In taking our cue from the extensive coverage of the NFL Draft last weekend, despite how much great MLB action there is every day, and despite the beautiful rolling greens on our TV screens every weekend with the PGA coverage, and despite the amazing games – and fantasy tournaments – going on seemingly every night between the NBA and NHL playoffs… despite all of that, let’s talk some football. And in our case, some daily fantasy football.
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Why, you ask? Well, it’s football. Why not? Just because you don’t admit it to your girlfriend doesn’t mean you aren’t thinking about your keeper league in February, or late-round sleeper targets (otherwise known as “early season value plays” in daily fantasy-speak) come June.
So now that we’re through most of free agency and the draft, let’s take a look at what the various teams in the NFL have done to improve – or hurt – their chances at winning and their players’ chances of contributing to your daily fantasy lineups.
Carolina Panthers: Early in the offseason, the big news for the Panthers was the release of Steve Smith. Smith excelled in Carolina for years, and was, at times, their best player, so it is bound to be big news when he leaves. But he was also a receiver who had 64 catches for 745 yards and 4 TDs last year. Not exactly irreplaceable. A common narrative now is that Smith is being “replaced” by Kelvin Benjamin, their first-round wideout from Florida State, but the trade off is much less of a direct comparison of two players and more a referendum on how bad their passing attack was last year. Less reported-on than Smith and the Panthers parting ways was the fact that the Panthers also cut ties with Brandon LaFell, essentially walking away from their enter receiving corps. Why do I care, you say – he was completely irrelevant for fantasy. And I say that’s the point – not only did the Panthers draft Benjamin, they also added Jason Avant and Jerricho Cotchery, either one of whom could be a replacement-level player or better for them when compared to someone as unproductive as LaFell was in his time here. You can easily imagine Benjamin, Cotchery and Avant getting you at least to the 120 catch, 1400 yard threshold set by the Smith and LaFell duo in 2013. Another common narrative has been that the signing of Ed Dickson might hurt Greg Olsen, but this could easily just be a sign that they plan to spend more time in the two-TE set. We’ve seen from teams like the Pats that when you start throwing out of those sets, it can make a power team slightly more unpredictable, and then you can start seeing the running backs getting into the passing attack, and you can still have the heft on the field to clear wide open running lanes – all of which seems to play into the Panthers strength in the backfield. (Yes, “strength” – at least in their minds; they’ve certainly committed enough of their payroll to the RB position).
Tampa Bay Buccaneers:
The big news from early in free agency seems, if possible, bigger when looked at in light of what did – or didn’t – happen at the draft. Namely, the Bucs didn’t draft Johnny Manziel. So, the addition of Josh McCown earlier in the spring looks like the move that brought the 2014 starting QB on board. McCown played eight games last year, and had – by far – the best stretch of his career, at least in terms of completion percentage or QB rating. And despite it being the best stretch he ever had, it would have translated into a 3,700 yard, 26-TD year over 16 games. Good, but not great. But still, an upgrade in Tampa. And the draft tells us they are comfortable with him out there to start the year – with Mike Glennon ready to step in if necessary, while prepping to be the eventual starter. And if there is one thing going for McCown, it’s that the combination of Vincent Jackson and the #7 overall pick in this year’s draft, Mike Evans, might actually resemble the kind of duo he had last year in Chicago.
Both Evans and Jackson are physically imposing, athletic, talented receivers, and they would make any quarterback better. That pairing and a reduced number of turnovers and stalled drives could lead to better fantasy results for every single player on this offense, which turned into something of a fantasy wasteland at times last season. It will be interesting to see how new coach Lovie Smith approaches the players he inherited from the previous regime, but it is hard to imagine him not liking a player with the talent and raw ability of Doug Martin, so even though Rainey was re-signed, that is likely more for insurance and stability at the position than a sign of a true platoon situation.
New Orleans Saints:
wThe big stories early in the offseason for the Saints were the release of Lance Moore and the trade that sent Darren Sproles to the Eagles for a draft pick. But they slapped the franchise tag on Jimmy Graham and Sean Payton and Drew Brees are both coming back, so their offense – and their team – are expected to be competitive again, at a minimum. From a fantasy perspective, don’t let the loss of Sproles fool you into thinking there will be some kind of clarity at the running back position. They do still have Ingram, Thomas, and Khiry Robinson, and you can expect a healthy dose of all three (healthy: intended pun). The Saints seem to be going through a kind of progression, trying to redefine themselves as more of a power team after falling short in the postseason a few years running. And while an efficient, ball-controlling offense might not be too exciting for fantasy owners, it is still Drew Brees and the Saints, so you can still expect some big plays. And that being said, it is very likely no rookie in the draft fell into a better spot than first-round pick Brandin Cooks out of Oregon State.
The Saints traded up to get him, so you know they’re enamored, and he is just the kind of small, fast receiver who can eat up the receptions left on the table by the departure of Moore and Sproles, if he can hit the ground running. This is a guy whose price tag could skyrocket in a hurry, so you might want to take advantage of this situation earlier rather than later.
The Falcons finished last year a pretty dismal 4-12, which stings especially painfully for a team that enters each season with expectations of at least making a run into the postseason. But while some injuries are inevitable for every NFL team, and some specific injuries may have even been somewhat predictable in retrospect (re: Steven Jackson), before you write off the Falcons completely, remember that Roddy White is only 32, and played 16 games every single year of his career until last year, and Julio Jones is only 25. While anything is possible, there is no reason to assume these guys won’t be back to full strength next year, and that changes the entire outlook of this offense, and everyone on it. And a 4-12 record does get you a draft pick – with which they selected Jake Matthews sixth overall, grabbing a huge, mobile offensive tackle who will likely immediately slide into a starting role (if a man that size is actually capable of “sliding”).Anything would have helped a line that played pretty poorly last season; while offensive lineman don’t often generate excitement with those top picks, you actually heard Falcons fans clamoring for Matthews pre-draft, which just goes to show how much of a need this pick filled for the team.
More division-by-division analysis will be coming all summer. Stay tuned.