A number of the questions from Part 1 of this series have been answered. Demarco Murray retains 1st round value with the Philadelphia Eagles; Julius Thomas‘ fantasy outlook takes a significant hit in Jacksonville, despite being the presumed #1 option in the Jaguars’ passing game; Randall Cobb’s fantasy value remains in tact by returning to Green Bay and Jeremy Maclin’s value plummets in Kansas City’s ball control offense and with Alex Smith at the controls. Of course what becomes of Le’Veon Bell’s suspension and where Adrian Peterson will play in 2015 are questions that remain unanswered. With the first wave of free agency and a number of trades in the books here are the latest Fantasy Football storylines of the offseason.
1. LeSean McCoy to be featured in Buffalo – The NFL’s leading rusher in 2013 was traded to the Buffalo Bills in exchange for Kiko Alonso. As the 2014 season wore on McCoy was lifted in favor of Darren Sproles on passing downs and Chris Polk in goal-line and short yardage situations. Opting for a more “decisive” running back, Eagles head coach Chip Kelly, traded the 27-year-old running back and signed both Demarco Murray and Ryan Mathews to take his place. In Buffalo, McCoy will be the lead back in a more traditional running game. Considering the fact that the Bills gave McCoy a raise upon acquiring him, expect Shady to take on a three-down workhorse volume of touches and get the initial cracks inside the 5-yard line.
2. Jimmy Graham shipped to Seattle – It’s safe to assume that the debate as to who the better fantasy tight end is between Jimmy Graham and Rob Gronkowski is over. We love Russell Wilson at CPGM but from a pure passer standpoint he isn’t on Drew Brees’ level yet, even with Brees’ apparent decline in arm strength. We like the move for Russell Wilson’s fantasy outlook boosting the young quarterback’s value particularly in terms of passing touchdowns. Graham is an elite red-zone option and as Seattle demonstrated during the Super Bowl they are willing to throw it inside the five despite having Marshawn Lynch at their disposal (too soon?). However, Graham is no longer the focal point of Sean Payton’s pass happy offense in New Orleans which means his fantasy value takes a hit.
3. New Orleans’ Offense – Speaking of the Saints, severe cap limitations and the disappointment of the 2014 season has initiated what appears to be a philosophical change offensively. The Saints have traded the aforementioned Jimmy Graham for pro bowl center Max Unger and moved talented deep threat Kenny Stills to the Miami Dolphins. They let Pierre Thomas walk and re-signed Mark Ingram to a four-year deal. They also added C.J. Spiller to the running back mix. At the end of the season Sean Payton alluded to the possibility of significant change. He also offered glowing praise during his end of season presser for tight end Josh Hill. The 24-year-old Hill has caught six TDs on 30 targets in his young career and seems poised to be Graham’s replacement. Interestingly enough, Hill appears to be a more accomplished run blocker than Graham. All of the Saints’ offseason moves suggest a ball control, run first offense which may be welcomed considering how poorly their defense played last season (my esteemed colleague, Headley, doesn’t believe Payton can help himself). It remains to be seen, if the Saints will ride Ingram or continue to ask Drew Brees to drop back 40-50 times a game.
4. The Running Back position in Dallas – The Cowboys currently have Joseph Randle, Lance Dunbar, Ryan Williams and Darren McFadden on the roster. Certainly not an awe-inspiring RB group behind the league’s best offensive line. Randle was impressive in spot duty last season, but being the lead back in what currently is a committee is much more challenging than spelling the league’s leading rusher (Demarco Murray). Dallas almost assuredly will address the running back position in one of the first two rounds of the draft in a class loaded with talent. We’re talking Todd Gurley, Melvin Gordon, Jay Ajayi, Tevin Coleman, Duke Johnson, etc. Whoever it may be, they will likely be Dallas’ starting running back in September…make sure he’s in your fantasy draft queue.
5. Andre Johnson teamed with Andrew Luck – I considered Johnson’s former teammates DeAndre Hopkins (Texans #1 WR) and Owen Daniels (TE+Gary Kubiak+Peyton Manning = Fantasy Stud) but I opted to go with the veteran wide out because I think he’s going to be motivated, not unlike Steve Smith Sr. last year. Johnson looked like a shell of his former self last season but while he typically appears reserved he is a fiery competitor. After being told by Texans’ head coach Bill O’Brien that his role would be limited Johnson requested to be traded or released. Upon his release he was quickly acquired by the Indianapolis Colts. The difference between Johnson and Smith is that he’s a little younger than Smith and will be playing with an elite fantasy quarterback in Andrew Luck. Johnson managed Hall of Fame type production in Houston despite playing with the likes of Derek Carr, Matt Schaub, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Case Keenum. Now he has the opportunity to play for a contender and stick it to the Texans (specifically head coach Bill O’Brien) twice a year. Don’t sleep on Andre in 2015, WR2 production is a distinct possibility.