This is Part II in a two-part column providing takeaways from minicamp and OTA workouts with a fantasy football spin. Click here for AFC Team-by-Team Notes from early this week.
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I recently began delving seriously into Average Draft Positions, based on the latest mock draft data. It's early and ADPs will change before August, but I noticed no more shocking average draft slot than Rashard Mendenhall going late in round five. New coach Bruce Arians has already anointed Mendenhall a starter, but Arizona will inarguably struggle to run the ball behind a putrid line in the run-tough NFC West. And then Ryan Williams will get his chance, and Stepfan Taylor. And it won't help that Arians is a decidedly pass-first coach. Loyal Rotoworlders: Please don't draft Mendenhall in the fifth round. Or sixth, for that matter. ... Another Arizona depth chart situation fast crystallizing is 2012 first-round pick Michael Floyd's ascension to the starting Z receiver job, ahead of Andre Roberts. In early June, the Cardinals' website wrote, "it seems like Floyd has been targeted more than anyone during workouts – including Larry Fitzgerald." With significantly upgraded quarterback play on a pass-heavy team, Floyd is squarely on the fantasy breakout radar. Roberts will also continue to play plenty in Arians' base three-receiver offense.
New Falcons back Steven Jackson emerged from spring practices anticipating a major leap in receptions, which makes sense because OC Dirk Koetter likes to throw the ball. A lot. "You're throwing routes to him, and he's the size of Julio Jones and he's a running back," Matt Ryan told CBS Sports. "He has such soft hands, too." S-Jax will diversify the complexion of Atlanta's offense. Whereas old feature back Michael Turner couldn't function on passing downs, the pass game is a strength of Jackson's. Opponents always had a feel for what was coming when Turner was in the game. They’ll have to be less proactive and more reactive now. ... Julio Jones finished as the No. 8 receiver in fantasy points per game as a rookie. In 2012, Jones ranked tenth and tied for sixth in touchdowns (10). He's aiming for new heights. Julio cut beef and pork out of his diet, and has gone organic. “I feel l much better,” he told FOX Sports Atlanta. "Especially playing football, I feel that stuff sits on you.” Jones will be 24 1/2 when Week 1 commences and hasn't reached his ceiling. Over the final eight games last season -- including playoffs -- Jones racked up 49 catches for 703 yards and seven touchdowns.
Jonathan Stewart's health has been a concern since he entered the NFL requiring turf toe surgery to fix a college injury. But his medical outlook has never been quite this alarming. Stewart needed offseason surgery on both ankles, and GM Dave Gettleman was noncommittal this week on J-Stew's training camp availability. "We'll see," said Gettleman. "Time will tell." Reports from both ESPN and the Charlotte Observer have insinuated Stewart is unlikely to be healed by early August. He's basically donning a big, fat question mark. ... Carolina's de-emphasis of the zone-read play under new coordinator Mike Shula is an impact fantasy story. The Panthers scaled back their read-option usage in the second half of last year after making it the foundation of their offense early on. From Weeks 9-16, Cam Newton completed 145-of-240 passes (60.4 percent) for 1,920 yards (8.0 YPA) and a 14:3 TD-to-INT ratio. He added five rushing touchdowns and 49.6 rushing yards per game. Newton averaged 27.7 fantasy points per game during that stretch; in 2013, Drew Brees led all quarterbacks in fantasy scoring with a 27.3 points-per-game clip. The Panthers went 6-3 to close out the season, including wins over the Redskins, Falcons, and Saints at the Superdome.
The Bears spent the spring speeding up Jay Cutler's "clock" -- dropback, delivery, progression reading, everything -- in order to make him a better fit for first-year coach Marc Trestman's quick-hitting offense. Cutler has taken 148 sacks over the last four seasons, at a 2.64 per-game clip. During Rich Gannon's two healthy years with Trestman, he took just 1.97 sacks per game. Bad lines deserve plenty of blame for Cutler's sack totals, but the best NFL quarterbacks camouflage O-Line deficiencies. Cutler has not always been an oft-sacked passer; he absorbed a miniscule 1.38 sacks per game in Denver. Cutler is a sleeper for top-ten QB stats if the Bears get him to perform like Trestman desires. The volume will be there in Trestman's pass-first offense. ... Early ADP information pinpoints Martellus Bennett as the premier fantasy value pick of Bears skill players. You can get him, on average, in the middle of the 13th round. "The thing about him is he wants to be great," Cutler observed of Marty B. "He doesn't want to be good." Still only 26 years old, Bennett will push Matt Forte to rank second on Chicago in catches, behind Brandon Marshall.
