People like to say there is no NFL offseason anymore. That’s technically not true, as the league does take a vacation between the end of minicamp (June 16) and the start of training camp in late-July. So right now is a good time to take a step back and see what we learned over the last couple months.
Ingesting the news that comes out of OTAs and minicamps is tricky. We don’t want to overreact to silly quotes like “I’m in the best shape of my life,” but we do want to build on depth-chart clues and scheme changes.
Here are team-by-team AFC fantasy notes from the spring. For NFC, click here:
2015 first-round pick Breshad Perriman missed all of his rookie year due to a PCL injury in his right knee. So it’s extremely concerning that he partially tore his ACL in an early-June practice. Meanwhile, Steve Smith is 37 years old and coming off an Achilles’ rupture. Underrated Kamar Aiken and speedster Mike Wallace will head to camp with a big leg up on the top-two wideout jobs. … Dennis Pitta was a rising star at the tight end position until a series of severe hip injuries crippled him. Now relatively healthy, he’s set to battle Ben Watson, Crockett Gillmore and Maxx Williams for snaps at camp. … Justin Forsett’s broken arm is behind him, but he turns 31 in October and is facing stiff competition. Second-year man Buck Allen and rookie Kenneth Dixon will steal snaps.
Sammy Watkins suffered a broken bone in his left foot and underwent April surgery. He has not resumed running yet and reports have him missing all of training camp. … Even without Watkins, TyGod Taylor was the unquestioned star of Bills camp. He wowed reporters and coaches as he takes the next step in Year 2 as a starter. Note Taylor ranked third in fantasy points per dropback last season, behind only fellow mobile QBs Cam Newton and Russ Wilson. … Leonard Hankerson and Dez Lewis are battling for the No. 3 WR job behind Watkins and Robert Woods. Yawn. … Karlos Williams showed up to minicamp overweight and was held out of practices. LeSean McCoy’s lead back role is unchallenged for now.
Tyler Eifert (ankle surgery) is not expected back until a couple games into the season, and Marvin Jones/ Mohamed Sanu left via free agency. Add it up and we are looking at a huge market share of targets for A.J. Green, who ranks 14th in the NFL since 1992 at yards per target (8.74). … Second-round rookie Tyler Boyd got his reps in the slot, not on the outside. That’s good news for Brandon LaFell, who lacks for talent but will have significant opportunity this season. … Intriguing size/speed prospect Tyler Kroft soaked up the first-team TE reps while Eifert rehabbed. Kroft will almost certainly be minimum price on DK early in the season. … The Bengals signed Gio Bernard to a $15.5M extension, reaffirming his substantial role in the backfield. It remains to be seen if Jeremy Hill can regain form after ranking a woeful 53rd in yards after contact per attempt last year.
Corey Coleman drew headlines when he showed up to rookie camp overweight and out of shape. Those stories dissipated as Coleman impressed during full-squad workouts. He’s the No. 1 receiver and TE Gary Barnidge is No. 2. Gronkidge should be fine for camp despite June surgery to repair a sports hernia. … Andrew Hawkins, Rashard Higgins, Terrelle Pryor etc. will compete for scraps. … Isaiah Crowell and Duke Johnson are on track to form a Jeremy Hill/Gio Bernard kind of committee for ex-Bengals OC Hue Jackson. Last year, Hill got 14.8 touches per game and Gio averaged 12.6. Johnson has the far higher ceiling just in case he assumes the every-down duties HueJax says the second-year man is capable of. Crowell will never be a passing-down back. … Jackson appears intent on starting Robert Griffin III ahead of capable journeyman Josh McCown.
C.J. Anderson will be the Broncos’ starter and every-down back after they matched the Dolphins RFA offer at four years, $18M. He averaged 18.0 carries and 3.0 catches per game in the playoffs, a good barometer of what’s to come. CJA worked out fully at OTAs as he’s finally over the troublesome ankle issues. … The Broncos flirted with Sam Bradford and drafted Paxton Lynch in the first round, but Mark Sanchez will almost certainly be the Week 1 starter. A cautious thrower who struggles to push the ball outside the hashes, Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders will often be hands off at inflated price tags – just as they were last year during Peyton Manning’s painful demise.
