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Fantasy Football Injury Implications – Week 1

Alshon Jeffery - Photo by Jerry Lai/USA TODAY Sports
Fantasy Football Injury Implications – Week 1
L. Strud
Victor Cruz New York Giants

WR Victor Cruz and the Giants’ medical team tried their best to nurse his calf injury and have him prepared for Week 1, but it seems that he’ll have to play the sidelines for the season-opener against division-rival Dallas. While a considerable setback for the G-Men, given Cruz’ skill, QB Eli Manning and the Giants still have plenty of offensive options at their avail.

One such option goes by the name of Rueben Randle, a 6’2, 24-year-old, three-year wide-receiver veteran who almost netted 1,000 yards receiving in 2014 – he got as far as 938 – having started in the slot/WR3 position. Randle brought in 71 receptions last year, which is a considerable improvement from his 2013 efforts, which garnered 41 receptions and 611 receiving yards. Of course, Victor Cruz only played five games in 2014, ultimately allowing Randle to move up to the WR2 position for a majority of the year, but having been given the opportunity, Randle definitely made the most of it.

This time around, Cruz is injured even earlier; if his injuries persist throughout the year, don’t find yourself surprised if head coach Tom Coughlin moves Randle up to the WR2 position indefinitely. While Victor Cruz remains unable to play, Rueben Randle should thrive across from the perennially-dangerous WR1 Odell Beckham Jr., whose 2014 showcase should now have gained most of the NFL’s secondaries’ attention. Also, consider that Eli Manning threw for the sixth-most passing yards last year (4,410) – it wouldn’t be so far-fetched to presume Randle would be able to surpass the 1,000-yard receiving mark, would it?

WR Rueben Randle is definitely start-worthy in Week 1 – the Cowboys ranked 26th in pass defense last year – Randle should see his fair share of looks. While Victor Cruz should reach near or return to 100% health by Week 2, Randle is still worth a roster slot on any fantasy football team.

Devonta Freean Atlanta Falcons

Sophomore RB Devonta Freeman sustained a hamstring injury before the start of the 2015 preseason – consequently, he missed all four weeks of the preseason and ended up losing the starting job to rookie RB Tevin Coleman, who, strangely enough, also injured his hamstring before the preseason, albeit not as severely as Freeman.

Hopefully, the Falcons’ ground effort has undergone a significant overhaul since last season – Atlanta ranked 24th overall in team rushing yards – RB Steven Jackson, who has also been frequently sidelined since having left the St. Louis Rams after 2012, proved considerably ineffective during both of his seasons with the Falcons, having only accumulated 707 yards on the ground in 15 games. Freeman, having been the fourth-slot runner in 2014, did still manage to gain 248 rushing yards and a rushing TD in spite of his low position on the depth-chart. Last year, a lot of Falcons RBs couldn’t stay healthy, and it seems to be the going trend – while Freeman saw benefit from those past injuries, he is now sitting on the other side of the table with his own.

At this point, Devonta Freeman still hasn’t had enough NFL experience, let alone starter experience, to gauge his worth to the Falcons organization, but the same can be said for soon-to-be rookie-starter Tevin Coleman. Atlanta has made minimal improvements to their offensive line, so head coach Dan Quinn will have to rely on Coleman’s evasiveness and blazing speed (4.39 is his 40-yard-dash time) to establish a ground threat throughout the 2015 season.

To be clear, though, Coleman wasn’t anything near spectacular during the preseason, and that’s him against the second-teams – we’ll see how he fares against Philadelphia in their season-opener. From a fantasy standpoint, Coleman stands to gain ample playing time due to the fairly-short absence of Devonta Freeman – in the meantime, third-string RB Terron Ward may get a chance to turn heads, depending on both the health and performance of Coleman. In regards to fantasy football lineups, Tevin Coleman shouldn’t necessarily be a long-term investment – and neither should be Devonta Freeman – but if you need to fill an RB slot with a starter that will likely see 20+ touches, Tevin Coleman shouldn’t disappoint too much.

Alshon Jeffery Chicago Bears

Despite the Bears’ 5-11 record in 2014, WR Alshon Jeffery played exceptionally, leading his team in receiving yards (1,133) and receiving TDs (10), placing second in receptions (85) – that was with star-receiver Brandon Marshall on the depth-chart as the WR1. Heading into the 2015 season, Jeffrey is now indubitably the premiere wideout and primary target for QB Jay Cutler – he is poised for a bigger breakout than last year – his numbers should skyrocket.

