his ranking as the 12th overall fantasy football quarterback drafted so far this summer, owners are finally realizing QB Russell Wilson is never going to be the next QB Drew Brees. After being absurdly ranked near the top-5 amongst fantasy quarterbacks last season, people should now realize that the Wilson of now is the best you're going to get. The Seahawks will continue to maintain their offense with a run-first philosophy, which will keep Wilson's numbers the same as last year. It's working, so I don't see the 'Hawks changing their schemes. Wilson's value is kept afloat by his rushing ability. He's now rushed the ball 94 and 96 times respectfully the last 2 seasons for a total of 1028 yards and 5 touchdowns. I might be in the minority, but I'd prefer taking Wilson as a high-end QB2 instead of nabbing him as my starter. He's only averaged 32 rushing yards a game, so it isn't like that is a difference maker.
Running Backs - RB Marshawn Lynch has been the linchpin of Seattle's rushing game for the past 4 seasons. That is expected to come to a close come 2015. RB Christine Michael has been a favorite of the coaching staff all offseason and is expected to start cutting into Lynch's touches in 2014. Lynch will still be the main ball carrier in the backfield, but the team would like to decrease Lynch's touches by 45-50 carries to lighten the load. It makes sense after 2-straight years of 300+ carries. Lynch is still an RB1, just not as high as he used to be. Not with guys like Broncos RB Montee Ball gaining more traction.
Because of the news that Michael will see a steady amount of carries this season, he's been drafted as a mid-level RB3. He can't be drafted as a starter only for the fact that we don't know what his exact role will be. He will see touches, but how many per game? Because of that, Michael should be viewed more as a handcuff to Lynch than a standalone fantasy option, unless you play in 14-16 team leagues. Michael is a hot commodity in dynasty leagues with the belief he will be the outright favorite to start in 2015. He's a redraft risk for now.
Wide Receivers - The absence of WR Golden Tate, who signed with the Lions, does open up some leeway in the passing game, but not much. After an injury-filled debut last season, WR Percy Harvin can only go up from here. However, that doesn't mean he is going to gain more fantasy value than other receivers. The Seahawks spread the ball around a lot. Add in the fact that they use their defense and running attack to win games, owners might be over drafting Harvin this year. Never known as a true No. 1 receiver in Minnesota, I'd be shocked if he broke that trend this year. The Seahawks also look like they'll be using Harvin on kickoffs, which scares me considering how fragile he seems. Harvin is not a WR1. And honestly, I'm not high on him as a WR2 with Wilson as the quarterback. Give me Harvin as a WR3, with a bit more value if your league gives points for return yardage.
WR Doug Baldwin should also be viewed as nothing more than a WR3 (if that) for the same reasons as Harvin. This offense just doesn't complete enough passes for anyone to be viewed as anything more than a flex option. One guy will have a big game here and there, but no receiver on this team will have consistency. No. 3 WR Jermaine Kearse could have more value in touchdown-heavy leagues due to his involvement around the goal line, especially in the NFC Championship and the Super Bowl. But even he is a reach.
Again, this offense doesn't feature the tight end in the passing game enough to pick up anyone from this position. PASS!
St. Louis Rams
Quarterback - After trade rumors galore spread in regards to QB Sam Bradford, Bradford gets a chance to redeem himself after an ACL injury knocked him out for half the 2013 season. At this point in his fantasy football career, no one should expect Bradford to turn into a stud. He's battled injuries throughout his time as an NFL starter and has never been able to max out his potential on the field. He's a very vanilla QB2 who doesn't offer much in the way of upside.
Running Backs - For the first time since the early days of RB Steven Jackson, the Rams have a true No. 1 running back in RB Zac Stacy. After a breakout year due to RB Daryl Richardson's inability to keep the starting job, Stacy will look to capitalize in 2014 and should easily surpass his first 1,000 yard season. Stacy clearly isn't a savvy pass catcher, but his value will remain as a borderline RB1 due to the volume of carries he'll receive. Plus, he barely has any competition behind him. It was originally rumored that rookie RB Tre Mason could push Stacy into a committee, but his current ranking as No. 4 on the depth chart behind RB Benny Cunningham and RB Isaiah Pead pushes that notion out the window. Stacy should come close to 20 or more carries a game due to St. Louis' lackluster passing game. Outside of Stacy, Mason is someone to stash away in dynasty leagues.
Wide Receivers - After years of wasting away on the Titans, WR Kenny Britt gets a chance to redeem himself after signing a one-year, $1.45 million contract back in March. Aside from numerous off-field incidents, Britt has never been the pillar of health. He's only played one full season in 5 years, and that was in his rookie year in 2009. CBS Sports' Jason La Canfora said Britt seemed like a changed man while at Rams training camp last week, but he's still a gamble in fantasy football circles. Because of his injury/off-field problems, Britt is being drafted in the 15th round. He has all the talent in the world to be a 1,000-yard receiver, but health has never been on his side. He's a bench player with some upside left.
No. 2 WR Brian Quick has been a complete bust since being drafted with the first pick in the second round of the 2012 NFL Draft. He's caught a mere 29 receptions and barely scraped 300 receiving yards in 2013. If the "magical third year" for receivers proves true in some cases, this will be the year Quick breaks out. Until then, he's nothing more than a WR4/WR5 until we see more production on the field.
Second-year WR Tavon Austin got fantasy owners riled up when he posted a 2/138/2 statline and scored another touchdown on a punt return in Week 10 against the Colts. Having been quiet before that week, many owners thought they'd finally get some value down the stretch. This was not the case as Austin couldn't even reach 40 receiving yards or touchdowns while getting knocked out the last 3 games of the season with an ankle injury. Austin's current value is squarely on the WR4/WR5 bubble, but that might even be too high. I don't see consistent numbers coming his way this year. And unless you get return-yardage points, I'd avoid Austin altogether. He's a tremendous talent, but that won't translate to fantasy numbers.
Just like Britt, TE Jared Cook looked to break out out of his Titan funk and become a star in his first year with the Rams. It looked promising after catching 7 passes for 141 yards and 2 touchdowns in Week 1 against the Cardinals, but it was all downhill from there. Cook did have a couple decent games throughout the season. But like many tight ends from last year, consistency wasn't on his side. He managed to haul in 3 more touchdowns the rest of the year and never topped or equaled the number of receptions from that first week. I don't expect much out of Cook this year, despite the fact that he has better value than most starting tight ends in the NFL. Don't get caught drafting Cook as a TE1. He's a mid-tier TE2 going forward.