The latest news regarding disreputable behavior involving an NFL player comes from Arizona star linebacker Daryl Washington, who is expected to be suspended for the entire '14 season for another violation of the NFL's substance abuse policy. This will likely only have a negligible impact on the fantasy landscape – maybe you knock the Arizona defense down a few notches, as the Yahoo experts did in moving the Cardinals from No. 4 to No. 7 in the defense rankings – but it adds to a growing list of players facing conduct-related DNPs in the upcoming season.
Chief among all impending suspended players, at least from a fantasy standpoint, is Cleveland receiver Josh Gordon, whose latest violation of the NFL's drug policy has him facing the strong possibility of missing all of the '14 season. He's where we (myself, Brad Evans and Andy Behrens) start our impact assessment of the top fantasy players likely to be serving a suspension to open '14 …
1. With Josh Gordon out for a likely 8-16 games, rank the other Cleveland receivers (Nate Burleson, Miles Austin, Andrew Hawkins, Earl Bennett) in terms of expected fantasy value. And are any of them worthy of being drafted in deeper leagues of 12-plus teams?
Brandon Funston says: TE Jordan Cameron is the biggest winner, but among the Browns receivers, I'll rank them in the following order - Burleson, Austin, Hawkins, Bennett. I wouldn't draft any of them in a 12-team league as of this moment. But Browns offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan does have a track record for calling pass plays, as offenses that he's coordinated in the past six seasons have finished top 10 in pass attempts five times. This will be a watch-and-see situation once camp opens in July. A sleeper could definitely emerge.
Brad Evans says: Austin, Hawkins, Burleson, Bennett - Austin is worth a speculation grab in the beer fuzzy rounds of 12-team drafts. Whether its Johnny Manziel or Brian Hoyer at the helm, Austin should attract 6-8 targets per game, unless his hamstrings explode.
Andy Behrens says: Gordon is a receiver of rare ability who cannot be adequately replaced. This isn't so different from asking who might replace Calvin Johnson's production in Detroit, or A.J. Green's in Cincinnati. The answer is "No one." The offense will suffer. None of the dumpster-dive veteran receivers on this roster should be drafted, owned or ranked. And, as you might have heard, they're tied to a rookie QB.
(OK, I reserve the right to push Hawkins at some point, but you can have the rest.)
2. A domestic altercation with his then fiance/now wife has Ray Rice reportedly looking at the possibility of a suspension in the 2-4 games range. With Gary Kubiak now running the offensive show in Baltimore, will Bernard Pierce be able to take the starting RB gig in September and run away with it?
Brandon Funston says: Pierce looks fairly ordinary from where I'm sitting. For a miserable Ravens run game last season, Pierce's per touch production was worse than Rice's. And it seems to be quickly forgotten that, before last year's letdown, Rice was a fantasy RB1 for four consecutive seasons, ranking among the top 6 running backs in fantasy scoring three times. He's still just 27 years old, and he's reportedly in great shape, having lost in the neighborhood of 10-20 pounds from last season's weight.
Rice is a better all-around back than Pierce, especially in the passing game, something that has mattered in a Kubiak-directed offense (see Arian Foster and Steve Slaton). With the Ravens starting out with a very difficult schedule, I doubt Pierce does anything to significantly distance himself from Rice. I expect Rice to return sometime within the first month and immediately re-assume the lead backfield role. And I think he will produce as a top 20 back once he does.
Brad Evans says: Pierce, much like the Ravens ground game as a whole, was abominable last year. He deserves partial blame for his unsavory YPC, but so does the Ravens frontline, which underachieved mightily. Still, he'll undoubtedly receive at least 15-20 touches to begin the season.
Baltimore's early schedule is brutal, but Pierce has reasonable odds of securing the starting gig. His style meshes terrifically with Kubiak's zone-blocking scheme. Consider him a top-30 product at a minimum. Rice, meanwhile, is more RB5 material in 12-teamers. In other words, avoid him like the plague.
Andy Behrens says: Please tell me you haven't all forgotten how terrible Ray Rice was last season. You haven't, right? Players don't commonly bounce back to fantasy relevance after seasons that miserable. Add in the likelihood of league discipline, and suddenly we're talking about a back who shouldn't crack anyone's top-40. Pierce was no great shakes last season, either, plus he's recovering from shoulder surgery. So I'm not about to promote him with any enthusiasm. Kubiak is not enough to repair this mess.
If you need forecasts for Pierce and Rice, I'll say 840 scrimmage yards and five scores for the former, 815 and five for the latter. I'm not likely to draft either player at their expected ADPs.
3. Justin Blackmon was suspended late in the '13 season for another violation of the league's drug policy and he's not expected to return in '14. With Blackmon out of the picture, which receiver outside of Cecil Shorts will step up most to fill Blackmon's shoes?
Brandon Funston says: The Jaguars produced the second-fewest fantasy points at the QB position last season, and Jacksonville would like to have main QB contributor Chad Henne back in the saddle as the starter for '14 despite drafting rookie QB Blake Bortles with the No. 3 overall pick. That being the case, I suspect the Jags plan to go very run-heavy with new running back Toby Gerhart. Jags head coach Gus Bradley is a former Seattle assistant coach, and the Seahawks' brand of ground-and-pound is likely something that Bradley is looking to replicate in Jacksonville this season. I'll take Lee as the wideout to step up most in Blackmon's absence outside of Shorts. But I wouldn't invest a draft pick in that opinion given the less-than-fertile passing environment in Jacksonville.
Brad Evans says: Rookies Marquise Lee and Allen Robinson could be first-year sensations. Both offer balanced skill sets -- size, good speed, separation strength. However, Chad Henne is woefully mediocre and the Jags offense should be more ground based. Both only have WR4 ceilings and not much more, meaning they are only attractive options in deeper dynasty leagues.
Andy Behrens says: As with the Gordon issue, I don't think we should assume that any individual (or combination of players) will simply inherit Blackmon's stats. I like rookies Marquise Lee and Allen Robinson equally, and I don't view either as a must-draft asset in standard 10-team leagues. This team still has a miserable QB situation. One of the first-year wideouts will probably reach 700-plus yards, but that won't make him a strong fantasy play.