They should, anyway, right?

Unfortunately for Bears’ fans, if it’s not one thing, it’s another – tentative for Week 1, Alshon Jeffrey may be slated to not participate against division-powerhouse Green Bay – Jeffery sustained a calf strain during the second week of the preseason, forcing him to miss the final two preseason games. He’s since been healing and practicing with the team, and may actually be able to start against the Packers.

However, head coach John Fox might see fit to sit Jeffery in order to ensure the proper healing of his injury and preserve his long-term well-being – a very likely scenario for someone befitting the skill level of that of Alshon Jeffery. If it is the case wherein Jeffery is forced to sit out, don’t expect rookie WR Kevin White to get any amount of action, because he, too, is injured – and badly at that – White is expected to miss the entire regular season (as he’s currently been placed on the PUP list) with a stress fracture in his shin which required surgery.

More likely to get the majority share of receptions, though, is none other than TE Martellus Bennett. Remember how we mentioned that Alshon Jeffery had the second-most receptions out of Chicago’s players last year? Surprise, surprise – Bennett pulled in 90 catches last year: that’s the third-most of all NFL tight-ends in 2014 (only higher were Greg Olsen’s 91 receptions and Rob Gronkowski’s 98), and of all 2014 NFL players, Bennett ranked 15th.

Depending on Jeffery’s health throughout the year, Bennett can grab 100+ receptions this year if he, himself, can avoid injury and if Cutler can limit his interception total and find Bennett in space. After all, while Cutler placed 13th overall in passing yards last season (3,812), he was also tied-for-first (the other being Chargers QB Philip Rivers) in – you guessed it – interceptions thrown (18).

This Sunday against the Packers, now that neither Kevin White nor Alshon Jeffery will be a major factor in the Bears’ passing efforts, look for Martellus Bennett to shine. We more or less already know what to expect from Bennett – by all means, start Bennett as much as possible – while Alshon Jeffery remains on the bench, and White remains in OTA rehab, Bennett should be a 10-reception player. Perhaps veteran WR-acquisition Eddie Royal will alleviate some of Bennett’s potential double-coverage.

Todd Gurley and Tre Mason St. Louis Rams

It seems the Rams are now off to a even-slower start with 2015 draftee RB Todd Gurley still recovering from a pre-draft ACL tear and maverick RB Tre Mason battling a hamstring pull – he hasn’t practiced with the team this week. It’s a good thing the Rams invested in some tailbacks depth during the offseason – RB Benny Cunningham will be tasked with toting the handoffs from QB Nick Foles, and should suffice adequately as a fill-in, and possible starter down the line.

Tre Mason, having been a rookie last season, looked to prove himself head-and-shoulders above the rest of the competition for a starting spot in 2014, and did just that – in twelve games, Mason rushed for 765 yards and four touchdowns – he wasn’t even the starting running-back for all twelve games, either. Even though St. Louis only saw five wins in all of 2014, consider that at the rate Mason was going last year, given the opportunity to play in all 16 regular-season games, he would’ve totaled around 1,020 rushing yards – Mason has enough skill and natural ability to be a 1,200-1,300+ rushing-yard producer – alas, it may be very well that he doesn’t get a chance to play all 16 games this season, either.

Cue receiver-back Benny Cunningham – while he only gained 246 yards carrying the football, he amassed 352 yards catching it (45 times, to be exact). Used in primarily a third-down scenario, Cunningham will now have an opportunity to spread the field a little more, emerging out of the backfield as a receiving threat. Nick Foles, having predictably absorbed Eagles head coach Chip Kelly’s offensive tendencies, should be none too unfamiliar with targeting his RBs downfield.

While short-lived, Cunningham should produce admirably, especially in points-per-reception (PPR) fantasy football leagues. Upon Tre Mason’s return, Cunningham should still enjoy third-down cameos and long-yardage situations. Todd Gurley isn’t slated to return until Week 4, so for the time being, look for Foles to connect with Cunningham fairly often – maybe not as much during Week 1 against the Seahawks, but still fairly often. Until Week 4 arrives, Benny Cunningham is worth keeping around as a bench slot – when Mason and Gurley are healthy again, you’ll almost surely see his worth decrease. While Gurley is still going to be a fairly-shaky pick for starting RB, rest assured that Mason is worth the long-term investment, at least so long as he remains healthy.