Dez Bryant and Miles Austin are locked in as the Cowboys' X and Z wideouts, respectively. A competition is brewing for third-receiver duties between reliable, underrated, versatile Dwayne Harris and third-round rookie Terrance Williams. During OTAs, position coach Derek Dooley acknowledged Williams "has a long way to go." Look for Harris to break camp as the No. 3 and emerge as a fantasy sleeper if Bryant or Austin gets injured during the season. Harris can play Z and in the slot, and had just one drop last year. ... DeMarco Murray is experiencing his first career healthy offseason after missing most of his rookie-year training camp with a bum hamstring and rehabbing a fractured ankle all last spring. Much like Darren McFadden, however, Murray is a stiff, straight-linish, high-cut back who will likely always struggle with injury. This was one longtime NFL scout's assessment of Murray coming out of Oklahoma in 2011: "If you don't have the ability to make guys miss, you're going to take a lot of punishment. A downhill, one-cut runner might only have a two- or three-year window. This is not an elusive guy who has a lot of shift to his game."
One of the more under-reported storylines of Lions minicamp was Joique Bell's ascension to No. 2 on the depth chart, behind Reggie Bush but ahead of Mikel Leshoure. Per the Detroit Free Press, Bell was the second back in the three-man rotation "throughout" the three workouts. The small -- and, admittedly, perhaps temporary -- depth chart change really isn't surprising. Bell outperformed Leshoure in 2012 YPC average (5.05, 3.71) and is a far superior pass-game back, coming in handy for the NFL's pass-happiest team. More surprising is Bell and Leshoure's ADP differential; the latter is still going in the single-digit rounds as the RB43, while Bell more often than not isn't drafted. That should change soon. If you're looking to handcuff Bush, Bell is the better bet. ... Ryan Broyles participated fully in minicamp, with the Lions' website deeming his latest quick ACL recovery "by far" the spring's biggest surprise. With a Welkerian skill set, Broyles is a quick-twitch slot receiver and smooth accelerator after the catch. Continue to keep tabs on Broyles' health, but he's a future 100-reception guy as the Welker to Calvin Johnson's Moss.
Green Bay Packers
Many observers poured fantasy hype on Ronnie Hillman for receiving 75 percent of the first-team reps at Broncos OTAs. Alex Green handled Packers No. 1 duties from the start of spring to finish. Why is no one talking him up? Seems like convenient thinking. Green obviously won't be leading the Pack in 2013 carries, and I think it's just as obvious Hillman won't lead Denver's backfield, either. In Green Bay, expect Green to be passed by Eddie Lacy, DuJuan Harris, and Johnathan Franklin at training camp. In Denver, Montee Ball is the best fantasy bet. ... James Jones' league-high 14 touchdown catches is an obvious 2012 regression stat, but he still offers quality draft value based on ADP. He's currently the WR28 off the board, regularly available late in round six. "He’s going to be even better than what he was last year,” receivers coach Edgar Bennett promised in a Green Bay Press-Gazette story. "Last year was just a starting point for James.” Quietly, Jones' role has grown with Greg Jennings and Donald Driver out of the picture. From Week 7 on last year, Jones played 96.0 percent of Green Bay's offensive snaps.
The Vikes' one fantasy-relevant camp battle will take place at X receiver, where Jerome Simpson is attempting to hold off first-round pick Cordarrelle Patterson. According to ESPN's Kevin Seifert, the Vikings asked Greg Jennings "to serve as Patterson's mentor on and off the field." So far, so good. Widely considered one of Patterson's weaknesses coming out of Tennessee, Jennings has been genuinely impressed with Patterson's route running and ability to make a "definitive step" at the top of pass patterns to create separation from defensive backs. Simpson has shown time and time again that despite impressive athleticism, he is a slouch of an NFL receiver. Don't be surprised if mega-talent Patterson overtakes him by mid-August. ... Adam Schefter's June 18 report that Christian Ponder could be on an in-season leash likely means one of two things. The Vikings are either trying to send Ponder a message, or they're categorically worried about the 12th overall pick in the 2011 draft. Believe what you want about backup Matt Cassel; he has a history of success when surrounded by a strong defense and run game. And the Vikings have those supporting elements. In all likelihood, the first half of the 2013 season will make or break Ponder.