Despite signing Brock Osweiler to a $72M deal, the Texans coaches emphasized their offense will remain run-heavy. This is a team which ranked 5th in rush attempts in 2015 and and 1st in 2014. Lamar Miller, who was PFF’s No. 5 overall RB in 2015 and No. 12 in 2014, won’t be criminally underutilized anymore. … Jaelen Strong was out of shape at minicamp in 2015 and never recovered, but signs are better this year. Coaches were happy with both his attitude and conditioning. Strong is in the mix for No. 3 WR duties while first-round lid-lifter Will Fuller is ticketed for the No. 2 job.
Donte Moncrief’s breakout appeal is intact despite offseason turf toe surgery. He says he’s already resumed running routes. Moncrief averaged 4.6 catches for 50.1 yards and scored five touchdowns in seven games with Andrew Luck last year. … The Colts added virtually no depth behind 33-year-old Frank Gore, who will go over 250 carries again as long as he stays healthy. … A running back making waves is priority UDFA Josh Ferguson, who the Colts reportedly had a fourth-round grade on. He’s drawn comps to Dion Lewis for his shifty pass-catching ability. … The star of OTAs was T.Y. Hilton, who had no shot to succeed once noodle-armed Matt Hasselbeck took over last year. In the last 16 regular-season games Andrew Luck has fully played, Hilton has racked up 82 catches, 1504 yards and 10 TDs. … I discussed Dwayne Allen’s upside here.
Everyone seems to think Blake Bortles and Allen Robinson will suffer massive regressions this season because the Jaguars will be better. Perhaps the free agency addition of elite power back Chris Ivory will make them more likely to run in the red zone, but simply suggesting passing numbers will go down because X team will improve is wrong. DraftKings quarterbacks fare better as favorites vs. underdogs. … Julius Thomas stood out at OTAs, which ensures he’s fully healthy right now. That’s huge as his career has been marred by injury. … The Jags signed No. 2 WR Allen Hurns to a four-year, $40M contract extension, a sign of their faith in the former UDFA. He’s looking at another 100-target season.
The biggest story here is Jamaal Charles’ rehab off last year’s Week 5 ACL tear. He did warmups and some individual work at OTAs, but the Chiefs aren’t sure if he’ll be cleared for camp. For more on Charles’ injury, click here… Size/speed specimen Chris Conley appears to have the inside track on the No. 2 WR job, but it’s a low-volume role in this scheme and Conley’s vertical skill set doesn’t fit with Alex Smith’s conservative style. Underrated Jeremy Maclin and Travis Kelce will again be the only Chiefs pass-catchers worth considering weekly on DraftKings.
We got some tidbits on first-time head coach Adam Gase’s plan. He made it clear he wants to execute an up-tempo style after the Dolphins ranked 27th in offensive plays per game last year. To do that, Gase made it clear he wants his backs to play three downs. That’s interesting as starter Jay Ajayi has a two-down skill set and rookie Kenyan Drake is a space player. … Jordan Cameron returned on a pay cut after getting just 4.3 targets per game last year. That number figures to spike under Gase, who set up the likes of Julius Thomas, Martellus Bennett and Zach Miller over the last few years. … DeVante Parker didn’t have any foot issues in the spring, which is about all we need to know. For more on Parker’s outlook, check out my article on New Starters.