C.J. Spiller New Orleans Saints

RB C.J. Spiller just can’t catch a break – he can, however, catch a knee injury before the preseason, preventing him from playing its entire four-week stretch. He’s currently been ruled out for in-game participation during Week 1 against the Cardinals. Five-year-veteran Mark Ingram will be featured more prominently, with contributions from Khiry Robinson.

It should be noted that head coach Sean Payton has implemented a community-back scheme in New Orleans, frequently substituting running-backs as the situation or match-up befits. Therefore, expect that third-string RB Tim Hightower’s recent release from the roster will drastically affect the amount of snaps that Ingram and Robinson see throughout the course of 2015.

Historically, the Saints have favored passing to RBs out of the backfield – in 2014, future Hall-of-Fame candidate QB Drew Brees has connected 112 times, collectively, with RBs Mark Ingram (29), Travaris Cadet (38), and Pierre Thomas (45) – with the Saints’ current RB depth-chart essentially cut in half with Spiller’s injury and Hightower’s release, it is invariably up to Ingram and Robinson to perform.

Ingram almost broke the 1,000-yard mark on the ground with 964 rushing yards and 9 rushing TDs – he very well may eclipse the prestigious millennial mark this year with less players to share carrying duties. Also, Khiry Robinson averaged 4.8 yards-per-carry in his 362 rushing yards – New Orleans still holds a considerable arsenal of backfield offensive weapons behind Brees.

While Spiller may return as late as Week 3, count on Ingram to both perform and produce – he’s definitely worth a start. Ingram will still see plenty of field time, whether Spiller is healthy or not. Robinson, however, may or may not be worth the roster slot after the healthy return of Spiller to action, whenever that may be – he has plenty of talent, but as far as fantasy football productivity goes, he’s unfortunately going to remain subsequently under-utilized.

Mike Evans Tampa Bay Buccaneers

QB Jameis Winston may have to start the regular season with limited weapons, as WR Mike Evans is still dealing with a hamstring injury that he incurred during preseason Week 3 – head coach Lovie Smith may elect to sit him, much to the short-term detriment of the Buccaneers’ offense. Evans’ absence will surely affect Winston’s comfort level in the pocket – as Tampa Bay is likely down to two starting 6’5 targets on the field (WR Vincent Jackson, TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins being the other two), none of which could pose as much a deep-threat as Evans.

Even though Evans should be fully-healed by Week 2, his presumed absence during the Bucs’ opener against the Tennessee Titans may very likely decide the outcome of the 2015 NCAA Rose Bowl rematch – dragged from collegiate play into the NFL – between the former-Florida State starting QB, Jameis Winston (2013 Heisman Trophy winner, first overall pick of the 2015 NFL Draft) and the former-Oregon starting QB, Marcus Mariota (2014 Heisman Trophy winner, second overall pick of the 2015 NFL Draft) – this is Winston’s chance to exact NFL-caliber revenge for the 59-20 loss handed to his Seminoles by Mariota’s Ducks.

With one of Tampa Bay’s primary weapons slated to be gone for Week 1, 11-year-veteran Vincent Jackson will duly replace Evans at WR1 – Jackson, in 2014, passed the 1,000-yard receiving mark by two yards (70 receptions), though only bringing down a scant two receiving TDs. Between himself and Austin Seferian-Jenkins at tight-end, Jameis should be fairly at home getting the ball to his primary targets (his former NCAA target, fellow FSU-alum Kelvin Benjamin, also stood 6’5). Third-slot WR Louis Murphy should be present on the field often enough, but will likely have limited targets.

Going forward into the season, post-Week 1, absolutely keep Mike Evans on your fantasy starting lineup – he is most definitely a top-15, if not top-10-caliber receiver. If he and Winston can build some chemistry, especially while Winston is on the run, Evans may even improve on his 68-reception, 1,052-receiving-yard, 12-receiving-TD year in 2014. While Seferian-Jenkins is still relatively new to starting in the NFL, he should also be kept around as a TE2, as Tampa Bay doesn’t currently enjoy many TE options. Of course, with Evans and Seferian-Jenkins now being led by a rookie QB, it may ultimately lead to disaster if Winston can’t make the successful transition from the NCAA to the NFL – Winston shows promise, though, and while he may not lead the Buccaneers to a winning-season, he should prove to critics that he, indeed, belongs in the NFL.”

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