New Orleans Saints
The offseason signing of OLB Victor Butler was intriguing because he was a highly efficient per-play rusher in Dallas despite spotty usage behind every-down defenders DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer. Butler's year-ending ACL tear, suffered at minicamp, will once again leave New Orleans devoid of an explosive edge presence beyond (perhaps) Junior Galette. Defenses that can't generate pressure without blitz manufacture generally get torched by the pass. And while they can't possibly be worse than the '12 version, I think the '13 Saints will fall into that category. They'll be a defense to target for fantasy matchup purposes. ... Jimmy Graham's current ADP is the late second round, and that is absolute robbery for a tier-one fantasy commodity whose value is supplemented by Rob Gronkowski's five surgeries and Aaron Hernandez's legal woes. Let's average Graham's 2011 and 2012 stat lines and say he scores at that per-game fantasy points clip (11.3) in 2013. And let's say Gronk and Hernandez are out of the picture for now. In order, the next best 2012 per-game tight end clips were Tony Gonzalez (8.8), Heath Miller (8.6), and Jason Witten (7.6). If you have Graham and you're going against a team with Greg Olsen (7.1), you're essentially starting off with a four-point fantasy lead. Graham gives you a massive weekly edge.
New York Giants
I don't have any great metrics to prove it, and I don't have inside information. But I really don't trust Hakeem Nicks to stay healthy. Call it a gut feeling. Nicks is already a popular fantasy bounce-back pick -- his ADP is the early fifth round -- but I'd much rather take my chances on Rueben Randle toward the end of drafts. "Not only did he grow, he kind of became the bellcow of the receiving corps," OC Kevin Gilbride said of Randle following spring practices. "He's gonna play. He's gonna play a lot. He'll play first, second down, he'll be an outside receiver for us -- whether he's at X or the Z, he's gonna play." I'm avoiding Nicks and targeting Randle as a cheap breakout candidate. ... An early-June piece on the Giants' website referred to David Wilson as the "starting running back" and confirmed Wilson will "take over for Ahmad Bradshaw." Andre Brown's usage will be tied directly to Wilson's ability or lack thereof to pick up the blitz and stay ball secure. A high-velocity inside runner with lateral explosion, Wilson offers mammoth 2013 fantasy upside.
There remain more unknowns than knowns following Chip Kelly's first OTA schedule as an NFL coach. A seemingly growing pocket of Philly beat writers believes Nick Foles has a real shot to beat out Michael Vick. Foles and Vick essentially rotated evenly with the ones all spring, and Kelly promises to design his offense around the strengths of the prevailing competitor. My money is on Vick, but daily Eagles observers are more plugged-in than me. We may not know the starter until the first week of September. ... Rotoworld completed its annual Draft Guide magazine this week. One of the more compelling Eagles stats I found was 685:373. That was Kelly's astonishingly lopsided run-to-pass ratio with the 2012 Oregon Ducks. While his NFL offense is unlikely to be identical, it's more confirmation Kelly is a believer in the run game as his foundation. The number bodes well for LeSean McCoy and projected No. 2 back Bryce Brown. Last season, Kelly gave Ducks starting runner Kenjon Barner 23 touches a game, and "backup" De'Anthony Thomas 10.5.
San Francisco 49ers
Perhaps the most fascinating fantasy nugget to emerge the past few days was Vernon Davis practicing exclusively with the 49ers' wideout group at minicamp. Davis already knows how to play in-line and "move" tight end. He's now learning slot, X, and Z. Coming out of Maryland in 2006, Davis ran a 4.38 forty with a 42-inch vertical and 10-foot-8 broad jump. At the '11 Combine, Julio Jones ran 4.38 with a 38 1/2-inch vert and 11-foot-3 leap. Beat reporters had already made it clear they anticipate Davis picking up most of the slack following Michael Crabtree's Achilles' tear. Davis' expanded usage all but confirms that's indeed coach Jim Harbaugh's plan. ... 2012 first-rounder A.J. Jenkins, coming off a bust of a rookie year, apparently did little to distinguish himself in the spring. He wrapped minicamp running as the 49ers' second-team X receiver behind special teamer Kyle Williams. Expect San Francisco to continue to lean on two-tight end, two-back sets as their base offense. Their wideouts aren't good enough to morph into a three-receiver team.