No word yet on Tom Brady’s suspension and the never-ending Deflategate saga. Just be aware that Jimmy Garoppolo has the tools to succeed in this scheme and has flashed them in the preseason. Over the last two preseasons, Jimmy G has completed 107-of-159 passes (67.3 percent) with seven touchdowns and three picks. … LeGarrette Blount (hip) missed the entire offseason. Meanwhile, there are rumors the Patriots could add another back before camp. … Dion Lewis figures to be the primary passing back once again as long as his ACL tear is right. … The star of practices was Martellus Bennett, who the Patriots gave up a fourth-round pick to acquire. Look for two-TE sets to be a base this season. Remember that in 2011 Rob Gronkowski played on 94.7 percent of the snaps and Aaron Hernandez was in on 86.1 percent.
NEW YORK JETS
The Jets and free agent Ryan Fitzpatrick continue to play hardball. That left Bryce Petty, Geno Smith and Christian Hackenberg as the quarterback options in the spring. Yikes. … Eric Decker and Brandon Marshall briefly held out of spring work as a sign of solidarity for Fitzpatrick. They quickly returned. … Matt Forte is 30 years old but fully healed off the MCL sprain that ended his final season with the Bears. OC Chan Gailey said he’ll be tailoring much of the game plan to Forte’s strengths. Of course, the Jets also gave Bilal Powell an $11.2M contract with $6M guaranteed. Powell and Forte both win in similar ways.
Beat reporters noticed some growth between Derek Carr and Amari Cooper. Note that Cooper’s 72-1070-6 line at age 21 last year destroys previous norms for youth/production. … Fifth-round rookie DeAndre Washington got some first-team reps, which is notable for a couple reasons. First, the Raiders were not thrilled with Latavius Murray’s performance last year. Second, they have arguably the best offensive line in the league after re-signing LT Donald Penn and bringing in LG Kelechi Osemele.
All eyes are on Le’Veon Bell as he continues rehab off MCL and PCL tears. He did some individual work during OTAs but we likely won’t get a good look at him until Week 1 of the regular season. … The Steelers, who went for 2 after TDs a league-high 11 times last year, continue to talk the move up. It will give Ben Roethlisberger’s projections a slight weekly boost. … One of the guys who reportedly took a big step forward is second-year size/speed freak WR Sammie Coates. I’d rather take a shot on him than invest in Markus Wheaton during Martavis Bryant’s year-long suspension.
Keenan Allen has gone over 100 receiving yards in 11 of his 37 career NFL games (29.7 percent). That’s more than Jerry Rice (25.1 percent), Randy Moss (29.3) and Antonio Brown (29.0). Armed with an ability to get open at will and a dink/dunk pass game that suits his style, Allen is a legit threat to lead the NFL in receptions this season. Was on pace for 134 catches at time of injury last year. … Melvin Gordon has responded better than expected off microfracture surgery. He did some team drills at OTAs and the Chargers said he’s fully healthy. I’m still off a guy who was PFF’s No. 62 RB among 68 qualifiers last year. He had zero TDs on 217 touches, fumbled six times, averaged just 3.48 yards per carry and now is coming off knee surgery. … Antonio Gates reportedly looked “fit and fluid” at OTAs, but he’s 36 now and presumably off the PEDs that got him suspended for four games last year.
Coaches love to endlessly pump up players during the spring, so I take more notice when things go negatively in June. That’s why Dorial Green-Beckham’s woes were so concerning. He somehow fell behind fifth-round rookie Tajae Sharp on the depth chart. It’s likely a motivational tactic, but I’ll be watching DGB closely in camp. … Rishard Matthews is working as an outside receiver, leaving Kendall Wright in his slot role. … In the backfield, Titans coaches are talking about a “hot hand” approach between DeMarco Murray and rookie Derrick Henry. Murray looked done in Philadelphia last year as Ryan Mathews and Darren Sproles ran circles around him. He’s touched the ball an absurd 734 times over the last two seasons.
I am a promoter at DraftKings and am also an avid fan and user (my username is adamlevitan) and may sometimes play on my personal account in the games that I offer advice on. Although I have expressed my personal view on the games and strategies above, they do not necessarily reflect the view(s) of DraftKings and I may also deploy different players and strategies than what I recommend above.