The Seahawks do things differently than most teams in the spring and summer. Rather than defer to veterans, they open every position on the roster to competition. Despite second-year back Robert Turbin's solid rookie season, second-round pick Christine Michael handled "a lot" of first-team OTA reps during Marshawn Lynch's excused absences. An often viciously physical runner with burst and shake, Michael is a more talented pure ball carrier than Turbin, though the latter is more well-rounded. The camp battle will continue into August and is worth monitoring closely because Lynch's 2012 DUI case has lingered. Lynch will next be in court on July 5. If found guilty, a four-game suspension is likely. ... The Seahawks traded a 2013 first-round pick, 2013 seventh-rounder, and 2014 third-rounder for Percy Harvin, and inked him to a six-year, $67 million contract in mid-March. Despite the lofty compensation, coach Pete Carroll insists the Seahawks won't necessarily make Harvin a featured, go-to type player. "It's not going to change our football team in terms of what we want to do," Carroll stated. "We're just going to add him in and cut him loose, let him go." In a run-first attack, there is reason to be concerned about Harvin's 2013 targets.
St. Louis Rams
I believe it was Greg Cosell who first suggested the Rams are designing their offense to recreate Oklahoma's old speed-spread attack. Jared Cook is Sam Bradford's new Jermaine Gresham. Brian Quick, or Austin Pettis, is Malcolm Kelly. Tavon Austin is Juaquin Iglesias/DeMarco Murray. Chris Givens is Manuel Johnson. The Rams likely hope Bradford's comfort level will improve in the new wide-open system. Bradford to this point in his career has been thoroughly mediocre, but he did set personal bests in touchdown passes (21), yards (3,702), and YPA (6.7) last season. Surrounded by the best supporting cast of his NFL service time, Bradford will be an intriguing QB2. ... While St. Louis' backfield pecking order will not crystallize until practices are live and preseason games kick off, I thought it would be worthwhile to include the Average Draft Positions of Rams running backs in this column. Daryl Richardson is most often the first back chosen, with a mid-seventh-round ADP as the RB33. Zac Stacy (ninth round, RB41) is next. Isaiah Pead (tenth round, RB44) comes in third. Pead has the most talent of the bunch and is easily the best value.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Roles are all pretty much locked in across Tampa Bay's offense. Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams are the X and Z receivers, respectively. Despite coach Greg Schiano's allusions to the contrary, Josh Freeman isn't in danger of losing his job to rookie Mike Glennon. Doug Martin is the every-down back. The third-receiver, tight end, and No. 2 tailback jobs are worth tracking in camp, but none is particularly likely to be of fantasy consequence barring injury. ... On more than one occasion I've read that Martin faded down the stretch last season. Let's go ahead and debunk that notion. While it's true that Martin never repeated his 251-yard, four-touchdown November destruction of Oakland, over the final seven weeks he averaged 109.7 total yards per game and reached pay dirt four times. Martin did lay a nine-carry, 16-yard egg in Week 15 -- a critical fantasy week -- but that was because the Saints jumped out to a 24-0 first-half lead. A key note to remember: Stud guards Carl Nicks (toe) and Davin Joseph (knee) combined for just seven games played last year. With both coming off healthy, restriction-free springs, I'd be willing to draft Martin as the No. 2 running back off the board, behind only Adrian Peterson and ahead of Arian Foster.
In a June 12 media Q&A, Redskins offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan deemed Alfred Morris "as good a back as I've been around." That's nice praise from a coach who was Arian Foster's coordinator in Houston, in addition to a Bucs quality control coach during Cadillac Williams' NFL Rookie of the Year campaign. There's no need for fantasy owners to fret about "Shanahanigans" in the Redskins' 2013 backfield. Son Kyle -- not Father Mike -- calls the plays in Washington now, and the Shanahans have only shuttled back and forth between running backs when they didn't have a good one (Bells, Torain, etc.) The Shannies ride great ones (Davis, Portis), and they believe Morris falls into the latter category. ... Robert Griffin III's knee rehab continues to progress ahead of schedule to the point that he may well practice on the first day of training camp. RG3 performed bootlegs on the side at OTAs and should start creeping up fantasy cheatsheets. Drafters have been conservative to this point. Griffin's ADP is the early- to mid-seventh round.
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